Sunday, September 16, 2012

[Anime Survivor 2] 3rd Place - Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Let's make this short and sweet before the shine is gone, folks. I'm going to hate myself for this review miles more than you might.

I had convinced myself that we had a sure thoroughbred this season once we saw what the moe train wrecks had wrought. No matter how many times Tori got punched in the crotch, no matter how many lingerie shots Campione! gave us, no matter how many ping-pong balls got eaten by Chinatsu's hair in Yuru Yuri...we were doomed to have a long, hot season of anime that we would forget once the first episode of Robotic;Notes was screened.

I'm just stunned that noitaminA would royally let us down. The wide-open net was there. All they had to do was nudge the ball through, but Moyashimon Returns shanked the kick, missed completely with its complete change of character profiles and drab storylines from the first season. The second show clanged their shot off the crossbar in the 90th minute. (Pardon the soccer metaphor—finally saw the US National Team win!)

Considering the severe letdown, I really shouldn't devote much time to this review. Third place in Summer 2012's Anime Survivor is Natsuyuki Rendezvous.

Strong Roots: While the concept was dangerously close to the clay-pot scene in Ghost, the construction of a semi-ethereal love triangle was not. Young twenty-something freeter Hazuki falls head-over-heels in love with the neighborhood florist Rokka in a method that isn't overly creepy in its stalker-like fashion, but Hazuki's reactions to the floating shell of Rokka's dead husband are surprisingly unemotional and backwards to those of a typical meeting between ghost and host.

In the first meeting with a shirtless Shimao, Hazuki admits defeat in a roundabout manner, assuming Rokka is both married and able to see Shimao. The second meeting results in bouts of sarcasm and sharp-tongued rhetoric once Hazuki can admit to the realism of Shimao's status, but his surprise is still curt and short-lived, a muted panic that we never see from characters in anime. In short, the interactions between the characters are dull in comparison to typical anime reactions, and therefore extremely enticing from their lack of over-excitement.

No Ranma 1/2 spit-takes. No Ghost Sweeper Mikami hijinks. No frosty To-Love-Ru or Dusk Maiden of Amnesia ghost-boob jokes. Why should every show have a comic ghost angle? Frankly, Hazuki's retorts are icy, spiteful, and completely welcome from a paranormal point of view.

The opposite pole of Hazuki's affection, Rokka, is an interesting study in her own fashion. Once playful with her husband Shimao, the devastation in her personality is highly evident, as she is now almost devolved into a tomboyish awkwardness, having only ever loved one other person. It's as if she is the ghost walking the world, unable to move on while Shimao merely goes on existing. She may be a little boring as an adult, but the comparison to what she was (and what she is in Shimao's picture book) is startling.

With that being introduced, I was hoping for a little more development between the cool-headed Hazuki and the introverted Rokka. This was supposed to be a Godai/Kyoko moment, only for the ghost to play all of the other roles in Maison Ikkoku, never able to get the hint.

Unsupportive Stem: People might point to the storybook backgrounds and the flowery still-life shots of ikebana arrangements, but Natsuyuki Rendezvous is pretty average for its art, the humdrum city-ward backgrounds balanced out with the brighter landscapes in the parallel sketchbook world. Every now and then, there are some smarter images and transitions, but for the most part there's nothing like an Un-Go or even a [C] when it comes to creativity. It's as if noitaminA opted to draw aimlessly in a blank book and lazily let the stories educate and entertain this summer without having to do much of the grunt work.

However, if anyone is at fault at bringing this show down, it may as well be Shimao. For the love of all things Oshizu, get lost, dude.

At first, he acts as the jealous husband, trying to get in the way of Hazuki's advances, only to physically do so once he occupies Hazuki's body. His jealousy is trite and immature, trying to make Hazuki look nerdy and uncool one moment, only to reverse course and actually go as far as have sexual escapades with Rokka as Hazuki. It's enough to want to hate him for being such a cumbersome invisible anchor to Rokka, but the flashbacks make him appear sympathetic.

I feel horrible that I'm about to say this, especially for a character that died from illness, but I started to wish in the later episodes that Shimao just get up and depart already. Vamoose. Nobody likes uninvited guests, and that includes a ghost that is bitter his wife hasn't disposed of everything, only to hang on her even more afterwards. How about, you know, trying to convince Hazuki that he should be the one to get rid of everything Rokka has saved? All of this clinging-around may work for a ghost that is here and gone in the span of two chapters of Kyōkai no Rinne, but not in an eleven-episode stretch.

Dead Leaves: In the end, while Natsuyuki Rendezvous could have been a diligent, heartbreaking story of a couple who must move on in a teary goodbye, we get...confusion. Perhaps this is the fault that arises when you have only three or four characters in a show who must carry the entire weight of the drama, but ending the show with a flash-forward to Rokka's life in forty years really doesn't sit well with me.

Yeah, yeah. Spoiler alert and all, but this was a dreary non-finish of a finish. I felt no real romance between Hazuki and Rokka at the end, as if both were spent from being tortured by Shimao's ghost. Hell, in the end (and I don't care about telling you all) SHIMAO NEVER LEAVES! Does this mean he basically hung around the florist shop and bugged Hazuki until the guy died before Rokka out of sheer annoyance from seeing Rokka's ex everywhere?

I was ready to crown Natsuyuki Rendezvous for a job well done at staying consistent, only to watch it ruin the job by staying so consistent that nothing special ended up happening. Considering that Tsuritama and Kids on the Slope both lifted noiaminA to the stratosphere in Spring 2012, Moyashimon Returns and Natsuyuki Rendezvous buried the block six feet under with horribly unenthusiastic climaxes.

There's nothing more I hate than a show that can't finish the job. Let's hope that either Humanity Has Declined or Binbōgami Ga! can restore faith in this slumbering season.


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