“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” —Albert Einstein
While on patrol duty following a fresh snowfall, Kureha and Kanata discover an unconcious Roman soldier. They bring her to the Clocktower Fortress and treat her for frostbite. The next day, she awakens, but because she does not understand Helvetian, Kanata and the others only learn her name: Aisha. However, it turns out that Yumina is fluent in Roman, learning that Aisha arrived to check out the fossilised remains of the gargantuan creature that Kanata had seen when she’d fallen into the lake. Yumina also brings with her ill-news — the Helvetian armed forces have surrounded the Clocktower Fortress and are demanding that Aisha be surrendered to the Helvetian forces, lead by none other than Colonel Hopkins, the infamous “Demon of Vingt”. Noël is gripped with fear and Filicia conceal both Noël and Aisha from his detachment. Upon recognising Noël as the Witch of Helvetia and bringing up the Invisible Reaper weapons project, Noël succumbs to fear, exposing their position and allows Hopkins to capture them. Meanwhile, the situation deteriorates further when news reaches Filicia and the others learn that the Roman army has mobilised and has entered no-man’s land, driving both nations closer to war. When originally aired, the eleventh episode of Sora no Woto would have completely surprised viewers to the same capacity as did the seventh episode, marking a dramatic departure from the slower pacing of earlier episodes.
In choosing to introduce Aisha ahead of the Roman Army, Sora no Woto reinforces the idea that even in times of war amongst humanity, the combatants remain people, rather than the monsters or dæmons that propaganda portray the enemy to be. The realisation that an enemy is human often drives participants’ appetites for war to dull, and it is for this reason that propaganda played such a major role during the World Wars, urging soldiers and civilians to view their opponents as being less than human, in turn causing savagery on an unprecedented scale. Sora no Woto does just the opposite: even if the Romans are enemies to the Helvetians, Aisha is human. While communicating with her might not be a particularly an easy task, Aisha proves to be accomplished with the trumpet, as well: it is here that Kanata realises that music is a means of conveying thoughts across even if one is separated by a language barrier, and the single act galvinises the notion that regardless of whether or not one is Helvetian or Roman, they are people. This particular conclusion is one that Hopkins’ forces refuse to address. In order to avert bloodshed, humanity must prevail over violence, although Sora no Woto masterfully presents a set of circumstances that threaten to transmute into a full-on conflict. Having presented the Romans as being people, audiences are riveted in anticipation of how Sora no Woto might turn out and would remain hopeful that, even in the darkest of times, a war can be prevented.
Screenshots and Commentary
- In contrast with the cooling but still-predominantly-green landscape around Seize in the previous episode, the snowfall has left the world gently blanketed in a layer of white, conveying a sense of coldness. Here, Kanata and Kureha continue their patrol into the mountains – only Kureha is equipped with a rifle, and she has optics mounted, suggesting that the two are acting as a sniper-spotter unit. However, patrols typically are intended to deal with close to medium range threats, and it would make more sense for Kanata to have a rifle, as well.
- The dark blues of the sky in this screenshot really accentuate that the weather has shifted, far removed from the warmth seen in previous episodes. Kureha and Kanata returns to the observation outposts seen during the fifth episode: the snow-covered terrain is a far cry from the inviting, verdant meadows, and here, Kanata spots a figure in the snow.
- The figure turns out to be a Roman soldier who’s suffering from frostbite. Uncertain of what the best course of action is, Kureha and Kanata decide to do what’s right: bring this soldier back to the Clocktower Fortress and in the infirmary, treat her injuries. There is a sharp contrast between what is counted as morally right and what one’s orders are: these lines blur during warfare, and contrary to what the self-proclaimed experts claim, there is no easy means of making a good call during warfare. Actions that are in accordance with orders may contribute to an unacceptable number of casualties, while at the same time, contradict with the idea that a soldier must follow their responsibilities.
- Typically expressionless and quiet, Noël is seen expressing a wide range of emotions in Sora no Woto‘s penultimate episode. The Roman soldier here brings back a startling memory in her past: a dying Roman soldier, and a military official praising Noël for her role in revitalising a WMD that resulted in an untold number of casualties. While the Roman Empire’s presence has always subtly suggested that they were the antagonists, but Helvetia’s use of WMD suddenly complicates the picture — in war, neither side can be seen as innocent or holding the moral high ground, explaining the oft-used phrase that history is written by the victors.
