Project Haruhi
28Nov/1014

Series Review – Sora no Woto

This guest review was written by Scott Spaziani of the Otaku in Review blog. Check out his site here, and subscribe to his podcast here.

Sora No Woto is a series that attempted to unite the two feuding cults of anime fans by combining traditional moe elements with a serious and compelling storyline. The result is a story about a young girl, Kanata, who joins the army in order to learn to play music. She is assigned to a post in the most remote part of the nation and ends up living a life of leisure in a world that has been decimated by war.

Although the production values of Sora No Woto are extremely high overall, the show doesn't have a single original idea. This is a show crafted by committee and it shows in the most obvious places. The character designs and personality types of the main cast seem to be lifted from other popular moe shows. The main character, Kanata, looks and acts like K-ON!'s Yui Hirasawa, and even has same musical affinity. The technically inclined but soft-spoken and shy Noël Kannagi is, in personality and character design, an obvious rip off of Haruhi’s Yuki Nagato. There elements give the show an artificial feel and are an obvious attempt at pandering to moe fans.

Read more after the break.

The world these characters inhabit is vibrant and quickly becomes the most compelling aspect of the show. There is a mystery fueled by allusions to a great war, along with obvious clues that this fantastical world is, in fact, our own. The question that drives the show forward is “What happened in the past?” and that question is explored as these characters interact with the world around them. Unfortunately this element comes to work against them before the end, as information given at the start of the show is proven completely false by the finale. The rules of the world shift in order to give the show an ending climax, a lazy tactic that harms the absolute best element of Sora no Woto.

Even with all these problems there still is a ton of good writing and exploration of philosophy in the series. In fact, episode 7 represents some of the best animation and storytelling to come out of Japan during the winter season. Those few good stories are sadly overshadowed by the inane mindless filler crammed in between the plot-centric episodes. The tone of the show shifts from dark and fatalistic to light and pointless from one episode to the next, and the dark episodes are the more entertaining ones. Again, this is due to Sora No Woto's attempt to appeal to a massive audience by playing up its cute characters and moe aimlessness. I don't want this review to turn into moe bashing, because I do enjoy it when it's done right. However, Sora No Woto does it completely wrong. They play up the cuteness and flightiness of the characters in a most inappropriate setting: a story with real danger and serious consequences. That isn't how moe is supposed to work, and it undermines the realism that is done so well in the rest of the show.

As a viewer, I felt myself drifting away from the series during the slice of life moments. There was an episode about Kanata having to wait near a phone for headquarters to call, and needing to go to the bathroom the whole time. Another featured the characters wandering aimlessly through a grassy field on a “training” exercise. Of course, that focused less on any actual military training and more on learning how to fish. I would have preferred more images of the rich, mysterious world than either of those pointless adventures. A three-second-long glimpse of a half-destroyed Japanese classroom in the second episode had more impact than all of the filler episodes combined.

While Sora No Woto has the skeleton of a good premise, the moe aesthetic grafted onto it takes away from the serious and deep philosophical moments the show attempts to achieve. This anime works best at it's darkest, but those moments are rare, and play second fiddle to a finely crafted marketing tool directed at moe fans.

Good

  • Finely crafted setting that adds to the plot in a passive way.
  • Brief moments of brilliance when the action, characters, and theme of the show are allowed advance.

Bad

  • Characters feel like carbon copies of characters from other popular moe shows.
  • Nonsense K-ON! esque episodes harm the flow and tone of the series.
  • Inconsistent character and world development, mismanaged plot.

About Guest

Written by a guest author. See post for more details.

  • Kei

    I think Anime no Chikara was a huge disappointment all around. Both Sora no Woto and Occult Academy had promising beginnings, but quickly squandered them with inane moeblobbery and monster of the week shenanigans respectively. It’s almost as if the Aniplex writers came up with really cool ideas, but didn’t bother to flesh them out.

    Oh well… at least Sora gave us some good music.

  • Hate-Chan

    Death to Moe >O

    • Kei

      Hate-chan? Interesting name. Can’t wait to see your avatar.

  • Yeah, I like Sora no Oto better then K-On. Well, because it ended before it got too inflated.

    • Kei

      And it had steampunk Tachikomas. Don’t forget that.

