One of the most unique reading experiences.
This article concerns express spoilers for the work SeaBed and should be read only if you’ve already finished the work. It is part introspective and part analytic.SeaBed is subtle work — consisting primarily of languid, dry prose coupled with truly mundane slice of life. It evokes a sense of realism, from both its artistic direction (photorealistic backgrounds & at times brusque sound effects echoing reality) — but also, in how quotidian the events are. Through this, it manages to be truly immersive in a way that no other work can — because of how possible it feels (no sense of escapism traditionally associated with Japanese media). The actual reveal to its mystery is not so important — because SeaBed is fundamentally a work more about the experience than the destination.
Reading through SeaBed could be described as dull, but hypnotic. I’d liken the majority of its events to being the type of events that you don’t remember — the type of events that ordinarily exist fleetingly in your subconscious as you live life. At one point, I felt one with the novel: in SeaBed, its main characters suffer from periodic amnesia (on the surface); as the reader, there were periods of the work that I read, where I simply couldn’t recall what I had just read, because of how insignificant the events were. Indeed, SeaBed could be construed as a work of metafiction in this sense — just as the characters have brainfog, so does the synced-up reader.
This everyday ‘insignificance’ which permeates the work — through its art direction and its writing, I’d wager, is intentional. The grand reveal of the work is that Sachiko created an unconscious world within her, one in which Takako lives on (not a dream world, which may or may not exist — but an unconscious world, which does exist — just inaccessible). In this world, you see versions of Sachiko with Takako — Sanae (a bookworm, representing the high-school version of Sachiko), and Mayuko (a nurse, representing Sachiko when she nursed Takako shortly before her death). Narasaki, as the reader learns, is the doll that Sachiko confided in as a child (in a sense, a connection to her time with Takako — but also, the manifestation or agent of her healing). Kozue and the general layout of the sanatorium were to my understanding, unconscious representations of the Kozue out-in-the-world and the inn. In this way, the writing reflects the concept perfectly — the events are quotidian because they occur within Sachiko’s unconsciousness (i.e. by design, the events shouldn’t be prominent enough to be in the waking consciousness).
The reader can additionally construe Sachiko’s unconscious world as being both a means of her coping with her loss of Takako — who had been her world, and as an expression of her deepest desires — to be with Takako. The unconscious world is naturally not grand for this reason, as her desire could be just to have Takako in her everyday. If the reader is to perceive the tale of SeaBed as one of healing — then I think that the writing is even better, because the only real medicine for the heart is time & the flow of life — not one or two grand, cathartic events making all things ‘right’ again.
One memorable anecdote discussed in SeaBed comes to mind — where a mailman, living a mundane life, sought nothing more than what he had around him and gained fulfillment by living his life the best way that he could; by delivering mail excellently. I think this anecdote captures the essence of the events of the work pretty well. Everyone’s conception of happiness differs — for some, it’s achievable in the ordinary everyday (for some, perhaps Sachiko herself, it’s achievable just through her memories).
With these revelations in mind, I admire how the work had an artistic vision and sought to achieve it, disregarding common writing convention. It took a risk, and in doing so, provided a truly unique reading experience. The visual novel medium is generally well-regarded for being immersive — but generally, it’s been immersive qualified by an otherworldliness that makes it exciting. SeaBed sought immersion by hypnotizing its reader to its monotony — in doing so, it put the reader in the shoes of its characters (for some, quite literally).
Some may argue that the work actually loses the reader in its monotony. This point makes sense, and I don’t doubt that SeaBed is a polarizing work for this reason. Looking back on my read of it, I don’t know how much I enjoyed reading it. It wasn’t a work which I hated, then grew to love because of an event which turned that negative passion into a positive one. It was a work which for the most part, built on itself — it was a work which fostered introspection and accordingly rewarded the reader for it.
Then, for the patient reader who allows themself to fall in the monotony, to sync up unconsciousnesses — I think the reading experience was more than worth it. SeaBed’s ending scene, coupled with its implications culminated in a special type of catharsis for the work: