Natsuyuki Rendezvous – A tale of two halves
September 19, 2012 3 Comments
Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a tale of two halves, it was an excellent series right up until episode six, at which point things started to go very wrong and it slid down into the pits of mediocrity. This is not to say that the series was not enjoyable, because it was, however, there were some distinct decisions made during this series life that ultimately slightly ruined the whole experience. There are precious few mature romance series, most anime are set in high school or junior high school, with the protagonists often having to deal with other issues such as family circumstances or teenage angst. A romance series that takes place during a work or university environment, or at least have a more mature feel can be incredibly fun to watch and help to provide an alternative view of romance without the teenage angst. Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Paradise Kiss, Ristorante Paradiso and Eikoku Koi Monogatari Emma are a few of the small number of such titles. What is so wonderful about these series is how they tell a story about romance, but without the angst, school references and other elements that pepper high school romance stories. There is still drama and elements of angst, but it is being used from a different perspective, and while there are still problems to overcome, they revolve around the needs of the everyday rather than problems with tests and the (apparent) innocence of youth.
Natsuyuki Rendezvous starts off in a similar vein, telling the story of Hazuki Ryousuke and his love for Rokka, a flower shop owner who has yet to truly recover from the death of her husband. The series itself is a wonderful blend of small talk and the necessities of running a flower shop, although the cast is actually fairly limited with the focus squarely on Ryousuke and Rokka’s budding relationship. There is also a dash of the supernatural with the appearance of the ghost of Atsushi, Rokka’s late husband, who is clearly haunting her and who only Ryousuke can see. The romance is actually quite innocent, with Rokka almost acting like a schoolgirl when she blushes and begins to wonder whom the most mature is amongst them. At the same time this central relationship between Rokka and Ryousuke is rather complex, and while they are clearly attracted to each other, it is largely the complicated feelings that Rokka has towards Ryousuke and her dead husband Atsushi that stop the relationship from progressing.
She views Ryousuke in a romantic fashion, wondering to herself what it would be like to marry him, and even have sex with him, suggesting that while she cannot forget about Atsushi and still mourns him, she has not completely closed herself from the world. However, Rokka continuously pushes herself away, distancing herself and her feelings from Ryousuke, and instead appears to be content with running her flower shop as she has always done. Her meeting with Ryousuke and his employment change all of this, and while Rokka gives the impression of being oblivious to his gender, we begin to see subtle, but important changes in her as the series progresses. The character dynamics within Natsuyuki Rendezvous creates a subtle yet powerful relationship between Rokka and Ryousuke. Their relationship and growing attraction towards each other is not full of the fire of high school, but is instead a gradual process, with simple things such as having dinner with each other meaning a great deal.
But, Ryousuke continues to underestimate, or maybe not entirely understand the importance that Rokka places on the memory of Atsushi. To Ryousuke like the audience, Atsushi is a distinct character that gets in between him and Rokka – so while Rokka has the memory, Ryousuke has a metaphysical representation of the actual person. Furthermore, the Atsushi in Rokka’s memory is far removed from the petulant and immature existence that Ryousuke has to deal with on a daily basis. While Atsushi’s constant attempts to sabotage Ryousuke’s relationship with Rokka, there is also the knowledge that she cannot forget about him. Furthermore, during the first half of the series Ryousuke makes little attempt to truly understand Atsushi and his importance to Rokka, largely because he only sees a childish ghost rather than the man who Rokka loved and still loves. Ryousuke may love Rokka and wants the feeling to be mutual, but makes no attempt to truly understand her as a person, suggesting that what is in the past no longer has a bearing upon the present or future. The series then was about Ryousuke and Rokka accepting their current circumstances, with Rokka attempting to come to terms with her past and be capable of moving on from Atsushi.
However, in attempting and thoroughly failing to properly understand Rokka, Ryousuke agrees to allow Atsushi to posses his body. To Atsushi this is a chance to get back together with his wife and perhaps start over again, but in his joy at being able to touch her once again Atsushi has forgotten that it is Ryousuke not he who is touching her. This is unfortunately where everything really began to go wrong with the series and where much of the development from previous episodes was largely destroyed. By possessing Ryousuke’s body there was a wonderful opportunity to create havoc, and perhaps to further his relationship with Rokka. Atsushi demonstrates that he doesn’t really understand how the world works, and we are shown a series of errors such as him having to buy new glasses because he doesn’t understand contacts. This would have arguably worked as a one or two episode arc, with Atsushi’s antics bringing Ryousuke and Rokka closer together. However, it progresses through the rest of the series, with the episodes split between the real world and a fantasy realm of Atsushi’s creation.
The problem from here on out is the lack of true progression in the characters and story. With Hazuki stuck in his own mind and wandering around the fantasy world accompanied by Thumbelina in the form of a small Rokka he is effectively written out of the story. The joy of watching the first half of Natsuyuki Rendezvous was the relationship that was gradually developing between Rokka and Ryousuke. The little things such as taking him out for lunch or dinner, going for a drink and confessing to each other in wonderfully awkward circumstances were great to watch. Furthermore, we see Rokka slowly allowing Ryousuke into her house and her heart, she begins to accept him and even accustomed to his presence in her flat above the flower shop. The date at the theme park was particularly interesting with Rokka thinking about the time she and Atsushi went – showing us that while she loved him, they didn’t do much together such as riding on the bigger rides. The juxtaposition between her life then and her life now with Ryousuke further suggested that she was getting used to his presence, and her tears at the end were largely because she was in love with Ryousuke, but couldn’t forget about her time with Atsushi.
The fantasy realm changes all this, essentially dismissing everything that had happened before and perhaps only really existing to show Ryousuke what he was already slowly working out for himself. Furthermore, the sudden change in Atsushi as Ryousuke spoils the sweet moments from the first half, with his constant attempts to sabotage Ryousuke’s and Rokka’s relationship through a series of immature and silly gestures (geeky glasses, haircut etc). As a story arc it was dragged out to the point of boredom, dissolving at points into the sort of melodrama that was nonexistent during the fist half. There were some wonderful moments of course, with Rokka finally coming to terms with her love for Ryousuke, and perhaps deciding that she may be able to move on with her life and leave Atsushi behind. But, these moments were few and far between, with the vast majority of the arc focussing on the fairytale world that Atsushi had created during his time in hospital and Ryousuke’s place with in it.
Furthermore, the ending itself felt rushed and forced, with the sudden return of Ryousuke and the apparent disappearance of Atsushi happening all too fast when only the episode before Rokka had finally worked out that it was Atsushi in Ryousuke’s body. Rokka does say that while she now knows Atsushi is in Ryousuke’s body, she has come to realise that it was Ryousuke whom she fell in love with. But, because of the body possession there has been little progression in their relationship, with much of what happened in the first arc either negated or pushed to one side. We saw the confession without seeing the real progression that lead up to it. At the same time the confession and subsequent marriage is only shown through a series of pictures and Atsushi’s sister reminiscing about their time together with Ryousuke’s and Rokka’s daughter. This means that there were only five episodes with Ryousuke and Rokka truly together for their relationship to properly develop. By extending the body-swapping sequence into its own arc the character and relationship progression is lost, coupled with the rushed and rather forced ending and we have a relationshop that we never truly see develop.
That is not to say that the ending was terrible, but after an entire arc where Ryousuke was a mere side character in his own head, the sudden realisation that they love each other, followed by the final ending with their daughter and grandson felt rushed and oddly alienated from the original story. There was no real continuity between the brilliant and wonderful relationship that was presented in the first half, and the oddly stilted relationship that appears to have developed during the second. It felt as if the ‘Happily Ever After’ was shoved in almost as soon as the opening credits had finished, we never see these characters develop together. Furthermore, the resolution of Atsushi’s part in this story didn’t truly work, and while Rokka did come to terms with his loss it was in a very unsatisfactory way that left Ryousuke out in the cold into the very final episode. Overall it was not a bad anime, however, the second half with the fantasy world and body swapping ultimately ruined it for me. Natsuyuki Rendezvous went from being one of my favourites for the season to merely mediocre – it had its moments, but there were some wrong decisions made which spoiled the story and turned the series into a Tale of two halves.