Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these. Let’s change that!
Ame no Marginal, or Rain Marginal depending on how much of a Japanophile you want to be, is a visual novel by Tomo Kataoka, a VN author who got really famous for his work on Narcissu, which we have covered here before, some years ago. Those of you who’ve checked that out will find a lot familiar here. It’s made in the same engine, the storytelling style is much the same, and it’s still a big exercise in minimalist storytelling. However, Rain Marginal, although marketed pretty heavily on that Narcissu collection and even containing a bonus chapter for Narcissu after you finish the story here, really stands on its own. Its got its own concept, its own characters, and brings to bear a rather distinct set of themes from all the rest.
The crux of Ame no Marginal deals with a separate, almost entirely featureless world where it’s always raining and time seems to stand still. People within that world don’t age, heal injuries almost immediately, and never get hungry or thirsty. Sounds cool, but as I said, almost entirely featureless. There’s only one place in the world where you can get some covering from the rain, there’s a river that sometimes brings in the random broken down object, and there’s a place where you can get glimpses into the real world if you’re willing to walk a century or so to get there. Aside from that, it’s all just flat stone. And worst of all, most of the time, for years and years on end, there’s only one person inside of it. Very occasionally, someone else will wander in, but the world will only allow there to be two people within it for up to three days at a time.
The story itself has two plotlines going through it. The first follows the typical featureless Japanese male visual novel protagonist, whose name is probably Jenner Rick or something like that. Rick lives a pretty typical salaryman life, and he finds it utterly banal. This brings him to depression, and we see some suicidal ideation coming from him on a regular basis. One day, as he’s heading to his office, the elevator that normally takes him there has an extra button, another floor above the top. He presses it, and finds himself in this rainy world, where he meets Rin, a bubbly and optimistic child who seems to have been living there for quite some time. This line will follow along with him over the three days that he has there.
The second line tells the story of Rin herself, some hundreds of years before she meets Rick. And she didn’t live a happy life. Brought up in feudal Japan as a slave to some religious institution that forces extreme restrictions on its girls as part of some measure of contrition to their god, she watches her sister, who always happily took part in this faith, get killed by these restrictions, and has them forced on her in her sister’s place. Then bandits attack her shrine, she is set adrift, and she finds herself ending up in this rainy world, together with a seemingly carefree woman who exhibits strange powers. Rin’s story kind of follows the same path as Rick’s at first, going largely over the interactions between the two characters there and Rin’s adjustment to the rain world, before it starts to take a different direction entirely.
One thing that I find really interesting about the two, two-and-a-half, however many perspectives you want to call it on this world is that they look at it in very different ways. Rick actually seems to find a lot of comfort there. He doesn’t say it outright, he acknowledges that this world would suck to be stuck in, but he does seem to find the whole experience very reflective. With him, it appears that the world on the outside that he finds himself in shows him what the world he’s feeling on the inside is like. Rin, on the other hand, seems to find the world to be an embodiment of her sin, although she doesn’t really understand that sin in the first place. Her upbringing, trapped in that abusive religious institution and the horrors she saw there, left her with a very distinct mental structure for how things work, yet she doesn’t really understand any of the parts of it. And she’s also there for a long, long time, which shows us quite a bit of how sort of thinking can progress.
The story gets a lot of mileage out of those two perspectives as well, sometimes in some really thoughtful ways. For example, in Rick’s chapters, we see two different versions of Rin, the bubbly, optimistic one we see in the daytime, and the fatalistic, rude one at night. When we get behind’s Rin’s head, we find that neither of them really accurately depict Rin’s actual personality. The daytime one seems to be a persona she puts on with the rare opportunity to spend time with someone else, and she might not even be aware the nighttime Rin is coming out of her. And that’s just the lead to this. Rain Marginal has some spots of really surprising depth, and I think I’ve gotten a lot more out of the story thinking about it afterwards than I did when I was actually in the midst of playing it.
It takes a certain type of patience to enjoy Ame no Marginal, however. Even for being as short as it is, around two hours without the Narcissu bonus chapter, it’s a really slow moving story. Which I suppose is par for the course here. We’re talking about a work of fiction with only three characters of which only two can interact at a time in a world where the whole point is that there’s nothing going on and almost nothing ever changes. There’s not a whole lot happening, and there’s a whole lot of introspection. If you’re into thoughtful works, where you really have to slow down and focus on the little things, this could be your bag, but if not, I don’t see you getting much out of it.
And unfortunately, while it does have a lot of thoughtful moments, I think this visual novel’s biggest failing is that those moments don’t really come together into a cohesive whole. Tomo Kataoka has been a big proponent of the theory that it’s really up to you to determine what you get out of a work, what it means, what the themes are, what it has to teach you, all that jazz. And it worked really well with Narcissu. Here, though, it just doesn’t feel like there’s all that much substance. There’s a lot of flashes of good work in there, but overall, it feels like a lot of not really connected ideas were just thrown together and called a day. I’ve seen some posts out there trying to hash out what Ame no Marginal means to no real effect, but rather than because it’s just really subject to interpretation, I think it’s because there’s just no real intention behind the stuff here. We see a few things as to what the world might represent, but beyond that anything else really means anything. The story leaves a lot of questions with absolutely no hints of any answers whatsoever. Why Rin has those two personalities, what the river is and why it seems to have portals to or from the real world at either end, the woman with mysterious powers that Rin encounters and why her experiences in the world are so very different from hers, so much and more gets absolutely no exploration and no sense there’s any greater thought behind it. And it doesn’t help that the finale just drops happy endings on everybody out of nowhere with no sense of actually resolving anything. I’m willing to give a lot of things the benefit of the doubt, but here, well, if the job of an author is to turn an answer into a question, this work seems like a lot of its questions never had answers in the first place.
And in a nutshell, that’s Ame no Marginal. It’s quick, and if you’re in the right frame of mind, it can be enjoyable and make you think. It doesn’t really stand up to deep scrutiny, however, and given the potential of the author and his way of writing, that’s a real shame.