Sunday, 11 March 2012

Watching Xanadu -- Ano Natsu de Matteru 09

In any sporting competition, there is often a point where the outcome of the game hangs in the balance. Causal fans assume this occurs at the end of the game, but the truth is this point can occur at any moment of the game. It could be a relief pitcher getting a bases loaded strikeout in the 6th inning, or a falling-down tray with the shotclock expiring. In the best of games, these points can happen multiple times, as the pendulum of fate swings back and forth. An experienced eye can see these moments, as if time itself slows down. You can feel the forces of destiny swirling as the ball hangs in the air, your heart in your throat as you wait to see whom fate has favored. There is nothing like in this world. Perhaps the popularity of futbol is due to its ability to measure these moments – a goal being the very crystallization of the idea itself. In these games and matches at last forty or sixty or ninety minutes or nine innings, these moments only take up a handful of seconds. Ninety minutes of futbol can be decided in twenty seconds of play.


There is a similar concept in television. In some shows, you will experience a “Crowning Moment”, the moment were all the time you spend watching is rewarded in a moment were everything comes together to create a single, perfect experience. In like in sports, these moments take only a fraction of the total airtime. In a twelve episode anime, where there are ~4 hours of animation (excluding OP, ED, and previews), one of these moments might only take thirty seconds or less. But it is this one moment that can make or break a show.

I bring this up because I ran into one of these moments the other day. I was watching the 9th episode of Ano Natsu de Matteru, which so far had not truly distinguished itself above the other mass of adolescent rom-coms. It was, for the most part, well written, I will admit that (although I think they screwed up character of Mio), but there is only so much you can say about a well written rehash of the Sudden Girlfriend Appearance trope. Well, in episode nine, I thought the show was just going to be some more of the same. The big reveal happened, as Ichika was forced into revealing her heritage, and the standard falling out and awkwardness ensued. There was even a scene where the Kanna, the love rival, chews out Ichika and tells her to confess to the hero (again, well written, but not particularly original). The screenwriter, Kuroda Yousuke, knows how to write emotions, and he brings his full arsenal to the script. But again, everything has been vanilla—up to the final scene. The characters confess to each other in a really cute scene (that runs into the credits, something that I always thought was clever), and then kiss (One of the oddities of anime is you rarely actually see the kiss, but here it is, in all its adolescent cuteness).

I figured that the kiss was the end of it, a fitting cap to another solid, but not outstanding episode. But the scene continued. Our hero then mentions, in not as many words, that this is his first kiss and he doesn't know what to do next. Ichika then drops a bomb, saying that this was her fourth time (If there was ever a time for the record scratch sound effect, this would it). However, she goes on to tell Kaito that all four times where with him, as her healing nanomachines had to be spread mouth to mouth or something. As Kaito, justifiably sullen, mutters, “That's not romantic at all,” Ichika leans in and the Crowning Moment happens.

This has to one of the top five kisses in all of anime. The number one is the kiss between Yuuichi and Ayu at the end of episode 19 of Kanon (2006) with the falling tear drop and the spiraling camera, but I would rank this one up there with the kiss between Akito and Yurika at the end of Martian Successor Nadesico. What makes this so great is the set up: it is completely unexpected. The writing is perfect. The emotions are realistic and it feels natural. And it is so romantic. All too often, characters act too stilted, or emotions seem forced, or the set up is pandering. Ano Natsu de Matteru avoids these pitfalls, and creates a wonderfully romantic scene with characters that seem real. But that is all in retrospect. In real time, to return to the sports metaphor, this had the emotional impact of thunderous dunk or grand slam. These are the moments, in sports or in anime, that I live for, and these thirty seconds are more than worth the three hours (so far) that I've spent on this show.

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