Memories of Eternal Summer
The tale of a wanderer, a stringless puppet, three small town girls and a winged maiden--all are tied together by destiny, history and a Dreamcast game called Air.
Back in November 2001, Animefringe reviewed a Dreamcast game called AIR which was produced by Key, the makers of games such as Kanon and Clannad. The original game was produced along the lines of an interactive romantic novel, a genre that is extremely popular in Japan. What set the game apart was the use of opening and ending songs, and depending on which version you played, partial (Dreamcast) or full (Playstation 2) voice acting.
Fast-forward to 2005, when the television series began to air. Taken directly from the computer game, viewers watched as Yukito Kunisaki arrived in a small Japanese town that lay by the ocean. Broke and craving ramen setto, he sits down to try and earn a few yen by putting on an impromptu puppet show, except the puppet isn't on strings and moves by his will alone.
This is Yukito's gift, a legacy from his deceased mother. Like her, he travels across Japan, performing puppet shows as she did before him. However, he is also searching for someone, a girl with wings who lives beyond the clouds on the other side of the sky.
Yukito passes out on the seawall and when he wakes up, he sees a young girl standing on the wall with outstretched arms and he instantly thinks of the winged girl that he is searching for. The young girl, Misuzu Kamio buys him a drink (super gooey peach flavor!) and lures him to her home with promises of ramen. A cute child, she has a pet phrase, gao, which stems from her love of dinosaurs (gao is the Japanese child's way of saying 'grr') and she calls herself 'Misuzu-chin' when in trouble.
And so his adventure begins.
Yukito is soon a fixture within the town, after being taken in by Misuzu's aunt, Haruko, meeting Minagi Tohno and her obscenely genki friend, Michiru, and Kano Kiriyama and her pet alien life form/dog, Potato.
So what sets this anime apart from Kanon and Clannad? Well, for starters, all of the music has come directly from the game and it is gorgeous. Every piece, from the opening song Tori no Uta (Song of the Bird) to the ending theme was taken from the original game, which came out on Japanese PCs in 2001. Normally, I'd just say that this was lazy, but not in the case of AIR. Any new music would just be sullying perfection.
In my time, I've watched so much anime, but AIR ranks among the most striking mainly because for me, it symbolizes summer, one of the major themes of the game and series. Why? Perhaps it's because AIR is being shown in the middle of winter, when most of us will be experiencing snow. Many anime series that are set in summer, such as Onegai Teacher and Onegai Twins, air during the height of that season. But when watching AIR, the viewer is transported to that unnamed town by the ocean where the sound of mosquitoes reminds any hardened anime fan of the summertime.
Both the game and the anime follow the same structure. While Yukito is the main protagonist, he is actually the connection between the three girls, Kano, Minagi and Misuzu. The anime follows the same vein as the game, in that within the series there are miniature arcs devoted to the three girls, which in turn link to three larger arcs, Dream (episodes 1-7), Summer (episodes 8 and 9) and Air (episode 10 onwards).
First up in the Dream arc is Kano, a cheerful girl who wears a bandana on her wrist and says that she will be able to do magic when she becomes an adult. Her parents died when she was a child, so Kano is being raised by her sister Hijiri, the town doctor. Kano's constant companion is a strange fluffy animal called Potato, who is believed to be a dog, but could equally be some strange extraterrestrial life form, and he does a really good impression of Pikachu. Kano has not been herself, however, since she touched a sacred feather at the town's shrine as a child. Her wish is that when she becomes able to use magic, she will be able to see her mother.
Then there is the touching story of Minagi Tohno, a quiet and elegant young woman who is the president of the Astronomy Club at the school that she and Misuzu attend. Minagi is good friends with a pink-haired girl called Michiru, and she takes an instant dislike to Yukito, assuming that he's a pervert. Michiru loves Minagi's hamburgers and the way that her friend can blow bubbles. But how are these two girls connected and who are Michiru's parents?
Finally, we turn to Misuzu. This cheerful girl has strange dreams and cries her heart out when she makes friends. Yukito senses a connection between her and the girl that he is searching for. It is through Misuzu's arc that we also get to learn a little more about Yukito and his relationship with his mother. As Misuzu dreams, Yukito remembers things that his mother told him, about a sad girl with wings who lived in the sky and how he can use his power to save her.
The eighth episode of AIR will have aired by the time you read this article and fans are waiting with baited breath to see if, in keeping with the game, the opening and closing titles reflect the change into a new scenario for the anime, as it did within the game. The Summer arc is devoted to the tale of the winged girl, a story within a story, but it is too early to tell what the final arc, Air will bring. The precise number of episodes for this enchanting series has not yet been confirmed, although it is thought be somewhere between twelve and fifteen.
The AIR movie opened in February 2005 in select cinemas in Japan, but tickets have been on sale since August of last year. Truth be told, there is very little information about the plot of the movie floating around on the Internet for non-Japanese speakers, but it seems to follow the game and anime series, with the original game and anime cast reprising their roles for a theatrical feature that condenses the story of the series and game.
Another thing about AIR that will irritate most fans who don't live in Japan is that merchandise is hard to find. Most of it, including the soundtrack, clock and souvenir program, is only available at the actual screening of the movie.
I have one thing to say to that: Gao!
AIR has not yet been licensed for the US, but the first DVD of the television series is due to be released in April in Japan, and the movie is slated for release in August, again, in Japan. Hopefully, this amazing series and movie will be picked up soon for domestic release.