Sakura no Uta: A Poem Becomes a Song

sut1

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –



[This review was written shortly after the read. Sentiments are also at an all-time high, granted the proximity to the work’s completion. As always, there will be conceptual spoilers within this review. All specific spoilers are simple to the point of being revealed within the trial of the novel. This is an explanation of how I do my reviews.]

Sakura no Uta (SakuUta), like SubaHibi, is a difficult work to write about substantially. It should come as no surprise that like SubaHibi, SakuUta is fundamentally dense. It’s an ambitious work constituted of a countless array of literary allusions, and a dialectic which covers a vast array of topics. Nonetheless, this is not to say that SakuUta is a difficult work to appreciate. The events occurring within the work are mostly comprehensible and understandable. This is due in part to SCA-JI’s effective, evocative writing, and his down-to-earth demonstrations. Ultimately, while it’s easy to appreciate the surface of SakuUta, the difficulty derives more from attempting to ‘master,’ or fully appreciate the limits of the work.  Within this entry, I hope to convey my thoughts as a reader, without formally tackling in-depth the substantive content of the work (as I feel that my mastery of this work is cursory at best). To put forth an analogy, I’d liken SakuUta to being a polyhedron, whose sides are numerous and supposedly fixed, but nonetheless difficult to specify. If we were to focus solely on one side of this polyhedron, we could devote an entire entry into writing substantially just how SakuUta attempts to discuss that singular side of its. Because such an attempt is largely futile, I’ll focus on what I’m best suited to do — which is, to give my thoughts as a representative reader.

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“This is a long work.”

For the greater half of this past November, these were the thoughts which I felt were most characteristic of the work. When a work feels long, it’s generally not a good thing. Retrospectively, looking back at the works which I enjoyed wholeheartedly, like Baldr Sky Dive 1+2, even though I had actually devoted well over eighty hours to its completion, it felt like far less. Even in the case of SubaHibi, the spiritual predecessor of this work, while it had begun on a slower, more leisurely pace, it had eventually accelerated to a brisk, exciting pace. Arguably, SakuUta is a work which never quite ‘accelerates.’ Now, don’t get me wrong. SakuUta certainly has its up and downs, and it certainly has its more climactic, emotionally-evocative moments. But when it came to reading the work itself, I don’t think that there was a definitive point where the work just altogether, ‘changed,’ or had ‘gotten better.’ Instead, SakuUta is a consistent work whose profoundness is a result of the accumulation of its developments and experiences. This is to be held in contrast to a work, which is altogether catalyzed at a certain point to “becoming great.”

An example of a work which fits this description is Muv Luv Alternative. It relies on a less-than-interesting prequel (namely, Muv-Luv Extra, a generic moege). You’re encouraged to read the predecessor work in aspirations of enjoying the payoff that would come from the superior, more interesting successor. SakuUta is not such a work. It’s a work which for the most part, maintains a solid, leisurely tempo. As a reader, this isn’t optimal, as I’m the type of reader who enjoys being consumed by the work (insofar as feeling like I’m actually in the work). But, this lack of ‘tempo-increase,’ is arguably, part of what makes the work what it is. I think that this type of ‘structure’ for the work served well to carry out its primary themes. Now, I’m not trying to justify that all of SakuUta’s dull parts were as equally meaningful as the more profound, exciting parts. After all, SakuUta is a work that has as dense an amount of insufferable, repetitive, and painful-to-read slice of life as it does meaningful content. Indeed, the slice-of-life content is so egregious, that at certain parts of my reading experience, I would stop after several hours of reading to realize that I had read nothing more than just the perversions and antics of a few select characters.  This is sub-optimal. I had realistically spent in the neighborhood of 60-65 or so hours (focused) on the work. But, I felt that I spent a far longer period of time.

