Review: Subarashiki Hibi ~Furenzoku Sonzai~Posted 28 September 2011 by Kefit
Hi, I’m Kefit. You might remember me as that guy who reviewed Figures of Happiness and Hourglass of Summer on Moogy’s old blog years ago. Wait, you don’t? Good! Because those games are mediocre at best and assuredly had awful translations. Oh my god I sound like Moogy now. In 1999, eroge writer Sca-ji released his first game under the KeroQ brand, denpa title Tsui no Sora. I will not be reviewing that game, but feel free to check out its breathtaking ero OVA adaptation. Sca-ji and KeroQ released a followup of sorts to Tsui no Sora in 2010, and it is a work which expands far beyond the denpa roots of its predecessor.
Subarashiki Hibi ~Furenzoku Sonzai~
「幸福に生きよ！」 Or, for those out there who can’t understand Japanese, “Revel in life!”
On the evening of July 12, 2012, Takashima Zakuro ends her life by leaping from the top of an apartment building. This event profoundly affects the lives of several individuals. A free-willed, perceptive teenage girl notices a pattern of similar suicides and investigates in the hopes of discovering the truth. A bullied, tormented geek seizes the unlikely opportunity presented by this event to turn his life around. Zakuro’s close friend plots revenge while seeking solace from the demons that haunt her. Finally, a young girl and her beloved brother struggle desperately to prevent the ensuing chaos from destroying everything that they know and love. Subahibi takes place over roughly a two week period of time, following these individuals as their lives intertwine. Narration is provided by several different characters, and they never tell the reader more than what they themselves know and understand at any given time.
Some circles label Subahibi as a mindfuck, while others tout it as a bastion of philosophical discourse. Certainly, what I have discussed so far suggests that elements of the former will be present. While both of these categorizations play some role in the overall construction of Subahibi, a complete picture of the game is much more complex – but at the same time rich in its simplicity. The main emphasis of the game, and indeed of the most powerful sequences it contains, is placed squarely on living happily. On seeking those wonderful days. On understanding one’s own identity. On the powerful bonds one forms with others in the pursuit of happiness. On the knowledge that all good things must come to an end.
Characters power the themes and plot of Subahibi. The actual plot is far less important than how the events occurring affect the characters and their relationships. Sca-ji crafts vivid and vibrant personalities for his main cast. Moreover, the characters are likable and unique, which makes it a joy to watch them and follow their lives. Personal goals and motivations guide the actions of each character, and watching how these differing motivations intertwine and create mutual relationships between these individuals is one of the great joys of reading Subahibi. The role of narrator shifts between each chapter of the game, providing extremely personal insights not previously apparent on the surface of some characters. In short, Subahibi made me truly care about its cast, which is one of the fundamental reasons that I was so deeply moved by several of the game’s sequences.
Of course, Sca-ji’s mellifluous prose propels everything I have described above. Subahibi showcases his deft ability to reduce difficult and abstract concepts and motivations to simple yet scintillating statements. His language flows wonderfully, maintaining a steady and vivacious rhythm that engages the reader. He crisply communicates the mindsets and thought processes of his characters, managing to present each member of the cast in a unique light. Occasionally, he pulls out all the stops and unleashes each of these elements in full force to create scenes of magnificent beauty and power. On more than a few occasions I was driven to tears. These scenes display Sca-ji’s keen ability to identify and accentuate the theme and character climaxes of his work. I am not exaggerating when I say that I consider some of these scenes to be the best I have ever read in any form of literature.
Perhaps the most notorious aspect of Subahibi is its narrative construction. As already mentioned, the game is divided into chapters that each feature a different narrator. However, these chapters are not sequential. Most occur during the same general time period. Moreover, the different narrators often disagree – sometimes in major ways – on the nature of events taking place around them. The result is, for lack of a better word, the mindfuck that the game is known for. It can be extremely difficult to piece together the “real” events taking place, or even at times to make any sense at all of the narrative presented.
But the mindfuck characterization does not do justice to Subahibi’s carefully constructed narrative. By the end of the game I was able to look back at most chapters and understand not only what was going on, but also why Sca-ji chose to present certain events in each chapter. Understanding the entire story casts many of the earlier chapters in a different, more vibrant light. Powerful structural and thematic parallels appear in each of the major “arcs” of Subahibi, and in retrospect arcs that once seemed disparate begin to reinforce each other in wonderful ways. The result is a narrative that is fantastically compleat.
Subahibi is not perfect. A couple of the more tangential chapters do not feel necessary or properly integrated into the narrative. In particular, the first half of the opening chapter is lengthy yet nebulously connected to anything else in the game. The canon branch of Zakuro’s chapter is also woefully pointless (though, ironically, the non-canon “what if” branch of her chapter is fun to read and ties well into the themes and plot progression of the game). Personally, I think Zakuro’s chapter would have been much more interesting and synergistic with the themes and structure of the story if told from Kimika’s perspective instead.
Similarly, the game’s prose is occasionally bloated and repetitive, particularly in Takuji’s chapter. His long, delusional internal monologues stagnate at several points and would benefit from trimming. The game’s infamous bullying sequences also overstay their welcome, lingering long after the point of a scene has been made. While these scenes have some relevance to the overall structure of the game, they are definitely cases where less would have been more. Some impact is irreparably lost once the reader grows bored of a scene.
