The following review is by a friend of mine named Mid-tier Guard who was reading this story for the first time through my stream. These are his comments, raw and unfiltered taken directly from the videos and formatted to be readable. Thanks for the very long, detailed review, Mid-tier Guard.
Good reading. Good writing.
Let's just dive in, yeah?
There was something you told me the other day. It was about how Narcissu 2nd is able to explore more themes and show off
more scenery because Side 2nd has more characters. It's quite striking to have as many characters here in Side 2nd compared to Narcissu. While watching the replays, I attempted to collect my thoughts on each of them, particularly the side characters: Chihiro, the child, and Yuka. Some brief thoughts:
Chihiro- Chihiro's a good girl. I'll talk about her in the religion section.
Yuka- to put it bluntly, Yuka's presence is pretty weak. Her loyalty to Himeko is commendable, and both the perfect attendance and farewell scenes were beautiful, but Yuka suffers from a lack of screen time. Would've been nice to include her some more.
The Child- looking back, I'm pretty sure I teared up during every single flashback sequence. The voice actress did such an amazing job. I cried along with this character.
Ultimately though, Himeko was the true star of the the show this time, and the three characters above mainly served to advance her arc, or to drive the themes of Narcissu.
Himeko -Similar to how George Lucas designed the Star Wars prequels to "rhyme" with the original movies, Narcissu 2nd has many, many parallels with the first game. The most apparent one being the dynamic between the respective narrators. The nameless mc from Narcissu, and Setsumi here in 2nd. Where Setsumi is the focus of Narcissu, Himeko is the focus in 2nd. Himeko is truly a complex character, let me tell you. Like I said the other day, the writing in this game is so good that she (and Setsumi)
feel so real that it's almost like when a friend asks you for your opinion on them. Not sure if you know what I mean. I suppose what stood out the most to me was how she treats Setsumi. In fact, I think her treatment of Setsumi in particular a good place to start. Himeko treats Setsumi very strangely. Clearly, she is seeing The Child in Setsumi. Many of the activities Himeko does with Setsumi, she also did with the child in those flashbacks. They eat ice cream, the walk around the courtyard, cutting hair, Himeko even says certain things to Setsumi exactly how she said to the child. The most significant being that line about making a friend from another age group, which ended up being a lie, as Himeko admits later. The irony is pretty strong here.
Himeko was once a helper on the 7th floor, and fate had her become a patient there, and now she is treating Setsumi the same way she once treated a patient. With one interesting reversal, in that she proclaims Setsumi as the professor. No doubt, because doesn't feel worthy or knowledgeable enough to keep it. We never really learn why Himeko saw Setsumi in that way, other than her having a certain feeling about her.
This might sound harsh, but it seems a little selfish of Himeko to do what she did with Setsumi. Setsumi's mother has good reason to break down when she learns who Setsumi has been spending so much time with. Himeko is aware that her imminent death will cause pain to the people closest to her. That's why she pushed Chihiro and Yuka away. Yet, she is okay with letting in someone new in to her fleeting life? Given Himeko's skills of perception, I suppose she could have assumed that Setsumi has a certain lifestyle that would allow her to actually spend time at the hospital, and not doing normal things like going to school. Maybe she's even seen her before and knows that Setsumi is a regular patient. I digress. It just seems that Himeko would go as far as to go with Setsumi all the way to Mt. Fuji, with the intent to throw herself off, or die on the hike up the mountain, and apparently abandoning Setsumi with the car.
However, I suppose I should follow my own advice, and just go by what's in the story. After all, if there were no conflict, the story wouldn't be as interesting right? I don't want to give off the wrong impression. I like Himeko a lot, despite what I just wrote.
