The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Sounds of the Skies: Beyond the Dream- Sora no Woto OVA 2 Review and Reflection, or, Existentialism is not the centrepiece in the execution of Sora no Woto

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” –Colin Powell

Kanata begins to wonder what her dreams are after Mishio poses the question and finds herself without a suitable answer. Klaus arrives with a letter intended for Rio, and Kanata sets off looking for her. As the Fire Maiden festival is upon Seize again, the town is packed with festivities. Kanata runs into Yumina and later, speaks with Naomi, who provides Kanata with some help in finding Rio. It turns out Rio had set off to find some peace and consider the alternative version of the Legend of the Fire Maidens, as well as the fact that there remains conflict within their world even as the amount of habitable land is diminished from desertification. Later that evening, Rio takes Kanata up on a reconstructed hot air balloon, stating that her goal is to reintroduce heavier-than-air-flight and build an airplane. Kanata is moved and resolves to be at Rio’s side in pursuit of her dreams, helping out in any way that she can. On the day of the festival, Kanata is made to play the role of the Fire Maiden, setting off with Nöel, Kureha, Rio and Filicia. Compared to the first of the OVAs, the second Sora no Woto OVA is more contemplative in nature, following Kanata as she strives to determine her own dreams following her own experiences in Seize with the Clocktower Maidens. A simple question prompts Kanata to consider her own future, and in the end, Kanata’s decision shows that her goals are supporting those around her. Evident in her role as a bugler, the path that Kanata chooses is consistent with her beliefs and actions in Sora no Woto. It’s a fitting conclusion to Sora no Woto, and during its runtime, the second of the Sora no Woto OVAs serves one additional purpose in extending the anime’s themes – far more than existentialism, Sora no Woto‘s second OVA deals with the realisation of a dream.

Because I came upon Sora no Woto a ways after its original run, I was spared the five-month wait separating the finale from the second OVA, which serves to provide closure for the anime. The OVA builds upon the ideas of existentialism that were raised in the seventh episode – Filicia, Kanata and the others are aware of meaning in their lives even in a world that hope has appeared to long forsaken by the seventh episode’s conclusion. By the time of the events here, Kanata has chosen to walk the same path with Rio, who has a concrete goal and outline for reaching said goal. The themes in the OVA deal predominantly with working towards one’s objectives with the intent of bettering the world and realising their dreams. In contrast with merely finding meaning, a very abstract and oftentimes, idle activity, the OVA illustrates that a dream only has value if it is actualised. This is depicted through Rio re-constructing a functional hot-air balloon, creating lighter-than-air flight and setting the stage for her goals of heavier-than-air, powered flight. The process is one that involves effort, commitment and sacrifice, and while it can be uncomfortable to make an honest attempt to realise one’s dreams, the payoffs for having the courage to take these steps are enormous. Sora no Woto illustrates how these first steps are taken towards making dreams become a reality, and ultimately, it is in this OVA, released six months after the finale, that completes exploration of themes that the seventh episode began developing, making it an essential and enjoyable addition to Sora no Woto.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As with my previous Sora no Woto post about the first OVA, I’ve taken the time to ensure that none of the screenshots have been duplicated with an earlier post that I wrote back in 2012. This post features thirty screenshots, and compared to the post from five-and-a-half years ago, I think that the differences in writing between the present and five years ago is apparent: since then, I’ve written two thesis papers and published four papers. I’m no longer involved in any academic writing, and this blog is the only place where I write with any frequency now.

  • Here, Nöel handles the hot air balloon’s burner unit. Typically, they burn propane, heating up the air within the balloon to lower its density, which in turn allows the balloon to rise. The earliest balloons are of a Chinese origin – these paper lanterns (天燈) were heated by a flame source that work on similar principals and were used for military signalling. The first manned balloon flight was in 1783, with Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier demonstrating successfully balloon flight, and until the Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903 that sustained heavier-than-air flight was first achieved.

  • The second OVA provides plenty of reasons to re-watch, and noticeably absent from reviews of this OVA are some of the spectacular scenery stills that are present. Here, the fields of flowers set under a calm morning sky creates a highly tranquil picture of the area around Seize. It was seeing landscapes such as these in the first episode of Sora no Woto that led me to pick the anime up. As to how I came across Sora no Woto, the story is simple enough to deduce: after I finished K-On!, I was looking for similar anime and saw a recommendation for Sora no Woto.

