Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

On April 11, 2021, I began a project to review nearly 30 free doujin Japanese visual novels that were officially translated into English in the 2005, 2006, and 2008 al|together translation festivals. In today’s post, I will review From the Bottom of the Heart (Negaeba in Japanese), a short story thatwas contributed to the 2008 al|together translation festival. and takes about 10 minutes to read.

Title screen for Persian Blue's 2006 sound novel, From the Bottom of the Heart.
Title screen for From the Bottom of the Heart.

Before continuing, please note that this article is the first of two about From the Bottom of the Heart. This piece is my spoiler-free review of the short story. I will offer details about the game (including notes about downloading), a general assessment, and a brief synopsis that leaves the conclusion of the story for you to read.

My second article is a detailed analysis of From the Bottom of the Heart that will spoil the story. If you find the idea of the story interesting after reading this review, I recommend downloading and reading From the Bottom of the Heart for yourself before reading my analysis of the story in the second half of my two-part series.

From the Bottom of the Heart is easy to download and takes about 10 minutes to read. If you are interested enough after reading my review, I again recommend downloading the story for yourself and giving it a read before studying my full analysis in the second article.

From the Bottom of the Heart Details

Descrpiton of the From the Bottom of the Heart visual novel from the al|together 2008 website.
Description from the al|together 2008 website.
  • Game: From the Bottom of the Heart (EN); Negaeba (JP)
  • Created By: Persian Blue
  • Translated By: Chris St. Louis (under supervision of Seung Park (Insani)
  • Original Release: October 16, 2006 (JP)
  • English Release: November 27, 2008
  • Platform: Windows, Mac
  • Official Website: Insani; Archived
  • Visual Novel Database Entry: Negaeba Kitto…
  • Reviewed on: Windows version through Wine compatibility layer on Linux

From the Bottom of the Heart was created by a doujin visual novel circle called Persian Blue. It was released in Japan on October 16, 2006. The English translation was contributed to the 2008 al|together festival. Its festival page notes that it received good reviews on freeware game sites. It appears to be the only project that was completed by Persian Blue.

Persian Blue’s Description

One of the From the Bottom of the Heart’s files (Read Me.txt for those who download it) includes a description of the project from Persian Blue:

While we can’t say we’ve created a stunning work of timeless literature, we do hope that this very short story will still manage to touch people’s hearts, even if only in the tiniest of ways.
Therefore, we hope that you will find this piece entertaining, and that maybe some of our intention will speak through it as well.

Persian Blue’s description of From the Bottom of the Heart

Persian Blue described the genre as “Emotionally Moving Sound Novel.” I discussed the distinction between visual novels and sound novels in my project introduction. For most intents and purposes, the term “visual novel” encompasses “sound novels” like From the Bottom of the Heart.

Downloading From the Bottom of the Heart

From the Bottom of the Heart is available as a direct download for Windows and Mac from the 2008 al|together site. Below, you will find the official download links for your convenience (they work as of August 22, 2021).

I ran the Windows version on Linux through the Wine compatibility layer. It worked fine with one caveat: the cursor displayed as a black box instead of an arrow when I ran it over the game window. I do not recall having any issues when I first played it on Windows 7 in 2011 or 2012.

“Game-Play” of From the Bottom of the Heart

Like The Poor Little Bird, which was the first visual novel I reviewed for this project, From the Bottom of the Heart has no game-play. The player only interacts with the game insofar as he or she advances the text. There are no choices or branching paths – it is an entirely linear visual novel.

Options

From the Bottom of the Heart allows players to create save points and load those save points. However, since the story takes less than 10 minutes to read, I doubt that most players will have any reason to create save points.

The two main characters in From the Bottom of the Heart with the options menu pulled up.
The options menu overlays the two main characters in the center.

The most useful option offered by From the Bottom of the Heart is the ability to read history. Previously read text shows up in yellow instead of white, which may be easier for some people to read.

Audio-Visual Presentation of From the Bottom of the Heart

The audio-visual presentation of From the Bottom of the Heart is very simple, but it works well for the project.

Visuals

The game window is divided into two halves. The protagonist’s character sprite and the text always occupy the left side of the window (exception: the protagonist appears on the right side of the screen for the very first scene). When text is displaying, the left side of the window is darkened in order to make the text readable.

The right side of the window usually features a background and the second main character’s sprite.

Character Sprites

Only two characters actually appear in the story: A young man named Shirou and a girl whose name is not revealed until the end of the story (I will reserve that for now). Both Shirou and the girl have sprites, which you can see in the screenshot below:

The two main characters from the From the Bottom of the Heart (Negaeba) visual novel at the merry-go-round at the amusement park.
On the left, Shirou overlayed by dialogue. On the right, the mysterious girl against a photographic background of a merry-go-round.

