Sunday, September 16, 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous Review

Studio: Dogakobo
Year: 2012
# of Episodes: 11
Genre: drama, romance, supernatural

Synopsis: [Anime News Network: Natsuyuki Rendezvous]
"Ryosuke works part-time as a florist. He has bad eyesight, a pure heart, and a secret crush on the store manager, Rokka. Unfortunately for him, Rokka swore off love 8 years ago. But when Ryosuke goes up to her apartment on the second floor, he runs into a good-looking half-naked man. At first upset, he learns that this isn't Rokka's live-in boyfriend; he's the ghost of her late husband, Atsushi. She can't see him, and Ryosuke decides not to give up on her, even with a dead husband standing in the way."

I don't remember the last time I bawled my eyes out for an anime. Having finished the series today as the last episode aired, I can honestly say Natsuyuki Rendezvous has exceeded my expectation by far, especially in terms of emotional depth. The concept of "moving on" is certainly not new in anime, or any other medium for that matter, and just a couple of seasons ago we were bestowed with an excellent series named AnoHana that's also centered around the idea. But what sets Natsuyuki Rendezvous apart from all others is the well constructed narrative, both refreshing and thought provoking, that pulls you into the heart of the psychological struggle and leaves you emotionally shaken. The entire series from beginning to end felt genuinely human to me. While AnoHana maybe at times pretentious with the dramatic acting, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is more subtle and artistic with its approach – though we have to keep in mind that AnoHana explores a much younger cast of characters, which somewhat justifies the dramatic expressions. 

It's a little hard to talk about my thoughts without spoiling anything. We have a ghost who cannot rest in peace, a woman who is struggling with grief, and a young man who wants to have a future with her. What I really like about the series is how balanced the narrative is, as we are given an opportunity to look at the situation through three different perspectives, each with its own importance. Internal dialogue is as big part of a story as the story itself, in fact, I have rarely seen a show that relies on internal dialogue so extensively to convey many of the core values of the story. And precisely because we are exposed to the character's most intimate thoughts, it becomes much easier to understand and empathize with their actions. On top of all that, the dialogues themselves are beautifully and thoughtfully written, so much so that I often found myself repeating them silently in my mind.

The three characters in the story create an interesting dynamic, with Shimao, Rokka's dead husband at the center of it. Now, Shimao is a fascinating person, both in life and in death. Despite his outwardly nonchalant attitude, he's a lot more sensitive than he lets on. When he knew he wasn't going to recover from his poor health, he demanded Rokka to throw away all his things, yet he couldn't bring himself to part from her even after death. Also in contrast with his seemingly melancholic personality, he loves bright and vivid colors, reflected in his choice of flower arrangement and picture book drawings. It's impossible for me to not love Shimao, a person who's so devoted but at the same time painfully frustrating. From how I see it, he's is not the only one dishonest with his feelings, Rokka was also suppressing her fear of losing him by pretending to be strong. Ironically, even though both of them wanted to make things easier for the other person, the lack of closure is what ultimately binds Shimao to earth and stops Rokka from accepting another man into her life. When Hazuki came into the picture, Shimao and Rokka were forced to confront reality, a reality both were running away from. Unlike Shimao, Hazuki is someone who wears his emotions on his sleeves and sees things through simple lenses. His innocent, and perhaps a little naive view of life adds of dash of lightheartedness to a series that might be stuffy and overbearing otherwise. He is also straight forward  and honest in his pursuit for Rokka, something that probably aggravated the sense of regret in Shimao that keenly reminded him of what he has lost. But Shimao and Hazuki do share something in common, in that they both genuinely love Rokka and wish for her happiness, and that's really the key in resolving the dilemma. I never doubted Shimao would eventually return Hazuki's body to him, because no matter how stubborn and bitter he is, I believe there is a part of his soul that would refuse to commit whatever selfish acts that he had in mind. The ending confirmed my thought. When he imprinted his teeth on Rokka, symbolic leaving a part of him behind with her and perhaps as a way of taunting Hazuki with a permanent reminder of his presence, I felt overwhelmed with emotions and a sense of relief. Mind you, it's a little perverse what he did, but like I said, Shiman is a strange guy who does strange things. By switching place with Shimao and almost literally taking his place in death, I think Hazuki gained an deep understanding of how precious life is and how important it is to share that life with someone you truly love. Loved ones will never cease to exist even when they are no longer physically present, and when Hazuki came to the realization, he accepted the fact that Shimao will always have a place in the shared life between him and Rokka. After all, it's pointless and self-destructive to compete with someone who's dead, what's important is that he's one who's alive and standing by her side.

The animation is not particularly ambitious, but it resonates nicely with the tone of the series. Although simple in style, it's got a translucent, watercolor quality that's rather refreshing. The backgrounds, especially the storybook images, are vibrantly painted, bold but not jarring.

The show wrapped things up nicely like I had predicted, in the end, all three of them were able to move on from their self-imposed boundaries. It's a story about loss and regret, but ultimately, it's a story about love and how trumps everything else. In these final moments when I reflect upon what has transpired, I realize Natsuyuki Rendezvous is perhaps a fairytale in itself, that's only been told in the most believable ways.

Story: 9/10
Character: 9/10
Animation: 8/10
Music: 8.5/10
Directing/Style: 9/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Overall: 9/10

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