Note: For this review I am trying out a new, much simpler ratings system, inspired by another podcast I watch, Before You Buy. They use a simple system of “Buy it!” (definitely worth buying), “Try it!” (it’s good, not great, but you might want to take a look) and “Don’t Buy” (avoid at all costs). In our case we’ll use “Watch it!” (definitely worth watching and/or buying if it’s out on physical media), “Worth a look” (good, but not great; might be worth catching the first episode on a free stream, borrowing it from a friend, etc.), and “Don’t Watch It!” (avoid at all costs). Let me know what you think of this new system.)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… ok, actually it was back in winter of 2010… one of the shows from that anime season that caught my eye was Sora no Woto (aka Sound of the Sky), which served as the debut of Anime no Chikara, a joint venture between TV Tokyo and Aniplex to create and produce original anime series which are not based on previously published material (manga, visual novels, etc.). I had heard of Anime no Chikara but was somewhat put off by the other shows that came out of it (the somewhat underwhelming Senkou no Night Raid and Seikimatsu Occult Academy). That, combined with the general consensus among the internets that Sora no Woto felt like a cheap attempt at cashing in on the popularity of “moeblob” shows such as K-On! made me hesitant to pick it up. Later I was somewhat surprised when I started hearing from people that it actually wasn’t half bad. So when I saw that Sora no Woto was one of the titles assigned to me in Anime Secret Santa, I decided that it was worth checking out. And I am glad I did.
Sora no Woto tells the story of Kanata Sorami who, after an encounter with a mysterious army bugler during her painful childhood, decided to join the army and learn to play the bugle. She is assigned to the Clocktower Fortress in the small town of Seize in the nation of Helvetia. After a long war with the rival Roman Empire, both nations are enjoying a tense cease-fire. She, as well as the other women assigned to the Clocktower Fortress, help the war-weary townspeople cope with their lives, and remain vigilant and prepared to defend the town in the event hostilities resume
Setting & Story
I found the world in Sora no Woto to be fascinating and richly detailed. This is a world that has recently recovered from a long and devastating war, during which their technological level regressed in an interesting fashion. On the whole technology seems to have regressed to a mid-19th/early 20th century standard. Telephones and automobiles exist to a limited degree (by all appearances only being used by the military). Electricity may or may not exist (hard to tell). However humanity lacks most of the modern conveniences (appliances, etc.). But they (both the military and civilians) appear to lack wireless communication capabilities; there are no radios or walkie-talkies, and probably no telegraph either. Messages are delivered by courier, and battlefield commands are conveyed using buglers. At one point technology was quite advanced however; there are signs of ruined cities and high-rise buildings, there is an advanced early-warning detection type system that still appears to be running, and the girls of the Clocktower (as well as other military units presumably) struggle daily to maintain their advanced spider tank, the Takemikazuchi, using scrounged-up (or made using primitive methods) spare parts and cobbled-together workarounds. I really love these “forgotten history/technology” type settings. In fact I would have liked to see more background on the war and how it affected the world and its technology, but that’s probably just me talking; it may not add much to the story, and would have required more episodes (meaning an increased chance of “filler.”)
There’s an interesting Japanese-inspired mythology behind the girls of the Clocktower Fortress, which ties in to the storyline as a whole. In ancient times, the town of Seize was protected from an angry demon, who kidnapped the maidens living in the fortress. They communicated with each other using golden horns (bugles) and were able to escape their imprisonment. They then borrowed strength from a great spider (the Takemikazuchi) and ended the demon’s wrath, protecting the town from its fiery attack with their bodies, while the townspeople poured water on the flames. This battle is relived every year by a festival held in the town of Seize. This is illustrated in the really gorgeous opening animation sequence. What I found interesting is that when they eventually met up with the enemy, they found that the enemy too has a similar myth, yet it is different in several key points. This reminded me of how it is always said that history is written by the victors in a war, etc.
The first half of the show has a very laid-back pacing, as most slice-of-life shows do. There are plenty of humorous moments and we get to see the characters interacting with each other and becoming a cohesive unit. Then things start taking a turn for the more dramatic, as we start getting hints of an underlying plot, and we begin to see some of the backstory of the characters come out. Finally the drama gets ramped up more than a few notches in the last two episodes. In fact things felt a little too rushed, and the ending had a definite “deus ex machine” feel to it.
An overarching theme throughout the story is of the power of music and how it can resonate with people. It was because of the mysterious army trumpeter she heard in her childhood that drove Kanata to join the army and learn the trumpet; and when Kanata got lost in the first episode, it was through her signaling her location by blowing on her trumpet that she was able to reunite with her fellows. When they found an unconscious enemy soldier and nursed her back to health, only to be faced with a communications barrier, it was through music that they were able to connect. Ultimately this is something I think everybody can relate to.
This is the one area where the comparison between Sora no Woto and K-ON! is somewhat justified, as the characters do indeed somewhat resemble the K-ON! girls, both in appearance and personality/mannerisms. That is to say they are your typical moe characters. However they are highly developed and memorable, and each girl has at least some backstory that tells us how they got to where they are today. Kanata is just your average all-around genki girl and is a delight to watch, very happy and uplifting. Although her bugling leaves much to be desired at first (but at least it doesn’t cause bodily harm,) with the expert tutelage of her senpai Rio she gets dramatically better by the conclusion of the show. The group’s leader Felicia seems like a total ditz (kindhearted yet ditzy) at first, but later we learn that she actually has some mettle to her and can rise to the challenge and fight if needed. The mechanic Noel didn’t appeal to me at first; she seemed kind of robotic and unemotional (not to mention really sleepy, which I actually can relate to). However we later see that she has to keep her emotions in check due to a dark and distasteful past deed. I would have liked to see a bit more however. If anything I would have liked to see more backstory on Kureha, who I felt was there mostly as a foil for the other characters to play off of, and for comedic relief. However the characters were all interesting, memorable and had both funny and sad moments.
The animation and artwork in this series is incredible, starting with the opening sequence which I already mentioned. Scenes were vibrant and richly detailed; you could see this especially in the busy city scenes, like during the festival or when they were shopping in the open-air bazaar. Lighting is used to good effect, and the characters are drawn pretty realistically (i.e. no Super Deformed, weird faces, etc.).
Sound & Music
The music is where this show stands out, starting with the opening theme, “Hikari no Senritsu” by Kalafina. Yes, Kalafina. Totally threw me for a loop; it did not sound like a Kalafina track at all, at first anyway. The key song which resonates with the characters throughout the show is a beautiful trumpet rendition of “Amazing Grace.” And there is an insert song that is hauntingly beautiful and will come back and worm its way in your brain; this song (with French lyrics no less!) is used throughout the show, but unfortunately I can’t seem to find information on its name or who performed it.
Sora no Woto is definitely more than a cheap ripoff of K-ON!, and the people who say that obviously did not watch the show to its conclusion. Although not entirely an original story, it was still very interesting and well executed; and interesting characters, gorgeous animation and a well-done soundtrack make this a very appealing package. Is it one of the Great Anime Classics? No. Was it enjoyable? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely.
The Verdict: Watch it!
Buy Sound of the Sky at Amazon