This is what Nagi no Asukara has reduced me to – I’m happy to see Yoshino Hiroyuki’s name attached to an episode. That just should never happen, but so it is here – down is up, right is left, and Yoshino is a symbol of quality. Every episode of Nagiasu he’s written has been excellent, and given that last week’s episode seemed to find the show teetering on the edge of a cliff, I was actually given a spark of hope by seeing him credited as the writer. And damned if he didn’t deliver.
Happily, there’s still an element of this that very much does make sense, and that’s the formula that the quality of an episode is inversely related to the screen time for Miuna. She was basically absent from this ep – her only role being to rather grievously violate Hikari’s privacy by eavesdropping on him talking to the still-sleeping Manaka – and it was like the glorious dawn of a new spring. It’s not her fault, but she just exemplifies everything that doesn’t work in this series, and every unwise creative impulse in Okada Mari. Is it the whisky’s fault that an alcoholic can’t drink it responsibly? Of course not – but that doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t put the bottle in their hands and leave them to their own devices.
This episode definitely took a slightly different turn than I’d expected. Hikari remains very much on the periphery, and Manaka slept her way through the entire thing (about a week in real-time). Instead, Okada/Yoshino chose to focus on Chisaki, Kaname and Tsumugu. While I still think Hikari has the most compelling story in the cast, this was still a very welcome turn as these characters have been sadly under-utilized of late. As for Hikari, he’s being used mainly as a plot driver at this point, as he remains central to pretty much everyone else’s story. And that can work, but only if the camera is turned in the right direction.
Of course, Hikari’s role in Chisaki’s story is pivotal. And it’s now obvious (she actually admits to it) that Chisaki is still in love with him. Obviously there are huge issues with this – namely the age difference and the fact that he’s shown no signs whatsoever of romantic inclinations in her direction – but I actually find it kind of moving that in spite of all that, Chisaki’s love for him is so strong that it remains unbroken. The heart wants what it wants, and he’s still the same person she fell in love with (more literally than would normally be the case, but on a deeper level) – the boy who silently rescued she and Manaka when they were lost as small children. The guy who always tries to do the right thing even if he doesn’t know what it is. And the guy who’s in love with her best friend.
The symbolism of Chisaki’s Petra Pan syndrome is hardly subtle here, but that’s fine – the scenario is such that subtlety would really be beside the point. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether she’s changed a lot and wishes she hadn’t or wishes she’d grown up more than she had, but she’s clearly confused and trying to cling to the past (even trying to slip into her middle school uniform – which was tight even then). Hikari for his part insists on telling her that she’s the same person, and one senses that he’s not completely doing so for her benefit – it seems as if from his perspective where only a few days have passed, Hikari sees all the same quirks and habits in Chisaki that he did when she was his own age.
As for the guys, it was nice to see them get a turn in the spotlight – especially Kaname, who’s been ill-served by the series most of the way through. His position is an odd one – he was the most mature of the group when they were kids so at least in theory, his transition should have been easier. But I think it’s actually harder (which is pretty much Kaname’s life story) because he no longer has that maturity feather in his cap. Chisaki – for whom he feels the same unrequited love that Chisaki does for Hikari – has leapfrogged him into young adulthood. If she didn’t take him seriously as a partner then she certainly doesn’t now. Kaname clearly feels things just as deeply as the others, and I like it when that comes out – as it certainly did when he admitted to Tsumugu that he’d considered letting him drown. But he didn’t, and that’s really the point. And his reward is to wake up and find out that Chisaki and Tsumugu have been cohabiting, and his love for her developing for all that time.
Tsumugu is emerging from his “sea slug” role a bit here. He gets Chisaki “drunk” on plum juice she believes to be umeshu (sorry Cruncyroll – it’s a liqueur, not wine), and inadvertently (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) tells Kaname something very cruel – that he and Chisaki have been frozen in time and Kaname’s return has, in Little Busters fashion, allowed their frozen time to start to move. I’m reminded a bit of Chihayafuru, where one might argue that Taichi’s only real chance with Chihaya would come after Arata was physically back in the picture – it’s hard to fight against a memory, or an ideal. Tsumugu really hasn’t done anything wrong here – he’s played the responsible, supportive friend – but his very existence is a knife in Kaname’s heart even though Chisaki has shown no more romantic interest in him than Hikari has in her.
One might reasonably ask – why is it that I consider the romantic entanglements of the original group so much more compelling than those of Miuna and Sayu? And I’d answer, if you still need to ask after 19 episodes I’m not sure I can answer. To me, we’re talking about something with deep emotional roots versus something entirely superficial and self-involved. As long as Nagiasu focuses on that original, painful dynamic it seems to work – that, and the very engaging larger story that’s been back-burnered for too long.
On that score, Tsumugu’s grandfather has told Chisaki a story which suggests the Sea God’s involvement in Manaka’s Ena leakage, and that’s prompted Hikari to try and “capture” Uroko-sama and get to the bottom of things. Hikari makes the most of his time here – the combination of his usual indomitable spirit and his rambunctious, childish eagerness is quite winning, even if its embarrassing for Akari. There’s also the matter of Tsumugu’s sensei covering up what they’ve uncovered about Shioshio in an attempt to (supposedly) use it to generate more funding to research the impending global crisis. And Manaka remains stubbornly asleep, which might just have both Chisaki and Miuna feeling a bit conflicted. This seems like much more solid ground than the quicksand Nagiasu was on last week (or perhaps “thicker ice” would be the better analogy) and, while I still think things could go either way, I can at least see a path from here that leads to a worthwhile destination.