Moving on to Himeko's personality, you mentioned in a previous stream that some people find her to be too genki, too happy. I don't see anything wrong with that. People deal with bad experiences and death in different ways. Himeko decided to live her life as a 7th floor resident with the same demeanor she had before she became sick. And this is probably why she treats Setsumi the way she did with the child. She's trying to put on a brave face, maybe for Chihiro, maybe for herself, to make it seem like she's okay with her impending death. In her final months, she wants to act like like a helper. She wants to be useful, to be handy, like she used to be. I can definitely imagine that Himeko was quite dependable before being hospitalized. She was good with cars, she knows how to sew, she put effort into being nice to others, like when she sprinted to a nearby convenience store and back to share that ice cream with the child. Himeko doesn't want to be a burden. It goes against the rules after all.
Setsumi- Of course, it wasn't like Himeko wasn't giving back to Setsumi. Setsumi hasn't had a friend in years, and her experiences with Himeko in 2nd were things that affected her way of thinking and acting for the rest of her life. A small mannerism she took from Himeko being the "un", which Himeko in turn took from the child. Or maybe it's a translation thing and it's just to show the character agreeing with something? More importantly, Himeko is responsible for Setsumi being so knowledgeable about directions in Narcissu, and of course, we learn how Setsumi got that envelope. Not really something we needed to know, but such a satisfying twist.
Anyway, I don't really have much to say about Setsumi other than to say that I love her as well. She had many quotable lines in 2nd, many relatable ones dealing with her guilt and feeling of inadequacy. She truly suffered a lot, even before she became a resident of the 7th floor. Being forced into isolation, and believing yourself to be a burden on the people you love... that's truly an awful feeling. Setsumi is easily my favorite character in these games, and I imagine that true for most of the fans too. Like what I said about Himeko, Setsumi just feels so real.
About the Themes
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head when talking about these things. Specifically the stuff about the fries, religion, and the endings to the two games. I'll just give my opinions. Sorry if I parrot you a little.
Fries, Lies, and Kindness
As you know, the fries are a symbol for Setsumi's internal struggles that I mentioned above. In terms of how this conflict affects the story, yes, I did enjoy seeing it. The resolution that you kept teasing was... pretty satisfying! I was expecting that Setsumi was going to sit down and actually tell her mother the truth, but Himeko's advice in the end was... pretty good. Learning to like the fries is just Himeko's way of telling Setsumi to learn to accept her fate. In real life there are things like that to. If Setsumi told her mother that she never liked the fries, it wouldn't cure her disease, it would just hurt her mother, with the result being that Setsumi no longer has to be inconvenienced by having to eat food she doesn't like. She's managed to sit and quietly eat those fries until now. In short, it's just another way to say that we need to learn to suck things up. Not much more to it. I did love those scenes though.
I do want to mention that I find it pretty cool that the story used something mundane like french fries to represent Setsumi's conflict. Growing up, I've been taught about universal symbols in literature (not that I'm well read or anything). Things like the meanings of colors, weather, etc. It's very refreshing to see. This is how it works in real life too after all. People getting attached to personal items and such.
About lies and kindness, something Side 2nd touches on is the idea of telling lies, and how that affects the liar and the person being lied too. With Setsumi and the fries, she pretends to like the fries because she doesn't want to take away the satisfaction her mother has from seeing her daughter eat what she believes is her favorite food. However, the biggest lie definitely has to be the one that was told to the child. The one about her parents being away on a trip. You see the effects of that in the story, but what I loved about this was Himeko's monologue about how that lie was actually good. Lying isn't inherently an evil thing, especially when it's meant to spare someone from pain. Sorry if that sounds cliche.
Something else that really stuck out in Side 2nd, and yes, I know it was on purpose, is the role that religion has in this story. Again, it's mainly because Narcissu did not have any religious aspects at all. In fact, the thought crossed my mind early on while watching the replays that perhaps the hospitals in the two games were different, but that of course can't be the case.
