Final Impressions: Ano Natsu de Matteru; Goodbye?

Goodbye? Yea, well, as much as this is an appropriate one-liner for the finale of the fantastic Ano Natsu de Matteru series, it also marks the unfortunate the end of my anime blogging “career” (or hobby, rather) and my leave from TheAkiba. It’s surprising, and definitely nostalgic to think back on my very first reviews—Usagi Drop being my first—which were actually some of my favorites. I know I mentioned the situation briefly along with some of the changes to be implemented a while back, but I wasn’t able to explain some of the details regarding the future of my writings for the blog. Firstly, this was basically the plan for a while now, as opportunities were piling up already as far back as December of last year. Back around the tail-end of 2011, I received a job offer as a product designer with an investment company looking to expand into China, which turned out to be the gateway into multiple other offers with a retail startup in Guangzhou and similar others. As great (and surprising) as this was—considering my comparatively young age of 19 years—I now had to balance my workload with school work for my final year before college graduation, which definitely hindered my ability to watch anime, let alone blog about it. With things continuing to get busier, I decided to set the conclusion of the Winter season as an appropriate conclusion to my own work with TheAkiba. To any extent, it has been a pleasure being able to write for you guys, and always helpful to read your consistent feedback, so a sincere thanks for that and keep it coming!

So, what to expect from now on? Of course, with my leave our humble team here at TheAkiba will be reduced even further, but that’s not to say that there won’t be plenty of anime news and fantastic reviews to read from our remaining writers Night and Jack, as well as YoU and other guest bloggers. And if you feel like you have something to contribute, you’re certainly welcome to apply—just send in a brief example of your work and if it demonstrates fluency in English and a good grasp of the subject, we’ll be happy to hire you on as a writer!

Summary:

Talk about throwing a wrench into the works every few minutes. Ano Natsu de Matteru has always been, to me, a superb piece of storytelling, and in keeping with that, they did everything they could to keep us guessing up until the very last moment. I don’t know how many times it happened, but every time I thought I had a handle on how the story would pan out—whether we’d see a happy ending or bittersweet separation, or something in between—something completely unpredictable would happen to send it careening the other way. The first and most obvious example was Remon-sempai, Kanna and Manami, Tetsuro and Mio, and even Rinon keeping the pursuers at bay. Then we had the train, where Kaito and Ichika were tossing out separation flags like there was no tomorrow. And then there was the lake, the mysterious crystal, and the images in Ichika’s mind, which all pointed towards the positive, when they were just as quickly shattered when only salvation, the tree, was gone. By that point I was reeling, but I was now preparing myself for the bittersweet ending—only for Inoue Kikuko to begin speaking. It was all a lot to absorb, but oh so exciting to watch (despite the whiplash :) ).

That’s not to write off the mood as being erratic or anything; it was only my expectations that were veering all over the place like Manami fleeing from a rape robot. The mood was pitch perfect, moving seamlessly between optimism and despair as all of the (purposefully) conflicting hints rolled out one after another. The soundtrack also deserves mention here. I’m usually not one to take notice of something like this, but from the suited opening scene, to the frenzied chase, and further along during the sombre train ride and the heroic MIB intervention, the soundtrack managed to hit all the right notes on cue. And that’s not even the first half of the episode! The ED playing during the reflective film viewing later in the episode deserves special note as well, but I’ll touch on that later.

But, anyway, enough yakking about how well the story was told. As far as what actually happened, there were three essential events/revelations during this episode, with the third being the ultimate fate of our lovers. The first ventured into classified territory with the hilarious revelation of the existence of the Men in Black, and even more, that Remon-sempai was one of them. I’m sure some of you must have predicted as such, so feel free to give yourself a pat on the back. This also answers the question of why Manami and Remon knew each other, since Manami’s husband is apparently an agent as well. But even better than that was discovering Remon’s true objectives, which like the rest of the main characters, exhibited no ulterior motives. Sure, she’s an MIB agent, but even if she had started out with other motives, they weren’t what drove her to act in the end. It was Ichika’s personality that did that—Remon-sempai met an alien, discovered that she was kind, and so much so that she considered her a friend and wanted to protect her at all costs. This is a very amazing love story, for sure, but it’s also a beautiful story of friendship (I hope that doesn’t come across as cheezy as it sounds to me. Whatever, moving along.)

The second major event was Kaito and Ichika finding the place buried in Ichika’s memories, and the mark in the tree that was left behind, but no longer there. All that, and a recording of Inoue Kikuko speaking, in the voice of (I presume) Onegai Teacher’s Kazami Mizuho. I know I mentioned the connection between the two series in the beginning, which probably led some of you to wonder where Ano Natsu fell in the Onegai timeline, since it has been obvious for a while that the two settings were the same. Well, there’s your answer—Onegai Teacher precedes Ano Natsu, with Ichika and the others almost certainly being descendants of Mizuho. Now, of course this may causes some continuity problems, when Onegai Teacher took place, and the comparative technological levels between the three series (adding in Onegai Twins), which are pretty much the same. How long ago did two two Onegai series happen? And if Ichika and her sisters are Mizuho’s descendants, doesn’t that make the consistency in technology over the proposed period of time even harder to comprehend? Nowadays, technological advancement doesn’t stop charging ahead for anything, not even plot.

