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Sakura no Toki - An 8 year old Sequel


Nemesis

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サクラノ刻-櫻の森の下を歩む-

 

After 8 years in development, SakuToki was finally released. If Sakuuta is 「幸福の先への物, I view SakuToki as a 「虚無の先への物語」. Let's go back a bit to Scaji's previous works: Tsui no Sora and Subahibi, destroys the illusion of inherent human values and ethics. Tsui no Sora covers Nietzsche and how human values are artificially made. It is forced upon other people as a struggle for power with a bit of spice of Spinoza's pantheism. Subahibi covers the same topic from the point of view of Wittgenstein coming from the limit of the world (human knowledge) being the limit of thought and logic, which is the limit of language. From there, we find that values do not exist anywhere in the world. SakuUta, on the other hand, covers the topic of art and life. SakuToki as the sequel to SakuUta, explores when you are at your lowest and life feels empty, what happens from there?

If you manage to avoid the obvious pitfalls of suicide and escapism through religion (which is covered in Subahibi and Tsui no Sora), you try to fill that empty vessel. But fill it with what? We call whatever fills that vessel as beauty: 「それを人は、「美」と呼んだんだ」. From there, we start to create human values, ethics, art, and give meaning to our own life. Sca-ji covers the journey to create/discover that beauty through The Night of Bald Mountain. It goes over the concept of the strong god and weak god, and overcoming the limit of the world through Naoya's point of view. Finally, he comes back to how art relates to happiness and life. SakuToki brings everything together for a grand finale.

 

SPOILER WARNING: Rather than a review for people deciding to play the game, this is more of an analysis of the game and its contents.  Go back now if you do not want to be spoiled.

 

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Spoiler

Talent, Hardwork, and Courage

努力は裏切る。簡単に人を裏切る。」

「“才能は自分を裏切る”」

「昨日まで確かにあった「才能」という加護は、ある日突然、我々の前から姿を消す事がある。」

Main theme in Chapter III – ‘The Night of Bald Mountain’ is talent and what it takes to create art. While it is true that hard work is also required for talent to bloom, the starting conditions and peak for genius and normal people are different.While normal people strive to get recognize, geniuses strive to create something new to express their way of life and the beauty that they can feel. But talent and hard work alone are not enough to reach beauty. So what else is required to create art beside talent and hard work? To create something new, we first need to have the courage to destroy our current values.

「虚無を見出した後で、俺は美を見出した」

Only when we are at our lowest, we are able to open the door of possibilities to advance in different directions. For artists, they need the courage to intentionally put themselves in those situations so they can open the door to Charis. This is similar to Nietzsche's concept of Ubermensch, where people transcend the established morals and prejudices of human society to define their own purpose and values in life by facing hardships. Art can move people because the creator managed to experience sorrow/emptiness that others can relate to. Hence, they can relate to the beauty that the creator expressed in his art.

「それが虚無ならば虚無自身がこのとほりで

ある程度まではみんなに共通いたします

(すべてがわたくしの中のみんなであるやうに

みんなのおのおののなかのすべてですから) 」(春と修羅 -)

 

Art and the World

 

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Art is humans giving form to our aesthetics, and communicating it to other people. By doing this, we transcend our inner world, and create meaning past facts. In Subahibi, Wittgenstein explored the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Let's quickly go through the relevant concepts of it. It goes through the limit of our inner world, which is the limit of thought, logic, and language:

"The world is the totality of facts, not of things." (Tractacus 1.1)

"The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it there is no value—and if there were, it would be of no value.

If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so. For all happening and being-so is accidental.

What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental.

It must lie outside the world. " (Tractacus 6.41)

"It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics are transcendental. (Ethics and aesthetics are one.)" (Tractacus 6.421)

Ethics and Aesthetics are both ways humans judge the values of facts. Ethics comes from our personal interpretation of the value of the things around us based on our own experiences. Things we view as beautiful, we label as good, and things we find ugly we label as bad. As they are not facts, they are not something that naturally exists in nature. Hence, they don't belong in the world of information.

