Friends and Lovers

The "Ring of Fate" episode tells the story of Amane’s amnesia: how she rejects Hikari, how Hikari, distraught, finds solace and advice from Chikaru, and renews her faith in Amane. Since we have already discussed Amane’s amnesia in the previous essay, I will just note briefly that amnesia provides an interesting gloss on Shizuma’s situation vis-a-vis Nagisa. Amnesia confirms the idea of levels of consciousness, of a surface level not aware of a core level: just as Amane is not aware of her true feelings for Hikari, neither is Shizuma aware of her feelings for Nagisa. Also, amnesia allows for a resolution of the narrative through the restoration of memory: Hikari will sing for Amane and remind her of the first time she sang for her, and so bring Amane back to herself; and Shizuma will be overcome by memories of her happy moments with Nagisa that will drive her out of the greenhouse to the cathedral to snatch Nagisa away. Given that amnesia amounts to an estrangement from oneself–a forgetting of who one is via the forgetting of those with whom one has a relationship–the rectification of amnesia is not just a remembering but a renewal of one’s identity. For Amane, this renewal is the endpoint of a process of self-discovery, which she had already been engaged upon before she fell from the horse: to find out that she is a star, that she ought to run for Etoile, and finally, as this process’s climax, to find out that she loves Hikari. In Shizuma’s case, since her self-estrangement has persisted from before the beginning of the anime, when she dramatically interrupts the Etoile election to declare her love for Nagisa, she returns to an identity that is a surprise to most, but who is, as Miyuki admits, the real Shizuma of old, a creature of dramatic passion and wild caprice. Amane’s amnesia helps us see that the resolution to which Shizuma finally arrives is a also recovery from a kind of self-amnesia.
The other incident I would like to discuss is Tamao’s interesting conversation with Nagisa about the nature of the Etoile. Nagisa is still wondering why Miyuki is so set upon having herself and Tamao as candidates for the Etoile election; this question leads her to wonder why Etoiles come in pairs in the first place. Tamao’s reply composes the anime’s most extended discussion in the abstract about the role of the Etoile. According to Tamao, "[t]he Etoile symbolizes everyone’s feelings and everyone’s glorious existence. Sometimes they’re kind, and sometimes they’re stern. They’re life’s examples and lead us on our way." Tamao then goes on to insist that the Etoile is not perfect, that she needs a companion to help survive in life; in this need, the Etoile comparts with humanity in general, and not with any distinctive quality of the Etoile: "But we can’t say they’re perfect. That’s why they have a partner. […] Humans can’t be by themselves. They must help each other to survive." In answer to Nagisa’s question, we learn Etoiles come in pairs not since they are Etoiles, but since they are humans, and all humans need a partner in order to survive. In general–and this is the most striking aspect of Tamao’s description–the Etoile is thoroughly grounded in the lives of ordinary people and the condition of ordinary humanity. If the Etoile remains an ideal, she is so as a symbol of the "feelings" and the "glorious existence" that inheres in "everyone." More than that, she remains imperfect ("we can’t say they’re perfect") and in fact entirely human, in that she needs a companion just as all humans do.
In the subtext of Tamao’s conversation is the idea that the friendship she and Nagisa share is the model of the Etoile. Given this universal and humanistic conception of the Etoile, both Tamao and Nagisa immediately proceed to illustrate it by referring back to their own relationship with each other: "I’m always asking Tamao-chan to help me," Nagisa notes, and Tamao confirms: "I’m always under Nagisa-chan’s care, too." And of course the whole conversation itself, in which they share and reinforce an implicit understanding with each other, is precisely an illustration of the mutuality and correspondence which Tamao identifies with the Etoile. This is a beautiful moment, the one in which Tamao and Nagisa are at their closest in the whole anime. The animation brings this spiritual proximity forward by showing us Tamao putting her hands over Nagisa’s hand, as Shizuma–who had come in earlier and has been eavesdropping–fumes at Tamao’s implied reproof to her solitary ways and then pushes forward to interrupt and break apart the intimacy. Tamao’s argument brings the Etoile down to where she and Nagisa are, and idealizes the friendship they share as the model of the Etoile.

The anime endorses Tamao’s views, as far as they go, but they are not the whole story. Tamao is speaking from the side of friendship, but has left out love. We know that if only since Nagisa includes herself in Tamao’s conversation: Nagisa has only ever felt friendship for Tamao, not love, and so love is not part of what they are talking about. The animation brings out the fact that love is not included by showing the intimacy to be all on Tamao’s side: she goes to Nagisa, but Nagisa does not reciprocate. But the strongest evidence that friendship is insufficient to define the Etoile is Nagisa’s inability to dance intimately with Tamao. Notwithstanding all the practice they do together, in the expression of their good will for each other and their determination to succeed, Nagisa is simply unable to attain the fluidity of movement which love immediately, spontaneously enables her to achieve when she dances with Shizuma in the next episode. Friendship is not enough to win the Etoileship.

Yet friendship is a necessary step on the path to becoming Etoile. We learn this truth, surprisingly enough, from Shizuma. After overhearing Tamao’s explanation of why Etoiles come in pairs, Shizuma enters and vehemently exhorts Nagisa to become the Etoile. She then assumes Miyuki’s role as what Tamao had ruefully dubbed the "demonic Etoile trainer," sternly coaching Nagisa and Tamao in dance. When Miyuki comes in, she beams, since she sees before her her plans apparently bearing fruit: Shizuma is doing her best to help Nagisa and Tamao win the competition, and to secure the pride of place for Miator. And in fact Shizuma is doing her best, or at least, as she tells herself, "I’ll have you guys…I’ll have Nagisa become the Etoile. That is my last mission as Etoile." The emendation is telling: Shizuma is doing her best not for the pair, but for Nagisa. By helping Nagisa learn to dance, she is in fact fulfilling Tamao’s prescription about the Etoiles supporting and helping each other: it is Shizuma and not Tamao who actually helps Nagisa to raise her dancing to the level necessary to win the competition. In so doing, she is also resuming her courtship of Nagisa. The animation makes this point perfectly clear: when she tells Nagisa "'[b]ecome the Etoile," Shizuma holds Nagisa’s face in both her hands, and Nagisa blushes furiously, in response to Shizuma’s physical intimacy. Tamao the animation relegates to the background, the third girl out. Shizuma is returning to her role as Nagisa’s tutor, and just as the lessons they shared in French had been the beginning of their relationship, so too do the dance lessons offer the opportunity for Nagisa and Shizuma to resume each other’s company, and to rediscover how they are special to each other. This is the lesson they will teach everyone, in the next expisode, when they dance brilliantly and transcendently together.

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One Response to Friends and Lovers

  1. Rain says:

    This is a very interesting piece. Definitely says something.Sephraia T.

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