Saya no Uta: A Reminder of Sinful Nature

Lately everyone seems to be talking about Urobuchi Gen and his recent works: Madoka, Fate/Zero, Psycho Pass, and most recently, Gargantia. He has become a popular name ever since Madoka. But honestly, as amazing as Madoka was with its religious themes and correlations, I consider it very overrated even though I enjoyed it greatly. I was not impressed with either Psycho Pass, despite its homage to Kara no Shoujo, or Gargantia. Fate/Zero was fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but being a prequel, a lot of the material was a foregone conclusion so it’d be misleading to attribute everything to him. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the rarely mentioned Phantom which aired not even 2 years prior to Madoka; even if it deviated from his original work, he has said he approved of the changes. However, if there is one work most often called his masterpiece, it is the very short VN Saya no Uta. While it may not be the best of the best, it is iconic in its own unique way and an interesting, albeit disturbing, read. Although it has some very questionable content, the themes Urobuchi explores with this is really fascinating.

Saya no Uta by Nitro+
Saya no Uta by Nitro+

Saya no Uta is easily the most…disturbing, disgusting, and immoral thing I’ve ever read, so as a forewarning, I will be mentioning things that readers may not feel comfortable with. Granted, it is an eroge, so some of it was inevitable, but even so, it certainly made me think, “should I really keep reading this?” at certain scenes and I probably would have stopped if not for the fast forward button. The premise of the story is that the protagonist Fuminori was recently in an accident and when he wakes up in the hospital, he finds the world appears completely different. To put it succinctly, his five senses detect everything as decaying, rotting flesh. From the walls of the hospital to the bodies and voices of everyone around him to the smell and taste of his food, everything is something straight out of a horror film. One thing I really liked about the initial set up was that Fuminori, being a medical student, was quickly able to determine that everything wrong with the world was only his perception, and as horrific as it was, he mentally recognized that the problem was with his senses. Nevertheless, the situation greatly affects his mental and physical health as he tries to continue his daily life while keeping his condition a secret. Then the heroine appears before him, a beautiful, innocent-looking girl named Saya who looks completely normal, the first human he has seen since his accident. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on here: since Fuminori’s senses have been reversed, Saya is the real monster.

I won’t go into many details, and the story is short enough to read in 2-3 hours if you are so inclined to read though I can’t stress enough to make sure you know what you’re getting into. Although there are three endings, the main story progresses with Fuminori slowly losing his sanity and sense of human morals as he accepts his new life and attempts to protect himself and Saya from others.  He learns that there is only one food that satisfies his palate: a delicious, succulent fruit he finds Saya eating one day, which turns out is actually human organs and body parts. His friends try to help him, unaware of his troubles, and he treats them as enemies (as a reminder, they look and sound like monsters), eventually plotting their deaths. Furthermore, he and Saya both take actions to help him satisfy his own lust. Although he continues to mentally understand the wrongdoings of his actions, he still walks down a path of corruption and insanity. In the end, he has consumed people for food, killed a friend to protect his new life, and raped his other friend.

With Saya no Uta, Urobuchi has told a story gruesomely depicting human sinful nature. Whether it was written with the idea of sin, I cannot say (then again, one of the soundtrack songs is titled “Sin”); however, it is certain he is depicting human nature at its worse. Regardless, this is possibly Urobuchi’s most defining work and shows the sort of brutally realistic themes he is capable of portraying. Sin is an incredible evil; it is the thing that separates us from God. However, throughout the years, Christians have been taught that sin can so easily be washed away and easily forgiven. It is something to fight but losing to it is an understandable weakness. While I don’t disagree, I think we have become far too complacent with sin. It has become so easy to accept sin as merely “something bad” but it is far worse than that. What is depicted in Saya no Uta is purely human’s sinful nature, a reminder of just how vile it really is. Yet surely we would reel back in disgust at its content far less if I replaced words like rape and cannibalism with sin. It would sound so much more pleasant if I just said he sinned. Today, sin acts a censorship to actions that may not be pleasant to hear. On one hand, I can accept the argument that it is a necessary censor to young children and also as a form of privacy. On the other hand, I think it tempts us to accept sin a bit too readily. Censoring certain topics is sometimes justified but at the same time, they can’t be ignored or swept under the carpet for eternity. If you discuss how wrong sin is, you need to be realistic. Saya no Uta is a slap to the face about that reality, reminding us what human sinful nature is capable of.