Scaji explores the concept of art transcending our inner world through two different points of views of strong god (強き神) and weak god (弱き神) discussed at the end of SakuUta by Rin and Naoya. Strong god is the idea that we all share the same sense of beauty. This is only possible if we all share the same perception/mind/soul or whatever you want to call it. This is an extension of the Spinoza concept introduced in Tsui no Sora with 全は一, and also gets referenced in 凍てつく7月の空. This is the idea that every other human is just a simulation of a collective human mind and the physical world is just a constraint of our mind. Hence, we can share the same sense of beauty (remember that there is no such thing as inherent beauty). This is represented by Rin's power of manifestation. Rather than Spinoza whose words just seem like nonsense to me as he tries to explain how his metaphysics works, it might be easier to understand it from the point of view of 春と修羅 with the Buddhist concept of our selves being one part of nature/universe or as a literal interpretation of Emily Dickinson's poem. People who believe in the strong god believes that they are one with their inner world; that their mind is part of something bigger which can contain the world.

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健一郎 「世界にはすべてがありながら―

 ――だが私はそこに属さない」

健一郎 「だからこそ私は“生きる”意義と意味を見いだす事が出来る」

礼次郎 「また同じく、私は“生きる”無意味さと不可解さを見いだす事も出来ると」

People who believe in the weak god on the other hand believe that they are separate from their inner world. Since they are separate from the world, they can derive meaning and judge it. Beauty is finding or creating patterns in facts; it's a critique of life and nature. When an artist uses that beauty to create art, they can transcend their inner world and reach the inner world of other people (対の空).Unlike the strong god, the weak god can only exist when observed by other people and walks with others. This is the kind of art that Naoya is aiming for. Hence, in extreme cases, art that can change the world['s values] are considered good art. These are the two different ways of viewing art that Scaji presents with a focus on the weak god for SakuToki.

The strong god can also be viewed as art that appeals to the psychological concept of collective unconscious conjectured by Carl Jung. Similar to how our brains are made up of neurons, we are part of some collective unconsciousness. Collective unconscious consists of the ‘whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution born anew in the brain structure of every individual.’ This describes how our emotions and perceptions are passed down from generation to generation. Just think of humans being able to see the same optical illusions since the caveman days. If the strong god appeals to the collective unconscious, the weak god appeals to the individual unconscious and consciousness. It gives form to the individual's perception that is unique to oneself as a form of self-expression.

 

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Kusanagi Kenichirou suggests that both ways of thinking are important for an artist. Strong god is mimesis - an observation and imitation of nature, while weak god is anti-mimesis - art changes the way we look at nature: "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life" (Oscar Wilde). I personally lean towards weak god as while humans do have similarity to our perceptions, there is no guarantee that holds true for every human as explored in Subahibi.  The strong god view of art has mostly been replaced by science and the metaphysics behind it sounds like the sort of thing Wittgenstein made his stance of silence for. In 凍てつく7月の空, Rin develops her skills in anti-memesis to improve as an artist and catch up to Kei by following Naoya's example. Naoya's 「火・水」 is the perfect balance of the two views. I think that mimesis should just be a support to modern artist and not the main goal as pictures can provide a lot more realistic depiction of nature than any artist ever can.  “The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternities...” (Wittgenstein)

 

Art and Life

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SakuUta and SakuToki also cover how art can bring us three things which are needed for happiness in life: 希望 (Hope) 、言葉 (Language) and (Beauty), which are each explored in different routes. These three things are necessary to some degree to grasp happiness in life.

 

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Hope is being able to look forward to a better future, and it is necessary for happiness to prevent people from choosing suicide. Makoto's chapter is called ‘きぼう' - Hope and you can guess what it’s about from the name itself. While the full moon is considered as 狂気, the day before the full moon is 期望, and the day after the full moon is 既望. Exactly because our life is lacking that we can have hope and art can fill that position by acting as a guidepost (not an escape) to light the road at night. It's an unreachable goal you can chase your entire life.  Makoto's route explores Naoya giving up on living life as an artist, and watching art from afar like everyone else. In this case, art shows us possibilities or dream that things will be better one day and give us the courage to live another day.

