Adolescence has always been a turbulent time. It marks the no-man's land between childhood and adulthood, where you have to balance your desires and needs with your obligations and responsibilities. Anyone too repressed is bound to crack, and anyone too carried away is bound to do something irrevocable. If you don't learn to maintain balance, you could change things forever.
This is the lesson four schoolboy friends on summer vacation – Marion, Claude, Lindo and Jacques - learn the hard way. The stoic and firm Marion is seduced by an older woman, which teaches him about emotional balance; his devoted friend Claude strains under a secret
passion; and Lindo and Jacques quarrel over a girl they both like, which escalates into a duel to the death...
The story was written by Keiko Takemiya, an anime/manga writer who pioneered stories of relationships between males (both physical and platonic); thus the tale is sensitively written, mostly focusing on the boys, their personalities with both virtues and vices, and their development over the course of the film. The female characters don't get too much attention, but they serve as catalysts for the boys to react over and what time they have is well used.
The feature boasts a rich, moody atmosphere to the tale, in which the animation changes according to the tone; romance and joy are portrayed in misty pastel visions, while passionate dramas are stormy and stark vignettes. One of the best scenes in the feature is of Marion finding Claude having a breakdown in a stable, which is both desperate and heartbreaking. The story also contains an air of impending doom and nostalgia through the viewpoint of an extended flashback, when the boys were younger and the outcome of the duel has already occurred...
The voices are well done, featuring a cast of now-veteran voice actors who were in their early years (it's not often you hear Yamcha and Piccolo go to war over Luna LOL). The direction is also very good, displaying both restraint and expressiveness. But the top draws in this are the artwork and the music, which enhance the film's story and turn a standard coming-of-age drama into an emotional voyage and roller-coaster (with the latter slowly and unstoppably overwhelming the former).
Overall, it's a very unique feature in anime, in that it's a mood piece (a rare thing nowadays, even for Western animation) and that it's one of the best mood pieces ever made. A great watch, and a heartbreaking ode to turbulent adolescence.
Natsu e no Tobira/The Door Into Summer in English is an animated film from 1981 based on the manga of the same name by Keiko Takemiya. A pioneer of shonen-ni/yaoi manga in the early 1970s whose short story, Sunroom ni te, contains the earliest known male-male kiss in a shojo manga. She’s an accomplished mangaka whose contribution to her field is far more interesting, and engaging than this Madhouse and Toei produced animated hour-long film. It’s a relic of the past that is better left collecting dust.
Natsu e no Tobira attempts to be a coming of age story tackling the idea of raw
love in youth. Unfortunately there isn’t enough material for it to delve into its own chosen subject. Right off the bat the film opens with intrigued starting at a future point with two friends in a twenty paces pistol duel with main character Marion in his attempt to stop them. This opening is stylishly presented with field of red roses contrasting against a dark sky along with black and white human characters figure in the pouring rain. This opening scene is a good hook in making the viewer wonder what led up to this moment. Everything after this opening is an immediate failure.
For starter, the biggest issue for this coming of age film is there’s virtually no characterization. Without establishing how the central characters were before experiencing their life changing events it doesn’t feel like they learned anything from their conflicts. A character in the film reveals he has feeling for his male best friend which isn’t hinted at any point in the film. It’s a spontaneous revelation that only brings to mind crucial questions. What made him fall in love with his friend, and how long has he felt this way aren’t answered. Presenting itself more in the way of an over the top soap opera exaggerating every major scene. Similar dramatic scenes are presented in ridiculous way, but are not enjoyable because they’re meant to be taken seriously.
Another issue is Marion is a boring main character. He, like the rest of the film, is simply going through the motions of events without setting up a proper groundwork. Marion point of view on love is of that of a fairy tale, but he’s too shallow to be sucked into the emotions he's going through. There are only few lines of dialogue that attempt to characterize Marion, and give a bit of backstory, but they’re delivered in a throwaway manner not allowing time for those plot points to sink in before another event happens that progresses the story. The dialogue in general revolves around love which gets repetitive when characters have no other things to talk about.
