Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 11 (End) and Series Review

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There are times when a lack of major surprises is a very good thing, and this is one of them.

Natsuyuki Rendezvous has been a difficult series right from the beginning – slow to work its way into my consciousness, never eager to make its characters easy to love, always reluctant to choose the easy path that rarely exists in life.  In the end, though, it satisfied every expectation I had for it.  If you think of NoitaminA as “anime for grown-ups” then this series fits nicely into the sweet spot, because this was about as far from a starry-eyed teen romance as anime ever gets.

I said last week that the ending was going to be as important to my overall take-away from Natsuyuki as for any series in  years, and I’m happy to report that for me, it passed the test.  The ending felt internally consistent, everyone’s actions were true to themselves, and there was no deathbed conversion to unbridled romantic idealism.  Yet the ending also embraced hope, and ultimately redeemed the idea that love can be stronger than pain, and that the power of regret can be overcome by empathy.  I’m still hard-pressed to think of a word that sums up this series better than empathy, because everything was about the characters trying to understand each other’s feelings despite the fact that, ultimately, it’s quite impossible – all we can feel is what we feel.  Yet still we try, and somehow, sometimes, we manage to form a connection.  That’s the sort of small miracle that Natsuyuki Rendezvous celebrates, the kind that we sometimes don’t notice because we’re too preoccupied with the minutiae of our lives.

In the final analysis I was correct in my guess that the key moment that spawned the events of the series was when Rokka said “Please don’t leave me!” on Shimao’s deathbed.  That tied him to the wrong side, and it was as she said herself, a selfish act.  She says to herself “I knew I’d be left behind” and that’s the final proof that even when Rokka and Shimao married, there was no question that he wouldn’t live for long.  That selfish act spawned a selfish existence on the part of Shimao, trapped between life and death, unseen and unheard until Hazuki came along.  Yet I can’t really blame either of them because in each instance, those selfish acts were borne of their love for each other. 

This was the fundamental dilemma of Shimao as a character.  Even as his actions grew more and more selfish, I could never shake the sense of just what a tragedy his life had been, and how even death didn’t provide him relief from the body he’d always felt like a hostage inside.  All three main cast members were excellent characters, but it was Shimao who proved to be the main character here after all.  “When it’s time for the flowers to bloom, they’ll bloom.”  In the context he originally uttered that line it was about his floral designs, which were created not just with the image of they flowers as they were in mind, but of how they would be – how their scent would change, and their color, and eventually, how they would wilt away.  That’s the nature of life: nothing is permanent.  And that applies to Rokka, who’s feelings for Shimao never faded, but who developed feelings for Hazuki anyway.

I never doubted for a moment that Rokka would demand that Shimao give Hazuki his body back, but it was still a critical moment when she told Shimao that it was the “first thing they needed to do”.  Rokka would have done that whether she was in love with Hazuki or not, but the fact that she was certainly complicated things for Shimao.  Again, it’s not a surprise that things came down to Rokka offering to go with Shimao to the other side, and Shimao having to make a decision – but I’m glad it did, because to end the series any other way simply wouldn’t have felt right.  Ultimately Rokka offered herself to Shimao not because she wanted to go (she clearly wanted to stay and live with Hazuki at her side) but because she felt responsible for Shimao’s predicament, and his loneliness.  And he, finally, transcended his “hungry ghost” existence and did something selfless – realizing that Rokka needed to live, even if it meant doing so with another man at her side.  “I want Rokka to be happy.”

The one element of the finale that came as quite a surprise was the epilogue – a forty-two year time skip (cleverly disguised at first by the absence of futuristic cars and such).  Rokka and Hazuki have had a long life together – not long enough, perhaps, but long – and a child, and grandchild.  Hazuki did, as he predicted, outlive Rokka – but not by much, and Miho and their daughter are speaking after Hazuki’s funeral.  I’m not quite sure what to make of Shimao’s continued presence on Earth, to be honest, or of his newfound ability to manipulate objects.  What’s clear is that he’s found someone else to talk to – Hazuki and Rokka’s little grandson (Sanpei Yuuko).  I suppose I see it this way – it’s as Hazuki said when he reclaimed his body, that Shimao is now no longer just a part of Rokka but of both of them.  And as such, as long as either of them were on Earth, he was still bound there – and when Hazuki died, at last he was free.  But before he went, he asked the boy to dispose of his things, and to call him Grandpa just once (that really got me) and showed him a little glimpse of the beautiful world he could always see in his soul, even when he was trapped in a world of pain. 

