As I predicted, Michiru ended up being an interesting, sympathetic character whose story had a markedly different tone to Yumiko’s. Where Yumiko’s route had a clear conflict with a potential solution — a “villain” of sorts to defeat — Michiru’s is much more complex, and its conclusion is much less “tidy” than that seen in Yumiko’s route. It’s not that it leaves things unresolved, to be clear; more that Michiru’s resolution involves having to live with some ongoing problems.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s rewind and talk a little about the girl herself.
We’re first introduced to Michiru in the common route, when protagonist Yuuji comes across her doing vocal exercises in an empty classroom, closely followed by her practicing bellowing out stock tsundere phrases such as “i-it’s not like I’m doing this for you or anything” and “d-don’t misunderstand!” Already well aware that his new classmates are a little on the peculiar side, Yuuji doesn’t probe too deeply into the matter at this point, but it’s immediately obvious whenever Michiru interacts with Yuuji or her other classmates that her tsundere personality isn’t who she really is; rather, it’s a façade she’s putting up for reasons that, at the outset of the story, aren’t entirely clear.
The first hint that all is not well in Michiru’s inner world comes during a conversation with the group about friendship. As the conversation progresses to the topic of “best friends”, Michiru seems to develop some discomfort in her chest, and eventually sidles off making an excuse about feeling “anaemic”. Yuuji suspects that this isn’t the whole truth, but out of respect for Michiru — and a desire for a “normal” school life — doesn’t poke his nose into her business, instead just making sure she’s all right before returning to the group, no questions asked.
This incident repeats itself a few times, until Yuuji discovers a rather strange truth about Michiru: whenever she complains of discomfort in this way, it’s usually followed by a dramatic shift in her personality. Rather than the loud-mouthed idiot that most of her classmates know as “the usual Michiru”, this “other” Michiru is relatively softly-spoken, yet articulate and assertive. In many ways, she’s the polar opposite of her “pseudo-tsundere” counterpart.
There are a number of possible explanations for this behaviour, and the game takes care to not necessarily give a definitive answer as to what’s causing it, though it leans rather strongly in the direction of cell memory theory. Michiru’s heart isn’t her own, you see; it came from the body of a girl who was completely paralysed in a traffic accident, since Michiru herself suffered from a life-threatening heart condition in her childhood. This “other” Michiru, it seems, may well be the personality of this other girl, who had taken to “coming out” whenever Michiru appeared to be in distress in order to resolve her problems, then sink back into the darkness again.
Michiru finds herself in distress rather a lot. A traumatic childhood in which she was repeatedly physically abused by her home-school tutors left her with deep mental scars and a feeling of utter uselessness. “I sorta feel like… I should be huddled up in some little corner of the world instead,” she confesses to Yuuji one day. “Breathing real softly so no-one notices.”
This “huddling up” coincides with how she deals with her moments of distress; she retreats into her own inner world — which she imagines as “the bottom of the sea” — and hugs her knees to herself, allowing the “other” Michiru to come to the fore, not always voluntarily. When she “wakes up” from the experience, she often finds that her life is “better” somehow, or that the problem has been magically resolved in her “absence”.
Eventually this starts to get to Michiru somewhat. She’s aware of the fact that she’s simply running from all her problems. “If she’s that much better at everything than I am, maybe she should just take over my life full-time,” she says to Yuuji during a moment of reflection. “What’s the point of me even being here? If she’s that much better than me, why do I even exist?”
Michiru’s inferiority complex is tied in part to her childhood, but also due to her perception of the world as being a place where nothing is constant and she can’t rely on anything. She deliberately chooses not to become attached to anyone or anything, because she knows that she’ll only lose it and be sad about it; an exception to this comes in the form of a stray black cat that she adopts early in the story, which she refuses to give a proper name to, instead referring to it simply as “Kittymeow” (or “Nekonyaa” if you want to be Japanese about it!) “I didn’t want to give him a real name,” she explains. “Like I said before, everything I care about goes away before long. I didn’t want that to happen again, so… I mean, if I gave him a name we’d have a real connection, right? That kind of scared me.”
As a symbol of her trust and growing love for Yuuji, though, she agrees to give the cat a name, since it’s spending all its time hanging around with her anyway. Yuuji, believing that this experience will be good for her, helps her come up with a name for the cat, and Michiru develops strong feelings for the cat as a result; she sees the name they came up with together as being “very special” simply by virtue of the fact that it’s something they did together.
