In typical Shaft style, Natsu no Arashi! chucks you in at the deep end. The first episode is disorienting, as two duos of characters in a strange old-school art style hold hands to zip back in time, with attempts to stop a prank going wrong made extremely convoluted and successively more disastrous as different timelines intersect and various typically random Shinbou Akiyuki visuals flash up. Shaft’s immediate follow-up to MariaHolic, this show is decidedly less accessible, but soon becomes just as straightforward – if never as likeable.
But as is fairly often the case with Shaft (lest we forget the episode of Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei where visuals, soundtrack and subtitles were a weird mash-up of an audio episode, a manga chapter and original material, or whatever it was, or the previously unseen characters who crop up unannounced in the Negima! OVAs), it feels rather as if the series is aimed not at fresh viewers, but fans of the manga – by School Rumble’s Kobayashi Jin.
But yes, the second episode goes back to the beginning of the story, and it runs linearly from there, gradually making that first episode explicable. In the world of Natsu no Arashi!, a thirteen-year-old hot-blooded boy with a silly face that directly recalls 70s anime design called Hajime takes a job at a café after falling for a sixteen-year-old girl working there and protecting her from a strange meathead. Though the café is of course staffed by some oddballs – including the foul-mouthed owner who is a capable confidence trickster – Hajime takes a job there, only to discover that Arashi, who he saved, is in fact the ghost of a girl who died in the 1940s…and when she touches Hajime, they ‘connect’ and can leap back through time. The two of them begin to help the people Arashi knew in the past, who would otherwise meet sad fates in the wartime bombings of
Natsu no Arashi!, in trying to flesh out its characters, does rather two much, so that it feels like two completely different anime. In hindsight things seem neatly settled, but while watching it felt too disjointed, like the anime pulled all the way in one direction and then in the other immediately after. There is this story about time travel, made more complex when Arashi’s German friend Kaja, also a ghost from the past, makes a connection too and starts a similar mission to change the past, with some action added on when a very silly post-credits sequence about two sedate young women grandiloquently describing the plot of classic anime as though terribly serious novels only to undermine the tone with the anime’s catchphrases gets linked into the main plot as two more dead classmates are revealed – and are a good deal less friendly. By the end, of course, these two are introduced to the harem of odd spindly girls in bishoujo art styles, making for rather less interesting background characters, but the comedy segment was certainly worthwhile – if only for making this an anime that ends on the punchline ‘DOSTOYEVSKY?!’ – you can’t really beat that, I have to say. Nods to Touhou, MariaHolic, Hidamari Sketch, Gundam and even K-On! also raised smiles, even if background gags sometimes don’t sit well with me. And nor do weird body-swap episodes.
At the same time, a whole lot of screen time is given to Jun, who in what seems to be fast becoming a Shaft tradition is a ‘reverse trap’ – that is, what seems to be a weak and pretty young boy but is in fact a girl pretending. I’m a sucker for traps and reverse traps as an extension of feminine guys and tomboys – making favourites of Minami-Ke and Mai-HiME for me – and this is no exception, as Jun is incredibly adorable and much of the humour surrounding her is about her being humiliated or Hajime being too thick to realise her gender, which for whatever reason always make me feel protective and affectionate, and I loved the episodes centred on her. I also liked how the series would swing towards being extremely serious, with Jun’s reaction to the wartime bombing in particular being affecting and well-executed. I also liked how time paradoxes were discussed, in a serious way with Arashi becoming worried her saving lives was snuffing others out until it was discovered time is linear and everything they did they had always done, and then in a fun but incredibly random last episode with a long discussion about the paradoxes of taking some expired milk back in time to swap it with its non-expired earlier incarnation.
For all I liked bits and pieces, though, and much as Jun is catered specifically to someone like me who loves gender-bending character types, I just found myself unable to really love Natsu no Arashi!. I might one day rewatch episodes, but certainly not the whole series. I got that the art style was meant to be a nod back in time but I found it very unappealing overall and most of the older girls never felt fleshed out. But that isn’t to say I won’t be watching the second series. I certainly will – sometime.
Especially as it was heavily, heavily hinted that Jun is going to develop a one-sided crush on Hajime…