When will this nightmare come to an end?
Jisatsu no Tame no 101 Houhou
30th of July, 2001.
During a sweltering summer’s eve, something begins to stir within Torabishi Takuji. Covered by a sweat-soaked blanket, the damp darkness pervading his room is just about enough to keep from sleeping. The ceiling stretches above him during this somewhat bizarre night. As he takes in these minute details of his surroundings, it comes to him; the ‘grey’. A bizarre noise which Takuji only started hearing recently, it distorts his world through an incomprehensible ‘zaza… zazazazaza… zazazaaaaa’..
This ‘grey’ is an alarm signaling the world’s crumbling, where all that he was once sure of becomes incomprehensible, what was real unreal. Takuji decides that he will dye his own world in this ‘grey’, in turn transcending the everyday monotony. Morning will soon come, and these idle thoughts of searching for a way to define the world – his world – shall cease.
As dawn breaks, the curtain of the worst day in Takuji’s life and the ill-fated characters that become entangled with him opens…
As one becomes further enticed by niche-within-a-niche works, there will eventually come a point where they will encounter something so obscure that they will no doubt run into difficulties trying to obtain it. Trust me on this one. Seeing all the legit copies (ancient by VN standards) being sold for ten times the original price is enough to tear your little weeb heart in two. Even if you do manage to obtain this Holy Grail, it may run on an atrociously archaic system which your modern one refuses to accommodate, leading to downloads of awkward virtual machines or striking up dubious 2spooky deals with your HD (don’t try this at home, kids). It requires a bit of e-elbow grease to get working, and I cannot think of a more relevant example than CDDA. My struggle against this beast had been long and arduous, and it’s only recently that I managed to conquer it. The spoils of war I took was naturally, Duke’s only title and an absolute classic where denpa is concerned: Jisatsu no Tame no Houhou 101, or ‘101 Ways to Commit Suicide’.
I have wanted to read this for far longer than I can remember although amusingly enough, I first heard of writer Yamada Orochi’s Makki, Shoujobyou -Lyrical pop world’s end-. In case you weren’t already aware your blogger has a penchant for the bizarre, and its impossibly deranged synopsis telling of salvation found in a cocoon and a desperate protagonist peddling tap water disguised as holy water seemed right up my alley. It was only later that I learned of the author’s already available work, for various circumstances unfortunately prevent Shoujobyou from ever getting released. To that end, having a kneejerk reaction and immediately assuming that Jisatsu sounds like quite the edgy work; self-indulgent rubbish you’d expect someone who consumes Linkin Park AMVs on a regular basis to be drawn to is perfectly understandable. Dubbed as a ‘delusional psychological novel’ however, it is an electrifying denpa spectacle through and through. Compared to other titles of renown Jisatsu certainly mightn’t be as polished, yet it hits all the right spots through its outrageously vivid gibberish. Suicide waves echo through deserted halls, mountains of corpses pile high, visions of winged beasts appear to the chosen few, all of which are distorted through that grey – you’re in for quite the ride if you dare strap yourself in. Personally speaking, I’m fond of the bizarre little sub-genre as I like seeing that potential dichotomy between the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ pushed to its limit, and how its protagonist may come to deal with such an intense destabilization. But this tale of those who draw closer to death in order to live may push the boundaries of even the more seasoned denpa fan.
Jisatsu delves into the Stygian recesses of our protagonist’s mind, revealing an unhealthy fixation with death. Quite literally anything can and will leave Takuji wondering on what it all means, but no matter how he thinks about it he finds the concept difficult to place within his reality. After all, a man who hasn’t eaten a certain type of steak can’t possibly describe its taste. Can a woman who hasn’t seen the sea sing of its gulls with convincing fervor? Can a man who has never bid farewell understand the full weight of loneliness? Lately, those are the kind of feelings Takuji has found himself submerged in. In the midst of class the world all too easily fades away and he likens himself to a bottled creature unable to escape. Dread rises up like vomit while he continuously thinks ‘maybe I’ll die’. These spell-like words lead him to further confine himself within a cage of delusion. Death may paradoxically be the only way to confirm that he’s still very much alive.
