Of all of the volumes of Tomoko Yamashita‘s The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window, this is the first one that truly made me think of Mikado and Hiyakawa as a potential romantic pair. That’s not because it’s more overtly romantic or sexual – if anything, it’s less on both of those fronts: the two spend little to no time together and there’s a lack of the double-entendres that mark the early volumes of the series. Rather it’s Mikado’s sheer determination to reclaim Hiyakawa from the nebulous place where he is that speaks of their potential relationship – Mikado’s not driven by anything like the shonen manga concept of “friendship” or even by the gooey shoujo notion of true love; instead he’s doing what he is because he cares and is worried to the point where he feels he has no other option. That’s how much Mikado has come to care about Hiyakawa. It’s no longer about “me” or “him,” but rather an “us” that may not ever come to fruition, and it’s that emotional drive that finally turns this into a story with a true romantic element.
It’s also doing its work to bring the disparate threads of the story together in an interesting way. Hiyakawa is trapped back in the building where he was imprisoned by the cult in his childhood (whether it’s a real place or a spiritual one isn’t fully answered, but I suspect that both are true). He’s there with the Professor, who by this point we know is Mikado’s missing father. Cursed by himself and torn away from the one place he felt safe and whole, he has gone down a dangerous rabbit hole to become someone entirely twisted away from the man Mikado’s mother knew. Also trapped in this building are the remnants of people used by the Professor; among them is Erika’s father, the man who sold her out and was consumed for his troubles. Everyone, and each story thread, is now housed together under one possibly metaphoric roof for a final showdown that this volume is gearing up to.
Hiyakawa’s piece of the puzzle is one of the most interesting, and certainly the most complex. The Professor may not have been directly involved in his childhood abuse, but he’s certainly not the kind of person who would at this point refuse to have anything to do with the kind of torment little Rihito was subjected to; just look at Erika. By this point in his downward spiral, he’s almost entirely divorced from kindness – he even remarks to Hiyakawa that he should have killed Mikado rather than selflessly leaving his family to ensure the boy’s survival and mental wellbeing. That means that he’s got zero compunctions about using Hiyakawa’s past against him if it serves his purposes, and while he frames it as Hiyakawa having a choice of who suffers – himself or Mikado – he has to know that hurting one is clearly going to hurt the other, because he’s oddly in tune with other people’s emotions, possibly so that he can use them for his own benefit. When Hiyakawa chooses to keep Mikado out of it, he transforms back into his adolescent self, a version who was never saved by Hanzawa and remained trapped with the dead in the cult’s base.
All of this makes it fascinating that it’s Mukae who, upon entering the building, ends up confronting Hiyakawa. While it makes sense to a degree – even if he doesn’t know it, the Professor is the person Mikado has the closest (as in blood) ties to – it’s still interesting because he doesn’t trust the other man and doesn’t think much of how he treats Mikado, so in order to save him, Mukae has to put aside his own feelings for Hiyakawa. In other words, he has to think about what Mikado would want him to do rather than going with his own inclinations. If this journey into the old cult building (or the Professor’s realm as we might more accurately say) is about confronting that which you don’t know or that makes you uncomfortable, then Mukae’s obstacle to overcome is having to face up to his own prejudices and negative emotions to help someone whom he’d likely not mind never seeing again. Mukae has to put someone else first, and that doesn’t seem to be something he’s entirely comfortable with.
Meanwhile, Sakaki and Erika are learning that their devotion to each other is mutual. Not necessarily in a romantic way (although a case could be made for it), but in that they both care about each other and want to help. We saw that when Erika bargained with Death to keep Sakaki alive, and now it’s about mutual saving; they have to work together to make it through the house, but also to keep their wits about them. The sight of Erika’s mostly-dead father certainly is one test, but it really goes beyond that as their status as a duo is cemented through their words and actions. In some ways they’re the most balanced of all of the couples in the story (or all of the pairs might be a better way to put it) because they already have a mutual sense of who they are and where they stand. For them it’s about realizing that it’s mutual.
When the volume ends, things are looking tense. Mikado is about to learn who the Professor is to him, which stands to be more jarring than any supernatural revelation he’s been subjected to, Mukae is trying to break through to Hiyakawa, and the group is split up. This isn’t a story with a guaranteed happy ending for anyone, and even what would constitute “happy” is vastly different for all of the characters. But something is coming to a head in the next volume, and it’s hard not to be both excited and trepidatious about how it will all pan out.