Romantic Frustration in Ano Natsu de Matteru

The two main creative forces behind Ano Natsu are director Nagai Tatsuyuki and writer Kuroda Yousuke. Kuroda’s most noted previous work was Onegai Teacher, and his influence on the early episodes of Ano Natsu and the show’s premise were distinctly clear. Nagai’s credits include the likes of Toradora and Ano Hana (both of which he worked on with script writer Okada Mari) as well as Honey and Clover II and Railgun, to go to extreme ends of some sort of spectrum. With the exception of Railgun, all of these titles feature a strong focus on an entangled web of relationships with some degree of frustration. For the first four episodes of Ano Natsu we’ve been entrenched in Kuroda’s domain, but with ep 5, the most recent episode I’ve seen, we’re now most definitely in Nagai country. (Major spoilers for the tagged titles.)

Time for a physics lesson. (Forgive the vast oversimplification for my fellow physicists among you.) Metals that are strongly magnetic, like iron and nickel, are called “ferromagnets“, and are so because their atoms have unpaired electrons which have a certain amount of “spin”. If the atoms within the metal are arranged in a certain way (the “crystal structure”), the spins will all prefer to point in the same direction, which results in magnetization. But there are some metals, like manganese, where all the spins prefer to point in the opposite direction of their nearest neighbour, resulting in “antiferromagnetism“. If the crystal structure is cubic, then the magnetic structure can resolve itself and all the spins are stable. However, in some structures, such as a tetrahedron, there will always be at least one spin which doesn’t know which way it should point, because one of its nearest neighbours will point one way, but its other nearest neighbour will point in the opposite direction. This is known as magnetic “frustration” and, without an external force (such as a magnetic field) such spins, as well as the entire structure, cannot become stable.

An analogous thing happens frequently in romance anime, which I’ve come to refer to as “romantic frustration”. The simplest (and most boring, IMO) example of romantic frustration is the love triangle, where the lead (usually male) has to decide between two competing, equally valid potential love interests. Another example is the harem, but it’s boring because the losers all end up with the same thing. To me, the most interesting relationship charts are the ones that resemble intermeshed webs of romantic attractions and the number of male and female characters are approximately, but not exactly, equal. With three girls vying for two guys, this is exactly what we have with Ano Natsu.

Give me the one in the middle any day of the week.

This sort of setup has appeared in some of the other anime that Nagai has directed. In Honey and Clover, there were two separate love polygons, one featuring Ayumi, Takumi and Rika, and the other involving Takemoto, Hagu and Morita. The frustration in the first love polygon mostly existed because Rika still hadn’t overcome the death of her husband… Takumi was so obsessed with Rika that he probably wasn’t ever going to choose Ayumi. The frustration in the other polygon was due to Hagu, which resolved itself (controversially) when she chose Shuuji over all others.

The stylistic similarities between Nagai's romantic works are starting to become clear.

Toradora also featured a reasonable extent of romantic frustration, this time without a fragmented set of love polygons. At the beginning of the show Taiga had feelings for Kitamura, while Ryuuji liked Minori. The frustration occurred once both Taiga and Ryuuji began to discover they actually had feelings for each other. Interestingly Kitamura was himself in the middle of a love triangle with Taiga and Kihara, but there was no frustration here because Kitamura wasn’t all that too interested in either girl (particularly once it was clear Taiga really liked Ryuuji). In this respect, frustration can only exist if there is an attractive force… a vacancy of romantic interest within a relationship web can help alleviate some of the frustration.

Ano Natsu‘s relationship chart looks something like a chain. Mio likes Tetsurou who likes Kanna who likes Kaito who’s fallen in love with Ichika. There’s romantic frustration at three points, which is at its most intense at Kaito, particularly after the events at the end of episode 5. The easiest way for this configuration to resolve itself would be if either Mio or Ichika broke off from the chain. It’s an interesting example because, moreso than in Toradora, the potential two resultant couplings are so dependent on each other. It’s also interesting because Kanna, who’s smack bang in the centre of everything, has the least influence over what might happen… she must wait until Kaito decides who he’ll choose before she can act herself.

Ano Natsu's linear relationship chart. The red arrows represent strong attraction, and the blue arrows represent weak or uncertain attraction. Severe frustration can be seen at the right side of the chart, mostly around Kaito. He must choose between the girl he has strong feelings for, but might not be able to attain, or the girl he already knows loves him.