Compared to lazing around in the grey world, Takuji believes that more of a value lies in death’s catharsis through an all supreme and beautiful end. Death is the only way, a means of salvation. But as he lacks the courage to chase it he hopes that it will come to him. While Takuji is very much a denpa protagonist, he invokes greater feelings of pity and possesses a more sympathetically humane quality than most. He doesn’t feel menacing, instead coming across as a character that’s been thrust into a most bizarre situation that’s escalating by the minute. And of course, we can’t help but wonder if he’ll emerge intact…
Samomo takes on the role of Takuji’s stepsister. Their parents away on a vacation, the bargain bin LN plot practically writes itself with the pair left to live together until their return. However, instead of playful come-ons followed by narrow escapes they live in suffocating awkwardness. The source of this tension is a result of Takuji stumbling upon his darling stepsister engaging in a lewd act, calling his name all the while.
At first you may think she’s the kind of sister character who only has eyes for the cut-and-paste harem lead, but as is the case with the rest of Jisatsu’s colourful cast Samomo is anything but how she appears. She is in fact a dreadfully unhappy character and will do anything to place a value on her fragile life. What should be a relatively sweet confession of love during lunch with her beloved stepbrother leaves her drained. They may already be in the midst of falling, so what’s the point, really? In class she’s left very much alone, to the point where everyone views her as a pariah. When shit hits the fan they eagerly pounce on her. On offered the chance to take part in a ceremony where death shall purify her, she grabs it without hesitation.
Straight black hair (hurray for artistic license) that makes Takuji think of the night’s darkness, Kanna has the same eyes he has: the eyes of someone on the verge of disappearing from the world. It is no surprise that Takuji finds himself falling into them, trance-like.
Holding a desire to broaden their world, Kanna has found a rather unconventional means of doing so by wearing down the real and having it marge with the unreal. In a secret relationship of sorts, her and Takuji have had sex in the dream world countless times (which they both acknowledge, cementing the bizarre motion’s validity). Their most dangerous game happening in a closed world is safe, something only for the two of them. But it happening in the real world for the first time may be another sign that their world is crumbling. Although the thing they have going on is complicated, Kanna does not believe for a moment that they are fit to stand on the same stage together. She haughtily believes that Takuji’s version of death is a mere garden variety, one which you could find anywhere. She, however, sees the sacredness and holiness that lies in the act and won’t hesitate to viciously condemn anyone who challenges this view.
The moment Natane appears is when the wall fully crumbles. A few cards short of a deck, it’s impossible to gleam even a grain of truth from her delusional ramblings. A victim of a harsh incident in her past, she has come to believe in the existence of aliens and all matter of supernatural phenomena. Natane wants the entire world to acknowledge her existence and what she’s fighting for, openly speaking of global conspiracies, final crusades and warriors. Midou’s henchmen will often tease Natane, getting her to join them in the bathroom under the nasty pretense of an Earth Defense Meeting. Although he doesn’t partake in this ‘meeting’, Takuji following them is like following the white rabbit into denpaland.
After emerging, the pair find themselves in what feels like a different dimension… A silent world of grey where paranoia runs rampant. It quickly becomes apparent that everyone has fallen under the influence of a ‘suicide wave’ while they were tumbling down the rabbit hole. Like an infection it spreads, resonating into everyone’s hearts. While they’re all losing it Natane takes every bizarre happening in her stride, relishing the destruction. She serves as the antithesis to our protagonist, in that whereas Takuji struggles with the world he’s faced she gleefully accepts it for what it is. She is the heroine of her own story in that unlike the supporting characters she’s desperately trying to live. And in madness, as they say, comes wisdom…
It would not be an exaggeration to begin a review of this nature through stating that Jisatsu may be the most ineffable title I’ve read thus far, in that I struggled to genuinely asses it in a manner which does not sound as if I’m one who consumes Linkin Park AMVs on a regular basis or one who claims that Akame ga Kill is like, so deep and mature man. No VN has managed to provoke disquiet quite like this, which as far as the genre is concerned would be considered a roaring success. More so than the infamous work released the same year which I would even count among my favourites, Sayonara wo Oshiete ~Comment te Dire Adieu~. While the latter gently draws the reader into a trance this grabs their shoulders and forces them to stay put, eyes pried open à la A Clockwork Orange. What unfurls may put your resilience to the test, but even if you wanted to you couldn’t possibly look away for you’re already entranced. In light of the work’s intensity I would have difficulty recommending it to anyone not already invested in the genre as it’s a work which most certainly chooses its readers. Anyone who comes across Jisatsu does not do so by accident: no doubt they have sought it out themselves after being tempted by that white rabbit. Fellow denpa fan Mazyrian mused that Sayooshi would be the more accessible work, and I would agree. If you posess even an inkling of the material either delves into then this will speak volumes. Sayooshi is a chilling work, possessing a reputation that is not without merit – it can be found not too long after one tumbles down the rabbit hole, yet Jisatsu is what lies beneath its seemingly impermeable foundation.
