Welcome to the inaugural post of Bucket Reviews, the place where I'll review slightly older anime as I watch it! Even though what I review will likely be at least a few years old, I'll try to keep everything spoiler-free out of courtesy for those who may not have seen it and might in the future. I can't say the same about any comments, however, so read those at your discretion.
Sound of the Sky (So Ra No Wo To/Sora no Woto/Soranowoto) is a somewhat surprising anime in that the synopsis leads you to believe it's one thing when it's actually something else entirely. This worked out fine for me, but it could easily have caused people to drop it or people who would enjoy it to miss out on it because it doesn't really present itself truthfully. The promotional material I've seen focuses mostly on the story taking place in a post-apocalyptic world and centering around a military unit, leading one to believe that this is an action anime. It isn't. There's some action, but this is a slice-of-life anime at heart.
Now without further delay, I'll jump into it.
Sound of the Sky does indeed take place in a post-apocalyptic future, at a time where humanity's population has dwindled and countries are fighting each other over the remaining habitable land, which is is slowly being consumed by the ever expanding desert known as Nomansland. The story mostly focuses on Kanata Sorami, a happy, earnest girl who sees the best in everything and who joined the military. Why would such a girl join the military, you ask? Because she loves music and wanted to learn to play the bugle, and the military is the only place where you can learn music for free now.
Kanata ends up assigned to the 1121 st platoon that the military considers to be in the middle of nowhere despite being in a rather lively city and technically on the front lines, as another character puts it. This has resulted in some rather unique members being in the 1121st. First up there's the commander, Filicia Heideman, who often acts more like a big sister than a military commander. Being the commander of an overlooked and ignored platoon has its perks, though, so she's able to indulge in her informal ways so long as it doesn't have an impact on their work.
Luckily the second-in-command, Rio Kazumiya, is more disciplined and strict. She often ends up playing the bad cop to Filicia's good cop. She's also the main trumpeter and is assigned to teach Kanata the bugle, though that could be construed as a punishment at first.
Noel Kannagi is the platoon's mechanic and tank pilot and is a bit of an odd duck. She's a hard worker, though, sometimes getting so engrossed that she'll forget about sleep and thus end up falling asleep in random places.
Kureha Suminoya rounds out the 1121 st and the main cast of the show. Officially she's the gunner, but like Kanata she's a fresh recruit and they share the same rank of Private. She's stubborn and hot-headed at times, but she can be the most grounded and reasonable person of the platoon when the situation calls for it.
Gun safety apparently doesn't exist in the future.
Sound of the Sky largely follows the day-to-day life of the above five characters, as well as the lives of the people in the city they're assigned to protect. There is action, but most of it takes place either in flashbacks or in a situational way that is common to slice-of-life shows.
Which isn't to say guns don't come into play at all.
One of the things that stood out to me, however, was the constant theme of not letting the past dictate how you live. Given the setting, most characters — main or otherwise — have lived less than happy lives. This would make it easy to focus on just the bad or for the characters to dwell on the past and, but Sound of the Sky doesn't do that. The message is that bad things happen and you shouldn't forget them, but you also shouldn't let shadows from the past control how you live your life. One of my favourite lines is "[there's] no inherent meaning in the world. But isn't that wonderful? It means you can find your own." On one hand, it's sort of a bleak perspective. On the other, it's positive and empowering.
Thanks to that, the show finds a good balance – it's not just a comedic slice-of-life show, and it's not a depressing show about loss. This makes it much more engaging to watch if you're like me and can only handle so much comedy or depressing stories in a single go.
Now to break down some of the best, average, and worst parts of the show.
The music. The music is superb at setting the mood, with the opening, ending, and insert song being varied while also keeping true to the different aspects of the show. The opening is also one of my favourites of any anime, because you cannot go wrong with Kalafina combined with the art style of Gustav Klimt featuring the main characters.
I also ended up really enjoying the characters. Being that it's a 12-episode, 2-OVA original series there's only so much character development that could be done, but I found that they managed to do a lot without any episode focusing solely on a single character. Upon a second viewing, there's actually a lot of little things that go into developing the characters that are so subtle that it's easy to miss the first time around.
The interactions between all the characters also felt natural. Nothing is worse than good characters who can only interact awkwardly and stiffly with each other.
Noel's hat/hood thing also makes the list because how could this not be awesome?
The animation actually starts out really good and I would have put it as fantastic, but about halfway through the series it drops down. The animation quality remains good, but the amount animation is reduced. I don't know if it had to do with a production, time, or a money problem or if it was a conscious choice, but the first half was so well done that the sudden increase of still shots was a bit jarring. Luckily the still shots are good and keep the mood.
Of course I still don't know what's going on here:
The OVA's (episode 7.5 and 13) are pretty good. 7.5 doesn't add a whole lot to the story but it's one of the most hilarious episodes of any anime I've seen. It's a bit random (let's just say alcohol is involved) but I ended up laughing the whole way through it. 13 moves away from that, sticking to the tone of the show and provides a good finale to top off the 12th episode.
The whole pacing of the show is actually pretty solid. Aside from one episode (mentioned below), I never felt like things were racing ahead or lagging behind.
There's one episode that just didn't do anything to me. It didn't really expand on any characters or conflicts and seemed like a lazy attempt at humour. It honestly felt like a filler episode, which is not something a single cour anime should have. It's not the worst I've seen but it certainly left a bitter aftertaste.
The ages of some of the characters also bother me. In typical anime fashion, how characters look and act have no bearing on their age. Filicia, the commander who seems to be in her late twenties is actually 18. Rio who seems to be in her mid twenties is 17. Granted this is easy to ignore, but it still annoys me when creators seem so scared of having female characters that aren't in their teens, even if it makes no sense for them to be a teen.
Finally, the owl tends to sound like person doing a bad imitation of a pigeon-chicken hybrid. I don't know why this bugs me so much, but it does.
Sorry, Shuko, I still love you.
Sound of the Sky is a solid anime even if it doesn't break any new ground. It balances humour, mundane tasks, and serious matters in such a way that the show stays on the positive side of the line while acknowledging the negatives. The music is great, the story is interesting, and despite having a primary cast of five female characters, fanservice is minimal.
Overall I give Sound of the Sky two thumbs up.
Sound of the Sky can be streamed on Crunchyroll for free at 480p or at 720p for subscribers.