That was plenty poetic for me.  With the flower shop in good hands (Rokka and Hazuki’s son-in-law) Hazuki and Shimao both are free to move on at last and leave behind the concerns of the living to the living.  Bittersweet, yes, but it wouldn’t have felt right for Natsuyuki Rendezvous to end without a little bitter with the sweet.  This was definitely a romance aimed at people who’ve been hurt, people who have lost things that are dear to them (and the older we get, the more familiar we are with that experience).  Shimao was someone who experienced too much of that too early in his life, but ultimately his life wasn’t a tragedy because he met Rokka – for all the pain their eventual parting brought both of them, the joy they shared between them was more than worth it.

There’s a fundamental truth in that which I’ve commented on here before (most recently with Mashifony, if I recall correctly).  In life, the only way to avoid emotional pain is to be emotionally isolated.  When we open ourselves up to loving someone else, we invite the inevitable pain that comes from losing them (even if it’s a long-deferred pain, as it ended up being for Hazuki).  I think this was a show squarely aimed at viewers that have felt that first-hand, and for this one at least is succeeded splendidly.  My emotional investment with the series was a slow build, but by the end it was comprehensive.  After Jinrui (a more different show that this one could hardly imagine) I think it’s been the best new series of the Summer.

One thing I especially want to call attention to is the work by the cast.  It’s a small group (I quite enjoyed Touma Yumi as Miho, and would have liked to have seen more of her) and the three leads were really asked to carry the entire series.  Ohara Sayaka and Nakamura Yuuichi were excellent, but for me this represents the finest work of Fukuyama Jun’s career.  He’s obviously adept at comedy, but I’ve never heard him this good in a dramatic role.  Playing a fundamentally unlikeable character at the center of a series and making him sympathetic is enormously difficult, and Fukuyama-san never lost me for a moment.  Yes Shimao was fascinating, but more than that his pain was so tangible that no matter how angry I became at him (and that’s a lot) I never disliked him.  The unfairness of his existence – but in life and after – was a constant presence, and Fukuyama deserves a ton of credit for that.

Ultimately, this was a very simple story of three people – what made it complex were the emotions involved.  The artwork was tasteful and did its job without getting in the way, but effectively showed us in its occasional wild outbursts of color and storybook beauty just what Shimao could see, no matter how much pain he was in.  Hazuki may have seemed like he was ill-served by the plot in the second half of the series, but ultimately it worked because Hazuki’s role was to be a contrast with Shimao in many respects.  Hazuki still possesses an innocence that Shimao never did – age has nothing to do with that – and it was his empathy that was the key to everything.  He was open to falling in love with Rokka despite her not being a conventional beauty, and somehow I believe it was this empathetic quality that drew Shimao to him.  Hazuki is a simpler person than Shimao or Rokka, but I like that about him – he’s like a seed that’s been waiting to flower, and it was exposure to Rokka and Shimao – like sunshine and water – that allowed it to happen.

I’ve said it many times, but thank goodness for NoitaminA – we would surely never see a manga like Natsuyuki Rendezvous adapted if it didn’t exist.  I’ll always believe there’s a place in the world for anime which aren’t primarily concerned with commercial appeal, but with the goal of enlightening the human condition for its own sake.  In that respect this was one of the more ambitious anime of the year, and the emotional reactions it inspired will stick with me for a long time.

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23 comments

  1. A

    The series ended up working out just the way I wanted with him getting his body back and ending up with Rokka and they live happily for the rest of their lives.

    I thought for a moment he really was going to stab her. To take the series in a dark direction. I did not realize it was the end of the series until Hazuki got his body back and we saw the epilogue.

  2. S

    See, while I primarily agree with some things you state, my interpretation of the ending is quite different.

    I don't feel like the show pointed to the fact that Shimao ever attained freedom, otherwise the end epilogue would've shown him "passing on" as opposed to flying off into the distance.

    The truth is that I feel like Shimao never attained freedom from being a ghost, and that felt like a really sore spot for me in the end.

    After all the character development that Shimao goes through, all the things he did to annoy me, I empathized with him a bit at the end. Yet he never really acheived peace or a truly happy ending.

    I feel like there was this weird disconnect from the ending. The show had primarily been about Shimao, yet his story didn't end, while Hazuki and Rokka's did.

    This of course, hinges on the idea that Shimao doesn't "attain freedom and peace" at the end. I'm curious to know why you think he did, because it didn't seem like that at all to me. Maybe he was less "attached" to the world, but I feel the lack of quanitifiable scene showing him "fading away or passing on" unlike Rokka or Hazuki, who've both died at this point, seems to show that Shimao never really passed on, and is off on further adventures?

