Overcoming Despair

In the "Confession" episode Nagisa comes to terms with the pain she feels in the aftermath of Shizuma’s rejection of her on that stormy night at Shizuma’s vacation house. When we first see Nagisa in the episode, she is acting out an enthusiasm and cheerfulness she does not truly feel. She declares the chilly autumn weather "great," in an ironic offset to Tamao’s opening comment "[t]he winds of autumn are so cold;" she races to class and then struggles to pay attention to the lecturer; she exclaims how wonderful her dinner is, when she has eaten almost nothing. Nagisa seems to be disguising her true feelings from not only her friends but from herself as well. Nevertheless, both Tamao and Kagome recognize–in the excess of Nagisa’s enthusiasm, in her distraction from the events happening around her, and by their own perceptiveness–that her behavior is really a mask for a hidden sadness. The issue comes to a head when Nagisa attempts to play the piano once again. Kagome interrupts her, and asks her point-blank–apparently incongruously, since Nagisa is dry-eyed–why she is crying. The question brings Nagisa to herself, to what she is really feeling, and she breaks down into tears in fact. Kagome attempts to comfort her with her stuffed bear, and then Tamao comes to embrace her, and to put her to bed.

Why exactly is Nagisa overcome with tears? One can envisage any number of other plausible emotional reactions to Shizuma’s behavior, so why this one? Kagone’s question is a good one, in that it forces us to try to understand the particular significance of Nagisa’s weeping. The best clue the episode affords us to her inner state is the sequence of memories she has while trying to play the piano. First she remembers playing the piano together with Shizuma, she hears the music they played, and then she recalls some of the moments of the time she spent with her at her vacation house, and lastly she remembers Shizuma in a happy moment at the greenhouse. In the context of the possible memories she might have, given the extreme disappointment of the night at the vacation house, we can say that these memories are conspicuously positive ones, ones which remind Nagisa of the Shizuma she loves. Of course, these memories at the same time are hardly in accord with Shizuma as she is, consumed as she is with her memories of Kaori. So I think Nagisa’s feelings are a complex combination of emotions. She feels love: this is the point of her last memory, the happy Shizuma who is the object of her love. She feels longing for Shizuma, as evidenced by her desire to play the piano, to reenact her memories of her beloved. At the same time, she feels pain in that Shizuma has not reciprocated her love, given that Nagisa cannot quite bring herself to play the piano again, cannot continue to express love whose return has only been such extreme disappointment. Consequently, caught as she is in the contradiction between her love’s expression and its rejection, she desperately wants to disengage from her feelings altogether. That is why she denies her grief in the first place, why she dissolves into insensibility when forced to confront her feelings, and why later in the episode’s most dramatic scene she questions whether she should ever have come to Miator in the first place, to experience these feelings at all. All of these moments are efforts to remove herself from the arena of emotions, to solve the failure to consummate her love by annulling it altogether. Since she cannot, since her memory and her friends and her own, real love for Shizuma keep bringing her back to these feelings, her dominant emotion must be an overwhelming frustration with the emotional stalemate she finds herself in. 

So what brings Nagisa back from her despair? Her own strength I think is the primary reason. The first time we see her out of bed she is at the side of the lake, about to throw Shizuma’s house key into the water. She restrains herself, if barely; the moment amounts to a decision not to give up on Shizuma, and to accept the situation she herself is in, notwithstanding the frustration and the disappointment she feels. Once Nagisa makes this decision, the animation then brings in the support of her friends to corroborate her own decision: they decide to make her something to delicious to eat as a way of cheering her up. The food answers to Nagisa’s own physical and practical character, which is innately cheerful and vital, seeking to live in a happy and straightforward way; but of course the food also expresses her friends’ love and concern, which are a spiritual nourishment and comfort that help to restore her to cheerfulness. Finally, Tamao points out to Nagisa the crucial difference she has made in Tamao’s life, and in the lives of all their friends: "After that girl [ie Nagisa] came, every day was better than she [ie Tamao] ever imagined […]You may not have been able to bring back a smile to your most important person, but you have spread that smile among the people around you." Nagisa matters, if not to Shizuma, then to her friends; she has a crucial place in their lives, and the love they bear her is the sign of the difference she makes. In contrast with the solitary Shizuma, Nagisa is emplaced in a social network of friends whom she has affected decisively to the good. Nagisa responds by taking Tamao’s words to heart and cheering up at last: she thanks her friends, and, in a satisfying comic denouement, invites them all to join her in a late-night tea party. Individual sorrow is resolved in social harmony.

So Nagisa does indeed achieve an emotional resolution. In this respect the episode contrasts Nagisa sharply with Shizuma. We see Shizuma sitting in Kaori’s old room, looking at the photograph of the two of them. The light outside changes in brightness, ending in twilight, so that we know Shizuma has spent the whole day caught up in her memories of Kaori, in the exact place we last see her on the day of Kaori’s death. Nagisa is able to overcome her grief, and Shizuma is not: that is the sum of the distance between them, the reason they cannot yet come together in the reconciliation the narrative is pointing towards.

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