When I was preparing to watch Air Movie, I made a discovery which I observed in viewing the opening seconds of this 95-minute presentation. The movie version was produced by Toei Animation, while the TV and special episodes by Kyoto Animation for the same year (2004-5). I noticed this same phenomenon when I was watching Clannad. Toei did the movie version (2007) and Kyoto the series (2007-8). I have a great deal of admiration for both these production companies and their approaches to anime. How would both do in their respective telling of the tale of the girl in the sky and the corresponding account of a girl who lived 1000 years later? This was the first thing I watched for, differences in technique in the story-telling. This and the treatment of the subject.
I had also hoped that Air Movie would do much to clarify the plot line which seemed to limp towards a solid resolution as Air: The Series. On that score, mission accomplished. While I have high praises for the brilliant and vivid animation style of Kyoto, it was the more somber and detached approach of Toei which allowed to bring home the sad story which Air tried to offer in three separate arcs reinforced with a recap episode at the end which only reviewed what was muddled up in the first place.
Toei did well to simplify the storyline, and this through limiting the number of key characters, though, with a little careful observation (and some quick rewinds to catch some minor characters that were sneaking past) you could see all the characters of the anime series take part. Yeah, even that pooch Potato got a cameo appearance. But for Air Movie, you could focus on the five characters that mattered: Misuzu, Yukito, Haruko, Kanno, and Ryuya.
Air Movie did a marvelous job of blending the two main story arcs of Air into a homogenous whole. Yukito, a reclusive wanderer, sees no need for friends as he searches for that elusive something in life. He comes to a fishing village and meets Misuzu, a girl who, due to a mysterious illness, has missed so much school and has no real friends. She asks for a summer project and is assigned a local legend of the town, the girl in the sky. It is while doing the research on this Princess Kanno that we see parallels between Misuzu and Kanno. Both are confined in their own situations without friends. But with the entrance of Yukito into Misuzu's life and the samurai guard Ryuya in Kanno's, hopes for love kindle in both women. Plus, Kanno knows of the curse that will cause her death if she falls in love. Misuzu, doomed from the start, wishes to have that friend ... and, in Yukito, may have more than a friend.
In all this time, Haruko slaves away at three separate jobs to earn the means for medication and hospitalization that could save Misuzu's life. The only alternative is to call upon Misuzu's absentee father who has the means, but perhaps not the inclination (much less the compassion) to save the daughter he has washed his hands of. At the same time, Yukito is pushed by his loner compulsions to move on and abandon Misuzu, lest he endures the heartache from which he so desperately tries to remain detached. Misuzu knows she will die, but she wishes not to die alone.
Toei's technique was the best for rendering the Air saga. Darker, bleaker colors severed by frequent fades to black pieced the story together. Static shots of the depiction of Kanno and Ryuya's tale drawn upon the town shrine’s walls told in dashes of gray are matched by similar stills of Misuzu and Yukito drawn in muted colors. The graphic stylings were perfect in relating Yukito's struggle to run versus his developing feelings for the dying Misuzu; such artistic touches are carefully crafted. Much like Ryuya's courage to battle a regiment of soldiers to give Kanno her chance at desperate flight into the skies. Much like Misuzu's last walk toward Haruko and Yukito as she walks to her 'finish line,' welcomed by the sound of the flurry of wings battling to reach the heavens.
And the music which one would associate with the Kyoto Animation production is remastered for the opening and closing credits, to which a final piece in English speaks of seeking the heavens. All these melodic pieces had a real fit to the story’s theme.
While Air Movie still preserved a lot of the 'huh?' sensations of Air, it did do much to explain the essence of what may have easily been missed in the 13-episode/2 specials version of Air. This is the difference, really, between confusing and thought-provoking.