Arc II: We're in This Together
|22||Sun||Episode 8. Aoi and Makoto go to visit Miaka, who is in the hospital recovering from the initiates’ battle with Kei. They run into, and defeat, Angelica on the way out.|
|29||Sun||Episode 9. While trying to locate a witch with Makoto and Yuna, Sumire encounters Kaede, the girl she’d become an initiate to get away from in the first place. Predictably, their reunion goes disastrously.|
|30||Mon||Episode 10. Makoto and Yui meet Snezana.|
|2||Thu||Episode 11. Sumire and Snezana locate the witches Erika and Lieschen, over Shun’s ineffectual objections. The ensuing battle goes badly until Kaede intervenes, revealing that she too is an initiate.|
|Episode 12. Sumire confronts Kaede about her past. Aoi and Kaede discover that they may have a shared history. Yuna, overwhelmed by the circumstances, rejects her magical abilities and abandons her weapon.|
|6||Mon||Episode 13. School begins again. In reaction to an anonymous note Yui receives in her shoe locker, Pyunpyun decides to halt magical activity for half the initiates. Yui later sees video evidence of Yuna’s flashlight under the control of a witch.|
|Episode 14. Yui tries to get Yuna to take up magic once again.|
|Episode 15. Yui and Yuna try to recruit Aoi in a battle against the witch possessing Yuna’s flashlight, but run into Sumire instead. Yuna and Sumire manage to resolve their differences, and go on the hunt.|
|Episode 16. Aoi and Kaede come face-to-face with their pasts.|
|Episode 17. The initiates fight Karin in order to reclaim Yuna’s flashlight.|
Shuuji Serizawa was a ruthless businessman. Warm in manner, perhaps, but cold at heart. Perhaps he’d always been this way, or perhaps his time in the corporate world had changed him. Regardless, he understood that in his position, there was one thing, and one thing only, that he needed to keep in mind: People were always just maneuvering for power, trying to build their empires at each others’ expense. Thus, there was no room for empathy, no room for faith, and most certainly no room for charity.
Aoi was more than likely the only person keeping Kaede from following in her father’s footsteps.1) The son of a university classmate of Shuuji’s who had found similar success in the corporate world, he was one of the few children that Kaede could spend any significant amount of time with. Fortunately, although he seemed to have nothing but arrogant disdain for most kids his age,2) he seemed to have a soft spot for her. Over the course of nearly a decade, each of them would become the other’s closest, and at times only, friend.
It turned out their relationship couldn’t weather adolescence, however. Sometime after his fifteenth birthday, Aoi had a falling out with Kaede over their respective plans for high school and beyond. Pyunpyun approached Aoi, who had already been harboring doubts about the materialism of his life, at about this time. Realizing that magic threw everything he had valued into question, he eventually contracted, using his wish to completely rewrite his own history. He apparently never realized that this would leave Kaede without her only real friend.
In this new timeline, Shuuji’s influence filled the vacuum that Aoi had left behind. Just as her father had worked his way up in business, this version of Kaede showed an early aptitude for politics. Even before the word “networking” had entered her vocabulary, she demonstrated a calculating, cynical social instinct that told her exactly whom to buddy up to, whom to put down, and whom to simply ignore. With her skills, she was a shoo-in for middle school class president — easily eighty percent of the votes went to her. It made little difference to most of those voting that her success came, in part, from the suffering of those like Sumire.
Still, the vague thought that something was wrong had been lurking in the depths of Kaede’s mind for some time, perhaps an indication that somehow she was still subconsciously aware of how important Aoi had been to her before he’d contracted. The problem seemed to come into sharp focus, though, as Kaede began her new high school life in Nagoya, where Sumire’s wish had abruptly transferred her father. Never mind that, in just a matter of weeks, she had already become one of the most talked-about girls in the whole school, thanks in no small part to her father’s connections and her striking appearance. No, it ran deeper than that.
Like her father, Kaede had built her success on making sure that she was never vulnerable, unconsciously working out how to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Unlike her father, however, she realized that the walls she’d built to keep herself safe from potential enemies and rivals could never open to admit new friends or allies.
She was alone.
