Some series are hard to talk about without allusions to other series, but I don’t attach a stigma to that as some might. Fact is, Ano Natsu is so elemental, so classic, so much a part of the primordial ooze that is proto-anime that it gloriously recalls the many other series it shares a gene pool with. This is what happens when you get very talented and smart veterans who know the industry and are fully confident in their ability, and the result here is absolutely delightful so far. While the “Onegai” franchise link is the most obvious – to the point where some have suggested this might actually be a prequel – the vibe that was strongest for me this week was JC Staff and Nagai-sensei’s Toradora. I felt it in the easy familiarity between friends, hiding deep romantic frustrations, and I felt it in the way the end of the episode played out over the strains of the jazzy ED.
There was a lot of remarkably good writing here, along with some very clever staging and fine situation comedy. The dialogue, as outlandish as some of it was, sounded remarkably natural – as with Toradora the rhythm of the conversations flowed with easy fluidity. I loved little touches like the way Ichika called Nanami “Onee-chan-san” and the way she constantly slipped up and revealed her alien nature. We know from the episode prequel that Ichika is trying to find a location from her memory, a beautiful place of mountains and a lake, though we don’t know how or why she was there before. Ichika is frankly terrible at deception (and it doesn’t help that the adorable Rinon thinks nothing of appearing in front of the others), talking about her planet and her ship and slipping up on Earthly (well, Japanese) customs and mores.
The nature of the supporting cast really began to take shape here, and there’s evidence that as in Nagai’s better series they’re going to rise far above the ranks of forgettable and clichéd bit players. It’s no secret that Kanna (who Kaito still calls “Tanigawa”) is in love with him, but her suspicious manner with Ichika is frequently hilarious, and she has a lot of the bulldog in her. Nanami is clearly an emotional woman, probably trying too hard to be everything to Kai after the death of their parents, but she’s also soft-hearted and maybe a little naïve. Tetsuro drops us more hints that he has feelings for Kanna himself, even as he tries to play the good friend and bring she and Kaito together (“I’m the idiot”). Of Mio we know very little except she likes to hug her stuffed animals naked while on the phone.
The source of much is this exposition is the mischievous nature of Remon, who brings several bottles of “dynamite drink” to the film-planning meeting Tetsuro calls at Kai’s house after Kanna spreads the word that Ichika is staying there. Whatever’s in this drink it becomes clear quickly that minors shouldn’t be drinking it, and even Ichika admits to being buzzed, though she seems less effected than the others. I’m not sure if this is simple troublemaking for its own sake – Remon certainly seems more than capable of that – or if there’s something more to it. I suspect the latter, as she seems a little too curious and a little too forward about the whole Ichika situation – I think she knows something. In any case a lot of things are laid bare during that delightful scene in Kai’s house, including Kanna openly making reference to cockblocking when Kai and Ichika are talking on the porch.
Right now it looks as if Ano Natsu has a chance to be JC Staff’s biggest romcom hit since Toradora. This is almost all win so far – the show looks terrific (especially for a JC Staff show). There’s a breezy, zany quality to it that’s a joy to experience, yet strong hints of real depth in the relationships. I like all of the characters, and there seem to be no villains at this point, though Remon is quite a troll at the very least. I especially like the connection between Ichika and Kaito, which is tender and fraternal, but with a definite edge of something more. They’re kind to each other in an unpretentious way we rarely see in anime these days, and it doesn’t hurt that both seiyuu are great (as is the entire cast for that matter). No surprise that Tomatsu Haruka is superb, as she’s capable on transforming herself like few seiyuu can, but relative unknown Shimazaki Nobunaga is bringing real charm and heart to Kaito – looks as if he may be a bit of a budding star.
Whatever this show ultimately is – Onegai prequel, pure romantic comedy, sci-fi – there’s a timeless quality that I find irresistible. It’s not trendy or cutting-edge, and I sincerely hope it stays that way.