R3 -Narcissu Side 1st - Visual Novel
A friend asked me, whether it is distracting to read visual novels while writing one myself. I shook my head. It's actually the total opposite. I often get an inspiration to write while reading others' productions, which can be distracting, sure. But in contrary, the writing process is a distraction to reading.
Not to mention the importance of inspecting other people's work on the same field. Unlike in the past where I would just consume the product without giving much thought, today I look at visual novels in much greater detail in terms of technical execution, narrative design, character development and sound effects/music. Obviously, I read only the good kind of novels. Observing these great pieces of art, it helps me towards creating one myself.
Might as well figured it out by now, but I really dig the genre. I have always valued good stories and sentimental characters. It's both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in a way of emotional orgies that no other aspect of media can achieve. So good. A curse because of becoming too easily too attached to the characters and story that it's heart-breaking when it inevitably ends. It's no unfamiliar for me to be depressed several days after seeing the credits-roll. It's happened quite a few times.
What's in store today?
So, time for the big question.. What are we going to cry at this time? Oh, oh, I know! How about something equally depressive as eye-opening? The pinnacle of exploring the meaning of life and living through the eyes of a terminal-illness patient. This review should concentrate on this visual novel "Narcissu side 1st". I've already reviewed a harmless book-club turned into a corpse party, then swimming through the mind and memories of a dying client and now the life of a terminally-ill patient. Someone might say that there's a pattern here.
Entering the third review on this very blog, (25th review in total) things ain't looking cheery just yet. And trust me, they won't. Another friend of mine suggested I go for some lighter novels for a change. Well, I did. I read Highway Blossoms by AlienWorks. It was a cute story about two girls traveling across the west-coast America finding treasure and falling in love.
It wasn't any lighter for me. If anything, the romantic ones tend to hurt the most.
But that might be for another time. Back to Narcissu. Worth noting that the title I'm reviewing right now is freeware, so you'll have to pay with only your time and tears. That said, Narcissu 1st and 2nd are free on Steam. As always, I'll be spoiling the story thoroughly so stop now if you're interested in reading them yourself first. The rest of us, let's begin.
Narcissu Side 1st
This story takes us to Japan, around the holiday season of 2004 to 2005. The protagonist is a young man in his twenties and falls victim to an unspecified illness that takes him to the 7th floor, where you wear a white wristband and the windows open only 15cm. He did not cry when he heard about the illness. When you become a resident of the 7th floor, your life is set.
What is the 7th floor? It's the top floor of a hospital building, a hospice floor. When you become terminally ill, this is the place you're taken to. It's not a matter of whether or not you die, but how and when. Let's call our main protagonist Teppo for the time being.
Teppo doesn't care for home and is even with the fact that he's bound to die prematurely. There's another patient that he becomes familiar with, a girl named Setsumi. She's been around for a longer time.
"You're, on which time? Coming here... the 7th floor."
"Sorry, I don't understand the meaning of the question."
"I see... It's your first."
Being new there, Teppo doesn't understand her way of speaking. Apparently, there is a legacy passed down through patient to patient about the rules of the 7th floor. These rules are not to be told to any of the nurses or helpers. Basically, no one aside from the residents of the hospice are not to know about this legacy. Thus, for the nurses it's all rumors and gossip.
Is it passed down from patient to patient that you do not make friends with each other. If you wish to escape, head for Station B instead of Station A. Do not eat the food they give you, that's the shortest route and easier for your family that way. If you get better, you're allowed to go home until your state destabilizes and you return to the hospice again. When you're first taken to the 7th floor, that's your first time. There's three, but no fourth time. After the third time, you're in for good. What's left for you is to wait for the inevitable.
There are patients of all age groups. There are active people who seem to be always busy doing something. These people have a mental bucket list, knowing that your time is limited. Estimated, perhaps? Then there are the calm ones, who have taken a philosophical view and made peace with their fates. Time is limited, there is no need to worry about anything, just wait it out.
