We continue on our journey looking at the various characters in Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl Senpai no Yuma wo Minai, also known as Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, this time with Nodoka Toyohama.
Nodoka Toyohama is the half-sister of our beloved bunny girl, Mai Sakurajima. While they share the same father, they have separate mothers. She is best identified by her blonde hair and bratty attitude. Nodoka is also part of an idol group called Sweet Bullet.
Nodoka is perhaps one of the most transparent characters in Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl Senpai no Yuma wo Minai. She is very immature and wears her insecurities on her sleeve. While Koga Tomoe also acted childish and petty at times, she also kept many secrets and was very socially apt. Nodoka is much more of an “open book”, by comparison.
Nodoka first makes an appearance in episode 8, where we see her on television being interviewed with her idol group. The interviewer asks Nodoka what she likes, and she responds with “Sakurajima Mai, the actress”. At the time we don’t actually know who Nodoka is, or her relation to Mai.
Who Are You?
After a long summer break of being apart from Mai, Sakuta spots her while walking home. The only problem is, it’s not actually Mai, but Nodoka. And Nodoka is actually Mai. In other words, their bodies have swapped.
After some deliberation, we learn that Nodoka visited Mai’s place the night prior, and when they woke up, they had switched places. Mai also mentions that Nodoka didn’t want to return home.
Mai begins planning how her and Nodoka will live as each other, and the scene ends.
On the way to school the following morning, we find out that both Mai and Nodoka don’t have any friends at school. This makes Sakuta the most popular out of the three, at least in terms of friends at school.
Right before they part ways, Mai tells Sakuta that she has a fairly good idea of what happened to cause Nodoka to run away from home, citing herself as the probable cause. Sakuta picks up on this quickly, understanding that having a famous half-sister like Mai could have resulted in familial pressure on Nodoka.
We also learn that Mai’s mother enrolled Mai into an acting troupe (to spite her former husband), and Nodoka’s mother enrolled Nodoka into a troupe in reaction to that.
Pride and Joy
Just before parting ways at school, Sakuta has the following conversation with Nodoka:
“You’ve got Mai’s expressions and manner of speech down pat”
“I mimicked her a lot as a kid. She was my pride and joy – who I wanted to be.”
With the earlier interview where Nodoka said that Mai is her favourite thing, and now this, we start to get the impression that Nodoka really looks up to Mai. There is a lot of admiration from Nodoka of her older sister.
But is it all just admiration?
When Sakuta brings up the body-swap case with Futaba, she opts to not bring up any scientific explanation. Instead, she points out that the answer to this case is obvious. If puberty syndrome is caused by mental instability, then it’s clear that Nodoka has some sort of mental instability.
And naturally, the mental instability this time is that Nodoka has an inferiority complex towards her more successful older sister, as pointed out by Sakuta. The issue Sakuta is facing at the moment is not what the issue is, but rather how to solve it. He doesn’t know Nodoka well enough to be able to pinpoint what it would take for her to stop comparing herself to Mai.
Sakuta may not know exactly what it’ll take to solve Nodoka’s complex, but that sure doesn’t stop him from trying. At the beach after Nodoka dips her legs in the water for a bit, Sakuta confronts her.
“Don’t you have something to say to her?
Like, “I hate you, Onee-chan,” or something?
The fact you ran away from home must mean you had a fight with your parents. And if Mai was the cause, of course you’d hate her.”
Sakuta lays it all out, just like that. And it’s clear that his words are reaching Nodoka, as her eyes widen several times in this scene.
Her surprise leads her to lash out at Sakuta, asking how he knew all of this when she hadn’t said anything. Sakuta tells her it’s obvious, and that Mai knows the gist of it as well, much to Nodoka’s surprise.
This scene is a great example of what I meant about Nodoka being an open book. Unlike prior characters where we needed time and interactions to figure out their intentions / motivations, with Nodoka we actually have a fairly clear picture of what is going on right from the start. The fact that Nodoka shows such surprise to Sakuta figuring it out shows her naivety, because she clearly thought that no one else knew what she was going on except for her. To be told her own feelings to her face, to have been figured out like that, really was a surprise for Nodoka.
After being confronted by Sakuta on the beach, it’s become clear to Nodoka that there was no use in hiding her feelings anymore. While at the park, presumably waiting for Mai, Nodoka asks Sakuta if she can stay with him for a while – the reasoning for this will soon become apparent.
Mai arrives just in time to ask what’s going on, and Nodoka lets everything out. It’s probably easier if I just put it all here, instead of trying to explain it, because it’s a very telling confession by Nodoka.
“I’ve always lived in your shadow, ever since I was a little girl.
Every time I went to an audition, you’d get picked, and every time, my mom would yell at me, “Mai-chan can do it, why can’t you?”.
