Grisaia: Michiru – The Girl in the Box

Matsushima Michiru is one of Grisaia’s most unusual, interesting characters, initially appearing to be present primarily for comic relief, but subsequently showing herself to be a complex, fascinating character with a considerable amount of depth.

We’re first introduced to Michiru in the common route of The Fruit of Grisaia, when protagonist Yuuji comes across her doing vocal exercises in an empty classroom, closely followed by her practicing bellowing out stock tsundere phrases such as “i-it’s not like I’m doing this for you or anything” and “d-don’t misunderstand!”

Already well aware by this point that his new classmates are a little on the peculiar side, Yuuji doesn’t probe too deeply into the matter, but it’s immediately obvious whenever Michiru interacts with Yuuji or her other classmates that her tsundere personality isn’t who she really is; rather, it’s a façade she’s putting up for reasons that, at the outset of the story, aren’t entirely clear.

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The first hint that all is not well in Michiru’s inner world comes during a conversation with the group about friendship. As the conversation progresses to the topic of “best friends”, Michiru seems to develop some discomfort in her chest, and eventually sidles off making an excuse about feeling “anaemic”. Yuuji suspects that this isn’t the whole truth, but out of respect for Michiru — and his growing desire for a “normal” school life — doesn’t poke his nose into her business, instead just making sure she’s all right before returning to the group, no questions asked.

This incident repeats itself a few times, until Yuuji discovers a rather strange truth about Michiru: whenever she complains of discomfort in this way, it’s usually followed by a dramatic shift in her personality. Rather than the loud-mouthed idiot that most of her classmates know as “the usual Michiru”, this “other” Michiru is relatively softly-spoken, yet articulate and assertive. In many ways, she’s the polar opposite of her “pseudo-tsundere” counterpart.

There are a number of possible explanations for this behaviour, and the game takes care to not necessarily give a definitive answer as to what’s causing it, though it leans rather strongly in the direction of cell memory theory. Michiru’s heart isn’t her own, you see; it came from the body of a girl who was completely paralysed in a traffic accident, since Michiru herself suffered from a life-threatening heart condition in her childhood. This “other” Michiru, it seems, may well be the personality of this other girl, who had taken to “coming out” whenever Michiru appeared to be in distress in order to resolve her problems, then sink back into the darkness again.

Michiru finds herself in distress rather a lot. A traumatic childhood in which she was repeatedly physically abused by her home-school tutors left her with deep mental scars and a feeling of utter uselessness. “I sorta feel like… I should be huddled up in some little corner of the world instead,” she confesses to Yuuji one day. “Breathing real softly so no-one notices.”

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This “huddling up” coincides with how she deals with her moments of distress; she retreats into her own inner world — which she imagines as “the bottom of the sea” — and hugs her knees to herself, allowing the “other” Michiru to come to the fore, not always voluntarily. When she “wakes up” from the experience, she often finds that her life is “better” somehow, or that the problem has been magically resolved in her “absence”.

Eventually this starts to get to Michiru somewhat. She’s aware of the fact that she’s simply running from all her problems. “If she’s that much better at everything than I am, maybe she should just take over my life full-time,” she says to Yuuji during a moment of reflection. “What’s the point of me even being here? If she’s that much better than me, why do I even exist?”

Michiru’s inferiority complex is tied in part to her childhood, but also due to her perception of the world as being a place where nothing is constant and she can’t rely on anything. She deliberately chooses not to become attached to anyone or anything, because she knows that she’ll only lose it and be sad about it; an exception to this comes in the form of a stray black cat that she adopts early in the story, which she refuses to give a proper name to, instead referring to it simply as “Kittymeow” (or “Nekonyaa” if you want to be Japanese about it).

“I didn’t want to give him a real name,” she explains. “Like I said before, everything I care about goes away before long. I didn’t want that to happen again, so… I mean, if I gave him a name we’d have a real connection, right? That kind of scared me.”

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As a symbol of her trust and growing love for Yuuji, though, she agrees to give the cat a name, since it’s spending all its time hanging around with her anyway. Yuuji, believing that this experience will be good for her, helps her come up with a name for the cat, and Michiru develops strong feelings for the cat as a result; she sees the name they came up with together as being “very special” simply by virtue of the fact that it’s something they did together.

