Nurse Love Addiction: Learning to Love is Learning to Trust

And so, we come to the conclusion of our look at Kogado Studio’s fascinating visual novel Nurse Love Addiction with Kaede Ohara’s route — a path through the narrative that can quite reasonably be regarded as the most “normal” one.

Once you’ve played through Nurse Love Addiction once or twice, it will be clear that Kaede’s path is somewhat separated from the others, since there’s a very obvious “branch point” in the common route that either steers protagonist Asuka towards the three paths that deal with her past, or allows her to sidestep it in favour of Kaede’s story.

Will our heroine be able to get through this experience physically and mentally unscathed? Read on, and let’s explore further. Spoilers ahead, as always.

There’s immediate chemistry between Asuka and Kaede from the moment they meet. Asuka arrives at Teito Nursing Academy with a very clear vision of what “the perfect nurse” would be like, and when Kaede steps into the classroom for the first time, clad in an immaculate white nurse uniform, Asuka is immediately struck with the vision before her.

“The fact that she is wearing a white uniform is certainly part of it,” Asuka muses, “but a white-robed angel is the perfect way to describe her. She appears untainted, lovely, and dignified at the same time.”

Rather charmingly, it transpires that Kaede actually didn’t intend to show up to work in her nurse uniform for her first day in front of her new class — it is only her second year in teaching as the story begins, and it seems she was somewhat nervous about that fact. Nervous enough to come to school in the wrong clothes — something that Asuka herself also does in the introduction to the common route.

Already, at this point, we’re getting a sense of “compatibility” between Asuka and Kaede, though in the early stages of the narrative it appears very much to be more a sense of “hero worship” than romantic admiration.

Like the other members of the main cast, Asuka has several opportunities to develop an initial bond with Kaede over the course of the common route, and it seems the central mystery surrounding her teacher is what appears to be a letter of resignation. Asuka discovers this dropped in the corridor of the school and, determining it belongs to Kaede, immediately assumes the worst — as she sometimes has a tendency to do, as particularly seen later in this route.

But, after an exchange of secrets on the school roof (in which we learn Asuka is a little worried about being a late bloomer in the pubes department) the pair develop a close connection. Kaede doesn’t reveal the complete truth behind the envelope — and Asuka was good enough not to look inside it — but they both agree they will keep the whole event a secret from everyone around them. A bond of trust between the pair is established. And this is a critical part of Kaede’s route.

Naturally, Asuka can’t help but continue to worry about the existence of the envelope, however. She’s worried that she’s going to lose her “shining star”; her role model. As we’ve explored in the other routes, Asuka primarily came to nursing school after seeing what she assumed to be her own childish, scrawled handwriting in the back of a picture book about a girl who chased stars. Since that time, she’s been obsessed with “finding her star” — and her initial attraction to Kaede makes her feel like she’s found it almost immediately.

With that in mind, it’s understandable that Asuka would be worried about the thing she’s been looking for slipping through her fingers, and as such she finds herself oddly motivated whenever she’s dealing with Kaede. Indeed, when she stumbles across Kaede having once again dropped the letter somewhere, she recognises this aspect of herself, pondering to herself “why is it that when I’m dealing with Ms. Ohara, the ‘lazy jellyfish’ in me becomes so assertive?”

The “jellyfish” thing is another recurring piece of imagery throughout Nurse Love Addiction — in fact, it’s one of the first things that Asuka explains to us in the game’s opening sequence.

“Without any dreams, significant goals, or long-term plans for my future,” she muses as she reflects on her school days, “all that mattered to me was that I enjoyed myself day-to-day and was able to keep a smile on my face. I never thought to question my actions. I was allowed this lifestyle, so why should I feel bad about taking full advantage of it?

“I was like a jellyfish, floating aimlessly in the sea,” she continues. “Actually, I take that back. Even jellyfish, who don’t appear to have much on their mind, may, in fact, have serious worries in life and long-term goals for their future. But my friends always used to tell me, ‘Asuka, you’re like a jellyfish.’ Which didn’t mean much coming from them, since they were all pretty much the same. We joked about it, and even called ourselves the ‘Jellyfish Club’.

Asuka frequently returns to this image of herself as a jellyfish throughout all the other narrative routes. On more than one occasion, she actually manages to draw strength from it by using her desire not to be a jellyfish in order to motivate herself. This is what is going on in Kaede’s route; she doesn’t wish to disappoint the person she has come to admire, so she pulls herself out of the water and back onto land in order to do something productive.

