I have reached the point where I have no more need for kisses.
Instead, what I desire is that perfect adieu
Sayonara wo Oshiete
~Comment te Dire Adieu~
Stress affects others in the most mysterious of ways. For a young teacher in training named Hitomi, his stress manifests through horrific, otherworldly dreams that plague him throughout his first teaching gig. In the ominous dreams he’s some sort of beast, terrorizing an angelic figure. Going to the nurse’s office in a fit of worry to seek guidance, he gets no satisfaction. After all, what he’s having are only dreams, right? The nurse isn’t some Freud or Jung type, what can she do?
In the midst of this discussion where the pair are bathed in evening twilight, a girl abruptly enters the office and crashes into Hitomi. Our protagonist quickly comes to the realization that girl is the same saintly figure who’s being terrorized in his dreams. He meets her again in a classroom later on, but as she passes – a whiff of blood. The classroom transforms from orange to a red; the monstrous images which plague Hitomi return, only to disappear a moment later.
Why would an angel carry the smell of something almost demon-like? Spurred on by the evening shadows, something darker than begins to emerge from Hitomi…
Whenever discussions regarding spectacles so horrifying they verge on unrepentantly surreal take place, that they adhere to a certain standard and tick off all the appropriately unsettling boxes is something of an unspoken rule. To begin with, the narrative ought to be written in such a manner that it instills any curious reader with bafflement leaving them unable to process, let alone comprehend, the events which the (often unreliable) narrator are ostensibly perceiving. Here the more bizarre and incomprehensible situations are, the more memorable they ultimately prove to be with chaos admirably lending itself to what tends to be an unparalleled atmosphere. The stranger the better with white noise appearing on a television screen, fragmentary snatches of conversation, hallucinatory images all drifting away into a feverish haze. Let’s use an amateurishly scribbled drawing of a magical girl from a popular anime as an example. She’s a cute ‘lil thing with her ponytail swishing and staff shining, ready to defeat the monster-of-the-week to thunderous applause. But here the drawing may spring to life, leaving the fate of the world resting on the protagonist’s scrawny pale shoulders. An unrealistic scenario to be sure but as readers we don’t tend to question those events for they rarely take place in the VN’s version of reality (or what the protagonist believes to be reality at any rate). Such criteria is arguably not all that difficult to meet, yet there will always be titles which end up going above and beyond their duty in portraying this surreality.
Whenever discussions of this nature arise the same few staples are continuously brought up while purveyors mourn the passing of an electrifying sub-genre. They are works which wear the denpa crown with pride; brazenly perched upon their bizarrely constructed throne. For better or worse, the first title which many mention is Craftwork’s triumph, Sayonara wo Oshiete ~Comment te Dire Adieu~ (2001). Its title draws on two versions of a song recorded in 1966 originally titled ‘It Hurts to Say Goodbye’: 1985 Japanese version (‘Sayonara wo Oshiete’) serving as a gleeful perversion of the quaint original released in 1968 (‘Comment te dire adieu?’). In the years following the game’s release, Sayooshi has achieved something of a cult status among VN enthusiasts, with the original PC edition now found on auction sites of your choosing for dizzyingly high prices. It has in fact become one of the most expensive VNs available, prices rising by the year as new readers grow increasingly curious (at the time of this review, one Amazon seller has it listed at a staggering 47,800 yen). It should come as no surprise that arduous quests to obtain this Holy Grail ended in perpetual failure, yet in 2011 Asoberu! announced a BD rerelease retailing at a more affordable price. Cue sighs of relief all round. Yet despite the fuss, you may perhaps wonder what exactly is so special about something like this. Would it have been worth paying almost time times Sayooshi’s original price just to experience it?
I would say that yes, it just might have been for its reputation is by no means unearned; a classic in every sense of the term. As you will come to learn Sayooshi plumbs the Stygian depths of a truly fearsome (yet in many ways, pitiable) character’s psyche with startling clarity despite the numerous atrocities portrayed. Upon release it even came with a warning. Not the usual kind which you are no doubt accustomed to, but something which digs a little deeper, designed to unsettle. Really gets your skin crawling:
“please refrain from purchasing this work if you are unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy ・ if you find living painful ・ if you plan on carrying out a criminal act ・ if you desire to find solace in something ・ if you harbour an inclination towards murder”
As many readers would perhaps be intimately familiar with, such warning messages are by no means unusual. Yet they are often cast aside, never to be given a second thought for ultimately they serve as mere precautions; eyes roll, fingers tap, and sighs escape. They are to be taken with the finest grain of salt for most don’t even tend to question them. We take them for granted, quickly skipping past them in order to reach the title screen. Yet as you can see Sayooshi‘s lingers on your mind, its words startling. Disconcerting, to say the least, and makes you reevaluate just what it is you’re bracing yourself for. What does that particular message say about the kind of person who’d be drawn to eroge – or indeed, Sayooshi itself…?
