When it comes to anime adaptations of various genres of manga, the one that I wish we saw more of are josei properties. While younger I naturally gravitated toward a lot of shonen works but I also had a real affection for some of those early shojo properties that I could see. But as more things became available, finding out about josei works and clawing my way to read whatever I could of them that were released in English was just an absolute joy. Getting to deal with stories outside of the high school set and the complications that come from, well, life once done with a lot of school-based works was hugely appealing. One series that definitely fell into this category that I was able to check out ten years ago was Natsuyuki Rendezvous, a curious little title that plays to the supernatural side with the right type of humor to it while giving us exposure to the lives of people going through something very hard and finding hope and happiness amid it all.
It’s based on the manga series by Haruka Kawach which ran for three years in Feel Young magazine for a total of four volumes, ending a few months before the anime adaptation itself came out. Natsuyuki is an eleven-episode series from studio Dogakobo which has a pretty relaxed approach to its storytelling overall, which makes sense when our two lead characters can’t really interact all that much. It starts off well enough, introducing us to Rokka, a young woman who owns a flower shop that does good business and certainly is an attractive, but not overdone, place. She doesn’t have a lot of help there, but she’s ably assisted by Hazuki, a young man who is definitely good at his job but has a slightly dour look to him at times that feels a little off. He comes across as a decent guy, but there’s something really intriguing about him.
While his eyesight is not what it should be, he also has an extra special perception. When Rokka invites him over to her place to get together for some shopping, he’s surprised and hurt that she has a half-dressed man there with her. While he’s interested in her, he’s not about to really compete for her if she’s playing like this. The trick here is that the other man, Atsushi, is actually Rokka’s dead husband that only Hazuki can see. While Hazuki has an interest in her, she’s still focused on her feelings for her husband. Hazuki doesn’t have a clue about this for a while though and he just regrets taking the part-time job here based solely on his attraction to Rokka. It’s classic misunderstanding material but without the same kind of shonen slapstick and it works well to get you invested in the dynamic.
When he does learn of the truth about Atsushi, there’s some fun in how he manages his disbelief and then comes around to accepting it. Instead of going for laughs, there’s a laid back kind of approach to it, especially since Hazuki is the first person that has ever seen Atsushi. So he takes to hanging out with Hazuki since he sees the potential that’s going on as well. This leads to some amusing visuals, especially when Atsushi’s feet are the only thing visible, just hanging in the air above Hazuki, but it also has a sad feeling to it as Hazuki learns more about the Shimao family past, which in turn draws him more towards Rokka.
The series is one that works a pretty good angle here overall as it focuses on the idea of loss, and how it can slow you down in the present with your future and impact other relationships. The early part of the series focuses a lot on the way that Hazuki has to deal with Atsushi floating about and trying to get in the way of things so as to throw off Hazuki. Which he does, from time to time, which makes for some very amusing moments for the viewer and often confusing moments for Rokka. But we also see through events just how intent Hazuki is on getting closer to Rokka since he has a lot to deal with. He does get a little help from Rokka’s sister-in-law, Atsushi’s younger sister who helps out in the shop from time to time, as she nudges Hazuki in the right direction on how to try and make progress with Rokka.
Rokka herself is in a difficult place and we get the exploration of how she’s committed much of her life to Atsushi since there’s time spent with how his life went with his illness and just the kinds of things she’s done to carry on his memory, from the shop itself in a lot of ways to keeping his effects and room in ideal shape. She’s at that phase of starting to let go though as Hazuki’s persistence is definitely making inroads with her, but the biggest complication comes into play when, in a moment of drunkenness, Hazuki agrees to Atsushi’s request to let him use his body to try and find closure in his life. That leads to where the series, in its simulcast form for me, didn’t work as well. The main arc does work as we see how Atsushi changes Hazuki’s appearance a touch to feel more like himself, and he manages to get weirdly close to Rokka as she senses something different and familiar about him, and the two of them have a real up and down experience over this since Atsushi is truly intent on never giving up on her or on the body he’s now acquired.
The less interesting arc is what happens to Hazuki himself through all of this. When he gives up control of his body to Atsushi, he ends up in a dream-like world with a variation on Rokka in her younger days there. This does have some interesting material to it as we see how far back Hazuki’s interest in her goes and the lengths he went to in order to get to know her more. But with it being a dream world of sorts with its own agenda that’s revealed towards the end as his own existence is obviously threatened, it really hampers Hazuki’s story overall. Understanding him a bit more helps, but a lot of it just feels like it’s spinning its wheels overall rather than really telling an engaging story. It does manage the dreamlike quality well, but as we see more of the truths of this world, the less meaning a lot of it has.
That said, one of the reasons I did enjoy this show so much is that it has moments where you can’t be sure of where it’s going to go. They’re not often but it adds some nice uncertainty to what becomes a somewhat predictable show in terms of its ending. What it does really well throughout though is the journey itself. Giving us a story about adults in complicated stages of life and relationships, lingering love that was lost and the oppressive feeling of a spirit hanging around that’s going to go to any length to get what he wants, well, it all comes together in a pretty good way. There’s no “great” character here as everyone is flawed in some way and struggling with existence (or lack of existence in Atsushi’s case), but I love that it’s a story that really does deal with loss, trying to get past barriers that have been built and the intensity of love that can span across death. While some aspects are less than ideal for me in how it’s presented, the show as a whole is a really good one that’s beautifully animated and has a good sense of pacing as it reveals itself.