K-ON!! 21, Sora no Woto 7.5: Moe in peace and war

When an extra episode of Sora no Woto appeared I thought it would be fun to pair it up with its civilian counterpart, K-ON!! I don’t expect to have any sage pronouncements on the concept of moe in these differing series, but the character designs are so similar … At the time of this writing I haven’t watched the Sora no Woto episode yet. I tend to write about a show just after I view it.

K-ON!! 21 gives us a good opportunity to examine the characters’ appearances, since the whole episode is devoted to mirror gazing and hair brushing. It’s school picture time.

And most of it follows Yui, dissatisfied with her previous yearbook pics and determined to take a great one this time. She fiddles with the bangs, tries on Ritsu’s headband (forehead!), worrying, worrying, while of course she looks just fine to begin with. So do the other girls, but though they go through similar bouts of anxiety they’re nowhere in Yui’s league with fussing. In the midst of this we do get a couple other things. Yui and Ritsu need to hand in their career preference sheets (how long ago was the deadline?), Azusa has lost focus now that the festival is over, but is still worried that the seniors are slacking off. Ui tries on Yui’s hairclip … and winds up looking exactly like her.

Seconds before the tragic sneeze.

It will come as no surprise that Yui’s fussing would turn to tragedy (love the pause and silence after the fatal snip). And that it would lead to subsequent scenes where the girls try to fix the horrible damage. What bothers me a little more is that Mio, who could go to just about any school she wanted, turns down recommendations because she wants to attend college with her friends. I know it’s supposed to be a sweet thing she’s doing, but college is where things change, horizons broaden, new things are discovered. It’s not like she’ll cease being friends with all of them.

Well, okay, the pics are taken, Sawako accepts the late career sheets and doesn’t seem to mind the thought of them going to the same college, so I won’t worry. Well, I will, because Yui and Ritsu are such airheads it’s going to be difficult for them to get in. In the preview we see them actually sort of studying, so maybe it will turn out all right. As for me, since this episode had endless closeups of moe girls’ faces I’ve hit my limit … oh, that’s right. Still have to watch that other show.

It was nice to see the Sora no Woto girls again, especially in an episode that holds no significance, apart from Yui Kanata discovering their bootlegging secret.

Everyone, including me, commented negatively on how Sora no Woto’s characters looked just like K-ON’s. Looking at them together now I see some resemblance, sure. You can easily make the connection in appearance and behavior between Yui and Kanata. Azusa and Kureha share a trait or two as well, especially with their relatively serious demeanor. But that’s about it. With hindsight the character designs are more different than I had thought. Sora’s are drawn more simply, and while the artwork for both is superb the animation is less fluid than in K-ON!!, which is in no way meant to be a putdown. Also, while the K-ON!! girls dither about nothing, the Sora girls dither with intent. In this case to keep the distillery a secret from Kanata and Yumina the nun. When Kanata’s suspicions arise and she keeps pressing about what’s behind that door, Filicia orders a squirt-gun battle, with Yumina joining it to even the sides.

It’s very amusing. By now we’ve guessed that Filicia spiked their tea with hooch. The girls get sillier and sillier and the whole thing plays out as a parody of bad war movies. Moments of great bravery. Superweapons (courtesy of Noel). Heroic speeches followed by “No, you mustn’t!” Sacrifices. A final showdown. But the entire time there’s something a little odd about it.

Filicia's heroic death.

These are not only soldiers, they’re war victims who know all too well that war isn’t really like in fiction. Even pacifist Yumina is excited to participate, though for her it’s because as a child she never got to play much with other kids. Okay, they’re drunk, but it still goes down … not wrong, but odd. Only Kurehara seems bothered by it all, and that’s because we learn later she is incapable of getting drunk (but she can get sick afterwards. That can’t be any fun at all). We get a lot of shots of her wondering what the hell is going on.

1121st Platoon tea time, laced with hooch.

