Since it seems impossible to address So Ra No Wo To without mentioning this, let me begin by talking about the elephant in the room: no, this anime is not just K-On! but in the military. Yes, it has central cast of five cute girls; yes, it has virtually the same artstyle; and, yes, it has music and slice of life elements. But beyond this superficial level, the shows are entirely different. I love K-On! to death, but if you come into this show expecting cute, low-stakes misadventures and happy tales of adolescence, you will be in for a surprise.
Okay, glad we got that one cleared up.
Enough about what So Ra No Wo To isn't. Let's talk about what it is. As the plot synopsis suggests, this anime follows Kanata Sorami, an rather naïve 15-year-old bugler who joins a group of four military officers (read: cute girls) at an outskirts outpost in a war torn country. Throughout the series we see these five living out their lives as best they can in this comfortless world, and we slowly begin to understand the nature of the conflict that has occurred, and in some ways, continues to occur around them.
From the way I have described it, this anime probably sounds like a very bleak and serious affair, but this is a bit deceptive. Sure, it may take place in a barren, hopeless setting, but if there is one feeling that underlies all of So Ra No Wo To, it is not hopelessness but optimism. Kanata, our main character, is filled with an unrelenting (and perhaps even immature) optimism, and spends much of the series spreading this optimism to the other four girls. In this sense, despite its dark premise, So Ra No Wo To is not an especially heavy show. There are certainly somber moments, but thanks to the spark that Kanata brings to it, there is a substantial serving of comedy and general lightheartedness to offset the potential solemnity.
In terms of actual episode-to-episode content, So Ra No Wo To is a slice of life anime through and through. Principally, it alternates between more serious, character drama-focused episodes and lighter, comedy-focused episodes. Uncharitable viewers might be inclined to refer to some of the lighter episodes of this series as "moe shit," and while I object to the idea that any moe is shit, I would advise you to be wary if you tend to dislike moe slice of life anime. None of it ever reaches the cutesy heights of, say, K-On!, but it is certainly quite, um... fluffy... at times. If you're like me though, and you enjoy a good show about doing cute girls doing cute things, then you will enjoy these lighter episodes as much as you enjoy the more serious ones. Certainly, So Ra No Wo To is as much an anime about sadness as it is about hope, so I don't think it would be complete without its lighter episodes (or its darker ones, for that matter).
While we're on the topic of its moe elements, let's discuss this show's aesthetic. As mentioned earlier, its artstyle bears a striking resemblance to that of K-On!. The animation never quite reaches the peaks of that show, but it does do an excellent job of rendering both the cute moments and the more dramatic events that make up this anime without either side feeling awkward or out of place. In terms of sound design, So Ra No Wo To also does quite well; both voice acting and background music are on-point. More interestingly, the opening and ending songs reflect the serious vs. lighthearted dichotomy of the show itself, with the opening being a weighty, traditional sounding piece while the ending is of a more upbeat, cutesy sort (as you might expect of a cute girls doing cute things anime).
Now, this has been a very positive review thus far, but unfortunately I do have some minor criticisms to make of So Ra No Wo To as well. As much as I like Kanata's bundle-of-joy personality, she, along with many of the show's other major characters, suffers from being rather archetypal. All the characters do develop over the course of the series but not, I think, far enough to sufficiently differentiate them from the well-established anime cliches that they are clearly based on. This is not a particularly damning issue during the cute girls doing cute things segments, but when the show turns to drama, it is certainly limited from achieving its full aspirations. The weakness of its characters does not ruin the show by any means, but it does prevent it from becoming something truly great.
As it stands, So Ra No Wo To is a good and much underrated slice of life anime whose issues are few and far between in comparison to its many successes. Combining cute girls doing cute things with war drama is a bizarre and ambitious choice if there ever was one, but this anime does a remarkably good job of making it work.
Anyone looking for a slice of life show with a little more thematic depth than the norm would do well to check this one out!