Early on January 17, 1995, a devastating earthquake shook the Osaka-Kobe region of Japan and left 6,434 people dead, three missing, and 43,792 injured. In this story, first-grader Nike saw her parents burned to death right before her eyes in one of the countless fires that broke out as a result of the quake. She is taken in together with her older brother Ikki and younger sister Sanku by Koreaki Samotora, a doctor of psychosomatic medicine whose nickname is Dr. Zero. Nike herself has become permanently disabled by an injury to her right leg suffered in the quake, and she has difficulty making friends among her new classmates. But through her interactions with Dr. Zero and others from the neighborhood, she decides she wants to become a doctor who helps heal wounded hearts and minds.
Dr. Zero lost his wife in the quake when he was unable to rescue her from beneath the rubble that fell on her. His only son, Yuya, holds this against him, and the two have become estranged; a heart surgeon, Yuya soon takes a new job at a hospital in Tokyo and cuts off communications with his father altogether.
When Nike is in the sixth grade and gets her first crush on a boy, she discovers something strange: when she experiences strong feelings toward another person, sharp pangs of pain traverse her back. She has the same pangs when she is feeling especially sorry for her beloved little sister, and one day, to her astonishment, wings suddenly sprout on her back. But the wings quickly turn to sand and disappear.
When Nike is in the eighth grade, Dr. Zero’s chronic heart condition catches up with him, and he requires immediate surgery. His son Yuya is considered the best man for the job. Together with Dr. Zero’s assistant Dr. Yui, Nike and her siblings head to Tokyo to ask Yuya to conduct the operation. Yuya is torn, but ultimately refuses?still unable to forgive his father.
That night at the hotel, having all but given up hope, Nike thinks back to the earthquake. Her mind fills with memories of how she’d been helpless to do anything but wail in anguish as she watched her beloved parents die. She can’t bear the thought of once again losing someone she loves. The powerful emotions triggered by these memories cause wings to sprout on her back a second time. Flapping them, she flies back to Yuya. Moved by her repeated entreaties as well as by the miracle that has sprung from the intensity of her desire to save someone she loves, Yuya sets aside his ill feelings and agrees to wield the scalpel. The surgery is a success.
As if keeping pace with the reconstruction of the city around them, three children who lost their parents in the earthquake and an elderly doctor rejected by his son gradually bond as a new family. Underlying their heart-warming story is a message from the author that people all carry within them the strength to pick themselves back up no matter how hopeless their situation may appear.
The name of the story’s young protagonist comes from the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike, on display at the Louvre in Paris. Through the character’s association with the goddess of victory and her powerful wings, the author expresses a prayer for both peaceful repose and vigorous regeneration.