Summer Time Rendering

Shinpei Ajiro had a relatively carefree upbringing on the island of Hitogashima, located off the western coast of the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan. Despite the fact that he was orphaned at a relatively young age, he was raised by his late parents’ close friends, the Kofune family, who provided him with a secure and loving home life. After he graduates from high school, however, an inarticulate restlessness draws Shinpei away from the island to Tokyo, where he lives alone while attending university. In his wake he leaves his unresolved feelings for Ushio Kofune, the eldest of his adopted siblings, having departed for Tokyo without saying goodbye. For two years Shinpei stays away – only to be drawn back by tragic news. Ushio is dead. Despite being a strong swimmer, she apparently drowned while saving a young girl from drowning in the waters off Hitogashima. Yet from the moment Shinpei steps ashore on the island, things don’t seem to ring true: there is something distinctly “off” about Shiori Kobayakawa, the girl Ushio saved; likewise, the presence on the island of acclaimed horror novelist Hizuru Minakata – with whom Shinpei has already had an unfortunate encounter on the ferry to Hitogashima –  makes no sense; finally, rumours reach Shinpei that Ushio’s body was discovered with marks around her neck, indicating she may have been murdered. But before Shinpei can even enlist the aid of his best friend Sō, his younger adopted sister Mio, and Mio’s best friend (and Sō’s sister) Tokiko to help him solve the mystery, he is murdered by an unknown assailant – only to find himself once more on the ferry to Hitogashima, his memories of the previous timeline still intact. It is only then that Shinpei realises that he stands unwittingly at the heart of a vast supernatural conspiracy, in which he must not only battle time and causality but use his ability to reset the past – which comes at the cost of his own life – to save Ushio and the residents of Hitogashima from being overwhelmed by cosmic horror…

Based on the manga by Yasuke Tanaka and produced by studio OLM, Summer Time Rendering premiered on the Disney+ streaming network in April 2022. Conventionally but captivatingly animated with an emphasis on physical surrounds and the island’s familiar-yet-remote atmospherics, the series immerses the viewer in an engaging though somewhat involved story in which nothing is ever quite what it seems, and unforeseen twists take the narrative in startlingly different directions. Indeed, such are the intricacies of the story mechanics that it might be better to binge the whole 25 episodes in one or two sittings in order to stay across all the shifting identities and alliances. Nonetheless, through all the changes in space-time and narrative direction, the burgeoning relationship between Shinpei and Ushio acts like a kind of golden thread, grounding the series and preventing it from becoming too distracted with its own hall-of-mirrors premise. That their relationship is understated and never overly dramatized only adds to its depth and centrality, with emotional sidebars provided by Mio’s unspoken infatuation for Shinpei and Sō’s unrealised love for Mio. Secondary characters such as grizzled islander Ginjirō Nezu and lackadaisical island cop Tetsu Totsumura help bring a nice ensemble feel to the piece; while Hizuru Minakata (who, as it turns out, is inhabited by the “shadow” of her long-dead brother, Ryūnosuke) hinges the series and acts as a lynchpin between Shinpei and his allies and their supernatural opponents. Combining solid production values with equally in-depth storytelling, Summer Time Rendering is rewarding viewing for those who can stay the course of this intricate, not-what-it-appears-to-be thriller.    

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2023. All rights reserved.