Nagi no Asukara and the Placebo Effect

chisaki hiradaira, chisaki, a lull in the sea, nagiasu, nagi no asukara, chisaki drunk

One of the more interesting topics discussed in my high school health class – among the usual suspects of sexually transmitted diseases and the required viewing of the birth of a child – was the “placebo effect” and its relationship with alcohol consumption.

First coined by T.C. Graves in 1920, but studied far earlier in the 18th century by physicians and pharmacists, the effect describes the alleviation of whatever symptoms a patient may have without receiving any actual medicinal treatment while believing that they have. The belief is important – “placebo” comes from the Latin “I will please” – as the results depend on the patient’s conviction more than the treatment itself. By definition, it is a medicine that pleases the patient more than it benefits them. With alcohol consumption, the placebo can be used to display the expectancy of the effects of alcohol without actually having consumed it. In other words, if I expect to be drunk and know the typical actions of one who is drunk, then I will display those actions when I believe myself to be drunk, regardless of the amount of alcohol I have, or have not, consumed.

This varies from person to person, and there are variances in expectancy based on type of alcohol along with many other personal factors (i.e. people who have the same blood alcohol content can behave in drastically different ways). Additionally, this is not to take away from the fact that alcohol is a depressant and has specific psychoactive effects. However, the idea that intrigued me the most in high school, and continues to pique my interest to this day, was the idea that if one wants to be drunk, then they will be.

chisaki hiradaira, chisaki, nagi no asukara, nagiasu, chisaki tries on her nami high uniform

Chisaki Hiradaira desperately wants to be drunk. She has deliberately stunted her own emotional growth in an attempt to both preserve her love for Hikari Sakishima, and force herself to hibernate like the rest of her friends and family of Shioshishio in stasis beneath the sea. Her body continues to grow; however, she refuses to move forward emotionally. As her friends, including Hikari, wake and appear on the surface looking exactly the same as the day they went to sleep, Chisaki continues to stubbornly hold herself back.

Episode 19 of Nagi no Asukara shows Chisaki unable to stop herself from feeling any longer, thanks in large part to Manaka Mukaido’s return to the surface. In spite of the fact that Manaka refuses to wake, her presence provides the last bit of pressure to crack Chisaki’s mask. Chisaki wears many different outfits in this episode and none of them seem to fit her. Her old Nami High uniform is too small to be comfortable, and she has yet to grow into her nurse’s outfit. Despondent that her only option is to embrace her older self and more forward, Chisaki attempts to drown her sorrows in alcohol.

chisaki hiradaira, chisaki, nagiasu, nagi no asukara, chisaki passed out

“You probably do lose a lot, but that just means you need to fill what you lost with new things.”

-Tsumugu Kihara to Chisaki Hiradaira on becoming an adult, Nagi no Asukara, episode 19

The “alcohol” that Chisaki consumes is not actually alcohol but plum juice. However, she believes it to be alcohol and displays the symptoms of one who has imbibed too much, while Tsumugu knowingly watches over her and coaches her through her own feelings. One of the last things that Chisaki thinks to herself before passing out is that she wants to return to Shioshishio. The next morning, before embarking on her journey, she remarks on how she doesn’t have a hangover, which allows her to think that she may be stronger than she had previously thought.

Chisaki is stronger than she gives herself credit for, but the lack of a hangover is hardly indicative of this fact. Instead, becoming “drunk” without fully experiencing the physical aftereffects allows her to finally believe in her own strength. She expected to be drunk and therefore was. In spite of the fact that it was only a placebo, the event serves as enough of a salve for her wounds. Chisaki will now be able to fill her life with new things equally, if not more so, emotionally affecting than alcohol, like the rekindling of an old love, now on her terms.

10 comments

    1. It was actually a very difficult series for me to get into, primarily because one of the main characters, Hikari, spends the first four episodes or so being fairly awful to nearly everyone. (I actually dropped it after two episodes before a friend convinced me to pick it back up.) The series does do a great job of showing how Hikari came to be that way, and his development is wonderful and fascinating to watch.