- While looking through the Roman soldier’s loadout, besides a M1911, Kanata also finds a bugle. It comes across as strange that a soldier would be found without their service rifle, indicating that this particular individual may be moving independently of the Roman army. Beyond reaching the conclusion that this soldier is probably a scout, Filicia is uncertain about how to proceed next.
- Under the dark of night, an armoured column advances amidst the snowfall. The mood and emotional tenour surrounding the soldiers of Sora no Woto are consistent with the depiction of warfare following the First World War: previously, to fight in war was considered an honour, and young men would enlist for a chance to prove their worth for the glory of the nation. The Industrial Revolution and sophisticated weapons turned war into death, radically altering society’s view of conflict. Machines now made the act of killing a streamlined, efficient process, and for the first time in history, a single man with a machine gun could kill hundreds of men. It is therefore unsurprising that World War I is considered to be the dawn of modern warfare.
- Under a screenshot of the Clocktower Fortress under a brisk morning, I remark that, contrary to claims that it is “not Felicia’s job as a low ranking officer to decide if she does or doesn’t want war or whether to aid and abet an enemy agent” means that, taken to the logical conclusion, Filicia and the others would have done well to execute the Roman soldier. Such an action would certainly lead to the war that Sora no Woto is so persistently and plainly trying to illustrate as an immensely costly action whose benefits may not necessarily be worth said costs.
- Ultimately, if the 1121st followed orders, the anime would fail to deliver its theme. This point is something that those criticising Filicia’s call do not understand, and consequently, they would be the naïveté, rather than those who support Filicia’s decision. In fiction, actions must be consistent with whatever message that a work is aiming to present: characters acting against military regulations in works of fiction is not uncommon, and they usually do so because their actions are intended by the author to represent an idea.
- Back in Sora no Woto, Noël checks in on the Roman soldier to find that she’s awakened. The Roman promptly attacks her. Noël’s action, to grope her, diffuses things immediately: modesty kicks in and the Roman soldier stands down. It’s probably the only instance where materials of this type is not intended to be taken out of context, although it’s a gamble to execute these types of take downs, considering that not all individuals have the same standards. Moreover, Noël’s intentions are left ambiguous: while my assessment is that Noël is using a simple method to stop the attack, some folks believe that Noël knows she’s screwed and wishes to do one thing before she is fragged.
- Learning that the Roman soldier’s name is Aisha, the others quickly find that their inability to understand Roman (presented as German in Sora no Woto) hinders their ability to communicate and learn more about her objectives. Voiced by Nami Miyahara, who took her middle school education in Austria, Aisha’s German is syntactically correct. However, her Austrian German differs from High German in minor choices of vocabulary and phrasing.
- In order to assess Aisha’s familiarity of the Helvetian language, Filicia administers a simple test that leaves Kanata and Kureha flustered, causing even Noël to blush. Since Aisha doesn’t respond to the phrase, it’s quite plain that Aisha does not speak Helvetian, a language whose spoken form is that of Japanese, and where the written form is French. Such divergence in linguistics, though seemingly unlikely, can result from geographical separation and migration patterns. Owing to the extremities in Sora no Woto, it is conceivable that French and Japanese could merge, although more than likely, Japanese is used simply because Sora no Woto is an anime. To recall Filicia’s question for my amusement:
“You have really nice breasts, don’t you? I’m rather fond of them. I wonder if it would be alright I played with them for a bit? Would be it be alright if I played with your entire body? It seems she’s really unable to understand Helvetian.”
- While initially cold to her captors, Aisha warms up to Noël and Kanata, who spends the most time with them despite their language barrier. The choice to depict a Roman soldier coming ahead of the advancing army is meant to demonstrate that the combatants in both Roman and Helvetian armies are human in the end, contrary to how the Roman army’s lack of portrayal thus far, coupled with the fact that audiences are only aware of the Helvetian perspective, means that audiences are more likely perceive them as antagonistic in nature.
- An accomplished bugler and trumpeter, Aisha immediately begins playing Amazing Grace when Kanata gives her Rio’s trumpet. It is here that Kanata realises that music is a universal: despite their language barrier, the emotions and ideas a song carries can transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. This moves Kanata and ultimately shapes her actions in the finale, but in the present, the arrival of Yumina allows the 1121st to finally learn what Aisha’s mission and objectives are.
