Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Sound of the Sky
The 1121st Platoon guards the city of Seize, watching the border of Helvetia and neighboring Rome for the safety of all. Led by Filicia Heideman, its five members pass their days in relative peace, going on patrols, maintaining their posts, and generally enjoying the current ceasefire. But even if the war has come to a halt, the scars of its violence still trouble these five young women. In a world on the brink of destruction, the beauty of the everyday is a precious, fleeting thing.
Sound of the Sky opens with new soldier Kanata Sorami heading off to her first post, a guard post at the border city of Seize. Stark cliffs and cozy tiled roofs introduce us to her new city, a rustic town that's currently in the middle of a festival. As Kanata eventually learns, this festival is intended to honor the flame maidens, girls who once held a great beast's burning head to their breasts to keep the town from burning. Kanata's fellow soldier Rio Kazumiya plays the part of the maiden herself, her pantomime of sacrifice echoing the role Kanata and her compatriots must actually play.
From there, Sound of the Sky slowly builds a living world and fully convincing cast. Along with Kanata and Rio, the 1121st Platoon includes the standoffish Kureha, their gunner, taciturn mechanic-slash-pilot Noel, and their motherly leader, Filicia. Rio and Filicia often seem to take the role of the parents in this motley crew, but as with the flame maidens, that choice is very intentional. Sound of the Sky is a war story and a slice of life tableau, but it's also a heart-on-sleeve exploration of faith, family, and all the restless feelings that living at the end of the world might bring.
Most episodes of Sound of the Sky juggle these various priorities with tremendous grace. The early episodes stick mostly to slice of life material, cataloging issues like Kanata's attempts to improve her horn playing or the younger members of the platoon going out on patrol. All the while, the offhand details of the world around them offer both context and intriguing questions about their world. The fact that a cast like this could fit just as easily into a school club setting is quickly made a thematic point - investigating a broken-down school, Kanata actually marvels at the idea that people her age once had the luxury of schooling, or the ability to learn an instrument even outside of the military. The nostalgia that often underlines slice of life narratives is turned back outwards, reframed as nostalgia for a whole world that's passed.
Coupled with that sense of a fading world is a renewed determination to enjoy the everyday. Sound of the Sky presents a world on the brink of collapse, either through senseless war or environmental degradation, and the immediacy of non-existence actually makes the warm, incidental slice of life material that much more meaningful. Sequences of Kanata and her fellow soldiers enjoying themselves are ultimately cast as perhaps the only coherent response to the existential despair of their moment. These characters can't save the world, but they can be kind to each other, and make their existing days as bright as possible.
Into this fundamentally poignant combination, Sound of the Sky methodically stirs consistent reflections on war, thoughts about growing up, and steady characterization. Every member of the 1121st Platoon, and even the other secondary characters, all have full stories to be illuminated in time. These backstories offer context, but do not dictate their lives - it's easy to see how Filicia's horrific time on the front lines impacts the way she interacts with her underlings, but it's just as clear that she is more than her worst memories. On the flip side, Kureha's everyday persona hews closely towards a tsundere archetype, but the way she attempts to act strong for the others sincerely reflects her relationship with her own parents.
These little personal stories also add complexity to the show's overall thematic thrust. Filicia's backstory, which brings us the closest to the immediate, violent horrors of war, ultimately resolves in her belief that “there is no meaning in this world. But isn't that wonderful? It means we can find our own meaning.” Kureha's hero-worship of a famous soldier eventually spins itself into a story about how parents must find bravery in the performance of bravery, for the sake of those who look up to them. Rio's resentful feelings towards her own father are given stark context by a lonely old women, whose life on the mountains offers an ambiguous question about the validity of false hope.
The power of hope, and of girding yourself with faith even when the world is falling apart, is the beating heart of the show. Sound of the Sky wears its heart on its sleeve at basically all times, and so it's no surprise that the title itself points to this story's most fundamental belief. In the midst of war and ruin, the sound of Kanata's trumpet rises above - frail and distant at times, wincingly unpracticed at first, but played without fail, whatever may come. Music connects all of these characters, a sound that reminds them of blue skies and old friends even in their darkest moments. Insubstantial and often missed, but unbreakable in the end. Amazing Grace ringing out over a battlefield, ending nothing, but joining hearts for a song's breadth.
Sound of the Sky's soundtrack is well up to the task of supporting a show predicated on the transformative power of song. Along with regular horn interludes courtesy of Kanata and Rio, the show's songs are a diverse mix of understated melodies played on piano, strings, and much else besides. The soundtrack matches the show's evocative rural setting, making for a cohesive and beautiful whole.
The show's visual execution is even stronger than its music. Sound of the Sky's character designs fall somewhere between K-On! and The Idolmaster, possessing a looseness of design and movement that naturally lends itself to strong character acting. The show's animation isn't nearly as strong as either of those reference points, but it's still quite capable in its own right, and major moments are livened by the same kind of jerky, keyframe-happy animation that gave Idolmaster such life.
Even more impressive than the character art is the background art, which makes Seize feel more real than many places I've actually visited. The architecture here hews closely to a common anime vision of faux-Italy, full of cobbled streets and looming, shingled houses. The closest reference point would be Haibane Renmei, a show that Sound of the Sky also echoes in its genre mix and thematic ambition. Sound of the Sky depicts a world that's crumbling but clearly worth protecting, its lavish backgrounds turning Seize into a comfortable home.
Sound of the Sky comes in a standard bluray case on two discs. There are no physical extras and no dub, but the discs contain a pair of bonus episodes, an alternate version of the first episode, and a variety of art galleries. The bonus episodes in particular felt like an indispensable inclusion - while the first one was mostly just a (very funny) slice of life adventure, the second felt like the true ending to the series, bringing Kanata's growth and Rio's role as her surrogate mother back to where they started. And the art galleries were also quite welcome, further emphasizing the fantastic art design of this production.
Overall, I'd recommend Sound of the Sky to slice of life fans, people who prefer their stories layered with thematic touchstones, or really anyone who enjoys a beautiful story told well. I'm frankly surprised I've heard so little regarding this show, given how impressive it is in virtually all regards. Sound of the Sky finds beauty in the harshest of times without compromising either its sense of joy or its understanding of suffering and consequence. It is a firm affirmation of the power of hope, and of our ability to find home wherever we may go.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Rich and layered story full of vivid characters and thoughtful reflections on a wide range of subjects, background art truly brings the setting to life
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