Ano Natsu de Matteru – 01 Review
Ano Natsu de Matteru – Episode 01
In the novel, Still Life with Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins, a self-proclaimed alien from the planet Argon informs us that red heads are considered evil throughout the universe and that their baneful hair color is a result of excessive “sugar and lust.” I thought this deserved a mention before delving any deeper into what lies behind this seemingly run-of-the-mill high school summer romance.
Expecting to spend the next 3 months in annoyance at googly-eyed adolescents reminiscing about their first summer crushes, I was most pleasantly surprised by this episode! I saw one or two very short trailers for the show that didn’t lead me to expect anything out of the ordinary. Although a lot of what happened in episode one isn’t the most original material on the planet, it was certainly above and beyond my pre-season impressions.
The show opens with our main character, Kirishima Kaito (Kai for short), standing on a very tall bridge at night, fiddling with a video camera, muttering corny, sentimental, pseudo-philosophical crap to himself. And then, BAM! Everything starts shaking, crazy lights fill the sky, and some sort of space-ship contraption crashes in the mountains nearby. Kai flies off the bridge in a whirlwind of blood and broken eye glasses, falls hard (and unconscious) into the river below, and is saved by a mysterious someone. Well, it’s just a hand and part of an arm, so it’s not even really “someone”.
Kai wakes up in his room, and has some banter over breakfast with his older sister. There are two things established in the scene – #1) their parents are dead, and #2) sis is heading off to Bolivia and leaving Kai to his own devices, home alone, for three months.
Kai heads off to school, fiddling with the camera, and sees a mysterious red head girl on a passing train. Foreshadowing, anyone? At school we meet Kai’s mostly generic group of friends, and Kai plays with his camera lot more (don’t worry, somewhere towards the second half he puts the damn thing down). The friends are: Tetsurou the hot older looking guy, Kanna the girl crushing on Kai, and Miyoko the cute and dumb girl. They say some generally lame stuff about making a movie…. When asked what he wants to film, Kai dreamily says that he just wants to film “something” and his crew thinks this is a fine answer because they’re in high school after all. This goes on for a little while and then Kai, fiddling with the camera, sees the mysterious red head again. Well, it turns out that she’s a new transfer student to his school. Surprise!
So, the red head, named Takatsuki Ichika, receives standard anime treatment for a cute female transfer student – the girls cooing, “She’s so pretty!” “What clubs were you in at your last school?” and the guys asking if she has a boyfriend. I’m sure you all know the drill by now. Then, her classmate, Yamano Lemon (or Remon depending on who subbed your version), exerts some sort of influence/bullying over her classmates and gains herself and Ichika a few moments of peace and quiet. So, lots more happy school dialog and talk about making a movie… Not a whole lot worth noting except that Tetsurou has used his manly charms on a female teacher to get info about Ichika, the “info” being her measurements. Standard fare, but cutely done. The friends’ banter isn’t too grating – it’s fairly flirtatious without coming anywhere near ecchi, it’s lighthearted, and most importantly, it’s believable and has a good flow. One point worth mentioning is when the crew notices a “hickey” on Kai’s neck. They tease him about it, he says it’s just a bug bite, and so on, and then Kai has one of his flash-back moments (see more about that below).
Now, depending on which translation/sub version you watch, the whole “school time” bulk of the show may or may not have a lot of foreshadowing. In one version I watched, there were lots of comments about their movie, the future, and hints (including the “arm” flashbacks and various awkward behaviors) about what will come to pass, and it’s obvious that Ichika (and Lemon too) know about “something” going on that everyone else is totally clueless about. In another version I watched, there were very few of these comments and moments. <shrug> Usually I don’t find that the translations make too much of a difference in one’s understanding of the material, but in this case it’s a big deal. So, if you care, and if you can, try and watch more than one translation.
As you might expect, the boys ask Ichika to star in their movie and she accepts. All of the other girls join on to the “film crew” for their various reasons, and I’m sure some of the relationship dynamics hinted at here will be explained in later episodes. Kai starts to have fantasies about “directing” Ichika, and there’s some joke about instructing her in acting that was lost in *both* translations, although it doesn’t take any amount of genius to get the gist of it all.
