Band Practice for the End of the World – A Sound of the Sky Review

Today I look at a series where a girl who wants to learn the trumpet joins an army where she and other young women can can operate futuristic super tanks in a real war instead of just a popular school elective. Because, why not? Anime has done stranger things.

Title: Sound of the Sky (Sora no Woto)
Original airing:  Jan 5, 2010 to Mar 23, 2010
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Episodes: 12 + 2 specials
Duration: 24 mins per episode
Genres: Slice of Life, Military, Music, Sci-Fi
Source: Original

Where I watched: Crunchyroll (subbed)

Watch the trailer here

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions

In a lonely corner of the world, on the edge of No Man’s Land, sits Clocktower Fortress. It’s home to the 1121st Platoon of the Helvetian Army, and their newest member is a 15-year-old volunteer named Kanata Sorami, who enlisted to learn how to play the bugle. When she was a child, Kanata was saved by a beautiful soldier and found inspiration in the clear, golden sound of her trumpet. From that day forward, Kanata decided music would be her life.

As the other platoon members train her how to be a bugler and a soldier, Kanata’s enduring optimism will inspire them to look for happiness and beauty, even in a world haunted by war.

source: myanimelist.net

Sound of the Sky is an anime I was familiar with, in name only, well before I actually watched it. While researching anime to watch way back when I started this challenge, about six months ago, I kept seeing this title. As I read the synopsis and debated, series after series worked their way through my list. When I finally picked it up, I did so because it seemed different enough to be interesting. A moe style slice of life with a military twist. Then again, I feel like I’ve done this before

Though the review for this series came late in my challenge, I  actually started watching it a while back; off and on while finishing a couple other shows. Okay, maybe 5 other shows. My viewing schedule got a little haphazard around this stretch but nevermind that. My point is, the way this short series is structured allowed me to watch it whenever there wasn’t something pressing or when my wife needed a break from a show we were watching together. Since there was nothing compelling me to binge this anime until the final arc, I found that I could simply absorb it at my leisure.


Story

Image of Kanata standing before a busy street

The Anime no Chikara project, whose credits can be seen at the beginning of each episode if you streamed it on Crunchyroll, was a joint venture between TV Tokyo and Aniplex. Started in 2009, the goal of this project was to create original anime. Perhaps believing they could create better material if it wasn’t adapted from previous work, the project produced three such series in 2010; the first being Sound of the Sky. Its originality is apparent from the start, despite its appearances. It manages to tell a novel story, yet strikes fundamental chords in viewers with themes of togetherness and struggle for peace.

Sound of the Sky begins with a young girl’s, Kanata, decision to volunteer for military service in the midst of a longstanding conflict. Her desire to do so wasn’t out of patriotic pride, a sense of duty to her nation’s cause, or any of the other conventional reasons one chooses to become a solider. It was the simple fact that the military was one of the only professions where a person could be trained to play music. Specifically, Kanata wishes to learn to play the bugle. This is because, after her family was taken by the war, the sound of one soldier’s trumpet signaled her salvation and renewed her hope for the future.

The fact that bugle playing can only be learned in the military is a testament to the state of the world. Following the great war between the nations of Helvetia and Rome, the world has suffered great catastrophe and lost access to much of the technology it once had. Whatever is left doesn’t date past mid-20th century capabilities and so the military is forced to operate with what are essentially WWII era weapons. Along with most of the technology, the world has also seemingly lost knowledge of most things not related to military pursuits. Thankfully for Kanata, bugles and trumpets are still essential for relaying messages and communicating in battle. It is for this reason that she is assigned to the Helvetian 1121st tank platoon stationed at Clocktower Fortress. The odd thing about this group, however, is that all the members are young women.

