Analysis Featured

Perspective in Saya no Uta

Written by Zalor

Disclaimer: This article is an analysis, which by nature requires spoilers. In addition, spellings of names and the quotes used are from JAST USA’s release of Saya no Uta. 

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Rather ambitiously the visual novel Saya no Uta addresses one of the oldest topics of art, aesthetics, and presents it in a very twisted and unconventional way. It begins by focusing on why humanity is so allured by beauty. But it then develops that argument into a broader question of whether humanity itself can be recognizable in something that looks repulsively unhuman.

Saya no Uta opens with the main protagonist Sakisaka Fuminori passively engaged in a conversation with his friends in a cafe. First we see this conversation play out from Fuminori’s perspective, then we see it again from a third person perspective. Immediately this establishes the disparity between how Fuminori perceives the world from how normal humans experience the sensory world. Fuminori literally sees the world as being made up of pulsating, viscous flesh like some sort of Dantean hellscape. His friends, nay all people to him, resemble humans only in so far as humans might look inside out. Even when he hears speech, it can be described as nothing short of ear-rape. Quite naturally (as I would imagine anyone doing in his situation) he does his best to end the conversation and leave as soon as possible. How can anyone maintain friendships if they are utterly repulsed by the people they are in contact with? Despite intellectually knowing who they are he has little qualms cutting them off from his life, as they are no longer human to him. Or as Koji’s girlfriend Omi puts it, “he looks at us […] like we’re not even human!” The only creature he can treat as human, is Saya.

In a grotesque world covered in gore and flesh, “only Saya is pleasing to [his] five senses.” Fuminori is motivated to tolerate his gross disorder, solely because of Saya’s aesthetic beauty. In his own words, “If I had not met Saya – if I had been all alone in this twisted, filth-ridden world – I would no doubt have succumbed to madness. It is no exaggeration to say that Saya alone is keeping me alive.” This is confirmed in a later scene which flashes back to his first contact with Saya. At the time he was preparing to end his life in order to escape his madness, but by a chance of serendipity he meets Saya, an image of salvation. Even if just her, a diamond in a world of muculent gore, that is enough to motivate Fuminori to live.

His revival in a desire to live requires a complete social rebirth that disregards conventional morality and social taboos. Fuminori eventually comes to realize that he finds Saya attractive for precisely the same reason he finds regular humans repulsive, due to his cognitive disorder. The very things that revolt regular people, Fuminori instead draws a sense of pleasure in. This is made explicitly clear when Omi initially enters his house for the first time after the accident. It reads, “her nostrils are instantly assaulted by a choking stench”. Soon after Omi is brutally devoured by Saya, and the pungent smell of her blood and decaying organs emanate throughout the room. When Fuminori arrives home, he notices that something is different, and describes that “Something smells strange, though not unpleasant. The aroma is quite soothing, in fact. It reminds me of Saya’s hair.” Not only do his new aesthetic and sensory preferences suggest a taste for cannibalism, but they indicate that Saya smells just like butchered flesh. Saya is not human, and Fuminori’s newfound appreciation for what humans would consider disgusting calls into question his humanity as well.

When (if) Fuminori chooses to remain with Saya, he acknowledges that he is turning over a new leaf. “Now I know what I lost in the accident. Saya says that I can take it back, but I know that I cannot”. Even if Saya fixes his disorder, the person he was would never return. What he lost, what he really seems to be alluding to, is his humanity. When he decides on committing his love for Saya, he rips apart an organ of the neighbor he had just killed and prepares to feast on it with her. While technically cannibalism, is it really if gore appears more appetizing to him than human food? It boils down to the question of perception and aesthetics. Would the reader rather eat what they know to be bread but appear as raw entrails; or would they rather eat what they know to be raw human organs, but appear as sweet jello? This question requires you to consider, if your senses reviled what you ate, what would prevent you from vomiting it out? For Fuminori human food doesn’t just look ungodly, but tastes it as well. When describing some ordinary food prepared for him, he says that, “The taste is as gut-wrenching as I expected”.  Through accepting Saya for who she really is, and by willingly accepting his new self that is governed by his madness, Fuminori has found some semblance of happiness.