  • The premise was quite intriguing, and so, I decided to give the series a spin. Upon watching the first five minutes of Sora no Woto, I immediately knew I was watching something of an uncommonly high quality, and found myself immediately drawn in by Kanata performed back during the second episode of Sora no Woto. I do not believe I’ve shared the story of how I came to find this masterpiece of an anime until now. Back in the second OVA, Kanata’s skill with a trumpet has become apparent, and she’s now able to perform the morning call with unerring skill, rivalling Rio with respect to the quality of sound and precision of her notes.

  • Mishio asks Kanata what her dreams are here, and Kanata is unable to answer. Knowing what one’s goals in life are are not always so straightforwards, and one of the things characterising Millenials, myself included, are being uncertain of what one’s future might entail. I myself did not set my sights on iOS development and systems architecting until two years ago; since then, I’ve been striving to make good on these goals. It is this phenomenon that leads folks of my generation to take a bit more time in exploring their career options, or colloquially, “find themselves” – my seniors have long held that disciplined skill building and refining value is the priority for folks around my age, and while I subscribe strongly to this branch of thought, this is a view not everyone shares.

  • I hold that life’s priorities at my age involve developing one’s skillset and saving money for the future. While folks contend that travel is necessary to broaden one’s horizons, travel without a well-defined purpose does very little to build one’s value in the long run, boiling down to procrastination from doing what is necessary in life. Back in the calm of a spring morning, the girls get a haircut before washing up. While it’s best to wash one’s hair after a haircut, this may or may not always be practical, leaving one with a bit of an itch.

  • There’s not one way to live life correctly, and there will be plenty of time to travel later on in life, so for the present, while I remark that I’m ready for a discussion on priorities in life at any time, I will return discussion fully to Sora no Woto for the present. My assertion that it’s a spring morning is drawn from the presence of flowers in full bloom, as well as the slightly reduced saturation in the skies compared against the dark blues of the hottest of summer days: the air still has a cooler feel to it, while vegetation suggests a season for growth.

  • Klaus hands Kanata a letter intended for delivery to Rio. It is this letter that sparks off the rising action in the OVA, and one of the great strengths in Sora no Woto, as well as slice-of-life anime in general, is that seemingly mundane or trivial occurrences can serve as the prompt for an adventure. The characters thus create memories from enjoyment of the more subtle aspects of life, and this is one of the reasons I’m so fond of the genre; it’s not necessary to spend a great deal of money or journey very far all of the time in order to make treasured memories.

  • In my original talk on the second OVA, I had a very similar frame, although the corresponding figure caption did very little to explain what the context of the image was. My blog was written with a much looser style to it back then, reflecting on how it was really more of a secondary resource. Once I began utilising WordPress more frequently, it became abundantly clear that WordPress is the superior platform, and so, discussions have become longer on average: more posts now have thirty screenshots, against the twenty that was the standard a few years earlier.

  • When I first watched Sora no Woto, I had just finished my entry-level driving exam and was still uncomfortable with driving. I’ve been driving actively for around six years now, and I can say that I did not drive like Kanata at any point of my driving career ever since I got my GDL. It was a different story when I started out: I took my learner’s license exam after my first year of undergrad, but because it was later into the summer, I only took the first exam the next summer. I did not fare so well on parallel parking or right turns on green, but otherwise, passed. By my advanced exam, I nailed the exam and very nearly got a perfect score.

  • Kanata’s lack of skill is presented as comedy in Sora no Woto, but poor drivers are the bane of my existence in reality. One of the biggest grievances I have with other drivers include driving below the posted speed limits, unsafe lane changes and my personal favourite, tailgating. It always surprises me that folks who are evidently incapable of following rules somehow manage to get their operating licenses, but I suppose that there is only one effective countermeasure I can employ to stay safe: drive defensively and maintain situational awareness so I can avoid trouble.

  • Yumina is treated to a terrifying drive when the jeep Kanata’s operating goes down a staircase, but she promptly recovers after they reach the church and Kanata sees everyone’s ema. These shinto plaques are used for writing wishes upon, and their presence in Sora no Woto suggest that Shintoism has endured even after the great war that regressed humanity to World-War Two era technology. The exceptional blending of cultural elements in Sora no Woto proved to be one of its strongest assets, creating a richly detailed world that few anime have since matched.

  • Kanata’s reaction to Seiya’s ema is one of embarrassment and flattery: he wishes to marry her someday, perhaps attesting to the change in perspectives he’s had owing to Kanata’s actions and influences throughout Sora no Woto. Of course, as Seiya is still a child, his wishes could be counted as being precocious; children often express familial feelings as love out of naïveté, although it’s no less valid an indication that his thoughts of Kanata have definitely changed since their initial encounters.

