Wonderful Everyday: Chapter 1 Impressions
Very recently I have started playing Wonderful Everyday: Discontinous Experience (or for the dweebos out there: Subarashiki Hibi ~Furenzoku Sonzai~), a highly regarded 2010 visual novel that is a regular face on Japanese “best visual novels/eroge” lists. And who would guess it, I’m kind of taken with the thing. Just in the beginning it has shown itself to be a very intelligent and thoughtful and full of boobies, and who could ask for much more than that, honestly?
And, finding myself with a solid three pages of notes after finishing the first of the game’s six (as far as I know) chapters, I thought I’d write a quick, rough thing about what I’ve gotten out of it so far — not so much plot theorizing or anything so smart — just my emotional reaction to a lovely little bit of porn.
(I know, I know, the game gets dark and full of bad vibes or whatever later, but pretend that first bit is it’s own self-contained thing, and the rest of the game is a sequel. For my sake.)
Heads up: I’m spoiling chapter one whole hog, baby!
Sometimes I worry about how much of my life has been dedicated to fiction. I think (or at least I like to think) that most people like me do. I look out upon my life and see the days, months, and years spent alone with books and movies and games and I can’t help but think “have I made a mistake? Have I wasted all this time making a fake soul, while my real one sits empty?” I mean, how am I supposed to justify the lost connections and memories I have given up across my life? When I look back at myself, do I like the life I’ve lived? Is there even one to look back on?
The protagonist of Wonderful Everyday’s short first chapter, Yuki, is one of the people like me. She is wrapped up in stories. By her own admission, she is constantly juggling at least 10 books at a time, sometimes 20, at the cost of titles regularly getting lost half-finished in the perpetual shuffle, something extremely relatable to teenage me. The amount of fiction I’ve left partway for no other reason than I want to experience more is honestly staggering. And her obsession goes deeper than just reading — she can quote and reenact, and her thought process is constantly informed by art, making connections to other works, concepts, genres, structures. She imagines someone is in a cult, or is going to commit suicide, or that her friend is going to kill her in flights of fancy that turn her life into the fantastic found in stories, only to be betrayed and see the world play out as it always does. When Yuki looks outside a train window, she sees a world that is static and unchanging. She sees the everyday, and it appears to her nothing like the books she has read.
Though much of this interest is placed in literature and poetry, she is also clearly into anime, despite claiming otherwise. She frequently references titles like Urusei Yatsura and Haruhi Suzumiya, and even opens the game smoking a Never Knows Best cigarette from FLCL. Her entire self-image and image of the world is influenced and predicated on fiction. Plenty of people’s are. When I was a kid, I’d play pretend as characters from my favorite games. In high school, I became deeply interested in mysticism (especially kabbalic) because of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the influence of which is still felt on me now. Today, I’ve spent all my time thinking and writing about this game. The influence of the unreal is ever present and evolving.
Said influence quickly spreads out to the rest of the world as the main cast of the chapter begin living together, each willingly taking up a different role — specifically, a different character archetype. Zakuro the maid. Kagami the childhood friend. Tsukasa, the younger sister. They all start to live their lives under the guidance and pretense of fiction, modeling themselves off of known skeletons of characters. And just like before, I think most people can relate. Who hasn’t tried to become, at least a little bit, like a fictional character? Who hasn’t thought about how nice it would be to have a clean, clear character, their personality traits all working together in perfect harmony?
This playful, referential, post-modern style of developing story and character is something that’s hard not to pick up on in otaku media writ large. An easy example is studio Gainax, who were literally born from hyper referential videos made for conventions, said spirit continuing to live strong in all of their works. It’s only appropriate then, that Wonderful Everyday borrows from them. And this is in part how the world of anime works, leading to some criticism that it goes too far, the industry becoming a strange vacuum that mutates and deforms original ideas into lifeless, hyper-exaggerated parody. Isekai on isekai, moe on moe. Of course, that criticism has to ignore a lot of sociological, historical, and artistic facts to entirely work, but it’s indicative of how these stories work that it comes up at all.
Visual novels, too, are very much a part of this world. Though I definitely don’t know enough to say much (I could count the number of vns I’ve played on both hands — no toes required), there is a history of subversion and self-interrogation in visual novels about as old as as the medium has existed. In the west, Doki Doki Literature Club is famed for taking the visual novel and twisting it on its head, but Doki Doki doesn’t do much new, instead presenting what already exists in a way more easily digested by a mainstream western audience. Basically, art has history, and otaku media, like Yuki and myself, is (speaking generally and broadly) very interested in exploring a life surrounded by that art.