As you will quickly come to learn, what renders Sayooshi such an unforgettable title is due to its loathsome figure who serves as our protagonist, Hitomi. He possesses a nervous disposition, bumbling along through daily pleasantries as he tries his best teaching. However the daily minutiae begin to take a toll on him, leaving him struggling filling out a diary which has to be handed up at the end of each day, unable to work on lesson plans. In the midst of this burgeoning febricity girls he would consider both terrifying and alluring surround him, and it isn’t long before their existences exacerbate the seemingly inevitable disintegration of Hitomi’s very being. On coming into contact with what he would consider to be a pure canvas, sadistic urges bubble to the surface – he desires nothing more than to destroy them. As the narrative spectacularly unravels it gets to a point where he no longer denies his sinister ministrations, instead acknowledging them. After all, even his dreams won’t let him be, featuring one of those figures being continuously defiled. And so where our story truly begins is with Hitomi’s realization that he can no longer escape from what he has become, or perhaps, what he always has been. Whether his psyche will emerge intact is something worth witnessing.
Serving as a foil to Hitomi in every possible way is the object of his increasingly distorted affections, Mutsuki. She is the blinding light placed in sharp contrast to his deep darkness, every bit the angel to his beast. Possessing a mild-mannered position, she can typically be found a classroom absentmindedly gazing out the window. Although Mutsuki is uncomfortable around men, and certainly does feel fear when she comes into contact with Hitomi, she nevertheless gets along with him to some extent. With her slight yet genuine smile, they exchange conversations which each of them savour. Despite their issues. Despite all that Hitomi is. Will her presence become the one thing which will save him…?
Mahiru is the youngest character in the cast, and the only one who appears to be familiar with Hitomi from the outset, being the childhood friend that he once promised to marry. Of course, ten or so years later she hasn’t forgotten the throwaway comment of a kid. She can be rather silly and doesn’t even try to pretend she’s older than she is – she’s a natural, in the sense that she’ll happily bounce around Hitomi calling him onii-chan~, much to his chagrin. While at school she could at the very least call him sir. Despite all her cheerfulness, the slightest thing can damage her. But even so, she’s very forgiving. Her loyalty is sound… She’s almost like a pet, in that sense.
Upon going to the roof to take a cigarette break, Hitomi comes into contact with a girl perched on the water tower. Gazing wistfully out over the city, Nozomi initially comes off as a chipper sort of girl posing riddles at him. However, she can be quite dark. In a normal enough conversation, out of the blue she’ll remark that the sunset makes the city look like it’s on fire. Is distressingly preoccupied with the concept of flying. That paired with her looking towards the sky certainly doesn’t make the safest of mixes.
Miyuki can usually be found working in the library. She takes her job very seriously, chiding others when she thinks they’re only in there to kill time. Taking a somewhat aggressive stance on things, she can be short with her words but underneath, she’s fairly weak when it comes to relationships with others and interacting with them. When caught off guard, she gets easily flustered. Unsurprisingly given her character type, she has much random trivia to share on all sorts of subjects, from the Pygmalion myth to the drug habits of William S. Burroughs.
Whenever Hitomi travels down to the archery range he will meet an enigmatic figure, one who raises more questions than answers. Koyori is a dainty girl who takes things entirely at her own pace, social intelligence non-existent as she fails to pick up on mood shifts (however slight), or when she breaches someone’s personal comfort zone. It should come as no surprise that she tends to say what’s on her mind, rarely considering the potential consequences… Yet despite all that, there’s no malice to be found in her words. One may be inclined to brand Koyori as something of a space cadet, but there’s something inherently disturbing about her piercing remarks which end up disturbing Hitomi more so than the rest of the girls.
