Natsu no Arashi
13 year-old Hajime Yasaka works at a cafe in the summer, where he works alongside a high school girl named Sayoko Arashiyama (typically referred to as Arashi), as well as their boss Sayaka and Jun, a girly-looking boy. Together Hajime and Arashi also have the ability to travel through time, though they can't see their past selves while doing so, lest they be erased from existence! Their world slowly opens up around them as Arashi meets both friends and enemies from her past.
I remember when the animated adaption of this series was announced back in late 2008. A lot of people were moaning over how "the School Rumble guy" had no idea how to tell a story from beginning to end, and that they would be avoiding this series for that reason. Despite enjoying School Rumble myself, I too fell under this camp somewhat. However, the synopsis of this series, as well as its taking place in a coffee shop, perked my curiosity. And I knew that if anyone could make a good anime out of a Jin Kobayashi manga, it would be SHAFT, who already had several successful slice-of-life series under their belt.
I never read the original Natsu no Arashi! manga, but if it's anything like its animated adaption, it's definitely a weird series. Not weird in the same way earlier SHAFT shows like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Moon Phase are, but more of a "huh?" kind of way. And it starts as early as the OP theme, with the characters striking poses like they're posing for a CD cover, interrupted halfway through the OP by dark silhouettes of the girls "naked".
There are also segments at the beginning and end of almost every episode of two women named Kanako and Yayoi talking to each other in a black-and-white mansion. Yayoi explains to her friend about certain books/anime/manga she's read, telling Kanako the catch phrase that a character from it would often say, which she yells out loud in the cutesiest voice she can muster before being cut off by either the OP or the ending of the episode itself. And the next episode previews feature an illustrated story of a mangaka, a high school girl, and a robot alien of sorts over audio of the characters' conversations (which seldom have to do with the events of the following episode).
Even the first episode makes no sense, with everyone in the series introduced with no explanation of who they are. It's a comedic episode about a cherry bomb Hajime makes to get back at some guy who he thinks is flirting with Arashi. It's not until the second episode that the characters are properly introduced, with the final episode being a re-tread of the first..except that the characters randomly switch costumes every ninety seconds or so and that the jokes are different.
As a slice-of-life series for the most part, Natsu no Arashi! often switches from comedy to drama, sometimes back and forth in a small time frame. One episode Hajime and Arashi are warping though time to obtain a piece of cake, and then the next they're suddenly in World War II-era Japan during air-raids. It's more than a little off-putting, at least until you get used to it. Speaking of time traveling, Arashi's ability to travel through time with Hajime leads to more than a few head scratches as well. It's later on in the series that her time traveling doesn't affect the past, but we can clearly see various changes occur as the result of her traveling. Lives are saved, things are moved around, one of the side characters is able to be born, and even one of the characters' disabilities are healed!
Before I talk about the characters, I'm going to talk about the character designs. I seldom point out the attractiveness of characters in the anime I reviewed, but man, a lot of the characters here are ugly. Some, like Hajime and Kanako, look like dated 70's anime characters, often clashing with modern-looking characters like Jun and Yayoi. Typically, though, the problem is with the sharp lines the series uses for many of its female characters, which make even the prettier characters like Arashi and Kaja look ugly at certain angles. The worst is Sayaka, whose creepy eyes and ill temper/facial expressions vaguely reminded me of the title character of Ghost Sweeper Mikami. (Not a good sign.)
For as ugly as some of the characters are, though, they're not a bad cast of characters. For one, I like how Hajime, unlike many other pre-pubscent boys in anime, actually has morals he follows, such as never breaking promises and not making women cry or do heavy lifting. I also find it refreshing how comfortable he is around Arashi, and that the series never has a scene where they fall on each other, see each other naked, or a lot of the other stuff a lot of other shonen "comedies" do. Arashi herself is also quite likable, being able to be silly and a goofball without coming off as a brain-dead airhead. She's also quite a selfless person, as we later learn that the reason for her going into the past is for saving others.
The actual art in the series itself is also quite good. Most of the series takes place in a coffee house in the middle of a suburban setting. Unlike most recent SHAFT series, the colors here are very bright and vibrant, even inside the coffee house, which uses a mix of natural wood colors for the floor and tables and subdued purples, blues, and oranges for plates and cabinets. The town around the coffee house it made up mainly of white and light blue buildings, with a clear, blue ocean and bright green trees surrounding the area. It captures the look of summer pretty well, especially with the little touches SHAFT adds, such as little heat waves and even the shading of characters.
Like many recent SHAFT shows, the voice cast is made of actors and actresses who've worked on earlier series in the company (Ai Nonaka, Yui Horie, Tomokazu Sugita, etc.). The one major exception is Yuko Sanpei, who voices Hajime. I would've never guessed that she was the same actress who did Nozomi in Futari wa Pretty Cure, or Renton in Eureka 7. (In an amusing case of casting, Kaja is voiced by Kaori Nazuka, who also did Eureka in Eureka 7.) Ryoko Shirashi, better known for her male roles in anime (Hayate in Hayate the Combat Butler, for example), gives it her all in a rare, peppy role as Arashi, and Chiaki Omigawa (Maka, Soul Eater) does the voice of Jun.
So with so many things going right for Natsu no Arashi!, you'd think this would be a great anime. Unfortunately, I can't say that. For one, as I mentioned earlier, the drastic changes time to time of drama to comedy are more than a little abrupt. Then there's the bad pacing: the "villain" of the series coming out of nowhere two-thirds of the series with no explanation whatsoever, and whole episodes about World War II-era Japan are unleashed upon viewers without warning. While it's not as scary as, say, Grave of the Fireflies, it's not exactly something you would expect from the guy who created School Rumble.
I also didn't like the character of Jun, especially when her true gender is revealed in a later part of the series. She claims she doesn't want to become a woman because she hates them, so she dresses as a boy to combat that. And yet she treats Hajime in the same crappy manner as a lot of other girls do to boys in romantic comedies. Hypocritical much?
Despite some story flaws, I enjoyed Natsu no Arashi!. I like the setting, the art, and the characters for the most part. The time traveling aspect is confusing but makes for some interesting stories and scenarios, and the little touches added throughout the series (including Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and School Rumble references) were a a treat for me. Check out an episode or two yourself to see if you like it - you just might.
A good show that could've been a great show if it wasn't for confusing storytelling. Still, it's definitely above-average. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Occasional fan service, as well as themes of war, make this a show for teenagers and up.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-licensed digital source, crunchyroll.com stream
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Natsu no Arashi © 2009 Jin Kobayashi / King Record / Natsu no Arashi! Production Committee
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