Having shared another moment bonding over this mysterious letter, Kaede explains that the letter is not, in fact, her own resignation letter, as Asuka had assumed, but in fact something that “someone” gave to her several years ago, and which she has been carrying around with her as a kind of “good luck charm” ever since. It is a precious memory for Kaede, and one that she wishes to keep close to herself at all times.

But the fact she keeps dropping this “precious memory” is also one of numerous signs of her clumsiness that we get the opportunity to witness throughout the common route. While often inconvenient and embarrassing for Kaede, these incidents are good for Asuka, because it allows her to start seeing Kaede as a fallible human being rather than the untouchable “angel” she initially believes her to be.

Like the other routes through the game, Kaede’s narrative path establishes itself properly during a school festival sequence where Asuka and her friends have been running a “nurse café” that checks their customers’ health while serving them treats.

In Nao, Itsuki and Sakuya’s routes, this sequence concludes with Asuka meeting Sakuya on the rooftop of the school, receiving an enigmatic kiss and then promptly getting stabbed, very much setting the tone for what is to follow. In Kaede’s route, however, these horrific events — and indeed the subsequent disturbing discoveries peppered throughout the other three routes — do not come to pass at all; instead, we get a complete inversion of the formula. Rather than the mundane becoming terrifying and uncanny, the mysterious becomes mundane: Asuka finds herself discovering the truth behind the school’s ghost story known as “The Crying Girl in the Archive Room” — it is Kaede.

Having been caught having an uncontrollable emotional outburst, Kaede has seemingly little option but to confide in Asuka. Or rather, she makes the distinct choice to confide in Asuka; she could have simply run away or refused to admit anything to her, but over the course of the pair’s interactions up until this point, we’ve seen a strong bond of trust form between the pair of them. So it’s understandable that Kaede, theoretically a “superior” to Asuka as her teacher, feels comfortable enough to explain why she is crying alone in an abandoned archive room while the rest of the school is enjoying its festivities.

It’s a combination of factors, really. Chief among these is the fact that the Ohara family Kaede belongs to is a prestigious one with a long background of excellence in medical fields, so she feels constantly pressured to live up to the expectations society places on her. The “real” Kaede, it seems, is not nearly the perfect angel that Asuka believes her to be — in fact, she describes her daily life at school as wearing a “mask” to be the person she believes she “should” be.

This is a pretty common theme in Japanese fiction, and it relates to a societal convention that began in the post-War period, known as honne and tatemae. Honne refers to a person’s true feelings and desires, while tatemae refers to the behaviours and opinions one displays while “in public” — the “mask” one puts up in order to keep society running the way people believe it is “supposed” to work. This is something that happens in societies all over the world, of course, but in Japan it is believed to be particularly pronounced — pronounced enough for there to be actual terms for it, anyway.

As you might expect, being able to get past someone’s “tatemae” and get to know their “honne” is a big deal in Japanese society, so when Asuka outright tells Kaede that “you don’t need to wear [your mask] in front of me; there’s no need”, it’s a huge development in their relationship. The encounter could just as easily have gone in the other direction; the pair could have agreed never to speak of the situation ever again and just gone about their business. But they don’t. In fact, Kaede ends up kissing Asuka — though the matter remains somewhat unresolved for a little while, leading Asuka to once again having to take the assertive step of asking for an explanation.

It’s clear from Asuka’s attitude to the whole situation that she absolutely is not opposed to the idea of a relationship with Kaede, despite their status as teacher and student making the situation a little improper by normal societal conventions. This doesn’t matter to Asuka, however; for her, it’s a step closer to her dream.

“I was reaching out towards the stars in the sky, which I had no hope of ever touching,” she muses to herself after Kaede finally confesses to her — and she responds instinctively, without even having to think. “But could it be that a star has come falling into my hand of its own accord?”

Both Kaede and Asuka play things responsibly. They agree that at school they should be all business — and manage to achieve this with only occasional exceptions — and Asuka becomes dedicated to her studies. She knows that she wants to live up to Kaede’s expectations — and Kaede doesn’t want to feel like she’s failing a student just because they’re in a relationship with one another.

The fact that the pair of them manage to keep this up rather than falling head over heels and becoming irrational or careless around one another is another example of how the bond of trust between them continues to solidify over time. And this, in turn, makes Kaede in particular a lot more open to sharing the truth about herself with the young woman who has become so precious to her.

Finally, we learn the truth behind the letter: it was written by a former lover of Kaede as a response to the fact that Kaede was incredibly unhappy with her life as a nurse, but apparently unwilling to do anything about it. Her ex, Kaede tells Asuka, thrust the resignation letter that she had “written for her” into her hand, and was promptly never seen again. But Kaede has been carrying the letter around as a “good luck charm” ever since.

