The End of Summer: The story behind the story

What follows are some notes I originally wrote to aid myself in story planning, but as a couple of people asked about some background I tidied the notes up and added some points I made in some web forum posts.

The idea of writing the fanfic came to me after I'd fallen completely in love with Whisper of the Heart. I was so captivated by the story that I wanted to know more about Seiji's and Shizuku's relationship. What I particularly wanted was for them to stay together as they grew up and to marry. Usually child love fades away and couples break apart, as happened to me when I was thirteen. The magic of the movie was such that I yearned for a break up like that not to happen. This was also an opportunity for me to lay to rest some old demons and move on.

So I thought about continuing the story myself and writing an ending that made it pretty certain that the teenagers would stay together and eventually marry.

The first germ of an idea came to me when I thought: "wouldn't it be nice if the Luisa cat doll could be reunited with the Baron doll?" That was the catalyst. The Luisa doll is in Germany somewhere, so I had to get my characters to Europe. Of course Seiji has already been to Italy and what better way to get Shizuku there than to have Seiji attend a summer violin making school and Shizuku goes with him. The reuniting of the dolls would be a symbol for Seiji and Shizuku that love can span decades and not fade, a lesson they would take with them into marriage. I found I could tidy up the details by having Luisa's family flee Germany during the war and go to Italy, the doll going with her.

All well and good so far.

Then other stuff began to happen that I had not expected. First the real live Luisa character came into the story and the prospect of her meeting Mr. Nishi after a gap of 55 years appealed to me as another plot device to present the enduring quality of true love. As the story developed the circumstances of the meeting between Shirou and Luisa changed but it remained an important signpost for the two teenagers.

It also became apparent that I needed Seiji's character to be developed. For Shizuku to see something deeper and worthwhile in him she had to discover something about him that would make her want to spend her life with him. In the Whisper anime Seiji is a pretty unknown quantity and I realised I could take what little we do know about him and make him more interesting and quite a complex person. His relationship with his father is revealed as is a backstory revolving around his close relationship with his grandpa and violin making. At the end of the story Seiji experiences a traumatic moment of self discovery, Shizuku is instrumental in helping him through this and their bond becomes unbreakable at that point.

As I was researching the story I looked up Japan Airlines flights to Italy. JAL flies into Milan several times a week. Their flight JL417 departs Tokyo Narita airport at 13:00 and arrives at Milan Malpensa at 18:35. I messed with these facts a little, making the arrival at the smaller nearby Milan Linate airport and about an hour later. I found that Linate's runway can accept 747s but its passenger handling facilities would be more primitive than the bigger airport. I found that during the mid to late-1990s Malpensa airport was undergoing major rebuilding work with a second terminal being constructed, so I used this real event to assume that some flights were diverted to Linate airport which is closer to the city centre. I found there was a 20:15 train leaving Milan Central Station for Venice which goes via Cremona and I even found out the train number and locomotive type. For atmospheric reasons I wanted an evening arrival in Milan and a night journey across the city and by train to Cremona. The stresses and strains of long haul flight and an onward transfer late into the night cause some problems for Seiji and Shizuku and I was able to strengthen their relationship by this means.

The Whisper anime has a tightly plotted calendar and timeline; with help from the manga it's possible to identify the exact starting and end dates and the dates of most significant days along the way. There is also consistent weather and time of day throughout and this combined with lovely lighting effects and sky colours convinced me that my story should try and follow this example. My story therefore also needed a correct calendar and accurate settings, times of day, weather and so on. My mind was often on the lighting in the scenes and the sky colours.

The Milan arrival also gave me the opportunity to reveal a special, even mystical quality in Shizuku's character. This ability aids her, in a future life the story doesn't cover, in becoming a successful author. The scenes in Milan and Venice point toward this and the discovery of the seaplane model in Cremona indicate to us that it is she who writes the story that becomes the film Porco Rosso.