  • Kanata’s quest to find Rio takes her to Naomi’s shop, where she runs into glassmaker Maria. The glass dolphin that Kanata longs to buy slowly drops from the narrative in Sora no Woto as the story progresses, although it’s through a conversation where it’s implied that the oceans are devoid of life. Subtle remarks made in the passing further enhanced the world-building aspects of Sora no Woto, and one of the biggest pastimes that Sora no Woto fans undertook was creating speculation charts. In a project I undertook some years ago, I went ahead and introduced new charts into the community to ensure folks who were curious would be able to read the charts more easily.

  • I used the old charts, created by anonymous members of various imageboards, as templates and distilled out all objective elements. For the second OVA, I opted to eliminate any interpretations of the anime from my chart. The original asserted that Sora no Woto was an exercise in existentialism, and that each of Kanata, Kureha, Rio, Filicia and Nöel are meant to represent standalone war stories despite their archetypes. However, I find that the characters are intended to illustrate the sort of impact that optimism and open-mindedness have on a group, as Kanata has done. Through her naïve world-view, Kanata introduces a sense of hope that drives each of the characters to change.

  • Consequently, Sora no Woto is not a collection of war stories as Battlefield 1 portrays it, but rather, it’s a narrative about the positive impact one individual can have if they are in the right place at the right time. The interpretations of Sora no Woto are incredibly varied, differing between individuals, so my main aim in remaking the final chart was to remove any personal opinions and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Back in the final OVA, Naomi points Kanata in the direction, leading her to some ruins. The choice of colour makes this site a particularly memoriable one, with the verdant grasses and browns of ancient stone monuments being offset by the blues of the sky and purples of flowers.

  • The ruins create an immediate sense of loneliness and peacefulness. It is here that Kanata finds Rio and shares with her a conversation about what Rio’s dreams entail – their exchange drives much of the themes in the OVA, and is befitting of the episode’s title. Rio shows Kanata a map of the world, revealing to audiences that the events of Sora no Woto occurred in Japan. This would have been a shocking revelation to audiences, and some folks remain unable to accept this as plausible even to this day.

  • I originally supposed that massive damages to the surface led to large-scale population migrations, and that the architectural choices leading surviving humans to rebuild modern-day Seize is a consequence of the cultures of said populations, so I had no difficulty in being receptive towards this information. Whereas I had another perspective of Nöel suppressing Shuko with a pan in the first of the Sora no Woto OVA discussions, here, I feature one of Rio looking back at Kanata (in my original discussion for Sora no Woto‘s second OVA, the camera was placed behind Kanata). This moment reveals a bit of the farmland in the valley below.

  • The state of the world was only alluded to in Sora no Woto proper, but when Rio travels to the more remote reaches of the world, she sees a sight that would truly be sobering: desert as far as the eye can see, consuming all former traces of the civilisation that once ruled the world. While the formation of deserts is a natural process arising from shifts in climate and solar intensity, desertification refers to the formation of arid lands as a result of soil loss, usually from a human cause. In Sora no Woto, the loss of arable land to desert is a direct consequence of the war with “Them”.

  • Even though the world is slowly dying, there is nonetheless a sort of melancholy beauty in this OVA when the desert landscapes are depicted: here, the sands of the desert give way to open ocean. Far from leading Rio to despair, her knowledge inspires her to take action and explore the world to see if there are lands where human populations may continue to survive.

  • I’m actually not certain why discussions of Sora no Woto stop at existentialism, as opposed to accounting for the efforts required in realising one’s goals as a result of the motivation arising from finding meaning in life. A conversation with a friend left me with the answer that some people (especially in online communities) have an aversion to effort and failure. Consequently, it becomes uncomfortable to consider what action is necessary towards achieving any goals they might have, and such individuals tend to avoid deviating from the status quo for fear of this effort or failure, preferring to remain in their comfort zones of merely talking about things. I hold that failure is just another milestone towards learning something new, so from my perspective, actions always hold more value than idle talk.

  • Early the next morning, the Clocktower Maidens prepare to launch their hot-air balloon at the ruins. The site is modelled after Alarcón’s Torre de Armas o del Campo in Spain, located some eighty clicks from Cuenca: it’s a tower dating back to the medieval age, and the tower is the first thing visitors will see when entering Alarcón. This area has a population of 159 and dates back to the Roman period, although its recorded history begins with Arabic occupation, which is when the castle was built.

  • With Nöel handling the controls, Filicia calls her to release the ballast keeping the balloon in place. At 1080p, stars are visible in this pre-dawn moment: Sora no Woto is one of the few anime I have seen that is rendered at native 1080p, and on the iPad Air 2, remains of an exceptional quality. Of course, technology has marched on since 2010, and at present, 4K is becoming the new standard for high resolution, although anime has yet to enter this domain.

