Certain types of brain trauma can cause horrifying hallucinations, overlaying the real world with hellish visions that could shake the sanity of even the most careful mind. But what if the barrier between what is real and what is delusion is less firm that we'd like to believe? What if the nightmare is real? These questions set the tone for "Song of Saya," a three-issue miniseries written by Daniel Liatowitsch and Todd Ocvirk with art by Yair Herrera, debuting last week from IDW Publishing.
Adapted from the Japanese PC game "Saya No Uta," which was actually a "visual novel" - a text narrative overlaying anime-style stills with little user interaction, "Song of Saya" tells the story of a young doctor who is in involved in a life-threatening car crash and afterward experiences terrifying visions. His experiences are somehow shared by a former patient, who warns him that there's more going on than his scientific mind may be willing to grasp. A mysterious woman named Saya brings another dimension to his dreams - but what does it mean to fall in love with a woman who may or may not be real? And what secrets is Saya holding? CBR News caught up with Liatowitch and Ocvirk to discuss the project and its origins.
Both Liatowitsch and Ocvirk are new to writing comics, though they do have credentials in film. The unusual nature of this particular project - adapting a Japanese game that has not been localized and is in a genre unfamiliar to American audiences - called on several different talents and a bit of boldness. "We grew up on opposite sides of the world, literally. Todd in Hawaii, Daniel in a small town in Switzerland – but we're both children of Marvel's Golden Age. It speaks to comic books' power as a universal language, something it shares with the film world," the writers said of their background in comics.
"Screenplays, especially in the horror genre, have to keep costs in mind. It stunts a certain amount of creativity. In comics, however, every location, every setting, every special effect costs roughly the same amount of pencil and ink...it's freeing.
"Initially, one of the most difficult things about this process was the fact that it was all in Japanese and there were no English translations when we first started (a patch has been released since). Todd's wife Yuriko, who is Japanese, went through the entire game and translated the whole thing."
Given the unusual nature of the project, being based on a computer game that has not been released in the States, CBR asked the writers how the adaptation came about in the first place. "Rick Privman and Yumiko Miyano had brought one of our original screenplays to IDW, where they had a long-standing relationship. While we were developing that property, Rick mentioned 'Saya No Uta' and ominously called it 'way out there' - which meant we had to see it right away, of course," the writing team told CBR.
"Turns out, he wasn't kidding. The visual novel pulls absolutely no punches and pushes every possible boundary. But Nitro+, the company that created 'Saya No Uta,' wanted the project adapted for a reasonably mainstream Western audience," the writers continued. "They let us know that what mattered to them was the love story at the core...the rest was up to us.
"We agreed with Nitro+ that we all wanted to expand on the visual novel's themes – the nature of love, loneliness, a pervasive sense of alienation – while creating a nightmarish, David Cronenberg-inspired setting."
As to the game's "visual novel" format, Liatowitsch and Ocvirk said, "Because it has more text than pictures, it was more like working with a novel than a comic. It's similar to a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book with multiple endings, so we took elements from the various scenarios and added them to our own, Westernized frame work.
"The pacing of a visual novel is very deliberate and specific to the medium. So one of our challenges became how to retain the feeling of dread and mounting desperation in the comic book format.," they added.
"Working with IDW has been great. They truly are a 'creator friendly' company. We learned a lot from our editor, Kris Oprisko, who guided us through the process and gave us a lot of creative freedom. We were also very lucky to be paired up with Yair Herrera, our artist, whose enthusiasm for the project really shows on the page. He captured both the horrific and the tender. So for us, it was fun from beginning to end."
Liatowitsch and Ocvirk told CBR that their "Song of Saya" would be an adaptation of the game, rather than a new story set in its world, but "with elements changed to suit a more Western audience. We tried to stay true to the general storyline and some of the plot points, but we really had to streamline things in order to conform to the 3 issues we were given to tell the initial story."
"We're saying initial because there's definite groundwork for future Saya adventures." the writers continued. "We'd love the opportunity to explore this universe further, to follow all of the characters and get to the bottom of the greater forces at work..."
As to the nature of that story, the writers suggested it would be a darkly surreal tale. "In essence, it's an 'amour fou,' a tragic love story. It's the very core of the story, Liatowitsch and Ocvirk said. "Having said that, imagine a love story done by way of 'Videodrome' and 'Jacob's Ladder.' The awesome art by Yair Herrera was a perfect fit for the dark, eerie, visceral world(s) the characters inhabit and vividly brought everything to life. We hope fans will enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it!"