The whole idea behind Nao’s emphasis on bonds with her family and friends stems from her Green instinctive traits of protecting the herd. All she knows is those who are around her, and they make up the support network that makes her the strong, cool girl as perceived by her peers. Playing off of her reputation as a very strong runner, she takes part in a relay race for the school athletics festival, which leads to a heartbreakingly beautiful moment at the end.
Leading up to the day of the festival (and eventually, the Akanbe battle that ensues within its duration), Nao is elected to represent her class for the relay race, but she personally selects her PreCure friends to join her for the relay (never mind the idea that relays normally involve 4 people instead of 5, but where’s the drama in that?), despite them not being the ideal composition to ensure success in the race.
Nao’s reasoning? She simply wants to run together with them and have a good race, all for the sake of strengthening the bonds between group and essentially further developing the chemistry amongst the PreCure. She freely admits that her recruitment of the other girls was for her own selfish purposes of satiating her need to be with her friends. It’s this particular request that establishes two levels of narration throughout the episode.
I’ve mentioned in my previous writing that there exists an effective storytelling tool of establishing an external desire and an internal need within a protagonist in order to create a riveting dynamic with regards to the choices he or she makes within a story. For Nao in this episode, there’s a tension between the two with regards to her (as an extension of the class) desire to win the race, and as mentioned above, her spiritual need to strengthen the bond between herself and her friends.
As preparations for the race unfold, the tension arises from desire to win through Yayoi, whose selection is questioned by her own classmates, straining her confidence and making her question her participating at all. When the race happens, we see Yayoi falling behind when she gets her turn with the baton, but ultimately, the efforts of all of the girls have allowed the rest of her class to cheer her on without any prompt from the other girls. This secondary development for yayoi is what pumps up Nao to deliver the goods on the final stretch of the race.
She feeds off of Yayoi’s efforts to summon the necessary boost to make the dramatic comeback, but she literally falls short.
Despite losing the race in a brutally depicted manner, Nao’s victory is that of her inner need. She lost, but she crossed the finish line with her head up. Even though she fails to keep her composure after the loss, her “selfish request” is rewarded by the support of the other girls who reiterate her original goal. Compared to the warm fuzzy scene from Episode 42, I feel that this particular moment is the best one that represents Nao and her bonds with her friends.
In the face of a tangible loss (compared to that of 42, where the tangible loss would have been her siblings getting obliterated by Majorina), Nao finds victory in her bonds with her friends, who are in turn consumed by the emotional weight of those bonds. Even Reika, the one girl in the cast who, up until this point, was driven purely by introspection and thought, lets her own emotions get to her in response to her friend.
It’s this one single tear that really made the scene, compared to that of the improbable waterfalls that are shed by the rest of the group. Smile constantly introduces and reinforces a lot of character traits present in these girls, which makes the resulting departure from the normal formula all the more meaningful. Even if Smile PreCure as a series takes a horrid stumble towards its finale, it has surely done enough throughout its run for me to heap all the praise in the world for it.
All it has to do is finish the race.