The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Ao no Kanata no Four Rythmn: Full-series Review and Reflection

“Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.” —George S. Patton

The summer tournament comes and goes, during which Kunahama’s FC team performs quite well considering that it’s their first participation in an FC tournament. While Asuka maintains good spirits and manages to even bring out Kazunari’s serious business mode, Misaki finds herself overwhelmed after seeing one Saki Inui decimate Kazunari in FC. Thus, it falls upon Masaya, Mashiro and Asuka to help her rediscover FC anew. Seeing her friends’ performance also prompts Mashiro to train with Rika to prepare for the summer tournament. Similarly, when Asuka is thrashed during a training match against Saki, she too questions whether or not she’s fit to fly, and it’s effort from her friends that convince her to continue FC. Thus, Kunahama’s FC team trains their hardest for the fall tournament; the results are impressive, with Misaki managing to hold out even against Saki, and Asuka later takes the championship after realising that FC is (and should be) about fun. Aokana ultimately follows Girls und Panzer in terms of theme, emphasising that a sport is fun because of the challenge, and that the continued push for improvement is more important than victory through force. Asuka continuously reiterates this point, that she took up FC because it’s exciting to see the true scope of what the sport entails, and even in the face of a superior opponent, she never loses this belief entirely. Thus, while Asuka’s personality comes across as being generic, her bluntness contributes to reinforce Aokana‘s main theme: as with Girls und Panzer and Gundam Build Fighters, the single-minded pursuit of victory for one’s own ends is not a desirable one, and things are most meaningful when one is surrounded by like-minded individuals who wish to both strive for excellence and having a good time with those close to them.

While Aokana was originally sourced from a visual novel with a heavy romance component, the anime itself dispenses with the romance aspect entirely, and Masaya himself is reassigned to a secondary role. Instead, Asuka, Misaki and Mashiro are the major characters, each of whom have their own trials to pass through before they can become effective participants in FC. In this manner, Aokana‘s anime adaptation very much becomes a sports anime that takes the time to carefully explore all of the facets in FC. Unencumbered by romance, Aokana is able to succeed in doing so: focus is placed on each of Asuka, Misaki and Mashiro figuring out, with help from their friends, their own reasons for participating in FC. Asuka desires to soar in the skies and explore the limits of FC, while Misaki strives to improve herself and stand toe-to-toe with the best FC players around. Meanwhile, Mashiro is motivated by her friends to improve so that she isn’t left behind. While this particular narrative has been done before, the concept of FC is quite novel; how Aokana ultimately depicts the girls’ quest to better themselves for FC is an enjoyable journey in and of itself, and moreover, the numerous explanations provided in-show about FC serve to enhance the audience’s understanding of this fictional sport. It is likely that the romance elements were omitted for logistical reasons: the visual novel intended for Asuka to be the main heroine, but twelve episodes would not have allowed for a compelling love story to develop, and so, the adaptation opts to focus on the development of Kunahama’s team. Overall, this was a good choice, and the end product was an enjoyable watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • So at long last, I finally cross the finish line for Aokana, and I remark that it was quite tricky to pick just twenty screenshots for this talk. This is the disadvantage about doing whole-season reflections, since the posts only can capture a sample of what the anime is like. Here, Mashiro studies FC fundamentals to become a more proficient practitioner, and spends a few days training in secret with Rika.

  • Mashiro’s desire to maintain a firm grasp of the basics eventually leads her to befriend Rika, Masaya’s neighbour. In an earlier post, I featured a fair number of fanservice-type screenshots for fun, but as the season wears on, it becomes clear that Aokana is quite focused on painting a satisfactory picture of PC, so for this post, I’ve featured a range of more conventional screenshots.

  • The summer competition marks Kunahama’s first participation in an FC event, and numerous other schools are featured. In contrast to Girls und Panzer, the other schools remain little more than friendly rivals, and not too much is directed towards depicting Kunahama’s getting to know the other participants better: instead, the anime is focused on notions of improvement and the psychological impacts of loss against overwhelmingly powerful opponents.

  • By Aokana‘s halfway point, Misaki has an opportunity to take on Shindou in competition and puts up a reasonable performance, eventually losing. Throughout Aokana, the overall quality of animation remains quite high, whether the characters are on the ground or in the air. While it’s unlikely that Aokana will top the charts for having particularly good animation or artwork, what is seen allows fo

  • I remarked during the previous Aokana discussion that the character designs seen here are rather similar to those of Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate, although rather than external forces (i.e. a ridiculously influential student council) driving the conflict, the conflicts in Aokana come from within for the most part.

  • Asuka’s skill is what some might consider unnatural; in the span of six episodes, she’s improved enough to draw out Shindou’s true nature, and while she’s decimated, she nonetheless finds it fun to experience the sheer diversity in FC styles. Asuka’s optimistic outlook on all things FC (and generally cheerful demeanor) is intended to parallel what FC is about at its core, and thus, while she comes across as being a generic protagonist in the beginning, this works in Aokana‘s favour as the anime progresses.

