Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 10

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There’s no two ways about it – Natsuyuki Rendezvous is really putting me through the emotional wringer.

If you buy the argument that the most damning thing you can feel for a series is apathy, then this one is definitely in the clear.  Sometimes I’m furious at it and sometimes terribly sad and sometimes on a gut-churning emotional edge, but I’m always feeling something.  Most of that comes down to Shimao, the one around whom everything revolves.  More and more it’s been clear that he’s both the emotional center of the show and the one who has everyone else – audience and characters alike – dancing to his tune.  That’s almost literally true with Hazuki and only slightly less so with Rokka-chan.

No question, Shimao is an infuriating character.  He’s supposed to be, so I’d call that good writing, though I know not all would agree.  He’s a confounding yet fascinating entity, one of the more interesting characters of the season.  I think he does a pretty good job of encapsulating his situation this week using his own words:

“I think it’s inconceivable when you’re alive…  But you should learn that the feeling of not being able to handle something become overblown if you’re dead.  As long as you have a physical body, rationality wins out.”

and later:

“I never gave up on anything.  That’s why I’m here, right?”

That sums up Shimao-san pretty well, I think – his stubbornness, his devotion to Rokka, and the selfishness that’s consumed him.  It’s Hazuki himself who later asks a very telling question of Shimao’s stubborn clinging to Rokka: “Is it creepy or admirable?”  The line is very thin, that’s for sure – Shimao as a character is so full of contrasts, and inspires a complicated reaction.  The rationality he had when he was alive, the thing that told him Rokka would be better off moving on and drove him to try and push her away, has been subsumed by the pure desire that only helplessness can generate.  His feelings for Rokka kept him around, and now they’ve driven him to be a sort of “hungry ghost”, to do things he would never have thought acceptable when he was alive – to consume life for his own purposes in the same way living creatures consume plants and animals to survive. 

Maybe that’s the question that everything will boil down to, then – how much of Shimao remains inside the being that’s stolen Hazuki’s body?  Being confronted by Hazuki’s specter certainly gave him pause.  I’m not sure just exactly what happened after Shimao raised the curtain and told Hazuki what was really happening to him in the storybook world, and why both Shiman and Hazuki’s astral forms could exist outside Hazuki’s body.  But I know this: Hazuki has finally decided to reclaim his life.  He knows what he wants, and the future he desires – even if it’s a childishly simplistic view.  The problem is that he can’t reclaim it on his own, as he’s apparently given that power to Shimao.  Hazuki know understands a little of what Shimao’s existence is, and what the feeling of helplessness can do to a sane mind. 

The contrast between Hazuki and Shimao is really fascinating.  Hazuki is still seeing the world through a child’s eyes, his emotions are all primary colors and his desires are straightforward.  He knows he loves Rokka even if he doesn’t know why, and he knows he wants to be with her even if he doesn’t have a real plan for what their lives will look like.  When he breaks down crying, partly it’s because of the helplessness of his situation of course – but I think it’s mostly because he’s finally found a purpose in his life, and wants it back so he can pursue it.  Shimao, by contrast, is all regrets and manipulations, a creature molded by the monumental weight of all he’s lost.  And then there’s Rokka, who had me quite worried there for a while by her seeming lack of concern for Hazuki.  I certainly couldn’t blame her for wanting to revel in being in Shimao’s presence again, which surely seemed like a miracle to her – but I would have thought less of her if she was content to simply accept that reality without questioning it.  But she rose to the occasion, eventually asking the questions that needed to be answered – for how long had Shimao been possessing Hazuki’s body – and demanded that Shimao answer, even after he tried to refuse.  And finally, where was Hazuki – what had Shimao done to him in order to make this possible?

More than any recent series I can think of, my assessment of Natsuyuki Rendezvous is going to depend heavily on the ending.  It could either validate the entire experience and give it transcendence, or leave me feeling angry and disappointed.  For all Shimao’s threats of “taking Rokka to the afterlife” I can’t imagine he’d do it – and I still can’t imagine Rokka accepting a life with Shimao, knowing the price that was paid to make it possible.  He can demand that Hazuki “give her back” but Rokka isn’t Hazuki’s to give – so if Shimao is to accept his passing and move on, it can only come from within whatever reserves of compassion and empathy he still maintains.  It should be clear to him now that Rokka has truly come to love Hazuki for himself, and maybe that as much as anything will be what finally gives him the strength to break that chains that hold her to him and set them both free.

