More than Friends, Less than Lovers

In "More than Best Friends" Yaya and Hikari make up. Yaya’s shocking actions notwithstanding, they retain a deep and real connection with each other, a shared history of significant memories and significant places they connect with each other. Following Tamao’s advice, their friends bring them back together at the place they first met, the grounds behind the cathedral, and there, remembering when they met and what they mean to each other, they reconcile. Yaya apologies, disavows her bad actions ("That time, I must have been…not the normal me,") even Hikari apologies, reassures Yaya saying "Yaya-chan, we’ll always be best friends," and they hug, and all is well again.
But in going back to where she had been, Yaya also learns an insight about her feelings for Hikari. The episode opens with Yaya recalling how, when she first met Hikari, she thought she was an angel, in a direct parallel with the earlier episode in which Hikari and Amane meet, think the other an angel, and begin their love story. Yaya shares moments with Hikari that in another context signifies the florescence of love. A similar moment occurs when Yaya remembers singing together with Hikari, in a moment of shared art that reminds us of Nagisa and Shizuma playing the piano or dancing together. But in Yaya’s case, these moments are not the steps to love, but instead signs of the special deep friendship she has with Hikari. So, at the episode’s close, she returns to the vision of the angel, and shifts it from love to friendship. She recognizes that Hikari is an angel, "[b]ut that angel wasn’t just for me."
We see in this episode the anime developing the concept of special friendship, the being friends beyond best friiends which yet is not the same thing as love. The episode’s title, "More than Best Friends," is an allusion to this intensest of friendships that is still purely friendship. That the title might mean, but does not, love, contains all the disappointment Yaya still feels; that it means more than just "best friends" captures the importance that both Yaya and Hikari attach to each other. Where the line is between friendship and love is not clear, especially since lovers also are friends beyond friends. When we see Mizushima and Chihaya quarreling, acting for all the world like a long-married couple, we do not know on which side of the line they stand. Yet, as Yaya learns, that line is unquestionably real and inviolable.
We also get in this episode the story of how Nagisa recovers Tamao’s ribbon, which she had lost in the pool the night she and Shizuma had kissed. The circumstances that Mizushima and Chihaya were quarreling about a protective charm, and the sight of Tamao’s particular shirt reminds Nagisa of the ribbon, which she had forgotten until now. She runs off at once to find it, and returns it to Tamao. Tamao is delighted by this sign of Nagisa’s caring. In an evocation of a Japanese tradition about the red ribbon of fate, Tamao ties the ribbon around their little fingers, as if to bind their souls and their destinies together: "[f]rom now on and always. That way, Nagisa-chan will always be mine. I’ll be satisfied." So Nagisa and Tamao seem to becoming closer and closer! We learn that they are still sleeping in bed together, and Nagisa even blushes at various of Tamao’s statements and actions. What’s going on?
To some extent, the anime is playing with the viewer, opening up the possibility in order to tease all those shippers hoping for Nagisa and Tamao to get together. But Strawberry Panic is never serious about that possibility. In fact, Nagisa and Tamao are in the same place as Hikari and Yaya. The point of telling both stories in the same episode is precisely to make the viewer understand the similar nature of their friendships. Nagisa remembers the ribbon in the spirit of affirming friendship, as Yaya and Haikari end up doing, as Mizushima and Chihaya end up doing. Otherwise, Nagisa had forgotten the ribbon, hardly a sign of love. We learn Nagisa hasn’t told Tamao about Shizuma’s kiss, so we can see Nagisa is keeping this part of her life seperate from Tamao. When Nagisa blushes, it is a sign of embarassment, not love; and when Tamao asks what bed they’re sleeping in together, Nagisa repeats the question, deflecting the whole issue back to Tamao. The connection Tamao is drawing between Nagisa and herself remains–however close–friendship, even the friends that are more than friends, but not lovers. Nagisa and Shizuma develop their love together in a world they alone share. However much she wants it otherwise, Tamao will have to learn Yaya’s lesson.
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