Anime and the Changing of the Seasons

by eternal on March 13, 2010


When you saw this post in your feed reader or Anime Nano or what have you, you probably assumed it was just another meta post on the upcoming season of anime. Perhaps I would ramble on about why it’s bad to drop shows after one episode; maybe I would say that it’s important to watch a multitude of shows, including ones that normally wouldn’t appeal to you.

Actually, the “seasons” mentioned in the post title refers to something completely different. I’m talking about nature.

Wait, don’t close the tab yet – I’m not here to preach. I enjoy my skyscrapers and carefully planned city parks as much as the next person, and probably more. However, I’ve always felt a strange connection with the use of nature in anime as a visual, stylistic tool. Nature can grant the most sublime motifs and emotionally evocative art if it’s used appropriately, and yet it’s something that can so easily go unnoticed.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ve decided to separate the general category of “nature” into the four seasons. The seasons hold much more power over a show’s art than you might think. For instance, what comes to mind when I mention Da Capo? Visual novels are a bit of a cheap shot since, for one reason or another, they usually have a distinct season that defines their mood, but there’s no doubt that nature can play a big role in a show’s image. Remember the beginning of Suzumiya Haruhi, characterized by Kyon’s upward trek on the hill toward his new school? His monologue about Santa Claus always brings to mind the excitement of a new school term under the cherry trees, and I think that irony might have been intentional.

Anyway, I don’t think there are any concrete rules about seasons and their implications on the work itself (thematically or aesthetically), but there are certainly some trends. I’ll outline the ones I’ve found below.


The first of the four seasons carries a very obvious meaning in Japan: new beginnings. The cherry blossoms fall, the snow melts, and the school year begins. As a result of the fact that many anime revolve around the school year, spring always carries an air of blissful excitement. Bias aside, I think the beginning of Honey and Clover is a good example of spring, although it only lasts for a few episodes. The shot of the flower falling next to Hagu’s hair as the camera pans across her body – the moment that Takemoto falls for her – is perfectly symbolic of all that spring stands for in anime. It’s a new beginning, and it’s too early for reality to come crashing down.

As far as “bliss” goes, spring works well in visual novels because it fits the ideal portrayal of the characters’ lives. Like I mentioned before, Da Capo‘s eternal cherry trees are a literal representation of the story’s world of “eternal bliss”. The name refers to the same thing as well.

Incidentally, Fruits Basket uses spring to represent the end of winter, or the end of suffering. What do you get when snow melts, right? You get Spring. It can be either the light at the end of the tunnel or a joyous new beginning.


[yuuki tatsuya]

Amusingly, the first thing to come to mind at the mention of summer is the traditional beach episode in harem anime. Indeed, summer is a spectacular excuse for fanservice, but it can allude to much more than that in terms of aesthetics. The bright skies of summer are perfect for building energy and giving the characters all sorts of fun and exciting things to do. A perfect example of this is the summer home: every series has to have rich character with a vacation home on the beach, because every series has to have a trip to said home and the writers need an excuse to do it. K-On and Toradora are two recent popular examples. The former is perfectly pointless and altogether cheerful, while the latter carries some of the romantic undertones that work so well in the summer.

Interestingly, a summer day and a summer night can carry completely different meanings in fiction. The days are usually energetic and fun, but the nights are perfect for those dramatic starlit confessions. The two of you who played Wind -a breath of heart- should agree. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni also uses an interesting approach to summer because it takes the playful innocence of the season and contrasts it with the eerie, foreboding chirping of the cicadas that occurs at twilight. It’s masterfully done. The sight of Hinamizawa bathed in a blood-red sunset as the cicadas chirp in unison is one of my most vivid memories of the series.

Of course, there are some exceptions to every rule, and the first one that comes to mind is Air. I cannot for the life of me figure out what aspect of Air suits the summer season, but the visuals are tied to the story’s imagery of wings and flying so it doesn’t bother me.



