Every Unhappy Lover Unhappy in Her Own Way

In "Storm of Love," Shizuma attempts to tell Nagisa about the lost Etoile, Kaori. While doing so, Shizuma once again sees Nagisa as her lost lover, and once again, she collapses. Deeply upset, Nagisa responds by fleeing Shizuma. This episode reprises the collapse of the "Summertime" episode, but provides the context which explains Shizuma’s paralysis, the story about the dead Etoile. In addition, the episode emphasizes Nagisa’s reaction, her flight, by repeating it twice, once when she flees Shizuma again when Shizuma, now recovered, approaches her, and a second time the next morning, when Shizuma wakes to find Nagisa has fled the house without her. Both girls are overwhelmed by moments of extreme emotion, whose end is to drive them almost violently apart. So we have then two inevitable dramatic high points in the epiosde: Shizuma’s collapse, and Nagisa’s flight. Why do these crises happen, and what do they reveal about Nagisa and Shizuma’s characters?

The repercussions of these events expand from this episode to the conclusion of the anime. Later episodes, and especially the subsequent one, go into Kaori’s backstory in great detail, and actually do the work of making psychological sense of both girls’ actions. This episode is concerned solely with dramatizing the events, with creating for the viewer the experience of Shizuma’s collapse and Nagisa’s flight. Emotion and experience is what counts in this episode, not understanding. Whatever we have to say about the girls’ characters will have to respect the episode’s essentially melodramatic quality.

In Shizuma’s case, we learn at least two things. Though dead, Kaori is still alive in Shizuma’s heart. Shizuma can still believe and perceive Kaori to be alive. Kaori exists in a strange condition of life-in-death, dead and alive at once. That is why when Shizuma sees her, she is pale and white, colorless in the lightning, resembling nothing so much as a ghost; also she is nude, in remembrance of the time she and Shizuma made love, but all the same resembling nothing so much as a corpse. Shizuma is shocked to see her impossibly alive; one wonders how much she is shocked to see her as if she were also dead. In dramatizing this confusion, the animation adopts a macabre tone entirely keeping with the other Gothic elements of the scene: the storm, the lightning, the night, the ocean surges, the isolated house, etc.

The other thing we learn about Shizuma is that she is in a condition of stasis, locked in a hopeless longing for Kaori–thus she appears at Shizuma’s unconscious wish–that is also the moment of knowing her loss, as her renewed tears and grief indicate. Shizuma is perpetually caught in the instant of losing Kaori. Therefore she represses her memories, adopting an ordinary appearance of remoteness and distance; but that means, when her inner barriers give way, as they do in this episode, she is brought back directly and immediately to the very moment of Kaori’s death. Shizuma is truly and literally living a nightmare from which she is unable to awake. 

What are we to make of Nagisa’s repeated flights from Shizuma? To understand her reaction, we need to look at what she says to Shizuma, when Shizuma–having recovered from her seizure–approaches Nagisa out on the bluffs beside the sea. Nagisa turns back to her, her face tear-stricken, and then turns abruptly away again, squeezes her eyes shut, and exclaims, "I’m sorry." After Shizuma reacts in surprise, Nagisa continues, "I’m no good…right? I’m sorry!" Then she brushes past Shizuma and runs back toward the house. Later, when she finally get back to the Strawberry Dorms, and collapses into Tamao’s arm, she once again says, "I’m sorry."

What does Nagisa mean? What has she got to apologize for? There are two possibilities. She is saying that she is "no good" in the sense of being unable to bring Shizuma back to normal. She is responding to Shizuma’s earlier words, echoing Miyuki’s of the previous episode, that even since Kaori’s death, her world has "lost its color," but that Nagisa has enabled her to "retrieve" that color once more, to help her "stand up again." Shizuma’s collapse proves Nagisa has not in fact been able to bring Shizuma back, that she has failed Shizuma, and lost her own role in Shizuma’s life. Nagisa blames herself, as Tamao will put it later, for not having been able "to bring back a smile to your most important person."

The other possibility is that she is saying she is "no good" in being unable to replace Kaori, to give Shizuma what she really wants, which is Kaori. In other words, Nagisa realizes that Shizuma still loves and longs for Kaori, and that she herself does not signify in Shizuma’s world except as a placeholder for Kaori herself. If we understand, as Nagisa’s half-confession to Tamao in the previous episode strongly suggests, that Nagisa is in love with Shizuma and knows it, then Nagisa’s flight and subsequent depression reflects her feeling that Shizuma has rejected her.

The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive, and reflect the difference in the perspectives of the girls themselves. As we have discussed before, Shizuma and Miyuki regard Nagisa in a utilitarian light, as a means to the end of healing Shizuma. The idea that Nagisa has failed Shizuma assumes Nagisa exists to serve Shizuma, amounts to a way of looking at Nagisa from the standpoint of Shizuma’s benefit. Put another way, Shizuma is telling a story where the tragedy of the night’s events is that she is has failed to recover from Kaori’s death. The second interpretation accords with Nagisa’s own feelings for Shizuma, and makes sense of the same events in terms of the relationship itself, as a failure in the intimate workings of love. Nagisa is telling a different story, one whose tragedy is that she and Shizuma have failed to become lovers.

Of course Nagisa only says one thing. The fact that we can break it into two senses points to the distance that still remains between the two girls. I think the anime is aware of this distance, and marks it out in the details of the narrative. For instance, we can see a recognition of the essential selfishness of Shizuma’s attitude, an implied criticism of it, in the fact that Shizuma starts to go off the rails only after she interrupts Nagisa’s reciprocation ("Me too. Ever since I met Shizuma-sama…") to tell her "I still have a lot to tell you." We can forgive Shizuma her self-regard, given her great need; also, we can understand why Nagisa might adopt this view too, since anyone would want to be a real help to the person one loves. All the same, the anime shows us Shizuma at this moment insisting upon a monologue, and overriding the necessary recipricocity of love. On Nagisa’s side, the episode underlines the development of her feelings into love by the marked contrast of her reactions here to those she exhibited in the "Summertime" episode. Previously, Nagisa had been uncomfortable with Shizuma’s advances, and uncomprehending of Shizuma’s sudden fugue: her flight then was simply the wish to get out of a situation that was completely over her head. But in this episode, as the commentator Mentar on the Random Curiosity blog has noted, Nagisa now is accepting of Shizuma’s intimacy (1). She knows she is in love, and hopes for love’s consumation. When Shizuma breaks, she stays with her, showing a lover’s concern, until Shizuma’s repetition of Kaori’s name drives her to a lover’s despair, and flight. So I think the anime is perfectly clear, wants the viewer to recognize, the different motivations propelling the two girls.

So, at the close of the episode, where does Nagisa and Shizuma’s love stand? Nagisa has gone ahead of Shizuma, has achieved the ability to be broken-hearted over her relationship with Shizuma. Shizuma, on the other hand, is still lost in the past. The episode closes with Shizuma sitting on her bed, looking at the photograph of herself and Kaori, Kaori sitting with Shizuma behind her, Shizuma’s arm draped around Kaori’s shoulder, with Kaori’s hand holding Shizuma’s. They are both smiling and happy. That was then, this is now. Both Nagisa and Shizuma have managed to find themselves their own distinctive and individual places of exquisite misery.

(1) See http://randomc.animeblogger.net/2006/07/31/strawberry-panic-18/#comment-27726

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