    The aspect of not ending Shimao's story, leaving it up for speculation, really gave the ending an incomplete, and less satisfying feeling for me.

  3. For me, I felt like the implication was that with Rokka and Hazuki gone, the cords tying Shimao to Earth had been cut. "No one had been allowed in the room", but Shimao lets the grandson in. He shows him a glimpse of the world he's going to, then what's really inside the room, and asks him to take care of his things. Once and for all, it's time for him to move on. And the last thing we see is him flying up to heaven.

    Can I prove it? No – but that's what it felt like to me.

  4. j

    Conventional beauty? Shame on you, Enzo.

  5. V

    What I didn't like about the episode is how Rokka offered herself to go with Shimao to the other side. She's a living breathing soul who fell in love with Hazuki, and you're telling me that she was ready to leave everyone and everything behind and have murder committed by Hazuki's body? Did she even think of the consequences of her choice at all?

    I would have preferred if she assured Shimao that she was going to live on happily from now on and urged him to pass on peacefully. I don't consider it her fault that Shimao stayed behind because its Shimao himself, who had a lot of attachment to Rokka, which was reason enough for him to not pass on. He still had attachment to everyone else in the family which is why he still lingered in the living world even after Rokka and Hazuki died.

  6. Whether you consider it her fault or not, I think she considered it her fault. And I think it's very strongly implied that it was her "command" that enabled/forced him to stay.

    Logically, of course, it makes no sense for her to offer to go with him. But in that moment, I don't think she believed it was right for her to think of happiness with Hazuki after everything that had happened with Shimao.

  7. V

    Maybe not, but the fact remains that she was ready to cast-off Hazuki, and on top of that, consented to be 'murdered' by Hazuki's hands.

    Have you thought what would have happened to Hazuki then? Did she think of him at all knowing full well that he loved her as did she?

    I'd say this was a major issue that blotted the otherwise great ending.

  8. I don't really see it that way. She was effectively trying to atone for what she saw as her own selfishness – I really don't think Hazuki was the issue. I also interpret her feelings as being along the lines of "Hazuki's young, he has time, he'll get over it". In terms of his feeling guilt, I think everyone involved was well aware that it was Shimao pulling the strings. Of course if she'd really thought hard about it she would have realized that even under those circumstances it would have been a terrible thing for Hazuki, but this wasn't her most rational moment. The one thing she was going to make sure of was that Hazuki was going to get his body back – what happened to her was less important to Rokka than that.

  9. J

    Great ending! They really pulled it all together with some wonderful closure (loved the epilogue :) This series was short but sweet and will definitely warrant a re-watch later down the road!

  10. A

    Did Shimao-kun give Rokka a hickey before he gave Hazuki his body back? I laughed when Hazuki saw it but at the same time I wasn't sure if that's what it really was.. Any other opinions?

  11. Yes, he gave her a love bite. "Remember me till this has faded away."

  12. a

    I haven't yet watched this (no time at the moment), but been following all your posts on Natsuyuki Rendezvous (and read a bit of the manga) . I have to say this series just is fabulous – the sort I would like there to be more of. Very glad to hear the ending worked out – very interesting they did a time-skip (that's so going to get me crying!).

  13. Wow – you read the review before watching the episode? Are you an "M"? 😉

  14. e

    Well, this was catahrtic and poetic and beautiful in its restrained understated way. And it made me cry. Well done NoitaminA, well done.
    Now that I've partially regained my wits with the help of the fluffy kitten pic, I can also say… it was also beautifully consistent with its floral imagery and themes 'till the end. There's something especially poignant at a very fundamental level to me when such connections are handled with such care.
    And your review in this sense as well is among your best so far. It made me nod and cry again too *a-hem*.

    Shimao kept watching over the two people who loved him, like some benevolent family deity, 'till their end. In this empathy chain, these three were very lucky to meet one another.
    The child we see in the final part of the OP is Hazuki and Rokka's grandson instead of their son as I was speculating. He's planting Shimao's (and Rokka'a, and Hazuki's) natsuyuki saplings. It's a lovely further poignant in-hinsidght touch.

  15. Yeah, that kid from the OP (I'd actually thought it might be Shimao as a child) is the grandson. Nice touch.

    I'm fascinated by the disconnect on this show – some of us loved it, but it left many cold. I wonder if there'sa litmus test quality to Natsuyuki that reflect the mindset and/or lifer experiences of the viewer.

