With the invention of anti-gravitational shoes known as Grav-Shoes, the ability to fly freely has become an everyday experience for the people inhabiting a four-island archipelago south of Japan. This invention has brought the people new ways of living and also a new sport known as "Flying Circus," where participants gain points by either touching floating buoys or their opponent's back.
The gullible and clumsy Asuka Kurashina, newly transferred to Kunahama High School, enters this world of flight unknowingly when she is able to pull off a difficult maneuver the first time she participates in a Flying Circus match. Eventually, this leads her to join her school’s Flying Circus club. Led by their coach, Masaya Hinata, their members consist of the experienced Misaki Tobisawa and her overprotective friend, Mashiro Arisaka. Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm follows this rookie group soaring high above the skies and toward their dreams, armed only with their unwavering passion against an uncertain future.
For centuries, it has been man's dream to fly. Because of the Wright Brothers, we finally have the technology to do so, and as such, have been able to soar into the skies, give or take the method. But we have never truly been able to fly by ourselves. But here, we have Aokana, an anime about flying, and the sport that goes along with it known as Flying Circus.
Story: In the world of Aokana, the world has developed special footwear called Grav-shoes, a kind of footwear that allows for the user to utilize anti-graviton particles in order to essentially defy
gravity and fly. In order to make the idea of Grav-shoes more fun, a new sport known as Flying Circus was developed, creating a brand new activity that one could do with their new shoes. It is here where we meet Kurashina Asuka, a bright and optimistic girl who dreams of soaring in the skies.
At its core, Aokana is centered around Asuka and her journey through the sport of Flying Circus, or FC for short. The show is centered around her and her group of friends in the FC club at her high school, participating in competitions and aiming to become top FC players. So more or less, this is your standard tournament/sports anime that focuses around beating stronger opponents and progressively getting better and better as time goes on, right? Well...no, actually.
Contrary to what the show looks like from the outside, Aokana has a surprisingly deep set of values that it showcases. It really hammers in what it takes to be good at a sport, and the satisfaction of winning when facing someone tough. In fact, the characters are shown to more or less only be fighting the same opponents, completely disregarding a 'stronger challenger approaches' style of story. The anime shows us the true feeling of losing and how heartbreaking it can be, as well as the beauty and satisfaction of winning, all things that you wouldn't see in your generic tournament anime where the protagonist just barrels his/her way through each match without trying and winning every time because he/she is that good. There's genuine feeling when it comes to seeing the growth of these characters and it really made me like this show and want to continue watching. The progression is far better than what I had expected it to be, and I was happy to receive such a surprise.
On the downside though, the show has some issues with some of its presentation. Some aspects of the show feel cliched and everything is tied up with a nice ribbon bow, so the plot is predictable in that regard. Additionally, the show does have quite a lot of moe-affiliated moments where the show does tell you once again "Hey, we're a show with a bunch of cute girls doing some cute stuff", which it is. It takes away from the serious atmosphere a little bit, but for me, it really wasn't really a problem.
Overall, while there were problems and issues with its presentation, Aokana had a message that was far deeper than I thought it would ever have given what it looked like on the outside. The show had good progression and a good mix of good to bad moments that helped improve character growth and, despite its appearance of one guy surrounded by several girls, IS NOT A HAREM! (I know, shocking right? We can have an anime with that kind of character setup WITHOUT having romance! Gasp!)
+ Interesting story concept (The sport is simple, but surprisingly complex.)
+ Great message and themes throughout
+ Not a harem despite what we get for a cast
- Has cliched and/or predictable moments that do take some credibility of the show away
Characters: The cast of Aokana isn't particularly big. As mentioned before, the show more or less focuses on a relatively small group of characters where they all fight amongst each other in the sport. There're no "Challenger-kuns" anywhere once the rivals have been established, and the show takes its time to develop its cast.
First, we have our spunky and optimistic main protagonist, Kurashina Asuka. Asuka is the very definition of optimism. Her dream is to soar high in the sky, and most of her lines involve things being "amazing" and being "spectacular" to the point that it's actually somewhat annoying. A somehow gifted natural at FC, Asuka is sort of that 'prodigy' kind of character who gets stuff or is able to do complicated stuff relatively easy in the series, even to the extent that even towards the end, she is able to handle more difficult maneuvers or strategies that would ordinarily taken someone else weeks or even months to accomplish. As a character, she is more of a catalyst for things, as she evokes feelings and aids in the character development for others, without really changing much herself. She does have bouts of sadness and some time dedicated to her recovery after a loss, but she's the type to get back up on her feet quickly, so there's really no worry there.
