I can’t say this is exactly what I wanted, but it certainly could have been worse.
After last week’s shocker of an episode my primary thought going into Sora no Method’s finale was “don’t screw this up”. The show had already reached its climax in episode eleven so there was very little to be gained out of this episode and a lot to lose. Fortunately, I think the final episode got things mostly right. It wasn’t perfect by any means but it also managed to avoid screwing things up badly a la Yuuki Yuuna’s ending.
One thing I really liked about this episode was seeing this new version of Shione working together with Nonoka. Shione had caught a lot of (mostly deserved) flak for seeming to revert back to her old self every time it looked like she was finally making progress towards having a normal relationship with her old friends. It was really nice to see her changed relationship with Nonoka in this episode as she constructively worked towards a common goal with Nonoka rather than being the perpetual stick in the mud. It’s a side of Shione I always felt she had in her if circumstances had been different and we finally got to see it here.
This episode also excelled at effectively showing the progression of each character realizing that something was off about this world. It makes sense to me that Nonoka and Shione would be the ones to know right off the bat since they were the closest to Noel previously. The rest wouldn’t really notice unless something happened that should have reminded them of Noel if they still had those memories. This built nicely up to the point where they were all reunited at the observatory and called the saucer again.
What followed was one of the most beautiful parts of a show that had been really pretty throughout. The endless fields of sunflowers were gorgeous and their petals were used very nicely to show that even if she was physically gone, Noel was still watching over all of them. Seeing each of the characters notice a stray sunflower petal as they went about their day was the kind of bittersweet ending that I was hoping Sora no Method could pull off. Sure, Noel wasn’t by their side anymore, but the influence she had on them lives on and their lives are more full and happy for it. That’s the kind of message that the prior episodes had given us: you can’t stop your life from changing but with the support of your family and friends you can make it through those tough times and come out stronger on the other side.
Given all that I can’t say I liked the fact that the ending actually brought Noel back. While it doesn’t completely invalidate the events of episode eleven since the characters did have to go through a period of mourning and find themselves on their own before they were rewarded with the return of Noel. Still, it does undercut the theme of the inevitability of change and the need to accept that and move on. I think Noel returning could potentially have been more effective if there was a strong sense of the characters learning something about themselves and earning Noel’s return through that but ultimately I think it would have been best if she had simply stayed away.
Really I think the biggest takeaway is that most of this episode was unnecessary more than anything else. I think that Sora no Method could have worked as a twelve episode show where the reset never happens but we instead see the characters accepting Noel’s departure and moving on. Things like Shione moving away and the sunflowers could be kept because those work effectively with the previously established themes of the show. I wouldn’t have the world reset because there’s no time to explain that in two episodes and I wouldn’t bring Noel back for the reasons I previously discussed. With that type of ending I think Sora no Method could have been an outstanding show and a deserving contender for anime of the year.
In the end, Sora no Method wasn’t able to reach that level and instead has to settle for being merely very good. When it was on, the show’s command of its emotional high points was outstanding and the combination of visuals, music and storytelling combine to create something absolutely wonderful. The show achieved this more often than not but there were certainly times when the storytelling was more clunky, especially with regards to Shione as well as the ending. Still, there were enough high points, in particular everything involving Nonoka’s mother, to make me really like this show.
I flagged this show before the season started as something to keep an eye on, but I was hesitant because of Hisaya Naoki’s long absence from writing for an anime as well as the fact that Studio 3Hz had no previous titles under their belt. I think it’s safe to say that Sora no Method managed to exceed my expectations for it as the story was poignant and extremely emotionally resonant at times. The work by Studio 3Hz was outstanding from start to finish with no real noticeable drops in animation quality throughout the show. While the ending wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I would welcome more productions from 3Hz or more works written by Hisaya-sensei (or even both).