Reviewby Casey Brienza, Sep 8th 2009
Natsu no Arashi!
Episodes 1-13 Streaming
Thirteen year old Hajime Yasaka is staying with his grandfather over summer vacation. While on his way there, he stops at random at a café on the hillside overlooking Yokohama and meets a pretty girl named Sayoko Arashiyama—Arashi for short—working as a waitress there. When a big brute of a man claiming to have been hired by her family tries to take her by force, Yasaka protects her, and the two strike up a friendship. Before long, they learn that they can “connect” in order to travel back in time. Arashi, as it turns out, is a ghost from the World War II period, and she recruits the nonplussed Yasaka for her ongoing mission: To save people who would have otherwise died untimely deaths. Oh and incidentally, Arashi isn't the only time-traveling ghost hanging around town…
The title Natsu no Arashi! may be translated in one of two ways: “Summer Tempest” or “Arashi of the Summer.” Given the profusion of near meaningless titles in Japanese anime and manga, it is my utmost pleasure to report that both translations are quintessential truth in advertising. On one level, this show's story revolves around Yasaka's one unforgettable season with Arashi, a ghost who appears only in the summertime (though this bit of her biography is not particularly emphasized). And on another level, its heady mix of silliness, sexiness, nostalgia, romance, melodrama, and the utterly surreal is sure to sweep viewers up and away like a fast moving summer storm.
Mangaka Jin Kobayashi is best known in the West for School Rumble, which has been adapted into an animated series of the same name. The Natsu no Arashi! manga is his current ongoing serial, and its respective animated adaptation does this storyteller of quirky but undeniably prodigious talents proud. Studio Shaft spins a property which, produced badly, could have been just another tasteless magical girlfriend spoof, into pure gold.
Indeed, you know it's going to be good right from the get go in episode one, which features a rollicking, offbeat—but not incomprehensible—back and forth through time as the character try to avert disaster by cherry bomb (a.k.a. “cutie cherry”). Really. It's a spectacular introduction to a series that actually requires quite a bit of background explanation, provided throughout later episodes in palatable doses, and the hook is surely enough to keep eager audiences coming back for morem stormy adventure.
Subsequent episodes develop numerous subplots that skillfully interweave character development with zany character development. Ironically, by about halfway through the show's thirteen episode run, you will realize that the title character Arashi and her thirteen year old sidekick protagonist are the least interesting personage around. Competing for attention include the provocative “master” of the café, a girl pretending to be a boy, and a muscle-bound private detective who, as it turns out, is also connected to Arashi. Those who enjoy the homoerotic will be particularly gratified by the anime's final substantive subplot, which involves two female ghosts who are, as they say, hopelessly devoted to each other.
Arguably the most interesting character of Natsu no Arashi!, though, is the café's other resident ghost, the one time German exchange student Kaya. Ironically more Japanese in outlook and personality than any of the ostensibly Japanese characters in this series, she is also a tragic figure secretly nursing a doomed romance. Several episodes midway through the series take her and the cross-dresser Jun back in time to meet the doomed object of Kaya's affections. The love story blends with a backdrop delivering the expected pacifist stance on the horrors of warfare, and it is left painfully unresolved. You will really feel for this character, but she has her reasons for refusing to change history.
That being, of course, the threat of temporal paradox. This threat is beautifully and emotionally resolved throughout the course of the show, and it is done so in a way that is both ingenious yet wonderfully easy to understand (not a given when the subject is time traveling). In fact, so many of this series' assets lie in the execution: While the animation quality is only average and Kobayashi's character designs are not, shall we say, his greatest artistic strength, the anime is chock-full of well-conceived, attractively developed settings and stylized scenes. The surreal stock scenes between Yayoi and Kanako, for example, are reminiscent of the best of Shoujo Kakumei Utena. If you are keen, you may even catch the occasional allusion to otaku favorites such as Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. The tasteful eroticism of the opening animation sequence also proves pitch perfect.
The soundtrack is a good bump above the average, and the upbeat opening and ending themes deliver with just the correct amount of trendy pop sensibility and sing along addictiveness. Remarkable anime music can be in short supply these days, so this is a nice change of pace. A couple of the seiyuu also sing—passably well—late in the series, so if you are a fan of that sort of thing, be sure to stay tuned till the end.
For some shows, even thirteen episodes feel interminable. But for shows like Natsu no Arashi!, thirteen episodes feels like the mere tip of the iceberg. This series has so much more of everything to offer just about any conceivable profile of anime fan, so it is fortunate that more animated installments are in the works. This is an excellent anime and easily one of the best of its sort to be released in recent memory.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Humor with heart, sexiness without the gratuitous sleaze. Shows that do everything well without taking the easy way out are in short supply these days.
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