Abstractions: Subarashiki Hibi ~Reflections~

This post could be construed as a review – but is honestly just a collection of my immediate thoughts on the work (written shortly after the read).

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1862

This article was originally written on 3/27/2015. May contain conceptual or structural spoilers.

I think in reviewing, or analyzing a work, there’s invariably a bias on part of perspective of the reviewer. Reviewers analyze a work based off their criteria: some value primarily enjoyment, others value more intellectual pursuits. I think that as a reader, I read solely for the sake of my enjoyment. I find intellectual works to be often interesting, but I don’t purposefully seek them out in reading. Indeed, enjoying an intellectual work on this note, would be more of an accidental property than of anything else (as the thought of reading an intellectual work for the sake of enlightenment itself sounds dreadfully boring). Nonetheless, as a reviewer, I seem to (or so I believe) take a more balanced approach — analyzing the work on part of what it tries to do (ambition & scope) , how it tries to do it (structure & other representational elements), whether it succeeds at doing it (lack of negative ‘hindrances’; dei ex machina, bad pacing, cohesive storyline) among several other features. The first category of course, doesn’t ‘harm’ the work — it simply demarcates its bound (ambitious works are often the highest scoring when done well, whereas more mindless, but fun and well-executed moege understandably score solidly, but not incredibly). The rest of the categories work to delineate just where within the bound the work justifiably lies. I’m a believer that Subarashiki Hibi ~Furenzoku Sonzai~ (素晴らしき日々~不連続存在~), or SubaHibi aims for the limit of the sky when it comes to scope — but whether or not it succeeds at doing so, is perhaps one of the harder questions to answer.

Subahibi is an infamous work. When certain works have noteworthy, ‘shocking’ scenes, their features inevitably get conveyed among readers and nonreaders alike (e.g. CHOMP). Subahibi is the ‘archetypal’ visual novel in the sense that much of its plot points and execution would not suffice to properly be conveyed outside of anything but the visual novel medium. It’s also the archetypal visual novel in the sense that much of its content would not fly outside of the visual novel medium (trying to imagine SubaHibi, on parts of its plot points, as a manga would be laughable, and as an anime, fundamentally impossible).  Indeed, a friend had commented that SubaHibi was reputed to “upset” the player’s sense of values (プレーヤーの価値観を覆す).  The term ‘覆す’ could be translated most literally to ‘overturn,’ while more emotionally to ‘undermine.’ I found that the term ‘upset’ is the best translation.

When it’s said that a weaker team upsets a stronger team in a sport, this is not necessarily thought to be a bad thing. Rather, it’s thought to be ‘surprising,’ and ‘unlikely,’ and it results in a moment of a special type of enlightenment (Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected for the weaker team to have lost, despite their apparently weaker standing).  SubaHibi is similar — without doubt, prima facie, the average reader’s sense of morals will be ‘upset’ (interpret that as either meaning ‘overturned’ or plainly, ‘to make unhappy’).  Yet, in the same sense that a spectator sees the believed-to-be weaker team in a new light after their unexpected victory, I think that a reader who reads SubaHibi, will have their values ‘upset’ in a more positive than negative way (Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected that I’ll necessarily dislike a work with values which I naturally dislike). If we were to look at SubaHibi’s quantitative assessment, it would be apparent that a work scoring ~90+ on both EGS & VNDB did not earn the rating simply by ‘luck’ — it evidently, had to have done something ‘right.’

