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Friday, July 13, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Natsuyuki Rendezvous

The romantic drama collected in four volumes tells the story of a love triangle between Hazuki, a young man who works part time at a flower store, Rokka, the widow who owns the store, and the ghost of Shimao, Rokka's deceased husband. (Source: AniDB)

As a josei adaptation and a noitaminA show, Natsuyuki Rendezvous/夏雪ランデブー was pretty much the only show this season I was really looking forward to. I didn't even know the full gist of the series before adding it to my to-watch list, not even the big fact that one of the members of this atypical love triangle is deceased. 

But I think going into the series somewhat ignorant of the bigger plot points only enhanced my enjoyment of it. If there's a serious contender for best, most mature series of this summer – a season that is historically lackluster in quality – then Natsuyuki is certainly aiming for the gold.

Did I mention it's a josei romance with a ghost? Because awesome.

At first, I did not really like the main character, Hazuki. His pining after Rokka was cute, but his expectations that Rokka should return these muddled feelings just because she invited him to her house grated. So did the idea that Hazuki doesn't have to explicitly state that he's in love with Rokka because somehow Rokka should just know. That is pretty stupid of him. Luckily, this faded away halfway through the episode as Hazuki realized Rokka's situation – and met Shimao, her husband's ghost who still lingers in the house/flower shop.

And then Hazuki became a relatable guy in love with his boss but caught between emotional awkwardness of not feeling able to express his feelings and having to watch her dead husband float around his head twenty-four/seven as a constant reminder of a part of Rokka's past. Hazuki, I know those feels, bro. Well, except for the dead husband part, but that's certainly understandable. I kind of wish I had the chutzpah he showed at the end of this episode, minus the awkwardness of course. I don't love you yet, Hazuki, but I wish you all the luck in making your adorable boss your girlfriend in the end.

As for Rokka, I like her but I don't think we've gotten enough of a view of Rokka's character for me to make a better judgment. Which actually makes sense, since the main focus of the first episode was getting to know Hazuki. What we know of Rokka is through the lens of overheard conversations and the memory of Shimao, who for some reason I'm treating as an unreliable narrator, probably because he's dead and is personally invested in Rokka's future.

So far, the most interesting element to this story is Shimao's presence. His constantly flying around Rokka definitely goes against his earlier words when alive, trying to sound like he's not emotionally attached to his own wife. He says he wants to make Rokka happy, but doesn't seem so approving of Hazuki's presence. Shimao is certainly a wedge between Rokka and Hazuki without physically having to be between them, and so long as they keep holding onto the memory of Shimao – and as long as Hazuki keeps having conversations with his spirit like he's actually in the room – I don't see any romantic relationships going successfully for them. Hazuki probably would have better luck with Rokka's cute sister, at this rate.

The art of Natsuyuki Rendezvous is not anything special, but it is rather pleasant and matches well with the slow-flowing story. That sounds like a negative, but it really works. It has that perfect air of a slice-of-life, which fits in a story that centers around a small flower shop that looks unassuming and quiet but contains many colorful surprising stories. Some of the best art is in the opening and ending sequences, which are striking in their detail and vibrant color palette. Plus the songs themselves are pretty stellar; they are the kind of songs I'd love to listen to on a rainy day, not because they're sad but because they're so heartfelt.

Right now, Natsuyuki is looking pretty good. It has drama, romance, humor, the supernatural, and a loveable flower shop. It also has the kind of love triangle I wish I could have written myself. Who can compete with a girl's dead husband turned haunting specter for the heart of his adorable shop-running widow? I will certainly cheer Hazuki on until the end – or until he decides to go another route, so long as it doesn't end in a Nice Boat moment for the poor guy.

You can watch streaming subbed episodes of Natsuyuki Rendezvous on Crunchyroll; the show has also been licensed by Sentai Filmworks for home video release.