Air

Air

AIR

Watched via fansubs/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Air is an anime adaptation of a much beloved Japanese visual novel produced by Key. Key games are known for their magnificent and magical storytelling, tear-jerking stories, and great musical scores, and this anime rendition works hard to do just that as well.

So the general premise of Air is that young traveler Yukito is seeking employment and shelter while on a journey to find the “girl in the sky.” He finds himself penniless and hungry in a small seaside town when he comes across a young woman in school uniform, Misuzu, who states that she’ll help him out if he’ll just be her friend. During his time in town he meets two other mysterious high school girls from the same school.

Key games typically have a magical element, with young women being afflicted in some way by supernatural phenomenon. It is up to Yukito to help save these women and allow for their lives to return to a peaceful state once again. This is the area that I find most problematic, as the introduction and resolution of magical elements always feels very unresolved and illogical to me. Sure it’s romantic and emotive, but I’m always left wondering the who’s, what’s, and why’s of each circumstance, which in turn can be distracting from the true point of the series, the relationships.

As far as plot structure goes, I have to admit, visual novel series are a bit awkward in pacing and plot development. Usually a story moves in a very linear pattern, but visual novels are designed to branch off into various paths, this creates an awkward jump every time a story arc is completed. What helps alleviate this as much as possible is the limited scope in characters. Air keeps plot simple and to the point, which is what helps make it function so strongly as an adaptation of a visual novel.

Air doesn’t use a particularly smooth technique to transition between its arcs, but at least it only has three main girls, which keeps the overall story relatively cohesive.

PLOT: Yukito’s a traveling performer, hoping to make enough money to survive off of his magically-mobile puppet while looking for the “girl in the sky” that his mother was looking for. In a small town by the ocean, Yukito meets Misuzu, a lonely girl who’s looking for a friend. Misuzu’s mother lets Yukito stay with them for a while, and slowly he learns more about Misuzu’s loneliness and the curse that drives everyone around her away.

While in this town, Yukito also meets two other girls, in true visual novel fashion. The first girl, Kano, has a yellow ribbon around one wrist that she never removes, and the second girl, Minagi, is quiet and shy but best friend with the hyper, pigtailed Michiru. As you’d expect, both of these girls have a mysterious past, and strange things happen to them because of something relating to the “girl in the sky.”

Unlike other anime based on Key games, the main story lines here are at least loosely connected by the “girl in the sky,” which makes Air stand out for me above Kanon or Clannad. The actual presentation of this information is scattershot and confusing at times, but I appreciated that the narrative has some common thread linking all of the main characters. There’s also the original story of the “girl in the sky,” which shows up later on in the show and clears up why so many awful, magical things are happening to Misuzu.

If anything, Air suffers for having too many stories in a twelve-episode show. None of the girls get enough screen time, and the relationships all feel rushed because the story has to move on the next girl quickly. Air can still pack a lot of emotional punches is, and it makes me cry like a baby every time, but I wish it had been twice as long to really allow each story line to be fully developed.

I really wish they’d made this into a 26 episode series. I think it really would have helped flesh out all of the story arcs.

SETTING: I have to admit, I’m a fan of Key anime adaptations, so I love that each series has its own themes that make it unique in some way. For Air there is the focus on Summer, reincarnations, and the sky. The story starts off during summer vacation, so there is ample opportunity for Yukito to get to know the girls around town during their free time. As I mentioned before, the story takes place in a small seaside town that is rather desolate. Because all three girls attend the same high school, Yukito finds himself repeatedly running into them in key locations.

As each arc develops, Yukito is drawn into the familial aspects of each girl’s life. Family is such a strong theme throughout Air, and the relationships between mothers and daughters is explored deeply through these locations and interactions between characters. The various locations Yukito ends up in all aid in each girl’s resolution. Ultimately it all ties into being based on a visual novel, but I think each setting for character was well thought out and purposeful to the development of that character. The only real downside I saw in the setting was how ill-suited or unnecessary some of the supernatural elements were to development.

SETTING: Air does a great job establishing the beachside setting of the story from the beginning of its opening. The wide-open sky and vast ocean are repeated imagery that reminds you when and where the story’s taking place. Furthermore, summer seems like an appropriate time for this story, with the freedom from most schoolwork that the characters face and the ability to have fun and play around. Summer is also the time of festivals in Japan, which ties in nicely with the historical plot and helps wrap everything together.

