Separated at Birth: The sky and the AIR

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Another new miniseries here, dealing with something that seems to be far too common among the anime community, and that is comparisons. Why isn't Series X more like Y? Series Z is such a rip off of series S. Series W set the bar, and A, B, and C don't come close to matching the original. Feel free to fill in the blanks.

Now, the question here is: are those comparisons justified? Are the claims of copying fact or fiction? It's time to put that to the test.

First up to the line is a pair of series that at least to me seem rather similar, and maybe justifiably so - the story of sola was written by Naoki Hisaya, a man who worked on Kanon as well, so there certainly is reason for a lot of Key-sounding stuff to happen. But, AIR and Kanon are pretty dissimilar on their own, so that shouldn't be a reason for too many similarities.

But you never know. There are many things which sola and AIR have in common. You might be surprised. (By the way, huge ending spoilers and whatnot for sola and AIR after the jump)

The character list, to go with the objective first, reads out suprisingly the same. For essentially harem-esque shows (although they don't act like 95% of harem shows), the cast is suprisingly small. The harem consists of three core characters in each: AIR has Misuzu, Minagi, and Kano, while sola's consists of Matsuri, Aono, and Mana. I use the word harem very loosely in this sense, which I'll touch on later. The main character is also one of the few males in the series: Both Yukito (AIR) and Yorito (sola) lack the typical Harem Runner Up Guy (y'know, the pathetic one), not to mention a lack of male characters even in the background, really.

The side characters, though, are a bit different, as sola has a bonus loli (Koyori and Mayuko to AIR's Michiru) and a second guy in the story, Takeshi. AIR has adults (Kana's older sister and Misuzu's mother), which really barely exist at all in sola, which is sort of creepy.

So in the casting department there are striking similarities but overall enough differences to make the two quite separable.

And for being eroge/harem anime (the 'heavy harem' genre I discussed earlier) with romantic touches, there's a lack of lovey-dovey in the anime, with no real confessions in either of the two. (No, Mana's at the end of sola doesn't count) It's part of a trend, or so it seems, in a lot of these anime that romance is implied rather than explicitly stated - and I like this style a lot more. I don't mind missing the full body blushes, sparkles, flowers, and romantic violin music. sola, still, has the edge over AIR here, as the relationship between Mayuko and Takeshi, as well as Matsuri planting two kisses on Yorito, is a thousand times more than AIR ever had...I think, one moment, where Yukito notices he always just wanted to be with Misuzu.

The main girls in the story share some commonalities, as neither Misuzu nor Matsuri are anywhere close to normal. Both are in a sense 'cursed', and not allowed to build close relationships with people. Yet despite it all both have very friendly personalities, and almost a sense of naivety, since both lack experience in the world, since neither really can go out and explore on their own (whether it be Matsuri's weakness to sunlight or Misuzu's weakness in general).

Oh, and they both die, which kind of sucks.

The lead males are much like the lead females, in that there's some underlying similarities between the two. Their personalities feel very different - Yorito is portrayed more of a quitter (oh no, I'm made of paper, I'm going to go get myself stabbed by Matsuri now kthx) and not quite the ideal lead male in general, as opposed to Yukito, who is a sharp, self-sufficient guy, if not a bit of a loner. But what's interesting is that these two are different than most harem lead males, who usually are just outside observers to the sad tales of many girls. No, these two actually have a lot of weird stuff happen to them. Yorito happens to be a paper golem. Yukito turns into a crow. That's not what we call 'ordinary', and as such this makes these two quite distinctive, as neither of them are in human form at the end of the story (so far as we know).

The endings are of similar feel, to continue on that tangent. It's a bittersweet ending of sorts, the type to maybe make you cry, but at the end of it all the story really wants to end on a happy note despite all the sadness. In both the lead male and lead female are technically nonexistent (Misuzu, Yorito and Matsuri die, supposedly, while Yukito gets turned into a crow), but the side characters, if they can be called that, move on from their ties to the deceased and vow to live a happy, independent life. Both have a sense of 'reincarnation' or continuation to it, as Yukito's search for the 'girl in the sky' continues in crow form in AIR, while in sola Mana takes up the hobby that Yorito loved, and perhaps Aono as well. It shows that while the characters they cared for might not physically be the same anymore, their impact is still felt, and they certainly did have an existence in that world.