The people that are interesting are both Mashiro and Misaki, the two other members of the FC club that Asuka belong to. As a senpai loving kouhai and a nyanko respectively, Mashiro and Misaki are more of the characters that project and showcase the quality of what it is to have ups and downs in a sport, as each of them have dedicated time to their characters. These areas of the anime are sections where I think both the message and the anime really shine, because they're both very realistic examples of what it means to participate and try to get really into a sport since both of their mini character arcs are dedicated to resolving their own insecurities and strengthening the qualities that they possess and turning it into in the series' words, "Their own FC", aka, their own style of playing.
If I was to make a complaint, it would have to be geared towards Masaya Hinata, our male character guy. Masaya is a character who really...doesn't have all that much importance in this series. As Aokana was originally a VN before getting adapted, Masaya is the player character and is dictated by the actions of the player. In the anime, Masaya more or less plays a supporting role to the series, which is fine since I'm all for a series with 1 guy and a bunch of girls that isn't a harem series, but they try to give an explanation and time to his backstory and why he decided 'never to fly again' which just ends up being incomplete and very lackluster. It is by far the weakest aspect of the characters by far, which is surprising since the side characters not only get more screentime, but more development than our so-called male protagonist here.
The side characters are definitely a side cast that has more worth to this series than most anime I've seen. Other FC players like Shindou, Inui, and Rika get little moments dedicated to them to add onto the message that the show coaxes in, and Madoka, who is more or less the comedic straight man to everyone (poor Madoka). Point being, there are members of this side cast that deserve mention, and only add to this show since a good number of them actually develop along with the series, if only for a little bit of character development.
+ Great character development
+ Good focus on main females and their development
+ Side cast members also get development
- Asuka is a bit too perfect sometimes and gets a bit annoying
- Masaya, the supposed main character, is basically nonexistent to this series
Art: Produced by Gonzo, Aokana boasts a very high quality and whimsical looking style for Aokana. All of the colors have this shimmering bright sheen to them that reflects the sunny and bright feeling that the show evokes, creating this wonderfully colorful show that looks very pleasing to look at. The characters also look very nice in conjunction with the background and move very fluidly in terms of the normal animation fluidity. The artstyle is heavily moe-centered, as the characters, girls in particularly, are drawn in a very cutesy style coupled with some cutely exaggerated moments at a shot at comedy and cute pictures. I say this because there are people that REALLY hate moe, so I just wanted to mention it here.
Another thing that the show has is effects, and lots of them. The grav-shoes create contrails when the fly, and the effects of those are just really stunning to look at. One thing that does bug me about the anime is the fact that they utilize 3-D CGI very often when they're trying to make a flying scene. Using CGI for stuff like this is understandable, since the characters are moving very fast, and the amount of frame per second in order to create something like that would be time consuming to say the least, but the CGI is done in a way that really looks obvious, especially due to the fact that the fluidity of that particular scene looks stranger than it normally is. (Also, there really isn't much fanservice to be had. We get like...1 bath scene or so, and that's about it in the way of fanservice.)
+ Really nice artwork
+ Great effects
- CGI wasn't meshed well and stood out easily
Sound: The OST for Aokana is very fitting for the series. The entire OST is more or less performed with airy instruments like the flute, in order to keep up with the theme of flying up and whatnot. The OP "Contrails" is a very vibrant and uplifting piece that fits with the positive, soaring feeling that the characters have when they sprout their wings and lift off. It's a very happy song that while doesn't have a staggeringly large amount of memorable factor to it, it's still a good song.
The ED on the other hand is a more toned down song that has a similar soaring feeling to it. But instead of soaring high, the song more or less drifts around and glides. It's not particularly a song that I feel lacks in comparison to its OP. It's not a bad song, but its calm and generic sound really doesn't really do the song any favors for being particularly memorable.
+ Good, fitting music
- Not really a memorable OST
Personal Enjoyment: Aokana was that one show this season that out of every show in my watching list I thought would turn out to be a surprisingly good show, a dark horse that was good, but no one would watch. And now, after finishing it, turns out, I was right. It has its flaws and its problems, but honestly? I really think that this was a good show; an unexpectedly good show.
Did I like this anime?
To be honest, I really did. I liked it far more than I thought I would. It's unassumingly cute exterior hides a really deep and meaningful set of themes that was not only well tackled, but really played into why I think that this anime deserves far more attention than it gets. Hell, the OP has the phrase "True Battle comes After Losing", and that could not be more true to what happens in this show, and in real life. Also, flying shoes. Science, get on it.
What didn't I like about this anime?
