Genre: Slice-of-Life, Drama, Sci-fi
Aired: Jan 2016 to Mar 2016
Also known as: Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue, Aokana, 蒼の彼方のフォーリズム
Summary: Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm is set in a world where people can take to the skies, soaring above land and sea. An area called the Four Islands Archipelago has a technology called Grav-Shoes, which allow the wearer to fly. Aside from simple transportation, people also use these shoes in a competition called FC (Flying Circus). To score points, they either touch buoys floating above the ocean, or their opponent’s backs.
The energetic but ditzy Asuka Kurashina transfers to Kunahama Academy, a high school in the Four Islands Archipelago, from the outside world. She joins Misaki Tobisawa and Masaya Hinata’s second year class. Her lack of experience and general clumsiness make her classmates worry if she can learn to fly properly, but she quickly develops an interest in FC, and she, Misaki, and Mashiro, a freshman, join the school’s tiny FC club. But Masaya seems reluctant for some reason, even though he seems to know a lot about the sport.
Review: To be honest, the main character, Asuka, did not mesh well with me. She wasn’t quite a Mary Sue since she did lose matches, but the fact that she is innately talented to the point that she is able to easily pull off advanced techniques, coupled with the fact that she (for a good part of the series, at least) didn’t understand how bitter losing could be, bothered me.
At its core, AoKana is a sports series. And in matches, there are winners and losers. Asuka continued smiling and having fun and just came across as being insensitive towards both Misaki and Mashiro, who had lost earlier in the tournament than her. Maybe this is my own bitterness at my failures to succeed that is affecting my perception of our naturally skilled protagonist. After all, being able to bounce back after a devasting loss is important for progress, too. I just found myself relating to Misaki more despite her own overreaction regarding her losses and being overshadowed. I’m a sore loser, too.
And yes, Asuka is the main character, but some episodes do focus on Misaki and Mashiro. While a male character, Masaya, is mentioned in the summary, he sort of takes a back seat and acts as coach for Asuka for most of the series. There is also a particular instance where he reaches out to a clubmate who had quit the club out of frustration at her own inability whereas the other members were oblivious to how the disheartened girl felt.
What I’m trying to say is that the male “lead” character played a prominent role without dominating the show. Since this show was inevitably about Asuka, that’s a good thing. It’s her story and he’s just helping her and the others shine (I just can’t care too much about Asuka in the first place, but that’s not Masaya’s fault).
He also remains out of the loop when it comes to romance (I can see one particular reader rolling her eyes already), as well; the most he gets is seeing his neighbor, Rika, change a few times in the early episodes. The fanservice in this show, by the way, gets a bit extreme at times. Have you seen the FC suits? I just shook my head and waited for the battles to come along so I could see the passionate battles of youth I was promised.
Meanwhile Mashiro has an one-sided crush on her senpai, Misaki, and is prone to giving Misaki unprompted snuggles and such. But then Mashiro becomes really close with a girl from a rival school, and then Misaki is scrubbed clean by another girl from another school, and then a dark horse pair are shown to be really close with each other! I know it sounds like the show is all about yuri relationships from what I wrote, but all of this subtext plays second fiddle to FC, or Flying Circus. While the girls in the show do get really friendly with one another, Flying Circus is what drives and dominates the plot through and through.
As such, a decent portion of the show is dedicated to talk about strategy and types and playstyles in Flying Circus. They didn’t bombard the viewers with long lectures, thankfully, but I still found it to be interesting stuff. One particular playstyle has its pros and cons, different Grav-Shoes suit different playstyles, etc. It makes me wonder if the visual novel, which was the original source for AoKana, had this much detail in their in-game dictionary/reference box.
What was most appealing to me was the sci-fi element. Other than the Grav-Shoes, the rest of the setting is very similiar to that of real life, which had me imagining would life would be like if we had flying shoes. Doesn’t that sound cool? The series minimalized the possible dangers that could arise from such innovative devices with safeguards and laws and stuff, too, but I guess it’s still a pipe dream for the rest of us.
The characters all look fantastic and the animation during the FC battles were great. The music was definitely enjoyable, too. As usual, I can’t really remember the instrumental OST (but it has been 8 months so give me a break), but I really like the OP and ED. Both songs just have me feeling really energetic and prepared to take on a mountain of paperwork, haha.
The last complaint I have of the series has to do with the childhood encounters of DESTINY. This series is actually full of these predestined meetings yet none of them were smart enough to ask for each other’s names or remember each other’s faces. It approaches Nisekoi levels, to be honest.
If you’re not against a optimistic, genius female lead trying her best in a world where flying tag is considered serious business, you could give Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm a shot. The sci-fi only really applies to the flying shoes, but the animation team didn’t let the viewers down and helped make said technology very appealing. And while there are male characters, they play mostly secondary roles to the plentiful female characters. Romance, at least, is basically ignored; yuri subtext is as far as it gets for this sports show.