After the battle has reached it’s gory end they all get drunk some more, take multiple baths, and we get our bits of rather tame fanservice. I forgot this show occasionally indulged in that. A fun episode. Again, I wish the series had gone on longer. There was a lot more they could have done. Unlike K-ON!!, which, frankly, has just about run its course.

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Sora no Woto finale, Hanamaru 8

War is over.

There were many things in Sora no Woto 12 that didn’t make sense, but that was true for the entire series. Frankly, I don’t care too much.

They made much of the idea that the soldiers didn’t want to return to war, only their superiors did, Hopkins (“War advances civilization and science”), the tank commander … And they contrasted that with Kureha’s reluctance to disobey orders, no matter how she really felt. She was a soldier, and soldiers obey orders. But the picture of the war changed significantly through this episode. Rather than country against country, with contrasting takes on the same legend, this began to feel like a small group of people who were going to send their men to die no matter what—never mind about the civilians–when no one else, including their leaders, truly want it.

The girls in battle.

But this wasn’t simply a case of peace and love vs. men with guns, simplistic, hippy wish-dreams. Filicia actually threatened Hopkins with a gun. The girl actually have to go into battle themselves to help spread news of the cease fire that no one was really sure about. Peace is not so easily won, and these often silly girls all know it. They’ve lived through it.

Only Kanata had heard Rio’s trumpet call. Because it’s Kanata, the rest of them (save Kureha) believe it too. And off they go in their spider-tank (Why they took a badly injured Aisha along is anybody’s guess), because they trust her. They also trust, and forgive tormented Noel, for innocently creating those weapons, but the most important forgiveness comes from Aisha, who was one of her victims.

Deus ex big-ass machina

There are things that didn’t work. Recasting the whole angels legend in the current day definitely did not. They hadn’t played up the legends enough for us to remember or care about them too much. Also, it takes away from the fact that the girls and townspeople were acting on their own. They shouldn’t be considered simple pawns in a repeating spiritual cycle. I hate it when fiction plays this trick. As for smaller things, I can’t believe that Kanata’s trumpet would carry over the rumble of armored tanks, or that “Amazing Grace” could suddenly freeze the men like Zentradi encountering Ranka Lee. And no one noticed that a third army was coming onto the scene? Rio’s deus ex machina appearance; I didn’t mind that so much. You know she was going to make it into the episode somehow. I’m sorry she had to get engaged to the Roman Emperor or whoever to help seal the deal, but she did what she had to do for the peace, I guess. I also can’t believe he would permit her to return to Seize and resume her old duties. Some honeymoon …

Yes, you can moan and complain about it all you want, you can even go back to mocking the character designs. I don’t care. I could nitpick Sora no Woto to death, in fact, I just did, but it did way too many things well for me to hold anything against them. The characters were developed naturally, the story unfolded the same way. It was just beautiful to look at. The world they live in is full of life and detail. The strengths far outweighed the weaknesses. I’m sorry it’s over.

I accidently skipped ep8 of Hanamaru Kindergarten, so watched it tonight so I wouldn’t have to think too much. Let’s see, the first part concerns Aoi, whose parents run a fish shop. She loves to watch them work, but they won’t let her help, until the other girls come over and prove they can sell fish with cuteness and knowledge of nutrition.

While this part isn’t much, it was nice to see a girl with working-class parents rather than the suburban mommies they usually feature. Nice, too, that the father is a good man who sees that maybe he’s been neglecting his daughter too much.

Part two is more interesting. Ojou, a yakuza daughter (interesting change in families all around), announces she’s going to marry Tsuchida.

Love how Kusano is enjoying herself in the back.

While it plays out as expected, it does take a couple nice turns. Ojou learns (from the kids, natch) that Tsuchida likes Yamamoto, but when she meets her, she winds up admiring her too much to stand in Tsuchida’s way. Of course, Yamamoto is totally clueless as to what is going on. More fun is that after announcing she’s dropping her proposal of marriage, Anzu freaks out and tells her to keep fighting. I guess she couldn’t resist. That was enough to make it entertaining.