Like many stories there is some autobiography present in The End of Summer. The scene in which her father tries to get close to Shizuku the day she leaves for Italy is really a scene depicting me trying to talk to my own daughter. My daughter is twelve and in a few years she and I will face the issues Shizuku and her father face. The scene is partly preparation for that trauma.

I have experienced death close up in recent years: my father passed away some years ago, then a close friend of my own age dropped dead one day of a heart attack. In mid-2006 another close friend died after a long battle against breast cancer. In 2004 my mother passed away in hospital after a long illness. I was the only person with her at her bedside when she died, and there can be few events in life that can move a person so much. The end of the film involving death is my attempt to deal with this and to find new beginnings in younger lives (as I see in my own daughter each day). Writing these passages was very difficult but I was able to end on a positive note.

Well there it is. I hope you get something out of this story, and I thank you for reading it.

The follow are three posts from web forums that I wrote in response to reader comments. Number One.

This is just a good old fashioned love story. There are fantasy bits but the strange events in Milan and Venice are a sub plot relating to Shizuku's future story writing, and a plot device to draw Seiji closer to her by way of his concern for her. I hope The End of Summer reinforces the message at the end of the original film. My craving at the end of Whisper was for the two kids to stay together (I have strong personal reasons for this, you've probably picked up on that elsewhere). I structured an ending (which is really just Shizuku's Chapter 23 monologue plus a series of stills as the final credits come up) that made it clear that the next step for them is marriage and emigration to Europe.

Another thing I wanted to do was really flesh out the Seiji character. Seiji is a very interesting person in the anime but a little thin, if you like, not a completely believable person. For me he's just a bit too nice, too perfect, too much the gentleman. I wanted to introduce some vulnerability, some flaws. I could feel that behind his violin making motivation there were some interesting driving forces at work so I fleshed his character out with a pretty severe period of self doubt and revelation. It's this revelation, and Shizuku's key role in helping him in this struggle, that ensures a strong bond between them that is enough to keep them together through high school until they marry. Seiji in the story is focussed almost exclusively on this issue. Since this issue isn't resolved until the final few chapters I held the Seiji character at a distance through 2/3rds of the story in order to make the revelation at the end more dramatic. The stuff Shizuku gets up to in Cremona involving cats, antique shops and elderly ladies is for him completely incidental.

Apart from the climactic discussion on the plane on the way back (Chapter 20), which for me is the key scene of the story, Shizuku's focus is all on her finding the doll, and meeting Anna-Marie and Luisa. At the end her character gains solace from the symbol of the two dolls being apart for so long and reunited. She also infers a warning from Louise and Mr Nishi being apart for so long and not being reunited. With Seiji preparing to emigrate to Italy she sees her future as possibly a duplicate of Mr Nishi's life: noble but tragic. These experiences of the pain of lost love and separation makes her realise that she must follow Seiji to Cremona and live with him.

It was these sorts of forces working to keep the two young people together after the credits roll on Whisper that was my main aim in writing the story. I wanted compelling forces like these when I started writing and I'm pleased with the way the story grew of its own accord as I went along. It's no work of art but it has achieved what I set out to do and I think it does it tolerably well.

I thought it was interesting that the anime gives us the concept of Mr. Nishi knowing Luisa before the war in his student days and leaving her which is so closely mirrored by Seiji knowing Shizuku in his student days and potentially leaving her. Nishi left Europe and went to Japan, Seiji is travelling the opposite way. I can't think this is co-incidence, I'm certain that Miyazaki/Kondo were giving us this deliberately.

Number Two.

By all means if you see something that's wrong / annoying / could be better let me know, "polishing" will go on for a while. I've already fixed quite a few things since the story was posted on the forums, for example Luisa's 65 year old younger brother isn't Italian, he's German! Doh! How did I let that happen? So my reference to him being Italian has gone out of the version of the story on my PC.