So this is where things take a more lively turn. Kai runs into Ichika while she’s fishing (very suspicious), one thing leads to another, he discovers she is essentially homeless, and he invites her to live with him. There’s some fishy stuff – like how Ichika’s suitcase seems to be unreasonably heavy and she’s unwilling to talk about its contents. Aside from that, it’s generally cute and bubbly, and some things you might expect to happen actually do happen – like, her being embarrassed because she’s in a guys room, him seeing her while she’s in the shower, him handling her dirty laundry, everyone blushing profusely, etc.
As Kai is figuring out how to hide Ichika’s shoes from his sister, the hickey/bug-bite (pointed out earlier in the show) “flares up” and Kai starts to hallucinate and falls to the ground unconscious. Ichika runs out of the bathroom (wearing only a towel) to save him and notices that his neck has gone from being red and slightly puffy to having a large-honeycomb-alien-cancer spreading all over it. She calls out to her suitcase (“Rinon!” or “Yno!” – depending on the translation) and this terribly cute, technology-wielding, pink teletubby pops out and covers them with a techno-magic bubble. Yes, you read that right. Obviously, just as Ichika is swapping slobber with Kai, his sister and Kanna walk in. And obviously, at that exact moment, Ichika’s towel falls off.
Almost everything in this series was exactly what you would expect and it’s been done a million times before. Guy sees cute girl, she transfers to his school, she moves in with him, and suddenly they’re blushing and making out and running into each other naked all the time. Even the part about the girl being an alien and having a teletubby in her suitcase, none of that is anything new or groundbreaking. The characters aren’t anything special, the art isn’t mind blowing, the plot twists tried really hard to make themselves obvious….
But, I really, really liked this episode. Why? More than anything, I’d say that something just “clicks”, and it’s hard to put my finger on what exactly that is. Suffice to say, there are little things scattered throughout the episode that lead me to believe that Ano Natsu might end up doing a great job of taking something “unoriginal” and doing it better than we’ve ever seen it done before.
The first thing that I found to be impressive was the completely natural feeling of the dialog. The timing of one line to another was just right, including sighs, mumbles, and little interruptions. The seiyuu’s acting was continuously on point, and very few lines were anything less than perfect. This factor alone is something that can take an average show to the level of something that will be remembered for years.
Sound-wise, the background music was sparse, quiet, and often employed more as a spectrum of various sound effects than typical BGM. The subtle, pervasive sounds of cicadas and birds throughout the show locked in the feeling of summer and created a solid feeling of time and place.
The animation was up to par, and probably better than just that. I loved the serene and muted watercolor backgrounds. The attention placed on showing scenes of clouds, sky, water, trees, and grass had a unifying and relaxing effect. The brilliant greens of the plant life worked well with the cicada noises to further enhance the richness of summer. There were a few moments where I noticed obvious “brush strokes” (even though those are probably added in later with a plug-in) on backgrounds – like on the school’s wall during the measurements scene – and I felt these positively enhanced things.
While the characters’ personalities seem to be the same tried (or tired) and true tropes at first glance, they develop into something just a little bit *more* than what we would normally expect. Their designs and personalities are ever so slightly different than the norms we’re used to – for example, Ichika is a bouncy-breasted, big-haired bimbo who acts nervous and completely clueless whenever she’s on screen. That is, until the last moment, when she acts with quick resolve and a minimum of idiocy to deal with Kai’s fainting spell. Her strange behaviors throughout the show almost lead you to believe that Ichika knows exactly what is going on, that she has a plan, and that she’s sticking to it. One could even theorize that she is “running shit” in the world of Ano Natsu. Tetsurou sneaking around to get Ichika’s measurements is normal for a dumb supporting-male anime character, but his methods were way cooler than the typical guy sneaking into the nurse’s office (and getting caught). Lemon’s tiny, bratty character was different because her classmates actually listened to her threats, and she acted cool and confident instead of pouty and whiny. The only one of the bunch I have doubts about is Kai, but (according to one translation) he at least knows how to cook for himself and doesn’t seem to be planning on making Ichika do it. 😉