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  1. K

    I guess that's my problem with the series. I honestly feel absolutely nothing, except maybe apathy at this point. I guess this series will personally resonate with some and not others.

    That being said I would be really surprised if the series ends with Rokka accepting that Shimao has come back like this, taking over Hazuki's life. It might be unfair that Shimao lost his life, but that has nothing to do with Hazuki. Actually I feel perhaps its not important for Rokka to realize that but maybe Shimao.

  2. A

    I tried my hardest to like Shimao, but i just can't. I actually like Hazuki; for me he has been the most honest character in the whole series, even though he has been cast aside for a while now. The only reason I keep watching it is cuz I like your points of views and i keep giving it a chance.

  3. I wouldn't say I like Shimao, but I would say I find him exceptionally interesting. I also like Hazuki the best as a person – he's an innocent, basically, and still a kid, but he's a generous person at heart.

  4. Y

    From the get go, I knew Shimao would be a jerk and he really managed to get on my nerves in this episode. But to someone like me who liked Hazuki, it was a crowning moment of heartwarming IMO that Rokka told Shimao asked where the Hazuki she fell in love with was.

  5. B

    Man I laughed when Hazuki punched Shimao in the storybook. Even though it backfired on him I've wanted to see that guy get punched for a while now, and never more so than in this episode. At this point it LOOKS like the ending will be the predictable one that we are all thinking, but of course it's Japan so they could pull a 180 and have everyone horrifically killed by monsters. I definitely agree with you though, Enzo. I think my overall feelings on the show are going to boil down to the ending. I've got a lot of emotional investment put into the show at this point, and whether or not that investment pays dividends goes belly up is going to be the deciding factor for me.

  6. H

    I loved what Rokka said at the end: "The Hazuki I fell in love with… where is he?" That moves her way up in my estimation. She could have just assumed that Shimao was there the whole time, that she fell back in love with him, but she knows different. We'll have to wait until next week to see how Selfish Shimao deals with that, but I think it's a good start on Rokka's part.

  7. Well, that's pretty much what I meant in my next to last paragraph. She had me worried, but she redeemed herself by asking the right questions in the end (and refusing to accept no answers).

  8. G

    First of all, Enzo, I love your writing style and your insight. It's something I haven't seen a great deal of in anime bloggers. You framed my thought perfectly with this review, so allow me to express my apprieciation here. What I love the most about this series is how the writer approaches the premise with such a refreshing perspective, one that involves all three characters equally. On one hand, I feel utterly frustrated about Shimao's stubbornness and obsession over Rokka, yet it's also the part of him I cannot help but love. In short, he's really torning me apart emotionally, and this makes him a fascinating character to me. I empathize with his situation but I cannot approve of his selfish ideas, precisely because I'm still alive and have the luxury of being rational. As for Hazuki, he's so simple and sunny, which makes him the perfect candidate for healing Rokka's heart. With the event played out so far, I think by given an opportunity of seeing the world from Shimao's perspective, Hazuki is coming to a better understanding of what he desires. The same thing could be said for Rokka, by physically communicating with Shimao and allow her deepest feelings to resurface, I think she may finally find some closure and make peace with the past. From how I see it, Shimao's meddling is not all that negative. To some extent, I think he knows his struggles are futile, reflected in what he said to Rokka when he was eating the rice ball, but his love for her is drowning him in self denial. There is one more episode to go, I have faith in the writer to bring everything full circle. That was a long rant. Thanks again for this heart felt review!

