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A 24 Minute 24 Second Stay of Execution

February 16, 2010

The warden called, Sora no Woto. You’ve been given a brief reprieve from your death sentence by the governor of Animeland. New evidence has surfaced and you’ll be given another chance to prove your innocence before a court of law. Make due with this second chance or forever hold your peace.

I gave up on Sora no Woto after episode two. The first episode showed hints of promise, what with the post-war setting and cool dragon skeleton. But it also showed more hints of lameness, such as its completely inane take on the way music operates. Being a former musician myself (played viola and violin in middle and high school, played piano in college), the way Kanata could understand notes and not play a simple tune on her trumpet was a deal breaker. Despite that I gave it a second shot.

The second episode killed any desire for me to keep up with it. It didn’t play off of any of the potential in the first episode and devolved into a bad parody of the sort of thing you’d see in Scooby Doo: kids go into a “haunted” building, run around, act like idiots, and find out it wasn’t a ghost at all. I didn’t want to waste my time with that crap, so I stopped watching.

Despite that, I harbored a glimmer of hope that Sora would shape up and finally play off of some of the cool tidbits hinted at in the beginning. So I’ve been keeping up with blogs and shit. Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen has only helped justify my initial opinion. Moe Sucks’ post about the glass maker episode confirmed my theory that the writers are clueless when it comes to the way music functions, while the positive reviews that get covered on The Cart Driver’s metablogs praise things that I know would make me want to pull my hair out. An episode that starts with what seems to be a war-time situation that ends up being some simulation, with the rest of the episode being your typical “let’s sit around and do cute stuff” diatribe? No thanks, I’ll keep doing the whole “not watching” thing.

Then I read some blogs about episode seven. Apparently it’s supposed to actually show the war and reveal stuff and all that jazz. So I snagged the episode to give it a try. Let’s see how this turns out.

*insert 20-something minutes of anime-watchingness here*

Ok.

The wartime scenes were well done, and the brief scenes with Felicia’s crew members did a far better job of creating a sense of camaraderie than everything I’d seen previously with Kanata and her inept cronies. They were still young girls that did girlish things, but they were believable as a group of soldiers piloting a giant spider mecha into battle. I’d probably enjoy a series that was based around them, since their brief moments felt far more believable than the two episodes I saw at the beginning of the series.

I also liked how they deal with Felicia’s trauma resulting from seeing her friends die. She’s handled their deaths pretty well, and it makes sense that she’s “retreated” into herself and has become a motherly figure. She’s still sickenly annoying and sweet, but I buy the development. She’s a mother hen that doesn’t want to see her new chicks get eaten by the big bad fox that’s “war.”

I also like that she essentially has a delusion/vision based on comments made by one of her friends. Said friend mentions something about humanity being on the decline and that there isn’t much that can stop humanity from vanishing from Earth. That comment seems to have led to Felicia having something of a psychotic breakdown when she’s underground after she escapes from the battle. She comes across a decayed corpse of a soldier from “the previous era” and imagines him appearing before her to speak of the inability of previous generations to keep the world from sinking into chaos.

Other blogs seem to be taking this as a literal vision of what happened in the past, but I’m not buying that. This seems to be some imaginary coping device that Felicia’s brain is creating to rationalize what’s happening around her. She just saw her friends get blown up, then she’s tumbled into some “lost” area that’s a relic of the past. Her little brain starts kicking into overdrive and imagines a ghostly figure coming to her to explain away everything that’s happening. Felicia has a vision of robotic spider mecha attacking a city and overwhelming it. She’s trying to rationalize how the world has gone to shit and does so by having a postcognitive “vision.” If she believes that the world was destroyed by some “other” power that couldn’t be stopped, it makes the horrors of reality a  little more bearable for her.

So yeah, I don’t think we’re getting any insight into what really happened in the past. We’re seeing Felicia’s attempts to cope with some nasty shit.

I liked all of that. Pity that all of this took up about 10 minutes of what so far been seven 20-something minute episodes. The rest of this particular episode was the same old garbage that turned me off of the series. A festival is going on. The girls gawk at stuff. They eat food and make stuff. I almost turned the episode off once all of that started back up and I realized the flashbacks were over, but I toughed it out.

Felicia has a nice line at the end of the episode about how the world has no meaning, and this is a good thing because it allows people to create their own meaning. I like that train of thought, but  it’s the first intelligent thing to come out of a character’s mouth this entire series.

In the end, I doubt I’ll resume watching Sora no Woto. This episode proved that it can be watchable when it wants to be, but it also proves that it’s more interested in sitting around and having the girls do meaningless stuff and that the stuff that I find interesting is more of an afterthought. I don’t need to have all sorts of answers thrown at me. I don’t need to see massive amounts of wartime action. What I need is some proof that this series is more than some slow-moving slice-of-fantasy-life series that’s about feeling the emotions of little girls I don’t give a damn about.

This episode used Felicia’s experiences in the war as a catalyst to further this emotional exploration. I’m not the least bit interested in connecting with characters on an emotional level. At least not in this manner. I like laughing. I like tension. I like dread. I like nihilism. I like exhilaration. Those are the emotions that I’m looking for in an anime. Sora no Woto is going for pity and remorse and sadness and nostalgia and other emotions that I don’t look for in entertainment. It wants us to feel “connected” to these girls when I want to get a thrill out of seeing them pilot a mecha. It wants us to feel sad when they pray for their departed loved ones when I want to fear for their lives when an army marches on their city. I’m looking for an emotional response out of anime, but Sora no Woto and similar series aren’t delivering the emotional experience I’m looking for.

That’s why the Supreme Court of Animeland is denying Sora no Woto’s final appeal.

Flip the switch, warden.

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