 

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Language shapes our thoughts and is how we communicate with other people. Language is what connects us with other people. We as humans are social animals, and similar to rabbits, we get stressed without connection to other people. Misuzu's chapter is called ‘Der Dichter spricht’ (The poet speaks). It explores how artist use art as a language to communicate with other people. This is really a continuation of SakuUta's theme of ‘A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs.’ This is the route where Naoya continues using art as a way to connect with other people. This is done by both Naoya and Honma Reijirou's stance of silence on Kenichirou's Epitaph and refusing to go back to the art world using it. Through that epitaph, he saved Shizuku and came to terms with his father's death at the same time. So for him, going back on his word here just to become a world-renowned artist is putting the cart before the horse. By keeping silent, he has managed to change the world by deceiving the public that hates counterfeit by making it one of the most expensive art pieces in the world. This is him living life through his principles as an artist and teaching that to Nei along with Misuzu as an art teacher. Even if he is not making new pieces as an artist, Naoya's way of life is an art by itself. Art is another way of communicating with other people and relates to 弱き神 using art to communicate values and as criticism of life.

 

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Finally, beauty is finding the world beautiful. Life is all about experiencing the world, so if you find the world ugly, it's hard to be positive about being alive. Hence, beauty is necessary for happiness. This is expressed in Ai's route by having the prince's heart delivered to the sparrow with Naoya coming back to the art world. In this route, Naoya creates art for the sake of beauty itself (and money). He experiences the world as it is with its ups and downs and creates art as a critique of life. Hence, the name of the chapter as ‘D'où venons-nous ? Que sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous ?’ - Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? He expresses the beauty of the world with his art and communicates it to the general public.

Kusanagi Kenichirou views life as a poem or music. In the standard definition of happiness being a good happening, happiness and misfortunes are just notes which pass by quickly. Each note being finite is what allows us to experience the world and feel its beauty. Art turns that finite beauty to infinite by giving it form. Since life is a musical score, it has a tempo and melody (I think this is where サクラの響 comes in), and that's where we can find real happiness. Happiness is not something you seek; it's something that's always beside us.

 

 

Closing Statement

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An empty life allows us to fill it with something; SakuToki explores filling that emptiness with art. The door towards art and beauty can only open with talent, hard work, and the courage to reach out towards the void - 終の空。 Art allows us to overcome the limit of the world and give meaning to the world with two different perspectives: mimesis and anti-mimesis. Art fills our empty vessel with 3 things: 希望 (Hope) 、言葉 (Language) and (Beauty) and lead us to a satisfying life.

These themes are present throughout Scaji's previous works, but not quite as explicit as SakuUta and SakuToki. SakuToki is a complex story, so it’s impossible to cover everything without writing a book on it. There are plenty of other themes I didn't have time to cover such as the concept of (time)を刻む in art: there are beauty you can only experience in certain times. Just think of going to a live concert compared to watching a recording of a concert. Hopefully, other reviewers can fill in the gap. I mainly wrote this to preserve my thoughts while it's fresh in my mind, because I sure as hell won't remember the specifics a year from now unless I write this down somewhere. 永遠の相のもとに届けたい。

「芸術作品は永遠の相のもとに見られた対象である。

そしてよい生とは永遠の相のもとに見られた世界である。

ここに芸術と論理の関係がある。

何も、永遠の相を保証するのに、絶対的な神なんていらない。

人は、人のための神を感じ、そして、感動すればいい……」

Edited by Nemesis
Editing

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The Sakura series is typical of Sca-ji, who tends to overuse foreshadowing and unreliable narrators.  Personally, Sca-ji's VNs make me want to pull my last few remaining hairs out in frustration, more often than not.

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