A Little Iris: the Bleeding Heart

The Narcissu 10th anniversary translation project continues with its recent release of A Little Iris. Unlike the previous Narcissu stories which deal with terminal illness, A Little Iris takes an incredibly different approach to the topic of life and death with even a completely different time period of roughly the tail end of the Dark Ages, although the countries are fictional, so that’s only to be used to get an idea of the setting. As always, Christianity takes a somewhat important role in the story but once again in a very different way than before. While faith and God are mentioned several times, what is highlighted is the Crusades, where those of faith were led to believe in Holy Wars of massacring. Again, A Little Iris only adapts these concepts into its story but is not aiming to be historically accurate. Even the author Kataoka worries Christians might take this the wrong way.

Actually, Kataoka, I love your stories.
Actually, Kataoka, I love your stories.

In fact, there are other wars going on in the story. It is a tumultuous period of chaos, and we are never told much about the details so much as shown the effects of these wars on two individuals. The first is Iris. I will avoid spoilers, so I will only say that, starting from a young age, she was put into a kill or be killed position, learning how to fight and kill mercilessly with the sword. The second person is Johan, a wandering mercenary. To again avoid spoilers, I will only say that his backstory is where we learn about the Crusades of this world, but that is not the focus of this post. Instead, it is about killing.

Iris has a habit of killing any passing soldier in her travels with Johan. It would be hard to say that this is because she is a bad person. The way she was brought up and the fear of those who actually do want to kill her are justifications for her line of thinking because she was never taught anything else. It’s kill or be killed. In her words, there are countless ways to die, but only one path to survival. It’s the only way she knows how to live. Johan prefers she not kill them, but he also doesn’t lecture her for it. Not only has he killed countless people, too, but he can also understand her position as a target of assassination. However, he does issue her a warning: When she kills people, she injures her own heart.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Johan speaks from his own experience. He killed and killed and killed. It was only natural. He was only doing what he was told to do. He killed and killed, and when he returned home, he was praised as a hero. After a series of events, he finally realized the state of his heart. Every time he killed someone, he was injuring himself. He didn’t notice until it was too late. And so he warns Iris who is walking down a similar path of murder to be wary of her own heart. Unfortunately, she doesn’t understand, and her killing streak continues. As for what eventually happens to the pair…well, you can find that out yourself by reading the story.

Iris fighting for her life as a little girl.
Iris fighting for her life as a little girl.

While Narcissu seems to always be filled with wonderful themes to analyze, let’s focus on this idea of Iris injuring her own heart. From most of our perspectives, this idea might make a lot of sense. Killing people doesn’t really make the average person feel good; it makes sense that our sense of morality may cause feelings of guilty or sadness. However, for Iris, there is no reason for her to feel bad for killing. She’s only killing because that’s all she knows how to do. She never learned it was wrong to kill. All she knows of is a world where, if she doesn’t kill, she will be killed. There is no one on her side; even Johan mentions he will not risk his life to help her as they are only traveling together for the moment. Thus, for Iris, her heart has no such thing as a moral compass with which to ascertain what is right or wrong. From her perspective, there is no reason her heart would be hurt from her merciless killing; it is questionable whether she can even comprehend the idea of her heart.

And yet we find that Johan’s words ring true. I’ll avoid spoilers again, but her heart was indeed bleeding from her own actions. All this talk of killing is no doubt pretty hard to connect to. I’m sure no one reading this has killed anyone before, and I’m sure no one ever intends to be in such a situation. But there’s something conceptually going on here that is very important: Iris’ bleeding heart. Logically, Iris is not someone who should have a heart that reacts to killing. Yet somehow, it does, even when she herself does not realize it. Even though Iris does not understand what is wrong with killing, her heart does. A Little Iris is a story about merciless killers, but it is really a story about the human heart.

This concept of a bleeding heart is one I think can be generalized to many other things, such as engaging in sexual depravity, being an all-around hateful or prideful person, or even just watching too much anime if there are underlying reasons for it that aren’t acceptable. While there are extreme examples that most would agree with, not everything has to be inherently bad; it often comes down to moderation versus excess. Indeed, even if you don’t hold Christian beliefs when it comes to sex, perhaps you would still agree that having an excessive amount of sexual partners is a bad thing that metaphorically harms your heart. Doing these things a few times might be viewed as perfectly fine. “It’s just this once!” Even if it might harm you, if you don’t continue, there’s no problem. In some ways, that’s correct. In fact, A Little Iris mentions that a wounded heart can he healed with time. For something incredibly minor, it may take no time at all. But no matter what it may be, if the action is repeated, then no time is allowed for the heart to heal, and through enough repetition, the heart will break.

