Natsuyuki Rendezvous (Summer Snow Rendezvous)
Number of Episodes: 11
Production Company: Dogakobo
This anime is licensed for DVD by Sentai Filmworks
Brief Overview: Ryosuke takes a part-time job at a flower shop, and finds himself falling for the owner. He soon discovers that there may be several hurdles - both normal and supernatural - to their budding relationship.
Episode 1 Summary: Ryusuke is a young man living on his own. He has feelings for a woman who runs a local flower shop, so much so that he purchases flowers from her every day as he passes by and his apartment is now filled with potted plants. When she posts a sign looking for part-time help at the store, he jumps at the chance, then spends the next couple of months wondering whether he made the correct decision. When another employee quits to get married, he and his boss make plans to throw her a party, and Ryosuke discovers something that makes his spirit sink; Rokka appears to be living with a man.
Dejected, he makes plans to quit his job and move on, but he soon discovers something unusual about the man sharing Rokka's abode: he's a ghost, and only Ryusuke is able to see him. As it turns out, Rokka was previously married to a man who died young, and it's his ghost who still haunts her whereabouts. Ryusuke considers this a challenge, and confesses his feelings to Rokka while they have dinner.
Thoughts: Natsuyuki Rendezvous begins on what appears to be a very boring note; like many josei romance series, and really, many romance-focused anime series in general, one person falls in love with another, yet can't bring themselves to reveal their feelings in a straightforward way. I've lost count of how many anime series I've watched where the "plot" is primarily the result of misunderstandings between the characters and their staunch refusal to speak clearly about how they feel. I spent the first few minutes feeling a bit disappointed, wondering if whether this season's noitaminA series might end up being a dud.
Then, the ghost showed up.
Truth be told, I don't think this will end up being a laugh-a-minute kind of show, but the introduction of Atsushi Shimao, the ghost of Rokka's dead husband, adds a much-needed humorous undercurrent to the episode. This isn't exactly an original turn of events - last year's Ano Hana featured a prominent spectral character who served as a jumping-off point for the rest of the cast's development - but in this case the use of the character is quite a bit more emotionally subdued and subtle. Atsushi is a little bit cynical and quietly-snarky. He accepts his own existence as a spiritual being matter-of-factly, and the discovery that Ryusuke can actually see him is met with but a small amount of enthusiasm. I took to referring to the character as "troll ghost," due to his tendency to mess around with Ryusuke and make his interactions with Rokka more difficult. Oftentimes he floats in and out of the area as he pleases, and this is where the bulk of the humor comes from - in one scene, his ghostly feet dangle in front of Rokka's face while Ryusuke is trying to talk to her; in another, he floats around the room like an errant balloon, carelessly bobbing through the air. I'm looking forward to seeing what greater purpose he'll serve as a character, as well as the various ways in which he'll be able to troll Ryusuke throughout the series.
One aspect of josei manga and anime that I appreciate is that the characters' actions and emotions tend to have more of a truthfulness about them. This trait isn't limited to series which feature adult casts; last season's Kids on the Slope starred a cast of primarily high-school-aged teens whose romantic entanglements progressed realistically because they managed to talk to the objects of their affection rather than remain completely silent or avoid the matter. By the end of the episode, Ryusuke has confessed his feelings to Rokka. Though the emotional fallout from that will probably make up a good portion of the dramatic content from here on out, at least the narrative won't be at the mercy of the character's inability to express his feelings.
I'm finding Rokka to be a fairly interesting character so far, precisely because we only know but a few interesting tidbits about her past and I'm enthusiastic to know more. She speaks briefly about her hasty marriage to Atsushi and his untimely death, but obviously doesn't go into much detail. I suspect that some sort of cancer caused his early passing; when Ryusuke goes outside for a smoke, Atsushi warns him about lung cancer. I'll be interested to see more details come to light in future episodes.
Follow-up: The second and third episodes of the show fill in more of the details about Rokka and Atsushi's relationship, while also advancing the complicated, somewhat rocky one developing between Rokka and Ryusuke. It's during these episodes that I've begun to have some mixed feelings about some of the finer details surrounding the development of those relationships. I'm really enjoying the ways in which the show is advancing the drama between the characters. There's no rush to get from point A to point B, yet the narrative doesn't feel lazy, either. I like that the characters continue to talk about their feelings and make substantial moves in developing their feelings. What I'm not a huge fan of is the tone that both Ryusuke and Atsushi have taken in regards to their relationship with Rokka. The impression that's given is that the two men feel that they're competing for something - Rokka's affections. They way they treat her like an object, as if she has no say in the matter and will end up loyal to whoever "wins" the contest of wills between them, is a little bit disturbing. I'm operating under the assumption that future episodes will not only feature some more character development for Rokka (including more intimate details about her own personal feelings), but also some lessons for Atsushi about moving on to the afterlife, which will hopefully temper what seems to be a very possessive, controlling, and manipulative machismo contest. This is really the one major misstep this show has made so far and I hope that it can resolve the situation before it gets to be overwhelming.
On a lighter note, I neglected to mention how nice the visuals in this series have been so far. I think it's natural for anime fans to ascribe certain traits to the anime studios that produce the media they consume. When I think of Dogakobo, what comes to mind is vacuous fluff like Koihime Musou and Yuruyuri. The great thing about noitaminA is that even lesser-known studios and those who are more known for producing the type of anime I dislike, are given the chance to create something a little bit classier (at least in theory - see Fractale). This show, while subdued in terms of action, is visually-lush. Because so much of the story takes place in and around a flower shop, the backgrounds are often dotted with flowers of every shape and color. Hourou Musuko was like a moving watercolor, and Trapeze popped with its use of live-action video. This series seems poised to distinguish itself using plant life, and I couldn't be happier.
Whether it was actually part of their mission statement or not, the early days of noitaminA were defined by the timeslot's commitment to featuring josei manga adaptations, and this really feels like a return to form. It may not be up to the high level of something like Paradise Kiss or Nodame Cantabile, but it feels really good as a female fan to be considered a viable audience demographic again anyway. Flaws and all, this seems like it will turn out to be a nice little romance story that incorporates a little bit of humor and a few tears to good effect.
- This is a story about feelings where the drama isn't dependent on how long the characters can keep from expressing their desires to one-another.
- The lush illustrations of flowers make this appealing to watch.
- Atsushi's ghost adds some unique humor to the show.
- Some aspects of the central "love triangle" are downright creepy, including how possessive both men tend to be at times.
Recommended? Despite some complaints, I've really enjoyed all the episodes I've seen of this series so far. It's nice that noitaminA appears to have gone back to its unofficial roots in some capacity, telling a romance story that's clearly meant for adults rather than teens.