Tanaka and Kiyoko’s marriage was both a total surprise to me, and deeply satisfying. Although I was not expecting it, once that final piece of the puzzle was put in place, the arc of their relationship suddenly became clear, and I realized it made perfect sense.
Kiyoko and Ryuu’s relationship arc is an incredible feat of short-fiction writing. The key to writing short fiction is to establish key markers of the story arc without filling in all the details. To give just enough information for the readers to be able to fill the rest in themselves, and nothing more. And that’s exactly what Furudate did with their relationship.
I picture it like plotting points on a graph. One point is just a point, it doesn’t really mean much. Two points looks like a line but it could still be any number of things. Three points starts to define the curve better, but you won’t know where it’s going. And so on. The second to last point we got was Ryuu offering to carry Kiyoko’s bag, and her finally accepting his help. We watch them quietly walk out of the stadium with the rest of their team. We get the sense that something has changed but we don’t yet know what it is or what it means.
When we see that final point, the result of it all, everything that came before it becomes much clearer.
We find we actually know a surprising amount about Kiyoko considering she’s not directly central to the main plot. We know she’s quite shy and soft-spoken, we know that she became the manager somewhat halfheartedly but grew to love the team and her place within it. We know she’s incredibly proud of the team and treasures the time she’s spent with them.
And it’s not hard to extrapolate from there. Regardless of how Kiyoko felt about Ryuu during those two years, regardless of how her feelings may have changed as she got to know him, she set a boundary between them to protect what she loved. As long as she was the manager of the volleyball team, she would not consider dating anyone on the team. What we see at the end of that tournament as they’re leaving the stadium, is Kiyoko finally lifting that boundary and letting Ryuu walk beside her.
We know quite a bit about Ryuu as well. He’s always been an incredibly loud and passionate person. He wears his heart on his sleeve, supports his friends, and remains steady in high-pressure situations. We know that the moment he saw Kiyoko he blurted out a proposal which she turned down immediately. We know he never kept his feelings for her hidden, but he also didn’t push. I never got the impression that Tanaka or Nishinoya were making her uncomfortable, it was just how they were and she would let them know when they had pushed too far.
We don’t see Ryuu offer to carry the bag often but we do see it once or twice before this. She always turns him down and says it’s not heavy. And given the way he approaches her now and asks, I get the feeling that he understands this is a boundary for her, and he thinks this might just be the right moment to ask again. And it turns out he’s right.
We don’t know where their relationship went from here. We don’t know the details. But we don’t really need to. It’s easy enough to imagine they started dating sometime after she graduated, once she was no longer the manager of the club, once it no longer complicated their relationship. We can imagine she got to know Saeko really well and spent time with the Tanaka family. And we don’t have to use our imagination to see just how happy she is with him.
The expression she’s wearing after the timeskip is by far the biggest smile I’ve ever seen from her. In fact it reminds me a lot of Saeko which is why I feel certain they’ve developed a wonderful sisterly relationship. She looks so very happy, so much more confident than she was in high school, so very content with her life.
Tanaka Ryuu is a damn catch! He’s passionate, fiercely loyal, respectful, kind, steadfast. Anyone would be lucky to have him and I’m so damn happy for Kiyoko for having married him! It’s definitely not something I expected but having all the pieces on this end of the story it’s easy to see that it was developing over a long period of time. Unexpected but so extremely satisfying.