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“Saya no Uta” (“Song of Saya“), is an horror visual novel written by Gen Urobuchi and published in Japan by Nitroplus in 2003. Later, in 2009, a fan translation patch was made, and in 2013 the official english version was released by JAST USA, using an improved version of the original translation.
In interactive literature, the formal differences between the different media are less important than the thematic expectations of their readers. So, for example, we can define gamebooks as “books in which the reader can participate in the story taking choices, by means of numbered sections“, visual novels as “interactive fictions for computer featuring extensive use of static graphics and music, and allowing to take choices during the story“, or hypertext fiction as “a genre of electronic literature characterized by the use of hypertext links to tell several different stories“. And we can see that, at least formally, the difference between these three media are minimal. These differences are based on the physical medium (a book or a computer), the presence or absence of images and music, etc. But if we stay there, we will lose many of their important differences, based on the thematic expectations of their readers.
So, the gamebook reader expects to find a tale of a voyage or an adventure, as well as several confrontations if the gamebook has dice mechanics. A visual novel reader will expect to find character interaction, love stories and the occasional erotic scene. In hypertext fiction, it is more common to find narrative experimentation, or stories of a more intimate sort. There’s no reason why a gamebook couldn’t have erotic scenes, or a hypertext couldn’t tell a story of adventure and monster fighting in a fantasy world. But it simply doesn’t happen very often, since that’s not what their readers expect to find.
Visual novels, a media born in Japan, has some interesting characteristics. It’s destined to a usually more mature reader, and so it has room for stories very different to the ones we use to find in gamebooks. It’s the case of “Saya No Uta“, an interactive fiction story that would be unthinkable in any other media.
Before going on, I think it’s neccesary to make a fair warning; “Saya No Uta” is a story featuring very dark scenes of violence, explicit sex, cannibalism and even rape. It’s a story that does everything possible to annoy and horrify us.
Still reading? Ok, let’s continue.
The story tells us about a young medicine student, Fuminori Sakisaka, who suffers a car accident in which all of his family dies, and causes him an exaggerate form of Agnosia, making him see the world as if it were made of blood and gore, and people were horrific monsters. When he is contemplating suicide in the hospital, he meets Saya, a very young and beautiful girl. They become close, move in together, and start being lovers and incredibly dependent on one another. However, Saya is not the human that Fuminori thinks she is. She is a being from another dimension, a monster whose appearance drives to insanity to anyone that is not affected by Fuminori’s illness.
The story is told from several points of view. With Fuminori we’ll see the world as an horrific place full of monstrosities, where the only thing that’s beautiful is Saya. We will also be told the story of his best friend Koji, who will investigate the reasons of Fuminori’s strange behavior, and also of doctor Ryoko Tanbo, who knows the existence of the being of another dimension called Saya, and will try to put an end to her existence. As the story goes on, we will see how these three stories mix together, and we will be witnesses of the descent into madness and violence of their protagonists.
“Saya No Uta” is a story that wants to get us in touch with the darkest aspects of the human being. We will see old friends wanting to assassinate each other, and people commiting all kinds of atrocities. And the scariest part of it is that, in all of their actions – even the worst – we can understand their motivations and even sympathize with them. It makes us believe that in exceptional circumstances, all of us could become monsters. This story an incredibly nihilistic feel to it. And even so, in the middle of the horror, there are moments of great beauty. Gen Urobochi is capable of turning the abominable beautiful, in a form of “poetry of horror” I have only been able to see in some japanese authors, like Suehiro Maruo or Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
“Saya No Uta” is not a story you are going to enjoy, but I think it’s worth reading. In my opinion, it’s a rich and wonderfully written visual novel, one of the most interesting that have been published in recent years. If you feel bold enough and understand the kind of story you are going to read, I would consider giving it a go.