We see a lot of different aspects to heroine Irisu Makina over the course of Grisaia’s complete story to date.
Initially, she’s presented as a shy, young-looking girl — a self-professed “loli” — who has difficulty trusting new people, so she finds it difficult to interact with protagonist Yuuji, who is himself not the easiest person to get along with at times.
It doesn’t take long for Yuuji to convince her out of her shell, though, and our hero subsequently finds himself an important part of the complete group of friends attending Mihama Academy — and an important part of Makina’s life.
Like the other heroines, it’s not immediately obvious from The Fruit of Grisaia’s common route what Makina’s core “issue” is — aside perhaps from her near-dependency on her best friend Amane, or maybe her extreme childishness in comparison to her peers of the same age — but it’s easy enough to start coming up with some theories the moment you’re presented with the choice that triggers her narrative path. She offers to “buy” Yuuji by giving him all of her money in exchange for him playing the role of her father.
Up until this point, she’d been referring to him as “Onii-chan” — big brother — but she admits outright that she wants more: she wants a male “authority” figure to look up to, to teach her about things that she doesn’t understand, and to love her unconditionally. Yuuji is a clear choice for the role not simply because he is the only man present, but also because he frequently shows himself to be responsible and dependable, pretty much to a fault at times. Some of this is down to his mysterious “job”, some is down to his somewhat chaotic upbringing — which we discover more about over the course of some of Fruit’s other paths and Labyrinth in particular — and some is simply the person he naturally is.
The natural first response to Makina’s request, of course, is to assume that she has grown up without a strong father figure in her life, and indeed this is true. It’s not until later, however, that the full truth comes to light, and it’s a horrifying tale, for sure. But more on that later; Yuuji’s initial response to Makina’s offer is also interesting to observe, telling us a little something about his character that is hinted at in the other paths and explored further in Labyrinth.
“Makina wants to use her money to buy me?” he says. “Might as well let her. It’s not like my life has that much value to me in the first place.”
Yuuji, it seems, doesn’t value his own existence, despite having seemingly held on through some unimaginably difficult times in his life. He sees Makina as an opportunity to focus his attention on something and distract him from the darkness in his own heart; something which becomes particularly important later on as their relationship with one another develops.
Once Yuuji formally devotes himself to the care of Makina, he starts to look into her past, and it’s not long before he realises that, in his words, he may have “adopted something of a problem child”. Leveraging the resources at his disposal — specifically, the school principal Chizuru, whom Yuuji helped out in the past, and his “superior” JB — he manages to unearth some information about the exact circumstances that pulled Makina and her family apart: the exact way in which Makina lost her father, the one person in the world she had felt that she could rely on.
“It’s natural for a child to be dependent on her parents,” explains Yuuji. “And this death was abrupt, apparently violent… although the circumstances were different, I lost my entire family early on, so I can imagine what it must’ve been like. The impact of losing your immediate family takes time to sink in. Immediately after the loss, you don’t feel sorry so much as numbness. As the days roll pass, you’ll slowly come to realise that you’re alone. That you’ll never see them again. When you’re finally able to process the fact that you’re on your own from now on, emotions hit you like a truck. Anxiety so strong it’s more like terror, despair cold enough to leave you shivering, sorrow that turns your legs to jelly.”
Yuuji, it’s fair to say, understands what Makina is going through. We learn later that he believes he killed his family — though his belief and what actually happened are apparently two different things — but alongside the guilt at his supposed misdeeds, he also feels that yawning emptiness inside; the same bleakness that Makina doubtless struggles with on a daily basis.
Makina doesn’t show it for the most part, of course; she’s habitually cheerful, upbeat and noisy, bellowing things in her distinctive slang, but it’s not difficult to imagine that this is an exaggerated personality she puts on for show in order to hide her true feelings. In fact, it goes somewhat deeper than that; Makina’s family, the Irisu clan, is deeply embroiled within that particularly shady side of business most commonly depicted in works like Yakuza, where deception and putting up a façade comes with the territory: it’s necessary to survive. And despite Makina’s tender years, she’s very much at the centre of what Chizuru describes as a “domestic feud” that began some years ago.
