Article six: a code of silence.
“You must completely adhere to this promise.”
Omerta ~Chinmoku no Okite~
J.J is a most dangerous hitman in a city befitting of his profession, excelling at his job to such a degree that his nickname is ‘Death scythe’. Given a job with a lot riding on it by one of the city’s factions who are at war, when it’s time for him to go in for the kill his target isn’t in the room he was assigned to. Instead, a couple lie dead on the floor who’ve nothing at all to do with the job. As if things weren’t getting suspicious enough, the son of the couple bursts into the room and assuming that J.J is the murderer of his parents, wants revenge and vows to kill him no matter how long it takes.
Five years later they’re living together and keeping a low profile, to avoid rousing suspicion over what happened then. J.J still takes assassination jobs, shady deals are still being made, and the factions Dragon Head and King Caesar are still at war. Eventually J.J manages to draw the attention of the two groups. In the end, whose side will he take?
Originally, I wasn’t at all interested in the slick looking Omerta. I heard of it sometime toward the end of last year and the basic plot line didn’t exactly tickle my fancy. A bunch of hitmen trying to kill each other in a morally corrupt town? Going to have to pass on that. I was keeping up with Shingakkou -Noli me Tangre- at the time as well, and that overshadowed Omerta’s presence and essentially canceled any interest I could have had in it. But after reading Shingakkou, I kept coming across people who were after praising Omerta for all sorts of things. ‘Is it really that good?’, I wondered, and set about finding more about it. After reading up a bit more about it and checking its site, I was willing to at least check it out and see what all the fuss was about.
Omerta was produced by Karin Chatnoir Ω, a company spawned from Karin Entertainment focusing on BL. Karin are a well enough known brand even in the English speaking VN fandom due to Animamundi ~Owarinaki Yami no Butou~ being released by Hirameki a few years back. Danzai no Maria -The Exorcism of Maria- is a fairly popular otome game also produced by them. Most of their VNs seem to be filled with fantastical elements involving demons, but Omerta is a relatively down to earth affair, being set in an urban city.
The characters can easily be placed into three groups. The first group consists of the characters who are close to J.J and naturally have a place in his life. Those characters are the quick tempered Azusa and the smooth bartender Master. Our next group is the more friendly yet of course deadly mafia faction, the Italian tinted King Caesar. There we have the easygoing boss Luca, and his devoted subordinate Kiryuu. Finally, we’ve the more dangerous faction and the one who cause the most problems for everyone, Dragon Head featuring Liu and his sharp second in command Ugajin. Tachibana is the wild card in the sense that he doesn’t really pledge allegiance to anyone or anything, but if he had to be put into a group it’d be the first. For reading order, I recommend J.J’s associates -> King Caesar -> Dragonhead. That was my order, and I was mostly satisfied with it. Azusa’s route was my second and I really should have left it until last because even up until the sixth and seventh routes I was still thinking of it and how unfair it was of J.J to be prancing off with other people while Azusa was still pining for him. Oh, the guilt!
First off, we have J.J and co.
J.J is a competent professional killer who is well known throughout the city he’s living in. He has an unfortunate past which moulded and warped his character to the degree that for a time, he couldn’t even speak. After being helped by another character to get back on his feet, he started working at doing the only thing he really knows how to do – kill. He has a rather taciturn nature and given his profession, it’s unsurprising that he mostly keeps to himself. But he is far from being a blank slate – according to the character polls, he’s the most popular out of the lot! He has a sarcastic streak and every so often can’t stop himself from thinking (or saying) something about a situation he’s in. Despite all that, he can be a little stupid and do equally stupid things. When invited into the home of someone who’s been seen as an enemy and obviously gives out bad ‘I’m going to screw you over’ vibes and is served a drink by them, what does J.J do? Drinks it without even thinking of the consequences. Silly man.
Azusa may look like the designated shota of the group in comparison to the other characters with stubble lining their chins and world weary lines etched in their faces, but he’s actually twenty. Despite being the age he is he’s still treated like a child getting tossed around between characters and factions, requiring rescuing. As I said earlier, his entire world changed when he saw J.J looming over his parents’ bodies. He went from being a polite and pampered fifteen year old to someone who desperately wanted to learn how to shoot a gun so he could kill the very person he’s living with. Yeah. Their relationship is rather twisted, but it’s obvious even outside of his own route how much both Azusa and J.J care for each other to the point where I’d often catch myself thinking ‘…but what about Azusa?’. That’s just how well I thought that they meshed. Bound by fate, one could say. It would have been easy for J.J to just drop Azusa on someone’s doorstep and not give him a second thought while he scampered about with other characters, but he did. He didn’t instantly stop caring for Azusa, he’d ask about his wellbeing and think about him every now and then.