Art by Alt
Art by Alt

What happens to Fuminori is a fall to the sinful nature we all possess. Fuminori’s transformation is not overnight; it occurs across time and several events. As disgusting as his actions are, it is no different than any person falling into a life of sin when faced with temptations. Regardless of what he knows to be the truth, the situation he finds himself in is one of nightmares, making the temptations to ease his situation all the more powerful. In the end, it was simply falling into temptation that made him make the choices he did.  It’s easy to say we would never do what he did, but who can even begin to imagine what it’s like to wake up in a world of rotting flesh? If anything, it’s impressive how long he maintained his sanity; however, it was the steady descent into madness that resulted in his sinful actions. Every one of us is born with this sinful nature and the potential to make such inhumane decisions. We don’t want to admit that we would ever make the worst decisions imaginable. And maybe that’s true, but maybe that’s only true because we’ve lived a more fortunate life than others. If we lived a replicate life of environments and temptations of the worst sinners, then I don’t think we would turn out much better. Fuminori was a perfectly normal person before his cruel twist of fate. It was only his unfortunate accident that catalyzed his downfall to insanity and acceptance of a sinful life.

Conversely, though, is Saya, and her character is very interesting. As a creature from another universe, she knows little of human morals or laws. She scares people because it is fun. She eats them because she is hungry. She experiments on humans, eventually turning a girl into a mentally broken flesh monster sex slave for Fuminori, out of nothing but the desire to make Fuminori happy. She is truly ignorant about everything when it comes to morals. Saya is someone who sins without understanding the weight of her actions, which is very different from Fuminori who actively chose to sin despite understanding its implications. I am reminded of Jesus’ words at the cross “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Saya is like those who do not understand what they do but are still loved by God. However, the most interesting thing about her is she was originally a creature that knew nothing of love. She came with the sole goal of propagating her species but learned about the human concept of love and accepted it. Her instinct was halted in favor of  the desire to be loved. Saya’s single desire to be loved results in a very twisted, yet strangely romantic, situation. Rather than just ignorant, Saya’s sinful actions stem from a very understandable and basic desire.  In a way, she is the most pure character of the story; in contrast to the humans who act out of fear, greed, lust, or anger, she acts only out of honest, innocent love. While her actions remain inexcusable, it is difficult to be disgusted by a character with such pure motivations. I think this is a rather revealing characteristic about how we view sin. Not only for others but especially in regards to ourselves, we change how severe the sin seems by attaching different motivations or excuses behind it. Maybe they are realistic excuses but that doesn’t change that sin is sin, and we are in desperate need of forgiveness of sins we try to justify. For Saya, even if she had pure motivations and even if she was ignorant, she is still a sinner.

Despite, or rather, because of the content, Saya no Uta depicts human sinful nature for what it really is: something that should make us sick to our stomachs but also something every person possesses. When you speak of sin, how seriously do you take that word? It’s easy to read the latest news and be disgusted at the most inhumane crime, wondering how anyone can do such a thing, but then go to church and discuss how everyone is a sinner. I think it is a matter of how our individual sinful nature manifests, and I think the sinful nature of humans makes us all capable of equally repulsive actions if the right (or wrong) conditions were placed upon us. Sinning is inevitable, yet I feel Christians are more open to the word sin than most other things. As a result, when society discusses crimes, it is sometimes more repulsive than when church discusses sin. Even though we don’t judge sinners, we judge criminals because the two have become so separated in our minds. I’d like to challenge people, specifically Christians, with a little experiment. Replace every action you consider morally wrong with the word sin and replace sin with the worst thing you can imagine. While I don’t necessarily have a specific goal in mind when I suggest this, I would like to see how it changes how people view sin and sinners both within church settings and in daily life. Christians agree all people are sinners before God; however, putting that into practice means accepting that in the realm of spirituality, the worst criminals are no worse than you and also that you are no better than them. That said, this reminder of the reality of sinful nature is also a reminder of God’s grace. If we limit what we attribute sin to be, we limit what God wants to forgive. The more serious and immoral sin is viewed as, the more God’s boundless grace and forgiveness can be appreciated. Because in the end, Christianity is not about reprimanding humanity for their sinful actions but about forgiving everyone through the blood of Jesus Christ.

As a final note, I will say that despite the large amount of sexual content, Saya no Uta is still a great VN, and I’ll stand by the claim that it’s a very romantic story, in a twisted and disturbing way. I try really hard not to judge VNs or stories in general by the presence of sexual material, even if this one was quite deterring due to quantity and specific content. If you are able to tolerate or don’t mind such material, then I do recommend it. That said, it still maintains an eerily creepy atmosphere and graphically unsettling content. Although I attribute this as a testament to its success as a horror without relying on scare tactics, some people may certainly find it uncomfortable. Still, the themes portrayed in Saya no Uta are very real and interesting. Even if you couldn’t care less about the Christian parallels, I hope I sparked some interest in the story because honestly, what I discussed is probably less than half of the serious ideas that can be explored, especially the deep psychological aspects that are present. And when you consider how short it is, that is just some really impressive writing.