Several times Zakuro makes reference to having known Yuki before they ever met in the story, which takes on new meaning when considered all of the above and the form they exist in: visual novels by and large ask the player to go through them several times to complete various diverging routes in order to see the entire picture. She even makes a 4th wall smashing reference to an acquaintance of hers who is writing a visual novel and is clearly intended to be Wonderful Everyday’s writer, SCA-DI.
This just adds another layer to the whole thing; these characters exploring themselves through fiction while in fiction that constantly repeats this idea in a variety of ways, not unlike the way in which the city in the game changes subtly and slowly in ways Yuki never notices, only deepened further upon learning that Wonderful Everyday is a semi-remake of SCA-DI’s previous visual novel, Tsui no Sora.
So although Yuki and the others are so consumed by fiction and built around it, they are also fiction themselves. They are literally characters written for a visual novel. Which makes me, a person who’s identity, like Yuki’s, is molded from art, think about myself. I am not fiction, and yet it is inevitable that every person’s past is built up from almost nothing but that. And so how am I perceived, and can I perceive myself?
I think my favorite moment in all of this, is also one of the quietest. Yuki and Zakuro go to a bar — there’s never anybody there — and Yuki plays Eric Satie on the piano. They discuss Satie’s musical philosophy for a moment, how he wanted his music to be furniture to the listener, something that doesn’t distract and yet is pleasing, music to be heard but not listened to. And then, for two full songs, the game stops. There is no text, no movement. Only a single image of Yuki at the piano, Satie playing over your speakers. I couldn’t fast-forward. I couldn’t save or open the menu. I could only look and listen. In this moment, Yuki too, became furniture. She accomplished her unspoken desire to melt completely into the world of art. Maybe she always was; visual representations of characters are rarely strictly necessary in the medium. My mind began to drift and wander. I thought it seemed nice.
As the characters continue to live out their archetypes, they slowly find themselves in conflict with them. Kagami plays the childhood friend, but everyone frequently points out how unlike the trope she is — she’s too violent, brash, and jealous. She can’t fit her entire being within the confines of a character. None of them can. People are too complex, too multi-faceted.
But it is also through this lived in fiction that they are able to explore, express, and discover themselves. It is only by playing the King’s Game (where one person is designated king and can command someone else to do whatever they want) that Yuki is able to explore and eventually accept her queerness. She can find herself within it. Because fiction, even in the context of a social game like the King’s Game, couches the truth in various ways. It can support and protect and bring great relief. That’s one of the things that makes fiction so similarly complex, multi-faceted.
Near the end of the chapter, Yuki and Zakuro visit a strange ride in an amusement park. Stuck on a gondola, they travel through a structure far too big on the inside to make sense, watching as empty places drift by — a convenience store, an apartment, a school, a hospital — all places designed for life, and all lacking it. As they progress deeper, Yuki becomes more concerned. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit within the reality she knows exists, even if she wishes it didn’t. In an attempt to compartmentalize this worry, she takes to analyzing the ride, interpreting it as a work of artistic expression, her thesis evolving and changing as she goes further down it. At the end of the ride, the emerge outside, staring at the sky. A plaque reads “The End Sky”. The ride, the art, never ends. It never leaves.
This is the only time where the backgrounds are not drawn. They are processed photos of real life.
The chapter ends with Yuki waking up one day to find everybody gone. It is like she is alone in the world. Eventually, among all the deserted nothing, she finds the one person she knew would remain: Zakuro, and in a wild, bold move, the game concludes itself within a retelling of the classic novel Night on the Galactic Railroad, down to specific descriptions. While they take the place of Campanella and Giovanni, Yuki and Zakuro discuss how there are, in actuality, two worlds: the internal and the external. Yuki has unintentionally been swept up in the internal, that is, the world she has built for herself with fiction. The story of the first chapter has really been about her escaping from this internal world, one that is empty and static.
But even though she is leaving it, she is living it within a story. And even when she breaks through, she is still a character in a visual novel. That is the truth of Wonderful Everyday. The distinction between the internal and the external is muddy. They are wrapped and intertwined together in an infinitely complex knot. Though opposed, they can only exist together. We are made up of stories. We always have been. Our past and our memories, our histories, are fictions no matter how close to the truth they might be. It is only with those fictions that we might go forth and create more.
“The world is a vessel,” she says. And so it is. Everything and everyone a vessel to be filled by the same.
I wonder what it’s like to be a chair.
So that’s it! My initial takeaway with the start of what’s clearly a pretty special work! I’m very excited to see where it all goes, but also scared because I know the good times are coming to an extreme end soon. Hopefully I can smash my notes together and do something similar as I finish each chapter, but we’ll see.
Have a good one!