Toudou Master may look like a bartender – alright, that’s exactly what he is – with Omerta being set in such a city, it’s a given that even a genteel looking gentleman would have a more dangerous job on the side. It’s said that if Master likes someone, then wonderful jobs will come their way. But if he doesn’t, then they won’t be living in this town for not much longer. Yikes! Master has ties with some influential people, and also deals in weapons while keeping a suave smile on his face. As he didn’t have his fingers in enough pies, he also used to visit J.J when he was younger, during a time where he truly needed someone. J.J admires him to this day. As a result, I initially saw him as a father figure, one that J.J could look up to. But given that this is a BL VN, of course there’s going to be a h-scene or two and the fatherly figure is no exception.
Tachibana Youji is otherwise known as the Naniwana’s Machinegun. Easygoing and reckless, like J.J he too is an assassin, a sort of loan wolf. He had a few snappy lines and kept me entertained at times (throwing socks and sunglasses into a hotpot? eh, why not), but overall his character was grating and he did something despicable early on in his route which gave me a sort of mental block when it came to him. His route was the first one I did, and honestly I didn’t think much of it. It went by too quickly and didn’t give me the most positive of first impressions and even after I completed everyone’s it was still my least favourite because of how out of place it felt compared to the other’s. I felt his own route didn’t tie in to the story properly and was sort of like an extra route you’d find in a fandisc. A quickly thrown together couple of thousand lines to please the fans who’d grown attached to him during the actual VN.
Onto the second group, the first of the two mafia factions: King Caesar.
Looking at the above image, would it surprise you to learn that the featured character is (0ther than J.J) Omerta’s most loved, and popular? I didn’t initially understand the appeal, but in an early route he was sulkily lurking in Master’s bar and got into a conversation with J.J. Blushing over a sarcastic remark, he quickly lost his composure. It happened all of a sudden and my interest in him went from ‘alright, whatever’ to ‘his route may be interesting’. It may have sparked other’s interest in him. Furiously loyal when it comes to Luca, it’s no wonder that he’s sort of like his second in command, and an important part of their ‘family’. His route brought out a sweet side to him, but infuriatingly enough it’s the kind that would keep the types with the bad art skills draw chibi versions of him in dog suits. While Kiryuu is seen as the loyal pet, KC has another animal.
Being one of the leaders of one of the two mafia factions in the city is all in a day’s work for the sleeping lion Luca, who takes everything in his stride – . He’s half Italian (of course we’d just have to have someone who’s half Italian and enjoys scoffing down pasta in a mafia story) and takes the concept of ‘family’ very seriously. Since he’s an easygoing and open guy, he’s happily willing to let anyone into theirs. His first meeting with J.J has a humourous twinge to it since he’s casually shitfaced and J.J typically looks down on him. He gets a shock soon after that, though! He’s obviously the ‘good’ mafia guy… Even though that’s somewhat of a contradiction.
Finally,we have the third group. The second faction, Dragon Head.
Ugajin is Dragon Head’s efficient second in command, whose boss is Liu. You’d expect him to be the stock sadistic glasses wearer who is constantly propping up his frames with one finger, smirking at the protagonist. I wish I could say that appearances are deceiving and he’s nothing like that at all, but he is. Or at least, he is for a while. His route exposes a different side to him which made me like his character a lot more.
Liu was an absolutely horrible character from start to end, so horrible at the beginning of his own route I honestly couldn’t tell if the writers were trying to appeal to those are into that whole ‘oh I’m a tyrant I’m so evil let me prove that to you in case you haven’t already noticed by shooting someone with a smirk on my face who’s tearfully talking about his sick wife’ shtick, or trying to make the readers hate him as much as they could. I’d like to think that it was a mix between the two, but given what kind of VN Omerta is then it’s surely the former. If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’d have seen that I was full of nothing but complaints about his route. Going from what other people said, I was expecting it to be the route which would finish things off with a big bang and leave the strongest impression. It didn’t. It all got a bit silly towards the end, introducing plot points which I was literally rolling my eyes at. I couldn’t find myself liking anything about his character. His face had a permanent smug sort of look on it which only managed to infuriate me more, along with his tacky sense of style (white suits are a bit 1980s, m’dear).
