First Battle: The Story of a Chair- Sora no Woto Second Episode Review and Reflection
January 11, 2017
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“It would be difficult to write a convincing ghost story set on a sunny day in a big city.” —Susan Hill
After introductions to the remainder of the 1121st Platoon, Kanata is asked to explore their facilities with Kureha Suminoya. Despite Kureha expressing despondence that the 1121st is under-equipped and oft-ignored, Kanata manages to find joy in the facilities, known as the Clocktower Fortress. Later during the evening, Noël Kannagi, another member of the 1121st, claims that she’s spotted a ghost; to test their fortitude as soldiers, Rio tasks Kanata and Kureha to hunt down the source of the commotion. They reach the derelict ends of the fortress and realise it was once a school. Although they do not find any traces of spectral activity, they encounter the same owl that had taken off with Rio’s bell. After capturing said owl, they keep him as the team mascot and christen him Shuko. Much as how the first episode focused on portraying the locales in and around Seize, the second episode deals primarily in Kanata familiarising herself with the Clocktower Fortress’ layout and facilities. Aspects of the world in Sora no Woto are further shown via maps found in the Clocktower fortress, with a vast no-man’s land separating habitable regions. All of these elements, seemingly minor and easy-to-miss, serve as foreshadowing for events to occur in later episodes. With that in mind, the first episode is set predominantly on the dynamics between Kanata and Kureha.
Ever-optimistic and cheerful, Kanata’s personality is presented as the polar opposite to that of Kureha, who attempts to convey a sense of seriousness and devotion to her task even in light of the knowledge that other sections of their military do not supply the Clocktower Fortress’ soldiers with adequate provisions or instructions. Whereas Kureha sees a deficiency that exists to be rectified, Kanata sees value in most everything she encounters, making the most of the moment and whatever is available at hand. These disparate personalities mean allow Kanata and Kureha to bounce off one another as they carry out their initial assignment of tracking down a ghost, and although it will take the Kureha additional episodes to warm up to Kanata, it becomes clear that the contrasts in their characterisations allow both to mature as the series progresses. This dynamic is surprisingly similar to the one seen between K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa and Azusa Nanako, although in a different setting, the impact that both individuals have on one another serve to fulfill a different purpose.
Screenshots and Commentary
- A glance at my site’s metrics shows that this is my 777th post, meaning that since my 666th post back in March, I’ve made 111 posts since then. Kureha derides Kanata’s poor form with the bugle as the morning sun rises, filling the Clocktower Fortress’ courtyard with a chilly-looking light. The Clocktower Fortress is inspired by the Parador de Cuenca, a four-star hotel in the city converted from a convent, although there are some differences in its layout and the terrain it is set on: the hotel is accessible by road, but it looks like the Clocktower Fortress is only connected to Seize by a foot bridge.
- The 1121st prepare for a Western-style breakfast of salad, fried egg, sausage, ham and biscuit, bringing to mind the breakfasts that I usually have while abroad. Normally, I don’t have much time in the morning for heartier meals; a continental breakfast of some sort with a glass of milk is how I roll, and dinner is typically the largest meal of the day, but when I travel, I usually tuck in to a larger breakfast unless it’s the morning of a flight.
- After Kanata catches a gander of Rio’s assets, she resolves to eat better and digs in, enjoying the morning meal. Kureha grows displeased with how quickly Kanata is settling in to life at the Clocktower Fortress and is quick to remind the latter that she technically outranks her despite being younger. Rio assigns her to give Kanata a tour of the facilities as a part of her orientation.
- This screenshot captures the sense of scale of the locales in Sora no Woto, and the location corresponds with a plaza that also doubles as a parking lot for the Parador de Cuenca. Located on the southern edge of the hotel, it provides a fantastic view of the river gorge: while Seize’s river cuts through the area and appears quite impassible, the route CUV-9144 runs along the valley in Cuenca and becomes the Paseo del Huécar as it enters town.
