蛇足: How Did This Get Made? No, seriously, how the fuck did this get made?

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/275537111329800193/792518682139164712/SPOILER_unknown.png

Waffle’s 蛇足 (Dasoku) ended up being one of my favourite new eroge releases of 2020. Written and planned by Sakuraba Maruo as an official pseudo-sequel to his infamous 2014 title 駄作 (Dasaku, published by a different brand named Cyclet; one of my personal favourite eroge ever), Dasoku had pretty big shoes to… not even attempt to fill. See, Dasoku recognises the folly of trying to meaningfully build on a story as complete as Dasaku’s. Instead it subverts, perverts and even openly parodies its predecessor. At face value, it could uncharitably be called a bastardisation of everything Dasaku stood for. But precisely because of this, Sakuraba is able to create something unique, creative, engrossing, unpredictable and incredibly funny. Dasoku represents a truly insane gambit that I expect to be divisive even among its already very niche demographic (die-hard fans of a six-year-old guro nukige, which itself was already a hard sell) and it’s difficult to believe it even exists at all. Regardless of how you feel about Sakuraba’s work, I hope the fact that a game as ambitiously unsellable as Dasoku could even be made today can inspire some optimism toward the modern eroge market.

Dasoku is really hard to discuss in any depth without blatantly spoiling. Because of the nature of this game, I’ve decided to split this post into a brief review followed by a more in-depth, spoiler-filled analysis of the game’s core ideas. While I’ll be avoiding any major plot details in the first section, I’ll still inevitably tinge your impression of the game’s nature and structure. Needless to say, if you want to go in blind you should avoid this post.

First things first: you should definitely read Dasaku, its fandisc and even Chronobox before approaching Dasoku. That last part is Zodi’s suggestion, but I can personally vouch for Dasaku-before-Dasoku being absolutely essential. If you haven’t read Dasaku, you won’t understand or follow a vast majority of the jokes, reveals or even core ideas behind the game at all. Seeing the only other English-language post about Dasoku recommend playing it without knowing Dasaku actually blew my mind and single-handedly inspired me to write this post, if only to caution prospective players—do NOT do this. I promise you it’s not remotely worth it. Dasoku may have little to add to Dasaku, but Dasaku adds everything to Dasoku. Dasoku is nothing without Dasaku.

With that out of the way, lets dig in to the one area where I think Dasoku is a rather categorical improvement over Dasaku—the production values. Waffle have transformed Sakuraba’s vision into a full-price eroge with the budget to justify it. Despite the story’s small, confined scale, the game boasts more than 80 CGs, plenty of backgrounds, tachie for side characters and several outfit/lighting/etc tachie variations and redesigns for every main character. The constant pans and zooms of Waffle’s “camera work” 演出 feature give every scene (including the eroscenes) a visual liveliness to match the fast pace of the story. Just as I loved Dasaku’s bright colours and warm lighting, Dasoku’s tone is complimented by its more natural dimmer, moonlit pallette. Sakuya Tsuitachi is a talented artist and director (their contributions to AliceSoft’s recent Dohna Dohna also deserve much praise) and Dasoku is all the better for it.

A lot of readers were baffled by Dasaku’s texture, its insistence on expressing an idealistic, heart-on-sleeve portrayal of empathy and love through the most disgusting, grotesque imagery at its disposal. Dasoku’s tone and structure is… even stranger. For starters, it’s barely even a guro game at all. While the eroscenes are still very funny, owing to Sakuraba’s writing and some excellent voice acting, the game contains only a couple of eroguro scenes outside of the brief introductory route (which sees Dasoku’s Dasaku imitation at its most pale). Instead we’re treated to a patchwork quilt of heartfelt, poignant moments juxtaposed with flashbacks and story beats so absurd they’re outright comical in comparison. I don’t think this was an accident—I believe wholeheartedly that Dasoku is an elaborate parody of itself. With gleeful abandon, Dasoku recreates iconic setpieces and ideas from Dasaku so divorced from the context that gave them meaning in the first place that they become ridiculous and nonsensical. Nothing is sacred. One scene boisterously parodying the climax of Toboso’s route—my favourite eroge scene of all time, and one that has brought me to tears on several occasions—had me crying laughing. The further into the game you proceed, the further it unravels and the clearer this all becomes. Sakuraba fully expects you to become privy to his tricks and begins subverting even your expectations of your expectations being subverted. To play Dasoku is to engage Sakuraba in a game of 5D irony chess where he always has the upper hand… and we’ve still barely scratched the surface.

