Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
AOKANA: Four Rhythm Across the Blue
When Asuka moves to a remote island during her second year of high school, she's surprised to find it a hotbed of activity for the sport FC, short for Flying Circus. Despite never having worn GravShoes before (the special footwear that allows people to fly), Asuka quickly becomes enamored of the sport, and she and her new friends join their school's tiny FC team. Can the girls rise to stardom despite their limited experience? With the help of Masaya, a boy who used to be an FC champ, they just might.
Although AOKANA: Four Rhythm Across the Blue has its origins in an adult visual novel, I suspect that watching the anime is a vastly different experience. That's not simply because the anime takes out any ecchi elements present in the game, even featuring very limited fanservice, but also due to the fact that the player character in the game, Masaya, is largely kept out of the action. Yes, when you're in the viewpoint of the main character in a VN there's generally more emphasis on reacting to the romanceable characters and their actions, but there's also the chance to get the protagonist's thoughts and feelings firsthand, or at least an understanding of their backstory. In the case of the Aokana anime, Masaya isn't even present for many of the scenes, and his past is limited to “he was good at this sport, but he doesn't play anymore.” While we get some nods to his champion status in the form of side characters making passing comments, for the most part this story is all about the girls, most specifically one of the four main heroines of the game, making it feel much more like a girls' sports series than anything resembling a harem or more typical VN adaptation.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you go into the show explicitly expecting it to go another way. Someone clearly put a lot of thought into both the mechanics of the GravShoes (footwear that enables flying) and the rules and functionality of the in-world sport of Flying Circus, even going so far as to make a play on the English word “circus” being used in both the sense of a traffic circle (think Piccadilly Circus) and a traveling entertainment. It's also interesting to see that FC was clearly designed as a non-gendered sport, as several of the games involved mixed-gender matches; that's a nice addition to the sport and world building in general.
The problems begin to arise when you realize that the anime is, in fact, trying to be a more faithful adaptation of the game than appears to be possible within twelve episodes, and that rather than picking and choosing what plots and characters to introduce, it instead opts to fleetingly mention what feels like fifty percent more plot points than it intends to cover, giving the overall show the feeling of racing to hit checkpoints. The first, and perhaps best, example we have of this (apart from Masaya's truncated past) is the use of the character Rika; one of the four main heroines of the game, Rika is here used for two throwaway jokes about how she can't be bothered to close her bedroom curtains before changing and blames Masaya for it. She does show up later in the series to help train Mashiro, but essentially is reduced to her plot points rather than being a regular character. This trend continues throughout the series, with the story flying along at a clip that certainly keeps the action going, but at the expense of both character development and story depth. Given that part of the plot relies on the fact that Asuka is talented but needs a lot of training, the dearth of training scenes in favor of actual FC games feels like a bit of a letdown. Not that we don't want (and need) to see Asuka, Mashiro, and Misaki compete, but skimping on Asuka getting better takes some of the triumph out of her games because we have no real notion of how hard she worked to get there.
Like the plot, the art is a mixed bag. Scenes of the FC games from afar are beautiful, with detailed looping contrails in various colors painting the sky, and late-show games have a good sense of tension in both the pacing and the actual movements on the screen. While fanservice is at a minimum (the lack of underwear shots when the girls all fly to school in miniskirts actually feels more distracting than underwear would have), the FC uniforms still show off players' figures, although the lack of goggles given their speeds seems weird. Art stays largely on-model, and the color scheme is bright and cheerful. There is a bit of awkward CG at times – mostly during games – and non-flying scenes are not nearly as nicely animated as the flying ones.
While both dub and sub tracks are fine, I did find that the subtitles helped to create a barrier between some of the more annoying characters and the viewer. Asuka and Mashiro can both be very grating, and their voices do play a role in that; that the English actors matched the Japanese on that front is impressive. No one voice stands out in either track, which is symptomatic of this entire series: it's serviceably mediocre, “good enough” without truly achieving “good.” That may be why this got a bare-bones BD-only release, with clean songs and trailers as the only extras. Aokana is the kind of show that you can put on for background noise, mildly engaging and with the potential to have been more, foiled by its need to cover too much of its source material without delving into what made it good enough to adapt in the first place.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C
+ Some good story elements and nice imagery
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