“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” —John Muir
On a warm spring day, Felicia announces that the 1121st is to take a day trip into the nearby mountains with the aim of inspecting local observation stations. At Rio’s request, Kanata, Nöel and Kureha are made to carry heavy packs up the mountain as a part of their training. They manage to locate the first of the stations, but their packs soon cause the fatigue. Kanata decides to take a break in a nearby stream, and soon, Nöel and Kureha join in. However, wildlife loot their equipment, resulting in the loss of their provisions, including a compass. Despite lacking the means of orienting themselves, Kanata and the others manage to locate the rest of the stations. They run into Felicia at the last checkpoint at the edge of No-Man’s land, who points out signatures left behind by earlier soldiers. With their mission complete, Felicia takes the girls to a hot springs, where Rio is waiting with a stockpile of bayberries after she’d fended off a wild boar. During their trek, the terrain remains green with vegetation, and one might be inclined to think that for a world that’s ended, things are not so bad.
However, the introduction of No-Man’s land, a vast desert, seems to hint at the extent of the devastation the world experienced in the aftermath of whatever war was fought. Thus, the area surrounding Seize is a refuge, the vestiges of what remains of the world’s inhabitable lands. While this shows the scope of the conflict, the presence of lush mountain passes and clear brooks that form the backdrop for Kanata and the others’ adventure shows that even in a ravaged world, beauty and life continue to endure. How one views this world’s situation is largely a matter of perspective: either the devastation is slowly overwhelming all that is good in the world, or else the good in the world continues to find a way even if despair appears to have won. As an optimist, I stand firmly with the latter, and it is this approach that Kanata seems to take. Finding joy in most everything she encounters, Kanata is driven to bring out the positives in the world around her, turning what was otherwise an arduous trek into a journey that leads to new discovery.
Screenshots and Commentary
- After a mock battle with the Takemikazuchi’s newly restored simulation system, the girls take five under the hot summer sun. Kanata receives a letter from home and signs off using an East Asian seal (印). While creating some obfuscation amongst the anime’s speculators, the presence of seals foreshadows Sora no Woto‘s actual setting. I have a personal seal carved out of jade with my Chinese family and given name, although there aren’t any occasions where I might use it.
- Nöel also receives a letter: her all-business remark that it’s from a colleague in a distant province leads Kanata to believe her until Nöel notes that it’s a joke. Whether or not Nöel actually is in contact with such an individual remains unknown, but it is equally likely that she’s lying to dispel Kanata’s curiosity and seemingly unbound energy: even amidst the heat of day, she’s ever-cheerful.
- Outside, while Kureha offers him a bottle of their Calvados. Kureha grows quite shy around Klaus and views him as a hero of sorts. Filicia thanks Klaus for his deliveries and has a request to make of him, after reading a letter sent from headquarter: he is to look after the Clocktower Fortress while the others are out on an excursion. The sound of cicadas in conjunction with the hues of the blue sky suggest a hot summer’s day.
- It turns out that the assignment from headquarters is to perform inspection on automated observation outposts in the area, and while Filicia pegs it as an outing, Klaus’ remarks to Kureha suggest that some exertion or challenges might await them. By this point in May 2011, I was a few weeks into my summer research and had completed a prototype of a binary-string based collision membrane to mimic selective filtration. One of the Master’s students would make use of it in his work, and I would revisit the project later in the summer when implementing a model of agent filtration within the nephron.
- As a part of their training, Rio has Nöel, Kanata and Kureha carry heavy packs with them. An average soldier in the United States military carries around sixty pounds of equipment with them, while extended patrol will require nearly double that to be carried. I imagine that here, the girls are walking around with a figure between those two, roughly eighty pounds of gear, and they struggle to walk. Even Rio struggles to get onto her feet with the pack, but her yelling motivates the three to continue. A ways back, while learning how to squat, one of my friends told me to stick my rear out and keep my back tight, then push the world straight down, to lift the weight: failing to observe technique can lead to back injury.
- I still vividly recall the Victoria Day long weekend shortly after completing the prototype: I attended a LAN party on Friday evening and played Halo Reach with friends as Otafest was underway back at campus. Saturday, I took a day trip to the mountains, where I hiked around trails at Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. There was still a thick layer of ice on Lake Minnewanka that resisted a forty-pound rock I chucked onto its surface. Subsequently, I visited the abandoned town of Bankhead, although some of my photographs of the area turned out fuzzy. As the morning gave way to the afternoon, I returned to the town site for an Angus burger and browsing around the shops.
- That weekend, I also purchased the HGUC Unicorn Gundam (Destroy Mode) with the 1/48 head display stand, having decided against attending Otafest 2011. Back in Sora no Woto, Kanata laughs at the minor verbal sparring that’s broken out between Nöel and Kureha. She does resemble K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa to some extent on several occasions, and here, Kanata finds herself distracted by a passing butterfly. When she takes another look, the group has reached a beautiful meadow covered in white flowers.
- There is a joy to seeing Kanata’s smile, and here, she marvels at the expanse of unspoiled beauty that lies in the meadows. The magic of the fifth episode lies in the depiction of the settings around the town of Seize; up until now, besides a depiction of the countryside during Kanata’s journey into Seize, events of the previous episodes were largely set in the town itself. With its depiction of life as a member of the 1121st, some reviewers found it difficult to predict what directions Sora no Woto would take, and after five episodes, found themselves classifying it firmly as a slice-of-life anime.
