Friday, April 17, 2009

First Impression: Natsu no Arashi!

Don't let the inconsistency of the character designs fool you. Natsu no Arashi! has great background art. The story itself is not that interesting but then I wasn't expecting epic anyway.
EPISODE 01: Playback
More Screencaps from Natsu no Arashi 01
OP: Atashi dake ni Kakete (Omokage Lucky Hole) [YouTube]
ED: Kirari Futari (Ryouko Shiraishi) [YouTube]

The series begins with a voice-over from Hajime, the show's protagonist, talking about how one unforgettable summer he was able to travel back in time. After the opening clip, a 13-year old Hajime boasts to a teenaged girl named Arashi how he was able to make a "strawberry bomb" for his school assignment. But no sooner than he told her about it when he discovers that of the three "strawberry bombs" he made, only one remained. The culprit turns out to be his grandfather who falls unconscious from the fruit's potent power. Later, Arashi and Hajime head off to the coffee shop where they work with four other women and a girl dressed up as a boy. While working, Hajime gets into an argument with a customer and decides to use his "strawberry bomb" on him. But first, he gets Arashi to help him travel back in time so he could get the other two strawberries before his grandfather could eat them. Back to the present, the shop owner, mistaking Hajime's "strawberry bomb" for the real one, adds it to a special juice mix she made ("special" because it's made from fruits that are about to go bad) which she then gives to Hajime's customer with obvious results. Next, Hajime decides to use his secret weapon against another customer who gets friendly with Arashi. Knowing that this customer likes to order strawberry shortcake, he replaces the real fruit with his "strawberry bomb." Unfortunately, his scheme does not work because someone apparently took the "bombed" cake. So he goes to the prim and proper Kaja (pronounced 'Kaya'), one of the waiting staff, to ask her about it but she has an extreme reaction instead because she apparently wants that shortcake for herself. Then follows a series of traveling back in time as Kaja attempts to find out the culprit. Eventually, she succeeds not in finding the culprit but in eating the shortcake before anyone could. Of course, that means she also ends up eating Hajime's "strawberry bomb."
Natsu no Arashi! is based on a manga written and illustrated by Kobayashi Jin of School Rumble fame. Like Kobayashi's previous work, Natsu no Arashi! belongs to the romantic-comedy genre and adopts the slice-of-life approach common in many light series. Animation studio is SHAFT whose repertoire includes Kino no Tabi - The Beautiful World: Country of Disease - For You, and Haibane Renmei, and at the directing helm is Maria+Holic's Shinbo Akiyuki.

That said, what is this series about? The title gives us a clue: it's about the summer adventures of Hajime and the mysterious Arashi. According to ANN, Arashi is supposed to have mystical powers that enables her to travel through time. The episode does not explain how Arashi came to have these powers or how she even came to live with Hajime (as it does not seem as if they are even related). Come to think of it, the episode doesn't really explain anything about this series. But I'm guessing all of that will be revealed later.
Because of the weird way that Natsu no Arashi! began, the first episode can be a bit confusing. This is especially true for those who haven't read the manga, like me. I was expecting the first episode to be about Hajime and Arashi's first meeting. Obviously, SHAFT had other ideas. The studio wastes no time in plunging us right into the middle of the story with Hajime already knowing Arashi's secret and comfortable enough about it to ask for her help on many of his schemes. Other characters are likewise seen but there's barely any introduction made and all we really learn at the end of the episode is that Kaja is the perfect lady who can get wild about sweets, Hajime is a geeky 13-year old boy who isn't above using Arashi's powers to get what he wants, and that Arashi is probably too easy-going for her own good. These character quirks are a rich source material for comedic turns.
The art of Natsu no Arashi! might take some getting used to. For the characters, the designer uses bold lines and a style that harks back to oldish anime. As a result, viewers who are used to the style of contemporary anime, will find the character designs of Natsu no Arashi! a little odd or just downright bad. But don't let this turn you off from the series all together. At least wait until you see the rest of the episode and consider the beautiful background art and the use of bright colors (reminiscent of Maria+Holic actually). Personally, I think it's refreshing. The background art and the colors, I mean. Not so much with the characters. They look awful, with the possible exception of Kaja (white hair = win) and Hajime himself (though his distorted facial expressions are a bit...too much). The music isn't anything to write home about either. Both the opening and ending themes are typical bubblegum jpop -- upbeat but forgettable. But taken as a whole, production values are pretty high as expected of first episodes. I hope SHAFT can keep it up. It shouldn't be too hard on the budget considering that this series has only 13 episodes.

Natsu no Arashi! is a light series that looks to entertain by capitalizing on character quirks and random situations. The art is going to be a problem for some but the first episode looks tightly directed, so here's to hoping this continues for the rest of this 13-episode series.

OFFICIAL Starchild (JPN)
Natsu no Arashi! @ ANN
Natsu no Arashi! @ Wikipedia
Natsu no Arashi! Trailer [YouTube]