OP: 「星が泳ぐ」 (Hoshi ga Oyogu) by (Macaroni Empitsu)
「さよなら夏の日」 (Sayonara natsu no hi)
“Goodbye, Summer’s Day”
This season started slowly to be sure. But as Harry Caray used to say, “the big possums walk late”. Summertime Render is pretty much the last major premiere of the season, and it’s one of the biggest possums. Fortunately all of the shows that really had to deliver this season have done just that (so far at least) and this one is no exception. All of Spring’s best series are totally different from each other, which makes for a nice sense of variety and lessens the impulse to compare them against each other. But Summertime Render’s premiere can punch with any of them.
There was some concern that with this being a Disney+ Japan series it might not be available subbed, since in their infinite wisdom they decided not to simultaneously release it officially outside of Japan. That’s a dumb move of course, just as it has been when Netflix has done it. Insiders could have told them what was going to happen – anime fans don’t wait. This is not like other media – it’s a quirky, insular little world where old habits rarely die. Anime abides, and of course subs were available within hours. My feeling is that giants like N and D simply don’t acknowledge the possibility that it’s worth tweaking their model for something as trifling to them as anime – to do so would be beneath them. It’s their loss, literally – and our inconvenience (though only a modest one, truth be told).
My level of excitement was high mostly because it’s directed by Watanabe Ayumu, who’s in the very top echelon of anime helmsmen both TV and theatrical. It has a rock-solid staff and the manga is quite well-regarded so I’d have been following anyway, but Watanabe (and the fact that he chose to take the project) is the biggest draw for me. Supernatural thrillers are such a natural fit for anime, but my hunger for a truly great one is forever unsated. Imagine Another, if the ending hadn’t spectacularly jumped the shark in an orgy of gore and stupidity. Imagine Higurashi if it had been written as a linear narrative, and refrained from shamelessly milking the premise for every Yen it could squeeze out of it. I don’t want to imagine that series any longer – I want to watch it.
Is Summertime Render that series? Hell, I don’t know. It’s 25 episodes and I’ve seen one of them. But I do know Watanabe isn’t going to screw the pooch like Mizushima Tsutomu did with Another, and I know the source material is a finished manga, not a visual novel, and that we’re getting two cours. So I’m hopeful. And the first episode pushed all the right buttons, one of the most compelling and creepy supernatural thriller premiere since Another. I should also make clear that I’ve religiously avoided spoiling myself about the story, so my tolerance level for spoilers in the comments is basically going to be zero. I haven’t blogged a series where that was a major issue in ages so that’s kinda fun, but I do mean what I say here – please,for the sake of unspoiled viewers, keep the discussion safe.
Here’s what know, because the episode told us. Second-year high schooler Ajiro Shinpei (Hanae Natsuki – yada yada, you know my feelings about that) is on his way home from Tokyo to Hitogashima Island for the funeral of Kofune Ushio (Nagase Anna). He thinks of her as a sister but they’re unrelated – after his parents’ death (because anime) her father took him in. On the ferry over he has a dream where Ushio tells him to “find” her, and to take care of her younger sister Mio (Shirasu Saho). He wakes up to find himself sandwiched between the breasts of a bespectacled and be-suited woman (Hikasa Youko).
Mio and her father Alan (Genda Tesshou) are smiling through their pain, but it’s clear pretty quickly that something weird happened surrounding Ushio’s death, supposedly by drowning while saving a little girl. Shinpei’s friend tells him that his father (the town doctor I assume) performed an autopsy, and there were marks on Ushio’s neck. Mio lets it slip that while on a deserted beach she and Ushio saw someone who looked just like her. Island eccentric Nezu (Urayama Jin) tells the kids it sounds like “the shadow” – a legend from the old days where folks would see their doppelgänger, be murdered by it, and eventually see their everyone in their household meet the same fate.
At this point we don’t know how the pieces fit together (though there are certainly hints if you pay close attention). What the woman with glasses is doing on the island, and why she was at the shrine at the end (where shadow Mio shot her). Why Shinpei has heterochromia, though given the symbolism associated with that it’s obviously a Chekov’s Gun. And speaking of guns, of course we don’t know how Shinpei was able to experience all that up to and including being shot in the head, only to wake up as the meat in an oppai sandwich again, seemingly about to repeat the experience. It’s the finding out that makes the journey fun, of course.
Indeed this premiere was very fun, indeed. Hitogashima is apparently a stand-in for Tomogashima, an island chain in the Seto Inland Sea just off the coast of Wakayama, and it makes a perfect setting for this sort of story. Watanabe is a true master, and I loved the small details like the animation of the bug and the way the old coot Nezu casually pulls a smartphone out of his pocket as he’s walking away from Shinpei and Mio. Summertime Render really does seem as if it has the raw materials to deliver the unfulfilled potential of its forebears in the genre – indeed, the challenge for me is not to get my hopes up too much when historically speaking, anime has always dashed them where this genre is concerned.
ED: 「回夏」 (Kaika) by (cadode)