Scattered Thoughts – Saya no Uta and morbid curiosity

     Fuminori was sitting in a place that should’ve been a café. Yet it clearly wasn’t. Everything seemed a perfect nightmare material – every single object there looked like it was made from living flesh, various internal organs, and gore; walls, the floor and the ceiling included. Even worse, next to Fuminori sat the creatures. Apparitions so hideous that the shortest of glimpses at them could haunt you the rest of your life. Their stench reeked of everything a normal person would keep a distance of a mile or so, and their distorted gurgling voices squealed barely understandable words. That wasn’t all – Fuminori knew that these monsters once were his dear friends, now completely unrecognizable and so disgusting he could barely retain his calm. Fuminori was the only normal being in this warped place, and it wasn’t a nightmare, it was his reality, and he was alone in it.

Nice world, isn't it?

     So cheerfully begins Saya no Uta, a visual novel created way back in 2003 but still retaining its uniqueness in the medium. There’s probably no reason beating around the bush so I may as well use the trump card that should get you interested – Saya no Uta was one of the first creations of Gen Urobuchi and the team at Nitroplus. Nitroplus is best known for releasing the acclaimed Steins;Gate visual novel and also for being involved with Fate/Zero novels, that also incidentally were written by Urobuchi. In Saya no Uta the man clearly didn’t hold back and pumped the visual novel full of depressing and sometimes disgusting content that would never be tolerable in, say, an anime. Usually art is consumed in order to be entertained, but Saya no Uta isn’t anything I’d call a pleasantly enjoyable experience. The dark side of it is interestingly captivating though. If you aren’t against some morbid curiosity, that is. Bear with me for a while to find out more, but only if you’re brave enough. I can’t stress enough that Saya no Uta is aimed to mature people, and only those with high tolerance levels.

 Excerpt from the OST: Schizophrenia by ZIZZ STUDIO

     You already know how the story starts, and apart from that there’s only two important details. Firstly, Fuminori got this weird trait of seeing the world deformed when a risky neurosurgery was performed on him, so you can’t say the premise hasn’t got any justification. The second important moment is that Fuminori isn’t really alone. At some point he encountered a mysterious girl – Saya. Despite viewing everything as these horrendous forms, Fuminori perceives her like a normal human being. You should be pretty suspicious since if everything and everyone is consistently warped in Fuminori’s brain, seeing someone breaking that rule should raise some questions. Rather early it’s revealed that naturally Saya isn’t what she seems to Fuminori but searching for Saya’s origins isn’t the only plotline. Equally important are Fuminori’s friends and his doctor. They all suspect that the guy has some problems he doesn’t want to share, and, being close to him, they aren’t satisfied by that. Unfortunately for them they begin searching for answers, and if you know Gen Urobuchi, getting involved in something shady isn’t going to end well for anyone. Compared to similarly brutal stories like Elfen Lied, in my mind Saya no Uta stays higher. The latter for example is more mature than its counterpart – there’s more thought put into polishing the themes and retaining the same heavy atmosphere through all the story.

     It may surprise you but Saya no Uta may be completed in only two or three afternoons of casual playing, and that makes it probably the shortest decent visual novel I’ve played. In retrospect, it would be very hard to keep playing on for hours while the story keeps bombarding you with this exhaustingly morbid imagery and a depressing tale that suits it too well. Another aspect of being short is that Saya no Uta has only two points of divergence, a second one coming from one of the decisions of the first branching point, so effectively it leaves you with three endings. Judging by the whole story it may not come as a surprise that not a single one of them is truly happy. Depressing, isn’t it?

 Excerpt from the OST: Saya no Uta I by ZIZZ STUDIO

     Even if some elements of the story may be hard to believe, it’s the characters that draw you in. Sure, the length didn’t let the visual novel boast of phenomenal character development, but what it provided felt like it was fair enough. In the end I wouldn’t call any of the characters truly likable, but the most important thing is that you get their motivations and reasoning behind their actions. Fuminori in this respect is particularly interesting because you experience his slow drift from his friends and his growing attachment to Saya. As you know, Saya isn’t a normal person, so her influence isn’t always what Fuminori’s friends (or other normal people) would approve, but in the end you just can’t fault him for his decisions. You may rebuke him for behaving one way or another, but ultimately Fuminori is just a pitiable guy who was extremely unlucky to have his neurosurgery fail, and later on he’s just trying to live as he believes to be the best regardless of opinions of others or even his own better judgment. Saya also shares some inner problems with Fuminori and while you understand from the start that their relationship won’t lead to the healthiest ending, there’s still some charm to it. Urobuchi has a talent to create grey characters and choices for them with no right answers, and his ability was clearly visible even all these years ago.

