Sora no Woto, at its three-quarters mark as of episode 8, is fulfilling the promise that was evident from its very first episode, one background detail at a time.
So far, almost every episode of Sora no Woto is organized not just around a plot but also on revealing another significant detail or backstory hint about the post-apocalyptic world.* In most cases it also succeeds in revealing something about at least one of the characters too, and it does so without doing much to break the languid, calming mood too much–save for a few well-timed moments of genuine seriousness and tragedy. By the time a sustained example of such arrives in episode 7, the preparatory groundwork has already been laid and the drastic mood shift feels earned. No Man’s Land, lost optical technology, dead observation outposts, a recording of Amazing Grace…they all are fitting together like puzzle pieces. The dramatic revelations of Felicia’s wartime experiences make use of these prior scenes and even prior framing (see the training exercise in the tank of episode 5).
Indeed, episode 7 appears not only to be the culmination of what came before but also the start of the rest of the show–at least if the ending of episode 8 is of any portent. Discovering hints of the past is giving way to how the future–what is left of it at any rate–is going to be saved, even if it’s only on a small scale. What Felicia said the meaning of her life has become at the end of episode 7, to make sure that those under her do not suffer as she did, may become a real live mission in due time. Of course, linking the characters to the story of the Fire Maidens from the start, especially in the OP sequence, was a ready signal that they were going to re-enact its events at some point. Nevertheless, the peeing antics of most of episode 8 aside (it contains some of the best comedy-of-errors seen in the show thus far), the refrains of “Amazing Grace,” Felicia’s desperate cry “save me!” and the phone call at the end seems to indicate some kind of direction.
Of course, that could be wishful thinking: and yet what the promise this show offered from the start was a set of endearing characters playing against the backdrop of an even more interesting world. By majoring in the minors–not just showing ruins of buildings but things like the telephone hotline, the observation post, a piece of glass–Sora no Woto offers a fine-tuned sense of just how much the world has lost since the apocalyptic war. That it can do so without a sense of unremitting misery, with cheerful characters, colors, and perhaps unrealistically unruined landscapes (was it a nuclear war, really? Or just really, really destructive conventional weapons?), is something that is relatively unusual for this genre. Episode 7 asked the most important question that lurks in such a universe–is the future worth saving if humanity is slowly dying anyway?–and the sense of life and vitality in the town of Seize, not to mention the girls, is the answer.
What Sora no Woto has done so far is to combine many of the pleasures of the iyashikei anime and the drama. There’s only one other show that I have seen that has done this successfully, Haibane Renmei. While so far it doesn’t have the layers of meaning that fine spiritual parable had, it is proof that good art direction and good writing can forge two stereotypical elements–moe ensemble comedy and wartime drama–into something greater than the sum of its parts.
I eagerly await the end.
*Episode 1: the “bird” under the sea, and the tank. Episode 2: the ruins of the school. Episode 3: “Amazing Grace” and its recording. Episode 4: The optical sight for the tank, unreproducible in this time. Episode 5: the observation posts and No Man’s Land. Episode 6: this one not as much, admittedly, though the war orphan story kind of qualifies. Episode 7: the ghost of a soldier from the “Old Era” among other things. Episode 8: the deep importance of the hotline.