Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 13 (End) and Series Review

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That was mostly predictable, but mostly in a good way.  Mostly.

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta could be a poster child for any number of phrases: a mixed bag.  Scratching the surface.  Leaving a lot on the table.  In sum, there’s an awful lot that can be picked apart with this series, and the flaws are pretty glaring when you really step back and consider them.  But on balance I think it was pretty enjoyable – more so than it probably should have been considering those flaws – and I’m pleased that it ended on a fairly strong note.

If there was ever a series that really could have used two cours to tell its story, Toaru Hikuushi was it.  There was no way the finale could be more than a superficial attempt to deal with the innumerable hanging plot threads and unexplained gaps in exposition, and it wasn’t.  But it did get something right that seems so simple, yet is muffed by so many shows – it actually had an ending that felt like an ending.  That’s pretty important in my view, and even a finale that doesn’t resolve everything can still feel like a conclusion.

That finale started out rather weakly in this case, with another unannounced timeskip (about two years, it seems).  Worse, it then explained the mechanics behind its world setting with the worst kind of exposition, people standing around explaining it to each other obviously for no purpose but to let the audience in on the secret.  The explanation itself was fine – a “staircase” world of three oceans, will the water effectively recycled by the Spring of Life – it was the manner of explanation that rankled me.  On balance this feels very much like a Last Exile scenario, and this world very much like an artificial construction.

All in all it wasn’t a promising start, but things improved quickly with the return of the Isla mission to Balestros.  I very much like the character of Michael and the older sisters are OK too, and the family scenes from the first episode (and flashbacks) were some of the best in the series.  The family reunion was the emotional highlight of the episode, though the main event is Karl revealing his identity to the crowds gathered to welcome the mission home.  Michael cynically – and quite correctly – points out the irony in the government throwing a big welcoming party for a bunch of outcasts effectively exiled for being inconvenient.  But Cervantes has a plan – to use Karl’s declaration of love for Nina Viento to rally the public behind the idea of going back to the Sky Clan and bringing her home.

Did the crowd go from refusing to believe Karl was even really the Prince to buying into his story too quickly to be realistic?  Of course – but the funny thing is there’s more than a little truth in the notion that such drama is what tends to sway public opinion, and it can’t be denied that Karl’s is a pretty dramatic story.  As is often the case with this series I’m probably more forgiving of its silliness than I should be because I liked the way it was presented.  What all this means is Karl – now with a prototype single-seat fighter that looks on par with Sky Clan technology – joining the mission to find Claire and bring her home.  It also means another tearful family goodbye and Ariel finally making official the ill-kept secret that she’s in love with Karl.  That wasn’t my favorite part of the ep and Ari isn’t my favorite character by a long stretch (she gets one last chance to be especially annoying here) and I could happily have made do without either.

While much is left unsettled this still plays like an actual conclusion, and that’s good enough for me.  There’s too much packed into the postscript – the bombshell that Shizuka (“The RA”) is a spy, likely for the Sky Clan just for starters.  We get codas for most of Karl’s classmates too, and one last dogfight with assistance from the mysterious Lavamme pilot but no confirmation of his identity (I think we can guess) and while we never actually get to see Karl rescue Claire, it’s pretty strongly implied that it’s going to happen – and she even (unless he’s imagining it) uses the wind to speak to him.  It’s an open ending, but it feels like the last episode just the same.

I can never read through one of my posts on this show and find the justification for enjoying it as much as I often did, but Toaru Hikuushi is simply a case where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.  There were a few clunker episodes, don’t get me wrong, but considering how clumsy the narrative often was and how many outright silly moments there were, I shouldn’t have liked the series as much as I did.  As I said earlier, I think there’s a sprawling, romantic epic trapped inside a low-budget one-cour show here, and there are enough moments when its true nature shows through to give it a real charm.

