Sound. Sound never changes.
(Ed note: This post is my contribution to Reverse Thieves’ seventh annual Anime Secret Santa Project. For more information on the project click here.)
Sora no Woto is a show that had been on my radar for some time. I probably should have watched it sooner given it’s a generally well regarded slice of life anime original with musical themes but the military aspect combined with other obligations kept it perpetually on that “next few shows to watch” list. Fortunately, my secret Santa gave me an excuse to finally watch this show and I’m glad I did. Sora no Woto certainly has its ups and downs but overall it’s a very solid show that’s definitely worth checking out.
The first thing that stood out to me about Sora no Woto is how difficult it is to categorize it relative to other shows. The cast and premise are cut straight from the cloth of every other slice of the last 5-10 years. You have the bright-eyed enthusiastic main character, the straitlaced older sister type, the mother figure who just wants everybody else to have fun, the sleepy-headed kuudere and finally the hot-headed kouhai who wants to earn the others’ respect. But Sora no Woto takes this cast and puts them into a unique military setting which sets it apart from other slice of life anime. At the same time, it isn’t a traditional military or war anime since it takes place after a war and the show rarely deals with actual combat. Rather than tell the story of a war with victory or defeat being the climax of the show, Sora no Woto chooses to tell a story about a society picking up the pieces following a horrific conflict and that unique setting is what makes the show so special.
Another thing that jumped out to me in Sora no Woto was its beautiful scenery. The backgrounds are very reminiscent of a small town in post-war Southern France, which sets it apart from all the anime that take place is a modern Japanese setting. The terrain, the architecture and the overall wear of the town contribute to the feeling that this is a town that has been beaten down by conflict but not broken. We see jumbled stone structures huddled atop a cliff, lonely fields of abandoned military equipment and hilltop strongholds that have long been left to fall into disrepair all of which are part of the overall melancholy atmosphere of the show. They serve as constant reminders of the pain this society has been through and the work that still must be done to get back to the way things used to be.
This melancholy tone and subdued style of storytelling are where Sora no Woto was at its best. The tranquil episodes where the show’s atmosphere is allowed to breathe and the characters deal with their dull but necessary work as military members looking for a purpose in a world that no longer really needs them. This search for purpose is a recurring theme throughout Sora no Woto. We see Filicia dealing with her traumatic past by dedicating herself to making sure that none of her subordinates have to suffer through the pain she experienced. In a similar vein, Noel also carries with her great pain from her experiences in the previous war. However, her pain is the guilt she feels over the destruction her inventions caused rather than the personal pain of loss Filicia feels. She finds purpose by pursuing a more personal goal: atonement for her perceived past crimes. She throws herself into the task of reviving the platoon’s broken tank, unwilling to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful way.
Rio is the third veteran member of the platoon and she may have the most complicated circumstances of the three. Rather than simply carrying the burden of a traumatic past, Rio is actively trying to run away from her past. She puts on a tough exterior when Kanata first meets her in the glass shop, but we really see her true character in her more intimate moments with Filicia. There she’s allowed to let down her tough exterior and we see the burden she carries within herself. Eventually, through her experiences with the platoon, particularly her training of Kanata, she realizes that not only is this country worth protecting but that she has the ability to do far more to keep her friends safe and can no longer avoid her responsibility.
The experience of the three veterans is contrasted with the younger Kureha who, having never experienced war herself, demonstrates a keen desire to be part of the military life. She resents Filicia’s laid back way of leading the platoon and wants the more regimented, orderly life of actual military barracks. Of course she can’t have that through the curse of being born slightly too late and so she must satisfy herself with what she can get with the 1121st. She puffs herself up but in her more honest moments we see a fear in her that belies her lack of experience and first-hand knowledge of war. We finally see her make peace with this contradiction in episode nine when she acknowledges the truth about her hero Klaus and by extension accepts that real life is never as perfect and glory-filled as her imagination.
