The Song of Saya (Saya No Uta) is one of the first recommendations when it comes to visual novels that stray away from the genre’s established formula. Originally released in Japan back in 2003, it is one of Nitroplus’ earliest visual novel titles. What’s special about the Song of Saya is that instead of the usual story about a blooming high school romance, you get one that’s interestingly grotesque from its onset. Personally, I love stories that stray away from the norm, which is why when I first started reading visual novels, the Song of Saya was actually a game-changer.
The Unfortunate Accident
The Song of Saya revolves around the curious case of Fuminori Sakisaka, a medical school student who sees the world in a strange way. After a vehicular accident that led to the loss of his family, he was hospitalized and rescued via experimental brain surgery. If it wasn’t hard enough that he was now suddenly alone, the surgery seems to have distorted the way he saw the world. No longer could Fuminori see the various hues that he was familiar with; as if it was a sick joke, the world is now populated by grotesque sights that could churn a grown man’s stomach.
With his friends sharing the same disgusting forms the world around him has taken, Fuminori finds himself losing the will to live. Days go by without any signs of his condition getting better, pushing him to contemplate suicide. However, on one fateful night in the hospital, a girl in a white dress appears before him. She is Saya, the only other human being that appears normal from Fuminori’s perspective. And so starts his absurd relationship with the only other human-like person in the world.
A Gruesome Reality
From the start, we are introduced to the kind of world that Fuminori sees. Everything around him resembles bits and pieces of wriggling flesh not only visually, but also in scent and texture. His friends, who were a source of strength before the accident, have turned into incomprehensible flesh-monsters, spewing goo and fluids as they speak in tones that barely resemble human speech. Honestly, seeing these disgusting sights while the narrative describes them made my stomach churn. Not only because of how hideous it is, but because I can’t even begin to imagine what Fuminori feels like being transported to such an unfamiliarly grotesque world.
These elements make for an interesting opening scene for the visual novel when you start reading it for the first time. What was a commonplace lunch break scene between friends is turned into this absurd test of endurance to not lash out at the monstrous beings that resemble people who Fuminori once enjoyed his college life with. A little bit unexpectedly, however, it’s not actually grief that permeates this introductory scene. What is present instead are feelings of exhaustion, being fed up, and the overwhelming desire to leave them all behind. This sets a precedent for the events to follow in The Song of Saya, as Fuminori is swallowed up by the cruelty of his situation.
The Elephant In The Room With A White One-Piece
Now, what is a character like Saya doing here? The titular character Saya is a curious character to include in a visual novel as grotesque as this. On one hand her cuteness is greatly enhanced by the contrast between her and the environment, but on the other hand she looks incredibly out of place. The Song of Saya is obviously not a slapstick romcom where there are punchlines beneath all the pulsating mounds of flesh around them, so seeing her at first, I can’t help but feel that she’s part of a different world from the other characters I’ve come to know at that point.
That disconnect between her and the rest of Fuminori’s world makes The Song of Saya stand out even amongst other horror media that I’ve consumed. Instead of just relying on the visual novel’s horrific aspects to squeeze out some shock factor, I’m given a glimpse of hope in Fuminori’s situation through the character of Saya. She is that hope for him because she represents what he has lost to his condition. To regain the ability to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch a human other than himself is an incredibly moving moment to read and sympathize with. It sounds like an incredibly wholesome story to read! Well it would have been, at least, if this wasn’t tagged as psychological horror.
Saya, Is The One Piece Real?
Beyond Fuminori’s frustrations about his current condition, a large part of the visual novel centers around the identity of Saya. As a reader, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer disconnect between how Saya acts and how everyone else appears in Fuminori’s perspective. Saya is a cute young lady that visits him at the hospital he’s confined in, at a time no one’s supposed to be awake anymore. She smells nice, is soft to the touch, and overall pleasing to have beside you. In contrast, one of Fuminori’s friends, an attractive woman named Tsukuba You, is a writing mass of flesh. It’s the same case for everyone else that Fuminori talks to; it’s only Saya that doesn’t appear that way to him.
Saya’s unique situation adds an additional layer of complexity to her otherwise very wholesome interactions with Fuminori. Although romantic in nature, each action Saya makes seems to feel a little bit weird to read over time. It felt like there was something creeping up behind me, waiting to bare its fangs as I unsuspectingly trip over an obvious bump on the road, A looming threat over the horizon, so to speak. Why is Saya the only one that looks human? What secrets is she hiding under the white one-piece dress? The answers to these questions, of course, get revealed bit by bit as you read through its story.
The Bare Necessities
The Song of Saya averages around 6 hours of play time amongst users in the Visual Novel Database, which means that it’s very important it utilizes its allotted time effectively. This ends up reflecting in the speed of its pacing, which is quite fast. There is an obvious lack of the usual slice-of-life scenes you would typically find in other visual novels. After around the first 30 minutes of the visual novel, the kind of secret Saya’s hiding will partially have been unraveled through bits and pieces of what the story gives you. There’s not much room to breathe because every moment moves the narrative forward to its intended conclusion. There’s barely any time to take in the revelations you’re given.
However, it’s actually not too bad. The story only revolves around a select number of characters and never goes out of its way to introduce additional ones that are irrelevant. Everyone that’s important is already there by the 10-minute mark, which means that, for the most part, there’s nothing else to look out for. Hence, despite its pacing, the Song of Saya feels like a cohesive, self-contained story. Whilst large in its scope, there’s no need to look beyond what’s blatantly obvious because the characters themselves are the contents of the story.