      Anyway, give it a shot. I highly recommend it. ^ ^ Thanks for commenting.

  1. can’t help but leave my comments here.

    i really can’t help but be amused and excited whenever i see anime reviews that bring a whole new level of intellectual discourse to the table. considering that some groups still see anime as nothing more than “childish cartoons” (particularly in my country, I am Filipino, where watching anime is often equated to being immature).

    on nagi no asukara, i am glad that i stuck with it from the very beginning. like a lot of its characters, the series has grown from an awkward kid to a more conscious adult, handling its mature themes quite adeptly.

    1. Aw, thank you! I’m glad that people can appreciate what I write. ^ ^

      I am in agreement regarding Nagiasu, especially since as I mentioned in another comment, I did drop it after two episodes, only to pick it back up again later.

      As an aside, two of my favorite anime bloggers are Filipino. One of them, Ghostlightning, has moved on to other things, but his blog is still a wonderful read, and I love the enthusiasm you can feel from each post: http://ghostlightning.wordpress.com. The other, Schneider, is still currently blogging at: http://tsuzukusekai.wordpress.com. Both blogs tend to focus on robot shows. ^ ^

      Thanks a lot for commenting!

  2. I have to disagree with the “rekindling her old love” because that scene overlapped with her childhood.

    She’s holding herself back. She’s only living in the past, because she’s afraid to change and grow up.

    Her feelings for Hikari are the symbol of it. Remember Peter Pan? That’s Hikari to her. This is why her feelings as mocked and placed her on a childish way, making her stunned and a ridiculous manchild who lives in the past despite being a 19 years old woman.

    She will shake this stage eventually and go to the adult world that is waiting for her. Otherwise she’ll remain a child forever.

    1. Sorry it took a bit to respond to this, a combination of work and wanting to watch episode 20 to confirm a few things got in the way.

      I think that the scene can be seen both ways. I cannot refute your claim; however, I’ll try to explain a bit better why I disagree, or why I see it the way I do.

      Episode 19 shows Chisaki breaking down. Previously, she had avoided Hikari, while holding on to her feelings for him. Those feelings were childish, and yes, they held her back. She was an emotionally-stunted child in the body of a 19 year-old woman. Following her “drunken” night with Tsumugu, she makes up her mind to visit Shioshishio, a step in the right direction.

      At the end of the episode, Hikari grabs her hand and she remembers being a child, possibly to the first moment that she had any semblance of feelings towards Hikari. Her childhood memories are superimposed over her current appearance, and she thinks to herself, “I still do like Hikari, after all.” My interpretation comes from her willingness to begin moving forward (visiting Shioshishio) and the look of acceptance on her face while thinking of Hikari in that last scene. Previously, I think she had been both too emotionally-stunted and caught up in past events to think about why she still loved Hikari, or why she loved him in the first place. The end of episode 19 allows her to still love him for those parts of his personality that attract her, while also moving forward. Instead of being mired in the missteps of their previous relationship, and her awkward confession, Chisaki is able to accept her love for Hikari as the person she is now, for the person he is now.

      Episode 20, although this is hardly a spoiler, feel free not to read if you haven’t seen it, has Akari mentioning how much Chisaki has visited recently. Prior to her realization at the end of episode 19, Chisaki had still avoided Hikari, unwilling to confront her own feelings. The fact that she is now visiting him regularly speaks a lot to how she has begun to move forward.

      This is simply my interpretation; however. Thanks for the comment. ^ ^

      1. I’m with Crisp on this. I think the simple fact that she still has feelings for Hikari shows she’s still unable to move on. I think she only really begins to move on in episode 21, after Manaka wakes up, because the contrast between her and Manaka highlights how much Chisaki has changed in a way she can’t deny anymore. Indeed, the beginning of her acceptance is symbolized in the scene in the hospital, when she tells Tsumugu that she might like the jelly coffee, one of Tsumugu’s favorites snacks, better than the cream-puffs Hikari and the other kids enjoy so much.

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