Sound of the Sky – Review

This week I got to review Sound of the Sky, which was just a friggin’ fantastic show in all regards. I’d heard vague rumblings about this one for a while, but didn’t expect it to be nearly this beautiful or well-written. I actually think I prefer this one to Haibane Renmei, which I’d consider its pretty close stylistic cousin. Great character work, rich ideas, consistently gorgeous execution. Always nice to find another hidden gem.

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or my episode notes below!

Episode 1

I already love this soundtrack. Lots of melancholy guitar and horns

Spanish guitar for this opening?

Also just an evocative sequence in general. The heavy grey, with just the horn in color

“Six months since the ceasefire”

Kanata Sorami is our lead

They really do look extremely K-On-like

This conversation with the sergeant is solidly written

And now some woodwinds for the OP? Lovely stuff

The direction is also quite strong. Great shots of the scenery, and also shots that foreground the small, evocative details of the world

The animation has been extremely good so far, in that very loose Idolmaster style

This city is gorgeous too

“Clocktower Fortress”

“The town of lakes and glass, Seize”

She volunteered because she wanted to learn to play the horn

Her behavior is still pretty slice of life, though

God this city is beautiful

“The legend of the Flame Maidens”

Kanata is preoccupied with the bell, and decides to chase it around town. A very slice of life plot

The atmosphere of this show is phenomenal

The story of this festival, and of the maidens who sacrificed of themselves to save the town

Holy crap. A giant bird skeleton beneath the water

“It’s no fun being alone”

“When you long for someone, they can hear it. The sound of your love fills the air”

The 1121st Platoon

Rio Kazumiya is the blue-haired girl

Episode 2

Great environmental shots – the base as seen through a broken window, etc

Filicia is the blond and ranking officer

Noel is the white-haired girl. Pilot and mechanic

Kureha is the Nico lookalike

Ugh, boob comparison jokes

The disconnect between setting and cast is pretty extreme. Like they’re just playing at being soldiers

Some nice comedy here with the phone. This is an inherently charming show

The lieutenant’s a pretty classic ojou

Kureha spilling her tsundere heart out here

This show pretty much always looks very good

Time for a ghost episode!

The interplay of Kureha and Noel is very funny

This is basically a school club show, except they’re soldiers

In fact, their fort actually was formerly a high school, based on the design

Yeah, this seems like some kind of post-apocalyptic Japan. They can’t read the old Japanese letters

More great compositions

“There are no schools this big, even in the capital.” “But there used to be a lot more people, right? I bet kids our age studied here.” Classic innocence in a time of war stuff

“I’m sure they taught music here.” “Outside the army?”

“The sounds don’t change.” There it is – even if the era changes, the sound still remains

A brief vision of the show this could have been, in a conventional high school

The ghost was an owl

“I’m sure she has nowhere else to go.” Metaphorsss

Kureha gets Kanata her own chair

Episode 3

I really like the quiet intimacy of these opening moments

“Rio Runs”

Kanata comes from a traditional Japanese village, and introduces her squadmates to miso soup

Lots of little bits of character acting

Something happened to Rio’s mother

I kinda like that the show isn’t hiding its secrets. It doesn’t have the time

Lots of plunky stringed instruments. It doesn’t really feel exactly right here

Rio’s losing it. Her composure is skin deep

Yep, her mother died of an illness and she couldn’t do anything

Ah, and so Rio is resentful of the church for not saving her mother

Yumina is the girl from the church

Nice Amazing Grace here

I like the light religious undertones of this story’s various ingredients

Kanata was putting up a strong face to change herself from a useless person, but it got her sick

“That song sounded like it was coming down from the sky”

Their tank is a relic from a much more technologically advanced era

“Many instruments, all playing in harmony, becoming one piece of music. It’s the same as a tank crew”

This show’s writing is extremely direct and heart-on-sleeve, but it can generally get away with it

Rio essentially becoming Kanata’s mom here, or caretaker

Episode 4

Noel and Kanata are paired up this time, to gather supplies in town

The town interiors are just as intricate and beautiful as the buildings

More indications of something bad happening soon

“It was a marine mammal, back when life still existed in the sea”

“I hate soldiers!” A boy whose parents died in the war

Visiting a glass blower to get specific pieces made to repair the tank. A fascinating response to the shifting technology of the ages

This is also some great, natural worldbuilding, reflecting on both the town and the world

“This factory prospered because of the war”

“I’m not trying to make it this shape. The glass wants to be this shape.”

