Thanks to a very deliberate effort to avoid any form of spoiler (or even editorial review), I was able to dive into Air The Complete Series completely and utterly unaware of what to expect. The stills and screen captures have always had a crisp, clean and unmistakably "anime" quality to them and thus hinted toward a story that would succeed on multiple levels. As such I have found in the past that expectations on either side of the coin can go a long way in deteriorating this type of dramatic series. Thankfully my mission was a success as it allowed me to journey into this emotionally saturated tale completely non-jaded. Here's what I discovered.
Spread across 3 discs, Air the Complete Series consists of 12 episodes on the first two plus a pair of specials on the third disc. Packaging, much to Funimation's credit, is every bit as intriguing and beautiful as the actual series art. Within the stunning cardboard slip box are two thin packs, the first of which contains the two series discs (6 episodes on each) and the second pack houses the third (bonus) disc. In all the series spans 340 minutes and is rated TV 14.
The story goes something like this: A mysterious traveler finds himself in a seemingly parentless town somewhere along Japan's coast (modern day). With little more than the clothes on his back, he attempts to make a living as a puppeteer only unlike say, Jim Henson, our traveler is able to manipulate his puppet via telekinesis. While his performances are quite entertaining, he quickly discovers that audiences of unappreciative (and broke) children aren't particularly generous in the tipping department.
Sleeping on a concrete wall on the beach, our traveler Yukito meets an odd schoolgirl named Misuzu who, with an abundance of wide-eyed innocence, manages to break down his defenses. Now I could go on (and on) with the development of the complex and often-times intricate plot but as you already know, wouldn't want to ruin this type of tale for you either.
Keeping that in mind, let me just say that Air is an emotionally driven story with a slight bend on the supernatural. Yukito is driven by tales of a winged "girl in the sky" while Misuzu is haunted by dreams so taxing that her health is literally failing. The connection runs deeper than even I expected and flows along a path of mysticism, reincarnation, and the thin veil between reality and dreams.
In all, the story could best be described as a tragedy though wrapped in enough mystery to hide the fact initially. The pacing is a bit erratic but rewards viewers with enough patience to accept the fact that a lot of the questions presented early on will eventually be answered. While the early portion of the show sets up the viewer to believe this is Yukito's story, in truth he is only a minor player in the mystery surrounding Misuzu.
Back to the pacing, however: The first disc and beginning portion of the second crawl along at times with a near day by day chronicling of Yukito and Misuzu's lives. Just as the viewer begins to get accustomed to the monotony of the pacing, things take a rapid and unexpected twist in the form of a flashback to the year 994 A.D. in episode 7 (Dream). This sequence not only really starts to answer some of the nagging questions that will have begun piling up but it also offers an entirely different pacing from that in the core of the story. Far more action laden, the flashback segment is even rife with humorous interactions. So monumental (and unique) is this part of the story that both of the special episodes mentioned above (on the third disc) serve as almost "deleted scenes" from this particular sequence. Obviously trimmed down for time restraints and perhaps continuity issues, the episodes are presented in their full humorous glory as a treat to viewers once the main tale concludes.
Unfortunately, after the flashback does conclude, we're taken back to modern day Japan in a more despondent tone that never really ceases right up until the show's rather sad conclusion. The fragility of Misuzu comes to fruition shortly after the ancient connection between she and Yukito is finally established.
I'm big on isolating a show's most memorable attribute in my reviews and in the case of Air The Complete Series, that honor goes to the stunning background art showcased throughout the entire duration of the program. The skies, the clouds, the lighting, the ambiance is all second to none. There is no shortage of moments throughout the series where a double take is required just to make sure some actual footage wasn't imported behind the character models. The characters themselves are of the giant, perpetually watery-eyed variety with near non-existent mouths. It's a form that seems to be either loved or hated but certainly takes nothing away from the stunning background artwork incorporated throughout.
Soundtrack work is above average and, like all Funimation dubs I've encountered thus far; the English acting is right on the money.
In all Air The Complete Series is an interesting psychological drama with an abundance of bright, wide-eyed innocence used as tool to convey a deeper tragedy that transcends time and space. It's certainly the type of show that demands multiple viewings to fully grasp the mystery (and more importantly, the clues) presented along the way. It's artwork, presentation, and style are enough to distinguish it from its classmates while its subdued emotional qualities ensure that it will gather little dust on the entertainment-center shelves it graces.
This is one I really need to see again. The visuals were just amazing with splendid character designs. The opening theme could also be among my favorite songs in anime. I remember it having some pacing issues, and the drama not being as strong as it could have been. I'll get back to this one.