For centuries, it has been man’s dream to fly. Because of the Wright Brothers, we finally have the technology to do so, and as such, have been able to soar into the skies, give or take the method. Yet we have never truly been able to fly by ourselves. To remedy that dream in animated form, we have Aokana, an anime about flying, and the sport that goes along with it known as Flying Circus.
In the world of Aokana, the world has developed special footwear called Grav-shoes, a kind of footwear that allows for the user to utilize anti-graviton particles in order to essentially defy gravity and fly. In order to make the idea of Grav-shoes more fun, a new sport known as Flying Circus was developed, creating a brand new activity that one could do with their new shoes. It is here where we meet Kurashina Asuka, a bright and optimistic girl who dreams of soaring in the skies.
At its core, Aokana is centered around Asuka and her journey through the sport of Flying Circus, or FC for short. The show is centered around her and her group of friends in the FC club at her high school, participating in competitions and aiming to become top FC players. So more or less, this is your standard tournament/sports anime that focuses around beating stronger opponents and progressively getting better and better as time goes on, right? Well…no, actually.
Contrary to what the show looks like from the outside, Aokana has a surprisingly deep set of values that it showcases. It really hammers in what it takes to be good at a sport, and the satisfaction of winning when facing someone tough. In fact, the characters are shown to more or less only be fighting the same opponents, completely disregarding a ‘stronger challenger approaches’ style of story. The anime shows us the true feeling of losing and how heartbreaking it can be, as well as the beauty and satisfaction of winning, all things that you wouldn’t see in your generic tournament anime where the protagonist just barrels his/her way through each match without trying and winning every time because he/she is that good. There’s genuine feeling when it comes to seeing the growth of these characters and it really made me like this show and want to continue watching. The progression is far better than what I had expected it to be, and I was happy to receive such a surprise.
On the downside though, the show has some issues with some of its presentation. Some aspects of the show feel cliched and everything is tied up with a nice ribbon bow, so the plot is predictable in that regard. Additionally, the show does have quite a lot of moe-affiliated moments where the show does tell you once again “Hey, we’re a show with a bunch of cute girls doing some cute stuff”, which it is. It takes away from the serious atmosphere a little bit, but for me, it really wasn’t really a problem.
Overall, while there were problems and issues with its presentation, Aokana had a message that was far deeper than I thought it would ever have given what it looked like on the outside. The show had good progression and a good mix of good to bad moments that helped improve character growth and, despite its appearance of one guy surrounded by several girls, IS NOT A HAREM! (I know, shocking right? We can have an anime with that kind of character setup WITHOUT having romance! Gasp!)
+ Interesting story concept (The sport is simple, but surprisingly complex.)
+ Great message and themes throughout
+ Not a harem despite what we get for a cast
– Has cliched and/or predictable moments that do take some credibility of the show away
The cast of Aokana isn’t particularly big. As mentioned before, the show more or less focuses on a relatively small group of characters where they all fight amongst each other in the sport. There’re no “Challenger-kuns” anywhere once the rivals have been established, and the show takes its time to develop its cast.
First, we have our spunky and optimistic main protagonist, Kurashina Asuka. Asuka is the very definition of optimism. Her dream is to soar high in the sky, and most of her lines involve things being “amazing” and being “spectacular” to the point that it’s actually somewhat annoying. A somehow gifted natural at FC, Asuka is a ‘prodigy’ character who gets stuff or is able to do complicated stuff relatively easy in the series, even to the extent that even towards the end, she is able to handle more difficult maneuvers or strategies that would ordinarily taken someone else weeks or even months to accomplish. So basically a mary sue. As a character, she acts as catalyst for things, as she evokes feelings and aids in the character development for others, without really changing much herself. She does have bouts of sadness and some time dedicated to her recovery after a loss, but she’s the type to get back up on her feet quickly, so there’s really no worry there.
The people that are interesting are both Mashiro and Misaki, the two other members of the FC club that Asuka belong to. As a senpai loving kouhai and a nyanko respectively, Mashiro and Misaki are more of the characters that project and showcase the quality of what it is to have ups and downs in a sport, as each of them have dedicated time to their characters. These areas of the anime are sections where I think both the message and the anime really shine, because they’re both very realistic examples of what it means to participate and try to get really into a sport since both of their mini character arcs are dedicated to resolving their own insecurities and strengthening the qualities that they possess and turning it into in the series’ words, “Their own FC”, aka, their own style of playing.