By trading off the potential for a grander setting, the Song of Saya instead focuses on developing its main characters and their struggles. It does this by employing multiple points of view (POVs) to better tell the story of Fuminori and Saya’s relationship. The decisions they make become increasingly disturbing in nature as the story progresses, evidently affecting the rest of the cast in different ways. Through the use of multiple POVs, we’re forced as readers to acknowledge the consequences of their actions by putting us in the shoes of the cast’s other members. And when these POVs finally meet halfway, everything they’ve been building up to explodes in our face, making it a pretty satisfying read overall.
Love In Insanity
Related to that, one of the key themes of the Song of Saya is insanity. With the world’s appearance being different solely for Fuminori, it’s no surprise that what’s normal and what’s not is a question repeatedly asked throughout the story. In fact, there are a few choices in-game that explicitly let you decide which one is which, leading to either of its three endings. Whilst pretty minimal in differences, the implications of the choices made are big for the characters involved. This insanity begins to take hold of them once they consciously choose to pursue things outside of what’s normal.
This is where multiple POVs come in handy for The Song of Saya. As Fuminori chooses to continue engaging with Saya despite the warning signs, his perception of what’s normal starts to warp in a way similar to how he sees the world. In contrast, other characters still see the world as “normal” but are introduced to the abnormal because of their relationship to Fuminori. The conflict of The Song of Saya, then, hinges upon the intersection of these two very different ways of looking at the world—a clash of literal worldviews between Fuminori and Saya’s ideal world, and the current status quo, that fuels the horrific events in the story.
The progression to this point does not feel awkward at all. Rather, it’s well-fleshed out and flows into the story well. The desperation, fear, and anxiety are all present and contribute to the collapse of the characters’ psyches, making the narrative unsettlingly satisfying to read. You witness each character deal with the sudden shift in their realities differently from each other, giving way to complex feelings of sadness, disappointment, and a hint of anger and annoyance. It’s a step-by-step process that you become implicitly part of as the reader, a process that slowly eats at the characters’ sanities.
An Adult Horror Visual Novel
The Song of Saya is available in two versions: a censored one on Steam, and a full version on JAST. For Steam users, there’s a patch available on JAST for $3.59 that adds adult content cut from the censored release to restore it back to its original version. Obviously, that cut content specifically centers around scenes depicting sex. The question then is: is it worth adding back that adult content?
Personally, I feel that the adult content in The Song of Saya is in an awkward place. On one hand the grotesqueness of its art already borders content that you might expect to be censored, and on another hand sex is kind of a staple in a lot of horror media. It’s an easy way to depict intimacy between characters, which levels up the loss if one of them gets killed off. The way the adult content works in The Song of Saya, however, isn’t solely for that depiction of intimacy.
Sex in The Song of Saya serves a narrative purpose. The adult scenes in the visual novel expand upon Saya’s true nature because of how it’s closely related to the act of sex. For the most part, I think the visual novel does a great job of dropping these hints even outside of the adult scenes. However, I can’t deny that I feel there is some level of significance to their existence within the narrative. If you absolutely can’t take adult content involving characters similar to Saya, feel free to skip out on the patch altogether. It probably doesn’t take too much away from the story. However, if you’re able to stomach it in some shape or form, I highly recommend getting it anyway. It adds additional dimensions to the horror the visual novel depicts, ones that further characterize Fuminori’s development as Saya’s lover.
Art And Music
I like the visuals of The Song of Saya. Chuuou Higashiguchi’s artwork reminds me of older Nitroplus titles he has worked on, such as Kikougai – The Cyber Slayer and Deus Machina Demonbane. All these titles share the kind of realism that bleeds through the character’s expressions—one that doesn’t need exaggeration to get its point across. No one looks better than they should, even the relatively cuter characters. Rough, rustic, and simple: the art makes characters look like they could be anyone around us.
The visual novel also doesn’t shy away from incredibly grotesque artwork. Some CGs are literal flesh bodies that bulge and spew unfathomably nasty stuff that I can’t even begin to imagine. It helps a lot with the already vivid imagery the text paints in your mind, transmitting bits and pieces of disturbing sensations through your own sensory organs. It’s quite telling, really, that the game gives you options of how grotesque you want your reading experience to be: it has an option to reduce visibility and censor aspects of the artwork if you want them to be less upsetting.
There are fifteen tracks in total for The Song of Saya. Listening to them after I finished reading, I’m reminded of particular scenes when I hear each individual piece. That speaks volumes about the kind of emotions they’re able to evoke and the impression they’ve left behind on me as a reader. Dread, guilt, malice, and sorrow—these are only a few of the feelings that echo loudly in The Song of Saya’s tracks. Each one of them appropriately establishes the scene’s atmosphere through their compositions, and greatly augments the reading experience overall.
The Song of Saya is an interesting play on the boy-meets-girl romance story. Grotesquely interesting, it pulls you in with its absurdly vivid artwork and throws you for a loop through its subtle psychological horror. Instead of overtly scary tactics, The Song of Saya instills psychological fear through its narrative and character actions, never fully materializing its horrific aspects, and leaving it to the reader to fully visualize the rest of its scenes. This is not without its drawbacks, however, as its singular focus on the situation detracts from creating a fictional setting that is both immersive and fleshed out. However, with the exceptional use of its characters and the struggle itself, it raises stakes high enough to warrant your full attention.
Overall, the Song of Saya is an incredible experience, with or without the adult content. I recommend it to anyone with the courage to try it out for themselves.
THE SONG OF SAYA IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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Visual novel reader that wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day. Gacha victim, TCG enjoyer, and VTuber simp. Still trying to live happily.