Sora no Method – 01
There’s not much about Sora no Method that would draw me to it under normal circumstances. Only one thing, in fact, though it’s an important one – it’s an original series by Hisaya Naoki, creator of Kanon and Sola. Hisaya has a proven track record of packaging elements that normally leave me cold into something genuinely compelling, and so far he’s been as good an example as any of the theory that writers are the most important element in any original anime.
As for Sora no Method, I’m certainly not ready to say Hisaya has scored the hat trick with this one, but I can say there’s a certain confidence and purposefulness with the writing that makes the series more enjoyable than it should be. Make no mistake, this is unabashedly a moe show, but Hisaya does moe better than just about anybody because at least in the past, he’s been able to pair it with genuinely interesting magical realism and characters. The art and animation by Studio 3Hz, a new player on the scene, is quite good – this sort of show almost has to be pretty succeed, and Sora no Method does.
At first glance there’s nothing to suggest this premise is going to be fundamentally different than countless other series of its type, not excluding Hisaya’s own – though a female POV character is unusual for him. We have a young girl named Komiya Nonoka (Natsukawa Shiina) returning home to Lake Kiriya City after a long absence, having left without saying goodbye. We have a mysterious blue-haired girl named Noel (Minase Inori), a strange disc that hovers over the lake, a dead mother, broken promises and a splintered group of childhood friends who touched magic in the dim days of their youth and are now (barely, by the looks of it) teenagers.
All in all that’s pretty stock stuff, but the stock and trade of Hisaya is taking stock and making it come alive. Can he do it here? It’s way too early to tell – I did like the premiere but there was certainly no single element of it that blew me away. I almost always prefer shows where the characters drive the story, but with Hisaya it’s generally the other way around – while he writes good characters, it’s the pathos in the scenario that gives their stories poignancy. And there’s simply no way to judge Sora no Method until we know if that scenario has the legs it needs to bring the series to life and make it distinctive. Hisaya has been away from series anime for a long time and there are certainly no guarantees, but I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t.
Fate stay/night: Unlimited Blade Works – 00
I’ve tried to make it through Fate stay/night once already and failed, and building around this one of the least interesting characters in the mythology hardly seems like a recipe for success. I liked Fate/Zero a lot more, but that was a series that followed the usual Urobuchi Gen pattern of starting with a bang and finishing with a whimper. With all that being the case, I don’t go into this series with a whole lot of optimism. I know it’ll be hugely popular (anyone who’s seen the lines at the Type-Moon booth at Comiket could attest to that being a lock) and I’m not expecting to follow along. That’s not a line I’ve ever wanted to stand in.
All that may be the case, but that doesn’t stop me from being once again awestruck by the work ufotable does. There’s no denying that in terms of production values Unlimited Blade Works is a marvel – the fight scenes at the end show that off most obviously, but the episode looks great even before that. Like F/Z this series builds a strong narrative momentum by the end of the premiere (actually a double-episode – and the next will be as well, apparently).
I won’t call that lipstick on a pig, because even I can acknowledge that there’s a certain pull to the elegant premise that drives this mythology and everything in it. For about a cour I was pretty entranced by it myself, but by the end of F/Z I was back to thinking that the Fate story is ultimately hollow. It’s pure fanservice on every level, even if it is some of the best and most eloquently presented fanservice in the business. Type-Moon does a good job of attaching a veneer of depth to it, but ultimately this is a glorified RPG that fetishises moe, GAR, and GAR-moe for its own sake. This is about selling VNs and Blu-rays, not telling a story that has any real meaning. But is it better to convincingly pretend you’re telling a meaningful story than not even try?
One thing can certainly be said – it’s certainly better to package this material as beautifully as its packaged here. It makes F s/n a much more engaging watch than last time, even if Tohsaka Rin (Ueda Kana) is every bit the pure pandering character that F/Z’s Saber was. It’s the nature of the mythology that the personalities of the Servants will change, of course, and Archer (Suwabe Junichi) is cast in the hero’s role this time, with Lancer (Canna Nobutoshi) as a cocky and arrogant antagonist. I don’t know if we’ll get the stable of distinctive personalities among the Servants and Mages this time around that we did in Urobuchi’s F/Z, and if not this will likely be a less interesting series on the whole. But it’s hard to ignore, both because of how genuinely regal ufotable’s production is and the hypnotic nature of the premise. That will likely keep me watching and maybe even watching, despite a lack of confidence that I’ll be satisfied in the end.