Resounding Sound: The City at Dawn- Sora no Woto First Episode Review and Reflection
January 4, 2017
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“Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.” —Plato
The first of the now-derelict Anime no Chikara project, Sora no Woto (stylised So・Ra・No・Wo・To, translating to Sound of the Sky) is an anime that aired during the winter 2010 anime season. An original anime, Sora no Woto is set in a post-apocalyptic world, after a devastating global conflict regresses humanity to late ninetieth century technological and social levels. Kanata Sorami is a fifteen-year-old girl who volunteers to join the Helvetician armed forces as a bugler and is assigned to the 1121st Platoon in the town of Seize. On arrival, the normally-quiet town wrapped in festivities to celebrate local legends: Kanata finds herself lost amidst the activity and dirties her uniform, but is quickly found by Rio Kazumiya, her superior officer. While cleaning herself up, an owl makes off with a bell belonging to Rio’s father; Kanata resolves to retrieve it but winds up falling into a chasm. Using her bugle to signal for help, Rio rescues her and formally introduces herself as Kanata’s bugle instructor. Long decried for its resemblance to K-On!, Sora no Woto‘s first episode belies very little about the events that will occur through the anime. Instead, Sora no Woto immediately establishes itself as an anime where their unique world is the centerpiece for the narrative, taking the time to render the town of Seize and its surroundings in great detail.
Indeed, world-building lies at the heart and core of Sora no Woto; architectural and cultural elements in and around Seize are depicted to a very high quality, giving the sense that this is a world that could have logically arisen as a result of society rebuilding following a devastating war. In particular, the Legend of the Fire Maidens is presented as being of importance, driving traditions and beliefs in their society. These aspects come together to give the sense that Sora no Woto is indeed capitalising on its position as the flagship anime of the Anime no Chikara project; anime of this category strove to be completely original, and Sora no Woto succeeds in crafting a completely different world for its audiences to explore. From the first moments of the anime when Kanata is seen passing through the countryside en route to Sieze, or the Hanging Houses she stops at to clean herself up, it becomes apparent that the novel environment in Sora no Woto is intended to allow the anime to explore stories that are deeply entrenched into their world, resulting in an immersive and compelling story.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It was a clear evening back in May 2011 when I began my journey into Sora no Woto. As the vast countryside under blue skies scrolled by, my heart was won by the atmosphere the anime initially presented and immediately, I knew that this would be an intriguing anime. Sora no Woto would accompany me through my favourite summer during my time as an undergraduate student, during which I had many an adventure and found myself refreshed to begin my third year.
- A small coal-fired train travels along a lonely countryside, leaving a grey plume of smoke in its wake as a guitar piece plays in the background. Before I delve further into the anime, there are some formalities that need to be addressed. The first is that I am revisiting a seven-year-old anime, whose plot and surprises are well-known owing to the passage of time. I myself watched Sora no Woto some five-and-a-half years ago, so this series of posts will certainly not be my initial impressions. They will be shorter in length compared to my standard reviews, and each episode’s talk will deal primarily with what I found the episode’s contributions to the anime as a whole were.
- En route to her destination, Kanata Sorami buffs up her horn. The protagonist of Sora no Woto, Kanata brings with her a ceaselessly optimistic and cheerful disposition, as well as the talent for perfect pitch, into the anime. Voiced by Hisako Kanemoto, who also provided the voice for Ika Musume of Ika! Musume and Girls und Panzer‘s very own Katyusha, as well as Asteria Lizamarie de Roschefall of Rinne no Lagrange, Kanata’s voice has very similar properties with that of K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa and as such, contributes to the sense that Kanata is someone who sees the positives in most everything she encounters.
- Kanata’s train travels far, moving from flat plains into more mountainous terrain. While the paragraphs discussing the episode proper will be shorter than those of a conventional episodic post, I will continue to use the twenty image format for all of the posts, which should provide plenty of space to point out random aspects of an episode that might otherwise not fit in with the remainder of discussions. Because this is an older anime, I may also begin reminiscing about the summer of 2011 throughout this series of posts, as well.
- Kanata drifts off after boarding a second train destined for the town of Seize. A tin of caramels are visible on the window sill, and closer inspection finds that the can was inspired by a real-world equivalent. Many elements in Sora no Woto take off after historical elements, an aspect of the series that was particularly impressive, considering that it was part of the Anime no Chikara programme, which aimed to produce completely original anime. Launched seven years ago today with Sora no Woto, the program lasted a year and also resulted in the production of Night Raid 1931 and Occult Academy.
- Kanata’s gaze is directed to Seize by Major Klaus, a dispatch rider who works frequently with the 1121st. The terrain surrounding Seize is visible, and the glass factory can be seen in the image’s left side. Folks wondering why Anime no Chikara was not continued in spite of its success, and while different avenues turn out conflicting intel, the actual causes are rather more mundane. In an interview with Aniplex’s president, Koichiro Natsume, it turns out that Anime no Chikara fulfilled its intended purpose, and information learned from experiences in producing Sora no Woto contributed to the success of anime such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
- Kanata makes her way through the streets of Seize, modelled after Spain’s Cuenca, as a festival is under way. I’ve already covered most of the details surrounding the world of Sora no Woto and the associated mythos in a project of my own that involved the re-construction of speculation charts that were produced during Sora no Woto‘s original run. Information about the Legend of the Fire Maidens and the Water Festival can be found there, along with all other bits of trivia and speculation. I won’t be revisiting them in great detail, as they’ve already been covered.
- While exploring the town, finds a small shop with an assortment of glass ornaments that she immediately takes a liking to, but she’s frightened off by an intimidating-looking face in the window. Later, Kanata is splashed with dyed water that stains her uniform. Caught up in the moment, Kanata merrily partakes in the festival, only to realise that she has an appointment to keep at the Clocktower Fortress.