Each day, Teppo would find Setsumi in the common room. There's flowers on the windowsill and many groups of tables and chairs around them. There's a large flat screen there and a couch for patients to sit in. He would notice her watching the TV everytime he gets there. Each time, there would be a different meaningless program on.
"Hey, you... is that interesting?"
"... If it's boring, you don't have to watch it..."
Setsumi is the kind of girl who doesn't speak if not spoken to. She is a withdrawn personality who wouldn't show direct interest in anything. Then, one day around christmas, there's a nature program on the television showing a big field full of white flowers. daffodils, or narcissus as you would call them.
"Do you want to go there?"
Teppo is only a freshman to the 7th floor, so he would imagine people being like that. The circumstances allow it. These people, him included, are waiting for their time to wither away. Teppo learns that they share some similarities with Setsumi. Neither of them care about home or the 7th floor and they don't want to die in either of those places.
Few days later, Teppo's parents come to visit the hospice. When they leave the common room, his father drops a set of car keys on the table. The keys were for a silver coupe, their family car. After suggesting to make a run for it with Setsumi, the silver coupe ran. Without a proper destination, they just carried on.
Where would they go? They had a limited supply of medicine with them that kept them going only for so long. The silver coupe ran. At some point they would have the issue of running out of gasoline and food. Those hospital pajamas could also raise some attention. It's middle-Japan and the beginning of January. It's a chilly season. It appears that Setsumi is very knowledgeable about geographics of Japan and details of different automobiles. This provides them assistance in getting around, wherever they're going.
"Could it be that you know a lot about cars?"
Teppo would ask information about cars that pass by on the highway and she would answer every question without fail. In the end, they decided to head towards the place shown in television, with all the narcissus. Awaji-island. After all, they couldn't go on like this forever, with limited amount of money at hand and only so many times when Teppo can sneak money from a random pachinko parlor. They've been eating convenience store food to keep their expenses at a bare minimum.
One dim night, they walk on an unfamiliar beach. The water is cold, but refreshingly so. Walking on that beach didn't serve much purpose, other than looking and pondering.
"Do you think that I could die peacefully if I walked to the ocean."
"I don't know, I haven't drown before."
"Then, if... right now, I were to go into the sea... Would you... stop me?"
"Is it that you want me to stop you?"
"No, not particularly."
"Then, do you want me to give you a push?"
Teppo does some ethically bad things during their journey, mostly stealing things like clothes, some money, gas and medicine. Don't get him wrong, he's no outlaw. Considering the circumstances and their condition, there's no guarantee you wouldn't act similarly to keep going. It's not like they want to. More like the desire to experience that one last journey outside of the hospital grounds before dying. What have they got to lose anymore?
Setsumi offers an envelope filled with five 10,000 yen bills. Teppo doesn't intend to inquire about the origin of the money.
"It's okay if I use this?"
"It doesn't matter... you can."
Their financial problems are gone and they carry on towards the Awaji-island. As always, Setsumi tells where to go but other than that, she doesn't speak if not spoken to. She doesn't smile either; just watches outside of the car window, somewhere. You cannot tell if there's something bothering her or not. She is talking more on her own initiative these days, but being reserved as always.
There's an old disposable camera in the car, with two shots left in it. The two of them stop at the bridge leading to Awaji-island. Soon their destination would be at hand and the journey would be over. Looking towards the ocean, a question.
"It's colder than it seems, isn't it?"
"Speaking of which..."
Teppo takes the disposable camera from the car and insists on taking a picture of Setsumi.
"Look, I'll take one of you."
"A picture. Photo. Since we're here after all."
"Now now, don't say that, strike a pose or something for me."
Coincidentally, another couple happens to be taking pictures on the same bridge and Teppo asks them to take a photo of him and Setsumi. These people wouldn't have any idea where they came from and what their purpose was. It was just a harmless request.
Eventually they would arrive at their destination. It looked similar to that on the television. The daffodils were there. Leaving the hospital 15 days ago, all they did would be over now. They didn't have any other place to go and the issue of money and medicine would resurface eventually. In fact, at the time of arrival, Teppo had run out of medicine, as had Setsumi. Once that happens, their state of health would decrease rapidly. During those days, Teppo had noticed her lack of strength.
