End of Summer

What is the line between a mainstream anime story that contains liberal amounts of sex and hentai? It can be a hazy grey area, to be sure, and it's one the anime viewer has to decide. End of Summer is one of those shows that has fans that would never consider watching hentai films, though it has some extended steamy scenes that would just barely get an R rating in the States. Why is still so popular? Simply, it's a coming-of-age story that resonates with a lot of people. Moreover, it's one of the few anime that tries to show a young man's romantic relationships in high school in a "realistic" way. Granted, realistic in anime simply means that no one has battle armor, superpowers, or a tentacle growing out of their esophagus. Nevertheless, End of Summer tries to capture the feeling of that awkward stage where a teenager becomes an adult. I think it ultimately fails, but it is a noble failure at that.

End of Summer is based on the game called "Classmates" in Japan, in which you literally take a character from school on into college and such, choose a mate from several girlfriends, etc. It follows Wataru, a young man who is determined to make Mai, a pretty swimmer, his catch for the summer. However, there are several other girls in town--the track and field tomboy Misa, the abrasive Satomi, and not just a few others. Everyone has a few secrets to hide, and everyone is looking for that right person who must be waiting out there. The plot takes us through the relationships Wataru has with each one.

Ultimately, the plot is where End of Summer both succeeds and falls apart. The characters themselves appear to have plenty of background--with a basis in well-developed creations from the video game, I'd imagine that each has plenty of backstory. Each is unique and comes across as such--except maybe Wataru, who is a little flat for my taste. The events that happen are not unbelievable, and you can feel for the various characters. The art style is really nice and lends itself well to a shojo audience--it's clear that the girls are who's really important within the story, and the artwork is designed to appeal to a female audience. Where it falls apart, then, is in the eroticism that is supposed to separate this title from the crowd.

Characters within the show who have very realistic lives wind up having romanticized, everything-is-wonderful, no commitment sex (and the scenes are pretty long and graphic, so be well aware). The characters being what they are, I can't see there being no repurcussions from sharing such an intimate act. But there aren't--one girl seems to drop from the show after her big moment with Wataru, and the show ends right after the second big love scene. Perhaps that's what some people want to see, but it runs so contrary to everything else in the show that it spoils most of the effect. What's more, because the show ends in a ridiculous spot, there is almost no resolution. There is a sequel, but I don't know if I'd go that far to see it, seeing where this one ends. I'd need some prodding.

Whether it be the gentle yearning of Summer of '42 or the crass do-it-now attitude of American Pie, coming-of-age stories will focus around girls finding true love and guys finding a willing bedmate. End of Summer tries its best to be an important entry into the genre. At its heart, it is entertaining and tries to get it all right. It's certainly better than a lot of what's out there, but it misses the vital thing important about sex--it's the relationship between two people, not the physical act, that matters.

End of Summer -- graphic sexuality, language -- B-