Ok, I'll be honest, Asuka is a bit irritating. Her constant optimism is a feature of the anime that really doesn't fall, which really isn't a good thing. She sees the bright side of practically everything and doesn't falter which in a sense, clashes with what this show was trying to convey. In addition, Masaya was just NOT used. He had so much potential, and could've really added a lot to the series, but in the end, he was more or less shoved to the side and wasn't really as important as he could've or should've been. (And yes, I know that Asuka IS the main character here. Doesn't mean we couldn't have devoted more focus to Masaya.)
Would I recommend this anime?
Personally, I think that this anime is definitely worth a watch. While it looks all cutesy and moe on the outside (which...it honestly does do a lot, quite a bit actually...), what the show tries to tell us with its themes gives the show far more worth than your seasonal generic moe show. It tells us that enjoying the things we like doing is more important than winning or losing, and that work has to be put into something in order to get better, and it conveys these messages so well! IMO, Aokana is an underrated show from Winter 2016, and despite its flaws, is still worth a watch.
It took me far longer to get this review out than I had originally planned. But alas, it's here!
AoKana was a series that I was extremely hyped up for, without a doubt more than anything from the Winter 2016 season. Why? Delving a bit into the past, I read three routes of the visual novel back in June of 2015, all of which were self-translated using my knowledge of katakana/hiragana and a dictionary. It took a very long time, however I thought it was well worth it in the end simply because of how much I enjoyed it. Well more than enough to throw it
in as one of my top 3 visual novels of all time, which is a pretty large thing for me to say given that I've read quite a few of them in my life.
AoKana was a series to have its anime adaptation announced before the visual novel had even come out, which was about a year and a half prior to the anime's first episode original air date. Was I a bit skeptical by this, given that it likely means that the anime's only goal will be to advertise a brand new visual novel and not as much to be a good anime? Of course I was. However, what made me believe that this anime would be hard to screw up was just how much adaptation potential the visual novel had.
Now, what do I mean by that last statement? Basically, I felt that the visual novel would've fit far better within the medium of anime than it would in its visual novel form. In a way, I thought potential was being wasted by it being a visual novel, despite how good of a visual novel it was. So, to me, it would be extremely hard to screw up this adaptation, even if the studio in charge is one with as lousy of a history as Gonzo. That is, as long as it isn't rushed... which, sadly, the announcement of it only being 12 episodes long made me believe that it would end up pretty rushed.
Since you can, obviously, see my score of the series, you probably already know what I'm going to say about it, however let's still get on with the review.
I don't want to say the story of AoKana is cliche, because it really isn't. It deals with sci-fi themes involving humans being able to fly, and a sport that's never existed outside of the universe of AoKana. However, the way these themes are dealt with is a bit cliche/genetic, in a way.
Meet our main character, Masaya Hinata. He has decided to quit the game that this anime is based on, Flying Circus (FC), forever. That is, until he meets a girl named Asuka Kurashina, who has always dreamed of flying in the sky. When she learns about FC from Masaya, she decides that she wants to play more than anything, and also asks Masaya to be her coach. Masaya eventually agrees to be her coach, which means he must continue to make FC a significant part of his life, despite no longer wanting to be a part of it.
Do you understand how I say this is cliche in its own way? Despite the fact that it deals with completely fresh concepts, such as humans being able to fly and a sport that has never existed outside of this universe, the entire grabber of the series is still just a chain of cliche, generic, overused events that have happened far too many times in anime. Guy never wants to play a certain thing ever again for what we can likely assume is because of a past event, but suddenly a cute girl is so interested in it and wants him to help her through it, so he decides to abandon his own morals and help her. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?
And that's really all AoKana is for the first 4 or so episodes. The entire situation and the events that happen have been used far too many times to consider anything but generic. However, it's when you're able to slog through those first 4 episodes that you realize how good this series truly is. But first, sadly, I need to talk about what makes those first 4 episodes as bad as they are.
1. Everything's been used a million times.
As I said above, the first 4 episodes are really generic. As Asuka wants to start playing in this new sport, she joins her school's sports team, and is met with other cute girls that basically surround Masaya the entire time. It's then that we learn that the uniforms used to play FC are really tight and slightly skimpy outfits that bring out the T&A of these girls. Then, a string of really cliche things happen, such as the girls having sleepovers or being caught in awkward situations, going to the mall together to get Asuka the FC gear she needs to play, and fanservice. LOTS of fanservice.
2. The pacing and quality is terrible.
As I originally predicted, the first 4 episodes of AoKana are definitely rushed. Things go by way too fast to really consider them "remarkable" in even the slightest way, and you're given almost no time to savor the events that happen. The ONLY time that the pacing slows down is when you WANT it to be rushed; during massive fanservice scenes, like bath scenes and the like.
