Estimated reading time: 31 minute(s)
In a previous article, I reviewed a short sound novel called From the Bottom of the Heart – an indie Japanese visual/sound novel that was released in 2006 by Persian Blue – as part of my project to review almost all of the freeware indie Japanese visual novels that were translated into English in three translation festivals that took place in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Therein, I recommended From the Bottom of the Heart as being worth reading. In this article, I will analyze the story and themes of From the Bottom of the Heart in detail, with reference to an essay on the subject by Mr. Chris St. Louis, the English-translator. If you are just looking for a spoiler-free review of From the Bottom of the Heart, see the first article I wrote about the sound novel here.
While you can learn everything about the story of From the Bottom of the Heart and some different ideas on what happened in this review, I recommend reading the sound novel before reading my assessment. From the Bottom of the Heart is quite short – taking about ten minutes (or less) to read through once. You can download it for free for Windows or Mac from the official website. If you need help deciding whether it is worth a few minutes to read, you can see my spoiler-free review before reading this article. Do note that this review spoils the story of From the Bottom of the Heart.
Note: Minor corrections and edits appended on June 4, 2022.
- Dry Story Overview
- Essay on From the Bottom of the Heart by Translator Chris St. Louis
- Discussing Specific Aspects of the Story
- From the Bottom of the Heart as an Epilogue
- On Shirou
- On Shizuka
- Shirou’s Decision to Chase Shizuka
- On Shirou’s Blood Disorder and Mortality
- Minor Story-Telling Quibbles
- Summary Conclusions
- Final Assessment
Dry Story Overview
In this section, I will provide a point-by-point list of the key events in From the Bottom of the Heart. I will offer analysis of the story in subsequent sections.
Scene 1: Memories
The story starts with the protagonist, Shirou, telling us a bit about his life story.
A few years before From the Bottom of the Heart commenced, Shirou was was 16 when he was diagnosed with thrombocytopenic purpura, a disorder of the blood that can lead to excessive bleeding or bruising. He noted that his condition was “incurable” and, while not necessarily fatal, “extremely serious.”
Shirou was initially hospitalized, but he explained that he was released in six months’ time after he responded well to medication.
While Shirou was in the hospital, he met a girl by the name of Ayumi Fujishiro. Ayumi was also hospitalized with thrombocytopenic purpura. Shirou and Ayumi became best friends during their joint hospital stays. He explained that they made a “solemn pact” while they were together:
We swore to each other that when we were discharged from that hospital, we’d go to an amusement park together.Shirou in “From the Bottom of the Heart”
Ayumi’s condition appears to have been worse than Shirou’s. For that reason, she was not discharged when he was discharged. When Ayumi learned that Shirou would be discharged, she asked him to come see her again.
Shirou never saw Ayumi again. He did not clearly know why he had not visited her, but he believed that he had been “afraid of seeing her.”
Scene 2: The Mysterious Girl
The scene begins with Shirou in a bookstore looking for a book that he needed for work. From this scene, we can infer that Shirou is an adult and that he is healthy enough to have a job. Shirou stated that it was a nice morning and that “the cherry blossoms seemed finally ready to burst into bloom.” From this, we can infer that the story is set in the spring.
We learn a bit more about Shirou. He stated that he had recently began working for a new company and was throwing himself “wholeheartedly” into his new job (from this, I venture that he is in his early 20s). He was having a terrific morning (we can infer that life is going well for Shirou) when he runs into a cute girl – who appears on screen.
The girl saw Shirou, ran up to him, stood close, and said: “Let’s go to an amusement park together!”
Shirou was understandably confused, for he did not know the girl. But before he knew it, he had agreed to accompany the young lady. It was just as well, Shirou thought, for he had no plans that day after having purchased the book he needed for work.
Scene 3: The Amusement Park
Shirou and the girl took the bus to the amusement park. They spent several hours enjoying everything that the park had to offer. Shirou agreed with the girl that he had a great time and added that he did not realize that he would have so much fun at the amusement park as an adult. Strangely, that caused the girl to smile sadly.
Upon seeing the girl’s sad smile, Shirou asked her for her name – it had not occurred to him to do so before he left with her to the amusement park. The girl gave a mysterious response:
You don’t need to worry about something as dumb as my name, do you?The mysterious girl in “From the Bottom of the Heart”
Shirou was dumbfounded, but he had no response. He did wonder why she would not tell him her name. Before he became too lost in thought, the girl suggested that they conclude their day at the amusement park with a ride on the Ferris wheel.
Scene 4: The Ferris Wheel Ride
Shirou and the girl rode the Ferris wheel. Their sentiments were in accord that the view from the top of the Ferris wheel that evening was quite beautiful.
As Shirou looked upon his town at night, he said wistfully out loud: “I wish… I wish she could be here to see this.” The girl asked who he was referring to. Shirou stated that he was thinking of someone who was very dear to him. He then added, “and very much gone from this world.”
That was the last Shirou said on the subject of Ayumi to the mysterious girl. In his internal monologue, he noted that he had, in while in that hospital at that time, fallen in love with Ayumi Fujishiro.
