Those of you who follow me on Twitter have heard me rave about Natsuiro Kiseki. Watching it has been a great pleasure― it’s the show I look forward to most every week. (Yes, even over Sakamichi no Apollon and Nyaruko-san.) Part of the joy of Natsuiro Kiseki comes from its portrayal of friendship. It’s certainly more compelling than girls drinking tea and eating cake all afternoon.
There’s been too many shows about school. Every season, a disproportionate amount of time is spent on schoolyard stories. Sure, there’s good reason for this― as one manga-ka once explained to me, “High school is the last real common experience we share. People don’t have the same life experiences after high school, but we all went to high school. It’s a familiar setting that requires no explanation― you go to class, hang out with friends, fall in love. That’s why we write so many schoolyard stories.”
It’s precisely this reliance on familiar themes that schoolyard stories often fail to hold my interest. When titles across the same genre share many of the same tropes and formulas, individual shows have to rely on the strength of characters to stand out. Unfortunately, it’s not often that we see a schoolyard show with truly excellent characters (in my opinion, although K-On!‘s massive success speaks volumes about the strengths of its characters. No one watched K-On! for its riveting plot.)
Natsuiro Kiseki is not set at school. It’s set in the short, fleeting months between school. In all fairness, “four friends embark upon a magical journey during the summer” is about as hackneyed as “four friends hang out at school” (see: Ano Natsu de Matteru, Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, etc.), but this formula has greater vitality because summer is inevitably less constrained than attending school.
Speaking about Natsuiro Kiseki specifically, I enjoy the element of magical realism and the central position it occupies in the story. It makes things interesting, adds a huge amount of uncertainty to the story. The beauty of magical realism lies in its ability to break reality. Nothing has to make sense anymore. If anything, Natsuiro Kiseki is a story about the power of randomness in our lives.
Natsuiro Kiseki has refused to explain its premises. We have no idea why Saki’s moving, and we have even less of an idea about how the magical wish-granting rock works. That is all fine, however― wouldn’t be much of a “miracle” if the characters could figure out how the rock worked. Its absolute refusal to work on anyone’s schedule other than its own gives the rock its power and mystique.
The joy of Natsuiro Kiseki comes from watching the girls trying to impose some sense of order on their lives. Each character does it in a different way. Saki does so by isolating herself, Yuka tries her hardest to keep everyone together, et cetera. This has led to a fairly interesting portrayal of the friendship between the characters, very different from that in other shows within the same general genre of “girls doing nice things with each other.”
The frequent crises that the cast of Natsuiro Kiseki find themselves in test their friendship. The characters seem to be reactionaryー especially Saki, who began the series as a loner with no desire to deal with any of her friends’ antics. Each character attempts to fix the mistakes of the other characters: Natsumi forces Saki to remember her promises, Yuka glues the other girls together (literally) in order to get them to make up, Saki attempts to take the fall for her friends in an attempt to clear a misunderstanding. They’re all selfish, yet selfless at the same time. Each girl may be motivated by selfish concerns (especially Yuka), but ultimately, everything works out for the group in the end. It’s a different approach to friendship than the ones we find in other shows, where everyone seems to be super-considerate and always putting themselves last. I like Natsuiro Kiseki‘s selfish cast.
Al in all, Natsuiro Kiseki refuses to play by the rules of cold, hard logic. Its world is absurd, governed by rules that we don’t understand. Its characters are impulsive, irrational and selfish, yet remain bound in a genuine friendship. In other words, Natsuiro Kiseki works precisely because it excels at creating conflict, and we can see the characters growing week by week. That’s what true friendship is all about― fighting together, crying together, laughing together, growing together. It’s beautiful.