“I can’t do this anymore!”
“That was seriously fucked up, we almost died!”
“Why do you keep doing this to us?”
“I don’t know, Morty. Maybe I hate myself, maybe I think I deserve to die…I-I-I-I-I don’t know!”
—Morty Smith and Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty
Nearly seven years have elapsed since Yosuga no Sora originally aired; I came across the anime three years after its original airing, a consequence of seeking out anime similar to Madoka Magica. At this time, Yūki Yūna is a Hero had not aired yet, and having come across Yosuga no Sora, I was intrigued to check it out. The recommendation had stated that powerful emotions and beautiful animations were commonalities to Madoka Magica and Yosuga no Sora. My curiosity piqued, I began watching Yosuga no Sora. The anthology-like structuring presented four unique stories, following Haruka’s emotional journey with each of Kazuha, Akira, Nao and his own twin sister, Sora. Concise, focused and visceral, each arc is with its own merits as Haruka grows closer to a girl as he helps them with a problem they face. This is a reasonably generic setup that, while entertaining, is not particularly groundbreaking in and of itself. However, the Sora arc of Yosuga no Sora most definitely sets the anime apart from most of the other love stories I’ve seen – dealing with the taboos associated with incest, Yosuga no Sora captures the fracturing friendships, suppressed emotions and turbulence that troubles Haruka’s friends when this relationship becomes known. Ultimately, Haruka and Sora depart for Scandinavian Europe to find their happiness together, leaving behind more questions than answers. Incest is not the singular aspect that sets Yosuga no Sora apart from other anime dealing with romantic love: OreImo deals with the topic with a rather more lighthearted approach, but the reason why Yosuga no Sora is able to create such a powerful story is through the unique combination of its narrative structure, the soundtrack and the setting.
While initially appearing to be little more than a generic locale in rural Japan, Yosuga no Sora‘s setting ultimately acts as a visual representation that fully captures the sense of loneliness and isolation that Haruka and Sora experience once they decide to commit to one another. Under the unending skies of azure most vivid and plains framed with verdant mountains reaching into infinity, the peaceful calm of the Japanese countryside allow Haruka to focus on his relationships without interruption. Feelings of nostalgia come out as the sun begins setting, casting the lands in orange-red. While seemingly insignificant, the setting and its attributes are subtly present in each story arc: by the time of Sora’s arc, the solitude and emptiness in the countryside become quite apparent. The solitude offered by the background for Haruka becomes a sort of prison, isolating Haruka and Sora as their relationship intensifies. In a place where there are few others, Sora and Haruka turn to one another to escape their loneliness, finding comfort in their relationship when all others have become absent. The great beauty, and simultaneous isolation in the landscape is then distilled into Nao’s perspectives on Haruka and Sora’s relationship – she’s accepting of their relationship, believing the uncertain pair will find happiness, although in the aftermath, Nao also finds herself growing increasingly apathetic and depressed. In Yosuga no Sora, then, the choice of setting becomes important to visually indicate emotions and feelings: the build-up in preceding episodes familiarise audiences to a setting that ultimately contributes to conveying the same sense of sadness and loneliness felt by the other characters as Haruka and Sora set out to find their happiness elsewhere.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The last Yosuga no Sora post that I wrote was back in 2014 June; because the anime adapts four of the routes from the visual novel, I elected not to try and determine a single thematic element for the anime, but rather, remarked on whether or not the anime was effective in giving audiences a sense of what the visual novel might be like. The answer is that the anime succeeds in capturing the four arcs, and while each arc is quite short, they are also very to the point. In this post, featuring thirty screenshots (mostly of the landscapes in Yosuga no Sora), I’ve opted to go with a much looser feel, as this is not a review in a traditional sense.
- Yosuga no Sora is now best-known for dealing with the topic of incest in its final arc, and prior to the final arc, for coming close to the line for what can be shown in an anime as far as anatomy goes. I was quite surprised to learn of this, having entered Yosuga no Sora without any prior information. However, episodes for the most part follow a very well-defined structure, so knowing which episodes were more interesting meant I could watch some of the episodes out in the open without too much consequence.
- The precise setting of Yosuga no Sora is Okukozome, a fictionalised, generic depiction of the Japanese inaka. I’ve been hard-pressed to find a location in Japan that satisfies the criterion for Yosuga no Sora‘s setting: the anime is set in a village situated in a wider valley between mountain peaks, a fair amount of forest cover and moderate proximity to the ocean. The closest candidates are likely in the Toyama, Nigata or Yamagata Prefectures.
