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Saya no Uta Review


Timmy

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Spoilers - Yes | Platforms -  2048px-Steam_icon_logo.svg.png b7b364aa822c95e1e2b333ec3fb58d2273084d9c.png logo.d2b3375.svg | Author - Timmy (NarrativeKnickKnacks)

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Released a day after Christ's birthday on December 26, 2003, Saya no Uta was born to the horror of God's children. Unlike the redemptive tale of hope that was celebrated the day before, Saya no Uta is the demented creation of the now-revered Gen Urobuchi and his literary love affair with the great H. P. Lovecraft. A tragic tale of cosmic horror through and through, Urobuchi's blasphemous scripture began its notoriety as a cult classic and has since blossomed into the most celebrated horror story in the visual novel community. Now, as we quickly approach the 20th anniversary of its release, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on this endearing piece of grotesque beauty. Has it aged like fine literature, or has it aged like the putrid meat of Fuminori's personal hell?

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As with most characters thrust into a Lovecraftian universe, protagonist Fuminori Sakisaka is at the whims of the author's sadistic storytelling. Having suffered a fatal car accident with his parents, Fuminori is the sole survivor of a tractor-trailer's crushing weight. Under normal circumstances, he should've succumbed to the same fate as his parents — but a surgery involving micromachines keeps him from falling into the abyss. However, compared to his new life, the abyss seems like a blessing ripped away by a god named "humanity."

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Due to the experimental nature of this surgery, Fuminori develops a fictitious form of agnosia, forcing him to perceive the world as a fleshy hellscape of blood, guts, and otherwordly monsters. The average person would've understandably killed themselves given the situation, but Fuminori is... not different, actually; in fact, he's an average medical student living in an average suburb with average friends. What compels him to keep living?

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After a fateful encounter at his hospital bedside, Fuminori's will to live is reinvigorated by the pleasant sights and smells of a child named Saya. With Saya acting as his secret nurse, Fuminori manages to recover at an astonishing pace. Before long, he's deemed ready to be discharged by the nightmarish hospital staff, cheering him off with a gurgly "#$OhT%*nG@1!" as he's escorted back to his home by the monsters that were previously his sightly friends. There, in his childhood bedroom, Saya sits waiting for his embrace — a testament to the relationship they had built during their nightly bedside chats.

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From this point, Saya and Fuminori spend their days basking in each other's company while avoiding the loathsome anxieties of the outside world. Like a husband and his darling wife, they eat together, bathe together, and sleep together; and on most nights, they even @!GdkkT*& each other. Madmen will be madmen... right?

Even though the world outside Fuminori's mind may be a blood-soaked hell, Saya's angelic appearance is heaven's gift to Fuminori's perseverance. However, no sooner than they settle into their new lives, one of Fuminori's friends begins a chain reaction that either spells a fatal end to their relationship or damns all of humanity to Fuminori's hell. The fate of the world is in your hands.

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Fuminori Sakisaka

Fuminori Sakisaka was a typical medical student aspiring to be a medical professional. Before the accident, he was a shy yet caring man with a small group of loyal friends, one of which a potential romantic partner for Fuminori. However, after his agnosia sets in, he quickly spirals from an understandably paranoid and despair-ridden man to a monster not unlike the ones shambling around him. With his life ruined and Saya by his side, he's willing to cross any ethical boundary so long as he can be with her.

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Saya

Acting as Fuminori's anchor in his maddening world, Saya is a mysterious girl who looks like a lily in a field of corpses. Lonely and determined to find her dad, Fuminori and her forge an inseparable relationship that transcends humanity.

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Koji Tonoh

As the only other man in Fuminori's friend group, Koji Tonoh is Fuminori's closest ally. Similar to the Fuminori he once knew, Koji is a kind, well-mannered adult who cares deeply about the feelings of his three friends. However, once Fuminori goes off the deep end, he does not hesitate to take matters into his own hands.

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Yoh Tsukuba

By all accounts, You Tsukasa should've been Fuminori's girlfriend. That is until Fuminori withdraws from any and all contact with Yoh after a particularly brutal rejection. Without the support of her friends, self-loathing and paranoia begin to creep into her mind as much as the monsters creep into Fuminori's.

