Natsuyuki Rendezvous VS. Zakuro

Natsuyuki Rendezvous VS. Zakuro

Watched via Crunchyroll/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Natsuyuki Rendezvous is the perfect story to be adapted to 11 episodes. With its simple and compact story line, nothing really gets left out and lose ends are wrapped up. The show follows the premise of a peculiar love triangle. I would say the show’s genre is a 1:1 ratio of josei and slice of life. Main character Hazuki happens upon Rokka as she is selling plants at her flower shop near his apartment. He develops a huge crush on her and repeatedly buys flowers from her as an excuse to get closer to her. Luckily it only takes a couple of episodes for him to start working at the store and get comfortable around her, as I wasn’t digging the stalking vibes.

The love triangle wrench gets thrown in when Hazuki walks in on Rokka with her husband, only to find out that her husband has been deceased for several years and he is the only one who can see his ghost. I found the set-up and characters very appealing, I even appreciated the way things turned around in the end. The worst part plot wise was the huge amount of episodes that were tied up with Hazuki’s body being possessed by Rokka’s husband, Shimao. That probably counts as a spoiler, but as it takes up the majority of the show, I think it is an important aspect to mention.

PLOT: Zakuro falls in that murky area between shoujo and seinen, as it has both beautiful girls and boys, and its promotional artwork has so much pink and so many flowers that I didn’t look into the show when it first aired. I only paid attention to it when NIS America licensed it, and I’m glad that I did, as it blends a lot of elements that I love about anime into the perfect comfort food for me.

Zakuro takes place during the Westernization of Japan in an alternate history where spirits are visible to everyone, and the show centers on a group whose job is to settle disruptions caused by spirits. The four main girls are all half-spirits (hence the fox ears) who can fight with cherry-blossom magic, and the three main boys are sent by the military to help them out.

A lot of elements make up this show. The traditional half-spirit girls of course clash with the Westerized military men and all fall in love with their partners (there are twin girls for one of the boys). The main character, Zakuro, has flashbacks to the girls’ troubling past and her mother’s mysterious disappearance. Eventually we deal with the main boy’s family, and throughout the show the characters have to deal with spirits as part of their job. I think Zakuro does a great job of balancing plot and character development in an exciting way, and it also blends them together well so that everything feels relevant and connected in the end.

I couldn’t make it past the first episode of this show. The romantic devices in Zakuro are so blunt and over the top. There is absolutely nothing new in this show. And really, twins sharing a guy? Yeah, right. This is nothing but a bunch of fan service.

SETTING: The show takes place in present day Japan. A good portion of the story follows the daily activities of the store, hence the slice of life. However, the various couples are seen going to various attractions on dates.

Once Hazuki’s body becomes possessed, his spirit goes to a fantasy world that is hinted to be inside of Shimao’s old sketchbooks. There he becomes an aimless wanderer and speaks with a Rokka sprite. This setting gives the viewers a chance to connect more with the man Shimao used to be and build a stronger tie with him in addition to the various flashbacks of him being hospitalized. It also gives Hazuki a chance to be able to gain Shimao’s trust and respect, at least a little.

SETTING: As I mentioned, Zakuro takes place during the Westernization of an alternate Japan. If you’ve got a thing for that time period, as I do, then that should already excite you. The clothes and settings are gorgeous to look at, and I only cringed once at dresses that seemed historically inaccurate. The setting also seems appropriate for the events, as it provides a reason for the half-spirit girls and the spirits who help them to explain relevant ideas to the men from the military. I also really liked the thread of hostility between traditional Japanese customs and the incoming Jesuit practices. Though at times it comes up as a joke, much of it time it’s an important element of the setting and plot.

CHARACTERS: I just love josei characters. They tend to be beautifully human and flawed and this show is not the exception. Hazuki is a timid, spineless man. Luckily, his crush on his boss gives him the potential to man up a little. The show does a lot to develop his character and make him more worthy of being a part of the story.

Rokka has fewer “flaws,” but, as a widow, her identity is tied to what was lost rather than what she still has. Her development is heavily tied to her sexuality and her discovery that she can still love and be a desirable being even after prior loss.

Shimao is kind of annoying, but still relatable. Who can really blame him for not moving on when he is worried about the well being of his wife? He is very opportunistic, and eventually I think it is what really ends up backfiring for him.