Scene 5: Parting Ways
Shirou and the girl left the amusement park together after having had a wonderful time. Shirou was basking in the warmth of the strange girl’s smile when she asked him a rather forward question: “Hey, what do you think of me?”
Shirou had not thought about what he thought of the girl. On the spur of the moment, he told the truth:
Well, you are a little weird, but very pretty and quite fascinating.Shirou
Apparently satisfied, the girl asked Shirou how he would feel about dating her. Again, Shirou was caught off guard, and unsure whether the girl was being serious. After pondering for a few moments, Shirou told the girl that he could see himself falling for her. However, Shirou qualified his positive response with a melancholic one:
But I’m still in love with someone who’s no longer here.Shirou
The girl’s face took on a lonely expression when Shirou stated that he loved another who was gone. However, she recovered quickly and kissed Shirou before he could react. Shirou was bewildered. The girl then offered her most puzzling line of the day:
She wanted you to have that. And this, as well…The mysterious girl while handing Shirou a letter
Scene 6: From the Bottom of the Heart
Shirou recovered from his surprise and opened the letter. He was shocked when he saw that the author of the letter was none other than Ayumi Fujishiro, the girl with whon he had fallen in love with at the hospital years earlier.
In the letter, Ayumi detailed how she had fallen in love with Shirou over the six months they spent together at the hospital. She noted in the letter that she knew that she did not have much longer to live when Shirou was discharged. Evidently close to her death – Ayumi wrote melancholically to Shirou that she was spending her last days hoping to see him one more time. Shirou discovered that Ayumi had believed that, if she wished from the bottom of the heart, he would return to her.
Ayumi’s wishes would not come true.
Before Ayumi died, she left her letter and her “heart” to her younger sister, Shizuka Fujishiro, who had once been afflicted with the same blood disorder. Upon reading that passage, Shirou realized that the girl he had spent the day with at the amusement park was Ayumi’s younger sister, Shizuka.
Shirou felt terrible after reading Ayumi’s – wondering how he had left Ayumi’s last wish unfulfilled. He recalled that he could not bear to see Ayumi again, knowing that she would die soon. He thought about how selfish he had been – how he had not thought only of his own sadness about Ayumi’s fate and never once about her own. “Her loneliness was made worse in my cowardice.”
Shirou calmed himself from and read through the letter one more time. After gathering his thoughts, he made his decision:
I took off running after the girl named Shizuka Fujishiro.Shirou delivering the final line in “From the Bottom of the Heart”
Essay on From the Bottom of the Heart by Translator Chris St. Louis
Before offering my own thoughts and analysis, I will share with you an analysis of the story written by Chris St. Louis, the English-language translator of From the Bottom of the Heart. His essay is available on the al|together 2008 website.
Mr. St. Louis described the story of From the Bottom of the Heart as “a Pyrrhic victory against death itself.” The protagonist, Shirou, escaped death or permanent hospitalization, but he continued to live with a serious condition. He left the hospital, but his beloved, who he avoided out of fear, did not. Shirou went on to live a normal life, but he remained haunted by his past and his decision to not see Ayumi before she died.
While Shirou enjoyed the amusement park with the girl whose identity he did not yet know, he continued to think wistfully about Ayumi and his broken promise to her. Shirou too lived under the specter that his condition could turn for the worse: “He’s living, yes, but the life is not a carefree one, as the ghost of his past and his incurable condition are unforgiving scars of life he won when he was discharged from the hospital.”
When Shizuka gave Shirou Ayumi’s letter, Shirou was forced to confront his guilt at having refused to see Ayumi one last time. Mr. St. Louis believes that Shirou opted to pursue a relationship with Shizuka both to apologize to Ayumi and also to forgive himself. That is, Shirou’s chasing after Shizuka was chasing after his future.
Was the Ending a Happy One?
Does From the Bottom of the Heart have a happy ending? Mr. St. Louis answered in the affirmative, “but not without reservation.” Shirou’s blood disorder persisted. But Mr. St. Louis viewed From the Bottom of the Heart as the “epilogue” to the story of Shirou and Ayumi, and one that left Shirou in a better place than when we met him at the bookstore right before Shizuka asked him to go to the amusement park. He understood the ending as Shirou choosing to pursue a life together with Shizuka.
Discussing Specific Aspects of the Story
When analyzing literature (or sound novels, in this case), I first try to ascertain the intention of the authors. After gaining an understanding of what the writers were doing, I may then offer my opinions about the work or the conduct of its characters. One should, when assessing a work, assume going in that it is coherent and that the actions of the characters are intelligible instead of first substituting his or her own feelings for those that the writers gave the world and its characters.
In its description of the work, the team behind From the Bottom of the Heart, Persian Blue, expressed its hope “that maybe some of our intention will speak through it as well.” I will try to first discern Persian Blue’s intention before offering my own opinions about the characters. However, as always, I must note that I am only working with the official translation produced by Mr. Chris St. Louis and Insani – along with the translation notes included in the game file. Because I cannot read Japanese, I cannot study Persian Blue’s original Japanese-language text. To the extent I disagree with some of Mr. St. Louis’s analysis of the story and conclusions, I note that he has the perspective of having worked with the original Japanese text.