- With translation from Yumina, it turns out that Aisha is here in Seize to check out a fossil ostensibly belonging to the dæmons of yore, and that Aisha’s grandmother was once a member of the Clocktower maidens. In the Roman mythology of Sora no Woto, the dæmons are a saviour passing judgement on humanity, saving the species from its own machinations, “cleansing” humanity of its sins. In this interpretation, the remnants of humanity are the ones who are blessed to rebuild the world. Yumina immediately rejects this, while Aisha similarly finds that Yumina’s beliefs are heretical in nature.
- This small-scale disagreement occurs in parallel with the impending conflict between Roman and Helvetian forces. The heavy atmosphere stands in stark contrast with the weather: a cold but otherwise pleasant-looking day. Intentionally done to emphasise that warfare and conflict occur independently of human feelings, this is one of the instances in Sora no Woto where the skies do not mirror how the characters are feeling, reminding audiences that warfare is impersonal and indifferent to who lives or dies.
- Colonel Hopkins, the Dæmon of Vingt, is one of the most feared commanders of the Helvetian forces, who had previously ordered the deployment of WMD, earning his moniker. Arriving at the Clocktower Fortress, he intends to take Aisha and execute her with the aim of starting an all-out war between Helvetia and the Roman Empire. While Helvetians have been shown to be a friendly, ordinary people thus far, Hopkins embodies a sort of evil that is meant to show how both sides have their own dæmons. In response to his arrival, Filicia orders that Noël and Aisha be hidden.
- The placement of the table legs contribute the sense that Noël is caged, trapped within her own mind and memories as a consequence of the guilt resulting from her actions. This is why she fears Colonel Hopkins, and when Aisha learns of Noël’s role in releasing the WMD, known as the “invisible death reaper”, Noël finally caves, letting out a piteous scream that alerts Hopkins’ men to their position.
- The expression, “when it rains, it pours” is used as a narrative device to deepen the gravity of a situation, and here, the phone rings, alerting Kanata and the others to a large contingent of Roman forces moving through No-Man’s land towards Helvetia. The episode left audiences surprised that war could be explored in what was otherwise a seemingly run-of-the-mill anime, and with all of the events in this episode, discussion erupted. Gone were the accusations that Sora no Woto was lapsing into familiar territory, and even the skeptics felt that the anime was exploring interesting directions.
- So tangible was the anticipation that some discussions wondered if it would be possible to watch the episode in real time as it was airing in Japan. Coming to the party a year later, I would encounter no such difficulty, and simply watched the finale immediately after this penultimate episode concluded. While the Helvetians have amassed a sizeable force outside of Seize, the cut outside shows that the Roman Force is no slouch, either: if this conflict came to fruition, the casualties would be unacceptably high for both sides.
- Even in spite of her role in eradicating the lives of countless people, Aisha’s concern for Noël is far greater than her response to having met the individual responsible. Before Aisha can pick Noël off the floor, Helvetian soldiers arrive and open fire, with the shot’s outcome left ambiguous. We’ve finally reached the penultimate episode of Sore no Woto and concluded its review: next week, I will be pushing out the last of the reviews on next Wednesday to conclude my revisitation of Sora no Woto. Being the finale, it will be larger than usual, featuring thirty images rather than the typical twenty.
Aside from the introduction of Aisha, Sora no Woto‘s eleventh episode also places Noël’s story into the spotlight. Her remarks from the fourth episode become clear by this point; she deeply regrets her involvement in the synthesis of a biological terror that decimated enemy forces, human lives, and consequently, closed her heart until Kanata slowly began bringing her optimism and hope. From what Sora no Woto presents in its characters, it is apparent that war has affected each and every member of the 1121st to an extent, but for better or worse, each character must come to understand and accept their own duties within the present in order to have a chance for a better future. Leaving viewers with the greatest cliffhanger of the season, Sora no Woto‘s penultimate episode proved to be a thrill to watch that stands in stark contrast from the tones conveyed by earlier episodes, and with the seventh episode, serves to demonstrate that Sora no Woto is not merely another K-On! knockoff in presenting complex themes that provoke further discussion and considerations.