At this point I should mention that Dasoku isn’t just a barrage of Dasaku references. It’s all held together by a completely original main plotline that’s every bit as silly as it ought to be. It’s full of intrigue and attention-grabbing twists that do a solid job driving the momentum forward and keeping the reader engaged. It draws inspiration from the scientific field of sexology, incorporating a variety of obscure paraphilias to support its autoplagiarism of Dasaku’s 化け物 theme. These topics are an incredibly fertile ground for an eroge to explore, and I’d love to see one take them seriously some day. But they do make for one hell of a parody game.

At this point I’ve said about as much as I can without spoiling the entire game, so I’m going to assume that anybody reading past this point has already read the game or doesn’t mind being spoiled on it. To reiterate: the remainder of this post will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Dasoku. I will be exhaustively spoiling almost every single detail about it, from every twist to the game’s true ending. This is a game that refines the very act of surprising its readers into a fine art, so please take this warning seriously and don’t read any further if there’s any chance of you someday reading Dasoku.


MAJOR SPOILERS BEGIN NOW.

I was blown away by how well the 裏設定 of an exploitation film was worked into the game. The twist is absolutely airtight, working on every level and supported by a truly staggering amount of foreshadowing (my favourite example: in every previous credits sequence and even in all of the game’s promotional materials, the cast has always been credited by their fictional actresses’ names, and never the names of the actual seiyuu who performed the roles). But it’s not just minor details, the entire plot and tone of the game retroactively make a lot more sense with this twist in mind. Fuck, even having a gimmicky meta 作中作 twist like this in the first place is itself a classic staple of exploitation cinema. I’m going to approach it from a few different angles and share my conclusions about the game below.

The few tangible connections Dasoku has to Dasaku comprise a fascinating meta-narrative thread throughout the game. Two names that players will recognise from Dasaku, Haiki Yuuki and Nanagaki Rikuya, are ominously uttered constantly throughout the game. Characters’ designs, names, backstories and illnesses are counterparts to those from Dasaku, haphazardly mixed and matched to different heroines. The first two routes stick suffocatingly close to their source material, and the first heroine of the game even turns out to be Kana, a fan-favourite cameo from Dasaku. None of the other heroines have this direct of a link to Dasaku, although one is depicted reading (and hating) the game, and with each subsequent route the links to Dasaku become more and more tenuous. Sumera’s route represents a conclusive rejection of the source material. Both of the mysterious recurring Dasaku names are offhandedly revealed to be irrelevant fake names and the main characters conclude once and for all that they’re “humans, not monsters.” Finally, in the 蛇足ルート, we’re baited one last time as Director Sakuraba is questioned point-blank about her use of the names and she finally discloses the truth—they didn’t mean anything. They were random names she ripped from the headlines. Ironically, this exact admission is what cements Dasoku as technically being a canonical Dasaku sequel.

Dasoku is set some time after Dasaku’s common ending. ‘Haiki Yuuki’ has become a household name and the gruesome details of her serial murders have become a news story. This ‘real’ tragedy is exploited by Director Sakuraba in the production of a cheap eroguro film using the names of the perpetrator and the victims for a shameless, provocative marketing stunt (this has more basis in reality than one might think). This is beautifully paralleled by real-world Sakuraba’s own willingness to shamelessly cash in on Dasaku all throughout Dasoku’s marketing campaigns and even within the game itself, baiting fans with pointless references to keep them reading. Dasoku directly exploits Dasaku for everything it’s worth, and we all got played. Both of these represent the spinning of something real into something artificial, something meaningful into something meaningless. This ties in nicely to the title of the game. 蛇足 could refer specifically to the 蛇足ルート itself, a short addition that “ruins” the entire game before it. But in a wider sense it also describes the game’s relationship with Dasaku—it’s an unnecessary addendum that, at least on the surface, is worthless and only degrades the original product by association. This theme is ultimately brought full circle with Yumeno Kyouka shamelessly exploiting the onset tragedy that befalls her castmates for profit and fame, actively using their deaths to promote the film at a prestigious premiere. What really drives it all home is that the image of that freak ‘accident,’ the very same snuff scene used to promote the film, is the exact CG that has been used as Dasoku’s key visual from the very day it was first announced.

