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Sayonara wo Oshiete: A VN That Mastered The Use of Atmopshere


Zalor

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      I told a couple people I would post my thoughts about Sayonara wo Oshiete when I finished it, and just a few days ago I finished a bad end and Mutsuki's good end. So here are my impressions, thoughts, and analysis of that experience. Also, this post does not contain any significant spoilers to the VN. So its safe for all those that are curious. (Also from here on forward I will refer to Sayonara wo Oshiete as 'Sayooshi')

Before I start talking about Sayooshi, I want to briefly describe the circumstances in which I discovered it. During this past summer, after having studied Japanese (with a grammatical focus) for a while,  I wanted to get a few easy moege under my belt before attempting something I actually wanted to read. I was honestly having a miserable time, as I hate moege. I was reading them for no other reason than to practice and learn Japanese, as they were appropriate for my level. I wasn't having fun, and it honestly felt like work more than anything else. Just as I was about to give up on Untld Vns for the time being, I read a post by Vokoca talking about Sayooshi, and he linked to this video. The unsettling music and ominous imagery instantly piqued my curiosity and I set out to get this VN. For a while I was saving it, still thinking "My Japanese isn't good enough yet", but then at some point in the fall I decided "Fuck it, with the help of dictionaries and text hooking software, I can make this journey", and began reading it whenever I had time. And boy was this a journey worth taking, even if I did proceed through it a bit slowly. 

I love the first person narrative because getting inside the heads of interesting characters is truly experiencing the world through a different person's eyes. And VNs in my view are the best medium for first person narration, as they allow you to to see and hear what the MC experiences. Furthermore, back ground music enriches the story by immersing the reader in the moods of various settings and situations. Sayooshi takes all these strengths of VNs and the first person narrative, and uses it to put you inside the head of a madman. A man whose sense of reality is slipping further and further away by the day. The unreliable narrator is a literary trope that I really enjoy, but this is an area where I think VNs by default have higher potential than books. It is one thing to solely read the mind of a madman/untrustworthy narrator, it is another thing all together to see and hear that man's world, on top of reading his narrative.   

Too often I see wasted potential in the artistic side of VNs. Visual art is important for not only conveying ideas (i.e. a picture of a hallway should look like a hallway, a picture of a girl should look like a girl, etc.), but art can also convey moods. VNs of the same era usually have extremely similar character designs, and there is usually a lack of creativity in artistic style in VNs. While the character designs aren't anything revolutionary (it is admittedly nice that this VN came out before moe blobs became popular though), what is special about the art, is the eternal twilight. Hitomi's world is a world drenched in the orange and reddish hue of twilight, as the VN takes place exclusively during the evening. And coupled with all the things Hitomi experiences, the color of twilight really makes things even more ominous. It instills a feeling of loneliness, or at the very least detachment.

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Supporting the artwork in creating an unsettling atmosphere, is the music. The main theme that plays when Hitomi is wandering the school alone (this theme), only reinforces the feelings of detachment that the visual art and writing create. Character themes as well are quite well suited for each of the characters and the moods they represent, further successfully reinforcing the tone of the writing.

Now onto the writing itself. Things are confusing, and they only get more confusing. Any sense of orientation is screwed around with, and this only gets worse as the story continues. You are left thinking "Did what I see actually happen?", until it gets to the point where you just altogether give up on distinguishing reality. In this way, you yourself submit to the insanity and fall further into Hitomi's world. Not knowing what to make of his situation. The only difference between you and him, is that you know he is crazy, but nonetheless identify with him because you experience the same sense of the world as he does. And perhaps weird to say, but the H-scenes in this VN serve to further sympathize with his madness.

When I was telling a (non-VN reading) friend of mine about Sayooshi. He admitted that it sounded interesting, and even could appreciate the use of the H-scenes from an intellectual perspective. But he then told me that what he thought was truly disturbing, was not the use of H-scenes, but that "inevitably there will be people out there that will find it arousing". For him, (and his understanding of what I told him about Sayooshi), the sex scenes, which are exclusively rape scenes, serve to reinforce Hitomi's insanity, and therefore their portrayal is justified. But finding the scenes arousing yourself, is horrific as it is identifying with a monster; like the monster that plagues Hitomi's dreams. But it is here, where I disagree. The VN does everything in its power to have you identify with Hitomi's insanity, and the sex scenes are no exception.

The sex scenes are arousing, despite knowing that they shouldn't be. It isn't just rape, but the Heroines are (supposedly) middle school girls for Christ's sake. Perhaps eroge players (particularly nukige fans) maybe a bit desensitized, but this is certainly fucked up. But just like when Hitomi experiences the dream that plagues him for the first half of the story, he knows he is the monster raping the angel, and there is pleasure still drawn from this. A pleasure that Hitomi knows is horrible and monstrous. But just as Hitomi submits to the role as the monster as he views his nightmare; we are in an identical role, viewing (and partly identifying) with his sexual misdemeanors as he commits them. It coerces you into submitting yourself to the madness of these H-scenes. By doing so an enjoyment is found in them, but for you and Hitomi alike there is a darkness implied in that pleasure. Furthermore, Hitomi seems to understand that he is defiling them. There is a guilt and sense of disgust felt, but also a feeling of extreme excitement, just as we as readers feel. This is shown through the multiple references he makes to 'contaminating the purity of the angel/Mutsuki', to paraphrase what he says. The H-scenes, and our feelings towards them, mirror Hitomi's perspective; furthering our identification with his insanity.