I wasn't too worried about using the Kouji character the way I did: at least I maintained his interest in photography. The manga was pretty well hacked about by Ghibli to convert it to the anime so I feel it's OK for me to make some changes. All reference to the Kouji character could be deleted and it wouldn't make one bit of difference to the story. We know from the anime that Seiji is a younger brother (there's a clear mention of it, I'm sure you know which scene I'm referring to) so putting Kouji in helped flesh out Seiji's backstory a little. I made sure the important parts of Seiji's backstory do not contradict the anime in any way.

As to property sizes I don't say how big the Amasawa house is. All we know is Shizuku thinks it's huge but then again living where she does she probably thinks the Harada house is huge. You could get 2 or 3 cars on Yuko's driveway, no problem. As the Tsukishima's don't own a car, even seeing two on a driveway might have prompted Shizuku to say what she did. I envisage the Amasawa house being one of the bigger properties of the nice sort up on the hills in the Earth Shop neighbourhood. It's certainly no mansion and because Seiji cycles between his home and the Earth Shop on a regular basis it can't be too far away.

I wasn't thinking of Fio's monologue when I did the ending, although of course it's very similar. I just kind of discovered that I'd reached the end of the story and rather embarrassingly found I still had a lot of unused material that was valid. Doh! The story had to end there for closure purposes. With all that information to impart, a monologue seemed the best way. I think the images from Shizuku's thoughts could be stills here at the end.

Yes, I'm a fan of Porco Rosso, but it's not in my top three Ghiblis. The whole Milan canal / seaplane model thing came along well after the story had started and it was a bit spooky the way it all fitted together; elements from Porco, Whisper and real life all conspired so that it fitted the situation perfectly. I wanted something special in Shizuku's character that would empower her to write well, and as this is a romantic fantasy story I needed something that was suitably fantasy-based, not mundane. So I gave her this vision ability. I chose to make her the writer of the original Porco Rosso book that would be made into an anime - this device allows the reader to identify with the Porco related incidents because its another Ghibli anime and they'll pick up on the links. Had I used another famous story and made her the author of that then, well, it just wouldn't have had anything like the same impact. So it had to be a Ghibli movie and as (an amazing co-incidence which I milked for all it was worth) Japan Airlines fly into Milan and as the Porco movie has a long important Milan scene the link just came about that way. Also, when Shizuku saw the restored clock in Whisper the maker was Porco Rosso, a little Ghibli joke that I turned around. In my universe Shizuku stored this name away in her memory and when it comes time for her to write the seaplane book some years later she recalls this name because it's Italian and because it evokes a happy memory for her and she names her hero after it. As the name is Crimson Pig that sets her off thinking about why he is a pig, and it all fits in quite nicely.

Number Three.

Shizuku's waking scene in Chapter 12 was a real swine to write. Loads of delete-and-rewrite went on here before I was happy with it. The hem of the pyjama jacket comes to just below her bottom, shorter than a short skirt but enough to cover the important bits. Something this short is for wearing only in bed, never in the street! What I'm trying to slip in here is a hint that Shizuku is growing up. She no longer wears kids pyjamas as we see in Whisper but has matured into night-wear that is more adult. She's making choices now about what she wears, even in the bedroom, rather than her parents deciding she'll wear kiddy pyjamas and her just choosing the colour. A sexy item of clothing like a short night-dress would have gone over a certain decency line I wasn't going to cross and given the scene entirely the wrong flavour so I went with a man's pyjama top. I once had a girlfriend who slept dressed like this and so that memory came back and I used it. I wanted to leave out all hints of sexyness and played that aspect of the scene right down. In an anime I see this scene as really quite cute, something as innocent as Satsuki getting in the bath with her dad or Kiki getting dressed/undressed. Only of course as this is a fifteen year old an anime can't show anything (I'm just not into nudity scenes as in Elfen Lied at all, they do nothing for me if they are not relevant to the plot. They're just cheap. We see lots of nudity in Evangelion but that works since it's hardly gratuitous and it does have a relevant bearing on the plot).

