[Opinions: B+]

I wish I could properly express to all who might read this post just how happy I am to have the opportunity to watch and blog this series. Ever since it’s announcement over a year ago (in November of 2014) I have been greatly looking forward to it. Some reasons are “understandable” and able to be articulated – it is based on an eroge/visual novel created by Sprite, the same company that produced Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate) after all, and I loved both the anime, the characters, their designs, the story and setting and especially the backgrounds and the background music. As a whole package it was really beautiful first and foremost, I thought, and also had an engaging storyline.

However, there was something else involved when I came across the announcement. Call it intuition of whatever you like, but when I first came across the announcement I felt somehow in my gut that this could be a series that I might be able to enjoy quite a bit in terms of rewatchability – something Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate has been able to provide. I expected similar things from Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm (also know as “Beyond the Sky, Into the Firmament”), then, and as the months have passed I have been keeping track of game summaries, watching footage of the game while it was played, listening to clips from the VN’s background and the rest … and I have been very happy with what I have seen.

Ao no Kanata - 01 - 01Ao no Kanata - 01 - 02Ao no Kanata - 01 - 03Ao no Kanata - 01 - 04

I mentioned previously that this is an anime adaptation of an eroge/visual novel, but I don’t think that should discourage viewers who are not well-disposed to those kinds of genre. If anything else it may be more accurate to regard this series as a futuristic/science fiction “sports based” story interspersed with character interactions that will likely involve romance, yes, but there are also elements of “overcoming past trauma” – in particular on the main character of the story itself, Masaya. Here is the summary of the story:

The story is set on an archipelago of four islands far south of Japan or even the South Seas. It is all but a different world from modern Japan. From the discovery of anti-gravitons came the dream invention of anti-graviton shoes (“grash”) that let people fly the skies. They introduce people to a new realm by enabling flight with just one’s own body strength, without feathers or engines. This led to the rise of the sport of “Flying Circus” (a sort of aerial dogfight/race). Kurashina Asuka transfers into Kunahama High school, where she meets Hinata Masaya and Tobisawa Misaki, finds out about the aerial sport that’s rapidly gaining popularity—Flying Circus, or FC for short—and, fascinated by it, immediately joins the school’s FC Club. She and her teammates sometimes clash, but they also support one another in the pursuit of their respective goals as they take on formidable rivals and look to triumph in the summer FC tournament.

Ao no Kanata - 01 - 05Ao no Kanata - 01 - 06Ao no Kanata - 01 - 07Ao no Kanata - 01 - 08

The story opens in common enough manner – the female lead, whose name is Kurashina Asuka, is shown remembering a scene when she was on a boat and singing to herself as a child, holding up a small hair ornament shaped like a wing of sorts and crying. From the flashback we are brought up to the present, where Asuka is standing on a wall near the ocean and musing aloud to herself of how nice it is to be back. Almost immediately we are shown what kind of a young lady she is – she is a warm hearted, “live in the present moment”, incredibly energetic, yet slightly clumsy goofball who is filled with good intentions.

Her clumsiness immediately manifest as she is gazing at the sky, looks backwards a bit too much, and loses her balance in a twirling and gymnastically dramatic manner before falling off the wall onto the sand, losing her house keys in the process. As she is fretting aloud and looking for them two other of the main characters happen upon her – Masaya (the male lead) and his friend Misaki (who literally flies down to meet them), help her find her house keys and help her get to school on time by flying to the school’s closest landing pad and barely making it through the school gates in the nick of time.

Ao no Kanata - 01 - 09Ao no Kanata - 01 - 10Ao no Kanata - 01 - 11Ao no Kanata - 01 - 12

From here we go through the normal elements of a story in the first episode – that of introducing the characters and setting the stage for where the story will likely head from hereon out. For example we meet the teacher Aoi, who possesses a rather formidable personality and seems to know some things about Masaya’s past not yet clearly spelled out. We also meet some of Asuka’s new classmates (who seem to be friends with both Masaya and Misaki). These include Mashiro, an underclassman who is adores Misaki, and Madoka, a kind and friendly young lady. We are also introduced to another character named Rika, who has just moved next door to where Masaya lives, and later on in the episode to two other characters who are participants in the Flying Circus game – Reiko, a character who speaks and acts in an ojou-sama type manner and another person who I don’t remember if his name was given or not.

