Oddly enough, we begin with Murakami Fumio examining a book of nudes by “Gilbert Royal Thorpe,” who Fumio knows is her friend Mochizuki Erena’s favorite photographer. Those who know Fumio are a bit surprised Fumio is friends with someone like Erena, and Erena’s friends are surprised she’s friends with Fumio. After all, the energetic, gregarious, impulsive Erena and the solitary, quiet, bookish Fumio look on the surface like complete opposites.
In this case, opposites attract, as we go back and learn precisely why Fumio and Erena aren’t just friends, but good friends at that. It all started when an initial encounter on the subway got Erena to notice Fumio, who tends to keep to herself and read. Erena, a photog-in-training, is enchanted by Fumio’s quiet good looks, and appoints her as her muse.
Erena asks Fumio to be her model for an upcoming contest, but Fumio never really gets a clear response out, and gets caught up in Erena’s rhythm. This could be construed as a form of stalking and voyeurism if it wasn’t being done by the innocent, well-meaning Erena, who’s oblivious to the possibility Fumio has something to say but just can’t say it. The communication logjam gets so back, Fumio ends up smacking Erena’s camera away and the wrong words come out.
Things are a little awkward for a while, and Erena considers giving up on the contest now that her muse has rejected her. But when she invites Fumio on a cake date, the truth comes out: it isn’t that Fumio didn’t want to be her model; it’s that she thought she wouldn’t be good enough, since she’s always seen herself as plain, inexpressive, cool. All Erena has to do is show her a photo she took just a moment ago to see how wrong she is. Erena isn’t interested in fake smiles or poses, but genuine, candid emotion.
Fumio has more of that than she ever imagined, and Erena was the one who helped her clear up a misconception about herself. Fumio changes her mind about being her model, and Erena ends up wining the contest. And because the rest of the school sees a warm and joyful side of Fumio they’d never seen before, she ends up meeting more friends as a result. This isn’t exceedingly complex stuff, but it hit some solid emotional notes about art, inspiration, and friendship that resonated with me.