However, these flawed scenes and chapters are not particularly vital to the overarching narrative. While they make reading the game less enjoyable at intermittent points, they do not significantly mar the tapestry woven by the end of the work. Indeed, I poured adulations upon Subahibi’s structure in spite of a healthy awareness of these problems.
I think that these issues reflect Sca-ji’s gradually shifting narrative goals over the course of Subahibi’s creation. The first half to two-thirds of the game contain a clear intent to confuse, mislead, and disturb the reader. Much of this narrative styling evaporates as soon as the fourth major chapter of the game begins. At this point Sca-ji’s focus shifts overwhelmingly to the characters and themes of his work, and the issues with pacing and bloat all but disappear. This is not to say that the first half of the game lacks quality scenes and generally quality writing. In fact, my favorite sequence in Subahibi – and I think in fiction in general – occurs during the second chapter. The writing is just less consistent than it is in later chapters.
As a minor quibble, I think Takuji and Kimika should have had more presence during the final movements of Subahibi. However, the climax that encompasses these characters earlier in the story is so overwhelmingly powerful that I don’t mind too much. And like much of Subahibi, this climax is even better when viewed in retrospect.
Also, Subahibi contains a shitload of ero. It’s almost completely pointless and mostly unreadable unless you are turned on by random 露出 and rape. It’s also nearly completely absent from the parts of the story that actually matter. Feel free to start skipping as soon as genitalia appear.
Aesthetics play an important role in interfacing the reader with the text, plot, and characters. They ultimately factor into my overall enjoyment of an eroge, so I feel I must factor them into my analysis as well.
Subahibi wastes no time in revealing its musical opus, immediately unleashing the heartrendingly beautiful Yoru no Himawari upon the player. This song is used throughout the game to highlight its most powerful and thematically pivotal sequences. It is a masterpiece both in terms of composition and in terms of usage within the game. However, it does not stand alone. A number of powerful songs complement Yoru no Himawari and play an important role in communicating the mental state of a given narrator and in conveying the mood of a scene.
Unfortunately, Subahibi fails to utilize many of its quality songs until it focuses in on the plot and themes in its latter half. As a result, unimpressive slice of life and denpa tracks inundate the early stages of the narrative. But as with the narrative itself, the quality provided at the end is so high that it would be difficult to come away from the game with anything but a highly positive view of the BGM.
Voice acting is uneven. Sayada Shin (Takuji), Nishida Komugi (Hasaki), and Kawashima Rino (Yuki) give excellent performances that truly bring their characters to life. Hokuto Minami (Kimika), while not terrible, clearly cannot handle the wide range and powerful performances called for by her role. Suzuya Sui (Zakuro) is unforgivably awful, but thankfully she’s not around much. Other performances are generally competent. As per KeroQ/Makura tradition, non-Takuji male characters are not voiced, which I think is a shame. It’s actually a minor miracle that Takuji is voiced at all, and the game really benefits from the vigorous voice work for his character.
On the visual side of things, Subahibi has the best CG use I’ve ever seen in eroge. Nothing else even comes close. The CGs uniformly depict actual scenes and frequently involve multiple characters. It is somewhat shocking how many games fail to provide these elements in their CGs, instead opting to exhibit endless images of a girl eating random food or staring at the player or otherwise posing in a boring portrait with a dutch angle. Subahibi also contains a very high number of CGs when compared with other games. Nearly every important scene is represented by at least one unique CG, if not several.
Additionally, the composition of almost every CG is striking. KeroQ’s artists utilize an attractive visual aesthetic and a masterful touch in arranging visual elements on their canvas. Each visual is clearly informed by the characters and scene represented, to the extent that these visuals sometimes provide insight into situations and relationships beyond that provided by the text alone. The image above is a particularly good example of this effect. The CGs are a joy to look at even after completing the game, and they played an important role in grabbing my attention and visually engaging me in a given scene.
Tachie mostly look fine, if sometimes a bit busy or unimpressive. They lack the variation that I hope to see in a quality game, but the ample CGs more than make up for this deficiency. The UI takes a minimalistic approach, though I think the end result is a little ugly. This doesn’t really matter though, since it’s good enough that I didn’t have any issues with it after getting a few hours into the game.
Subarashiki Hibi tells a powerful story utilizing consistently high quality writing, audio, and visuals. At key times these elements resonate in a remarkable fashion, elevating the narrative to echelons I have never before seen in eroge. Unfortunately, Subahibi falls just short of being a complete masterpiece due to the constructional defects in the first half of the work. But these faults are relatively minor and do not significantly detract from my high opinion of the game. It is my favorite eroge of all time by a healthy margin. I suppose if I had to assign a numeric score to the game I would settle on a 93-95. More importantly, Subahibi carries my highest recommendation. I implore you to read it if ever given the chance.
P.S. I am an attention whore who maintains a twitter account where I ramble about random eroge, jrpgs, anime, and D&D. If you wish to be ensorceled by my brobdingnagian wit and pulchritudinous glamour then follow me at Kefit42!