“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” –Ray Charles
After Aisha is captured, Hopkins experiences a reversal of fortunes when Filicia takes him hostage. He reveals his plans to precipitate a war between Helvetia and Rome, making use of the “Invisible Reaper” that Noël contributed to restoring. While Filicia secures him to a chair, Hopkin manages to escape and rejoin his forces with the intent of commencing hostilities despite a ceasefire signal. This leaves the 1121st no choice: the Takemikazuchi enters the fray, neutralising Hopkin’s armoured group before making for the main battlefield. A second signal for ceasefire from Kanata is ignored, but both the Roman and Helvetian armies stop their march in surprise when she begins to play Amazing Grace between the two opposing forces. Before the armies resume their march, a royal detachment from Rome arrives, with a Royal Edict from both nations’ leaders ordering the soldiers to stand down. Relieved that war is averted, the soldiers rejoice, and the Roman Emperor allows Rio to return to her old post at the Clocktower Fortress in the aftermath, reuniting with her friends. This brings Sora no Woto to a solid conclusion; contemporary comments asserted that the ending was “unnecessary” or “too happy”, but it is quite plain that these remarks can only result from a lack of understanding of the thematic elements in Sora no Woto: any other closing would have stood contrary to the message that Sora no Woto sought to convey.
This central theme, the keystone of Sora no Woto, lies in the idea that music is an element that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. This is unsurprising, given that early instruments have been discovered in archaeological sites once inhabited by prehistoric cultures, being used to convey specific ideas or emotions in conjunction with developing languages. Even at present, there are some moods and feelings that music can convey more effectively than any words that exist within a language, suggesting its significance in human culture. Consequently, Kanata marvels at how music seems to carry the same meaning in its aural properties regardless of what one’s background is, and is able to utilise this to great effect in the final battle to create a sense of forgiveness and mercy amongst the soldiers marching into battle, temporarily stopping their advances. While it is ultimately Rio’s decisions from the tenth episode to accept her responsibilities that end any possibility for hostilities, that Kanata is made the protagonist of Sora no Woto is meant to suggest that sound and music’s ability to convey a clear message cannot be understated (had Rio been the protagonist, then Sora no Woto would have strived to present ideas about accepting one’s responsibilities). When everything is said and done, however, in following Kanata’s journey to become an acceptable bugler for the 1121st, Sora no Woto presents an immensely detailed world, rich in lore and intricate in its depiction of the human spirit, demonstrating the sort of significance that music holds in human cultures as a whole.
The sum of the events, world-building, character development, artwork and sound in Sora no Woto come together to create a masterpiece. The term “masterpiece” is one whose definition is often contested, and amongst audiences, is typically used to refer to a work that is flawless, sublime. However, the proper definition is a little more lenient, being a work of outstanding quality. Sora no Woto certainly is not perfect; narrative elements come across as being under-explored as a consequence of the anime’s short length, and there are minor inconsistencies here and there with respect to the artwork. However, the anime nonetheless counts as a masterpiece, of exceptional quality because of the sum of what it does well – together, these aspects keeps its viewers engaged though much of the anime’s run. From the landscapes and world-building of the first episode, to the gentle depiction of everyday life of the 1121st of the middle episodes, and the dramatic shift in tensions as the threat of war arises, each episode of Sora no Woto offers something noteworthy and unique with respect to the overarching plot. Sora no Woto presents an immensely rich world for audiences, and in conjunction with a colourful cast of characters, gives viewers incentive to continue watching, all the while wondering both what will happen next, as well as what factors could construct such a world, making each episode an interesting one to watch.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The previous episode left off with a shot being fired, ambiguous as to who would be hit. The finale opens, depicting Aisha as having suffered a wound to her left abdominal cavity. On hearing the gunshot, Filicia pulls her own sidearm and holds Colonel Hopkins at gunpoint, ordering him to send his soldiers outside of the Clocktower Fortress and presumably also has him bring Aisha back to their room.
- Yumina tends to Aisha’s wounds while Noël bursts into tears, relieved that the shot was only a flesh wound. It is here that Hopkins reveals his master plan: to use Aisha as an excuse to start a war between Helvetia and Rome, believing that Helvetia’s leadership is displaying submissiveness by participating in the peace talks. It is quite plain that Hopkins harbours an immense dislike of the Roman Empire, and while it would have been nice to gain more backstory into the Roman-Helvetian relations, especially the battle of Vignt, the quiet shelving of the Anime no Chikara project means that any sort of spin-off would be unlikely.
- The full nature of Noël’s past actions are revealed here: she bears the moniker “Witch of Helvetia” for contributions to making operational derelict installation for producing a biological agent that was used against the Romans. Noël was scarred by its effects on the victims and has never quite recovered, hence her immense fear whenever the topic is brought up. My memory has grown quite rusty, since I was under the impression that Noël was involved in weaponising an agent, when in fact, she was responsible for using her engineering expertise in restoring function to a productions system. That same engineering expertise is what allows her to restore the Takemikazuchi into a functional state.
