CONTENT WARNING: mentions of extreme violence and rape in this review.
Saya no Uta (or Song of Saya) is a horror/romance visual novel that may easily be one of the most twisted stories I’ve ever read in my life.
Saya no Uta follows the struggles of a Fuminori Sakisaka, a young medical student living in Tokyo. Fuminori was involved a car accident three months prior to the start of the story, which killed his parents and left him hospitalized for weeks. The doctors at this hospital performed experimental neurosurgery on him to save his life, but when he woke up the entire world had been transformed into a veritable hell. The walls look like they’re covered in rotten meat, the air stinks of blood and bile, and even his former best friends appear to him as alien monsters that speak a language that barely sounds human. The only thing keeping him sane is Saya, who for some reason appears as a beautiful, normal human girl to him. Saya’s only request of Fuminori is that he help her find her father, the mysterious Dr. Ogai who vanished some months ago. Together they will try to survive in a world that cannot and will not accept the two of them as they are.
I’ll preface this review by saying that I love horror, the macabre, the things in life that make your skin crawl or force a scream out of you. Saya no Uta was the first horror story I’ve encountered in a long time that I had to read in chunks because I needed time to step back and process all the fucked up things that were going on before my eyes. Basically what I’m saying is that if horror isn’t your thing, please turn back now. This VN is not for you, you are not the target audience, and playing Saya no Uta will only end in you walking away and harping about how messed up the story is without being able to see any redeeming qualities to it.
Let’s start with the horror elements before we delve into the romantic. First off, Saya appears as a young girl of about thirteen to Fuminori (and through him, appears as a young girl to the readers). These two clearly love each other deeply; that’s one of the major themes of the VN, after all. So why is this in the horror part of my review? Well, part of that love includes a very active sex life, with very detailed (and quite beautifully drawn) CGs during the sex scenes of their many various and adventurous positions. There is some comfort to the most logical of readers who will perceive that if Fuminori sees normal people as monsters and sees Saya as a normal girl, then Saya is therefore likely not a normal girl at all, so he’s not really having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. But that’s how she looks to him (and the readers), which can make those scenes (with audible moans and pleas from Saya) rather uncomfortable.
Second, there is murder and people eating in this story. It’s not even subtle or cleverly hinted at; body parts are overtly chopped up and stored in Tupperware containers without any suggestion from the main characters that to do so is rather appalling. If anything, the lack of reaction to killing people emphasizes how far removed Fuminori considers himself to be from the rest of the human race, in that he can watch them be butchered as easily as a worker in a slaughterhouse would witness a cow’s skull be shattered with a bolt gun. Murders are described in explicit detail, down to the squelch of a crushed liver or crack of a shattered skull (again, with audio). There is quite a bit of violence and gore, but really that should be expected from a horror game and was probably one of the tamer elements to this story. It’s the characters that really make Saya no Uta so ghastly and disturbing.
Easily the most fucked up part of this story is Fuminori himself. He starts out as a reasonable young man who 1) has lost interest in his friends because they now appear to him as disgusting smelly monsters, 2) can’t stand the world because it looks and smells like decaying pig guts, and 3) would like nothing more than to disappear into his own little world of himself and Saya, who is the only element of beauty and peace left for him to cleave to. That’s understandable; his sanity is clearly hanging by a thread, and most of us can sympathize with him on a basic level for wanting to survive a horrendous situation that he clearly has no desire to be in. Fuminori can’t approach any doctors to beseech them for help because they’d turn him into a guinea pig to see what went wrong with his procedure, and if he tried to bring up his gruesome visions to his friends they’d only suggest him getting help from the aforementioned doctors, so his only option is to try and adapt. At first, anyway. But then he begins a spiraling descent into total madness from whence there is no return, and reveals himself to be a right proper jackass along the way.
Fuminori treats his friends with utter contempt because although he consciously knows that they’re normal humans, he no longer perceives them as such. I mentioned his indifference to death and killing earlier, but often his manners or conversations come across as deliberately cruel and designed to hurt even when he’s just talking to someone outside of class or leaving a doctor’s office. There were multiple moments during my readthrough where I began to wonder if Fuminori wasn’t so much a victim of circumstance as he was an already cruel person that just needed an excuse to enact his darker impulses on the world. It likely didn’t help that the reader doesn’t get to meet Fuminori until after the trauma of the accident and subsequent procedure change him, but if I only ever get to see him as a monster, then I’m only ever going to perceive him as being a monster.
