Judge Clark Douglas dreams of the girl with wings. Will she also have buffalo sauce?
An elusive girl in the sky…does she want to be found?
"After a dream ends, you still get to keep the memory."
Facts of the Case
Ever since he was a young child, Yukito has been a traveler. He's now a young man, and his life isn't so great. He struggles to survive each and every day, using his minor telekinetic powers to offer string-free puppet shows on the sidewalk. If he's lucky, children throw him a few coins. Most days he doesn't make anything. Yukito moves from town to town in hope of finding an attentive audience for his show. One day, he arrives in a bucolic seaside town. There he meets a very odd young girl named Misuzo. At first Yukito is annoyed by Misuzo's constant questioning, but he eventually becomes friends with her. As a way of repaying Yukito for his friendship, Misuzo offers Yukito the opportunity to stay with her and her alcoholic mother for a while. Yukito accepts and begins the process of starting a new life. He finds a job doing odds and ends at a local medical clinic, and makes friends with three more young girls: a serene stargazer named Minagi, a mysterious dreamer named Kano, and a hyperactive little pipsqueak named Michiru.
Ever since childhood, Yukito has dreamed of one day meeting a woman with wings that his mother told him about. That dream has always seemed extraordinarily elusive, but suddenly he finds himself surrounded by stories of this woman and clues regarding her whereabouts. Who is the mysterious woman in the sky, and what role will his new friends play in helping him find her?
The 12 episodes (plus two bonus episodes) are spread across three discs:
Air originated as a visual novel (a sort of interactive game) intended for adults. The story was similar to the one presented in this 12-part television show, but it also offered mature content featuring graphic sexual encounters between Yukito and the three young female characters. That's particularly disturbing when one considers Yukito's "big brother" role in the story, and thankfully it's been removed here. The sexual content was never an integral part of the original story anyway, but rather a sort of "dirty bonus" rewarding viewers for successfully completing various challenges. This television miniseries cuts out any explicit adult content and makes Air a reasonably family-friendly viewing experience. The result is a rather engaging and touching saga that offers something a bit different for anime fans.
The story is slow-burning and may require a bit of patience on the part of the viewer. The first three or four episodes spend a great deal of time meandering and letting us get to know the characters. These early moments are pleasant, but after a while one may begin to wonder whether Air is ever actually going to go anywhere. Never fear. Once Air starts cooking, it becomes a thoroughly compelling melodrama that offers a satisfyingly layered tale of magic, fantasy, religion, mythology, and simple human friendship. There's an excellent measure of balance between the elements of mysticism and ordinary reality, constantly keeping the story grounded in some sort of relatable reality while simultaneously exploring lots of ethereal concepts.
The series is more or less divided into four sections. The first section (episodes 1-3) focuses on introducing us to Yukito and the other characters (all female) in the village. As I mentioned earlier, it's a bit slow, but it does provide us with some essential character development. The second section (episodes 4-6) puts the focus on the relationship between Yukito, Minagi and Michiru, culminating in a big emotional climax at the conclusion of episode 6. This was perhaps the most effective portion of the series for me, as I was genuinely touched by the ideas at the core of this sequence. Section three (episodes 7-9) jumps back into 10th Century Japan, offering us a portrait of a relationship between a military guard and the mystical woman with wings. Much like the first portion of the series, this one offers essential information but is also a bit dry and dull. It's also a little frustrating because we're hankering to get back to the present day considering the events that are taking place there. I wonder if it would have been more effective to present this material via occasional flashbacks rather than in one big three-episode chunk. The final portion (episodes 10-12) restarts the story from Misuzu's perspective (and also tweaking the events in a small but crucial manner), leading up to the big tragic climax. It's a satisfying conclusion to the whole saga, tying every loose end together neatly without seeming too contrived.
Also included are two bonus Air in Summer episodes created after the initial 12-episode run. These two episodes take some time to expand the story of the characters from episodes 7-9. It's something of an unusual idea, as these characters are nowhere near as interesting as Yukito, Misuzu and the other modern-day characters. These episodes seem slightly less impressive in terms of writing quality than the episodes contained within the 12-episode miniseries, and they also employ some racy humor that seems a bit inappropriate for this show. The episodes also repeat some footage from the main series episodes. Even so, I suppose fans of Air will be glad to have these onhand for the sake of completeness. If you're just renting the show out of curiosity, I wouldn't bother picking up the third disc unless you're really desperate to see more of the 10th Century saga.
The transfer is pretty solid throughout, with no discernable scratches, flecks, or smudges. The colors throughout are very vibrant and rich; Air is certainly easy on the eyes. The animation is quite lovely throughout, even if it does get just a tad too lazy on occasion (for instance, when the characters aren't being shown in close-up, sometimes the animators think they can just get away with drawing heads without eyes or mouths. Maybe that works on a small television screen, but on the 42" widescreen television I reviewed this set on it just seemed a bit awkward. The 2.0 audio is effective, with the attractive score blending very nicely with the dialogue and surprisingly complex sound design. I'll also note that I was very pleased with the English dubbing here (perhaps predictable considering that Funimation has typically received high marks in this area). There are no extras included (unless you want to count the Air in Summer episodes as supplements).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Aside from the fact that the series tends to veer between absorbing and merely interesting, my biggest problem with the show is that it occasionally milks the big emotional moments a bit too shamelessly. The events that transpire over the course of Air are moving enough on their own; there's no need to oversell them. Additionally, the strange sequences in which Michiru childishly attacks Yukito are quite disturbing. This is mostly due to the fact that Yukito responds to Michiru's attacks by hitting her, which is intended as comic relief but simply isn't funny at all. These scenes feel disconnected from everything else, and it's too bad that someone didn't just snip them. Finally, parents may want to be aware of some PG-13-level violence during the 10th Century third portion that may disturb some younger viewers.
Air: The Complete Series is a melancholic and unique anime series that will be a worthwhile viewing experience for patient viewers. Recommended.
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