Very concise conclusion to this episode’s conflict

Episode 5

Doing tank exercises. The threat of violence is starting to feel more real

A guy named Claus arrives

Rio’s voice acting as she struggles under this backpack is great

This is a fun, funny episode

“No Man’s Land. This is the end of the inhabited world.” Looks like everything past here was nuked

Episode 6

They’re doing a kind of bootlegging ring riff this episode

This is great. It plays like an Idolmaster movie

Their distillery actually is totally illegal, as it turns out. They hide their wine-making from the military

The second half of this episode has been pretty unfocused, and I’m not really invested in the little girl’s issues

Mishio, that’s her name

More greyscale memories of old times

Priests are now the only ones who can decipher Japanese characters, like in the old days

“My mom told me that she was sorry she couldn’t put my hair up anymore.” Okay, the episode has me crying, so I guess it’s doing something right

Again, heart on sleeve, but absolutely selling it

“I don’t believe in fate.” Trying to find meaning in the disorder and tragedy of life. The difficulty of faith

Episode 7

A flashback to our leader Filicia actually fighting in a major battle

We see people attempting to escape a burning tank, and then it explodes. Christ

Her whole unit is dead

Contrasted with the sweltering modern heat, explaining her revery. This world doesn’t feel real

Aw jeez, a PTSD episode

“Spirits Down the River”

The younger girls arguing about what spirits return to the earth. A reflection on both war and religion

The transition into this flashback is great

This episode is a bit heavy-handed, even for this show. But I do like it expressing the fragility of their position

“They say that the world is slowly ending, and someday, there will be no more humans”

“We lost to them.” Images of the old era

“You’re just the last remnant”

“Is there some meaning to survival in a world like this?”

Amazing Grace once again offers solace in the face of an unanswerable question

“Your Highness, Princess Iliya.” Huh

The survivors reminisce about the people they’ve lost while the children play, only enjoying the spectacle of the festival

Filicia’s friends trying to be there for her

“I want to worry about you. Because I care about you, Filicia”

The importance of these small rituals of friendship in the face of unspeakable tragedy

“The things you’re always teaching me. To not be afraid to put my feelings into words”

The three younger soldiers really are like the kids here

“Earlier, you were asking what the point of it all was. There is no inherent meaning in this world. But isn’t that wonderful? It means you can find your own”

Episode 8

Kureha’s writing a very melodramatic diary entry

The show shifts tones significantly – this seems like a comedy episode. But ultimately, that’s revealed to be part of the thematic point. We can’t let the existence of tragedy prevent us from enjoying small daily pleasures

Oh my god, Filicia put brandy in the tea to keep anyone from talking about the distillery

Our friend at the church gets her own childhood flashbacks. She’s basically a lead, and underlines the importance of faith in this show

Oh my god, Filicia’s tearful goodbye. Lol

This showdown is terrific

And now everybody gets drunk. An important episode

Episode 9

Opening with some nice pillow shots, creating a strong sense of tension

“Phone Duty – We Have An Emergency”

Phone-watching duty, of course

A very laid-back episode

The peace treaties aren’t going well

“I guess summer’s over”

It sounds like Rio’s father on the other end of the line. He urges her to “save this country.” Huh

Episode 10

“A Typhoon Passes – Illusion and Reality”

Rio got a letter from the woman who gave her the music book. Some very nice animation for her enthusiastic trumpet play in response

Kanata’s worried about Rio, who seems down

The younger troops really do seem like the daughters of their elders

Claus comes by with a Class-1 message for Rio

More rumblings of the peace talks failing

Ah, Princess Iliya. That’s the person who saved Filicia, and Rio’s confidant. And apparently she’s dead

One of Yumina’s kids has gone missing – Seiya, the boy

And now Rio’s remembering Iliya’s death

So is Rio secretly a part of the royal family? And that’s why she’s significant to the peace talks?

