Sora no Woto, How Oh~So Sweet the Sound

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode (+2 OVAs) winter 2010 anime “Sora no Woto” or “Sound of the Sky,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Mamoru Kanbe (original work).

In the outbreak of world war between namely Rome and Helvetia, Kanata Sorami was saved by an enchanting trumpeter who appeared to her like a goddess. Years later, 15-year-old Kanata, still driven by the savior music, enlists in the 1121st Platoon of the Helvetian Army to learn not to fight, but how to play the bugle. This particular all-female platoon is located on the edge of “No Man’s Land” in a tiny town called Seize, however, and as a result becomes the butt end of a joke, isolated from combat and mocked by other platoons and even townspeople.

This doesn’t faze the lackadaisical girls, though. Instead, through Kanata’s cheery smile, they seek sounds of joy and beauty even in a world ravaged by war.

I already know the first thing you’re probably wondering: Rome?

Why yes, Rome.

Sound of the Sky is set in a post-apocalyptic world where that “No Man’s Land,” hundreds of miles of desert wasteland, presumably dominates most of the continent – Perhaps even the world. What we zoom in on is the budding town of Seize and its Strike Witches-esque vibe minus all of the, well, boobage. Clearly, the story is set in the future, as both armies pilot giant spider-like mechs and tear each other to shreds. Plus, Japan is but an ancient culture by now. What’s interesting is that the overall tone and use of technology is reminiscent of WWII, heck, even WWI.

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And that’s when this anime strikes a favorite ambience of mine. The “Old Ruin Dystopia.” It’s a term I invented for European-inspired worlds where, despite the obvious advances in technology, people still cling to old-fashioned devices and living (no offense to Europe, that’s just how the architecture looks). Familiar settings include Castle in the Sky, Fractale, Megaman Legends (not an anime, but it fits) and very few others. Call it what you will, but the concept’s interworking with not only the setting but with the characters, too, is what truly makes this a kind of utopia for myself.

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The 1121st is not a platoon, but rather a family considering its lax position. Commanding officer Filicia Heideman functions as the squad’s mother, being at times aloof yet completely wary of the moods of others. Sergeant major Rio Kazumiya AKA 2nd-in-command would be the metaphorical father of the family, whipping the other girls into shape yet with a compassionate demeanor. Private Kureha Suminoya is the easily-flustered and strong-willed “younger sister” that begs for attention but is easy to talk to. Meanwhile, Noel Kannagi is that “younger brother” who, although always falling asleep, is both smart and supportive. That leaves Kanata, the runt of the litter whose optimism is overwhelmingly contagious as she tries her hardest to progress in trainings – Athletic and musical.

The gang’s all here, including warped owl-kun

BEEPBOOPBEEEEEPBEEEEEE . . . don’t worry, my private lesson teacher had the same face

The structure of the story manages to round out each of the characters wonderfully, even placing backstory for each girl logically within the plot. They might be based on regular anime tropes, but WHO CARES? Contrast between these fine women works brilliantly in the military theme, while the personality also uplifts many pleasant slice-of-life moments. These characters just work in Sound of the Sky’s favor!

‘Moe’ is one word to describe the animation, but ‘lovely’ is a better one. Characters are drawn up in that slice-of-life firsthand look, which is odd coming from A-1 Pictures. Regardless, their naturally pure look and moving flow gives them an adorable aesthetic quality that helps lighten the mood. CG combat with the tanks was also pretty badass. Even better yet was the astounding scenery of Seize and its neighboring land, like wow! The atmosphere established in the animation department brings out those rare moments where no words could describe the enchanting landscape.

And yes – An anime about music is complete with a fantastic soundtrack provided by Michiru Oshima! Her rendition of “Amazing Grace,” albeit not my favorite song, was made most appropriate for this anime. The rest of the score encompasses heavy string and lute tunes with solo trumpet that are all equally enchanting. Music has not made me so emotional such a long time, however, until “Servante Du Feu,” a French ballad, played during the most impactful moment of the show (episode 12). Guys, it’s a feels trip.

But we can’t forget the reason I got hooked on this anime – the opening, “Hikari no Senritsu,” and I’m proud to announce, my all-time favorite Kalafina song! If an opening had ever fitted its show so well, it’s right here! Rich and bold, yet delicate as a flower at the same time. Not to mention, its animation depicting the girls in the goddess garb is hauntingly beautiful. Ending theme “Girls, Be Ambitious.” by Haruka Tomatsu also deserves a shout out for being so radically upbeat!

soranowotodanceSound of the Sky, through the tragedy of war, remains a tale dedicated to finding beauty in music and friendship even during desperate times. It shines in revealing how music can really change the world and empower minds to overcome the toughest of challenges. Though the characters might slide you by, the ambience of the show is unforgettable. It’s a shame that it leaves us believing there is so much more for Kanata and friends, but what we got is – without a doubt – a phenomenal anime. Don’t let the obscurity of this title slip by – Its message of peace is simple, powerful, idealistic, and full of heart. So much heart . . .

