Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.
Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.
The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.
Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.
Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.
She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.
Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.
But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.
That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.
Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.
Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?