Reviewby Theron Martin,
Air: The Motion Picture
Misuzu Kamio, a loner of a teenage girl, has missed the entire year at school due to illness but still seeks to complete a summer project about her town. Yuichi is a young puppeteer on a journey, aimlessly traveling around while vaguely searching for the “girl in the sky with wings,” a quest his mother set him upon that he gives little credence. Fate brings them together that summer as Yuichi winds up helping Misuzu get around town and look after her in exchange for food and a place to sleep. As Yuichi gradually comes to realize, though, Misuzu is actually a very sick girl, with a degenerative illness no doctor or medicine seems able to cure, yet she does not let it keep her from her happiest summer ever, for finally she has found a friend. In an ancient legend of her town, about an imprisoned winged girl who finds love with a handsome guard despite a deadly curse forbidding it, Misuzu sees parallels to her own situation. But just how far do those parallels go?
Claiming that the movie version of Air just tells a condensed version of the same story told in the TV series version is accurate only in a vague sense. It does use the same three principle characters (Yuichi, Misuzu, and Misuzu's mother/aunt Haruka), does duplicate a few scenes, does flash back to the distant past, and heads toward the same general goal, but it takes such a substantially different route to get there, and uses such a different style and tone, that it seems like a completely different story at times. It also stands on its own; those who have not seen the series will miss several cameos by series characters not dealt with in this version, but that's it. Newcomers will have no problem understanding the story based on the movie alone. Whether or not you get as good a production that way is another issue.
The most immediately noticeable difference between the TV series and movie is its visual style. Toei Animation replaced Kyoto Animation for the animation production on the movie, a move that may not sit well with fans of the series; this may be one of the rare cases where a movie version actually looks slightly worse than the series version. Toei's approach gives the visual content more depth of appearance and a little more texture, but in the process it almost entirely loses the moe feel (which may be a plus for some), subtly adjusts the character designs (especially Haruka), shades the color scheme darker, and gives the content a more cluttered feel. It also uses several visual gimmicks not seen in the series, such as alternate-art freeze shots and these occasional weird scenes where a character's head seems to pop forward on the screen. The direction shows a different sensibility on shot framing and selection, especially with its recurring shots of monstrously-masked drummers and crashing waves. The animation is still quite good, and the visuals would probably be fine if Kyoto's original work did not exist for comparison, but this is not quite as pretty overall as the TV series was. It is also racier than the TV series ever was, though nothing progresses beyond an American PG-13 rating.
The story sees even bigger changes. While the series was more of a slice-of-life story focusing on familial ties, this version is more of a love story, between Misuzu and Yuichi in the present and its parallel relationship between Princess Kanna and Uyuya in the past. The Haruka/Misuzu dynamic certainly plays into the equation but receives nowhere near as much focus as it does late in the anime series. Nearly all of the other characters from the series appear briefly or not at all, giving the impression that the movie is based exclusively on the “Misuzu” track from the original computer game, but the movie does provide brief appearances by some of Misuzu's classmates and references by them to her odd behavior, something not seen in the series. It also, thankfully, minimizes Misuzu's catch phrase “gao” but does not explain her fascination with dinosaurs. (Although it is quite apparent in the artwork.)
Does the story lose anything by this narrowing of focus, though? That comes down to a matter of personal taste and who your favorite girl was in the series and/or game. Dumping the rest of the stories does allow the ancient backstory to be tied in from the beginning, provides more opportunity for Misuzu's playful side to show, and gives her the romantic connection she probably should have had in the series. It also leaves space for important new scenes, like one very meaningful moment involving Misuzu's pictures of her mother. Had this different take on the story rounded out on the quality level that the series does, it might have worked quite well.
Unfortunately it doesn't. Despite a solid set-up and a respectable build-up of emotional appeal, the movie drops the ball in its climatic late scenes, partly by rushing them and partly by an almost disastrously mood-killing and needlessly melodramatic twist of the musical score at one key moment. Yes, the same achingly sad insert song reminiscent of Bette Midler's “The Rose” gets used as in the series, but it loses a lot of its punch because of a stupid musical decision on the lead-in and a weaker and faster set-up from the writing; it almost seems like the producers had a set length for the show, realized too late that they were getting close to it, and thus had to crunch the timeline down some. Even those who have not seen the TV series should be able to pick up on the inappropriateness of the timing in this case. The soundtrack otherwise works fine, with longer versions of the series' opener and closer used for its beginning and ending pieces and many series themes carried over.
Eliminating speaking parts for those characters not in the main story arc also, by coincidence, trims out the weaker English dub performances. Slightly revamping Misuzu's behavior actually makes Monica Rial an even better fit for the role, since her voice and vocal style have always been well-suited to playfully cute characters. As in the series, Luci Christian shows her capability with highly emotional material in the challenging role of Haruka, and Vic Mignogna does acceptably well as Yuichi. The English script also seems a little tighter, too.
Extras? What Extras? Uncharacteristically, ADV includes none.
The emotional, familial-oriented moefest of the original series has become a more narrowly-focused love story in this stand-alone alternate take on the basic storyline. It improves in some places but fails in others, and will probably ultimately appeal most to those who always found Misuzu to be their favorite character.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Artistry is still good despite the change in style, adds romantic component lacking in the TV series.
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