Image of some of the girls with water guns
Serious military business

In spite the bright colors and cheerful displays in the first episode, this direction places the series squarely in a post-apocalyptic setting. The effects of war go far beyond the loss of technology, as it is hinted throughout the series that the world has undergone drastic environmental and ecological changes. But for the time being, the people on the border of No Man’s Land, in the town of Seize, live out their days peacefully. The tentative ceasefire between Helvetia and Rome has given the townspeople, and the girls of the 1121st platoon, a chance to focus on the aspects of life that don’t involve fighting. By following this trend through most of its run, the series depicts daily life at a military outpost during peacetime.

Due to lack of fighting and the 1121st‘s posting at a remote location, the soldiers exercise a less than strict mode of operation. The commanding officer, Filicia, informs Kanata that the platoon has only five members, don’t address one another by rank, and share communal baths. Even though the naïve Kanata finds much of this odd, she eagerly performs her duties in hopes of learning to play the bugle and one day reproducing the enchanting sound that she heard in her childhood. The series thus follows the platoon of girls as they take part in town festivals, assist the local church, and teach Kanata to improve upon her bugling skills. The general lightheartedness of this series allows viewers to follow the characters as they go about their lives at the outpost, but also engage in traditional military exercises such as training missions and maintenance of the futuristic super tank stored within the fortress.

In spite of the slice of life nature of the series, there is a subtle undercurrent of the growing circumstances outside the town. Growing tensions with the Roman army necessitate vigilance along the border, and the deteriorating state of the world is shown to no longer be a distant problem. The largely episodic flow of the series is interrupted in the final arc when the ceasefire between the nations reaches a breaking point. Contrasting the light tone of the previous episodes, the series doesn’t shy away from the more serious concepts associated with armed conflict. The drama heightens considerably in the lead up to the conclusion, when the platoon is forced to act in order to protect the things most important to them.


Characters

Image of the characters having a drinking party

There is a great variety of characters that appear in this short series, but the most striking feature is the makeup of the 1121st tank platoon themselves. While there are plenty of men in the Helvetian army, Clocktower Fortress is ‘manned’ by an entirely female group, each less than 20 years old. The series doesn’t expand upon the reasons that girls as young as 14 can join the military, but the group’s makeup creates a viewing experience that is heavily influenced by the feminine personas. What’s more, their femininity isn’t looked upon as weak, but rather a natural part of who they are. What makes this interesting is that the series doesn’t use a politically correct depiction (which is oddly stereotypical itself) of women who can do the job just as professionally as men. While the group’s officers are skilled soldiers in their own right, the series makes it apparent that their motivations and perspectives are those of young women.

The perspective viewers gets the most of is that of Kanata Sorami, as she is ostensibly the main character of the series. After joining the military for no other apparent purpose but to learn to play the bugle, her arrival at Clocktower Fortress is met with the typical mix of emotions (warmth, indifference, resentment) displayed toward newcomers. Though her abundance of enthusiasm, even towards tasks she is completely unfamiliar with, make her seem like a charming novice, Kanata strives to approach situations with what little professionalism she has. This quality help her to quickly earn the group’s tolerance, if not complete acceptance. Even as she attempts to fit in, however, the rest of the group tries to shelter her from the more sordid details of their work; believing her to be too delicate to handle such matters.

Image of Kanata saying she's ready for anything
Except the truth, according to her superiors

Her commanding officers, 2nd Lieutenant Filicia Heideman, and Sergeant Major Rio Kazumiya are a large part of the reason Kanata is able to adjust to her new position. Filicia’s lax approach to command, more focused on building a strong bond within the group than observing any sort of military decorum, makes her a motherly figure to the rest of the platoon. Though she appears warm and speaks kindly, viewers get the sense that Filicia hides a seriousness that befits her role as platoon commander. Her friendliness and acceptance of the younger girls’ shortcomings are made easier thanks to Rio, whose skill as a soldier allows her to take on more dangerous, critical tasks that the junior members may be oblivious of. Among Rio’s more tame tasks is the one that endears her to Kanata right away – sounding the morning trumpet.

