Missing the Point: Saya no Uta Edition
Kotaku has an article up today discussing the disturbing horror game Saya no Uta and how empathy with the monster ruins any sense of horror. He argues that ” it’s hard to fear what you understand on an emotional level” and I don’t have any problem with that statement in and of itself. If it turns out that the ghost that is murdering everyone is just trying to reach out to people so it can be put to rest, you come to empathize with the ghost. It was hard not to empathize with Frankenstein’s monster, and in the end the point you were supposed to take away from the book was that Dr. Frankenstein was the monster of the story, not the poor beast he created.
But in the case of Saya no Uta you’d be right to sympathize with Saya and Fuminori, and completely wrong to let that destroy your sense of horror. For those who don’t know, the basic premise of Saya no Uta is that Fuminori gets in an accident and when he comes out of his coma everything in the world looks like grotesque flesh monstrosities. A mix of HR Geiger and Lovecraftian horrors. His world is a never ending hell of despair and horror. Until he meets Saya, who appears to him as a beautiful little girl (which has some creepy implications of its own.) The two of them work together, because they’re the only two people who see each other as beautiful. They murder some people and it’s not really relevant and ruins the tension.
My point is this: as you come to understand Saya and Fuminori more you come to relate to their plight, and as the author says Saya and Fuminori become less horrific. What should continue to horrify you is that you’re relating to them in the first place. This is a man who would see you as a demonic fleshbeast, and a woman who is presumably some sort of eldritch horror of her own. They are a couple who rape, murder, enslave, and eat other human beings. For fuck’s sake you come to empathize with, even view as normal, buildings being made of pus festering flesh and power lines being human tendon.
That is what is horrifying about Saya no Uta and is the point the author completely missed. The horror of how easy it is to root for the literal monster, how easy it is to relate to terrible, murdering beings because you’ve felt scorned out like an outsider in your life. That you could not be scared of the two monsters, Saya and Fuminori, is the most terrifying thing in this game.