- It’s a moody, overcast day, and the lighting surrounding the Clocktower Fortress is dark in equal measure to reflect on the weather. Weather and lighting tend to play a much greater role in setting the tones for shows focused on drama: whereas anime like Kiniro Mosaic or Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? tend to have consistent lighting in reflecting that places more emphasis on interpersonal interactions, while shows like Hibike! Euphonium or Tari Tari make use of lighting to a much greater extent with the aim of portraying the weather vis-à-vis the characters’ moods and feelings.
- A map of the area surrounding Seize can be seen here as Kureha explains to Kanata the importance of their telephone: their only communication channels outside of the fortress, it’s a direct line to the capital and is said only to ring for the most critical of situations. Closer inspection of the map finds other cities named as French numbers, and Seize itself is “City Sixteen”, suggesting there are at least fifteen other cities in the area.
- While touring the remainder of the base, Kureha enters the baths to find Filicia cleaning them. I’ve just finished Aria: The Origination a few days ago. On closer inspection, I find Filicia to be very similar to Alicia in appearance and manner: while she’s the oldest and most senior of the 1121st, she plays an active role in maintaining the Clocktower Fortress, showing that here, the 1121st’ members tend to have a flatter hierarchy compared to most branches of the military.
- While sleepily wandering around base, Noël’s eyes widen in fear as she spots something unnatural in one of the windows. This “something” is a ghost, the spirit of a deceased woman trapped at the installation. Decidedly benign, the ghost makes a few appearances, and was something I mentioned in a standalone post published some four years ago. Rio later helps the spirit finalise its ghostly business, and it leaves, content to find peace; this information comes out of the drama CDs and clearly shows that the anime alone cannot explore all of the interesting aspects within Sora no Woto.
- The 1121st’s main battle tank is known as the “Takemikazuchi”, the Japanese deity known as the Thunder God, who duels with a gargantuan catfish and pins it to the rocks of the shore, being responsible for the earthquakes that Japan experiences. Known more formally as the Vector-Type Zero Autonomous Tank Walker, this spider-like vehicle dates back to a previous age, and is highly sophisticated, but is still being re-assembled here. Kureha seems quite sensitive to the fact that the 1121st are not particularly well supplied, or even in the loop for communications from the Helvetian forces.
- As the evening sets in and rain begins to fall, Filicia and Rio share a conversation about Kanata’s assignment to the 1121st, and that Kureha’s reaction to Kanata’s arrival was probably in response to something she picked up. While the characters do not outright make it apparent, a recruit for assisting in the operation of the Takemikazuchi was originally supposed to be sent rather than Kanata, but Filicia simply remarks that they will have to make do with who they’ve got. Although this is not immediately noticeable, Kanata’s arrival in the 1121st will have far-reaching consequences that impact the others to a much greater extent than was initially apparent.
- Frightened by the sighting, Noël reports her ghosting sighting to Filcia and Rio. The contrast in the warm lighting of the room where Rio and Filicia are conversing and Noël’s partially-shadowed countenance conveys a sense of unease and doubt amongst the audience: for the briefest of moments, Noël herself looks like a ghost, building suspense as Filicia and Rio contemplate how they will best address Noël’s concerns.
- Kureha and Kanata have completed their tour of the facilities and are recalled to be briefed on their latest assignment: hunt down the cause of the commotion even as a thunderstorm rages on outside. While it may seem a little strange for a location with a seemingly arid climate, Cuenca actually has a continental Mediterranean climate and receives on average, more precipitation than does my home city.
- I’ve alluded to this previously, and while it may come across as a bit unusual for someone who holds science in a much higher regard than the paranormal, ghost stories are something I enjoy reading about. This probably a consequence of reading Barbara Smith’s Ghost Stories of Alberta (published in 1993) back when I was in primary school, and since then, I’ve become quite interested in ghost stories surrounding Canada and the Rocky Mountains, even if they do not make much sense (such as how one couple managed to enjoy a perfectly delicious steak-and-eggs at a phantom restaurant in Spokane).