The linear nature of Ano Natsu‘s romantic set up lends itself to one of the show’s major themes. Ano Natsu is largely about the way each of the characters see each other, and how much of what they see goes otherwise unsaid. Kanna is so intensely focused on Kaito that it’s clear to her that he’s interested in Ichika, just as Kanna’s feelings for Kaito are clear to Tetsurou. The romantic frustration in the interaction between Kanna and Tetsurou in the middle of ep 5 was palpable, particularly when Kanna asked him to help her, and then responded to his begrudging, positive reply with “tell me if you have someone, I’ll help you too!”

There’s another really fascinating scene later in the episode that ties into this theme, but I’m still not 100% sure how to interpret it. Kaito decides to film afternoon tea with Ichika and Kanna to get more footage of their movie’s star in a more natural, relaxed state. When the conversation turns to Ichika’s family, which then turns to a hypothetical about whether Kaito is more like a bigger or little brother, Kaito spots something particularly irresistible and charming about Ichika in that moment. I’m wondering whether Ichika showed a side of herself that Kaito hadn’t previously seen, or whether Kaito’s intense focus on her through his camera amplifies her attractiveness to him, and I’ll be interested to see if it happens again while he’s filming her (which he’ll certainly get ample opportunity to do later in the series).

Of course, Lemon, being outside of all the romantic difficulties, gets the best view of all… and she knows it, making as much fun out of the convoluted situation she finds before her as possible. She also can see that Ichika is an alien, for reasons that have yet to be explained.

When Ano Natsu first came out, it was often (incorrectly) compared with Ano Hana but I’ve always thought it more resembled a mix between Onegai Teacher and Toradora, which has been further reinforced by the most recent episodes. I’m really hoping that they make full use of the romantic tension they’ve created so far. This regime of romantic frustration, with multiple male and female characters, is where the phenomenon is at its most interested, but is under-utilized in anime. Toradora showed its potential, and I’m hoping Ano Natsu will be able to do likewise.

7 Responses to “Romantic Frustration in Ano Natsu de Matteru”

  1. I don’t know quite when this happened, but you can have a pair of red arrows between Kaito and Ichika now, since she suddenly seems very intent on him now (confirmation in episode 6).

    The thing here though is that someone is going to lose out whatever happens, and it’s going to be one of the girls, and I don’t think it’ll be Ichika.

    The show will really ramp up the frustration though, you can count on that. Just looking at episode 6 is enough to tell you that. They are probably going to do as much as they can to cause friction and tension. Oh this show…

  2. Maybe Kaito can have Kanna while Ichika is away. Win-win. ~:D

  3. Personally, I feel the worst for Mio, who hasn’t really gotten much attention as of yet. She knows almost as much as Lemon does, but she actually has a stake in what happens that isn’t entertainment. Ignorance would be bliss, in her case.

  4. @Fumoffu!!
    Perhaps the best account at this stage is that Ichika’s arrow is purple. Yes, it’s now clear she’s strongly attracted to Kaito (which seems to have been spurned now that Kanna’s feelings for him have been revealed to her), but the doubt remains, given that her time on Earth is limited (although the details of that limitation haven’t exactly been made clear).

    @cyth
    Thinking about how Onegai Teacher ends, I don’t think this will happen. I’d be very surprised. It’d be a gutsy, unexpected ending, that’s for sure.

    @w
    But because she knows, she’s able to control the initiative and take action. Sexy, nopan action, it would seem.

  5. I’m really loving this show. One of my favorite romantic comedies in a long while. I find it interesting that the further to the left the character is on the chart, the more aware they are of what’s going on. For the most part they’re only paying attention to the person they like, and are completely oblivious to the feelings of the person who likes them (at least until recently). The characters are all pretty selfish in that sense, even Tetsuro, who thinks he’s being selfless. I’m looking forward to more.

    The creators must have some pretty big plans to be revealing certain elements that would normally be saved for late in the season this early. Too bad it’s only 12 episodes.

  6. About that scene when Kaito was filming Ichika about her thoughts on Kaito, he was caught off guard when she said “he is dependable” (or something of the sort). Dependability is a one of those big traits women in Japan look for in men. So when Ichika said that to him it felt like she could see him to be more than just a little brother.

    Btw I can’t take credit for this thought, and I’d give credit to whomever it is just but I just can’t recall where I’ve read this from. もう!!

  7. […] much a review as it is a literary observation. If you need a brief of the romantic situation, see this article Sorrow-kun wrote; it’s super […]

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