to live means to adapt
There are some elements that I associate with Kyoko specifically, some of which are explicitly mentioned in the story. In volume 7, Arisa states that Tohru’s colour is pink: a result of her mother’s colour being red and her father’s white. Katsuya’s white is meant to represent his straightforward and spontaneous personality, whereas Kyoko’s red stands for her old gang moniker “Red Butterfly”. On several occasions, Kyoko’s orange hair colour is pointed out as well, notably to draw comparisons to Kyo’s.
Red is an interesting colour to link to Kyoko because it’s a colour that evokes strong imagery, both positive and negative: On the one hand, it is associated with warning signs, blood, anger and hatred — things prominently featured in Kyoko’s adolescence as she got involved in fights to express her own inner turmoil. On the other hand, the colour is the source of positive energy: courage, determination, desire, love and passion — things that take over Kyoko’s life once she has met Katsuya, who inspires her to get back on the right track and live a life she can be proud of.
Although Kyoko’s colour is explicitly stated to be red, it is orange that I consider to be her signature colour (especially if you look at the few pieces of colour art of her) — the colour of happiness, optimism and joy: all the things Kyoko came to personify in her later life. Kyoko is remembered as an enthusiastic person full of positivity and life, a vibrant person whose laugh and energetic and spontaneous personality managed to stimulate everyone around her.
It’s interesting to note that butterflies are, as a symbol, not only associated with Kyoko within the series, but also appear in scenes where Akito is the focus — another detail that juxtaposes the two characters and the two narratives they’re part of. Butterflies are associated with spiritual transformation and rebirth due to their life cycle, namely the metamorphosis that takes place. Kyoko’s story shows many different stages of her life, including the transitions in-between, and she is shown to continuously grow and expand. In Japan, butterflies are also connected to death, for they are believed to carry or represent the souls of the dead, especially those of the recently departed — something that applies to Kyoko, whose lingering presence is crucial to many characters.
Something that I’ve drawn attention to several times is also Kyoko’s changing hair, which is also explicitly mentioned during her early relationship with Katsuya: She lets her short bangs grow longer following a comment of his. Kyoko also carries her hair long from adolescence until at least around the time Tohru is in elementary school, the period during which Kyo had regular encounters with Kyoko. All depictions of Kyoko from then onwards, including the way the reader is introduced to her, show her with very short hair.
During the time Kyoko confides in Kyo, she still seems to have lingering feelings of guilt due to the neglect she put her daughter through in the aftermath of Katsuya’s death, and may not have fully recovered from losing her husband just yet. In all those scenes, her hair is still long. In many cultures, cutting one’s hair means leaving the old behind and starting anew. Although we do not know the exact time and the act itself isn’t shown, Kyoko’s later physical transformation signifies that she managed to move on: Her past was with Katsuya, but her present and future are with Tohru.
Lastly, water imagery, especially the sea, is present throughout Kyoko’s life. The sea is where Kyoko requests to go when Katsuya offers her a trip after quitting his position as a teacher in training. It is there that she believes she’d had to say goodbye to him, and she announces — loudly to Katsuya, quietly to herself — that she wishes to change, “to become a decent person”. While her relationship with Katsuya unexpectedly develops in new context, that resolution of hers remains the same. The sea is again mentioned when Kyoko finally leaves her abusive home behind and, together with Katsuya, moves to a place close to the sea: her true first home.
You need a place where you can spread your wings freely. That’s what Katsuya also always said. Katsuya’s father, Volume 1
After Katsuya’s death and during Kyoko’s stasis, she wonders where she has to go to meet him again. Eventually, she sees Katsuya in the water, meaning that she associates him with the sea. The scene marks another turning point as Kyoko snaps out of it just when she is about to follow Katsuya by jumping into the water. Finally remembering Tohru, she leaves the water behind — and sometime afterwards, as she tells Kyo, they move to a different place. The sea isn’t brought up again until Kyoko is reunited with Katsuya in death.
As is the case with several other elements on this page, water is associated with reflection, transformation and renewal; it’s a symbol of life and fertility, of travel, adaptation and flexibility. All the scenes that connect Kyoko with water show major changes in her life; changes entailing ends and beginnings, this means that Kyoko had to continuously adapt in order to live on and to grow beyond herself.
Take all these elements together and that’s what Kyoko’s story is about, isn’t it: continuous transformation and continuous rebirth in the many up and downs of life.