  16. e

    To specify: the slightly older kid we see first in the OP(the one with the hat and the plant, crouching rooted in his spot and glancing at the other kids with the big flower pots) is Shimao, while the younger kid we see in the same spot later, near the end of the song, is Rokka and Hazuki's grandson carrying both his parents' and his grandpa-not's spiritual legacy, literally planting and spreading the love, carrying it into the outside world to take roots.
    Also: unlike Shimao's, the grandson's style of running as seen in the OP is perfectly normal XD.

    Mindset and life experience are very likely reasons. In my case I could slip quite easily into each character's shoes. The empathy worked full force and was freely circulating…

  17. d

    it may actually truly be Shimao's kid. Looking at all the old photographs. The photo with the child came before the wedding one. So the mum might have been born through that one night by the beach.

  18. I'm very confident that the boy isn't a product of that tryst. If nothing else his mother sure has hell doesn't look 42 years old. But even more, it seems clear to me that this was Shimao indulging himself, musing on the regrets of not having lived long enough to father a child himself.

  19. E

    For me, this is a great series. A great series, for me, does not need to be a masterpiece but one that you would be able for years to come and have satisfied you. I can also call this the best romance of the year. It's different among its kind because the way it was delivered was somewhat unconventional, in addition to the main characters being adults not teens. It contains some ironies like what the title conveys, summer snow.

    The emotions were real and heartfelt that it can reopen the wounds of those who also experienced it. The ending is really one of this series' best episodes. The animation was higher than the previous ones, not cramming things, and did what it must do.

    I didn't hate/dislike Shimao because if you've got a chance to live again, you'd be selfish too. Anyway, Shimao is not the only selfish one but the other two as well. But, then, they learned how to give way in their own way. They grew up but they're still who they are (the positive way).

    Enzo, if you haven't pointed out that FukuJun voiced Shimao, I wouldn't know it. Though I am watching all the shows, in which he was casted, this season, I really don't know it was him. I think it's mainly because those other shows are comedies. FukuJun, please do another straight romance again. You did a great job doing his role.

    This is really a hidden gem of this season. Anime that you don't expect to be great, actually, surprises you, e.g. Tsuritama. Why am I only raving? It's because it satisfied me and that's enough, for me, to forget its flaws.

    Wow! noitaminA is doing a great job since last season. Let's hope it will continue in the next season.

    ………….
    When Shimao was in the act of stabbing Rokka with the plant cutter, I was like "no, no, dame, dame, hajima, hajima… don't give me another school days nightmare." I'm glad he didn't. That would really ruin the series.
    ………….

    //sorry for this very long post

  20. B

    GOOD END.

    Thus I ended up liking the show quite a bit, it might be my favorite of the season depending on how KoiChoco turns out. The time skip was awesome, there isn't enough anime that gives real closure like that, most anime writers seem to be in the "leave it up to interpretation" camp. Call me old fashioned, I prefer stories with a clear end that let's you figure out the message the writer was trying to spend without having to rationalize or interpret things. I guess I believe that every story should be like Aesop's Fables, with a clear "the moral of the story is…" at the end :P. I like stories that make you think about it while it's happening, but I don't want to be left thinking about it forever, there is too much other stuff to think about.

    So… spinoff? Hazuki and Rokka's grandson, now a teenager/college student/whatever, has adventures and wacky hijinks with his ghost friend Shimao? Think of the marketing potential!

  21. H

    Regarding Shimao attaining freedom, if you remember early on in the series, it was stated taht Shimao couldn't leave the flower shop/house , thus, Hazuki tried hard to get Rokka out and away from the house on a date. While in Hazuki's body, I think he was exempt from that, but right after he left, it seems like he was instantly drawn back to the building as if there was a spot there that was anchoring him (that room perhaps). After Rokka and Hazuki died, the fact that he was shown leaving the house and flying towards the sky seems to indicate that he isn't anchored anymore and can move on after taking care of his last lingering regret (dumping his stuff).

    Just my interpretation though.

  22. B

    this review was beautiful. i just finished watching it. at 20 years old i feel like i missed something. i had my 'awww' moments but i didn't really get all that emotionally involved. like you said, loss and a few more years with perhaps some heartbreak and tough times might give you more of a special connection to the show. i'll be coming back to it in a few years to see if that's right :) i think he moved on too. although it makes me sad that he was around all that time. seeing them marry and have a child. did he stay in that room or did he become part of the family? wish they had clarified that. but it was bitter-sweet. although their daughter felt quite cold and disconnected considering her father had just passed away. seems like there may be something to that.

  23. Open-ended endings… I guess each person will make their own decisions about what they just saw.

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