Regrettably, though, all does not end well. In Yuuji’s words:

“The cat died. From an objective point of view, ‘a stray cat was hit by a car.’ Nothing more, nothing less. In the animal shelters, abandoned pets and feral strays are disposed of in the tens of thousands every year. To the world at large, the death of that cat is essentially meaningless. But a precious fragment of Michiru’s world was stolen away before her very eyes. From that perspective, we’re clearly facing a gravely serious situation.”

This experience, seemingly confirming all Michiru’s fears, pretty much breaks her, and she attempts to put up a brave front, with mixed results. “I don’t need to be happy,” she says. “I’ll just keep breathing and forget about the rest. Stop hoping. That should fix everything, right?”

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By this point, Yuuji and Michiru have been “dating” for a while, though at Yuuji’s insistence — and Michiru’s seeming agreement — they had only been pretending to date as a means of passing the time over the summer while their classmates were all away. Both of them clearly know that it’s more than that, though.

“Please,” says Michiru in a particularly deep bout of depression, during which she confesses that she wants to sleep with Yuuji, even if it’s a purely physical act with no “real” feelings. “My heart hurts. I don’t think I can stand this much longer. I want a reason why I can be here. I want something to help me believe that I matter. Hurry up and… pretend to love me already!”

Seemingly — perhaps temporarily — convinced that she at least matters to a small degree to Yuuji, Michiru eventually explains the details of her life, and the traumatic events that made her the person she is today. The abuse at the hands of her tutors left her feeling she was “a piece of trash”, a “stupid, useless person”, and her physical condition only left her feeling even more inferior, like she was a burden on her parents. Isolated and ostracised as a “ghost girl” at school, she eventually makes contact with another human being, ironically as this other person is about to end their own life. It’s Michiru’s intervention that stops her from jumping off the school roof, but Michiru herself confesses that she only intervened because she thought it would be “unfair” for someone to be able to kill themselves when she didn’t have the courage to escape this world herself.

Michiru’s friend — whose name we never discover, interestingly, despite the fact the two were “best friends”, in Michiru’s words — is herself a somewhat troubled individual, though in a different way. The girl had found herself involved in an abusive relationship with an older, married man and, as unfortunately so frequently happens in such situations, had convinced herself that she truly loved him, and thus endured some terrible abuse — physical, mental and sexual. Ultimately, Michiru finds herself unable to “save” her friend, and the other girl ends up killing herself anyway, leaving Michiru with the burden of loss weighing heavy on her shoulders.

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This event is essentially the main reason Michiru has such a distrust of becoming “close” with anyone or anything. She’s afraid the same thing — or something like it, at least — will happen again, but in her own distress over the matter, she forgets something very important: everyone has these worries; everyone worries about losing the things they love; everyone is sad, distraught, grief-stricken when a piece of their world is taken away.

As the “real” Michiru sinks ever deeper into a pit of absolute despair following the death of her cat, she retreats further and further from the world around her, to the eventual degree that she attempts suicide herself through an overdose of the tranquilisers she’d been taking to keep the “other” personality subdued as much as possible. Retreating from reality so much that the “other” Michiru becomes the dominant personality, Yuuji eventually manages to get her to confess what she believes to be her true feelings: that she wants to die.

In her bad ending, she attempts suicide again after agreeing to be examined in the hospital following a particularly bad series of incidents. This time, she washes down a larger quantity of medication with alcohol, and leaves herself with brain damage in the process. Yuuji sticks by her, but all life is gone from her eyes, and she can barely communicate with anyone; ultimately, she loses any chance she might have had to be at peace with herself.

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Her much longer good ending, meanwhile, sees Yuuji making the surprise announcement that he’ll kill her. Dosing her up with muscle relaxant, putting her in a coffin and burying her “alive” in her favourite place — where she’d said much earlier that she wanted to be buried when she died — Yuuji waits patiently by her side, secure in his own trust that she will pull herself out of the mire of darkness she’s caught in. He’d specially prepared the coffin to be easy to break out of, and to allow a small airflow in, so it would be unlikely that she’d die of suffocation, and his belief in her was what told him that this would be an acceptable thing to do.