  • After the summer tournament, the folks at Takafuji continue dropping in on Kunahama’s training sessions and summer outings: they quickly go from “friendly rival” to “friends” on short order, although here, Misaki is noticeably absent from the proceedings on account of entering a melancholy after realising the difference between her and the top-tier players.

  • Misaki therefore decides to quit FC, and a handful of the episodes are thus dedicated to exploring what drives people to quit the things that they once loved doing. Asuka, Mashiro and Madoka unsuccessfully try to persuade Misaki back to doing FC, even resulting in a short chase where Asuka attempts to pursue Misaki in the hopes of getting the latter to change her mind.

  • Having experienced precisely what Misaki is going through, Masaya makes no effort to force Misaki back into FC and recounts how he came to quit FC himself: once considered to be one of the greatest players around, Masaya quit after losing in an off-the-books match to a novice (who sources are saying to be a younger Misaki, no less). He states that it is a fear of losing the things one loves, or encountering those better than oneself, that leads to quitting, although in my experience, this isn’t strictly true: I constantly work with software developers who far exceed myself in skill, and I’m quite happy to learn from them.

  • Quite truthfully, that sort of presumption (i.e. that one is a code wizard or equivalent) is quite common in software: I’ve encountered my share of developers who are quite skilled but also quite unpleasant to work with. The most experienced software developers tell me that when asked to appraise one’s skills, one should never use any superlatives, instead, just giving a rough number in years of experience and that humility is what separates a good developer from a great developer. Here, Asuka gets her ass kicked by Saki in a one-on-one after agreeing to play a practise round, and earlier, it was Saki’s overwhelming dominance over Shindou that prompted Misaki to quit.

  • It takes an episode for Asuka to rediscover her joy for flying, and this is where Asuka’s nigh-unshakable optimism aids the story; up until now, no opponent had succeeded in slowing her cheerfulness, suggesting the extent of Saki and Irina’s impact on other players with their particular brand of FC. In fact, their approach of applying dominance to mentally destroy an opponent might parallel Black Forest’s use of brute force in Girls und Panzer.

  • Despite occasionally trekking into more serious topics about what makes competition worthwhile and whether or not perseverance is always going to win the day, Aokana has its share of comedic moments, especially where Mashiro is concerned. These elements are present in conjunction wihth Asuka’s indefatigable spirit to remind audiences that at its core, FC is intended to be about fun rather than victory.

  • By the time training for the fall tournament comes into full force, spirits are so high that even Masaya decides to take to the skies for the first time and provide some hands-on instruction for Asuka. Despite several years having elapsed since he last flew, Masaya appears to have lost none of his FC prowess, and later, instructor Aoi Kagami takes to the skies herself, too. She dislikes Irina and Saki’s style, regretting having created the methods that the former presently employ as the “perfected” form of FC.

  • The fall tournament proved to be quite an exciting competition to watch, and it was quite nice to see how far Mashiro, Misaki and Asuka have come since the season’s beginning. While I’m still somewhat unfamiliar with the FC terminology after all this time, that the anime makes the effort to explain how thing work is a big plus.

  • With Masaya’s guidance, despite falling to Saki 3-2, Misaki manages to surprise Saki and irritate Irina in a visually thrilling match. Back on my end, I’m reading that Aokana was enjoyable for other viewers for the same reason that I found it enjoyable: that so much more effort was put into creating a credible sport around FC rather than attempting to build a generic romance or else incorporate romance in with FC (resulting in neither gaining satisfactory exploration if Aokana were constrained to twelve episodes).

  • Voiced by Kaori Mizuhashi of Puella Magi Madoka Magica‘s Mami Tomoe fame, Irina Avalon comes from a gravity-shoe manufacturer and strove to create a brutalised variant of FC. She speaks with the same aloofness and composure of Mami, and while Misaki might not stand toe-to-toe with Saki in FC, that she gradually loses some of her cool suggests that she’s quite surprised anyone could put up any sort of fight against their brand of FC.

  • Elsewhere at Tango-Victor-Tango, one Anatidae has decided that they’ve become an armchair expert on FC and are claiming that there are numerous errors with how FC is played out, as well as the general disregard for strategy or physics in Aokana, but in the end, contend that the anime is acceptable despite the deviations from scientific knowledge. There is absolutely no reason to nitpick about details such as these unless they directly impact the narrative (and in this case, they admit that it does not), so I counter that reviewers attempting to point these out are merely attempting to sound scholarly for the sake of status.

  • I’m willing to bet that a ban will be in store for me should I ever ask if Anatidae has a degree in aerospace engineering, and I am tempted to risk one, so audacious is their manner. That is an exercise for another time, and so, we return to Aokana: despite having no training whatsoever, Asuka manages to maintain control of her gravity shoes after switching off her balancers. Thoughts of the Unicorn Gundam’s first activation of its NT-D, or 00 Raiser coming to life for the first time, come to mind here, and Asuka subsequently proceeds to put up a very even showing with Saki.