  9. e

    Aaaah, this episode. Thanks goodness it went down the directions I was hoping for it to take, especially regarding Rokka.
    She did took her sweet time before asking… but cultural differences aside, she probably needed to process the whole thing while revelling in a chance to meet her husband again. I mean, if I got the chance to speak to my first love again to say a proper goodbye regardless of the circumstances I'd be probably unleashing all of my emotions and enjoy his presence without questioning the how and what, *at first*. But if those circumstances involved kicking another person's soul out of his/her body – and a person dear to me at that – that 'at first' would amount to a few minutes at most.
    About Shimao… in a way I was expecting him to turn into an hungry ghost. Nihil humani mihi alienum puto and all that jazz.
    My underlying gripe with him is that while I can see his reason really (both before and after death. I didn't even cringed at his 'eat my bones' wish: it's a variant of lovers to be as one, to be never parted, to merge and live on inside your beloved in a more 'tangible' way than memories. It's not even that morbid compared to drinking or eating the other's dead heart from a cup and then jumping out of a window, or just taking the straight Romeo&Juliet-in-the-crypt route), but it's how you act after those reasons and desires that defines you, and how much you respect an value other people's reasons and wishes and wellbeing – if not happiness – .
    Shimao had different choices and path to take. That he chose the body switch doesn't surprise me and I don't blame him for the act per se. It's true we can't know what and how we'd act if put in similar shoes. But you always have the choice to do differently and it's ultimately Shimao who was put to the test and took certain decisions. The more he insists and pushes this situation, the more he approaches the point of no return in the moral event horizon.
    To put it in another way: I subscribe to the belief that in adversities you can show – or discover – your true colors , BUT Shimao's emotional and mental state as a ghost might have been crumbling day by day and he's now just a fraction – the nastiest hungry ghostly one – of whom he used to be. So my overall impression of Shimao is still neither good nor bad.
    Shimao's balance this episode has tipped heavily into the moral event horizon though. Just a step and he'll be lost, and this series with him. Next episode will be key even more than final episodes usually can be.
    Furthermore, Rokka wishes to live and love again, the implications in her final words this week were quite loud and clear. If he loves her he have to respect that, and let go. And if he can really still feel empathy, he'll mind of Hazuki's pain and love as well. Don't hurt my Hazuki, Shimao ;_;. Once put to the test he has been taking both your and Rokka's feeling into consideration. That's a good person, let him live.
    Curiosly enough, since the possesion in NR my mind went back to an old oneshot by Yuki Yoshihara, Flowers I Pick To Give To You (the 2nd story in this anthology ). It's one of her rare bittersweet stories, and the plot core is basically the same as Natsuyuki although characters and genre are different (it's smut actually XD). The lover's ghost, the potentially destructive ambivalence of his love and jealousy from beyond the grave when confronted with both her former girlfriend and her current lover. But this time she is the only one able to see him. I love the ending: as unsettling and questionable the overall content before the ending can get, its resolution is a little gem of transcendency.
    I'm crossing my fingers for a good ending. And if my hunch about the OP visuals is right it could be extra satisfying :).

  10. I think a big part of this series' has been the notion that just because you don't feel something yourself, that doesn't mean it's not legitimate for someone else to feel it. I've mentioned empathy several times, and I still see it as the spine of the story in many ways.

    The empathy train runs in both directions. Shimao has become more and more selfish as his existence as a ghost has gone on, but we're being asked to try and understand the depth of his suffering. Hazuki has come to quite literally understand what Shimao has been going through via magical realism. And now, Shimao is facing the test – can he accept that Hazuki truly loves Rokka, and that Rokka truly wants to move on – and can he let her go?

  11. e

    @Enzo: it's legitimate I agree.
    What I was trying to say in my very long-winded post(sorry for that) is that 'you feel what you feel (and you love whom you love)' and are entitled to do so. But while feelings can't really be controlled – thank god :p – , you've still the choice of if and how to act upon then , especially when it affects other people's lives, their own freedom of choice and their own chance at life (literally and figuratively) and happiness :). It's my bottom line and divide between 'being human' and 'being a good human'- much harder, as it can require both empathy and the will to act to the point of self sacrifice – I guess.
    Hazuki has passed his own test in this sense, regardless – and also thanks to – accepting his pursuit of Rokka could be ultimately be unrequited. He will love and try his chances nonetheless, he won't hate or blame, and he won't regret.
    I trust Shimao will pass the test as well, and I want to believe this episode was just his lowest point. Time to rise ;).
    He never gives up, but his only way of regaining his humanity and not to lose Rokka's affection and taint her memories of him, (and his own self-respect) is to stop and surrender, before his own feelings twist his own self even more that they already have until he's beyond recognition (out of your body, out of your mind). By losing he wins – a lasting, loving place among cherished memories, ultimately the only way of immortatliity we're able to witness – , if he doesn't give up he'll lose everything he wished to (re)gain. In Rokka's eyes he would only see another's face , and in her soul Hazuki would be the ghost she's chasing after. I think he realizes this, Rokka's words in this episodes only sealed the deal.

    Sorry for being so long-winded again XD. I'm a bit tired these days and it doesn't help me in being concise in another language.

  12. I was pretty much agreeing with you, so no worries.

  13. A

    So do you think Shimao is actually planning to murder Rokka using Hazuki's body so he could take her with him to the afterlife?

    His last words are making me nervous.

  14. I think that was an empty threat. In the end, even in his hungry ghost state, I don't think Shimao is capable of stealing Hazuki's life, and I don't think he'd end Rokka's when she clearly wants to keep living.

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