Sora no Woto 11

Sora no Woto 11 brings the war back to Treize and the girls. While only one shot was fired, we can fully expect more bloodshed next episode. That takes care of the question: is this a post-war story where girl soldiers live like a family, or is it a prelude to something far worse?

We have met the enemy, and she is us.

It starts both peacefully and ominously, with Kanata and Kureha discovering an unconscious enemy soldier while on patrol. At this point it could still be an eccentric episode, with the girls trying to interrogate her—but not too hard, while not telling the authorities. And the girl they captured, Aisha, though they can’t understand what she’s saying (sounds German to me, so why is she part of the Roman army?), turns out not to be the monster they had believed. She can even play Amazing Grace on the trumpet.

But it’s a crisis for everyone, especially Filicia and Noel. Noel’s reasons are still unclear, but we learn she used to be a little genius who innocently helped Helvetia design some nasty weaponry, and then gets to see the result, including Aisha, wounded on the ground. Noel hasn’t been the same since. And it’s suggested that the reason she’s at this little outpost is because she’s hiding. Filicia’s dilemma is one of command. She and everyone else has reached a point where they have no longer have any desire to hurt anyone else, but it would be treason not to report their prisoner. Kureha argues on one side, Kanata on the other, and she makes her decision, only to have the option vanish anyway when bloodthirsty Colonel Hopkins and his division take over the base, and they get a report that the Roman army is approaching.

Here comes your war.

Watching the events unfold here I got feeling of grim despair. No one in this show, the platoon, the townspeople, maybe not even Aisha wants any more war, but it comes tromping in anyway. They are powerless. Anything they accomplished, anyone they’ve loved, may be lost for no reason. They will get war, and they will be its victims.

Or maybe not. For one thing, there’s only one more episode, they just can’t start a new war and have it play out in 25 minutes unless they plan on a second season. On the other hand, there’s so much they have yet to explain that maybe that’s precisely what they want to do, which would be a hell of a thing. Start a series of girl soldiers living like a family and dump a war on them in the last episode, until next season. But they still have the Princess Rio card to play … Oh, who knows?

Sora no Woto 10, Hidamari Sketch 9

Sora no Woto 10 explains why Rio has been so distracted recently. She’s third in line for the throne and therefore has diplomatic duties she must fulfill. She’s been avoiding this, but now, with at least one army on the move, she can no longer do so.

What throws me off a little is the odd substory, about Jacotte, an old woman who lives in the mountains and awaits her man and her daughter. Rio thinks she’s out of her mind. Winter is coming and she’s in poor health, but Jacotte insists on waiting in the isolated house anyway. We learn that Rio’s circumstances were the same. Apparently she’s a bastard heir to the throne, and her mother always waited for HIM to reappear. But Jacotte sees no sorrow in this, because she has her memories of him, and she doesn’t mind waiting; it’s what’s keeping her alive.

All well and good, a nice lesson for Rio and Kanata, who tagged along (but why invent that phantom of Jacotte so she would trudge outside after it in the snow, and vanish?), but I don’t understand how that links to Rio’s decision to leave. It’s possible that she was just getting around to making the decision, knowing from the start that she would have to. Nothing in Jacotte’s story seems to prompt this action. True, she’s leaving people who love her, but she’s not running off on them. They’re not dependent on her; Kanata can even play the bugle now.

I suppose it doesn’t matter much. Her departure is a moving scene. A duet of “Amazing Grace” with Kanata on the parapet, giving her her trumpet, words that they’ll meet again. Last minute bonding. While I’m still confused about this episode’s layout I must say that all the scenes are skillfully done, especially the slow realization by Kanata as to Rio’s true identity. I just hope this isn’t the last we see of Rio. She’s one of the best things in the show, and I doubt that the series will start jumping from Seize to the palace, or wherever she winds up.

Was going to do the next Railgun next, but I downloaded the wrong episode … So it’s Hidamari Sketch 9, the show where nothing much happens. In ep9, for no real reason, we are introduced to two more tenants, Riri and Misato.

