So Ra No Wo To Anime (English)

February 23rd, 2010

Typically I skip posting on Tuesday and do Guest Reviews on Wednesday, but I hope to have an ounce of energy for you tomorrow, so you’re getting a Guest Review a day early. Welcome back George R!

One of the shows airing this winter has quickly risen to being my favorite of the season. So Ra No Wo To (Sound of the Sky) is the debut show of the Anime no Chikara project between TV Tokyo and Aniplex. It’s an original story developed for TV animation.

Sorami Kanata, a lost little girl in a war-torn country, met a blonde lady soldier whose trumpet playing captivated her. Kanata longed to be able to make that “sound of the sky” so much she enlisted in the army when she turned 15 just so she could learn the trumpet. Bugle in hand, Kanata takes trains and motorcycle across the country to her posting in the town of Seize.

She arrives in the town to find a festival in progress, honoring the Fire Maidens of legend who defended the city against a winged fiery demon. After a few adventures, Kanata meets her superior Rio who promises to teach her the bugle, which Kanata now plays poorly, and finally the rest of her platoon.

The platoon is not exactly one off a recruiting poster. It’s composed of five young girls quartered in a poorly supplied fortress which is actually a run-down former school. Their main weapon is a high-tech walking tank, a rare relic from the previous age, which they are trying to restore to working order. Lieutenant Filicia treats the platoon under her more like a family, insisting they use names instead of ranks and having them bathe together rather than in rank order. Sergeant Rio is lax about her uniform, rarely bothering to button her jacket.

And yet, there is more. We’re reminded more than once of a something that most everyone except Kanata and the audience knows (until episode 6 when we finally learn). But that is not the only mystery. I wonder what connects Rio and Kanata: they both seem to have ties to the blonde
trumpeter who started Kanata on her path. Rio even wears the same bell she did. Filicia has her own mysterious mix of “gentle housewife” with “confident commander,” and we find she also has ties to this mysterious trumpeter. (Does everyone?) I also want to find more about the world itself and its history.

So why has So Ra No Wo To become my favorite this winter season? The things that make it for me are the characters, the world and the harmonies.

Some folks have complained that the characters overly resemble the K-On! girls. I see the resemblance in character design, but the five girls of the platoon quickly established themselves as individuals to me. This is not to say they don’t fall into well established types:

Kazumiya Rio is the gruff sergeant with a heart of gold; Filicia Heidman is a gentle young mother, who loves and care for everyone; Kannagi Noël is the taciturn, talented mechanic who likes machines better than people; Suminoya Kureha is the young private who acts tough and holds tight to protocol, as that may be all she has left; and Kanata herself is the young innocent who’s wide-eyed joy at everything we are given to share. But there is enough shown, or hinted at, for each character to seem more than just a stereotype. For example, Rio has issues with her father and the church, Filicia has a keen mind and strong will behind her gentle smile, and Kanata’s perfect pitch is actually worked into the story in places. Their quirks seem to grow naturally from each character’s past, not from a list provided by the marketing department.

Filicia and Rio may be just comrades, but put on your Yuri goggles and they’re a devoted couple who are the two mothers of this family. Just look at the way they interact when alone together and how they care for their “children.” After all, why else would they be depicted holding hands on the front of the official web site. Of course, this is just fandelusion on my part. Kureha and Kanata both adore their Rio, even though she can be severe at times.

In the end, the girls meet my ultimate criterion for “good characterization,” the writers have made me feel and care about them.

I find the world in which this is set fascinating. We’re given a portrait of a country, or a world, trying to recover from a long deadly war. We’re given few specifics about the war, but the destruction from it included the loss of high technology it was originally fought with. There’s a desert of “no man’s land” to the west, described as the end of the inhabited world, presumably left over from some past titanic battle. There is nothing living left in the seas anymore, and there are even rumors that humans are dying out. We find traces of the social and economic chaos following a great war, with a shrunken population, war-orphans, PTSD, loss of high technology, damage to buildings and infrastructure, questions of property ownership and possibly even hyper-inflation. We see both how life goes on after such a war and how people and societies adapt to the vast upheaval.

The society presents us with a mix of a wide variety of cultural elements: the Spanish feel of the town and country (Seize itself is closely modeled on the real town of Cuenca, Spain), the French language used, the German military trappings, the Japanese touches in names, food and religion (including a Shinto/Christian church), the festival which echos southeast Asian ones and the tank’s screens in English. I wonder if this might be the result of survivors from all of these cultures gathering together in one of the few habitable regions left.

The paintings shown behind the OP strongly echo some by Gustav Klimt (mainly the Beethoven Frieze) but including the five girls. In addition to being interesting artistically, they keep the legend of the Fire Maidens fresh in our mind and reminds us of the historical backdrop against which the story is set.

Given the title, it’s not surprising that music is significant in So Ra No Wo To. The opening song grabbed me from my first hearing. Its mix of sadness tempered by hope seems to fit perfectly with this world. The ED is more upbeat and happy, echoing the fun that the girls, especially Kanata, often have. While not every scene has accompanying BGM, the music suits and very much enhances those scenes where it appears. They even use the tune for Amazing Grace to form another link with the blonde trumpeter in the girls’ past.