There’s a scene where our characters see the dead body of a friend that committed suicide. One of them acts appropriately being sadden at the lost of a friend only then to utter out loud he wants to be hold by the woman (who's in her 40s) he loves. In the background of the same scene two other characters talk about dueling to get a girl hand in marriage. A friend of these characters killed himself, learn about it recently going to the site, and they are so self-absorbed in their own problems to pay to their dead friend any proper respect. Other characters don’t fare any better. Marion is one-dimensional while everyone else are more in the cookie cutter variety. Nearly all the characters have a conflict revolving around love, aren’t developed to make any said change meaningful, and are treated as plot devices.
Madhouse and Toei Animation who are responsible for putting this anime movie together were faithful to the manga which is a negative. The manga is a single volume, less than 80 pages manga telling the same exact story which would take an average reader less amount of time to read in its entirety than watching this film. There's not enough material to extent into an hour-long film. Unfortunately the added scenes don’t improve an already short story with rush pacing and shallow writing. It’s bloated with scenes dragging out in order to be extended to an hour length. Instead of expanding on the basic story it inflates itself with material that doesn’t do much in the long run to improve the source material. One of these decision is giving supporting characters more screen time, but that doesn’t amount too much since supporting characters are simply tools to advance to the next scene.
All the characters look feminine, especially the males. Emphasizing beauty of character over anything else. Containing sparkling eyes, smooth skins, and gorgeous similar looking hair cut. None of the character designs standout being exactly what you would expect from a Shojo that doesn’t attempt to standout. The background is generally blurry in line with a wispy like style. With the exception of the flower field where the duel is held backgrounds are dull to look at with minimal detail paid to them.
The music is composed by Kentaroh Handeda whose score is a mixture of violins, saxophone, piano, and low-key singing of lalala lyrics. If you allowed a giant pile of cheese to produce music for this anime you would get the same result. Not a single memorable track helps the anime in any positive way. There’s a terrible sex scene in the film which is made worse by jazz like music combine with animation that attempt to make it look poetic. The result is one of the worst sex scenes you could see that’s animated. In general the music is forgettable and has the power to put anyone to sleep when listening to it.
Voice acting from the entire cast is weak. Granted the material wasn’t good in the first place, but the voice work doesn’t fare out better with the vocal performances. The gender roles are basically reverse in their performances; the females are reserve, and the males are more emotional. Like with everything else in the film the voice acting leaves allot to be desired. In general being trite, unconvincing in relaying across any proper emotion in their line delivery to make them believable.
Natsu e no Tobira has a lot of problems, but the one thing the anime movie does better over the manga is the pacing so everything in the film flows more naturally. While there isn’t enough substance to justify its own length at least it unfolds in a more proper manner than the manga. However, even with that small praise it clearly went to waste. Madhouse and Toei studio both failed to add anything to something that was already rushed, and shallow from the source material managing to make it worse in animated form.
Natsu e no Tobira holds a rather interesting place in anime and manga history. Its source material was a short manga written by Keiko Takemiya, an important forerunner in shounen-ai and romance. In fact, it even features one of the first male homosexual kiss scenes in shojo anime and manga. It was one of the first films from the legendary studio Madhouse, who collaborated with the equally influential studio Toei. Further, it was the first film directed by the obscure, yet low-key highly influential director Mori Marasaki most famous for his work on Barefoot Gen. That alone makes it
an interesting historical footnote, but can it hold up on its own merits? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is mostly a flat “No.”
Natsu e no Tobira tells the story of a few boys at a boarding school in what appears to be prerevolutionary France (though the exact historical setting is unclear to me). It focuses on Marion, a hyper-rational, emotionally and sexually repressed young boy, and his friends who idolize Marion. Marion is in love with another girl in his class, yet is too nervous and repressed to express any emotion to her. One day, a 40-year-old woman named Sarah shows up and coaxes Marion into an affair (more accurately, rapes him until he likes it in the film’s most striking and surprisingly graphic scene), which changes him from a typical Enlightenment-era shrewd into a regular Don Juan-style playboy. This comes as a dismay to his friends, especially a boy named Claude who, it is later revealed, has a crush on Marion. Claude kills himself in the end out of terror, and Marion loses his all his friends.