- Unlike the sociable and easygoing Haruka, Sora is withdrawn and frail, spending most of her days alone at the Kasugano clinic. She browses the web or else explores the clinic’s now-unused facilities while waiting for Haruka to return home. She expects to be doted upon, and while she occasionally entertains thoughts of a relationship with Haruka, for the most part, these are intermittent. The shadows and darker tones in this image contrast with the bright summer weather outside, signifying the disconnect Sora experiences from the world around her.
- Last year, I noticed a resurgence of visits from folks looking up Yosuga no Sora and jokingly remarked that I would do another post on the anime if there was sufficient demand for it. While getting proper screenshots of the characters going at it proved challenging (i.e. could not be fit into one frame), I will make good on my promise to feature at least one screenshot of papilla mammaria in this talk. Given such, I’ve opted to go with Nao, who remains my favourite character in Yosuga no Sora for her grace, caring personality and also for having the hottest body of anyone.
- I believe that my intrigue with the Japanese countryside by summer began when I learned of Onegai Teacher! shortly after picking up Ah! My Goddess. A story of forbidden love between a secret couple set in the countryside, there was an appeal about the story that made it quite intriguing. The premise was re-purposed for 2012’s Ano Natsu de Matteru, which similarly told an story of an awkward but growing love. In a sense, the summer feels to be the best time for falling in love; even if one’s feelings are not reciprocated, the vastness of the world continues to remind individuals that there will be other opportunity later.
- Conversely, by winter, when the world is hibernating and grey, it can feel as though one’s problems are overwhelming, inescapable. Winter is a time for hunkering down and finding things that are guaranteed to keep one warm, whether it be a cosy fireplace or a hearty stew. Of course, now that I’ve gone and said that I feel summer love to be the most magical, I am willing to wager, perhaps upwards of 50 CAD, that my next love story will now happen in winter.
- The townscape in and around Yosuga no Sora is most similar to the environments in and around Banff National Park with its forests and mountains. I am very fond of environments such as these, and although I live quite far removed from any mountains, there are numerous paths in the city where it certainly feels like I’m in a rural setting. It’s one of my favourite things to do beyond blowing things up in games, to walk around and enjoy the pleasant summer weather while it lasts.
- The first of the arcs in Yosuga no Sora follows Haruka’s time with Kazuha, helping her deal with the troubles surrounding Akira. Their time together ignite a relationship culimating with Kazuha’s father praising Akira before her eyes, demonstrating that she’d been mistaken. No longer feeling as though she needs to be ever-present for Akira, Kazuha and Haruka pursue a full-fledged relationship.
- One of the more memoriable aspects in Yosuga no Sora is the atmosperhics present during the summer evenings, when the final hours in the day cast the land in an orange light. Many of Yosuga no Sora‘s more important conversations happen by evening, and in this moment, a desolate Sora stands under the sun on the road while waiting for Haruka to give this image a particularly ethereal quality.
- The high school of Yosuga no Sora is styled in a typical manner, and I remark that it’s impressive for a school of this size to still be at operational capacity in rural Japan, considering the issue of population drain from the inaka as people move into the cities for more opportunity. This is a topic in Locodol and Sakura Quest, but Yosuga no Sora, classes seem packed, perhaps suggesting that Yosuga no Sora is set in an age where folks have not yet begun leaving the inaka in large numbers.
- The page quote was specially chosen after I saw the preview for Rick and Morty‘s sixth episode; it will air later tonight and follow Rick and Morty after a particularly traumatising mission leaves them in need of a vacation. I felt more or less the same way after watching Yosuga no Sora, and my “vacation” from the after-effects took the form of working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain to calm my nerves. My initial review doesn’t reveal this, and I’ve never mentioned this until now, but Yosuga no Sora did have a profound impact on my world view in exploring the side of love that is less pure in nature.
- My reaction was prompted by the backstory in Nao’s arc, where it is shown that she turned to Haruka for comfort during difficult times a few years earlier and is guilty about it. Although it’s pretty F’d up S that I won’t be able to un-see, Haruka’s relationship with Nao is probably the one I enjoyed the most, especially for the awkward beginnings as the two slowly reacclimatise to one another and come to terms with their feelings for one another after reconciling and coming to terms with Nao’s actions in the past.
