Published 15 August 2022
The Japanese erotic adventure game YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of This World, published by Elf Corporation in 1996 and written by the late Kanno Hiroyuki, continues to conjure fond memories. Few write about the title without at some point identifying it as a moving, intelligent masterpiece and, more recently, criticizing excessive “fanservice” as well. Expanding the scope of the stories that could be told in a Japanese adventure game, YU-NO raised expectations among players for narrative length and sophistication and supposedly influenced the digital medium that, in English, has come to be called the “visual novel.” I make clear my thoughts on this in my review of YU-NO, published on this website the same day as this essay. The review is the less formal accompaniment to “Reject Society, Embrace Incest” and recommended reading for those interested.
Accepting that Kanno’s story, as its fans maintain, is so intelligent and deliberate, this essay considers the question of what YU-NO is about. At a glance, YU-NO is a time travel science-fiction mystery thriller story concerning Arima Takuya and the various romanceable partners and paranormal melodrama the branching narrative structure enables the player to engage in. YU-NO conveys the story via point-and-click mechanics in a Prologue, the nonlinear branching “Auto Diverge Mapping System” (ADMS) segment, and Epilogue. YU-NO is all of this. But not as publicized as the ADMS gameplay is that at the core of the science-fiction mystery is the identity of a nude woman who, near the end of the Prologue, appears to engage in a prolonged kiss with Takuya at Sword Cape before flickering out of Takuya’s universe. This woman is Yu-no, the titular girl who chants love. This love is not a generalized love but love for Takuya, her father—and it is sexual love.
In a review of the 2017 YU-NO remake, Kurt Kalata of Hardcore Gaming 101 writes, “There’s an argument to be made that YU-NO would be a better game if they scaled back on the sleaziness, because the reason why the game is beloved has nothing to do with those elements.” As I also describe in my review of YU-NO, Kalata errors in believing that “those elements” could be removed from YU-NO without fundamentally altering the story. Takuya’s daughter, Yu-no, whom the player then is also primed to see as their daughter, appears half-nude and underaged on the cover, her name is the title, and her sexualized naked “adult” body at Sword Cape bookends the entire adventure, appearing to close the Prologue and set the player’s journey in motion and then returning to resolve the Epilogue. In a work of fiction, the ending is the purpose, where the threads wrap up, where the audience is given the final piece to recognize what the story’s meaning has been all along. And the ending of YU-NO is Takuya choosing his titular daughter as his sexual partner.
A romantic, incestuous abandonment of reality is the true ending and the point of YU-NO. The finale reveals that YU-NO is centrally a parent–child incest romance at least as much as—and, I contend, much more than—it is anything else. With Takuya and Koudai’s toxic behavior, the story also relates parent–child incest to abusive gender norms and brutal social structures. Alarmingly, Kanno portrays both the incest and abuse as instances of aspirational familial love transcendent to the point of religiosity.
Initially, YU-NO appears to concern Arima Takuya’s journey to overcome the trauma with which his abusive father, Koudai, has saddled him. To do so, Takuya embarks on a time-travelling or world-hopping adventure to find “the old bastard,” who has faked his death, and punch him in the face. At once, Takuya presents much of his father’s violent, sexist attitudes and conception of manhood. However, Takuya’s own Koudai-like behavior conflicts with the resentment he bears Koudai and his desire to be a better person than his father. Given this tension and Takuya’s occasional moments of self-reflection, the player might assume that Takuya must metaphorically “punch” Koudai by becoming a better man. However, Kanno is at least not predictable: this ostensive presentation is misleading. For YU-NO is not a story of change, growth, learning, or redemption but, as becomes undeniable in the Epilogue, a story of the reification of the status quo of Koudai’s “way of living”: toxic gender roles and violent power structures comorbid with incest and pedophilia.
The page numbers of the scattered citations of Freud below refer to the Modern Library edition of The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud translated by A. A. Brill and published by Random House in 1938.
The Oedipal Pattern
At the start of a new game, YU-NO shows a vision of Takuya’s biological mother, Kaytia (or Keiko), holding her baby son between her bare breasts. The imagery apparently suggests maternity. But Takuya’s father, Koudai, berates his son—a crying child—for not being enough of a man. Kaytia remarks that Koudai is “envious” of Takuya, to which Koudai replies,
Suddenly, the baby and his mother’s chest are sexualized. Afterward, while wistful music plays, Takuya awakens on the school roof, having dreamed about his biological mother’s breasts. He reflects how long ago she died and says:
“[My old man is] even pervading my dreams now. These past couple of days, they’ve been especially bountiful. And by ‘bountiful,’ I mean the number of dreams I’ve had, not the frequency I’ve done you-know-what, nor the volume I produced. […] Dreams are the embodiment of repressed desires. Those words were said by some big shot doctor somewhere. ‘Repressed desires,’ huh… or maybe it’s a feeling of regret with respect to my parent’s [Koudai’s] expectations?”
With this narration, Takuya juxtaposes and links his mother’s breasts, masturbation, “repressed desires,” and an allusion to Freud, that “big shot doctor somewhere.” Oedipal indeed. As the tone-setting opening scene conveys the first information the player learns about Takuya, this moment holds particular significance. Later, Koudai explicitly calls out Takuya’s “Oedipus complex.” Other characters identify Takuya as the “walking libido.” Kanno invites a Freudian reading or at least a reading that uses Freudian terminology. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud claimed, as Takuya recalls with his remark about “repressed desires,” that dreams can contain a fulfillment of forbidden wishes (229–230) and “a recollection from the dreamer’s earliest childhood” (298). Takuya’s pivotal dream of Kaytia fits entirely into this framework.
The most significant topic for YU-NO is perhaps the most famous of Freud’s psychoanalytical concepts, the Oedipus complex. I am no Freudian, and to engage in deep scholarship on the matter would be giving YU-NO too much credit. So to draw on the explanation SimplyPsychology provides, Freud believed that children discover sex differences in early childhood. At this stage of psychosexual development, Freud alleges that the boy feels sexual attraction to his mother and so envies and resents his father, who “possesses” the mother. The boy fears that, if his feelings are discovered, his father will castrate him. Thus the Oedipus complex arises. To resolve the conflict and achieve a healthy life, the boy identifies with his father and begins imitating him, in this way assuming a masculine gender identity. When her libidinal energy becomes centered on her vulva, a girl goes through a similar process, except that, instead of her mother, the girl is attracted to her father and, instead of fearing castration, resents that she has no penis. (We can concoct prepubescent incest urges, but no gays allowed.) For a girl, the allegedly healthy resolution to this complex is to identify with her mother to replace the longing to be a boy with a longing to give birth.
YU-NO features versions of both complexes. I will call both “Oedipal.” Kanno depicts an extreme unresolved Oedipal complex in people well over six years old and treats the solution as the child actually having sex with the parent. Takuya may identify with Koudai in the Freudian sense but leaps far beyond ordinary norms to reproduce Koudai’s bad behavior and have sex with the same women (including his wife Ayumi and Asakura Kaori). Takuya’s Oedipal complex, his longing for sex with the unreachable ideal Kaytia, also accounts for his preference for older women in most of his sexual encounters on the ADMS route: Ayumi, Mitsuki, Kaori, and Eriko. Through the different story routes, an Oedipal narrative pattern recurs in a sort of desensitization-to-incest pipeline before the sickening culmination in the fifth story route of the Epilogue, when Takuya engages in true deliberate incest with his daughter Yu-no, a Kaytia lookalike.
In addition, as laid out in the paragraphs below, YU-NO consistently entwines sexual and parental love. This is true of Freud as well, as in his conception of the Oedipus complex. In Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, Freud also wrote that a child’s experiences with their caretakers is “an inexhaustible source of sexual excitation and a gratification of erogenous zones, especially since the parents—as a rule, the mother—supplies the child with feelings which originate from her own sexual life; she pats him, kisses him and rocks him, plainly taking him as a substitute for a perfectly valid sexual object” (615). This prepares the child to, after puberty, pursue Freud’s rather bizarre understanding of a healthy sex life. However, Freud understood “sexual excitation” for a toddler to involve activities such as being scrubbed in the bath or having excrement wiped off their rear, rather than what in ordinary circumstances would be considered sexual. His understanding of a mother kissing her son as a sexual act also seems unlikely.
However, in YU-NO, the characters intuitively understand parental love as sexual in the same manner that the affection of sweethearts is sexual. Consider Takuya’s frequent insinuations that, when Mio refers to her “papa,” her father, she is referring to a lover and that Mio’s father is furiously jealous of male attention his daughter receives. The assumed universal conflation of familial and incestuous love is also why Takuya, while engaging in foreplay with his naked daughter, says the absurd, “It was a bit awkward to have your kid find out about what went on in the bedroom at night. I felt I understood what parents around the world had meant by that feeling now.” And immediately resumes the erotica: “I lightly crept my fingers over her light-pink areolae. Just that caused Yu-no to tremble.” The conflation of familial love with actual sexual intercourse in YU-NO is a grotesque exaggeration of this aspect of Freud’s writings.
