Review for Natsuyuki Rendezvous Complete Collection
I like the odd romantic comedy in anime, to change things up from the usual sci-fi and action shows. It is hard though to find a rom-com that breaks from the usual harem mode, the hapless teen male surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls, all competing for his milquetoast affections. To find a comedy that takes place outside of high school is tough, or a comedy between two central characters. I have to admit that my attention was piqued when I first heard of Natsuyuki Rendezvous; after all, it’s a romantic comedy featuring adults. Then it turns out that Natsuyuki Rendezvous adds a surprisingly original element, revealing the most unconventional love triangle. I just had to buy it to take a look.
Ryosuke Hazuki fell in love, and fell in love hard. It’s the local florist, Rokka Shimao who’s the object of his affection, although for many weeks, the most that he could hope from her was a smile, and some change, as he bought a plant every time he passed the shop. This resulted in increasing unrequited angst, and an apartment overflowing with foliage. That looked as if it might change when Rokka advertised for a part time assistant for the shop, and Hazuki got the job, especially when a co-worker left to get married, and Rokka invited him upstairs to her apartment so that they could plan a going away party. And the first thing he saw in Rokka’s apartment was a half naked man.
It’s wasn’t what he initially thought. In actual fact, Atsushi Shimao, Rokka’s husband died some years previously, and his ghost has been hanging around the florists ever since. The problem is that only Hazuki can see and speak to him, and despite his dying words to his wife, Atsushi’s not ready to give her up, especially not to the part time worker. It’s going to be harder than he thought for Hazuki to get the woman of his dreams.
11 episodes of Natsuyuki Rendezvous are presented across 2 discs from Sentai Filmworks in a 5-6 distribution.
Natsuyuki Rendezvous gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer, coded progressively on these dual layer DVDs. It is available on Region A locked Blu-ray if you have compatible kit. The image is pretty sweet on the DVDs though, clear and sharp throughout, no visible signs of compression, and minimal banding. The picture also scales up pretty well to a flat panel display. The look of the show is representative of a story aimed at an older female demographic, the character designs are a tad more realistic if elegantly stylised, while softer, pastel colours are used in the palette. It’s a nicely animated show, but the real effort is put into the detailed backgrounds and the more ethereal atmosphere. It works very well given the fantasy nature of the story.
This is a subtitle only release, with the Japanese audio presented in DD 2.0 Stereo format. You can tell it’s a love story with the power ballad theme tunes, and the gentle incidental music. The dialogue is clear throughout and the subtitles are accurately timed, and free of typos. The actors are suited to their roles, and give the right degree of verisimilitude to the melodrama.
The discs present their content with static menus, and jacket pictures, while each episode is followed by a translated credit reel.
The extras are all on disc one, and comprise the textless credits, and trailers for Kids on the Slope, Colorful – The Motion Picture, Kämpfer – fur die Liebe, K-On! The Movie, Okamikakushi – Masque of the Wolf, and Phi Brain – Puzzle of God.
Natsuyuki Rendezvous isn’t a romantic comedy. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it is, given the blurb on the back of the case, and the opening few episodes. It’s got just the right set up for a wacky, dark sitcom, a guy falling in love with a widow, even getting a job at the florist she owns, only to come unstuck when her late husband’s ghost shows up, and he’s not ready to say goodbye to his wife just yet. The sticking point being that while he can see the ghost, the widow is blissfully unaware. You can just imagine the hijinks that would ensue if it was truly played for laughs.
Instead Natsuyuki Rendezvous is an examination of loss, grief, and romance, viewed through a rather fantastical prism. It’s played lightly for certain; it never gets too dark, introspective or gloomy, even if the humorous tone is more evident in the earlier episodes. But this is a show that is meant to tug at the heartstrings more than it aims to poke the chuckle muscle.
It’s seen through the eyes of protagonist Hazuki, who falls for Rokka the moment that he sees her, although he’s more than awkward when it comes to courting her. First he’s buying plants from her shop just to interact with her, turning his apartment into a veritable greenhouse. Then when he starts working at the shop, he still has a hard time getting to know her. It’s only when he runs into Atsushi’s ghost that he becomes motivated enough to make a move. Perhaps it’s the idea of a ghost forlornly wishing to make his wife happy, or the idea of Rokka putting her life on hold following her husband’s death. Hazuki finally realises that he should be making Rokka happy, at which point the ghost objects. It’s hard to talk to the object of your affection when her late husband’s ghost keeps getting in the way, pulling weird faces, so Hazuki has to get creative. And slowly Rokka does start falling for him.
It’s a comic back and forth that keeps escalating in the first few episodes, culminating in Atsushi asking Hazuki if he can borrow his body. There’s a bit of a mountain of disbelief to climb at this point, as it’s been made clear that since Atsushi died 3 years previously, he’s had no contact with anyone, has just been haunting the shop, and that Hazuki is the first person that has interacted with him, but he still knows how to possess someone. It must be instinctual for ghosts. Around episode 4, while in a drunken stupor, Hazuki agrees to Atsushi’s request, and they switch places. It’s still comedic at first, with Atsushi attempting to sabotage Hazuki, by getting him some dorky glasses, and a daft hair cut. The irony being that Rokka continues to fall for Hazuki, and you wonder if it’s because she’s seeing the Atsushi in him now. Meanwhile Hazuki’s spirit is in a fairy tale world where a version of Rokka is the princess waiting for her prince, asking Hazuki’s help in finding him, although the actual fairy tale metaphor keeps on changing, touching on Thumbelina, Snow White, The Little Mermaid and more.
This is funny for an episode or so, but you keep waiting for Hazuki and Atsushi to swap back, you want to see Hazuki’s reaction to what Atsushi has done while in his body, the lengthy apologising that he’ll have to do, fixing the mess that was made. That’s what would happen in a sitcom, but as the episodes unfold and the characters stay as they are, it dawns that this isn’t a sitcom anymore. Atsushi is torn between being with his wife again, but then realising it’s a false hope every time he looks in the mirror and sees Hazuki’s face. Rokka keeps being reminded of Atsushi, and slips further and further into melancholy with a whole lot of flashbacks to when Atsushi was alive, and Hazuki has to figure out the fairy tale world that he is in, and find a way to get back to his own body. And this is the state of affairs that lasts right the way to the end of the series.
By getting Hazuki out of the loop, it becomes about Rokka and Atsushi, albeit possessing Hazuki’s body. The more time she spends with him, the more she’s reminded of her husband, and it becomes a question of when the penny will drop. It also becomes a question of what she will do. Is this a chance to rekindle their relationship, or is this a way for them both to find closure, for Atsushi to let go of his earthly desires and move onto the next world, for Rokka to stop living in the past and move on? The thing is that the way the series starts, it gets you invested in Hazuki and Rokka, but for half the series, the story isn’t about them. By the time the resolution does come around, it isn’t at all satisfying, as you can’t believe in the characters any more.
Natsuyuki Rendezvous had an interesting premise, but flawed execution makes it a forgettable show. There is room for a story examining loss, grief, mourning, but the more fantastical the execution, the harder it becomes to relate to, while hoodwinking the viewer into thinking that it’s actually a comedy for the first few episodes, makes it harder to accept the genre shift in the middle of the story.