- In a manner of speaking, the landscape and lighting itself can be thought of as another character in Yosuga no Sora, quietly and subtly guiding the events of the anime’s different arcs. By building the viewer’s expectations for upcoming events and their corresponding moods, the setting is probably the strongest aspect of Yosuga no Sora. The visual novel is set in a more heavily wooded area and has reduced saturation compared to the anime; the latter is really able to accentuate the atmosphere with its artwork
- I have a confession to make: in the aftermath of Yosuha no Sora, I picked up Aki Sora and gave it a whirl, only to be disappointed that it lacked any of the emotional tenour found in Yosuga no Sora. I’ve watched things like OreImo previously, as well, and it feels as though the choice of a rural setting allowed the narrative to explore options that would not be plausible within an urban setting.
- Going to the beach is very much a pastime anime characters partake in during the summer, roughly equivalent to folks around my town visiting the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth and hiking the mountains in the national parks nearby. Because adults are not present in Yosuga no Sora, and because Sora is able to follow them to the beach despite declining the invitation to participate, it stands to reason that the village where the anime is set has train access out to a beachside-town, which further suggests a location set on the western edge of Japan overlooking the East China Sea.
- To the right is Motoka Nogisaka, a post-secondary student who has her own “what-if” segment in Yosuga no Sora‘s bonus features. One part hilarious and one heart-wrenching, they follow a hypothetical situation where she and Haruka fall in love with one another, and against all odds, manages to marry Haruka after an immensely rough start. In Yosuga no Sora proper, she’s a maid working with Kazuha’s family and while not suited for the position, compensates with her friendly and attentive manner.
- Apparently, the anime adaptation of Yosuga no Sora is more emotionally charged than its visual novel incarnation, the latter of which feels much more light-hearted in comparison. It isn’t until the midpoint of Kazuha’s arc where things began to become more interesting, so in retrospect, I can see where the comparison between Madoka Magica and Yosuga no Sora comes from.
- We’re very nearly at the end of August, and the shortening days are becoming quite apparent now. Less than a month remains to summer, although looking back on the summer, this was a rather eventful one: from the numerous hikes in the mountains and closer to home, to enjoying various foods of the summer (ranging from an exquisite sirloin-and-lobster-tail in Banff, to BBQ beef rib bones and a slushie), and even just stretching out under the summer sun on quiet weekends, this summer’s been very enjoyable.
- This is probably one of the more spectacular sunsets in Yosuga no Sora, featuring vivid reds, oranges and yellows streaming through tree branches as the day draws to a close. In Japan, I noticed that sunset occurs quite early: by 1800, it’s already dusk, and the night dominates after 2000. Conversely, the sun rises ridiculously early (even by Alberta standards, where the sun rises by 0530 MDT): sunrise is typically at 0400 JST. Hence, the “evening” walks that Haruka and his friends have take place earlier in the evening.
- In all branches of Yosuga no Sora, Sora herself finally begins attending school, although it takes her some time to adjust. Absent from most of the proceedings in Kazuha and Akira’s stories, she plays a bigger role in Nao’s arc, hating her for her misdeeds in the past. This changes when Nao saves Sora and her stuffed rabbit, a memento from their late mother, from a fire after a lightning strike ignites the bus shelter she’s hiding in. Sora subsequently accepts Nao, and from a personal perspective, this is perhaps one of the best endings as far as outcomes for the characters go.
- The sheer number of images in this Yosuga no Sora post set under a brilliant summer sun inspired me to take a bit of a walk today: temperatures had been expected to reach 29°C today and ended up exceeding 31°C, so I decided to do the walk by morning, waking up a little earlier than usual to take advantage of the still-cool air. The walk itself spanned a distance of ten kilometers over the course of an hour and a half, being remarkably enjoyable but also quite exhausting as the morning sun began warming the skies. The smoke’s finally clear in the area, and the skies above were of deepest blue.
- After the walk, I showered off and sat down to home-made burgers and fries for lunch. It’s the last weekend of August now, attesting to how quickly time flies by, and next weekend, we will be entering September. It’s been a fantastic summer this year, especially with respect to the weather, and moving into autumn, things will begin cooling down. Autumn itself is not for another couple of weeks, and forecasts indicate that the weather will remain quite hot well into September.
- Consequently, I’ve opted not to show moments where Sora is having a blast on her own while thinking about Haruka, or the moment where Sora and Haruka give in to their temptation and copulate on the doorstep even as Nao and Kozue arrive. Instead, viewers will have to do with Haruka and Sora holding hands while walking down a peaceful country road. Here’s an idea: if there is sufficient incentive to do so (read “people requesting it”), I will do a dedicated post for just those moments alone.