If I was to make a complaint, it would have to be geared towards Masaya Hinata, our male character main character…guy. Masaya is a character who really…doesn’t have all that much importance in this series. As Aokana was originally a VN before getting adapted, Masaya is the player character and is dictated by the actions of the player. In the anime, Masaya more or less plays a supporting role to the series, which is fine since I’m all for a series with 1 guy and a bunch of girls that isn’t a harem series, but they try to give an explanation and time to his backstory and why he decided ‘never to fly again’ which just ends up being incomplete and very lackluster. It is by far the weakest aspect of the characters by far, which is surprising since the side characters not only get more screentime, but more development than our so-called male protagonist here.
The side characters are definitely a side cast that has more worth to this series than most anime I’ve seen. Other FC players like Shindou, Inui, and Rika get little moments dedicated to them to add onto the message that the show coaxes in, and Madoka, who is more or less the comedic straight man to everyone (poor Madoka). Point being, there are members of this side cast that deserve mention, and only add to this show since a good number of them actually develop along with the series, if only for a little bit of character development.
+ Great character development
+ Good focus on main females and their development
+ Side cast members also get development
– Asuka is a bit too perfect sometimes and gets a bit annoying
– Masaya, the supposed main character, is basically nonexistent to this series
Produced by Gonzo, Aokana boasts a very high quality and whimsical looking style for Aokana. All of the colors have this shimmering bright sheen to them that reflects the sunny and bright feeling that the show evokes, creating this wonderfully colorful show that looks very pleasing to look at. The characters also look very nice in conjunction with the background and move very fluidly in terms of the normal animation fluidity. The artstyle is heavily moe-centered, as the characters, girls in particularly, are drawn in a very cutesy style coupled with some cutely exaggerated moments at a shot at comedy and cute pictures. I say this because there are people that REALLY hate moe, so I just wanted to mention it here.
Another thing that the show has is effects, and lots of them. The grav-shoes create contrails when the fly, and the effects of those are just really stunning to look at. One thing that does bug me about the anime is the fact that they utilize 3-D CGI very often when they’re trying to make a flying scene. Using CGI for stuff like this is understandable, since the characters are moving very fast, and the amount of frame per second in order to create something like that would be time consuming to say the least, but the CGI is done in a way that really looks obvious, especially due to the fact that the fluidity of that particular scene looks stranger than it normally is. (Also, there really isn’t much fanservice to be had. We get like…1 bath scene or so, and that’s about it in the way of fanservice.)
+ Really nice artwork
+ Great effects
– CGI wasn’t meshed well and stood out easily
The OST for Aokana is very fitting for the series. The entire OST is more or less performed with airy instruments like the flute, in order to keep up with the theme of flying up and whatnot. The OP “Contrails” is a very vibrant and uplifting piece that fits with the positive, soaring feeling that the characters have when they sprout their wings and lift off. It’s a very happy song that while doesn’t have a staggeringly large amount of memorable factor to it, it’s still a good song.
The ED on the other hand is a more toned down song that has a similar soaring feeling to it. But instead of soaring high, the song more or less drifts around and glides. It’s not particularly a song that I feel lacks in comparison to its OP. It’s not a bad song, but its calm and generic sound really doesn’t really do the song any favors for being particularly memorable.
+ Good, fitting music
– Not really a memorable OST
Aokana was that one show this season that out of every show in my watching list I thought would turn out to be a surprisingly good show, a dark horse that was good, but no one would watch. And now, after finishing it, turns out, I was right. It has its flaws and its problems, but honestly? I really think that this was a good show; an unexpectedly good show.
Did I like this anime?
To be honest, I really did. I liked it far more than I thought I would. It’s unassumingly cute exterior hides a really deep and meaningful set of themes that was not only well tackled, but really played into why I think that this anime deserves far more attention than it gets. Hell, the OP has the phrase “True Battle comes After Losing”, and that could not be more true to what happens in this show, and in real life. Also, flying shoes. Science, get on it.
What didn’t I like about this anime?
Ok, I’ll be honest, Asuka is a bit irritating. Her constant optimism is a feature of the anime that really doesn’t fall, which really isn’t a good thing. She sees the bright side of practically everything and doesn’t falter which in a sense, clashes with what this show was trying to convey. In addition, Masaya was just NOT used. He had so much potential, and could’ve really added a lot to the series, but in the end, he was more or less shoved to the side and wasn’t really as important as he could’ve or should’ve been. (And yes, I know that Asuka IS the main character here. Doesn’t mean we couldn’t have devoted more focus to Masaya.)
Would I recommend this anime?
Personally, I think that this anime is definitely worth a watch. While it looks all cutesy and moe on the outside (which…it honestly does do a lot, quite a bit actually…), what the show tries to tell us with its themes gives the show far more worth than your seasonal generic moe show. It tells us that enjoying the things we like doing is more important than winning or losing, and that work has to be put into something in order to get better, and it conveys these messages so well! IMO, Aokana is an underrated show from Winter 2016, and despite its flaws, is still worth a watch.