(Author’s note: Huge thanks to @SeHNNG for helping me compiling this post and sharing his thoughts on the game.)
Subahibi is a very difficult work to write about. Out of all the posts I’ve had so far on this blog, this is probably the most ambitious one I’ve done. Not that I did anything creative with it like Kastel did for his post. There’s just so much to say about the game that I took more than two weeks just to pin down exactly what I want to say. And there’s probably a lot more to talk about than what I put on this post.
So let’s start this post with a basic question: what is Subahibi?
I’m sure that, if you’ve read enough VNs and stuck with the community for a while, you’d have heard of the name at least once. Subahibi is a baffling work; it’s reputation even more so. Some people might talk about how fucked up it is – and it does have a lot of, shall we say, problematic content ranging from futa, to exhibitionism, to incest, and bestiality. But despite those rumors, many people in the eroge/VN community still praise it as a masterpiece; people who actually finish the game would cite Wittgenstein and other philosophers, giving other people the impression that it’s a pretentious game for pretentious people. And with vvav’s translation coming Soon™, there will only be more people voicing out their opinions – informed or otherwise.
So first, let’s give a short background of the game. Subarashiki Hibi -Furenzoku Sonzai- (Subahibi for short) is an eroge written by SCA-JI (Ebiten, H2O –footprints in the sand–), released under the KERO-Q label in 2010. It’s a reimagining of SCA-JI’s 1999 work, Tsui no Sora, apparently a denpa game which got an OVA release that can be found here. If you do end up watching the video, you can see that it’s quite… unpolished, further putting the hype for Subahibi into question. But it’s been more than ten years since Tsui no Sora; although many of Tsui no Sora’s elements still show up in Subahibi –including the eponymous “Tsui no Sora” – Subahibi is far and away the more polished work, to the point that you might wonder how the latter came out of the former.
And so we get to the messy question: what is the game about? It’s so easy to give a quick summary of the game’s story: Takashima Zakuro’s suicide triggers paranoia throughout her school, with a character named Mamiya Takuji further compounding it by declaring that the world will end on the 20th of July – “the Last Sky (終ノ空 / tsui no sora)”, and the reader gets to see the days that lead up to it in different perspectives. I’m sure there are a lot of reviews and summaries that are floating around out there that can describe the game’s plot better than I can.
But giving a summary and a review isn’t what I want to do with this post. I want to talk about Subahibi’s messages, the meat of what the game tries to convey to the reader. Yes, Subahibi does talk about Wittgenstein and his philosophy in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and it’s no stretch to say that the entire game is SCA-JI’s interpretation of the Tractatus. This post is for anyone interested in Subahibi’s themes, and I will be talking about my thoughts on those themes. This post will contain huge spoilers, so if you don’t want to get spoiled, turn back now. I highly suggest you just read the game in Japanese, or wait for its fully-translated version. If you just want my overall opinion on the game, click this.
With all that said, let’s start at the beginning and jump into the rabbit-hole called Subahibi.
I. Down the Rabbit-Hole
…And burning with curiosity, [Alice] ran across the field after [the rabbit], and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Chapter I: Down the Rabbit-Hole
When you first start Subahibi, the first chapter that greets you is “Down the Rabbit-Hole I”. And it’s a very special chapter for the sole reason that it gives you no idea of what the rest of the game is like. The easiest way to describe Down the Rabbit-Hole I is that it’s a Lucky Star yuri fanfic, filled with various references to literature and dropping cryptic messages about the characters. And immediately after Down the Rabbit-Hole I is Down the Rabbit-Hole II, this time with a completely different tone and genre as it drops you straight into the mystery of Zakuro’s suicide.
From the title of the chapters alone, it’s clear that SCA-JI wants to drop the reader into a rabbit-hole where they can no longer turn back upon entering. The stark difference between Rabbit-Hole I and Rabbit-Hole II sets the tone for the rest of the game: Subahibi wants to tell a story, but it’s not satisfied with telling just a story. Every chapter takes the reader to a different genre – from yuri slice-of-life, to murder mystery, to denpa horror, to family drama.