In Totem and Taboo, Freud notes the “ambivalence of emotions” in the son, who both loves and hates his father. In this book Freud emphasizes the manifestations of this ambivalence in human social structures, which Freud overreaches to claim originate in the Oedipus complex. In YU-NO this ambivalence appears in Takuya and Koudai’s relationship, as Kanno recognizes Koudai’s behavior is hurtful while also essentially correct. Paralleling Koudai’s power, YU-NO also depicts this ambivalence in the relationship between authority and society, which point will be elaborated on below.
The Oedipal pattern begins the moment the player starts a new game in the dream that plays before the Prologue. The Prologue also links the Reflector itself, in other words the ADMS system so central and distinctive to YU-NO, to the Oedipal pattern. In his letter to Takuya, Koudai writes of the Reflector: “The mirror is Keiko’s memento. Consequently, this strong connection to your real mother will become the trigger to tightly bind you to that place.” The place Koudai refers to is Triangle Mountain, where a machine warps Takuya to meet the woman, identical to Kaytia, whom he will impregnate with Yu-no, who is also identical to Kaytia. A naïve reading might maintain that the “strong connection” to the mother suggests the centrality of (healthy) familial love to YU-NO, that Kaytia’s love for her son, in the same manner as the “flow of causality,” transcends “time.” In this reading, the unquestioning affection and protection she and her chest afford Takuya in his dream, this mother whom he longs for as she died when he was so young, demonstrates the power of family. But given the surrounding narrative, the incestuous subtext of the dream, and that Takuya’s future wife is a woman so identical to Kaytia that Takuya initially mistakes her for his mother, Koudai’s message assumes a dark meaning: at Triangle Rock, your obsession with banging your mom will guide you to do your daughter who looks like Kaytia doggy-style. In YU-NO, however, this meaning is not dark but positive. In the Prologue itself, Takuya must be content to “merely” make out with his daughter.
The most obvious manifestation of the Oedipal pattern is that Takuya lusts after his stepmother, Ayumi. While not blood-related, both Ayumi and Takuya are steadfast in referring to each other as mother and son. In the Prologue, Ayumi’s longest scene features her preparing and eating a late dinner with Takuya. In YU-NO, cooking meals is always a maternal activity and, not coincidentally, associated with women the player is meant to find sexually attractive.
Almost every time Ayumi is on screen, particularly early on, Takuya expresses strong sexual attraction to her. The player is shown her panties and breasts and invited to click around her anatomy to the same degree as every other possible sexual partner, suggestive of how Takuya always sexualizes his stepmother, even if he often chides the player for encouraging his lust over his “mother’s” breasts. Takuya repeats variations of “She’s my mother, damn it. What am I thinking?” ad nauseam: “Ayumi-san is in her lingerie… It’s not indecent, but rather it’s refined, and faintly seductive. […] It’s my mother, damn it. What am I getting so worked up about?” In multiple flashbacks, Koudai mocks Takuya over his son’s jealousy of Ayumi: “Could it be that… you’re jealous? […] I’m impressed, my son. […] Whahahah! Have you ever considered confessing, huh?” In another flashback-dream in Kanna’s apartment, Koudai ridicules Takuya as “Mr. Mother Complex.”
In a flashback in Ryuuzouji’s storehouse, Koudai mocks Takuya again for his attraction to Ayumi:
In the Mitsuki route, Mitsuki also teases Takuya for moaning Ayumi’s name during sex:
Far from “repressed desires,” Takuya’s lust for Ayumi—prominent enough that he huffs the cushions on which she has sat and is aroused at the sight of her hips and cleavage, calling her “deliciously well-endowed”—and his complete hatred for his father, whom he calls “the old bastard,” vows to defeat, and misses no opportunity to belittle as a selfish pervert, overwhelm in the openness of their expression.
To reach the ending, the player must “romance” Ayumi. Like sex with Yu-no, this is not optional material. Over a series of stressful, melodramatic days of uncovering intrigue and corruption at her employer Geo Technics, Takuya competes against Ayumi’s abusive subordinate Toyotomi for her affection. But Ayumi, in the end, admits she too has had feelings for Takuya all along. By having sex with Ayumi, Takuya might seem to resolve the Oedipus complex, assuming his father’s role in some literal way. After sex, a happy and newly confident Ayumi remarks on Takuya’s resemblance to Koudai, as though the boy is becoming his father, becoming more mature as Kanno understands it. In the Oedipal pattern, such dialogue continues to link the love between parents and children to sexual desire. Koudai’s teasing guidance and Takuya’s love for Kaytia, embodied in the Reflector that enables the deed, guide the player to bedding their stepmother.
The Ayumi–Takuya relationship is not “real” incest. In a vacuum, particularly given the genre, the scenario is not especially objectionable. Both stepmother and stepson are sexual young people who have known each other only a few years. However, Kanno plays up the incest angle of the fantasy, emphasizing their familial relationship. Almost immediately before Ayumi brings Takuya to her bedroom, for example, she challenges him to “hug [her], as a son would his mother,” a challenge that his sexual feelings cause him to decline. Despite the brief period after Ayumi marries Koudai, she and Takuya also persist in identifying each other as mother and son up until the very end. By seeming not especially objectionable, however, particularly given how strenuously and how long Takuya objects to the possibility of the relationship, especially in a characteristically meandering scene after Takuya intervenes to stop Ayumi’s suicide, this part of the Oedipal pattern introduces the notion of deliberate incest that is not true incest, of simulated incest, on the pipeline to deliberate true incest.
The second major instance of the Oedipal pattern also may not seem clearly objectionable: Takuya’s relationship with Hatano Kanna. Nothing about the relationship is obviously incestuous. Kanna may be Takuya’s unofficial stepsister, given that Koudai is her “second father.” However, prior to the events of YU-NO, Takuya never meets or hears of Kanna, and Kanna never meets him. This perspective, then, overreaches, in addition to not being Oedipal. But other incestuous suggestions appear in Kanna’s route, and the Epilogue establishes that, through interdimensional travel, Takuya is Kanna’s biological father.
Like Ayumi, Sayless, and Yu-no, Kanna parallels Kaytia in several ways. The most obvious of these is that Kanna and Kaytia both rely upon Hypersense Stone to survive. When Kanna asks Takuya where he recalls seeing her blue Hypersense Stone necklace, he answers, “in a peaceful place, I guess?” Takuya speculates that his father showed him such stones somewhere. Because this dialogue follows the player stripping and exploring Kanna’s body to find the Hypersense Stone lying above her breasts, establishing Kanna for the first time as a target for the player’s (and Takuya’s) sexual desire, a likely reading is that this “peaceful place” is the same sexualized spot to which Kaytia holds Takuya in his dream: his mother’s chest.
Later, while sleeping with Kanna, Takuya dreams of Koudai mocking him as “Mr. Mother Complex.” The sound of Kanna chopping vegetables awakens Takuya before his father can explain something about Kaytia. This scene also repeatedly links Kanna to Kaytia. After YU-NO compels the player to inspect Kanna’s nape and panties for erotic pleasure, Takuya tells Kanna that watching her cook breakfast makes him miss Kaytia: “I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. […] I thought it was really nice to watch a girl prepare food from behind. Would it bother you if I said that I felt like I was watching my mother?”
Later, when a dog may have mistaken Kanna for its mother, Kanna says,
As they reflect that they both lost their mothers young, Takuya repeats the point:
For Takuya, Kanna is a figure of both maternal nostalgia and sexual attraction, once again linking familial with sexual love.
The tragic story of Kanna’s life hinges on the fantasy scenario of the limited immortality resulting from her Celestial or Dela Grante biology. Kanna has stopped aging physically at around age eighteen but, to survive, must have Hypersense Stone close to her body. As a result of her “peculiarity,” unable to forge healthy relationships or lead a normal life, Kanna states that her mother, Amanda, was her only friend. Following Amanda’s death and real estate brokers scamming her out of the Hatano household, Kanna becomes a prostitute, spending years or decades sleeping with clients depicted exclusively as significantly older men or, given Kanna’s agelessness, men who appear significantly older. Although Kanna understands her johns do not care about her, sex allows her to suppress her isolation:
Kanna herself harbors a kind of Oedipal complex, perhaps, in at least part, the “hidden tension” she claims human life is built upon. She feels strong affection for her mother, whom she describes as “incredibly well-proportioned.” After Amanda’s death, Kanna’s absentee father leaves her alone and battling loneliness through sex with older men, men perhaps the age of her imagined father, akin to how “Mr. Mother Complex” Takuya, meanwhile, favors older women. In the Epilogue, when, under the cumulative strain of her sister’s death and her own torture, Amanda enters a state of emotional instability, Takuya takes advantage of her vulnerability to have sex with her under the moonlight. In this scene, Amanda uses language about loneliness reminiscent of Kanna’s: “Takuya… I’m sick of it… I’m bloody sick of being alone!”
When they are through, Amanda stops weeping, for “carnal satisfaction and a sense of security [have] overridden her loneliness” in a manner analogous to how the daughter with whom Takuya has in this moment impregnated her will pursue sex with older men to “fill up the loneliness in [her] heart.” Kanna’s conception prefigures the tension of her life. Longing for the father she never met, Kanna reenacts her mother’s dalliance with Takuya with various older men until she resolves her complex by having sex with her father in Meiunji Park under the moonlight. Kanna then duplicates her conception in an act that supposedly proves Takuya does not “despise” her for “[pocketing] dirty money,” the sex a demonstration of the love she never (before) received from her missing father. While less overt, for Kanna is somewhat less of an absurd caricature than Takuya, she too nurses Oedipal feelings even as her father prefers to liken her to his mother. As Yu-no is simultaneously Takuya’s daughter and mother, so too is Kanna.
