Katelyn’s in love again. HOW CAN A CARTOON MAKE ME SO DEPRESSED?
Yukito, a young man with hair both grey and impossibly spiky, is on a mysterious quest given to him by his mother: to find the mythical winged girl in the sky. Low on cash, he rolls into an unnamed sleepy little town, and discovers a trio of girls who might just be the one he’s been looking for all this time.
Before you say anything, wiseass, it is not a harem anime. Each of the five main characters is well-rounded and none of the women are interested in Yukito in any way beyond friendship. I can only assume the H-game went down this road in order to..well be an H-game. There’s also a film version, and I have no idea what that’s like.
Yukito’s kind of an aloof asshole at first, but you learn to like him rather quickly. The guy can’t catch a break, whether it’s failing to impress children with his puppet show or getting a cicada in his scrambled eggs.
Yukito crashes at the beach, where an odd girl with impossibly long hair named Misuzu finds him. She’s just about the most adorable thing Japan has ever drawn. Misuzu’s an odd little duck, spending most of her time alone, and so she pesters Yukito into walking her home, and he ends up staying with her.
Her mother is very distant from her. She’s often drunk and boisterous but seems to want very little to do with the poor kid. She explains to Yukito that there’s something wrong with Misuzu. When people get close to her, and she makes a true friend, she begins having strange fits of crying and becomes mysteriously ill. Yukito agrees to stay at the house to perform what is essentially a babysitting job in exchange for food.
It’s Yukito’s interaction with Misuzu and the other residents of this odd little town that really makes the series something special. It seems like everybody’s got something to hide and Yukito isn’t exactly the most tactful guy around when trying to get to the bottom of things.
Girl Number Two is Kano, a blue haired beauty often accompanied by her dog (?) Potato, who is extremely cute and does not at all resemble something to be mashed, boiled, or stuck in a stew.
Kano’s the daughter of the local doctor/pharmacist/back pain specialist because oh my god DEM TITTIES. She wears this yellow ribbony cloth thing around her wrist, which she must apparently wear at all times in order to be granted magic powers upon reaching adulthood. Kano sometimes has gaps in her memory, and goes wandering about town in a trance, as though she’s possessed.
The third and final main girl is Minagi. She’s probably the oddest of the bunch, or at least the most unsettlingly so. Unlike Misuzu’s ditziness or Kano’s naiveté, Minagi seems truly depressed. She speaks in minimal sentences, keeps to herself and just seems fucking sad. She has friends, and she does smile sometimes, but you can see that there’s still an underlying sadness. Her mother seems to have no idea she even exists, and the resolution to that story is incredibly heartbreaking. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME JAPAN?
The thing that really elevates Air beyond its pervy roots is the ethereal, strange atmosphere. It’s so pervasive it’s even crept into the theme song:
This song is one of my favourite TV themes, and it exemplifies what makes Air so hard to review. The song just has a sound to it that feels kind of sad and yet makes me love it, and the show itself has a similar effect on me. There’s just something about it. A feeling, an atmosphere of mystery and mysticism and…kind of melancholy. And this permeates throughout the entire series. Maybe the Television Gods will smite me for saying so, but the only other series I’ve seen with this kind of indescribable thing to it is Twin Peaks, which is an awesome show that begat pretty much every serialized supernatural TV drama. GO WATCH.
The unnamed little town of Air, much like Twin Peaks, seems perfectly sleepy and serene on the surface, but underneath there’s a supernatural layer to the daily goings on. The place seems like it’s completely cut off from the rest of the world, like it exists in its own little bubble. This sense of isolation is certainly helped by the fact that we see next to nothing of the world beyond this town. Yukito seems to be the only adult male around. There are strange occurrences on a daily basis, and the place seems almost as if it’s suspended in time.
Air is an extremely pretty show. Very nice 16:9 animation, and excellent direction to boot. Many of the shots in this series would make for striking still images on their own. The colour palette is of particular note. There’s an awful lot of cool, soft blues with a lot of screen time given to the sky and the ocean. Then you’ll get a sudden blast of warm orange-golds at sunset. Air is so deft at putting you into the environment of a quiet town in early summer I could go on about the scenery forever. The character design is admittedly a little generic but if you have emotions or a soul of any kind, their stories and their personalities should be enough to win you over.
One black mark against Air is that things seem awfully rushed. The series has a very complex narrative, and with it all being crammed into twelve episodes (the 13th merely being a recap), things can get a little difficult to follow. Maybe it’s myTwin Peaksy-Air-loving bias showing, but I think that twelve episodes were simply not enough time to let the story breathe quite the way it should have. This is particularly evident once Yukito discovers just which of the three girls is the one he’s been looking for. The other two, despite being quite interesting in their own right, kind of disappear from the story after this point, and in retrospect, their plotlines bear little relevance to the main story.
Air‘s plot is otherwise very good. There’s a neat little twist towards the end that will make you want to comb through the previous episodes looking for everything it’s now revealed you missed. This is how you make a plot twist work. I wish more shows would take a page from Air or Ghost Trick, because damn. I like that said twist comes long enough before the end to deal with the implications it has on the plot and how it affects the story rather than cramming a “Well, actually…” scene into the last ten minutes.
Speaking of those last ten minutes, they utterly destroyed me. It took my heart and broke it into several hundred pieces, and then submerged them in a bathtub full of lye. I WILL CRY FOREVER, JAPAN. Thanks a lot. Hyperbole aside, it’s one of the most emotionally affecting things I’ve seen in an animated television series, and Air joins Fullmetal Alchemist in the exclusive finale-made-me-cry club.
It’s not a bad ending exactly, but it’s certainly not a happy one either. It’s definitely one that subverted every expectation I had going in, and yet it caps the series perfectly. The word bittersweet was invented with the knowledge that someday, somewhere, some asshole in Japan would write Air and shatter my icy heart.
Don’t go into Air expecting a fast pace or to have your hand held. The writers clearly respect your intelligence and expect you to keep up. This is a sedate, supernatural show that will light your happiness on fire and piss on the corpse. And it is beautiful.