Sunday, April 11, 2010

Anime — ソ•ラ•ノ•ヲ•ト (Sora No Woto, Sound of the skies)

An all original anime series, and the only one from the first quarter of this year I've even felt worth investigating.

It started with the teaser text "In a future land marred by a long lasting war, a quiet decline has begun. 15-year-old Kumika [sic] realises her dream to enlist in the army, and joins a unit of five in protecting a fortress. Together they create music that reverberates across the skies, over empty towns and empty seas." The musical theme plus the character designs caused a lot of people to liken it to cute girls comedy show K-ON!, and suggest synopses like

Episode 1: Kanata enlist in the Military
Episode 2: Kanata gets her first weapon
Episode 3: Kanata fails her army obstacle course and the gang gives 
           special lessons to help her pass.
Episode 4: Summer Vacation outside the fortress
Episode 5: /k/-ON gang lacks an officer in their fortress so they go 
           back to HQ to get one
Episode 6: Army Parade
Episode 7: Christmas at the fortress
Episode 8: Army Recruitment Drive
Episode 9: New moe soldier got recruited into the fortress
Episode 10: Summer Vacation outside the fortress. AGAIN!
Episode 11: Kanata's weapon is rusted, so the gang goes back to HQ to 
            maintain her weapon
Episode 12: Army Parade. AGAIN
Episode 13: Winter break. 

Then a preview came out, showing vaguely Spanish architecture and melancholy music, and it seemed that this was actually going to be more YKK meets Haibane Renmei than K-ON!, and intriguing enough to follow up.

Yes, Kanata Sorami, to whom we are first introduced, seems the usual ditzy anime high-schooler, but we already have some enigmatic back story where as a young girl she met a soldier who played the trumpet, a meeting which inspired her to follow in the same path. And as she walks through the town from where she is dropped off, to the fortress where she is stationed, we are introduced to the legend of the town -- the annual water-sprinkling festival that commemorates when five maidens from the fortress, aided by a giant spider, sacrificed themselves to protect the town from a demon, the legend being told to a background of faux-Klimt art intercut with scenes around the town, the fortress and the surrounding area -- with the mention of the spider flashing to one of the other girls working on a something mechanical that we later learn is a spider tank.

By the next episode it's clear that this is going to be an eclectic series --

Japanese girls wearing German uniforms exploring a Japanese music school in a Spanish town full of French people in Switzerland, shooting South African owls with German rifles -- MAKES PERFECT SENSE.

and, in amongst some "cute girls doing cute things" episodes, slowly some details of this exhausted world are revealed; and always, in the background, the haunting sound of Amazing Grace, played on the trumpet.

Yes, there are a few things that make for double-takes -- they have walking tanks, but only the one fixed-line phone from HQ to the fortress, and signalling from tanks is done by bugle calls and not radio -- but ultimately, this show is more about mood than anything else. That is, up until the last minute where there's a pointless epilog that jars with the quite satisfying conclusion.

In all, a good series, that maybe didn't fulfil all its ambitions, but stood head and shoulders above the rest of the shows that made their début at the start of the year.

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