From the Bottom of the Heart as an Epilogue
Mr. St. Louis wrote of the ending:
The ending is also a new beginning of to the life of Shirou and Shizuka together, and the final epilogue to the story of Shirou and Ayumi, which has its end before From the Bottom of the Heart even begins.Chris St. Louis
Mr. St. Louis’s describing the conclusion of From the Bottom of the Heart as the epilogue to the story of Shirou and Ayumi is well-put. From the Bottom of the Heart is, in its entirety, the epilogue to the story of Shirou and Ayumi. This is its most interesting point. We usually read epilogues after experiencing a story. For example, From the Bottom of the Heart is the type of story that one may expect to find after reading a longer visual novel about Shirou and Ayumi. In this case, however – the original story does not exist outside of Shirou’s brief recollections. From the Bottom of the Heart is the epilogue to a story that was never written.
More than anything else, the peculiar structure of From the Bottom of the Heart – its being the capstone to an untold story – makes it memorable.
As I will discuss a bit further down in this review, From the Bottom of the Heart’s “epilogue” conclusion is itself inconclusive – a point that I agree with Mr. St. Louis. Thus, not only should the story be thought of as an epilogue, but also as one that leads to an uncertain future.
Considering the brevity of From the Bottom of the Heart, Persian Blue managed to flesh out Shirou’s character.
Shirou’s Self-Centered Memories of Ayumi
Shirou had a serious blood disorder. Nevertheless, with the benefit of medication, he spent only six months in the hospital when he was 16-17 years old and appears to have had no reason to return. Shirou, who once feared his life was over, was gainfully employed and, by his own account, enjoyed his work.
Yet, Shirou was haunted by the memory of the girl he left behind – Ayumi Fujishiro. He became best friends with Ayumi in the hospital, and they promised to go to the amusement park together when they were discharged. However, only Shirou was discharged – and he, for whatever reason, failed to visit Ayumi before she died.
Until the end of the story, Shirou only thought about his own feelings in his melancholic recollections of Ayumi. That is not to say Shirou did not recognize that he was wrong to abandon Ayumi after leaving the hospital – early in the story he admitted that he had been afraid to see her again knowing that she would likely die soon thereafter. But insofar as Shirou described his sadness – the sadness was always his own. Shirou wished Ayumi could have seen the view from the top of the Ferris wheel, but his thoughts were on his loss. He thought about how Ayumi was the girl that he fell in love with, but not what Ayumi must have thought of him. He could not return the feelings of the girl he would learn was Ayumi’s sister because of Ayumi, but he had thought little of Ayumi’s feelings when she was still alive.
When Shirou read Ayumi’s letter, he realized that he had only been thinking about his own feelings since he had been discharged from the hospital several years before. Shirou was confronted with the fact that Ayumi had loved him, and that she had wanted nothing more – from the bottom of her heart – than to see him again. Worse yet, Ayumi believed until her last hour that Shirou would call on her one last time.
What have I done…?Shirou
Shirou, distraught, realized that he had hurt Ayumi and that it was far too late to express his remorse to her. Unlike him, Ayumi was never discharged from that dreary hospital.
I couldn’t see her again because I felt too lonely. I felt too lonely! I never once thought of her loneliness.Shirou on Ayumi’s feelings
(Note: This is one line that I consider as reading a bit unnaturally – but per the editor’s suggestions, the line appears to convey the idea that Shirou stayed away from Ayumi to avoid becoming more attached to her knowing that she did not have much longer to live.)
Shirou realized that all of the justifications he had given for not visiting Ayumi were nothing more than excuses. To be sure, he was afraid of seeing her again knowing that she would soon be gone. But in order to justify that, he refused even to think about Ayumi’s feelings. Shirou finally admitted to himself that he had been a coward.
It is clear to everyone except Shirou from the moment that Shizuka asks him, ostensibly a total stranger, to go to the amusement park with her, that she must have some connection to Ayumi. The particulars of the connection are not revealed until the very end of the story. Because the entire story is told from Shirou’s perspective and he does not learn who Shizuka is until after she parts ways with him in the penultimate scene, we have a less clear idea of her impulses and feelings than we do of Shirou’s.
We know that Shizuka was carrying out Ayumi’s final wishes as Shizuka understood them. Ayumi had wanted to go to the amusement park with Shirou, so Shizuka found Shirou and dragged him to the amusement park. Ayumi had wanted to confess her feelings to Shirou and find out if Shirou felt the same way about her. Shizuka confessed her feelings to Shirou. Ayumi had wanted to kiss Shirou, so Shizuka kissed Shirou. Finally, Ayumi had wanted to convey all of her feelings to Shirou, including that she spent her last days hoping that she would see the boy she loved one more time. Shizuka delivered Ayumi’s letter to its intended recipient.
Where Did Ayumi’s Feelings End and Shizuka’s Begin?
This is the fundamental question about Shizuka’s character. What were her feelings? Shizuka made clear when she kissed Shirou and handed him Ayumi’s letter that those were things that her late sister had wanted to do. Based on Shirou’s recollections and Shizuka’s actions, we can infer that Shizuka had a similar motivation for bringing Shirou to the amusement park.