Iris about to be killed
Iris about to be killed

This may not be a strictly Christian idea, but I think it is conceptually applicable. Whether we realize it or not, we can do things that take us further from God, and this hurts our hearts. Even for those who aren’t Christians, where the idea of following Christian beliefs is not one they have any intention or desire to pursue, the human heart will react to your actions in ways you might not understand. For example, engaging in excess immoral activity will lead to a hurting heart regardless of what you may think. While “walking away from God” does not resonate with non-Christians, a “bleeding heart” might, and I think the two are actually the same thing. Like Iris, it does not matter whether you conceptually understand the rights or wrongs of an action, there is something about the human heart that instinctively knows God’s will. What exact actions may cause this and to what degree of excess is too much is an argument that I will not address, as that can get far too complicated with differing beliefs on morality. However, I think everyone can relate to this idea of hurting your own heart without realizing it. You think you know what’s best for you at the time, but only in retrospect do you see how something was the wrong decision. For those who go too long without this realization, they can end up in truly terrible and hopeless places.

Yet the beauty of Christianity is that you can never get away from God’s love. No matter how far you distance yourself through immoral actions or decisions, God will always be ready to accept you and heal you. We see this in A Little Iris, but I again won’t say anything because of spoilers. No matter how much their hearts bleed from the pain of killing, the characters are still redeemed, albeit in different ways. No matter how many wise or experienced people try to warn you, it is the individual who must analyze his own inner heart to understand what is happening. However, for those who have realized, remember that God can heal those wounds, and more importantly, that no wound is too great for God to heal. Everyone’s hearts are hurting to differing degrees. Even Christians continue to sin on a regular basis, knowingly hurting ourselves, which is even worse than unknowingly doing it. However, no matter how much your heart bleeds from your own actions, there is no such thing as being “too late.” Whether you believe in God or not, anyone can switch to the path of a healing heart. Both Iris and Johan managed to heal their broken hearts despite believing it to be hopeless. You do not even have to be religious to make a similar change. Starting the healing process, whatever that may look like for you, is a step in the right direction. And whether you believe in God or not, I think we can all agree that a healing heart is a wonderful thing.


2 thoughts on “A Little Iris: the Bleeding Heart

  1. Using the Crusades sounds interesting. I’m not sure to what degree it can be compared to the original Crusades with the countries being fictional. Was there any idea of the Crusaders being on pilgrimage or wishing to assist the equivalent of the Empire of Constantinople against invaders? One worries that, with but a vague connection to the historical Crusades, the legitimate reasons for crusade can be lost among negative stereotypes or simply even examples of the Crusaders at their worst (e.g. the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade or the greed of the Papal legate in the Fifth).

    You wrote about a bleeding heart in an interesting fashion. When I imagine a bleeding heart, I imagine a sorrowful heart or one in pain. This in reference to repeated wrongdoing is a good thing. When our deeds cause us sorrow, we repent. Any sorrow for evil must ultimately be attributed to God or conscience. The usual result of repeated sin is to harden one’s heart. God goes so far as to tell St. Catherine of Siena in her Dialogues that impenitents’ hearts are like diamonds, only capable of being softened through the blood of Christ. So, a bleeding heart must be accounted a blessing!

    1. It is certainly not meant to be an accurate depiction of the Crusades. Admittedly, it was very stereotypical about some of the more negative aspects that went on, as it was more that it drew inspiration from them to show a world of senseless wars and the justification of them to the common masses. For example, the priests would tell people they were going to kill heathens who are against God, but it is later revealed these wars are but a power struggle of politics (it would be hard to draw concrete parallels to real life as the story is quite vague with these details). It is a gross oversimplification of how the real Crusades played out. However, as the story was really just a first person view showing the effects participation had on a single man, I think it was a fair use of historical events being applied to a fictional world.

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