Kureha gets to be a hero!

Seiya was trying to protect the eggplants they’d secretly been growing for Yumina

“Kids without parents have to be stronger than those who have them.” A really good moment for Seiya

“When you’ve worked really hard to raise something, you value it as much as your own life.” A strong counterpoint from Claus, the parental perspective

Jeez, this is an intense finale

Claus can’t bear the weight of the faith Kureha puts in him

He’s very afraid, but he acts strong for her sake. That’s what being a parent ultimately is

“You know they’re always watching you.” The same point echoed in Rio’s narrative

Their Claus is not actually the “Miracle Claus” – but Kureha decided he was, and so he became a hero for her sake

Claus is just a courier

And Kureha discovers the truth

All parents ultimately have is the performance of strength. But ultimately, that can become a real strength of its own

“When I saw her total faith in me, I was more scared of breaking her dreams than of dying”

“Most of the time, what you think you see in a person and what they’re actually feeling aren’t the same thing. When you admire someone, your vision becomes blurry.”

Episode 11

That episode got us through fall, and now winter approaches. Another fine way to enhance the solidity of this world

It’s been six months since Kanata arrived

“I’ve been living alone on this mountain for fifty years”

And the episode is titled “A Departure”

A variety of things have progressed throughout the show, from Kanata’s trumpet play to the tank’s fortunes. There’s a solid sense of time passing

Tracking down more info on Iliya

A nice piano track for this segment

Jacott’s the old lady

Iliya was planning to marry the Roman emperor, solidifying their connection. But she would have just been a hostage, and his third wife – another sacrificial maiden

Jacott built her own house

She’s building a new house, awaiting her son’s return. Jeez

“They’ll be here soon”

The Roman army has started moving

“Didn’t Iliya have a younger sister?” There it is

“She’s not really a legitimate child”

“My sister accepted her fate with pride.” The way girls are used by this world

Finding your “destination” versus running into dead ends. Kanata says that because she often gets lost, she was able to find Rio. Beauty in the mess, in the imperfections, in the everyday mistakes

Rio’s mother, also waiting for a hope that would never come. But the old lady is “quite happy here.” Everything is complex

Learning to accept misfortune with grace

Her death framed as a happy thing, a reunion with the man she loved

“Life is losing things, one after another. To have lost, you must have first gained. The greater the joy of your gain, the greater the sorrow at your loss”

“Amazing Grace” again. But it fits so well for this show – it’s often all we have

“My parents wanted me to marry and inherit the house. But I was entranced by the sound of that trumpet.” The music sets them free. Caged birds, finding joy in their song

And Rio heads off

Episode 12

“The Visitor – A Burning Field of Snow”

“Kureha, you sounded a bit like Rio there.” We grow up because we have to

They find a Roman soldier out in the snow

Apparently Noel was some kind of child genius scientist?

Noel knows their visitor

Everybody gets significant backstory

“The Witch of Helvetia” – she helped construct some great weapon, presumably

“It’s likely she’s a spy”

“I thought they’d be scarier, like ogres or something”

They really gotta report this spy. It strains credulity that they wouldn’t

They’re letting her play a trumpet what the hell

Thank god no one in this show knows anything but Amazing Grace

“That same sound echoes in Rome, too.” That’s a fine point

This “we’re all the same deep down” war stuff is a lot more trite than the show’s usual points, though

“She wanted to see the Angel of the Apocalypse that destroyed the world”

Colonel Hopkins arrives

Noel is terrified of him for some reason

They’re painting this colonel as the bad guy, but this is a friggin’ spy

Noel is “The Invisible Reaper”

A massive Roman army contingent has appeared at the Seize edge of No Man’s Land

Episode 13

Aisha sacrifices herself for Noel

Filicia goes rogue. What the hell

Ah, this colonel actually just wants to prolong the war

“The peace talks are a farce. Rome must be destroyed!”