I also like the time Air spends at each girl’s home, where the viewer gets to learn about their backstories. For Misuzu, who has a stressed relationship with her mother, home is not a happy place, and she spends most of her time avoiding her mother in her room. For Kano, who has a loving older sister, home is a bright, happy place, though it’s tempered by also being her sister’s medical office. Minagi, finally, spends as much time as possible outside of the home, for her own sad reasons. Considering how important family is in this show, the focus on where characters feel at home says a lot about them, and I like that consistency throughout the show.

CHARACTERS: I’m conflicted about moe series like Air when it comes to character representation. Honestly speaking, moe series like this are one of my guilty pleasures. I love “crying series”, “healing series”, or whatever you’d like to call them. I like watching cute little girls be cute and little, and I love watching improbable romantic stories. This applies equally to shoujo and seinen material, as well as Japanese and American entertainment. So I’d just like to give a little disclaimer and say that I love watching the development of the characters and their relationships with one another as they learn to be honest with themselves and others in this series.

That all being said, there are some issues with the representations of women in Air, and anime like it. It isn’t necessarily a “flaw”, but it is something to consider if you want to watch something with more of an honest representation of women, or if you want something to advocate for women in entertainment. Each young woman acts entirely too much like a child, and is unable to work independently of a man. That would be alright, if these young ladies weren’t also being sexualized. Given that children can not consent, it draws the plot into a very awkward territory. I think the anime handled this grey area very tactfully by removing sexual content, while retaining the romantic integrity of the story.

I felt that the friendships and romantic relationships were handled appropriately to make the series more widely acceptable, that is until the ending. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I felt that the direction of Yukito and Misuzu’s relationship was a bit too much. It wasn’t so much the relationship, but the characterization of Misuzu. In the beginning she is multi-layered, a bit immature and playful on the outside, but rather insightful and conflicted underneath the facade. In the end she throws this all away and acts more like a woman-child. I wasn’t very pleased with the ending, but it was very purposeful (it developed the mother/daughter relationship), well thought out, and hinted at further potential for the character to continue to develop post storyline. In that regard, Key allows us to have our cake and eat it too.

I appreciate that Air includes development of Misuzu’s relationship with her mother, even though it costs a lot for the character. It was nice to see a Key game go that route instead of focusing exclusively on the romantic relationships.

CHARACTERS: Being based on a visual novel, Air’s main female characters fit into certain types that you can probably take a guess at right away. Your enjoyment of the show may be affected by how much each girl is or is not your type, though I still enjoy the character arcs for characters I don’t like as much.

Misuzu’s by far my favorite Key heroine, with her long, blonde ponytail, love of dinosaurs, and the way she says “gao.” There’s something happy but sad about her that tugs at my heartstrings and makes me super moe for her. I also enjoy seeing her develop over the course of the show, trying to put aside her own feelings for the sake of others, and the ending for her is pretty heartbreaking, even with my knowledge of Japanese religious beliefs.

On the other hand, I have a tough time with Misuzu’s mother, who decided to raise her but still keeps her at bay to keep from getting attached. It’s an annoyingly nearsighted tactic, and it just hurts Misuzu in the end. Yes, I can see where she’s coming form, but that doesn’t help me like her that much. In the end, she’s redeemable, but she’s still difficult for me to like.

Yukito’s a pleasantly surprisingly protagonist from a visual novel, with a dry wit that balances nicely with how much he cares about all of these girls he randomly meets. Somehow he works for me, even though his experiences are unrealistic and he spends all of his time saving girls from their awful lives. If anyone’s got to do it, it might as well be someone that sarcastic and caring.

As for Kano and Minagi and Michiru (Minagi’s friend), they’re all nice enough characters, and their story lines all impact me, but I don’t like any of them as much as Misuzu. I spend most of their arcs waiting to get back to Misuzu, who I desperately want to have all of the screen time. Notably, once someone’s arc ends, they basically leave the show, so I guess it’d be really tough if you were moe for Kano instead of Misuzu. Anyway, these girls are both likable and have their own tear-inducing narratives, though they make less sense overall than Misuzu’s. They might’ve been hurt the most by the shortness of the series, along with the flashbacks to the original “girl in the sky.”

