“Isn’t that a romantic thought? That your true self is in the sky!” —Misuzu Kamio
Yukito Kunisaki is a wanderer with an unusual talent: the ability to use limited magic in animating a puppet. He travels from town to town with the aim of supporting himself, while at once seeking out a “Girl in the Sky”, a function he inherited from his late mother. Upon arriving in the coastal town of Kami, and after failing to impress the local children, he falls asleep on the seawall, only to encounter Misuzu Kamino. Enticed by her offer of a free meal, Yukito soon becomes friends with her and manages to convince Haruko Kamio, Misuzu’s foster mother, to allow Yukito to sleep in the garden shed. Yukito also meets Kano Kirishima and Minagi Tohno, coming to learn of a legend from a thousand summers previously. Borne of a curse from the Heian period, when the ancient winged being Kannabi no Mikoto (Kanna) escapes from captivity with the help of Ryūya, a member of her guard, and the Force-sensitive Uraha. While their escape was successful, priests soon caught up to them and cursed Kanna to eternally die and resurrect whenever she discovered love. It turns out that Misuzu was the latest reincarnated form of Kanna, and so, after kindling a friendship with Yukito, she fell in love with him. Misuzu’s story is later recounted from the perspective of a crow named Sora, and it turns out following Yukito’s mysterious departure, Haruko and Misuzu spend more time together as mother and child up until Misuzu’s death. This is Air, the first of the Key adaptations and the second series the Kyoto Animation produced: dating back to 2005, Air nonetheless has a timeless feel to it thanks to Kyoto Animation’s technical prowess, which was apparent even this early in their career, as well as the unusual and riveting story from the source materials itself.
From a narrative standpoint, Air is predominantly about how even if love is a transient state, the treasured moments that two individuals spend together are well worth the pains because they create a unique bond. This love is represented in Air both in terms of familial love, as well as romantic love. Despite their short time together, Yukito grows to care greatly for Misuzu not merely because of her being the individual he was fated to seek out, but because of her kindness. Similarly, in accompanying her and showing her friendship, Misuzu comes to love Yukito. While their time is cut short, their emotions and experiences remain genuine. Following the Summer arc, the bonds between Misuzu and Haruko are developed: having long regarded Misuzu coldly for fear that she would forget her, Haruko decides to make up for the lost time. While building a bond with Misuzu does end up causing Haruko great pain when Misuzu does eventually die of the curse, the pain is offset by Haruko having creating priceless memories and making the most of Misuzu’s remaining days. Then, no matter how short-lived love might be in some cases, it by no way diminishes its authenticity when it does manifest, and that the cost of love is far outweighed by the worth of having had the experience. This imagery is vividly presented in Air, augmented by extensive use of the summer season as a visual backdrop: like love, summer is a beautiful season occasionally marked with inclement weather, and is finite in length. However, it is in this brief period where things are truly magical, and while summers inevitably end, the memories they wrought remain with one forever.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Misuzu Kamio is Air‘s heroine. She is very similar to CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa and Kanon‘s Nayuki Minase in terms of personality, being kind and gentle, with a somewhat immature predisposition at times. While Yukito initially grows tired of her seemingly boundless optimism, her persistence in befriending him leads him to come around. Misuzu was voiced by Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011 and also played Aria‘s Athena Glory, The Girl from the Illusionary World of CLANNAD and Sayuri Kuruta of Kanon.
- Air is set in the coastal town of Kami, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The choice of location, a quiet town with a small population with a lack of activity, creates a deliberate sense of solitude that forces focus to be on Yukito and Misuzu. Anime taking this approach tend to feel very lonely and melancholy, creating a sense of yearning and wistfulness, and for me, there’s an appeal to series with this particular aesthetic.
- Yukito comes from a line of sorcerers with the ability to manipulate objects to a limited extent. While is puppeteering skills are initially weak, his time with Misuzu helps him appreciate what his audience seeks from his plays, and over the course of Air, he is able to impress audiences to a greater extent. Of the male protagonists in a Key adaptation, Yukito has the least development of everyone in comparison to Yuuichi and Tomoya, since he’s supposed to represent the player character.
