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Archive for the ‘Tragedy’ Category

Sola

Sola was perhaps the most surprising anime in recent memory. I didn’t go into this show expecting to have such a roller coaster of emotions and experiences be thrown at me, nor did I expect the depth of character to be so well presented. I was captivated from the first moment. Just when I thought that I had the style of the story figured out, things changed. It was wonderful, and in a certain sense I feel I might deprive the future audiences of the show of that same wonder with a review. I’ve written the review to be as spoiler-free as possible, as I always do, but perhaps this is one show where – if you’re truly interested – you should take my word for it, go watch the show, and compare notes against my review afterward.

Synopsis

Yorito Morimiya is a skygazer – not unlike a stargazer, but his fascination lies in clouds and the color palettes created by the sun at different times of day. This leads him to skip classes to watch clouds from the school roof, and to stake out sunrise pictures at four in the morning. On one such stake-out, Yorito meets a girl named Matsuri Shihou. While unexpected and almost ignorable at first, Matsuri continues to show up. Yorito soon learns that Matsuri could use his help, though the cost to his friendship with classmate Mana Ishizuki and to his relationship with his sister, Aono, could be great – far greater than he anticipates.

Genre

A romantic tragedy at its core, with elements from slice of life, mystery, action, science fiction, comedy, and drama interspersed throughout.

Age Rating

PG-13 is appropriate for this one. There is some violence, but it’s not too graphic. While there is definitely romance, there’s nothing more than kissing on screen.

Review

Plot Quality: 7

Sola: Takeshi Tsujidou

I believe that the key to enjoying Sola’s plot to the fullest is to go into this show with no strong expectations. Instead, let the show tell you the story it wants to tell and work its magic accordingly. If you can accept this mindset for the duration of the show, you will come away having a better appreciation for all the subtlety and grace found in the story. However, if you approach the story by trying to conform it to match up against the contemporaries in its genre, you will more than likely be very disappointed. There are few, if any clichés in the story, and you will miss too much of the story if you’re trying to pin the individual plot down to any of the tropes you’ve seen before. Sola is a powerful production with surprisingly little in common with any other series in its genre.

The plot of Sola is a single thread, running the course of thirteen episodes, with only minor side-stories diverting from the central plot. In this sense, the story is as simple as Rec (and simpler than everything else reviewed thus far). The presence of familiar, slice of life settings is also a common component. Thereafter, Sola ventures off on a path all its own.

Because of the diversity in the plot, there are a lot of accompanying variations in pacing. These transitions in pacing are executed quite well: the slow interludes allow for the characters’ personalities to truly shine through, while the faster sequences highlight the physical and emotional stress that the cast invariably endures. There is always a note of uncertainty and mystery in the show, as well: taking anything for granted is dangerous because – as stated before – this show puts great emphasis on striking out new territory within the genre. Nothing is guaranteed, despite the feelings of the characters, and coming to terms with those things that do transpire is a challenge to which the audience can relate with ease. This leads to a fuller experience, one that feels more genuine than so many other stories on the market that constrain themselves to common expectations.

It’s worth noting that there are some mysteries that are never fully explained or disclosed. While these might seem confusing or frustrating at first, remember that many American authors happily do the same thing. We never question the lack of explanation of vampires or orcs in science fiction, nor their powers or general strengths and weaknesses. That is, we know most of the traits involved if we’ve heard about them before, so explaining away all their detail in every novel would be superfluous work. I found a lot of the “unexplained mysteries” in Sola to be in this vein; I didn’t need to have everything explained away to fully enjoy the story.

Character Quality: 6

Sola: Matsuri Shihou

The cast is fairly limited, and this allows each character plenty of camera time. We learn a lot about each character, and they immediately present themselves as characters worth learning about. and, thankfully, this small character list means that you have the opportunity to meet these characters on a personal level, rater than staying at a distance. You’ll see them at their best and you’ll see them at their worst; every step along that spectrum is convincing.

Matsuri really takes center stage in my book. Almost instantly likable and, because of the complexities she shows, she comes across as believable, fully-developed character as well rather than a cute shell. She is decisive and dedicated, providing an empowering female protagonist without weighing her down in battle armor. Of course, Matsuri is deceptively strong – both physically and mentally – but these traits don’t define her. Indeed, she often downplays these strengths in the presence of others, and instead opts to show off her girlish yet mature charm. Matsuri is definitely something of a mystery, and the desire to learn more about her is motivation enough to keep watching all on its own.

Mana and Aono make up the other female leads, and they are both admirably portrayed. Despite both looking as though they’re textbook cases of well-known clichés, these girls are actually anything but. Mana really shows her independence on multiple occasions, shattering the dependent childhood friend scenario without hesitation. She certainly has little patience for others, but she also cares a lot about her family and Yorito. Caring about the boy, without being defined by that love, is what sets Mana up to have great success throughout the story. Aono, meanwhile, is simultaneously unpredictable and wonderful. Of course, she’s not necessarily the most likable member of the cast, but that doesn’t keep her from being written with impeccable style. Her absolute rejection of every sick girl stereotype also helps to support her as more than “just another sympathy-deserving girl.”

