Last Friends 1 – the troubles we keep to ourselves: DV, pregnancy, and forbidden love

Standing on the rock overlooking the ocean, Aida Michiru unconsciously strokes her belly, and the baby in her womb. Turning back, she walks away slowly. As Michiru tends to the daily banalities of grocery shopping and reminiscing old photos, her voice starts in the background:

Ruka, how are you? I’m working hard to manage life on my own. I’ve always been alone, so, I don’t feel lonely… This, should be the second time I’ve disappeared in front of you. The first is in high school when my mother took me away with her. The second, is now. We, won’t see each other ever again, won’t we Ruka? It can’t be helped. Because, I, betrayed you. This, is my karma. At the time, I am unaware of your feelings, your dream, your trouble, and that voice hiding inside of you.

The kettle emits a high pitched sound, interrupting Michiru’s train of thought. She hurries over to turn it off and brings back with her, a pink cup. She sits down and resumes writing the unfinished letter that she had started.

The sky is so blue, Ruka. How does the sky over your head look like? I still think that to understand one another is such a difficult thing.

She throws away the half written letter and turns to look out of the window.

If I had the ability to look through every person’s heart, or, if I tried harder, then maybe that horrible incident can be prevented. That death. But, Ruka, you and the others are always with me. Even if we won’t see each other again, I, still feel supported by all of you.

Time goes back to the beginning of the story. Michiru works as an assistant at a hair salon. Being a newbie, she is unavoidably being bullied by the more experienced. Yet, no matter how difficult the work, she endures it all because the satisfactory smile of the customer is more gratifying and because she has him – Oikawa Sosuke.

Sosuke works for the Child Welfare Division. His duty is to protect children from abusive parents. (Hah.) Today, he watches Michiru through the hair parlor window from downstairs, waiting for her to get off work. They meet at a nearby café, Sosuke gives Michiru a belated birthday present – a delicate white cup with a single pink pattern. He seizes the opportunity and asks Michiru to move in with him. She hesitates at first but happily agrees to consider it.

Michiru quickly receives the consent of her mother, who only cares about whether or not Michiru continues to pay the rent and send her money every month. Free from her irresponsible mother’s clutches, Michiru happily prepares to jump into her boyfriend’s embrace. The first thing she does is buying kitchen appliances. And that, is how the story really begins.

Kishimoto Ruka (Ueno Juri!! with a charming, boyish haircut!) is a motocross racer and Michiru’s old classmate. On this day, fate brings Ruka into the same store. She wanders through, picks up a blue cup and walks towards the cashier to purchase the cup. Michiru walks past her simultaneously and out of the store. They miss by inches. Fate finds another way to reconnect the two. When Ruka is nonchalantly looking out of the window while waiting for the cashier to bag the cup, she spots Michiru. Grabbing the cup at lightening speed, Ruka dashes out of the store at 100 MPH, attempting to catch up to Michiru. In the midst of the rush, Ruka crashes into Mizushima Takeru (Eita!), knocking him down, dropping the newly purchased cup, shattering its handle.

Leaving the store, Michiru gets a on bus. A step too late, Ruka heads for the bike and paddles furiously, desperately trying to keep up with the bus. Michiru only sits on the bus, back towards Ruka, oblivious of the bus-chasing scene behind her. Finally, Michiru gets off the bus and inadvertently puts a stop on the chase. And that’s how Michiru and Ruka reunite after their aforementioned first separation.

The two girls go to the park they used to always go and start to talk about the Neverland days. Michiru observes that Ruka retains the “differentness” about her where she does her own thing despite what other people do or say. In contrast, Michiru notes that her, herself is always the submissive kind that goes with the flow. When asked about her recent life, Ruka tells Michiru about living in a “share house”, where people rent a room in the house and share the bathroom, kitchen, and living room with the other housemates. She urges Michiru to move to share house with her. Michiru gently declines the offer and reveals, without any attempt to hide her happiness, that she is about to move in with her boyfriend. Ruka diverts her gaze and murmurs to herself, “Michiru has a boyfriend now.” When she looks up again, she smiles and tells Michiru that she’s glad for her. The two then leave the park after exchanging contact information.

Mizushima Takeru, the customer knocked down by Ruka in the store earlier in the day, is a hair and makeup artist for his daytime job and a bartender at night. He returns from his makeup artist job to go to the bar when fate accidentally brings Ruka into his life, again. Takeru stops at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn green, when Ruka pulls up beside him. He looks over and recognizes her but before he could take out the cup that she left at the store, she rides away. He chases after her and she rides even faster.

Ruka shows up for training. After the practice, the coach praises her improvement and opportunistically slaps her rear. Obviously irked by such a frivolous conduct, Ruka turns around and kicks the coach’s ass and walks away smiling.

Takigawa Eri (Mizukawa Asami) is an airline attendant and Ruka’s only housemate. She is on her way leaving the airport after a flight when she encounters a group of fellow attendants. She warmly waves hi but is coldly ignored. To fill up the empty feeling, she drags Ruka to a bar at night.

They say three is a charm; if the first two encounters fail to bridge two strangers together, the third one does. Ruka and Takeru meet for the third time on the same day in the bar. Takeru takes out the cup, Ruka refuses to take it and returns it to Takeru. Eri attributes Ruka’s behavior to her coach’s harassment. Ruka responds that she values respect among people. Takeru agrees.

Michiru moves into Sosuke’s apartment. Sosuke pours himself and Michiru a cup of coffee using the two matching cups. They sit side by side on the sofa, talking. Sosuke promises to never leave Michiru no matter what comes between them. (Oh predicament!) He then skillfully pulls her towards him and they kiss. For the first time, Michiru feels the warmth of a complete family.

