This is more than just a K-ON! knockoff. The show’s promise lies in its setting and backstory, which itself isn’t too original but is not the sort you would find for a moe-pandering show. For that, Sora no Woto deserves a good look.
It is sad, but true, that Kyoto Animation has squandered much of its reputation for detailed, high-budget animation quality in recent years. K-ON! exemplified this decline to a large degree, lacking the stylistic excuse Lucky Star had and seemingly forgetting in that musical show the way the “God Knows” concert scene in Haruhi had helped establish their bona fides. Not that K-ON! was a bad show for what it was–it was mildly entertaining and endearing in its own way. But animation-wise it looked a lot cheaper than, well, Haruhi or Clannad.
Thus it was both a shock and a pleasure to see essentially the same K-ON! character designs translated into lush, colorful backgrounds more than a little reminiscent of the sort Studio Ghibli conceived for Kiki’s Delivery Service. The studio animating Sora no Woto, Studio A-1, show that their own unusually detailed work for Kannagi was no accident. The idyllic town, its cliffs, the sights below the sea, are drawn superbly, and the character animation smooth and natural for TV anime.
This, too, is no accident. The setting is what makes this show stand out from the moeblob fest that this was supposed to be at first glance. The hints are scattered everywhere in the dialogue and the scenery itself: there was some kind of war. There are tanks, automobiles and trains, but for some reason, no electricity inside the homes. There are hints of an earlier apocalypse, embedded in the legends. The architecture, language, and names suggest a country in Europe, perhaps Switzerland,* but Japanese-style festivals and ribbons hang from the posts. There is, in short, a sense of both depth and melancholy lurking in the story, a quality completely absent from K-ON! because that was a different sort of show. Sora no Woto appears to be aiming in a different direction, even as it will probably engage in superficially similar character dynamics. It’s as if someone liked the concept of K-ON! but now wants to give it a foundation other than moments for otaku to say “moe moe kyun.”
The question, of course, of why the characters look almost identical to their counterparts in K-ON! is one that is hard to answer. The similarities are too uncanny to be anything but deliberate. There doesn’t appear to be any direct staff connections between K-ON! and Sora no Woto. One wonders whether someone in Studio A-1 is attempting to make a statement to KyoAni, kind of similar to the Lucky Star references in Kannagi. Any gossip about studios in this area would be interesting to report on. They are aiming at the same audience, after all.
This is the first appealing show I’ve seen so far this season, and as more episode 1s roll out this week I’ll keep writing about more. Stay tuned.
*Notice all the documents are in French, and that in a brief shot, Kanata’s transfer document states that she is in “Armee D’Helvetia.” Helvetia, or Helvetica, is the Latin name for Switzerland. Western Switzerland, including Geneva, is French speaking.