I think my most favourite aspect of Omerta was how important a ‘family’ is – it doesn’t matter if you’re not related to them, as long as you rely on and care deeply for someone, they are your family. J.J is rather unsociable and until Azusa started living with him, was essentially all alone just going through the motions. Being brought up in such a way that his mind grew fixated on killing, he knew nothing else. So he kept taking the same jobs over and over again. The one bright spot in his life was Master, who he could speak to while quietly having a drink at Bar Epilogue. I feel like Azusa living with him brought some of that humanity which he had lost back, empathy for people and the ability to love them. Azusa refuses to put up with J.J’s killing and will tell him how wrong it is when he needs to do. Losing his parents, being forced to learn how to kill and undergoing all sorts of awful things in the jungle, it’s not surprising to see that it all had an effect on J.J’s psyche.
Despite treating Azusa terribly by raping him every so often, and Azusa in turn treating him badly with his half assed attempts at trying to kill him, they’re a right pair. But even so, they grow to care for each other despite their refusal to admit it. They need each other, because they’re each other’s family. Who else in the world is there for them to rely on? In a filthy overcrowded town filled with shanty towns and sex clubs, they managed to forge a connection. Due to that, it’s why I can’t really see J.J with anyone else other than Azusa. Their pairing alone is why I don’t dislike Omerta.
The contrast between the two factions was another thing I liked about Omerta, and also ties in with what I said about families. Although both King Caesar and Dragon Head are mafia organizations who are able to swiftly and coldly murder someone without hesitation, that’s where their similarities end. K.C’s organization is a genuinely warm and loving place, made even more so by Luca being their boss. Constantly speaking about how important family are and how they should take care of each other, is it any wonder why his subordinates look up to and adore him the way they do? Then, there’s DH. Liu has no qualms about killing anyone even within his own organization, believing that his subordinates are tools he’s able to use, not actual people worthy of love, respect, and admiration – all the qualities which Luca and K.C have. After reading both Kiryuu and Luca’s routes, I was surprised at how different a feel Ugajin and Liu’s had. When I found out that one of Liu’s subordinates had plans to kill him, I can’t say I was surprised. An oppressive leader who messes around with his own subordinates and their families, just because he can. A thoroughly unlikable character.
The grand end features J.J forming his own faction, and by extension, his own family. It’s easily my favourite ending because everything there manages to slot into place. It’s a happy ending, filled with hope. Their family will attempt to better the town they live in.
There is not one awkwardly drawn character CG or suspiciously off looking arm/leg/torso in sight. Everything is visually pleasing, save for some overly square chins. The characters have a few tachi-e, perhaps about six/seven each but there are variations depending on if they’re injured or what sort of lighting there is. Each character’s design suits their personality well. Tachibana’s outfit differs from the rest of the cast, as does his attitude and views. It shows how much of a wild card he is with his bleached hair and leopard print top. Kiryuu sternly wears a suit while his boss wears a flamboyantly coloured free flowing top.
Every major character has a battle CG which pops up whenever there’s a fight. Kiryuu and Luca’s have annoyingly plain white backgrounds and Tachibana’s has this stupid looking texture behind it. It seems unfair in comparison to others – such as in one of Ugajin’s battle CGs, he gets shattered glass. In J.J’s, the background in his gives a sense of motion, that he’s rapidly trying to hit his target. This is a very minor complaint of course, and I’ve no other gripe with the artwork.
The music is excellent. Although I haven’t gotten the soundtrack yet, and the VN itself is lacking a soundtrack option (curses) I don’t believe I disliked any track. My favourite track was a dramatic piece which started out sorrowful and subdued but got grander as it progressed before dipping then rising again. Beautiful piece (I’ve since obtained the soundtrack, and it’s called ‘貴方を愛し、そして憎んだ’). I also liked the King Caesar theme, and a few other tracks but it’s difficult to speak about them when I only vaguely remember what they sound like. Trust me though, the music is good. The opening and ending, not so much. The ending in particular is godawful, but the opening sung by J.J’s seiyuu has lyrics suggesting it’s to Azusa, so at least there’s that.