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In contrast to Subahibi, I don’t think that SakuUta has an exemplary standalone plot. In my review of SubaHibi, I had noted that regardless of how well the reader had grasped its allusions, themes, and philosophies, the reader still had the capability (and perhaps tendency) to appreciate its excellent storyline. Indeed, I had initially based the core of my scoring of the work on its ‘obvious’ substance, while amending the score after I had a greater understanding of its more subtle parts. SakuUta, while it does have its surface-level, easier-to-appreciate themes and purposes, lacks what I’d call, an intriguing, excellent storyline. The structure of SakuUta is similar to SubaHibi in the sense that it has an enforced route order. But, the purpose of the routes themselves are different. SubaHibi’s routes effectively served as pieces of a puzzle (one ultimate result which we’d call the complete puzzle) — the routes were fixated on the storyline of the work itself. In contrast, SakuUta’s routes effectively mimic more a more generic, natural heroine-route structure (you choose a heroine, you learn more about the heroine, you get close to the heroine, and these findings end up contributing indirectly to the understanding of the work as a whole). Whether or not this route structure type is inferior or not is up to personal preference and decision.

The character routes themselves were altogether fairly good. While some of them were noticeably written more excellently and with greater care than others, none of them were exactly ‘token’ or ‘useless.’ The characters themselves were as a whole, fairly affable — in contrast to SubaHibi, I’d argue that the characters played more of a symbolic or representative role than they did a more ‘human’ role (their significance is more in what they represent and the function that they bring about more than in simply being likable). I had regarded SubaHibi as an ‘ensemble’ work, in the sense that it boasted a very strong, vibrant cast of characters which made the work what it was. In contrast, I’d be more compelled to call SakuUta a ‘conductor’ work, in that its significance is almost nearly entirely focused on the protagonist. The protagonist is arguably the only real ‘complex’ and strongly identifiable character (it is not to say that the supporting characters are insignificant though — just notably, not as important). If a reader is looking for a meaningful, central romance, then I think that by now, they should realize that SCA-JI is simply not that type of author.

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With all of these complaints (or concerns) introduced, can we really say that SakuUta is a good work? For me, I think that the answer to this question is as reflexive as it is simple. It’s undoubtedly a great work. But, I feel that in comparison to SubaHibi, the barrier of entry to appreciating just how great it is, is a lot higher. It’s a work whose greatness comes from the way that it leads a dialectic on the subjects which it discusses — some of its subjects are grounded more in abstraction (e.g. The role and significance of art), whereas some of its other subjects are more down-to-earth and approachable (e.g. The optimism of life). While SubaHibi had a great deal of literary allusions, I don’t think that they were as important as they are in SakuUta. Indeed, a lot of the works alluded to (namely the Japanese literature) contain a great deal of contextual information that most audiences outside of Japan would be unfamiliar with (e.g. I don’t think that most people would be familiar with who the authors are, muchtheless a semblance of the historical context which they were writing from). Ultimately, SakuUta takes a lot more work to appreciate, namely because its value derives more from its discussion than it does its plot.

Nonetheless, I think that if a reader were able to specify and comprehend all the sides of this polyhedronic work, then in one way or another, it’d be viewed as a very superior work. It’s a lot more ‘intellectual’ in this sense. As a reader, I’d say that I’m the ’emotional’ type, in the sense that the simpler works which are executed well resonate with me the more (e.g. White Album 2) than the more challenging, and intellectually-stimulating works. Nonetheless, it’s not to say that the beauty of Sakura no Uta is found solely in what it tries to discuss. Upon finishing this work, I do feel a sense of loss — a void, so to speak. It’s a characteristic symptom consequent only from the most profound and touching of works. While intellectually, I find it difficult to discuss at much meaningful length the content of the work, viscerally, I feel that the simple surface of the work was communicated to me effectively. For that reason, it’s a work which I appreciate greatly, and a work, which I hope to better my understanding of in the future.

 

After

I don’t think that I discussed at much length the aesthetics of the work. The general art of the work was great (although it fell in quality understandably during the h-scenes). The art of the pieces of art themselves (which played a pivotal role at some points within the work) were underwhelming, and not as great as they could have been (effectively, the CG was supposedly of a masterpiece, but it felt underwhelming altogether). The soundtrack was pleasant, and fitting for the work.

I think that the most emotionally-catapulting chapters of the work for me were Zypressen and a Nice Derangement of Epitaphs. The former was written in a very interesting way, and the latter, was excellent in what it conveyed, and how it conveyed it.

Grade: S

 

10 thoughts on “Sakura no Uta: A Poem Becomes a Song

  1. Thank you for writing this effective and exploratory review on another of Sca-ji’s games which again thoroughly describes both the nature of the narrative body and flow, two things I’ve wanted to know about the story going in (I’m a huge Subahibi fan with idealistic expectations towards this game lol). I’m currently still making my way through the work (at Zypressen), so I can’t yet discuss in detail any discernible meaning from the potential thematic implications or allusions made in the story. However, because of a certain source I hang around a lot I’ve inadvertently learned about the key idea/concept apparently encompassing much of the story’s thesis, which I could say a little something about (edit: it’s not little so I put a tl;dr at the end xD).

