Summertime Render continues to be insanely entertaining, which is the first and foremost thing any anime should be trying to be. So far it seems to be the version of this sort of show I’ve been waiting for since… forever, it seems like. It’s usually the case that pedigree wins out – put one of the best anime directors around in charge and you’re likely to end up with a good product. But the material is up the task too, which with a mystery/thriller is absolutely vital. I think it’s important to recognize that with this genre what we’ve seen so far is the easy part. The results are impressive but the road ahead is littered with mines that have sent many a writer – and their story – across the narrative River Styx.
My natural pessimism is running headlong into the sheer appeal of Summertime Render, which is thus far showing no cracks in the facade. It’s good, damn good – smart and seemingly pretty tight in its construction. Every episode expertly answers questions and asks new ones is perfect balance, and this one was no exception. The main driver for both this week was Nagumo Ryuunosuke – a name we’re heard before, though not specifically attached to the lady from the ferry. It was almost a given that the author of “Swampman” was going to be involved the in “real-world” mystery – and the narrative – directly, but this was a very interesting way to bring her in.
Starting with Nagumo-sensei, there are lots of oddities worth considering. First, it struck me that she seemed to be exhibiting two distinct personalities – possibly male and female. She also seems to have at least some sort of prescience or time manipulation – though distinctly different from Shinpei’s. I can’t explain her ability to dodge ShadowMio any other way. However she’s doing it she supplies Shinpei some very valuable information – how to tell a shadow from a real person (which is tied into the fact that it’s the shadow that’s their actual form, not the “flesh bag” above it). She knows more about the shadows than anyone we’ve met, it seems, though just how and why is an important unanswered question.
Then we have Tokiko, whose tearful remark about “dirtying her hands” may have been a fleeting moment, but struck me as possibly the most important of the episode (though I don’t know precisely why). As for Ushio, it now seems clear that she’s a rogue shadow – so rogue, in fact, that she continues to insist she’s still human. The ending of the episode (Ushio joins Shinpei on his next loop) suggests that Ushio is going to be essential to stopping whatever plan the shadows are cooking up. If she believes she’s human or at least openly sympathizes with them, she’s Shinpei’s ally – probably his key ally – whether she’s human or not.
Tokiko may be a collaborator – the brief scene of the clinic suggests that at least some humans are working with the enemy (and why was one of the shadows in a wheelchair?). We don’t know why the shadows are increasing in number so much, but we know they have a central organizing figure. We also know that Shinpei’s eye came from the one they call “Mother” – who Nagumo called Haine – and is the reason he can loop. Is the giant shadow God trying to resurrect Haine (is that the “Hour of Nine”?), or use her power for his own advancement? I’m assuming ShadowUshio got hold of Haine’s eye and gifted it to Shinpei somehow, for the purposes of fighting back.
That’s pretty much where we leave things. It’s only with ShadowUshio’s falcon punch that Shinpei and Nagumo are able to execute his “shoot me” plan, but he learned quite a lot of useful information on this trip. Ushio’s mid-loop warning about the limits of this power almost surely refers to the save point moving up each time – eventually Shinpei will arrive too late to save anyone. I’d also be quite concerned about Haine crossing streams with Shinpei, because if the shadows have some sort of gestalt existence then they’ll surely know about his ability to loop right from the start this time.