The summer 2012 anime season is proving a wonderful one for those looking for love (stories). Natsuyuki Rendezvous, based on the josei manga by Haruka Kawachi, explores a creeper’s obsession with a local flower shop owner. Pure and simple, right? Well, this is anime, so no ... not really. The flower shop owner, Shimao Rokka, is a 30 year old widow who, unbeknownst to her, is being haunted by the ghost of her ill(ness)-fated, beloved husband, Shimao Atsushi. Similarly, she remains oblivious to the shy affections of the younger Hazuki Ryōsuke, who stops by whenever his allowance allows to purchase some new plant or flower just to bask in her presence for the length of the transaction. After he gets hired part-time at Rokka’s shop, Ryōsuke becomes aware of the fact that he alone can see Atsushi and falls victim to the ghost’s determination of never letting any other man have Rokka’s heart.
Selfishness plays a large role in love no matter the age of its victims. What NR does so outstandingly in episodes 1–6 is cast such wantonness in a truly ugly light while evoking utter sympathy for the characters on the wrong end of the heart-wrenching scenarios it portrays. And since this story is of a love-triangle gone awry, everyone is always on the wrong end of someone else’s selfishness. The real questions are whose id can help whom more than it can hurt, who will be the first to break the selfishness cycle, and what will be the traumatic event that drives such a change.
Rokka has obviously never moved on. She lives on top of and has taken full proprietorship over the flower shop that was her husband’s venture and passion. Every day she lives in a world where her husband is absent from everything familiar to her daily routine. This is the world she has chosen to live in since her husband’s death. This is her selfishness, a world in which any new entity can have no effect other than being an abstract blemish on a cherished memory. She makes the real world into a ghost town while tenaciously tending the tomb within which she has enshrined herself.
For all his love and devotion, Atsushi’s ethereal nature means that he cannot in any way do anything to help Rokka move on mentally or care for her physically. The only things he can do consist of doting on Rokka, feeling sorry for his own circumstance, and attempting to keep at bay the sole person (Ryōsuke) who could help Rokka grow out of her stagnation. Atsushi’s selfishness, obvious but also pitiable (the end of episode 2 is a testament to this), is his refusal to relinquish the vows he made in life with Rokka for her own betterment.
Ryōsuke can be brash, a tad forceful, and inconsiderate, but these are the traits of adolescent obsession and can even be considered somewhat endearing depending on their degrees and the situation. Fighting against the increasing frustrations of his own bashfulness and the constant intrusions of the defensive apparition, Ryōsuke declares his love for Rokka and thereby slaps the ghost with a white glove. Forgetting Atsushi’s transparency, however, Ryōsuke’s offensives against the ghost’s cock-blocks usually just end up hitting Rokka in the heart by selfishly making her face her former husband’s absence, the passage of time, and her reawakening yearnings (episode 4 is an excellent example of this).
Exploring such themes as desire, honor, guilt, and remorse regarding romantic love, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is far from one-note. The complexity with which this series portrays the forced hand of waning devotion vs. youthful determination and human nature is mangled only by how it has the characters handle (internally) that same fickleness. As much as I’d laud Natsuyuki Rendezvous for its back-and-forth on true-to-life issues that deserve such accurate representation, I find myself condemning the series for Rokka’s mostly passive and all too forgiving (almost intoxicated) nature regarding Ryōsuke’s forcefulness. Likewise, I take issue with Ryōsuke’s absolute disregard for remorse concerning how his love-blinded impetuousness has hurt Rokka. I find myself condemning such portrayals, but in all reality, cannot justify my own reactions as this is indeed very close to humanity. This is the type of humanism for which Shakespeare was praised. People are not saintly or evil, not good or bad, just human, the realistic sum of their experiences and desires as moderated through the fears and judgments of self and others.
Natsuyuki Rendezvous is now streaming on Crunchyroll.