And finally, my favorite: continuity. Ano Natsu has tons of continuity. Thank god, because there has been a severe lack of it lately (*cough* Loups=Garous *cough*). Although the numerous “hints” and use of foreshadowing came close to crossing the line a few times, it ended up being just fine. Like, we *know* that Ichika isn’t your average transfer student, we *know* that she has something to do with Kai’s mysterious savior, we *know* that Lemon is clued into something that the fab-four don’t know about, and we *know* that fishing is “fishy”, that kai’s hickey is probably not just a hickey, and that something’s not right with that suitcase. We get that, and even without the hundreds of hints it would probably be obvious. BUT, we *didn’t* know that a teletubby would come out of that suitcase, and we *didn’t* know that that Kai’s hickey was some bizarre fractaloid-alien-cancer. Well, at least *I* didn’t know. Hehehe. But, at least give me some credit for knowing Ichika was an alien or something along those lines the instant I saw the spaceship/red hair combo. 🙂
What I like most about this show is that everything they spend time showing is relevant to the greater plot. I personally hate it, really just hate it, when writers spend minutes upon minutes to elaborate on some fact or concept that has nothing to do with anything. Most animes are about 20 minutes long (excluding OP/ED) and that’s not much time, especially considering that so many of them only run for one season. Make that time count! Every second is crucial! Thankfully, it seems (so far) that the Ano Natsu team agrees with me on this. Only time will tell if they can keep it up without falling into the trap of being plain predictable and ultimately boring.
Somewhat in the vein of continuity is Ano Natsu’s ability to fulfill the viewer’s expectations. It’s fairly similar to what I’ve said about the characters. The show has relentlessly and willingly provided us with everything we would expect in this unoriginal setting, but somehow gives us just a little…. more. Of course we expect some Ishika fan-service when she moves in with Kai, and, of course, we get that. However, little things (like Ishika examining the shampoo bottle as if it’s her first time seeing one) are just ever so slightly beyond our lame expectations. The effect, for me, is that my expectations for the “obvious” have risen just a little and I’m actually curious about what these characters are going to do next, and if they’re going to continue to infiltrate and enliven my trope-weary psyche.
In order to be a good reviewer, I do feel like I should air the complaints (however few) I have. There were a few times that the animation (color) was jarring – when Kai is fantasizing and everything turns hot pink (it looks hideous), and when folks are in the shade (pool scene) their skin looks absolutely lobster-red like they have a third degree sunburn or something. There was also a moment or two when the trees looked like something from a generic architectural design program, and they were just “off” in that 2D computer way. Damn near all of the animation was brilliant, though I felt like it leaned a little too heavily on sky/cloud shots (but considering that this show has aliens, it may have just been more foreshadowing). And, well, as others have already said, it does remind me a lot of Ano Hana (even the shortened version of their names are similar) and Toradora (Lemon and Taiga must be cousins, right?).
And… Well… this may just be me, but… Didn’t I already write a review about a show with a supernatural, red headed, large busted, main-female-chara? And didn’t I just watch something else that had kids in class 3? And haven’t I watched questionably-lame male-main-charas have strange hallucinations at least once this week? And, maybe I just need more sleep, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot of mysterious transfer students lately… 😉
So far, Ano Natsu seems solid. Little things here and there, and the continuous meeting and exceeding my expectations make me curious about what’s next. The animation is good, the dialog is good, the characters seem better than what one would expect…. but I wonder if that’s enough to make a great anime. It’s not mind-blowing by any means, but the approach is an unexpected combination of gentleness and subdued but persistance brilliance. Will Ano Natsu take the unoriginal and turn it into something great? Will it be able to continue riding the fine line between meeting and re-creating expectations without falling off into the dark depths of the pointlessly bizarre or maddeningly stupid? Where can it possibly go from here, aside from a fan-service, teletubby-filled hell? Will it be able to catapult itself into the realms of the amazing?
Visions of teletubby hells aside, this show is going to get watched no matter what. It kicks the sh*t out of everything else so far this season, except for maybe Nisemonogatari (maybe). If nothing else, in a season full of shows fraught with the creeping feeling of being “off”, Ano Natsu feels “on”. I’m quite curious about how this is going to play out, I’m definitely looking forward to next week!
My rating for this episode is at least an 8/10, if not 8.5/10 🙂
What do *you* think? Leave a comment below and tell the world about it! 🙂