As I will explain in the next section, I am not as confident as Mr. St. Louis, based solely on his translated text, about the nature of Shizuka’s own feelings. On a surface level, it is clear that she was acting out a series of wishes that Ayumi had taken with her to the grave. These wishes included showing Shirou, in a way he could not escape, how much he had meant to Ayumi (and, perhaps, from Shizuka’s perspective – how much Shirou had hurt Ayumi in the end).
There is no indication in the story that Shirou and Shizuka had met before – Shirou suggests he only learned about her and her own bout with the same disease from Ayumi’s letter. Yet Shirou and Shizuka were bound by one thing – their being the two people who were most affected by Ayumi and her death.
Did Shizuka love Shirou? Despite her confession and kiss, I do not think the story provides decisive answers. Those would have to be left for when Shirou caught up to Shizuka, after our brief window into their lives closed.
The Possibility that Shizuka’s Feelings Evolved in the Story
While writing my thoughts on From the Bottom of the Heart, one idea occurred to me. What if Shizuka’s feelings evolved throughout her quasi-date with Shirou?
As far as we know for certain, everything that Shizuka knew about Shirou – for better and for worse – came from Ayumi. It is not clear that Shizuka knew precisely why Shirou had refused to see her sister or that he had been discharged from the hospital. Did she want to learn the answer for herself? For Ayumi?
There are several points where Shirou said something that made Shizuka think about Ayumi or when Shirou said something that Shizuka correctly understood as a reference to Ayumi. Let us examine each case below.
Enjoying the Amusement Park as an Adult
The first point was when Shirou stated to Shizuka that he did not think he would enjoy the amusement park now that he was older. This line made Shizuka smile sadly. Here, I doubt that Shizuka misunderstood Shirou as making a reference to Ayumi. Instead, Shirou’s idle statement made Shizuka think of the promise that Shirou and Ayumi had made together, and the fact that her sister would have greatly enjoyed going to the amusement park with Shirou when they were younger. Significantly, Shizuka may have thought that Shirou had completely forgotten (or worse, did not care about) the promise that he had made to Ayumi in the hospital.
What’s In a Name?
The above scene to Shirou’s asking Shizuka for her name and Shizuka’s declining to disclose it.
The obvious reading here is that Shizuka had a list of tasks that she needed to complete on Ayumi’s behalf. Once she revealed her identity to Shirou, the nature of their interactions would change. Once Shirou knew that Shizuka was Ayumi’s sister, they could not continue the date that Ayumi had wanted to have with Shirou all those years ago.
However, there is a second potential reading here if we understand Shizuka as wanting to find certain answers for herself. To this point, Shirou had given Shizuka little indication that he still thought about Ayumi at all. Had he forgotten about her entirely? In addition to carrying out Ayumi’s final wishes, perhaps Shizuka wanted to confirm Shirou’s feelings for herself before forcing him to confront Ayumi’s.
Shirou’s Recollections on the Ferris Wheel
On the Ferris wheel, Shirou made his first clear reference to Ayumi in Shizuka’s presence:
I wish… I wish she could be here to see this.Shirou thinking out loud about Ayumi
Shizuka’s curiosity was piqued. She asked Shirou who “she” was.
Shirou replied that “she” was someone very dear to him, before retreating to his internal monologues.
Shizuka certainly understood this as a reference to Ayumi. Shirou’s use of the past tense revealed that he was referring to someone who was no longer with him, and he made clear that this person remained very dear to him. If Shizuka had any doubt, she had now confirmed that Shirou still harbored sentimental feelings for her late sister. The nature of those feelings, however, was not yet revealed.
Shizuka’s First Question
Shizuka asked Shirou two questions before she left Shirou with Ayumi’s letter and parted ways.
How do you feel about me?Shizuka’s first question to Shirou
Who was this question for?
Ayumi had wanted to know how Shirou had felt about her – especially when Shirou avoided her after being discharged from the hospital. The entire date can be understood as Shizuka tying up loose ends for Ayumi.
However, we should avoid being too abstract. Shizuka’s question should also be understood literally – how did Shirou feel about Shizuka? Specifically, how did Shirou feel about Shizuka before he knew Shizuka’s identity.
Shirou’s response was favorable, but it was also distinct from how he felt about Ayumi. Shirou’s wistful dialogues about Ayumi reveal that their interests, feelings, and plights had been in accord. His recollections were awash in a sentimentality that was distinct from his describing Shizuka – whose identity he did not yet know – as being “a little weird,” “very pretty, and quite fascinating.”
Shizuka had only heard Shirou describe Ayumi as someone very dear to him. Beyond that, she had Ayumi’s accounts of her interactions with Shirou. Perhaps Shizuka sought to confirm whether Shirou viewed her, playing the part of Ayumi, similarly to how he viewed Ayumi.
Shizuka’s Second Question
Shizuka’s second question for Shirou:
So if, for example, I said I wanted to start seeing you, what would you think about that?Shizuka’s second question to Shirou
It is a bit difficult to untangle where Ayumi’s sentiments ended and Shizuka’s began regarding this question, even with how straightforward Shizuka was. However, to the extent that Shizuka may have been curious about Shirou’s feelings before he knew who she was, his answer here revealed decisively his feelings for Ayumi:
Well… I think I could certainly see myself falling in love with you, at some point. But… But I’m still in love with someone who’s no longer here.Shirou’s quasi-rejection of Shizuka
On the surface, Shizuka effectively confessed to Shirou. In response, Shirou confessed his feelings for Shizuka’s late sister. We are told that Shizuka’s expression turned “lonely” (or as the editor suggested, sad).