About Chihiro, there was one line in the previous stream that Setsumi had when she was thinking about her. Setsumi wondered about Chihiro doing the volunteer work that she does because of her religion. As I said before, I'm convinced Chihiro does what she does out of her own kindness. There are many good people who do the things that Chihiro does, even if they aren't as devout as her. Or religious at all, for that matter. Like I said earlier: Chihiro is a good girl. It says a lot that she maintained affection for Himeko, despite the likelihood that Himeko has acted cold towards her and spoken to her sternly for years, and what finally made Chihiro take a break from her volunteer work was the passing of her sister.
I thought it was also very interesting that, despite what actually happens in the story, religion, or specifically here,
Christianity/Catholicism, is not portrayed in a negative light. It's become cool to bash on Christianity over the last couple decades, at least in American culture. My guess is because it's a major religion and it oppresses "those" people. Funnily enough, the view on the religion is pretty balanced here, in a Japanese visual novel of all places. Himeko, the character who seems to have the most against Catholicism, ends up becoming a believer again by the end of the story. This is a pretty rare outcome. Even in fiction stories that have a fictitious religion that is clearly based on real world Christianity, the church is often the villain, or at the least, get very little representation in the story. Again, very refreshing.
As you stated in an earlier stream, Japan's major religion is Shintoism, followed by Buddhism. I'm not sure about the exact numbers, but Catholics make up 2-5% of the population in Japan. I'm not religious at all, and I've never read the Bible, but all the quotes references to the religion seem accurate to me.
So overall, what did this story mean to me? It's hard to say, honestly. Planetarian, despite being a tragedy, was able to give a feeling of hope by the ending. Narcissu and Narcissu 2nd are true to the descriptions you find online. It's a story about people who are terminally ill, and have no hope. Still though, it is a beautiful story. If I was forced to guess what lesson the author wanted us to glean from Narcissu though, I would say... that life is beautiful. While pretty simple, I believe it fits. Despite most of the characters only having months left to live, they all attempted to make the most of the time they had. Himeko always planned to cut the pineapple tree and visit Mt. Fuji, regardless of meeting Setsumi or not. Setsumi was determined to die somewhere other than the 7th floor, or the home in which she felt responsible for forcing her parents to move in to. We see in the final lines of both games that the respective narrators learned certain things about the true main characters of each story. Some minor things like their age and blood type, but more personal things like Setsumi and Himeko's love of cars and maps.
The story goes to great lengths to show the isolation that people who are terminally ill face. Setsumi lost out on her childhood, Himeko tried to harden herself to push away her best friend and sister. These are things that happen in real life, but for some there is an even possibility in that the terminally ill patient might not have any friends or family at all, as we saw with The Child. For people like them, it's saddening to know that there's a chance that the nurses and doctors and helpers they have may only see them as patients, or a sick person. They are still people with interests, and feelings. In this story, I get the feeling that many of the background characters, the ones we don't see or hear, have already consigned Setsumi, Himeko, and the mc, and the child to their fates, when, naturally, it's not so easy to accept your own death. It's something that only someone else in their position would understand. This is why I found it so terrible that someone told The Child the rules of the 7th floor. While I understand that it's a sort of tradition for the residents of the 7th floor, even if it were on me, I just don't think I could bear the thought of bringing that kind of despair on a child so young and so unfortunate when they've already been assigned to the 7th floor.
The opposite is true of the mystery person who told The Child the lie about her parents being away on a trip. Himeko really didn't have a choice but to go with the lie, and if it hadn't been that mystery person, it likely would have fallen on her to make up a lie, just as she felt that it fell on her to tell her the truth about God and The Child's prayers.
I suppose I should mention these, since they are important parts to story in both games.
When I first heard you say the name for these games, I had a feeling it would have to do with the Greek myth. In the end though, it actually had more to do with the flower. Nice subversion. Or maybe I just made a bad assumption. That is all.
