It’s probably too late for persuasion – either mine, or the series itself – to make any new converts to Natsuyuki Rendezvous. Either you’re emotionally invested by now or you’re not.
For me, the question isn’t of emotional investment, as I’ve been there for a while. But Natsuyuki is doing as good a job as any show for a while in twisting those emotions painfully, and (as most everything with this series does) Shimao is at the very heart of that. He was a strange man in life and even more so in death, but I find his story absolutely heartbreaking. Yet I also find his actions absolutely infuriating, and while I suspect it’s a feint, this episode seemed to plant a seed (pun intended) for a surprising turn in the last two episodes that I would consider both surprising and entirely unwelcome.
I think we can safely say we now understand the reason for Shimao’s morbid – and undelivered - request for Rokka to “eat a little of his bones” after his death. The story of her mother’s that she related to him was seemingly full of implications for the current situation. A girl eats the poisoned roots of a tree she loves that’s become sick, and dies as a result. This comes on the heels of Rokka’s declaration that she’d like to “eat the bad cells” in Shimao – to which he declares that she shouldn’t, as they would metastasize (if there were any doubt as to Atsushi’s illness, that too is settled). What’s interesting to me is that Rokka declares the ending – the girl becomes a root of the tree herself – a happy one, while Shimao finds it most unhappy indeed.
Once again I find it quite unmistakable that Shimao is conflicted in every way, as he was in life. He wanted to release Rokka from being imprisoned by his memory, yet wanted her to always be part of him. There’s no question that he’s fully aware that what he’s doing now is wrong – it’s selfish and he’s being a “coward”, by his own admission. It’s my belief that he fully expected Rokka to follow him and find him on that hilltop, though he isn’t prepared to admit that even to himself. And I think he surely relished the notion that he might have Rokka recognize him and be able to openly interact with him as himself, even as part of him knows that in doing so, he would be causing her a great deal of pain and reopening all her wounds. And to what end? What’s to be served by perpetuating this situation any further?
The possibility that this situation might become permanent – or that Shimao would even want it to – really didn’t seem realistic to me until this week, but now I’m not 100% sure. There can be no question that fairy Rokka – this time in the guise of Snow White – finally referred to Hazuki as “Prince”. Or that when he caught a reflection of himself, he was wearing Shimao’s face. Every fiber of my being screams out that for this situation to continue would be wrong, both in moral and dramatic/poetic terms. The key line of dialogue in the episode comes when Snow Rokka says to Hazuki, simply, “You have a future.” This is the inescapable fact of his existence – no matter how depressed he might feel about his prospects or how lost or directionless to thinks he is, he has a future. He has health. He has something that Shimao not only doesn’t have know, but never had, not even in life. Is that fair? No, of course not – but it’s real, and it’s a fact. Can things possibly be turned on their ear, with Hazuki being trapped forever in Shimao’s fairy tale purgatory?
I don’t think so – I think we’re being led down the garden path (pun intended) by the writer here. We’re at the point now where the body-switch scenario has gone on long enough to where I consider it a flaw in the narrative – Hazuki has been on the sidelines for too long, and as powerful as it is to watch Shimao and Rokka experiencing what they are I think the story would have been better served if Hazuki had reclaimed his life sooner. Now that Rokka knows the basic truth, I hope the whole truth comes out next – that it really was Hazuki that loved her and courted her, and that Shimao as good as stole his body for his own purposes. I believe Hazuki has made the decision that he wants to reclaim his life and return to it, whether he can be with Rokka forever or not. And I choose the believe that Shimao, for all his selfishness, isn’t the sort of man who would steal another man’s life against his will when all is said and done – or that Rokka is the sort of woman who would want to be with him if he did.
With that said, we’re only two episodes away from the finish and as much as with any serious anime this year, I have no idea how this one is going to end. When Atsushi was lying in that hospital bed near the end of his life, he told Rokka that if he had the ability to choose, he would choose to be with her until he was a “decrepit old man”. Well in a way, he does have a sort of choice now – and for the ending to have real power, perhaps he has to choose voluntarily to move on rather than have Hazuki rip his body back from him forcefully. Shimao, Rokka, Hazuki – each in their own way, they’re going to be tested, and their choices will determine where this difficult but powerful series finally lands.