“The language of friendship is not words, but meanings.”
-Henry David Thoreau
Three is an awkward number sometimes.
Anime comedic slice-of-life series with groups of four friends are so numerous (Lucky Star immediately comes to mind, along with the first season of K-ON! and YuruYuri among others) that four has become the standard group number for me as a viewer.
Yuyushiki seemed off-balance from the get-go as it focused on a core group of three: Yuzuko, Yui, and Yukari. Yui plays the straight man in their comedic setups while Yuzuko and Yukari bumble around torturing her. At the end of every day, the trio meanders through purple hues as they head home from their Data Processing Club, and we recognize that there is nowhere else that these three, especially Yui, would rather be than in each others’ company.
In all of the series previously mentioned, there are characters on the periphery, stopping by for an episode or two before returning to wait in the wings for another appearance. They’re always happy to pop in for a visit; however, one never has the feeling that they, in any way, want to become part of the core group. In K-ON!, Nodoka Manabe supports the Light Music Club both as a childhood friend of Yui Hirasawa and as the student council president, but there is never the sense that she wants to join in with the girls’ crazy antics. Lucky Star introduces us to Konata Izumi’s cousin, Yutaka Kobayakawa, but she never infringes on or takes away from the main group of four. Additionally, in Yutaka’s example, she ends up forming her own supporting group of four consisting of herself, Minami Iwasaki, Hiyori Tamura, and Patricia Martin.
Yuyushiki‘s supporting character is Chiho Aikawa: a friend to Yui, but not necessarily Yuzuko and Yukari. In episode two, we meet Chiho by way of Yuzuko and Yukari expressing their wishes to befriend her. Yui immediately reminds the two of their own wackiness, telling them not to bother Chiho too much. Chiho, to Yui, is an intelligent, quiet girl who would be hopelessly overwhelmed and exhausted by Yuzuko and Yukari.
However, this is shown to be far from the truth as Chiho is always on the outside, looking in at the three girls with part of her desperately wanting to join. She may be confused by a text from Yuzuko of Yui in a bikini, but when Yukari and Yui encourage Yuzuko to loudly release a “motivation beam” while waiting for class to begin, Chiho takes notice. Always watching from afar, Chiho is naturally drawn to the trio, wanting to be a part of that specific understanding that only Yuzuko, Yukari, and Yui have between the three of them. After all, the bond of a tightly-knit friendship is a very desirable thing, and the three leads of Yuyushiki have a noticeable one. It is not in spite of, but because of their public wackiness that Chiho desires what they have, with her own friendships seemingly paling in comparison. Unlike Nodoka, who happily busies herself with her student council duties, or Yutaka, who enjoys her high school life with her own group of close friends, Chiho is shown to be wanting.
In the fourth episode of Yuyushiki, Chiho is forcibly removed from her position as an observer and, for a brief moment, becomes a participant. Yui falls ill, giving Chiho the chance to step in as the straight man to Yuzuko and Yukari. Although she seemingly remains intimidated by the two (as framed by Yui’s initial introduction of her), she is compelled not to play it straight but to join in. When Yuzuko and Yukari begin snapping photos of Yui as she sleeps, Chiho guiltily asks if she can take one instead of telling them to stop. Afterwards, she returns to her own group of friends who are unable to truly understand the giddy pleasure that her cell phone photograph of Yui represents. She is once again relegated to her position of looking in from the outside. However, in that moment, represented by her photograph of the sleeping Yui, Chiho is almost one of them.
It’s just a bit melancholy, don’t you think? Chiho may be able to grow closer to the group, but will never be able to truly be a part of it. Unlike her counterparts in K-ON! and Lucky Star, she noticeably yearns to be in the group, all the while realizing that she’ll never be able to. Three may have initially been an awkward number to adjust to, but I can imagine that forcibly inserting Chiho into the dynamic would be so much worse. To the series credit (and this series deserves a great deal of credit, I’ll save the gushing over visual bookending, among other things, for another time) it doesn’t force her. Instead, Chiho will forever be on the outside looking in on what she cannot have.