Perception and relativism are huge themes in Saya no Uta. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, to quote a common adage. This visual novel essentially argues that this phrase applies not just for aesthetics, but for morality itself. Or even more complicated than that, it debates whether aesthetics and morality are perhaps intertwined.

“I like things neat and tidy. I can’t stand people like [Fuminori] who lurk outside of the world. They’re like cockroaches in your bedroom. Can you sleep with them scuttling underneath your pillow? The moment I find one, I kill it and stamp out all trace of its existence. I have to, for the sake of my mental well-being.” ~Dr. Ryoko

Ryoko begins her train of thought by saying that she likes “things neat and tidy” and then likens Fuminori to a cockroach, which she can’t stand. In other words cockroaches do not agree with her understanding of “neat and tidy”. In fact she uses that as pure justification for why she kills them. I don’t want to speak for others, but certainly I can relate to her disdain of cockroaches. Indeed, nobody would think twice about someone who killed a cockroach or another undesired insect, but what if that person killed stray puppies loitering around their property? Suddenly you may call into question the cruelty of the act.  Why is it perfectly okay to kill cockroaches but not puppies? The only answer I could honestly come up with is that cockroaches are disgusting and physically unrelatable, whereas puppies are adorable and easy to anthropomorphize. Yes puppies are cute, but digging deeper than that they’re cute because they kind of look like us. They have eyes, ears, four libs, a nose, and a mouth; which are features that often get emphasized in anthropomorphized depictions of dogs. Cockroaches don’t have ears or a nose, and the rest of the wretched creature looks so different from a human that it doesn’t matter that they have a mouth and eyes. So how is this all relevant?

Humans are as repugnant and physically unrelatable to Fuminori as cockroaches are to us. And likewise, Saya is just as repulsive to normal humans. What is interesting is that by the ending when Koji (and Ryoko depending on which choice you make) are fighting Fuminori and Saya; through the perspective of both parties they are fighting monsters. When making preparations for the showdown Fuminori assures Saya, “I don’t see [Koji] as human. I’ll have no trouble cutting him to pieces”. As for Koji, once the battle starts the first person he attacks and kills is Yoh (the girl Saya horribly disfigured to suit Fuminori’s tastes). “The white beam reveals everything — the merciless truth that finally shatters Koji’s sanity. Terror wipes his mind of all but two words, gun and trigger. His finger responds with instant obedience”. Koji knows that the person is Yoh, but her appearance is so shocking that primal fear and instinct take over. Regardless of how human somebody may be, their perceived humanity ultimately only exists in so far as they look human.

The next creature to receive such cruel treatment is Saya. In the midst of Koji’s death match with Fuminori, Saya ambushes Koji and is greeted by a shot from Ryoko’s gun. A lethal liquid is then poured on her.

With Saya’s death, a traceable human expression forms on Fuminori’s face. An appearance of utter despair, but the countenance is not lost on Koji. Despite his previous will to murder him, Koji stops and sympathizes with the man. Regardless of all the atrocities he was responsible for (the murder of his neighbor, his cannibalizing Omi, and his raping Yoh); Koji can still on a fundamental level feel and empathize with his loss. Understanding what other people feel simply through inferring their physical expression is a crucial part to being human.

Koji can recognize Fuminori’s expression, but is unable to sympathize with Saya’s pain; on the contrary Fuminori’s countenance is a result of staring at and understanding Saya’s suffering. This scene is simultaneously beautiful and tragic. From one man’s perspective a monster had been eradicated. From the other man’s perspective his sole reason for living disappeared. With Saya dead and Fuminori alone in a hellish world; he finishes what he intended to do right before he met Saya, kill himself. Thus (more or less) concludes one of the three potential endings.

The alternate ending concerns itself more with the question of what defines humanity. Whereas the previously described ending emphasizes the importance of the superficial aspects of humanity, this ending truly tries to understand humanity through an emotional lens. In this turn of events, even Dr. Ryoko is far less disdainful of Saya. This time she is given enough time to fully read Dr. Ogai’s research on Saya, and by the end of it develops a more detached and objective stance on her existence. By having been essentially raised by a human (by Dr. Ogai), Saya inevitably developed human emotions. Among Dr. Ogai’s last words was a wish for Saya’s happiness.