  • Kureha watches as the hot-air balloon takes off under the gradually-lightening sky. I remark that today is the autumnal equinox, a time of year when lengthening days marks the gradually dissipation of summer and the return of winter. Autumn is now upon us, and with an excellent (if hot and smokey) summer behind us, the weather has definitely taken on a much chillier character as of late. We’ve also gotten some much needed rains in the area, allowing crews to combat the wildfires in the province with greater efficacy. At the time of writing, Waterton National Park has reopened to the public, and officials are counting the fires as being under control.

  • While I’ve done my best to ensure that no screenshots are duplicated, there are exceptions: this brilliant moment of Rio and Kanata sharing their dreams with one another in the hot-air balloon is one of them is one of them, being set when the morning sun breaks over the horizon, flooding the land in a dazzling light. This is the culimination of the episode, where Kanata chooses her dream as following Rio pursue hers. It is always inspiring to have a senior who motivates one to follow a certain path, and during my course as a university student, one of the graduate students continued being a source of help and inspiration as I learned more about Objective-C and Xcode.

  • It was a bit of a surprise to learn that I would get to play on the flip-side some years later, and while I was only able to help mentor undergraduate summer students for one year, at least one of the students from that summer returned to the lab to continue with their project. A wider-angle view shows Shuko decorating the balloon; it’s a far cry from when Rio first proposes to eat the northern white-faced owl after they realise he’s responsible for the ghostly ruckus. For the average viewer, this is a satisfactory explanation, but closer inspection of the different frames in Sora no Woto and the presence of a drama CD reveal that the ghost was real.

  • The second OVA is set a year after Kanata’s arrived in Seize: viewers are treated to another festival, although by now, it’s definitely old hat. There’s only really one other review out there, besides my old one, that does the second OVA justice, and this review can be found at Random Curiosity. Their writers tend to focus on different things than I do, and consequently, is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading their content. It’s definitely much more approachable than mine, and their formatting also makes it easier to write posts at a greater rate.

  • I am naturally referring to the fact that coming up with the figure captions takes the greatest amount of time when setting up a post: if I were to use the Random Curiosity format, the time it takes to write a blog post and publish it would be cut down by a factor of four. Back in Sora no Woto, while Kanata is initially embarrassed to be chosen as the new Fire Maiden, her mortification is quickly forgotten when she asks the others what they’d written on their ema as wishes.

  • Nöel becomes bashful when Kureha and Kanata learn her aspiration is to become a “cute wife”, completely unexpected of her taciturn nature. It’s a rather nice touch that amidst their experiences, each of the Clocktower Fortress’ soldiers nonetheless long for a normal life free of conflict, with Rio and Kanata taking the initiative to determine if there are places left in the world worth finding.

  • With this final figure caption, my revisitation of the second Sora no Woto OVA comes to an end. Folks have long expressed a wish for a second season, but with the Anime no Chikara project closed now, any continuation is going to be unlikely. While the folks running Anime no Chikara mention that the exact nature of their learnings from the project are secret, the fact that lessons learned went into the development of Puella Magi Madoka Magica suggest that innocent characters being made to endure difficult trials and the resulting loss of innocence, interwoven with themes of hope and coupled with incredibly detailed world-building that make anime worth watching.

Sora no Woto‘s messages are strengthened through the second OVA: it is true that each of Kanata, Filicia, Rio, Kureha and Nöel find meaning in their world as they share time with one another, especially through Kanata’s positive influence, but in illustrating that there must be a plan to realise a dream, Sora no Woto reminds its audiences that it is not enough to merely be content with an idea. There must also be an execution stage where a dream is made reality. This is where the worth and meaningfulness of life lies, and in fact, the episode’s very title, “Beyond the Dream”, reinforces this notion. These ideas and concepts are explored in a fantastic manner: the Sora no Woto OVA is a thrill to watch from a visual perspective, with vivid colours and lighting being used to capture the optimistic, hopeful sense that the episode aims to convey. In addition, there’s a variation of Servant de Feu that is not included anywhere on the soundtrack to emphasise that the OVA is distinct. As a consequence of its themes, narrative and execution, Sora no Woto remains the cornerstone work in the Anime no Chikara project, and even seven years after it finished in whole, very few anime have come close to matching Sora no Woto with respect to world-building and strength of execution; Puella Magi Madoka Magica appears to have been designed from the outcomes of Sora no Woto, and at last, it appears that the connection between these two anime have been solved, with the latter inspiring elements in the former.

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