Yuri on the edge of reality and dreams, a beautiful ocean of the mind.
SPOILER WARNING! The best way to enjoy the game is to go in without knowing anything, like I did. A few twists that set up the story happen in the very prologue, so I can’t avoid some mild spoilers even in the synopsis.
Feb. 2017 Follow-up: Fruitbat Factory is localizing SeaBed! The English release is planned for the end of 2017, so at last more people will be able to enjoy it and not just us VN hipsters.
Sachiko, grieving over the disappearance of her lifelong partner, Takako, starts to see strangely vivid hallucinations of her and asks Narasaki, a childhood friend who is now a psychiatrist, for help. To unravel Sachiko’s jumbled memories Narasaki sends her away from the city to get some rest from overworking and Sachiko ends up spending the winter holidays in a mansion of her old acquaintance. Meanwhile, Takako finds herself in a nursing home unable to remember how did she part ways with Sachiko and, for that matter, most of their life together…
some more words
Quite often when you like something but can’t put it into words well, you’ll say “I liked the atmosphere, the mood”. But the debut title of doujin circle paleontology really does hinge on the calm and relaxing mood it creates — the text, music and a ridiculous amount of event CGs all work together towards that goal. No wonder it won in the “serene” category in Doujin game of the Year 2015. But even so, SeaBed is first and foremost a novel and the story, the text takes the center stage.
Most of the game revolves around the daily life of quiet book-loving and introspective Sachiko and energetic, dreaming and creative Takako both in the present, separate from each other, and in the past when they were still together, from their first meeting to quitting work together to start their own design studio.
Flashbacks of their school days and many travels afterwards, office hijinks, walks around the mansion and tranquil days of the nursing home. The first half of the game, barring the prologue, is the epitome of the slice of life genre, with slices from two viewpoints and many different times generously put out before you on a silver platter to take your time to enjoy.
I’m sure many might find this rather boring as the plot doesn’t develop much until the mid-point (although a number of scenes were terribly fun to read), but the flashbacks detail the deep relationship between the main characters and the present day scenes offer the unusual, for Japanese entertainment, perspective of working adults — e.g. Sachiko and Takako are about 28 years old — spending their free and busy time and contemplating about their life and the future.
This is probably one of the allures of the game for me as I’m of similar age and occasionally find myself reflecting on missed opportunities and SeaBed is the kind of story that definitely reaffirms that nothing’s over and being in the late twenties doesn’t mean you’re too old for life. It’s a personal thing, but looking at other reviews of the game there’s certain trend with the reviewers finding an aspect of the game they can really relate to. The slice of life is, pardon the redundancy, terribly lifelike, with all its pros and cons.
After the mid-point, when a certain event makes it very evident that the side characters surrounding Sachiko and Takako are eerily similar to their respective lovers, the plot picks up steam and the third point of view, Narasaki’s, takes the center stage. The accumulation of random philosophical ramblings from the first chapters gradually shifts the focus from mystery to a kind of a psychological study about consciousness and subconsciousness, reality and dreams, memories and experiences and whatnot.
It’s a study of the mind, and Narasaki, who firmly believes that everything has a reason, goes to unexpected lengths or, rather, depths in pursuit of a way to help and even save her friends. I’ve heard people saying the story is intentionally flat, but I can’t agree with it, as Narasaki — and Takako, too — take a proactive stance to bring the story to a resolution. Narasaki’s side of the story, in fact, turns out to be the most climactic and touching one in the game. The second half is definitely the reason to keep playing even if you get tired from the initial emptiness.
Floating on the surface of the ocean with your consciousness, at times a gentle breeze and sometimes a stormy wind, visible above and your subconsciousness, with your experiences, deepest desires, forgotten memories and imprints of everyone you know floating down to the very seabed, hidden below — it’s when you accept all of it, your past, your now and your own imprints on others as parts that all make up your existence that you will find peace of mind.
I think that’s one of the messages the novel is leading the readers to — that, and the fact that love connects even further than you could imagine — but I’ll probably have to dive deeper one day to take another look at it and I’m sure that’s just my own flawed point of view, which should not surprise you at this point if you read any other posts here. You can surely expect to have some food for thought once you finish reading the novel.
Don’t dive in too deep, though, you may forget to come back.
Also, read a great article that touches upon many points I omitted — this is just a short review rather than an analysis — most importantly the fact that everything reads much more like a diary rather than live character narration. Which, I’d say, adds to the serene and distant feeling and the discussion on the nature of memory.
- The kind of story you don’t often see in a novel, much less a yuri novel;
- Text, art and music set the mood well;
- Yuri is mostly limited to the flashbacks, but hell if it isn’t very cute in its mature assertiveness (this phrase makes sense, believe me);
- Not an inherently Japanese story, very Western-influenced, had it been translated it could have had a much broader reach;
- Lots upon lots of CGs which compensates for a slightly rough (but cute!) style of art;
- Narasaki is the best character I’ve seen in a while;
- The variety of side characters is good — you’ve got the chemistry between a sheep-loving occasionally workaholic Fumi and a by-the-books coworker Inukai, then you’ve got Kozue, a smart little girl and a tsundere in the original sense that gradually opens up to Narasaki, an antique lover mansion owner Nanae who feels lonely in the countryside, and more;
- The ending scenes are seriously fantastic;
- Makes me want to save up some money to go traveling.
- Nothing happens: the visual novel, unless you really like slice of life like I do you might get bored by chapter 2–3 out of 12. It absolutely does pay off later, but you have to get there first;
- Many plot points you’d expect to go somewhere, but they end up not mattering in the slightest;
- The game does tend to downplay most climactic moments. Sometimes it’s welcome — e.g. the characters don’t over-react to BSOD-tier revelations, which is a relief — but sometimes you’re left wondering why did the story go that far in the first place.
SeaBed is an outlier from most of the things I’ve read before — granted, that might not be a very broad category — and if you’re looking for something different to read and don’t mind that there’s not as much mystery as the genre implies (at least not the kind that anyone is actively trying to solve) — let the current of words carry you through the sea of the plot and I promise that’s the last water-related metaphor in this review, just making sure you can handle even more of them in the novel itself.
And I can’t help but quote @HadlerER:
…as someone who has read quite a bit in this media, I’d say this was one of the most ambitious title I read, the prospect that something like this can randomly exists fill me with great hopes for the future.
Japanese difficulty: medium to high. Nothing difficult grammar or style-wise, but the text likes its uncommon kanji, especially for words usually written in kana, tends to omit furigana for those and there’re no voices to help you out.