    To outline the idea; Sakuuta is stated as a spiritual successor to Subahibi and you could also say from that that it’s an extension of Subahibi, especially so considering both stories at their thematic core seem to be about the same thing — the value of a happy life. While it’s clear the two stories are different in their approach to this (one abstract and the other non-abstract), I hypothesize that both as well as all views are mutualistic to one another and hold the same intrinsic meaning or ‘essence’ in that favor, i.e. there’s no difference. This is because I believe Sakuuta may go beyond with its topic in viewing art to show this very distinction (also implicating possible others) in a trivial semantic form to represent how there is actually no philosophical barrier between meaning/value on happiness from any type of perspective. Happiness is ‘eternal’ by this principle, a 「幸福の先への物語」. To maybe further elaborate on this; Sakuuta’s thesis may be that any one representative view/definition of happiness could be semantically ‘reversed’ where another is seen normally, but it’d still be the same in meaning. But, if Subahibi is ‘a story in which happiness directs life’ which is quite abstract, then this mutualism between the two works can only be seen with Sakuuta telling a more ordinary ‘story in which life becomes happy’ afterwards. The key idea is 永遠の相/sub specie aeternitatis/aspect of the eternal and this is my understanding of it. Perhaps Sca-ji’s aim with Sakuuta is to prompt the audience to change their abstract impression of happiness, which gives way for an infinite progression of further changing one’s impression of happiness into something more concrete? Anyways, I’m excited to finish the novel now knowing that Sca-ji is such a winner (if this is all accurate).

    Something Wittgenstein says in Notebooks 1914-1916 that is a good TL;DR lol: “The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics.”

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    1. I think that a similar feature between the two works on the topic of happiness is found from their emphasis on the individual.

      Generally, within a visual novel, happiness is the result of romantic love (resulting in some type of external dependency). SubaHibi opened a dialectic on this issue in the realm of abstraction (Wittgenstein’s notion of an internal world; the interconnectedness of everything to one), whereas Sakura no Uta, for lack of a better phrase, is more grounded in reality (no matter how awful life gets, you can still find value in it, and live happily). It’s due to these two factors, that I think, that the two works don’t focus centrally on romance (but instead, on the broader concept of happiness).

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      1. Exactly, and this is something Sca-ji himself framed in an interview on Subahibi which also provides its context. You don’t have to read the entire blog, but the TECHGIAN interview is in there somewhere: http://gahkun.blog95.fc2.com/blog-entry-1133.html

        Reading this over again I’m now convinced that both Subahibi and Sakuuta (there is also Sakuuta’s sequel サクラノ刻 to consider as well) are truly representative works to the eroge medium and its whole premise with building romantic life simulations. Is romance (following that any type of lifestyle) and a simulation of it (following that any form of ‘life simulation’, i.e. art) the value/meaning of happiness in life? Sca-ji answers to this inquiry with the presentations of Subahibi and Sakuuta in order. To sink you into the philosophical abstractness of it only to bring you out with realism, building a continuous stair of mere principle to allow you to go ever higher in clarity. This is how 永遠の相 – or perhaps it could be called the “perspective of god” – is achieved, and with it, living happily is eternal (it can be found in any meaning or value). And since I’d say Yuki/Ayana are the personification/manifestation of the concept (they dualistically represent God), going back to look at Subahibi is a part of this climb.

        Although just guesswork, I really hope I haven’t stumbled upon too much of Sakuuta’s thesis (still expecting to be surprised yet^^).. But if none of this is misplaced in any way then Sca-ji is for certain my favorite eroge writer, no contest. Or maybe my personal favorite artist, I don’t know. As daring as it may be to say this, I even thought about wanting to “touch” Sakuuta in that special way because of my personal adoration for the principles in Subahibi’s final part…

        (btw just want to finally note here that I am ‘Ayana-san’ and yes I am obsessed with these works :3)

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      2. Oh hey, cool. Thanks for aiding my efforts in better understanding SubaHibi.