But the question is truly what Subahibi tries to ‘do,’ and whether or not it does it well. We’ve established that in trying to do what it tries to do, it integrates ‘shocking’ elements, but SubaHibi evidently is not a horror series (and thus, shock is not its forte, merely another dimension). Subahibi is a complex work. I’d be lying were I to even insinuate that I have a ‘strong’ conviction as to what it tries to do (although with proper panache, perhaps I could pull it off). This is a work, complex not due to its plot (as its plot is actually relatively simple to comprehend), but complex in its breadth. If we were to put Subahibi in an analogy, I’d say that it’s similar to an unsolved equation– each of its parts (ergo every dimension of the work with relevance to its breadth & purpose) work to ‘provide’ a basis for its answer. Most of the parts espoused and developed are explained well, and at the point of reading it, felt to have been ‘understood’ — but, SubaHibi is a problem which requires countless parts to properly solve. At the end, I have a vague recollection of a majority of its developed parts, but I’m stuck on ‘tying’ it together (in solving the problem). In a sense, this is a mathematical/philosophical struggle in that there’s an nondescript, intuitive feeling held by the reader, which leads them to believe that they have the ‘proper’ answer (after all, if we’ve comprehended its parts, how is it that we cannot tie it together?). But, it’s also a mathematical/philosophical struggle in the sense that this might be an equation with solely one answer, and since it’s dependent on its parts, one false interpretation of a part can lead the entire picture astray.

The most complicated part of SubaHibi is understandably, not its ‘plot.’ But, it’s not to say that a non-complicated plot is necessarily a bad one. SubaHibi does not have a complicated plot in the sense that it’s not overtly-abstract/arcane; it’s by all means, convoluted and multifaceted, but presumably, its mysteries are mostly defogged by the end). Indeed, we can say that literary works like Romeo & Juliet (or even Cyrano de Bergerac) have simple, understandable plots — but surely, these aren’t literary works remembered for their plot themselves. They’re works remembered for their themes — that is, the picture or ideals which they try to ultimately promote. Now, comparing SubaHibi’s plot to Romeo & Juliet’s would be doing SCA-Ji (the scenario writer) a great injustice. The plot of the work is convoluted, complicated, and archetypal of the visual novel medium in the sense that it wouldn’t work in any other medium. SubaHibi is a work which manages to properly convey an enigmatic plot with several, otherwise difficult-to-grasp elements in both an entertaining & doable fashion. If I can without hesitation, praise one aspect of SubaHibi, it’d be in its structural brilliance (in using the medium the way that it’s meant to be used). SubaHibi’s aesthetics are predictably, excellent — it boasts a strong soundtrack, and an affable art style (I won’t attempt to belabor a professed ability to critique a work’s aesthetics — it’s simply ‘excellent’).  Moreover, SubaHibi is a work described to have several characters — each, with a certain amount of depth and relevance to the plot of the work itself. Once more, while SubaHibi excels on this aspect (Yuki is best girl — the other characters are likable too), I won’t focus too extensively on this part, since I don’t think the plot is SubaHibi’s aspiration.

But back onto the main question — what is it, which makes SubaHibi a complex work? Is it on part of its allusions? Certainly, a work which boasts countless allusions — literary (credited & uncredited) , contemporary, and philosophical, to be ‘complex’ in that there has intuitively, we’d expect that we’d need to understand the derivative allusions (on level of ‘thematic’ understanding) in order to properly comprehend the context in which it is used. But, I don’t think that this is quite the proper conclusion. While reading SubaHibi, I kept Wikipedia (or rather just Google) open in the background, ready to do some impromptu research on its references. Nonetheless, I don’t think that the allusions ‘play’ a large enough role to be considered a ‘central feature’ of the work. SubaHibi often uses allusions in order to advance its plot, or in order to extend certain concepts — but, it does a succinct enough explanation within the work itself on one part, in explaining the allusion, and in another part, in tying it to the concept or plot point. For the allusions which weren’t say, explicitly referenced to & explained to (passing mentions of Greek mythology or ancient texts for instance), they added more to the ‘mood’ of the work that they did provide a novel, significant dimension to the work. So, I’d say that the allusions within SubaHibi were not necessarily what made the work complicated — they certainly bolstered the work, and since ‘to bolster’ is to add already onto what’s there, I wouldn’t say they were necessary to the work (in the sense that the work’s foundation was not held solely by the passing allusions.