Why they didn’t introduce them earlier on I don’t know. Maybe because they’re upperclassmen. But they live next door, for crissakes! It’s like they said “Aw, the heck with it, let’s throw in some more people.” Well, whatever. The main story of part one is Sae losing sleep because of her manga work on the side. Nothing happens to resolve it. People just talk a lot about nothing, as usual.

Part two has the class sketching in the mark, Miyako distracted by things like an obstacle course and carp in the river. And they throw stones at a rock in the pond. Yuno strains her arm, and Nazuna fixes it. And they talk a lot. Nothing terribly notable in this episode, except for the two new girls, who might liven things up a little. Hopefully they’ll be back.

Sora no Woto 9, Hanamaru 7

For anyone wondering if we’re going to see an actual war in Sora no Woto, ep9 tells us nothing. The peace talks are still going badly, we discover that the frantic person who phoned Rio last week is her father (She hung up on him), and there’s Klaus delivering her an important message (It must be important—it’s in a tube), which she doesn’t open, at least not this episode. All this happens as misdirection to the main story, which is about looking up to people, even when they don’t want to be looked up to.

When Rio's worried, she switches to jazz.

We think all this stuff I have mentioned is going to be the main thrust of the story, we’ll find out why Rio is so distracted these days, etc, but everything gets interrupted by frantic villagers trying to find a missing kid, Seiya. And it sets up scenes between Klaus and Kureha, who adores him and thinks he’s a famous tank commander. Actually he’s a courier with not much battle experience, and when it looks like they’re about to get swept into the river he finds his, well, I don’t want to say cowardice, but inexperience in a crisis begins to overcome him. Meanwhile, watching the danger from a distance, Rio begins to lose it in front of the other squad girls, all of whom look up to her.

Both Klaus and Rio are redeemed (well, Rio just gets a hold on herself). Klaus saves Kureha’s life, because she knew he would and he couldn’t let her down. The crisis is well-done; I know it because I gasped when part of the house got washed away. It’s a satisfying enough episode, but it doesn’t answer any of the questions we have about the possible war. I believe there are only three episodes to go, so that may answer my question. And there were way too many panty shots.

Hanamaru Kindergarten 7 is a single story this time, rather than two. It’s the week off, and Sakura decides to drag Tsuchida off to see their home town, and invites the tots and Yanamoto as well. Five females and one male.

Sakura, messing with Tsuchida's head again.

Naturally, Sakura is playing her little games again. She’s trying to get Tsuchida and Yamamoto together, but I wonder if that’s her only reason. I suspect she’s also doing it in order to mess with Tsuchida’s head some more. Indeed, the first half of the episode is all about messing with Tsuchida’s head, or making Satsuki mad because her brother won’t spend enough time with her. Of course, he’s wrangling three pre-schoolers, so he’s a bit busy. She seems to realize this, but gets mad anyway. I can understand her frustration. For two days she has to see people who are closer to Tsuchida’s daily life alternately praise and mock him, and she’s left out. All she wants is a little quality time with him!

Of course, they make it up and everyone’s happy. But I think they’ve been spending a little too much time with Satsuki the last couple of episodes, and some of the things brought forth, like Tsuchida’s new responsibilities, are retreads from last week. Well, they’ll go home soon. And to close it out, another innovative closing credit sequence, though I have no idea what it’s supposed to refer to.

Kimi ni Todoke 20, Sora no Woto 8

Most of Kimi ni Todoke 20 continues with the afteraffects of Yoshida losing her love, and how the others can help her out. Or fail to.

It’s an old, unsolvable question: how to help someone who’s going through a hard time. The girls can’t figure out a way to do it; Kazehaya is more complacent. The trouble is, Yoshida is showing absolutely no reaction to the situation, making it impossible for them to even try to help her. If they even mention it to her she might take it wrongly. It takes a bystander, Ryuu, to trigger a reaction out of her. Not to mention Sawako.

