I hope you caught the airing this weekend of Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl, the excellent movie for the Rascal Does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai series, as it aired on Funimation (and if you haven’t, as of this post there’s still time—it’s airing until today at 3:00 p.m. CT). Focusing on Shouko and finally revealing a number of mysteries in the series relating to her, it’s also the most carefully planned arc thus far, and perhaps the most endearing. Shouko is wonderful character, and Sakuta and Mai, especially, get a chance to shine as well. Though the franchise continues to toy with the idea of a love triangle, the stakes in the movie are too high to remain in such a petty place, and the sacrifices ultimately made are sincere and moving (SPOILERS AHEAD).
Still, I wondered how these three found the love and compassion inside themselves to the make the sacrifices they do. At one point or another in the film, each literally dies for someone else. Is there any higher love than that? It must have been cultivated someone through their relationships. Particularly, when you’re a teenager, that means through how you were raised, but that’s where there’s some sort of disconnect. Two of them (Shouko being the exception) are parented poorly. Even by anime standards, the parenting is bad. Parents aren’t simply absent; They make conscious choices that hurt their kids, ultimately driving much of the story’s plot. Sakuta’s parents basically abandon him to raise his sister himself, while Mai’s mother is uncaring, seeing her and her sister as commodities (and replacements, it seems, for a failed marriage). When both sets of parents gave up during the times when their children needed them most, how can Sakuta and Mai exhibit the kind of love that leads the earlier to let himself get hit by a car to save Shouko and the latter to die in place of her boyfriend?
The thing is, it almost never works out that way, where a person is spontaneously able to develop such a powerful love despite years of being raised in an environment that doesn’t express it. Watch any true crime series and the checklist for criminal behavior is relatively the same, including parents who neglected and often abused their children. Mai and Sakuta might be more realistically become like their parents rather than the kind young people they are.
Shouko’s love, though, makes more sense. Her parents are loving and supportive in the glimpses we get to see of them. They stand by her through illness and recuperation. It’s a good thing, too, because in a show where everyone is suffering, she’s been dealt the worst card of all, a likely death. At least her upbringing is full of warmth and care by parents who didn’t give up when tragedy hit (Sakuta’s) or cut of their love during personal heartbreak (Mai’s). And maybe that’s why Shouko is the one who is able to change things for Sakuta and Mai, demonstrating something else: Despite our upbringings, there’s still hope to break free of an unloving household, if not through by loving parenting, through the intervention of someone else.
For Sakuta, who experienced rejection and depression an a adolescent, life changed when he briefly met the older Shouko by the beach. In just a few minutes, her words of encouragement changed the boy’s entire life, from one that seemed destined to be ruined (suicidal?) to one where he’s able to save others. She cheered him on with her advice and loving touch. It took one person, and perhaps half an hour, to alter the course of a life.
The amazing thing in this series, and the movie particularly, is that there’s a circular kind of love that involves all three lives (and by relation, many others as well). Mai is eventually saved by the Sakuta, who has become loving and responsible due to Shouko’s (future) intervention. And in Dreaming Girl, Mai in turn has transformed into someone who loves Sakuta so deeply that her instinct is to push her boyfriend out of the way of crashing vehicle, dying in the process. But isn’t that quite like her? Unlike Shouko’s gentle and quiet love, which is equally effective, Mai is loud—she calls Sakuta a liar (and herself as well) when trying to convince him to avoid dying in place of Shouko, and then jumps in the way of a car to save him. Her love is aggressive and powerful.
And Sakuta himself? Disciplined and persistent, after learning that it’s his impending death that leads to Shouko’s salvation, he decides to continue through with it. Later, when that opportunity fails, he travels through time to save Mai from her death instead. He will do whatever it takes to save those he loves, without fanfare or talk: a man of action, and a man of love.
These three made me think about my path growing up. I’ve had meetings with people that changed my life as well, though only one to the extent that the characters of Dreaming Girl have had—and he’s the same that intervenes in all our lives, who offers grace and love to us all.
Just as with Shouko, we have someone who is by our side, cheering us on, day by day, even in the most difficult circumstances. As with Mai, we have someone who intervenes in loud, bombastic ways to remind us who he is and what road we must travel. As with Sakuta, we have someone who traveled through space and time to love us, who gave his own life in our place.
The story of a dreaming girl is the story of us all. Even in the bleakest of times, when anxiety, fear, and death surround us, there is one loving us through it, who provides hope in any and all circumstances. A beautiful dream, for sure, and even better—a vivid and life-changing reality, a hope and certainty that better days are ahead.