Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer)

A lot can be said for a good story well told. Ano Natsu de Matteru rockets into the romance genre with a concept that by all rights should be weary from overuse, but is instead energised by likeable characters and a story that is impassioned and dramatic with little triteness.

Crowbarring five teenagers onto a sub-tropical island was suspect enough but meeting up with a childhood friend...

Not surprising really given the talent behind almost every facet: the director has past triumphs with Toradora!, Ano Hi Mita Hana and A Certain Scientific Railgun, the writer is the same person responsible for Please! Teacher and music is provided by the imitable I'VE SOUND group including opening lyrics penned by none other than alumni KOTOKO - it's like getting the band back together. The creators indelible fingerprints are everywhere, whether it's the cerulean skies and over-saturated greenery encapsulating a youthful summer or the skilful manipulation of character affections and steady meting out of drama; to say it was well produced would be doing it a disservice.

It's thanks to that skill though that the "girl from another planet" paradigm, commonly used as an analogy for the insecurities of the lead with the other gender, is not exploited in the obvious ways. So the protagonist here is not socially regressive or confused by the opposite gender and neither is he the subject of the laser-like affections of every female around him, he's just real enough to be empathetic and just dopey enough to be likeable. That's not to say there isn't an undertow of adolescent confusion and insecurity but it doesn't protract the story more than is necessary.

That job goes to the awkward side-story visit to Okinawa which serves only to show off the female cast in bathing suits (a contractual requirement for any anime of this ilk) and muddy the waters with two of the secondary characters; this despite the borderline overdose of angst and emotional trauma. Crowbarring five teenagers onto a sub-tropical island was suspect enough but meeting up with a childhood friend beggars belief, at least it stays thematically relevant which is more than can be said for the climax of the show. Throwing reason to the curb the previously light science-fiction elements take the fore with a high-speed chase and a van that sprouts robotic arms.

Incongruous yes but so much fun. The series does so much right that it's hard to fault it. There is a timeless quality to the story that comes from its history as one of the oldest archetypes - boy meets girl, fall in love but can't be together. Its greatest triumph though is something the otherwise lamentable Please! Twins before it managed: capturing the teenage abandon of summer. It transcends language and locality and though for some it may be faux-nostalgia, invoking rose-tinted memories of times that never happened, the emotion and feeling of possibility is undeniable.

The ending seems like it would be a foregone conclusion - ill-judged chase sequence or not - but even here it manages to surprise and, most importantly, satisfy. The core concept and science fiction trappings could have easily been substituted for a terrestrially alien rather than galactic alien girl and been none the worse, especially as the initial plot of her staying on earth to monitor the well-being of the protagonist Kaito is never satisfactorily tied off. It does however serve the retro aesthetic that gives the series a lot of its charm with the old-style 8mm cameras juxtaposed by the sleek neon curves of the alien technology.

Likewise the plot concerning the soft-spoken Mio and to a lesser extent the clingy Chiharu, feels out of place in what is, beyond the first episode, an otherwise smut free show. The development of Mio, indeed of all the cast however is the reason to keep watching. The furtive glances and endless confusion of miscommunication is supported by the threat of secrets being revealed and the irrevocable change - good or bad - that may result because of it. In the end the characters don't fall easily into their expected roles and grow and become stronger because of it.

Ano Natsu de Matteru epitomises emotion and passion over rough edges. It's about the early morning mist on the fields as a confrontation plays out and feelings boil over. It's about the sun setting behind the hills as you sit next to the partner of your dreams. It's about all the things that make summer and that first foray into love precious and without equal - captured in a series that joins a small club of the most memorable romances in anime.