Image of Filicia complaining she's gotten fat
You and me both, Filicia

The remaining two members, Corporal Noel Kannagi and Private Kureha Suminoya are closer to Kanata in age, but quite different in personality. Noel is the platoon’s technician, and as such spends most of her time trying to restore the Takemikazuchi tank to combat readiness. Her monotone speech and subdued personality make her something of an outcast, though she seems to be just behind Rio in the list of names Filicia considers to carry out a mission. Kanata’s arrival gives the hot tempered and bossy Kureha someone to order around, but viewers eventually see that she is just as inexperienced in combat, and immature, as her ‘junior.’

Image of Kureha dragging a sleepy Noel
Narcolepsy is against regulation, Corporal!

While Kanata gets the lion’s share of screentime, Sound of the Sky does give the other girls some development or at least provides some backstory that explains their personal growth. Both Filicia and Noel have some sort of post-traumatic stress and must work through the difficult memories that resurface as the war continues. Kureha has to deal with own lost childhood and strives to live up to the heroic stories she heard about her father. As the series delves more into the political background of the war, viewers will also want to know more about Rio’s deeper involvement, rivaling any interest that Kanata seems to muster.


Animation

Image of Rio standing in front of the town

Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while will recognize my praise for the work A-1 Pictures does. Animation plays a big part in my overall enjoyment of anime, as I have had a hard time in the past watching even well rated shows that I just didn’t like the look of (Yu Yu Hakusho comes to mind). So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I chose nine shows done by them (almost 1/3 of my total) for my challenge this year, with several more on my prospective list that didn’t make the 2016 cutoff. I had no shortage of good things to say about the work they did on ERASED (2016) and Your lie in April (2014); their two most recent series on my watched list. Similarly, I won’t have anything to gripe about with Sound of the Sky. Even as one of their earlier works it remains an impressively animated series, easily standing against other large budget anime of its time.

Each scene is beautifully rendered with attention to detail and fluid movement. In fact, I cannot think of a single instance where the animation degraded. The only downside I can possibly mention is the art style itself. The characters are clearly done in moe style, which isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to see. Despite the popularity of shows like K-On! and Harui Suzumiya (maybe because of them?) moe anime has come to be regarded negatively. This likely has more to do with the content of a series depicting moe characters than the art style itself; an unfortunate consequence of the backlash against industry direction. In the case of this anime, however, the art style captures the innocence of the younger girls and works better overall than another style might have. By taking the subject matter out of the high-school slice of life cliche, A-1 showed what could be done with moe when applied to an entirely different setting. The result is even better, in my opinion, than the same experiment later carried out with Girls und Panzer.

Image of the girls looking childish as they try to carry heavy bags
This is how border defense looks everywhere… right?

One of the most eye catching features is the beautifully drawn city of Seize, due to its stunning resemblance to the real life city, and UNESCO World Heritage Site, of Cuenca, Spain. Sound of the Sky reproduces several of the city’s features including: the the bridge of St. Paul, the Hanging Houses, the Plaza Mayor, and the Mangana Tower. The rest of the scenery is beautiful as well, with plenty of rolling hills and wide open sky. It belies the delicate state the world is in following the destructive war that took place, but like the peaceful atmosphere of Seize itself, this part of the land still remains serene. Some viewers describe the scenery as Ghibli-esque and I think a large part of that has to do with how beautifully detailed the landscapes are.

Of course, not everything is classy and serene. There are a few fanservice scenes, though not nearly as much as you might expect after Filicia mentions the requirement about communal baths. They are absolutely unnecessary though, considering how nothing is added by their inclusion. Fortunately these instances are few and don’t take away much from the overall beauty of the presentation. A small amount of CGI is also used in the rendering of some of the weaponized machines, like the Takemikazuchi tank. Considering the way it moves, I can hardly blame the studio for going this route. What is surprising, however, is how well it blends into the scenes where it is used. Its appearance coincides with the most serious aspects of the story, especially during flashbacks of past battles. As such, it doesn’t clash heavily with the bright atmosphere of the rest of the series.