“Hey, Rio. You were asking if there was some meaning in this world. When I was the only one who survived, it was all I could think about. Why had I, alone, survived? What did it mean? And I realized, I’m sure there’s no meaning in this world. But isn’t that wonderful? That means you can find your own. And I’ve found mine. The meaning to my being here . . .” – Filicia Heideman

+ Characters guide the show and its message fittingly and passionately

+ “Old Ruin Dystopia”ambiance established perfectly

+ Quality of scenery is astonishing

+ All music nails the atmosphere

– Poor localization (no Blu-Ray nor English dub)

This one stole my heart. Let it steal yours by watching it for free on Crunchyroll! Just know that if you own that Limited Edition 2011 version released by Nozomi I’d be willing to trade my SOUL!!! That’s right, if you want Takuto’s soul, just send LTD ED moe soldiers my way. A “Caffe Mocha” whipped with happy and sad feels. Thank you for reading! I’ve nothing more to say. Enjoy your day 🙂

– Takuto, your host

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Code Geass: A Masterful Rebellion To Be Remembered

A review of the 2006-2007 anime “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” and its 2008 sequel, “R2”

***Beware of slight spoilers, though everyone should have seen this show by now***

Before I start writing, we must travel back in time to December of last year – my amateur Guilty Crown review *shudders*. In it, I accused GC of “stealing something precious from every solid robot/action anime prior to its own existence,” and that it was “just a messy conglomeration of past sci-fi anime.” I actually confess to being the one guilty here, as prior to that review I was honestly just venting others’ thoughts rather than speaking my own. I knew nothing about the mecha genre of anime! So now, I apologize and atone for my sins by witnessing the very chaos where Guilty Crown got its roots – And it all rises with a single rebellious command.

Secondly, my god, how I love smart characters. Enjoy ~

By 2010, the totalitarian Holy Britannian Empire, which already claims a third of the world, captures and strips the honorable Japan down to petty people. Now renamed to Area 11, the “Elevens” no longer enjoy a life of freedom and pride, but slave away while the Britannian aristocracy stands over them with overwhelming wealth and authority, wine glasses in hand.

Lelouch vi Britannia, a banished royal youth has been taking refuge in the prestigious Ashford Academy with his blind and wheelchair-bound little sister Nunnally. Going by the last name Lamperouge to escape execution, the two became members of the spirited student council. All goes fairly well for the two, but Lelouch can hardly even call hiding in secret day by day living! So when a Japanese terrorist operation results in a horrific highway wreck, the witness Lelouch runs to check on their safety, but instead uncovers a classified Britannian “weapon” of sorts. Her name is C.C. (pronounced C2), and she bestows the near-omnipotent power of Geass upon him – the power of absolute control over another, which merely requires direct eye contact and a command to activate.

It’s at this exact moment that the scheming Lelouch ZERO begins his awe-inspiring rebellion to destroy Britannia and recreate the world anew, all for the safety of his crippled sister and to uncover the mysteries surrounding his mother’s death. Zero rallies his Black Knights, the Japanese terrorists, and sets his sights on liberation, but by donning the mask of a criminal mastermind and wielding his King’s Power mercilessly, he shall pave his own path of solitude and shoulder all of the world’s evil.

Code Geass is a complex anime to watch. Half of the show is following Lelouch as he scrambles identities from school boy to the anarchist Zero, while the other half is political mumbo jumbo. Between constant Geass brainwashing, royal court betrayals, and countless bickering, national figureheads, each complete with an ideology of their own, it’s quite easy to get lost. The plot also relies on very meticulously placed characters to show you what you need to see, when you should see it. I don’t think this overly convenient placement is considered plot armor for Lelouch, for he is quite the intelligent badass, it’s just that there is an inhuman amount of info to keep track of, considering that each character’s current knowledge, prior history and point of view is equally important toward the end result. One easy slip-up early on and his whole uprising would have fallen flat -_-

As a viewer, I was very stressed to find no answers to any of my several hundred questions after the first season, but in due time, everything became clear. Often, explanations arrive too late in the series, however, which only adds to the long-standing confusion. My episode one qualms no longer seemed relevant to what was going on.

About the mechs. While the first season valued tactics, ahem errr, strategy on the battlefield, the second season’s combat was structured on “my gun is bigger than your gun,” of which the sexy Rakshata or ridiculously quirky “Earl of Pudding” would steal the other’s ideas to invent a better one. These scientific discoveries were pointless compared to the supernatural Geass, though they were at least entertaining. The second season’s use of flight capabilities also took out the thrill that came from ground combat. All in all, I really enjoyed the solidly strategized Knightmare Frame battles, but I could have gone without the boring aerial stuff.