Enter an anonymous familiar, who saw Kaede’s fresh emotional openings and went straight for them. “Wouldn’t you like to forget about keeping up a reputation?” the magical creature plied. “Wouldn’t you like to make new friends? Wouldn’t you like to be close to someone?”
Or, put another way: “Wouldn’t you like to start over?”
But Kaede really didn’t need such prompting. When the familiar offered her the wish that would seal her contract, she launched straight into a long, impassioned plea, one delivered from a loneliness and regret whose origin she herself could not understand. It essentially boiled down to this: Kaede had never learned to trust anyone else, and as a result, she’d done nothing but hurt herself and the people around her. She wanted to undo all of that damage, to live without barricading herself inside her own mind — to change her past.3)
Kaede has no memory now of the self that made that wish, let alone of the self that was so close with Aoi. She lives with her mother, who divorced Shuuji several years ago, in a modest house in Kikugawa. The family name is Asahina, after her mother’s maiden name. If you were to ask her about why she became a magical girl, she’d say that she did it to save her best friend Saori after she’d been hit by a car. As far as she knows, this is just how things have been.
The only person left who remembers either of the “older” versions of Kaede at all is Sumire, whose magical abilities kept Kaede’s wish from overwriting her memories. Even if she were to learn that the Kaede she knew no longer exists, though, Sumire would probably find the fact small comfort — the suffering she endured at the hands of the Kaede she knew is no less real to her just because someone changed history such that it technically never happened.
Rewriting the past
An initiate that wishes to rewrite his or her own past, and memories thereof, can generally go through the new life granted by that wish without ever having to know that things were ever any different; however, explicit reminders of one’s original self can trigger vivid flashbacks called rewrite invasions. At first, these recollections tend to cause acute, occasionally violent breakdowns, precipitated by their alien yet simultaneously familiar nature, after which they are quickly forgotten. Fortunately, these effects gradually decrease with subsequent invasions from the same timeline — episodes become less debilitating, while the memories from them last longer — until an initiate stops experiencing them altogether.
Familiars aren’t single beings so much as individual manifestations of a collective magical subconscious. This is part of why Pyunpyun’s demeanor seems so variable; it’s really nothing more than a reflection of the situation at hand (and my own narrative convenience). Because they don’t have individual memories, familiars can’t recall overwritten timelines, despite being in some sense magical beings. (I literally came up with that last part on the spot when Sumire prompted Pyunpyun for her wish, not wanting to have to come up with an explanation for why Pyunpyun would do nothing about Kaede’s presence if he could remember it. The “familiars as subconscious” thing dates back to Arc I, however.)
As a side note, more experienced initiates tend to have their own “personal” familiars, representing the closer and more stable connection they have with their powers and the magical world as a whole. On the other hand, non-magical beings can’t see or otherwise interact with familiars at all, as they don’t have the powers needed to tap into the underlying subconscious medium.
Sumire, tracking down Karin with the other initiates, meets Kaede once again. Kaede is, unbeknownst to the players, another magical girl, also out on her own mission to find and defeat Karin. I’m thinking about starting off this initial encounter with a pair of unopposed challenges for Sumire, one to Stay Calm and one to Dominate:
- Should Sumire successfully Dominate (12 or higher), she will want revenge on Kaede, acted out in the form of an urge to physical violence. Whether Kaede successfully dodges this attack, in turn, can be determined with a Sharp challenge. Regardless of what happens, Kaede will, understandably, not be happy with getting assaulted by an apparently random stranger.
- Should Sumire fail to Stay Calm (less than 12), she will react with fear, which Kaede will find insulting coming from someone that doesn’t know her at all.
Both or neither of these things may also happen. In any case, Kaede has no recollection of who Sumire is, even after some prompting, but their generally unfriendly interaction leads the initiates to believe that this is because Kaede’s an unpleasant person, not because she’s wiped her own memory. Sidetracked by this meeting, the initiates ultimately fail to locate the witch, and retire for the day.
Sumire and another initiate manage to find a couple of subordinates of Karin’s and engage them in battle. The witches put up an aggressive counterattack, and manage to pin the pair down. Kaede, however, shows up in time to beat back the assault. (Indeed, she did… a little too well. I went overboard in making the situation look desperate, combat-wise; Kaede did the majority of the damage to the witch, while receiving none in return. Whoops.)