Kaze

Kaze is a graduate from the University of Tokyo who currently works on developing gene therapies for genetic diseases. He is a Nanatard since 2009 and mostly spends his time reading VNs and studying Japanese. Strangely enough, also a devout Christian.

9 thoughts on “Saya no Uta: A Reminder of Sinful Nature

  1. Hmm…That story sounds much too gritty for my tastes! I personally liked Suisei no Gargatia (though I admit that it ended up being mediocre despite its initial promise) and Psycho-pass raised a lot of interesting questions on justice and human nature.

    Anyway, I needed to examine my understanding of sin while reading this article. The world of Saya no Uta seems to be one where mankind suffers from the condition of utter depravity instead of having a wounded nature. And waking up in a world of rotting flesh almost reminds me of the Manichaean fallacy of claiming matter to be evil or Descartes’s question of what if, instead of having a God who neither deceives or can be decieved, the world is run by an Almighty Deceiver? What if good things apppeared evil and evil things good?

    Fortunately, mankind, though in utter need of God’s grace to perform any good act, is not utterly depraved, material existence is not evil, and the world is not run by an Almighty Deceiver. These facts make me wonder whether anything of merit can really be gained by reading such a VN!

    But, you did a good job of delineating your idea of sin. Yet, I would say that the real horror of sinning lies in the crucifxion and that one has betrayed the God who has only done good toward oneself. That torture, rape, murder, and adultery are in the same category as white lies, lustful stares, and getting slightly drunk does not erase the fact that there is a huge degree of difference between the former acts and the latter! The former are atrociously evil, while the latter may be committed by generally decent men. It is only in meditating on the crucifix that even slight offenses can cut us to the heart and inflame us with a real desire for change. Otherwise, we’re only human, and cannot help falling into at least unintentional venial sin without a special grace from God, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary received.

    1. Hmm I see the resemblance when you mention it but I really didn’t get the feeling that Fuminori’s world was depicting one of deceit. Rather, it was more for the purpose of being Lovecraftian as the story is first and foremost, a horror. While I admit the VN has a large amount of questionable content, I think any merit from reading it comes not necessarily from its spiritual correlations but simply from the appreciation and potential enjoyment of reading a well written story. From a spiritual perspective, I’d agree there is nothing really to gain from it.

      There is certainly a significant difference between a white lie and rape. But what spurred this post was the question of how much do they change God’s love? Dealing with infinite love makes quantifying it moot but the point is if we are to love like God does that means to love all sinners equally regardless of their sin, and that is something very difficult to do for us silly humans when we have such a wide scale for measuring sins. And while I don’t disagree that some things are atrociously evil that no decent man would do, the implication that some people are better than others just doesn’t sit well with me.

  2. Not too long ago I actually played through Saya no Uta, and just like you mentioned, despite hearing about it beforehand I really had no idea what I was going into. Saya really is one of the most explicit, disturbing works I’ve ever encountered, and probably the only other story I can think of that I’ve seen on this level is Berserk. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy Saya nearly as much as most people seem to have because I couldn’t get attached to the characters (though, to be fair, I doubt most people could for obvious reasons) and I wasn’t too engaged in the story if only because it felt like a lot of things happened because some characters did things they really shouldn’t have done in the first place, not just morally but also as far as making intelligent choices. However, I can acknowledge that it was indeed a good story, and its portrayals of some of its themes are truly brilliant.

    In my opinion, one of the strongest areas of the VN is how it takes the idea of morality and distorts it to something completely unimaginable. Many people have this idea of what’s “good” or “bad,” but Saya really throws such black and white generalizations out the door. Fuminori and Saya take part in some really awful things, and it was a difficult read at times just because of how disturbingly inhumane some of the characters’ actions were. It’s easy to point the finger and say “They’re just evil”, but like you mention, Fuminori really is a victim of circumstance and the only reason he acts as he does is because of the insanity that surrounds his mind upon his vision changing. I’ve seen it mentioned that Fuminori’s life is not about morals but survival, and indeed this seems very true as Fuminori’s grasp of “humanity” quickly fades away as he adapts simply to survive in the horrifying world he has woken up to. It’s truly quite a horrifying thing to think that if any given human were in the same situation, we too might end up just like him and though nobody would wish to admit that they’re capable of such acts, it is indeed very possible that we would end up in the same situation as him.