How does Subahibi make this work? Of course, the ADV format has to contend with the limitation of the first-person perspective. What better way to break this limit than by changing your protagonist every chapter? Subahibi doesn’t want to limit itself with one way of viewing its story – it drops you into the rabbit-hole and takes you to the world as seen by each protagonist. And Subahibi wants to make it clear that these different perspectives are important to the game’s central message.
So let’s get to what makes Subahibi tick – the heart of what the game is trying to say. And there’s no better place to start than the philosopher brought up nearly every time Subahibi is talked about: Ludwig Wittgenstein and his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
II. Subarashiki Hibi and the Philosophy of Language
5.63 I am my world (the microcosm).
5.6 The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
5.61 Logic fills the world: the limits of the world are also its limits.
We cannot therefore say in logic: This and this there is in the world, that there is not.
For that would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case since otherwise logic must get outside the limits of the world: that is, if it could consider these limits from the other side also.
What we cannot think, that we cannot think: we cannot therefore say what we cannot think.
— Ludwig Josef Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
Consider the above propositions from the Tractatus. In his book, Wittgenstein tried to define a limit to what we can think. This limit is defined by the limits of logic, and the limits of logic are defined by the limits of our language. Earlier propositions in the Tractatus (Tractatus 1, 2, 2.01, 2.19, 3, 3.001, 3.01, 3.02) also establish the world as a totality of what we can think; therefore, the world itself – or rather, the way we picture the world – is also limited by the limit of our thoughts.
Subahibi’s narrative is structured with this in mind. All of the protagonists have a different world-view; what the reader sees is the limit of what the chapter’s protagonist knows. This becomes clear when contrasting “It’s My Own Invention” to the subsequent chapters – Mamiya Takuji is so lost in his own world that everything we see in his point of view is twisted and fantastical, while Yuki, Zakuro, Tomosane, and Hasaki all see the world in a more mundane way. It’s the clearest in Takuji’s case, but it’s also true for the other characters – Yuki thinks she sees the world in an objective, clear-cut way, but she falters once she encounters the unknown. In Zakuro’s point of view, we see the characters in a clearer light, but her being ‘outside’ of Mamiya’s world means that we can’t see what is going on inside his head. Tomosane sees the world as it is, and knows the limits of his world, but he cannot express his world. By taking us through the eyes of each character, we find out the limits of what they know, and find more of what we don’t know in the others.
So now we know how Subahibi wants to tell its story. But knowing Subahibi’s structure isn’t really enough to elucidate what the story is trying to say. Now that we’ve touched on the characters’ perspectives, let’s move on to the characters themselves. In particular, let’s talk about the game’s central character: none other than the eponymous Discontinuous Existence, Mamiya Takuji.
III. Cyrano de Bergerac – Discontinuous Existence
“I know – [you are] afraid that when you have her all alone, you lose all. Have no fear – it is yourself she loves; give her yourself put into words – my words, upon your lips! […] Come. Shall we collaborate? I’ll be your cloak of darkness, your enchanted sword, your ring to charm the fairy princess!”
— Cyrano, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act II: The Poets’ Cookshop
Before we proceed any further, let’s talk about an important motif in the game: Edmond Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac. The play is a romance revolving around the poet, swordsman, philosopher and musician with a huge nose, Cyrano, who collaborates with the handsome idiot Christian to win the love of their life Roxane by pretending to be a single, handsome, eloquent figure in front of her. And they succeed, except Christian feels guilty because the poetic side that Roxane loves in him isn’t actually his own. Christian takes the secret to his grave by dying in war, while Cyrano denies that it was them until the very end, even as Roxane figures it out on his deathbed.
The relationship between Subahibi‘s main characters is modeled after Cyrano de Bergerac. The eponymous Discontinuous Existence – “Mamiya Takuji” – is a composite of three persons: the eloquent Minakami Yuki, the creepy and vulgar Mamiya Takuji, and the handsome tragic hero Yuuki Tomosane. It’s clear where the parallels lie: Tomosane relies on Yuki to express his love for his sister Hasaki, but they both have to speak through “Mamiya Takuji”, who is so lost in his own world that he doesn’t even know who Hasaki is. So Tomosane takes it upon himself to destroy both Takuji and himself, leaving behind the eloquent and handsome Yuki for Hasaki’s sake.