It turns out that all the students who attend the school Asuka has transferred into are given “grash” – the anti-gravity shoes that allow one to fly. The islands the story takes place on are permitted as an “flying zone” (I assume in contrast to the mainland?), and the students of the school are all trained how to use the shoes, primarily by specially trained instructors who are their classmates. In Asuka’s case both Masaya and Misaki happen to be licensed instructors, so it naturally falls to them to help guide Asuka in her first steps of how to use the grash.

Ao no Kanata - 01 - 13Ao no Kanata - 01 - 14Ao no Kanata - 01 - 15Ao no Kanata - 01 - 16

Asuka’s clumsiness in flying comes out almost immediately, much to her frustration. It begins to be very clear that she has a great love of flight in general, but her eagerness and abundant energy interfere with her learning from the get go. It also becomes clear that she does not like to give up and is actually laced with a surprisingly competitive streak in her. After having great difficulty getting the initial steps of flight down she and her friends make their way home, but something happens the next day that changes everything in the story. Essentially Asuka and her friends come upon the aforementioned Reiko in ojou-sama mode triumphing over someone – as far as I could tell Reiko goes to another school and the one she was triumphing over was a part of the Flying Circus club in the school most of the characters attend. This irks Asuka and she loyally sticks her nose in the affair and challenges Reiko.

The challenge, of course, is in a mock game of Flying Circus, and from the get go the odds are totally stacked in Reiko’s favor (the list would be endless how lopsided the comparison between the two would be at first glance). And, sure enough, Reiko literally flies rings around Asuka, who can barely fly, let alone do it on a level of competitive athletics. Mid way through the match Masaya happens on the scene and begins to guide Asuka to a few things, from where it becomes clear that Masaya has experience in the Flying Circus game. Asuka’s attempts fall into the realm of “good ole college try” but ultimately fail, and the prospects for her victory seem rather bleak to say the least.

Ao no Kanata - 01 - 17Ao no Kanata - 01 - 18Ao no Kanata - 01 - 19Ao no Kanata - 01 - 20

It is then that something “clicks” in Asuka’s soul, and she instinctively pulls off a complex aerial manoeuvre in a split second that leaves everyone present dumbfounded and seals a come-from-behind (in this case literally – see this post’s header image) victory. It is obvious that Asuka is a diamond-in-the-rough when it comes to flight and perhaps even the Flying Circus game itself, and could become an incredibly skilled player if given the right guidance. From there the episode ends, but it seems pretty clear that her guides are going to be Masaya and possibly Misaki. It is also possible that a rivalry between players (and schools?) could arise from this incident as well. And so the elements of the story is set in motion….

There was very little I had to complain about the first episode proper. I enjoyed many things, with the use of the backgrounds and the background music in particular being quite effective at several points. The characters are all interesting (Asuka is both endearing and an absolute riot – the VA totally nails her performance) and the story setting is engaging as well. The OP (or was it the ED?) we saw at the end of the episode was fine, and the visuals that went along with it were appropriate, so nothing to complain about there either, though in terms of personal taste it did not over-interest me. All in all, though, I felt this was a good, solid start to the series, and will be looking forward to future episodes.

As mentioned some time ago this is the main series I will be blogging this season – hope you all are looking forward to it as much as I am. ^^

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Currently the “oji-san” of the staff members age wise (in his mid 40’s) yet the most recent addition, he is also a Japanophile from his teen years while not quite an “otaku” who lives in the United States. Came to actively following anime late in life (in 2008), but in general loves the traditional arts, history and culture of Japan as a whole, both ancient and modern.

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