At that moment, I came to a realization.
The one who was strange, was in fact, me.
Kurai Nichiyoubi –
On an evening like any other with rain beating against the window, Masato is quietly engrossed in reading. All too soon he’s interrupted by his friend, Maki, who should have been attending his club. Should have, considering after school activities have been temporarily suspended in light of a recent stream of local murders, seemingly trying to emulate the Victorian murderer Jack the Ripper.
A fierce headache assaults him. On waking, Masato finds himself in a peculiar world, one where rain ceaselessly falls from a grey sky. A world full of gloomy Sundays. Out in the hall, he hears a scraping sound. On venturing to see what the noise is, he sees a grotesque stuffed rabbit dragging a sharp axe along the ground – it a guillotine, the rabbit the executioner.
A 2009 title produced by ZIGZAG, Kurai Nichiyoubi – Sombre Dimanche (hereon to be referred to as KuraiNichi) tells the delicately moving tale of two boys coming to rely on each other in the midst of a tragedy. We’re first shown the pair talking in the library, and the reader assumes they’re friends. But, something is amiss in their interactions. It comes across as… Strained? A touch unnatural, definitely. But before the reader can take much notice, we’re thrown into a world with seemingly, no exit in sight with it being hazily obscured.
ZIGZAG used to be fairly popular in the doujin VN scene, especially from the western side. Although KuraiNichi is the first title I’ve read from them, they’re best known for The Noose which I’m sure most people have probably read at some point. It’s known for being another frightful ride, and I’ve no doubt that KuraiNichi is another title befitting of the ZIGZAG name, one that fans would be able to enjoy. A killer seemingly trying to emulate Jack the Ripper has been making claims on people since June 25th, his last victim being on August 5th. People continue to brace themselves as they wait for him to commit his fifth and final murder, wondering whether he’s laying low in fear of the police… Or planning his next victim. Two months on, it’s October. Rain constantly beats down in a bewildering world with distortions aplenty, and in the midst of it all is…
Masato – our hero, your regular literature boy who takes solace in the library where people are least likely to be. KuraiNichi opens with him being rather standoffish, not the most amiable guy to be with. As he shifts into the Gloomy Sunday world, we soon see that the emotions bubbling within are in a state of constant turmoil. Tiredness constantly assaults him, and the fridge which he likens to a coffin is full of mineral water and yoghurt past its sell-by date. Not that it matters, since his taste has long since faded and nausea is an all too common feeling. All these little things begin to add up, piecing together a portrait of someone slipping down an especially nasty slope.
Here we have Maki, our reluctant protagonist’s underclassman as well as being the only one that makes enough of an effort to get to know him, much to Masato’s frustration. His sunny smile irritating, his easy pace a hindrance, Maki is a star athlete who lives to run, breaking records and generally being the kind of guy who was born to accomplish great things. He will cheerfully call Masato ‘senpai’ without an ounce of tact for him gloomily trying to read in the library. Even with coming off like a guy who mostly has his shit together, even he has his problems. Nasty, habitual self-depreciation stems from problems involving his family – in particular, his sister.
Despite Masato’s irritation, as we later come to see Maki’s presence is indispensable for our gloomy literature boy.
Masato describes the difference between the Gloomy Sunday and everyday worlds best himself – that while school throughout the week is how any school should be, the school which exists on Sunday is dead. In a world where rain continues to fall, his brother likens it to amniotic fluid which makes the reader wonder how can that be the case when there’s danger forever lurking, ready to dispel that theory at a second’s notice. It’s a substance which both protects and stifles, which is basically the other world’s function. Masato’s brother brings up Yumeno Kyusuku’s seminal work, Dogura Magura (1935), at this point. It’s his most iconic work, although it hasn’t been translated to English. The “fantastic strange detective fiction” tells the tale of a mental patient who may or not be a serial murderer, which as we can already see slides into KuraiNichi‘s lore with ease. Dogura Magura‘s story ends with (spoiler alert) a seemingly straight up reveal that the protagonist is the murderer, but goes a step further than that with a surreal twist sure to catch anyone off guard. Although KuraiNichi doesn’t follow Dogura Magura to the letter, its hinting at things not always being how they seem tie into the strange world of this VN.
Within the downpour, something’s not right. Although KuraiNichi is set in autumn, Jack’s first victim is in July. If that’s really the case, then there’s no way that the TV can be broadcasting news of the first victim like it happened the night before, right? As the noise sharply rises before the set cuts off completely, the world feels a little off, as fuzzy as the TV screen. A corpse in an alley during the summer months appears in front of Masato as if they were freshly killed. Severed animal heads appear in his fridge, and he imagines Maki visiting his house and mutilating them in order to make dinner beaming all the way. We’re unsure what’s really going on, but it’s safe to say Masato isn’t the most sound guy around. People who he would be speaking to one moment vanish the next, being replaced by someone else (I was getting serious Sayonara wo Oshiete flashbacks here). On looking into a mirror one day, he’ll see it completely scribbled over, like a child went at it with a fat black crayon. Another day it’ll be back to normal, but a nightmarish stuffed rabbit will be standing behind him.