The next morning, when Michiru wakes up, Sosuke has already left the bed. She gets up and finds him checking her phone. (Someone’s in a hurry.) Feeling immediately uneasy, Michiru subconsciously raises her hand to rearrange her hair then puts on a smile to confront Sosuke. She walks up to him, casually asks, “What are you looking at? Did I received a strange text-massage? Was it my mother?” He only coolly raises the phone to let her see the screen that he’s looking at and asks, “Who is this?” Michiru’s first instinct is to force a laugh, perhaps a little too loudly. Nervously, she explains that it’s from a high school friend whom she has recently met on the street. “A guy?” Sosuke presses in an unnerving calmness. “No”, the smile fades from Michiru’s face, “It’s a girl.” Rubbing her hands in uncertainty now, Michiru adds, “Ruka is such a strange name. She looks slightly like a boy too…. But, it really is a girl!” Not buying it, Sosuke asks for proof. Michiru leans back in incredulity. Sosuke repeats, “Is there any proof?” “The phone… call her. You will know when you hear her voice.” Sosuke says nothing. Michiru dials Ruka’s number while surreptitiously peeks at Sosuke. No one picks up the phone. Sosuke raises his voice, “It’s a guy isn’t it?” “NO! It really is a girl!” Clang. Sosuke extends his foot in anger and kicks the coffee table to turn it completely over. Its content scatter everywhere. He stands up, yelling, “You sound more and more suspicious. You are cheating on me right?” Without giving Michiru a chance to speak, he bends down and starts to shake her violently. Out of fear, she screeches, “NO, it’s not what you think!” He pauses. “Proof… I… I understand now. I will show you proof. Right… there’s a yearbook. I will go home and get you the yearbook.” “You really will bring it back here right?” “Yes I will…” Satisfied, Sosuke walks away.

Michiru returns to her apartment and frantically searching for the yearbook. Her phone rings. She goes to retrieve it and sees that it’s Sosuke. She leaves it ringing and puts it back into her bag. The phone rings again. She picks it up. On the other side of the phone, Sosuke sternly questions, “What are you doing? You are seeing another man at this moment right?” Exasperated, Michiru shoots out a long string of explanation of how she can’t find the yearbook. “Come back now.” Sosuke curtly interrupts.

Michiru rushes back to Sosuke’s apartment. It starts to rain. She comes before the apartment, the door bursts open. Sosuke demands, “Where is the yearbook?” Puzzled and afraid, Michiru feebly answers, “I couldn’t find it.” Sosuke grabs her arm, drags her into the apartment, throws her onto the living room floor. The exertion sends the orange lamp on the cabinet flying, shattering into pieces. Looming over the fearful Michiru, Sosuke walks toward her, step by step until he’s completely on top of her. “Why don’t you do as I say?” Slap. He pulls her up. Slap. Then again. Michiru covers her face in pain and rolls onto her sides. Ignoring her tears, Sosuke kicks her full at the stomach. Once, twice, and three times. Michiru lays on the floor, curled up in a fetal position, tears, gasps, coughs all mixed together. Sosuke only keeps kicking. Then, Sosuke stops. He kneels down, helps Michiru up and starts to cry. “Sorry Michiru” he says while holding Michiru in a tight embrace. He keeps holding her, tighter and tighter. “It hurts. … It hurts Sosuke.” Sosuke lets her go. “Sorry… I, will go look for the yearbook again.” Michiru finds an excuse and leaves the apartment.

Once out of the apartment, Michiru walks aimlessly in the rain. She returns home but turns away upon seeing her mother and a man from the window that’s left ajar. She keeps walking until she reaches the park. She sits down, takes out her phone, and dials Ruka’s number. No one picks up the phone. Ruka is in the convenience store buying food. She walks out to check her phone while the cashier is warming up the food and hears Michiru’s message, “I, will call again.” Sensing something is amiss, Ruka grabs the umbrella and runs into the darkness without hesitation…

Ruka brings Michiru to the share house, which adorns a kind of warmth that temporarily masks Michiru’s pain:

I was like a child who wanders into a house made of candy, filled with happiness. But in the quiescentness of the night, I can’t help but to think of Sosuke, like the long lasting imprint of a lost treasure. Sorry, Ruka. At the time, I thought the most unfortunate person was me. How silly.

In the morning, Ruka passes the still sleeping Eri and Michiru and puts a blanket on each of them. She noticed a single tear rolling down Michiru’s cheek. Unable to contain herself, Ruka bends down and kisses Michiru on the lips.

Long recap! It’s refreshing to see the majority of the Nodame Cantabile cast in Last Friends, acting out completely different roles with a great deal of interplay and inner struggle. The burden of the foretold death adds a sprinkle of suspense but a scoop of uneasiness. Yet the fact that the cup Michiru chooses to use at the very beginning belongs to the same set Ruka and Takeru intend to purchase might suggest more than a sense of nostalgia. We’ll see. What’s sure is that Ruka might have to do a lot of the paddling and (bus) chasing after an unaware Michiru while Takeru may do the same to Ruka later on in the series.

There is one other thing. I didn’t include this in the recap but there is a boy who lives with his mother and is abused by her. Sosuke comes upon the case and shows compassion to the boy although brief. I suspect the boy’s childhood mirrors that of Sosuke’s. Time will tell. After all it doesn’t make sense to portray a disturbed man without exposing his past.

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