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Review of narcissu -SIDE 2nd-

Subjectnarcissu -SIDE 2nd-
Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project
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Vote: 8
japanication on 2023-01-24
ReviewI would recommend this VN, but it's not a strong recommendation. Overall it's great, and I felt that it was worth my time. I wouldn't say it's in my top 5 though. Maybe top 10 VNs, so actually that is pretty good. But it's only a maybe. If you aren't weary of morbid stuff, then it could possible be a good read for you.

Most of my comments from my review of Narcissu 1 are still relevant, so I won't retread the same points too much.

EXPERIENCE

Again, as opposed to being bashed with a blunt object with colorful variations of different emotions (which I quite enjoy and appreciate and admire) as other VNs would, Narcissu 2 takes a well-polished, fine-edged sashimi knife out of a freezer and slowly, calmly, and consistently slices layers off your skin at the rate of 0.1 cm/minute, as you feel the ice-cold blade invading your comfort zone.

I really don't know why I read works like this. Are they improving my life? Am I truly learning something new? Isn't this like, distilled suffering in a bottle? That's partially the feeling I got when I read Narcissu 1. But there's really something beautiful about 2 - more beautiful than 1, at least. Maybe because to anyone who's already played 1, you already know exactly how the main character of this story ends up, and it lends an even more... [I actually don't know what word to put here] feeling to the work overall.

I don't think I enjoyed reading this visual novel per se, but it was undeniably beautiful. I think it achieved what (the spoiler is a visual novel's name, basically it also deals with death, and presents it in a pretty bleak, but oddly emptily beautiful way) Kara no Shoujo wanted to do but didn't quite manage to do so, in my opinion.

"Haunting" would be a disservice to Narcissu 1+2.
"An uninvited reminder", "A painful preview", might be more apt, though I can hardly say because it's early morning (I didn't sleep). A reminder that life isn't "fair" and that we are all just waiting for the next ounce of suffering - but I'm not an edgelord. There are happy days as well. Probably a lot of them, for you and me. But this VN takes what a certain crazy dude would say "society and the government is hiding", and puts that ugly, unfortunate truth in front of your face.

I was always too scared to think of many of the themes presented by this series in real life. At the worst of times, I would be trembling, erasing my brain of everything to continue to be able to survive (even though that sounds like I'm being a drama queen lol). But this series let me live through my fears, in a guided, relatively safe way. I am very thankful to have been given this opportunity to awaken my mind to, and let down my defense mechanisms to, themes and topics that I almost instantly filter out of my brain and cower from when they rear their nasty heads.

CHARACTERS

The character writing in Narcissu 2 is significantly better than in Narcissu 1, and not only because the game is slightly longer. Meta spoiler that's really not that bad: (in fact, the "main character:script length" ratio is probably higher in 2 than 1).

Perhaps it was that the characters had better-defined personalities. Or that they were put in better (or worse, from another point of view) situations and circumstances. They were given better chances to interact with each other. And they did more different kinds of things together. Their bonds were better crafted.

As opposed to the sterile-feeling main character of Narcissu 1 and the black box that was Setsumi, finally getting to see Setsumi's internal monologue, and the way she thinks, boosted Narcissu 2 up significantly. It hurt me more and got me to feel more. At the same time, Himeko never felt one-note. As soon as you get to know her a bit, you know she's, at the very least, not one-dimensional. You're already expecting the next bit about her character. The writer must have been very confident with the characters this time around. And building up her character with The child that died in her care was a great writing decision.

I couldn't explain it to you in scientific terms, but regardless, the characters got me more involved in the story this time around.

WRITING

Whereas Narcissu 1 (Narcissu 1 spoilers) only really had the additional narrative layer of the flowers and Narcissus and Echo, Narcissu 2 has several narrative layers. I wouldn't say that they are meticulously planned out with a rigorous connection/symbolism between all the separate parts (though this could have been the case), but simply connecting various concepts (in a pretty beautiful way as well) allows for more depth.

Readers can read into the various analogies and references and gain more out of the work by thinking on their own.

As a minor complaint, I have to say that some connections felt awkward or forced.

- The A Dog of Flanders motif was well-used and very well done overall. It let me think things through from another angle. But I felt it was a bit forced at a few times, such as near the end when Himeko decided that if Setsumi didn't want the dress (Aloise), she would need the map (Nello) which unfortunately just happens to line up with the events of Narcissu 1 - she dies of her sickness. But then again it's possible a Patrasche would also need a map, so this minor complaint is just about how things line up a bit too perfectly. Probabilistically it's not even that bad but I guess from the writing angle, it didn't feel justified.

- Unlike Narcissu 1, there is a bit more levity near the beginning in Narcissu 2, which I think overall was beneficial. However, it feels a bit sloppy, or awkward. I normally would not let that take away from a work (and it barely did in this case as well), but when the visual novel is directed and written to be so "bitterly and almost-ruthlessly down-to-earth and submerged in realism", any "fictional-isms" (or "anime-isms") come off a bit more abject in contrast.

- Unlike the other two quibbles above, I genuinely did not like how so many of Setsumi's character quirks and even character traits that were shown in Narcissu 1 to an extent were inherited directly from Himeko. Of course, it's possible, and it makes sense, especially how Setsumi must have had nothing left after years on floor 7, and of course she would be reminded of her time with Himeko due to the location being what it is. But I can't help but feel like that takes away from what precious little characterization we got in Narcissu 1.

- In a similar vein, I didn't like the "forced parallels" between Narcissu 1 and 2. (By the way, there were barely any to the extent that I'm describing. This is a very minor complaint, you don't need to go into Narcissu 2 with your "forced parallels magnifying glass" on or anything.) Like the statement of "you're the younger/older one", or "did you feel angry, did you think why is it only me that has to suffer like this", or "would you stop me or push me forward if I tried to kill myself" They didn't really detract from the story because I don't let things like that affect my experience, but it does seem reminiscent of some other Japanese(/Asian?) writing where writers are very insistent about exact 1:1 replicas of situations.

These complaints did not affect the score I'm giving Narcissu 2 whatsoever.




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