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Omi Takahata

Omi Takahata is Koji's girlfriend. That is all.

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Ryoko Tanbo

A head surgeon at T University, Ryoko functions as Fuminori's doctor and armchair psychiatrist. While she may present herself as professional and mature, some things are best kept hidden...

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I'd like to admit something: over the past couple of years, I've watched and read my fair share of Saya no Uta reviews. Yes, my barely-shocked reader, that does mean some of this review takes inspiration from others. However... I'd like to distance myself from the short-form Youtube analyses and long-form Steam and VNDB reviews — not because I want to be a contrarian, but because I genuinely believe there are aspects of Saya no Uta that extend beyond the typical "nuances and ambiguities of morality" thoughts that are regurgitated ad nauseam. And I do want to make clear: they're not wrong, but I think this goes a bit deeper. Please, indulge me for some paragraphs.

From what I've seen, there are two schools of thought pertaining to Fuminori's actions: his actions are unethical without question, and his actions are unethical but are a byproduct of extenuating circumstances outside of his control. While I do believe Fuminori's actions are objectively unethical, it's important we understand how they're unethical. The "how" may seem obvious, but the details are important.

Before we talk about the "how," we first need to briefly discuss Saya no Uta's thesis. It can be summarized as the following: by and large, ethics is a byproduct of how we receive and process reality. To some, I'm sure this assertion is deemed as a sort of "moral relativism" that refers to differing cultural norms, customs, and taboos, but that's not what I'm referring to. By "receive" and "process," I'm referring to the ways in which our sensory organs receive external information and how our brain processes that information. The question is: do we have any reason to believe this thesis?

Let's contemplate a hypothetical: imagine a world where, for whatever reason, we all wake up tomorrow and realize our bodies have seemingly changed overnight. We all look the same, but there's one small difference: stubbing our toes now feels immensely pleasurable. In a situation like this, what would happen? I have reason to believe three things would occur:

  • Most, if not everyone on Earth would now purposely stub their toes at least a couple of times a day.
  • Toe stubbing would universally change from an unfortunate, avoidable part of life to a celebrated activity that many partake in.
  • And, most importantly, people would begin to stub the toes of others. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if handshaking would be replaced with "toe stubbing," a greeting where two people stub each other's toes by kicking their feet together. I'm sure pornography would also look a tad different...

It seems like an absurd scenario — and it is — but realistically, the ethical nature of toe stubbing — stubbing the toes of others, that is — would undoubtedly change. Really, this can be applied to any displeasurable activity turned pleasurable. I shouldn't have to keep listing examples to illustrate how a behavior's ethical status can change based on our processing of it. But I already know what you're thinking, "Timmy, ethics is far more complex than that! You can't reduce it to the pain/pleasure dichotomy!" I'm aware, which is why I should quickly elaborate on a theory of ethics. No, this theory won't be academic or comprehensive, but it'll work for this review.

In my mind, ethics has four "pillars." They are the following:

  • The pain/pleasure dichotomy, which dictates how we respond to external stimuli
  • Various biological proclivities, which steer an aspect of our behavior and are responsible for psychological suffering
  • Cultural and societal norms, customs, and taboos that help manage a cohesive society
  • Our intuitive sense of consequentialism

Combined, these ethical "pillars" control what we do to ourselves and others. Let's apply this system to Fuminori's actions.

Fuminori's cannibalism toward Omi - This violates all four of the ethical pillars. Sure, it may be far more pleasurable for Fuminori to eat a human, but the consequences produce immense physical suffering for Omi, psychological suffering from Koji's grief, violate the cultural and societal facets that manage a cohesive society, and lead to grave consequences for Fuminori, Saya, and everyone around them.

