A large portion of what is wrong with the anime industry today is encapsulated in Sola. A boy one day meets a klutzy girl trying to get a strange drink out of a broken-down vending machine, and is soon drawn into a strange world of supernatural battles and magical abilities, a world which is transpires he has always been a part of.
Sola retreads the ground of Shakugan no Shana, Fate/Stay Night et al, but lacks its own clear and distinctive voice and brings nothing new to the mix. The story is from the writer of Kanon and the characters designed by the woman behind Da Capo, rehashing old tricks. There are a lot of dissonant parts that the creators evidently think are cool and want to include on the strength of that alone, but they don’t hang together well, the reasons for them coming together are flimsy and coincidental. In addition, the characters are all very flat and their relationships formulaic.
Our everyman protagonist is surrounded by the cute lead female, cute childhood friend, cute girls from school and not one but two loli characters thrown in for good measure: the little sister of his childhood friend (actually about the most interesting of any of the characters here) and a random little doll-like blonde girl in gothic Lolita clothes evidently included purely for the fun of the idea and never convincingly incorporated into the main plot.
Over the course of the series, a very simple plot unwinds, there’s a big fight and it ends with much angsting. It’s a factory-line anime, pretty-looking but deeply formulaic, safe, cliché and bland. It’s fairly enjoyable, watching the show go through the motions, but if you’ve seen everything in it before, there’s little point indulging Sola’s rehashing of old ideas. The whole thing felt like sitting through recap episodes.
I didn’t hate it – it’s on safe ground, with pretty, likeable characters – but found myself just utterly ambivalent. Apparently it’s very popular in Japan, which I must say does surprise me a bit - it was even voted top anime of 2007 by a landslide in a Japanese poll of 2,000,000 votes conducted by Yahoo Japan. That put it well ahead of anime that became very well-known to Western fandom such as Lucky Star, Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei and Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni.
(originally written 4.6.09)