Reviewby Theron Martin,
In the past storyline, Kanna's guardians Uyuya and Uraha rescue her mother and try to flee with the two winged beings, only to see their efforts lead to a calamity whose effects ripple down through the ages. To attempt to remedy it, they decide to create a legacy that will also pass down through the ages. Closer to present time, a lonely pre-Yukito Misuzu befriends a bird that may ultimately be more than ordinary and connected to the fate gradually overtaking her. As Yukito exits from the scene, Haruko contemplates her relationship with Misuzu and makes a fateful decision: rather than continue to keep her emotional distance, she will try to be a real mother to Misuzu, despite the emotional risk for her and the problems that arise. But with Misuzu's health continuing to deteriorate and her father now asking for her back, will Haruko have enough time to forge a bond absent these many years?
So little actually happened in the first volume that it may have discouraged some from sticking with the series, but those that did discovered in volume 2, and especially volume 3, the true sum and substance of of Air:
It is one of the saddest anime ever made.
Mind you, this does not necessarily make it a depressing series, but throughout its second and third volumes (and, to a lesser extent, in the earlier episodes, too) the underlying sadness is ever-present; sometimes overt, sometimes not, but never far way from the events at hand. It is more integral to the totality of the content than any other series in recent years save perhaps Saikano.
And that sadness will work on you, slowly but relentlessly, until you either give in and have a good cry or throw up your hands in frustration, complain about how manipulative it is, and turn it off in disgust. Most viewers watching these episodes, however, will find it hard to resist the tragic appeal of Misuzu, a character who seems doomed to solitude and suffering by circumstance and Fate, or Haruko, who realizes almost too late that Misuzu has grown on her too much for her to deny any longer that she really does want to be Misuzu's mother and not just her guardian. The nearly exclusive emphasis on their relationship in the final two episodes rounds out the series, gives it some of its most emotional moments, and fills in the one crucial character interrelationship amongst the girls that had yet to be resolved. Episode 10 sets up that interplay by showing some earlier scenes from a different perspective, while episode 9, which finishes the ancient backstory about winged people, provides the context for the series as a whole and implies why the events of the final episodes must happen the way they do.
Not everything plays out flawlessly. Granted, Yukito needed to be out of the picture so his presence would not distract in the crucial scenes between Misuzu and Haruko, but the way he gets removed does not set quite right, one crucial sequence is badly contrived, and the writing sometimes pushes a little too hard in trying to craft the emotional intensity. Some time-related issues are also conveniently overlooked, and one must also be in the right mood to fully appreciate the content; this is the kind of thing you want to relax with late at night when you can cuddle up in a blanket without distractions or with only a loved one, not something you want to watch when in a hurry, distracted, or after having a bad day. The final few episodes may have the rare light-hearted moment, but on the whole they are anything but mellow.
The cutesy character designs have a distinctive common look which not everyone will find appealing, but only in their depictions of Haruko do they stray towards fan service during this volume. Misuzu looks strikingly younger when her hair gets cut at one point, an effect that was no doubt intentional given what's happening in the storyline at that time. (One could argue that her design was modified by more than just the shorter hair to achieve that appearance, however.) The overall artistic look works better as a collection of set pieces strung together with a bit of animation, as despite some good animation the visuals do not promote a fluid, mobile feel. This has no impact on the storytelling, however, and may, in fact, serve to narrow the focus onto the story and characters.
Nowhere does the sadness come through more clearly than in the gentle, breezy musical score, especially the achingly melancholy yet thoroughly lovely insert song which highlights the series' climax in episode 12; parts of it may remind older anime fans of Bette Midler's 1979 hit single “The Rose,” but that is almost certainly a coincidence. That theme, without the lyrics, also gets used elsewhere in the volume, and serves as a nice complement to the strong opener and solid closer, both sung by Lia.
That the English dub loses little of the emotional impact of the original is a testament to the key performances of Monica Rial and especially Luci Christian in some very challenging work as Misuzu and Haruko. Sub fans may not be entirely comfortable with how different some of the other voices sound in English (many of the other feminine voices are deeper in English), but those used to dubs should not have a problem with it. The dub script often quite liberally interprets the original dialogue, but stays much truer in the critical scenes towards the end.
Extras this time include another round at the clean opener and closer and a preview of “Misuzu's Story,” the recap 13th episode which actually ends the TV series even though the story concludes with episode 12. It and the two-episode Air Summer Special, which elaborates on the journey of Uraha, Uyuya, and Kanna in search of Kanna's mother, compose the upcoming fourth and final DVD release for the TV series.
Watching the finale of Air can be a powerfully cathartic experience, one which dims not at all on repeat viewings. It is not perfect and will not work for everyone, but those who do get wrapped up in the emotions portrayed here will find themselves periodically rewatching this volume over time. If you have seen this series in fansubs or an anime club/convention and do not at least own this volume, you are doing yourself a serious disservice.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Effectively emotional storytelling, superb insert song.
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