- A short walk in Kami leads one out of town into the rural areas. The gentle quiet of the countryside amplifies the feeling of isolation, although Yukito is not without good company. He encounters Kano, an unusual girl who wears a ribbon around her wrist to seal her “magic”. It turns out that after coming into contact with a cursed feather, Kano manifested an unusual condition, and the ribbon was meant as a means to help her cope.
- Aside from setting the standard for Kyoto Animation’s visuals, Air also would set the precedence for the quality of music that would go into its works. Air‘s soundtrack is a timeless collection of vocal pieces from Lia, which capture the empty majesty of the sky, and Jun Maeda’s incidental pieces serve to both set the mood of a moment, as well as convey additional aspects of a character. In particular, Misuzu’s theme, Natsukage, has become a favourite of mine: if there was a single song that captures how the summer feels, then this would be it.
- Out of the gates, Air makes extensive use of supernatural elements to capture the idea that human emotions, both good and bad, sometimes defy known understanding and therefore can only be captured by means of magic. This is a recurring theme in Jun Maeda’s works – the way things works out in reality sometimes can appear to be the work of a higher power. In Air, the lack of contemporary implements such as phones give the setting a timeless feel, making it feel more plausible for magic to exist as a natural part of the world.
- Hijiri Kirishima is Kano’s older sister, and after running into Yukito, decides to offer him work. In Kami, Yukito also runs into Minagi and Michiru; the former shares many unusual conversations with Yukito, while the latter is fond of pranking him. While the characters initially appear disconnected, they are all related to an ancient story from a thousand years earlier. Elements of reincarnation and rebirth are present in Air, although it is presented as a curse rather than a blessing.
- While initially appearing dull and lifeless, Yukito’s background from a family of sorcerers and his connection to the “Girl in the Sky”, coupled with a kind disposition despite his cold appearance, means that he’s an integral part of the story. Over time, he grows to care for Misuzu even as her condition fails: the curse of a thousand years means that when she discovers love, her health and memories fade and condemn her to death.
- The wide open skies above Kami are deliberately presented as vast: Air itself makes extensive use of imagery associated with birds, flight and feathers to signify a longing to soar into the expansive sky and explore. Society’s rejection is then a refusal to explore what could be, and how despite a laggard society’s effort to suppress curiosity, it will always linger. I imagine this to be a secondary theme in Air, and admit that it took me three revisitations to really get a handle on what the series was about: unlike Kanon and CLANNAD, Air is a bit more abstract in its presentation.
- The mysteries in Air are indicative of the notion of curses being extremely long-lived, to the point where for future generations, they simply become something that they adapt to. Yukito and the others are not fully aware of the story, but bits and pieces of it are told over time, filling in the mystery. The feathers will occasionally manifest, and these snow-white feathers of purity speak of bygone times, of something unspoilt and untarnished.
- Misuzu holds the rather romantic belief that one’s self exists in the skies above, unfettered by worldly concerns and untroubled by the comings and goings of the world. A long time ago, I had a friend who shared similarly romantic beliefs, and although time resulted in our drifting apart, these thoughts remain behind. One wonders what it would be like to have the sort of freedom a bird might, and it attests to humanity’s incredible resourcefulness that we’ve both been able to soar into the air as a bird might with aircraft, as well as replicate the experience with microprocessors and LED screens.
- Minagi’s story was perhaps the most rushed in Air; after events of her past, Minagi’s own mother forgot about her existence, but Yukito ultimately helps to set things right when he speaks with the irreverent Michiru and determines on how to reach a solution. With things settled, Minagi departs for an unknown destination, and Misuzu collapses unexpectedly, setting in motion the final events of Air.
- The origins of the thousand-year-old curse is found in the Heian Period, which spanned from 794 AD to 1185 AD. This period was characterised by a substantial Chinese and Buddhist influence, and is known for its artwork. It turns out that long ago, there were winged beings of great power, and society’s fear of them led to their extinction. Samurai Ryūya and Force-sensitive Uraha strive to protect Kanna from the pursuers after they manage to fulfill Kanna’s wish of locating her mother, and eventually, after Kanna is cursed and killed, Ryūya and Uraha conceive a child together with the aim of breaking this curse.
