Song of Saya (Visual Novel)
- Trailer: Fan-dub trailer
- What it’s about: The fact that he survived the accident was a miracle. To expect him to come out unscathed was too much to ask. Fuminori Sakisaka awakens from the car crash that killed his parents with a bizarre form of agnosia that distorts his perceptions of the world around him into a Lovecraftian hellscape. His friends are writhing fleshy monsters, his food a disgusting mess of gore and filth. Determined to hide his condition for fear of being condemned to an asylum, he contemplates suicide – until a young girl, angelic in contrast to the putrid meat-corridors of the hospital, appears by his bed and introduces herself as Saya.
- Why you should try it: If you’ve never tried a Visual Novel before, this is a great place to start. Written by the acclaimed Gen Urobuchi, the story takes about the same time to complete as a one-cour anime, and is unusually linear – prompting you for only one *real* decision on how you believe the story deserves to end. Saya no Uta is a story of horror and devotion, of love and monsters both human and otherwise. For all that “tentacle monsters” are a big part of the Western perception of Japanese media, there is a surprising lack of true Lovecraftian horror. Saya no Uta takes up that slack, and weaves into it threads of isolation, sinister desperation and a romance that is both beautiful and horrifying. Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic – I don’t think Shoes of Glass is ever going to come off of my playlist.
- Caveats: If you are the type of person who requires trigger warnings on the media you consume, steer well clear. Saya no Uta contains murder, rape, cannibalism, slavery, sadism and body horror. It also features H-scenes (porn) with an under-age girl. If you’re not squeamish, or if you’re a fan of Gen Urobuchi’s other works (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Phantom: Requiem), you really should give this a try, though.
- Themes: The philosophy of aesthetics, and how our senses define us, from our morality – why is it alright to poison cockroaches but not puppies? – all the way to our sense of identity. The question of which option is the *true end* of the story is left up to the audience, and it’s a tough one to solve.
- Similar works: Within anime, I’m going to have to say Pupa, but it’s a terrible show and you shouldn’t watch it. Outside, try the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne
- Trailer: English dubbed trailer
- What it’s about: The fruits of Yggdrasil float unseen on the winds across Tokyo. Most have no effect, but on rare occasions a person can unknowingly absorb one, becoming immortal. Rin was one such person, and in the years since, she has set up a private detective agency looking to help people with unusual problems. But many seek the immortality that she has gained by accident, and are willing to use any means – technological, biological or otherwise – to achieve their goal.
- Why you should watch it: Mnemosyne is a thoroughly mature thriller series. Comprising six 45-minute episodes, it’s packed with levels of violence, sex, and gore that would make even HBO proud. The show has a rich and vibrant mythology and its storytelling style is ambitious, refreshingly different. I also quite enjoyed the way that the story spanned over sixty years. It was a nice touch to have the characters age, move on, and die, giving room for the next generation. All except for Rin herself, of course. The English dubbing for the show isn’t half-bad either.
- Caveats: The soundtrack and fight choreography don’t really do the show much justice. They honestly seem kind of phoned in. The show is unabashedly erotic at parts – don’t watch it with anyone you’d be uncomfortable watching, say, Game of Thrones’ more raunchy scenes by your side. Finally, the violence is used well for shock value to begin with, but it starts edging uncomfortably into “torture porn” at some points.
- Themes: The search for immortality, contrasted against people wasting their lives or dying early.
- Similar works: Speed Grapher, Canaan, Kara no Kyoukai
Trailer: English subtitled version
What it’s about: In 1899, scientists successfully harnessed magic for the first time. The sheer power and utility of tame sorcery led to its rapid integration into every technological field, from medicine to power generation to construction. But magic is not without risks; unprotected humans transform into mindless, deadly monstrosities known as “demons”, and the armour meant to keep users safe is less than perfect. Throw in a left-wing terrorist group willing to use demons as a military tactic, and the government-employed sorcerers have never been busier. The story follows a rogue sorcerer named Leiot Steinberg who is called in to fill the stretched roster of these “Strait Jackets”.
Why you should watch it: If you like gory action shows, Strait Jacket offers that in spades. It packs more horror and violence into three episodes than many such shows manage in a full season. The monsters are suitably alien and the show hints at a much larger world lying just off-screen. The plot itself is so-so, but it does at least resolve itself and tie the whole thing into a nice neat package.
Caveats: Strait Jacket is best viewed as a movie broken into three parts than a series cut short. That said, it’s obviously intended as something of a teaser for the source material. Characters are introduced and then built upon only slightly, whole sections of the worldbuilding are left open-ended. You want to find out what happens next, which is more or less the point.
Themes: “What does a sinner want”, and what is the appropriate response by others? Justice, vengeance, or forgiveness?
Similar works: Claymore