As for the quality, there are TONS of DBZ-style continuous three-frame animation sequences that are used to cut down budget while still making it look like things are happening. Again, this only changes during scenes of fanservice. Things like that are good for boosting sales of the source material.
3. It's BOOOOOOOOORING.
It honestly DOES feel like not a whole lot is happening throughout these first 4 episodes, despite that being the exact opposite. What do I mean by that? When you finish the first 4 episodes, you will think back and only really remember the character introductions and what's happened to develop them thus far. The story progression won't feel like much has happened, but that's far from the truth. This is where we go back to it being extremely rushed. It's so rushed that far too many things are cut out that shouldn't be, and thus it feels like nothing has happened when in reality, quite a bit has happened. Like, lots. This was a major flaw that I feared when it was announced that AoKana would only be 12 episodes.
4. Character progression
Overwhelming character progression doesn't really sound like it'd be a bad thing to most people when first hearing about it, but in the first 4 episodes of AoKana, it KINDA is. While I, personally, didn't think it was all that bad, many other people did. By as early as episode 2, there were people out there who were already getting sick of Asuka's character, which really shouldn't have been the case so early on. Her character was one that was meant to be adored quite a bit. This was a slight problem for Mashiro as well, but I didn't really hear a lot of complaints regarding her, so I supposed all is well there.
Alright, so I know what you're thinking so far. "Why the hell did you give this an 8/10? This sounds like a piece of crap so far!" Honestly, that was my goal here. To make the series sound like total crap up to this point. Because, in all honesty, that's really what it was up until episode 5. It sucked. To the point where I ended up dropping it until about a month after it had finished airing, despite how anticipated I was to watch it originally.
Then, we get to what I like to call the "meat and potatoes" of the series... the good part, the part that was right on-par with the rest of the visual novel, and that was just as I had expected from an anime adaptation of this wonderful visual novel: something that I could even say was BETTER than the source material.
I probably wouldn't go as far as to actually say that, but at the very least, both were equally as good from this point on.
It's almost instantly notable how much better the pacing is in episodes 5 and 6. You're able to savor almost everything that happens. Also, the quality of the show looks and feels much better; very little fanservice happens beyond reason, the art looks much more fluid, and there aren't really any situations where three-frame animation would take center stage and lower the quality of anything else. It all looks done well, and it made me happy how much better it was than the first 4 episodes.
The story begins to actually take off in episode 7, where we learn a lot of things that are crucial to the rest of the series, as well as crucial to some things that happened in past episodes. Mainly, the past of some characters, as well as within the psyche of another dominant character.
I think episodes 8-12 were without a doubt some of the best episodes I've ever seen in anime, or at the very least, some that I enjoyed the very most. What I really dislike about reviewing is that I can't go into depth with that without spoiling, but at the very least, listen to my words. The storytelling is incredibly well-done, the characters are delved into deeper and deeper outside of just continuous progression like in the first 4 episodes, and things start to matter a lot more. You start to become more and more attached to the characters/story of this series, maybe even more than you ever imagined you could, given how badly the first 4 episodes were done.
I also want to give my props to the director. Sometimes, poor directing can lead to a series being far worse than it really is, despite how good the story/characters may be. The directing of AoKana was top-notch, done perfectly for what it's worth. And I also LOVED that Wings of Courage was used in episode 12. Thank you for that. That made my entire day.
So overall, the story of AoKana goes like this:
Episodes 1-4 = no
Episodes 5-7 = yes
Episodes 8-12 = HELL YES
The characters of AoKana are some of my very favorite to ever come from a visual novel. This wasn't really changed very much in the anime adaptation, aside from the first 2-3 episodes. The personalities of all the characters were kept almost exactly the same, and were only skewered a bit in the beginning but were quickly put back on track.
Personally, Asuka was my favorite. I do agree that she was depicted to be far more annoying and clingy than she actually is in the first 2 episodes, and the constant "COACHY!!" that flew out of her mouth every 5 seconds did become obnoxious after a while. But, as I implied above, this was a very short-last thing. Even during episodes 3 and 4, which I also thought were very lousy and unworthy of being a part of this series, I still thought Asuka's character was great and depicted well for what we were given.
Besides Asuka, there was no character I liked a great deal, but that doesn't change the fact that they were still depicted very well in accordance to the series as a whole. Were those other characters perfect? Obviously not, or else I would've loved all of them! Nah, but they were still far greater than typical generic harem bait characters that you'd usually see in a series like this.
If I haven't mentioned already, there's NO romance in this series whatsoever. It's almost entirely based on the FC sport, which is a breath of fresh air given that any other series that was composed like this, especially one based off of a visual novel, would end up just being a huge harem where every girl wants to get with the dude. That isn't the case here in the anime.
