It’s no secret that Ano Natsu was a series that just didn’t work for me. It was a simple case of having all the necessary components, but not being able to put them together in a delicious enough pap for me to inhale like I did the vaguely similar Toradora and Ano Hana. Even after a strong, surprisingly clever finish that more than made up for any previous shortcomings in my mind, I can say that there was an itch that I expected this to scratch that it just didn’t have the ability to for a number of reasons… something that Toradora actually did.
Ano Natsu’s biggest problem in comparison to both of those series is the characters aren’t very well developed where the romance subplots aren’t concerned. Everyone stays essentially the same throughout, their confessions being the only means through which they grow. There were also episodes that felt like they were padding things out, and having to switch between three different unrequited romances in the same 23 minute timeframe left things feeling messy. I think that if it were given more time to flesh things out, it would’ve been a substantially more engaging experience as it let the characters grow more organically, rather than be forced down a specific route for the purpose of timely plot resolution.
However, with that said, I’m going to be the valiant knight that I am and defend it by saying that the constant comparisons to Toradora are a mite unfair given a good number of reasons, foremost of which are different desired aesthetics and nostalgia on the audience’s part.
First, let’s take a look at all the similarities between the two shows. There’s a tsundere character, there’s a redhead, one of the guys has blue hair, the art style’s similar for obvious reasons, the opening and ending themes are vaguely similar, there’s a love dodecahedron going on, the two have the same director… yeah, that’s about it. It’s a pretty staggering list, admittedly, but it by no means indicates that one is going to be as great as the other, or even aim to be the same thing. Granted, both shows have the same basic plot, but they deviate quite a bit to the point that the audience would be forgiven for thinking that the two were hardly related at all.
Toradora focuses more on character development while slowly easing into the different romances, with wacky hijinks providing most of the setup between each of the characters early on followed by hard-hitting drama, contrasting with Ano Natsu, which goes for full blown angst and an omnipresent sense of melancholic nostalgia. Just like actual memory, Ano Natsu isn’t meant to build on every single component; it’s simply a tale of a love dodecahedron that happened during one fateful summer, focusing more on the series of romances themselves than the people that make it up, for better and for worse. It cultivates an atmosphere more than a story, in other words, something meant to resonate with the audience in order to build the narrative around their experiences. I both applaud it for this and say that it didn’t work on me in the slightest, as I’m sure I’ve said before.
To me, what made Toradora better is the way it functions as a romantic comedy on the surface, but has each character realistically cover up for their various insecurities that underscores everything extremely well. It’s the characters that drive the plot, something that Ano Natsu has entirely in reverse, though whether you could call Remon a living breathing plot device is up for debate. She was certainly the person that kept me interested, in any case.
Once again, I’m not saying that Ano Natsu should be entirely free from criticism just because it’s aiming for a different aesthetic than Toradora. Nor am I saying that criticizing the quality for not meeting expectations means that it’s not being judged on its own merits—it’s just that constant comparisons to Toradora, given the different ways the two run with a similar premise, are starting to appear more and more like ill-founded self-flagellation than genuine criticism. In short, I don’t think there’s any way the series would win among those that say that they were expecting the director to have the same idea-lightning strike twice, in a suspiciously similar location that may or may not be the exact same place. It aimed to be something different, and though it may not have succeeded quite as well, it was still an enchanting series that shouldn’t be subjected to being in the shadow of its mammoth predecessor.