It was pretty much a given that Manaka’s return was going to shake up Nagiasu, but she blew through the story like a hurricane. On balance I think the change was very much for the better, at least as compared to last week. While there were still things about this episode that drove me crazy, on balance it was a whole lot more compelling that much of what we’ve seen while she’s been asleep. And for an episode that only modestly focused on Hikari, that’s a step forward for this series.
Fittingly, the framing of the episode was very much structured around the impact Manaka’s return has on the other characters, and thankfully not fixating on Miuna’s reaction (which was about as one would have expected). Unlike the boys Manaka is genki from the moment she wakes up – exhaustingly so, in fact (even Hikari can’t keep up with her). It was so exaggerated that I would almost have thought it was overcompensating to cover up her real feelings, but by all appearances Manaka’s energy level seemed to be on the up-and-up.
Sadly, the same can’t be said of her memory – or at least it can be said that if her memory is OK, she’s improved as an actor. We all know what the elephant in the room is here, but this being anime (and Okada at that) we’re teased until the very end of the episode before Hikari asks her the question that must surely be burning a hole in his psyche. And even then, we get no answer. Manaka seems genuinely confused to me, especially when Hikari asks if what she’d been planning to tell him involved Tsumugu – it’s entirely possible she’s simply pretending not to know what Hikari is asking about, but my initial read is that she truly doesn’t remember the promise she made before the Ofunehiki.
There’s other stuff Manaka says she doesn’t remember too – like what happened on that day she was sucked into the deep, and whose voice it was calling out to her. Maybe she remembers one and not the other, maybe she remembers neither, or both – but Hikari, for his part, seems to have more or less settled back into his role of supporting Manaka whether she’s chosen Tsumugu or not. The hardest thing to figure out for Hikari, in fact, seems to be that Manaka is apparently untroubled by her lack of Ena. He certainly is, but in his usual fashion he’s plowing straight ahead, and taking his mood cues from her.
There’s a general tone of “Isn’t it great that the sea kiddos are back together!” among the others, but in looking at this dynamic is seems to me that Manaka’s return makes Chisaki’s situation even more painful. She truly is the odd one out now – she’s aged five years while their time has stood still, and when the four of them are cruising their old haunts it’s striking how out of place Chisaki looks. She’s certainly aware of it, and for all that Hikari and Manaka might gamely tell her “Chi-chan is just Chi-chan”, Chi-chan is acutely aware of the gulf that exists between she and the friends she grew up with. There are a lot of brave faces being put on among the core cast, but they’re each in quite painful situations – and I’m not sure Chisaki’s isn’t the most painful of all.
One thing that continues to bother me is that Kaname seems to exist in a vacuum, development-wise. When the moment calls for it we see him resentful and angry, and the rest of the time he’s neatly inserted back into his ever-smiling supportive friend role, as if those moments had never happened. At least Tsumugu, boring as he is, is evolving a bit as a character. He actually makes a joke here – a joke! – about bribing Uroko-sama for information (oh yeah, that world ending thing) using porn mags. For his troubles it seems that (or a wayward step) caught the attention of Uroko-sama, who curses him with the same blight he foisted on Manaka early in the series. Being the sea geek that he is, Tsumugu is of course delighted. The sea slug and the fish curse – the one indisputable fated pair in Nagiasu.
I’m still not pleased that the entire global catastrophe plot has been relegated to an afterthought, and with only five episodes left the ship on correcting that misstep has sailed. But it’s not as if there’s not enough personal drama to keep the show busy. It would be so damn easy if Chisaki loved Tsumugu back – it’s such a supremely logical pairing – but there’s just no spark between them at all. Likewise any notion that Tsumugu and Manaka might still have have any feelings for each other (if indeed he ever had them) takes a serious blow, as there’s no hint either of them is sparing the notion a moment’s thought. And until proved otherwise I still think Manaka ending up married to the Sea God is a serious possibility, which would pretty much guarantee a forever alone ending across the board (unless that wacky theory that Hikari is the Sea God proves true). The only two humans in the main cast for whom mutual romantic love seems a realistic possibility are Hikari and Manaka, but I just don’t see Okada allowing that to happen.