“Because, I have to change…so…”
“So that’s what ‘change’ means to you?”
“I mean, that’s what it means to become an adult, right? You can’t just keep thinking about yourself, and you have to keep moving forward.”
“So that’s why you’re neglecting your feelings, because you can’t forgive the person you are now.”
-A conversation between Chisaki Hiradaira and Tsumugu Kihara, Nagi no Asukara, episode 9
Five years following the above conversation, Chisaki’s childhood friend – and the object of her affection – Hikari Sakishima, emerges from stasis underneath the sea. He is unchanged from his 14 year-old self, both physically and mentally, while Chisaki, having spent those same five years on land, has grown into an awkward 19 year-old.
Although the term “arrested development” is no longer used in developmental psychology, a loose definition of the term applies to what Chisaki has done to herself in these five years without Hikari and the entirety of the hibernating sea community. Forcibly separated from her family and friends in the Ofunehiki accident, the broken 14 year-old Chisaki is taken in by Tsumugu’s grandfather. She graduates high school and looks after her surrogate grandfather while Tsumugu attends university. Her conversations with Tsumugu, when they do speak to one another, are stilted and punctuated with short phrases and long pauses.
There is little to suggest, in what we see of their relationship as well as Chisaki’s interactions with others, that Chisaki has allowed herself to grow at all. The scenery of Nagi no Asukara visually and aurally reinforces Chisaki’s state of mind. Cheery sunlit images of a lazy seaside town are replaced with the color palette of a constant sunset. Instead of the relaxing sound of ocean waves, the ominous dull thudding of ice floes can be heard. Like Chisaki, the town may have aged five years, but it too has gone into hibernation. The series constantly reminds us – through her character design and casual remarks from friends and family – that Chisaki is now physically 19; however, she hasn’t allowed herself to live through the past five years without Hikari, placing herself into a forced emotional stasis.
“I wasn’t scared that I’d be rejected, I was scared that if I said how I felt, all of our relationships would change.”
-Chisaki Hiradaira, Nagi no Asukara, episode 12
The 14 year-old Chisaki quoted above was not concerned with putting others’ feelings first, but instead worried that their friendship dynamic would change. Her previous words to Tsumugu mark a futile attempt to justify her lack of honesty towards her closest friends. She chooses to keep her feelings bottled up – until Kaname Isaki forces her hand – not because she believes it to be more mature path, but because she desperately wants things to stay as they are. Prior to the sea village’s hibernation, and the town’s slow descent into permanent winter, Chisaki already abhorred change, even as she spoke of it so passionately to Tsumugu.
“After I woke up, I really understood how scary it is for things to change. But…I’m so relieved that you didn’t change at all!”
-Hikari Sakishima to Chisaki Hiradaira, Nagi no Asukara, episode 15
Upon her chance reunion with Hikari, Chisaki’s first instinct is to apologize for changing. Although her reluctance to see him may seem insensitive, Chisaki’s hesitation is understandable. The person whom she loves is still 14 and unchanged from five years ago, while she has aged. Additionally, Hikari is still emotionally overwhelmed. Not only has he been confronted with the differences in physical appearance to those whom he cares for – his sister Akari, Chisaki, Miuna, Sayu, and various classmates – the entire world has grown without him. As he repeatedly remarks, the day of the Ofunehiki five years prior is yesterday for him.
Hikari’s comments to Chisaki on how she has not changed could be interpreted as a desperate attempt to grasp on to anything familiar. He comforts her the only way he knows how, by telling her that she’s the same person he knew, allowing his uncertain position in this new world to take a backseat to her feelings. However, I see this scene differently because Chisaki has not changed. She hasn’t allowed herself to grow and, while her body has aged, her emotions haven’t progressed since the day Hikari disappeared. Instead, she still talks of change while stunting her emotional growth and suppressing her own desires. Hopefully, Hikari’s reappearance will allow her to truly move forward, as she spoke of to Tsumugu five years ago.