I don’t think one has to look too hard to see a trend in Nagi no Asukara, where things just happen because that’s what’s necessary for the plot to get where it needs to go. Call it putting the cart before the horse or use whatever metaphor you like, but in my view it’s a flaw when the characters’ don’t drive the plot, but the plot drives the characters. We needed Miuna to have Ena in order for her to become the main character, so that’s what happened. And now, it seems, we needed Tsumugu to have it for… Well – for all sorts of things, it looks like.
There’s an interesting sort of philosophical divide at the heart of this episode, but Okada Mari (she actually wrote the screenplay for this one, for the first time in quite a while) only dances around the fringes of it (and in fact seems to equivocate about it, for now at least). If Manaka is happy, is it necessarily such a bad thing if she’s lost the ability to love? I think it’s difficult to answer that without knowing more about the details of her condition – most critically whether it applies only to romantic love – but it’s an important question nonetheless.
On the one side we have Hikari, who as always takes the idealistic view on the matter. Even though he professes certainty that it’s Tsumugu that Manaka loves he says he wants her to be a complete person and be able to properly exercise her feelings. Is Hikari being selfless or selfish here? As you’d expect from a 14 year-old boy I think it’s a bit of both – surely, some part of him hopes that it’s he that Manaka loves, even if he won’t admit it. But there’s ample evidence that even before the big sleep Hikari had already decided to dedicate himself to Manaka’s happiness even if that didn’t include being his lifemate. Most importantly the belief that Manaka should be able to love is perfectly consistent with Hikari’s general worldview, that problems only exist to be solved and settling and compromise are dirty words. This is the person Hikari is, plain and simple.
There’s this, too – the views everyone else takes on this subject are at least as colored by their selfish interests as Hikari’s, if not more. It’s no wonder that Chisaki, Kaname and Tsumugu are ambivalent – Manaka certainly seems happier than they are, and they all love someone who doesn’t seem to love them back. Sayu being the erratic pubescent she is it totally on the fence – she’s in the same boat but young enough to believe it can get better (yes, Kaname is too but he’s always been an old soul). There’s obviously a much broader existential issue at play here, but it doesn’t seem as if Nagiasu is interested in confronting it at the moment – indeed, every time it seems ready to embrace one side of the argument it does an about-face and contradicts itself.
There’s evidence that Manaka may be starting to at the very least be aware of the emptiness that exists inside her now – the discovery of her sea slug stone is obviously a symbolic moment of some importance. But the first relationship that it appears will be confronted is that of Tsumugu and Chisaki. It starts with a confrontation between Hikari and Tsumugu, with the former pushing the latter to expressively act out love towards Manaka in an effort to job her emotional memory. Tsumugu clearly has nothing to worry about from a 14 year-old trying to mix it up with him and he’s quite right to refuse to toy with Manaka’s feelings (though that’s not how Hikari intended it), but the incident does prompt him to admit to Hikari that he’s in love with Chisaki – which Chisaki is conveniently present to overhear. Even more conveniently, when she dives into the ocean to escape him and he follows, Tusmugu conveniently (three times in one paragraph, that’s how convenient all this is) develops Ena. A game-changing moment, for certain, but one not generated by character development as far as I can see.
Certainly, emotionally there were no revelations here. Tsumugu being in love with Chisaki has been a given for a long time – frankly it stretches belief that she would be so surprised by it at this point. Tsumugu and Manaka as a potential pairing has been dead since Manaka told Hikari she had something to tell him, and effectively so earlier even than that. But narratively speaking, the problem here is that Tsumugu and Chisaki just doesn’t pass the acid test as a relationship – if the two of them end up together now it will play as, yes, convenience – just as it would if Kaname and Sayu did. Sayu actually muses on the possibility of being with someone you don’t love just to avoid being alone, and that’s what the impression would be in both Chisaki and Kaname’s case – even if they were to protest otherwise.
I’m certainly interested to see how all this works itself out over the last three episodes, but at the moment it feels as if Nagiasu has gone off the rails a bit and become somewhat unfocused and disjointed. There are just too many spur lines branching off the main track, and too much time spent following the ones don’t seem as important. I don’t see the need for yet more scenes of Miuna crying watermelon tears and 15 instances of her whispering Hikari’s name every week while the fate of the world barely gets a mention and all of the inhabitants of Shioshishio continue to sleep, and an episode dedicated to Sayu’s pursuit of Kaname (as it appears next week’s will be) while Hikari and Manaka’s fate remains up in the air. There’s still time left for the series to bear down and confront the issues that really matter, but the window of opportunity to do so is getting smaller with each passing week.