Full Stop

In "Summertime", Nagisa and Shizuma fail miserably in trying to advance their relationship. After spending an unhappy day studying French on her summer vacation, in an unsatisfying reprise of "Personal Tutor," Nagisa finds herself alone with Shizuma, out in the dark, watching fireworks from a distance. They manage to confess their feelings to each other, that both felt lonely while apart from the other during Nagisa’s recent vacation at the beach, and so they make an indirect confession of love. Then everything starts to go downhill. Shizuma tries forcibly to remove Tamao’s protection ribbon, Nagisa resists spiritedly, and in the struggle they both fall into the nearby swimming pool, Shizuma on top of Nagisa. Floating in this other world, and as Tamao’s ribbon falls away, they kiss for the first time.  Cut to Shizuma’s room, where Nagisa is asking herself what in the world she is doing there, and telling herself it is time to leave. Then Shizuma appears,  pushes Nagisa onto the bed, and then tries to make sexual love to her. But she hears her dead lover Kaori saying her name, and freezes. Nagisa disentangles herself, and gets out. Their relationship is in complete shambles.

To be sure, the episode is not an unmitigated disaster. Nagisa and Shizuma  do have their first kiss, notwithstanding its unpleasant prelude. It is a lovely moment: Nagisa accepts Shizuma’s kiss–she closes her eyes, interlocks her fingers with Shizuma’s–and the animation realizes the moment brilliantly: as they fall into the pool, they fall into another world–Tamao’s ribbon falls off, towards the viewer looking up at Nagisa and Shizuma kissing, with the light (but it’s nightime!) overwhelming the background behind them.

All the same, at the end of the episode Nagisa is overwhelmingly sad, a state we have never seen her in before. She is only able to talk to Tamao, to tell her what has happened, and to cry on her shoulder. She is sorry she lost Tamao’s ribbon. (In a latter episode she will make a point of finding it and returning it to Tamao. We shall have to figure out there why this restoration is important to Nagisa.) Shizuma on the other hand we see morosely playing the piano, lost in herself, not paying attention to Miyuki chattering away. Nagisa and Shizuma are both miserable.

So what is going on? Is this simply a game, of one thing after another, the anime making up obstacles until a happy ending is pulled out of a hat in the last episode? Or is there something more, some connected theme and lesson, which underlies the trajectory of Nagisa and Shizuma’s relationship, gives it a logic which explains its failures and its eventual success?

To answer this question, we need to look closely at why Nagisa and Shizuma fail at this point in their courtship. The overriding reason, of course, is Shizuma’s unresolved connection with Kaori. Now we know that Shizuma’s new feelings for Nagisa are bringing these old feelings back, that Nagisa is in effect forcing Shizuma to confront her past. After all, we are told Shizuma has had a string of affairs since Kaori’s death; it is only with Nagisa that Shizuma finds the dead to come back. Shizuma has still to accept Kaori’s death, and to put her love for her behind her, so she can love Nagisa for her own sake, and not out of some compensation for Kaori’s loss. Strawberry Panic will address this issue directly in the upcoming episodes "Storms of Love" and "Refrain;" for now, the moment in which Shizuma freezes is emblematic of how her heart is frozen in place in devotion to her lost love.

Bound up in Shizuma’s inability to cope with her memories are related issues of character and personality, which seperate her from Nagisa. She is jealous and possessive about Nagisa: when Tamao says "my Nagisa-chan," Shizuma retorts, "My?;" when Amane leans over Nagisa lying on the ground, Shizuma appears, sends Nagisa back to study and very tartly tells Amane to look for her princess in Spica; and Shizuma forcibly tries to remove Tamao’s ribbon over Nagisa’s repeated objections. When we hear Shizuma propose to teach Nagisa about her feelings ("Do you know why you had those feelings? Have you ever known someone with those feelings?" […] Let me teach you,") we realize that Shizuma is presumptuous; and when she rushes into sexuality with Nagisa, we realize she is arrogant as well, since she is pays no attention to Nagisa’s own misgivings. However Shizuma may think Nagisa is different, she is treating her as if she was another in her string of conquests. It is all very well for Shizuma to tell Nagisa "It’s not the first time with me. It may be the last time with you;" she is merely congratulating Nagisa on capping her amatory career. After all, this is Nagisa’s first time in Shizuma’s room, and Shizuma barely talks about her personal things, how they relate to when she was an understudy for several upperclassmen, before attempting to seduce Nagisa. Indeed, the animation shows us Shizuma holding Nagisa down by the wrists, in parallel with Kaname’s holding down Hikari the same way: Shizuma’s actions verge upon a rape. There is no relationship here: it is all Shizuma imposing herself upon Nagisa. Shizuma’s lack of introspection about her past extends into a lack of self-reflection about her character in general, which then manifests itself in these various aggressive and selfish ways.