- Shortly after, Kanata runs into Rio Kazumiya, the seventeen-year-old Master Sargent of the Clocktower Fortress. She’s the one who originally frightened Kanata off and upon seeing Kanata’s state, grows infuriated, taking her off to get cleaned up. She’s speaking with Naomi, the owner of the glass shop that Kanata takes interest in and is quite familiar with members of the 1121st.
- A warm bath later, Kanata finds herself squeaky clean, and her uniform’s been properly tended to, freeing it of any dye. The attention to details are impressive in Sora no Woto despite its relatively small presence of the market, and even things like the tiles in the bath that Kanata’s using are intricately rendered to give the sense that the world Sora no Woto is set in is an authentic one, feeling consistent with Spanish architecture and technological advancements of the early twentieth century.
- Kureha Suminoya grows impatient at Kanata’s late arrival at the Clocktower Fortress. Long counted to be Sora no Woto‘s equivalent of Azusa Nakano, all of the characters in Sora no Woto, with the exception of Noël Kannagi, share some similarities in appearance and mannerisms with the central characters with K-On!. These similarities lead to comparisons between Sora no Woto and K-On!; at the time, K-On! was still very much a widely-discussed topic amongst the community, with some vocal members deriding Sora no Woto on account of these superficial elements.
- After freshening up at the Hanging Houses, Kanata gazes out into the scenery of Seize under the endless blue skies. The atmosphere conveyed by Sora no Woto‘s stunning landscapes is unique, and beyond the works such as those of Makoto Shinkai or Studio Ghibli, or Kyoto Animation, very few anime are able to tell so much about a world through the landscapes alone: typically, anime studios do a fantastic job with their artwork, but largely use them in conjunction with characters to create a particular mood and frame the narrative.
- Sora no Woto tends focus on world-building and depicting how the characters interact with one another, so instances of fanservice taking the form of “accidents” or pantsu is virtually non-existent in the anime. There are two exceptions, with the first being here, as Kanata relaxes after her bath. Rio shows her a bell that Kanata takes a liking to, but out of the blue, an owl appears and makes off with it, very nearly causing Kanata to fall from the balcony in an attempt to stop the owl.
- Here, Rio is fending off the dæmon in the legends of old, which tell of a group of maidens who fended this beast off. How much of this remains mythical is ambiguous, and while the presence of a large, winged skeleton at the bottom of the river suggest that the myth may have plausible origins, the lack of evidence to corroborate this beyond word-of-mouth in-universe leaves me to conclude that the dæmons were likely native species, and that humans were the original aggressors that brought about the catastrophe in the legends.
- Filicia Heideman and Kureha enjoy the festivities. Earlier, they had been drawing lots to decide who will take on the role of the Fire Maiden in this year’s festival: Rio gets the short end of the stick and ends up with the role, grudgingly taking it on. At this point, I will note that one of the greatest challenges I will foresee in this series of posts will be to stay on topic and not jump ahead to discuss details pertaining to later episodes.
- Kanata is determined to locate Rio’s bell, feeling it is precious to her, but winds up at the bottom of a cliff face with no way of climbing back out. She realises that she has one means, using her bugle to signal for help. The world “bugle” is a rather interesting one; for one, its pronunciation differs from its spelling (IPA “byü-gəl”, or beau-gle), original from the Middle English term for buffalo in reference to the fact that early instruments were made from animal horns.
- All of the images I will be utilising in my Sora no Woto discussions will be 1920 by 1080, available for download and inspection at full resolution. The anime’s lines and details are sharper than usual; even when converted from BD to a resolution suitable for the iPad Air 2’s 1536 x 2048 screen, the quality remains razor-sharp.
- Kanata’s bugle calls elicit a response from Rio, who answers with her trumpet. Kanata cries in relief upon realisation that her sound has gotten through, and she is rescued by Rio and the others. Soon after waking up to Rio, she starts, fearful of a tongue-lashing. Instead, Rio summons her to a parapet overlooking the Clocktower Fortress
- Rio is an accomplished trumpeter, and while I imagine that I’ve mentioned this in my Hibike! Euphonium posts, a long time ago, I was a trumpeter for my middle school’s jazz band, having taught myself to play the instrument during the course of a summer. The first week, I could not get any sound from the instrument (that is actually why I played the clarinet for concert band), but with the passage of time, I found that I could make a few sounds, and intonations soon followed. By the end of two months, I was playing well enough to comfortably keep up with the music of the band and had a wonderful time playing jazzier pieces.
- During Rio’s performance, the sun peeks over the horizon and bathes the land in morning light, casting shadows along the still-dark features and the resulting contrast gives the sky a heavier darkness. Lighting is liberally used in Sora no Woto to great effect and here, after performing the morning call for Seize, Rio notes that she will be Kanata instructor, and that it is now her turn to give it a shot. The resulting sound is out-of-tune and generally quite abysmal, signifying just how far she has yet to go before she can be effective as the 1121st’s bugler.
While the precise means of how I came about Sora no Woto is lost to history, I do remember being captivated right from the anime’s beginning, and that I watched the anime around five years ago. The rich world-building in Sora no Woto was immediately appealing for me, and the presence of detailed speculation posters around the ‘net suggests that numerous other viewers shared my amazement and intrigue for the anime. This attention to detail, whether it be Sieze’s similarities to its real-world equivalent of Cuenca in Spain, or the different equipment and events Kanata encounters in Sieze, is impressive. By presenting such a rustic, pleasant-seeming world, Sora no Woto‘s first episode draws in the viewer’s interest; I imagine that it would have definitely piqued the viewers’ interests after its first episode aired into seeing what would happen next, and what other elements would differentiate Sora no Woto from K-On!.