I was already bought into this series’ quiet, subtle charms, but this was the first time I really felt the full force of the premise. It’s interesting that the series’ most compelling character so far – at least for me – has been Atsushi. It’s not that he’s entirely likeable, but Natsuyuki Rendezvous has done a wonderful job of forcing us the feel the agony of his situation. For all their problems, Hazuki and Rokka have choices. They can choose to be together, or not; she can choose to move on from her past, or not; and he can choose to grow up, or not. Atsushi has no choices – he’s helpless, trapped on Earth unable to impact the lives of anyone around him and unable to do so much as cry.
It’s the true pathos of that situation that makes me kindly disposed towards Atsushi, even when he acts like a spoiled child – which is most of time – or even when he acts truly menacing, as he did for the first time this week. Indeed, the series entered into some quite new emotional ground here, and there were some quite creepy moments as Atsushi turned poltergeist, enraged at seeing what was happening in the bedroom he shared with Rokka. Of course he was dismayed to see her embrace Hazuki as he hovered over her sickbed, but I think even more so it hurt him to see Hazuki able to provide comfort to her – something he was no longer able to do. In that light it’s hardly surprising that his negative energy – unable to find release in so much as childish stamping of his feet – vented in the form of a localized earthquake in the bedroom, and a few flying objects (one of which cut Hazuki’s face).
If you’re empathetic at all, it’s hard not to feel something for Atsushi, even as he acts as an unwitting obstacle to Rokka’s happiness and even a physical threat. The irony here is that by trying so hard to thwart Hazuki’s pursuit of Rokka he’s actually pushing it forward faster than it might have progressed otherwise. The man-child Hazuki is growing up almost before our eyes (in contrast to Atsushi, who appears to be reverting to an ever-more childlike state), and it’s the realization of what might happen if he never chases what he wants that’s probably pushing him – that, and a little perverse stubbornness at being told what he can’t do. And fundamentally, he and Atsushi want the same thing – for Rokka to be happy – though at the moment their purposes are hopelessly crossed.
One of the more memorable lines of the first two episodes was Miho’s remark about hating cut flowers, and this was recalled by Hazuki, who says that he hates them too – because they remind him of ghosts. While I’ve never framed it quite that way I’ve always found cut flowers depressing myself, and perhaps there’s a real profundity in what Hazuki says. As scruffy and rough as he might be, he’s a live plant – and cut flowers are only pretty reminders of the life left behind, destined to wither and disappear all too soon. Miho is an interesting element in the story – obviously close to Atsushi in life and genuinely concerned with Rokka’s welfare, she seems to dislike the flower shop for its connections to the past – and, just perhaps, to be developing feelings for Hazuki. That would certainly make an awkward situation even more so.
I’m sure much is going to be made of Hazuki’s reaction to the photo Miho showed him on her phone – of Atsushi and Rokka during a vision the three of them made to an amusement park just before he entered the hospital for the last time. To buy tickets and suggest a trip to the same park (as if coincidentally) may seem harsh and cruel, but I think he’s doing it for Atsushi as much as for his own chances with Rokka – part of that same growing-up process that led him to declare he’s happily “settle for being second choice for the rest of his life”. Hazuki would really like to help Atsushi move on and perhaps sees this as the best way to do so – and I can certainly share his reluctance to let Atsushi “borrow” his body. Given what he’s seen, Hazuki can be excused for doubting Atsushi’s promise to return it – though I suspect that will have to happen eventually for the story to reach its conclusion.
Considering that this was only the third episode, there were certainly quite a few gut-punches this week – and seeing those amusement park tickets (and Atsushi and Rokka’s reaction to them) was the most wrenching of the bunch. The introductory phase of the series is clearly over, and while the narrative style continues to be restrained and subtle, it seems obvious now that the show is headed for a serious emotional crescendo (or several) before it’s done. Natsuyuki Rendezvous is about passages and transitions – Hazuki from boy to adult, Rokka from the past into the present, and Atsushi to the next plane of existence. Transitions are never easy, and for all three of them I expect this to continue to be a rocky path.