The goal of Saya’s species is to reproduce and through that process alter the environment of the world they inhabit to more appropriately fit their species. This is the only ending where Fuminori and Saya end up happily, and even then it is left open to interpretation whether Saya’s species dies through the process of giving birth or not. Either way, judging from the CG, the world Saya will create will be a beautiful one for her lover:

Returning to the theme of perception. While the new world will look lovely to Fuminori, it will appear absolutely horrific to everyone else.

This ending makes it painfully clear that Saya’s finding love and reproducing is in no way a good thing for mankind. While this branch in the story certainly wants to create relatability to Saya by highlighting her ability to feel human emotions, it ends in an apocalyptic style. As a happy outcome for Saya and Fuminori, this should grant us as readers a sense of catharsis since a substantial portion of this story was told through Fuminori’s eyes. From that stance (a subjective view point that favor’s the main protagonist) this is the best ending; but a utilitarian reading could only see this as a disastrous turn of events. Going with the objective view and returning to the argument on aesthetics I was making before. Saya’s emotions are only recognizably human to us as readers, because of the unique viewpoints we get from Dr. Ogai’s notes and Fuminori.

Fuminori’s perspective allows us to see Saya’s emotions personified in a human looking body; whereas Dr. Ogai’s notes provide us the backstory behind Saya’s emotional development. And indeed both these sources are heavily biased. Fuminori is Saya’s lover and literally sees her as the only beautiful thing in his world. As for Dr. Ogai, he started by looking at Saya through an objective scientific lens. However, as Saya developed speech and emotion he began to view her as an adopted daughter, and even named her. As his notes continue, he grew increasingly attached to her and even described her as having a “soul”.

But if we actually saw and heard Saya without this knowledge, we would probably instinctively interpret her as an ungodly abomination that “speaks some blasphemous semblance of human words.” The creature would appear and sound so uncanny, that we would instinctively want it eradicated, much like a cockroach. It is for this reason that I think the other ending is more accurate in its assertion that Saya is not human. It is generally believed in the social sciences that humans are social animals. Thus, how can somebody be human if they are not even recognized as such by other humans?

The above question is a philosophical one, with an answer that will vary person to person. Because of the multiple route structure of the visual novel, the story’s answer to that question itself is ambiguous. Much as perspective was a consistent theme in this work. Ultimately it is left to the reader’s perspective to determine an answer. Do they agree with the ending where Saya dies, thus satisfying a sadistic urge to see a wretched monster perish? Or do they believe that internal humanity is all that is needed, and thus want to see Saya fall in love properly; even if that involves the destruction of humankind? (Or do they want to avoid the question all together and go for the boring first ending).

~Zalor

 

 

 

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Zalor

21 Comments

  • Wow, that hit me harder than it should been. I wonder if this is the stuff we should be reading in school instead, as we already read disturbing books as part of our curriculum.

    • Part of my motivation for writing this was to prove that visual novels can be as complex and deep as books can be. I absolutely agree that Saya no Uta, (as well as some other vns) are sophisticated enough literary works to deserve being taught in schools. On top of that, I find them more fun to read than actual books, but some may disagree with me on that.

  • Lovely look at Saya no Uta. Till this day I still have not found anything that gave me the same feelings as Saya no Uta, where you can actually feel attached to and have feelings for something that should be considered an abomination. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this showcases this perfectly.

  • Man, I wish I could bring Saya no Uta up during my philosophy discussion, which is about Descartes at the moment. It would totally fit the theme. Then again, I will receive weird looks for sure.

    • Gotta carry that VN pride man, let the world know that they’re missing out. Then again, it ain’t for everyone

  • Very nice analysis, Zalor, although I would like to express some of my thoughts on Saya no Uta in relation to some of your points.

    When you talk about the difference between coakroaches and puppies, I was surprised that you didn’t bring another essential difference : the ability to communicate the pain it feels. The reason a lot of people defends the rights of animals, especially regarding torture, is because those species can feel and express their pains in a way us humans can relate to. In essence, a person willing to inflict pain even when knowing how painful it is for the victim is called cruelty.

