A lot of Japanese popular media tends to place adolescent characters in leading roles. There’s a very good reason for this: adolescence is a point in your life where your understanding of the world and your beliefs are at their most fluid and dynamic.
Many dramatic Japanese stories explore the concept of adolescence as a turning point in one’s life. For most people, adolescence is where they truly establish who they really are, how they see the world and how they choose to live in it.
Most of us don’t have to go through an ordeal quite as turbulent as The Expression: Amrilato’s protagonist Rin as part of this journey of discovery, however…
While in some regards Rin is depicted in such a way that the reader of The Expression: Amrilato can latch on to her and sympathise first-hand with her plight when it comes to learning the language of the strange new world in which she finds herself, in others she is a far cry from the self-insert protagonist we see in many visual novels.
She’s a fully-voiced character with a well-realised personality; she clearly has some history prior to the events of the game, but the narrative doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in matters that are irrelevant to the situation at hand. Instead, we’re left to interpret a few things for ourselves — and in the process we can build a fairly convincing mental picture of what Rin is like as a person.
At the outset, Rin portrays herself as a fairly optimistic sort of person. She comments that “life is all about looking ahead and not losing sight of your goals”, but we don’t get a lot of opportunity to understand what her goals are — short-term, we know that she wants some delicious taiyaki, but longer-term… well, it doesn’t really matter, since before she knows it, she finds herself in the mysterious, perpetually pink-skied other world that forms the setting for the majority of the narrative.
It’s here that we learn Rin isn’t quite as optimistic as she might have initially made herself out to be. Confronted with a world that is simultaneously familiar and frighteningly alien, it doesn’t take long for her to completely lose hope of being able to understand the situation… or to do anything about it.
It’s at this point we encounter deuteragonist Ruka for the first time. Initially addressing Rin in what we subsequently come to learn is Juliamo, the variation on Esperanto spoken in The Expression: Amrilato’s parallel world, Ruka immediately comes across as a kind, caring individual — even if we don’t understand what she’s saying. We’re right there with Rin trying to pick out the important parts of the sentences and determine what this pretty young girl is trying to say to us — but then she throws us a lifeline.
“Japanese,” she says. “Understand… little bit.”
Rin, suddenly getting her vigour back at something familiar to latch on to, immediately bombards a bewildered Ruka with explanations and questions, terrifying the poor girl in the process. From this we can interpret that Rin is someone who likes to think she can do things by herself — she describes her attitude as “do what you can, and who cares if you fail” — but who actually craves the comfort and reassurance of someone to back her up; a “safety net” that ensures none of the risks she has to take are too big. Or, to draw things back to her self-description, someone who can help her pick herself back up after a failure.
She gets an opportunity to explore this for herself first-hand not long after Ruka takes her in; after going exploring, she finds herself falling asleep on a park bench, worrying Ruka almost to death. Rather than running from the situation, however, Rin takes the opportunity to learn from Ruka, and is eventually able to express how sorry she is using rudimentary Juliamo rather than relying on her fluent Japanese.
This is really where we start seeing the relationship between Ruka and Rin develop. Up until this point, although Ruka took Rin in, we could see it as simply a young girl doing a good deed for someone who appeared to be in need. When we see how upset and tearful Ruka is after Rin’s apparent disappearance, however, it’s very clear that there’s something more at play here — though exactly what form those feelings take and how deep they run don’t become immediately clear.
Rin comes to understand that she is a “vizitanto” (visitor) in Ruka’s world, and Ruka has offered to be her “prizorganto” (guardian). Apparently, it seems, Rin was not the first to encounter the strange phenomenon that brought her to this strange other world — and given the existence of a seemingly highly organised government agency for dealing with “vizitantoj”, she will probably not be the last, either.
From here, both we and Rin begin learning Juliamo in earnest. The game represents Rin’s growing understanding of the language in several ways, regardless of whether or not you choose to play with the quizzes and study sessions activated.
Firstly, it represents the words she knows the spellings of in a Juliamo-specific script — real Esperanto uses a mostly Roman alphabet with a few diacritics — while words she is less familiar with use a phonetic spelling.
Secondly, where she understands the meaning of a word, a literal translation appears in English underneath the Juliamo term in yellow — marked with question marks if she’s worked this out by deduction or interpretation rather than being directly told.
And thirdly, where she understands a complete sentence, the game provides a “Rin-TL” translation of what the whole sentence means. After completing your first playthrough, you can also activate an additional “TL” mode that shows translations for all Juliamo sentences, regardless of whether or not Rin understands them. This allows you more of an omniscient perspective than you have in your initial runthrough, where, assuming you came in with no prior Esperanto knowledge, you’re in roughly the same position as Rin; the change in viewpoint as well as the knowledge of what people are actually saying at all times presents an interesting twist on otherwise familiar scenes.
Rin has a number of reasons for wanting to learn Juliamo. The most obvious is simply to get by in day-to-day life; early in the narrative, she feels completely helpless and dependent on Ruka (and, subsequently, Ruka’s guardian Rei, who is a key staff member of the “visitors’ administration” facility) and starts to feel somewhat depressed as a result.
“My role was like that garnish that comes with sushi,” Rin muses. “Maybe I’d be totally ignored until the end, or maybe I’d get soy sauce spilled on me halfway through, only to be left like that… That was my role in life.”