        I think that as far as favorite writers go, I really do appreciate what SCA-JI writes. I just wish that he simultaneously released a “Reader’s Guide” alongside his releases (This is a joke, but I imagine it’d be really helpful).

        His writing is ironically, both emblematic and antithetic to the visual novel medium. To me, he’s an evocative writer whose ambition is nonpareil (comparative to those within the same medium). It provides a certain type of satisfaction in properly comprehending his works.

        Nonetheless, at the end of the day, I think that I’m still partially (on level of unabashed favoritism) to the less ambitious, more emotionally-striking authors (Maruto, cough, cough). While Subahibi provided an evocative experience, its emotions were ontologically dependent on its appreciation (grasping its content, which required a lot of thought — which isn’t necessarily bad). I seem to be drawn towards work that bring out simpler, but still robust human responses.

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  2. Hi mdz, I am the “certain source” Zealty mentioned. I found this post when someone linked it to me on IRC and I think I’ll take the time to respond to this post instead of homework or reading visual novels. Commenting on blog posts is far more productive IMO.

    For starters, I like to disagree that SubaHibi and SakuUta are “dense”. When it comes to “dense” works, I think of actual infodumps. Muv-Luv Alternative has dense infodumps about the history and mecha. There is also another implicit meaning to density: are the themes so far psychologically dense that they are difficult to grasp? You talk about “comprehensibility” and “understandability” and yet suggest the work is “dense”. I feel that this is a contradiction that needs to be explicitly solved. I do agree that SubaHibi and SakuUta deal with themes larger than most works of art would handle — however, I do not consider those works “dense”. “Dense” is a nasty-sounding word that assumes that a work is unapproachable. It is not human. It is robotic. It is academic.

    But SubaHibi and SakuUta deal with the themes of humanity in the context of metaphysics and art. As far as I know, humans usually read eroge so “density” could not be applied to them.

    Let’s also talk about the relationship of SubaHibi and SakuUta. You mentioned that the latter is not standalone and yes, I would agree. That’s because all art are not standalone. They are in a conversation. “Spiritual successors” and sequels are signs that signify that, yes, these works do connect with their predecessors. They are in a conversation. But I’d argue all works of art are in a conversation. Every work of art is a reaction to another work of art — or a group of pieces. No one can read Muv-Luv Alternative, for example, without thinking of the various mecha anime and sci-fi books they read. It is no surprise that MLA is inspired by Starship Troopers and Gunbuster. SakuUta talks about the concept of intertextuality actually in VI; it happens when Naoya modifies once again the artwork. In a way, we can read this as a metaphor for SakuUta modifying/beautifying its father, SubaHibi. The young SakuUta still has a ways to go and that’s why VI ends in such a way it promotes a new beginning, a new possibility.

    If SubaHibi and SakuUta must be described in one word, it is this: holism. The philosophy of holism is to be in accordance with the world, to recognize the world as a whole, and live without opposing the forces of the world. To live happily means to live eternally. We must recognize that death is part of living and we cannot ignore it. In SakuUta’s view, the aspect of the eternal (永遠の相) is the aspect of accepting death to live.

    The reason I love SubaHibi and SakuUta is that the “surface level” and “thematic level” are interconnected, despite their ambition. Many works falter when it comes to massive ambition and require essays to figure out what the stories mean. But SubaHibi’s and SakuUta’s stories are the thematic message. A separation will not only be non-holistic (reductive actually) but assumes that there is something deeper in their core messages. But SubaHibi and SakuUta are actually simple works. There is no reason to talk about meaningless propositions or nonsense when it comes to those works. They are what they are.

    What the two works teach us is simply this order: “Live happily!”

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    1. I’m used to writing and reading from a philosophical perspective (it’s my major — blame the traditional pre-law track. I like to think that this choice worked out, though).