Whereas Ayumi–Takuya is deliberate incest that is not true incest, Kanna–Takuya is unintentional but true incest. Takuya never recognizes that Amanda is Kanna’s mother despite the characteristic manacle on her left arm, and Kanna never realizes that her boyfriend is her missing father. Kanno presents both relationships as positive for the parties involved without reservation. In both story routes, Takuya literally saves the woman’s life and, in Kanna’s case, restores her self-love through incest. While the player can engage with either Ayumi or Kanna first, these two examples of the Oedipal pattern lead to the Epilogue, where, at the end of this pipeline, Takuya proves less resistant to sex with his own biological daughter than he did to his stepmother Ayumi. If Ayumi–Takuya does not seem troubling, then, for the unaware player, Kanna–Takuya must be less so. However, in the Epilogue, after the player has already been inured to the Oedipal pattern and its intensification and combination with pedophilia, Kanno reveals that Takuya is Kanna’s father. The player may now recognize, in this Oedipal pipeline, that Takuya has already had sex with his daughter. He has already violated this taboo. This realization facilitates acceptance of Takuya’s final sexual partner being his younger daughter in the true ending, acceptance, in other words, of the culmination of the Oedipal pattern in deliberate true incest.
Prior to Yu-no–Takuya comes a penultimate Oedipal relationship. In first act of the Epilogue, Takuya spends four years living at the idyllic edge of an alien world called Dela Grante, Kaytia’s homeland. There, he meets Sayless (or Celes), a woman identical to and a surrogate for Kaytia. Her fair skin and long, blonde hair render Sayless functionally identical to the one other character with this appearance except for Yu-no: Kaytia. Aside from the glimpse of Kaytia in the Prologue, Koudai’s description of his wife in his Memorandum as a young woman with “radiant, golden hair and pale, spotless skin” applies equally to Sayless, as does Kanna’s description of Kaytia as “very quiet, and always smiling” (emphasis mine).
Kanno makes explicit Sayless’s role as a surrogate for Kaytia the moment she appears. The player does not first meet Sayless in the Epilogue. On the Mio route, Takuya may encounter a vision of Sayless beneath Triangle Mountain. Before the player sees Sayless herself, her maternal voice reassures Takuya that “there is nothing to worry about” under the same image of Kaytia holding a baby Takuya to her bare chest that opens YU-NO.
The first lines Takuya says to Sayless, his future wife, are, “…Mom? …Are you my mother?” and, a few lines later, “You’re my mother, aren’t you…?
The Epilogue, then, fulfills Takuya’s subsequent wish to see this alleged mom’s “face… if only just once”—and a lot more of her. When meeting her in the Epilogue, too, Takuya quickly remarks on Sayless’s familiar appearance. After beginning his relationship with Sayless, Takuya describes her with the same language of “nostalgia” with which he likens Kanna to Kaytia: “[Sayless] had a nostalgic aura about her. Yeah… for some reason, she had that same aura I’d felt in the past…”
The player later viewing a nude Sayless from behind as she cooks to elicit sexual comments also recalls the player exploring Kanna’s nape and panties via the point-and-click ADMS interface as she prepares breakfast. Like Kaytia, Sayless is even a priestess of the God Emperor of Dela Grante. Because incest is not a matter of the least concern in the world of YU-NO so that, given the opportunity, Takuya would without doubt have sex with his mother, Sayless may as well be Kaytia.
More submissive than even Ayumi, save for the episode when Sayless flees into the desert, the player’s silent wife behaves more like a pet than a partner. Upon meeting her in Dela Grante, Takuya already dehumanizes the woman he identifies with his mother: “I’m starting to feel like I’m handling some kind of animal…” Reflecting on their relationship after her death, Takuya returns to the point:
Sayless is so childish and naïve that her independent survival strains credulity. According to Takuya, when he meets her, Sayless does not know how to sew, cook, or clean, so he must teach her how to live as a functional adult. Sayelss is a lost puppy, but a lost puppy who is identical to Takuya’s mother, has sex with him, and prepares him meals while acting as eye candy for the player, all while never talking back. A twist reveals that Sayless is not, in fact, incapable of speech—Sayless voluntarily submits herself to life as a mute pet-servant. Her only importance to the plot is as a womb.
Takuya can never have sex with his biological mother. However, continuing the Oedipal pattern, “the best partner [Takuya] could have ever wished for,” Sayless, the woman whom he marries and with whom he has a child, is, both physically and in her unconditional love, identical to the biological mother of Takuya’s wet dreams. In YU-NO, falling in love with one’s mother is sweet, sexy, and presumed to be relatable to the player. Yet, although an amplification of the Oedipal pattern more extreme than Ayumi–Takuya, the Sayless–Takuya pairing cannot plunge into true incest.
The culmination of the Oedipal narrative pattern is, of course, Takuya’s relationship with his and Sayless’s daughter, Yu-no. After her birth, the player experiences the first four years of Yu-no’s life in montage. Although YU-NO asks the player to understand Yu-no as their own daughter, as early on as when she is a baby held to her mother’s chest, Kanno wastes no time having Takuya sexualize an infant:
For reasons Ayumi later spends some forty minutes expositing, the people of Dela Grante grow to adulthood rapidly. According to Takuya, “the growth rate in this world is about four times that of mine.” Based on this number, Yu-no is twelve in Earth years when, over an image of her full-frontal child nudity, Takuya narrates:
While twelve mentally and physically, Yu-no consistently wears a sexualized revealing outfit through which, in its first appearance, her nipples poke. As a development of the childish dependency Sayless displays, Kanno intensifies the Oedipal pattern with explicit pedophilia, inverting the relationship so that the player is (meant to be) sexually attracted to their motherlike child rather than to their mother.
Both Yu-no and her father repeatedly express sexual attraction to each other. The night before her mother’s death, Yu-no joins Takuya and Sayless in bed. Yu-no tells Takuya that she loves him as much as Sayless—innocent enough in another context—and apologizes that her presence means Takuya can’t “make love to Mama.” Takuya, heart racing in the same manner as in many earlier comedy scenes of sexual arousal, asks what his daughter means.
When he realizes the child believes that “making love” means hugging in bed, Takuya narrates, “What am I being dejected about… I guess I’m half-glad, half-disappointed…” Takuya is sexually interested in his barely pubescent daughter, who claims to “love” him as much as his wife and, as it later turns out, in the same physical way:
Later, while spying on Sala at the oasis, the child Yu-no shows Takuya her underwear and promises to let him have access to her body when she is older: “Papa, I’m going to get big one day too. […] Then I’ll let you look at them [my breasts] as much as you want.” When Yu-no later persuades Takuya to have sex with her, she calls back to this moment and alludes to her rivalry with her mother for her father’s sexual attention: “But my breasts are already bigger than Mama’s.” More-or-less accurately assessing the dynamic, Sala initially assumes Takuya is a pedophile who keeps Yu-no as a sex slave:
Further ratcheting up the pedophilia, Takuya and Sala thereafter have sex in front of Yu-no because “[h]aving sex in front of a child [is] pretty arousing, don’t you think?” Yu-no interprets seeing “Papa’s manhood” as a dream, and Sala (and Kanno) treat Yu-no staring at her father’s erect penis as endearing fun. The Oedipal pattern has become so overt as to warrant no deeper interpretation. There is not a moment’s implication that any of this might be unhealthy or dangerous. The music, narrative progression, warm colors, and writing treat Yu-no and Takuya’s relationship as sweet and romantic.
Yu-no’s character is not Oedipal only in the sense of her personality revolving around a sexual attraction to her father but in that she views her mother as her rival, as her remark about her breasts being larger than Sayless’s implies. In the courtyard of the God Emperor’s castle, while flirting with Takuya, Yu-no describes her childhood: “I was battling over you with Mama all the time.” She elaborates:
She and Takuya reminisce about Yu-no seeking out her parents when they were having sex to interrupt them out of jealousy that she was not having sex with her father. Sayless, Yu-no claims, wielded her psychic powers to invade her mind and combat her, mirroring, in a more fantastical fashion, the abuse Koudai visits on Takuya in their own Oedipal rivalry. Yu-no is wholeheartedly the subject of this Oedipus complex even as she is the object for Takuya and the player, and it is a full Oedipus complex.
The strangest shift in Yu-no’s character occurs after she and her father are reunited in the Imperial Capital, when, for an instant, Yu-no appears to subvert the lolicon wet dream. Yu-no appears, talks, and behaves like an adult—whose body “has gotten all kinds of voluptuous,” in Takuya’s words, though in Dela Grante years she still cannot be an adult. Like her mother and like Kaytia, Yu-no has become a fanatical priestess devoted to the same theocratic dictatorship that recently enslaved and tortured her father. Notably, in this mature and intelligent state, Yu-no is armed, “closer to a knight […] than to a frail woman like Sayless” or Kaytia, and rejects Takuya’s potential sexual advances. If the player chooses “Embrace” from the action menu, Yu-no, sword tip at Takuya’s forehead, says,
When Takuya later frees Yu-no from the God Emperor’s brainwashing apparatus, her voice again becomes high-pitched, and, naked, she rushes to embrace Takuya while babbling “I love you I love you I love you!” and delivers a double entendre implying her father has an erection. A contrast, to say the least, to her ostensive adult personality. Cuddling with Takuya outside, Yu-no expresses disappointment that her father is not attracted to her: “Well… I’m already an adult, you know?” Takuya, meanwhile, chides himself for “getting all excited” over “a kid,” acknowledging she is not an adult even as the menu options, corresponding to Takuya’s thoughts and continuing to encourage the player to sexualize their daughter, include “Touch” for Yu-no’s “Breasts” and “Ass.”