That said, it’s pretty hard not to think about what might have been.  Have been, if this had been another movie from Madhouse or a two-cour series from a studio who could provide the visuals to do the imagination of the story justice.  There’s some lovely art here, but the lack of resources certainly shows through (especially in the big action sequences).  But that’t not what we got, and what we got was still pretty good.  Good enough, in fact, to make me hope this isn’t the last animation we see in this mythology – light-novelist Inumura Koroku has a vision, romantic sensibility and gift for scale that gives the material a distinctiveness no matter what the packaging.  He’s an interesting and talented writer, and even if Toari Hikuushi e no Koiuta isn’t the finest adaptation we could have hoped for, it does at least give us a sense of his gifts.

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ED Sequence:

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  1. w

    If another Inumura Koroku series is made, I hope it's set in wherever Claire is in that epilogue. It looks like it'd make for a very cool backdrop.

    Looking back, I'm a fair bit disappointed here. It was good, but I can't help but think it could have been excellent had it gotten the treatment it deserves. Still, enjoyable on the whole and I don't feel like I've wasted my time by watching it. Claire and Karl were a great on-screen couple as well.

    Even though it was quite hit and miss, I'd like it if more companies tried to make shows like this one. Anime really is missing those epic adventure series these days.

  2. R

    The thing is, no matter how many missteps this show makes, I'd probably forgive it on the grounds that it's a dying breed, a story of epic fantasy and imagination and grand scale that anime just doesn't see anymore. Which breaks my heart since they were my favorites. Those types of shows are what got me officially knee deep and sinking in anime, and proud of it.

    So even though it wasn't a masterpiece, I'm really glad it got made.

  3. S

    This show's clumsiness had an odd charm on me too. However, considering how well the spin-off movie was done, it's a shame that they only let the viewer scratch the surface on whatever subject this anime touched.

  4. m

    I think this show is a prime example of the fact that a good story matters more to making a show enjoyable than anything else. Yeah, it was full of holes (some ridiculous), and the execution of the story was far from perfect, but just having a good starting storyline handled OK can make for an enjoyable show. Visuals, music, and other technical aspects certainly improve things, but the story really is what makes a movie, book, or show enjoyable. As you said there was a romantic epic here, and even when mismanaged, it still is leagues above shows with ridiculous plots (the show you did your Aprils fools post about comes to mind).

  5. R

    still can't help but be disappointed. they really had too many obvious narrative choices here that they didn't make for i don't know what reason. for one, the whole Saint Aldista Myth could have made sense of a lot of things if they just told what it was all about. Nagi no Asukara and Noragami were at the very least clear on how their myths played out and how it will connect to the story. but this just didn't give you that leisure. there is even no connect from here to claire's wind powers (i would have found it better if hers was water related.)

    well, at the very least, they did some good animation in the remaining third or so.

  6. H

    "That finale started out rather weakly in this case, with another unannounced timeskip (about two years, it seems)." I interpreted it as the story was set over two years, six months to get to the spring, six months to the edge of the sky, and then it took a year to get everyone back home again (although the characters grew up so much it's hard to tell exactly).

  7. M

    Well,I am kind of disappointed by this show,even by the last episode since I'd have hoped to see Claire & Kal-el meet up at least – it was clear that they wouldn't have time to explain more of the political details & do more proper world exposition so I'd have at least hope to see the romance aspect have a conclusive ending.

    Of course,the disappointment comes because the series really had potential and I still enjoyed it but ugh…it could've been so much better! I'd definitely watch another anime in this universe or a 2nd season if it were to come.

    And I totally agree with whemleh that I'd be nice to see more companies at least try to make shows like this. Dunno how to describe it,but it's a rather good feeling knowing that an anime is limited primarily by it's time & budget rather than it's ambition & writing talent.

  8. R

    from what i read, the light novels did end in a similar manner, with Kal and Claire yet to see each other.

    but, really i don't get how time constraints could have limited this. All they had to do is to make one or two of the more obvious narrative choices (which they didn't) and they would be on the right track.

  9. M

    Well,there's also the matter with the episodes focused on the side characters. If they had more time to flesh them out better perhaps some of their deaths would've had more impact. I know I hardly cared about any of the side characters. Maybe a little bit about the adults since they helped the plot move along,somewhat.

  10. R

    that's another of the obvious narrative choices they never did. they could have fleshed out the more important ones early along with the main characters.

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