    When the protagonist lost his humanity, he didn’t simply changed his point of view (albeit forced by his accident), he did took a liking into cruelty. It is, to my mind, essential to differentiate a change in point of view with an alienation because, if Saya is simply an abomination in our eyes that we cannot comprehend and acts purely in relation to her nature, the protagonist is broken and is a man that barely deserves pity.

    Why is that ? The basic idea is that he finds inherently all things that people consider full as repulsive but he acts in malicious ways, betraying people he once considered his friends by tricking them and so on. The Visual Novel emphasizes that his inhumanity makes him loses all morals since he is disconnected from this world he despises. Personnally, I would have prefered that the protagonist became “different in an almost incomprehensible way for us” (a human becoming like a sentient blood-thirsty beast because of a change in nature, overcoming his culture.) rather than pure evil.

    Without a doubt, the idea was to show that humans can’t relate and wants to destroy what they can’t relate to, hence the metaphor of the coackroaches. However, does the idea still holds water when the thing they can’t relate to is a direct threat to their species, is that idea still as strong ? It is important to consider context here since philosophical ideas, as nice as they sound should not forget the context that is the container of these themes.

    Some people may think that the protagonist isn’t evil (even if I wonder for what precise reasons), but it is important to remember that even if the murders he has to do in order to survive are due to his change in nature, there is no legitimate reason for him to disfigure Yoh and satiate a basic urge. Interestingly enough, less than emphasizing a “different point of view”, Saya no Uta emphasizes on how a man lost humanity because of his environment, influencing his way of perceiving the world, showcasing that our morality and attitudes are shapen by how well you fit in a society and how you see it. Saya on the other hand, is the one who gains humanity, even if she seems to be an eldritch abomination on the outside, she is the one who fell in love and even showcased true emotions for the leach that was the protagonist, clinging on her purity and innocence, her light to not fall into madness.

    I would add also that he didn’t fell in love with Saya because of her inner beauty but only because he saw her as a human girl and here is the limitation of the narration VS the meta. A meta-reading would see that as a perspective but here it is closer to an illusion. The protagonist didn’t alter his perception through his own personality and culture, his perception and sense of sight were altered completely.

    It is yet another thing that Saya does have in contrary to her lover. She saw him with her own perception of an eldritch creature who learnt to love and wanted to grant happiness to him and as such bring a more powerful approach of the matter of perspective than him since it was the result of an accident. The protagonist as evil as he is, is a victim of his circumstances.

    The different ends of this Visual Novel brings something different than what you said Zalor or at least I feel like it. Saya, isn’t the one who wants to see be dead by the end, like I said during this post, she is the one who showed human emotion and through the eyes of the protagonist, she provided a strong contrast. She was the monster you empathized with and her death is something that can provide emotions.

    The one you want to see perish is the protagonist. Maybe unlike some people, even if he was the one we followed, he didn’t had anything for me to empathize with him, falling deeper and deeper into his own madness as he became manipulative and egotistical. By being alienated and losing human morals, he became someone whose death was, if not meaningless, unrelatable. Even if his last moment, where his expression speaks for itself and show the last string of his humanity fading, what he had done so far made him a bigger monster than Saya. Empathy could communicate his pain but empathy alone doesn’t forgive everything.

    Finally, if the player chooses the end where Saya offers a world where he would be happy, Saya is the one you empathize for since she, even if it means the end of humankind, sacrifices herself for another’s happiness, showing that she is selfless in the eyes of love, a very human quality.

    To conclude, Saya offers more in the matter of perspective than the protagonist we follow. The first ending, if it stops the VN quite quickly is the only one where the protagonist keeps his humanity. Even if he cannot fall in love, he decides that his absence of selfishness is more important in a world he only see as filth.

    (I think I lost myself a bit… In any case, continue the good work.)

    Plénitude

    • Fantastic post! You have certainly got me to return back to and rethink some of my interpretations. But I think overall we actually agree on more than we disagree on.

      Regarding the first point I think we are basically saying the same thing. The reason we can relate pain to puppies, cats, and most other mammals is because they look kind of like us. We can’t relate to any pain insects feel because we don’t know how to, as they look nothing like us. In fact just as Ryoko takes sadistic pleasure in killing such disgusting creatures, I think we do as well for the same reasons. It’s still cruelty, but it doesn’t feel like cruelty us.