And then we come to the end of this story. Ichika leaves, Kaito stays, and it’s back to having the original four friends once again once Remon-sempai departs to throw a wrench into the works of another group of indecisive lovers. I enjoyed the return of Kaito’s onee-chan (-san), who I had long missed, but nothing could compare to the first viewing of the group’s movie (the Incomplete Version). As I started to say earlier, playing the full ED during this scene deserves special mention. Yanagi Nagi’s “Vidro Moyou” has always been a superb match for this series, but playing it here was the best use of it yet. Here, it removed the need for almost any dialogue, which left us viewers alone with our thoughts. The music, the film and the character’s reactions all combined to create a wonderfully concise and powerful glimpse of the events witnessed, and leaving us with a sense of pure satisfaction.

And lastly, the third and final major event was, as previously noted, the fate of our five lovers—Ichika, Kaito, Kanna, Tetsuro, and Mio. As for the latter three, if I had to make a prediction I would say that Tetsuro is beginning to lean towards Mio, seen in some of his more recent reactions, not to mention him inviting her to see a movie with him the episode prior. That may just be wishful thinking on my part, though (sorry Kanna!). As for the main two, I’m just pleased to see that we got happy ending that they deserved. Not to sound pessimistic, but there were times where I was slightly unsure where things would end up, but clearly things concluded right. Speaking objectively, considering the title of the series, the tone they demonstrated, and everything that happened in the last few episodes, this was the most obvious resolution, but that didn’t stop the story from taking plenty of twists and turns on the way to getting here. Certainly, well worth it. I might have liked one more romantic moment to squee at one last time, but their true love was fulfilled, and the hopeless romantic that I am cannot help but be satisfied with that.

Final Impressions

I’ve made multiple references/comparisons between my two favorite series this season—Rinne no Lagrange and Ano Natsu de Matteru—but unlike the former, Ano Natsu wasn’t on my list in the beginning. Though, I’d say that the cause of that is primarily due to my duties as a writer, which can sometimes cause you to focus exclusively on those series with exceptional hype surrounding them. And the more I look at the latter, the more I see that its pedigree is undeniable, with the minds behind the successful Onegai franchise (writer Kuroda Yousuke, producer Ogura Mitsutoshi) teaming up with director of AnoHana and Toradora (Nagai Tatsuyuki) to craft the perfect romance. With that said, my unfortunate experience with being burned by making ultra-optimistic assumptions with series has made me more cynical with new shows, especially at the start of the season. I find best to keep my expectations at a level where I can still be pleasently surprised, so I start them low.

Fortunately, as was the case with Lagrange, this series set about exceeding my expectations immediately, though it took only one episode for it to shoot to the top of my weekly watch list. I’ve heard some people say that it would simply be a copy of Onegai Teacher, but that has never really bothered me. Yes, I haven’t seen all of the Onegai series, but I feel I wouldn’t be dissuaded either way. In my opinion, one can excel by two means: One is to do something brand new, exciting, and innovative. While that’s all well and good, it takes a special mind to accomplish that, and besides, “innovative” doesn’t always necessarily equal “good.” Then there’s the other way to achieve success, which is to do something that has already been done really, really, really well. This is the route Kuroda-sensei and the others chose, and with the extensive congregation of so many talented people with expertise in this genre on board, they stacked the odds quite significantly in their favor.

And it shows. While breaking little new ground, Ano Natsu is one of the most well-executed romantic comedies I’ve seen in a long time. With our five lovers (and a lotta’ help from Remon-sempai, ufufu~), we were initially handed a love chain that seemed to have no good solution. As many of us said, I included, time and again, there are five of them, so somebody was going to be heartbroken. . .though, it didn’t happen that way; not exactly anyway. Sure, not everyone’s love was fulfilled, with Kanna coming up particularly short, but there really wasn’t a “bad ending” for anyone. How Kuroda-sensei and the others managed to paint a brick wall in their path and manage to shimmy around it? Because this wasn’t just a love story. It was a friendship story, a story of wins and loses and discovering one’s true self, so as to live with few regrets. Some characters were unable to grab hold of their loves before they were lost, but all gained something in return. One great experience.

Of course, perhaps there was a lost opportunity there. After all, it’s always the things we want to happen, but don’t, which seem to endure with us the most—the what ifs, the lives cut tragically short and the loves that will forever remain unfulfilled. And sometimes it’s those moments that are the most beneficial in helping us progress as an audience. Some stories exist to effect us, to teach us and hurt us and change us into different people for the experience, and while this was more fully a story of true love, it arguably teaches the same principles. Ano Natsu‘s themes are certainly not ground-breaking or new, in fact their actually very fundamental. But the nostalgia that is created by an exceptional effort put forth by a group of people wanting to give the idea another go is, in it’s own sense, more refreshing than many of the so-called “innovative” series out there. By presenting the concept of true love, they dare us to believe it’s possible to achieve by portraying it in a most unique situation—and it works. Ano Natsu de Matteru is many things, but above all else, it is a beautiful love story.