      Dense in this context means that the text is for the most part, generally straightforward and written in simple, or easily comprehensible prose, but is still difficult because of the material. The material isn’t difficult on a line-to-line basis (as modern philosophical texts tend to be written simplistically, so, to focus on any one line would be grounds for easily comprehending it). The difficulty is in a) remembering the significance of whichever line in whichever context, and b) tying together the line with the whole picture. In the context of the post, SakuUta is a dense work because it has a lot of parts (none of which are necessarily difficult to comprehend in themselves). The difficulty is in a) identifying all the parts (how do we know which line is of importance?), b) remembering all the parts meaningfully, and c) synthesizing all of its parts (Now that I’ve understood all its individual parts, now I have to figure out the purpose). As I mentioned, to enjoy the work, mastery of the work is not needed (part of my praise for the series is how easily the audience is capable of enjoying the ‘simple picture’ of the two works). It’s just that we can conceive that the ‘best’ type of appreciation of the work comes from understanding the work as a whole, rather than as a segment. I think that by this definition, SakuUta is a dense work. It’s written simplistically, but is nonetheless packed with important details, some major and some minor. You run the risk of missing something important due to oversight as a result.

      I think that this definition of density holds for SakuUta, and to a lesser extent, SubaHibi (as the dialectic for this work seems to be grounded more in its actual, obvious plot than in SakuUta). Density does not mean incomprehensible. A dense work can easily be approachable if someone puts in the time and effort. The point which I made at the end was that it takes a lot more time and effort to appreciate SakuUta than it does Subahibi.

      I don’t think that we differ too much in our appreciation of the work. I think that SubaHibi & SakuUta both motivate human responses out of its readers, due to nothing other than appreciating the work in its moment. The average reader will pick up on the general picture of what the work tries to do. For some, this general picture is enough to earn a type of reverence. What I tried to note more precisely was that such a general picture is inherently limited (as it’s an incomplete understanding). A full understanding of both works at their core, I believe, is a lot harder. But, I can imagine it as being very satisfying.

      As a note, I find your avatar picture offensive =[. Other than being blessed with the capacity to offend the audience, what was the major importance of her character in your opinion?

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      1. I don’t really think that is a definition of density. You seem to be commenting on the structure and how everything connects with each other. That seems more like interconnected layers or something. SubaHibi and SakuUta do have beautiful structures, but I don’t think they are necessarily “dense”.

        Kana is one of the most relatable characters. She is offensive, brutal, and apparently knows only one word, “junk”. She is every one of us. Anyone who has felt worthless in front of genius (Rin) and talent (Naoya). Kana has no God, so she latches onto Rin’s like a parasite. But her shock comes from seeing Naoya do really well, despite his disability. I think the reason why we feel repulsed by her is because she is us when we see art. We tremble in fear and feel unable to move on. In a way, that is also our reaction to death. We are too traumatized by missing a loved one and we can’t move on. Sakura no Uta is written to those who feel like Kana because it shows how pathetic (and lovable) they are.

        She is the same character as Takuji from SubaHibi. Both characters evade the shared concept (death/art respectively) altogether. She is possibly the most important character besides Naoya because of her role in the thematic message. 幸福に生きよ is directed to people like her. And I do think I share Rin’s view of aesthetics, Naoya’s view of humanity, and Kana’s fear and trembling.

        That is probably why I cannot stop thinking about SakuUta when it comes to the philosophy of art. I recognize that Rin, Naoya, and Kana are ideals and no one could be exactly like them — much like how we can’t be just Yuki, Tomosane, or Takuji. We’re all three of them (or six of them, if you will). And to recognize them and follow the Ideal/God of Naoya and Tomosane are the correct way to live happily.

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      2. I think density at its core is concerned with material that’s packed within a short frame of time. That’s by no means a controversial definition. SakuUta (and Subahibi to a slightly lower degree) fits that definition. So in the context of the post, you can understand this is what I mean by density.

        On the topic of Kana — I think that she plays an admirable role (in the way that you described her existence). Although from a more subjective perspective, while I can see the virtue of her character in the midst of the context, I do find it a bit difficult to personally relate to or emphasize with.

        With great art, I’d be more inclined to be inspired by it, than to be enamored with it to the point of feeling a type of comparative inferiority. Indeed, it’s like Wilde’s anti-mimesis with “Life Imitating Art” — a work can inspire us to be the protagonists of our own life, or in some case, inspire us to aim for particular goals. In this sense, it’s a mutual partnership between art and individual (individuals create and observe art, whereas art inspires individuals to do or act). Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your interpretation of text, and none of this is controversial.

        I do think that it’s a safe bet to assert that these characters are emblematic (not quite the Platonic forms of the alleged characteristics, but as close to human as one can be to them) of what they represent. It is the case that each of us ‘share’ in some of their characteristics. Although understandably, depending on the individual, the degree to which we identify will differ.

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