As with most of the anime I watch, Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo-- 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Space'-- was on a whim after seeing its opening. That said, I mean, just look at the title; 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Space?' I knew there were robots, but there was a girl who magically went from schoolgirl to space cowgirl, so I knew I was going to have to suck in my stomach, puff out my chest and remind myself that I am a manly man. (To remedy any emasculation caused, I interjected about halfway through with some Mazinkaiser SKL. It worked.)
Nonetheless, I went in interested enough to be greeted by Jun Fukuyama, probably most popularized through Lelouch vi Britannia of Code Geass fame, voice acting what can best be called as a supercomputer Lelouch, if Lelouch were emotional and comically dramatic (as opposed to intensely dramatic). Needless to say, if for nothing else, I continued watching to see this.
But beneath silly antics and an all-too-loveable Fukuyama role, not to mention some mecha fighting, what was going on underneath Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo's hood of mystery? I kept watching, curiousity effectively pulled. The result was not nearly what I thought of an anime with such a title.
Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo begins by showing us Akiha Shishidou's bizarre life; a sister who wants to arrange a marriage, another who appears to resent her, an innocent school life. All of this is quickly turned upside-down when a little voyage into space with the intent of marveling at some exploration turns into the initial event that sparks a much greater chain, at the center of which Akiha is unwittingly placed. Stumbling upon the rather eccentric and extremely megalomaniacal Leopard-- Jun Fukuyama-voiced supercomputer, remember!-- inside a giant and apparently abandoned space colony, Akiha is interlaced into a series of events that involve the fight against Nerval, a similar computer (a "brain colony") that poses a threat to humanity's freedom.
As the story progresses, the stakes become more and more intricately personal to Akiha, involving her, the characters and environs around her, and more importantly bringing to light the significance of her role in things. All amidst this it builds a suspenseful plot with many a slick turn. It's not the most original, and at points it feels like it's dropping off, but it manages to snatch attention back before long most times.
All the same, the ending-- without spoiling anything-- drops this momentum very heavily, and even after building it up extremely well. With another five or so episodes, I have no doubt the final arc of this anime would have held a lot more drama and intensity. While it's not as disappointed as I've been in the past such as with Ga-Rei: Zero, I certainly wasn't expecting this kind of put-put-run-out-of-steam. Nonetheless, everything leading up to it is satisfying enough that I wouldn't discourage watching this anime. 6/10 is probably as accurate as I can get-- the few drops in momentum combined with the total throw-to-wind approach at the end hurt the score.
Oh, and there's also this random baseball episode. I dunno why it was there, but it was almost more interesting than what was going on at the time it managed to sneak in. If anybody knows why there's a random baseball episode (other than to loosely allude to inserting a certain character), I would love to know, so please feel free to leave a comment.
This is one of those strange cases where stock footage stuck out really hard to me. It's painfully obvious when it's used, and it just hurts to see it because as a fourth wall element, it just pulls away from the story involvement. There's a nasty habit of creating an immensely tense scene, as well, before injecting humorous animation into it-- sometimes this works. Sometimes, it just feels tacky.
But with the bad out of the way, the characters emote well, have fluid enough animation and the mecha fights-- what few there are-- are carried out quite nicely. The brain colonies are animated in full CG and give a pretty good idea of what moving that much mass would be like, while having this strange half-organic, half-mechanic look about their movements. All-in-all, I feel somewhere awkwardly between saying the animation was lackluster, or that it was effective and enjoyable.
So with that, I give it 6/10 to say that it's enjoyable but lackluster in some areas while being inappropriate in others. Toward the end of the show, it feels maybe as if their budget was stretching thin, which is sort of to be expected.
A catchy, lively soundtrack keeps the mood wherever it plays, pulling into the comedy or fast pace of a scene, or otherwise portraying what's going on effectively. Really, my complaints are pretty limited here-- the problems are that very few tracks are terribly memorable and it's not entirely stylistic, so it kind of fades from memory fast, though it's fondly present during the show. Sounds range from those weird comic gag noises for certain things (which add a nice touch in cases), and some pretty good noises to get the robots across well enough... whatever that means. Again, the colonies are well-represented here with some creaky, slow sounds that get across their sheer size.
