*SOME SPOILERS POSSIBLE*
Air’s story begins with our male lead Yukito arriving in a small, sleepy coastal town as part of his search for the legendary girl in the sky, as his mother did before him. He also seems to possess some completely unexplained and magical ability to control a little puppet plushie without strings (or any movement at all in some cases), a power which probably would have been punishable by death back in the days of witch-hunting during the 17th century. Mysterious and demonic puppetry skills aside, our protagonist soon bumps into a quirky girl called Misuzu, who like many of the earlier Key female characters suffers from an idiosyncratic catchphrase (in this case it’s “gao” – the Japanese word for a dinosaur’s roar). As the duo become more friendly with each other they soon meet more friends out of the whole 10 people who live in this very small town (literally, you see no one else) and have joyous adventures together.
However, if you are already familiar with visual novels by Key, you know that this harmony cannot last and soon Air begins to turn on the emotion… or at least tries to. I don’t know what it is exactly but much like Kanon, something just doesn’t connect to make Air as sad as it should be. Personally I believe that it is very difficult to make any TV series/film emotional without making it seemed forced, and while Kanon suffers from this problem, Air appears to be the opposite. It’s not that it isn’t trying, but as I was watching the last 2 or 3 episodes I was believing that I should be feeling more for the characters… yet I wasn’t.
There is also an initially confusing detour in the story about 2/3 of the way through which rewinds the clock by 1000 years and introduces a new set of 3 characters. While it is explained soon after, it literally has no build up and just suddenly occurs from the very beginning of an episode. You really don’t expect it (unless you watched the TV promos after the ending of the previous episode) and it sort of derails the main storyline for a few episodes.
The story isn’t terrible by any means and had potential, but it just doesn’t connect as well as say Clannad’s does.
I don’t wish to continually praise Kyoto Animation but once again they do a great job. Air is very impressive for 2005. It has wondrous lighting, heat haze, and particle effects which all make the summer almost feel real, as if you were watching the series whilst outside in the park on a glorious summer’s day. I honestly expected no less from KyoAni in this regard.
That being said, it isn’t perfect when it comes to people. Faces aren’t completely consistent and there’s the rare eye hiccup but it’s decent throughout and Kyoto did a good job maintaining the original 2000 visual novel’s style while still making it seem more modern than it actually is.
Air has one of the most incredibly beautiful soundtracks I have heard in an anime. It is integral in the series’ almost perfect portrayal of summer and is a wonderful mixture of both relaxing and emotional tunes. It’s honestly better than most “chill out” albums I have come across.
The voice acting is pretty solid throughout, if not a touch near-melodramatic on the rare occasion but it doesn’t detract from the anime as a whole. Thankfully, Misuzu’s “gao” catchphrase never really gets annoying like Kanon’s “uguu” and “au” do as it is used FAR less (in fact, Yukito is tasked with stopping her from saying it at one point, which may be an inside joke but who knows).
The characters are alright but very typical of Key. They are very similar to the main cast of characters to both Kanon and Clannad if you have seen one of those beforehand. You have the stoic girl (Minagi) just like Mai and Kotomi, the younger tsundere (Michiru) just like Makoto and Fuko, and so forth. I’m not holding this against Air personally but when watching it I couldn’t help but notice massive similarities in these characters between it and its two sister series.
Characterisation is also not as strong as it is in Clannad or Kanon unfortunately, although this is probably due to the episode count more than anything. Air simply isn’t long enough to develop enough attachment to the main characters to make it as emotional as it should be, unlike Angel Beats, which achieves this very well in the same amount of air time. Yukito is saying that he will stay with Misuzu forever when he has only known her for like a week at the very most, and this seems a little rushed to the viewer. Perhaps if the series was the usual 24-26 episode affair the emotion may have been more effective, but we may never know.
While Air is not a bad anime by any stretch of the word, it is easily the weakest of the “holy trinity” of Key/Kyoto visual novel adaptations. I would highly recommend watching Clannad before it and possibly Kanon as well.