Regrettably, though, all does not end well. In Yuuji’s words:
“The cat died. From an objective point of view, ‘a stray cat was hit by a car.’ NOthing more, nothing less. In the animal shelters, abandoned pets and feral strays are disposed of in the tens of thousands every year. To the world at large, the death of that cat is essentially meaningless. But a precious fragment of Michiru’s world was stolen away before her very eyes. From that perspective, we’re clearly facing a gravely serious situation.”
This experience, seemingly confirming all Michiru’s fears, pretty much breaks her, and she attempts to put up a brave front, with mixed results. “I don’t need to be happy,” she says. “I’ll just keep breathing and forget about the rest. Stop hoping. That should fix everything, right?”
By this point, Yuuji and Michiru have been “dating” for a while, though at Yuuji’s insistence — and Michiru’s seeming agreement — they had only been pretending to date as a means of passing the time over the summer while their classmates were all away. Both of them clearly know that it’s more than that, though.
“Please,” says Michiru in a particularly deep bout of depression, during which she confesses that she wants to sleep with Yuuji, even if it’s a purely physical act with no “real” feelings. “My heart hurts. I don’t think I can stand this much longer. I want a reason why I can be here. I want something to help me believe that I matter. Hurry up and… pretend to love me already!”
Seemingly — perhaps temporarily — convinced that she at least matters to a small degree to Yuuji, Michiru eventually explains the details of her life, and the traumatic events that made her the person she is today. The abuse at the hands of her tutors left her feeling she was “a piece of trash”, a “stupid, useless person”, and her physical condition only left her feeling even more inferior, like she was a burden on her parents. Isolated and ostracised as a “ghost girl” at school, she eventually makes contact with another human being, ironically as this other person is about to end their own life. It’s Michiru’s intervention that stops her from jumping off the school roof, but Michiru herself confesses that she only intervened because she thought it would be “unfair” for someone to be able to kill themselves when she didn’t have the courage to escape this world herself.
Michiru’s friend — whose name we never discover, interestingly, despite the fact the two were “best friends”, in Michiru’s words — is herself a somewhat troubled individual, though in a different way. The girl had found herself involved in an abusive relationship with an older, married man and, as unfortunately so frequently happens in such situations, had convinced herself that she truly loved him, and thus endured some terrible abuse — physical, mental and sexual. Ultimately, Michiru finds herself unable to “save” her friend, and the other girl ends up killing herself anyway, leaving Michiru with the burden of loss weighing heavy on her shoulders.
This event is essentially the main reason Michiru has such a distrust of becoming “close” with anyone or anything. She’s afraid the same thing — or something like it, at least — will happen again, but in her own distress over the matter, she forgets something very important: everyone has these worries; everyone worries about losing the things they love; everyone is sad, distraught, grief-stricken when a piece of their world is taken away.
As the “real” Michiru sinks ever deeper into a pit of absolute despair following the death of her cat, she retreats further and further from the world around her, to the eventual degree that she attempts suicide herself through an overdose of the tranquilisers she’d been taking to keep the “other” personality subdued as much as possible. Retreating from reality so much that the “other” Michiru becomes the dominant personality, Yuuji eventually manages to get her to confess what she believes to be her true feelings: that she wants to die.
In her bad ending, she attempts suicide again after agreeing to be examined in the hospital following a particularly bad series of incidents. This time, she washes down a larger quantity of medication with alcohol, and leaves herself with brain damage in the process. Yuuji sticks by her, but all life is gone from her eyes, and she can barely communicate with anyone; ultimately, she loses any chance she might have had to be at peace with herself.
Her much longer good ending, meanwhile, sees Yuuji making the surprise announcement that he’ll kill her. Dosing her up with muscle relaxant, putting her in a coffin and burying her “alive” in her favourite place — where she’d said much earlier that she wanted to be buried when she died — Yuuji waits patiently by her side, secure in his own trust that she will pull herself out of the mire of darkness she’s caught in. He’d specially prepared the coffin to be easy to break out of, and to allow a small airflow in, so it would be unlikely that she’d die of suffocation, and his belief in her was what told him that this would be an okay thing to do.
