Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 1st 2012
Waiting in the Summer
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Kaito Kirishima is an aspiring filmmaker who witnesses a strange phenomenon one night while filming with his videocamera. After the initial shock, Kaito returns to his normal school life ... or does he? The next day, a beautiful redhead named Ichika transfers to Kaito's school, and moves into his house as well. As Kaito and his friends get to know Ichika better, they decide to include her in the amateur film project they're working on. But the project suddenly becomes something more when romance stirs among the group of friends: Kaito is falling for Ichika, while longtime friend Kanna pines after Kaito, and Kaito's best friend Tetsuro is interested in Kanna. Meanwhile, Ichika is hiding the secret of why she showed up in Kaito's life after that mysterious night. Will the two of them end up together, or does fate have other plans?
By now, just about every fan of romance anime has pointed out the similarities between Waiting in the Summer and Please Teacher!—the same character designer and screenwriter, the same basic premise (gorgeous girlfriend from space falls into ordinary schoolboy's lap), even parallels between each of the individual characters. But ten years have passed between these two series—ten years in which the genre has changed dramatically, and the creators have matured in their craft. Gone are the sensationalism and plot contortions of a teacher and student falling for each other; instead, this focuses more tightly on the ups and downs of young love. And in a world where male-targeted romance is synonymous with harems and dating sims, the idea of a monogamous lead couple is practically revolutionary.
Almost as revolutionary—and probably just as surprising—is how the show avoids modern gimmicks and gives off a throwback aura. It harkens to the days when a male protagonist chose one girl and you knew they'd end up together, when it was about really falling in love and not setting off "flags" or choosing "routes" (game logic ought to stay strictly in games), and where fanservice happened as a casual flourish instead of being shoved into every other scene. So while it captures the nostalgia of first love, the series also cleverly captures the nostalgia of anime's "good old days", when romantic heroines were more than just figurines waiting to be marketed.
But even for fans who aren't emotionally attached to the old school, the refreshing, honest quality of Waiting in the Summer still stands out. The series is obviously built on familiar clichés and plot devices, but it tries to sculpt them into the highest-quality devices possible. If the lead couple must be a pair of star-crossed lovers, then let's bring out the real heartache of being star-crossed. If there must be a love polygon where everyone likes the wrong person, then let's bring out the pain and tears of rejection. The characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they never fall into the trap of plastic, melodramatic overacting. That's the secret of a good teenage romance: to portray the drama just as it is, no gimmicks, no over-the-top cuteness, just the reality of youth.
Ah, but what about when the series steps away from reality? Ichika's extraterrestrial origins are a key plot element in later episodes, and that's when the storyline starts to feel off-kilter, trying to force in a sci-fi twist after going down a romantic path. Of course, we know about the sci-fi angle from the moment Ichika arrives in Episodes 1 and 2, but even then, it comes off as a superfluous plot device—couldn't they have done the boy-meets-girl thing with a regular human, where she has to move back to her home country? The story fares best when focusing on the warmth of friends making a movie together and falling in love; by contrast, Kaito and Ichika's intergalactic crisis adds a touch of action and fantasy but doesn't fit in that well with the overall mood.
One might say that the series' visual style is a throwback as well, with character designs modeled after late-90's and turn-of-the-century anime. But the overall look of the show is about more than just character designer Taraku Uon sticking to his established style—the color schemes, landscapes, and animation all show signs of thoughtful craftsmanship rather than just running everything through the digital animation grinder. The summertime setting is a big part of the story, and everything about the background art reflects that—the rich greens and blues of Kaito's suburban hometown, plus a seaside interlude that is as much about the scenery as it is about swimsuits. (It's also got some key plot developments, proving that beach episodes need not be a waste of time.) Obviously, the story doesn't lend itself to a whole lot of flashy animation, but it's the subtle things that make the series shine: the cinematic camera angles, the confident sense of pacing (knowing when to dwell on a scene and when to move on), and color filters to keep things from looking too garish and oversaturated. When the time does come for sci-fi action, the animators step up to the task, with special effects and chase scenes that could match up against any other alien-battling, robot-piloting epic.
If this series is all about the ups and downs of first love, what better way to complement it than with a well-written music score? The soundtrack's touching, piano-led melodies enhance the many dramatic moments where Kaito and friends confront each other (or themselves) about their feelings. It would help a little bit, though, if the music had other modes besides always being sentimental or dramatic. A couple of ear-pleasing theme songs bookend each episode, capturing the series' idealistic mood but thankfully avoiding pop-sugar overload.
Although fans will continue to compare Waiting in the Summer to Please Teacher!, this series is good enough to stand on its own as an ode to growing up and falling in love. Some may call it too rosy-cheeked, too earnest to be real—but that's exactly the point, that it captures the optimism of high school romance (and does so despite the chaos of an out-of-place sci-fi subplot). The show's surface elements also add to this sweet, nostalgic mood: the richly colored scenery, the throwback character designs, the music designed to tug at one's heartstrings. They say that today's anime will never compare to the greatness of the good old days. But a modern series that pays mindful homage to its roots can be just as good.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B-
+ Takes a familiar romantic formula and executes it with polish and grace in this sweet, nostalgic tale.
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