I wish this instant when our lips meet
would ne’er end,
the sea’s tumult fail,
the sun freeze on its journey,
the birds high above stop dead.
Let’s take a closer look at the romance in this route, as well as Riki’s and Mio’s relationship in general.
Their “first” encounter is already plenty romantic. Riki sends a ball flying and against all odds, it finds its way to Mio in an otherwise deserted courtyard, creating an opportunity to truly get to know each-other. Their “first” contact was not by vision, but by touch, for Riki was not aware of her presence, and stumbled upon her by chance. It’s a double miracle of sorts.
Mio is a silent beauty, a hidden flower, one that can only be found in a special place, at special times. Of course, she’s also in Riki’s class, which is why he already knows about her, but he couldn’t learn much about her in there. Her nature can only be truly observed in the shade of the Zelkowa tree. No, “observe” is the wrong term here. Mere observations, second-hand knowledge or shallow small-talk are most likely to lead you to wrong conclusions. You can only learn about Mio by spending a lot of time with her.
Riki was so caught up in his encounter with Mio that he had completely forgotten what he came for - to fetch the baseball. She simply creates a very special atmosphere around her. Like her own, closed world, as Riki calls it at the end of the scene.
She was hit by a passing ball. It’s normally a very minor thing, but Riki takes it completely seriously. He is sorry and he feels obliged to confess to his crime and to make up for the damage he caused. Well, Mio does make him feel a bit guilty, even though she doesn’t push the matter beyond a bit of comedic teasing. Nonetheless, his reaction must have already seem unusual to Mio, who is used to be treated like a pebble on the roadside. Riki is very considerate by nature, but he is especially careful around Mio, who seems extremely fragile to him.
Everything about their encounters seems somehow special. On a different day, Riki finds himself enjoying her bread crusts a lot.
The two of them spend some quality time together, but Mio draws a very clear line: She will only answer personal questions if the one asking is serious about wanting to know more about her. (Yeah, I talk about this moment a lot.) It looks a bit weird and forceful, asking “Do you want to get to know me?” when it’s only the third time you’ve had a proper conversation with someone. It surprises Riki, who can’t answer it properly, since he only visited because he felt like it. But Mio is already about to get serious. It shows that she sees potential in Riki. “Naoe-san. I’m sure that every beginning is always something very trivial. One day, will you try asking me this question one more time?”
At this point, the relationship between them is at a neutral point. Mio would be fine with both carrying on and stopping right here. An opportunity presents itself the next day, so Riki decides to make his move. He reveals his own version of Mio’s book, his sanctuary: The Little Busters. The source of his happiness, despite not having a family. He is fully intent on saving Mio (and he’s convinced she needs saving) like the Little Busters saved him. He wants to become Mio’s Kyousuke. Riki is trying to get closer, but choosing the wrong path instead of the one Mio offered him. Mio declines and Riki panics for a bit, in a bad way, asking personal questions only to be stopped again.
He later panics in a good way, just from not seeing Mio in her usual spot in the courtyard. He is genuinely worried, and rightfully so. When he found Mio, she pretended like nothing happened, but Riki noticed the sadness in her eyes, because he once had the same look. When Mio loses her precious book, it’s time for Riki to make to make the right choice. Expecting good intentions means choosing the real Mio, while expecting bad intentions also means choosing Riki’s impression of Mio, his self-projection.
Riki gets to be Mio’s hero, earning her trust and moving their relationship past the neutral point.
It’s hard to tell when their relationship shifts from a platonic to a romantic one. It develops and grows naturally over time. Their meetings under the Zelkowa tree continue. Mio talks about her hobbies, which Riki takes interest in because he wants to know more about her. In one of such talks, Mio even reveals her true desire that she herself is not aware of by explaining the importance of the relationship between a detective and his “Watson” at length. Of course it’s important to her, because she desires a strong, fulfilling relationship. On another day, Mio also allows Riki to sit and read a book in her spot, which Riki had considered sacred. She also allows him to hold her parasol during an emergency.
As time passes, some romantic reactions can be observed.
Mio ships Kyousuke x Riki, but chases Masato away when he tries doing the same. When she thinks Riki and Kyousuke are about to kiss, she runs away in panic, without realizing why it troubles her so. Incidentally, by that time, everyone is already shipping them, while the two of them are still unaware of their own feelings.
Or are they? Right at the beginning of the route, Mio comes close to confessing.
But it seems like her mind gets clouded over with negative thoughts and she decides to chase away a white pidgeon instead. The white bird represents Midori, whose arrival would also separate Mio and Riki. For a brief moment, Mio’s feelings for Riki were more important to her than her wish. So at that point, she must have already been in love.
The scene at the river bank is the most romantic one to that point. The two of them talk about love. Mio asks if there’s a girl Riki likes and displays hints of jealousy towards Rin. Riki, in turn, felt jealous of Midori, whom Mio talked about as a precious person without revealing her name. And then it’s his turn to almost confess:
He didn’t know what he was about to say. So, while Mio is already aware of her feelings, Riki is still being dense. They talk about the idea of flying away on a paper airplane. Riki says he’d choose Hawaii, and Mio, after a bit of teasing, chooses the same. The significance of this talk only becomes clear to Riki much later on, when he finds the tanka Mio created based on the events of that day as an entry to the contest:
On these pure white wings,
lifted gently by the wind,
beside you I glide,
toward that land of summer,
‘tween the twain blues’ soft embrace.
In the hypothetical situation of being able to travel anywhere in the world, Mio chose to go to the same place as Riki. It’s a public confession, since submitting it for the contest means it’ll be displayed for everyone to see. But at the same time, it’s a personal message, because nobody but Riki would understand it. That’s Mio’s way of expressing her feelings.
And then there’s the date that Mio insisted would not be one but it totally was. But it’s understandable. Mio was convinced that Rikis feelings were still of pity, not love and she was planning on disappearing anyway. On the beach, Riki is being kinda lame. Instead of confessing, he first inquires if Mio likes him. And only at that point does he seem to realize his own feelings. But at that point, it was already too late…
I suppose if he had realized it earlier, if he had confessed earlier, he might also have gotten an opportunity of proving that his feelings are genuine…
Fast forward to the resolution of this route’s conflict. It’s a happy ending. Mio decided not to disappear and Riki wakes up in her arms. So he confesses again right away.
Mio’s reply is immediate, albeit initially misunderstood. Rather than offering mere words, she silently offers her lips instead.