Yet even through the first several vicious interactions with people at the beginning of Saya no Uta, I wanted to forgive Fuminori for being cruel to the people who have so much love for him. His entire perception and understanding of the world has been flipped on its head, and he still shows kindness to the one and only thing that now seems human to him (that is, Saya). There’s a huge disconnect between killing another person and killing something that seems to be a monster or beast to you, and to protect what is human he’ll destroy any inhuman threats. I was content to accept that line of reasoning for the first two-thirds of the game. Then crazy shit went down and I once again had to step away to process for a bit.
There comes a point in the story when Saya starts to worry that Fuminori will be lonely with just her for company, and captures a normal human woman. She subjects the woman to a transformation that is so painful and disturbing that it drives the woman completely insane. The transformation is a success though; Fuminori sees this woman in a human form now, not a monster. But rather than treat her with the kindness he showed to Saya, he quickly focuses on using her as a chained up sex object that he can be as rough with as he wants (with Saya joining in on occasion). Oh, and this woman used to be one of his good friends with romantic feelings towards him. So by this point it’s not an issue of who he does and doesn’t see as human, it’s an issue that he has utter contempt and lack of respect for anything that isn’t himself or Saya. Also, just as a note, this wasn’t the first rape scene in the VN, but it was the one that made me the most uncomfortable.
Upping the horror factor is how normal the city appears to everyone else in the story besides Fuminori. The narrative jumps around from character to character, writing in first person for Fuminori and third person for everyone else. When the story isn’t written in Fuminori’s POV, both the people and the city appear perfectly commonplace and could belong to any Tokyo-based slice-of-life VN. It really emphasizes that it’s Fuminori who’s changed, not the world, making his actions and reactions all the more disturbing. But the writers go to great pains to show that Fuminori is actually stronger than most by adapting in the way he has. Whenever someone comes into direct contact with Saya in her normal monstrous form (or begins to see the world as Fuminori sees it), they’re either driven completely insane immediately or slowly over time by monstrous nightmares that never stop. Fuminori is at least trying to survive and doesn’t crumble under the mental strain, thanks to having Saya’s support. As cliche as it may sound, Fuminori is able to survive thanks to the power of love.
Even with all these layers of horror, Saya no Uta is still a love story at its core. Everything that Saya does is for the benefit of Fuminori and vice versa. Saya spends her days trying to find something that Fuminori will be able to eat without gagging, and Fuminori looks for Dr. Ogai because he thinks it will make Saya happy. They live together so that neither one of them will ever have to be alone again. Every violent action that Fuminori carries out is somehow connected to keeping Saya safe; every experiment Saya performs on a human is done with the goal of making life better for Fuminori based on her results. So if you can get past the layers of fucked up madness that this story is wrapped in, there’s a very sweet love story at its core. But those layers are thick and many.
Saya no Uta took me three and a half hours to finish, but I saved at major decisions in the story so an actual read through for each of the three endings likely would have taken closer to five hours. In some ways I regretted not doing an individual read for each storyline until much later, because this is one of those stories you have to read several times to really appreciate and understand what it’s about, rather than simply seeing it as a VN using shock value to sell. You probably should space those readings out over the course of several weeks, but it should be read a few times all the same.
There’s no much to complain about from an artistic aspect; the sprites and CGs all look great, and the music is perfectly creepy for a horror game. My one and only technical complaint was that hitting escape doesn’t bring up the options menu (like how most VNs operate), but rather a game quit option. To pull up the options, you have to right-click and a list of different commands with their keyboard trigger will pop up. It’s completely functional, but not what a traditional reader of VNs might expect.
Saya no Uta is available from Amazon for $25, or from the Jast USA online store for $25. If you really like horror, I strongly recommend this story (particularly since very few horror VNs make it to the states with a well crafted, legal translation). But if you don’t have the stomach for really horrific things or don’t like romance mixed with your horror, I would recommend you look for a different VN to read.