What exactly is quality in respect to a work? Is quality how we describe execution, or is it based upon the ideas a work implements? Or, is quality a subjective take based on one’s experience? It takes a special game, a special experience to shake up one’s perception of quality, and after playing through the mind trip that was Subahibi, this was all I was thinking about… even if the reasons weren’t what you would expect. The thoughts on my mind weren’t of how amazing it was but because of the experience it provides, instead I was fixated on the concepts of quality itself, and the concept of catharsis: Is an unpleasant experience without catharsis inherently a bad thing, and is an unpleasant experience enough to warrant calling a work bad?
WARNING: There will be spoilers in this article for Subahibi. you have been warned. Proceed with caution.
FYI: This article is a 2nd part of my thoughts on Subahibi, succeeding my main pseudo-review that has more general thoughts on the game. This is written as a complimentary piece to that review, discussing some ideas that I was thinking about when playing the work, so go read that first. Thank you for your understanding.
Why do we play games, read books, watch movies, etc? Generally, it’s to have a good time but if that’s the case, why do we enjoy tragedies, dramas, war films, etc so much? While the feeling of pity and depression can be an engaging experience, the main reason we tend to go back to these kind of works is of course, because the works use those unpleasant experiences to make an experience worthwhile, usually through the form of catharsis.
Catharsis is a greek word which describes the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator, and it’s part of a work that takes negative emotions and gets rid of them in a pleasing manner. Catharsis is a key aspect in our experience with these kinds of works, and is one of those aspects of a work that is looked at fondly. When talking about Subahibi however, the concept of Catharsis is interesting not because of how it is implemented but because it is an element that is notably absent from the work.
Subahibi, for the most part strives to be an engaging philosophical mystery that throws interesting experiences at you, but its two longest routes in particular (It’s My Own Invention and Looking Glass Insects) has a notable lack of Catharsis. They are hard reads because of the characters they follow, but they add additional pain by subjecting the player to acts of cruelty that are so horrifying and absurd that they can break the suspension of disbelief. Here’s a few scenes that serve as terrifying examples: In Invention we get to experience bullies force one of the characters to steal a classmate’s uniform, dress up as a girl and then masterbate in front of them and in Insects, we get to witness our main character for the route getting kidnapped and raped them under the name of bullying. While many people didn’t see these scenes as deal breakers, they were what broke the straw of an already unenjoyable experience, making it feel like Subahibi consistently punishes you for the mere fact that you are reading this work. What makes this all worse is that these events that we are forced to see are almost completely unrelated to the events that lead to the true end of the game, failing to lead to any matter of catharsis in my opinion. While it makes an attempt to implement catharsis by succeeding such events with slice of life, it never truly does, and as a result Subahibi is a work that permeates its experience with pain, and never uses it’s pain to directly lead to anything worthwhile. Given that, is it then valid to say that the lack of any true catharsis alone is enough to say this game is bad, as it serves to ruin the experience? Let me introduce you to another Visual Novel, Remember 11 - The Age of Infinity, which works to challenge this idea.
Spoilers for Remember 11 here, as the discussion of catharsis directly talks about several key elements of the work: If you are going to skip this, TL;DR - Remember 11 serves as a great counterexample to Subahibi, implementing the lack of catharsis in a meaningful way.
This paragrah has been encoded with ROT13 so you cannot read this paragraph without deliberately going out of your way to do sol, which you can copy and paste here to de-encode. DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PLAYING THIS GAME.
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These works truly truly beg the question: Can one call a work a well done work if it is made to provide a bad experience? Where do we draw the line between objective quality and a subjective one? This is a dilemma to me, as when I play a Visual Novel, I’m inherently looking for an engaging, enjoyable experience, and my definition of quality has been in the past, inherently linked to that. This doesn’t mean that a work has to be necessarily positive all the time, but one that I can come out of it and say that I enjoyed or got something out of the work in the end, where a harsh experience paid off. One of my favorite anime ever is the anime called Now and Then, Here and There, a show that demonstrates brutal evil, but it used these tragedies to a powerful extent to convey a meaningful message and experience that makes the work worth experiencing. Even if an attribute of a work or a work itself is inherently negative, if it can do that to the player, then I think that element in question is inherently a good thing. The lack of catharsis only does this circumstantially: even if the work doesn’t explicitly purge those negative emotions, if it can manage to make those negative emotions improve the collective work, in a meaningful way, then the absence of catharsis isn’t inherently bad. If not, then it only serves to make a work worse, or it singlehandedly makes the work itself bad.
This can explain my opinion on Subahibi: While there were aspects of the work I adored and I thought some of the moments were absolutely remarkable, I felt that the pain didn’t contribute to the story at all, being simply too overwhelming.and horrific in way that couldn’t be justified in any manner. Even though was written well, for the most part it executing it’s ideas and goals with finesse, what I found was a work that doesn’t bring quality to the player. So in the end, I can’t really call Subahibi a good, quality work because even the lack of catharsis isn’t inherently bad, it doesn’t add to the story.
I’m sure many will disagree with this statement, as my opinion does deviate from the norm, but also because the logic of what prescribes quality in that statement is subjective, which goes against the notion of the objective quality that so many people adhere to. When you really think about it though, what exactly is objective quality? Objectivity is the state of something outside of personal biases, and what creates or defines quality outside of one’s personal viewpoints? There’s no physical law on what makes something good or bad, and many people have different opinions on the quality of something. The only solution to what we call objective quality has to be an amalgamation of subjective viewpoints, as a collective take is the only opinion that is truly outside of individuals. So, given that this is the case, why don’t we attribute objectivity to specific works, or aspects of the work and not the complete work as a whole?
When we are talking works, there are sometimes where there is a societal consensus about the quality of a work: for example, society as a whole agrees that the Emoji , is a bad movie. But when society doesn’t have a consensus on a work and it’s quality, how is there an objective quality to the work? In that case, we can say that aspects of the work can be objective: we have societal standards about every core aspect of a work, we all agree on what makes good writing, what makes music used well in a work, etc. Works however are not just these elements but just an amalgamation of their parts, and we cannot inherently agree on a complete work as a whole as there is a subjective element. So, in this way, the subjective definition of quality that is inherently related to the experience works, as we agree to specific attributes of a work, but disagree on how we piece together the parts of the work in terms of quality and can apply our own subjective filters on the work itself… and in that way, I believe i’m justified in saying that Subahibi is quality in terms of writing, presentation etc, but not in general, as the way it pieces things together does not coincide with what is deemed a good work.
Do you think that the absence of catharsis alone, the experience itself is enough to qualitatively grade a work, or do you think that there’s more to that, like I mentioned before? What do you think determines quality in a work? These are my thoughts on Quality and Catharsis, and I’d love to hear other people’s takes on this topic. I’m sure this is rather long and nonsensical to some, or you flat out disagree with what I have to say, and that’s fine, it’s a part of the world we live in, but I was compelled to write these things, and these are what I think about the work itself. I hope you enjoyed reading the article regardless, and I appreciate you reading it through even if you don’t.
Thank you for reading! This is Rockmandash Reviews, a blog focused on everything revolving Visual Novels, with stuff like tech and anime every now and then. If you want to read more of my writing, check out FuwaReviews and AniTAY where I am a contributor or follow my twitter, @RockmanDash12.