Given the nature of the disturbing material which Sayooshi wastes no time in portraying, it was always bound to be a contentious piece, forever spoken about in hushed tones. To that end it would be remiss not to elaborate on the figure who additionally serves as our glimpse into such an unsettling sepia-tinged realm: Hitomi. Over the course of our ill-fated tale the collapse of his mind is depicted in startling clarity, written in a manner that is as alarming as it is entrancing. It would not be an exaggeration to state that Sayooshi begins and ends with both him and his claustrophobic psyche, essentially a closely observed portrait of a character battling with himself. The narrative is stifling, never offering the reader a moment’s pause, but that is what makes it such a fascinating piece: you can’t possibly look away. The work opens with Hitomi struggling as he attempts to adjust to a new position and environment. Yet within moments you’re all too keenly aware that although he means well, given his mental state he is certainly not a character who should be serving as a moral guardian, anything but a figure to guide and put those around him at ease. It starts off gradually but as pressures rise, so does his frustration. It gnaws away at him. He can’t possibly escape.
And this is only the beginning.
Despite the numerous obstacles which apparently stand in his way Hitomi perseveres, cheerfully telling students to be careful on their way home as he interacts with colleagues to the best of his ability. Yet cracks begin to form as discrepancies arise. Try as he might, he can’t possibly recall what his classes revolved around not even several hours ago. In the midst of a relatively serious discussion his mind will wander, drifting off to lascivious scenarios involving his conversation partner. He’ll often outright discard the words tumbling from their lips, instead focusing on what he personally wants to hear. It all starts off as odd quirks which obdurately refuse to dissipate, yet over the course of eleven in-game days it escalates to a frightening degree until the cracks eventually lead to Hitomi himself shattering into countless fragments with there being little hope of ever gathering and reassembling them. Physiological symptoms mount with sweating a common occurrence. He’ll stutter and flinch at nothing at all, wanting to both cower away from and destroy those he comes into contact with. He slips into dissociative states frequently, wondering if his limbs are truly his own, or even if the desks he’s touching are part of his reality. As the situations Hitomi finds himself in grow even more disjointed, there eventually reaches a point where he makes little effort to hide what is apparently his true nature; revelling in the sheer act of destruction. Throughout the feverish haze the reader likewise finds it difficult to discern what’s truly happening, pulling us without restraint into the same white-hot bewilderment that Hitomi is facing.
While I should desperately hope that the collective stress accumulated from daily digressions and dejections never reach the disturbing level Hitomi’s does, our brains nevertheless still need to sort out the daily trash, so to speak. This cleansing of sorts is typically performed during sleep, where events are neatly slotted into boxes or discarded; brains fizzing and whizzing about while our bodies lie comparatively still. You would imagine that if nothing else Hitomi would be able to seek refuge while sleeping but this is certainly not the case. He isn’t awarded such a luxury. He can’t possibly shrug off a tense meeting with Semina where she mercilessly chides him, or an awkward run-in with Mutsuki by diving under the covers. Instead, our protagonist has something far, far worse to face – instead of succumbing to pleasant dreams which would serve as a proverbial balm for his soul, he is plagued by disturbing mind-eroding nightmares which feature the same girl being violated. Over. And Over. And Over. On some level, when compared to these shocking spectacles the daily terrors somehow prove to be more palatable despite all that is occurring. The events which unfurl are fragmented and surreal, imbued with a hallucinatory quality as the reader navigates through Hitomi’s dark and brooding psyche. Without a trace of hesitation, a girl will jump from the school’s rooftop yet moments later she will be smiling atop of it, as if she had never moved in the first place. Bathed in twilight, you will have seen her body hit the asphalt yet she’ll be able to speak as if nothing had happened. Another will shoot with the intent to kill, but the system will immediately progress with you selecting his next destination, the next stage for his fever dream. Despite it all you are certain that he was hit… Or was he?
