Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
On an undisclosed year in the future, war devastated the world. Huge swaths of land returned to the sea, once fertile grasslands turned to deserts, and the few surviving members of humanity scrambled to form new principalities from the desiccated remnants of the old. But despite the destruction, humanity refuses to learn its lessons. The empire of Rome and the principality of Helvetia continue to fight one another. It is this war that has touched Kanata Sorami personally. As a child, separated from her parents, terrified by the sounds of battle, she is comforted by a lone Helvetia trumpeter and her rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Never able to shake that moment, Kanata grows up and signs on as a Private in the Helvetia army, intent on becoming a trumpeter as well – intent on filling the sky with the sounds of beautiful music.
Kanata is assigned to the 1121st Platoon – an all-female unit stationed in Seize, Helvetia at the very edge of the nation’s borders, as well as at the end of the civilized world. She joins Master Sergeant Rio Kazumiya, Second Lieutenant Felicia Heideman, Private Kureha Suminoya, and Corporal Noël Kannagi in their innocuous adventures in an idyllic city that the war has already touched.
Chances are you’ve already noticed how closely this show visually resembles fellow moe series K-On!, with its cheerful female cast and simple, brightly-colored character designs. But while those are obvious parallels that deserve to be drawn, Soranowoto has some hidden depths to it that make it a more rewarding watch than K-On!, at least in my opinion. While the first few episodes are all innocuous fluff about Kanata learning to play the trumpet despite being terrible at it, or about learning to work together as a team, there’s always an underlying sense of fear and tragedy lingering beneath the surface. When the show begins, we know nothing about the history of this world, nor the reason for the war that Kanata and company must fight. It is only in bits and pieces that we begin to realize the depths of despair that have overtaken the world. It is only in snippets that we begin to realize how extraordinary these girls’ cheerfulness is given the darkness that surrounds them.
It’s in episode seven – just past the show’s half-way mark – that this is written out for the audience, plain and clear, and the show never really looks back from that point. (Well, not including episode eight, but I’ll get to that in a moment.) The second half of the series is all about taking the cuteness and fluff that it presented earlier and using it to highlight and underscore the human struggles of its cast. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a simple, effective condemnation of the senselessness of war in an anime, or a striking examination of the difference between how we see a person we idolize and the person they truly are beneath the veneer.
Honestly, it takes a deft touch to switch so seamlessly between happy-go-lucky adventures and life-and-death stakes, but Soranowoto achieves it. That alone may catapult this show into my “favorite anime” list. Does it deserve to overtake classics like Cowboy Bebop or Berserk? Of course not, but it deserves a lot of praise for sending a message rather than being more “cute girls doing cute things” throwaway chaff.
Of course, the story isn’t without its flaws. Enter the aforementioned episode eight. After the seriousness of episode seven, in which a past battle is examined and the character of Felicia Heideman fleshed out, it was jarring to suddenly be thrust into a situation so borderline objectifying it nearly put me off the show entirely. The episode consists of Konata being required to stand by and wait for an important phone call for the entire day, but the need to go to the restroom overtakes her, resulting in wacky hijinks. It’s not so much that the episode was pointless and not even funny – it’s that the issue of her need to go to the restroom is treated with that seediness and nearly-sexual gratification that only anime can really achieve. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a mature hentai series, is what I’m saying, if it had been any more graphic. Was it a deal breaker? Ultimately not. I finished the show. I’m glad I did. But it might almost be worth skipping that episode entirely. The tiny plot revelation at the very end of the episode is revisited again later. You won’t miss anything at all.
There’s also the fact that Konata and company are hardly an accurate depiction of military life – they’re all teenage girls (the youngest is fourteen), and I’m pretty sure a rec-level soccer team couldn’t get away with this lack of discipline, let alone an armed platoon. That’s part of the weirdness of the show for which you have to suspend your disbelief and accept at face value. There’s also the fact that the nation of Helvetia (another name for Switzerland) is located near South Korea, its citizens speak Japanese but cannot read it, and are at war with the Roman Empire which speaks perfect German. You just gotta roll with those punches.
The animation of this show isn’t lavish, but the occasional still-screen shots and static landscapes actually work well with the show’s laid back attitude. Instead, attention is paid to the little details that matter. Lips and mouths match the natural movements and shapes of words, rather than being open and close flaps. Expressions are wonderfully detailed. You never confuse one character for another. The music – from background ditties to the all-important “Amazing Grace” – are well crafted and add to the atmosphere. The twelve episode length is perfect and doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s a bonus episode that gives more closure for those who want it.
The fact of the matter is, I love watching shows like this but hate reviewing them. Why? Because such a huge part of the reason I like this show is because it completely caught me off guard. I began watching Soranowoto because I needed something cute after the long-but-fun slog that was [07-Ghost], but instead I got a show that had depth and seriousness in spades. But by telling you all of this in advance, will you get the same sense of surprise from the show? Will it speak to you the same way? Or will it feel underwhelming, after I’ve built it up so much? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Oh, and the show has one of those cool [transforming owls] in it. Just so you know.