- The third segment of Air follows things from the perspective of a crow named Sora. Here, Misuzu stands outside on a hot summer’s day. The alternative perspective offers new insight into Misuzu’s world, and that despite her lack of friends, her world is one of optimism and making the most of things. Her appearance in this moment here is the anthropomorphism of what I’ve come to long for in the summer: an encounter with someone like Misuzu or Nagisa in a verdant field and endless skies. Of course, this is just a dream, and given the geographical setting of where I am, such a dream is unlikely to come to fruition.
- Following Yukito’s disappearance, Haruko resolves to look after Misuzu, whose health worsens by the day. Eventually, Misuzu’s father comes to pick her up, and while the old Haruko would have no objections, over the past while, she’d come to bond with Misuzu and sees her as a daughter. Misuzu’s father reluctantly allows Haruko to look after her for a few more days. With her hair short, Misuzu resembles Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya. Having covered two of Key’s biggest titles, my sights are now set on writing about Kanon: I watched it after finishing CLANNAD and felt it have less of an impact, but the series remains exceptional, worthy of being counted as a masterpiece.
- While I’ve referred to the town of Air as Kami, the real Kami actually does not have a hill overlooking the sea and is quite flat. Contrasting her initial cold treatment of Misuzu, Haruko comes around and begins regarding her as a proper daughter. Despite their short time together, the memories they share become priceless: each of the three arcs of Air appear to be unified by the idea of how transient and fragile relationships can be, but still have great importance and worth nonetheless. Air covers numerous other themes, as well, but at a very basic, broad level, the theme I’ve found Air to be most forward with is thus.
- In this post, partially a reflection of Air and partially me reflecting on the last day of August, I’ve featured moments that predominantly have the blues and greens of summer. Air, however, also makes use of other times of day: like Kanon, CLANNAD and virtually the rest of Kyoto Animation’s works, the colouring and time of day become critical in conveying a certain mood. Intense saturation during the evenings, for example, indicate emotional distress or troubling times.
- Misuzu’s death is inevitable, and one of the most difficult moments was watching her struggle to stand and walk over to Haruko. Misuzu eventually dies on the beaches she loved, in Haruko’s arms. While the curse appears to claim yet another life, the combination of time, Yukito’s befriending of Misuzu and willingness to return as a crow to retain the lost memories, and Haruko’s accepting of Misuzu as her own daughter, the sum of these actions allows the curse to lift. In this case, Air is really about showing how compassion and kindness has a nontrivial impact in ending even something as powerful as a curse.
- In the end, the children at the end don’t have any significance to the story. Air is regarded as being somewhat difficult to understand, but in spite of this, still retains a moving story. With Air done, I will be turning my sights towards Kanon at some point. We now enter September, and I’ll be doing reflections on both Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell nan Kilo Motteru once their finales air. Beyond this, I am pushing through Metro Exodus at a high rate and will be looking to finish before mid-month, so there will be posts on this. Finally, Battlefield V will be getting a post, as well: while the game has seen numerous setbacks, there are still a few things to consider, especially as I pass the one-year anniversary of Battlefield V‘s open beta.
Whereas I’ve actually finished Air some years ago, I encountered considerable difficulty until a recent re-watch of the series that led me to consolidate what I had to say about things. Being the earliest of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations, Air bears all of the hallmarks of later series, featuring exceptional presentation of the different stories, and initially, I appreciated Air purely for its technical aspects. The story itself came across as being more challenging to follow, but after revisiting the series and its persistent use of endless blue skies along a quiet coastal town as a backdrop made it explicitly clear that the summer was very much a core aspect of Air. Besides representing a season of life, exploration and possibility, summer also ends more abruptly and noticeably than any other season. It is the season whose presence is most strongly felt, and whose temporal nature is most apparent. As Air is set in the summer, it stood to reason that the choice of season was almost certainly to augment the themes in Air. This connection, on closer inspection, seems very natural: the love portrayed in Air, while transient and short, is very poignant, moving and powerful precisely because it is not endless. Thus, Air seems to also indicate to viewers that the ending of summer is not something to dread or despise, since the finite nature of summer gives more value to the memories created during its course. This is appropriate, given that August now draws to a close, and while winter may approach with a tedious inevitability, there is always the consolation that the days will grow warm again.