ALI Project performs the first opening, and as one of those weird people who just doesn't like their songs, I have to say their style doesn't fit the show at all (unlike Kurogane no Linebarrels and its opening). That said, I did say the opening brought me in; that would be thanks to Miracle Fly, its second, catchy and energetic opening that feels far more on-key with the theme of the anime. Endings are both appropriately delicate songs.
So really, 7/10 for the effective, if poorly memorable songs.
Somewhere between the series' weakest point and the series' strongest point. Where do I begin?
The characters are all firmly-established, and seldom do they act in such a way that makes one wonder where the characterization went. Above them all, the main cast-- Nerval, Leopard, and Akiha's friends, Itsuki Kannagi and Honoka-- are really well-done, and just feel like great characters with their own conflicts who grow as the series pushes on and on.
Even through this, some simple side characters become really interesting and exert memorable personality quirks, and some of the more involved side characters add their own two cents to the pile as well. The extended Shishidou family is an interesting and bizarre mix.
Of particular note is Nerval; while I won't spoil much, I can say that as far as villains go, he has a really interesting role and outlook on the events progressing in the show, and becomes quite a riveting character (or so I thought). In a show where even the villains grow and develop around the events transpiring within, how am I to feel when the main character feels like a stagnant blob in the middle of it all, like an awkward elephant that is not only in the room, but currently using it as a toilet as well?
Akiha's development-- if it can be called that-- is disappointing, to brush over the very surface of it all. She has your stereotypical 'genki girl' approach; super-energetic, always happy and none-too-comfortable with enduring the throes of things like 'due process,' 'authority' or 'patience.' Always up and front, and ready to go-get-'em, Akiha is ready and raring to go when everyone else is humming and hawwing. At first, this contrast is a necessary element and helps to build the characters around her.
Except that Akiha never changes. The typical progression is that these characters either learn how to be constructive about their hot-headedness, or they learn how to knuckle down and be a respectable listener once in a while. Akiha, despite the events around her occurring in such a way that would spur such growth really well and in an involving way, fails to take away any of these messages. Until the very last episode, Akiha remains dead-set in her ways of being a hot-headed, childish and ultimately self-serving character. In the very last episode, she finally shows a small burst of understanding for the gravity of things around her, but this change is handled in such a way that you'd usually see maybe half-way, or a quarter-way through on a similar character-- or at least a few episodes before the end, rather than right at the end. As a result, a lot of things feel cheapened. After all, Akiha, incorrigible though she may be, is indeed the girl who leaps through space as per the anime's title. As such, she ultimately drags down an otherwise stellar performance by the rest of the cast with her cheap, unchanging antics.
Alas, she alone drags the score down two points from an otherwise perfect performance by other characters who contrast each other well, from comic to serious to intense to sarcastic, to a mere 8/10. It almost feels like I'm rating the sky based on the clouds here, but really, how can I avoid this when at least 75% of the screentime is spent on Akiha and how utterly stagnant her character is?
I said it before and I'll say it again: I was not disappointed, per se, with Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo as a whole. I was disappointed very specifically with its main character and its ending. Surprisingly, despite these two glaring points against it, it manages to be a pleasant watch (if, admittedly, in large part due to watching Fukuyama act out Lelouch's role on the other end of the emotional spectrum through Leopard) and holds a certain intrigue and suspense over the viewer by having a surprisingly dark and somewhat hopeless-seeming plot that constantly has crisis looming over the protagonists' heads. It's just that Akiha's personality, slowly escalating in its dryness and annoyance, never serves any amount of justice on these events; similarly, the ending does very little to justify the means through which it was approached, ultimately building up a great amount of steam only to sort of puff it all out in one exasperated, tired gasp that just ends up elliciting the same disappointed sigh from an invested viewer. All the same, I would recommend watching it. The ends may not justify the means entirely, but the means are pretty sweet all the same, and I repeat: Jun Fukuyama is an overly emotional, megalomanical supercomputer with an immense ego. I mean, come on, just say that in your head... emotional Lelouch supercomputer. How can that possibly not result in at least a few solid laughs? A 6/10 perfectly captures this; critical elements are missing, but everything else is present. It's like maybe, a really mediocre or stiff cake with some delectable, high-class icing. In the end, it's your cake; feel free to scrape the icing off and just eat that. Nobody's going to tell.