      • I won’t that was cool and fried chicken aliens with Freddy.

  • Lygerzero0zero

    I love how moe haters will say that practically anything is “trying to pander to K-On! fans.” If anything, Sora no Woto was imitating Aria. Beyond art style and the music element, any comparison to K-On! is tenuous at best, much less an “obvious rip-off.”Like, what does Kanata share with Yui exactly? (for the record I’ve seen both SnW and K-On!) Both are a bit ditzy but so are hundreds of other anime characters, so that’s hardly a significant similarity. Where Yui is lazy and unmotivated, preferring to eat cakes than to practice, Kanata is clearly eager and a hard worker: she even gets up early to do chores in episode 3. Kanata likes getting lost and having little adventures, while Yui likes… um, sweets? As for Noel, she’s as much a rip-off of Nagato Yuki as Yuki is a rip-off of Ayanami Rei. Mysterious silvery-haired science girl is not a new trope (Ruri from Nadesico also comes to mind). You said that characters felt like carbon copies of characters from other moe shows but don’t mention what shows and what characters the other 3 main girls are allegedly ripping off at all; I’d like to know what you thought the creators were pandering to there.I’m really saddened that K-On! has generated so much hate for “moe slice-of-life” which has kind of leaked into hating on slice-of-life in general (for the record I’m not even a huge K-On! fan). If you were actually paying attention the only episode of Sora no Woto that you could argue was filler was episode 8. Just because an episode was slice-of-life or episodic does not make it filler. People keep making these accusations about moe-pandering but never support them. What was so “pointless moeblob” about the episodes you didn’t enjoy?In the end I’m probably just wasting my metaphorical breath here. People just want to sling around labels and unsupported generalizations and try to seem cool because they’re rejecting “that moe sh*t.” Whatever. Do as you please.

  • Let me clear up one thing right off the bat: I love K-On!. I think K-On! is a fantastic show. I think the animation is fantastic, I love the characters, and I love the music. I own figures and plushies and probably will buy the overpriced Blu-Ray when Bandai finally releases them. I am a freak that way.

    Moving past fact that Sora no Woto is obviously a derivative work… it has a lot of problems narratively that warrant a bad review. The pacing is insane, the plot doesn’t show up until the final two episodes, and the world while beautiful and fantastically explored early in the series is never explored beyond the small town the show takes place in. The reason I was so fixated on the fact that the character personalities and designs are derivative is because that is what lured moe fans, like me, into the show. Sora no Woto never knew what it wanted to be and because of that as a series it squanders what was some rich potential. K-On! knows exactly what it is and uses it effectively.

    The potential of Sora No Woto is encompassed in Episode 7, which is a stunning achievement as I stated in the review I want the story that is in that Episode of a world and people crippled by the the largest war imaginable. I want those emotions fleshed out and the world that war took place in fleshed out in detail. I wanted more history of the characters and what their individual experiences were as civilization crumbled around them. I didn’t get that. I got a couple Moeblob characters running around in a field. That is why I was so angry at the Moe aspects of Sora no Woto: wasted potential.

    • Lygerzero0zero

      >> Moving past fact that Sora no Woto is obviously a derivative work…
      Please. Do continue to condescendingly state your opinions as fact.

      The story also does not only appear in the final 2 episodes. It requires a bit more attention from the viewer and is more obvious on a second viewing but they were foreshadowing it from episode 1. And frequently in later episodes as well.

      I actually felt the show knew exactly where it was going and what you were expecting was perhaps not what the writers were aiming for. The main story was always in the present, with these 5 girls, and the history and the universe, clearly vaster than what was covered in the series, are still the backdrop. As much as I’d love the world to be explored even more, I enjoy the open-endedness as well, because it leaves room for endless speculation. Furthermore, I think the point of not revealing it all explicitly is because the history of the war is lost to the characters in the show as well; they’ll probably never find out exactly what happened or what the myth represents because that’s been swallowed by history, and there’s no reason for the viewer to find out either; I’ll get back to that later.

      Now for my reading of the point of the show and what the episodes you deem pointless were for.