Mainly, I want to talk about the story that is brought up constantly here in Side 2nd: A Dog of Flanders. I'll be up front and say that I have never read the old novel. I am familiar with the premise of Nello, Patrasche, and Alois, but funnily enough, I actually learned of them when Hayate mentions them in volume 1 of Hayate no Gotoku. I did a little research, and I found that there is a 52 episode anime adaptation, as well as an anime movie based on A Dog of Flanders. This leads me to believe that it must have had quite the influence on Japanese culture if even Hata-sensei chose to mention it as a joke, while Side 2nd uses it seriously here. Any idea if the movie is good?
Also, despite not being familiar with the story itself, I had no issue understanding the relationship between the trio and that of the 7th floor residents with their helpers. Truly masterful.
I loved the endings to Narcissu and Side 2nd very much. You may have noticed that I have spoken about the two stories somewhat concurrently throught these comments. This is because I genuinely have a hard time keeping the two separate in my mind, and I mean that in the best way possible. Narcissu contains the ending to Setsumi's story, while Side 2nd sets it up so perfectly. All week, I had a question in the back of my mind, and it was: "Do you believe someone could still enjoy the story if they read Side 2nd before reading Narcissu?" If you could, I would still be interested in your opinion on that. Whether here or elsewhere.
This section is mainly for me to make a confession: the meaning behind the true ending went over my head.
While this ending was pretty good too, I have to be honest and say that if you hadn't given your view on the meaning of the ending, I would be at a loss on what to say here. I dare say, that if you hadn't mentioned the breaking of the cycle/curse, I might even have said that this ending wasn't very good. I think the reason here is a personal issue. I am not religious, and I do not believe in radical superstitions like magic, or mythical
creatures (I do believe in luck, though). So whenever Himeko repeated her line about "when there's a prayer, there is also a curse", I kind of just ignored it and filed it as a Catholic thing. Given how realistic the story and characters are, I guess I subconciously assumed that something like breaking a curse couldn't possibly factor in to Narcissu.
Still though, good ending. I agree with your assessment. Also, I felt chills when I heard Chihiro's voice again.
As I stated earlier, it is hard for me to seperate these two visual novels from each other since together they are a complete story. However, if I had to choose one over the other, I think Narcissu 1 is much better than Narcissu Side 2nd. Mainly, I think Narcissu is much more accessible than 2nd. Not only is Narcissu much shorter, it's also a complete story on it's own. Don't get me wrong, 2nd is a great story as well, however, I believe that it is best enjoyed after reading Narcissu 1, which, as I just said, can be enjoyed on it's own.
While I enjoyed Side 2nd, I have a feeling that someone who isn't a hardcore anime or visual novel fan, a casual, might be too daunted or may not have the patience to read Narcissue all the way to the end. Again though, I have a feeling that you're less than interested in hearing that kind of complaint.
I think I was able to convey my feelings very well, so I'll skip a summary and go into the obligatory thank you note.
I truly enjoyed reading this visual novels. You recommended both Planetarian and Narcissu to me some months ago, and I have them written down somewhere, but even so, I have a feeling that it would've taken me years to get to them, even though I'm pretty sure you told me that Narcissu was free on Steam when you gave me the recommendation. Thank you for sharing these stories with us, as always.
I can't help but notice that these vn streams are a serious departure from what you normally do. I think I have a feeling as to why you suddenly decided to share these stories with us, aside from your passion for the medium, I mean. I had hoped to have a short section where I talk about my own thoughts on vns, but I'm just a humble fan, ignoring a cringe fan fic or two floating around. All I'll say is that each medium, visual novel, novel, movies, games, etc. all have their place.
I hope you enjoyed reading my ramblings and they helped give you a break from things going on with you. Looking back at this, I am quite aghast. I might have a little too much free time… oh well. It's fun so who cares?
Also, my apologies for missing all of these vn streams. Bad luck. However, I think it’s for the best that I did miss them. I was able to watch these replays and go through the story at my own pace this way.
Thank you for reading.