Although its opener didn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm for the series, I can't really fault Natsuyuki Rendezvous for quickly getting to the crux of its concept - thankfully, that stands it in good stead for episode two of the series.
Despite managing to blurt out his feelings for the boss lady, it seems that Hazuki has done nothing to follow up on that train of thought despite spending time with Rokka in the workplace since that confession - mind you, it's kind of hard to be even vaguely romantic when the dead husband of the woman you're interested in is floating around in the background and pulling silly faces. For her part, Rokka still seems rather intrigued by Hazuki's confession as she mulls it over in her head and tries to make sense of the whole thing from her perspective.
Ironically, it's Shimao (Deceased) that spurs Hazuki into action by calling him a chicken, and thus he plucks up the courage to get her away from the shop and the attentions of her husband by inviting her for dinner in what proves to be a simple but surprisingly effective date. Indeed, it seems that Rokka has decided to be surprisingly receptive to the whole thing... only for Hazuki to screw up by loudly voicing his thoughts about Shimao to him right in front of his wife. Oops. This foolish moment leaves both parties in rather a funk, and when Rokka comes down with a bad cold the next day in its aftermath the cold war between Hazuki and Shimao shifts in some decidedly fascinating ways.
After such a nondescript first episode, I wasn't expecting to suddenly be drawn into this series, but boy did this week's Natsuyuki Rendezvous manage to turn my opinions around with aplomb. For starters, there are a few refreshing items that emerge from this episode: firstly, the genuine depiction of Shimao's illness when we flash back to the period before his death - no mystery anime illnesses here, but rather something real, ravaging and visceral. Then there are our lead characters - an early twenties male and a thirty-year old woman, which is a far cry age-wise from most anime fare these days.
Most importantly however is the relationship between the three main characters - although none of their personalities are particularly well defined at this stage, as the episode progresses we really get inside the emotional state of both Rokka and, in particular, Shimao, and quite frankly it's heart-rending. Seeing this ghost of a husband unable to help his wife when she's ill or even cover her with a blanket when she's sleeping is moving in itself, and it's almost difficult to watch a man torn between never wanting to lose the woman he loves while simultaneously wanting her to be happy. The real genius here is that this isn't played in an overblown or dramatic way - it's simply there, simmering away in the background and evidenced by a glance or a change in body language, letting the viewer infer the rest. All of a sudden, this series is resonating with me, and from disinterest last week I now can't wait to see more, albeit via a rather melancholy sense of anticipation.