One sentiment I’ve seen written in both positive and positively scathing reviews of Dasaku is that it couldn’t possibly exist in any other medium. Dasoku puts this theory to the test by exploring what the fundamental elements of Dasaku might amount to in a medium as superficially similar to eroge as eroguro films. In doing so, Dasoku manages to reinforce and highlight by omission what made Dasaku so special in the first place. Take, for example, the role of gender and sexuality—a fundamentally inseparable part of Dasaku’s core identity and themes that is almost completely absent from Dasoku. The closest Dasoku-the-film comes to an LGBT+ theme is a girl saying she’s not a lesbian, a threesome with an imaginary stuffed doll and the honestly incredible suggestion that a straight girl liking big dicks too much is akin to being a sexual minority. But notice that when Dasoku-the-game returns to the ‘real world,’ the one in which Dasaku actually took place, the pretense of its absence evaporates in an instant with a reveal that the protagonist was played by a woman (retconning every eroscene in the game into a lesbian sex scene) whose non-binary gender-dysphoric fantasy is granted when she literally ascends to heaven. This sharp contrast draws a line between the shallow concerns of an exploitation film pretending horny rich straight girls are oppressed and the unignorable existence of actually oppressed people in reality, who can’t be erased quite so easily.

But none of this is simply the game being “bad on purpose.” I can imagine how a reader who falls for the prank a little too hard, who buys into even the more ridiculous story beats and characters of the film-within-a-game, who relates and empathises with their struggles and backstories, might come to that conclusion and consider the twist a betrayal and an insult. While I can’t exactly blame them for that impression, I do think it’s a misunderstanding of what this game is at its very core. Dasoku isn’t a game cynically mocking the genre it’s masquerading as for a cheap twist, it’s an affectionate pastiche of and ultimately a sincere tribute to exploitation films as a genre and an art form. What the “bad on purpose” read is missing is that Dasoku fucking rules. It’s entertaining, it’s hilarious, at times it’s even genuinely touching. It’s totally unpredictable. Just remembering that Moe and Milky’s routes exist in the same game is very funny to me. This tonal whiplash feels kind of unusual for an eroge but it’s right at home among other exploitation films. While there are certainly some criticisms of the genre worked in too, such as the despicable marketing and one of the actresses being clearly of unfit mind, I think it’s fair to conclude that Dasoku is, overall, a tribute. I think Dasoku understands the appeal of the exploitation genre, understands that being ridiculous or stupid doesn’t preclude a piece of art from being good, understands that being stupid can bring its own kind of charm. The joy in Director Sakuraba’s voice as she discusses her film in the true route is itself as emphatic a defense of the value of exploitation art as you can get.

This is reflected by yet another meaning of the game’s title. The exploitation genre is widely dismissed as meaningless, worthless, containing “no redeeming social value”. It is, in the eyes of society, a stain. 蛇足. In this same sense, Dasoku actually does ultimately become a genuinely appropriate thematic sequel to Dasaku. Dasaku is about the people society rejects; Dasoku is about the art society rejects. Dasaku’s true route is about you, the reader; Dasoku’s true route is about Sakuraba, the author.

