Back in 2003, Saya no Uta -- The Song of Saya was released in Japan. It became known as one of the most messed-up games ever released. Earlier this month -- nearly a decade after the Japanese release -- it got its first official Western release. But that's not the first time that the franchise has reached Western shores.
Back in 2011 American comic company IDW produced an original three-issue comic book adaptation of the game called Song of Saya. Simply put, it's not very good. And this is largely due to five major changes that take it from an original, heart-pounding descent into madness and change it to little more than standard horror schlock.
[Note: This article contains spoilers for both the game Saya no Uta -- The Song of Saya and the comic adaptation Song of Saya.]
1) His Insanity Comes and Goes
The key aspect of Saya no Uta -- The Song of Saya is that Fuminori's life is a constant, unending, living hell. When he looks at another person, he sees a disgusting eldritch abomination. When he touches his bed sheets, they feel like flesh and gore. When he eats, the food tastes like unappetizing goo. Even people's voices seem so distorted that they are painful to his ears.
Joshua (Fuminori’s comic counterpart) on the other hand, has brief psychotic episodes where he sees strange -- and often horrific -- things. But when the episode is over, he is left seeing the world normally.
For Joshua, Saya makes the world normal. For Fuminori, Saya is the only thing in the world that is ever normal. That is a critical difference between the psyches of each character and how they are able to interact with the world. Fuminori is completely socially isolated (aside from his time spent with Saya), but Joshua is still able to manage his friendships since his periods of isolation are episodic.
2) Joshua is seeing into another dimension
Rather than simply seeing the world as an eldritch abomination-filled hallucination (as Fuminori does in the game), it is revealed in the comic that Joshua is actually seeing into another dimension. This is the dimension, as it turns out, where Saya exists and thus he is able to see her -- though she appears as a normal-looking girl to him. This connects directly to point number three.
3) It's All a Big Conspiracy
One of the things that made the game so utterly disturbing was that all the people involved were completely ordinary. The cast was four medical students, a doctor, and the normal family next door. Fuminori discovered Saya by accident and the story progressed solely because of his condition and his deepening relationship with her.
The comic, on the other hand is all about brain surgeons doing unnecessary surgeries for inadequately explained reasons to let people see into the dimension where Saya exists. The doctors are the reason Joshua can see Saya -- it’s all part of a plan to find her and trap her.
4) Saya and Joshua are the Good Guys
The most thought-provoking, disturbing aspect of the original game is how you start the game empathizing with Fuminori's condition and continue to side with Saya and him even as they become the clear villains of the story. Over the course of the game they do everything from killing and eating people to turning a former friend into a sex slave. And yet they somehow still remain sympathetic characters because you know where they are coming from.
The comic version might as well be E.T. as Saya is little more than a lost creature in an alien world while Joshua is the kind human trying to save her. The worst thing he does in the story is kill members of the organisation who are trying to capture Saya. The worst thing Saya does is monster-fy one of the people sent to capture her.
5) The Money Shot
Believe it or not, I'm not going to complain about the art in this series. In fact, I like the art style and think the use of colours was well suited to the story.
However, I am going to complain about what was drawn: namely Saya. As anyone who has ever seen a monster movie can tell you, the monster is only scary until the moment you get a full, clear shot of it. And of course, the last page of the first issue ends with a full-page spread showing Saya in all her monstrous glory. And as you would expect, while she doesn't look human, she doesn't look any scarier than your average insect.
Believe it or not, the problem with Song of Saya isn't that it is an Americanised adaptation. Just because something is an adaptation doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be bad. Both the American versions of The Ring and The Grudge were well received films, after all. But where the Song of Saya comic fails is that in its changes, the core of the story and its emotional base are changed so radically, the story becomes cliché and far less powerful. In other words, the comic's greatest sin is that it takes something fascinating and special and turns it into something normal and average.
Saya no Uta -- The Song of Saya was released in English on May 7, 2013. It is available for purchase on the JAST USA homepage [NSFW].