Inspired by a significant incident from her childhood, teenager Kanata enlists in the military as a bugler. She has an ear for music and can identify any note she hears, but her ability to actually play an instrument leaves much to be desired. However, she has a never-give-up attitude and a strong desire to learn, making her a positive addition to a small platoon of young women stationed in a remote, mountainous town by the sea. Though the region they are guarding is bordered by No Man’s Land and there doesn’t seem to be any imminent threat, the soldiers, hardened by knowing nothing but an existence in which war is a constant presence, take their roles very seriously. Kanata’s arrival serves to lighten the atmosphere and positively affect the morale and interpersonal relationships of her comrades, though soon enough she learns firsthand how harsh the realities of war can be.
Sound of the Sky is beautiful in many respects. From its breathtaking setting to its haunting soundtrack, I was in awe at the production design of the series. Most of the episodes take their time to set the mood, often employing long, still shots of buildings and other scenery before moving on with the narrative. Much of the story content is approached in a similar manner, having a pace that isn’t slow, per se, but never seems to be in much of a rush to get anywhere. Instead, it revels in being in the moment. One scene that stands out to me comes in the second episode. Kanata deduces that the large building her platoon has adopted as its base was once a school, and time stands still when she happens across a music room, imagining herself and her fellow soldiers happily playing instruments together. She reflects upon how music is the one thing that has remained constant and unchangeable throughout history.
Viewers are never beat over the head with the science fiction and fantasy elements of the series, which are handled with gentle subtlety. The world of Sound of the Sky can be considered post-apocalyptic, and a colossal event occurred in the distant past that has shaped everything that has come after it. The looming presence of war has become a part of everyday life, technology has been scaled back to more humble times, and townspeople display a strong reverence for rituals and traditions honoring mythical figures from long ago. Far from a dystopia, Sound of the Sky heavily resembles our own reality from the mid-twentieth century.
Audiences who enjoyed anime such as Kino’s Journey and Haibane Renmei will immediately be attracted to Sound of the Sky, but strangely enough I found it to be very reminiscent of Azumanga Daioh. Both series center on groups of teenage girls and much of the appeal comes from watching the characters grow as individuals through friendship, trust, and self-discovery. However, Sound of the Sky’s tone is almost the complete opposite of Azumanga Daioh’s, which works well given its setting and themes. Regrettably, some of the magic is lost in the last few episodes, where war becomes a focal plot point and much of the somber, quieter atmosphere is pushed a little to the side. Nevertheless, even these segments display a thoughtfulness and visual splendor that is consistent with the rest of the series. Anime fans searching for a cerebral experience that provides many opportunities for personal interpretation and contemplation should look no further than Sound of the Sky.
Sound of the Sky
Right Stuf, 2011
directed by Mamoru Kanbe
355 minutes, Number of Discs: 4
Company Age Rating: 16