Sound

Image of Rio playing trumpet

Op: Hikari no Senritsu by Kalafina
Ed: Girls, Be Ambitious by Haruka Tomatsu

For a series titled “Sound of the Sky,” the sound in this series was expectantly very well done. The opening and ending are fitting, but one might be fooled into thinking they were used in an opposite manner than they were meant to. Openings are intended to set the mood of the series and are typically more energetic than the endings. Hikari no Senritsu is a slower piece, like a traditional folk song, that represents the mythical elements highlighted during the festivals seen in the anime. It is similar in that sense to another song Kalafina did, the Black Butler ED: Lacrimosa, but not quite as somber. When compared to the energy of Girls, Be Ambitious though, one might wonder why that song isn’t the opening instead.

I knew I liked this ED the very first time I heard it, thought I couldn’t place exactly why at first. I soon realized the reason: it was performed by Haruka Tomatsu. She has a huge list of voice roles and is a talented singer as well, having performed the theme songs for many of the series I’ve watched this year (My Little Monster OP, Anohana ED, Sword Art Online ED1). Thanks to this anime, Girls, Be Ambitious is right up there with Q&A Recital! as songs that make me feel good as soon as I hear them.

The other music for the series is a mostly blend of classical orchestral music, representing a variety of tones and moods, with some pieces that are truly fantastic. Servant du Feu (Servant of Fire) hardly even counts as a BGM, given its flowing French vocals, but is a beautiful song nonetheless and a rare occurrence, given that English is usually the foreign language of choice for music in most other anime. The standout piece, however, is the trumpet rendition of Amazing Grace that plays a number of times throughout the series.

The hymn, used in all manner of religious occasions in the real world, holds great meaning to many people. It doesn’t invoke any special sentiment from me personally, as I wasn’t raised as a Christian, but even those who aren’t brought up in that faith can appreciate its themes of salvation and understand how important it is to the story being told. Not only does the song lift a young Kanata out of the miserable depths of her childhood, but it also breaks the barriers of language and ideology between many others in the series, the way music so naturally does.

Voice acting work was well done, as can be expected from a cast as experienced as this one. Many of the seiyuu have worked together on other shows, such as Girls und Panzer, and the group dynamic really shows in this series. Hisako Kanemoto plays the leading role as Kanata, whose wide eyed innocence contrasts with her more withdrawn, but sometimes fierce, casting of Yui Kiriyama in Kokoro Connect. An additional point of interest was Nami Miyahara’s role as a supporting character from the Roman army, as she sounded very authentic even in German. Much as I enjoyed these castings, I was a little dismayed by the fact that there was no English dubbed release. With series such as this, for which a large number of characters and the setting itself is not Japanese, a dub would have been nice.


Overall Appeal

Image of Kanata and Noel giggling

From the charming character work to the creative world building and overall plot, there is plenty to enjoy about this series. Like most other slice of life anime, the characters and their individual stories take center stage in providing most of the entertainment. Each of the younger girls have a pair of episodes dedicated to the themes most important to them, eg: Kanata’s bugling, Kureha’s idolizing of a war hero, and Noel’s quest to repair the tank. Filicia gets an episode explaining her involvement in the war, having her reflect on how it shaped the person she currently is. Rio’s part was the most interesting to me, as the reasons behind why she is so skilled with the trumpet tie much of the series together in their relation to the war.

I have a particular fascination with stories about war, especially where the reasons are more complex than ‘boring evil empire wants to take over innocent victim nation.’ Sound of the Sky does offer something different in this regard, weaving mythology and politics alike for an arcane, yet believable story. Despite its short length, the series does a good job of explaining the war between Helvetia (a name commonly given to Switzerland’s female personification), and what is most likely an alternate reality version of the Holy Roman Empire (considering they speak German). This rivalry is seeing some growing popularity these days, with the currently running Izetta: The Last Witch pitting the two against each other as well. The conflict is the basis of the underlying story and gives the viewer something to follow through the series, especially as it takes the main focus later on.

