A good mainstay of any slice-of-life love story is the “childhood friend” character. And while Gal*Gun 2 isn’t exactly your typical slice-of-life in many ways, heroine Nanako certainly fulfils this role very pleasingly.
Introduced right from the outset as the girl who sits next to you in class, and someone with whom you have a pre-existing friendship, Nanako is a comforting presence for much of the game — but, of course, she has her own interesting narrative arc to follow, too.
Will true love blossom between you and this charming young lady, or is your relationship forever confined to, as Risu puts it, “the childhood friend-zone”? That’s for you to decide!
The childhood friend trope is such a powerful, popular one because it’s something a lot of us can relate to very easily, regardless of age. If you’re in your teens, chances are you’re still in contact with a lot of the people you grew up with; conversely, if you’re as old as I am, chances are you’re desperately clinging to at least one or two friendships that were precious to you in your childhood and adolescence.
The bond between childhood friends is a powerful one, because it’s a connection between people who have seen each other grow and change over time. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had to help each other through any particularly challenging struggles or difficult times — it just means the pair have been there for one another for a long time, and perhaps have started to feel different things towards one another as a result. Of course, if the pair had a particularly impactful shared experience in their childhoods, this bond will likely be even closer — but just growing up can be challenge enough for many of us!
The childhood friends trope as depicted in anime and other popular media such as Gal*Gun 2 tends to examine the fact that adolescence is a time when boys become men and girls become women — and both sides of that equation are very much aware of that fact. Those who grew up together may well find themselves desiring a relationship with the other; sometimes those feelings are requited and at others they are not. Either way, there’s scope for plenty of drama there.
Nanako is an interesting example of the trope because in many ways, she still seems to be clinging somewhat to her girlish innocence rather than fully embracing the idea of becoming a young woman. Even within Sakurazaki Academy’s rather elaborate uniform, she dresses in a way that looks quite “young”, with her short, frilly socks and sensible shoes being — for me, anyway — the most obvious way in which she represents this part of herself. She seems completely comfortable in herself, mind, so to say that she’s “clinging” to her childhood may not be quite right; it’s perhaps more accurate to say that she hasn’t really felt the need to move on from this period of her life. Not until the events of her storyline unfold, anyway.
Nanako’s narrative, as we’ll explore further when we look at the game’s narrative, themes and characterisation in more detail, is partly a symbolic representation of a transitional period in her own adolescence. One aspect of her narrative in particular — which I won’t spoil for today — is very much an allegorical representation of the conflict she feels inside herself between her young, girlish persona that grew up with the protagonist, and the young woman she has actually grown into: someone who has natural impulses and feelings in various directions, and needs to learn how to process and deal with them in order to function in society.
Of the various routes Gal*Gun 2’s narrative can follow, Nanako’s is probably the one that incorporates the most genuine struggle against adversity. While her fellow heroine Chiru has created a number of problems for herself — mostly through trapping herself in her own web of lies about her situation — Nanako’s core issues are something beyond her own control, and something neither she nor the protagonist can just make “go away” easily. As such, her story becomes as much about her learning to deal with this aspect of herself — and the protagonist accepting it and helping her on this journey — as it is about two childhood friends possibly getting together and taking their relationship to the next level.
As a character, Nanako is someone that is immediately likeable, and it’s natural to want to follow her narrative path through to its conclusion just because she’s such a nice person. Early in the game, she worries about the protagonist’s behaviour to such a degree that he ends up all but forced to tell her about his bizarre situation, and she accepts the whole story without question, even going so far as to cheer him on in support — a fact that Risu finds delightful.
Design-wise, Nanako is just plain cute. She’s arguably the most “normal”-looking member of the main cast, sporting both Sakurazaki’s default uniform and an uncomplicated brown bob hairstyle, and she does normal things you’d expect to see a girl of her age doing when you’re not actively interacting with her. Turn to face her in the classroom in the between-mission intermission scenes and you’ll see her napping on the desk, playing with her phone and reading manga; make small talk with her and she’ll mention mundane but charming things like a puppy video she watched online last night. Even her voice actress portrays her with a pleasant feeling of warm, gentle affection.
Of course, Nanako’s “normality” in this regard is what makes the rest of her narrative all the more interesting, for reasons that will become apparent as you progress through it. But even if you choose not to actively pursue her story on the playthrough you’re on, she’s still nice to have around — a comforting presence who always has a kind word to say, and someone who can take your mind off the struggles of daily demon hunting!
Everyone should have a Nanako in their life.
More about Gal*Gun 2
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