"But, at this rate you're..."
"... Either way, they don't work anymore."
"Then, well, let's go somewhere else."
Once again, they walk on an unfamiliar beach. During winter, the water is cold, but it's still refreshing. Setsumi is standing some distance away, her ankles deep in water. She seems to be enjoying herself. She's wearing the bikini that Teppo bought her. She wouldn't admit wanting such things, but she cannot hide it.
"Here, I'll take pictures of you."
"Come now, don't be so reserved, okay? Smile for me... Setsumi..."
"... What's with that..... you're the kid here..."
She doesn't resist any longer. She lets her picture be taken and smiles. She seems to be enjoying herself. After taking one picture and running out of shots, Teppo keeps pretending to take her picture and she keeps posing more. It's a blissful moment.
Finally, they've come to the end of their journey. They both knew what would happen there. Setsumi keeps watching the sea with a concentrated face. She wanted to die peacefully.
"Mm... ah, it's already that time?"
"Do you, right now..... want me to pull you back? Or instead... you want me to give a push from behind?"
"... Hmm.... which one, I wonder... Ahaha, I don't really know."
Saying that, she smiled for one last time and began walking towards the ocean.
They met each other in the common room, in front of the flat screen. It happened so long ago and yet so recently. They've come all this way together and experienced the world for the last time. In the timespan of 15 days, they've driven past countless cities and landmarks, totaling 960 kilometers.
From the July 2004 police statistics on suicide
That day, Setsumi became one of those people.
...The feels, wow.
I just cannot stress enough the significance of music accompanying the narrative. By now, reading the last line of Narcissu, this track was playing and I was crying like hell. I knew she was going to die. You knew she was going to die. Most of all, she knew she was going to die. It was not a tragic death, quite the opposite. She found salvation and died happily like she wouldn't have on the 7th floor.
Despite all this, I was crying like an oversized baby. And guess what, it was the best feeling in the world. This is my view on emotional stories and what makes them so powerful. Being emotional about a fictional character that doesn't affect your life in reality, it's a way to be emotional without responsibility. Being carefree but concerned at the same time. You catch my drift.
As always, there's no way of reflecting the exact feelings that affected me during the three hours reading through Narcissu. The best way is to experience it yourself. Sure, it's depressing and had me crying multiple times but it also gave me a new perspective. I wouldn't have any idea what it's like to be in these peoples' shoes but the narrative created a believable vision of it.
This is supposed to be a review but- the novel left me quite speechless. It's such an unusual story that it doesn't leave room for opinions to judge Teppo or Setsumi's behaviours. Usually in a story, the characters are introduced to a journey and a destination. Narcissu lacks one of those things; the destination. Just two patients of the 7th floor going for a roadtrip without a specific goal. Knowing full well their death is foretold, they act on gut instinct, not on survival.
Common to Stage-Nana's works, there's a sense of melancholy always present, especially in Narcissu 1. I've read one other novel from the same author before encountering this one, named "Ami No Marginal (Rain Marginal)" which has a similar atmosphere to it. Right now I'm reading through Narcissu Anthology's expansive novels with new characters and settings.
There's one thing that irritates me personally. Such as the narrative of Narcissu, I always thought and imagined Teppo to be a girl. It would have been better if they were a girl. Or even better, if the gender of Teppo wasn't announced at all. But to my dismay, it is a fact that the protagonist of Narcissu 1 is a 20-year old man. I'm not okay with that. And that's not even the first instance where I've mistaken a male protagonist for a female. Something about that just intrigues me.
"... The large scar on my chest, advised me to give up. My lifelong companion, told me to make do with the world in my closed eyes..." -Setsumi
What you should listen to right now to feel me: Setsumi's Theme
And while feeling me, check this out: The Silver Coupe
I mentioned this one in the review: Route 1
May 14th, 2018