If you happen to move to a new city and someone encourages you to join a ~friendship club~ right off the bat, here’s a friendly tip: don’t.
Our trial opens with protagonist Shirasaka Taichi having moved to a new city with his family in tow, ready to make a fresh start and put an incident which happened a year before behind them. His parents have finally returned to work, so he’s left with sisters Mio and Mei to do normal things together like going shopping and cooking dinner, nervous yet eager about starting their new life. As tedious as all that may indeed sound, it’s something that strangely, brings Taichi to tears. He’ll do anything to preserve such an ordinary happiness for the sake of his older sister in particular, leaving the reader on guard from early on. Something darker lurks in the daylight shadows, finally emerging once we learn about the incident which left older sister Mio locked in her room and contemplating suicide, Taichi and his parents stricken in a cold hospital ward.
Given the nature of CLOCKUP’s latest title Fraternité, it doesn’t take long before the happiness built crumbles once more. Taichi grows suspicious of how quickly Mio and a classmate Yuka have been able to become the very best of friends, so he takes matters into his own hands and follows them to their club… Unlike the company’s infamous 2011 work euphoria, the characters here are able to wander as they please not confined to a world of white – but that isn’t to say that they aren’t as trapped on a psychological level. The trial nailed the more claustrophobic scenes, creating an uneasy atmosphere even through the earlier s’life scenes with the siblings. A flashback shows a room bathed in washed-out tones, a gentle piano orchestrating Mio’s loss. There’s a touch of horror about the presentation with the industrial and sharp sound effects, managing to keep me gripped from start to finish. The sense of gritty realism in the art department also helped, a somber palette with all distorted photos and CG backgrounds with filters slapped over them. In any other title (especially one from a well known company like CLOCKUP) such a move would come across as offensively cheap, but here it works to great effect. It’s just uncanny enough for you to be aware of it.
Through no fault of Taichi’s, the reader quickly learns that the new life he’d been so desperate to preserve was a lie, with the wheel having begun to turn months before. Full of grief, Mio comes to know Yuka through a suicide salvation site where she offers her assistance. Having gone through the same horrific experience, Yuka can understand her pain more than anyone else, and so she becomes the key to Mio’s ‘salvation’… Or so she’d like to think. To those not in the know, the Fraternité Club is a place where girls with wounded hearts such as Mio and Yuka seek refuge. Unable to express their pain to anyone else, those who share painful experiences are offered a warm shoulder to cry on. But then the weird cultish indoctrination starts and their morals fade into a wispy pink haze, nervous smiles warped into ahegao. The club appears to be a cram school to anyone else, all official with a receptionist and head instructor but the activities which take place are anything but studious as our protagonist Taichi comes to unfortunately learn, culminating in a lewd NTRish scene with his dear older sister.
But yikes, a prostitution club? As toe-curling as the events in the trial were, if the OP is anything to go by the sinister activities of the Fraternité Club are only just getting started with it and the alternate cover indicating that each of its members meet a – perhaps inevitable – gruesome end. Hangings, eviscerations, and being torn in two are all par for the course here, offset by an eerie off-key choral piece and coldly overseen by a dark-eyed Kamimura. We see the same poison swirling around her enter someone’s body; the infection spreading. I bet the plot will revolve around Taichi trying to save his classmates before it’s too late and more importantly, his sister – if he can. Will he get to her before she learns the true extent of her participation? No matter what happens, as much as I’m dreading the outcome I’m sort of looking forward to it. If euphoria is anything to go by, I’ve no doubt that Fraternité will push the envelope as far as it can with regards to one’s resilience, possibly offering its own interpretation of what it means to reach salvation. Would it be better for a character like Mio with an already fragile psyche to be left in the dark about what’s going on…?
While out shopping, our unlucky hero feels someone’s gaze on him and it isn’t long before his attention is drawn towards a beautiful girl with long black hair. There’s an unusual air about her, but Taichi quickly comes to the conclusion that he’d been mistaken – until, she confronts him. He’d been staring at her, right? After an awkward exchange he continues to do his shopping, but as fate decrees he once again meets her in class the next day. Despite his idle musings on how attractive she is and insisting that she isn’t weird for not being able to get dramas or movies, as Fraternité will eventually show his coming into contact with Kamimura Megumi is a mistake. Although she’s obviously the character to be cautious of here, there was nothing in the trial which hinted at her true colours. Their meeting was vaguely ominous and her name is suggestive enough (‘神村’ meaning ‘village of the gods’), but she was just kinda… there all throughout, a nervous bystander which is no doubt a carefully constructed front. If anything, the PV and OP have hinted that she’s the big bad, if not the one pulling the strings behind all the salacious dealings down at the club.
As much as I enjoyed the trial, since I’ve been following CLOCKUP’s staff blog closely there were no major surprises save for a tagline bait-and-switch. But it’s early days yet so we can only imagine just how far the VN will actually go in terms of extreme content. Given the company’s recent stint at BL (to great success going by reactions) with No, Thank You!!! and Fraternité featuring a good looking guy with a twinkish air about him standing with the heroines, rumours of gay scenes were to be expected. Artist Hamashima Shigeo has been rather coy about this (‘everyone is straight’), but the trial confirmed what everyone had been expecting with Akira having a voice slider option like the rest of the girls. Amusingly enough, out of everything presented in the trial (such as legit incest, prostitution, NTR, and possible aphrodisiacs/hallucinogenics) people hotly debating if balls will indeed be touching has been the main issue of the day.
The Fraternité Club had also been mentioned on the staff blog but I never would have expected NTR/incest right off the bat, let alone the rest of the girls (including the notably unattractive Chiharu – something else people have been discussing) being with Taichi in a drug-fueled procession, one after the other. I almost wish I hadn’t been keeping up with the news because as shocking as all that was it would have been all the more shocking if I hadn’t been regularly checking things out. As far as predictions go no doubt the girls are completely oblivious to what they’re really doing, but I bet Taichi will emerge with his memories intact. Things will pick right up where the trial left off with plans to dismantle the club. That is of course, if he also doesn’t get pulled in as a member… Which brings us right to our taglines, with a male voice firmly stating how he’ll save someone with a female saying that he can’t. In the end, who will prove to be right?
We’ll find out once Fraternité is released on the 27th of July.
^ both very NSFW.