Why did Shizuka’s expression turn lonely and/or sad? Was it because “she” had effectively been turned down because Shirou confessed his feelings for Ayumi, or was it because Shirou had said to her what Ayumi had died hoping to hear?
Who Kissed Shirou?
Shizuka initially looked sad – whether for herself or for Ayumi – when Shirou rejected her near-confession
Shizuka’s next actions left both possibilities open. Her sad expression turned into a smile. She moved close to Shirou, looked into his eyes, and then kissed him. What Shizuka said next was more puzzling to Shirou than the kiss itself:
She wanted you to have that. And this, as well…Shizuka hands Shirou Ayumi’s letter
With that, Shizuka handed Shirou Ayumi’s letter and ran off. Her final words were:
Well then, see you later! I really had a great time today!Shizuka bids Shirou farewell
Like Shizuka, we must ask a couple of questions.
Why was Shizuka sad when he rejected what was facially a confession from her based on his feelings for Ayumi. Based on the totality of the evidence, I think there were two things at play. Firstly, Shizuka felt that Ayumi should have been able to hear Shirou’s confession before she died. Secondly, Shirou’s answer betrayed that he was unable to fully move forward with his life because of his feelings for Ayumi.
Shizuka expressly states that her kiss was from Ayumi. “She wanted you to have that.” With that being said, I do not think that the kiss was from Ayumi alone. Shizuka’s final words – suggesting that she would see Shirou again and that she had a great time with him – come off as genuine.
Ayumi’s Feelings in the End
It was a foregone conclusion that Shizuka would give Shirou Ayumi’s letter. Beyond that, I think Shizuka’s actions at the end of the story were the result of Shirou’s behavior and words.
Shizuka genuinely had a good time with Shirou at the amusement park. Furthermore, he confirmed on the Ferris wheel that he had not forgotten her sister.
To the extent that Shizuka had her own feelings for Shirou (whether they were the result of their “date,” what she knew from Ayumi, or some combination), his rejection of her quasi-confession was powerful. In one swoop, Shirou admitted that he had taken a liking to Shizuka and could see himself falling in love with her, but also that he could not date her because he still loved her sister. Thus, Shizuka learned not only how Shirou felt about her, but also that Shirou felt the same way about Ayumi that Ayumi had felt about him.
Why was Shizuka sad or lonely? I think she was sad first because Ayumi died without knowing how Shirou felt about her. But a smaller (but not insignificant) part of Shizuka felt sympathetic toward Shirou. Although he had wronged Ayumi by abandoning her, she gleaned that he did care about her, and knew that Ayumi would not have wanted Shirou to be unable to find happiness because his regrets about abandoning her.
Shizuka kissed Shirou, for everyone involved, and left Shirou alone with Ayumi’s final thoughts. There, Shirou would learn how Ayumi felt about him and how his abandonment hurt had Ayumi. Whether Shirou would see Shizuka again, as she suggested, would depend on what he did after reading the letter. But Shizuka’s confidence in stating that she would see Shirou later suggested that she was confident that Shirou had changed in the years subsequent to Ayumi’s death.
Shizuka the Letter-Carrier
Did Shizuka know what she wanted to accomplish in giving Shirou the letter going into their date?
Had Shirou shown no sign of remembering Ayumi during his “date” with Shizuka, the act of giving him Ayumi’s letter would have carried a different meaning. It may have been more bitter – reminding him that he had not only failed to visit the dying girl who loved him all those years ago, but also that he had completely forgotten about her.
However, Shizuka discovered before giving Shirou the letter that he did in fact still love Ayumi, and that her death haunted him. To be sure, Shizuka wanted Shirou to know both how much he meant to Ayumi and how much his not seeing Ayumi before she died had hurt her. However, given the evidence that Shizuka cared about Shirou by the time she handed him the letter, that letter also served as a path to catharsis.
The younger Shirou had run from Ayumi. Ever since then, Shirou ran from his decision to run from Ayumi. Because of that, he was unable to fully move forward with his life. Shizuka forced Shirou to confront his past, to confront Ayumi’s true feelings. In so doing, she gave Shirou the chance to stop running – to accept that he had hurt the girl he loved and who loved him, but also to take a step forward.
For as much as he hurt Ayumi, Shizuka’s actions and what we can glean from Ayumi’s letter suggest that they wanted him to move forward. For Shizuka, it is possible, if not likely, that learning that Shirou still loved her sister was necessary to make giving Shirou the letter an act of charity toward him as well as the fulfillment of Ayumi’s final wish.
Shirou’s Decision to Chase Shizuka
My interpretation of the ending of From the Bottom of the Heart differs a bit from Mr. St. Louis’s. Note my interpretation is based on nothing but his translation, whereas his may have also been informed by the original Japanese.