Rin underestimates her own importance, though, as it’s so easy to do when caught in a trap of bleak depression. What she doesn’t recognise is that while she is learning Juliamo from Ruka and Rei, both of them are learning Japanese from her — or re-learning in the case of Rei, who it transpires is also a vizitanto from Japan — albeit not quite the same Japan Rin came from. In other words, all of them are learning how to communicate better with one another; Rin is not the only one who is getting something from the whole arrangement.
“Being able to talk to you… makes me feel much better,” admits Rei to Rin. “So I wanted to first express my gratitude… Thank you. And so, I’m sorry. I’ve taken pleasure in your coming to this world. Forgive me.”
Rin is having none of that, however.
“For me,” she explains to the reader, “being able to talk to Miss Rei and Ruka was like spiritual salvation.” And it’s true; Rin always seems much happier when she is able to freely communicate with both Ruka and Rei — it’s when she’s left alone with her own thoughts that her mind starts to head for darker places. A familiar feeling for anyone who has ever suffered with depression and anxiety, for sure.
Rin isn’t the only one deriving “spiritual salvation” from having someone to communicate with, either. As she and Ruka grow closer to one another, Rin comes to understand that despite her cheerful, idol-like exterior, Ruka is carrying her own inner turmoil — and it’s for very similar reasons to Rin; she, too, began her life in this world as a vizitanto.
“In my scool [sic]… no visitors,” Ruka explains. “Teachers… students… all from this world. My… introduction… not say, I visitor. Because teacher… said… ‘no need to say’… I… not answer. Next day… everyone know, I visitor. Since then, I… lose friends…”
There is, it seems, a certain amount of bitterness and resentment towards vizitantoj in Ruka’s world; Rin witnesses Ruka apparently being bullied on several occasions, and after consulting with Rei comes to the conclusion that it is due to her origins as a vizitanto.
“There was a time, many visitors appeal in this world all at once,” Rei explains. “These people do not know each other. But these fellow visitors could communicate with one another through mysterious common language. The world’s nations discussed the problem and, in beginning, enacted and enforced new law. This law is, ‘designate areas with seeming high visitor concentration as special districts’. Further, they used mystery language spoken by majority of visitors as basis, added words of this world, and presented as new language.”
There is an understandable degree of mistrust towards vizitantoj. For some, it’s resentment over the special treatment they get; for others, it’s the erasure of unique cultural elements such as unique languages; for others still, it may even be fear over the apparent disappearance of the “night” in Ruka’s world coinciding with the first appearance of vizitantoj; after they arrived for the first time, the sky took on its perpetually pink hue.
Some of these are concerns that we can relate to situations in the real world — particularly the perceived influence of immigrants on a locale’s unique culture. Regrettably, our own real world plays host to people who believe that outside influences on a country’s culture can pollute the purity of that culture; while it’s certainly true that in some areas immigrant populations make little attempt to truly integrate with the culture of the place in which they have settled, the reality of the situation is that we, as a collective people, grow stronger and wiser through learning from one another, regardless of our backgrounds. Integration, mutual understanding and respect is always the way to go; Rin, Ruka and Rei all seem to understand this, but others are somewhat more hesitant.
In Ruka’s world, while Juliamo may indeed have seemingly taken over completely from native languages in many places designated as “special districts”, the fact is that the common language allows people more freedom to communicate with one another than ever before. This, as we’ve previously discussed, was the original intent of the Esperanto language; while some seemingly remain resistant to it, Ruka’s world remains a good example of a world that has successfully managed to quite literally get people speaking the same language.
There are still plenty of mysteries surrounding where this language came from in the first place, however. From Rei’s description, we can infer that the many vizitantoj who appeared at once all had a language in common, despite apparently hailing from different worlds or dimensions. We can extrapolate from this to determine that, finding themselves in a strange, alien place where seemingly no-one spoke the same language — Rin discovers early on that “Japanese” is quite different from one world to another, for example — these vizitantoj decided to attempt using Esperanto as a means of universal communication.
And it apparently worked; Esperanto, it seems, developed in the same way across all these different worldlines — or at least similarly enough for everyone to be understood by one another. These people learning to communicate with one another really was the ultimate realisation of Zamenhof’s dream for the language: people from diverse backgrounds, all speaking a common language and understanding each other. As such, it made sense for a variation on Esperanto — which became known as Juliamo due to its implementation in July (Juli), and its basis in love, understanding and kindness (ami) — to be adopted as an “official” language of sorts.
Interestingly, the original meaning of “esperanto” as “the hopeful” stuck around in Ruka’s world, though not as a name for the language. Instead, it refers to those who are interested in making use of a mysterious “gate” in order to attempt to return home; it’s a contrast to “korespondanto”, which refers to those who have learned sufficient Juliamo to get by in everyday life — to graduate from being a vizitanto and accept their place in the world.
Upon learning of the apparent existence of this gate — and the mysterious phenomena that accompany its apparent opening and closing — Rin naturally becomes curious and finds herself confronting some difficult decisions, particularly as her relationship with Ruka ascends to a new level in one of the most beautifully intimate (yet non-sexual) scenes I’ve ever seen in a yuri visual novel. She’s going to have to define herself once and for all; is she the person she was at the start of the narrative, or is she going to try and build a new life in this new world?
Her ultimate conclusion is partly up to you; there are several different finales to the narrative, and whether or not Rin and Ruka have a happy ending — however you choose to interpret that — depends on the decisions you make along the way!
MangaGamer provided a review copy.
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