I wonder if the writers may have put the two main themes of this show in the mounts of two characters in episode 6: “Even if we part with those we love and suffer terribly because of it, we live on. We can live on. That bravery is a very sad, very dear thing.” And, “It’s possible that something which someone did by mere coincidence, may go round and round, and eventually change someone’s life in a big way.” Perhaps it’s just that these resonate particularly powerfully with me and I’m projecting my wishes onto the show. I know some viewers will be disappointed if this platoon never sees battle, but I can be content even if they just show the girls getting on with and enjoying life. I can benefit from Kanata’s example of enjoying life and love as much as the rest of her platoon.

I’m hopeful that the writers will come continue to expand on the hints they’ve dropped so far. Each scene and each episode fills and fleshes out the picture of these girls and their world. We know all the details will never be filled in, but those they give us point the way for our minds to finish the job. I still look forward to what else they may reveal. They’ve been good so far at foreshadowing things we understand later in the episode or subsequent ones, so I’m counting on them to “play fair” over the rest of the series. As the second half of the series starts, they’ve already begun to deliver.

Art – 9 (characters 7, backgrounds 10)
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Yuri – 2
Service – 3
Music – 8

Overall – 9

As much as I like the characters and the world, they are blended together with the story and music to together make a harmony better than any individual component. So, all I’ve mentioned above works together to make something that has already touched me. I look forward to the second half of the series.

Once again, thank you George. I plan on watching this series eventually, thanks for priming me to enjoy the details. ^_^ And thank you for today’s review!

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10 Responses

  1. Eric P. says:

    Excellent review, a near-reflection of my own thoughts of this series thus far. I would never have watched it as soon as I did if not for the review on ANN, and I was surprisingly hooked from the first episode. I really like the studio’s animation style, and maybe I’m the only one, but Kanata almost looks like a K-On-styled Lain.

  2. akaime no usagi says:

    Really good indeed (review + anime), one of my favorite too this year.
    And of course, I’m totally agree with the thing that Rio and Felicia are like the two parents together, but what, aren’t we on a Yuri blog … I can.
    Sorry for my english cause I’m french.

  3. kieli says:

    Just wanted to thank you for a lovely suggestion. I was feeling a bit stretched to find another good anime to watch after Aoi Hana ended. Echoing the sentiments of Eric P, it was so enjoyable, I sat down to watch the current episodes all in one go. When this comes out in DVD, I think I might purchase this one too. Thank you again!

  4. George R. says:

    Thanks for all of your kind words. Something as good as this inspires be to write better as well.

    I watch every episode at least twice: first to see “what happens” and again to enjoy the details and connections. The writers and directors seem to understand Michelangelo’s saying, “Perfection is made of trifles, but perfection is no trifle.” Not that they are perfect, but they get the little things right as well as the big ones.

    I count myself lucky if one show a year touches me like this one does. Last year, it was Aoi Hana. This year, it’s So Ra No Wo To. Thank you all for sharing your enjoyment.

    The first volume of the R2 DVDs is coming out March 24. Here’s a pointer to the listing. It won’t have subtitles, but buying it supports the creators.


  5. umlando says:

    Loved what I could read of the review, but a spoiler alert might have been nice – especially as I ran afoul of that here last year!

    The author made a point about the richness of the setting, and I just want to add that what really stands out for me is the balance of richness between narrative and setting. The stories reveal depth in the characters little by little, and the world is big, complex, and drawn well enough to accommodate all of it.

    @Kieli – The end of Aoi Hana was exactly what I was down about. Soranowoto would be worth my time even if AH continued, but I’m enjoying it perhaps even more with the senseless end of AH only a fraction of the way through the story.

  6. Antoinette says:

    @umlando: I think this anime may go the way of AH insofar as the ending goes. I’ve just caught Episode 10 and it was a true tearjerker. *sigh* And there’s a bit of a shock that I won’t spoil but it pained me to see. We may not get our resolved ending wish.

  7. George R. says:

    I began this series with hope: for the music, for the characters, for the world, and that their early promise not be squandered.

    Now having seen the last episode, I can say I have well and truly been repaid.

    Thank you: to the writers, directors and all the staff who brought us this wonderful show. You have given me a sky filled with music and a world filled with beauty, and thus helped me find both in this world we live in. We find it in great expanses and in the smallest details, and especially in the way these all work together.


  8. BruceMcF says:

    I added this series to my watchlist last season, but never got around to it … and while waiting for the earlier episodes of Giant Killing to be subtitled for its publisher, started watching.

    Like akaime no usago and kieli said, I liked it from the first episode ~ for its Aria-like feel in a post-apocalyptic setting ~ but in the middle of the series when it begins to entertain the idea of pursuing a plot, it gets even better.

    Even if I don’t have the spare batteries to turn my Yuri goggles up to 11, this joins Aoi Hana and Sasameki Koto as a series that Nozomi could do an excellent job on. If only shinji and CR was in a position to co-produce a Nozomi DVD distribution to put up front-end online sales via RightStuf (and of course, a few series otherwise unlikely to be releases on DVD getting out because they streamed at CR would make it easier to land future streaming rights) … it would be worth something just to take a trailer spot to advertise the CR site to the Netflix renting crowd.

  9. Storied Vagrant says:

    How on Earth did you manage to give it a two on yuri when Noelle literally wishes for ‘my beautiful wife’, albeit in French, at the end during the new years thing?
    I know I’m like 7 years too late but still

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