While you were on hiatus, I finally got to debut as part of Sweet Bullet. Mom got somewhat nicer and started praising me, too. But…
Why’d you have to come back all of a sudden? You get a great role in a TV special and a bunch of ads, and you’re on the cover of some fashion mag or the other every month!
Why’re you getting in my way? You do things effortlessly that I worked years to earn! You’re always the one in the spotlight!
Stop making all my efforts go to waste!
I hate you!”
The Reality of the Situation
Before Nodoka laid it all out, we knew a few things.
- We knew that Nodoka ran away from home, likely due to an argument with her parents / mother, likely over Mai.
- We knew that Nodoka has an inferiority complex towards Mai.
- We knew that Nodoka probably felt resentment towards Mai as a result of the above two points.
Now, we are able to expand more upon what we knew with a few more points.
- Nodoka desperately wants her mother’s approval / praise.
- Nodoka’s mother constantly compares her to Mai.
- Nodoka thinks that Mai has it easy, that she’s just naturally talented.
- Nodoka feels like all of her hard work is wasted because she is constantly compared to the naturally talented Mai by her mother.
With this, we can form the two biggest misconceptions that Nodoka has.
First is that her mother doesn’t love her, and that her sole existence is to be compared to Mai. Nodoka feels as if she can’t succeed if Mai is also succeeding.
Second is that Mai is naturally talented, and doesn’t put a lot of effort into what she does, which makes Nodoka feel like even if she tries her hardest, it won’t be enough.
The combination of these two creates a situation where Nodoka feels completely cheated out of everything she has accomplished. She feels like all of her efforts are a complete waste, because the naturally talented Mai will always steal the show, resulting in her mother never giving her any praise or approval.
This is the reality of the situation for Nodoka.
The Solution Becomes Clear
Now that we know what Nodoka is going through, we can clearly see what the solution to Nodoka’s problems is – dispel Nodoka’s misconceptions.
What’s interesting about the Nodoka arc is that the solution becomes apparent so early on – only halfway through the first episode of her two episode arc.
So what does this mean for the analysis?
Well, it means I get a bit of a break here, and there are many scenes that I don’t actually have to cover in this analysis. That said, let’s still go over how everything manages to work out.
Beginning of the End
Over the next week or two in the anime, Nodoka’s misconceptions begin to clear up through something or another.
First is the ad shoot, where Nodoka has to smile like Mai. After twelve takes Nodoka faints because she can’t take the pressure, and the shoot is put off for another day. Nodoka does her best to study Mai’s smile, but in the end, she manages to get by with what you could call “her own” smile. It’s clear though that Nodoka wasn’t ready for the pressure that comes with being Mai.
Next is the concert. Mai gives Sakuta tickets to the next Sweet Bullet concert so that he can go and watch with Nodoka. During the concert, Mai not only puts on a perfect performance, but she also manages to catch the mic of one of the other Sweet Bullet members who slips during one of their songs. Nodoka is of course very impressed with how Mai performed. Mai also ends up getting chosen to be the lead singer on the group’s next single.
After the concert, Sakuta and Nodoka spot Nodoka’s mother crying and holding Mai’s hands, telling her how happy she is for her and that she did great.
This causes Nodoka to get frustrated. She takes Sakuta to a nearby beach, where she proceeds to run out into the water. I guess to drown herself? Or maybe she was trying to catch a cold, which can also be deadly. We did see Sakuta go to the hospital after being out in the rain just a few episodes prior, after all.
The Nodoka arc climaxes in Mai’s apartment. Sakuta shows Nodoka the box of letters that she had sent to Mai when she was younger. The realization that her letters were treasured by Mai helps her to realize that Mai doesn’t hate her. She then breaks down and lets out her frustrations at Mai:
“No fair! You’re so unfair! It’s too late for that!
I’d just decided to keep working hard!
So why’d you have to land a lead single before me?
Why’d you have to be the one Mom praised?”
Mai tells her it’s because she practiced every single day. Nodoka doesn’t like this answer, telling Mai that she’s doing the impossible. This leads Mai to slap Sakuta in frustration.
Nodoka proceeds to slump to her knees, saying that there’s nothing she can do.
Mai tells Nodoka about how her mother’s hands were trembling after the concert, and that she had probably been very worried the entire time Nodoka was missing. Mai says that she was probably worried that she had pushed Nodoka too hard into something she didn’t want to do.
“What kind of parent tells their child they are unsure about their parenting?”
The encounter helps Nodoka to break down in tears, feeling sorry for the worry her mother must have felt. This also causes her to realize that her mother loves her. After some sisterly love, Nodoka’s puberty syndrome is resolved. In the end it turns out that they didn’t swap bodies, but their bodies changed appearance to look like each other, which is undone in a weird snap.