The brainwashed adult Yu-no is someone with whom Takuya can debate the logic of the theocracy and the God Emperor’s propaganda. Take this interaction:
“I have been entrusted with this task directly by my liege,” says Yu-no.
“But the previous priestess, Sayless… known as Careless in the capital, has died. You know that, right?”
“…I have received word of this.”
“Alright, next question. They said that the priestess didn’t have a successor. And yet _you_ call yourself the priestess.” Yu-no is silent. “Don’t you think that’s odd?”
“I… have been ordered to by my liege.”
Note the dialogue’s relative sophistication. Stoic, armed, and fearless, Yu-no is able to keep up with a logical argument about how propaganda has caused her to act against her own interests, even if the context still serves a male fantasy of owning the priestess with facts and logic. This Yu-no also does not show sexual interest in her father. However, allegedly free, Yu-no’s personality reverts to that of her twelve-year-old self. Where before she would kill Takuya rather than accept his flirtations, Yu-no, now freed, behaves like the child obsessed with her “papa” but with the sexuality even more overt. Compare the above level of mature political discourse to what the abruptly childish Yu-no can manage less than two hours later. “They’re killing off innocent women solely for their own interests,” says Takuya.
“Yeah… I think that’s a very bad thing too,” says Yu-no.
“Then rather than accepting their handouts, you ought to—”
“But… *sniffle*… but…”
“Ah, wha… i-it’s nothing to start crying over, is it?”
Before Sayless’s death, Yu-no sleeps with her parents, entering their bedroom while hugging a pillow and staring with puppy eyes.
After Takuya has decided to collaborate with the God Emperor’s theocratic dictatorship, the older Yu-no, sporting a highly sexualized outfit consisting of a thong and a crop top with underboob, appears at the player’s bedside in exactly the same pose, complete with pillow.
This time, Yu-no climbs into bed with Takuya alone. From an angle that displays her full bottom to the player, Yu-no tells Takuya she wants to marry him:
This moment also, in mise-en-scène, color, and framing, directly mirrors the earlier scene of the child Yu-no in bed with Takuya and Sayless. The daughter has fully replaced the mother, who is there to vie with her for Takuya’s attention no longer. This aspect of the presentation also emphasizes that the character the player should be attracted to is their daughter. Essential to YU-NO, the incest and semi-pedophilia are not to be downplayed.
While heavily sexualizing her, Kanno still repeatedly acknowledges that Yu-no remains a child. It is notable that her age is unclear, but the adult Yu-no seemingly cannot be older than the equivalent of her mid-teens. In the above-described bed scene, Takuya says, “Your body might’ve matured, but you’re still a child on the inside.” Earlier, shortly before his abortive assassination of the God Emperor, Takuya also says of his daughter,
Because her freedom from the God Emperor’s brainwashing machine means returning to her previous personality and also voluntarily fulfilling the same role and leading the same lifestyle the theocracy earlier forced upon her, the story continues to present the refusal of personal growth as a virtue (despite Ayumi’s laughable claim that Takuya has grown a lot as a person).
A few scenes later, Yu-no and Takuya have sex in the same bed. Any claim that Takuya has developed since the Prologue is undercut. Takuya and Yu-no’s dialogue before breaking the longstanding sexual tension between them amounts to a discussion of the ethics of the situation, unconvincing not least because Takuya is a simpleton and Yu-no, as the dialogue continues to emphasize despite the lovey-dovey framing, is still a child. “You sound like a kid!” says Takuya. Yu-no replies, “But I am your kid.” Takuya begins to argue that parent–child incest is illegal, which he then rejects as a reason not to have sex with Yu-no on the bizarre if technically valid basis that Japan’s laws do not apply to Dela Grante.
Kanno predictably allows Takuya to accede to Yu-no’s request. This strange logic of assuming laws correlate to what is ethically acceptable I will return to below. Aside from their identities and the incessant use of “Papa,” the Yu-no–Takuya sex scene is unremarkable save being the only in which the presentation denies the player the full act, fading to black shortly after Takuya penetrates his daughter, who screams “Papaaaaa!!!”
In the finale, Yu-no consents to the “rite.” The ancient creator scientist, Grantia, whom even Kanna reveres as “God,” uses the Grandmother computer system that runs Dela Grante to possess Yu-no’s body to undertake a vague action that will prevent an “event collision” of Dela Grante’s and Takuya’s dimensions, a process that recurs in an eight-thousand-year time loop. Before she vanishes as Grantia completes the rite, Yu-no tells Takuya that her only wish is to be with him. Grandmother warps Takuya back to Sakaimachi, where Takuya finds Yu-no at Sword Cape as in the Prologue but now discerns that she calls him “Papa” before they make out, completing the incestuous loop. Abandoning Sakaimachi and all possibility for growth and responsibility with the cast of characters the player is expected to have spent tens of hours learning about and falling in love with, Takuya refuses to let go of Yu-no as she warps into another universe. Takuya finds himself together with Yu-no at the beginning of causality, in other words, of all universes. Naked, the two cling together, the sexuality overwhelming.
“Let’s just keep embracing each other forever,” says Yu-no, fulfilling her and her father’s repeated promises to never part from each other. Takuya tells Yu-no “your body is so warm,” implying their continued sexual relations. As wondrous music plays, Takuya and Yu-no witness a tree sprout and grow. The tree represents Vrinda’s Tree, the method interdimensional travelers like Koudai use to diagram and conceptualize “history” as a chain of cause-and-effect between different nodes of a tree diagram rather than as a chronicle of forward movement through time.
Nude, as though in the Eden of Yu-no’s childhood and Takuya’s dreams of Kaytia, the incestuous father and daughter couple experience what Eriko calls the “root of events,” that is, the beginning of all universes at which causality began.
On the Mitsuki route, Takuya and Ryuuzouji discuss and firmly reject the Big Bang theory as inadequate for the original cause of causality. Yu-no naming Vrinda’s Tree as though the sprout is her child suggests that Takuya, a mock inversion of Uranus, fulfills this conversation by somehow impregnating his daughter with spacetime.
(The Big Bang is Takuya ejaculating.)
In addition to her Oedipal craving for her father, Yu-no, in a perverse reflection, satisfies Takuya’s lust for Kaytia. Yu-no–Takuya is simultaneously deliberate true incest between daughter and father and simulated incest between mother and son. Like Takuya’s mother and like her own, Yu-no is a busty, wide-hipped blonde woman and priestess of the God Emperor who shows Takuya unconditional, fawning devotion. While Ayumi, Kanna, and Sayless fulfill Takuya’s desire for a devoted pet-like sex mother in different ways and to different degrees, none of these simulations of Kaytia are quite dependent, devoted, or incestuous enough. That the story of Takuya searching for his “Pops” ends without him finding the old bastard might seem a strange writing decision until one realizes that Takuya, in the culmination of this Oedipal narrative pattern, finds what he has genuinely wanted all along: complete, incestuous safety and isolation from other people, forever embracing the opening wet dream of his mother given physical form as a daughter who lusts for him the same way he did for Kaytia and who promises to never let go, this time with no Koudai around to compete for her.
Takuya’s long kiss with his “voluptuous” daughter, his last action before leaving Sakaimachi behind, is the alpha and omega of YU-NO. Yu-no states that only sex with her father will enable her to complete the rite of the priestess with Grandmother:
Not incidental to how the characters save the world and resolve YU-NO’s conflict, the parent–child incest romance enthroned in the very title of the video game, drip-fed from start to finish, is pivotal to the story and arguably more important than even the Reflector, whose purpose, as Koudai establishes in the Prologue, is fulfilling Takuya’s incestuous urges for Kaytia. YU-NO not only vindicates semi-pedophiliac parent–child incest as a romantic fulfillment of the bonds of family powerful enough to transcend time itself—YU-NO is the story of how parent–child incest saves and creates the universe.
Koudai as Ideal
Deeply sexual family relationships are central to YU-NO. Outside of incest, no family relationship receives more focus and development than Koudai and Takuya’s, a relationship strictly not homosexual, given that anything outside of heterosexuality is, in YU-NO, a punchline. A naïve reading might take Koudai as a bad father, perhaps akin to the primordial patriarch Freud describes in his version of original sin in Totem and Taboo, a tyrant whose sons murder and devour him in revenge, their subsequent guilt and refusal to have sex with his harem generating the Oedipus complex in their descendants. However, at every opportunity, Kanno justifies Koudai’s actions and vindicates his machismo. YU-NO confirms all of Koudai’s ideas about history, science, and culture. Every detail of his hypothesis about Dela Grante proves true, saves at least two universes, and leads to the creation of them all. Although he denies omnipotence, Koudai travels spacetime to develop effective omniscience by privately recording an antisocial, solipsistic version of “history” to be shared with nobody but himself—a mockery of the innately collaborative and social enterprise that is scholarship.
