If I didn’t love, I wouldn’t be sad….If you have feelings for someone, someone else will cry. Someone will be sacrificed and get hurt. If that’s what love means….then it’s horrible to fall in love.
Back when I worked countless night hours in genetics lab last semester, I would stumble across groups of varying sizes and demographics. The most interesting method of keeping me up late at the hour however, was watching a certain group that was based on friendship. Out of a group of five, three were boys and two were girls. What had originally started as a group project based on simple bonds turned into a chaotic drama as one of the girls in the group wanted to pursue a relationship with the guy (and would individually hang out with him later at night in the lab so they could spend time with each other) but kept quiet about it for the sake of not disturbing the group. Pressure increased and the week before Thanksgiving, the two finally confessed their feelings for each other and began to date, eventually telling the others. While they expected dramatic reactions, unsurprisingly, their group had no problems with the progression in their relationship, and in fact, the group became closer, and to this day, I still know that these two are still dating (and received an A in the class!).
Nagi no Asukara‘s statement is a little different than most anime. In many romantic dramas, miscommunication is often the key to driving the story. Someone takes one’s feelings to mean something else; in other cases, a character is used to listening on in at the wrong moment and bound by secrets, is forced to hide his or her feelings. For example, in Kimi ni Todoke, Sawako and Kazehaya both love each other, but when Kazehaya confesses to Sawako, she takes it the wrong way and thinks it means that he simply likes her as a friend – a misunderstanding that leads to an awkward situation for nearly 15 chapters. In Sasamekikoto, Sumika and Kushio fall in love with each other, though both are afraid to say anything out of ruining their relationship and because Sumika sincerely believes that Kushio could never fall in love with a girl like her (whereas Kushio believes that Sumika is straight, and would never fall for her).
In Nagi no Asukara however, the group is mostly aware of each other’s feelings. Chisaki knows that Manaka loves Hikari; Kaname knows that Chisaki loves Hikari (and eventually Tsumugu); Manaka finds out that Chisaki likes Hikari, as well as that Hikari loves her. Sayu knows Miuna likes Hikari and Miuna knows Sayu likes Kaname. Almost everyone knows who they love and whom the person they love is in love with, except for the main character, Hikari. So why then, do our characters hesitate? What holds them back if they are confident about their feelings of love?
Perhaps it’s because the bonds of friendship are stronger than the ones of love in Nagi no Asukara. Out of the the seven children, four of them have grown up since they were very little and thus each character is sacred to the others’ relationships with one another. As a result, every character finds the overall group’s mentality and health to be more important than their own and they decide to keep quiet, in the hopes that things will remain the same and that everyone can find happiness. It’s revealed towards the end of Episode 24 for instance, that Manaka all along loved Hikari, and even told Tsumugu, but because she wanted Chisaki to be happy, she rejected Hikari’s confession and chose to remain as friends. Chisaki on the other hand, finds herself drawn to Tsumugu after five years of living with him, but in a desperate attempt to keep her bonds with her friends intact and prevent herself from moving ahead of them, she decides to “freeze” her heartand prolong her suffering.
Even Akari decides to uphold other values instead of her love. It is forbidden in her culture for a woman with Ena to live with a man from the surface, and instead of selfishly pursuing her relationship with Itaru, Akari decides to isolate herself in the sea and devote her time to helping her father and brother instead. It is only through her father’s blessings that Akari opens herself up to the option of spending a lifetime with the one she loves, but her gut reaction – along with the main cast of Nagi no Asukara – shows that clearly, romantic love is not the relationship these people seek as sustenance for their life.
Why though? What makes friendship or family more important than love? We’re not really given a specific reason, but throughout the series, we see that the bond that upholds the interactions of the cast in Nagi no Asukara is not one of unrequited love, but one of steadfast loyalty and dedication. Love changes in five years, from person to person. Perhaps it doesn’t – especially for youth, with the cast only beginning to grow up and mature into their adolescence. But what stays constant in Nagi no Asukara, what remains the same, despite so many changing factors, are friendship and a family to come home to. For Hikari and the others, that family and friendship are the five of them. For Miuna, it’s Akari but also the people Hikari loves. For Akari, it’s the man she loves and Miuna, but it’s also her relationship with her father and brother. If all of these things failed to exist, then not only would these characters be unable to love someone, but they would also be unstable and lack a ground to fall back on.
We’re so often led to believing that love is the relationship that guides us and is the one that lasts, but perhaps, just perhaps, friendship is stronger. It grounds us, roots us, and brings us back. Without love, we wouldn’t be human, but I think without friendship, the truest kind of love wouldn’t exist.