     Music is another great aspect of Saya no Uta. The soundtrack (whose track names all curiously start with “s”) isn’t anything you’d listen countless times but it’s a powerful tool to construct atmosphere, and it’s used right. When we see the world from Fuminori’s perspective, the visuals use primarily red and dark-ish colors, so that’s already pretty unsettling. Then add distorted and almost brutal sounds with some melancholic undertones and you have a very formidable mix. When Fuminori is with Saya, the music changes drastically – despair and loneliness are still heard, but the music is more melodic and far more bearable, as the mood from horror changes to ominous peacefulness. The two nostalgic ending songs called Saya no Uta and Garasu no Kutsu performed by Kanako Itou (also the singer in the OP of Stein;Gate) are well worth listening to any time.

 Excerpt from the OST: Garasu no Kutsu by ZIZZ STUDIO and Kanako Itou

     I guess H-scenes should also be mentioned, it’s an eroge after all. As far as I remember, a usual long eroge (think Fate) contains about 3 or 4 H-scenes in each route. Despite being a short one, Saya no Uta has a similar amount, so you’d think the story is highly sexualized. Well, not completely because there’s also much else going on and H-scenes themselves are surprisingly short all things considered. Another, and far more important thing that sets Saya no Uta from other visual novels is the content of the H-scenes. Sure, the first few ones seem like the usual material but soon you find out that the increasing darkness of the story has an effect on the H-scenes too so anyone looking for satisfactory material should turn around and leave as soon as possible. It’s actually one of a few visual novels where H-scenes are really built in the story and complements it exceptionally well. Maybe too well. As if themes like loneliness, hideous monsters, cannibalism and murder among others weren’t enough, there you’ll encounter other most unsavory elements beginning with rape and ending with sexual slavery. Gen Urobuchi didn’t hold back in the slightest, so be prepared for everything.

     All things considered, I can’t recommend Saya no Uta with a clear conscience to anyone. If morbid curiosity isn’t unheard and absolutely unappealing to you, then you might give it a try, but, well, it’s still very hard to stomach. People inclined to depression should altogether forget Saya no Uta ever existed. The visual novel felt very uncomfortable, but in the end I’m content that I did play it. The themes are certainly not for everyone and that may turn many people off, so be aware of what you may get yourself into and have a good time, regardless of playing it or skipping it.

     If you haven’t played Say no Uta (well, I expect the majority of you haven’t but correct me if I’m wrong), what is your stance to visual novels in general as a medium?

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  1. I played Saya no Uta a few years ago. What a brutal visual novel.

    Hmmm lately I’ve been struggling to get through a specific visual novel and I’m left wondering if it’s me or if it’s the particular visual novel. The medium is a huge time sink at times so maybe the whisperings opportunity cost is affecting me.

    Great write-up. Really captures why the visual novel is so hard to stomach for some without spoiling everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot! I felt the post ended up being just how I wanted it to be, so it’s great to know that I’m moving in the right direction.
      Yeah, the time is a huge factor for visual novels. On the other hand, if all that time is spent appropriately, character development possibilities and ways to advance of the story are almost limitless.
      I can only suggest taking some time off and then reassessing your feelings about the visual novel. If you still won’t miss it – so be it, and otherwise it might rekindle your interest in it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m kind of interested in it, but then I don’t know if I can handle it. I love the music though – I have both Saya no Uta and Garasu no Kutsu on my phone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess you won’t really know unless you try. Initially I though that I won’t be able to complete it but somehow it all went ok. Sure, it wasn’t easy at times, but I did finish it.
      These songs are really worth having them. I probably need to do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I definitely like things dark (and wow that first picture in your post…seriously morbid). I so far have resisted the temptation to start reading visual novels though. With the amount of hobbies I already have…I simply would not know where to find the time to start with another 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I have a similar feeling about JRPGs. Even without these side things anime is (sadly) too huge a thing to be able to grasp everything.
      Still, if you ever find some spare time, I do suggest finding some short visual novel to try, just for the sake of it.

      Liked by 1 person

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