Wednesdays Watching Anime – Sora no Woto

September 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

This week, it’s another OP: “Hikari no Senritsu” by Kalafina for Sora no Woto!

I have a lot of fondness for Sora no Woto, variously rendered as So Ra No Wo To or Sound of the Sky in other publications that lack my concern for authenticity and readability. When it came out almost six years ago, it was widely derided as K-On! Goes to War, which isn’t an entirely incorrect assessment. Despite the stark setting in a military outpost at the edge of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the characters’ archetypes in Sora no Woto match up with those in K-On! to an eerie degree, even though they sometimes fulfill different roles in the events of each episode. It seems incongruous, having a gaggle of slightly infantilized girls dressed in uniform and carrying around weapons, but the seeming innocence ends up being a real asset to the show. On the lowest level of experience, it’s all tea parties and chasing an owl out of the barracks, but on the higher levels, the tragedy of such things happening in a world that is slowly dying from the ravages of endless war is inescapable. If the characters were serious attempts to capture the reality of actual human beings in such circumstances, the grimness would verge on unbearable, but since they are silly caricatures, there’s an interplay there between light and shadow, so to speak.

That’s why I was surprised, when I finally got around to reading some interviews with the director that were in a booklet from the box set, that the project really did start out as a “me too” show about cute girls who are friends and have fun. Maybe I expected more from Kanbe Mamoru, who also directed Elfen Lied back in the day, but that was based on a preexisting manga, come to think of it. No, Kanbe set out to make an anime about someone who naively seeks to inspire people and spread love through music, which somehow turned out to be a bugler and not a rock star in the final draft, and the dark setting seems to have grown organically around the demand for a scenario in which it made sense for young girls to serve as conscripts in the military. Talk about lucky accidents! Really, all the more credit to the other people in the production, especially the writers and producers, because no one does K-On! better than K-On! and they must have known it, even if Kanbe doesn’t seem like he did.

This OP is a separate example, on a smaller scale, of how Sora no Woto plays to its peculiar strengths in the increasingly crowded cute-girls-do-cute-things sub-genre. Kanbe claims that the opening sequence was meant to present the characters as mythical figures, acting out their roles as the “fire maidens” that once protected the town in which the anime is set, but his attempt to convey that was simply to use imagery from the works of nineteenth-century Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, just like he did in the OP for Elfen Lied. Really, I don’t want to crap all over the guy, but I can only guess at his reasons and I tend towards cynicism. Happily, the OP for Sora no Woto still works just fine, although Kalafina’s song does most of the heavy lifting. It starts out with the steady bass beat of a traditional folk dance but breaks into a more dramatic arrangement that pushes the ethereality and maturity of the singers’ voices to the fore. It’s not a song that you’ll be singing to yourself between episodes, for sure, but it’s also one that is electrifyingly different and impossible to disassociate from Sora no Woto‘s central motifs.

Honestly, if you’ve found yourself touched by a bit of the magic in the OP, I’d recommend giving a look at Sora no Woto. It’s a short twelve episodes (fourteen, if you include the two DVD-exclusive OVAs, but they’re of inferior quality and involve a pants-wetting incident that Katie hates) and there’s certainly nothing else like it. Believe me, as someone who watches far too much anime, that’s a winning combination.

Suminoya Kureha stands in front of the town of Seize, based on Cuenca in Spain, in Sora no Woto

Suminoya Kureha stands in front of the town of Seize, based on Cuenca in Spain, in Sora no Woto

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