As for characters, we have the aforementioned Lelouch Lamperouge, the brilliant chess master who is justly one of the BEST anime characters EVER, like do I even need to explain? Always several steps ahead of the game, using whomever he needs like pawns to create a new world. One character who constantly bumps heads with him is childhood friend Suzaku Kururugi, a knight of justice who in contrast to Lelouch believes that the means are more important than the end result. Due to “Spinzaku” being Japanese, his righteousness brings punishment from leaders on the both sides, however, and his stubborn will causes never-ending interference with the Britannian nobles and Lelouch. A fine character nevertheless.

And of course, the rest of the cast is extraordinary! Nobles like Prince Schneizel and Cornelia li Britannia (BEST GIRL) continually throw in spicy curveballs. A rebel like Kallen challenges her very existence because of her being half Britannian and half Japanese. Lovers like Lulu’s sister Nunnally, Rolo, Jeremiah, Shirley, Villetta, and eventually C.C. heighten the levels of drama. There are also the Black Knights, Ashford’s student council, and other royals that play their part exceptionally well! Granted some of the characters are incredibly dumb, and in the second season there are a lot of bipolar decisions, I was pretty damn impressed with what we got. Lastly, Code Geass never forgets about a single character; each one is gradually touched on throughout the entirety of the franchise, and that is not an easy feat to pull off!

Animation was done by Sunrise, and since I have not watched many mecha anime, it was a huge change for me to see robots that were all drawn. Unlike most CG, I was never taken out of the world thanks to the drawn appearance, so that’s a plus! Another nice factor was the character designs done up by Clamp. There’s just something so incredibly sexy about those elongated chests and limbs tagged along with bold, charming, unique faces that made me go mmmm. I especially love the eye and hair designs (Leads, Euphemia, Cornelia), so rich and fierce 😉

Ahh, the OST by Kotaro Nakagawa and Hitomi Kuroishi, much like the animation, a strong point. It’s an epic, classical, string based soundtrack, which are my favorite kinds, but occasionally there are soft, Celtic-esque tracks that play during the most depressing moments, milking all that they can out of a scene. Some of the best songs include “Black Knights,” “Beautiful Emperor,” “Lullaby of M,” “All-out Attack,” and the famous “Madder Sky.” But the one that tops them all, possibly my favorite track from an OST, is the bittersweet “Continued Story” by Hitomi Kuroishi, which played in the final episode. From YouTube, this is the song that got me into the show, and literally tears run down every time . . .

The very first and last ending themes, both Ali Project songs, also added fuel to the fire of the rebellion! Check out “Yuukyou Seishunka” and “Waga Routashi Aku no Hana,” as they are both eerie and insane!

I can now easily understand why Code Geass receives so much conversation and the title of classic. I was always trying to guess what Zero would do next, but little did I know that he had everything in the bag from the start, or so I believe. The show excels in all categories and provides the genre with ONE OF THE BEST (TRAGIC) ENDINGS IN ANIME HISTORY. Code Geass is a battle of wit, a competition for science, a war of mechs, a struggle for royal power, a strife for family, and above all, a rebellion to be remembered. By accepting Geass and becoming the world’s greatest antihero, Lelouch vi Britannia dug his own grave, and once he reaches the pits of hell itself, he shall take all of the world’s hatred with him.

“Suppose there is an evil that justice cannot bring down. What would you do? Would you taint your hands with evil to destroy evil? Or would you carry out your own justice and succumb to that evil?” – Lelouch Lamperouge

+ One of the best main characters to hit anime, supporting cast also brilliant

+ Masterful varying portrayals of justice and other ideological themes

+ Excellent English dub (especially Lelouch, Suzaku, Kallen, Cornelia), strong soundtrack

+ Gripping, curious, and intense story to the finale, one of anime’s greatest endings

– Plotline involving Geass history/Emperor’s grand plan could have used more combing through

– Several moments were a bit too conventional for Lelouch, some bipolar actions made to keep story moving

– 2 seasons; 50 episodes can be very extensive for some

This was definitely a difficult review to write, as I was pretty much just fanboying the entire time 😀 I did have a few complaints, though. But after considering the clever ride from start to finish, it deserves the Caffé Mocha award without a doubt! 9/10 for both seasons to those following my MyAnimeList. Action, romance, drama, great characters and story – EVERY anime fan must watch this show! The varying genres of school, mecha, war, comedy, sci-fi and more also make this show interesting. I feel I have the room to judge anime a little better now that I’ve seen this classic (and that cart scene, I see what you did there). My god, I’ve never been so entertained by one character in such a long time ahaha AHAHAH MUAHAHA – ALL HAIL LELOUCH!! Now, I command you to like, comment and follow my blog, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your emperor

ALDNOAH.ZERO Review

Fellow Café members, let me just start with what this experience was – a coincidence. Ever heard of one? Yes, I thought so. I’ve seen the masterpieces that are Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero prior to this series, and little did I know that this one was written by the same guy. Gen Urobuchi, for the better, you got me again!

