Monday, September 24, 2012

Anime Review: Natsuyuki Rendezvous

One of the two noitaminA shows this season and, if Kids on the Slope kinda felt like old noitaminA, then this felt like a return to the original premise of the block which is nice considering the weird directions it's been going the past few years (not saying that they're bad, just that the timeslot is all over the place now). Based on a completed four volume manga (not available in the US) it seemed like the perfect fit for the timeslot, it's got the right material, right length, it's josei, this is sure to work right?

Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Summary: Hazuki is in love with the manager at the flower shop where he works, the older Rokka whom he discovers is widowed only when he visits her and finds the ghost of her dead husband (Shimao) floating around. Hazuki is apparently the only one who can see him and, despite saying before he died that she should move on, Shimao still feels rather possessive of Rokka and would like nothing better than to make Hazuki's budding relationship fail. Spurred on by this Hazuki begins to pursue Rokka even more diligently and all the while Rokka herself is trying to sort out her feelings for Hazuki.

The Good: While there are plenty of anime out there that center around romance, most of them deal with high schoolers or maybe every now and then with college students. Hazuki is the youngest person in this entire show (and he’s at least in his early 20s, I think he's a little past college) so between that and the fact that Rokka is a widow make the dynamics a bit different and it’s always a nice change of pace to have older characters (at the very least when they do dumb things it’ll be a different kind of dumb).

The Bad: To put it bluntly, Shimao is an ass and, while a character being an ass in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, I found myself annoyed at how the story tried to make excuses for why he was an ass and which backfired made him even less sympathetic. This is all even more frustrating when it’s shown that his personality used to be a bit different before his death and no reason is given for why he changed (except for an off-hand line that suggests he just went nuts in the three years he’s been floating around). Perhaps the idea was that Rokka was an accidental unreliable narrator, ie that she didn’t really know what a lot of Shimao’s hidden feelings were, but that just doesn’t work either. I didn’t like Hazuki much either, while he still comes off better than Shimao he’s still way too pushy for me to like him and it’s never quite explained why he’s in love with Rokka. He started off with a crush on her before he started working, understandable, but we never see why he loves her or vice versa, it just made the whole relationship feel rather awkward to me. Also, while there are also bits where the viewer can see what Rokka is thinking she still comes off as rather passive, someone who’s stuck and can’t move on. That is understandable to a large degree but in the end I wish she had just been a bit more proactive in the story. Finally, the pacing just didn't work here, 11 episodes was too long for this show and it really didn't have material for more than 8. I've seen one or two people suggest it might've worked better as a movie and I'm a bit baffled by how stretched out the show felt, was the original manga like this as well or did they actually have to add parts in to get it to 11 episodes?

The Audio: Crunchyroll very nicely translated the opening and ending songs about half-way through the shows run so for once I can say that both the tone of the music and the lyrics fit the show very well. I like to think that the opening song is Shimao's feelings for Rokka and vice versa for the ending (although I could see the ending being Hazuki's feelings for Rokka instead) but regardless, they worked well with the show. The voice acting was fine (this is probably the calmest role Jun Fukuyama has ever played and considering he's a mentally unstable ghost that should say something) and I have no complaints with it (which is a good thing considering that this title will probably not get dubbed).

The Visuals: The show is rather colorful, which is rather apt considering that a third of the show takes place in a flower shop, and even though it's colorful the colors work well together and the show never looks too cartoony or over-saturated for it. The character designs are basic but fine, the settings look alright, I really liked the still image used for the ending song (I wonder if you can buy it as a poster in Japan, it seems like a natural choice for merchandise), all in all it was fine. The show was a well put-together one, it was just the story that had problems.

So yes, all in all this series was a miss for me. It started out alright, floundered for a long time and then I was just frustrated with it in the end. I'm not super fond of romance stories anyway but it sounds like a lot of other people were frustrated with this series by the end as well, it's oddly comforting to not be the only one there. So I guess this means, if this was the bad/flop show of the noitaminA timeslot does that mean that Moyashimon Returns was the good one?
And as mentioned above, the show is streaming on Crunchyroll and has been licensed for physical distribution by Sentai filmworks (who will probably start streaming it on their own site soon if not already).

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