I really thought the characters here were done exceptionally, and almost perfect in a way. Asuka is without a doubt one of my favorite characters of all time, and none of the other characters had enough flaws to consider anything LESS than very good. Overall, almost flawless, just simply fantastic characters.
Art & Sound:
One thing that key visuals/concept art of the anime made me realize, was just how similar the character designs were to the visual novel. That's a pretty rare thing, as visual novels typically look much better given that still images are used instead of actual animation. Minus Grisaia no Kajitsu and its sequels/prequels, VERY few visual novel adaptations have art that looks even half as good as it did in the visual novel.
There are some distinctive differences between the art styles of the two, with the most apparent one being the color choices. However, those are very simple to get used to, and you will get used to them very quickly. If you're someone coming into this anime without any prior reading of the visual novel, you will love the art from the get-go and that will be that.
The sound, however, was nothing special at all. While I did love the opening, the insert of Wings of Courage in episode 12, and thought the ending was pretty great as well, that was really the only exceptional pieces of the entire soundtrack. The rest of it complemented the anime pretty well, and I have no complaints overall. But nothing stood out enough to be considered that great.
As I said, however, I still have no complaints. It was still a good soundtrack, and I'll rate it as such.
AoKana is a bit of a hidden gem. It is certainly not perfect, and really is nothing amazing besides the very last few episodes. However, it is still well worth the watch simply because of how fresh it is and how enjoyable it is. The cliche start to the series ends up taking a great new face by turning into something that's enjoyable beyond even some of the greatest anime out there. Everything changes after those first 4 episodes, and it becomes something almost impossible to dislike. AoKana is, without a doubt, good enough to consider the 2nd best series by studio Gonzo thus far, behind only Welcome to the NHK.
Story - 8, it had its flaws in the beginning but the last 8 episodes are, for the most part, flawless in doing what they try to do. Delves much deeper than you'd ever expect in the later parts of the series.
Character - 9, every character did exactly what they were meant to, and Asuka did much more than that by being just simply amazing.
Art - 9, almost identical to the amazing art of the visual novel.
Sound - 7, good soundtrack but nothing stood out aside from a few external things.
Enjoyment - 9, there are few series out there that I enjoy more than this one. No kidding.
Overall score for AoKana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue: 8/10.
A great series through and through, but nothing too amazing. It had its flaws early on but once it corrected them, it was pretty freaking incredible.
Who would I recommend this series to:
If you like sports anime, you'll surely like this one.
If you're sick of the same cliches that happen in sports anime and want a fresh experience, you'll surely like this anime as it is an incredibly fresh take on the sports sub-genre.
If you've never watched a sports anime before, this is surely a good place to start.
Otherwise, if you want an enjoyable anime with good characters and fantastic art, you should consider checking out AoKana. Just remember, get through the first 4 episodes with understanding that it gets MUCH better after that. Don't think the entire series is going to be as bad as those first 4 episodes, because I can assure you that's NOT the case at all.
Thanks for reading my review! See you guys next time.
They should really drop the romance tag on this. (EDIT - Not anymore, thanks XEELTom for giving me the heads up! :) )
Quick summary - in a world where people have flying shoes there exists a sport that's called Flying Circus. Basically you touch four poles as fast as you can or you whack the opponent's back or well, you prevent the opponent from doing so. Not really much of a premise there LOL.
This was pretty much a sleeper hit, it was a really outstanding show from start to end considering it was based off a VN. Instead, they dropped the romance and made
it all about the sport and the girls, which was a very good approach. Character development was surprisingly well done.
All in all, if you are looking for a light hearted sport anime, this should fill that palate of yours.
It's a whole new anime story...new ideas. In this anime,it's all about flying which makes it more interesting as they compete for the champion title. Other than that, man all those new design and stuffs really makes me want to live in Japan.
The sound had nothing wrong. It fused with it vey well especially when they are in a dog fight! The voice actress and actor had a nice voice. It's very clear.The sound of the sea breeze and the wind is quite spot on when putting on earphones which is quite good.
Design and graphics:
A lot of kawai school girls with their newly designed
outfit for competition and it's quite catchy XD.Graphics are impressive of the waves and the character's expression of how serious they are during competition so there's nothing wrong with it.
At first it's gonna be not so bored since it's the introduction. Then, everything went fired up. Starts to get exciting, mind blown like WOW!!
Did you realize that many popular (and some not so popular) anime series that you've watched and enjoyed started out as visual novels? Here are ten examples of series that got their start as a game before becoming an anime.