They form part of the unholy denpa trinity alongside KeroQ’s Tsui no Sora, but the relation between the two runs ever-deeper for its writers even attended school together. Could you scarcely dare to imagine what material their conversations delved into, to the point where they undoubtedly lead the fiendish duo to write comparatively similar works which just so happened to be released during the same year? I certainly would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during their rendezvouses. However, as is sadly the case with Sayooshi’s Nagaoka Kenzo I assumed that Shoujobyou aside, Jisatsu’s Yamada Orochi faded into obscurity like many writers of that era – yet I was informed that, rather mind-bogglingly, he has now taken to dabbling in anime. If you were to envision the mind behind this trying their hand at the medium you’d perhaps think of almost frenzied romps through the human conscious, generously adorned with bewitching Yuasa aesthetics. But if you glance at his resume, you’ll find titles such as Shugo Chara!. You know, that cool and spicy girl who plays with talking eggs or something. Well then.
Not too long after the reader has been hurled into Takuji’s viewpoint, he comes across a gaudy breakfast show where know-it-all ‘experts’ discuss how countless young people have taken to adopting the notion of suicide as fashionable, that throwing out lines such as ‘I want to die’ is a means of attention seeking. A way of individualizing themselves and setting them apart from the crowd like someone who mutters ‘I see dead people’ would. One posing as an intellectual by reading French philosophy or falling into socialist movements. Such a blatant disregard for those with mental health issues would be very much at home on a reddit.txt account, but its offensiveness it’s arguably the desired effect for Jisatsu is a provocative work through and through, speculating broadly on the nature of death and demanding a reaction. It opens with a nameless and faceless character throwing themselves off a school roof, with others listlessly discussing it. He jumped ten – no, a hundred metres. Why wasn’t there any staff there to help him, or the police? Did anyone even know him? Whatever, he died. Did anyone else know him? Nah. It might have been a publicity stunt, they could have been a tightrope walker. As they pick apart the student’s final moments – a thud.
As with all denpa titles Jisatsu’s appeal can be found within its handling of an unstable narrator and the manner in which he approaches the disrupting of his personal realm. A third boundary emerges where Takuji is unsure what to make of it, and it wouldn’t surprise him to learn that what was once implausible has become plausible; everything he found stable having crumbled with the pieces having long since disintegrated. A number of alarming incidents cause him to lose track of what is real and unreal which leads him to that mystical third boundary. People start quoting from his daydreams, and he’s unable to suppress his legs from trembling. He perhaps wonders if he’s gone mad. As is the case with Takuji, the reader also has difficulty figuring out what’s real. Unlike other denpa titles which are relatively straightforward once you realize what’s actually at stake, Jisatsu is swathed in delusions to the point where even you’re left wondering if the most seemingly unreal elements are the most real. When offered the spider’s thread, you swat it away. It just may be a trap.
Takuji is the only character who can hear this intolerable ‘zazazaza~’ of the grey, resounding deep within his skull. Of course, on some level he certainly does understand that it’s merely an auditory delusion for school check-ups likewise support the notion that he is perfectly fine. Nevertheless our skittish protagonist will receive a morning wake-up call from Samomo, all coquettish in a revealing nightdress. She will laugh, and the ‘grey’ will resound. When he opens his eyes she’ll no longer be there, but of course you wonder if she ever was in the first place. Is that an indicator that Takuji has returned to reality? What would he call his own ‘reality’, anyway? What he would call it tenuously maintains its balance until a character named Kashiwagi takes matters into his own hands. One of Midou’s many hangers-on, he possesses no sense of individuality; the type of character content to play the supporting role. Yet he forcibly takes the spotlight by carrying out a gruesome act that you would never expect of a mere mob character. “I can die”, he says. Everyone else in the bathroom stays silent until a scream pulls them back into reality, scrambling away in abject horror as a BGM heralding the world’s end fills your ears.
While the denpa sub-genre of horror may be infamous for its delusional ramblings and incomprehensible happenings, it is all too easy to forget its origins. With denpa/電波 quite literally meaning ‘electromagnetic wave’, the classic definition points to characters acting bizarrely as a result of such waves affecting them. As a result, perhaps Jisatsu would be the purest denpa work I’ve read thus far in that they actively play a role. In a room closed off from the outside world through tinfoil shielding the walls, Natane relies on these waves crackling from the radio to detect when that final suicide wave will arrive. Our denpa darling with the unfocused eyes is the only one who conveniently possesses this ability, and oh does she milk it for all its worth. To the point in fact, where you can’t help but wonder if despite what her external behaviour suggests she’s more together than anyone else. What would happen if they were to upset her? Natane may have missed a transmission while someone was mouthing her off, oh no!
