Anime of Tomorrow
Ano Natsu de Matteru (review)
Winter 2012 (12 episodes) (English synonym – Waiting in the Summer)
Last night, Kaito had a weird dream where something fell out of the sky and killed him. But he brushes off his perceived near-death experience as it’s close to the start of summer break and Kaito and his friends are thinking about making a movie as part of a project they can all enjoy together. Coincidentally, their countryside school gets a transfer student in the relatively attractive Ichika. On his way home, he notices Ichika wandering around town seemingly lost. As it turns out she doesn’t have a place to stay because her transfer was so sudden and poorly planned. Being the gentleman he is, Kaito invites her to stay at his house until she can get on her feet. But the mystery of this summertime transfer student who is living with him takes on a whole new dimension when Kaito’s friend, Lemon recruits Ichika to be the heroine of their film project.
While Ano Natsu is a pretty standard school romance story on the surface—the seriousness about how it presents its story gives it an air of refinement, even when it’s being silly and having fun. What I like most about this anime is the mere fact that despite being a romance story that sticks pretty close to familiar formulas, it doesn’t wait until the end of the series before allowing the hero and heroine to express their feelings. This gives the plot some additional time to expand on their relationship and actually solidify them as a true couple with genuine feelings within the main story—something that is normally assigned as a lazy afterthought to an epilogue contained in an OVA that nobody ends up caring much about.
That’s where Ano Natsu scores big points for me. Compared to other anime romances where the climax is the confession, this series goes above and beyond to give us something that feels more complete. That extra time after their mutual confession is filled by a lot of loony, off-the-wall craziness. But it sticks to the theme of doing whatever is necessary to avoid being separated from the one you love, which is a powerful story element so I don’t begrudge it too much.
The real kick in the pants for this whole premise though, is that Ano Natsu is basically just a revamped version of Please Teacher. I’d call Ano Natsu a sequel if it wasn’t simply a nearly verbatim rehash of that loosely constructed mess. It’s probably a good thing they didn’t hype up its links to material from ten years ago because otherwise I might not have watched it. The story follows a suspiciously similar procession of events starting with having the hero and heroine living together because of extenuating circumstances. Both series even have their token oddball characters Ichigo and Lemon, both voiced by the smarmy Yukari Tamura as well as animal-like support robots for the heroine—a pretty clear indication to me that we’re working in the same universe.
But even though it’s Please Teacher with a more modern spin, Ano Natsu simply does such a better job all around; so much so that the two anime feel worlds apart. It takes care to make sure all of its plot elements are not only fun, but also not so over-the-top ridiculous that it leaves you with too much to swallow all at once. Probably the most important change is that while in both series the main characters end up living with each other, Ano Natsu doesn’t try to pull the wool over our eyes by forcing them into a contrived marriage of dubious necessity. Interestingly, Yousuke Kuroda wrote the script for both series, so in a weird way it’s as if this is an opportunity for him to show how his skills have grown over the past decade, which as it turns out is quite a bit.
All in all, I’d very much like to see more romance series take risks the way Ano Natsu managed to break the mold. It challenges established storytelling rules. While it’s not always as smart as I wish it would be, it ends up telling a compelling adventure that takes place during one wild summer vacation.