It’s no surprise that the Mashiro-Iro poll is the closest one I’ve ever had at LiA (I’ve kept all polling places open an extra day due to the late sub this week, so vote if you haven’t) because there’s absolutely no one in this cast I don’t like. Miu is first among equals, but each girl is a complete person and true to who they are, and Shingo is one of the best male leads we’ve seen in a romance anime in years. I’m surprised Sana didn’t rank a little higher based on how prominent her role has been in the battle (somewhat surprisingly) but I understand it, as I’ve always felt Airi was the real rival for Miu-sempai. Frankly, I still do, though I may be the last viewer who does.
This episode reminds me a lot of R-15 in the way it spends as much time with the loser in a romantic triangle as the winner, and treats them with complete respect and dignity. While I think Sana was really out of the running all along, it’s clear that she always held out hope, and I think Miu unwittingly made her eventual downfall more painful by trying to support her cause. Yes, Sana is the most clichéd character here and the most annoying at times – she’s certainly a tsundere. But as with everyone and everything in Mashiroiro it’s more complex than it first appears. The revelation that she’s allergic to cats was more a confirmation of her true character than a real surprise. She’s the type who pushes people she cares about away and prefers to keep her suffering to herself rather than look weak. It was certainly sad that she had to find out about Miu and Shingo the way she did, though I don’t think she could have been truly surprised. What happens with kitten Shingo and Miu now, I wonder? As Sana said herself, “Miu and Shingo can’t be separated.”
I also want to point out the odd and admirable role Airi played in the episode. Airi has been the mystery girl of the series – in a more conventional show, she would surely have been the main love interest, and she was the first girl to get real character development and be integral to the plot. But though it’s clear that she’s every bit as smitten with Shingo as Sana is, she’s been oddly silent these last four or five episodes as the Miu/Sana drama played out. Finally, this week, she stepped up to play the adult in the room – to gently guide Sana away from a fantasy she knew would only make her hurt more in the end, and to comfort her when that fantasy came crashing back to Earth. All the while, of course, Airi herself is hurting terribly at seeing Shingo and Miu grow closer and closer, though as individuals she likes and admires both of them. This is the reality of love – when it brings happiness to two people it’s usually hurting someone else. I’ve rarely seen the hurt of rejection handled with some grace and directness than it was here.
Of course the other side of all this is that Shingo and Miu finally admitted their feelings for each other, though if Miu was truly surprised she might have been the only person real or fictional who was. I’ve rarely encountered an anime couple that I like more, or that seem better suited to each other. The process of watching Shingo fall for Miu was handled slowly and patiently (a hallmark for this show). Simply, he saw the same things that we did – that she worked tirelessly to help the helpless animals in her care. That she acted as a den mother and safe harbor for the people in her circle just as much for the animals, and that she was refreshingly free of pretense and unconcerned with trivialities. Meanwhile she saw him act as a one-man diplomatic mission to bridge the gap between the sexes in the school simply by behaving in an admirable way, be taking responsibility and trying to do the right thing. She also saw that while she was taking care of everyone else, Shingo was finally someone who wanted to take care of her – who saw that all that she took on herself really could be a heavy load sometimes, and wanted to share it. It wasn’t love at first sight, or hate developing into love – it was simply two remarkable people slowly and surely falling in love. How rarely have we seen that in anime?
So then the question: is it really all over? I’ll admit the evidence seems overwhelming – the kittens are reunited. Shingo has confessed that he loves Miu and only her, and Miu has admitted that the only thing holding her back was that she was unsure he felt the same way she did. So how could anything go wrong now? Well, for starters, I’m so rarely in the winning camp in anime romances that I’m conditioned to expect heartbreak – I’ll be on pins and needles until the last Blu-ray extras are out. Even more, Mashiroiro has shown itself unorthodox and surprising merely to get to this point in the first place – by all accepted patterns, this should have been Airi’s win. So why should it start behaving predictably now, when it’s done it so rarely so far? Airi’s story still feels oddly incomplete – Sana has had her (painful) closure, but Airi hasn’t. And we have two episodes to go, which certainly implies that we need a source of conflict and tension even with this show. Miu and Shingo have the blessing of Pannya and the kittens, and even Sakuno has given her blessing in her own way, discreetly getting Ange out of the room so the couple could be alone (and how refreshingly different from the usual imouto character she’s turned out to be). All the pieces are in place. But there are still two episodes left and I’m expecting at least one more major surprise before we’re done.