Key studio (and the influence of Jun Maeda) is well-known for its famous works Clannad, Clannad After Story and Angel Beats. Even much more recent works associated with the name, such as Charlotte, are circulating the anime community’s discussions. Before the breakout of Clannad, however, there was a lesser-known and lesser-appreciated anime called Air. Otherwise known as Air (TV), it has been consistently overshadowed by Key’s other works. Maybe Kanon 2006 and Clannad are better, but that doesn’t mean that Air isn’t a fantastic show too. If you’re a fan of Key, or if you just like anime that tug on your heart strings (hard), Air is the show you shouldn’t ignore any longer.
Originally a Key visual novel, Air was released as an anime in 2005. It came as one of Key’s earliest works, and this fledgling anime showed the beginnings of this brand’s rise to fame. It follows the protagonist Yukito Kunisaki, a young man with a sketchy past that even he doesn’t understand. He remembers his now deceased mother imploring him: he must travel and find a girl with wings, and he has to help her. On his travels, he makes money by running a small puppet show with his low-level telekinetic energy. He finds himself in an isolated town where he doesn’t expect to stay long, but when he arrives, he meets a mysterious girl named Misuzu who invites him to stay with her. His stay in the town puts his search for the winged girl on hold as he gets to know the locals, but is the winged girl closer than he first thought?
Typical of any anime associated with Key, Air puts you on the feels train and leaves you there for episodes on end. What starts as a slow burn bursts into life in the second half of the show. It ramps up the emotion by 1000% and only stays there until the end. Whereas other shows have sad moments, the entire concept of Air is heart-breaking. When subtle clues allow you to guess what will happen with ease, it doesn’t make the inevitable end any less saddening. Maybe Clannad or Kanon did it better, but it all started with Air. The famous ‘feels’ most definitely are present. Not only this, but Air offers the viewer a wonderful array of cute girls to fawn over, a dead giveaway of its visual novel beginnings.
It’s not only the level of emotion that makes Air great, but honestly, the rest is hard to define. A huge part of this is that it relies almost solely on the viewer’s own interpretation. This isn’t a bad thing. Air would be one of those shows that is more about themes and ideas rather than a comprehensible storyline. It’s one of the things which makes the show so mesmerising. This sense of magical realism, like with Yukito’s unexplained telekinesis or the accepted notion of a winged maiden, provides a level of fascination. A key part of magical realism shows is that they don’t need to be explained- you just have to accept the magic and try to understand what the message is.
You have to block yourself, identify key objects or ideas that represent what Air is trying to portray. This small town is in the middle of nowhere, right by the ocean. It’s one of Misuzu’s dreams to go to the beach with a friend, but this ocean seems to stretch out into eternity. Maybe this means that her dream will always be just that, a dream? Who knows. But the idea of this endless horizon is a big, big part of the show’s message. All this ambiguity might grate on some people, but for some, things like this may enhance the experience.
Perhaps if Air had shown a stronger narrative, better character development or a longer series, it could have built on the things that make it a bit forgettable. But as it is, Air has concepts and themes that, while not always understood, are the backbone of the show. The love between Yukito and Misuzu is portrayed without a single touch, as is Yukito’s connection with this small town. To ignore its pitfalls, you have to really think about Air and appreciate what it’s trying to do.
This anime is 11 years old, a veteran to some. But if you enjoyed other shows that are heavy on the feels, or if you’re just a fan of adorable anime girls, give it a shot. It might bore you, or it could go to other way and become truly memorable.