Makina’s father married into the Irisu clan, and was a genuinely nice, upstanding person. As he became more and more aware of exactly what he’d become involved with, he became uncomfortable and eventually decided that he needed to share the information on the Irisu’s widespread fraudulent dealings with someone. As these things tend to go, however, the Irisu became aware of this and arranged to have him “erased”. Makina was kidnapped and used as bait to lure him out, then he was killed in front of her. To make matters worse, she was left tied up in the room with his corpse for six days after his death, so she witnessed the onset of decomposition of his body, leaving her with some pretty severe psychological scars; enough to hospitalise her for a good few years after the incident.
Makina was important to the Irisu, though, since she was set to inherit the company after her mother stepped down. Infighting between the “main” and the “branch” family ensued as Makina’s mother bore Makina a sister named Sarina — the product of a liaison with a different father — and the balance appeared to have tipped in favour of the branch family as Makina was effectively put out of commission by her hospitalisation. Most of her family were unaware of the fact that she had recovered enough to start attending Mihama Academy — an establishment specifically put together to nurture those with troubled pasts or severe psychological trauma — and so she had largely been left in peace.
We learn that Makina’s peculiar manner of speaking, which at times sounds rather more like a somewhat perverted elderly man than a young-looking schoolgirl, is the result of her rehabilitation at hospital. The people with whom she most frequently interacted — many of whom were somewhat perverted elderly men — rubbed off on her somewhat, and she absorbed their way of speaking, along with a certain amount of Amane’s occasional slips into Kansai dialect. As Yuuji puts it, “she’s been sucking up various characteristics from the people around her for a long time now. That’s how the Makina we know came to be.”
It’s not only personality traits that Makina is able to absorb, though; as early as the common route, we’re introduced to her extraordinary photographic memory, in which she can memorise an entire book (albeit only in “black and white”) and recall its information at will. When this fact is first introduced, it seems like just another quirk in an already strange individual’s arsenal, but it later becomes clear that Makina’s father entrusted Makina with the same information he was ultimately killed for. This, naturally, makes Makina a very serious threat to the Irisu clan, and so, upon their learning of her release from the hospital and the start of her new life, they begin a lengthy campaign of harassment in an attempt to convince her to come home and take up her “rightful” place as the heir to the company’s fortunes.
Makina is having none of this, of course; having been traumatised at a young age by the seedy underbelly of the world that her family was involved with, she wants nothing to do with the situation, instead desiring nothing more than a normal life. She takes on a part-time job at a bakery in the town near the school, and for the first time in her life, she starts dreaming of the future: she longs to own her own bakery and live in peace, spending her days coming up with increasingly elaborate recipes for breads, cakes and pastries. Yuuji, meanwhile, his love for Makina gradually growing — initially without realising it — decides that he wants nothing more than to protect her, and to make that happen.
Once Yuuji does become aware of his feelings for Makina, however, he starts to draw parallels between his own life experience and what he has so far experienced with this strange little girl.
“My master, the woman who single-handedly built me up from nothing,” Yuuji reminisces, recalling his former life with the mysterious (and deceased) Asako, whose existence is teased somewhat in the other paths, but not explained in any great detail. “For better or worse, I’m at least eighty percent the person she made me. She found a whelp crawling along the bottom of the valley of despair, reached down her hand, and pulled it up into the world of human beings. For Asako, picking me up might’ve been an afterthought. An impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision. Not much more than a whim. Even so, if I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t be what I am today. I probably would have given up on life outright a long time ago.”