I was quite worried by any scene involving Shizuku and a cat. I tried to show typical scenes of Italian city cats as there are lots of half-wild cats in these places that keep the rats down. The first couple of cat encounters are deliberate red herrings, false trails because I know that fans will see Shizuku meeting a cat and think something important is going to happen. So I messed about a bit there ;) However when the crunch scene comes at the café and Shizuku goes to Anna-Marie's shop I think the hints I'm dropping about that particular cat are so obvious I don't think there is a stronger way to write it without it becoming unsubtle. I agree however that there is ambiguity in the cat character (if you can call Tikka a character) but that ambiguity is there deliberately, to make the reader wonder who or what she is. Is she just a cat? Or is she made into a semi-fantasy character as the younger Shizuku did with Moon/Muta? Is Tikka a living embodiment of the cat doll? Who knows, you decide.

The story somehow broke itself into two quite distinct parts, the watershed is Shizuku finding the cat doll. Before that point there is a lot of ordinary stuff going on, lots of atmospherics and lots of scene setting. After that scene there is much more 'quick' storytelling and more meaty dialogue. The second part of the story is really a sequence of really, really important conversations held together with linking action. A lot of character development is inferred by conversations.

There is also something going on with Seiji. It's quite subtle and you may not have spotted it yet. But during his quiet moments there is something going on inside him, he's not a happy person. I make several references to it. All is revealed in the closing chapters.

The story was difficult to write because I felt I had a duty to reflect the innocence of the film and yet I had to skate carefully around the physical side of a relationship between two fifteen year olds that has been going on now for eight months. What sort of physical relationship would two fifteen year olds have if they were so far away from their parents…? Hmmm… you tell me. Writing a story that is really a romantic adventure while trying to avoid it becoming slushy or rude was quite hard and lots of writing went in the bin during this.

Final End Note, 28th November 2006

Since finishing this story I decided to write about a very important event that takes place at the start of Chapter 18. While I was writing this story I knew this event occurred. My heart considered the possibilities for a long time and it decided eventually that the logical thing would be The Attic Room, so I wrote about it. Although I knew this event occurred, I kept it out of the main story because it is not relevant and it would have ruined the main point of The End of Summer. The End of Summer is a love story and another rites of passage story, mostly for Seiji even though he is very much a secondary character to Shizuku's lead. There are five words that open Chapter 18: Nearly two weeks go by. The main event that happens during those two weeks is told in my story The Attic Room. I won't go into details here but if you read The Attic Room you should understand clearly why that event is kept separate from this story. At least I sincerely hope you do.

I have recently thought further into the future of the lives of these two people and may well write more about them, bringing their story up to contemporary times (2006 to 2010). In my future thinking the couple return to Cremona in 1996 to visit Anna-Marie and Luisa. At the end of high school, aged eighteen (1998) they will marry and then emigrate. They will visit the Arlberg region of the Bavarian Alps as we see in the 'closing credits' of The End of Summer. I have some thoughts on how that trip goes but nothing down on paper yet. Something sad will happen in summer 1998 and in that year Seiji takes up his apprenticeship with Signore Guarnieri which will last ten years. Shizuku will initially do various jobs in Cremona, probably based around her interest in the language – working at the tourist office perhaps or a translator at local government level. She may even work in languages at diplomatic or national government level in Milan, Venice or Rome. My later short The Click of Her Key is a small window onto this part of their lives. Seiji will end his apprenticeship in 2008 or 2009. Before then Shizuku will have found a publisher and her writing career will have begun to flourish. After that, well... who knows? Does Seiji stay in Cremona to make violins or does he return to Japan? Or travel elsewhere? Maybe there's more to tell, I'll just have to see if that funny writing urge comes over me again and takes me off in unknown directions.