The series is divided in two parts. The first part is about Ayumu spending the summer with his father in a sleepy town where nothing ever happens. There are some really weird inhabitants of the town: the man who runs the 'observatory' who is constantly talking about how the 'membranes between worlds are growing thinner', there's the proprietor of the conbini who was absent for five years with no-one knowing where she went, there's the moped-riding boy whose soulmate/rival is an old cat, there's the young girl who dissapeared for two days and now talks about things no-one can see...
I wrote in my first episode review that this had a very Twin Peaks-like feel to it. And that feel is maintained all through the first part of the series. You know: small town where all the inhabitants seem to have secrets or an agenda, where no-one speaks straight and where it is impossible for an outsider like Ayumu to really get behind it all. Ayumu is terribly bored with it all, until his new mountain bike is delivered. Now he can venture out of the village and explore the valley. During one of his first forays up the mountain, he meets a small boy in a poncho who tells him that he had been waiting for a long time for Ayumu to return. The boy seems to be able to appear and dissapear at will, the little girl knows about him, and then there are the small spaceships that normal people can't see... Add in the ghost stories surrounding a resort further up the hill and the reporter who wants to get to the bottom of it all, and you have an interesting mix.
Except not much happens. The pacing is really, really slow. Most of the time, people just sit around and talk about things that may or may not have a connection to the larger story. I think it does capture the life of small-town Japan in the middle of summer quite nicely -- with the washed-out color pallette to give everything that sun-bleached look.
The second part is set two years later, in Yokohama (Ayumu's home town). Maybe it's the urban environment, or the time period its set in, but that part has a completely different feel. Sure, people still talk about lots of things at a leisurely pace (old people seem to have a knack for Gnomic Utterances, some of which are quite amusing), but the pace feels faster.
It's hard to say anything more without spoiling the series. The central point seem to be the 'Material Fairies', the tiny 'space ships' that seem sentient and are able to interact with humans (on their own terms). Ayumu and the little girl can see them, and the highschool dropout can too. There's a connection to old Japanese myths about utensils being invested with a spirit through continuous use, and the two types ('Material Fairies' and 'Material Evils') seem to be related about that.
It's all quite unclear in the end what it was all about -- because what exactly was Wakkun? What was his connection to the Material Fairies? Just how did Bun-chan reincarnate as a Fairy?
That's all questions that will, probably, never be answered -- another point of similarity with Twin Peaks, I guess. ;)
For me, the series has just the right balance between slow-paced (I seem to have a thing for slow-paced series) and offering just enough new information that you are curious how things are going to develop further on. Some of the conversations are pretty good -- grandma explaining just how people lived before the era of mobile phones and SMS, or Ayumu explaining that you expect things about a story just because you think it is a story, but that reality rarely confirms to those preconceptions about how things are supposed to work out. Those things are completely unrelated to the plot, but it is fascinating to hear fictional characters spout philosophical garbage like that for minutes on end.
By now you should have a good idea of whether the series would be something for you, or not. Because you shouldn't watch it for the artwork. Sure, the drawings are decent, but the animation is minimal. The CGI is pretty good, though -- but the difference between CGI and cell-animation is quite clear. Voice acting is decent, but not stellar. The music is interesting in spots (if choral pieces are your thing), but not really anything special either.
- Interesting mysteries;
- Great atmosphere;
- Amusing conversations.
- Quite basic artwork and animation;
- Leaves some questions unanswered.
All in all, a 7.
Also, I wrote this review on an old P3, while Ubuntu was being installed. Just how cool is an OS when you can already use it while it is being installed!?