As an aside, the title is also reinvoked one last time by its most literal meaning “snake legs,” which is what inspires Director Sakuraba’s fateful casting choice of a lanky, 195cm tall girl to play Sumera in the film. This fetishisation of unusual body types is another accurate facet of real-world eroguro films, but I bring this up mostly to laud Dasoku’s bold, rewarding decision to make the true heroine of an eroge a 195cm tall, murderous, hunchbacked imouto, who at one point gets on all-fours to lap her oniichan’s tears off the dirty ground lest they go to waste. I loved this girl with all my heart. This is some all-time boundary pushing. This is a new frontier of moe. Dasoku has reinvented the wheel.

In this reading of the game as an elaborate exploitation film tribute, Dasoku’s ending is nothing short of perfect. Ever since gorey exploitation films have existed, so too have rumours of them being legitimate snuff films. While Cannibal Holocaust is the most famous, a plethora of notable examples exist, such as the Japanese film Guinea Pig 2 which was famously investigated by the FBI after being mistaken for a snuff film by actor Charlie Sheen. This elusive secretly-real splatter film is a legendary myth, still dominating discussions today, four decades after Cannibal Holocaust’s release. Dasoku’s spectacular final sequence, depicting a gruesome quintuple homicide on set miraculously making it into the final cut of the film, is the perfect way to tribute exploitation films and the history and culture surrounding them. It’s a ridiculous, comical twist at the end of a ridiculous game, but in context it makes perfect sense and, well, is more canonical—more “real”—than anything you’ve been reading up until this point. This impossible urban legend is brought to life at the tail end of a story so dense with metafiction and red herrings that the reader is forced to accept it on some level as “reality,” and that fucking rules. This whole ending put a huge smile on my face that stayed there long after I finished the game.

So, all at once, Dasoku competently functions as: an incredibly elaborate prank played on the reader, a hilarious self-parody of Sakuraba’s work, meta-commentary on and somehow a thematically appropriate sequel to Dasaku, and a sincere tribute to the niche artform of exploitation cinema. It’s an insane amalgamation of discreet concepts that compliment each other impossibly well and form the most elaborate bait-and-switch I’ve ever seen in an eroge. This all brings me back to my opening question—how the FUCK did this get made? How did Sakuraba Maruo convince Waffle, a developer who in their 20 full years of history have never published a single guro game before, to produce a farcical, metafictional in-joke of a full-price eroge that: markets itself as an intense guro game and then is mostly vanilla anyway, is accessible only to the same fanbase it intentionally fucks with, pretends to be a sequel to a six-year-old guro nukige he wrote for a different brand, and necessitates that they don’t even advertise the fucking seiyuu on the game’s website? The mere tangible existence of this game on my PC right now is more mind-boggling than even its most shocking twists. What the fuck.

…Wow! I thought this spoiler section was going to be two paragraphs long. I’m sorry! As a reward for reading this far here’s a brief list of some of the fun foreshadowing that I didn’t mention already: the game always opens with the English text “SAKURABA PRESENTS,” referring of course to 櫻葉監督 not 桜庭丸男; the tagline 「シシャ」の、「シシャ」による、「シシャ」のための物語 is both a Dasaku reference and a deceptively literal description of the fictional exploitation film; excluding the snuff scene early on, all of the hanging CGs clearly depict faceless prop dolls if you look closely; the game constantly uses VHS-style film grain and TV flickering effects during transitions; this one is obviously just a coincidence but hell, even the “camera work” 演出 feels like foreshadowing in retrospect. There are so many amazing little details in this game, it’s pretty funny to reconcile Sakuraba’s depiction of himself in the game as a silly director who “doesn’t sweat the details,” with the real-world Sakuraba who planned such an insanely intricate and complex twist. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention that writing yourself into your own game only to brutally kill yourself off is probably the funniest possible way to end a game that’s just been 10 odd hours of you making fun of yourself. I love Dasoku so much.

Dasoku encompasses so much that I’ll be very proud of myself if this post turns out even remotely readable. Needless to say, this game was an absolute delight and one of the best surprises I’ve ever gotten with an eroge. I really loved this. Thank you, Sakuraba Maruo, and thank you, Waffle.

https://i.imgur.com/gZHxdIH.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s