This mirrors the situation with Yuuji and Makina, this time with Yuuji taking on Asako’s role, and Makina occupying the space where Yuuji once was. Like Yuuji, Makina has had to effectively begin her life anew, learning how to deal with difficult situations from scratch; like Asako, Yuuji took responsibility for Makina as little more than a whim initially, but this whim grew into something far greater. Makina notices this too, commenting on a trip to visit Asako’s grave that “just like you’re a papa to me, your master was a mama to you?”
“I think there are few things I’m starting to understand, little by little,” Yuuji reflects as he meditates before his former master’s grave. “The things I can do. The things only I can do. The things I have to do. And the things I want to do. Tell me something, Asako. Was this how it was for you as well…? Did that small presence at your side end up becoming your reason to live? I’m starting to feel like I can understand now.”
This connection between the two of them deepens over time, as Yuuji continues to realise how much alike both he and Makina are — and how she suffers in silence.
“It feels almost like I’m looking at myself in the old days,” he explains, looking at her sleeping figure one night. “As though the unpleasant memories I’ve tried to lock away have forced their way into reality. She can’t ask anyone for help. She knows her friends will do everything they can if she does. But even so, she can’t ask. Anyone she turns to for help will suffer for it. Because the girl understands that, her lips are sealed.”
Recognising this, Yuuji decides to help her without her asking for it; help that she gratefully receives. The two go on the run from the unwanted attention of the Irisu clan, and their friends understand and accept their reasons for attempting to escape — though this doesn’t stop them each expressing concern in their own ways. Everyone involved knows that it’s entirely possible they’ll never see each other again, though, so they make a symbolic gesture: Makina is entrusted with an apple tree seedling to represent the group’s friendship, and they all make a promise that one day, they’ll come back together to enjoy the fruits of the young tree.
From here, Yuuji and Makina are on their own as fugitives. It initially seems like an impossible situation, but several possible routes out gradually reveal themselves: firstly, if they can stay on the run for three years, Makina will effectively be disowned and give up any right she had to take control of the family. Alternatively, Yuuji conjectures that destroying the “brain” of the beast that is the Irisu clan — Makina’s mother — will throw it into chaos and resolve everything.
Yuuji is hesitant to do anything involving killing, though. Following the death of his family, the psychological scars of that incident and its aftermath left him with the delusion that he had a “devil” in his right arm that afflicted him with bloodlust. Asako, it transpires, managed to make use of mental conditioning techniques to keep Yuuji under control and prevent him from becoming violent or even being able to kill again. Asako’s death, however, caused this “pin” to loosen, turning Yuuji into something of a “live grenade” that could explode into violence at any point, and the dreadful situation in which he and Makina find themselves looks set to make that eventuality a possibility, particularly as Yuuji’s former colleagues at “Ichigaya” — which, we conclusively learn in this route, unlike the others, is connected to the CIA — are retained by the Irisu to track down Yuuji, kill him and take Makina back by force.
Why is Makina so important, and why are the CIA getting involved? It’s all to do with the Irisu. The Irisu, it seems, are even more powerful than fellow heroine Yumiko’s family, (who are explored in her route), having fingers in a wide variety of pies not just across Japan, but across the whole world. Throwing the Irisu as an organisation into chaos would have far-reaching impacts on the world economy; it’s far more than a simple family feud. And the Irisu are already on unsteady ground thanks to their shady, fraudulent dealings and underhanded tactics; should any of that come to light, said chaos and destabilisation would become all the more likely.
Yuuji is, by this point, utterly convinced that Makina is the one thing he has found that he wants to protect more than his own life, and so comes up with an elaborate plan to take care of the situation once and for all, even if it will have far-reaching consequences. Specifically, he plans to assassinate Makina’s mother, even if it means his own death.
“As human beings live, they naturally find more things to protect,” explains Yuuji earlier in the story. “And when they find something more precious than their own lives, something they would throw away everything else to protect, people undergo a change. Even if it leaves them broken or miserable or poor, even at the cost of their dignity and pride, even to the point of foolishness, they struggle for the sake of that something. Keeping it safe becomes their only joy. The only way they can keep themselves whole.”