Yeah, she revived some bioweapons facility

A nice moment with his soldiers, emphasizing how they don’t want this war either

The show’s conceit strains a bit here, but it’s more or less holding

“The Romans say that the Flame Maidens protect others’ lives”

Rio is rushing back as fast as she can. The sound of peace carries through the air, but only Kanata can hear it

“If you think that, then save more lives than you’ve taken, Noel.”

“Some people have said the world is ending. But I like this world. You say to give up, but I can’t.”

“You have suffered enough. So, I forgive you. Even if no one else will.” Great moment

Kureha admitting she’s trying to fill Rio’s shoes, being the responsible one

“May all the gods grant their blessings to the Flame Maidens”

“He was sent to destroy them, but even so, they took pity on him”

The story retold as one of charity, where the maidens were actually helping the angel, and were despised by the villagers for it

“The people’s lived were saved by last maiden, who used her last breath to sound a golden horn”

More reflections by the unhappy soldiers

Kanata can finally play the song. God, this moment

It’s a moment of pure, impossible hope

And Princess Rio arrives

So I guess it works – all Kanata had to do was buy that tiny bit of time. Just a little is enough

“We don’t have to fight? Hooray!”

Rio… somehow comes back to the platoon?

“The Roman Emperor is actually a decent guy.” Hahahaha

Episode 14

A year since Kanata arrived. The town is beautiful this time of year

The young girl Mishio lecturing Kanata about short-term goals versus dreams

“If I tell you my dream, I feel like I might lose it”

More interesting worldbuilding, this country’s mix of Italy and Japan

Yumina wants to be a tailor. Lol

“The world truly is ending”

“Somewhere at the end of the earth, there’s a reborn sea that’s growing new life”

Rio wants people to be able to fly like birds, echoing the power of sound

Tanaka is the new flame maiden, of course. Bringing her story full circle

“Even if the world does end someday, until that moment comes, the rest is our future”

3 thoughts on “Sound of the Sky – Review

  1. My experience of this show was slightly soured by its anime industry context. The show was released in the midst of the Great Moeblob SoL CGDCT Boom, with designs clearly aping K-ON, and the character personalities and shenanigans to match. All too easy to take the cynical interpretation with this show, and thus its themes ring a little bit false when you can see the mo’ tropes mo’ money bent pulling the strings (for example, the pink bishoujo ghetto cast).
    Still mostly enjoyed the watch, though. Just enough craft execution that even the textbook elements didn’t fully grate, and that Kubota Mina score is top notch. The show also still had moments transcending its formulas, like the great underwater imagery in the first episode (very Aria), or a stressed Rio furiously playing a contemporary jazz solo to vent.

  2. Woah, never heard of this show before, definately will check it out. I love myself some hidden gems. Thank you.

  3. You’re (at least) the second person I’ve come across recently who’s had high praise for this show. Maybe I didn’t give it enough credit. I watched the show back when it was still new and I think I had trouble getting past the “lol military K-On” aspect. Kind of interesting as I’m a big fan of a couple of other works written by the same series composer/lead writer.

    Speaking of the lead writer, this is one of several pre-2011 anime originals where he has sole credit for the episode scripts. That’s not to say he wrote the series in a vacuum -going by interviews about other series he’s worked on the director would be heavily involved in story discussions, possibly others as well (in one case the music composer contributed to the story!). But I find some of the shows where the guy has sole (or almost sole) writing credit can be interesting from a continuity/story progression perspective. Its too bad most of his recent work has been adaptations (then again considering how disappointing I found the last anime original he worked on perhaps I should be glad of that).

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