As I watched the first five episodes of this series, I’ve increasingly felt that the real main character wasn’t Hazuki, or even Rokka. It’s the ghost that’s the main character here, even if he doesn’t have the most screen time. Because it’s really his story we’re seeing played out here – his unfinished story – and Rokka and Hazuki are characters in that story. Natsuyuki Rendezvous will likely come to an end when Atsushi’s story does, and perhaps the other two will start one of their own – but for our purposes, it’s Atsushi who drives the narrative.
That’s an interesting proposition, because to judge from viewer reaction Atsushi isn’t an especially well-liked character. I could always see why, but felt it was a little harsh to judge him by the same standards we’d judge a living person. No matter how bad things get for a living person, they always have the thing to fall back on that Atsushi never will – they’re alive. There’ll always be another day, another meal, another kiss, another beautiful sunset. Whether we choose to appreciate those things is up to us, but at least we have the choice – and this is something that Atsushi will never have again. If there’s a theme to this show perhaps that’s it – that life is something to be appreciated, and something to be treasured – no matter how mundane or painful or frustrating it is. This is a lesson that the young usually don’t learn, but the unique circumstances of Atsushi’s life forced it on him all too soon.
And there’s the paradox, in a show that’s full of them. This was the week I finally crossed over into really disliking Atsushi, and it was seeing what he did with his stolen second chance at life that did it. In that dark miracle of a moment, his instinct was to try and spoil things for Hazuki with Rokka – cut his hair badly, buy fugly glasses, generally make him unappealing. But even as I was getting angrier at him, I couldn’t help but empathize with Atsushi – at the way simple things drove him to tears, and at what he did for Rokka in buying a bouquet of flowers so she’d have a chance to design it, only to present it to her as a gift.
There’s another reason I really feel for Atsushi, and that ties back into his story. He seems to be reverting to childish emotions as a spirit, but I think that’s because his life was an unfinished tale. As a child he sat at his hospital window, gazing at his classmates and envying their freedom, and drawing beautiful botanical sketches. As an adult facing death he was still in the hospital, still sketching, this time scenes from “Jack and the Beanstalk”. A child’s fairy tale, telling a dark story (as most of them did) – it’s a microcosm of Atsushi’s life. And given all that, I can understand why seeing how young and healthy Hazuki’s body is would strike him so cruelly. The wrongness of what’s happening here is obvious, but I can’t help think it’s going to be therapeutic for all concerned at the end.
I saw a lot of concerns among viewers about the concept of body-switching and how it would be used here, but once it became clear just how Hazuki’s experience was being framed any doubts I had were dispelled. I’m not sure whether the implication is that Atsushi exists in a realm out of his own imagination when he’s not interacting with Hazuki, but it’s certainly the case that Hazuki was in such a place – it was Atsushi’s sketches he was inside, complete with a fairy Rokka as Thumbelina. As Atsushi learns to empathize with Hazuki by inhabiting his body I suspect this trip inside Atsushi’s pained psyche will do the same for Hazuki. The lack of panic on his part suggests to me that this is a temporary situation, and he knows it.
As Hazuki learns the feeling of yearning for something that’s forever beyond his reach, which will prompt him to act of his desires rather than obsess silently over them, I think Atsushi is going to realize that Hazuki can actually make Rokka happy. It certainly isn’t far-fetched to think that seeing some of her husband’s qualities in Hazuki will actually make him more attractive to her, but what I’m curious to see is whether or not she learns the truth of the body-switching incident at some point. It’s entirely possible that she and Hazuki won’t end up together in the end – perhaps they simply won’t be right for each other – but I have a high degree of confidence that all three of them will find closure to this story and move on. For Atsusihi the implications seem obvious – perhaps less so for Rokka and Hazuki.