Natsu no Arashi: Time Travel for tonal awkwardness

Natsu no Arashi was a manga written by Kobayashi Jin, known for his work with School Rumble, and published by Square Enix. In 2009 it received a two series anime adaptation from Shaft. The same studio behind the Rec series and the sub-par Ef A Tale of Memories. But it’s not all bad. They also did the work for Madoka and a bunch of stuff I’ve never seen and can’t comment on. So, how does this one hold up? Let’s look at the first series.

Story:

It’s summer time and thirteen year old Yasaka Hajime is moving to a new area. When stopping by a small cafe he meets Arashi, an attractive older girl. While working at the cafe, Arashi is accosted by a brutish looking man in sunglasses who claims that her family hired him to bring her back, a claim that leaves Arashi visibly confused. Hajime intervenes to help her and the two end up grasping hands and going back in time. Arashi tells Hajime that she’s a ghost and they’ve just connected. She also asks him to travel back with her so that she can save people who would have died during bombing raids in the second World War. He’s naturally skeptical at first, but he goes along with it because he finds her attractive. After going back in time and finding a sixty year old photograph in the present of Arashi where she looks exactly the same as she currently does, he believes her. They meet a second ghost named Kaja, who had been a good friend of Arashi’s when they were both alive.

Let’s start with the problems with the series. The big one is that it’s tonally bizarre. You have some episodes that focus primarily on zany time travel shenanigans and others that treat things a lot more seriously. Remember when the first series of Galaxy Angel randomly had a serious episode and it made no sense? Imagine if the series had been closer to half serious episodes and half zany comedic ones. It feels disjointed, like you’re watching two different shows entirely. There’s also a huge problem with the serious episodes. They try to establish tension and make you worry about the safety of the main characters, even faking you out about whether or not a couple of them will survive. But the first episode in the series takes place after all of this. Gee, I wonder who will make it out okay besides everyone? The comedy is pretty hit or miss too. Some of it works well. Some of it is basically repeating an earlier episode, even using the same payoff, but this time they’re wearing ridiculous outfits, some of which are really fan-servicey, that shift from scene to scene. Then there are the jokes that really don’t qualify as jokes. The big one being the scenes where Yayoi and Kanako talk about the book that Yayoi read but can’t remember the title of. She then proceeds to describe it and the punchline is that it’s something from pop culture. This conversation gets basically repeated with a different piece of pop culture in virtually every episode. Yeah, referencing pop culture isn’t funny. Parodying pop culture can be funny. Snarkily pointing out various aspects of pop culture can be funny. Just pointing out that it exists through a general description and a catch phrase isn’t funny.

On a positive side, both sets of episodes are pretty decent, even when you factor in them not playing particularly well together. There are some pretty funny moments throughout the series and the more serious episodes do have some good touching moments, like the stuff between Yayoi and Kanako. I also appreciate that the series establishes rules for time travel early on and follows them throughout. The characters also have some pretty detailed discussions about time travel and they ask all of the major questions that you would expect concerning paradoxes and the ethical implications of changing the past. Which I do like, it has a certain realism that a lot of time travel narratives ignore. I also like that they use time travel for things that are actually important in addition to the petty shenanigans. Yeah, this half comedy does better on that front than the supposedly dramatic Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Characters:

I will give the series credit, most of its characters are pretty well developed and have motivations that make sense. The big exceptions being “Shades” and the cafe owner, who follow their tropes pretty strictly. Sure, the characters do believe and do some stupid things, but they’re mistakes that make sense and have verisimilitude. I do appreciate that Kobayashi took the trouble to flesh them out since a lot of zany comedies just stick to basic tropes. We probably owe them being fleshed out to the series being half serious which illustrates how the mix of the two elements could have been a really good thing if not for how awkward the execution was.

Art:

The art is a bit odd. The series likes to do strange things with perspective like putting in random overhead views or showing things from a slanted angle arbitrarily. It also likes to make things chaotic in scenes that are supposed to be more intense and it’s not really in a good way. They’re trying to convey that someone is remembering or seeing terrible things without actually showing anything intense. It does work in the sense that you get the idea behind it, but it also kind of hurts the impact. It’s like those “sex scenes” you get in some media that show a train entering a tunnel or fireworks going off or something ridiculous like that. Scenes like that can be funny, but they don’t really work in a context where they’re supposed to be intense. The backgrounds are kind of lazy. I will give the series credit for having character designs that are pretty good, though. I’ll also give the artists credit for doing the facial expressions really well. They’re just incredibly emotive.

Sound:

The voice acting is decent enough. There really aren’t any performances that are just amazing, (Horie Yui’s probably comes the closest since she does have some strong emotional scenes) but all of them are well done. Not the best performances, but good ones. The music is pretty standard. There’s nothing wrong with it but nothing that stands out about it either.

Ho-yay:

There’s a bit. Yayoi and Kanako definitely come across as being more than friends. But they don’t play a major role in that many episodes and the most they do is hold hands while looking lovingly into each others’ eyes. So, the ho-yay factor is a 3/10 for those two.

Final Thoughts:

Natsu no Arashi has quite a few highly noticeable problems. Whether its two tones that don’t so much mix as sit awkwardly beside each other, some strange art direction, jokes that just fall flat or moments that should be tense being ruined by the series spoiling the result. However, both the serious and zany episodes are pretty well handled and the series has a lot of good moments. Some funny, some touching. It also has well fleshed out characters and capable voice work and the art is pretty good in spite of its odd direction at times. My final rating for the series is going to be a 6/10. It’s decent. I’ll take a look at the second series some other time but for next week let’s look at Gakuen Heaven.

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