      The series is basically about how humans must find a reason for life and live on even after what is essentially the apocalypse. This was first explicitly touched on in episode 6 and then made very explicit in episode 7, which was kind of when I had my click moment and realized what sort of story they were trying to tell. The world they live in is dying. This is referenced throughout the series, from the implication of how low the population is (ep. 2) to the view of no-mans land (ep. 5), pretty much all of episode 7, etc. etc. Very few people have not lost someone to the wars. But Sora no Woto is not about the war at all (as you somehow seemed to expect). Sora no Woto is about what you do after the war.

      The purpose of all the slice-of-life episodes, at least I felt, was to show that there’s still a purpose to life, even with the world as it is now. That’s fits with Kanata’s personality: she’s a wide-eyed idealist, to exaggerated extents. Which means that even in this crumbling world she’s able to find plenty of things to enjoy, and that’s why she’s our protagonist leading us through this story. You want emotional reactions to the crumbling of civilization? I found plenty. The two older mentor figures want a better life for the younger three; Felicia wants to avoid another war so that they won’t have to go through what she went through, and Rio has similar sentiments as she lost her sister and is caught up in a marriage alliance because of the war. Kureha needs to show that she can take care of herself in the absence of her parents, hence her “do things more seriously!” attitude and fierce reverence of war hero Klaus. Noel just kinda went through crap and wants human affection now. Kanata, well, she’s the least affected because she see’s the positive in everything, and she’s at the heart of the story because the story is about finding a positive reason to go on living in such a crappy world.

      The side characters factor in as well. The old man at the glassworks and his daughter have set their sights on recovering lost arts and perfecting glass crafting; they have an objective to aim at, a purpose; they’re building something out of the ashes of the past era. There was the whole episode about Michio from the orphanage, which was essentially about moving on emotionally, as she was able to accept her parents’ death and become closer to her new guardian.

      The shade in episode 7 asks what the purpose of living on is. Felicia’s answer is that there’s no particular reason; you have to find one yourself. And if you ask me, that’s what this series is about, and that’s what gave every single episode its purpose.

      I realize this got really long and I spent more time explaining my own interpretation than directly responding to yours. But in short I think you missed the point, or maybe the show missed its audience. I see the rich and partially developed potential of the universe not as wasted: it’s left open because it’s open for the characters in the series as well. They now have to go and discover something for themselves.

      As for moe archetypes? Yes, even I have to admit they were trying to attract an audience. But I think they developed those archetypes effectively and used them well in a way that fit the purpose of the series.

    • Lygerzero0zero

      Or if that post was too long just read one of the two (or both) front page reviews on MAL. They do a better analysis than I do and written more eloquently: http://myanimelist.net/anime/6802/Sora_no_Woto

  • Kei

    Next time, please avoid using profanity. That will prevent your comment being held by the system for moderation.

    What does Kanata share with Yui? Besides being ditzy, as you already mentioned, they are also both musicians in an allegedly instrumental group that almost never plays any music, posses an unbreakable spirit of cheerfulness that infects the other characters, are easily distracted by cute and/or colorful phenomena, and have a preternatural gift for music but lack the talent to exploit it. This is, of course, in addition to their nearly identical appearance and mannerisms. The main difference is that Kanata, unlike Yui, actually goes through some character development before Sora ends.

    As for Noel, she is almost the exact character as Nagato. She’s a seemingly emotionless, hyperintelligent and technically-minded girl who spends her time obsessively performing a single task, to the bemusement of the other characters. She initially dislikes the protagonist, until they discover that Kanata/Yuki has some dark secret, and help her in some way. The protagonist then find Kanata/Yuki has some form of buried emotion, forming a bond between the two.

    As for the other girls, here’s who they ripped off:

    Rio / Mio: The senior musician who plays the same instrument as the protagonist, and becomes her mentor. She is serious-minded and frequently frustrated by the protagonists ditziness, but often gets caught up in it despite herself. Same personality, appearance (including haircut and hair color), and even almost exactly the same name.

    Filicia / Tsumugi: Happy-go-lucky and seemingly ignorant older sister/mother figure who is good at cooking and provides the group with food. Same personality, appearance (including haircut and hair color).

    Kureha / Azusa: Short and short-tempered “serious musician” of the group, who is always bemoaning their perceived lack of seriousness. Initially dislikes the main character and is jealous of their preternatural musical talent, although she eventually develops a grudging friendship. Same personality, slightly different appearance (same hair color but shorter twintails.)