Using Kanata’s stated purpose in the military (bugling) as a starting point, however, the majority of the series only drops subtle hints about the war and instead focuses on its slice of life elements.Viewers who are initially intrigued about the more serious implications of the war’s development are fed only small bits of information with each episode that passes, finding themselves forced to focus instead on whatever dilemma the girls run into in a given episode. This unhurried narrative style has a negative effect, however, in that it slows the pace of the story to an absolute crawl.

The series attempts to buoy a lot of the duller moments with humor, both deliberate and incidental, but even this seems to be more of a tendency toward moe elements rather than anything directly related to the series. For every genuinely amusing moment, like the platoon’s handling of a mafia group that seeks to move in on an illegal booze market, there are manufactured scenarios which strain even the lax expectations that Filicia demands of her subordinates. Kanata’s attempts to hold her bladder for the greater part of an episode, for example, is hardly thrilling even with the tension it tries to convey.

Image of Kanata saying she's going to wet herself
I’m sure we can all relate, but…

Additionally, the contrived nature of Kanata’s improvement in playing was bothersome, as initial draw to the series may include an interest in seeing her learn to improve her skills. The show pursues a zen-like approach toward her learning to play the music that Rio, and the savior she witnessed in her childhood, can.While this symbolizes the idea of connecting with people and things to bring out ones full potential, it lacks respect towards the skill that artists must cultivate in order to inspire.

These issues can strain viewer interest with the series, and are a large part of the reason I took such a long time to finish 14 episodes. Not to give the impression that the series isn’t enjoyable. Even these slower moments have a great deal of charm, but simply don’t compel viewers to proceed onward if their patience is already flagging. All of this changes in the final arc when new circumstances put the platoon in a difficult position and Filicia’s hand is forced to take drastic action. These few episodes held my rapt attention and provided a good, albeit rushed, conclusion that is in line with everything else the series showed. The series was thankfully short enough that waiting to reach this point wasn’t asking too much. Its structure thus puts it on the ‘good’ end of the spectrum, but it lacks the consistency to really consider it to be masterful.


Summary and Recommendations

Sound of the Sky is the first of the Anime no Chikara (Power of Anime) projects and delivers a unique original story about innocence and salvation in a world destroy by war. Inspired by the music that flowed from a soldier’s trumpet after a devastating battle, Kanata joins the military in order to learn to play the bugle.

The story masks subtle signs of impending conflict by taking place during a ceasefire. The youthful, all-female platoon finds a comfortable home in the idyllic city, but the ever present threat of war requires them to remain vigilant of danger within and without.

Beautiful scenery and music draw viewers into the peaceful atmosphere, painting a city yet untouched by war. Based on the real life city of Cuenca, Spain, the series reproduces many its features in its design for the city of Seize. The moe art style stands in further contrast to the military theme, but serves to emphasize the innocence of the younger members of the platoon.

The slow moving slice of life may appear aimless, but it leaves small hints about the developing backstory as it goes along. The culmination takes 10 episodes to get to, but is a rewarding experience for those who stick with it, blending the story’s mythos and subtle character work built beforehand to deliver a satisfying story about pursuing peace no matter the cost.

Watch if you:
Can appreciate slow paced series
Enjoy well crafted Slice of Life
Like original concepts in anime

Don’t watch if you:
Can’t stand moe characters
Are easily bored without action
Prefer more grit from the military genre


My Rating

It takes a while to warm up to, but the series delivers a nice experience for those who see it through. My rating is 4 out of 5 Kanatas.