Yuuji’s lesson may have been harsh, but it works; keeping the rest of his classmates in the dark, he convinces them that Michiru really is dead, even showing them her “body” in the coffin and inviting them all to share their final thoughts with her. Even the normally stoic Yumiko breaks down in hysterical sobs at the knowledge that Michiru is dead; Michiru, meanwhile, who is conscious but unable to move or speak for all this thanks to the muscle relaxants, hears her classmates’ true feelings towards her, and comes to realise that her death may well feel like it would resolve her own problems, but it would create all manner of new problems for the people she left behind. It also becomes extremely clear that Michiru’s presence, while not as obviously helpful as that of people like”dorm mother” Amane (who habitually cooks for the group) and the maid-obsessed Sachi (who keeps things immaculate around the school) had been holding the group together to a certain degree.

“Let me tell you something, Michiru,” says Yuuji as he’s wheeling her “body” out of the dormitory, supposedly for her cremation. “Death isn’t ‘the end.’ First of all, the people you’ve left behind have to try and say goodbye. The idea that you can just vanish into thin air is a load of self-centred crap.”

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Given time to reflect — and time to converse with her “other” self — Michiru comes to some conclusions.

“‘From now on.’ I haven’t really thought about that so much lately,” she says. “All this time, I’ve been focused on enduring the pain from the festering, miserable wounds the past left me. Even when I met someone new, I’d find myself thinking about what happened before. Biting my lip when they weren’t looking. ‘What’s the point? It’ll be over someday.’ I’ve got to live facing forward. I can’t spend my whole life looking back over my shoulder.”

“Are you saying you’re going to forget about me?” says the shadow of her dead friend from her schooldays, deep within her mind.

“I won’t forget you!” says Michiru in response. “I won’t ever forget. But I don’t want to use you as an excuse to run away any more. I don’t want to let myself think ‘I’m useless without her’ every time something bad happens.”

Yuuji’s painful lesson was difficult but necessary for Michiru to grow beyond that which was holding her back: he knew all too well that he couldn’t “save” her himself, because that wouldn’t achieve anything whatsoever.

“Human beings exist within their own private bubble of solitude,” he explains. “Our pain and sadness can’t be cured by gentle words. Offering gestures of sympathy can make you feel good about yourself, but for the recipient it’s meaningless at best. People don’t need a crutch or a saviour. They need to overcome their own suffering or find the strength to accept it. And when someone needs help getting to that point, I’m willing to lend a hand.”

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“The girl who shut herself up inside a box and waited for rescue is gone,” he continues later. “Michiru’s come to understand that she’s the only one who can save herself. Of course, people can’t live alone. We need the help of others. But what really matters is finding our own road — and the strength of will to walk it. Human beings don’t have wings on their backs. We have no choice but to make our way forward on the two legs we were given. Life is just a long series of such small steps. There are plenty of things still undone, plenty of problems still unresolved, but that’s inevitable. Anyway, wouldn’t wrapping things up too neatly be a little boring?”

The conclusion to Michiru’s story in The Fruit of Grisaia comes with her acceptance of her selves — plural. “I don’t know how or why it happened,” she says, “but there are two minds in this body. It doesn’t belong to either of us alone.” This isn’t, by any means, complete closure to her issues — if anything, the fact that she’s now able to carry on perfectly normal-seeming conversations with no-one but her other self proves to be troublesome for Yuuji in particular — but, as most people hopefully know, the best way to deal with an issue is to first of all accept that it’s happening in the first place. Only from there can you move forward.

“The world isn’t so complicated,” muses Yuuji. “Walk forward and you’ll find the future. Turn back and you’ll find your memories. Cut off a piece and you’ve got a story. This is just one small part of one such tale.”

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Michiru’s After story in The Labyrinth of Grisaia continues with another small part of her overall tale, rejoining her and Yuuji some time after their previous ordeals. In keeping with her route in The Fruit of Grisaia, her continued story is very personal in nature, focusing primarily on her acceptance of herself, and Yuuji’s attempts to support her in her attempts to do so. There’s no “villain” for her to defeat and no dramatic conflict in the real world for her to resolve; her biggest challenge is simply understanding who she is and learning to live as that person.