- Previously seen as the easy-going, caring leader for the 1121st, Filicia demonstrates a much more intimidating presence, akin to a mother bear protecting her cubs. She’s willing to openly defy orders in order to ensure those under her command are safe, and while generally quite tolerant compared to Rio, it is Hopkins who goads her past endurance. This is the most indignant we see of Filicia all season: she fires a warning shot that narrowly misses his cranium and asks Kureha to move him to the distillery. However, he has a few tricks up his sleeves, and the naïfs of Tango-Victor-Tango claim that it was a meaningless gesture when it was in fact used to help him escape.
- As the setting sun casts the landscape in a cold golden hue, Kanata arrives to relieve Kureha. The air is eerily silent, and this the deep breath before the plunge. Kanata is equipped with a single-action rifle here, as well, underlining the dangerous nature of their situation. Kureha wonders if Kanata has the resolve to fire a shot in anger, to which she responds that if it was necessary, she would do so. Of the 1121st, Kanata has not seen any combat or its horrors; while it’s easy to say that one can shoot another man, when the chips are down, making the call and dealing with the consequences can be much tougher than one anticipates.
- Kanata’s hearing acuity is capable of feats that verge on the supernatural, and after hearing a soldier issue the ceasefire, she immediately reports to Filicia. Hopkins has already escaped by this point and rejoins his forces, ordering his soldiers to begin combat operations. Noël fears that Hopkins will result in the elimination of all humanity, being a warmonger who lives only to inflict suffering. His introduction into Sora no Woto is late, but he is the closest equivalent to an antagonist within the anime.
- Naomi leaves the castle walls to convey the ceasefire to Hopkin’s protests, and when it is noted that Kanata was the one bearing the message, the entire town stands by her side, attesting to the sort of impact that she’s had ever since arriving in Seize. The citizens refuse to budge, and when Naomi confronts him, he notes that warfare drives progress. There is irony in this statement: all of the technological advances we’ve experienced following the Industrial Revolution, from the internet itself and microprocessors to rockets and nuclear power, were derived from technologies originally intended for military applications and warfare. It’s not as black and white as some viewers make it out to be, although I tend to believe that progress can be made in the absence of total warfare, albeit at a much slower pace.
- Despite learning the identity of the one who’d participated in the wholesale slaughter of Roman soldiers years previously, Aisha forgives Noël, as they both are human, and Noël plainly regrets her past actions. It’s a moving moment, and a message that Sora no Woto has conveyed time and time again: while war might be impersonal and indiscriminate, the soldiers fighting the war are largely still people, each with their own families, goals and desires. Thus, Sora no Woto paints war as last resort that will have unfavourable consequences if allowed to precipitate, hence the importance of bringing to bear the aspects of negotiation and discussion that make us human.
- The gravity of their situation, and Kanata’s seeming obliviousness to it, leads Kureha to lose her composure: while Kureha feels it is impossible to take on Hopkins, Kanata remarks that theirs is a world worth defending. When the others agree to do their utmost to prevent Hopkins from igniting a war, Kureha finally backs down, admitting that she’s been worried about everyone else, doing her best in her own manner to keep things together.
- Ultimately, Kureha is worried about losing everyone, and in doubting their ability to fight, is doing all she can to keep her friends safe. Understanding this, Filicial, Kanata and Noël give Kureha reassurance that things will be worked out. Thus, for the first time in all of Sora no Woto, the Clocktower Maidens ride for war with the aim of stopping the upcoming war. While seemingly a difficult task, the 1121st have an exceptional ace in the hole: fully repaired, the Takemikazuchi is at last ready to sortie.
- The Clocktower Maidens’ actions here in staving off a war is a callback to their mythical counterpart’s actions. During the course of their following engagement with Hopkin’s forces, Servante de Feu plays in the background while a voice-over explains the legend of the Fire Maidens as Aisha knows it. In order to keep Aisha safe, the 1121st decide to take her with them inside the tank.
- While Sora no Woto did not feature any combat up until this point, with the first gunshot fired being in the penultimate episode, the finale’s final half was an exceptional watch. All of the 1121st’s combat simulation exercises come to fruition here as they activate the Takemikazuchi. With an English-language user interface, it is presumed that either Noël knows the language, or else has experimented with the tank while repairing it, allowing the others to roughly know what the indicators and elements are referring to.
- Kanata pops her head out of the hatch to signal that they are about to fire, and proceeds to blast a hole in the gymnasium’s walls. Emerging from the rubble, the tank immediately takes off for No-Man’s land. Spider tanks and their cousins, armoured walkers, are a staple of the science fiction genre: multiple legs give them added stability and a lower centre of gravity, as well as the capacity to navigate terrain that might give tracked vehicles trouble.