The opening cutscene depicts Koudai putting the finishing touches on the fate he predestines his son to undergo, hiding the last jewel in a clock and penning his final message to Takuya into his memorandum. The letter Takuya then receives in the Prologue dictates the rest of his life. Although the player’s mission appears defiant, the stated goal of the quest being to punch Koudai, the gameplay of YU-NO, repeating the time loop to collect the jewels for the Reflector to activate the machine at Triangle Mountain, obeys Koudai’s instructions and completes his scheme. The player never has a choice not to be Koudai’s pawn.
In all of his appearances except for this opening cutscene and one flashback with Ayumi, Koudai appears as a faceless father bathed in heavenly white light. In this form, he chastises and informs his son. Freud believed that the faith in God is a displacement of faith in one’s father, as he mentions in Totem and Taboo: “psychoanalytic investigation teaches with especial emphasis that god is in every case modelled after the father and that our personal relation to god is dependent upon our relation to our physical father, fluctuating and changing with him, and that god at bottom is nothing but an exalted father” (919–920). This is Koudai’s blueprint. A capricious literal father who transcends the universe and, in blinding light, communicates with Takuya in visions as with a prophet to guide his son toward the various incestuous acts in accordance with a predetermined fate, Koudai is the God of YU-NO’s world. Even his seemingly cruel and irrational whims suggest the wanton and strange violence of the God of the Hebrew Bible. Koudai is God both in his dictation of Takuya’s fate and in that he is the righteous moral authority.
Never asking for any love, Takuya’s only genuine problem with Koudai is the Oedipal rivalry. Viewing his son as a sexual competitor, Koudai, from Takuya’s infancy, argues against his son having access to any part of Kaytia’s body: “These breasts belong solely to me.” Kaytia herself says, “There you go, acting all envious again…” Later, by destroying all records of her existence, Koudai denies Takuya any kind of access to his biological mother. In a flashback on the Kanna route, Koudai explicitly teases Takuya that he cannot have sex with Ayumi. In a flashback on the Mitsuki route, Koudai teases Takuya that he cannot have sex with the same women as his father more broadly:
Koudai treats Takuya with relentless cruelty. In the dream that precedes the Prologue, aside from claiming his wife’s breasts belong “solely to [him],” he physically abuses his infant son, condemns the literal baby for not being a “real man,” and says of him, “I don’t give a damn about this weakling.” When Takuya completes the ADMS section, a monumental challenge of tens of hours of trial and error and life-and-death struggle and the bulk of the effort involved in completing the video game, Koudai greets the player with the words, “Wake up, dumbass,” and proceeds call Takuya a “bum who leaves his bed for naught but food.”
In YU-NO, Koudai’s nonstop nastiness and fixation on his child’s sexuality are not dysfunction but reasonable parenting. In YU-NO, for not accepting Koudai’s “way of living” and being a “man,” Takuya is the immature one.
In YU-NO, Koudai is not a wildly self-aggrandizing, abusive old man who grooms his decades-younger student Ayumi into marriage and, to emphasize the nature of their relationship, has her dress up in a high school uniform for sexual roleplay. In YU-NO, Koudai is not a man so loathsomely pathetic and insecure that he berates his baby son as a sexual rival. Instead, Koudai is what, online, would be called an alpha chad, the ideal of manhood, an embodiment of virile aggression and sexual potency. All the other characters whose lives Koudai has somehow touched—most especially Ayumi, Mio, and Kanna—adore him and insist he is kind, generous, and brilliant.
In YU-NO, Koudai’s behavior is kind, generous, and brilliant. Only Takuya has anything against his father. The positive behavior other characters attest seems unimaginable given the Koudai the player interacts with. However, there is no implication Koudai abuses Kaytia or Ayumi. The player sees firsthand that Koudai’s iconoclastic theories that inspire Mio and awe Ayumi are correct. And there is no reason to doubt that Koudai showed Kanna affection and financial support without cruelty or sexual exploitation.
Take, as an example, the flashback of Takuya talking with Ayumi while Koudai drinks. Koudai openly proposes sexual role play based on the substantial age difference between him and his wife, a student he engaged with sexually while her professor. In what might seem like a reasonable response, Takuya resists Koudai: “Hey, this ain’t no costume brothel. Can’t you see Ayumi-san doesn’t like this treatment?” But Ayumi, smiling, laughing, and genuinely happy, responds, “I don’t mind.” Ayumi maintains an uncomplicated relationship with Koudai through to the end of the Epilogue, even after he abandons her without warning and leaves her to grieve. Even Koudai keeping a mistress for a period does not offend Ayumi: “Ayumi loves me in spite of that.” All other characters approve of and enjoy or else do not mind Koudai’s horrible behavior, similar to the oddly cavalier attitude toward much of Takuya’s horrible behavior. By objecting to this demeaning treatment of Ayumi, Takuya demonstrates his immaturity and his envy of Koudai, who accuses Takuya, as it turns out correctly, of being jealous. Takuya has no issue with the sketchy age difference—he wants to be the one with the far younger partner who tolerates anything, in other words, with Yu-no.
In the very dream of the Prologue, despite her husband’s verbal and physical abuse of their son and terrible behavior, Kaytia cannot help but compliment his cuteness without irony. As Ayumi tells Takuya, “You two were always like that [i.e. fighting]. Even though you were really on the best of terms.” The ambivalent emotions of the Oedipus complex manifest in the tension between Koudai’s genuine cruelty toward his son and how nonetheless he knows best. The point may be best summed up after Takuya has sex with Kaori on the Ayumi route, when she admits that Koudai was also one of her sexual partners. Takuya thoroughly condemns his father, concluding,
Kaori responds, “But didn’t you grow up splendidly? […] In a way, children grow up learning from the bad examples set by their parents.” Although Takuya is an incestuous pedophile, failing student, and sex criminal with little intelligence and an explosive temper, in YU-NO, this is a splendid man, what a man should be, a man in Koudai’s mold. The way Takuya has learned from Koudai’s “bad example” is by exactly imitating it because, in YU-NO, it is not a bad example.
Takuya’s arc, to whatever extent his scant development qualifies, is accepting that the other characters, even the villain Ryuuzouji, who praise his father’s brilliance and compassion are correct. The player’s quest is to locate and defeat Koudai. This quest is linked with a journey to defy predestined outcomes. At the end of her route, Takuya tells Kanna, “I’ll never let myself become [my old man’s] puppet.” He remarks to Mitsuki as she dies on the Mio route,
But Takuya is completely under the control of a predestined fate, the same time loop that ensures Dela Grante will fall to Earth, as established by the existence of his daughter in the Prologue. Takuya begins his quest on Koudai’s command to follow the instructions Koudai issues in his letter to Takuya. The player must bring Takuya along exactly the path Koudai wants. Despite moments of doubt over his heavenly father Koudai’s wisdom, Takuya learns to accept fate, the fate Koudai plots for Takuya, slavery to which is the gameplay. And this acceptance rewards Takuya with his daughter.
YU-NO is almost a more regressive take on Oedipus Rex. As Freud observes in The Interpretation of Dreams while inventing the concept of the Oedipus complex, the tragedy of Oedipus Rex is a “tragedy of destiny” that “depends on the conflict between the all-powerful will of the gods [i.e. fate] and the vain efforts of human beings threatened with disaster” (307–308). Oedipus’s failure to avoid his fate is the tragedy. He and Jocasta realize they have not escaped the cruel will of the gods and that they are both son and mother and husband and wife, whereupon Jocasta dies by suicide, and Oedipus, despairing, blinds himself and leaves his home in exile. In comparison, in YU-NO, “fate” is Koudai’s will rather than that of the Greek gods. Takuya’s impotence before his god, Koudai, results in incest and eternal exile from his home and the player’s simulated home, Sakaimachi, the place that the player, in a naïve reading, would be expected to like. But in YU-NO this is a happy ending, a fantasy to be yearned for. Then again, Oedipus has the strength to actually defeat Laius.
Takuya learns also and just as importantly that a man should be like the violent, explosively angry blowhard who admits to happily watching his son and granddaughter have sex: “I’ve observed every little move that you and your daughter made.” Given that this comes shortly after Takuya plows Yu-no doggy-style, that this line comes in a positive summation from a paternal voice of moral authority should raise serious questions about the moral universe of YU-NO. Then, after suggesting Takuya might get together with another version of Ayumi, Koudai appends, “Oh, right. You’re together with Yu-no now…” and chuckles. Takuya’s attitudes and actions in the Epilogue earn the approval of every sympathetic character and leave him irresistible to every woman he meets save Illia, with even his daughter desperate to get into his pants, just as the chad Koudai winds the adoration of everyone he meets except for his son.
