Ano Natsu de Matteru: An Ode to Youth

Ano Natsu de Matteru is a great show. Sure, it’s going down a well-traveled path and nothing it offers is particularly original, but its characters are compelling. By no stretch of the imagination are they realistic. But they are passionate. They’re go-getters, action-takers and unafraid to step over their friends for what they want. In a word, they are youthful. Thank God.

Love is Only a Game for Two

There are many problems with NatsuMachi. Its main plot is rather unconvincing and hackneyed, and Ichika isn’t exactly the strongest of lead heroines. In fact, neither her nor Kaito seem to have any flaws. They’re saintly people who wouldn’t hurt flies, and this makes the romance between them rather bland. What saves NatsuMachi from rom-com mediocrity is the enthusiasm, nay, the bravery of its characters. Every single one of them has the courage to say what they need to say.

In your standard romantic comedy, there are always interruptions. The protagonists inch ever-so-slowly towards the inevitable moment of confession, always interrupted by some poorly-timed “comedic” incident. So our frustration grows episode by episode, until everyone other than the protagonist and the main heroine are fully aware that they’re madly in love with each other.

Not the case with NatsuMachi. Kaito’s known that he’s liked Ichika forever. He even makes a move on her in Okinawa. Kaito might be a nice guy, but he’s certainly no wuss. He pushes fairly aggressively for what he wants. When he sprints off to find Ichika, leaving Kanna alone in the dark in Episode 8, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind where his heart is. NatsuMachi does not play with ambiguities. Heroines do not get their “successive turns” in the spotlight. There is no contest for the protagonist’s heart— it already belongs to someone.

Youth, Life’s Greatest Tragedy

Alas, love does not wait. People simply fall in love. Such is the case with the supporting cast of Ano Natsu de Matteru. They find themselves awkwardly stuck in a cycle of unrequited love. Yet, unlike the “friend” characters of other romantic comedies, the supporting cast of NatsuMachi aren’t shy. They do not simply resign themselves to sulking alone, dreaming of spending time with their beloved. No, they are brave and brash. They wear their passions on their sleeve, and aren’t afraid to let the world know how they feel.

Even more admirably, the cast of NatsuMachi truly understand that their love is without hope or agenda. Tetsuro remarks on the stupidity and the naivete of supposing that a simple confession could convince Kanna to suddenly love him. This is no fairy-tale world where everything ends happily ever after. One man’s gain will always be another man’s loss. Love is a zero-sum game when everyone happens to love the same person.

Rash, unbridled emotion is the true province of youth. I have always scoffed at the notion of silent, restrained suffering. Perhaps suffering in solitude is virtuous, but attempting to maintain a relationship with the target of one’s unrequited love is, perhaps, the highest form of slow martyrdom. All the more impressive, then, that the supporting cast of NatsuMachi seem so incredibly eager to martyr themselves in the name of honesty and love. There is something distinctly cowardly, both to them and to me, about the notion of suffering alone.

So, instead of suffering alone, the supporting cast of NatsuMachi opts to suffer together. Kanna, Tetsurou and Mio all know that their love is doomed. No matter. They take solace in each other’s company. They push and encourage each other to find themselves. Confession is far more than a declaration of love. Confession is also the culmination of a process of self-discovery. It is a tangible statement of conviction and belief. One finds oneself through confessing one’s love.

And what is youth, if not a grand process of self-discovery? Life’s greatest tragedy is youth, for we trade all of our energy and vigor to learn about our hopes, dreams and aspirations. By the time we truly know ourselves, we find ourselves too beaten up, too cynical and too tired to act upon them. Perhaps NatsuMachi‘s great triumph comes in its depiction of the urgency of youth. The characters in NatsuMachi can not afford to sit around and wait for life to come at them, for they understand that waiting brings nothing. Only through action can we grow and move forward. Thus, they hurl themselves off cliffs in glorious acts of self-sacrifice, comforted by the fact that they’ll be surrounded by comrades-in-arms on their long plunge down.

Find me @Akirascuro on Twitter. You might learn a few things about the follies of youth.

6 responses to “Ano Natsu de Matteru: An Ode to Youth

  1. I think you nailed it. These characters are actually way too direct and selfless to be realistic—most kids, myself included, were so much less than this at that age. And that’s what’s actually refreshing about it. “Youth is great,” Remon says with a knowing smile, and what we are seeing is the best of youth in this series. Good fiction doesn’t just have to be realistic; it can also show us what we can be, even if the result is messy, imperfect, and painful. The characters are admirable, without being grating (Kai and Ichika are perhaps a bit too perfect, as you say, but compared to other anime protagonists I’ve seen, their natural behavior around one another and chemistry is still rare). What a hard balance to strike.

    I’m sure I’m going to have a lot to say about this when the show closes. It’s amazing what good writing and directing can do even to stock premises.

    • You know what IS wrong with this series, though? Everything’s really predictable and some of the plot elements are really poorly thought-out. I dislike Lemon; she’s a deus ex machina that forces everyone else to confront their own feelings. Every plot development is “telegraphed” way in advance. Certainly makes for a much blander viewing experience.

      • I waver between feeling like original or surprising plotting is overrated and feeling like I probably cut way, way more slack for anime plotting than I should. I have seen few anime that genuinely surprises me in the storytelling department or isn’t predictable in some way, but a lot of those shows also tend not to be as emotionally engaging for me. (Paprika, a fine work of art, is an example: it’s more fascinating than moving. Same with Eden of the East.) For me nuanced characterization and expression is at least as important, and I think Ano Natsu does this really well, for the reasons you wrote about here.

        • The fact that few anime surprises you in terms of storytelling is problematic. That’s a problem! It’s fine that you place more emphasis on character development (sometimes, plot isn’t the most important aspect of a literary work, no?), but if most anime are predictable, then that’s problematic.

  2. It’s actually being bugging me for a while now. I couldn’t put a finger on why exactly I’m enjoying Ano Natsu so much. I think you hit the nail on the head; it’s that the characters don’t wait for love to come to them. They chase after love, however slim the chance of obtaining it is. For characters in an anime, they are so very aggressive. Confessing your love before the final episode is relatively uncommon, and what a shame that is.

    It’s shows like Ano Natsu that remind me why character interactions are one the most important aspects of a good anime for me.

  3. @Mike I’d like to take that sentiment you opened with and take it a step further. I feel a little “old” myself and well past the youth celebrated in NatsuMachi, but that youthful inspires me.

    I’m not a terribly outgoing person by nature, but watching this anime makes me *want* to be more like that, and I think that’s great.

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