"You can't judge a book by its cover" is a well-known and well-worn piece of advice these days, and it remains so because it's quite frequently true. Having watched the opening trio of instalments of Natsu no Arashi, I'm starting to think that "You can't judge an anime by its first episode" should become an equally important saying in the everyday life of any keen anime watcher.
Anyhow, I'm getting ahead of myself here - Natsu no Arashi is one of a number of brand-new series as part of the Spring 2009 anime season in Japan to be brought instantaneously to our computer screens via a deal to simulcast every episode on Crunchyroll. That is, if you're a premium member of the site - Non-paying viewers will have to wait a week to catch the latest episode on the site. This particular series is an adaptation of a manga penned by Jin Kobayashi, who you may recognise from his work on School Rumble - A link which doubtless will draw in fans of that particular series in either manga or anime form.
Natsu no Arashi tells the story of Hajime Yasaka, a young boy who gets lost on a journey to stay with his grandfather and ends up stopping by at a quirky little cafe for a drink and some directions. It's here that his life is turned upside-down - Before he knows it, he's trying to protect a waitress at the cafe from a private detective, before finding out that this girl is in fact a ghost who can travel through time. I can't say that this is something that's ever happened to me at Starbucks, that's for sure.
So, from here the scene is set for the beginning of a fascinating friendship between Hajime and the aforementioned ghost Sayoko Arashiyama - Arashi to her friends - As they work together at the cafe and hang out together the rest of the time, surrounded by a number of equally interesting characters from a con artist who runs the cafe through to another waiter who isn't all that he first seems.
The reason for my opening paragraph to this review existing as it does is that, quite simply, the first episode of Natsu no Arashi left me absolutely cold. The animation was poor, the characters seemed uninteresting, and the overall plot of the instalment (which jumped straight in as though we were half-way through the series with both feet) was embarrassingly poor, like a cheap B-movie rip-off of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
However, I'm nothing if not a perseverant type and thank goodness this is the case, for come the end of episode three of the series I was all but hooked. Episode two takes us back to the real beginning of the story, and from that point forth things become far more interesting and well-rounded, with episode three further building upon this to really drive home the great dynamic between Hajime and Arashi while also making some far better use of the whole time travel plot device, albeit surprisingly briefly. Even the animation which I found to be so jarring in episode one began to come to life in subsequent instalments, offering up the kind of quirkily fascinating output that we've come to expect from the Shaft studio, complete with references to both other Shaft shows and Jin Kobayashi's own School Rumble.
Come to think of it, quirky probably sums up Natsu no Arashi so far rather nicely - The whole look and feel of the series is different to a lot of current anime with its almost old-school styling, while the story teeters between slice of life comedy and more drama-oriented genres despite frequently falling into the former side of the fence. It's still too early to mark this series down as an absolutely must-watch (particularly given that dire first episode), and if you're looking for something that has an instant emotional or adrenaline-fuelled impact then you're going to disappointed, but I'm beginning to get a good feeling that Natsu no Arashi is going to be a very interesting slow burner of a series. Thus far, it's certainly proving to be more and more rewarding to watch by the week.
Japanese audio, English subtitles - Available in low quality, high quality, H.264, 480P and 720P streaming resolutions.