    Like Kanata, the only difference between these characters and their K-ON! counterparts is that the former actually go through some form of character development later in the show.

    Our criticisms of K-ON! are far too long and detailed to detail here. Please listen to this episode of Bakacast for more information.

    • Lygerzero0zero

      > allegedly instrumental group
      Since when was the 1121st platoon a band?

      > almost never plays any music
      Because they’re not a band. She’s the signaler. Of a military platoon.

      > posses an unbreakable spirit of cheerfulness that infects the other characters, are easily distracted by cute and/or colorful phenomena
      And Yui is the only character you can think of who is like that? I’m not going to respond to the rest piece-by-piece because that’s getting too inconvenient. Basically: yes SnW’s characters are based off a certain pool of established archetypes but almost every anime draws from that pool (some, granted, more so than others). Doesn’t Yui = Lucky Star’s Tsukasa? How about Azusa + Mio = Kagami? Mugi = Miyuki? Your argument about Noel is ridiculous. Smart and quiet is a check for all four characters I mentioned my last post, and I have no idea what you’re trying to say for the second half of that description. It’s admittedly a little hard to describe explicit personality differences between “emotionless” characters but I’d challenge you to have more success explicitly describing the difference between Nagato Yuki and Ayanami Rei. Let’s see what I can do… Nagato Yuki is the stoic character. Jumps into action when needed, reliable, calmly and unflinchingly takes on difficult situations, and does not express it when she is vulnerable or weak so as not to trouble others. Whereas Noel is definitely not a stoic character. Aside from the fact that she has an emotional breakdown later in the show, she’s also more open about her vulnerable side, relying on Rio or Felicia if she has to. Further, she’s fine telling Kureha to shut up when she has to (ep. 5).

      Also Yui and Mio don’t play the same instrument. Just letting you know. And Kureha doesn’t play an instrument. Nor is she jealous of Kanata. Also Rio does not cower in fear over barnacles and is more of a “cool big sis/mentor” type (and for that matter since when was Mio Yui’s mentor figure?). If anything Sora no Woto’s cast is much more like Aria’s, except without Athena. Airhead protagonist who enjoys everything, motherly smiling mentor (blonde hair), strict but caring mentor (dark straight hair, tomboyish), tsukkomi/serious girl (twintails), and a quiet girl (light hair). These character types are not new, and I see no reason to accuse them of “ripping-off” K-On! in particular when, by that definition, K-On! is ripping off Lucky Star which is ripping off Haruhi and god knows everything else is ripping off everything else.

  • Neonachronism

    I felt a little insulted by Sora no Woto.

    These teenage girls treat war as some kind of joke.

    From when my grandmother was 15 to when she was 20 she lived undercover smuggling children. She had friends who dated officers and killed them. She herself was sent on missions to kill.

    War is not a joke. People die.
    Families are destroyed, lives are ruined.

    This show is tantamount to portraying cancer as something that makes people give you flowers, but never discuses the morbidity and paint that goes along.

    The kubelwagons and SS uniforms dont help either.

  • KnightofMalta

    I know its been a long time since this review was posted, but I really feel its utterly unfair. I’ve never been able lot bring myself to watch all of K-on! but I truly enjoyed Sound of the Sky and it remains one of my favorite anime series to this day.

    Honestly though, the biggest problem I have with this review is the perspective from which the anime is reviewed. Its as if you expect it to me a series comparable to Fate/Zero in plot, character development, or action. None of these is the point of Sound of the Sky. Rather than taking it for what it is, what it is supposed to be, and reviewing it from there, the reviewer simply attacks it for being a “copy” of an anime they suppose can be generally disliked.

    The anime emphasizes tranquility, peace, life, and hope. Many other messages can be personally interpreted from it. It not only contains within each character this message, but within its entire story (just look at the characters various archs, they all perfectly come together around these ‘positive’ themes).

    In other words, if you review Iyashikei anime or any anime from any genre wanting or expecting something of a different genre, of course you will come up with the conclusions you got from this anime and wrote in this review.

    The worst part of this review is of course the comparisons to K-on! which are simply outright ludicrous.