Fuminori's sexual relations with Saya - As ridiculous as it may seem, Fuminori's relationship doesn't violate the first two pillars; however, it does violate the third and fourth pillars. What I find interesting about their relationship is that it's only problematic insofar as it dooms humanity and violates taboos outside of Fuminori's mind. Unlike a real child, Saya seems to take great pleasure in having sexual relations with Fuminori — and she seemingly knows more about what they're doing than he does. Still, for anyone outside of Fuminori's mind, his behavior is reprehensible.

Fuminori does engage in other unethical acts, but this section is already long enough. For anyone who reads Saya no Uta, I believe their biggest ethical takeaway should be the following: humanity's physiology — how we receive and process the external world — shapes our ethics to a large degree. To be outside of the human condition is to be outside of humanity's ethical sphere — a place reserved for monsters

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They look like monsters to you?

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Without a doubt, Saya no Uta's atmosphere is gripping in a way most visual novels struggle to achieve. From the uncanny computer graphics to the black backgrounds and crudely drawn sprites, there wasn't a single time when I wasn't enthralled by the presentation. Even more impressive, the presentation is relatively simplistic, yet it combines with the superb soundtrack and evocative prose to create an unforgettable atmosphere — vibe, if you will — that hasn't left my mind since I reached the final ending. I could list countless examples, but I'd be remiss not to mention a certain scene that made me tear up.

During the "good" ending, Saya bears Fuminori's children by "blooming." The illustration below, combined with my favorite song in the soundtrack, quality prose, and convincing voice acting form a scene that was profoundly emotional. Words do it no justice.

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And then... she blooms

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Aside from Umineko's compendium of amazing tracks, I have yet to find another visual novel that reaches the same musical excellence that Saya no Uta's soundtrack does. Zizz Studio, the talent behind the soundtrack, did a fantastic job composing songs that align with the bleak, tragic world of Urobuchi's imagination. Instead of attempting to describe what ought to be heard, take a listen to "Silent Sorrow," a personal favorite of mine.

Silent Sorrow

If Silent Sorrow somehow didn't convince you, click on the image below for the entire soundtrack. A big shoutout to Carnivore Mors Interactive for remastering this classic!

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While Saya no Uta has a soundtrack and atmosphere that only giants like Higurashi and Umineko can rival, I, unfortunately, can't say the same about its characterization, narrative, and sexual content. As I probably made obvious in the "Characters" section, many of Fuminori's friends are quite shallow. In fact, Omi and Yoh — especially Yoh — are merely plot devices with little redeeming qualities other than their function to keep the plot progressing. Ryoko and Koji were treated slightly better by Urobuchi, but that isn't saying much.

Ryoko's persona as the head of T University and Fuminori's caring doctor is an endearing act that completely falls apart once she drops the act. While I don't find anything inherently wrong with this, I do take issue with how this transformation is portrayed. See, Ryoko wasn't just playing an act, she was really playing an act. It turns out that, after years of investigating the events surrounding Saya's father, she has Lovecraftian levels of traumatic baggage behind her facade. As a result, her true personality is obnoxiously edgy and horribly unlikeable — something you'd find in a satirical portrayal of a Lovecraft character. Like Fuminori, Urobuchi could've benefited from some restraint.

As for Koji, he's about as one-dimensional as Yoh and Omi. While he is slightly more elaborated upon due to his role in the plot, his "characterization" is purely focused on the expected disillusionment of Fuminori's actions and his spiral from sanity into madness. I didn't find him compelling enough to warrant such an important role in two of the novel's endings.

Saya no Uta also suffers from Urobuchi's amateur writing. Due to the novel's compact length, more time is spent telling the reader who the characters are instead of showing it through their actions. Additionally, Yoh, Omi, and Koji act in the predictable, nonsensical ways you'd expect in a B-movie slasher film. The most egregious example is when Koji decides to give Fuminori a ride to an abandoned, isolated house three hours from Tokyo — all the while suspecting him of a crime and monologuing about his eerie demeanor. Lastly, Saya no Uta really wants to convince you the police aren't an option. Considering how much emphasis is placed on this, I get the sneaking suspicion that Urobuchi knew of this plot hole, attempting to explain it whenever he felt the reader would wonder about the obvious solution.

