First post on my blog! I actually used to post brief snippets of visual novel playthroughs and thoughts on my tumblr account, but that’s basically dead now.
I wanted a fresh start specifically so I could talk about my recent experience with a visual novel that remains poignantly in my mind—paleontology’s SeaBed.
I’ll spare you a synopsis, since the vndb page describes it better than I ever could. I found myself at a complete loss when I was asked (after texting my boyfriend in that ‘just-finished-something’ euphoric rush) what the visual novel I had just finished was about.
I can say this with certainty, at least: SeaBed is different from your standard visual novel fare, and it’s not for everyone. I can also say with certainty that this screenshot summed up my experience with it:
Writing and pace will be what makes or breaks this visual novel for you. I’ve seen reviews call it flat, slow, meandering, etc. I’m not sure how to classify it, really…it’s objective and a bit dry, focusing heavily on dialogue, but also oddly descriptive of the mundane. I was actually reminded a bit of Hemingway’s writing style while reading this.
The detached style was a bit alarming, at first—here we have a woman who’s estranged from her lover. Why isn’t she expressing anything? Why can’t we see how she’s feeling? As the visual novel progresses, however, it seems clear that this detached style echoes Sachiko’s distressed mental state. Clearly, something’s not ‘right’ with her and how she views the world. A possible interpretation is that this is (partially) due to Takako’s absence. The two women grew up attached to each other, constantly in each other’s presence—they worked, lived, and traveled together. It seemed absolutely suffocating. I couldn’t imagine spending all of my time with another person. It’s exactly this attachment, however, that leaves Sachiko hollow without Takako’s presence.
Paleontology somehow manages to describe the mind (or my mind, at least) uncannily well. Hasn’t this exact scenario happened to you while you’re drifting off to sleep, or already dreaming?
In terms of action, development, or climax…not much happens, really. The climax of the story, while heartfelt, isn’t a grand and dramatic event. Much like the rest of the story, it gently arrives and then recedes like water. As with Takako at the beginning of the story, I often felt as if I was floating on water while reading this—it provokes, in the reader, the same languid semi-conscious feeling that permeates throughout the story.
I really enjoyed the disjointed manner in which the story was presented. Much like our own memories, dreams and recollections in SeaBed begin and end abruptly.
If I were to recall a trip, for example, I wouldn’t remember it from the beginning of my day, starting from waking up, brushing my teeth, going to the airport, etc. I’d generally remember random snippets of the vacation, and then perhaps piece them together (somewhat) chronologically if asked. These random slice of life moments, memories, and dreams are all woven together to create a tapestry of the characters’ lives, rather than the standard character development seen in visual novels.
My immersion in the story was so thorough, at times, that I could almost physically sense it. The screenshot, featured above, brought back memories of my own trip to San Francisco. A scene in which Takako fries onions for curry brought the distinct smell to my nostrils for a few seconds. Takako talking to a friend about sea glass suddenly reminded me of one of my greatest treasures as a child: an ovular piece of green sea glass that I’d found at a beach. Sadly, I’d lost it when we moved…and I had completely forgotten about it until that moment.
I’m droning on here, so I’ll try to sum this portion up: The writing is unusual and the pace is languorous, so it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s not especially dramatic or action-packed. Those who enjoy complete immersion and a good atmosphere, however, might enjoy it. The writing does a great job of replicating the idiosyncrasies of the mind, especially of one that’s coping with grief.
Music in SeaBed is really solid. There isn’t a particular piece that stood out for me, but the whole soundtrack creates a cohesive experience and really enhances the atmosphere. It’s very ‘aquatic’. I love chill and ambient songs, so a lot of these tracks are right up my alley; I’ll often open SeaBed and leave it running in the background so I can listen to the soundtrack while doing other things. I really wish paleontology would release the soundtrack!
Art is where the visual novel let me down. Much like the writing style, I think the art is also hit or miss. It’s a bit unpolished…to me, it seems amateur (especially the bodies). The art’s not bad, but it could also definitely be improved. The backgrounds are mostly photographs with…filters? (I’m not quite sure what it’s called.) Again, they’re not bad, but using photographs seems a bit amateur to me.
On an impressive note, there’s a large amount of CGs interspersed throughout the story. These CGs tend to have dreamy, water colour-esque backgrounds that I vastly prefer to the generic photographs. Some of them are really beautiful:
On another positive note, the librarian was so cute! I wish she showed up more in the story. Look at how sweet and adorable she is!
Symbolism is a topic I’d be really interested in exploring here. Unfortunately, I’m not especially knowledgeable about Japanese symbolism. The significance of the butterflies mentioned throughout the novel was not lost, but there were a lot of plants and other symbols that I’m sure I missed. One that I managed to identify was the primrose. Apparently, it can signify young love (in Western culture), or desire/desperation (in Japanese culture). Both are especially apt for Sachiko and Takako, aren’t they?
Tear factor was at a surprising minimum, given a visual novel that deals primarily with loss and grief. SeaBed definitely isn’t an utsuge, though—as much as I love getting gut punched with pathos, this novel presented a refreshing take on dealing with life’s hardships. As I mentioned before, the story isn’t especially dramatic. Each characters deals with her circumstances to the best of her ability, without wallowing in self-pity. The detached, unemotional prose also plays a factor in drying potential torrents of tears. That being said, I did get choked up during Sachiko’s train ride home towards the end. The last two or three chapters left my heart feeling heavy. Sachiko, despite refusing to become a victim of circumstance, is a highly sympathetic character.
My biggest gripe with SeaBed was its difficulty in following along. This happened in two ways:
First, the character sprites would often change their expression or pose. This would be great in an ADV visual novel, because it gives the characters some life. Here, however, the text box (which, as with most NVL visual novels, takes up the majority of the screen) would blink out to show these changes before blinking back in. It was really disruptive at first, although I eventually lowered the text speed so that I could finish reading a segment before the next sprite change.
Second, there were often no identifiers as to who was speaking. In works that rely heavily on dialogue, it can become confusing to infer who’s saying what when there are no identifiers. In the more speech-heavy portions of Seabed, I occasionally lost track of who was speaking.
Another minor complaint (and it’s not a complaint, exactly, rather than a matter of personal taste): the ending for SeaBed, along with a lot of the smaller mysteries, remains ambiguous. This leaves a lot open to reader interpretation. I tend to prefer stories in which everything is neatly wrapped up and explained at the end (one of the reasons Kara no Shoujo is my favourite visual novel), rather than leaving it open for the reader to suss out. Again, just a matter of personal preference. On a positive note, however, this ambiguity makes it very replayable. I’m tempted to read through it again to see what I can piece together.
Some praise to finish up my thoughts, since I don’t want to end on a sour note: In a sea of generic high school romance and/or fetish material, it’s refreshing to see a yuri piece that deals with adult women and mature themes. I’m a sucker for stories that have lovers growing up together.
I didn’t expect to actually ramble this much on my rambling post, but I suppose that shows how much I enjoyed SeaBed. I hadn’t been so invested in reading anything since I opened Kara no Shoujo 2 about three years ago. It’s left quite an impression on me, and I’d say it’s definitely in my top 5 visual novels now. Highly recommended if you’re the type who can tolerate a slow pace and internally sparse writing style.
I’ll finish with my favourite picture and future desktop background: