The long-awaited reunion finally happens, at the karaoke bar – Nitorin, Makoto, Chiba, Takatsuki, Sasa, Anna, and – seemingly the odd sock – Momo. I felt a little bad for her being stuck there with a “bunch of freaks” when Chi-chan bails with a cold – but at least she didn’t make a big deal of it.
The theme of this chapter was definitely reflection, but we’ll get to that – the dominant initial reaction for me was just how great but also sad it was to see (almost) everyone together again. All of these characters have become so indelible in my mind, but the nature of Shimura-sensei’s narrative style is that we rarely get to see them anymore. Lost childhood friendships can never be truly restored, and there’s a sense of that here – for example, in the way Makoto reacts when Nitorin’s secret cafe job is revealed.
Everyone seems to have a reason to reflect on their future, and it’s Nitorin’s role as Minamoto’s “research subject” – a role he ultimately rejects, much to her anger. It’s an important statement about Shu’s nature that he decides he doesn’t want to continue this relationship, and that he protects Ebina-san’s privacy be not telling Minamoto about their meeting. Ultimately Shu and Ebina-san are simply what they are, not curiosities – though Minamoto certainly had the effect of pushing Shu into a more self-aware state as regards his future. As to whether that future will involve Anna, it’s hard to say – but their relationship seems very much on-again at the moment, and one inescapable conclusion presents itself to me – they really do seem to be a fine match. Both are kind, empathetic and smart – and the attraction between them seems genuine (not to mention they're an adorable couple). I still don’t think Nitorin knows what he ultimately wants from life, but I don’t think Anna is a trivial emotional factor in his life. They care for each other a lot, at the very least.
As Nitorin tries to help Anna understand how he came to wear girls clothes (and she notes that he’s had another growth spurt), Makoto reflects on his own reasons for wanting to do so – and most interestingly, Takatsuki leafs through a women’s fashion magazine and reflects on how “cool” Maiko looks. She also recalls something Saori said to her, that she “just didn’t want to be a girl.” Takatsuki is asking herself whether she really wants to be a boy after all here, I think, and it’s nice to see some light shed on her situation as we’ve heard so little from her lately.
Where things go from here is anyone’s guess, but there’s at least the feeling in the air that Shimura-sensei might be thinking about wrapping things up – maybe not soon, but these last chapters have the sense that they were written with that eventual ending in mind. I won’t deny that part of me would like to see this manga go on forever, I love the characters so much, but for me as well it feels as it might be the right time to enter the last major phase of the story.