A Way Back to Where We Belong; Natsuyuki Rendezvous Episode 9

Talk about good. Our relationship with Natsuyuki Rendezvous has been on the rocks ever since they followed up the perfection of episode two with, well, the rest of the show; yet episode nine rises above its predecessors. With this single episode, the show completely regains the glory Natsuyuki Rendezvous had in it’s heyday, instilling new life into the once dead story.

gallifreyians: I opened my segment of the last review with a bit about forgiveness and trust, positing that not only are those things difficult to gain from me in general, but that I also did not believe Natsuyuki Rendezvous would be able to get them back from me. Episode eight — which, to my chagrin, is nameless — completely blew us away, especially considering what was going on only two episodes ago. Natasha and I have never quite seen eye-to-eye all the way when it comes to this show, and yet we both came out of this episode utterly satisfied.

Nearly every aspect of this episode needs to be praised. While it does open up with some tension building off of the events in the dreamworld in the previous episode, which is uncharacteristic considering the slow pace the rest of the episode has, the contrast is quickly drained from the situation in favor of a ubiquitous slow burn.

“[…] since I’d hate to follow in the ghost’s footsteps.”

Even so, I am so very grateful for the slight recap of the end of episode eight, because I did not actually notice this line’s significance before. While on the surface it is about carpe diem and living without regrets, I believe it goes deeper than that. Following in someone’s footsteps typically means to take their exact path through life, so what Hazuki was saying here was more then “Carpe diem!”; Hazuki wants to go forward and meet Rokka, but I feel in the way that he wants to confront her. Shimao, through Hazuki’s eyes, has been a pathetic lingering presence in Rokka’s life who can’t move past the fact that he can no longer have a relationship with Rokka, and so for Hazuki to say that he doesn’t want to follow in Shimao’s footsteps is for him to say that he doesn’t want Rokka and his relationship with her to become something that he’s hung up on. Hazuki doesn’t want to become a ghost trapped in the past. This deeper message is so much more powerful than the resolution to live without regrets because it implies a generous amount of character development has gone on behind the scenes for Hazuki. Unlike his time spent with the real Rokka in the real world, Hazuki confronts the apparition of Rokka that was conjured from his memories.

I guess I still can’t get over Shimao-kun…

So what? That has nothing to do with whether I throw in the towel or not!

Granted, calling Rokka out on her confused feelings for Shimao would definitely not have been the best thing for him to have done in that moment; the move here from Hazuki being an emotionally awkward and passive participant is one I fully appreciate. Not only does Hazuki acknowledge his feelings for Rokka and her feelings for Shimao, he now wants to confront those feelings instead of letting them fall by the wayside and become even more of a confused mess.

When we move to the rest of Hazuki’s half of this episode, we see the return of childhood fairytale allusions with Snow White, the show presenting Rokka in a glass coffin being carried by six dwarves. Here I believe the writers may have been trying to rectify Hazuki’s horrible consent issues that we saw earlier in the show. Hazuki asks the dwarves, “Can I play the prince who wakes the princess up with a kiss?” The idea of Hazuki finally looking for permission to make a move on Rokka is a good one, but the presentation of him receiving it from six squat old men comes across as slightly sexist (Hazuki is willing to ask permission from other men for access to Rokka and her body, but not from Rokka herself) and with loads of continuing agency issues (a second party is giving a third party permission and access to Rokka’s body instead of Rokka herself, completely circumventing her will [the “Permission to hug?” bit from Doctor Who 6.07 is a prime example]).The saving grace in this moment is when Rokka breaks out of her glass coffin and speaks for herself.

Of course not! You’re not the prince.

The allusions to Thumbelina and The Little Mermaid failed because they were confused; they were not presented to us in any way that gave us a clue as to what the allusions were supposed to say or accomplish, nor were they used as means to make a point through metaphor. Here, however, a point  is made through metaphor. The fairytale Snow White is left incapacitated after her evil witch stepmother poisons her, and the dwarves — believing her to be dead — entomb her in a glass coffin and leave her in a meadow. Then her prince charming comes along and, with a kiss of true love, breaks the spell of the evil witch and they live happily ever after as husband and wife (why she married some creepy who came along and made out with what he obviously had to have assumed was a dead body is beyond me, but whatever). The fairytale prince saves Snow White, yet when Hazuki (who desperately wants to be seen as a prince) goes to save “his princess”, Rokka decides to save herself. Instead of painting Rokka as a helpless woman — instead of painting her as a person constantly in need of saving from a man who she needs to complete her life  — Natsuyuki portrays Rokka as someone who can help herself. Like her real-world counterpart in both episodes eight and nine, fairytale Rokka shows inner strength and confidence in being her own agent. Furthermore even the second piece of her rebuttal is a strong character moment. Rokka says, “You’re not the prince,” but she says it as if she has a choice, turning “You’re not the prince” into “You’re not my prince” or even “You can’t be my prince”.

Meanwhile the Rokka of the real world has taken to the forest looking for Hazuki, who she believes may or may not be Shimao. Thinking about Shimao and being in the forest brings back memories for Rokka, and therein lies the beauty of the episode. The purpose in this flashback is obvious; to elaborate: unlike the previous insights into Rokka and Shimao’s marriage, this one is not simply placed into the episode to take up time to fit their scheduling block, it is here to provide insight into these characters and their relationship in a way that has direct relevance to the events that are currently happening onscreen. The best flashbacks are always those that examine a character in a new light, through either characterizing them, developing them, or fleshing-out on their motivations. I think that the flashbacks in this particular episode even accomplish all three. Even in minor ways, this episode takes their overall ability to flesh out these characters to a whole new level. Rokka and Shimao are obviously both nature people, but this episode paints them and their relationship with nature differently. It is a small detail, but even so it makes all the difference. Rokka is shown to be the “earthy” one — she likes to be out and about in nature, getting her hands dirty and doing things — while Shimao is shown to be the “aesthetic” one — as a result of his disease, Shimao has never had the ability to be the earthy one too much; so he formed a detached relationship with nature, preferring to appreciate it’s beauty through the filter of flower arrangements rather than through direct contact. As I said, it is ultimately a minor distinction and minor point of characterization, but it truly does make all the difference.

