As you may already know, I am very supportive of the Narcissu visual novel, particularly the 2nd one with its inclusion of Catholic faith as a major component in the story. Thus, when the 10th anniversary project was announced and that brand new Narcissu stories were going to be written and officially released in English, I was pretty excited. The first of 4 promised stories was recently released: Himeko’s Epilogue. Himeko’s Epilogue occurs between Narcissu 1 and 2, except that might be a bit confusing because Narcissu 2 is a prequel to 1. Either way, as one can easily surmise from the title, this epilogue brings closure to Himeko’s story. Although very short, I must say it was a very beautiful story that I enjoyed greatly and highly recommend it, along with the rest of the Narcissu stories.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers to any of the Narcissu stories, but it isn’t a spoiler to know that Himeko is about to die. She doesn’t have long to live; there is no cure to her illness; there is no miracle. Such is the basis for Narcissu’s stories. Himeko appears to have more or less accepted her death, but she does have worries about it. Namely, she worries about those she will leave behind – Setsumi, a fellow patient who shares her fate, and more important to this story, Yuka, her best friend. Yuka is described as a timid and unreliable person who tries to avoid conflict. We learn from her point of view that she is the type of person to quietly bow her head in apology and run away from facing people head on. She is unable to face people proudly the way Himeko can.
Himeko leaves Yuka certain parting gifts out of worry for Yuka once she’s gone. For Yuka, these were perhaps the greatest final gifts from her best friend. She notes how she has noticed the change in herself that Himeko brought about but more importantly were the words left to her (avoiding spoilers). For the weak and unreliable Yuka, I can only imagine that it was natural for her to be the “inferior” one in the relationship. She was certainly always proud to have Himeko as her best friend, but the opposite may not have been so obvious. Thus, Himeko gives an affirmation of pride that regardless of their differences, regardless of her flaws, Yuka was, without a doubt, Himeko’s best friend.
While not a major plot point, Catholic faith does play its role in the story, with mention of Himeko’s last rites and Yuka’s observance and guess that “the faithful” are able to be calmer about Himeko’s impending death. Unlike Himeko, Yuka is not a believer, but aside from that quick outside observation, this difference is never mentioned. Conversely, Himeko may not have been a devout believer like her sister Chihiro, but in the end, she was still Catholic. Even so, as a practicing Catholic, her best friend in life, until death, was Yuka, a non-believer. Although short, reading Himeko’s Epilogue reveals the two had a very beautiful friendship, one that crossed any barriers their difference in religious beliefs may have caused.
Friendship between people with differing religious beliefs is hard, especially because these beliefs can make up the very fundamental morals a person lives by. It makes sense to prefer to have friends who share your moral and religious beliefs, but it is also ridiculous to avoid people simply for holding different ones. Rather, part of our beliefs as Christians is to go out and interact with others, preaching the word of God. But this inherently creates a problem when we are befriending others – how much of our motivation is fueled by our desire to convert others to Christianity and how much of it is out of a pure interest in friendship with others? In the most idealistic scenario, it can be said that we are so filled with God’s love for others that the two overlap completely, but realistically most people are not so saintly. Are you reaching out to others because it is the Christian thing to do or because you simply want to be friends?
I’ve met a variety of people who don’t share my beliefs – from people I feel I could never get along with to those I get along great with and many in between. On the former end, these are people who hate Christianity and don’t seem to have any intention to reconcile; on the other end are people who find my beliefs interesting but just can’t agree to them. For the majority, however, I find that I don’t really befriend people with the intent to convert them, and that could arguably be a good or a bad thing. Certainly, regardless of how the friendship started, at some point, if I were a truly good Christian, I’d want them to be saved and try to reach out in some way. Although many people criticize “forcing your beliefs on others,” if Christians truly believe others will suffer for eternity without salvation, then it’s pretty natural to want to save your friends from that. Still, a friendship that is constantly about conversion is no friendship at all. Religious beliefs aside, I’m sure anyone would be annoyed if a friend was constantly trying to get them to try something out, especially something they’ve already tried and rejected. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on salvation and forgetting about the building and maintaining the friendship itself.
As a result, it becomes a careful balancing act of friendship for the sake of friendship and friendship that seeks to convert others. We can’t help but want to convert others because we truly believe they are heading towards eternal suffering, and hopefully, our non-believing friends get that to some extent. On one hand, it is important to know when to back off and leave the religious topics for later. On the other hand, I sometimes feel like the very idea of a “balancing act” of how when to bring up religion or not is in itself a bit disingenuous to the friendship. Too little is known about Himeko and Yuka’s friendship to say how much went into religious discussion. We know Himeko is not incredibly devout, so perhaps she is not a good example to draw from. However, one thing is clear: Himeko loved Yuka as a person, not as a “non-believer.” She does nothing for Yuka spiritually. Instead, she helps Yuka practically, forcing her to become a stronger person. It was done through a love and worry for Yuka that even on her literal deathbed, Himeko used the last of her time and energy for Yuka’s sake. It had nothing to do with religious motivations but simply because they were best friends.
This is a beautiful display of love and friendship that I think Christians would do well to emulate. We can minister to people through our lifestyle and love, and any conversion that happens is a result of others becoming curious about how we have such a lifestyle, not by us hoping others listen to our sermons. Himeko’s final words and actions cause a drastic change in Yuka’s life for the better, in ways that I suspect no amount of last minute spiritual doctrine could have done. She called her final gift “magic,” and Yuka says it is surprisingly effective. But rather than magic, it was clear that her gift was simply friendship and love. Her pride in their friendship served to give Yuka the happiness and confidence she needed. In the same way, are we proud to have non-believing friends? The answer to that can get really complicated depending on the circumstances; however, if we are ashamed of our non-believing friends, then can we really call them our friends? I think we can learn a lot from Himeko – that if we want befriend those who don’t share our beliefs, then we should love them the way Himeko loved Yuka. In doing so, we will be spreading God’s love to people, even if it’s not through religious lectures and explanations, and that is, in a way, the best form of friendship we can offer others.