- The Sora arc is the opposite to the Nao arc with respect to outcomes: Kozue and Nao find themselves at the frontlines, struggling to figure out how to handle the situation where Sora and Haruka have started a relationship. Kozue is hit the hardest, crying with an intensity that it leaves her eyes visibly red. Earlier, Haruka also attempts to force himself on Nao out of frustration at the way things have been with Sora. It is here that Yosuga no Sora really captures the tumultuous nature of some relationships and their emotional impact on individuals.
- After Nao ceases her relationship with Haruka and confronts Sora. The fragmentation amongst this group of individuals is compounded by financial difficulty, which was conveniently never an issue in the other arcs. The impending possibility of being separated and living with different relatives drives Sora over the edge: she rends her room and prepares a suicide note before running away. Haruka manages to save her, and are spared separation when an artisan in Estonia agrees to take them in. This individual has known the two’s parents, and in extended materials, it is shown that Haruka and Sora’s mother knows Estonian. The two leave the Japanese countryside to find happiness elsewhere, and in their wake, leave Nao, Kazuha, Akira and the others to deal with their departure. As an unrelated note, in Tom Clancy’s Command Authority, Russia invades Estonia and routs the countryside with their T-90 tanks before American operations force them to retreat.
- I’ve heard fan theories that Sora and Haruka drown and are not saved owing to how ambiguous the anime’s ending is. The largest strike against this particular outcome is that Haruka messages his old friends with an update on where they are, and the characters left behind appear to be disappointed rather than saddened, as would be the case in the event of death. One of the most unsettling moments in Yosuga no Sora‘s ending is the level of destruction seen in Sora’s room: she’s ripped apart her stuffed rabbit and school uniform, somehow managed to shred the curtains and shatters the window.
- While Nao hopes for Haruka and Sora’s happiness, it turns out that she’s also deeply affected by the events, becoming apathetic and depressed in the aftermath. I tend to think of the Sora arc as the true ending to Yosuga no Sora given the narrative’s direction, and in supplementary materials, Sora and Haruka have a child following marriage. My familiarity with biology compels me to note that a difficult path await Sora and Haruka: similarity of genes increases the risk of immune deficiencies and any expression of genetic disorders, development disabilities, physical disabilities or even death.
- So brings my second Yosuga no Sora post to an end. Writing for this post proved quite difficult, and with this one in the books, it’s time to take a gander at the latest Rick and Morty episode to steel my nerves. I’ll be returning at some point in the near future to do a discussion on Far Cry 4, and in a few days, Kantai Collection: The Movie will be coming out. This one’s on my radar for a review, so I will be taking a look at the film by around mid-September. On the whole, September is looking to be a busy month for blogging; with In a Corner of This World releasing on September 15, the finales for both New Game!! and Sakura Quest impending, Gundam: The Origin and In The Name of The Tsar for Battlefield 1 releasing, there will be quite a few posts inbound in the upcoming month.
Ultimately, the setting is precisely what led Yosuga no Sora to present the Sora arc in such a powerful manner. While some feelings and thoughts may have remained ambiguous amongst the characters, the build-up leading to the anime’s conclusion, accommodated by the decision to set the story in an isolated rural area, made it very clear as to what the aftermath of Haruka and Sora’s decisions are. Yosuga no Sora‘s darker themes seem quite far removed from those of GochiUsa, but the fact is that both anime made extensive use of their setting to immerse their audiences in their world. I watched Yosuga no Sora during the same summer that I did GochiUsa, although the former’s contents are something that I remarked, required a fair bit of solitude to watch. Entering the first episode, I was not aware of what Yosuga no Sora entailed, and so, watched the anime out in the open. I shortly realised that there were CCTV cameras in the open area, and subsequently, decided to watch the anime away from prying eyes. While Yosuga no Sora‘s narrative and explicit depiction of the more intimate stages of a relationship might be off-putting for some viewers, the anime itself is wonderfully presented with respect to the characterisation, artwork and soundtrack. Altogether, I enjoyed this one for the sum of its parts, and it was at this point where I realised the magic of romance type anime set in the Japanese countryside: the wide open fields and seemingly endless skies of summer present the perfect location for individuals to find love, far removed from the chaos, judgement and expectations that seem to accompany romances set in an urban locality.