Subahibi’s depth derives from it’s philosophy — namely that of a Ludwig Wittgenstein. My experience with Wittgenstein is honestly nonexistent — my university to my knowledge, has a bias against Wittgenstein (lol), so I’ve never really seen any classes featuring extensively, his philosophy. Most of his attributions within the work itself are taken from his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Logical-Philosophical Treatise). I don’t think that I’m qualified to properly explain his philosophy. The Tractacus’s structure is both a blessing & a curse — it’s very succinct, totaling merely 75 pages (were I assigned to read this for a class, I’d actually read it than to Google), and containing ‘self-evident’ declarations with no attempt of argumentation. For those unfamiliar with philosophical structure — this is highly unusual, as most studied & well-received philosophical texts contain extensive, or at least, convincing arguments. On the surface, it would appear that from the text alone, Wittgenstein plays the role of God in merely declaring ‘facts,’ without attempt at justifying them. These are some central, relevant propositions:

1 The world is all that is the case.

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

5.621 The world and life are one.

5.63 I am my world. (The microcosm.)

5.632 The subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world.

6.374 Even if everything we wished were to happen, this would only be, so to speak, a favour of fate, for there is no logical connection between will and world, which would guarantee this, and the assumed physical connection itself we could not again will.

6.41 The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it there is no value—and if there were, it would be of no value. If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so. For all happening and being-so is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental. It must lie outside the world.

As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t think that I’m qualified enough to give a cogent enough explanation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. I will say that Wittgenstein’s philosophy plays a pivotal role in ‘explaining’ the plot. I don’t think that his philosophy is necessarily difficult to comprehend in the scope of how it applies to specific instances of the plot (as some of these propositions are intuitively understandable in context). Nonetheless, merely comprehending his stipulations individually, only provides the reader with insight on basis of SubaHibi’s plot (how it connects). But, in understanding say, the ‘ending’ or ultimate ‘theme’/purpose of SubaHibi (arguably the most important part of the work), an individual has to not merely ‘understand,’ but on an intuitive level, be able to think like Wittgenstein. This is a task which I admittedly, am unable to do. So, I’m at a dilemma —

I appreciate greatly, SubaHibi’s plot. It’s well-executed, and it has plenty of depth, excitement, and sentiment. On the same note, its plot is ‘berated,’ if not, ‘pushed’ to the background towards the end, when the ‘central philosophy’ or the ‘purpose’ of the work arises (Indeed, I’m still at a loss as to whether Zakuro’s existence was merely for the sake of advancing the plot, and whether the rather abrupt, anti-climatic endings were better than worse). Intuitively, I feel that Subahibi’s ultimate purpose is vast in reach & profound in meaning. Yet, it’s a part of the work which I understand the least. So, do I as an individual, view SubaHibi as a work held together by its plot, with philosophical undertones? After all, its plot is likely, the most ‘understandable’ part of the work (at least until the last ending). The plot isn’t merely an excellent ‘enigmatic’ storyline — it’s one that excels at aesthetic presentation, and character development. Nonetheless, I think that to view SubaHibi as a storyline-central work would be in a sense, demarcating it needlessly. It’s a work with intuitively, more reach — yet despite the intuition behind it, its nature is still nondescript. If I were to view it then, based off a work of purpose with accidental (in property) ‘strong’ characters, excellent storyline, and solid presentation, then without a doubt, I’d laud it were it to have done it successfully. Yet, its philosophies espoused are unclear to me.

If I turned in a philosophy paper with prose reminiscent of that of the philosopher which I had done research on, then invariably, I’d receive a failing grade. In philosophy, clarity supersedes elegance, and logic, over artistic interpretation. SubaHibi in this way, didn’t make Wittgenstein any easier to understand — it simply provided a ‘different’ dimension to his philosophy. One in which, I’m unable to fully appreciate. Wittgenstein had posited that an individual was the limit of his own world — so, an individual, would understandably, act in accordance with what he felt to be factual.  It’s due to this, that reasonably, I’d only be able to ‘critique’ SubaHibi as an excellent work in virtue of its plot, with accidental philosophical properties. But then again, perhaps I simply do not understand Wittgenstein — after all, he was allegedly, an individual who was of the opinion that his ideas were generally misunderstood and distorted.

Nonetheless, without a need for abandon nor panache, I’m able to unequivocally declare that SubaHibi is an excellent work. The question of “Why?” it’s excellent is however, subject for interpretation.

A follow-up post was written on 7/21/2015.

I enjoy reflecting on works which I've read and sharing my thoughts on them.

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