A few people came to Kyoto Animation through Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, their first series as main animators. Many, many more discovered them when Haruhi Suzumiya made them perhaps the animation studio to watch in the last half-decade. For me, Air was my first encounter with KyoAni, the first of three adaptations of Key visual novels – followed by Kanon and Clannad. Air came first, though, and it was Air that introduced me to the incredible visuals the company could produce on weekly anime.
Key’s character designs are always a little odd, and the 2002 attempt at a Kanon anime showed how ugly they could be if not consummately animated, but Air manages to be beautiful despite faces occasionally looking somewhat malformed. The slow-paced, thoughtful anime centres on a boy called Yukito and his visual novel-based relationships with various girls he meets when he arrives in a new town.
At first, it seems that the anime will be entirely realistic (except for Yukito’s strange ability to make a little doll dance through means unknown), but it soon becomes clear that the girls each have their own problems, and their dreams have manifested themselves – but dreams are not reality, and each of them has much to overcome before they can return to normal life. And just who is the girl with wings who lives in the skies that Yukito’s mother told him about?
Towards the end, the anime gets extremely strange. The timeframe shifts back to the feudal era, where we learn the characters are reincarnated, and an ancient curse is still in effect. Yukito may have given his life, but he can still be close to his love in the form of a crow, who has always been there, another aspect of the same soul.
To put it plainly, it is very pretentious, convoluted and confusing. The reaction of most online seemed to be ‘lolwhut why is Yukito a crow?’, which in my view was quite reasonable. Air is the favourite of few Kyoto Animation fans, because it is so very strange, as well as being very slow and solemn, giving it an air – no pun intended – of annoying superiority.
The first few episodes had the right mixture of humour and sweetness, and the comic relief of the silly little mascot dog Potato didn’t hurt. I loved the ‘Gao Gao Stegosaurus’ logo and the characters’ relationships were intriguing. The trouble is that six years later, what sticks in the mind is struggling to understand the concept of the metamorphosis, and once it was explained, finding it absurd and irritating. While this is a shame, because it is a beautiful anime and heralded the rise of a superb animation studio, at the same time both Kanon and especially Clannad do the same thing better – so I don’t mourn Air.
(expanded from impressions, 22.2.05)