- The endurance of ghost stories even in a time where society marches on its bandwidth could be a sign that reality as we know it is a simulation: paranormal activity can then be chalked up to bugs and glitches in whatever engine is running real life. Kureha’s insistence that ghosts cannot exist, paired with her bravado, culminates in her being assigned to check the ghost out with Kanata.
- Equipped with the Karabiner 98k bolt action rifle, Kanata and Kureha move into the deep corners of the base. The presence of desks and chairs, coupled with a blackboard with the remnants of a “日直” still visible, suggests that the old Clocktower Fortress is a school. Inspection of the large hanger housing the Takemikazuchi shows that it is in fact a gymnasium: a basketball net is visible, and there is a stage in the background. For the briefest of moments, Kanata wonders what things might be like had there been no war: she, Noël and Kureha would be underclassmen in the music club, while Filicia and Rio would be senior students.
- Flashes of lightning reveal the ghost’s presence, but as I’ve already done a post on that long ago, we will leave that for the present. Towards the end of their excursion, Kureha and Kanata unearth a large den of rats, and are subsequently attacked by the same owl who’d taken Rio’s bell in the previous episode. Chalking the ghostly activity as a consequence of the owl, Kureha manages to capture it.
- Frustrated at the owl’s sense of flippancy, Rio angrily declares that she’ll eat him, but Filicia decides that the owl should be kept as a pet, naming him Shuko in the process. A Ptilopsis leucotis (common name “Northern White Faced Owl”), members of Shuko’s species have a unique defensive strategy, being able to respond to threats by both puffing itself out to appear larger, or else flattening itself to become more inconspicuous.
- As some folks discovered, the distribution of P. leucotis is not particularly helpful towards determining where precisely Sora no Woto takes place: this owl is found in Africa between the Sahara Desert and the equator. As Shuko is found well outside of his geographical range, it stands to reason that he’s been around the base for quite some time, perhaps even with the previous occupants of the Clocktower Fortress: while the life expectancy of wild P. leucotis has not been studied, they have been recorded as living for thirty years in captivity.
- A further indicator that Shuko has lived around the Clocktower Fortress for quite some time is the fact that the 1121st’s mascot is an owl. A part of the joy in re-watching Sora no Woto stems from the fact that there are so many subtle clues and hints scattered throughout the anime that, when assembled together, shows that the writers had clearly thought things through in creating Sora no Woto. This is one of the reasons why J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter resonates amongst its readers, in being able to bring everything together, leaving very few stones unturned.
- The next morning, the skies have cleared out, and a gentle blue hue is present in the lighting to mirror this. At breakfast, Kanata receives a new chair that Kureha picked out. Matching the other chairs in the room, it signifies that after their adventure, Kureha is a bit more accepting of Kanata (along with the others), although Kureha is still reluctant to openly state that this is happening. This lends itself to the episode’s title and ultimately, with the chair being only a minor part of the story, Sora no Woto alludes to the idea that the journey itself is of greater substance than the destination.
The single most dramatic element in the second episode is the presence of a ghost: while the absence of additional information could easily allow one to dismiss the ghost as a defect in animation or a simple Easter Egg, supplementary materials clarify that the ghost was the residual spirit of a girl who died before the war that devastated the world. Trapped on Earth, it is ultimately Rio who helps this spirit move on, and she is not seen again at the Clocktower Fortress. It typifies Sora no Woto‘s expert capacity to utilise their characters in a seemingly mundane task to further outline both their interactions and details pertaining to the world that Sora no Woto is set in: even something as simple as the 1121st’s base of operations is an intriguing location with a past so rich in detail. The use of weather further serves to accentuate the atmosphere; weather patterns and the associated lighting are used to great effect in Sora no Woto to drive specific messages across in future episodes.