Yorito is another example of a refreshing male protagonist. He may not look like much at first, but he really steps up as Sola gets into gear. He’s decisive in what he wants, and rarely hesitates (each of these moments is genuine, rather than dragged for sake of time). He cares for just about everyone else on the cast, but not equally – his feelings are important, and he doesn’t spare others in an attempt to keep everyone happy. Rather, he pursues what he really wants, even when it may not be the best or most altruistic decision. While I still feel that the girls all cry out his name a little too often, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot to like in Yorito. He’s not perfect, but those imperfections really help to bring his character to life.

The rest of the notable cast is composed of Mana’s little sister, Koyori, who adheres to every adorable little sister quirk you could ask for, and the mysterious pair, Takeshi and Mayuko. All of these supporting members are as well-written as the main cast. It’s easy to see that every character gets definite attention, while those details that are left out are left out intentionally. We don’t get every piece of back-story on everyone, but it’s not really relevant – the story is that much better for focusing on the present, rather than wallowing too much in the past.

Visual Quality: 6

There’s so much to be said for the visual quality here, but “beautiful” seems to be the most applicable adjective. It’s not really abstract or stylistic, but it is definitely beautiful.

The character art is great. Matsuri is adorable from the very start, Takeshi looks as intimidating as he should, and everyone fits quite well in between. Their actions are always captured with beautiful delicacy – very few actions are not articulated. This leads to an experience that feels exceptionally fluid. From mundane arguments in the kitchen to dramatic back-and-forth of supernatural combat, the characters always appear fluid, rather than choppy. There are a very few exceptions, but they are very are rare enough to easily overlook. It brings a sense of realism to the characters.

The environmental scenery is top-notch as well. The entire palette of the sky is employed to its fullest. This highlights a lot of scenes that might otherwise seem ordinary or boring – it’s not action-centric at these times, but the visuals are beautiful. These elements really make Yorito’s hobby into a compelling distraction, rather than a dumb plot device. After all, with the skies standing out so starkly against his mundane lifestyle, it’s no surprise that he’s fascinated by that brilliance of color and motion.

The layering and lighting effects in the show are also memorable. Stained glass is a beautiful thing, and the imagery it can paint in dusty air is awesome to behold in Sola. The importance of light to the story as a whole is clear from the very start with Yorito’s skygazing obsession; the artists made sure to keep that theme alive not only in the sky itself, but also in just about every sequence – inside or outside – through these excellent lighting effects. The layering of these lighting effects and the characters is also captured with grace: the lighting looks real, rather than simply like an impressionist painting, when the character’s features are highlighted, illuminated by these shafts of light.

It’s a beautiful anime, all in all, with an artistic grace and fluidity that feels much like the very best of impressionist painting. If nothing else, this is one sure-fire way to remind yourself that the sky really is a magnificent, beautiful thing.

Audio Quality: 6

The opening track (present on all episodes after the first) is excellent, upbeat, and captivating without being over-the-top-cutesy. I looked forward to each new episode simply for the chance to hear this song again, on top of the show itself. The ending track is also great, if more somber and calming. The insert music didn’t leave a big impression on me very often, but some of the action scenes have particularly nice tracks playing in the background. The music is always reliable in Sola – it’s always good.

Just as important as the music is the sound effects, which are surprisingly prevalent in this anime. Every clattering pot, every foot fall, and every chime of a distant bell can be heard clearly and distinctly. The sound effects really add a lot to the production as a whole, bringing another reinforcement to the realism of the experience. There is a caveat, of course: because sound effects are so common, any slip between the audio and video is far more apparent here than in most anime. That is, any second-hand source files (fansubbed, for instance) have a much higher risk of being off-time and, consequently, heavily damaging the experience. Legitimate sources, however, likely won’t have this problem unless there is some source of high latency (either because of internet streaming or lossy wireless transmissions), so the experience will be as richer as it should be.

The voice acting is likewise strong, though not as ground-breaking as the script. Matsuri’s seiyuu is particularly notable for the flowing, ethereal quality that she brings to her character’s voice. Matsuri’s voice and actions have a kind of uncanny harmony, and it’s great to watch. Koyori’s seiyuu is unique, and invariably adorable – the other big highlight of the voice cast. In contrast, Aono’s seiyuu felt a little grating. While arguably fitting, the voice strikes me as coming from a stereotypical lolita or passive-sick-girl actress. Aono would have benefitted from a somewhat stronger, more confident voice.

Bottom Line: 6.5

An unexpected, mysterious marvel that even now I have trouble classifying. There are so many surprises (that are genuinely surprising), and so many shifts in pacing and mood that there’s bound to be something for everyone. Moreover, the story works in such a way that even the pacing or mood that the audience least enjoys is still, unexpectedly, a fun experience. From beginning to end, the one constant element is Sola’s unforgiving grip on your attention for the entire duration of the show. The only thing missing is a longer season, in which the audience could have seen more of the depth of character that is admittedly limited by the 13-episode structure.

Though Sola is, indeed, a romantic tragedy at heart, there is so much more to this story that I can’t do anything less than tell everyone to watch it. It’s hard to say that I love it, because the tragic elements are really hard to bear sometimes, but the production is most definitely worth watching at least once.

Coming Soon

Look for reviews of Kanon (2006), Str.A.In., and perhaps some Full Metal Panic in the near future!

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