The analogy breaks down from here on though – Subahibi doesn’t intend to be a tragedy. It’s made very clear in Looking-Glass Insects’ alternate end that SCA-JI doesn’t intend Cyrano de Bergerac to be a tragic metaphor, but rather a source of courage for the characters. “Source of courage” is the operative phrase here, because this is part of the big message that Subahibi wants to put forward.
IV. Wonderful Everyday
Subahibi’s message, despite its frequently depressing story, is fundamentally a positive one. And to understand it, we go back to the Tractatus.
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 accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental.
It must lie outside the world.
— Ludwig Josef Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
If we take the Tractatus at face-value, the message appears to be nihilistic: our worlds are limited by what we know; everything in the world happens as it happens, and there’s no way to know past the world, because what lies outside of that world is unthinkable. Everything is an accident and happens just because it does; there’s no logic and sense to them, and if there were, it would lie outside of what we can think.
But even if all the misfortune in the world happens without rhyme or reason, we can still find a reason to live. The alternate route of “Looking-Glass Insects” shows Zakuro defying her fate, having found courage in Cyrano’s last words. Tomosane fails to become the story’s tragic hero, but he finds a reason to live in Hasaki after finding courage from Yuki’s words. The sense of the world must lie outside the world, therefore, we can look past ourselves and into the perspective of others. Subahibi doesn’t believe that the world stops with ourselves – we are able to love, understand, and reach out to others, and thus we can stretch the limit of our world. This is expressed most clearly in Yuki’s speech atop the hill of sunflowers, and is possibly the most iconic scene in all of the game:
“Humans don’t know what death is. And yet humans know about it, and because humans know about death, they learn to lose themselves in their happiness.”
“Despair is a privilege only given to those who can lose themselves in happiness.”
“What privilege? That sounds terrible, no matter how I look at it.”
“Yeah, it does. But that’s why people took up words.”
“We talk about how the sky is beautiful.”
“We pray for the world to become a better place.”
“Words, beauty, prayers…”
“We use these three things to obtain these wonderful days.”
“‘Humans, be happy!'”
“‘Don’t lose yourselves in happiness. Don’t despair at the world.'”
“‘Just be happy’… something like that.”
V. The Last Sky
With all that said, does this post say everything that Subahibi is about? No, far from it. Subahibi is such a complex game that I can probably write a whole thesis paper about it and still not end up exhausting everything there is to say about the game. Does this make Subahibi a deep masterpiece that should be praised by everyone? Definitely not. There’s a lot that Subahibi wants to say, but it doesn’t get to say all of it in a graceful manner. For one, SCA-JI spells out all his thoughts in such an unsubtle manner in one ending that it drags on and just falls apart. And there’s a huge chunk of irrelevant text and ero that can be trimmed down in “It’s My Own Invention” and “Looking-Glass Insects”, which slows the game’s pacing to a crawl.
What I can say, though, is that Subahibi is a very memorable game. Despite the flaws I found in it, I just can’t help but love what it tries to do, and the things it tries to say. The story is so simple, but you can look at it in so many different ways that it ends up a very complex and enriching experience. Subahibi is also far from pretentious: SCA-JI clearly knows and understands the readings he references in the game, and even simplifies all of it for the reader to appreciate. Subahibi is a very good game, though not something that I can easily recommend to people.
But then again, this post is just me speaking about my experience with the game. I’m not a philosophy major, and I can’t claim to have a complete understanding of the Tractatus or the long philosophical background behind it. Thankfully, Subahibi digests all of it for the reader, and I’m sure more intelligent readers can pick up things that I couldn’t. All I can do is quote Wittgenstein for the sake of those who haven’t read the game and still spout opinions about it:
7 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.
— Ludwig Josef Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus