The article that you’re about to read has been more than four months in the making. It’s one of the most difficult pieces of writing that I’ve tried to craft. Of course, there are practical reasons for that: busy summer and school schedules, writer’s block, apathy, procrastination.
If I’m being honest, though, I find it difficult to write about the things Rio struggles with in this arc. In some sense, it’s because they’re things I struggle with as well: loneliness, depression, self-loathing, frustration with sin. I can barely articulate my own emotions with regard to these struggles—let alone the emotions of others! The task at hand bewilders me, so that I would much rather give up on the project altogether and recoil back into the darkness, defeated by the terror of the blank page.
But I know that’s not a very healthy response. And the issues at stake here deserve far more consideration than I’ve given them. Several months ago, one of our beloved contributors, Bob Aarhus, made this very point in his musings on Wonder Egg Priority; whether out of apathy or fear or judgmentalism, we don’t talk about these things. And yet, we need to talk about them. For when we talk about these things, we create spaces where complex and often confusing emotions can find resolution and peace. Like the rays of a lighthouse’s beacon, we signal weary seafarers that the shore’s coming up: that there’s hope for them even as they continue their journeys.1
In some ways, this analogy of the lighthouse captures the vision of Bunny Girl Senpai quite well. I mentioned at the end of my article on Tomoe’s arc that Bunny Girl Senpai is about learning to live in a world where there are no cheap answers. Mai can live with the tensions of show-biz because she knows Sakuta will see her for who she is. Tomoe can live with the social pressures of her peers because she knows that Sakuta will always support her along the way. Mai and Tomoe can continue on their journeys because they’ve found a guiding light in Sakuta: a hope that will carry them along through the storms.
But the question I’d like to ask today is this: Is the beacon really bright enough? Is the hope that Sakuta gives Mai and Tomoe (and Rio) enough for them to weather their storms? Is it enough for them to live? Or simply to cope? And if the latter, where is true hope to be found?
Well, I’ve rambled on enough. Let’s get to Rio.
To answer the questions I’ve posed for myself, I’d like to point to one specific scene near the end of Rio’s arc. If you haven’t seen the show, go watch it; but if you’re unwilling to watch it, I’ll provide a brief synopsis. Rio’s Adolescent Syndrome splits her into two Rios, one of which ends up at Sakuta’s house while the other takes over Rio’s public life. As the arc goes on, we learn the cause: pre-Syndrome Rio had been posting suggestive selfies on a burner account, which hurtled her into a spiral of self-hatred. Ultimately, that spiral tore Rio into two personalities: the Rio who craved the attention she was receiving, and the Rio who hated herself for craving that attention.2
Ultimately, a series of fortunate events leads the attention-seeking Rio to delete her account. And after pulling an all-nighter with Sakuta and Kunimi, she realizes she never needed to worry about being alone: Her friends were always there for her.
That takes care of the attention-seeking Rio, but what about the other Rio? When Sakuta wakes up the evening after the all-nighter, she’s gone. It’s only after a mad dash through the rain that Sakuta finds her at school, threatening to erase herself from the world altogether. After all, Sakuta’s sided with the Rio she hates. There’s nowhere for her to belong. Everyone in the world has abandoned her, including herself—so she reasons. And Sakuta would have objected, had he not been struck down with a severe case of Sudden Anime Fever Syndrome (don’t inquire). He collapses in the middle of the classroom, and wakes up in the hospital, which is where the scene I’d like to discuss begins.
After checking in with Mai, Sakuta finds Rio alone in the waiting room and sits beside her. He apologizes for the inconvenience, and they share some light-hearted banter before the conversation dies out. In the silence of the quiescent hospital ward, Futaba begins to voice an apology of her own. But Sakuta abruptly cuts her off. He’s close enough to Rio to know what she’s going to say: that she’s past the point of coming to terms with herself, even though she’s terrified of being left alone. No more tedious explanations—no more fighting the air—no more wrestling with the world.
“It’s all right if you hate yourself, really,” he reassures her.