      I would say the same of Fuminori. Yes, he knows what he is doing is cruel and he takes a sadistic enjoyment in that. But it doesn’t matter if he knows he is doing “wrong”, because it no longer feels wrong to him.

      You question whether my comparison still holds water despite the context of how Saya is a threat to mankind. Supposedly it’s not cruel to want to kill Saya since her existence is hazardous to humanity. That might be the case if Ryoko’s and Koji’s hunting Saya, Fuminori, and Yoh was as rational as that. But almost intuitively Koji kills Yoh (despite knowing it is her) based on fear of her horrendous physical appearance. Yoh didn’t pose any threat to Koji’s existence, yet he obliterated her as if she did. Meaning that he would have done the same to Saya based on her appearance alone, even if he knew nothing else about her. The fact that Saya IS an actual threat is almost coincidental. Her appearance alone terrifies humans to the point they would want to kill her.

      I completely agree with your next point. I can’t think of any justification whatsoever for his raping Yoh. It was vile and evil.

      You wrote, “Saya no Uta emphasizes on how a man lost humanity because of his environment, influencing his way of perceiving the world, showcasing that our morality and attitudes are shapen by how well you fit in a society and how you see it.”
      Indeed, I think that agrees with my point when I wrote that Saya no uta “debates whether aesthetics and morality are perhaps intertwined.” Fuminori loses his humanity, because he no longer perceives the physical world in the way normal humans do. His sense of morality changes (disappears) because the human understanding of the physical world no longer applies to him.

      You’re right though that the apocalyptic ending is satisfying mostly because that is the best ending for Saya. We like that ending because as readers we see the humanity in Saya (in fact we only ever see her through Fuminori’s point of view) and therefore want the best for her. That’s also what makes Fuminori so important. We can only relate to Saya through his eyes.

      However, I know people (and this includes part of myself as well) who like the ending where Saya is killed for that reason. Fuminori may seem like the most evil one, but it was Saya’s influence on him that made him evil (without meeting Saya he would have killed himself before he could do any harm). Admittedly there was a sadistic pleasure I had when Ryoko (in a rather badass way) kills Saya.

      That’s all I have to say for now. If you have more to say I would love to read it. Thanks for posting such an insightful comment.

      • I can totally understand the aspect of the appearance alone being the trigger for humans’ will to destroy what he can’t relate to. However, I think there is shades to apply to this statement. In the context, he indeed killed her intuitively but if I recall correctly, they knew that they were chasing both Fuminori and a creature that consumed the flesh of humans and as such, the inherent fear of his human nature was enhanced making him act defensively when he saw the beast that was Yoh. In fact, and excuse my pun, Saya no Uta wants to show the gut reaction (I am so funny, PRAISE ME !) of human beings, it wants to show that even in our civilization, our instincts, the animal part of ourselves can make us monsters in regard of morals.

        However, that comparison is funny : animal and moral ? Does the killing of the lamb is an immoral action for the wolf ? Is it strange that the lamb tries to flee a wolf that has such frightening features as piercing eyes and sharp teeth ?

        If I wanted to push the metaphor and I will since I like to go on a tangent, could we think that Fuminori by seeing guts everywhere in cities and people, is a metaphor for the inner ugliness of civilization, a mask meant to hide the fact that when it comes down to certain situations, our civilized mind is reduced to nothing, overtook by our instincts, our gut reactions to preserve ourselves from what we can’t understand. Furthermore, Saya can’t be understood by humans because she needs their flesh to survive, it is a predator to men. Once again : Are Saya’s actions immoral ?

        To link this argument to my precedent post, Saya no Uta works on nature, our nature. There is no question of morality when you follow your nature to survive (my argument isn’t meant to be used to justify entertainment since it is culture-based, not given by birth but by knowledge.) Hence why Saya, in all its ugliness, will not be understood, she is a predator that appears scary to us and wake in us the will to protect ourselves by eliminating the threat. It also explains why her showing that she could fell in love despite her nature is that much stronger.

        You wrote “His sense of morality changes (disappears) because the human understanding of the physical world no longer applies to him.” but I am not sure if that’s not having a meta-reading of it. You see, we eternally comes back to that but he is lost in an illusion, then it is more than his human understanding of this eldritch hell made him insensitive, rather than “the physical world”. I really think Fuminori’s accident can hurt the readings sometimes in terms of interpretations, but yes, we agree.