The sprites are both solid character portraits. They do not change or have variations.

Backgrounds

From the Bottom of the Heart uses real photographs for the backgrounds instead of artwork. The photographs are rendered in black and white. The game’s Read Me file lists the sources for the photographs, but none of the links work anymore. Although the choice of stock photographs may have been prompted by staffing or resource considerations, I think it works very well in the context of the short story. Although there is almost never movement, there is one scene (involving a ferris wheel image) where the camera pans up to give the effect of Shou following the girl’s finger as she points at the ferris wheel.

Soundtrack

From the Bottom of the Heart has five background soundtracks that all sound piano-based (to my untrained ear, at least). None are particularly memorable, but they go well with the story. The second and the final songs are the best of the group to my ears.

Translation Quality

As I noted in my series introduction, I cannot read Japanese. Because I cannot read Japanese, I am not in position to judge the fidelity of the translation. Those who download From the Bottom of the Heart and can read Japanese may be interested to read the translation against the original text that is included in the game’s files (see “0.txt” in game files). The file with the game’s English script and the original Japanese text also includes editor’s notes and suggestions for Mr. St. Louis.

For this assessment, I will focus on how the story reads in English, with some guidance from the translation notes and comments.

The English version of From the Bottom of the Heart reads well, much like all of the other al|together translations that I have read thus far. It compares favorably to some commercial projects that I have reviewed here at The New Leaf Journal.

The English text does not, however, read as well as the text in my first Insani review, The Poor Little Bird. Granting the overall quality of the text, there were some individual lines that came out sounding a bit unnatural in English. Some of the suggestions in the 0.txt file (although not all – there were some suggestions that did not read as well as what Mr. St. Louis went with) did sound more natural than what made it into the final version. However, the team at Insani may have had reason to not incorporate some of the suggestions based on their understanding of the original text.

Minor points where the dialogue feels a bit stiff aside, the English-text is solid and at no point difficult to understand. I did not notice any glaring errors or clunkers.

General Story Synopsis

The protagonist of From the Bottom of the Heart is a young adult man named Shirou. Shirou begins the story by detailing how he had been hospitalized at the age of 16 with thrombocytopenic purpura. While in the hospital, he met a girl named Ayumi Fujishiro, who had been hospitalized with the same disorder. After finding that they had much in common, Shirou and Ayumi became best friends while they were in the hospital together. They made a promise that when they were both discharged, they would go to the amusement park together.

Shirou responded well to medication, and he was discharged from the hospital after six months. Ayumi was less fortunate. Before Shirou left the hospital, Ayumi asked him to keep coming to see her. Shirou said he would but never did. The last time he saw Ayumi was the day that he left the hospital.

The story picks up years later when Shirou is a young adult. We learn that he has a job that he is happy with. We meet him on an early spring day at a bookstore. After Shirou describes his current circumstances, he recounts that he runs into a pretty girl outside the bookstore. She perplexes him when she tells him that she wants to go to the amusement park with him.

Before Shirou knows what is happening, he is on the bus with the mysterious girl to the amusement park. The rest of the story covers their amusement park “date” and concludes with revelations that force Shirou to confront the past he had been running from for several years.

Overall Review

I remembered liking From the Bottom of the Heart when I first read it about a decade ago, and I gained a new appreciation for the story after having read through it again.

Despite some occasional bouts of unnatural (albeit not clunky) dialogue, the English translation reads very well. From the Bottom of the Heart is not perfectly polished – I note some quibbles in my follow-up article.

With all of that being said, From the Bottom of the Heart tells an intricate story in very few words. As I discuss in my analysis article, it is essentially the epilogue to the story of Shirou and Ayumi. However, the story of Shirou and Ayumi was never told outside of Shirou’s brief recollections in this epilogue. The sound novel’s being a sort of epilogue without a body is one of its most interesting points.

The story leaves readers with plenty to think about after completing it. Shirou is an imperfect character who spends his present haunted by his past. Although it is clear from the outset that the mysterious girl who drags Shirou to the park has some connection to his past, it is unclear what that connection is and what specifically her motivations are.

The story does have a conclusion, but that conclusion entails an uncertain new beginning. Where Shirou and the mysterious girl will go from the end of the story is a matter of how one makes sense of the snapshot of a day they spend together at the amusement park.

From the Bottom of the Heart is one of the better super-short sound novels that I have read, and it comes with my full recommendation.

See Follow-Up Article

If you are intrigued by the review, I recommend reading From the Bottom of the Heart before reading my full analysis of the story in my follow-up article. Of course, if you want to skip to the analysis, I cover the story in detail in that post.