The world I always imagined. The world I didn’t know…with roads I didn’t know, and people I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do.
In the second half Nagi no Asukara, the story takes a sharp turn, as Miuna Shiodome becomes the narrator and we wind through five years of time. Much has changed, but much has not, including Miuna and her desire to overcome her weaknesses and find a place to belong. In this sense, Miuna is very similar to that of a hero or princess from a fairytale. What is spectacular however, is that as much as Miuna’s story follows that of a fairytale, it’s also about fairytales, and she is ultimately the one who steers it toward its denouement, rather than fate or other magical circumstances.
After the disappearance of Hikari, Manaka, and Kaname, the story thrusts Miuna into the center, placing her in the same environment that the original group was in. Not only does she find that she has slowly grown right into the place of the people she once admired and cherished, even inhabiting their same classroom and homeroom teacher, but she also finds that she’s not the same Miuna she once was. No longer the baby of her family, Miuna now has a younger brother and thus must shoulder more responsibilities. She also has to face her first love confrontation and her unrequited feelings for a boy that no longer is by her side. It is only when her world is turned upside down through Hikari’s reappearance that Miuna’s fairytale truly begins; just like a fairytale, she awakens him with a kiss, signaling the return of her passionate feelings toward him. But whereas a younger Miuna truly believed these feelings could grow and be returned, this Miuna fully comprehends that Hikari does not love Miuna like she loves him – he only has eyes for Manaka, wanting to be the center of her world.
The dream ignites. Hikari is not only back, but he is in the same class as her, trying to acclimate to a world which is foreign to him. He also lives under the same roof and Miuna is thus allowed to have him to herself. They can walk to school together, be in the same class, and share notes. If this wasn’t enough, things intensify from there when Miuna is thrust into the water, developing Ena and finally gains access to the world she wanted to be a part of. At this stage, Miuna not only feels like she’s closer to Hikari, but closer to the world he was from – closer to the way he chooses to see the world around him, and thus feels like she can enter his story.
Miuna’s fairytale climaxes when she actually enters Shishishio and can actually imagine the fantasy she thought she could only see, but not touch. In these corridors, she sees Hikari, Manaka, Kaname, and Chisaki live their daily lives, and she finally feels like she belongs somewhere. To her, the fairytale is real, and that she can be a part of these people’s lives too, weaving her desires into their memories and living through them. It is here that we see what Miuna truly cherishes more than anything. She seeks to replace herself – the younger, surface-bound Miuna – with a Miuna that can be special, happy, and at the center of everyone’s world. The ultimate princess and the ultimate hero(ine) together.
This dream is shattered however, when Manaka is found. Symbolic of returning to reality, Miuna returns to the surface with the others. From there onward, Miuna is forced to confront her own inner demons and come to terms with her own fairytale, through the medium of not wanting Manaka to wake up. Through a series of emotional trials, not only does she slowly begin understand that she likes Manaka and wants Hikari to be happy, but she also selfishly wants her happiness as well. She doesn’t want Manaka to wake up. She wants her fantasy to last: for her prince to stay, to keep the world she just reached to be in her grasp, and live through these wonderful memories and fantasies. However, as Uroko-sama suggests, the price for happiness may be steeper than one imagines, as Miuna realizes that she has stolen much already – taken Manaka’s Ena for her own. She may wear the Ena, may be close to Hikari, may be able to travel to Shioshishio, but she can never truly replicate the memories and live in the world she desired to be in. Just as Alice must eventually leave Wonderland and wake up from her illusions, Miuna too must face reality: she can’t be the one to save Hikari or to save Manaka. She can only push others in the right direction as she is: a human with Ena, as Miuna Shiodome, and no one other than that. She can only be the heroine of her own story, and not others; live in the world she was born in, not the one of dreams. The looking glass after all, is just a glass, not an entrance into another realm.
By throwing away idealistic dreams, can we attain a path that can lead to happiness? We can never know. Fairytales don’t exist in the real world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to be happy. Happiness can be achieved through other means – friendships, family, and memories. Miuna realizes this, and thus her fairytale isn’t about unrequited love, but bridging herself to a world she always wanted to be in; the fantasy where she could have Ena and experience the rich friendships and currents of emotions with the people she always cared about and be with. It’s about wanting to be in a fairytale – to be happy and live through others vicariously. However, Nagi no Asukara denies this, and says that in order to really grow and be self aware, we just need to live in our own realm to be happy. Maybe just living for ourselves and others (and not through them) is enough. Who knows? Perhaps that’s just enough to find the happiness we’re looking for – and maybe that’s the final answer Miuna will need to achieve her true dream of wanting to belong.