Taking the original visual novel and interpreting it differently, Air is given another life that varies strongly from what the TV incarnation was like.
What They Say
Although blessed with a cheerful spirit radiating youthful innocence, the fragile beauty Misuzu is cursed with a mysterious illness. Compelled to understand the history of her people, she delves into the heart-breaking tale of the legendary winged Princess Kanna. During her journey, Misuzu encounters Yukito - a traveling performer desperately hoping to silence the demons of his past by finding his own Girl with Wings.
The bilingual presentation for the Air movie is quite good as both languages done in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 kbps. Though the film is mostly dialogue, there are numerous scenes where the ambient music or some key background sounds are worked to give it a very immersive feel. The world that these characters inhabit is a quiet one but when there is the need to build a large sound field, it conveys it quite well. Dialogue placement is solid but there isn't much in the way of depth to it. In listening to both language tracks, we liked what we heard but it wasn't something that stands out strongly, which in some ways complements the material. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in early 2005, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With only the film on the disc, there's plenty of space to work with and the end results are quite good, particularly since it doesn't work with a consistently high bitrate. The visuals for the show are often quite colorful and deep which is well represented here, giving it a real sense of life and vibrancy. Color saturation is spot on and background noise is very minimal with only a few scenes showing anything that catches the eye. Line noise is only visible during some of the painted still shots while cross coloration is non-existent. Overall, this has a great color palette to it that lets it stand out well and the presentation maintains a solid feel without noticeable break-up or blocking.
FUNimation’s release is different than what ADV Films put out and there’s a definite airy feeling to it but one that ties it more to the TV series than the previous edition felt like it did. The central image is of Misuzu in her school uniform staring outward which is good looking, but it’s the way it flows with the background that makes it all work. The white sections and the beautiful sky blues all combined wonderfully to give it a very ethereal feel along with the standard logo we’ve seen for the franchise. The back cover is done in the same kind of broken down layout but with a lot more openness to it where it’s dealing with the well written summary that conveys the basics and tries to puff up its theatrical aspects. The central image of Misuzu once again is appealing, but much more so than the front cover as it has her from the side with her hair flowing back against the lush skyline. There’s a small strip of shots from the feature as well and a small but decent technical grid that covers the basics. No insert is included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu for the Air series were quite good even if they were simple since they showed off the visual beauty of the show. The movie version considerably weaker as it's just one static image that has the navigation stretched across part of it as some of the vocal music plays along to it. It's certainly not bad but it feels weak in comparison to the TV series and fits in with the recent trend of simple static menus from ADV Films who authored this disc. With nothing on the disc beyond the film, everything is on the top level for the most part, including the previews. Access times are nice and fast and we had no problems getting around the few areas we needed to. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the visual novel by Key, Air is given a new life in theatrical form by a completely different production. The interpretation mirrors the TV series in some ways but the majority of it really moves in a different direction while still keeping to the same themes and ideas. Helmed by the renowned Osamu Dezaki, the Air movie fits into his long list of credits quite well even if it is predictable if you've seen the TV series.
The film has a much more narrow focus than the TV series, ignoring most of the cast outside of the very core set of characters that were really the bookends of that series. Yukito, a young man traveling around the country for several personal reasons, finds himself in a small seaside town that's about to have a festival. Or at least, he thought it was as he ended up there a week too early. His chances to make some money are cut down considerably until the festival so he's spending his time getting some little performances here and there. His traveling performer routine involves a little doll that he's able to magically manipulate into doing all sorts of tricks to delight the audience.
At the same time he arrives in town, we see a high school student named Misuzu who is going through a trial of her own. Due to an unclassified illness he has, she doesn't actually attend school or have any friends. She's still trying to do some of the work assigned and has gone to the school at the start of summer vacation to participate in the summer field research assignment that everyone is doing in small groups. With no friends and her illness, she's going to do it alone by taking pictures, drawing and writing about the town they live in. Her innocent nature and a bit of luck leads her to Yukito and she ends up convincing him to help her out for the week. Misuzu even goes so far as to invite him to stay in the shed at their house so he has some place to stay. This actually isn't a problem for Misuzu's mother/aunt, a woman named Haruko. It's through these three that the story of Misuzu's life slowly unfolds and is explained.
Where Air gets a bit more depth, though not to the same extent as the TV series, is in the storyline dealing with the past. Through Misuzu's summer project of talking about the town, she relates the tale over the course of the film about a princess and her guardian from hundreds of years ago. Princess Kanna, kept from her mother because both of them have wings after her mother ate mermaid flesh, longed to experience the world but only began to do so when Ryuya became her bodyguard. Kept in a summer castle under heavy guard because of the fears the Emperor has about the winged people, Kanna discovers happiness, joy and love through Ryuya. Their storyline is something that speaks strongly to Misuzu and you can see the similarities in a way to her growing relationship with Yukito, the first person that's managed to be a friend to her for any amount of time.
Each storyline ends in tragedy, which is quite muted by having seen the TV series and specials within the last couple of weeks. There really isn't a way to "win" at viewing the film if you've seen the series since you have a really good idea of how it's going to end. Knowing where it's going to go adds a sense of sadness to everything because you know there's no hope. That doesn't minimize the drama but it does lessen the impact since the two ends play out relatively similar. What makes the film enjoyable is the differences in execution. The focus being pretty much just on Yukito, Misuzu and Haruko gives me the storyline I liked the most from the TV series without all the other girls. They make token background appearances here but are otherwise kept away from things.
What is kept, though radically changed, is the storyline from the past with Ryuya and Kanna. Uraha is kept to a token role for a few moments but the main storyline involving the other two is quite interesting in how different it is. While it keeps the idea of having Ryuya taking Kanna out of there to find her mother, it's a more passionate and up front story told in brief moments over the course of the film. Their relationship is more interesting than the TV version in a way because it is more passionate, more in the moment, rather than a travelogue of sorts. Ryuya was portrayed as a decent and skilled man in the series but he had a bit of a nice factor about him that almost felt lightly goofy. Here, he's more assured, more confident and Kanna responds to that by actively seeking him out and eventually offering herself to it.
What fascinated me the most about this show was its production values in general. The visuals are quite good with lots of great colors and detail but it still felt weak in comparison to the overall layouts and set designs for the TV series. Kyoto Animation has wowed me plenty with their works but Toei Animation just can't seem to match it here. Not that this is a bad thing since it's just another interpretation of the same source material. The film also utilizes a lot of tried and true methods of Dezaki which are all the more apparent to me after watching Nobody's Boy Remi. Much of what is so striking in that series, which was groundbreaking at the time, is still used here and it resonates in a new way for me since I've become more accustomed to it. There's a lot to like about the visual presentation of the show but it's easy to see people who loved the TV series finding this one a bit weaker, both in the overall presentation and the character designs.
FUNimation’s release of the Air Movie comes at the same time as their release of the TV series. While not feeling completely up to watching the TV series again, I decided to tackle the movie once more now that there’s been some separation of time since I saw the movie just after the TV series. Unfortunately, I found that the film does have a lot of the same issues I had with it the first time around. In a way, it’s a good sign of just how memorable the TV series is because the series is still very fresh in my mind and making that separation is a bit difficult. It makes comparisons all the easier to do which in turn detracts from what's actually happening on screen. The movie gives me the core storyline that I wanted to see without the fluff so it succeeds well on that level and it has some fascinating production values to it, particularly due to its director. Though the differences are what kept me intrigued here, it is still very much a film about emotions and feelings and it succeeds quite well there. If you're not interested in a TV series, the film really captures much of the same material in a compact way without losing the real emotions.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.