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Alright, to start off with I’m going to look at character design. I think Kyoto Animation did an excellent job of retaining the integrity of the original designs, while updating them with a more acceptable appearance. To which I mean, they made the eyes of the girls less freaky. This might seem ridiculous, but it makes a huge difference for me. I could not watch the first animated edition of Kanon solely because the eyes irritated the hell out of me. KyoAni however was able to find a happy middle ground to make them just slightly off putting. Aside from that the designs are pretty standard, with each girl being easily recognizable, but not so plain as to be boring to look at. The girls kind of fit into types, but in a way that doesn’t feel copy pasted from other source materials. I’ve always felt that Key adds simple touches to really make each character unique in a way that isn’t over-the-top.

While the animation was quite lovely in its day, it seems rather dated now. There are some excellent action and glamour shots throughout the series, but the characters constantly get a little off model. There is also a bit of a disconnect between “anime” sections and “game” sections. Every once in a while you get a portion of the series that feels directly lifted from how a visual novel would be represented, including framing and posing of the characters. I felt that their inclusion cheapened the moment as it felt unintentionally humorous.

Compared to some Key games, like Rewrite, Air does a good job of having the girls look more or less realistically different, though I’ll never get over Kano’s wrist ribbon.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Air really is a beautiful series, even though it’s almost nine years old. What helps most is the Kyoto Animation touch, where they know how to use colors and lighting to give everything a bright, magical feel to it. The settings always feel better than life in their shows, which is important with a series like Air, where the goal is complete escapism. Yes, the animation looks somewhat dated compared to modern series, but I still bet it would look nice on Blu-ray.

I think the show looks the most dated because of the character designs, which have those huge eyes that Key loves to give to their heroines. Big eyes are still a staple for moe anime series, but Key games take them to a ridiculous extreme that can look awful (see Kanon 2002) if done incorrectly. Kyoto Animation managed to keep the girls’ eyes from looking too crazy, and the high mouths and bit chins also work here (or else I’m just used to them). Beyond that, the character designs have a standard range of girls who look subtly different but each have a trademark things, like Misuzu’s ponytail or Kano’s ribbon. This works here because there aren’t too many characters, but the trend starts to get noticeably ridiculous in series like Little Busters! where there’s a huge main cast.

Why’d you have to mention the mouths? XD Their eyes are also just a bit too far apart. I’m not really sure why that makes them “youthful”, it looks more fish like to me. We should also note that Potato (the little puppy) is super amazing and adorable.

OVERALL: Air is a bit of a conundrum. The parts of the series that make it “weak” are also what make it so great. For example, the fantastical elements that ruin the flow of the plot are what draw you into the wonder of the series. The character and plot development is bittersweet and may leave you feeling a bit unfulfilled, but that’s also what makes you want to watch it again. As far as visual novel series go, or harem at all for that matter, I believe anything by Key is an excellent place to start. Air is a beautiful and simple story that will unexpectedly have you exploring themes of family, love, and rebirth. I’d highly recommend this series to anyone who loves moe, or can tolerate it. However, those who tend to dislike moe, or who don’t understand the genre or its origins, may want to steer clear. I had a friend who was completely new to anime get suckered into watching a Key anime, and she couldn’t understand the appeal due to lack of context.

OVERALL: I am hugely biased towards Air for several reasons. It’s the first Key game adaptation I saw, back before Kanon 2006 came out, and I fell hard for Misuzu and the “crying game” format. As an adult, it takes more willpower to separate my logic from my tear ducts, but this story still turns me into a crying ball of snot. Now that I’m older and much more aware as a feminist, it’s more difficult for me to get into new “crying game” anime, so I cherish my relationship with Air when I need a good cry. This anime is definitely not for most viewers, who would be turned off by the characters and the myopic narrative, but it’s excellent at what it is: a story that uses cute girls to make you cry. The plot could use expansion, and the characters could use more development, but none of that really matters when this show is so good at making you cry. Just don’t watch it if you want anything else from it.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (10/10)
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2 thoughts on “Air

  1. Wowzers, I’m surprised that you both enjoy this series so much! I’m a Key fan, but not an Air fan. I didn’t connect to any of the characters for the first 2/3 of the series. I will say, though, that the show certainly made me emotional toward the end and unlike many, I really enjoyed the ending!

  2. One side point: I think that the opening theme for Air is one of the best anime themes ever. I downloaded it, and I still listen to it often. I don’t tell friends that it is an anime theme, and they like it. I think I would like to hear the whole 6 minutes now…

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