Humankind began migrating to Mars when an ancient alien hypergate was discovered on the moon in 1972. Using the Aldnoah technology they had additionally discovered, the VERS Empire was formed. Soon after, the VERS Empire declared war on Earth. This war caused the destruction of the Moon and the gate, creating a belt of debris around Earth and disabling any known connections. Presently in 2014, the princess of VERS travels to Earth only to be attacked and “killed” during a peace mission. The people of VERS are now furious and stand determined to take Earth this time around as both races are thrown back into war.

Isn’t that a cool concept? Aldnoah.Zero dives into the aspect of human separation, and how it is not Terrans versus Martians so much as it’s humans on Earth and those on Mars against each other. They all want each other’s’ blood even though it is actually the same type. Add this dark theme and giant robot, or “kataprakt,” fights and you have yourself a show that is interesting and worth one’s time.

Speaking of, one flaw that I would like to point out is the fact that the Martian’s could have easily squashed any human resistance with their super powered Aldnoah kataprakts, but what would be the good in that, right? Like seriously, one of the enemy robots can create a dimensional barrier that absorbs all forms of energy, allowing it to walk through buildings without any struggle. WHY DID THEY NOT MAKE MORE OF THESE?? This forced the opening fight to require Inaho’s smarts, as he literally couldn’t go rushing in at the enemy. Perhaps if a fight on this scale of strategy was at the end, then maybe the final boss wouldn’t have been such a snooze.

Our true story centers on the triangle between the Terran Inaho (Orange), Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia, and the Terran Slaine (Bat). Inaho is quiet, resourceful, and a calm, quick thinker. This makes me love him yet dislike him at the same time, for although he rarely says stupid stuff, he follows the bland archetype hero.

On another note, Asseylum receives asylum by Inaho and co. upon her arrival (Hehe, puns). She is a dutiful young lady who, for housing the mysterious power of the Aldnoah, one would think she would have some kind of combat skills, but it’s whatever. In that aspect, she reminds me of Princess Lenessia from Log Horizon. They both act in amateurish ways, thinking that a simple meeting would solve planetary war.

Slaine is the crux of emotional occurrence in ALDNOAH.ZERO. Throughout the entirety of the series, the Terran-born boy struggles between supporting the Terrans and/or the Martians. He doesn’t fully support the Martians, but simply Asseylum. When I think of it this way, it clears a lot of the mud that crowds Slaine’s decisions.

In Slaine’s regard, the end of the first half of the series is probably one of the most suspenseful and unexpected twists I have ever seen. Because I don’t want to spoil too much it will remain your unknowing secret. I can understand complex emotions, but wow, I was not expecting that. For those who have seen the end of the series, how shall we encrypt that last line? I guess we’ll just have to wait for season two in 2015. It’s going to be a long wait. . .

The animation quality for this show is phenomenal! Not only that, but the soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano contains epic, pumped up techno action pieces that engage me into combat. It fits the high-tech battlefield mood perfectly. The show is filled with awesome robot combat and explosive maneuvers that left me swerving in my seat to dodge flying metal fists or energy blades of death! It is interesting to note that the studio that animated ALDNOAH.ZERO also did the infamous Sword Art Online, a series which had a second season running at the same time. A-1Pictures must have been very busy, as the animation quality for both series is top-notch – definitely some of my favorite animation.

With Urobuchi comes Kajiura, as Kalafina performs the series’ amazing opening “heavenly blue.” Jesus, I love this music so much! Kajiura pulls out all of the stops in this new opening: the techno groove is hot and upbeat. The show’s ending theme, “I Say Cry” by aLIEz (also by Hiroyuki Sawano), also deserves an honorable mention. Both of these are a must-listen.

I fully recommend ALDNOAH.ZERO to fans of Urobuchi’s works and for people that are looking for something with sci-fi action-packed fights with great background music, and a well-paced plot to where you want more after every damn episode. So isn’t that everyone? Well, yes and no. The last few “bosses” are lack luster and require Inaho to just hack and slash; no real strategy is required. Because of such a loss, the crafty interest in both Inaho and the Martain generals drop tremendously. Nevertheless, I will be awaiting the second half for this great adventure of revenge, tragedy and hope. “Let Justice Be Done Through The Heavens Fall.”

At the moment, you can watch all of ALDNOAH.ZERO on Crunchyroll.  I really hope the show receives localization and a dub, because yeah, I thought it was worth watching again. Leave a comment below and thanks for reading! Till next time this has been

– Takuto, your host