A couple times a month, the Fandom Post community suggests and votes on a new top five list about something in anime, most often from the current season. It’s our way of highlighting something fun or interesting or strange—or even meaningful—about what’s airing now, or about anime in general.
The festival may be the enduring symbol of anime stories set during the Summer months, more even than swimsuits and blue Popsicles. However the festival part of many “festival episodes” in anime may only be a fraction of the story, as if to show its place as the brief but often magical coda to Summer’s many adventures, distractions, and drudgery. (As many anime series, especially in recent decades, feature school-aged characters, this dynamic is paramount. Summer festivals are not a strong element in stories about adults in the workplace.) So the festival is portrayed though the lens of youthful nostalgia and simple pleasures—food stalls, goldfish scooping (kingyo-sukui, for you festival aficionados), fireworks. But there are more specific and diverse views of the Japanese festival world in the medium from time to time. The two largest national summer festivals in Japan, Tanabata and Obon, are frequent, often intermingled with larger themes (thoughts for the future with the former; re-connection with family and the past for the latter).
Our #2 choice below is based on the Bon festival, but the other selections feature any sort of local Summer gathering for food, fireworks, friends, love confessions (or not), and yukata. Lots of yukata.
#5: Cardcaptor Sakura, ep. 18 “Sakura, Yukito, and the Summer Festival”
A familiar way to establish the Summer Festival Episode pattern: the first half of the episode features Sakura encountering and asking the people—Yukito, mostly, but also Tomoyo, and her brother, Touya—she wants to go with to the local festival. At the festival, most characters adorned now with yukata, they meet up, of course, with more friends—Syaoran, Chiharu and Takashi—for the fun to begin. Most of that is Touya and Syaoran ruthlessly competing at festival games to win a stuffed rabbit for Sakura. But Sakura only cares for Yukito, as usual, and they split from the main group and encounter a magical scene of glowing lights around a large tree. A romantic scene, one of the most iconic in the series, until the others catch up with them. Trigger Sakura doubling back to capture the Glow card, fulfilling the thing that started the whole episode, a strange Summer dream. (More on that later in the list.)
#4: Encouragement of Climb (Season 2), ep. 24 “Farewell to Our Summer”
So, too, does Encouragement of Climb build up, in the final episode of its second season, to a festival finale after much distraction and drama. For Aoi and her best friend Hinata are in the midst of a heated summer argument, about something or other, and aren’t talking to each other (only one episode after completing the full circle of their shared youthful hiking dreams!). But their newest hiking companion, quiet shutterbug Honaka, is in town to visit, so putting on the best face they see the sights and meet up where many festival episodes do: at the fireworks viewing. The moment weighing on them, Aoi and Hinata make up just in time, though later they admit they have no idea what they were angry about. Also, all the girls wear yukata.
#3: Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, ep. 12 “If This Feeling Isn’t Love, Then There Is No Love In The World”
After eleven episodes of confusion, crossed wires, and regular insanity, Chiyo may finally have a chance to do what she couldn’t in the beginning: confess to Nozaki. Of course, the whole gang is also here at the local festival, crisscrossing with each other over food, games, misunderstanding, and random shoujo manga research. This is the only example here of a popular theme in these sorts of episodes, the momentous and magical occasion of a fireworks show as a grand romantic setting and gesture. (Nozaki and crew in fact spend time taking pictures of the place and crowds, thinking of future shoujo manga stories set in just this sort of place. On a similar note, catch Mikorin’s blinkered observation about actual yukata use among the population.) And after a flashback to the fateful moment the two met, Chiyo does just that. Sort of.
#2: Sound of the Sky, ep. 7 “The Song of Cicadas – Spirits Down the River”
Sound of the Sky is that beguiling anachronism that anime loves, the vision of a post-apocalyptic world from the perspective of an all-female army squad (of standardized young anime girl types) experiencing quiet, quirky life in a provincial backwater. Not that there is still not magic to it all. Here they engage in a faraway version of Obon, the Fiesta des Lumieres, where the deceased come among the living for one night, and they are remembered with lanterns set on the water. A more contemplative Summer festival story than most, this is all more a lamentation for the past—the old, destroyed world they still fight over, and the companions lost along the way. Half of the episode if spent in Filicia’s past, remembering all of that; the other half, and its ending, celebrating what they all have now.
#1: K-On!! (Season 2), ep. 13 “Late Summer Postcard!”
It’s almost fitting that the (current) #1 choice here is an episode where its festival component is but a handful of scenes at its end to cap off a meandering Summer interlude. This is the festival episode pattern, after all, but here it’s almost perfected. The younger club member, Azusa, unencumbered by studying for entrance exams as her older friends are, is left to a long boring Summer day by herself. While she goes out with Umi to a movie or to the pool, she is beset by one strange dream after another, each showing up the unsettling and bizarre traits of her companions, like Mugi returning from a trip to Finland to win a trip to Finland, to taking a water slide with noodles in hand. It’s all unassuming and charming, a curious but natural expression of Summer’s doldrums. But the ending is no dream, or not quite the same kind: Mugi has returned early after all for all the girls to enjoy the local Summer festival together, the sweet finale to their last school summer vacation.
Join us next time for swim lessons. To have a say in what makes it on that list, and the next list after that, check out the forum thread, read up on the rules, and join the Fandom Post Anime List Project today!