Mr. St. Louis wrote:
The climax of the story is the revelation of this mysterious girl as Shizuka, the younger sister of Ayumi, and Shirou’s confrontation of his guilt at abandoning her. In the end he chooses to pursue a relationship with Shizuka, both as a way to finally apologize to his beloved — and to forgive himself.Chris St. Louis
I dissent in part from Mr. St. Louis’s analysis.
There is an element of atonement to Shirou’s decision to chase after Shizuka. Reading the letter forced him to confront the fact that he had abandoned Ayumi in her final days, and that none of the reasons he had for doing so could change that fact. I do not think his decision to chase Shizuka was his attempt to apologize to Ayumi by using her younger sister as a proxy. Instead, I think it was Shirou’s determination to stop running from his decision to abandon Ayumi. Shirou would thank Shizuka for delivering Ayumi’s letter. He would say out loud what he had been trying to avoid for years – that he had abandoned the girl he loved when she needed him the most, and express his deep sadness that she was no longer alive to accept or reject his apology.
The difficult truth of From the Bottom of the Heart is that Shirou could not apologize to Ayumi for hurting her. The best he could do was express his remorse to Shizuka, who Ayumi had entrusted with her feelings. All that was left for Shirou was to confront his past honestly and move on as best as he could – with the memory of Ayumi in his heart.
Did Shirou and Shizuka Start a Relationship?
Did Shirou decided to “pursue a relationship with Shizuka”? Shirou initially “rejected” Shizuka’s confession because his heart still belonged to Ayumi. But that was before Shirou knew that Shizuka had been carrying out Ayumi’s final wishes. Did he know for sure what Shizuka’s own wishes were, or what she would have to say after he read her sister’s letter? I am not so sure.
The ending of From the Bottom of the Heart is cathartic, but vague. Shirou was finally forced to confront his decisions surrounding Ayumi all those years ago. Faced with a choice, he decided to talk to Shizuka directly instead of running away again. To conclude that he was doing so to start a future with Shizuka is one view, but I do not think that the full weight of the evidence in the story requires it. Without knowing conclusively where Ayumi’s feelings ended and Shizuka’s began, the after story of this epilogue story is uncertain.
The Bond Between Shirou and Shizuka
At the moment Shirou ran after Shizuka, they shared only two things in common. One afternoon together and a shared love for the late Ayumi. Not only did they share a love for Ayumi, but they were the only two people in the world who knew Ayumi’s dying wishes.
There is evidence in the story that Shirou felt something for Shizuka that he did not fully understand – beyond her being a pretty young woman who had taken an interest in him. For example, Shirou noted that he, for some reason, wanted very much to show Shizuka the view of the town in the evening from the top of the Ferris wheel. It was on top of that Ferris wheel that he spoke about Ayumi for the first time. Something about Shizuka made Shirou sentimental – even if he could not put a finger on what it was.
Prior to Shizuka’s revealing her identity, Shirou confessed that he could see himself falling in love with her – noting that she was attractive, strange, and that he had a good time with her. That is, those were Shirou’s thoughts about the real Shizuka. But who was the real Shizuka? Was the Shizuka on that date truly Shizuka, or was she playing a part to fulfill Ayumi’s final wish? It appears that Shirou’s assessment of Shizuka was different than his assessment of Ayumi – so by “playing a part,” I do not mean to suggest that she was trying to be Ayumi. Rather, perhaps she was playing a part for the purpose of finding answers to questions that she – and her late sister – wanted to know.
Searching For Something Real
Mr. St. Louis stated that Shirou “pursue[d] a relationship with Shizuka, both as a way to finally apologize to his beloved – and to forgive himself.” As I noted, I disagreed with the assessment in the context of why Shirou chased after Shizuka. In the event they did decide to begin seeing each other, I also disagree with regard to Shirou’s intentions in doing so (or, at least I hope those would not be Shirou’s intentions).
Mr. St. Louis’ reading of the story – as I understand it – has Shirou viewing Shizuka as something of a stand-in for Ayumi. It suggests that Shirou would view his dating Ayumi’s younger sister as a way to fulfill his broken promises to Ayumi. Moreover, it suggests that in dating Shizuka, he could absolve himself of his having abandoned Ayumi. Shizuka would be locked into the role of being the proxy for her late sister.
Shirou’s decision to chase after Shizuka was his confronting his past honestly. He recognized then that Ayumi was gone, and that he could not undo what he had done in the past. He would surely tell Shizuka that, and Shizuka, being aware of Ayumi’s thoughts as she died, was the only person who could understand or respond.
In the event Shirou dated Shizuka, their shared love for Ayumi and pain from her death would be what brought them together. But a life together cannot be based solely on shared affection for someone who is no longer there. Assuming Shirou’s best intentions, he could better honor Ayumi’s memory not by dating her younger sister out of pity, but by coming to love Shizuka for who she was, all while keeping the memory of those times he spent with Ayumi close to his heart.
Comparing to Cross Game
One of my favorite anime series, Cross Game, dealt with similar questions. There, Ko Kitamura had been best friends with Wakaba Tsukishima when they were children. Wakaba’s younger sister by one year, Aoba Tsukishima, was hostile to Ko because she was jealous of Ko’s monopolizing her sister’s affections. Wakaba died in the first of 50 episodes (therefore – not much of a spoiler…), and much of the rest of the series dealt with the complicated relationship of Ko and Aoba when they were in high school (after a time-skip).