Immediate follow-on from the previous episode. Sumire finally confronts Kaede about their once-shared history. The old memories that are dredged up reveal that Aoi and Kaede knew each other prior to their initiations.
The initiates return to school from the winter holidays. Yui finds a photo of Snezana at the witch-containing tree from episode 10 in her shoe locker, with the words “beware the friendly stranger” written on the back. Pyunpyun, considering this a potential attempt at blackmail, decides that the risk of exposure is unacceptable, and temporarily orders Makoto, Snezana, and Yui to stop using their magical powers.
On her arrival back home, Yui sees footage of a suicide ring recorded by one of its members, recovered after police broke up the group. The participants, all clearly affected by exposure to a witch — Karin — speak into the camera while passing around a flashlight for illumination. Yui quickly recognizes the flashlight as Yuna’s, corrupted by Karin’s presence.
With most of the initiates either isolated or unable to use their magical abilities, and a witch on the loose, Yui tries to convince Yuna to retake her mantle and make up with Sumire.
Hopefully, Yuna agrees to go fight the witch that took her flashlight.
Yuna and Sumire get an opportunity to make up.
Kaede calls Aoi for a meeting. Her initial rewrite invasion during episode 12 triggered a cascade of further ones over the succeeding days, such that she can now recall the general contours of the previous timelines she lived through, but this has come at the expense of her own emotional stability. In desperation, she looks to Aoi, who is the only other person she believes can be of any help. Aoi has forgotten about his original rewrite invasion, but his re-reunion with Kaede triggers additional flashbacks.
The long-overdue witch battle: Yuna et al. vs. Karin.
Clocking in at over seven minutes, “We’re in This Together” is the longest track on Nine Inch Nails’ 1999 album The Fragile, and easily one of its most intense. The song is essentially a love poem in industrial rock clothing; on top of the band’s characteristic walls of distorted guitar and pounding electronic beats run lyrics about two people fighting desperately against an overwhelming force hell-bent on tearing them apart. In Europe and Japan, “We’re in This Together” became The Fragile‘s second single, released as three separate discs; the United States saw only a radio promo.
Of course, I picked the title as an ironic counterpoint to the arc’s original themes of mistrust and resentment. I never did imagine that the chasm between the name and the content would get as wide as it did, however.
Kaede’s new surname was originally going to be Minegishi. Shortly after we played episode 8, however, a scandal broke involving an AKB48 member of the same name, necessitating a change. Frickin’ idol groups. Thankfully, it’s been long enough since Haruhi that the name Asahina is no longer shorthand for “moeblob.”
Incidentally, Kaede’s father shares a surname with Layla Serizawa, the lead singer of the fictional band Trapnest from Nana.
Tsutomu Iwatani and Shuuji Serizawa were supposed to be Tsutomu Serizawa and Shuuji Iwatani, but I accidentally mixed up some dialogue between the two of them while writing Aoi’s first flashback in episode 16. Fortunately, switching their names around was enough to maintain consistency.
01:35:39 <xeniera> Also, random thought: Kaede and Aoi may have had some dealings in the past, or some sort of relation. Political family and business family. 01:35:53 <xeniera> Could happen.
04:31:21 <aeshtaer> btw, what i was thinking was, aoi was a rich asshole in a pretty stereotypical way, but when he found out about magic he realized that all the assumptions he'd been making wrt his future business kingdom were wrong, and more or less committed suicide via personality rewrite. 04:32:35 <aeshtaer> like, "oh, the stock market is kind of pointless if i can be retroactively eaten by a demon" 04:34:38 <aeshtaer> anyway hopefully how it would leak into being a current crisis is reasonably obvious, e.g. people act like he's a rich asshole or whatever 04:34:49 <aeshtaer> not sure if he should remember it.
22:23:59 <kxz> Aoi and Kaede were childhood friends. Aoi got disillusioned with his life and initiated 22:24:22 <kxz> when he rewrote history, Kaede lost her best, maybe only friend, and went off the chain 22:24:33 <kxz> Sumire initiated at that point 22:24:49 <kxz> then after some time, Kaede realizes that her life is all wrong, and rewrites history *again* 22:25:15 <kxz> I'll rename this arc to "Barcodebane: The Time Smashening"