As you might expect, this revelation raises more than a few questions in Asuka’s mind — particularly when she learns that one of the most common causes of Kaede feeling the need to go and cry alone was thinking about this lost love. How is she supposed to feel about that? How is she supposed to feel about the woman she loves constantly carrying around a remnant of a past relationship, of a special someone; and how is she supposed to feel about the basis of their own relationship being her responding to Kaede seemingly having not “let go” of this special someone completely?

But this fraying in the bond of trust is entirely on Asuka’s side. Kaede freely admits that she no longer cries when thinking about her ex-lover, and that she no longer wishes to quit her job at all; in fact, she confesses that her desire to watch over Asuka in particular has helped her feel a stronger sense of determination to do a good job for everyone under her care.

Once the seeds of doubt are sown in a relationship, though, it can be difficult to get things back to normal. And Asuka, as someone who thinks about things a lot more than she gives herself credit for, can’t stop wondering about the truth of the situation. And when an opportunity presents itself for her to learn something new and “forbidden” — Kaede drops the letter again — Asuka finds it impossible to resist.

Discovering that the note is not a letter of resignation at all, and instead a letter of encouragement to Kaede that concludes with her ex-lover’s contact details and an invitation to reunite, Asuka once again finds herself assuming the worst, as we saw her do on several rather less serious occasions earlier in the narrative. Any sense of her own self-worth immediately goes out of the window, as she assumes that Kaede will immediately drop everything and go back to her former lover should she learn the truth behind the letter.

There are a few problems with this, of course. Not only is Asuka failing to believe in herself and the value she holds for Kaede, she is also saying that she doesn’t trust Kaede, even as the pair have made a commitment to one another. On top of all that, in her panic over discovering the letter’s contents, she ended up accidentally stealing it from Kaede and taking it with her, allowing her to continually re-read it and ruminate on the contents, sending her further into a never-ending tailspin of mistrust and guilt.

Asuka makes the critical — yet understandable — mistake of not immediately attempting to communicate openly about this with Kaede, and instead starts taking to increasingly desperate measures to prove her “worth”. This isn’t entirely her own fault; Asuka consults with her friends about the situation, who encourage her to find ways in which she is not “inferior” to this mysterious other woman.

Asuka, having a very low sense of self-worth at this point, believes the only thing she has to offer in this regard is her body, and begins a campaign of increasingly unreasonable behaviour where she attempts to make use of her inexperienced sexual wiles to keep Kaede for herself — all the while not even thinking to ask what Kaede thinks about the situation. Kaede notices her poor behaviour — and admonishes her for it — but doesn’t pursue the reasons.

It’s actually Sakuya who ends up empathising the most with Asuka over the situation. Having been absent for much of the narrative dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s passing, she is perhaps best equipped to take a completely detached viewpoint and offer her own opinions. Asuka has been scared to approach her up until this point, believing that she will be angry at her for pursuing a “forbidden” relationship — and getting herself into a real emotional mess in the process — but Sakuya is gentle, rational and kind in her response, even if it’s not exactly what Asuka wants to hear.

“Who can control love?” she asks Asuka. “If people could control their hearts even if they knew in their heads that they shouldn’t do something, no-one would ever have any worries. I guess you can’t help love troubles… but really, get a hold of yourself.

“Listening to your story,” she continues, “I feel as if the problem lies with you, Asuka. Yes, I wonder if you really love Ms. Kaede. I feel as if it might not be the case.”

Asuka, naturally, is devastated by this outsider’s perspective — but we, as the audience, can see this clearly, too. Having spent so long building up a bond of trust between herself and Kaede, for her to throw it all away over one simple thing makes one question how Asuka really does feel about Kaede; does she have that little trust for her partner that she believes she’ll be left alone at the first sign of adversity?

As it happens, Sakuya isn’t the only one to have noticed this, either. Upon discussing the matter with Nao — who, it’s worth noting, has been very open about her decidedly non-sisterly love for Asuka in this particular route, despite also appearing to accept Asuka and Kaede’s relationship — she is surprised to hear some rather barbed words from her “sweet sister”.

“Whenever you talk about Ms. Ohara,” Nao says, “you’re always talking about how nice or how fun it is, or how happy you are. But I’ve never heard you say that you ‘love’ her. I’ve heard you say she’s cute, but thinking someone’s cute is still different from loving someone. I’ve been thinking that you don’t really love her, and that it would only be a matter of time before you’d come back to me. That’s also why I didn’t have any objections when you started dating her.”

