Upon the return of her memories, Kaede doesn’t really seem to grasp why this is all such a big deal; from her perspective, she was never actually ever “gone.” But it’s a huge shock and a gut punch to Sakuta; bigger than he could have expected or was prepared for.
“Kaede”, the entirely new personality he’d loved and cared for as his little sister for two years, isn’t just gone; it’s as if she never existed, and that deletion of her existence occurred just when she was starting to take her biggest steps yet towards living a normal life. It’s enough of a shock for Sakuta to simply lose it upon leaving Kaede’s hospital room.
He simply wasn’t ready to lose Kaede. Even the three huge slash marks reopen and bleed. And just when Sakuta needs someone—anyone, but also not just anyone—most, who should appear but his first crush; the girl no one else can see: “Shouko-san.”
Shouko-san takes the soaked and suffering Sakuta home, gets him into a hot bath, and proceeds to read Kaede’s diary to him. While this may seem like a gross breach of privacy, this is mitigated by the fact that the Kaede that wrote the diary is now gone, and thus the diary is the only link to her Sakuta has left.
Through the diary and Shouko-san’s words of support and reassurance, Sakuta learns that both Kaedes never stopped loving him, and while it might’ve seemed only natural to regret not helping her back when she was being horribly bullied, she never held that against him, and thus there was never any reason for regret, self-hatred, or the physical manifestation of those emotions, his chest slashes.
Knowing that we’ll never see or hear Kaede as we knew her ever again, its a particularly poignant diary/farewell letter, narrated in both Shouko-san and Kaede’s voices. More importantly, it finally gives Sakuta, who had been so busy helping others to help himself for so long, a kind of catharsis and closure. The next morning, Shouko is gone, leaving only a note behind.
Sakuta has no other way of reaching Shouko-san, and can’t even reach the younger Shouko on the phone. He does finally call Mai back, and fills her in on what happened, without really getting into his whole ordeal in the bathtub. When she surprises him by coming over, prepared to spend the night with him, she finds Shouko’s note.
Since this is Mai we’re talking about, there’s no way she’d get jealous over such a note, or that she wouldn’t believe Sakuta’s explanations; rushed and verbose as they are, everything he’s saying is the truth. But Mai is still hurt, and has to leave as soon as she arrives.
Part repaying a debt, part helping out her sister, and part being a good friend, Nodoka meets with Sakuta and tells him to make things right. It’s Mai’s birthday, after all. Sakuta double-times it onto a bullet train to catch up to her in Kanazawa.
Things are chilly both inside the car in which Mai and her manager give Sakuta a ride, and outside, where some snowflakes start to fall. But once Sakuta shares his coat with Mai, the ice is broken and they both proceed to apologize to each other. What caused Mai to say the things she did and leave wasn’t jealousy, but frustration that she wasn’t able to be with Sakuta when he needed her the most; “Shouko-san”, whoever she is, filled that role instead. She feels bad about that and apologizes.
Of course, there’s nothing to apologize for; Sakuta is just happy to have Mai by his side whenever he can, even if it wasn’t at a crucial time this time. She’s his girlfriend, and he loves her, and that’s more than enough for him. She almost leans in for a kiss, but instead gives his cheek a yank, remarking that being “punished” is probably the ideal thing for him anyway.
All is well that ends well, as Sakuta introduces Mai to his parents and re-introduces her to Kaede, continues hanging out with Tomoe and Futaba and Nodoka, and re-bonds with his little sister, who is ready to go to school and ready to see some pandas with her big brother for the first time…again.
While the Kaede and Sakuta arc wasn’t my favorite, it was still a solid way to bring the anime to a close. It’s a shame we couldn’t see more of the “new old” Kaede as herself, or going back to school, and it’s also a shame there was so much mystery surrounding the nature of the Shouko(s), but it sounds like at least the latter will be covered in an upcoming film.
I for one wouldn’t mind returning to this pleasant, charming world where people who feel so alone it starts to do weird things to them are saved by friends and family whose help proves that they’re not alone after all, and never were.