Never growing but instead shrinking his world and society and limiting his sexual desires to only his daughter, Takuya remains as he was at the beginning: the same as Koudai, a short-tempered misogynist who snaps at his baby son,
For seeing his child as a sexual rival for his wife who looks like his mother, Takuya tells his baby daughter,
As Koudai sexualizes his underage child, Takuya does as well, ultimately having sex with her. As Koudai, like a porn Robinson Crusoe, treats Kaytia as a pet rather than a fellow person, changing her name as he might a dog’s—“I named her Keiko”—Takuya acknowledges that his own wife, Sayless, who matches his father’s wife, is like a “puppy” and then falls most profoundly in love with a child whom, like a pet, is emotionally dependent upon him and mindlessly loyal.
Koudai shows Takuya no love save for in a few moments of the Epilogue, most importantly the ending, and in a flashback in the Mio route in which he approves of Takuya’s aggressive masculinity for having beaten up someone for (what else) insulting Kaytia. Only after Takuya deflowers his own daughter does his father seem to express broader love for him. Where in the Prologue and ADMS segment, the player avatar, Takuya, is the subject of the incestual longing, in the Epilogue, the player character becomes the parent and the object of the same dynamic. In the opening dream of Kaytia, Koudai cites the origin of his abuse of Takuya being the boy’s dependency on his mother:
As a small child, Takuya clings to Kaytia. In the ending, now an Oedipal parent, the authority figure to whom the child clings instead of the child clinging to an authority figure, Takuya has become a man as Koudai understands it. He has satisfied the “expectations” that, in the Prologue, he regrets not living up to.
Koudai’s Way of Living
In Takuya’s flashback/dream/message from his father in Mio’s room, Koudai tells him to believe in his own way of life. This prompts Takuya to say,
As in other visions of the heavenly father, before Koudai answers, the vision ends, fading to white light. The story carries an implicit answer, for the universe of YU-NO vindicates Koudai’s view. In doing so, even outside the central incest, YU-NO consistently assumes other antihuman perspectives.
In the ADMS segment, the player discovers, at different points in different story routes, that Geo Technics, under Ayumi’s watch, allows its workers to die as part of a project to excavate Hypersense Stone from Sword Cape. In executing this operation, the company will destroy Triangle Mountain, a beloved local landmark, because of corruption involving Mayor Shimazu. The script offers a degree of sympathy to the bereaved families and depicts Toyotomi and Shimazu as guilty. But those who picket Geo Technics are depicted as ignorant, immature, foolish, dangerous rabble. They hurl eggs at Ayumi, presented as an atrocity on par with the workers who die under her watch. Another demands to “rape the shit out of” Ayumi. Others participate in the protest in complete political and social ignorance only to go with the crowd, as in the case of “Woman B” who attends only for free food.
Takuya and the authorial voice sneer at these people’s demands for justice for their loved ones killed through incompetence and corruption as immature “cliched words of protest.” Kanno presents Takuya as righteous for tone-policing protesters. The story fails to acknowledge that, while Toyotomi may be manipulating her, Ayumi remains responsible for the many workers who have died on her watch. As her stepson, always defensive in his lust for his mother, notes, Ayumi opposes the construction efforts. However, hesitation does not pardon a criminal negligence that she never accounts for.
Similarly, on Mio’s route, when Yuuki reveals that Geo Technics has bribed Mayor Shimazu, Koudai-esque in his misogyny and violent rage, to allow this dangerous and historically destructive excavation of Sword Cape, the betrayal of interpersonal trust is treated as a larger issue than the corruption that compromises democracy and has actually killed workers.
In the same manner that Takuya dismisses the protestors out of hand, he rejects whistleblowing and free speech:
Takuya continues, “‘Anonymous correspondent’ my ass. Why should we believe in the words of a coward?” The motives of the anonymous correspondent are not a noble desire to put an end to the corruption. Rather, they are base and immoral: Yuuki reveals the corruption to manipulate Mio into rejecting Takuya in favor of himself. At all opportunities, Kanno casts doubt on those who would resist institutional authority.
Koudai identifies Dela Grante as “eidos,” a term used in Platonic philosophy. Plato proposed that there is a world consisting of eide, called “forms” in English. The perceptions of normal human life are nothing but a shadow of these eternal, perfect forms (this is the intended meaning of the famous allegory of the cave). Only a philosopher like Plato can discern these true forms, much as Koudai sees through normal being to find the secrets of the universe. The concepts explored but more diluted in the Sakaimachi portions of the story, then, are exaggerated and laid bare in Dela Grante. What earlier is subtext becomes text. What earlier is watered down is now perfect. Whereas in the ADMS segment Takuya objects to simulated incest with Ayumi, in the Epilogue he accedes to his biological daughter’s sexual advances with only nominal resistance. Similarly, the brutal theocratic dictatorship of Dela Grante mirrors the abusive power structures of Geo Technics. Soldiers enslave Takuya in a concentration camp to dig through sand and bedrock at the foot of the same sort of lightning-generating “Gazel Tower” that kills Geo Technics’ employees at the sandy Sword Cape construction site.
In Sakaimachi, Toyotomi abuses and drives his workers to death beneath a Gazel Tower under Chief Arima Ayumi’s authority. In Dela Grante, the Chief (or “Porky”) tortures and sometimes murders enslaved dissidents and infidels beneath a Gazel Tower under the authority of God Emperor Arima Ayumi. While Takuya always sides with the corrupt Geo Technics because of his obsession with Ayumi, he vows to kill the God Emperor, stopping short only when he realizes she, too, his his mother.
God Emperor Ayumi states that she “will assume all responsibility” for her crimes against humanity and that she “must face appropriate atonement.” But as with the death and pain her incompetence causes the people of Sakaimachi, Ayumi shows little by way of contrition, not using her political power to effect even nominal changes. Sayless’s suicide as four members of the Imperial Guard sexually assault her and call her a “sinner” and her loving relationship with Takuya “the very epitome of depravity” is, to Ayumi, who sent them, merely “a very unfortunate incident.”
Ayumi is so incapable of controlling her troops she cannot order them to spare Takuya, forcing him to flee instead. But in the fantasy scenario Kanno constructs, the brutality of the theocracy and the deaths of many hundreds of priestesses, as Takuya and Yu-no see in the haunting sprawl of the priestess cemetery, is necessary. Despite the pain she has and continues to put him through, Takuya readily accepts God Emperor Ayumi’s argument that slavery, torture, and propaganda are the only way to control the rabble, who are simply too pure-hearted to be shown basic respect. Even Amanda, the rebel leader, seems to get over her torture and the murder of her comrades. For in the story, the God Emperor’s antihuman perspectives, like with Koudai’s, are correct.
To accept the traditions of the theocratic dictatorship is also to accept fate as well, to accept the path Koudai set out for Takuya. For Takuya learns from Ayumi that even the rite of the priestess is “a predetermined fate” that he cannot stop. Rather than resist the dictatorship, Takuya becomes a collaborator. Accepting abusive authority, accepting that there is no freedom in either causality or in society, accepting fate—accepting, in summation, Koudai’s outlook and godlike powers of predestination, is maturity. When Takuya weeps over Mitsuki’s body and says like hell will he allow fate to control their lives, he is naïve.
When she lies dying, Ayumi reveals that the previous God Emperor whom she overthrew prior to Takuya’s arrival is the imposter Ryuuzouji. The more conventional narrative choice of the big bad of Sakaimachi being the evil overlord would explain the ongoing slavery and possibly fill in the plot hole regarding Ayumi’s ability to control Grandmother. But Kanno is so unwilling to challenge hierarchy that he cannot even make the theocratic dictator a villain whom Takuya must defeat. Rather than a ruler, the evil Ryuuzouji must be an outsider, must be a lowly prisoner whom Takuya frees out of two vices the ruthless intellectual Koudai failed to nurture out of him: ignorance and unmanly softheartedness.
Ayumi is contrite for the wrongs of her life, but never mentions the deaths of workers, the slavery, the torture, or the dictatorship. Rather, Ayumi condemns herself as “a horrible woman” because she overthrew Ryuuzouji. Although Ryuuzouji is unambiguously evil, in YU-NO, opposing patriarchal authority is always wrong. This is why Eriko, and not the hero Takuya, must defeat Ryuuzouji.
The exposition on the nature of the God Emperor comes from Ayumi. But, subservient despite being the God Emperor, she is only a mouthpiece for Koudai in this scene. Her all-knowing husband, as she explains, hypothesized all this information in his research without ever even entering Dela Grante. The God Emperor whom the childlike “pure” Dela Grante “Celestial race” revere is the servant of a computer called Grandmother, “the real God Emperor.” The literal godlike father Koudai does not challenge the supremacy of the God Emperor, introducing the theocracy’s Gazel Tower to Takuya as “a dreadful machine that exacts the wrath of God on those who commit wrongdoings,” tacitly accepting an enslaved prisoner attempting escape as “wrongdoing.” If the God Emperor serves “Grandmother,” then the God Emperor, the computer’s child, would be “Father” (or “Mother,” in Ayumi’s case).
Through the analogy of Sakaimachi to Dela Grante, then, the abuse that the state and corporations heap on the public parallels Koudai’s abuse of Takuya and the paternalistic God Emperor’s abuse of the childish public. In YU-NO these systems stir ambivalence, like the emotions of the child in the Oedipus complex, as inflicting genuine suffering yet fundamentally natural and wrong to oppose. For, in YU-NO, like Koudai’s treatment of Takuya, this abuse is essentially fine.