Asuka knows that a time of reckoning is at hand, and that the morally right thing to do would be to give back the letter. At the same time, however, she feels that if she doesn’t give the letter back, she’ll be able to continue on just the way things are; out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Around this time, Kaede invites Asuka out on a date — their first date, as it happens, since their entire relationship up until this point has been based at Kaede’s house. And so Asuka makes a quiet resolution to herself during the date to figure out her feelings for Kaede, to figure out what love “means” to her — and what she should do about the letter. It doesn’t take long for her to start coming to some conclusions.

“I know what it means to love someone now,” she realises, brought to tears at the sight of Kaede singing an old song in a karaoke booth. “Tears are the answer, aren’t they? This irresistible feeling of your heart being squeezed as you merely look at someone. It’s not as simple as just getting along or having fun with someone. But when you can cry by just thinking about someone, that’s what love is.”

Of course, the astute will have noticed that when Asuka and Kaede first got together, Kaede was indeed crying at the mere thought of someone. But Kaede also explicitly said to Asuka once their relationship was established that she wasn’t crying about her lost love any more, and that she didn’t want to quit her job any more, either. Asuka simply fixated on the negative part of these memories, focusing on Kaede’s tears as a sign that she still loved her ex-partner, and disregarded her current feelings due to her own sense of inadequacy.

As in the other routes, the conclusion to all this comes down to a seemingly simple binary decision: whether or not to give the letter back to Kaede. And the “correct” option doesn’t seem entirely clear-cut here. Giving the letter back to Kaede is, for sure, the morally correct choice, but if we follow Asuka’s natural train of thought it would also seem to be the one where she is most likely to end up unhappy.

On the other hand, not giving the letter back would seem to be morally wrong, but we’ve also had no evidence from Kaede up until this point that she’s even noticed its absence. So would giving it back just open up some old wounds?

If you refuse to give it back, Asuka discovers that, at some point during the date, Kaede took it back anyway. She knew that it was missing — and she knew that Asuka was the one who took it. She never mentions this, but it’s obvious from both the circumstances, and from the fact that, indeed, in this path, she goes back to her former lover.

Asuka isn’t left entirely alone, however; due to the geographical distance between her and the lover with whom she has reuinted, Kaede agrees to allow Asuka to continue a purely physical relationship with her on the condition that she “mustn’t be possessive”. Kaede, it seems, doesn’t entirely want to let Asuka go, either.

But as anyone who has ever been involved in such an arrangement will know, inevitably at some point feelings will become lop-sided; the one who is acting as “the other partner” will eventually become dissatisfied with the fact their emotional needs are not being met, but there will be no good way for the situation to resolve itself. And, indeed, this is exactly what happens with Asuka.

“It was a sugar-sweet kiss with Ms. Kaede, so it should have satisfied me,” ponders Asuka after she successfully convinces Kaede to give her a rare kiss the morning after a night of passion. “So why do I feel so much like crying? I feel like a child that’s lost her mother.”

Meanwhile, giving the letter back to Kaede is one of the most challenging things Asuka has to do in the entire game from an emotional perspective. Even after she hands it over — which she knows is the right thing to do — she can’t accept that there’s any possibility Kaede might choose her. Her own feelings of inferiority and inadequacy have left her utterly convinced that Kaede is going to leave her for this mysterious other woman. And it hurts all the more now she’s convinced herself that she really does love Kaede.

“I love you, Ms. Kaede,” Asuka says to herself as she waits for the aftermath of her actions. “I love you so much! I finally realised how much I love you! And now I know… I know how loving someone… it can be so painful. So sweet, and yet so painful. And how it can also confer great strength. That’s why… I hope you’ll be happy.”

Asuka runs from the encounter before Kaede reveals what her plans are; it’s not until somewhat later that she discovers Kaede has, in fact, taken the opportunity to bid a proper farewell to her former lover and her past life, and is grateful to Asuka for giving her that opportunity.

Kaede trusted Asuka to do the right thing and give the letter back, even knowing that it would be a difficult thing to do. She doesn’t blame Asuka for her behaviour; she doesn’t admonish her for her deception; she simply makes it abundantly clear that she loves, accepts and, most importantly, trusts her absolutely.

And Asuka, having had this powerful lesson in what it means both to love and to trust someone, finally comes to understand. She has value; she has worth; she is a precious thing to someone, just as Kaede is a precious person to her. And she doesn’t need to keep “proving” that over and over again; she just needs to trust in both herself, and in the woman she loves.

More about Nurse Love Addiction

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