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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.