It doesn’t help that the situation is more complicated than it seems. Yoshida is upset, but because of an incident the night before. She’s partly at fault, too. She waited to return to Ryuu’s house until after Tooru and his fiancee had left, making them wonder where she was. She’s an old friend, after all. But Ryuu sets it off, saying the wrong things at the wrong time. The confrontation resumes at school, this time with the girls listening in. But it only makes her angry. It takes Sawako to finish her off. SHE can’t hold it in, either, her sympathy and her frustration at being useless, and when she starts to cry, we finally got the reaction we’ve been waiting for.

What makes the scene effective is Sawako’s trademark welling of emotions. It’s natural for her to react like this, and also funny to look at. A nice scene, actually, a nice couple of scenes if you count the second Yoshida/Ryuu fight. But is this the nature of the show where everyone has to show their sorrow by crying? Yoshida could have just sulked and grumbled and I would have taken it as a natural reaction for her. Well, she bawls like a baby, and then feels better. Catharsis works like that. Now, of course, we need Yoshida and Ryuu’s reconciliation, which will take longer than usual since the latter is so closed-mouthed …

Not a great episode of Sora no Woto this time. I know the show likes to take its time and smell the roses and take in the scenery, but a whole episode revolving around waiting for a phone to ring is pushing it.

Phone practice.

Kanata volunteers for this all-important mission of manning the phone on system test day, and the others waltz in and out before vanishing. We learn from the opening scene, which actually occurs near the end, that Kanata is desperate to pee. So every time she sips from the apple cider (and the bottles accumulate on the table), we know it’s going to cause her extra grief. And naturally she has visitors who manage to mess things up, even the old priest, who almost break the phone. It’s not so much suspenseful as frustrating. We’re waiting for something to happen here, either the phone ringing or Kanata managing to get to the bathroom. Either one, just get to it!

At least the phone was saved.

There are a couple of interesting moments, however. We learn that the peace talks are going badly, never a good sign, and in the end, when the phone finally rings (Rio has relieved Kanata so she can relieve herself), it’s not headquarters but a strange man who urges Rio to save the country. Does that have something to do with the peace talks? Rio seems more annoyed than surprised; she obviously knows this guy, but why would he urge her, of all people? Does Rio have an interesting backstory? And, most important, is the country about to go to war again?

Sora no Woto 7

(My schedule still makes it difficult to cover too many shows during the work week, but I’ll try to post something every day most days …)

There’s a tendency for us to assume Sora no Woto is just a bunch of moe girls in a postwar setting, doing little of importance, and that every one of them would fall apart if ever placed in a real battle. Episode 7 blows that little belief out of the water, for one of them at least has been there.

We jump back a few years to Filicia in battle, with her squadmates, firing from a tank. We see what few of us expected to see in this show: blood, destruction, death, and a squadmate’s severed arm (holding a bugle). Filicia is having war flashbacks.

… And then we cut away to watch the current-day moe girls doing little of importance. Tie this in with the upcoming holiday where supposedly the dead come back for a day, a few minor occurrences that trigger more flashbacks, and we wonder if the legends aren’t really true, and if Filicia is actually all right.

Many soldiers die without understanding the meaning of it all.

This is plenty to make this an effective episode, but there’s more: the question of why they are fighting, are they bringing on the end of the world, and what is the purpose of it all? One of Filicia’s old squadmates ask this, so does a dessicated soldier she encounters underground, and finally, Rio. No anime show, nor any work of art, can effectively answer this, but Filicia tries. She wants to make sure the young people now never have to experience what she did, or lose any more of their families.

But this is a meaning she comes up with herself. Yours may vary. As she says, she learned that we have to find our own meanings in this world. Hers has made her become an eccentric squad leader in charge of a group of girls, which is not the worst thing to be in life. And she’s lucky that even after all she underwent, she was still able to find it herself.

I think we can put to rest the rumors that this show is nothing more than K-ON! with uniforms.