Liu’s seiyuu fit him well, but it didn’t floor me. I usually like Narita Ken, but here he came across as someone trying a bit too hard to sound like the tyrant that Liu appears to be and can’t quite pin him. Then again, how much I disliked Liu could have influenced me thinking that (hello, I’m goldensneer, your unreliable reviewer)? My favourite seiyuu overall was probably Sugiyama Noriaki, who played Ugajin. He truly was top notch and an ideal fit for Dragon Head’s second in command. Fujiwara Yuki’s performance of Azusa was another one that I liked. He had a slight lisp which provided a nice contrast to the character when he was speaking harsh lines like, ‘I’ll surely kill you’.
Some of the supporting seiyuu were weak and came up far too much. One seiyuu voiced three different minor characters (possibly even more) who had faces and all – when a character has a face, no matter how irrelevant they are you tend to pick up and recognize their voice. It was the same for this guy. He wasn’t even a particularly good seiyuu – his voice fitted Franco, an Italian subordinate in King Caesar who had trouble speaking Japanese. But when I began to recognize his voice in other characters I couldn’t help but think, ‘not him again‘. The body count is high, and everyone who dies has a death cry. Some of them work, some of them are so unconvincing that they can throw off the pace in an otherwise tense fight.
Since Omerta is a fast paced mafia story in which everyone in the cast is doing some pretty shady shit, you can bet that anyone can and will die. To help us keep track of who’s after biting the dust, there’s a status screen which can be checked at any point in the story. As you can see from the above screen shot, characters who die will have their portraits blacked out with a nasty red x through them. The bullet hole is a sign that you’re on a certain character’s route, and when on track to a good end said character and J.J’s portraits will change to them smiling and be that extra bit brighter than all of the other portraits which keep their default scowls, almost as if they’re scowling at the happiness of the couple.
Every choice that can be made is timed, and there’s a time limit of roughly three/four seconds. There’s never any indication of when a choice is going to pop up, so while reading Omerta the quick save function was my most dear friend. Most choices are obvious enough, but to get all the CGs for the sad and bad ends I recommend that you use a walkthrough.
Each route can be finished in no time at all. Seven short routes and two brief extra scenarios make up a VN of average length. When I was reading and properly engrossed in a route, I was comfortably able to polish off one per evening. But when it got to the last three routes, I spread them out over a couple of evenings, only reading for twenty minutes or so at a time. If I read them in the one go, this review would have been out a lot earlier than now. It helps that some routes are grouped together so using the skip function there makes it all the more short.
While Omerta is good, it’s just not good enough. Some of the individual routes weren’t all that strong in comparison to others, but even then those others weren’t strong enough to make a long lasting impression or worth gushing about. Out of seven, I can say that I only absolutely loved two. The rest fell into the ‘oh-that’s-nice-but-I’ll-forget-this-in-a-month’ category. As I mentioned, the routes are short but for half of them I was wishing them to, well, just get on with things. It’s not as if they dragged on, but you can only read so much dialogue involving waffle about guns and what type of bullets are used or how character x killed character x before your interest starts to wane.
Some of the plot devices used are unforgivably lazy (amnesia? come on) repetitive (did Azusa really have to get raped in almost half of the routes?), and completely out of place given the sort of VN Omerta is (revelations in Liu’s route) leaving a sour taste in my mouth. There are a variety of drama CDs out for this, and there’s even a manga in the works featuring art by the VN’s very own Tateishi Ryou. I don’t have enough interest in the series to check out the drama CDs, save perhaps Azusa’s. Omerta just doesn’t have that staying power to make me able to enthusiastically recommend it or go hunting down extras. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the side stories on the site after I finished up everything.
Out of the three major BL releases this year, I’ve read two. If I had to choose between Omerta and Shingakkou, I’d pick the latter without hesitation. Not that I’m saying it is better, it’s just what’s better suited to my tastes. If what I’ve wrote about here sounds appealing to you, then go read Omerta. As I said at the start of this review, I didn’t like it all that much but I can understand its appeal.
Personal enjoyment: 2/5
Overall score: 65%