“You, however, sit at your window and dream of the message when evening comes.”
A story like any other, Sayonara, Utsutsu opens with childhood friends Kazuki and Saki in a will they or won’t they situation, obviously crazy about each other. However, a sense of artificiality lurks behind the homemade lunches and nervous-yet-hopeful walks home. It rises within Takuji in the depths of night, leaving profound terror in its wake. A date with Saki the following day has him shivering and gnawing at his fingertips, constantly reassuring himself that everything will be fine. Such a contrast to the clichéd setting of earlier, all the while Saki is in her own room cheerily studying.
The pair play their roles to the best of their ability despite the evident discord, until a mysterious girl named Kagami transfers into their class. Offering bizarre words about God and alienating all her classmates in the same breath, she wastes no time in calling our hero to the rooftop during lunch. According to her, he’s the savior of a world called ‘Mundus’. On gazing into her dark eyes he can find no trace of madness; of course, it occurs to him that maybe he just can’t see it. In order to reach Mundus, she takes out an instrument he never would have expected to see in his everyday life… A syringe.
In becoming the saviour and ally of justice Mundus so direly needs, something must be given up in exchange. Little does Kazuki know, that the price may be his humanity…
Despite being such an infamous genre, denpa titles are a rare breed. Fans are lucky to be graced with a single title per year, with KeroQ’s 2010 work Subarashiki Hibi ~Furenzoku Sonzai~ perhaps being the genre’s swan song now that Makki, Shoujobyou -Lyrical pop world’s end- has been doomed to suffer in eroge purgatory. In light of this, new doujin offering Sayonara, Utsutsu from Hitsuji Ojisan Club was a most welcome offering. Due to being freely available to download and short enough (300kbs), it’s been making the rounds already having several EGS reviews despite being out for less than a fortnight. Not bad for something that came out of nowhere.
It is a shame then, that Utsutsu isn’t a contender to the denpa throne; it doesn’t even make it through the first round. The quality of a denpa title is directly proportional to the amount of effort taken with delving into the fractured protagonist’s psyche, and how they approach their world as a result. There might not be much going on in terms of plot, but what matters most are these delicate psychological stirrings. A certain degree of finesse is a must, for it is obviously not a genre that many writers can simply try their hand at for the hell of it. If they do, it might just end up like Utsutsu here.
Although its protagonist is just about unhinged enough to make the denpa cut, he’s quite the obnoxious little shit rendering him an unsympathetic character from beginning to end. The transition from normality to abnormality should be one of the most laudable aspects where the genre is concerned, but Kazuki’s is cartoonish and jarring, too abrupt to achieve the desired effect. Allowances can be made due to it being a result of him shooting up, but he’s a totally different character from that first trip into Mundus even when he’s clean. What kept me reading wasn’t out of a sense of morbid curiosity to see how worse he could possibly get or a genuine interest or how his psyche would ultimately end up, but to see if he would get the chewing out of a lifetime. The sheer number of crimes Kazuki commits would perhaps earn him the reputation of most dangerous denpa protagonist yet, but his drug-addled psyche is filled with noise to the point where the reader is unable to tune in. When he begins to incomprehensibly ramble, you’re on the side of the listening character with the sweat drop affixed to their face.
A well written antihero has the reader on their side no matter what, but Utsutsu actually turns you against Kazuki. He doesn’t feel remotely convincing as a character, instead coming off as someone you’d expect to see on a favourite list alongside Death Note’s Light for being like, so deep man. I couldn’t take anything our rebel without a cause said or did seriously. What should have made me want to pick at his psyche made me want to smack him. Oh, how it did. His smug observations on coming across a dead kitten are enough to make you cover your face in shame, the second-hand embarrassment positively radiating from the screen. He offers all these rudimentary analyses, throwing Nietzche quotes at you like they’re going out of style with nothing in the narrative to support such throwaway references. He could have taken out a fedora at any point and I would not have been at all surprised.
With such a poorly constructed protagonist, this denpa work gets a failing grade right off the bat. It would be one thing if the rest of the cast at least held a degree of intrigue to make up for Kazuki, but they don’t. Even mysterious transfer student Kagami fails to live up to our expectations, more of a plot device than anything. The first words to her new class are that God lived in her home and subsequently committed suicide, leaving Kazuki’s heart racing but everyone else bewildered. As her name suggests, she represents the ideal world Kazuki longs for beyond the looking glass; a world where he receives the affection he craves from Saki through his followers and the role bestowed upon him. It’s what shall save and ruin him, offering the dizziest of highs and most terrifying of lows. One thematically relevant scene later on is a confrontation with Saki: his love for the new world he’s been accepted into with wide open arms is put to the test against the timorous friendship they once shared. Its victor should come as no surprise.
Clumsily handled themes involving true happiness and acceptance aside, there is no substance to this mess. Kazuki’s delusions involving God are among the poorest scenes in the game, as is the scene where he ruefully speaks of the world’s evils to an adoring audience during his ascension. As the Satie-infused score plays on, you wonder if Hitsuji Ojisan Club could have at least made more of an effort to disguise Utsutsu‘s obvious roots. It does go beyond that though, and does make an effort to get out of the ‘kid takes drugs, becomes saviour, shit happens’ thing through Mundus and its intricacies. Nightmarish creatures roam the crimson world, and it just so happens that
Takuji Kazuki and only Kazuki can destroy them. Will he become a savior of justice, in turn casting aside his humanity…?
Utsutsu’s hand is shown from the very beginning leaving the reader all too aware of what’s real and not despite emulating the effects of Kazuki’s trip through glitchy visuals and nonsensical dialogue. As mentioned in the summary, the appeal of this work ought to lie in the crumbling of Kazuki’s everyday life as a result of the inhumane acts he commits Mundus. But it’s just not very well executed. The work peaks early on with him entering the world, only to get progressively worse until it all comes to a head. But throughout Utsutsu’s entirety, you’ll only come across a handful of scenes which are handled well. It’s all a bit much, and there were one or two brilliant lines Utsutsu could have ended on but kept going destroying any possible impact.
For a doujin title and what is seemingly the group’s first project, perhaps allowances can be made. On some level I do have to admire Hitsuji Ojisan Club for what they did, through actively bringing up drugs (and not even magical title-specific ones), with its drug-addled protagonist even being a selling point. Overall, it possesses just about enough intrigue for you to not drop it entirely, but everything here has been done before and much better. Don’t bother with this one; just sit tight until the next denpa title in a year or two.