Reviewby Theron Martin,
When Yukito Kunisaki's mother died, she left him with two things: a talent for puppetry and stories of a lifetime search for a girl with wings who flew through the sky. Yukito takes on the quests as his own, eventually finding himself in a small town where he does odd jobs and looks after a clumsy girl named Misuzu to earn a living and place to stay. Though Misuzu also dreams of a winged girl and harbors several odd quirks, she is not the only girl/young woman in town with a story and boatload of peculiarities. Teenage Kano has a personality disorder that may or may not be related to a curse borne since childhood, Kano's adult sister Hijiri had to finish raising her after their parents died, Misuzu's hard-drinking biker-chick mother feels unfit to serve the role, and so forth. Gradually Yukito finds himself wrapped up in their stories while trying to figure out if any of the tantalizing allusions to a girl with wings mean anything.
That Air originates from an ero game (though a more family-friendly version was also made for various platforms) should be eminently clear to anyone who has ever played such games, as the story structure and character roster all bear the indelible imprints of the dating sim style. Through the first four episodes only one other male character beyond Yukito appears even briefly in anything other than flashbacks, and the cast of female characters provides a broad array of looks and personalities which cover all the normal bases of such games: the clumsy girl, the clearly underage one, the one who always leads with physical harm, the infallibly sweet and nice one, the troubled one, the older sister who had to raise a younger sibling, the still-young-at-heart adult woman, and so on. The first two episodes devote themselves almost entirely to introducing Yukito to the entire cast in turn, much like you would see in a dating sim, while the remaining content involves assorted interactions with the cast as the male lead concentrates on one girl or another. Beginning with the end of episode 2 the focus falls heaviest on Kano, but Misuzu remains prominent throughout and enough implications about the backstories of other characters have been dropped to assure that other girls are likely to eventually get their turns, too.
Even discounting its origins, the series gives off vaguely haremesque vibes but without everyone living together. Between Misuzu always tripping, kids always dissing Yukito over his puppet, the lovable antics of the dog Potato, and Michiru attacking Yukito at every opportunity, the series offers enough supposed comic relief to prevent it from becoming a purely serious story, but the emphasis centers more on the characters interactions and potential romances than the humor. And until the business with Kano and the cursed feather starts up, that's all the series does: introduce and establish characters. No real plot development can be found in the first two episodes, nor do the events of the second two episodes have the feel of greater implications for an overall plot. While the gentle cuteness of it all will certainly sell the series to some viewers, others will find themselves losing interest after the frightfully dull first two episodes.
Some may find such a criticism to be unfair, as this is clearly a slower-paced story not intended to be packed with action, or more happens later on to balance things out, but that's missing the point: unless you buy into the cuteness, little happens in the first two episodes to sustain interest, and the first two episodes often are what sell a series. Numerous other anime romances featuring one guy at the center of several girls have gotten off to far better starts in the same amount of time and with an equal lack of genuine action. (Ai Yori Aoshi and Rumbling Hearts immediately spring to mind.) The creators do pull a nice gimmick with some guest appearances from the series Kanon, but beyond that the characters fall too much into bland stereotypes to be particularly interesting, little sense of compelling connection exists between any of them, and the writing barely tries to portray the story as anything special.. Things do improve somewhat with the shift in focus to Kano's story, but so far the storytelling has shown little that would justify a recommendation.
Of course, for some the character designs alone will be enough to watch this one. All of the female characters have that huge-eyed small-mouthed cuteness so stereotypical of anime/manga/dating sim games, and most have a decided moe hook going for them as well. They provide a good variety of different looks and hair styles, and unlike many such series focusing on the girls the male lead also gets a favorable design. Key/Visual Arts was responsible for the source material, but the fine renderings and lush and vibrant coloring bear the telltale stamp of Kyoto Animation, which further solidifies its reputation as one of the top producers of quality visuals in anime with another excellent effort here. As befitting the series title, KA has devoted special attention to the look and animation of clouds in background shots, though all of their animation has a smooth look about it. Whatever the series may lack in storytelling, it certainly does not lack for visual quality.
The soundtrack works best in its gentle, melodic piano numbers, which provide pleasant mood-setting sound. Less successful are the synthesized individual character themes, which sometimes detract from the musical flow. The theme songs, both performed by singer Lia, fit well into that musical flow, with the opener perfectly setting the tone and the more upbeat closer providing a more energetic (if bland) ending to each episode.
ADV's English dub generally does an effective job of capturing the tone and essence of the characters, and should be acceptable to those who have never heard the original Japanese vocals, but fans of the original performances may not care for some of the casting decisions. No one else probably could have fit the role of Misuzu better than Monica Rial, and Tiffany Grant sounds so close to the original performance of Potato that it may be hard to tell a different VA did it in English and Japanese, but Kira Vincent Davis does not fit Minagi as well and gives a performance which is passable on its own merits but offers a decidedly different style than the Japanese performance. Some may also find issue with Vic Mignogna as Yukito, who gets Yukito's orneriness down right but does cannot replicate the sharp, deep-voiced delivery of the original. Preferences on other performances come down to a matter of personal taste.
The only Extras available on this volume are clean versions of the opener and closer. ADV has prominently marked the DVD wrap with “Air on TV” to distinguish it from the movie version of the content, however.
Astute viewers may notice a cryptic reference to “The 1000th Summer” at the beginning of the intro. Although this will ultimately prove to be an important detail, it is a point whose meaning is not even hinted at in this volume. Future volumes will tell the story on that, and also hopefully produce a more involving general story as well. So far, though, the series has shown little to merit all the positive attention it gets from fans.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Excellent visuals, some great soundtrack pieces.
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