Tensions inexorably rise during this period. Paranoia is rampant within the survivors consisting of Takuji, Samomo, Kanna, Natane, Momiji (Takuji’s childhood friend), Midou (an infamous truant with a raging temper to boot), and Ms. Kinjou (a sultry teacher who may or may not be involved with Midou). Are they the last people in school – no, on earth? There’s no one left to trust, and as they stave off the infection the only thing they can do is seek out salvation in the form of that final wave for they certainly won’t find it in each other. No one knows when it’ll come; it may be an hour, a decade, or a second. Only Natane’s claps ring hollow as Takuji unanimously elected to be the one who (quite literally) holds the key to their salvation. They have enough rations and medicine to last for a while, but when someone falls ill a smug Natane offers petty Darwinisms. It isn’t too long before, like everything else which lead up to this, their system breaks down and barbarism takes hold.
A spectacular world which grows more frenzied by the minute is presented in Jisatsu which I would have liked to have seen more of. It is a short work so you only see just enough. But perhaps that’s why it works so well. From the first time you open it up until the admittedly unsatisfying end you’re bombarded with the bizarre, no room for a sense of daily life. There is no slow build-up here, no unease bubbling under the surface of normality. To make up for this Orochi brings across a panoply of powerful descriptions which remain as vivid as they did the moment I read them. Kanna’s queen of death scene comes to the mind, where she is perched upon a mountain of corpses piled high as she looks down on her subjects with utmost contempt. The discord brewing within as she approaches a friend, likening the experience to getting lost in a surreal painting. The sunlight bleeds through an evening where the wind doesn’t blow, with soaring bridges of ruin in the distance. You can almost see the Dali-esque landscape, unrecognizable numbers sliding down melting clocks. Students follow a teacher’s suicide without a trace of hesitation, flawlessly, with Takuji likening the nightmarish scene to a communist state he saw on TV. Thousands of arms raise simultaneously, without a hitch. Classmates carrying out a witch hunt, stamping their feat all the while a fearful Samomo lies at the centre.
Recently I decided that I wouldn’t touch on general production values in my reviews anymore as they bloat things up to the point of the point of absurdity, but it would perhaps be even more absurd in this case not to address the elephant in the room. So, the art. Needless to say, from a technical perspective it is amazingly awful, literally every single CG having some horrifyingly distorted or deformed limb. But it is at the very least characteristic and iconic, charming in its own way (since reading Jisatsu I’ve actually become quite fond of it). What’s also notable about the work is the generous number of CGs, with a new one appearing every few minutes to make up for its lack of tachi-e. There is a CG for every moment, major and minor.
If it were any other work, the unbridled insanity and total disregard for logic proudly on display in Jisatsu no Tame no 101 no Houhou would cause it to swiftly come undone, collapsing under narrative constraints. But such qualities are what arguably makes Dukes’s first and last work what it is, cementing Jisatsu as a denpa staple which warrants a read by anyone already enamoured with the genre and all of its eccentricities. It is no doubt a work that has been forged from the depths of Yamada Orochi’s being and I cannot help but admire him for that. Following ‘one of the first visual novels’ Shizuku and cult classic Tsui no Sora, together Duke and Craftwork tried to bring the genre to greater heights in 2001. Their own wave seems to have sadly never reached other potential writers for as of 2014 the genre is essentially dead. Due to a slew of mishaps culminating in tragic circumstances Shoujobyou will never be released and Sca-Ji aside, it seems as if no other writer has the talent or conviction to resurrect it.
This is of course not to say that Jisatsu is a masterpiece or without its flaws. The three major heroines share the same deeply unsatisfying ending, the only difference being CG alterations and name swaps. As a heroine Momiji’s presence is faint throughout, overshadowed by the vivid presences of Kanna and Samomo. Although she is a necessary character in her own right I found it difficult to care about her which especially becomes jarring during the collapse where she is more or less absent. Finally, as I have already mentioned I can only recommend this to a reader that is already comfortable with the genre and its often disturbing undertones. As far as denpa goes it is more bizarre and off the wall than most, having the potential to turn the curious reader off the genre for life. But a spectacular unraveling of Takuji’s life lies in store for whoever dares to rise to the challenge. Just don’t expect much in terms of cohesion – but, isn’t that what we’re all here for?