    On the topic of sin, I found that to be an interesting parallel to make with this VN in writing this post. I can definitely relate to how you mention sin being set aside as some sort of outer, inevitable force, almost as a euphemism of sorts for all the horrific crimes imaginable in this world. It’s very easy to dismiss sin because “everyone does it” and “it’ll happen either way,” but it’s certainly true that if people were to view “sin” in the same vein as some of the disturbing things that take place in this VN, anyone would have second thoughts about ignoring it. It’s something that’s easy to take for granted, but if people really stopped to think that a little “white lie” might be judged on the same level as, well, the things in Saya, it’d be a harsh reality check for anybody.

    Anywho, I’ve already written a lot more than I expected to so sorry if this is a dreadfully long read, but this post really does spark some meaningful discussion and I honestly feel that I have a better appreciation for Saya no Uta after thinking about it with these themes in mind.

  3. This one’s interesting precisely because of what it implies about why people sin, and because of my personal experiences. You see….while what happened to Fuminori is an extreme circumstance…Something like it can happen to a real person, and actually does happen to real people all the time. I call it situational brainwashing.

    See, although humans have an internal sense of right and wrong they also have a sense of what’s “good for them” and what’s “bad for them.” What promotes their survival and what doesn’t. The human mind is a machine fine-tuned to locate and follow the rules that lead to its survival. So sometimes people who think of themselves as good people, noble people, fear and shun people that they don’t understand. When that happens, the misunderstood person learns to associate “good” people with his or her own societal failure and death. So who picks up the pieces? The monsters, that’s who. The wicked people willing to manipulate and offer a hand to the scared and lonely.

    This is how gangs are born, and how they get new recruits. Scared minority or poor children, children who society loathes, are supported and loved by awful people and eventually start to think good is bad and bad is good. Eventually they start to see Fuminori’s world. This is how I met my Master.

    “On the other hand, I think it tempts us to accept sin a bit too readily. Censoring certain topics is sometimes justified but at the same time, they can’t be ignored or swept under the carpet for eternity. If you discuss how wrong sin is, you need to be realistic. Saya no Uta is a slap to the face about that reality, reminding us what human sinful nature is capable of.”

    The other thing this eroge indirectly points out is that in order to have the desire to sweep something under the rug or minimize it, you have to actually feel guilty for doing it. Yet in a lot of circumstances, as I’ve just pointed out, this is exactly what doesn’t happen. Just because you feel know guilt and know “not what you do” doesn’t make it any less evil.

    The sad thing about the way we’re constructed is that we are willing to commit any crime, any blasphemy, and any sin in the name of love. And we do it with no guilt at all, and I am thankful no one will ever ask me to.

    1. I think you’ve largely taken my quote out of context and read it differently than intended. I was referring to how Christians treat the word and idea of sin, not how an individual feels about their actions. “Sin” is often treated as some abstract thing that is not associated with anything specific. Christians will generalize it to things like “lust” or “murder,” but the imagery stops there. When they see news about rape or brutal murders, these sinners are viewed with such disgust, but when Christians talk about “sinners” in a general sense, they are suddenly viewed as pitiful people who need God’s grace. My point is that Christians have too much detachment from the word sin and fail to treat it as it really is, resulting in a hypocritical dichotomy.

      However, on the topic of sinning without feeling guilt, I did explain how Saya represents that side of the situation.

    2. But if you know that the good you now enjoy is really bad…why not consider moving toward the light? God is there for you, man, but he won’t join you on your own terms, as your master seems to have – he wants so much more out of you.

  4. “When they see news about rape or brutal murders, these sinners are viewed with such disgust, but when Christians talk about “sinners” in a general sense, they are suddenly viewed as pitiful people who need God’s grace. My point is that Christians have too much detachment from the word sin and fail to treat it as it really is, resulting in a hypocritical dichotomy.”

    I probably did get this pretty far out of context, but at least I had fun. ;} But more in the context, the whole problem and the reason for the hypocrisy is that everyone commits sin. Nobody wants to view themselves with disgust except in the privacy of their own heads, between them and God. So they have to create levels of sin to avoid that. It might, honestly, be preferable if they instead viewed no sin as unforgivable (Rather than all sins as unforgivable) and mandated controlled rehabilitation for rapists and murderers. Turn the other cheek. Because if you do the opposite, the result is a society where white lies get punished as if they were murder. And that seems wrong.

    But if you know that the good you now enjoy is really bad…why not consider moving toward the light?

    …..that’s more of a personal subject. Shouldn’t ramble on more than I do here already.

    1. If you’re worried about sharing too much here for our sake, please go ahead and share. If you want to share but not publicly, feel free to email me (beneath DOT the DOT tangles AT gmail). If you want to keep it entirely personal, understood!

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