- While legged vehicles still seem far-fetched in the present, highly advanced balancing and navigation algorithms are being developed: Boston Dynamic’s “Spot” is a robot capable of automatically determining how much force to apply in its strides based on the terrain smoothness and also balance itself in response to changes in the force. The technology is still in its infancy, but it is not difficult to see what would happen if it were made more sophisticated and scaled up for military applications.
- One of the elements that is a bit more unusual is the Takemikazuchi’s gait: it scrambles across terrain as would a spider, a far cry from the quadrupedal tanks that the armed forces utilise. Spotting the Takemikazuchi scale a cliff sheer, Hopkins immediately orders his armoured column to begin their operations and take out the Takemikazuchi.
- The angry townspeople block them, and even though they are armed, Hopkin’s detachment is outnumbered. The citizens wonder why Hopkins won’t place their trust in Kanata and the others, with Seiya even letting slip that he has a bit of a crush on Kanata. However, in spite of their occupying the way out, Hopkins merely has his forces go around, regrouping in a stretch of no-man’s land.
- According to the Roman version of the legend, an angel descended upon the world to pass judgement, but was injured and healed by the Fire Maidens. But the local populace immediately torched the valley where the angel landed, killing the angel and all but one Fire Maiden. In response, other angels arrived and wrecked destruction until the remaining Fire Maiden sounded a golden horn that signalled for the angels to depart. Her version of the story suggests that humanity was responsible for their own demise, and if this is the version the Roman Empire follows, it might hint at their nation as being less prone to warfare than Helvetia.
- With chassis similar to WWII-era M4 Sherman tanks and Panzer IVs, the quadrupedal tanks are presumably equipped with 75mm or 88mm cannons, plus .30 or .50 caliber machine guns. When Hopkins’ tanks encounter the Takemikazuchi, they open fire with everything they’ve got, but rounds glance off the Takemikazuchi, causing only superficial damage. I recall a discussion wondering if the Panzer VIII Maus could have done anything to a modern MBT, like the M1A2, and the general answer is no: the Chobham armour is equivalent to 0.7 meters of RHS against HEAT and 0.6 meters against APFSDS rounds at the maximum, meaning that unless the Maus hit sensitive components, the M1 would continue to operate and punch out the Maus. The Takemikazuchi would only be more advanced, making period weaponry next to useless against it.
- Conversely, the Takemikazuchi’s main cannon, a coil-gun of some sort, effortlessly disables Hopkin’s tanks: they would have enough energy to punch cleanly through the older tanks, but the 1121st are shooting to disable, rather than kill, aiming for the legs to merely stop the tanks. This weapon has been conjectured to be a coil-gun on the virtue that there is an electrical discharge visible when the Takemikazuchi fires: the discharge could result from the electrical current required to power the magnets for accelerating the projectiles, which would exit the barrel at hypersonic velocities.
- Hopkins congratulates himself when he is able to get behind the Takemikazuchi, sneaking up on it with the aim of disabling it, but his shots deal negligible damage. It then proceeds to stomp on the tank, displacing it from its legs without crushing the cabin, before moving on into No-Man’s land to stop the larger battle about to take place. Climbing onto a tower, Kanata signals for a cease-fire, drawing the combatant’s attention.
- The sun is closely tied with Kanata’s playing: whenever she’s about to deliver a moving sound, the sun almost always breaks from the horizon, flooding the land in light. By this point in time, Kanata’s versed enough with a trumpet to deliver a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace”. Its sound pierces the hearts of those on the battlefield, but the forces continue advancing nonetheless. Seemingly a meaningless gesture, tanks from the Royal column soon arrive.
- This moment is probably the single most famous in all of Sora no Woto, as Kanata stands on the Takemikazuchi’s hull overlooking the battlefield. When the anime reached its conclusion, reception was largely positive: praise was directed towards the anime’s original setting and balance of comedy with drama. However, there are some who felt that the anime failed to deliver, feeling that warfare was lacking. Depiction of warfare as a necessity, however, would contradict Sora no Woto‘s theme, and the halting of conflict as we’ve seen is consistent with the message that Sora no Woto aims to convey.
- Thus, the folks who did not enjoy Sora no Woto are those who were looking for a war story, where the thematic elements would be about the atrocities of warfare. The environment in Sora no Woto clearly painted that this would be a series about the people, rather than the weapons or politics, and so, moved in a direction that meant to tell a story in which people communicate with one another through sounds and words, rather than bullets and explosives, to settle their differences.