Autumn is wistful. I have always felt this way about reality, and the sight of red-yellow leaves and sharp, early sunsets always brings to mind that feeling in anime. Unfortunately, autumn doesn’t seem to be a popular season in anime, but a few examples come to mind. Key’s ONE ~to the radiant season~ feels much like Kanon, but something about it feels more subtle and wistful rather than mysterious and tragic. It’s hard to describe the difference using words, but the imagery of fall leaves vs winter snow illustrates the difference in tone and atmosphere more effectively than you might think.

Tsukihime also takes place in the fall, which I find to be quite interesting. The season doesn’t have much of an impact on the game’s visual style, but the song Lamplight is, at least to me, filled with the bittersweet nostalgia that defines autumn. There’s something in the mourning of the violin that makes that one track stand out. Whenever someone mentions Tsukihime, I usually hear that song and imagine Shiki walking home to his mansion, thinking about how he hasn’t seen Akiha in years. It’s hard to define in a sentence, but I’ve always sensed an air of wistfulness and hesitance around Shiki’s actions, and the soundtrack adds to that tremendously.


In terms of anime, winter is probably best known by the meme “sad girls in snow”. Needless to say, Kanon‘s use of distant, childhood memories and its recurring imagery of snow-covered hills and a shopping center stained crimson by an early sunset are the very essence of winter in my eyes. Winter is not necessarily depressing, but it couldn’t be more different from the bliss of spring or the energy of summer. It carries some of autumn’s wistfulness, but something about it feels more magical, more mysterious.

Even when you exclude the surreal, dreamlike nature of some visual novels, winter is the perfect season for anything to do with romance. The snowy conclusion of Aoi Hana is still vivid in my memory, and the Christmas Eve date in The Gentleman’s Alliance Cross was particularly enjoyable. One of the most evocative uses of winter’s aesthetics I’ve ever seen is 5 Centimeters Per Second, both in the opening chapter and in the epilogue.

Christmas also plays an important role in the winter season, used for the visual appeal of the coloured lights and the psychological appeal of the festive season. Love Hina‘s Christmas Special is said to be the best part of the anime, and perhaps the only good part. Interestingly, the beginning of ef – a tale of memories reverses the Christmas trope and instead uses it as a new beginning for Hiro and Miyako, much like the spring.

– – –

Finally, I’d like to point out that there are some patterns in certain creators’ works when it comes to the choice of season. The most obvious example is Key: Clannad is warm and more or less blissful; Air is a bit of an exception, but it ties the imagery of a bright summer sky with its own imagery of flying and “waiting in the air”; One is wistful in its portrayal of the protagonist’s empty world that he’s destined to return to; Kanon is imbued with the mystical, surreal charm of winter, and the sadness and dramatic romance fit nicely with the falling snow.

(Incidentally, the last episode of Seitokai no Ichizon explicitly explains how the four girls are based off of the four seasons)

You could probably do a similar examination with the Touhou characters since many of them have their own visual quirks (Yuyuko’s butterflies, Koishi’s hearts, the Aki sisters’ self-explanatory names). While most of these don’t deal with the four seasons, they have the same impact in the sense that they’re a visual style that can impact the viewer’s emotional reaction without impacting the story in the slightest.

In retrospect, that’s more or less what the seasons are all about in anime: they define a show’s setting and atmosphere unconsciously, and they provide a concrete image for the viewer to associate with a particular feeling or memory. Without the careful use of the spring season’s traits in the art direction of the early episodes of Honey and Clover, I would not have that memory of the beginning of Takemoto’s love; if the key animators and director for the Kanon OP were lazy, I would not associate Last Regrets with a surreal winter morning, hinting at a tragedy beneath a seemingly blissful existence.

Thanks to the creators, though, I do have those memories, and I can honestly say that they have increased my enjoyment as a viewer. It’s natural to not want to stop and smell the roses – or in this case, pause and screencap the backgrounds – but it’s incredible to see how a subjective feeling of a theme or story can be visualized into a tangible sight by a good artist.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Shinmaru March 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Even though it might not completely fit in with summer, Air’s summer beachside city has always been my favorite “real world” setting in anime. It looks like a perfect place to live. I always get such a feeling of warmth and comfort when I look at that town — which, I think, fits with the whole maternal relationship theme the show has going on, but maybe that’s just me.


mt-i March 13, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Summer is perhaps also the season when it hurts the most to be alone. A month-long vacation to go through, with everyone else enjoying themselves in funny excursions and beach trips, and you can’t even leave home for too long because of the crushing heat. I can’t really think of AIR set in any other season. The dazzling brightness of it all underlines the tragedy superbly.