Finally, Kanata is the other completely green member of the 1121st and serves as our point of view character for most of the show. Unlike Kureha, Kanata is perfectly happy to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of Filicia’s platoon. She joined the military on a lark because it offered her an opportunity to learn to play an instrument. Kanata is by far the most inexperienced and out of place of the bunch, but the way she throws herself headfirst into everything and her incredible earnestness endears her to the rest of the platoon. She’s relentlessly positive, seeing everything as a fun adventure, and this optimism rubs off on the entire group. Kanata isn’t without her own struggles though as she’s constantly fighting against her own feelings of uselessness. She’s never really felt like she was good at anything or had any real value to others. Being part of the platoon and working with the other girls gives her a purpose and allows her sense of self-satisfaction to grow right alongside her musical proficiency.
Kanata’s musical studies tie into the other primary theme of Sora no Woto: the ability of sound and music to connect people. We see this early on in episode two when Kanata and Kureha find an old music room and discover that their military base used to be a school. This shows us both the effects the war had on the small community of Seize but also the way music represents a connection across generations back to before this world was torn apart by war. We also see the uniting power of music as Rio, Filicia and Kanata are all connected through the song “Amazing Grace”. This song played an important role in each of their lives and because of this holds a special significance to each of them. But more than just connecting people from different generations and different backgrounds within the same society, Amazing Grace also provides a connection across borders. The song works as a unifying force that holds meaning to both the Helvetians and the Romans despite their language barrier. Sora no Woto shows us how music can work as a vehicle to overcome differences.
As you would hope for a show where sound and music are a major theme, the soundtrack was outstanding. Oshima Michiru isn’t particularly well known but she did a great job with Sora no Woto. There’s a distinct military feel to several of the tracks but it’s never as ostentatious as something like Girls und Panzer. The more subdued music is fitting for a show like this, set after a war rather than during it. The OST includes some hauntingly beautiful guitar selections, a deeply moving selection with French vocals and some other songs that are simply very pretty. Aside from these pieces, the show’s rendition of Amazing Grace itself was exactly the kind of uplifting, full-bodied melody you’d want from a song that holds such importance within the show.
Visually the show is solid if unspectacular. The animation is smooth and the characters move nicely although it’s probably not something to really get the sakuga fans out there excited. I really liked the character designs, specifically the way they made Kureha and Kanata feel out of place in their ill-fitting military uniforms. The most stand-out part of the show in this area was the scenery which I mentioned before. The world the characters live in felt very alive and real which was really enhanced the show’s immersive atmosphere.
I’ve been mostly full of praise for Sora no Woto thus far but it’s by no means a perfect show. There are times in the middle portion where it seems to lose focus. In particular, the moonshining detour taken in episode six felt kind of pointless and out of place alongside the rest of the show in terms of content and tone. The final arc also felt like the show may have been reaching a little bit too much for a conflict that wasn’t supported by the previous build up. Seeing the military old-timers trying to re-ignite the conflict was in line with the show’s overall themes about people lacking purpose after a war is over and the tension between the military that would seek glory in battle and a citizenry that had just had enough. At the same time, I liked the show a lot more when that tension was merely implied rather than brought to the forefront. Sora no Woto’s best mode was a contemplative, almost iyashikei-like exploration of individuals and a society in the process of recovering from war and I felt like the last arc moved away from that.
The show also has two OVA episodes. The first is a more comedy-centric episode involving a certain incident at the base that we are never to speak of again. When I initially watched this episode I thought it was episode seven so I was annoyed that they had stuck such a pointless joke episode in the middle of an otherwise fairly serious show. Upon realizing it was an OVA I actually liked it quite a bit. It was a lot of fun and it works as a side story within the context of the larger show. The second OVA is an epilogue that takes place after episode twelve. The episode provides a more overt discussion of the theme of finding a purpose and dreams to work towards than anything in the main show. It works really well as a coda for the entire story and I like it as a conclusion more than the final TV episode whose ending felt rather abrupt.
Despite my minor gripes, Sora no Woto overall is a very solid show. It stands out for its unique setting and its ability to show genuine growth in five different characters while effectively intertwining each of their stories into a cohesive whole. With the sedate pacing of a slice of life it’s often difficult to give each character their due but Sora no Woto performs admirably in this regard. The show uses its allotted time efficiently and the final product is a polish and satisfyingly self-contained story. It’s a shame that the Anime no Chikara project didn’t last very long because we could use more ambitious projects that push genre boundaries like Sora no Woto does. Whether you’re a fan of atmospheric slice of life anime, thoughtful character-driven stories or just want to see something different, Sora no Woto is definitely worth your time.