This isn’t an easy road for Michiru, of course; when we first rejoin her at the outset of her After story, it’s the middle of a blazing hot summer, and she’s convinced herself that Yuuji will never truly love her or find her cute unless it’s the height of winter. Consequently, she dyes her iconic blonde hair black, dresses in a warm coat and takes to carrying hot cocoa around with her in an attempt to reflect what she has come to perceive as this most romantic of seasons — with a little nudging from her friends, who don’t realise quite how far she took their original joking on the subject.

“The connection she’s formed between ‘dating’ and ‘winter’ seems like complete nonsense,” muses Yuuji upon hearing her explanation. “But Michiru’s clearly doing what she thinks is best. Shooting her down at this point wouldn’t be very mature of me.”

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While Yuuji certainly isn’t averse to poking fun at Michiru on a regular basis, even as her boyfriend, he knows by now when is a good time to call her on her nonsense, and when is a good time to simply go along with it. In this sense, we get a clear unspoken understanding of Yuuji’s acceptance of this troubled young girl — itself a reflection of the fact that Yuuji has come to accept and understand himself to a much greater degree in the process. Michiru, however, still has difficulty processing this.

“I don’t really get you sometimes, Yuuji,” she says to him, reflecting on an earlier incident when she walked in on him getting out of the shower. “Like, when I came into your room, you could’ve just wrapped something around yourself. But you just stood there naked as the day you were born. That was kinda mean, right? But now you’re drinking my cocoa, even though you wouldn’t before. Kinda nice of you! I can’t tell if you’re trying to be mean or not.”

As their date progresses, Michiru puts her hand in Yuuji’s pocket — in what she believes to be a highly romantic gesture following a series of exaggerated fantasies — and accidentally touches his penis, which responds in the manner you might expect to the touch of the one its owner loves. Despite the physical reaction, Yuuji remains calm about the whole situation, since Michiru is already panicking enough for the pair of them, and is once again not sure how to deal with this sort of public intimacy, even though the pair of them have, by this point, already made love numerous times.

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“Look,” she explains, flustered. “When we’re having sex, it just feels natural to touch each other, right? But when you do something like that accidentally, out here in broad daylight, it’s kinda weird, right?”

The inadvertent sexual touching is just one of a long line of mishaps that happen on their “winter” date in the height of summer, leading Michiru to conclude on her return that the entire event was a complete disaster. In turn, this leads the “other” Michiru to feel like she needs to step in.

“Michiru’s awkwardness has me at a complete loss,” the “other” Michiru muses as the “real” Michiru sleeps. “The girl’s obviously thinking things over seriously, but she always seems to end up sprinting in a completely wrong direction. Isn’t it about time she made some progress? The whole point of that date was to win some points with Yuuji, but she quickly lost sight of her objective. It was all she could do to cope with the events taking place around her. Today’s debacle was the result. Neither of them are approaching this in a reasonable way. It’s like they’ve taken two different jigsaw puzzles, then mixed all the pieces together. No matter how hard they try, they aren’t going to find a single solution.”

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“Will Yuuji-kun really be able to make this girl happy?” she continues after “real” Michiru agrees to let her counterpart give her advice throughout the following day’s date. “I honestly don’t know. So at the very least, I want to help her enjoy the time they have together now, while everything’s still going smoothly. And if it’s somehow possible, I’d like to taste just a nibble of that happiness myself. But of course, I know how unreasonable that thought is.”

This little thought forms the central conflict in Michiru’s After story: while Michiru has, by this point, accepted the fact that there is “another person” inside her, that other person is starting to feel increasingly uneasy and dissatisfied with her life as it is now. These feelings culminate during the following day’s date, when “other” Michiru suggests that the couple retire to a love hotel to make love, since they’re both clearly in the mood. Michiru eventually agrees, but confesses to Yuuji that her counterpart has been calling the shots.

“I managed to keep myself from doing anything weird thanks to her,” she says. “So that’s good. But doesn’t that mean I might as well not be here?”

