When a science-fiction series is down to the last two eps and there’s been relatively little science fiction in it, you have to figure something is likely to change. During most of the time I’ve been watching (and loving) Ano Natsu I’ve been thinking of it as a romantic comedy, and in my heart that’s still what it is. But even though I’m a huge fan of sci-fi, I was probably closer to the “dreading” camp because the romcom elements of this series are so great that I never want them to end. But with the arrival of Ichika’s onee-san Emika (Horie Yui – what, this show actually got even better? Mayu and Yuzu together again) it was clear that the sci-fi was sliding into the driver’s seat, at least for a while.
When you think about it, the problems standing between us and our happy ending (for the main couple anyway) are all the fault of Arisawa’s ass. It’s a very nice ass, I admit, but if that oversexed derrière hadn’t squashed poor Rinon back in Okinawa the rescue pod would never have been dispatched – and destroyed – and the search party sent to find out what happened. I think Nagai and Kuroda-sensei did a good thing in bringing this to a head this week rather than in the finale, because now whatever happens (and I’m still hoping for happy) there should theoretically be time to have a real character-driven end.
As for Emika herself, she’s an older, more sober version of her sister, and she’s pretty much in the role of both good and bad cop. She’s clearly pissed that Ichika had the family worried, and none too pleased to find she has a boyfriend on this backward Class F planet. In no-nonsense terms she tells Ichika that this relationship is a non-starter – it’s against federal law and Ichika is going to have to come home, plain and simple. And when Ichika teleports off to sulk she refuses Kaito’s suggestion that he accompany them back to their home world. But she’s also sympathetic and gives the pair a little time and space to say their goodbyes, and ends up showing even more sympathy when Remon involves herself.
Is the Remon mystery solved? No – but the evidence this week strongly supports the Man-in-Black theory. She knows more about Ichika’s planet than she should, she has access to a highly suspicious van, and for now it seems as if her interest in Ichika and the others was more mischievous than malicious as she actually enlists Erika to help. When she shows up in the van, Tetsuro initially says “Unmanned!”, as she’s so short she’s invisible from outside. When he asks if she has a license, she replies “Several.” It’s all highly suspicious but she does have a plan, and that’s to prove that the memories of the place Ichika has been trying to find are proof of a past visit to Earth by her species. If they can prove contact has already happened, Earth would be upgraded (to Class E, presumably) and Ichika and Kaito can be together under federal law.
None of this was as exciting or interesting as the purely relationship-driven episodes have been, but it was both competently executed and probably necessary. And there was some relationship-building too – Kaito worked up the nerve to call Ichika by her name instead of “Senpai”, for one. Mio managed to plant herself on a scooter behind Tetsuro as they acted as a decoy to draw the rescue drones away from the van as it headed towards the mystery site in Ichika’s brain to look for proof (Mio actually discovered the location, too) and Tetsuro even asked her to go to a movie as they were being chased (hey, it’s a start). As for poor Kanna, well, as usual she was a key figure and a suffering one. She shamed Ichika into not giving up the fight by reminding her how lucky she was to have Kaito’s heart, and she acted as a decoy too – with the memorable parting works to Kaito “You’ll be sorry in three years!” (drink your milk, Kanna – fight on!) It’s looking more as if she’s going to be the one without a chair when the music stops.
Next Monday is going to be a hard day, because some really excellent shows are going to come to an end. In this case I have the highest hopes for next week’s finale, because I have the utmost confidence in Nagai and Kuroda’s talent and experience. In terms of character, this and Chihayafuru have been the two most well-written and directed shows of the last couple of seasons, and I don’t think the extremely strong character arcs we’ve seen in this show are going to get short-shrift in the last episode. I’ve never lost the sense that Ano Natsu always knew exactly where it was going – this has all been planned out well in advance, and the pacing both within and between episodes has been the best of the season. They knew the ending they wanted and they’ve been building towards it for 11 episodes. A good ending is supposed to be the payoff for good development, and as the development in this series has been truly great I fully expect it will be here.