A fascinating idea and experiment that fails to live up to its potential.
What They Say
Yukito is a travelling performer. He moves through this world with only the clothes on his back - driven onward by stories of "The Girl in the Sky." Not knowing when or if he will find her, Yukito wanders, clinging to fleeting hope. Destitute and near starvation, Yukito's life changes after the eccentric beauty Misuzo offers him food and shelter.
This fragile treasure shares with him her dreams of a life lived amongst the clouds, and he listens closely out of a gratitude which soon gives way to rapt curiosity. The unlikely pair grows close, but Yukito cannot forget his destiny - or his past. In the end, the compelling need to find "her" remains. Who is the girl in the sky? Does she even exist? The questions run rampant, but the answers float aimlessly through the air.
Contains the 13-episode series plus the 2-part Air in Summer OVA special.
In a nice surprise, both language tracks are offered in 5.1 for the TV series, although the Air in Summer specials only come in 2.0. Both formats works fine for this series, and as the story centers around dialogue, it is somewhat surprising that they went the 5.1 route in the first place. However, it does add atmosphere: while the dialogue stays mostly centered, there are some nice details coming through the various channels that help with immersion. The mix is nice enough that it almost becomes a shame that Air in Summer is only 2.0.
Presented in 16:9 widescreen, the animation in this series is gorgeous. With the main setting being a quiet, tropical coastal town, there are plenty of opportunities for some lush scenery, particularly focusing on the ocean and the sky. It is all beautifully drawn. Coloring is bright and vibrant, and show up well in this release. There were a few small instances of background noise, and some minor cross coloration, but nothing that is particularly noticeable. Very well done.
Except for one minor flaw, I love the packaging for this set. The three discs come in two thinpaks which are housed in a wonderfully composed artbox. The various covers feature the girls in the series, all set against a blue sky motif. The thinpaks have reversible covers that have really pretty images on both sides: mostly sky images on the interiors, with more colorful shots of the characters on the exteriors. But as nice as they are, they do represent my one complaint about this set: the spines of either side do not fit well with the rest of the artbox, nor with each other for that matter. The reverse images are a little better, but the outer images just clash. Not a big deal for those of you who house your DVD sets with the box spine facing out, but I like to have the interior case spines facing out. Again, a minor complaint, but it is a detail that I am surprised they missed.
The menus are basic, but also feature nice composition. Again, the sky is the motif, this time with images of Misuzu featured prominently. The menu selections are set against the sky in a deeper blue, while the highlight is in white with an image depicting wind to the side. While the main menu is up, a soft, chime song plays in the background. There is no animation, but it looks nice.
There are no extras for the TV series, and the Air in Summer disc just has the textless songs and some trailers. It isn’t much, but if you like textless songs, there they are.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This release contains the both the Air TV series and the two Air in Summer OVAs specials that followed it. The initial premise of Air is intriguing, with a nice blend of reality and fantasy, and combines it with some truly gorgeous animation. But while there were many things to like about Air, ultimately I found the execution to be a little lacking.
Air TV—Yukito Kunisaki is a travelling street performer. Through an innate power of telekinesis, he is able to stage puppet shows without actually touching the puppets. Unfortunately, his shows are a little lacking. And so, therefore, is his wallet. The only thing that keeps him going is the story of “The Girl in the Sky” told to him by his mother when he was a boy. She told him that this girl needs help and that someday he would be the person to help him.
Enter Misuzu Kamio, a strange young girl just looking for somebody to be her friend. Yukito finds himself stranded in her small town, and she finds him sleeping on the flood wall at the beach. After hearing his plight, she offers to help him, and convinces her mother to let him stay with their home. In no time, he finds himself to be somewhat of Misuzu’s protector.
As he spends more time with her, she opens up more about her life and her dreams. She tells him of her desire to fly in the sky, and the dreams she has at night showing her how to get there. The more she opens up, the more he becomes convinced that she is the girl for whom he has spent his life looking. Unfortunately, the legend that led him to her also tells of the Girl’s death, so he must now find a way to save her.
As I said earlier, the initial plot setup for Air is pretty interesting. Misuzu has never been able to get close to anybody in her life. For some reason, her classmates all shun her, and even her mother—who is actually just her aunt—has refused to get truly close to her. When she helps Yukito, it is in the hopes that she might finally be able to have somebody to play with, and he is the first person who truly becomes her friend. And as Yukito spends more time with Misuzu, we learn more about what it is that is so special about her.
Probably the most interesting portion of the series is a multiple episode arc that returns to feudal Japan, and the journey of a noble girl, her maid, and her samurai protector. The girl, Kanna, is a part of a long line of “winged beings”: women with special powers whose destiny it is to inherit the dreams of the earth. Unfortunately, because of ancient superstitions about their powers, they are doomed to live cursed lives. Her life has been one of luxury, but also one of confinement. With the aid of the samurai, Ryuya, and the maid, Uraha, she escapes her prison to go find her mother. This story lays out all of the backstory that is needed to fully understand what is happening with Yukito and Misuzu in the present.
But this is what also hits the biggest flaw with Air. VisualArt’s attempted a rather bold plot structure for this series. It essentially comes in three parts: part one consists of the time Yukito spends with Misuzu becoming her friend and learning who she is, part two is the story in the past that finally explains everything in part one, and part three retells the main points of part one from a new perspective before taking it then to the conclusion. It is an interesting idea, but not one that I think was executed particularly well.
For starters, much of the pacing in part one meanders. While the main development between Yukito and Misuzu is happening, there are also a number of subplots with Yukito helping out various other village girls with life problems. These subplots are fine on their own, but really do nothing to advance the overall plot. None of these girls factor into the final equation, and I missed where Yukito may have learned something that would help him later down the road.
And while the feudal Japan arc is interesting, it sort of comes out of nowhere and really messes with the flow of the series. I struggled for a while to really get interested in the characters and their struggles. For whatever reason, they just never clicked with me. And just as I was starting to warm to the whole thing, they took me out of it for a few episodes. When it finally returned back to the present, I almost had to start over with Yukito, Misuzu, and the rest. The conclusion was fine, but it did not have the impact with me that I think was intended, and I think it is because I was jerked around so much.
I’m being negative here, and frankly, Air TV is not a bad series. The premise had a lot of potential, and I loved that they attempted to do something different with the plot structure, but it just did not work for me the way that I had hoped. They wasted too much time with subplots early that they struggled to make the important story truly work. I enjoyed it for what it was, but I feel as if it could have been so much more.
Air in Summer—Air in Summer is a two part OVA that returns to the journey of Kanna, Ryuya, and Uraha, which again was fine for what it was, but I wonder what was the point. These two OVAs focus a little less on the journey itself, and more on the relationships forged between the three, in particular between Kanna and Ryuya. It was entertaining, and fun to watch, but ultimately I did not think it really added anything to the overall idea of Air. However, more importantly, it did not take anything away.
While I enjoyed aspects of Air, I would certainly classify it as a disappointment. I loved the premise, and I loved the fact that VisualArt tried to do something different with the pacing and structure. However, I do not think it came together the way they might have liked. I can certainly see plenty of people enjoying Air, but I cannot shake the feeling that it could/should have been so much better. Recommendation to rent, and then buy later if you like it.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Textless Songs
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System