Trading Places; Natsuyuki Rendezvous Episode 10

“You can’t understand someone until you put yourself in their shoes.” Along with all the other literary references Natsuyuki Rendezvous has been pulling as it begins converging toward a grand finale, it also grabs some idioms along the way. We take a look back at the two men who have slowly changed throughout these nine episodes. Did I say change? More like got some sense knocked into them with this penultimate episode.

For the past two and a half months, Natsuyuki Rendezvous has been…well, a hair tearing journey. Starting off with an emotionally taut and driven beginning, but descending into a slow and almost meaningless arc of peculiar symbolism and drawn out references to children literature, it felt like the show lost its way and headed into some dark void of no development. I had a similar problem with Hyoukas first six episodes this season as well; they seemed to go in no direction, with little promise of any improvement. It was only up till the Kanya Festival Arc where I realized that Hyouka‘s had subtle characterization and focus on relationships from those six episodes in the first place. With these past two episodes, and possibly the next one though, Natsuyuki Rendezvous seems to have also taken a similar route; all of the allusions I thought were pretentious and careless were actually carefully placed for this final confrontation as Hazuki and Shimao face off in their beliefs of true love. What I believed were two ignorant, selfish people are actually people who have acknowledged their faults all along – but are still selfish because they have nothing else to go back to. And this is very well explained through the storybook parallels the show has been drawing since the Bodyswap Arc.

Thumbelina is the first story the show alludes to. Rokka is re-imagined into a tiny fairy, determined to seek out her true prince, and journeys with Hazuki because of it. However, the journey really isn’t Rokka’s; she knows who her Prince is. Hazuki’s journey is Thumbelina’s journey. His concept of who “Rokka” is goes from simplistic to something much deeper. It’s not that Hazuki didn’t love Rokka at first. It’s the fact that his love for Rokka was something basic and one-sided. It’s only through interacting with the Rokka in Shimao’s head does Hazuki understand what sort of ‘love’ he’s looking for; a love that is worth fighting for instead of watching from the sidelines (see: Hazuki’s POV, walking on the red line.)

The Little Mermaid is next, where Hazuki figuratively drowns from Shimao’s understanding of how Rokka loves Hazuki. Saved by Rokka, Hazuki realizes the extent of Rokka’s love for Shimao.  The ‘coming of age’ theme we all associate with Ariel in the story is actually that of Hazuki’s. When faced with the question of why he loves Rokka, he returns back to his naive answer: “I’ll do whatever it takes to make Rokka fall in love with me.” However, the motivation and understanding here is different. Hazuki doesn’t want to make Rokka his because he wants to outcompete Shimao’s love for Rokka. Hazuki simply wants to be with Rokka. It’s selfish, it’s naive, but it’s also out of pure determination, just like Ariel’s love for the prince.

This all builds up toward the last reference. As Steven explained last week, the allusion of Snow White served to show how naive and childish Hazuki really is. Other than the fact that he fails to break the princess out of her enchanted sleep, Hazuki is forced to confront himself with the idea that falling head over heels with someone is selfish and blind. Hazuki is blinded by youth and the passion to get things done at once – a trait that finally bites him back as Shimao threatens to keep him in the dream/spirit world forever. In this way, it’s not Rokka who’s enchanted to die young and in a sleepless coma; it’s Hazuki. He bit the evil apple Shimao brought to him; the prospect of getting back Rokka after lending out his body, and it’s put him in a tricky situation. Thumbelina comes back into the picture, as Thumbelina!Rokka/Shimao tells Hazuki that his foolishness is what led him astray, just like the mole who so desperately tried to marry her in the fairytale.

If love is what makes us blind, it’s also what sets us free, or at least that’s what Natsuyuki holds on to in this sort of fairytale. Shimao pushes Hazuki down the cliff, making him the ghost instead. It’s here where Hazuki gets a glimpse of what Shimao’s life is like and understands the meaning of his words all along: you only treasure something once it’s lost. Not only does he see how Shimao has treated his body, but has used it to get closer to Rokka. Interestingly enough, the maturity these two men lacked in the first half of the story shows up suddenly again: not only does Shimao decide to give Hazuki’s body back, but Hazuki doesn’t scold Shimao for the actions he’s taken. It’s not that both men have finally reached a middle ground towards each other, but they finally understand the depths of their love for Rokka through their interaction in the spirit/storybook world.  Shimao’s blunt “Give her back to me” versus Hazuki’s “She’s not a thing I can just give back!” display how they view Rokka. Whereas Shimao’s point of view has not changed even after death, ironically, it is Hazuki’s youth that allows him to change. It may have caught him up in the mess, but it’s also the thing that gets him out of it, and ultimately, allows him to convince Shimao to let go. Make no mistake though: Natsuyuki Rendezvous makes neither a hero or a villain. There is not much to celebrate; this is a story about moving on, and it’s as tragic for Shimao to realize that he was fighting a losing battle from the very beginning as it is joyous for Hazuki to understand how his love was rooted in naivety. Likewise, the understanding that Rokka will always love Shimao, but still cares about Hazuki enough to ask about his whereabouts shows how complex these people really are.

So Natsuyuki manages to add its own twist to being a fairytale. Love makes us sin, but also makes us better human beings. It can cloud our judgement, make us rush into relationships, but it can make us mature. At the same time, there is no “all is fair in love and war”;  no clear victory, no ‘true’ love. The only question left is this; what’s left after loving? Can all of our three characters be happy? Or is there only one ending for two?

I look forward to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. While this show has been bumpy along the way, these past few episodes have shown me that Natsuyuki at least deserves a satisfying ending. We can only hope…

Enjoyment Level: 9/10

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