Notions of what constitutes reality and unreality are unneeded here, slipping into a realm of insanity which we should never dare hope to tread. In perfect clarity Hitomi will draw magic circles and summon characters, who will subsequently appear as if they always had, as if it’s trivial to even question the fundamentals of such an action. As if it’s something which Hitomi has always been able to do, the act itself as natural to him as breathing. Characters will appear naked before him, they’ll take flight. Links of a narrative chain are intentionally misplaced, the disarray lending itself to the sinister atmosphere. To that end I would like to briefly touch on Sayooshi’s erotic sequences, as given the intense psychosexual bent it would be remiss not to (although unfortunately I cannot discuss them to the level I would like due to lolspoilers). They are sporadic, ending almost as soon as they begin, intentionally designed with making the reader question their legitimacy. Some days will have Hitomi engage with up to three girls yet none of the scenes will ever be linked and he will never comment on them; they are isolated, cut off from the daily minutiae. Mahiru’s were certainly the most gruelling, and I can say for certain that they are among the most surreal scenes I have yet to come across, which is a feat in itself. They might not have been the most sexually-charged or graphic, yet they nevertheless possessed something unrelentingly visceral which caused them to uncomfortably lurk in my mind long after reading. I’ll most likely not be able to look at a bottle of mustard or doll joints in the same light after this.
As you can scarcely dare to imagine, to weave a narrative as unrelentingly disturbing as Sayooshi’s takes tremendous talent. Countless authors have tried and failed at crafting similar psychologically daunting pieces through never achieving the desired balance. Too much and it will come off as clumsy, unintentionally comedic during a worst case scenario. But too little and it’ll be lacking, nowhere near as credible as it ought to be. Where Sayooshi is concerned, the stylistic flourishes are subtle and understated enough to thoroughly immerse the reader until the tale’s bitter end. Although the routes overlap significantly in terms of content they are still all worth reading as they each provide yet another piece of the puzzle which constitutes our protagonist. Through experiencing them you are able to gain a greater understanding of both Hitomi and the turbulent realm he inhabits. It would be remiss to skip particular sections for throughout reading you will no doubt feel compelled to jump back to certain days, lines which had been niggling at your mind previously having achieved relevancy. Indeed, even reread the introductory stages and you will notice how seemingly transparent the hints were. That is one aspect I treasure about denpa titles, how you are able to look back and drink in all that it is has to offer for a second time. Many would perhaps argue that the magic fades once the reveal hits but if it is portrayed in an affecting and gripping manner, then I will respectfully disagree. As a testament to the psychological complexities Sayooshi has to offer it is a work which can be reread a number of times.
In more general terms, it emerged as a collaborative effort from Nagaoka Kenzo and comrade Ishino Michiho, both driving the piece forward. While Nagaoka served as overall director, Ishino served as the main scenario writer with Nagaoka contributing. Despite being such an explosive pair, they never wrote anything of much worth after this which is truly a shame. A patchy nukige here, some CGs for another project there. A waste of a rare talent, for there are few VNs which explore the human condition’s murkiest depths quite like this. As the reader is able to vividly picture all the atrocities which take place with the confines of Hitomi’s realm, it makes for a thoroughly suffocating read which continuously tests your will for the last thing you want to witness is for him harming others, harming himself even.
For a work of its era the aesthetics aren’t conspicuously dated, holding up admirably over a decade later. Tachi-e appear otherworldly and curiously stilted; Nozomi’s glazed doll-like eyes paired with a strained smile downright off-putting, Koyori’s inquisitive expression suiting her no matter what probing material she unrepentantly delves into. The limited colour palette works in Sayooshi’s favour with it taking place during the evening. Shadows emerge as the blazing sunset dyes its characters in a sinister hue. Visual effects were novel enough through facilitating Hitomi’s mental degeneration, all quick flashes never lingering long enough for you to perceive what on earth they were trying to portray, representative of memories fighting their way through to the surface. You’ll catch a glimpse of a leg here, a bloodstain there but it’s not until you experience the work as a whole where they achieve relevancy. An entire page’s worth of dialogue appears for not even a second, leaving fragmentary words behind which you’ll scarcely be able to grasp. Abrupt images of Mutsuki or someone dying materialize while Hitomi is attempting to go about his day, further pushing his mind into disarray.
Silence serves as a highly effective technique in its own right, capturing the suffocating sensation of Hitomi slipping further into insanity through a constant ticking, no BGM at all. That said Sapporo Momoko’s haunting score likewise orchestrates Hitomi’s downfall to great success. The quiet melancholy of ‘avec un point d’interrogation’ is one standout, conveyed by gentle whistles and harps. There is no opening theme as such, with what’s commonly tagged as such being more of a promotional thing. But to make up for an OP’s absence, its ending theme certainly must be among the finest which the medium has to offer, cleverly distorting the intent of the piece which our work draws its name from. Performed by Mell, her evocatively fragile voice instills the listener with a flurry of uncomfortable emotions, simultaneously horrifying yet beautiful. The lyrics, and the song in general go in tandem with Sayooshi and its themes as a whole leaving hollow yearning in its wake. Behind the lazily thudding beat lies desperation, and a sense of calm release. There are two rambling segments, the second more incoherent than the first. While the former speaks of a ‘tabula rasa’ and ‘white, white boundary lines’, the latter harbours a fixation with distorted flesh reflecting the shift in Hitomi’s psyche.