One might get a different taste in their mouth from each ending, as sola's ending has been criticized (rightfully) for being a bit abrupt, and AIR's is definitely more of a tearjerker (Misuzu's death walk...), but if one analyzes the endings a bit a lot of similarities can be discovered.

OK, so there are similarities between the two. So what? Some are deep similarities while others are less important. Everything has similarities. What about the differences?

Certainly sola has much, much more conflicts than AIR. With the presence of Takeshi, an Evil Type Guy unmatched in AIR, there is plenty of fighting between him and Matsuri, and later on between Matsuri and Aono. sola definitely does have a lot of action in it, as opposed to AIR, where any conflicts are against invisible forces - Misuzu's impending death, Kano's...trance...thing that makes her want to cut herself (or whatever it was - to be honest it's been a year since I watched AIR), Michiru's essential lack of existence. sola's conflicts are very real and very physical in comparison.

In a lighter sense, but perhaps more important to many, the moe content of both series is different. sola doesn't really deal moe in spades like most Key series do. Rather, most of sola is based on drama and action, with the moe scenes almost sprinkled in superfluously (Aono's dress up, Matsuri vs. the vending machine, Koyori head chop action). Technically, you could take it out and sola would still run. AIR is somewhat the same in that it can function without all the moe in it, but there definitely is more raw adorability (you'd be surprised what the odd shiny-look or gao~ can do for that), especially in some of the character-to-character interaction compared to sola. Kanna, Michiru, and Misuzu (plus her mother) all rank in high on that regard.

To be honest AIR is still pretty low on the overall 'so moe I'm gonna die' scale, especially compared to relatives like Kanon and other KyoAni works, but that's not entirely a bad thing, either. Too much of a good thing is, y'know, bad.

The presentation and pace of the two anime is a bit different, to me at least. While both are pretty slow through the first episodes and only kick in about halfway, sola feels a lot faster and feels a lot more breakneck with the plot twists. To use a bad analogy, AIR is like a luxury car while sola is like a sports car. Both can go fast but one's designed to keep you on the edge of your seat and give your whiplash. And that one's sola. sola hates you. It wants to shock you, end on cliffhangers and stuff, while AIR seems a bit nicer in that regard. To be honest, AIR did have that one moment where it kicked you back 1000 years at the end of the episode into the Summer arc, but other than that the major developments I believe were usually in the middle of the episode.

But to be honest, the one comparison that's really striking more than anything else is that of the theme of the story. Of course the idea is very much the same, what with 'sola' meaning 'sky' (among other things), but I think the underlying meaning is quite similar as well. Both main characters have a fascination with the sky, mainly because it represents something beautiful and appealing, yet something so untouchable. Misuzu isn't about to grow wings and fly high in the sky like she wants, and Matsuri isn't about to suddenly grow tolerance for sunlight. So both of their dreams to be either flying in or standing under a blue sky aren't about to happen. Both of the stories deal with hardships like this, the inevitability of things. One day Misuzu's going to die. One day Aono and Yorito are going to have to face the truth.

In both series, people become aware that time moves in one direction, forward, and they have to deal with getting over the past, and moving on to the future, becoming their own person through that discovery. It's not like other series, where everything magically works out. There are miracles, but they don't come cheap.

This sort of thing is what really draws me to compare the two series together, that makes certain events in sola give off a taste of AIR. And the two, despite their differences, really are quite similar, undoubtedly. But neither is directly a copy of the other in the sense that a casual viewer can look at the show and say, "This is just like X." It's more subtle, deep similarities in addition to the obvious ones. I think the way these two are related are in more of a "If you like X, then you'll like Y a lot as well" manner.

Which isn't all too bad in itself.



I think some people have already compared the two quite a bit. I do think they share some common threads, but the execution felt really different for both series. In particular, I'm still sort of upset that we didn't get an equivalent of AIR's Summer arc in Sola. I would have been very interested in learning just what happened to Matsuri, Aono, and Yorito centuries ago that started this whole thing. That would have been very helpful for fleshing out the character development, which is rather necessary given the rushed conclusion of the character conflicts.

Of course, AIR isn't without its faults too. I still don't get why we needed a recap episode, when the earlier parts felt so rushed. >_<