Yuuji is, of course, talking about himself here, though at the time he delivers this particular little monologue he doesn’t necessarily realise the full extent of his feelings himself. As the situation builds to a head, though, culminating in Makina’s severe injury at the hands of Yuuji’s former colleagues as she attempts to retrieve the symbolic apple seedling from some former lodgings they had fled, he accepts the situation almost calmly, knowing that it is quite literally “do or die” time.
Interestingly, Yuuji’s final confrontation with Makina’s mother doesn’t go quite as you might expect. The obvious and “easy” route out of the whole situation is for Yuuji to kill her, but this leads to the “bad” ending, in which Yuuji’s successful assassination is followed by him taking fatal wounds during his escape, and Makina seeing him die in front of her just as her father did. Unable to entirely process this, she becomes delusional that he is still alive, though under the protection of Yuuji’s former employers she takes on Yuuji’s role of “Agent 9029”, and so the cycle begins once again, with another damaged individual rescued from certain oblivion and trained up to be another “loyal dog”, as Yuuji described himself.
The “good” ending, meanwhile, sees Yuuji keeping the “pin” in his mind and refusing to kill Makina’s mother. He is still injured in the attempt, however, though this time his wounds aren’t fatal, instead only costing him the use of his right arm. This is, of course, symbolic; his right arm is where he believed the “devil” to reside, and losing it means that he’s ultimately and finally able to let go of the past and be at peace with himself, though there’s a price: even in the good ending, Makina takes on the role of “9029”, though this time around she has the support of Yuuji and the sense that this time, everything might actually turn out for the best.
When we rejoin the couple in Makina’s “After” story in The Labyrinth of Grisaia, we discover that while things perhaps aren’t completely “all right” yet, both Makina and Yuuji are developing a life together that works for them. Makina, in particular, has drawn great strength from her ordeal.
“I knew better than anyone that I needed to change,” she explains in her opening narration to her After story. “But that didn’t make the challenges in front of me any easier. So at the time, I didn’t really appreciate it when people carelessly encouraged me to ‘keep at it.’ Don’t give up before you even try. There’s no such thing as impossible. You don’t have to succeed right away. Let them laugh if they want to. People who stop to mock the ‘losers’ behind them will always be surpassed by the people who keep struggling with every single step they take.”
This little monologue is a pretty telling insight into how much Makina has grown in the intervening year between The Fruit of Grisaia and her After story in The Labyrinth of Grisaia. Makina had always been a determined young woman who had sought out a means to have a “normal” life, even with the memories of her chaotic, tragic upbringing. But now she truly understands the meaning of her struggle, and how much value this has brought to her life with Yuuji, as difficult as it has been at times.
“People take many things for granted,” explains Yuuji, describing the things he has learned from the experience. “All too often, we don’t realise how precious something is until we’ve lost it. That applies to the people in our lives, our beliefs, pretty much anything, in fact. When you’re able to see how important the ‘ordinary’ things really are, you grow a little as a person. When you realise that some things are precious in a way that transcends their ‘value’, you become a little stronger as a person. My time with Makina has taught me that.”
This isn’t to say that Makina has quite let go of her energetic immaturity, however, despite the fact that upon her return to Mihama Academy, she is now proficient with, among other things, advanced sniper rifles. Indeed, upon encountering her former classmate Sachi for the first time since her return, the first thing she does is make use of the techniques she has learned from her training to snatch her friend’s panties.
“When you’ve mastered a new skill, you want the opportunity to use it,” explains Yuuji. “I understand that feeling completely. That said, caution and cowardice are assets for an agent. People who roll up their sleeves excitedly when they spot an enemy are usually the ones who die first. This childish enthusiasm of Makina’s doesn’t seem to be going away, no matter how many times I lecture her about it.”
