Recap: On a sunny April morning, Miki prepares for her first day of school by resolving to be more assertive this year.
I’d blown my whole junior year obsessing over the expectations of others.
This year everyone would see a different Miki…… a Miki they’d never seen before.
I’m a big fan of starting stories at the middle. I like having to try to figure out what came before, and trying to follow a story that requires a flowchart to understand without having the actual flowchart handy; not only does it add a nice mystery element to the whole thing, it means re-watching/-playing/-reading it will make for a rather different experience. Still, I find Falls‘ approach rather peculiar, especially in conjunction with its point of view. We’re told Miki has decided to change, but given how we don’t get any perspective but her own, the reader has no way to know just what this means, just what it meant for her to “obsess over the expectations of others” or how different her new behavior is from her old one. For all we know, she didn’t change at all.
In fact, pretty much the only indication we get of Miki’s changes is her mother’s startled expression when she calls her daughter to the breakfast table, which earns a response of “I’ll come down when I’m ready to come down” from Miki.
As big a fan I am of self-improvement, I’m not entirely sure this qualifies.
I can totally get pushing back when pushed. I can support pushing back. But what Miki is doing here isn’t that: it’s pushing even when nobody is pushing. It’s not saying “my needs and wants are thoughts are just as important and deserving of respect as yours”, it’s “my needs and wants are thoughts are MORE important”. And this isn’t just a one-off, either: the plot of this volume explicitly requires to disregard other peoples’ feelings in favor of her own. While its thankfully not the only way she manages to express assertiveness–there are plenty of moments later on when she pushes back against people who would police her actions–this streak of “my feelings are more important than yours” sours the character for me, particularly in this volume–especially since the book doesn’t really try to call her on it: it’s always presented as a good thing, particularly since its her commitment to harassment that manages to break down The Guy’s mask of aloofness and allows their friendship to take hold.
And normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I don’t require my protagonists to be paragons of virtue, and given the first-person perspective and the fact that Miki is a teenager with lots of room for growth, this bit of selfishness doesn’t necessarily make her a horrible character. What does bother me is the packaging of jerkish tendencies as self-improvement, especially since we don’t actually know how she was before. Perhaps Old!Miki was indeed perfectly willing to push back when pushed, and “becoming more assertive” is actually her way of saying “I’m going to become a jerk”. Or perhaps old Miki was indeed the sort of person who wouldn’t push back when pushed, and her narration is entirely accurate: we don’t know, and there’s no way to know.