Image of 4 out of 5 Kanata faces


Final Thoughts

With all the new series I’ve been watching recently, I’ve happened to notice the increasing trend in anime of using real-life locations. Researching this, I’ve learned that an entire sub-culture of avid fans have, in recent years, embarked on a quest to find these hidden sites. While this makes me want to pack my bags and venture off to the remote, wild jungles of Tokyo (hey, this is my daydream and in it there are also tigers), it isn’t exactly practical.

While some real-life sites can be found in the Metropolitan area of Tokyo, I was only half-joking about the rural, isolated locations of others. Thankfully, anime’s ability to transport viewers into another world isn’t limited to how immersive these stories can be. Especially in a visual sense, they can show you places you might never otherwise experience. As I mentioned in the Animation section above, many of the landmarks in Cuenca, Spain had been faithfully reproduced for this series. The town looks just as serene in real life as it does in the anime, which not only helps establish some realism but also gives viewers a small glimpse of what it’s like to be there. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a discussion if Sound of the Sky was the only show I mentioned to do this.

Anime fans might recognize Chichibu Bridge from the series Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. Its cable-stayed tower makes it recognizable as one of the most well-known locations of the series. As tempting as it may be to mimic Menma by walking on the guardrail, the 134.6 meter drop will likely deter you.

Image of side  by side comparison of Chichubu bridge

Jōrin-ji Temple was also prevalent in the Anhoana series as a place for the characters to play as children and where they reconnected as teens. The temple is home to the Eleven-Faced Kannon bodhisattva, the spiritual figure of mercy and compassion in Buddhism. From what I’ve read, it isn’t really an ideal playground for children. Actually, I’m pretty certain goofing off around a holy temple is probably frowned upon in general.

Image of side by side comparison of the temple

The recently completed series Orange is set in the Nagano Prefecture. The city of Matsumoto is represented throughout the series, most notably Agatanomori Park. A bridge is located directly in the center of the park, set against a backdrop of mountains.It is truly remarkable the amount of detail the artists captured, as nearly every element of the park scenes is a recreation from the real-life park.

Image of side by side comparison of the bridge

I really like this trend and I hope to see more of it in upcoming anime. As Sound of the Sky showed, the series doesn’t even have to have a ‘real world’ setting in order to feature a real location. Finding recognizable and relatable elements in anime really drives up the enjoyment after all, and can foster that extra appreciation for them whenever one gets a chance to visit some of these places.


More Reviews

It seems like not too many people on WordPress are talking about this anime. Let’s change that by getting more anibloggers to check out this series!

Sora no Woto: A great Military anime in disguise? by KKSparrow
A great post that talks about the high and low points of the series, going a bit deeper into the representation of the war and its effects.

 

For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.

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5 thoughts on “Band Practice for the End of the World – A Sound of the Sky Review

Add yours

  1. I listened to Kalifina far before I knew they had done any anime Ops so every time I se they did a song in an anime I’m like “Oh that song! Cool it’s an Op/Ed” haha.

    This anime sound super cute. I really like the trend of using real life landmarks, or basing things off of real life land marks in shows, so I hope it keep sup too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s pretty cool. I didn’t know how big they were, so it’s cool that you were familiar with them. I really like their musical style in any case.

      The anime was fun, and yes, the girls do have some pretty cute moments. I didn’t really fancy a visit to Spain before now, but Cuenca seems pretty nice!

      Like

  2. Oh man this great! Thanks for directing me to this post! I definitely want to watch this show now. 🙂 I love spotting real life places in anime- it’s what inspired me to create that line of posts! Sometimes they’re faithful depictions and sometimes it’s a loose interpretation. 🙂 thanks for sharing! Very in depth review, I love how you write!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no, thank YOU for coming and checking this out. I didn’t expect that at all, actually. This review seemed to get less attention than my others so I’m really happy that you stopped by to read it, and humbled by your compliments.

      Cuenca seems like an amazing place, and I’d love to see it someday.

      Liked by 1 person

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