I watched three episodes of  this, and I have to disagree with you about the characters. I found both of the men to be unrealistic caricatures who had no hope of further development, and Rokka seemed too perfect to be watchable. They’re the main reason why I couldn’t bring myself to continue with the show.

CHARACTERS: The characters may make or break this show for you, as they very easily fall into basic character types. Zakuro is the tsundere, though she receives the most development throughout the show. Her friend Susukihotaru is your shy, quiet girl, and the twins Bonbori and Hozuki are both boisterous and overly affectionate, especially to their partner. What saved these girls for me, though, was their dark past and the events that led them to where they currently are. I appreciate characters who act a certain way to cover up old hurts, and the girls all felt that way to me. They’re also all unbearably cute.

The men also fall into basic types: the wussy pretty boy who eventually gets less scared (for Zakuro); the tall, silent man (for Susukihotaru); and the short, positive boy (for Bonbori and Hozuki). Only Zakuro’s guy, Agemaki, sees any real development in the show, but I still liked everyone, especially as they got closer to their partners. It may just be that I’m a sucker for cute, predictable, shoujo-esque relationships….

I should mention the secondary characters, who I found very entertaining. At times they can look weird or have strange motivations, but I found everyone at least interesting, and I really love the children spirits who help out the main girls.

Key word being “unbearable.” The characters are all tropes that have been done before in much better fashion. For real character development you should just watch Ouran High School Host Club or Fruits Basket.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I’ll begin with character designs. There are some very quirky style choices, such as Rokka’s basket “hat.” How does that thing levitate over her head? There are a couple of other aspects of the show that defy logic and can be rather obnoxious. Characters avoid being trope-ish and are rather interesting to look at; nothing to really write home about, but it adds to the calm atmosphere of the show.

The animation is heavily influenced by the manga. Not that I’ve read it, but the screen shots, actions, and background details read as very simplistic and major movements of characters (them walking somewhere) tend to be a little off model at times.

The main reason why I’m sad I won’t be finishing this show is the art. I really liked the style, especially the ending animation.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Zakuro is a gorgeous show to the core, and it’s a shame that NIS America couldn’t release it on BD. It’s animated by J.C.Staff, who’s also done Toradora! and the Index and Railgun shows, and the character designs were adapted by the character designer from Revolutionary Girl Utena. No wonder I can’t get enough of them! The character designs all follow specific rules, from the different hair styles to the girls’ main outfits. If you want something different, that could be a problem; if you’re like me and just want shoujo/seinen goodness, it’s not.

The show’s main repeat animation is when the girls use magic, but I like the song and imagery enough that I don’t mind. I don’t remember the show ever looking bad, and it mostly has lovely imagery and some very well-composed scenes. Definitely a show to watch if you like pretty art and animation above all else.

OVERALL: Natsuyuki Rendezvous definitely won’t change your life; it will at most be a good way to spend a couple of hours. There were some key flaws when it came to pacing (moving on after the possession), and the ending was just as awkwardly forced as the ending to Harry Potter. As there aren’t many josei shows that air, I think it is at least worth a shot if you’re a josei fan. I don’t think I’d buy it if it was available, but I’m glad it was streaming, as it made my summer much more eventful. If anything, it made me really want to read the manga. I think the story probably benefits from the intimacy of the book form.

As a josei fan who couldn’t  stand to finish this, I’d say don’t force yourself to watch it if you aren’t liking it. While there isn’t that much josei out there, I appreciate the maturity of the genre and its characters, and this show didn’t bring either of those elements to the table for me.

OVERALL: Zakuro is a very formulaic show, but it succeeds very well at executing that formula. It’s got a lot of eye candy that immediately drew me in (just watch the opening if you want a taste), but the setting and characters kept me watching the rest of the show. I really like Zakuro and Agemaki’s developing relationship, as well as the past events that brought the girls together. If you like the pretty romance of shoujo and the dark plots of seinen, give this a shot on Crunchyroll. It doesn’t do anything radically new, but it does enough well that it may be worth your time.

I love shoujo, but there are plenty of other titles to choose from that have more going for them than just “art” and angsty cat girls. Maybe I like my love triangles too much, but everything just fits too easily together in this series, with everyone instantly falling in love and finding a partner like a bad game of musical chairs. Only in this case I guess the twins just decide to both sit on the same chair?

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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