I couldn’t write a review after I read Sayonara wo Oshiete. I didn’t have anything to say. But there might come a time when I do want to say something, so I dragged out my notes and memories to try and piece together the fragments of ideas that the game impetuously scatters into the ether.
Hitomi Hirosuke is a teacher in training. As he approaches the end of his time as a student and the true beginning of adulthood, he starts to see horrible images in his dreams that bleed into reality. His world is a blend of White and Orange.
White always represents reality. The walls, the toilet, cigarettes, chalk, that cloudy white fluid – these are the things that anchor Hitomi to the real world. It is also the color of Mutsuki and the angel of his dreams. Orange is the color of twilight – neither day nor night, the moment before darkness. It is the color of the atmosphere and the predominant shade used in Nagaoka Kenzou’s illustrations. It represents unambiguously the blending of reality and delusion.
And this is what I love about horror. The creators embrace uses of language and imagery that others might consider vulgar or sophomoric for the sake of art. I have a special fondness for writing that believes in what it’s doing, even if it lacks subtlety and refinement. I don’t want everything to be written like this, but it makes me happy that some things are, and I wish this kind of writing was seen more outside of horror.
There are so many other instances where Sayooshi is comically explicit. The main character’s name, Hitomi (人見) literally invokes the feeling of being watched. There is a line in Mahiru’s introduction so stylistically out of place that it immediately feels like a reference to the Soseki title, “I am a Cat” (吾輩は猫である).1 If you didn’t know what roles the girls played before, you should surely know after watching the ending for the first time. The characters are credited in French as actors in a play.
In fact, the whole ending sequence is reminiscent of another horror classic, “Psycho,” where a doctor thoroughly explains what Norman Bates was all about. That ending is one I particularly hate, cheaply undermining the narrative that was so masterfully constructed.
But as much as this sort of explanation brushes against my own sensibilities, I do think it inadvertently succeeds in reinforcing the one thing that’s really being said by the work. None of what was depicted means anything. It didn’t even reflect what happened in the real world. Any judgment based off of some underlying truth in the narrative is pointless.
This type of art has had a number of names over the years. Absurdism. Dadaism. Surrealism. And while the motivations have changed over time, they are all characterized by a struggle against essentialist meaning. Classical epistemology separates the external world, defined by facts about the world, from the internal world, a limitless space defined by all that is possible. Humans have a natural desire to believe that there is truth in our internal world, that we exist for a reason. We also tend to have trouble finding these reasons. Sayooshi, like the other games grouped under the Denpa name, is about a man whose internal conflict has escaped into the external world.
And that’s all it is. An incoherent sequence of pictures of a man who exists in a world that exists, and nothing can be said of that world. It is a stimulating sequence of pictures, one that might get you thinking about other things, but the game itself is never truly one of them. It’s lack of meaning gives it a purity that other games don’t have, a metaphorical blank canvas to draw your own images on. Sayooshi is art for art’s sake.
Those seeking a prescription for the human condition may be disappointed that no such thing is attempted, but I think that’s okay in the end. Existence isn’t a disease to be cured, nor is it a puzzle to be solved. How can much be said when there’s nothing to say in the first place?
- そう、改めて。この哀れな小動物は、田町まひるという少女なのである。 ↩︎