Ko and Aoba bickered constantly and were never entirely honest about their feelings, but they shared a bond of being the only people who experienced the loss of Wakaba in a particular way. I will not divulge how matters resolved themselves – but I note the series for the point of two characters having a relationship based in large part, at least as an initial matter, on their shared sadness about the loss of someone dear to them.
The case of From the Bottom of the Heart is more complicated in some respects. Wakaba loved Ko, but she and Ko were a few years younger than Shirou and Ayumi. Ko and Aoba had known each other for their entire lives. There is no decisive evidence that Shirou and Shizuka had known each other before the events of the story. Ko was not saddled with guilt over the death of Wakaba in the same way that Shirou was, and Aoba did not have to consider whether Ko had hurt her sister. Moreover, Shirou and Shizuka are adults, whereas Cross Game ends while Ko and Aoba are still in high school.
On Shirou’s Blood Disorder and Mortality
At the beginning of the story, Shirou noted that his blood disorder was incurable. That is, he was able to leave the hospital and live a normal life through medication, but he was never “cured” of the disorder. He still lived in fear of being cut or injured in a way that may cause severe bleeding.
Mr. St. Louis interpreted this fear as casting a shadow, along with Shirou’s memories of Ayumi, over his future. For example: “the disease still poses a daily threat, and he still may die from it one day.”
Mortality and the Ferris Wheel Scene
When Shirou and Shizuka reach the top of the Ferris wheel, Shirou mused sadly:
Before long the Ferris Wheel had completed its revolution and our ride was over. The thought came to me that I might never behold a vista like that again.Shirou on the Ferris wheel
Mr. St. Louis said of this line:
He’s not free from considerations of his own mortality, either, musing after a particularly beautiful trip up the Ferris wheel that he might very well never behold a sight like that again.Chris St. Louis
I think that this reading is correct regarding Shirou’s views of living with an illness. It is not that Shirou believes that he will die soon, but rather that after his serious hospitalization when he was 16, his mortality occupied his thoughts in a way that it would not had he never been seriously ill. That his first love had died before reaching adulthood only reinforced Shirou’s tendency to contemplate his own mortality.
On Shizuka Sharing the Illness
Toward the end of the story, we learn off-handedly that Shizuka had the same blood disorder as Shirou and Ayumi. I read the script as stating that Ayumi disclosed this information in her letter.
This struck me as an odd aside. There is no reason that Shizuka could not have the same disorder, but I saw no thematic or story-based reason for this to be the case. Shizuka having the disorder does not flesh out her character in any meaningful way. The revelation did not serve any purpose to understanding the narrative. Not insignificantly, Mr. St. Louis did not reference Shizuka’s having the same disorder in his essay on From the Bottom of the Heart.
Minor Story-Telling Quibbles
The story was generally tightly constructed and left few points unclear. However, there were two questions that should have been addressed at some point in the story.
Firstly, it was never made entirely clear how Shirou knew what had become of Ayumi. By Shirou’s own account, he had no contact with Ayumi after he left the hospital. Furthermore, it seems that he was avoiding everything about Ayumi entirely. While thinking about her final letter, Shirou did state that he “knew she would be gone soon.” That is, by his own account in the end, he was aware that Ayumi’s condition was apparently terminal. With that being said, some account of how he was sure that she had died before From the Bottom of the Heart would have been instructive.
Secondly, it is not clear how Shizuka identified Shirou. While I assume that Shirou as an adult bore a strong resemblance to the Shirou Ayumi knew, there is no concrete indication that Shizuka had met Shirou in the past (Shirou suggests he learned who she was from Ayumi’s letter). It is possible they met but Shirou did not recognize Shizuka because she had been even younger at the time. Furthermore, it is possible that a note about their meeting previously was lost in translation. However. While the story has a scene where Shirou asks for Shizuka’s name (and is initially rejected), there is no scene where Shizuka ascertains Shirou’s name. This is not essential to understanding the story – but it is an oversight.
Having done a point-by-point analysis, I will now collect all my thoughts and interpretations of the story.
Shirou was honest in explaining that he had avoided seeing Ayumi after he was discharged from the hospital because he was afraid of seeing her again knowing that she would die soon. This was likely motivated both by his own love for Ayumi and his own brush with death. However, Shirou was selfish in thinking only about his own feelings and not taking into account how Ayumi, who he had reason to believe would never be so fortunate as to leave the hospital, felt spending her last days without seeing him. However human Shirou’s faults were, the effect that they had on the girl he loved was cruel.
Shirou knew in the back of his mind that Ayumi had cared deeply for him – even if he had not fully accepted that she had been in love with him. Thinking about Ayumi having loved him while she was dying alone in the hospital was too much for Shirou to bear. Thus, he hid behind his rationalizations for not seeing her, and he ran from his flight from Ayumi.
Despite having hurt Ayumi deeply, Shirou still loved her – and he struggled to suppress his guilt for having abandoned her. He inadvertently confessed his love for Ayumi to her younger sister, who had inherited her final wishes. With that confession of love, Shirou also admitted that he could not fully move forward in his life. The reason that Shirou could not move forward was not that he loved a girl who had died, but that he had abandoned that girl. That is, Shirou was, in his mind, not eligible to love another or be loved because he had never confronted his past with Ayumi.