What’s perhaps most unsettling is where KuraiNichi‘s VN comes into play, with Kurai Nichiyoubi/暗い日曜日 referring to the song of the same name. Rattling around in his skull, Gloomy Sunday’s haunting melody plays. No stop button exists, so the only thing for him to do is destroy it. The song smothers him, and he’s unable to escape.
Let’s step back a bit. During the 1930s, there was an economic depression followed by worldwide political tension. That we all know. Somewhere in the midst of these harrowing times, a tune by the name of ‘Gloomy Sunday’ was composed by a little known Hungarian composer and pianist Rezső Seress, along with the poet László Jávor. While the true meaning behind their haunting melody and morbid lyrics telling of funeral bouquets are shrouded in a fog as dense as the one which envelops KuraiNichi‘s world, it had something which deeply resonated with people. So much, that it supposedly resulted in 157 people having killed themselves in the span of eight weeks upon hearing it. Given the period this allegedly suicidogenic song grew popular during, anyone could assume that whoever ended up doing so did it for a number of personal and societal reasons, and if the song did happen to have any sort of effect then it was a last resort sort of thing. It’s not as if it had a subliminal message, poisonous words behind Billie Holiday’s sultry rendition telling people to throw themselves into the nearest bridge. That would be absurd.
But, it is worth mentioning that in 1968, Seress committed suicide by jumping from the window of his Budapest apartment. On surviving and having been taken to hospital, he strangled himself with a wire. It’s the stuff of urban legends. What has been dubbed as the ‘Hungarian suicide song’ has certainly taken on a misshaped life of its own, and in 2007 three people collaborated on a paper published in Omega: Journal of Death and Dying attempting to expose the myth. Although it can be patchy in places (citing wikipedia, top lel), it does help clear up some of the myths surrounding the song and provides some relevant background information. It’s at least worth a look, if you’re looking for a less sensationalist take on this.
How does Jack the Ripper relate to this? Roaming the streets of Victorian London in a black cape and top hat with his knife illuminated by a street lamp is an image commonly associated with him. Despite what one would first think (seriously, try asking someone), he canonically killed five people. Which begs the question, how did someone who killed only five (possibly six) become the most iconic serial killer to ever have existed? Jeffrey Dahmer killed almost three times the amount Jack did and he’s not deeply ingrained in the public conscious. The answer lies in Gloomy Sunday’s explanation above – through public unrest, fear and intimidation took hold.
The serial murders have affected both Masato and Maki in different ways, each of them experiencing something that can’t be put into words. Maki who was once star of the track team can no longer run, Masato likening him to a bird who can no longer fly. KuraiNichi‘s first scene involves the pair being introduced, with Masato idly thinking that he can’t remember the last time they shared a decent conversation. Tightly gripping onto his book, there’s a sense of discomfort in Maki’s smile. The harmony has faded away from their friendship, with them becoming involved in something messy resulting in them drawing away from each other. Their friendship doesn’t play a greater part until KuraiNichi‘s second half, with the reader assuming the incongruity that comes with Maki standing in the rain with blank eyes serving to add to the strangeness of the world the characters inhabit. Nothing more.
But as each of the characters further develop, we see they need each other. With Masato’s complicated familial background amongst other misfortunes in his life, he chooses to withdraw into himself and reject others. Once Maki comes along he struggles against the possibility of friendship and normality, further pushing him away. While Maki may seem like a kind guy with no troubles of his own, he has to deal with blood on his hands. Through the course of KuraiNichi, Masato may become able to break out of his shell and come to understand the meaning of what it truly means to live, and this adds a much needed sense of light to this work. It’s tender, and its treatment is one of the reasons I’d be hesitant to label KuraiNichi as a horror because it’s not about rabbits with stuffing lining the corridors, axe in paw. Not really. As it progresses the reader is no longer concerned with trying to figure out the intricacies of the Gloomy Sunday world because unlike many denpa titles, it’s presented to us early on. With the reason for the world out of the way, a greater emphasis is placed on the friendship, roping us in and making us feel for the characters so much that we almost forget we went in expecting something overtly denpa flavoured.
The art mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, but I find it most appealing. The light lines and blocky, distorted layering adds a fragile touch in the midst of the cruelty enveloping KuraiNichi‘s world. The raw look the tachi-e have fit more in line with the world than fully polished and coloured, typically anime ones would. The backgrounds were handled by a bunch of different people, but it’s not something you’d really notice with the tachi-e sliding in with ease. It manages to give off a really dank impression, with rain clouds hang around through blotchy shading but it looks really well. For the Gloomy Sunday world, the regular interface becomes distorted a cracked skull taking up most of the screen, as you can see from the below image. It never quite makes us forget that something unpleasant is lurking.