Indeed, the conflict between Yuuji’s desire for Makina to be a good, safe agent and Makina’s desire to maintain her previous energetic personality forms a core part of her After story in Labyrinth. Both need to come to terms with the other’s point of view; both need to understand that there is, in fact, a happy medium where they can both express themselves.
“Little by little, day by day, we’re always growing,” ponders Yuuji. “It’s a process that never really stops. Makina’s deliberately childish behaviour probably hides this to some degree, but I think anyone who’s reasonably observant can see how much she’s matured.
“For some reason, children are actually surprisingly perceptive about this sort of thing. One time, back when I was a ‘student’ in America, I was walking down the street in my academy uniform when this little kid looked up at me. With an earnest, puzzled look on his face, he asked me ‘are you a kid or a grownup, mister?’ Asians tend to look young to westerners. And on top of that, I was wearing a school uniform. But to that child’s eyes, my face looked like that of a much older man.”
Despite their return to Mihama Academy during Makina’s After story, Makina chooses to go ahead with her training as an agent, and ends up successfully completing it — thereby ensuring that she’ll never really have a “normal” life again. By this point, however, she’s accepted this fact, and has, like Yuuji, learned to focus on what the important things in life are.
“No matter what, Papa’s always at my side,” she explains. “And as of today, I’ve got a place to come home to. The world’s a warm, cosy place. Sometimes sad things happen, but that’s just another part of life. Even now, the earth’s spinning through space, filled with a whole lot of peace, a little bit of fear, and a few billion people. In one little corner of that planet, I’m doing my best to get by. Beyond that little cloud of fear, I think I can see a hint of light. Maybe it’s ‘kindness.’ Maybe it’s ‘hope.’ My eyes closed, sitting quietly in the passenger seat of a car crawling through a world of darkness, I dream a small dream. I dream that the road ahead is bathed in sunlight. I dream of a world bright with hope. And all I can pray for… is that I’ll get there someday.”
Makina’s story as a whole is complex, tragic and much bigger than Makina and Yuuji themselves, and this makes it a fascinating contrast to the other heroines’ routes. Michiru, Sachi and Yumiko’s routes are all rather “personal” in nature, whereas with Makina, there’s very much the sense of both she and Yuuji being caught up in events beyond their control, swept along by a world they know very little about and have no real desire to be involved with unless they absolutely have to be.
That’s not to say there’s nothing “personal” in Makina’s route, mind; on the contrary, we learn a great deal about Yuuji’s past and the things that make him who he is. Makina’s H-scenes in particular see the pair enjoying some extremely frank exchanges and coming to some difficult realisations; there are few things more intimate than sex, after all, since it’s the ultimate expression of willing vulnerability to and trust in another person, and so it’s entirely fitting that during these scenes the two come to understand one another a whole lot better.
“When [Makina’s] innocent, caring eyes find mine, dark and ugly feelings swell up in response,” ponders Yuuji. “‘Don’t pity me.’ ‘Don’t take me for a fool.’ ‘What’s with that look? You don’t think you really understand me, do you? Don’t try to accept me, you don’t have the first damn idea what I am.’ The words rush into my head like a deluge of black mud. A part of me suddenly wants to teach this girl a lesson. To make her break down and cry.
“I’m no longer capable of bluffing,” he continues. “Pretending that I’m the one protecting Makina. All I can do now is cling to a younger girl like a child hoping for his mother’s forgiveness. I can’t even keep myself from breaking down into tears. As I listen to the steady sound of Makina’s heartbeat, I can feel the lingering pain in my head quickly receding. Some part of me believed I was cursed. That if I talked to anyone, they’d be dragged down into hell with me. But now, it feels like that heavy spell’s been broken.”
That right there is love. “Through clouds of darkness come light” and all that; a feeling that I’m sure many of us can relate to — and one which everyone deserves to feel at some point in their lives.
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