“You seem to be upset that you couldn’t handle all this on your own,” replies Yuuji. “But that’s the wrong way to look at it. There’s another ‘you’ inside your body. That’s not a handicap. It’s something special and unique about you. You should absolutely take advantage of it. Why wouldn’t you? Work with her. Cooperate when you can. You and her are two parts of a single whole. It’s only natural to rely on each other. Understand? There’s no reason to feel inferior or put yourself down. I love every part of what you are.”

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“Yuuji-kun’s words make both Michiru and me happy,” muses “other” Michiru. “We thought of ourselves as somehow warped and unnatural, but he accepts us as a whole. It’s an immense relief to know that.”

There’s another hurdle, however; “other” Michiru, seeing how happy “real” Michiru and Yuuji are with one another, is still feeling that growing sense of wanting to “taste just a nibble of that happiness”, eventually culminating in her asking if she, as well as “real” Michiru, might be able to make love to Yuuji. “It’s your fault I’m even interested in sex in the first place,” she says. “It always sounds like you’re really enjoying it when you’re having sex with Yuuji-kun, so…”

After some convincing, Michiru agrees to let her other self take over for a round, but the pair of them remain dissatisfied, leading to an argument over who gets to go “next”. Eventually Yuuji snaps. “This bickering’s getting tiresome,” he says. “I’ll just fuck the both of you at once.” It may have been a throwaway line of pure frustration, but Yuuji’s suggestion here — and his subsequent following through with it — is the ultimate expression of his acceptance of the two parts of Michiru as being a single whole rather than two discrete people. And indeed, even the two Michirus seem to finally understand the situation as the “three” of them express their passion and love for one another.

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On the way home after this turning point in their relationship, Michiru remains uneasy, however. She becomes concerned that despite Yuuji’s apparent acceptance of her two aspects, one day he might just become tired of her and run away with someone else.

“Sachi’s really devoted, and kind, and better than me at pretty much everything,” she says, comparing herself to her classmates. “Also, she’s cute. Super cute. You couldn’t turn down a girl like that if she came at you, right? Same goes for Makina. Her looks make you want to protect her, but she’s actually clever as heck. And a real quick learner, too. She was terrified of you at first, but it’s hard to believe that now. And Amane… has really big boobies. Yumiko’s completely different from me in every way. I don’t think I can even compare myself to her. She’s a total beauty, for one thing… it just gets me down, you know? Everyone’s amazing except for me. It’d be easier if I could hate them. But I love them all, and that just makes it even worse.”

“Listen,” explains Yuuji. You’re special to me. I’d tell you not to be anxious, but it seems like that’s not going to work. Fine, then. Be anxious. Tremble when you’re scared. I’ll wrap my arms around you and drive your fears away. Tell me when you’re anxious, and I’ll kiss you. Tell me when you’re scared, and I’ll hug you. And when all your fears are finally gone, tell me that too.”

“What if that never happens?” asks Michiru.

“I’ll stick with you as long as it takes,” says Yuuji. “If you never get there, I’ll be with you until I die. That’s a promise. You understand?”

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Michiru’s story is powerful, deeply personal and highly emotional. More than the raw emotion, though, her situation and overall character arc proves to be a thought-provoking exploration of what it’s like to live with feelings of inferiority and lack of faith in yourself.

Everyone develops different means of coping with these sorts of situations: Michiru makes use of her “other” self. Whether said “other” self really is the product of cell memory theory or simply a creation of her mind, it ultimately helps her come to terms with a lot of things. And while I wouldn’t describe Michiru as being completely “healthy” at the conclusion of her story, either in The Fruit of Grisaia or her After story in Labyrinth, her acceptance of who she is, the dropping of her façade and her willingness to finally live for herself instead of the approval of others makes for a fitting conclusion — and the beginning of a new chapter in both her own and Yuuji’s lives.

Not everyone is able to make it that far; not everyone is able to “save” themselves, but, among other things, Michiru’s route shows that you can find hope in the strangest of places, even when everything seems utterly shrouded in darkness; an attitude that many of us should perhaps take to heart.


More about The Fruit of Grisaia
More about The Labyrinth of Grisaia

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