As for sexual content, I found most of the sex scenes to be gratuitous and laughably written. The first one between Saya and Fuminori does have pertinent characterization, but the rest are unnecessary and by no means required for a full understanding of the novel's plot, characters, and themes. At least I got a chuckle out of the narrator referring to Fuminori's penis as his "manhood," along with Urobuchi's attempts at being "poetic" during select sex scenes.

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What Urobuchi does to a mf

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So, has Saya no Uta aged like fine literature? In some respects, it has — but no one should ignore its glaring problems. If Urobuchi had taken more time to develop a compelling, cohesive narrative with complex characters, then it would easily deserve every bit of praise it has received since 2003. For me, however, Saya no Uta is more akin to Saya herself than any piece of fine literature: pretty and charming on the outside, but horrific and flawed on the inside.

Pros:

  • Engrossing atmosphere
  • Superb soundtrack
  • Thought-provoking themes
  • Competent prose
  • Genuinely unsettling
  • The best opening sequence I've ever had the displeasure of hearing

Cons:

  • Amateur storytelling
  • Shallow characterization
  • Gratuitous sexual content
  • Occasional contrivances

 

If you'd like to follow the development of a visual novel that takes heavy inspiration from Saya no Uta, check out my visual novel Madness for Two. The link to my Twitter can be found at the top of this user blog.

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This is my first attempt at an "official" review, so don't grill me too hard💀

I planned on writing more in the "Analysis" section, but I'm quite busy right now. If demand is high enough, I'll go back and add some more thoughts on Fuminori's condition — as morality isn't the only theme in Saya no Uta.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them!

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Great review! I'd love to read more of your thoughts about the themes as these are something most VN reviews don't really bother with. I wouldn't expect too much feedback though as sadly there isn't that much traffic on this forum anymore.

I have two points where I disagree with you too some degree though: Firstly, yes the side characters aren't fleshed out at all, but I'd argue this is on purpose since the story is very much told from Fuminori's perspective and he perceives anyone except for Uta as not even human and thus not really worthy of being acknowledged as having any depth beyond what you can observe on a surface level. Switching viewpoint characters serves mostly to exposition and develop plot and themes as well as grounding the reader. Even Uta is mostly portrayed as someone whose only purpose is to provide Fuminori pleasure. He doesn't care all that much who she is or what her gets out of their arrangement as he is too caught up in the pleasure/pain dichotomy you mentioned above. That's why Uta gets introduced with a sex scene and probably why there's the otherwise completely pointless rape scene with the neighbor but very few scenes where Fuminori asks her about anything not relevant to their immediate circumstances (at least if I remember correctly, it's been a couple of years since I read the VN).

Which brings me to my second point, the sexual content. I agree most of it gratuitous and pointless as well, the first scene with Yoh stuck with me though. It marks the point of no return for Fuminori in terms of morals. Each prior crime of his could be, to some extend, excused with him trying to protect himself and/or Uta. But in this scene he brutally violates someone not only without prior provocation, but he even chooses the one person from the other side who has remained the most sympathetic to him throughout his mental deterioration as his target or at very least readily approves this choice (again, it's been a few years). He figuratively and literally dehumanizes Yoh. He doesn't see other humans deserving of any basic dignity any more, and this is the scene where this shift becomes evident.

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You know, I'm glad you brought up that scene with Yoh. I was going to talk about it, but I sort of ran out of steam. But yes, I do agree that it carries importance for Fuminori's ethical degradation.

As for your first point, I get where you're coming from, but if that's what Urobuchi was going for, I don't believe he accomplished it very well. Sure, the narrative mostly takes place from Fuminori's perspective, but there are long stretches of game time where Ryoko/Koji are front and center. Furthermore, even if he had accomplished this, one could still argue that, aside from it being thematic, it's questionable writing at best. 

I appreciate you taking the time to read it over. I'm not going to lie, I had a whole lot of doubts about my pseudo-philosophical ramblings in the "Analysis" section, but I guess it's good enough for the review. When I get the time, I'll talk about the battle between Fuminori's intellectual understanding of his situation and how he behaves as a result of his emotions.

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