In their way, VN adaptations are every bit as instantly recognizable as LN adaptations.
On the surface there didn’t seem to be a whole lot to recommend Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm as anything especially noteworthy – it looks like a pretty straightforward visual novel adaptation. But there are some extenuating circumstances that put this show on my radar, the first being that it was developed by sprite/fairys, the company who developed Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate. That was a series which despite unfortunately tanking pretty hard in the ending department was substantially interesting for a long time. sprite/fairys isn’t a company with a long history but they’ve been around long enough to have some sort of signature style, and Ao no Kanata seems to have it.
This series is also interesting in that the full version of the game hasn’t even been released yet, and the fact that the anime is produced by Gonzo (yes – they exist). There was a time when Gonzo was second only to Gainax in my young anime fan’s heart, so I have a lot of good memories there. True, there hasn’t been anything adding to them in a very long time, but hope dies hard and nostalgia is a powerful magnetic force. All things considered, I was reasonably hopeful Ao no Kanata was going to be a notable series.
Is it? Well, I suppose it’s too early to say. I did mostly like the premiere, which was cuter than it should have been able to get away with without being grating, but somehow managed to pull it off (think Kudryavka Noumi). Helping along in that effort is that the first route to come into focus is played by Fukuen Masato, one of my absolutely favorites. That would be Kurashina Asuka, the dojikko of the cast. It also helps that male lead Hinata Masaya is played by Ohsaka Ryouta, who while overexposed is pretty much always professional and genuine.
Premise-wise, we have another odd sprite/fairys invention – a school somewhere in the southern islands of Japan where the kids all use anti-grav boots to fly and compete in a kind of aerial tag/capture the flag called “Flying Circus”. I have no idea if that notion is going to be prove interesting over the course of a full season or where the actual conflict is going to come from, but it’s kind of fun for one episode, especially given Asuka’s innate clumsiness. It does raise an obvious question, though – flying students wearing skirts? Did this not strike anyone as a potential problem?
As to the other girls will presumably all get their own routes eventually, I think it’s too early to judge. We have a catgirl, a loli otaku, an ojou-sama, a genki girl and a hot teacher played by Ikari Shinji – quite a few bases covered there (I assume the tsundere will come later, or has yet to reveal her true stripes). It’s all derivative, obviously, but like KoiChoco, AoKana seems to have a sort of easy, unpretentious charm to it. What put KoiChoco over the top, at least for a while, was its really interesting plot more than the romance routes – we’ll see if the same proves true here, but AoKana is off to a pretty decent start at least as far as atmospherics are concerned.