- I mentioned earlier that I am not a fan of post-modernism with respect to interpretation of media, and that I do not agree with the “Death of the Author”. This is because a work of fiction is intended by an author to paint their particular view of the world, which may be indicative of contemporary thought or else show a dissatisfaction with social circumstances of the time. In more casual works, such as Sora no Woto, the authors nonetheless have a goal (here, to show the strength of music as a medium for transcending cultural and linguistic boundaries) that cannot be ignored when discussing the anime.
- Proponents of the “Death of the Author” hold their beliefs primarily because it is easier to oppose or mold an existing worldview than to create one anew or synthesise one from their own experiences – this is an issue surrounding period Sora no Woto discussions, where the participant’s views on military law and the resultant of the 1121st’s actions seem inconsistent. Realism is not the end-all for a good story, and Sora no Woto‘s ending come as a logical conclusion of Kanata’s belief that there are things that hold magic to them, binding all people together regardless of their ethnicity, religion or creed.
- Riding amidst the two armies is none other than Rio herself, who has married the Roman Emperor and now holds the political power to bind the two nations together as allies. She has here a treaty that orders an immediate cessation of hostilities, and below, the soldiers express utmost joy that there will be no combat. They toss their helmets and service rifles into the air: while some folks from Tango-Victor-Tango claimed that the rifles would discharge on hitting the ground, these bolt action rifles would likely have a safety catch to prevent them from accidental discharge. With this being said, it’s still not the wisest of actions to toss a loaded weapon into the air.
- I strongly disagree with the notion that Rio’s return to the Clocktower Fortress was “too happy” and “artificial”, but I contend that sacrifice need not always be a necessity for something to work out. Rio’s action in choosing to giving up her freedom in exchange for her nation’s, and the intent behind her actions is more than enough to demonstrate that a willingness to sacrifice oneself is in and of itself honourable. I grow tired of folks who believe that a sacrifice must be total in order for its effects to be tangible, and remark that reality is complex enough such that things can go both ways: sometimes, a total sacrifice can result and still fail, while other times, a serendipitous turn of events results in a win-win situation.
- In the case of Sora no Woto, the ending serves to enhance the theme (and anything else would contradict it). With the peace now secured, Kureha and Kanata embrace, ecstatic that war has been averted. Speculation runs in infinitely many directions about who the angels and Fire Maidens really were, with the two most prominent fan theories being aliens or a powerful avian species responsible for the destruction. However, the Roman version of the legend in part suggests that the calamity has a human origin. Given thus, the actual reason, unless the folks running Anime no Chikara write me with a negative response, is that a space-faring faction of humanity succeeded in decimating the Earth’s biosphere in a war against the Earth-bound faction, leaving the planet once its destruction is complete (for instance, if the events of Char’s Counterattack had turned in Char’s favour, or if the SDF wins in Infinite Warfare). Over time, human remnants slowly reach the technological levels of WWII-era humanity. It makes more sense than aliens (who would have taken over the planet and eliminated humanity) or advanced avian lifeforms (who would have increased their distribution around the world).
- Rio is immensely thankful that her actions have helped, and smiles as Klaus gives her a thumbs up. Owing to challenges in the screen capture and the absence of a clean cut of the finale’s ending, I’ve not included many screenshots from the ending, which depict a Seize under the spring as cherry blossoms kick in. With this finale finished, I’m done my weekly recollections of Sora no Woto, and will turn my attention to various odds and ends upcoming on this blog in the near future, including the Hai-Furi OVAs, Amanchu‘s single OVA, some posts about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2, amongst others.
- I might (emphasis on “might”) come back and talk about the OVAs in the future, but for the time being, I’m going to take some time off and enjoy my evenings in the company of a good book now that I’m done. Writing about Sora no Woto on evenings between work and on weekends when I could be doing other things was no easy task, but I did wish to see through this project to the end. With this series of Sora no Woto posts concluded, then, it’s time to continue on with my misadventures in Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition and Titanfall 2.
Sora no Woto holds a magic to it that very few other anime have achieved: with its distinct combination of familiar characters who wind up being unique in their own right, a fantastical world whose lore and everyday life are thoroughly explored to become immersive, fantastic artwork that captures the world’s attributes and a soundtrack that is at once friendly and melancholy, Sora no Woto is an anime that easily earns the strong recommendation, offering a novel and intriguing anime that proved to be highly engaging. As the flagship anime of the Anime no Chikara programme, Sora no Woto sets the precedence for what original anime can accomplish, and as it turns out, the lessons drawn from the one year long Anime no Chikara initiative ultimately led to the creation of powerhouse anime such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Itself a masterpiece amongst many of the viewers, it is quite interesting to learn that its success can be partially attributed to information derived from Sora no Woto. Resulting in no shortage of speculation when Sora no Woto originally aired, this anime might no longer be considered discussion-worthy, but Sora no Woto remains of a very high quality, easily withstanding the test of time and even today, holds up against the newer titles that have come out.