“For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and, there you will long to return.” —Leonardo da Vinci
Known in English as “Four Rhythm Across the Blue” (and “Aokana” for brevity in this post), this Winter 2016 offering is centred around the premise of anti-gravity shoes that confer flight: a student at Kunahama high school, Masaya Hinata was once a participant of Flying Circus, an aerial sport, but quit after suffering a defeat in his past. However, the transfer of one Asuka Kurashina into his class and her interests in Flying Circus result in her forming a team with classmates Misaki Tobisawa and Masahiro Arisaka. Finding himself obliged to act as Asuka’s second (a ground controller-tyle role), Kunahama’s Flying Circus club becomes revitalised. Three episodes in, Masaya has begrudgingly accepted his role as Asuka’s coach, and his former participation in Flying Circus was explored during Kunahama’s training camp with Takafuji, a school known for its world-class players. Thus, the main story will follow Kunahama’s journey to the summer Flying Circus tournament, and because the original visual novel is a romance where Masaya became involved in a relationship with one of Asuka, Misaki, Mashiro or Rika, it is not too difficult to infer that there will be a romance component in Aokana, as well. After three episodes, however, romance has not made an appearance yet: focus has been directed towards world-building, establishing viewers to the anti-gravity shoes and basics behind how Flying Circus works.
Consequently, the opening three episodes of Aokana have done a superb job of helping audiences become familiarised with Flying Circus: cutaway sequences depict the characters explaining to Asuka (and implicitly, the viewer) the mechanics. There are multiple buoys on the map, and participants must touch them to score points. Other players are assigned the roles of defending these buoys, scoring points against opponents by touching them: to this end, the shoes can be specialised for speed (speeders, who score points) or manoeuvrability (fighters, who aim to intercept other players). Generalist shoes also exist (all-rounders) and are ideal for both beginner and experienced players. because Asuka is also new to Flying Circus, these explanations are seamlessly woven into the narrative, and so, after three episodes, one has a better understanding of what this sport entails. Moving forwards, it will be interesting to see how Kunahama’s team develops as they train for the summer tournament, and I also wonder how (and when) the romance elements will be integrated into the anime.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I will later draw comparions between Aokana and Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate on virtue of the similar character designs: Asuka resembles Chisato and Misaki resembles Satsuki. However, the physical similarities end here, and Aokana is quite distinct from the latter in terms of its premise.
- Besides Aokana, I’m also watching Dagashi Kashi, Haruchika, Schwarzesmarken and Hai to Gensou no Grimgar for the winter 2016 season, but my current schedule has not been too conducive towards watching anime, so I’ve reverted to the failsafe of watching anime as time permits, and otherwise, focusing my efforts on other priorities. Of the five shows I’m watching this season, I’ll return at some point in April to do a final impressions for Aokana plus at most two other anime that have proven enjoyable.
- The idea of a novice “falling into the cockpit” and performing reasonably well owing to luck is a common trope; Aokana joins the ranks of Girls und Panzer and most Gundam in using this to start things off, and here, despite being a complete novice, Asuka challenges one Reiko Satō to a one-on-one after she encounters the latter mocking Shion Aoyagi, Kunahama’s Flying Circus club’s president.
- For both the viewers’ and in-universe participants’ benefits, visual effects denote when one player has touched another’s back to score a point. Asuka’s “air-kick turn” comes about initially as a fluke, surprising both Reiko and Masaya. Aokana‘s setting appears to have been chosen to accommodate such a sport: over the ocean, there are no familiar landmarks, and the sense of scale disappears entirely, leaving focus solely on the players themselves.
- I remark that I will be including a greater percentage of fanservice-type screenshots in my posts simply because
I wish to see how much I can get away with before I get busted a more broad collection of screenshots will allow me to better discuss various facets of an anime better: such screenshots are no exception.
- Shortly after news reaches Madoka Aoyagi’s ears, she sets about trying to recruit Asuka for Kunahama’s Flying Circus club. A remark about Misaki is that her personality undergoes a pronounced shift between the morning and afternoon, being moody and quiet by morning and energetic as the day wears on.
- The second episode thus follows Asuka’s entry into the Flying Circus club, and some of the different club activities associated with being in such a club. Aside from conventional training, there’s also the matter of acquiring the appropriate equipment: the anti-gravity shoes come in different varieties, and so far, Asuka’s been using standard shoes rather than competition shoes, which are spec’d-up variants customised for different play-styles.
