Creativity and innovation are keystones in writing quality stories. Taking these principles to heart, Sola weaves a fascinating and involving storyline from a fairly basic concept, transforming an ordinary series into a commendable piece of anime craftsmanship. Despite the presence of a number of harem elements, such as three cute girls chasing after the lead male, Sola is anything but. Though the first episode hinted at a somewhat shallow cast of characters, I was elated to find out that this was not the case.
I've come to respect series that discard character fluff in favor of substance and depth. At its core, Sola focuses on the emotion of regret, using each of the three girls to reflect upon a different facet of the idea. Only two of them have an actual romantic connection to Yorito, which takes away the annoying "sister is madly in love with brother" cliché. Mana, for instance, while initially appearing to be a typical girl with a high school crush, develops tragically as the series progresses. Unlike many romances where the girl remains wishy-washy the entire duration of the series, she is forced to confront the sincerity of her feelings. As Yorito delves farther into the world of the Yaka, she must decide whether or not he is worth pursuing, even at the cost of her own happiness.
In and of itself, though, the actual storyline itself was somewhat of a bore. My enjoyment from Sola came almost purely from watching the characters interact with each other and struggle with their circumstances. Very little is actually explained about the Yaka, save their longevity and aversion to ultraviolet light, which left me with a plethora of questions that were never answered. The actual concept of the Yaka seemed little more than a ploy to bond Yorito, Matsuri, and Aono together, but I felt its shallowness somewhat easily dismissed because the series never actually uses it as a focal point; it was touched upon so little that I never actually built much serious concern or interest.
Just from watching the opening video, you'll notice an incredibly fluid and detailed atmosphere that pervades throughout all thirteen episodes, surprisingly with relatively few lapses. Details such as the rotation of the wrist when a character throws an object really stand out. These visual subtleties might not seem like much, but when viewed in a cumulative sense, they work wonders when framed during action scenes. The emotional vibes of the characters come alive in their actions, and you really get the sense that when a character is experiencing fear, he/she is sincere. Lots of neat light filtering effects stand out too, which prove as strong visual compliments to the Yaka's inability to withstand direct sunlight.
My only real complaint is Aono's character design, as her hair/eye coloration just doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the cast. Most characters have dark hair and eyes, but hers are much lighter, and thus stand out a little too much. Not too big an issue, but it is a minor quirk. Aside from that, however, nearly flawless; you'd be hard pressed to find such beautiful aesthetic interplay in any non-movie/OVA production to date.
While you're at it, toss in a splendid opening and ending theme for good measure. Tack on a beautiful soundtrack and there's not much to complain about here. I found myself hopping back into previous episodes occasionally to listen to some of the insert music, and that's always a good thing. I particularly liked Matsuri's seiyuu, as she gave her character a very distinct feel and flavor. Overall, high marks here in general, as there's little to really find fault with.
Yorito, though initially seeming shallow, turned out to be rather well developed. Despite following a fairly generic male design, he quickly emerged as a respectable lead. Clear and decisive, he spends little time wallowing in self-pity, relying more on his skills in rational thought than in wrist cutting. With each episode, my amount of respect for his character grew, and I felt the decisions he reached by the end were presented quite well. At times he could be annoyingly naïve, but as the series progressed he actually learned from his mistakes, which really humanized his ordeal.
Matsuri (especially), Aono, and Mana, being the crux of the series as far as relationships go, were all panned out nicely as well. Each of the girls has her own reason for being drawn to Yorito, and none of them are really cookie-cutter. None of them were attracted to him "just because," which I felt to be one of the series' real strengths. As real life goes, as well, Yorito doesn't try to bounce between the three as if they're mindless puppets. He has true affections of his own, and the hopes and desires of the girls are not reciprocated in full.
Takeshi's side story was my only real gripe. It built itself up to be something greater, but after the climax it ended with a thud and I found myself scratching my head. Not bad per se, but uninspired.
All in all, I enjoyed Sola from start to finish. Though it moves tediously slow at times, it never lasts long and is always followed by an interesting plot twist or action scene (all of which are gorgeously animated.) After I first finished the series, I had somewhat of a slight distaste for the ending, but reflecting back I'm actually quite satisfied. The series spanned its thirteen episodes quite well, conveying a high level of production quality while not trying to overstep its bounds. Sola won't find its way into your collection of classics, but it's certainly unique enough to leave a lasting mark, and of that I have no lasting complaints; a satisfying watch that I'm sure many would enjoy.