Enthousiaste March 14, 2010 at 5:10 am

ARGH I’m moved :'(

As mt-i says, and even before the beginning of the summer holidays, I have often felt the crushing contrast between the dazzling sky and my own heart.

But I guess the role of summer in Air is to be reminiscent of the viewer’s own childhood and summer holidays. Here, summer does not instill joy, it instills nostalgia. (Well, it’s been a too long time since I watched Air and all I can remember clearly is Tori no Uta, so I may be completely wrong.)


Aorii March 15, 2010 at 8:21 am

I’m surprised you haven’t made one of these posts earlier, given the KEY fan that you are :p

The Key visnovs are also rather transitory, which makes more sense for AIR in my opinion:
AIR would be Summer->Fall(->Winter->Spring), with Mizusu’s carefree time coming to an end coming to an end and leading to her loss before the next incarnation swings around when she’s free of this endless cycle of tragedy.
Kanon is Winter->Spring, while ONE is Fall->Winter->Spring with the protagonist vanishing into the dream world and then returning in the epilogue.
Clannad really goes full circle twice. Everything starts with the Spring love, the Summer exemplifying their relationship becoming fully realized, Nagisa falling sick during the Fall and her loss during the Winter, then everything takes a full spin again with Ushio until the unforgettable scene with Okazaki carrying her in the snow…


Canne March 15, 2010 at 12:37 pm

This is a very interesting topic that seems to be overlooked for all this time. Changing of season significantly affects the story and the emotion of the characters but I can’t help feel that its influence is limited to only drama/slice of life genre. Or maybe I should have looked more closely -_-‘


Mia March 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Unfortunately, living in a country of eternal summer, i am unable to experience what each season has to offer. The overarching atmosphere of a season can be felt if done properly as in Kanon.


Fabrice March 16, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Dam you wrote well.
you can add that kimi ni todoke is a Spring anime right?

but ye i guess each Key VN has there own season,
I wonder how The Rewrite VN will take place.


ETERNAL March 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

@ Shinmaru: That’s a good point. I couldn’t seem to find a connection stylistically, but the town certainly gives off a feeling of warmth (sometimes literally) that fits with the story. Actually, it’s one of my favourite settings too, with or without the season.

@ mt-i: I thought you were joking at first, but now that I’m thinking about it, that makes perfect sense. It just takes a bit of effort for me to go back and look at the story from Misuzu’s perspective (ironically, the anime already does that, but it’s been so long…)

@ Enthousiaste: That’s what confused me when I started thinking of what to write about it: nostalgia is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Air, or anything Key-related, but I couldn’t make a connection between that any other summer stories. Perhaps it could remind the viewer or their own joyful summer memories, and that can tie in with mt-i’s comment: the memories of your own summers become painful when you realize that the heroine is forced to live without them.

@ Aorii: Nice! It never occurred to me that the transitions between seasons could apply to all of their games. I’ll have to keep that Clannad one in mind when I play the game: I made the mistake of not paying attention to the seasons during the anime. It’s shameful, I know ;_;

@ Canne: It’s definitely more noticeable among romance/slice-of-life shows, but it can probably be applied to other genres if you look closely enough. Admittedly, though, I can’t think of any examples off hand. I think the main problem is that other genres, especially action/shounen, don’t really use seasons to define their tone and atmosphere. For example, Gurren Lagann’s wasteland on the surface sticks out in my memory and it accomplishes the same goal as the snowy town in Kanon, but it has nothing to do with the seasons.

@ Mia: Incidentally, the one reason why I’d be hesitant to live in California is because I heard it rarely snows there. The spring season isn’t very pronounced where I live though.

@ Fabrice: Thanks! I was thinking of listing Kimi ni Todoke as a spring show, especially since it fits perfectly with what I was talking about, but I couldn’t quite remember if it took place in the spring. As for Rewrite, it might not have a distinct season since I don’t think Little Busters had one either.


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