Final Words (Futaba)
Now that everything has been resolved, the next day Sakuta tells Futaba what happened.
“The younger one’s desire and desperation to be like her older sister must’ve changed her appearance to Sakurajima Mai’s, probably… In theory, it’s safe to assume it was a form of quantum teleportation…”
“Then why did Mai gain Toyohama’s appearance too?”
“Maybe a not-inconsequential part of Sakurajima envied her sister too.”
It’s an interesting thought, but I wonder if that’s really the case?
Personally, I believe that Mai’s appearance changed as a result of her desire to help her sister. I think Nodoka’s desperation that night when she showed up at Mai’s apartment caused Mai to develop that desire – and what better way to help than to assume Nodoka’s appearance?
Of course I don’t think either sister wanted to change appearance like that, but I think that Nodoka’s desperation and Mai’s desire somehow intertwined to cause the quantum teleportation necessary to observe each other’s framework and swap appearances. Maybe Futaba is right, as she often is, but I don’t quite see the reasoning for Mai envying Nodoka when she’s just got her career back up and going thanks to Sakuta. The anime also hinted at Mai looking out for Nodoka when she was watching Nodoka’s interview on TV, which I doubt she just randomly flipped to. She was clearly interested in watching her sister succeed.
Something that I’ve noticed with the Nodoka arc is how it’s laid out differently from the rest. With Nodoka, we actually learn about all of her issues and feelings from very early on. As a result, we end up spending 75% of her arc watching the solution play out. The problem is that we are left with an arc where the “mystery” is solved too soon. At least this is how I feel about the arc, and it’s the reason why I felt like Nodoka’s arc doesn’t quite live up to the others. There were no real surprises for most of the arc.
I also think that because of the body-swap style, we don’t get to see very much of Nodoka as herself, and instead we get Nodoka looking like Mai. It sort of takes away from the intrigue of a new character, as we’ve been exposed to Mai since episode 1. That said, the anime does do a great job in differentiating Nodoka’s Mai from the regular Mai.
Nodoka Toyohama is a girl who was compared to her successful, older sister all her life. Her mother’s obsession to one-up her husband’s ex-wife’s daughter led her to push Nodoka into acting in order to make her famous. But Nodoka is not Mai, and she doesn’t have the same work ethic that Mai has. As a result Nodoka was never able to surpass Mai, and her mother never gave her the praise and love that she desired.
This led Nodoka to develop an inferiority complex towards Mai, the one who was getting in-between her and her mother. The one who was “to blame” for Nodoka’s mother never praising her.
This whole situation also caused Nodoka to develop an identity crisis, because her mother never appreciated her for who she was, but instead always compared her to Mai.
It’s tough to lay out a solid lesson for Nodoka, because I think that majority of the blame for this situation lies with Nodoka’s mother. Nodoka was almost entirely a victim of circumstance, and while the anime tries to throw some shade towards her mother with the whole “no parent would reveal their uncertainties towards their child” idea, I think it’s a weak excuse. Nodoka’s mother pushed her to believe that she was useless, and that the only way she could be loved was to be like her sister Mai.
You know what should happen when a parent realizes that they have made a mistake? They should apologize. Clear the air, and let their child know that they made a mistake, and that it’s not the child’s fault. I get where the anime is coming from, but it’s a bit irritating how much the anime covers for Nodoka’s mother take given how much she is to blame for putting her daughter under so much pressure.
And this is why I decided to title this post Nodoka Toyohama, the Pawn. Unfortunately, most of Nodoka’s life was spent living as a pawn to her mother’s desires, unable to be herself. It sounds harsh to call her a pawn, but that’s pretty much what she was. By running away from home, Nodoka actually managed to break this relationship with her mother – by taking some initiative and making her own choices. It ended up working out well, as it forced her mother to realize her mistakes as a parent.
As for Nodoka herself, the lesson I would say is that she learned to be more confident in herself and her own choices. Her mother tried to push her into doing things she didn’t like, comparing her to someone else. But she managed to come to the conclusion that her mother still cared for her, and that she was allowed to be herself.
So yeah, don’t let people push you around and compare you to others.
Do what you believe is best for you, because no one else will understand your own thoughts and desires better than you do.
That’s all for Nodoka. I decided to just keep this as one big post, because the solution to Nodoka’s puberty syndrome is revealed so early. While I like her as a character, there are many issues with her arc itself that I wasn’t a fan of. I also feel like her puberty syndrome was more the result of her mother’s failure as a parent than her own issues, which makes her lesson seem a little weak compared to the other girls.
Until next time!
Thanks for reading.