That Takuya notes far-right organizations despise Koudai (for claiming Japan was influenced by aliens) does little to change the alarming implications of the story’s interlinked ethical and social perspectives, particularly given their links to semi-pedophiliac incest. The most sympathetic protester in YU-NO is Kanna, who initially earns the player’s sympathy after they witness her confronting Toyotomi and, following his harangue in which he demands she go through “proper procedures” at court instead of protesting, fainting from exhaustion.
However, beyond the ineffectiveness of her direct action, Kanna later clarifies that she is part of no social movement and takes her stand not for environmentalism or any other social cause. “I do not take part in any such activism,” Kanna repeats to Takuya. “I only appealed to them for their own sake.” In the moral universe of YU-NO, for their complete evil, Toyotomi and the slave camp Chief are on par with the imposter Ryuuzouji. But as with Koudai’s toxic and rigid gender standards, there are ambivalent emotions even as there is only one concrete conclusion: in YU-NO, opposing cruel, corrupt power structures dealing in physical and sexual violence is at best naïve, ineffective, and misguided. Authority cannot be challenged because the ultimate embodiment of abusive authority is Koudai, a god who can never be wrong and whom YU-NO exists to vindicate.
This harsh adherence to authority is why Takuya thinks to refuse sex with his daughter for no rational or ethical reasons but on the basis of Japanese law: in YU-NO, the rules laid down by authority are morality. Takuya cannot achieve deliberate, true incest in Sakaimachi not for reasons of principle or character but because doing so would defy legal authority, as only “bad” characters like Kaori can do. But in Dela Grante the ultimate taboo can be violated because Japan’s laws do not apply to Dela Grante—because, in other words, this act does not violate the will of the God Emperor, who in the Prologue tells Takuya she wants him to lead whatever life he wants. And how fitting that Kaytia and Yu-no are both loyal priestesses who sacrifice themselves for the God Emperor with no regrets, analogous to their obsessive devotion to Takuya. In contrast, Sayless, the only of Takuya’s mommies who defies the pillar of Koudai-like violent and destructive patriarchal authority that is the God Emperor, suffers assault and a miserable death.
In the Epilogue, the Oedipal pattern becomes infused with literal pedophilia and then with a psychological pedophilia based on the player altering their adult daughter’s brain to “free” her from adulthood, to regress her to childhood while ensuring she remains under the established authority, i.e. the God Emperor. The introduction of Yu-no highlights the desire for firm masculine control over the sexual partner. Where Takuya’s previous simulated incest (Ayumi) and true but unknown incest (Kanna) involve sex between mature individuals, Yu-no remains a child to the end. Furthermore, like Takuya abandons the possibility of growing up because this is the player’s presumed fantasy, Takuya also must actively remove adult maturity from his daughter so that she can remain more pet-like than Sayless. For an eroge milieu that commonly pandered to pedophiles, this is highly romantic.
For Koudai, and so for YU-NO, love is conditional on servitude and the fulfillment of certain social roles. Only those who fill their roles deserve it. Even Koudai’s apparent kindness and support for Kanna is quid pro quo, though the story depicts Kanna as pleased to fill her role. In exchange for Koudai’s paternal love, Kanna becomes his loyal servant there to ensure Takuya proceeds down the road the old man laid out for him. She is so loyal, in fact, that in at least one bad ending of the Mio route, she apparently sacrifices her life merely to remind Takuya to use his Reflector, allowing herself to be sealed in the cave beneath Sword Cape.
If Koudai’s son shows emotional vulnerability, even as an infant, then his son is insufficiently masculine and deserves no compassion. Hence Takuya never learns to show people more respect and never outgrows his incestuous obsessions. Koudai has one mission for Takuya: impregnate Sayless so that her daughter can fulfill the rite that saves (at least) two universes. Hence Takuya does achieve this goal. Once Takuya has completed his role as Koudai’s tool, fulfilling his mechanistic destiny as a penis in the causal chain, his quest is complete and YU-NO ends with Koudai’s approval. Takuya’s yearning for and attainment of a pet-like partner, in other words, and in smaller scale, his desire to be a controlling god himself and his obedience to his father’s will to sire Yu-no win his father’s respect. Takuya as a person is incidental. In these dehumanizing gender roles, Takuya is valued for embracing Koudai’s idea of masculinity and for the function of his penis. Takuya is valued, in other words, only as an object that fulfills the fate the dictatorial father lays out for him.
While a small point given that such matters are broached only in throwaway moments, the script also insults characters who step outside of Koudai’s brutal, rigid, violent gender ideals. For instance, “Woman B” participates in the protest against Geo Technics. Woman B is a trans woman whom the player can choose to sexually assault by licking her as slapstick comic relief before Takuya berates and misgenders her:
Kanno vindicates the gender ideals of Koudai’s way of living in the extreme masculine aggression and insecurity of every man except Yuuki and in the extreme feminine submissiveness in the chief women, Ayumi, Sayless, and Yu-no. To disobey these roles like Woman B warrants Takuya’s revulsion. The true ending sidelines the more proactive and independent women in favor of rewarding the player with sex with their shallow and dependent daughter. The least passive and feminine women, Eriko and Kaori, are denied their own story routes. Those like Woman B who step outside of Koudai’s way of living are demonized or insulted, save the rebel Amanda, who, with Takuya, is instead easily persuaded become a collaborator. Rebellion is unserious. Amanda’s rebellion barely qualifies as such, in any case: she is never seen engaging in any kind of organization or combat. Her fight is an abstraction. Even Eriko, a woman in the main cast with considerable agency and also a rare character with motives unrelated to Koudai, is degraded in all but one of her erotic scenes, always acted upon without her consent. Eriko’s sexual humiliation, as when Takuya spies on her changing, makes out with her while she sleeps, or plays with her privates when she is stuck on the wall of Ryuuzouji’s estate, is always a joke precisely because it undermines her agency. At one point she acknowledges her distress, chastising Takuya for violating her: “to think you would overstep ethical boundaries like that…” She then leaves to be alone a while.
The fantasy of the Yu-no character is patriarchal to the point of dysfunction: one of a female pet for a sexual partner. It is ironic that Takuya never has sex with his actual pet, Kun-kun, another nude, buxom anime girl whom he eats instead.
YU-NO Is Bad
Unlike Yu-no, the other women in Takuya’s life, the other women the player is encouraged to fall in love with—Ayumi, Eriko, Mitsuki, Mio, and Kanna—have interiority and motivations of their own. Rather than unconditional Kaytia-like affection and unquenchable libidos, these women have expectations of reciprocity. Despite how the camera and gameplay and hence Takuya and the player always ogle their bodies, these women are often not sexually available. Even Ayumi, aside from Sayless and Yu-no the most submissive of the possible partners, may ask Takuya, as they lay in bed after their first night as a couple, not to kiss her breasts:
And Takuya accepts this, forcing the player to relent. While Sayless is as much a pet as a sexual partner, she too has some agenda of her own, a history outside of Takuya, in her former life as “Careless” and escape from the Imperial Capital that she hides from her husband until her death.
In contrast, the ultimate love interest the script forces the player to pursue to the exclusion and abandonment of all others, the ultimate embodiment of the familial/sexual love that in YU-NO overlap, Yu-no, from the time she can talk, begs for her father’s sexual attention, and the sight of her turns Takuya on. Kanno assumes the player is also pedophile. Aside from an uncomplicated and barely explored selflessness, incestuous love for her father is the title character’s most defining trait. Takuya abandons his community and his friends and academic and social responsibilities to regress into an infantile sexual bliss with a lover completely subservient to his desires, a lover who is at once his daughter, his mother, and his wife.
The ending of YU-NO may seem a condemnation of Takuya, a character who not only fails to overcome the flaws with which his father’s abuse has yoked him but who, craving his mother’s womb, regresses into the most disturbing escape from reality imaginable. Within the Freudian framework, an unresolved Oedipus complex is infantile, a sign of stunted psychological development. But Kanno does not present Takuya’s retreat into incest as a nightmare of failed responsibility. Nor is Yu-no’s lust for her father a sign of immaturity or utter despair at her fate in the rite of the priestess. YU-NO elevates parent–child incest and withdrawal from all human connection and responsibility as an Edenic height of love and dedication, a love so pure it saves the world and starts the “flow of causality”—a love from which the presentation cuts away the moment Takuya penetrates his daughter because this deed, unlike every other sex scene, is too sweet and noble for the player to masturbate over.
YU-NO idealizes the complete withdrawal from society and personal growth in favor of unchallenging, incestuous stasis. Given Kanno’s misanthropic presentation of humanity as cruel rabble demanding the strong hand of a paternal tyrant to slap them into line, the conclusion that the world, a place where rape and slavery is just life, is best abandoned in favor of parent–child incest might become less shocking.
Kanno fixates on a pattern Eriko describes in the Epilogue:
In YU-NO, beginnings and endings parallel each other. The ADMS segment loops the same pattern of three days, Takuya’s end reverting him to his beginning. The world of Dela Grante follows an 8000-year time loop in 400-year cycles that successively dump priestesses into Sakaimachi. These predestined effects that loop back into their causes mirror the parent-like child returning sexually to their parent.
YU-NO itself begins and ends with parent–child incest. Takuya’s mother is a buxom blonde alien priestess, and his daughter and wife is a buxom blonde alien priestess. Takuya leaves modernity to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the Epilogue. Takuya, then, completes a loop from modernity back to a life more like the origin of humanity, extreme (though idealized) subsistence.
