Natsuyuki Rendezvous has certainly evolved into a matter of life and death, but not in quite the same way as any other anime I’ve seen.
“When I die, will you eat a little bit of my bones?” More and more I’m growing convinced that in every way that matters, Atsushi Shimao is the main character of this series. The sense has been growing almost since the beginning, but what’s undeniable now is that everyone is quite literally dancing to his tune. Hazuki and Rokka (and his own spirit, truth be told) are prisoners of his fantasy. Not just his memory bit his soul itself has Rokka hopelessly ensnared and, like a fly caught in a spider’s web, Hazuki has found himself ensnared too by nature of getting close to her. And the fact is, as we learn more of Atsushi we learn that even alive, he was an odd and perplexing (and possibly even dangerous) man. I’d chalked his selfish behavior up to the agony of his current situation and while I’ve no doubt that’s mostly the cause, it seems likely that he was a perverse fellow even before he died.
Perhaps, then, we’ve reached a point where the story must become about Hazuki in order to progress. It’s put up or shut up time for the lost boy – it’s time for him to become the main character in his own story, rather than being content to be a bit player. As he says himself he was willing to do anything for Rokka – but what if that means doing nothing as Shimao and she walk off into the sunset? In a sense Hazuki was never fully alive until he met Rokka, but now he must reclaim his life for her sake as well as his own. Life is, after all, an inherently selfish act – to consume in order to survive. It’s time for Hazuki to be selfish and reclaim the privilege of the living, even if that means making Rokka even unhappier in the moment.
Fortunately the ending of this episode suggests that Hazuki is ready to do that – and I say “fortunately” not just for his own sake (there were signs he was slipping deeper into Shimao’s fantasy with the possibility he might never free himself) but for the sake of the show, too. This phase of the series has played itself out – if not overlong, at the least this body-switching sequence was long enough. There are suggestions that the reason Hazuki’s environment keeps changing is because “The Prince” is sketching again, and changing the storybook world as he does so. But what’s interesting to me is that Mermaid/Thumbelina Rokka says that she’s been waiting for the Prince herself all this time, and Hazuki’s assertion that this fantasy world was not one that Atsushi had created intentionally.
My take on things as they stand is that this fantasy represents some sort of afterlife – a purgatory of Shimao’s own creation, with the Rokka of his mind’s eye waiting for him. Because, as fantasy Rokka says, some part of him really does want The Princess (the “real” Rokka) to be free, he’s conjured up another one to join him in the next world – but he can’t quite bring himself to follow the path that he’s forged himself. Again, Atsushi emerges as a very odd fellow – writing in Katakana instead of Hiragana because it’s “elegant”, secretive, perhaps someone who due to his illness spent far too much time living inside his own head than was good for him.
It’s hard to know what the Shimao currently possessing Hazuki’s body has in mind, exactly. Clearly he’s stolen everything that belonged to himself (including the “Natsuyuki” plant), ostensibly to force Rokka to move on – but my feeling is that he knew very well she’d follow him, and even chose a very obvious hiding place – the hiking spot (Mt. Mitake perhaps, or Takao-san?) where they’d taken their only “vacation”. And he surely knew that Rokka would associate all he did – the Katakana note, all the flower arrangements he’d made for her in life – as clues that he’d somehow returned and taken possession of Hazuki’s life. Perhaps this amounts to a test of Rokka, to see how much she loves him – will she figure it out and follow him, and will she accept him even in possession of someone else’s body?
The answer, of course, is no – even if she isn’t in love with Hazuki, Rokka would never accept a Shimao-kun that had stolen Hazuki’s life. And surely, Shimao knows this. In fact, I think, he doesn’t really know what he wants – he wants her to be free of him, and to never forget him. He wants her to move on, and he wants no other man in her life. Like the notes he wrote to her on his deathbed and then threw away, his wishes are obscure and confused and full of contradiction. I’m not sure Shimao is capable of untangling this knot himself, and Rokka surely isn’t – and again, I think it all comes down to Hazuki seizing control of his life and the story – he needs to become the main character, force the issue and become the key that unlocks the cell that Rokka and Shimao are imprisoned in. I don’t know what that means for Hazuki in the end, but I think he’ll do what needs to be done, irrespective of that – for Rokka’s sake if nothing else.