Others may be familiar with this song due to a certain iM@S video. Fun fact, Shimamiya Eiko (best known for her work on Higurashi) quite likes the song and even covered it during one of her concerts. Doesn’t hold a candle to MELL’s live version, though. While all of the seiyuu performed their roles well, there were none which managed to steal the show although Tanaka Michi (Hatsuyuki Sakura’s Miki; Natsuyume Nagisa’s Maki) as Koyori may have came close to it. Her lazy, dissociated style of speaking was wholly to her own pace and added a special something to her character.
Whenever I feel inclined to sift through interpretations of Sayonara wo Oshiete ~Comment te dire adieu~, it never fails to produce something of a sobering effect. While I may hold it at arm’s length, viewing it as a psychosexually-charged piece which merits discussion, there are those who hold it to their quivering heart; perceiving the mental ministrations which Hitomi experiences as something they too recognize and feel pulsing through their very being. Returning to the earlier question I proposed, what exactly does a work of Sayooshi’s calibre suggest about those who would want to experience it – or, perhaps more importantly, those who identify with all that it depicts? Do take into account all that I’ve mentioned thus far about its cryptic febricity, the dark and brooding internal monologues, its ineffable quality. And even then I haven’t broached what lies beneath its Stygian depths; impervious as Hitomi’s psyche ostensibly appears. Despite its infamous (and certainly well-deserved) reputation for being a moody and atmospheric denpa spectacle through and through, one has to remember that it’s just as known for being an utsuge. I feel that both labels are equally earned, for Sayooshi does happen to possess a more delicate story once you strip away its numerous layers and realize what kind of character we’re dealing with here. It’s a story of one-sided love and its all-consuming destructiveness. What lengths will someone go to in order to become loved, even if it amounts to the disintegration of their very self? Can someone who’s considered defective truly cherish another, or will it collapse resulting in something distorted and egocentric? Throughout its intimate speculation on such theses, Sayooshi develops into a most fascinating character study into the rather pitiful life of the depraved, and their eventual coming to terms with the world they’re faced with.
It certainly is a disturbing piece, albeit not for the reasons which you would no doubt expect given all that its reputation belies. While delving into the erratically pulsing heart of Sayooshi’s perverse world undoubtedly spoil, it offers a deeply satisfying resolution even if perhaps, it wasn’t the one potential readers expected. Given its nature, I do believe that the grandiose warnings were warranted for it’s quite the relentlessly dark work, lingering long on one’s conscious after they’ve closed it for what is hopefully the final time. One reason is that it can be difficult to rationalize. While Hitomi is a truly complex and extraordinary character, I do struggle when it comes to understanding him – and quite honestly, I don’t ever want to. In many ways I view much in the same vein as the intensely bitter nameless narrator in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground (1864) as a figure who “not only may, but must, exist in society”. Yet with such depravity comes an element of the humane. It breeds compassion. So perhaps on some level, all of us can understand him. Even if it is something which is difficult to admit, and frightening to accept.
If you do eventually decide to experience this behemoth (whether it’s a staple of your ever-growing backlog, or you’re patiently waiting for the translation to be completed), it will surely chill you to the bone, right through your marrow. EGS lists scores spanning from 20% to 100% and I can all too easily visualize, and understand, each of those scores and all that lies in between. Sayooshi is an immeasurably polarizing work of fiction for what some people seek from it will never be found, no matter how much they strain their eyes and frantically reread passages out of sheer desperation. Its real meaning, as clichéd as that may certainly seem, is to be found in the reader themselves. That is how it ought to be. Yet given the countless comments I’ve seen, it appears that many are quite tragically unable to realize that – or perhaps, they cannot accept it. Sayooshi can be an intensely bitter pill to swallow, but it’s one that you will be certain to never forget.
For better or worse.
Overall score: 88%
Where day and night meet, time halts
bringing forth an endless dusk which shall last for eternity.
Where day and night meet, time halts
so feel free, my darling – to bid me farewell.