This is the beacon that shines through Rio’s situation; this is the light that cuts through her darkness. All this time Rio’s been frustrated because she’s at odds with herself: Her longings are at war within her, and the results have been uglier than she ever expected. She longs for peace, but constantly lives without it: torn into two by her own self. Sakuta’s response to all this? “That’s just how things go.” There are no easy answers, after all. The solution, then, is to stop looking for answers and to live as best you can within the tension, savoring the moments of satisfaction along the way.
For Rio, that’s all she needs. She might be embedded in conflict, but she doesn’t have to fight for a peace that doesn’t exist. She can rest, confident that she’s surrounded by friends who will support her through the struggle. This is the hope that Sakuta gives her, and it’s enough for her to press on.
Or is it?
Before I continue, let me make something clear: there’s so much about Sakuta’s response to Rio’s situation that I appreciate. I don’t at all want to downplay his generous compassion to Rio, or the timely wisdom he has for her. Besides, most of what he says makes sense. We do live in a world where conflict is inevitable, and we feel the weight of that bearing on our souls. We long for peace, but we constantly live without it, torn into two by our own selves. So the solution then is to stop looking for answers, because there aren’t any, and to live with the tension—right?
Perhaps, in the world of Bunny Girl Senpai, that logic follows. But in our world, there’s a better way.3 For the world that we live in wasn’t meant to be this way. We weren’t meant to live with conflict; we weren’t meant to live with depression; we weren’t meant to live with self-hatred. Instead, we were created to live in peace and unity: unity within ourselves, unity with God, and unity with others.
But sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin. We live in a dying world. So, in some sense, it’s correct to say that conflict is natural—our world is dying, and conflict’s the natural consequence of that. But in some sense, that perspective’s terribly warped, because it fails to acknowledge that conflict is unnatural; it goes against what this world was created for. Our hearts long for peace and restoration because that’s what we were meant to long for. We were meant to rest in God, to find our peace in him.
And—thanks be to God!—because of the self-sacrificial love of Christ on the cross, we who were once far away from God have been brought near to him. We have been reconciled to God through Christ. And since we’ve been reconciled to God, we’ve been reconciled in ourselves. The deepest longings in our hearts for peace can be fulfilled when we give ourselves over to the God who created us as children of peace.
Honestly, though? If I were in Sakuta’s place, I doubt I could give Rio a much better hope than he gave her. I’m still a part of this broken world; I can tend to forget to be sensitive to others’ struggles for the sake of my own theological formulas. So take these next words as spoken in humility, spoken by someone who’s still learning to show the grace Sakuta shows others.
If I were to change one thing about that phrase I highlighted earlier, I’d have it read like this: “It shouldn’t be all right if you hate yourself.” Rio, you shouldn’t have to live with constant emotional turmoil and shame. You shouldn’t have to stifle your desire for peace. You don’t have to hate yourself. There’s a better hope: for you and for all of us.
And to anyone reading this who sympathizes with Rio’s story, know that this is for you, too. You shouldn’t have to live with your own self-hatred and shame, always coping with reality but never being able to accept it. You weren’t meant to live that way. You were made to live in peace and holiness.
And though you might struggle with your brokenness now, know that there’s a hope on the horizon. Though the waters might toss and turn, there’s a beacon in the darkness, shining out over the waves. There’s a savior who charted a path over the perilous seas, who shed his blood to preserve it for eternity. And if you seek him—seek the comfort that is his—you will certainly find it.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai can be streamed on Funimation.
1 To clarify, I’m not claiming that discussions like these will “cure” these deep mental and emotional issues. But they do create an environment where the healing process can begin.
2 One of the reasons I love this arc is how piercingly it addresses the issues surrounding depression, and self-hatred in particular. I relate to Rio’s struggle in so many ways: her anger at her own sin, her indulgence in that sin as a form of punishment, and her tiredness over the whole ordeal. It’s something that I could write an entirely separate article about. But again, I digress.
3 And, I’d argue, if there’s a better way in our own world, there’s a better way in the worlds we create, worlds which resemble our own longings and hopes.