Kanno presents Takuya’s primitive family life with Sayless and Yu-no as an Edenic ideal. Rather than existing amid agriculture, industry, or any sort of society in any stage of human development, they pick fruit off trees, catch fish from the river, and never travel far from their house. They live in extreme Koudai-style gender roles and blissful ignorance of the politics of the capital or Sakaimachi while feeling incestuous and pedophiliac sexual attraction without concern. Takuya rejects all the friends, lovers, and community of the Prologue and ADMS section even before the very ending where this rejection becomes irrevocable. He argues the rugged individualist and incestuous idyll far exceeds his human life in Sakaimachi:
Only the incursion of society into their paradise destroys it upon the arrival of the Imperial Guard. The smaller the social circle, the less contact one has with others, the more complete the regression, the better.
YU-NO serves an antisocial longing to return to a prelapsarian infancy. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud writes that the notion of Paradise is “nothing but the mass-phantasy of the childhood the individual,” a recollection of early childhood when one is unashamed of nudity and not yet conscious of sexuality, of culture, of society, of other people. “[I]n paradise men are naked and unashamed, until the moment arrives when shame and fear awaken; expulsion follows, and sexual life and cultural development begin” (294). Koudai transcends and abandons a society whose academics rejected him. And Takuya embarks on a more shocking abandonment of maturity, not least because the player is made to identify with and endure Takuya’s struggles for tens of hours first. Takuya realizes a longing to return, naked, not only to infancy but to utero through his motherlike daughter’s womb instead of Kaytia’s. For Kaytia cannot be wholly Takuya’s but is in part Koudai’s. Yu-no’s breasts, however, belong solely to Takuya. Note that “solely” excludes the possibility that the breasts are the woman’s. Of course, in Koudai’s way of living, the woman cannot be her own person but must belong to a man.
Ending the story by returning to the beginning of causality, Takuya’s Oedipal quest to avoid all of life’s opportunities by being unborn takes him back also to the root of events. More conventional time loop stories such as Urusei Yatsura 2 or Groundhog Day compel their protagonists to grow or break the stasis to escape the time loop prison and return to the conflicts and possibilities for love and development that life offers. YU-NO instead rejects growth, or rather forces the protagonist to grow in a deranged direction by embracing rather than resolving the Oedipus complex, aggression, lust, and misogyny that a naïve reading would assume are meant as Takuya’s failings. Takuya escapes the time loop not into adult reality but into the incestuous fantasy of his earlier dreams to abandon challenge, conflict, and adulthood to have sex with a dependent and submissive child forever, alone. Watching this, in his final message to Takuya, the glorious Koudai, now respecting his son as a man, inverts the envy. Koudai admits, “I am both envious and jealous of you.” For, in Koudai’s way of living, a man would want nothing more than this fate.
In the same manner that there are eidoi that exist in eternal and unchanging stasis, in YU-NO, Takuya and Yu-no’s fate of incest and stunted growth is eternal and perfect. The subtitle “the girl who chants love at the bound of this world” alludes to the Harlan Ellison story “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of this World,” which describes all “insanity” in all parallel universes, including nuclear war and the atrocities of Atilla the Hun, originating with the transformation of a dragon called “the maniac” at “the center” of time. By analogy, in YU-NO, all love originates with the Yu-no–Takuya relationship, with Yu-no
In the same manner that there are eide that exist in eternal and unchanging stasis, in YU-NO, Takuya and Yu-no’s fate of incest and stunted growth is eternal and perfect. The subtitle “the girl who chants love at the bound of this world” alludes to the Harlan Ellison story “The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” which describes all “insanity” in all parallel universes, including nuclear war and the atrocities of Atilla the Hun, originating with the transformation of a dragon called “the maniac” at “the center” of time. By analogy, in YU-NO, all love originates with the Yu-no–Takuya relationship, with Yu-no “chanting love.” Parental incest, Takuya finding his nude twelve-year-old daughter hot and all that follows, is literally the Platonic eidos of love. YU-NO is a total rejection of humanity.
YU-NO Is a Parent–Child Incest Romance
In response to a potential objection to my argument, I will clarify what I mean when I maintain that YU-NO is fundamentally a parent–child incest romance story, as opposed to a story that features this content incidentally. As a first example, I will first consider the 1982 film Blade Runner, another acclaimed piece of media with certain questionable content. In the latter half of Blade Runner, there is a scene in which Harrison Ford’s character Deckard sexually assaults Sean Young’s character Rachael. Uncomfortable with the physical intimacy she has engaged in, Rachael attempts to leave Deckard’s apartment. With an expression of rage, Deckard physically restrains her, slams the door shut, and throws her into the blinds. Rachael looks afraid. Deckard forces a kiss on her and demands she say that she loves him. Particularly given that Deckard has the full legal right to murder Rachael, the scene is terrifying. However, romantic music plays. In the film, this moment is a consummation or initiation of the characters’ love. Blade Runner not just trivializes but romanticizes sexual assault. The perspective of someone who rejects the story over this moment is valid. However, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the sweet romance of sexual assault is an overarching theme of Blade Runner. Sexual assault does not recur. Were the scene rewritten to remove Deckard’s coercive violence, the rest of Blade Runner would remain entirely coherent. This moment is an unfortunate creative decision in one scene, not the culmination of the themes or plot. The sequel 2049 even takes this scene as an ill omen, Deckard and Rachael’s relationship apparently not ending well.
For a second example whose relevance is more obvious, the original Princess Maker is an influential 1991 child-raising simulation from Gainax. Despite the innovation the simulation achieves, Princess Maker and at least some of its sequels pander to pedophiles. Claims that the gratuitous child nudity and even certain sexualized costumes the player’s daughter can wear reflect cultural differences are undermined by the ending in which the player character marries his daughter. However, the romantic incest ending is one possibility of over seventy and not easily achieved. While regrettable and well worth discussing, this material is not necessarily the point of the complex stat systems of strength and magic and religious morality or even the best or most definitive ending. It is easy for a player to undertake multiple playthroughs and never encounter this material. This material is optional and more in the character of an Easter egg.
In contrast, Takuya and Yu-no’s pairing is the inevitable, single outcome of YU-NO, the “love” that the title alludes to. The heavy narrative emphasis of the text-heavy adventure game format lends Kanno’s story more gravity than the breezy fantasy scenarios of Princess Maker as well. Removing the objectionable elements from YU-NO would result in a different story with a different plot and different themes. Removing them from Princess Maker would result in a video game identical enough that most players may not notice. Princess Maker is a simulation that may incidentally feature parent–child incest as a possibility, whereas YU-NO is a parent–child incest romance not as a possibility but by what has to happen if the player finishes the story. In the context of the allegedly cerebral and moving narrative, the very title YU-NO means semi-pedophiliac incest, a Lolita but tabooer, pulp sci-fi, and written much worse by an author who considers the relationship wholesome. My arguments regarding Koudai’s role and the questionable sociopolitics may be disputed. But the Oedipal narrative pattern and what literally happens in YU-NO are beyond question.
In the realm of anime- and manga-adjacent media, even outside of fetish pornography, YU-NO is not alone in sexualizing children or constructing longform scenarios about parents marrying their children (e.g. Usagi Drop) or other forms of incestuous romance (e.g. Vampire Knight). Nor, to defuse potential orientalist condescension, are the issues with YU-NO in any way exclusive to Japan, as suggested by my reference to the mishandling of sexual assault in Blade Runner or, frankly, by the popularity of this material outside of Japan. Yu-no herself reflects a broader, international phenomenon of sci-fi and fantasy characters with child’s minds in sexualized adult bodies, what Jonathan McIntosh calls “born sexy yesterday.” If Yu-no stands out for anything, it is that she is such a naïve exaggeration of the character type that the underlying pedophilia is on the surface.
YU-NO’s flaws or questionable writing are far from rare among PC-98 eroge. Rather than in material, YU-NO distinguishes itself in length and in deliberateness, its story far weightier than that of ugly pornography like Immoral Study, which also came out in 1996. But YU-NO is nonetheless what it is. The semi-pedophiliac incest fantasy at the heart of YU-NO is not a few minutes of masturbation material as a taboo thrill. This romance is rather the culmination of a sprawling, sixty-hour-plus epic prioritized over every other relationship. In its relative sophistication, immense scale, and the great deal of positive narrative weight it attaches to the incest, YU-NO achieves considerable gravity. Its associated adoration, then, makes YU-NO more concerning than a standard incest-themed doujin, incest-themed porn video, or even an eroge like the aforementioned Immoral Study. If one is to assume YU-NO is as deliberate and intelligent as its fans maintain, then this video game warrants being taken seriously. And, taken seriously, YU-NO uplifts an antisocial sexist solipsistic misanthropy and the infantile abandonment of one’s friends and responsibilities to impregnate one’s daughter-mother-wife, who looks like a buxom babe and acts like a six-year-old, as the embodiment of love itself. That YU-NO, now available on home consoles and still widely praised often without caveat as a masterpiece, remains a beloved milestone instead of an embarrassing relic indicts the entire media ecosystem in which it exists.
My review of YU-NO can be read here.