Air is, to say the least, an entertaining anime. This is the first of the Key anime, which includes the likes of Kanon, Angel Beats, and Clannad. While Air is a pretty damn good anime that foretells some of the conventions of future Key series, it’s not as good as any of the newer ones.
Key anime of the romance department typically involve a single guy who is forced into a situation where a bunch of girls with issues need his help. This stems from the fact that Air, Clannad, and Kanon are all based on visual novels, and visual novels have multiple girls you can get with. So the anime’s attempt to tell each girls story while focusing only on a single romantic thread for our main hero. Air is different from its future incarnations as it doesn’t as much focus on that idea of multiple girls needing help solving their mental issues. It has three girls in it, two of which are the focus of maybe four or five episodes total. The others are divided into a really strange feudal Japan segment, a segment with our hero and the heroine, and a another segment between the heroine and her mother. It’s not typical of what will come, and I appreciate that especially.
The story revolves around the “Girl in the Sky”, an angelic figure who has constantly been forced to be in pain through incarnation after incarnation. She is forced to die every time she gets too close to someone and reincarnate again. A man has followed her every reincarnation to attempt to free her of these horrible bonds. His soul is stuck in the body of a crow and he can become a human vagabond in his attempts to free her.
So we have Yukito, the vagabond, and Mizusu, the girl in the sky. Mizusu has no close friends, no close family, and pretty much lives her life as a lonely klutz. But when she meets Yukito during one lovely summer vacation she may have found her greatest friend and the catalyst for her finally feeling accepted. He moves in with Mizusu and her drunken and rather inappropriate aunt, Haruko, and tries to help Mizusu be freed from her eternal bond. During that time he gets a part time job at the local clinic and helps the owner’s sister as she is being possessed (did I mention Key anime have really weird supernatural plotlines?). He also helps a girl whose sister has been dead for years yet her ghost has been following her around since she died.
The two arcs with the girls aren’t particularly great. Neither is memorable and both are seriously shadowed by those stories told in Key’s later anime.
During the last half the story shifts to feudal Japan where we learn the origin of the angel girl and the man who tries to save her. These episodes aren’t half bad, but really ruin the pace and interject very abruptly. It doesn’t feel right.
The final arc is of mother and daughter. Well, aunt and daughter. Yukito is a crow who is made to watch as Haruko makes amends with Mizusu and claims her as a daughter rather than a niece. This is the best part of the entire anime, a very touching and well executed arc that builds on the character of Haruko and makes her the most likeable character of the entire anime.
The ending isn’t the greatest. Now, I’m all for a sad ending, but I felt kind of cheated. I hate when an anime is just a small part of a bigger story and we really don’t see that story concluded. It’s just part of a story, a segment of a whole. And while Air contains a good enough story and characters, I want to see what happens to those characters and how the story plays out. Does the Girl in the Sky ever get freed? I really want to know the answer to it.
The character department is pretty sparse of anything worth mentioning. As I said, the two girls at the beginning are decent enough characters with decent enough stories, but they really don’t matter in the long term and their characters are not real exciting. This is doubly so for the main characters. Yukito is pretty dull all around. He’s what I like to call a cardboard character. He’s flat as a pancake and doesn’t shine at all. The same can be said of Mizusu. While she displays emotions, she’s a typical cry baby with an issue that needs to be resolved. I wasn’t really a fan of hers.
Meanwhile, I grew to enjoy the character of Haruko. While at first I liked her as the drunken, idiot aunt taking care of her sister’s daughter, as you learn more about how she has had to distance herself from Mizusu, you grow to like her and feel empathetic to her having to stay away from a girl she really does love. As Haruko finally steps into the motherly roll and despises the fact she hadn’t done it sooner, you continue to love her. And as Mizusu loses her memories of her mother (she loses her memory of a person if they grow too close), and is nearly returned to her real family, it’s enough to bring you to tears as she struggles to return to her aunt’s arms, the woman she considers her mother.
For Haruko’s character alone, the series is worth watching. While the ending, as I said, isn’t at all what I had hoped, nor is the rest of the show too special, the final stretch is good and memorable.
Overall, I can’t give an enthusiastic recommendation as this is only going to appeal to fans of Key or romance in general, but I can say it’s a pretty good anime. The opening is really fantastic, the animation is good, the story is okay, and the characters are okay, but taken as a whole it’s a fun little experience. Not particularly as memorable as later Key anime, but it still contains the heart that you’d expect.
Oh, and try and find the Kanon characters that show up in one episode. It’s a pretty cool cameo!