Shirou’s Opportunity for Redemption
In giving Shirou Ayumi’s letter, Shizuka gave Shirou the opportunity to face his past and move on from it. Shirou finally admitted what he could not allow himself to think – that Ayumi loved him, that he had abandoned Ayumi, and that his abandoning Ayumi had caused her pain in her final days. Shirou was overwhelmed with having everything he had run from spelled out for him. Yet, it was also clear from the letter, and from Shizuka’s behavior in giving it to him, that Ayumi’s final wishes were not for Shirou to spend the rest of his life running from her and from his past decisions. Shirou made up his mind to stop running. He composed himself, read the letter again, and went after Shizuka.
As I noted, I do not think it is clear that Shirou and Shizuka start a life together after From the Bottom of the Heart. Shizuka had finished playing her part as the inheritor of Ayumi’s final wish. It would be up to Shirou to thank Shizuka for delivering Ayumi’s final wish, and to express to Shizuka his true feelings – both how much he loved Ayumi and that he knew that he could not make up for his having not seen her in the end .
Shirou could not go back in time to see Ayumi. But he could face his past, express his remorse to the one person in the world who understood Ayumi’s feelings, and move forward in his life while accepting the good and the bad, and holding on to the memories of that girl he had loved, ran from, and lost in his heart – regardless of whether he ultimately moved forward with Shizuka.
Morals of the Story
Regarding Shirou’s past, the view of the sound novel, and ultimately of Shirou himself, is that one should consider the feelings of those he or she cares about. Shirou avoided Ayumi because of his own fear, and he justified his decision by not considering her feelings. Had his younger self contemplated her feelings as she lived her last days without seeing him, he may have found the courage to see her in spite of himself.
The second lesson of From the Bottom of the Heart is that while some past mistakes may not be fixable, one must still face and own up to them to move forward. There was nothing that Shirou could do to comfort Ayumi in her final days, for she breathed her last several years before we pick up the story. In that sense, he could not rectify his betrayal of her confidence in him. However, so long as he avoided contemplating the effect his actions had on Ayumi, he was trapped in his past. It was necessary for Shirou to grapple with Ayumi’s death and his own cowardace in order to move forward and find happiness. He was fortunate that the girl to whom Ayumi entrusted her most cherished affections and deepest sadness found him and conveyed the feelings of the girl he had loved.
Finally, lurking in From the Bottom of the Heart is that one should say the important things when he or she has the chance. Shirou caused Ayumi to suffer and himself to suffer the regret of failing her.. Shizuka moved their stories forward by seizing the moment and saying and conveying what she needed to tell Shirou, both for herself and for her sister. As Ayumi’s death demonstrated, there are often no second chances.
Forgiveness by Proxy
Finally, in the conclusion there is the theme of forgiveness. Ayumi left her final thoughts and wishes with Shizuka. After spending time with Shirou, Shizuka appeared to come away with a favorable opinion of him before leaving him with Ayumi’s letter. In the end, only Ayumi could have spoken for herself, but having trusted Shizuka with her letter to Shirou and her feelings, Shizuka was the sole person who could offer Shirou something approximating forgiveness for having hurt Ayumi.
Was the Ending a Happy One?
From the Bottom of the Heart did have a happy ending – in the non-traditional sense (to Western audiences, at least) that Mr. St. Louis described. Shizuka received confirmation that Shirou did in fact remember and love Ayumi. She conveyed Ayumi’s feelings to Shirou. When faced with Ayumi’s feelings and the inescapable conclusion that he had hurt Ayumi by avoiding her in her final days, Shirou stopped running from what he had done and, instead, ran after Shizuka.
From the Bottom of the Heart does not have a “happily ever after” ending, nor does it decisively resolve Shirou’s story or go into detail about Shizuka’s feelings. It did, however, break Shirou’s denial-induced paralysis and give Shizuka the chance to fulfill her final promise to Ayumi. Having had their own catharsis, Shirou and Shizuka could take their steps into an uncertain, but with hope, brighter future.
With hope, Shirou’s days mired in his own regrets would gradually come to an end.
The creators of From the Bottom of the Heart stated that they did not claim to create “a stunning work of timeless literature.” However, they hoped that their story would touch the hearts of readers – even if just a little.
I concur that From the Bottom of the Heart is not a piece of “timeless literature,” nor is it entirely without flaws. It is, however, one of the best short sound novels that I have read. In its short run, it dealt with the complicated emotions and sentiments of two young adults connected by their shared love for a young woman who had passed away. There is no easy answer to the source of Shirou’s malaise regarding Ayumi, and the story suggests that Shizuka would likely have difficult feelings to sort through when Shirou caught up to her after reading Ayumi’s letter.
On the whole, it is a terrific short story – and it is a shame that Persian Blue did not release any subsequent projects in light of the quality of their sole contribution to the sound novel canon. Although many years have passed since they published From the Bottom of the Heart, I hope that I properly honored their efforts with my review.
From the Bottom of the Heart is more than worth the few minutes it takes to download (for free) and read.