Yuuji’s lesson may have been harsh, but it works; keeping the rest of his classmates in the dark, he convinces them that Michiru really is dead, even showing them her “body” in the coffin and inviting them all to share their final thoughts with her. Even the normally stoic Yumiko breaks down in hysterical sobs at the knowledge that Michiru is dead; Michiru, meanwhile, who is conscious but unable to move for all this thanks to the muscle relaxants, hears her classmates’ true feelings towards her, and comes to realise that her death may well feel like it would resolve her own problems, but it would create all manner of new problems for the people she left behind. It also becomes extremely clear that Michiru’s presence, while not as obviously helpful as that of people like Amane and Sachi, had been holding the group together to a certain degree.
“Let me tell you something, Michiru,” says Yuuji as he’s wheeling her “body” out of the dormitory, supposedly for her cremation. “Death isn’t ‘the end.’ First of all, the people you’ve left behind have to try and say goodbye. The idea that you can just vanish into thin air is a load of self-centred crap.”
Given time to reflect — and time to converse with her “other” self — Michiru comes to some conclusions.
“‘From now on.’ I haven’t really thought about that so much lately,” she says. “All this time, I’ve been focused on enduring the pain from the festering, miserable wounds the past left me. Even when I met someone new, I’d find myself thinking about what happened before. Biting my lip when they weren’t looking. ‘What’s the point? It’ll be over someday.’ I’ve got to live facing forward. I can’t spend my whole life looking back over my shoulder.”
“Are you saying you’re going to forget about me?” says the shadow of her dead friend from her schooldays, deep within her mind.
“I won’t forget you!” says Michiru in response. “I won’t ever forget. But I don’t want to use you as an excuse to run away any more. I don’t want to let myself think ‘I’m useless without her’ every time something bad happens.”
Yuuji’s painful lesson was difficult but necessary for Michiru to grow beyond that which was holding her back: he knew all too well that he couldn’t “save” her himself, because that wouldn’t achieve anything whatsoever.
“Human beings exist within their own private bubble of solitude,” he explains. “Our pain and sadness can’t be cured by gentle words. Offering gestures of sympathy can make you feel good about yourself, but for the recipient it’s meaningless at best. People don’t need a crutch or a saviour. They need to overcome their own suffering or find the strength to accept it. And when someone needs help getting to that point, I’m willing to lend a hand.”
“The girl who shut herself up inside a box and waited for rescue is gone,” he continues later. “Michiru’s come to understand that she’s the only one who can save herself. Of course, people can’t live alone. We need the help of others. But what really matters is finding our own road — and the strength of will to walk it. Human beings don’t have wings on their backs. We have no choice but to make our way forward on the two legs we were given. Life is just a long series of such small steps. There are plenty of things still undone, plenty of problems still unresolved, but that’s inevitable. Anyway, wouldn’t wrapping things up too neatly be a little boring?”
The conclusion to Michiru’s story comes with her acceptance of her selves — plural. “I don’t know how or why it happened,” she says, “but there are two minds in this body. It doesn’t belong to either of us alone.” This isn’t, by any means, complete closure to her issues — if anything, the fact that she’s now able to carry on perfectly normal-seeming conversations with no-one but her other self proves to be troublesome for Yuuji in particular — but, as most people hopefully know, the best way to deal with an issue is to first of all accept that it’s happening in the first place. Only from there can you move forward.
“The world isn’t so complicated,” muses Yuuji. “Walk forward and you’ll find the future. Turn back and you’ll find your memories. Cut off a piece and you’ve got a story. This is just one small part of one such tale.”
Michiru’s route was powerful and emotional; I’m not ashamed to admit that the chapter “Broken Biscuit” in particular had me in tears. More than the raw emotion, though, Michiru’s situation proved to be a thought-provoking exploration of what it’s like to live with feelings of inferiority and lack of faith in yourself.
Everyone develops different means of coping with these sorts of situations; Michiru made use of her “other” self. Whether said “other” self really was the product of cell memory theory or simply a creation of her mind, it ultimately helped her come to terms with a lot of things. And while I wouldn’t describe Michiru as being completely “healthy” at the conclusion of her story, her acceptance of who she is, the dropping of her façade and her willingness to finally live for herself instead of the approval of others made for a fitting conclusion — and the beginning of a new chapter in both her own and Yuuji’s lives.
Not everyone is able to make it that far; not everyone is able to “save” themselves, but, among other things, Michiru’s route shows that you can find hope in the strangest of places, even when everything seems utterly shrouded in darkness. Words I should perhaps take to heart myself.