- Kanata is the first to take off towards the derelict observation station, as Kureha and Noël lie on a brick wall in exhaustion. One of the remarks I’ve seen is that, if the packs everyone’s been carrying were so heavy that lifting them was nigh-impossible, they would have never been able to walk this far. However, in practise, the trickiest part about moving heavy objects is initially picking them up; once they are picked up, it becomes somewhat easier to move with them. Hence, this is not a failure on the part of Sora no Woto to write plausible comedy, but rather, a demonstration that the individual who made that remark probably does not even hoist.
- Attesting to the age of the facility, the observation station has vegetation growing over it, and some of the concrete has begun to crack. According to Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, assuming that modern concrete is used, the structure is anywhere from five to ten decades old. Touching a control panel sends out a flash of kanji characters, showing the girls that it is still operational, and allowing them to mark off a waypoint on their map.
- As the day wears on, the girls find themselves growing uncomfortably hot under the summer sun. When they chance upon a creek with crystal clear waters, they set their gear aside and blissfully frolic about. While subtle, I noticed that the water effects were well-rendered to really convey the sense of a cool, refreshing mountain stream. However, when Kanata and the others return, they find that their gear has been rummaged through when they return (probably by a boar looking for food). Their compass is also missing.
- In spite of this set back, Kanata and the others push on forwards, with Noël navigating by means of a map. Her sense of direction surpasses that of Kanata and Kureha’s, and strictly speaking, it is possible to navigate using nothing more than a map, a general sense of where landmarks are and the shadows of the sun to estimate direction. Before I had a smartphone, this is what I did to estimate my bearings while hiking the largest park in the city, and over time, I memorised the layout, so I could traverse sections of the area with ease.
- While they’re not lost per se, hunger does set in for Kureha, Kanata and Noël. Kanata spots some mountain peaches on a tree perched on a high ledge. It’s not accessible, and Kureha recalls a story where the Desert Wolf managed to survive for three days without food or water, driving a tank to assault an enemy installation; their situation is less dire, so Kureha reasons they’ll be fine. Sora no Woto did its research in that this story would check out: man will last around three hours without shelter in extremities, around three days without water (although longer periods are possible), and upwards of three weeks without food.
- By the time Kanata, Kureha and Noël locate the second waypoint, the afternoon has given way to evening. Kanata climbs a tree to gain a better vantage point to ascertain their location, and here, the lighting saturates the land in a gentle golden tone. It’s a feature of summer I’m fond of: at my latitudes during the summer, sunset doesn’t really begin until around seven or eight, making it perfect to go for an evening walk: it’s only around nine and ten that the sun actually dips below the horizon, and even then, the sky remains aglow.
- Fearing a wild boar has been stalking them, Kureha breaks out her Karabiner 98k, a bolt-action rifle of the Mauser family. It is derived from the Mauser Standardmodell of 1924 and the Karabiner 98b rifles, which were themselves the descendants of the Gewehr 98. Looking through the infantry arms available in Sora no Woto, if I were to run the Clocktower Maiden loadout in Battlefield 1, I would go with the Gewehr 98 Infantry, the M1911 as my sidearm, smoke grenades, the trench periscope and flare gun.
- Rio chances across some mountain peaches while hiking to link up with the others. Besides the usage of an East Asian seal, the presence of mountain peaches in the Seize area hints that the location is not simply Cuenca, Spain: Myrica rubra (commonly known as yangmei or yamamomo) are native to eastern Asia, mainly in south-central China and can be found in Japan. They are identified by their distinct knobby surface and red colouring, in conjunction with Kanata’s description of them as being sweet and tart. While speculators missed this particular detail, the distribution of M. rubra provides further evidence that Sora no Woto might not be set in Spain.
- Filicia rendezvous with others at the last of the observation stations. She reveals that the Clocktower Maidens undertake this assignment as a rite of passage of sorts, carving their names into the furthest of the stations and also gaze upon the edge of their world. While the effects of a devastating war are only hinted at up until now, where, audiences get to see the true extent of the war, lending credence to the idea that life in the oceans has been hit hard, too. While this seems a pessimistic end to the episode, Filicia has one final surprise for the trio.
- The surprise turns out to be an onsen-style bath, the perfect place for relaxing in after a long day’s hike. Despite the ever-looming sense of desolation in a world whose biosphere was ravaged by war, Sora no Woto shows that people will nonetheless find a way to continue surviving, and that societies are inclined to make their existence one where there is something to look forwards to. This imagery is in keeping with the themes in Sora no Woto, although the speculated theme, that the anime is about cycles, ultimately proved to be incorrect.
- As it turns out, Rio fought mano-a-mano with the wild boar for the yamamomo, and judging from the cache that is available, it’s quite clear she’s won. With a distribution spanning across Eurasia, boars are seen as fearsome and reckless in Japanese culture: they are known to attack humans, although in turn, they are also hunted for their meat, which has a greater nutritional density than that of pork, as well as a richer, beefier flavour. While it would have been possible to shoot a boar in Sora no Woto, it would probably also go against the anime’s theme, so wisely, the writers do not take this route.
Optimism is one of the most predominant themes early on in Sora no Woto: through Kanata’s eyes, audiences are presented with the seemingly trivial elements in Seize and its surroundings that manage to make Kanata’s day upon discovery. Positive attitudes and outlooks become critically important when times are tough; Sir Winston Churchill’s stance on morale, for instance, allowed the British to endure during the Second World War, and in general, the sense of hope conveyed through high spirits in light of adversity is a powerful motivator for people, allowing them to continue trundling forwards. While some folks find Kanata’s personality to be inappropriate for such a world, I note that Kanata’s energy, in being so infectious, has an overall positive effect on Nöel and Kureha, further demonstrating the impact she’s having among the 1121st; with her example, Nöel and Kureha manage to have a good time in spite of their situation, and these lessons impact how they act in response to difficult situations later in Sora no Woto.