I rarely post about anime here, but there is one new series I’m enjoying so much, I really can’t help myself. So here goes!
Based on the manga by Jin Kobayashi (School Rumble) and available for streaming at Crunchyroll, Natsu no Arashi is about a middle-school student named Hajime Yasaka who moves from the country into a new town where he will live with a relative. Exhausted by the summer heat, he stops in a small cafe to cool off where he meets Sayaka, the owner of the shop who is actually a notorious con artist, Jun, another middle school boy with a secret I will not give away here, and Arashi, a beautiful young waitress with whom Hajime is immediately enamored. When a strange man bursts into the shop and demands to take Arashi back to her “family,” Hajime surprises himself by stepping in to defend her (though it isn’t long before he needs defending himself), but it is when his hand touches Arashi’s that his whole world gets turned upside down.
As it turns out, Arashi is the ghost of a sixteen-year-old girl who died during the US bombings of Japanese cities in WWII. It is unknown exactly why she has remained in this world, but when she meets the right kind of boy, she can “connect” with him and travel backwards in time. After discovering that she connects with Hajime, she pretty much takes over his life (not that he minds in the slightest). She moves into his uncle’s house, and repeatedly takes Hajime back to her own time where she seeks out those she know will die in the bombings to try to save them from their fate. Just a a few episodes in, a second ghost, Kaya, is also introduced. She was Arashi’s school chum during the war and though she is far more aware of the dangers and potential implications of changing the past, her resolve not to do so is broken when she discovers she can connect with Jun.
The anime series starts off a bit confusingly, jumping right into a later point in the story with no explanation, and though I liked it immediately, it took several episodes for me to feel about it the way I do now. I usually give any anime series five episodes before I make up my mind about it, and I’d recommend anyone interested in this series to do the same. The series is definitely a slow burn. Straddling the line between a gag series and a supernatural drama, Natsu no Arashi delivers surprisingly well on both counts. Though it is the time-traveling ghost story that most draws me to the series, I can’t deny the success of the humor, and there is an early episode in which Hajime and Arashi encounter a claw machine at an arcade that had me laughing until I was in pain. Even the standard put-the-boys-in-girls’-clothing and body-switching episodes have an unusual twist in this series, rendering them funny once again, regardless of their overuse. The series starts off showcasing its humor and though I probably would have continued to watch it casually even if that’s all it ever was, the ghost story makes it into something I cannot do without.
Though Kaya is sensitive to the potential disasters of time travel from the start, it is only Hajime’s heavy scientific interest that is able to affect Arashi’s carefree attitude, something which has only really begun with the most recently aired episode (episode nine). Faced a second time with Sayaka’s insistence that they take spoiled food back in time to a point before its expiration date so that she can eat it before it has gone bad (logic that only makes sense in her own head and, interestingly, Arashi’s) Hajime attempts to explain the concept of a paradox to her, which leads to a question of whether or not he and Arashi have been creating multiple parallel worlds every time they change the past. He points out that, because of them, people have lived, been born, and possibly died who otherwise would not have, something that shakes Arashi to the core, though she tries to hide it. What’s most interesting about this, however, is not the plot or the scientific questions themselves (though these things are interesting), but the characters, and even more so their relationships with each other.
I think it’s clear that compatibility is the main component determining whom the ghosts can connect with, and it’s obvious that Hajime and Arashi make a great pair. Whether they can ever be romantically involved as Hajime would wish is certainly in question (what with one of them being a sixtysomething ghost) but they both have good (if impulsive) hearts and a fine adventurous spirit. Something that’s particularly refreshing is that Hajime’s crush on Arashi, while being unavoidably based on lust–he’s a teenaged boy after all–actually manifests itself for the most part in very sweet ways, and at no time is this more evident than in episode nine. Though he requires Sayaka (in an unusual moment of true insight) to let him know that he’s shaken Arashi with his excited scientific musings on time-travel, he actually figures out what to do about it on his own and the result is seriously touching. Kaya and Jun are quite wonderfully compatible as well and though it’s hard to go into that too deeply without giving away some early spoilers, I can say that though their relationship is very different from Hajime and Arashi’s, it is no less touching.
While maintaining its frequent gags, this series continues to become deeper and more interesting as it goes along with its poignant characters and observations on war, which do not shy away from being very specific to WWII and the United States’ firebombing of Japanese civilian areas. Arashi returns to the cafe every summer because it is the only place that escaped the bombings and is therefore unchanged since the time when she was alive, and the effects of the bombings are seen frequently in both Arashi and Kaya’s travels back. The question of how harmful it is for Arashi to indiscriminately raise people from the dead who were indiscriminately killed in the first place is obviously something the series is not going to let go, and it goes a long way towards forming the characters that make the series so intriguing. There is obviously something sinister coming, which has begun to take shape in the most recent episode, and I can’t help but wonder if it is something caused unintentionally by Arashi. Time will tell!
The animated series’ success I think is due to a great extent by the fact that it is produced by Shaft (Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, Ef: A Tale of Memories), a studio known for its gag series but also for its unmistakable style. The series’ ever-shifting opening sequence, its mysterious bookends featuring characters that are finally beginning to be introduced, its stylish handling of both gags and dramatic beauty–these things are all extremely characteristic of the studio and really give the series a consistent, cohesive feel. Though the series does not shy away from being sexy, there is limited fan service, which is definitely refreshing as well, and what is there is handled with good humor and great style.
Though it may not be for everyone, Natsu no Arashi provides a terrific blend of gag humor, drama, romance, and even suspense–a combination I find completely intoxicating. Now if someone would just license the manga!