10/31/2007

R1 Round 2: AIR Volume 1

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Long long ago, in a time far removed from now, I wondered what the hell 'gao' meant after seeing it brought up on a message board.

The answer, as things always tended to be at the time, resided at Youtube, where I found out that 'gao' had something to do with stegosauruses and something to do with some show called AIR. With nothing better to do on a January weekend, might as well watch it and see what it's about.

12 days, 12 episodes, and a few manly tears later, anime, to me, was back for good.

Although in really pixelated, low-res Youtube quality. Ironically enough, the licensing of AIR was one of the factors spurring me to begin watching fansubbed anime the 'real' way, through downloads and torrents.

However, I'm not stupid enough to do something blatantly illegal (only gray area, eh, but that's a different story) and brag about it on a blog, and so I often turn to the anime market in the U.S. to support the industry and rewatch shows that perhaps I don't have backed up.

For those reasons the arrival of the first volume of AIR in the mail was a sentimental moment, something that really worried me about watching the series again.

Being the first anime series I watched since D.N.Angel in 2004, AIR set the bar for all the other shows to come. And it set it high.

But undoubtedly, there were shows that came along and knocked over the bar like it was nothing. Shows that went beyond 'really good' into, well, 'defining'.

As such it worried me that, coming back to AIR, the 'first love' period would have worn off and what we'd have left is a very rushed, emotionally blunt (i.e. "cry now plz ;_;") anime. And if there's one thing I could say about the first four episodes, it's that I sure criticized them a lot.

But that's not always a bad thing, as has been hinted at before by myself and my commenters. Being critical is an important thing, as it allows both for the brighter aspects of the show to shine brighter, and for a balanced view of the anime as a whole. (Although, there is always time for a "oh god Shiori is moe" interlude.)

And there's always the other kind of critical, better known as 'being snarky'. Like a lovers' quarrel, sarcastic-ing an anime into the ground isn't always a bad thing and can show that you enjoy the anime enough to make fun of it.

Until, of course, it becomes actually so bad that making fun of it is all you can do.

Anyway, the first four episodes of AIR, the second time around, are pretty much how I'd expect the first four episodes of any visual-novel to be. You sit there and you laugh at the funny parts of the show (and at some of the cliches, and at Akira-Potato, etc), and then you get serious at the serious parts, and then the show ends and you move on.

First Arc Syndrome is something that plagues a bunch of shows of this type, in that the first girl featured, in one way or another, doesn't make as much of an impact. It makes logical sense, in that you don't lead off with your strongest act. Certainly it can catch you off guard, in the case of shows like Kanon, but it's usually more of a prelude of things to come than the main event.

Otherwise, you'd get some real whiplashed audience when you go from 'happy intro' to 'omfg plot'.

And, in the case that you actually like the character/arc that comes first, then you're bitter that they don't get more screentime, because they get shoved off in favor of More Important Things.

At any rate, the first part of AIR, being composed of said first arc, is kind of...there. Kano was never a character that did it for me, especially compared to characters with more 'M''s in their name. While none of the aspects of AIR are truly magical-plot-free, Kano's arc is really sort of out there.

The closest to a connection one could make is Kano's whole "my mother is dead" deal, except for the fact that I have two living parents and that nonexistent parents in anime have become more of the norm rather than the exception.

Perhaps more could have been done if Kano got more than 40 minutes of screentime, but she didn't and as such she's in and out the door quick enough that she doesn't linger long enough to either be endearing or annoying.

But, the emotional Minagi and Misuzu arcs still are waiting in the wings, so there's still plenty to look forward in AIR.

Not to mention, the comedy parts in AIR still are pretty solid; Michiru running over Yukito in Matrix slow-motion, the Haruka and Misuzu comedy show, and Cooking With Misuzu still are smile-inducing, so it's not like AIR is substandard or average at any rate.

Looking at the show for the second time, a few other things become apparent: AIR certainly has more of an 'anime' feel to it that other KyoAni shows. It uses a lot of sound effects from the Lucky Star bin (yes, the wrong way chronologically), there are sweat drops and overdramatic food-spitting out and all. It doesn't detract from the currently-light feel of the show, but it's certainly a change from the (mostly) realistic Kanon.

Also, the show doesn't seem to be pulling out as much foreshadowing compared to...yeah...Kanon. While in the latter pretty much every line, even the insignificant ones, could hold deep meaning (Akiko's "Look out for cars" or Yuuichi's "Didn't the school used to be a wheat field?" in episode 1) , AIR isn't as quite a treat for second-time viewers.

Probably because of the lack of plentiful childhood friend, although, there certainly are a few tip-offs of future plot developments, like Michiru being afraid to approach Minagi's mom, or Misuzu wanting to play cards, or...well...Misuzu having no friends.

Presentation-wise the release of AIR Vol. 1 is very bare-bones, with the only extras being creditless OP/ED sequences, and with no scene select offered for the four episodes. Still, it's AIR, it's in the U.S., it's good looking and it's cheap (yay, RightStuf sales), so it's still good as long as the content isn't too bad.

So far it's looking that way still. I look forward to Minagi's arc as the pivot.

-CCY

comments:

I loved AIR alot too, (although not as much as Kanon) I ended up as one of the people who were =( when a character was put aside for "more important things". Minagi's arc is my favorite and she should have gotten more screen time. Yeah I'm biased, but we all have our favorites