  • The one aspect in Aokana I would have liked to see more of was how Masaya, Misaki and Asuka’s past interactions with one another impact their current dynamics. The outcome of Asuka’s narrow victory over Saki prompts Irina to admit that her original mindset towards FC may not have been appropriate, and Aoi is relieved that her original practises, far from being detrimental to FC, will indeed push things forwards as players begin experimenting with removing their balancers.

  • The end result of Aokana is that new friends are made during the pursuit of excellence and enjoyment in a sport. I realise that today is April Fools’ Day, and I’ve no jokes or pranks to offer: this post is as genuine as any of my other posts. With this now finished, I will set my sights on wrapping up the Haruchika talk (hopefully) soon. The next period’s going to be a little busy as our lab gears up for more presentations, and a third conference paper’s deadline approaches: even with a two-week extension, things are going to be tricky.

In conjunction with its solid explanation and portrayal of FC, the above-average visuals and narrative means that Aokana ends up being quite entertaining, despite the underlying themes and characterisations being familiar (almost to the point of cliché). Consequently, I would offer Aokana a recommendation: it’s definitely got enough merits to make it worth watching, and the faults are outweighed by the things that Aokana gets correct. With the anime presently concluded, speculation appropriately turns to whether or not a sequel is likely. From what I hear, the visual novel is quite lengthy, so the amount of material is not likely to be the reason why there won’t be a sequel. Thus, this would likely fall to sales. A second season would logically involve romance, and likely follow Masaya growing closer to Asuka. Previous experience has found that most anime that spend a first season building up the character dynamics will typically not be executed quite as neatly during their second season owing to increased expectations. It is possible that Aokana could very well disappoint if a second season was driven by a romance narrative, although it is equally possible that romance could contribute to each of the characters’ development in new ways (rather similar to how CLANNAD and Kanon executed their stories) and result in a solid second season.

2 responses to “Ao no Kanata no Four Rythmn: Full-series Review and Reflection

  1. cloudst12 April 1, 2016 at 21:53

    I just watched the last episode before coming here to comment. (Med school has kept me rather busy.) I actually dropped the anime around episode 6.

    I felt that the ‘romance’ tag was a bit misleading for people who came to look for it here. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky, but some romance would have made the show more interesting than your average tournament style anime. But you’re right, 12 episodes is too short to develop anything. (Worse yet, you could have another Charlotte style love confession :P)

    I liked that the antagonists of the show such as Shindou showed some depth in their character in that they were competitive rather than being mean for the sake of it. Meanwhile, watching the final episode, I felt that the cliché of being competitive to the point of being evil and then the power of ‘fun’ winning out was well, cliché. I don’t blame the show though, this formula is just the generic time-tested one.

    The visuals for this show are actually very good. To be honest, I would put it similar to Nagi-Asu’s artstyle of island and sea visuals though Nagi-Asu’s feels a bit more colder whereas Aokana has a more warmer palette.

    The Physics of FC don’t particularly bother me. Some background, I would have gone into Aeronautical engineering if I weren’t at med school. The sharp turns they make are more or less physically impossible (Inertia ftw) but I don’t particularly care about physics when people start talking gravitons and anti-gravity particles. If we had those… We’d be colonizing the Milky Way by now and well on our way to alcubierre warp drives.

    Overall, Aokana probably won’t be a memorable anime in that it feels cliché when it could have done more. And I guess, this anime joins the long list of animes in the list called “Wasted potential”.

    Kyoani during the time they made CLANNAD and Kanon were definitely masters of the art of adapting visual novels. It feels unlikely that anyone will be able to pull off something that will eclipse them for awhile. In perspective, I’ve played both Kanon and CLANNAD visual novels and I can tell you that the animes do a better job of presenting the stories than the visual novels, as well as fill up plot gaps in the source material. (Did you know Tomoya actually just brought Ushio out into the cold for his own sake instead of it being Ushio’s last wish to go on a trip in the visual novel?)

    I doubt we will get a second season. This season, the anime which stole the limelight was definitely ERASED (Boku dake ga inai machi) which I hope you’ll get a chance to review as well.

    Cheers mate and looking forward to your next review.

    Like

    • infinitezenith April 1, 2016 at 22:14

      If I were to do a full on reply, I’ll keel over: travelling and dropping straight back into the swing of things did a number on me, and I’m doing battle with a cold after an upset stomach. So, I’ll keep this reply short.

      I think that Aokana would have needed a full two-four setup to begin doing both the FC and romance elements. For what we got, it was a modestly engaging, if familiar, ride. As for the physics aspects, I’m not a physicist myself, but I am quite happy to allow the gravity shoes (technology that falls firmly in the same camp as the miniaturisation sorcery seen in Fantastic Voyage (1966)) to afford some creative license. Now, sleep beacons. Thanks for dropping by to read and share your insights🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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