And just as that minor detail makes all of the difference, so do motivations make all the difference in understanding a character. Through flashbacks and through inner dialogue, we are clued into what drives Rokka and Shimao in their search for closure. Rokka and Shimao both made promises that they couldn’t and didn’t keep, and understanding how they both want to fix the mistakes of their marriage and how they want to find closure in each other and move on in a healthy way is the key point in this episode. Shimao wants to get over Rokka and he wants to do so through doing everything in his power to make sure that she moves on; likewise, Rokka wants to move on from Shimao, and the only way that she can see to do that is to confront — in any way, good or bad — Shimao and all of the lose ends she now sees. That is the core of this episode, and the really breathtaking thing is how all of that is communicated in such a subtle way that transcends the dialogue through combining both the dialogue and gorgeous animation.

An Image Completely Unrelated to the Content of the Post

If the show keeps going like this, then I can say in all honestly that I look forward to a wonderful, emotional conclusion.

illegenes: I can’t agree more with Steven; this episode was everything I had wanted originally from Natsuyuki and more. It was like Santa Claus came and checked off all of my wish list, except far too late – but it’s fine, I’ll take it.  Not only did we dive in once more into the minds of our characters, presenting them in a mature way and fleshing them out properly, but we also had high tensions rise and even a cliffhanger to drop on! It’s too bad Natsuyuki took this long to get this good, but we’re finally here.

I did have some issues with the pacing of the first half – it almost seemed that Natsuyuki had reverted back into becoming an awkward, roughly developed show – but the latter half totally made up for it. After all, Rokka and Shimao’s hospital flashbacks tend to be hit and miss kind of deal to begin with. On one hand they, from time to time, offer some solid support on the uncomfortableness of their relationship and how precious it was to both of them at the same time, but on the other hand, it’s highly inconsistent and creates for some very one-dimensional writing and unnecessary sappiness. However, this episode offered us a glimpse of what the flashback’s purpose should really be like: giving us insight into why our character acts the way he or she does. Not just how. Rokka’s narration this week was spot on with why she felt so unsure about leaving Shimao at any moment – he tells her that she can give up the shop, but we find out that the reason why she never left was because she wouldn’t be able to bear the thought of leaving all of those memories behind. It’s an emotional scene that makes sense for once, and it gave me a better idea of Rokka’s actions and her way of thinking in life. Just like everyone else, Rokka has been holding onto her own insecurities, trying to keep Shimao in her life as much as possible – in the flower arrangements, pots, even his room – altogether. But each of our characters has finally confronted his or her own problems, and Rokka finally realizes hers when she realizes that “Hazuki” is actually Shimao. All her stress and loneliness come out in the form of tears. Just tears, and nothing else. But the power of the scene is enough to make us understand the pain and distress she’s feeling.

Similarly, Shimao’s portrayal of frustration, regret and anguish when Rokka finally guesses who he really is makes for one of the most heartwrenching scenes in the anime. What makes it succeed isn’t really a slow build up –  we only had one and a half episodes of proper build up – but rather the narration and script of the scene. Whereas the entirety of the show so far has been focused on cumbersome, indirect approaches to confessing one’s feelings without insight or explanation, here, we have a clear reasoning as to why Shimao has been trying to erase himself. His monologues from the past two episodes, as well as his simple snippets in this week’s episode really make him into something more than just a two dimensional character. Faced with the dilemma of the desire to become real, but also wanting to make his wife happy and knowing that she’s in love with Hazuki despite loving him – these feelings are now very accessible and real to the audience. Of course, his flaws are large and he’s still extremely selfish, but we now have a very clear picture of what Shimao has been struggling with and his side of the story, making him much more human and easier to sympathize with. It’s the same with Rokka, who had been in the background of the story for so long. It’s at this point and moment that we realize that these two broken individuals are much more than just people hanging onto their pasts – they are human, understanding their faults and struggling to overcome them but giving into their weakness all the same, and that is what I was looking for originally in Natsuyuki Rendezvous to begin with.

Natsuyuki Rendezvous returns to its perfect ability of showing the feelings of its characters through body language and camera angles. Unlike most of the scenes however, a combination of hand and facial expression is used here. Before, characters would rarely show their face or use such intense facial expressions and rely on body language instead. It goes to show how far these characters have come and how they’re beginning to open up to one another as well as themselves.

Meanwhile, Hazuki’s story seems to be as strange and distant as ever, but our show ends this week with a shocking moment, as Hazuki turns around and realizes that he is no longer a frog, but instead the Prince – none other than Shimao himself. I’m not sure what this exactly implies. Has Shimao accepted that Hazuki is the winner of this ‘game’ and thus relinquishes his role of the Prince to Hazuki? Or has Hazuki’s understanding of Shimao’s feelings, and his determination to reach Rokka turned him into the Prince, which would allow him to escape the storybook-format consciousness of Shimao?

Everything is slowly coming together, and I still have faith (perhaps a little more than Steven) that Natsuyuki Rendezvous can make things right. It may not have been the most solid noitaminA show to come out as of late, but it has been an emotional ride, and I know just by looking at this episode alone that the show has the potential to make a decent ending.  Or, to be more poetic – “I gave you everything, you gave me anything…” Give me anything but a bad ending, Natsuyuki. That’s all we ask.

Enjoyment Level: 9/10

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