Given that KuraiNichi is a doujin title, its soundtrack is comprised of songs pinched from artists you hear all the time in doujin titles. That’s not to say the song selection isn’t great, because there’s some really apt usage. To specifically fit the ambiance it uses sound effect to the fullest, so I’d advise listening to this with headphones. The way this suspensefully uses sound effects brings to mind a famous scene in Saya no Uta, where the protagonist’s friend is gingerly about to enter his home and see what his current life is like…
You’ll hear ‘Twisted Space’ often, its jangly keys ringing you in. A lot of the creepy songs come from Future Sound Inc., including ‘Setting Sun’ which brings forth images of Masato staring despondently into his fridge. Our little infodump track ‘The Unseen Place’ plays whenever Masato meets his brother, talking about issues related to the world of KuraiNichi such as Dogura Magura and amniotic fluid. ‘Doubt’ has rabbits clad in clothes surrealistically chasing after our hero. Wind Sphere’s ‘Hazy Bloom: Mazy Bloom’ is a sweet little piano track, full of hopefulness towards the future. It’s a shame that given this revolves around the song ‘Gloomy Sunday’ its melody couldn’t be used, but there are copyright issues to be aware of. Instead of that particular song, ‘Voices’ does the trick, it sounding uncanny enough to get the point across to those who aren’t familiar with the tune.
Its ending song ‘Reason to Live’ courtesy of Nevermore is an affecting tune, unfortunately ruined by its singer’s inability to sound hardly any of the English lyrics correctly. The engrish makes it all the more sweet, I guess. Even worse, its lyrics don’t show up on Nevermore’s site so I can only guess what the singer is trying to say. Needless to say, KuraiNichi is unvoiced but given that it’s so heavily atmospheric, I think voices would ruin it.
KuraiNichi is split into four parts, each taking about an hour, more or less depending on your reading speed. The trial (which is available to download on ZIGZAG’s site) consists of the first part, which is a touch deceptive in its presentation. After finishing that, the reader sets themselves up for a denpa fueled title which unsurprisingly, is what set my interest alight. After obtaining the full title starting from the second part, the decidedly horror slant wears off and delicately transforms into something more emotive and surprisingly melancholic. Having finished KuraiNichi, I’d hesitate to tag it as horror or denpa when most of the direct stuff happens in that first quarter. That’s not to say Makoto’s dreams don’t continue or that they’re any less nightmarish later on. It’s not as if there’s a genre shift with it going straight from denpa to borderline utsuge. However, instead of the reader being thrown into something without having a clue what’s going on until the eleventh hour, this begins to reveal itself, bit by careful bit.
Having said that, the chilling atmosphere is the one area which KuraiNichi excels in above all. There’s never a dull moment, for there’s always something which makes the reader’s heart beat a little bit faster. Its describing of the Gloomy Sunday world and there possibly being ‘something’ around every corner, in every classroom makes your palms a little bit clammier. When Masato feels like his heart is going to leap out of his mouth, sometimes, you’d feel the very same. When this gets scary, it nails it. It is really like Silent Hill in that regard, with a bewildered character wandering about a world unknown to them with danger oozing between the cracks. It’s relentlessly dank, dark, and dreary – almost as if KuraiNichi‘s writing is soaking up every drop of rain pouring down. It evokes the same sort of feel Sweet Pool had, although to an obviously lesser scale.
In the extra menus there’s a helpful list to remind the reader of the order of events. There are a total of twenty endings to obtain, seventeen of which I got. System in general is pretty bare bones, but what’s there is sufficient.
By collecting scattered pieces the reader is able to reach the truth, and a thoroughly satisfying end comes into play which will surely move you to tears if you’ve been with each of the characters every step of the way, feeling for their circumstances and everything that has transpired between them. It’s touching, tenderly emotive, and something I won’t be soon to forget. Unlike a recent doujin title I read which was borderline hamfisted in its handling of loss, KuraiNichi convincingly tells a tale of just two people, very much lost in the world coming to terms with the tragedy that threatens to consume both of them, and their feelings for each other. Although this is a female orientated work, it isn’t quite BL. You could possibly take Masato and Maki’s feelings for each other as something bordering on love – then again, if you don’t that’s cool. It’s all based on your own interpretation.
If you’re looking for a quick, meaningful psychological study with a dash of utsuge and lashings of horror, this does the trick. There are no shock tactics, and anything scary comes from its writing and potential which I can respect. But do be mindful that things aren’t always as they appear to be and like I said, this does softly transform itself into something dealing with issues Masato and Maki have.
I’d be more than willing to check out ZIGZAG’s upcoming Danse Macarbe, but unfortunately that seems to be stuck in development hell due to issues within ZIGZAG. Having been in production since 2010, chances of it coming out anytime soon, if ever, aren’t looking so hot.
Personal enjoyment: 4/5
Overall score: 70%
“… This gloomy Sunday.”
“What about the song?”
“I wasn’t asking about the song itself.
It’s just, I heard it play within my dream this morning…”.