- Thus, Asuka and the others go shopping for competition gravity shoes, learning in the process about the sub-category of competition shoes. The usual reason to include a total novice into any sort of world featuring a fictional sport is such that the rules of said sport can be explained to the characters concurrently with the audience. Girls und Panzer and Harry Potter do this with Panzerfahren and Quidditch, respectively, although given the fictional context, I find that the rules for fictional sports are a bit easier to follow than real-world sports.
- Misaki’s first training match with Asuka exemplifies the sort of aerial sequences that one can reasonably expect from Aokana: being the most experienced of anyone at Kunahama, Misaki is a fighter-type, so her role is to intercept other players and prevent them from scoring.
- For her fiery personality whenever her competitive side comes out, and otherwise cheerful demeanour, Misaki has become my favourite character by the end of the three-episode mark. Strictly speaking, the characters of Aokana seem more amicable relative to their equivalents from Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate, and while it’s held for three episodes, I wonder if anything is likely to happen as we approach the series’ halfway point.
- An offer to train with Takafuji’s Flying Circus comes from Kazunari Shindō, an ace player whose skills are world-class. While it initially seems that Kazunari gains little from training with a small-time club, his interactions with Masaya hint at the latter’s background as a former Flying Circus player.
- I would have gotten this post out sooner, but over the past weekend, I spent every free moment of it playing Tom Clancy’s The Division beta and accumulated some ten hours over the beta period. I’ve seen some of my friends on Steam net over twenty hours, but they did not have to go in to the lab on Saturday to run diagnostics on their computer and implement BOIDs, then enjoy a nice, tasty dinner of Kentucky-fried chicken.
- Masahiro is a younger student who’s enamoured with Misaki, and her family owns an udon shop. Despite her admiration for Misaki, this depiction is nowhere near as extreme as Hibike Euphonium’s Yuko or Gundam Unicorn‘s Angelo.
- While viewers enjoy the view behind Misaki, I remark that I’ll go into more details about Tom Clancy‘s The Division later. A post will definitely come out on short order (say, this weekend), and there are some things about The Division that are noteworthy. For the present, I’ll have to contend with pruning the screenshots down from 270 to 30, otherwise, the post will take forever to finish.
- Training exercises are a common component in anime such as Aokana and have been effectively used in other series previously (say, Girls und Panzer). Given that the first one typically pits a beginning group against more experienced individuals, the beginners invariably can be expected to lose, although the environment is usually a friendly one, leading the protagonists to gain something from the joint exercises.
- Misaki, Mashiro, Masaya, Madoka and Shion react after Asuka manages to pull off yet another air-kick turn in an exercise against Rika: the nature of Flying Circus means that while this is an impressive move, the different means of scoring points results in Asuka losing.
- The next match pits Reiko against Mashiro: the latter is completely out-classed and returns to the ground in total defeat, prompting Reiko to comment that Mashiro should strive to put on a more impressive performance next time the two meet.
- The final match has Misaki going head-to-head against Kazunari himself, and despite her own prowess as a Flying Circus player, Misaki finds herself unable to keep up with Kazunari. Some words of encouragement (strictly speaking, bribery) from Masaya motivates her to play more smartly.
- After three episodes, it’s not revealed explicitly as to why Masaya quit Flying Circus to begin with; this does form a major plot point and consequently, can be reasonably expected to return later on in Aokana.
- With three episodes under my belt, I am enjoying watching Aokana thus far, and with due respect, if the love story is lessened in favour of the Flying Circus (I’ll refer to it as FC in future posts), Aokana would not likely lose too much of its enjoyment factor. The completion of this post means that all that’s left in my backlog are talks for YuruYuri☆San-Hai! and Tom Clancy’s The Division.
From a technical perspective, Aokana looks and sounds solid: the deep blue skies and vivid colours are particularly pleasing to the eye, and the gravity shoes leave behind unique light trails to give them a more visual presence while players are moving around. The character designs in Aokana feel distinctly similar to those of Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate, although this shouldn’t be too surprising, given that both Aokana and Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate were both developed by Sprite. The implications of this is that the love story and Flying Circus elements will share roughly equal emphasis as Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate had done for the romance and election elements: whether or not this is good or bad will depend on the viewer. To the best of my recollection, Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate had a minor love triangle, so something similar could be seen here as well. Should this be the case, Aokana will feel quite familiar, although the different setting could, at the minimum, offer something a little different than Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate (and in the best case, allow for different dynamics to play out, giving the story a completely different feel than its predecessor).