Yet, just like the reoccurring nightmare, the H-scenes almost always end abruptly, and are divorced from continuity. It is not uncommon for an H scene to abruptly happen, end all of a sudden, and the next thing you know you are placed into a completely different context. And not only do the H-scenes lack continuity immediately before and after, but the characters never make reference to it afterwards, and act just as they did before. Further questioning whether they ever really happened. And this confusion surrounding the reality of the h-scenes, makes it easier to identify with Hitomi during them, since the normal consequences and damage caused by rape, do not apply.  

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(Perhaps this would be a considered spoiler if I could guarantee that it actually happened ;))

And for all these reasons, I feel that the thesis of this VN is the fragility of the human mind. Often we draw huge differences between the mentally deranged, and functional normal human beings; but what Sayooshi points out is that the difference is actually rather subtle. In seeing the world Hitomi experiences, and sympathizing with him, it gets us to realize that we ourselves are not that different. That given his circumstances and what he experiences (and seeing it through his eyes), his reactions are actually understandable. The atmosphere of his world, and reading the thoughts of his mind, gets us to question his sanity, and in doing so, eventually gets us to question our own sanity as well.     

Sayooshi in an incredibly strong atmospheric experience. And it is for this reason that I feel Sayooshi is a great representative of the strengths VNs offer as a medium. This VN took advantage of all the tools it had as a VN (music, sound effects, visuals, and narrative) to provide a full experience of what the wanders of a madman look like. I really felt like I understood to a degree what it was like to be insane reading this work, and I don't think I would have been able to identify as well if it were told in any other medium in any other way.  

 

 

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Interesting. I watched the video you linked and I'm very interested in this VN. I don't intend to study Japanese for the time being, but I can see a great deal of focus in how colours, tones and rhythm are used for the single purpose of conveying a specific atmosphere from the video alone. And I appreciate that.

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I feel like I learned all the various ways of describing hues of orange and red when I read this. I think the very novel-like writing is also an important factor in building the atmosphere of the game, along with the music, disturbing sound effects, eternal twilight, etc...

In any case Sayooshi really was a great experience. I love denpa precisely because denpa games often have a way of creating their own incredible atmosphere, and that game really nailed it, along with the slow fall into insanity. I only regret a little lack of ambiguity during the end.

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5 hours ago, Palas said:

Interesting. I watched the video you linked and I'm very interested in this VN. I don't intend to study Japanese for the time being, but I can see a great deal of focus in how colours, tones and rhythm are used for the single purpose of conveying a specific atmosphere from the video alone. And I appreciate that.

From other things I've read from you, I think we both share a huge appreciation for VNs that take advantage of audio and visuals to enhance the writing.  And for people who appreciate such things, I feel that video is the best possible trailer for the VN. I really do wish it would get translated so more people could read it. I believe what happened is that the VN was picked up by a team, got translated around 30%, and then the main translator shifted to doing the Subarashiki Hibi translation. I think the Subarashiki Hibi translation is pretty much done, but then it got officially picked up, and so now there is another delay. Hopefully, once Subarashiki Hibi gets released he will return to translating Sayooshi.    

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5 hours ago, Down said:

I feel like I learned all the various ways of describing hues of orange and red when I read this. I think the very novel-like writing is also an important factor in building the atmosphere of the game, along with the music, disturbing sound effects, eternal twilight, etc...

In any case Sayooshi really was a great experience. I love denpa precisely because denpa games often have a way of creating their own incredible atmosphere, and that game really nailed it, along with the slow fall into insanity. I only regret a little lack of ambiguity during the end.

I agree, especially about the ending. A more ambiguous ending would have fit with the rest of the VN better. Ironically enough, it provided a sense of closure, which doesn't feel appropriate for Sayooshi. But regardless, I think the ending was overall good.   

Also, I'm really liking the Denpa genre. Before this, I only read Saya no Uta (which is kind of denpa), but now I really understand what this genre is about. I have 2 or 3 other VNs on my plate first, but when I get through them I think I will finally read Subahibi (only heard fantastic things about it). 

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SubaHibi is an even more unique experience. It doesn't only have the denpa hallmarks of a specific atmosphere and downright insanity, it also has several more levels of depth to it. It's really difficult to describe it with few words.

The one issue with denpa games is how few of them there is... I only read a few but I only have like 2-3 of them left as far as I know.

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I love it when the visuals or audio style of the VN complement it or define it's own unique identity (doesn't have to be a unique style). From my experience as well, VN's that utilize the audio and visual aspects draw me in a lot quicker than normal novels. This is even if the base story or depiction is comparable.

As I found out from Subahibi, Dempa's not really my thing, but maybe I'll come back to this VN. Even though I kinda know what is happening in the VN, somehow getting a hint as how to interpret the (what would normally be) madness makes the VN a more agreeable read. I quite like the observations you made: they're clear and relevant, interesting, and not presuming.

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Glad you enjoyed the VN, Sayooshi truly does what it sets out to do exceptionally well. I wouldn't really blame the ending for not being ambiguous; despite how Sayooshi appears at first, it never really tries to hide things from you. They're all there from the very beginning, just waiting for you to notice them - even if noticing isn't always the best thing to do. The only thing I didn't like was how every ending (except for the bad end and the bonus scenes in the epilogue) was the same, which kind of took away from the overall value for me.

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