Sound of the Sky

Any person who follows anime has most likely noticed the popularity of the "moe" trend in modern anime. While the scope and severity of this trend and its effect on the industry (along with the concept of it being something damaging or entirely new) are often exaggerated, it is noticeable that in every anime season at least have of the shows feature cutesy, big eyed  female character designs, often with not much of a plot outside of an excuse to see the cute girls doing cute things. To many, this trend is the reason why every other season there's a show coming along to "save" anime among the anime fandoms, such as Kill la Kill or Ping Pong (and we all know was Space Dandy, duh). I don't mind it all that much, and just like with any work, it all comes down to execution. For many though, it may be difficult to give a show like Sound of the Sky a chance, when the character designs clearly take more than a page or two from the K-On-esque visual style. So, is it worth watching despite the somewhat pandering appearance?

Sound of the Sky is very much an episode by episode kind of show, each being it's own isolated story (with the exception of the last two), mostly focusing on the characters and their interactions. With that and Sound of the Sky's somewhat unconventional setting, summarizing the plot of the series can be a bit difficult. There is more than just "cute girls in the army". The series takes place in what is heavily implied (but never implicitly stated) to be the future, but with civilization having gone back a few steps as a result of some mysterious catastrophic events in the past. The last powers of civilization have long been at war, but are now in a time of temporary peace. A young girl named Kanata Sorami has joined the "Helvetian" army for the purpose of learning to play the trumpet, and she's stationed in a small town named Seize with the 1121st Platoon, a group that often finds themselves feeling purposeless considering the fact their post is on the edge of "No Man's Land", an area that's no longer habitable to human life. As she learns to fit in at the Platoon, she befriends her fellow soldiers who are all girls around her age.

If it seems like I was a bit vague in regards to the setting, it's for a reason. One of the strongest aspects of Sound of the Sky is it's world building. This series almost never directly gives exposition about it's world. Instead, the series slowly and progressively intertwines tidbits of information about what the world is like now and what happened in the past to make it that way. It's hardly the main focus of the series, but the way it crafts the setting and delivers it slowly and subtly was one of my favorite parts of the show. I became really interested whenever something came up that allowed me to learn slightly more about the world and past in the show. So, the last thing I want is to ruin any of the terrific world building the series boasts by spoiling any of the major aspects it's setting. In the end, I still didn't fully understand everything about the backstory of Sound of the Sky's world, but I sort of like it that way. It stays a bit mysterious, while still giving a clear enough picture of a believable and interesting world for the story to take place in.

The real main draw of Sound of the Sky is it's characters. It's usually like that with any episodic style show, since there needs to be an anchor in place of an overarching plot. Aside from the aforementioned occasional focus on world building, most of the show is just little stories about these girls going about their duties and daily lives with nothing all that major or climactic going on. Unlike some shows, it doesn't have the choice to rely on a complex plot, or high stakes action to make up for underwhelming characters. Luckily, Sound of the Sky's characters do their job exceedingly well to fix that balance. Kanata perfectly fills the role of the protagonist, being energetic and fun enough to carry the show. In addition, there's Rio, an older sister figure to the team, especially to Kanata as she teaches her to play the trumpet, Noël (my personal favorite character), a stoic yet somewhat eccentric tank mechanic who often tends to keep things to herself, the youngest of the group named Kureha, and their leader/mother figure Felicia, who's as kind as she sometimes is devious. Not only are all of these characters just overall likable and unique, but in addition each of them gets a surprising amount of depth when episodes focused on their pasts and motivations eventually come around.

Something that may turn off some people from Sound of the Sky is that for a good deal of episodes, the series is dedicated to mellow, somewhat slowly paced slice of life comedy. Whether or not this is an issue will differ from person to person, though didn't bother me all that much because I enjoyed the characters enough for the comedy to work. Still, I've learned to some people that slice of life-esuqe style with not all that much actually going on in a grander sense can seem mundane, but that isn't all Sound of the Sky is. When it did occasionally delve into it's more story-driven parts, it caught me off guard with just how dark it got, despite it's cutesy aesthetic. It deals with some heavy themes and doesn't forget that war is the backdrop of these girls' story. Despite this split between sweet, quirky fun, and dark, tragic war, it still manages to balance the tone well. With less quality execution, the switch between the lighter and darker scenes could have been jarring, but instead they end up creating an meaningful contrast between the two, complementing it's themes effectively without it feeling out of place, or too divided.

I'd also like to add that Sound of the Sky pulls off a difficult feat; Having a satisfying conclusion for a thirteen episode series. It's rare for a series with that length to end on a note isn't littered with unanswered questions and untapped potential, to be able to leave a feeling of conclusiveness without feeling rushed, but Sound of the Sky is one of the exceptions that does just that. In a two episode arc, it somehow managed to wrap things up in a finale that feels exactly like the kind of climax the show deserved and played on all the show's biggest strengths. You see the characters, themes, and world all coming together to create a final stretch that's as exciting as it is interesting.

Mention should also be made of Sound of the Sky's animation. The show was animated by A-1 Pictures, known for such shows as Fairy Tail and Anohana (and another prominent show I'd rather not name). They do a quality job of animating their shows (for the most part), and this is no exception. The characters are full of energy and movement, with lots of great animation that supports both the fun scenes and emotional scenes very well. The series does have the occasional instance small issues like off center looking eyes, or iffy use of CG, but for the most part, it's a good looking show. I do occasionally think about whether or not the K-On like art style was really the right choice for the show, especially after seeing Mel Kishida's original character designs (see: above) which had a much more unique look to them, but in the end the design style never really was a hindrance to the show's tone or narrative, so I don't consider it a major issue.

But when it comes to Sound of the Sky's presentation, the aspect where it really excels above and beyond is in its music. I've tried to make a habit of listening to the soundtrack after watching a show, as said score blends in well into the background of series and doesn't pop into my mind till after the fact, so I don't fully realize just how great a soundtrack really was until I'm done. This was the case with Sound of the Sky. Listening to its music by itself, I realized just how impressive it really was. The soundtrack, composed by Michiru Oshima, features fantastic range, and does an excellent job setting the tone while at the same time never being so intrusive that it takes you out of the show. Also, the show's rendition of the song "Amazing Grace", which actually acts somewhat of a major plot point throughout the show, stands as the soundtrack's highpoint, having an effect on me every time I listen to it, both in the show and by itself. Not many soundtracks can so expertly blend emotion and tone into a scene, but Sound of the Sky's is truly something special. Oh, and the opening was done by fan-favorite anime composer Yuki Kajiura. So there's that too.

Sound of the Sky is an excellent example of why to never judge a book by its cover. On the surface, it looks like another mindless show about cute girls messing around, but it turns out to be something a lot smarter and a lot more interesting. If you can't stand slice of life shows, I can't guarantee that this show will change your mind, but a cast of likable characters, well executed world building, and a fantastic soundtrack make it very much worth watching.


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