        I don’t disagree that Fuminori is a necessary lens for us to relate with Saya, however that doesn’t mean it is a lens I am happy to look through seeing how inhuman he became.

        You wrote : “Fuminori may seem like the most evil one, but it was Saya’s influence on him that made him evil (without meeting Saya he would have killed himself before he could do any harm).” and I’m sorry but I have to strongly disagree with that way of thinking. Saya’s influence didn’t make Fuminori evil at all, he was already broken to the point of suicide and Saya was a beacon to help him get away from this wretched mental state. Is it Saya that asked that Yoh was mutilated and raped ? Is it Saya that forced selfishly her love on him pushing to extremes he would have prefered not to ? Do you blame the parents of a dictator because without them, she/he would have not been born or do you blame the dictators’ actions ? Likewise, do you blame Saya for falling in love with the only one that could understand her or do you blame Fuminori for being a broken, sadistic and evil joke of a human being ? I don’t want to be sarcastic but isn’t the first end the perfect counter-argument ? Isn’t the first ending the point where Fuminori even when meeting Saya decides to not become evil and keep his humanity ? I don’t think I can find a stronger point than that one.

        So, even if this reasonning is flawed I can understand that some people did felt that way.

        And, thanks for your consideration. Take care.

        Plénitdue

        • I feel this horse has more or less been beaten to death, so I will try to keep my response as short as I can. While the first ending is about Fuminori choosing humanity over happiness, he can only become human again by leaving Saya’s influence. Even in the first ending Fuminori still kills his neighbor (for Saya), and likewise Saya’s tampering with his neighbor caused him to kill his own family. Reading Saya as the evil influence that leads people down a monstrous path is a perfectly valid reading, though still a debatable one (as you’ve pointed out). Also, reading Fuminori as the pure evil one is also a valid reading, though also debatable (as I’ve pointed out). Saya no Uta leaves many open–ended questions that can be interpreted in various ways. That is what makes it such a great work in my opinion. I hope this concludes on a note that both of us can agree on.

          • Indeed it does. On that note, if you ever needed a second opinion on something in the future, I would be glad to offer my help.

            Plénitude

  • I have a problem with the assumption that the changed earth will be a hell. The people are changing, but is that for the better or for the worse? Saya had the ability to make people see the beauty in filth, and there’s no saying that won’t happen to humanity as well. I suppose this is somewhat of a transhumanist perspective, though.

    • Well, the Visual Novel clearly states that she wants to offer a world, a beautiful world to her lover and Fuminori possesses a clear “reverse” vision. Furthermore, and I don’t know how much it is said in the notes of the person that studied Saya but her species reproduces to create a more suited environment for them, hinting quite strongly at a world of gore. I would not call that a transhumanist perspective because transhumanism implies a choice, here it is forced, it is more close to assimilation than anything else.

      However what we could wonder is that, if the world become an eldritch hell and that humans become Saya-like in both body and mind, does that mean that at a point in time, that Saya was human ? And that she was transformed in a similar fashion and didn’t learn emotions but actually regained them ?

      Take care,

      Plénitude

  • Greetings! @Zalor Thanks for making such an impressive analysis! I can understand that this vn is really emotional though its shortage in comparison to others. The first ending has taught me a lesson- that is – to always say “yes” and you can move on further haha! and I really like shoes of glass. It’s so depressing but on the other hand, really addictive T_T. That’s all I have to say. Good work guys!

  • I think everything regarding article was already said, so what’s left for me is to add my “Thank you for great job!”. (Reagarding one of my favourite VNs, nonetheless).
    Oh, there’s one more thing – isn’t that great how “serious matters” can be found in such *stupid* medium as games (if you’re even willing to count novels amongst them)?

  • Excellent analysis! Saya no Uta was one of the first few VNs that I’ve read and I really enjoyed reading your analysis on it. Often times I’ll read or watch something and appreciate it for it’s face value but rarely do I get to think seriously and analyze what I’ve read or watched.

    If you do anymore analysis in the future, I look forward to reading them!

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