If Shizuma appears to be the dominant partner, the sudden shift from her agrressiveness to her freezing in place demonstrates that she herself is dominated by her past, her memories, her habits, her failings. The anime gives us two important clues to guide us to understand Shizuma in this light. The first hint is Tamao’s book, which has the name "Prosper Merimee" written in English on its cover. This allusion to the author of the novella "Carmen," on which Bizet based his opera, and which will come up in the anime in the school play episodes, leads us to associate Shizuma with Merimee’s Don Jose, the role she will actually perform in the play, thereby leading the viewer to understand her as someone dominated by her passions to the point of self-destruction. Certainly all the characteristics we have ascribed to Shizuma in the previous paragraph identify her as a putative Don Jose(1).

This allusion brings us to the second clue in the episode, which will be brought out later when Nagisa plays the role of Carmen. Amane tells Nagisa: "You really are a very mysterious girl. […] Why is it all of Miator’s students that I know are like birds in a cage. Except for you. You really are an amazing girl." Strawberry Panic turns to an outside disinterested party to make sure we recognize and accept this crucial characterization of Nagisa. Nagisa emblematizes freedom, a quality of spontaneity, joy, unreflective life and vitality, a mode of activity and wildness at odds with the conformity and convention of school life. She is a transfer student in the same way Carmen is a gypsy: an outsider, who is free of social habits and restraints. I think we are to understand that Nagisa’s love is like Carmen’s love: free, unwilling to be bound by Shizuma’s (or even Tamao’s) possessiveness. If it is this freedom that makes Nagisa attractive to Shizuma (as Shizuma will tell Nagisa in a later episode), Shizuma cannot possess it at all, since possession itself is antithetical to Nagisa’s essence. Instead, Shizuma must herself become free. It is only then she will be able to meet Nagisa’s love on its own level.

When Shizuma can do this, then she can move beyond school restrictions and conventions and find in love its own freedom. This is the lesson Nagisa is trying to tell Shizuma in this episode, although she does not hear it. Recall the conversation Nagisa and Shizuma have while watching the fireworks. When Shizuma tells Nagisa, "That girl was right. We’re just like caged birds," she expresses a spirit of bitter resentment and defeat. But Nagisa overturns Shizuma’s complaint: "But it’s better than being all alone. I don’t know why, but I always felt lonely during Summer School. Even when I was with everybody and even when I saw that beautiful meteor shower I just couldn’t shrug off that lonely feeling…I was just lonely." For Nagisa, the true restraint is being apart from one’s beloved, the condition of being lonely, even when one is surrounded by friends and open skies. But when one is with the beloved, then one is free, in the unique contentment of being in love, notwithstanding the actual circumstances of being behind the bars of a fence, within the school’s golden cage looking out at the fireworks from a distance. Nagisa is free, as she is, and with the person she loves.

I have been a little unfair, by putting all the burden of change on Shizuma. Nagisa has her own issues to deal with, her own restraints, of which Tamao’s ribbon is the emblem. If for Nagisa, being apart from the beloved is itself a restraint, she faces the doubled difficulty of reconciling the competing claims of several lovers upon her. This is Carmen’s problem: how can she have both Don Jose and Escamillo love her at the same time? In Nagisa’s terms, how can she choose between Shizuma’s love and Tamao’s friendship, when the feelings of love and affection she has for both are equally genuine, and both important to her? Amid these competing bonds of love, how can she be free to love whom she loves? In the end, she cannot choose, and must rely upon Tamao making Chiyo’s choice, of giving Nagisa up for the sake of the self-less love that only wants the beloved to be happy.

Strawberry Panic has this to teach us about love: that love itself is free, contains its own world of freedom, and can only be found in the same free spirit in which it offers itself. Nagisa’s relationship with Shizuma waits upon Shizuma’s learning this lesson.

(1) Shizuma has a facsimile of an 18th century essay "Remarks on Duelling" taped above her desk. I cannot read it sufficiently to identify it as real or an invention. It could be the latter, but my guess it is a historical facsimile included in a book about Merimee or Carmen. Its purpose in the episode is to connect Shizuma further with Don Jose, since we will recall the famous duel Don Jose has with his rival Escamillo.

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