On the surface, the film is a trite, rehashed, boring coming-of-age story and love triangle gone wrong mostly focusing on the struggle of attaining sexual maturity. Worse yet, it appears to be a genesis of shounen-ai’s obnoxious, unrealistic, and debauched penchant for glorifying rape fantasies. Below the surface, if you can excuse me for possibly reading too much into this, it strives to have something like political and moral commentary. The most interesting theme to me is how it explores what happens when liberal notions of rights and duties are abandoned. In the film’s most memorable and best-written scene where Sara essentially rapes Marion, Marion insists that Sara has no right to touch his body. Sara responds by claiming that this is not a question of right, rebukes the libertarian notion that Marion has any special claim of self-ownership and is really owned by his friends and family members.
After this, Marion appears to have bought Sara’s argument, professes to have fallen in love with her, and proclaims he’s finally happy and beginning to like other people. Yet given the way the film ends with his would-be lover committing suicide and Marion’s desertion of his rationalist, liberal moral notions destroying basically everyone’s life, it does not seem that the author agrees with Sara’s quasi-communitarian critique of rights and duties. I would argue Sara is really the antagonist, and the film admirably does not glorify Marion’s rape but shows the consequences when seductive abuse leads one to abandon their basic moral convictions.
Or, at least, that’s what this film could have been. I hope that my over-analysis shows that the basic skeleton of the plot and writing had some potential for something resembling depth. Unfortunately, this potential is marred by horrendous execution. Absolutely no exposition is given beyond contrived narration to make one care about any of the characters at all. Claude’s love for Marion is not even revealed until the climatic scene of his suicide (where he also, confusingly, begins to sexually assault Marion which is completely out of his character). Other than Marion, all the characters are flat and completely uninteresting—and even in Marion’s case his development strains credibility since it is so rushed.
The result is that ostensibly emotionally intense scenes fall completely flat. Anyone who was not looking for anything more than a good romance story is probably left wondering why anyone should care, the weird ones like me who overanalyze this stuff feel like we were jipped out of an ok plot with some thematic decent potential. Worse yet, many events especially in the second half of the film are completely disconnected and jarringly transition from and to each other. Make no mistake about it, this is a horrendously poorly-executed, poorly paced, badly constructed story.
However, there are other things that one can salvage from the experience. The art design and animation is interesting and easily the best thing about this film, though inconsistent in quality. You can tell Misaki was completely uninterested in delivering on the plot, and spent all of his efforts constructing a rather well-directed and animated film. There are interesting abrupt changes in color palates from sort of pastel-heavy scenes reminiscent of watercolor paintings, to minimalist sketch outlines, to dark monochrome scenes that are fitting to the mood they are supposed to have. Further, there are some quite visually striking pillow shots.
The character designs are dated, oddly feminine for male characters, but adequate and pretty interesting. From a purely technical perspective, it’s a valiant first effort for a new director but it’s a shame Misaki was given such bad source material. Maybe he could have rewritten the script so it ventured from the manga, added to exposition and character development in the early stages and made it so we had a reason to give a damn about the plot. But he did not, so it’s ultimately an adequate adaptation of a bad story with a lot of missed opportunities.
Most of the voice acting is, at best, mediocre and uninspired. The soundtrack is inconsistent. At times, it makes everything feel like a cliché, corny, melodramatic soap opera. Other times, it just completely distracts from the dialogue. But there are scenes where it worked, especially near the end, and was rather interesting. At best, however, the soundtrack is adequate; and at worst, completely stale.
Overall, is this worth seeing? Maybe if you have an hour to kill and are really interested in obscure anime history or really like Misaki’s later works. However, there are probably better uses of your time.