Catharsis; defined as the process of purging negative emotions. One may be most familiar with the term in the context of Aristotle’s Poetics or fiction in general. In it, we release our negative emotions by witnessing the tragedies of a narrative (especially considering Aristotle considered tragedy as the highest form of art) and experience some sort of wonder–a wonder to take a look at the world around us and begin to think, philosophize, and escape from our ignorance. From that we grow, and we change.
And there’s another field where the term comes up frequently; psychology. In psychology, it also refers to the release of emotions, but as a method of treatment. We slowly let things we don’t want to remember back into our heads so that the buildup does not explode.
Sachiko, SeaBed’s main character, wants catharsis. Ever since her best friend and lover, Takako, went missing, Sachiko has been having dreams and hallucinations where she chats with her. They talk about the laundry and what they’ll have for dinner. Sometimes they talk about that trip they had in Taipei a while back. All normal things. But these disturb her, and she decides to meet up with Narasaki, her old friend and therapist, and proceeds to have therapy sessions with her. She tells herself that her condition isn’t normal and that it’s not something Takako would want. So Narasaki and her agree to go on a vacation.
Takako, on the other hand, has been losing her memories and having these fits which makes her ears go haywire. She lives her life in a sanatorium with her nurse Mayuko, and two other patients quite peacefully, despite their conditions. There’s barely any talk of their troubles. When they do talk of it, there’s no drama. They just water gardens, have massages, buy food, and tell stories of life before the sanatorium. Takako in particular likes to tell stories of her travels with Sachiko.
Really, it’s just an uneventful everyday life.
And so is Sachiko’s vacation. She meets up with a friend, hitches a ride to her friend’s inn, plays with kids, and goes to the hot springs and relax.
This uneventfulness is the one thing that sapes and distinguishes SeaBed as a work. It’s not just in the events of the story. In fact, there are moments where one could easily say that things that are out of the ordinary are occurring. What makes SeaBed so uneventful is its narration. Our main characters observe the world in this textured, detailed, but ultimately objective way. They do not embellish the contents of their feelings or wonder and dive into their stream of consciousness and contemplate the meaning of life. If they have anything insightful to say or think about; it doesn’t really go anywhere and doesn’t concretely affect their way of life or the events of the story.
Because of how our protagonists narrate, reading SeaBed doesn’t actually feel like reading something. It feels like falling into a trance. One’s state of mind ends up becoming foggy, sleepy, yet still somewhat aware. All that matters is pressing the enter key to let the next lines of text come. Is it entertaining? Not really. Boring? Not even. One just can’t stop reading SeaBed. The blend of the music, art, and text just hypnotizes the reader. And that hypnotism manages to capture the state of mind of our protagonists so excellently.
Sachiko and Takako may have things that ail their minds, but it never stops them from living their everyday lives. Narasaki even comments on this, and if you ever take Psychology 101 you’d be told that one of the main symptoms of having a mental disorder is that you are unable to proceed with your daily life normally. Sachiko and Takako move through days in this weird trance as they try to make sense of their lives, but their lifestyles are not interrupted.
And so there is no catharsis. In fact, there is no need for it. Not in fiction, nor in psychology. Near the end of her vacation, when Narasaki asks Sachiko why she thinks she has hallucinations for the second time, there is no drama. No breakdown or any flair whatsoever. Sachiko herself barely changes. All there is a quiet admission that it hurts. A lot.
And that is the core of SeaBed in its storytelling style, plot, and characters. No embellishments, just a way to live our everyday lives and maintain our sanity despite the pain. All these reactions–forgetting, dreaming, and all–to the pain is normal and a part of us, and something we accept, not grow out of.
The morning after Sachiko’s conversation with Narasaki, there is a very brief moment where Sachiko feels like she hears Takako’s voice, just as she wakes up. At that moment, the fog that occupied her mind, and the ringing that stayed in her ears whenever she had hallucinations just disappear.
And so, Sachiko came back from her vacation and returned to her normal, ignorant, everyday life. A normal, everyday life she’s very happy with.