the courage to say I love you

After meeting Katsuya, Kyoko’s days changed. Katsuya had a sly and somewhat cool personality, something Kyoko described as “pretentiously polite” whenever he spoke with others, but when he was around her, he showed his honest self and spoke his mind. Intrigued and wanting to know more about him, Kyoko started coming to school more often. Although Katsuya stated it’d be nice if she’d come watch him teach just once, she still wouldn’t attend her classes, but she’d keep him company during his lunch break.

While Kyoko wasn’t sure whether all his teasing meant he was just playing with her, she couldn’t help wondering how he thought about her, or how he spent his time outside of their meetings. At times, she’d sneak around to catch a glimpse of him talking to the students at school, though she never attempted to join their group.

One day, Katsuya announced that his time as a teacher in training was coming to an end, and that he’d leave the school the next day. He explained to her that he wouldn’t further pursue teaching as a career as it didn’t suit him, and that it was something he only did to conform to his strict father’s wishes so that he’d be left alone. When Kyoko asked him whether it was hatred that he felt for his father, Katsuya described it as being more like a wall, and Kyoko understood that he, too, was lonely. On the day of his departure, Kyoko shyly approached him to wish him well.

I… I wish I had been able to watch you at work just once, but… I was afraid of entering the classroom. (Afraid of the confirmation that there was no place for me in there. That it was too late to be part of it.) It’s cowardly to say so after getting into that situation myself. But I regret it… At least one last time… Kyoko

At that point, Katsuya interrupted her to offer to drive her anywhere she wanted. They headed for the sea, where Kyoko thanked him in earnest and let him know that she thought of him as a kind person. To herself, she admitted that she liked him very much, even though it was too late and they wouldn’t see each other again.

(You picked up an abandoned kitten like me and took care of me.)

From now on, I’ll become a decent person. I’ll study properly and go to high school! I’ll give my best!

(I’m tired of my immature behaviour. I’m tired of how I’ve been living my life. If I’m too young either way… Had I at least been like the other girls, had I lived like an ordinary person, like an ordinary girl… Perhaps I would have found the courage to say “I love you” without shame.)

Thank you…! Kyoko

Kyoko’s words of goodbye were met with Katsuya calling her a kid: “There are countless other places where we can meet. The fact that you think a tiny school is the entire world proves that you’re still a kid.” To Kyoko’s immense surprise and confusion, Katsuya offered to help her with her studies, and they’d meet up on weekends to keep in touch even after he had taken up his new job.

As a result of the time she spent with Katsuya after their first encounter, Kyoko had greatly distanced herself from her gang. When she eventually wanted to quit, she was severely punished (see “lynching”), to the point of being hospitalized. The police and numerous teachers checked in with her; her own parents, however, came up with excuses to stay away. When Kyoko couldn’t write her high school entry exams in that state, all she could think of was how much time Katsuya had spent helping her, and what a big disappointment she was. “Serves you right.” and “How can I face him now?” were the only thoughts in her mind.

By the time she was discharged from the hospital, her parents no longer acknowledged her as their child. Yet, even as they told her to get lost, to live and die as she pleased and not to burden them any longer, all Kyoko could think of was how she herself was to blame for all of it, and how this was her well-deserved punishment. Kyoko’s self-esteem had reached its lowest point, her fighting spirit gone — and here I must point out that, in a perverse way, this was the result of her growth, and proof of her resolve to become a better person.

See, the Kyoko before all of this would have thrown a fit and argued back at the self-centered and self-righteous way adults in particular treated those around them — and while the way she expressed her anger didn’t resolve anything, I think she was in the right to speak up. All the people in her environment were shown to treat her not as a person, but as a problem to be solved or removed, without regard to her own issues. Now, her parents were doing it again: Kyoko was beaten up badly, but she managed to leave the gang for good. And before that, Kyoko’s lifestyle had been getting better for a whole while: She didn’t have angry outbursts anymore, didn’t spend the days starting fights or being delinquent, had even reached the point where she was able to set goals for herself, wanting to resume the right course in life. Kyoko was sick of her former self, had been sick of it from the start, but it was only after meeting Katsuya that she was able to step away from that and start moving again, rather than being paralyzed by hopelessness. Kyoko had made peace with herself.

But because Kyoko didn’t have anger as a shield to defend herself from her environment anymore, because Kyoko had stopped blaming everyone around her for the flames that she had fueled for so long, because she had accepted that she had contributed to her own stasis, she didn’t have any protection left when both the gang and her parents eventually cracked down on her.

And in that moment of absolute despair and resignation, someone arrived just in time to intervene — someone who knew all too well what it was like only to be accepted when you conformed to your parents’ wishes.

Are you saying she’s only your child as long as she meets your expectations? That you only accept her as your child when she’s without faults? That you yourself are such superior human beings? Or is it that you have the privilege to discard your responsibility as parents? Katsuya

Kyoko reacted with disbelief at suddenly seeing him next to her after she had intentionally cut him off, whereas her parents showed outrage at a stranger’s involvement and criticism. Katsuya, however, went further: He declared that although he didn’t particularly enjoy giving them a piece of his mind either, “they were, however imperfect, the parents of the girl [he] wished to marry.” And with that, he packed Kyoko’s things and dragged her away from that abusive household.

When confronted by Kyoko, Katsuya confirmed his proposal was serious, apologizing that it was delivered in such a situation; Kyoko, however, vehemently tried to get him to revoke it, saying it was too much, and that he didn’t have to go to such lengths for her. Frantically, she tried to push him away with all her might — precisely because she liked him so much and didn’t want his pity. “You needn’t take care of me anymore! Just drop me! You’ve already done enough for me… more than enough!” Kyoko, in her self-loathing, couldn’t interpret his words as anything other than pity, as she couldn’t comprehend why he’d choose her of all people. And then, she was surprised yet again:

You cried. Crying and saying how lonely you were… was such a human thing to do. That’s when I knew that I loved you. There was a time when I, too, thought of everyone besides myself as scum, but I was never able to cry without restraint. I still can’t. Katsuya

He let her know that he had been careful around her because she was still a student, but that he had never intended to let her go. “Kyoko, choose me. If you still don’t believe me, if it’s words that are needed to assure you, I’ll tell you I love you as many times as necessary.”

Up to this point, the younger Kyoko’s story showed Katsuya playing the role Kyoko’s been playing throughout the series: that of a guide, someone whose wisdoms allow others to move forward. It was because Kyoko met Katsuya and because Katsuya listened and responded to her, rather than dismissing her, that she slowly started to change, suddenly aware of the things she had been missing out on and the way things could be. Katsuya’s personality is interesting in that he successfully “misled” those around him by showing them what they expected to see while keeping his non-conforming thoughts to himself, but this also made it seem as though he was able to navigate life without trouble.

The real revelation in this confession isn’t just Katsuya’s love for Kyoko — it’s the fact that he needed her all along too, and that with her sincere tears and display of emotions, she had saved him just as much as he had saved her. Kyoko and Katsuya are two people who managed to see each other’s loneliness in ways no one else could, and accepted each other for who they truly were, including all the flaws.

Something that only comes up in the mangaka’s side column commentary is the eight years of age difference between these two. Katsuya didn’t make a move on Kyoko while he was still teaching, and later on when she was still in middle school, and when Kyoko accepted his proposal, they agreed on it just being a matter of her “being born late”. The narrative makes it quite clear that neither of them would have considered letting the other go based on the age difference alone, seeing how they were the only ones that truly understood each other — and in light of everything up to that point, that weighed so much more than anything else.