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Sound Of The Sky (Sora no Woto) Complete Series DVD Review

11 min read

The arrival of a new member at the Clocktower Fortress in Seize brings a new feeling to life for the small platoon.

What They Say:
In a lonely corner of the world, on the edge of No Man’s Land, sits Clocktower Fortress. It’s home to the 1121st Platoon of the Helvetian Army, and their newest member is 15-year-old volunteer Kanata Sorami, who enlisted to learn how to play the bugle. When she was a child, Kanata was saved by a beautiful soldier and found inspiration in the clear, golden sound of her trumpet. From that day onward, Kanata decided music would be her life.

As the other platoon members train her in how to be both a bugler and a soldier, Kanata’s enduring optimism will inspire them to look for happiness and beauty, even in a world haunted by war.

Contains episodes 1-12, plus two bonus episodes

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty basic as it features only the original Japanese language in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The show is one that doesn’t have all that much to it for the most part when you get down to it, though there are a few bigger scenes later on that could have benefited from a stronger presentation. This series is largely about the ambience, the music and the dialogue, and the track here conveys it cleanly and without problem. There’s not a lot of directionality to be had here since it’s given to focusing on only one character at a time and they tend to be central to the screen, but when it does have more in there, the placement is well done and it feels natural. The music, notably with the trumpet, is nicely done and has a good clear sound to it without any scratching or other potential problems. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread out over four discs with the first two plus the alternate version on the first and four on each of the remaining three volumes. The show has a good bit of space to it overall and a decent bit rate that spends its time in the mid sevens and ups. There’s a lot of detail and rich colors to the animation here that’s really well captured and left me pretty pleased throughout, much as I felt during the simulcast run for it. I really like the look of this show and the transfer here captures it well with smooth, solid animation moving about and backgrounds that are detailed and problem free. The most you might fret about is some of the usual that happens with dark night time scenes where there’s some mild noise to it, but that’s minimal overall and not a distraction. It’s a solid transfer overall that should please most fans looking forward to the DVD.

Packaging:
Unsurprisingly, the packaging for this release falls in line with other Nozomi releases so you know what you’re going to get. A very good solid heavy chipboard box with appropriate artwork, four clear thinpak cases inside with more artwork and a 40 page book to tie it all together. The front panel of the box has the five girls of the platoon laying together, head to head, with various cute expressions to their faces while behind them we get the flag of their emblem of the owl. The back panel goes in a very different direction with a full landscape shot at twilight where you have Kanata on an outcropping over it playing her bugle which gives a mixture of sadness and beauty to it that’s very appealing. The only disappointment I have with the case is that it uses only the English language translated name and doesn’t include the romaji version, though it’s at last there in its original text.

The four thinpak cases inside are really great as each of them features different characters and artwork, usually focusing on Kanata of course, where it has a very natural feeling to it all. The covers almost seem to get progressively darker with the artwork used though, which is a little sad as I imagine there’s a lot of bright and colorful pieces out there like the first volume that has Kanata sitting down smiling with the cityscape behind her. The logo is kept small and no other text is on the front so we get as much access to the good artwork as possible. Each of the covers wrap around to the back so you get more of that particular scene with other characters that helps to make it an even richer looking piece. The text for it all is done sideways on the back as well, which keeps it from covering the characters very much which is a definite plus. The episode numbers and titles are listed as well as the respective extras that are on that particular volume. None of the covers feature artwork on the reverse side though.

If you’re a fan of the show, the booklet is almost worth the price of admission alone. It covers a lot of standard things per se, with various commentary pages by the production staff that adds some good color to it all, but it also has a lot of sketch work and a lot of beautiful, beautiful full color pieces from the show that practically leap off the page. The promotional artwork gallery is very welcome as well, as we see how they showed up on various magazine covers. Add in some great character illustrations and I already love just flipping through it.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is pretty nice overall though it can be a touch hard to read at times. The background has a great piece of artwork with the characters and the landscape setting that the show takes place in with lots of earthy colors and a soft blue sky that’s very appealing. It has a natural look that draws you in nicely and definitely sets the mood for the series. Along the left side and up a bit, we get the navigation itself which is with a white text that can blend in just a bit depending on where it lands with the background. It fits in, in its own way, but can be lightly problematic for some. Everything runs vertically and we get the extras listed on the top level menus as well, making it a bit busier but quicker to access everything. The subtitles selection is noteworthy as well here, as you can choose the standard subtitles or you can access the one with honorifics included. It defaults to the standard, which makes the most sense, but I imagine some people won’t even know the other option is there.

Extras:
The extras for this release are spread across the discs and there’s some good stuff here depending on how you look at it. The basics are here in the form of the characters bios and line art pieces and the US trailer that was made to promote the show. The main extra is the alternate version of the first episode, which runs slightly longer, but I’ll admit to being hard pressed to tell the differences between the two with a casual viewing. I opted for the broadcast version for my main viewing since I wanted to recreate what I had seen during the simulcast. The other big extra is the included booklet, but we commented on that in the packaging section.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original production from Anime no Chikara, a seemingly ill-fated project that generated three shows with this as its launch one, followed up with by Occult Academy and Night Raid 1931, Sound of the Sky was known as Sora no Woto and ran for twelve episodes and had two special episodes released in addition to it. The show was one that captivated a lot of fans from the start with the beautiful animation from A-1 Pictures that stood out against others of the season and the hopes for an original production that could lead to more interesting shows that avoided the usual manga to anime adaptation pacing traps. While it proved to be a solid series, it didn’t quite achieve its overall goals in my mind.

The series focuses on Kanata, a young military girl who had enlisted at a time when most people had been leaving the service and going back to their small provincial towns to get their lives going again after the recent war. The two nations at the center of this conflict are continuing their peace talks and that serves as an undercurrent to the series until the last couple of episodes when things hit a flashpoint moment, which works well as it builds things up slowly and naturally through the eyes of those on the outside of most of what’s going on. Kanata’s coming to Seize is putting her in a small place overall along the borderlands where there’s little out there and much of what’s beyond it all is no man’s land. And as with any show involving people within the military, even at an outpost like this, they all have their pasts and stories that influence and shape events.

Kanata’s arrival at the Clocktower Fortress and this platoon is really fun to watch as she’s bright and full of life, but not obnoxious or annoying. She fits in well with the others of the troop, from the sleepy genius that is Noel to the spitfire that is Kureha who plays by the rules. She bonds very easily with Rio, the other bugler in the platoon with whom she wants to learn from, but is a bit more unsure of the platoon leader in Filicia as she’s kind of light in an amusing way and bends and molds the rules as necessary for her own means. They all have very distinct pasts that are explored over the course of the show and there are things that bond them together that they’re not aware of from the past. The slow and methodical pacing of the story is blended with Kanata’s becoming more familiar with Seize itself and some of the residents of the town, as well as getting to know more on some of the basic military matters.

Sound of the Sky is not a show that runs with big moments for the most part, though it does allow the final couple of episodes to go big when it comes to military matters and tension. By avoiding this in the earlier episodes, it makes that segment all the more fun to watch because you know it means something. The stories that we see here are enjoyable to be sure, almost slice of life in the end, as Kanata does her chores in the town and makes friends with some of the kids, shop owners and others. They move in and out of the show as time passes, sometimes being involved because of some needed help in dealing with a situation or something related to the festival of the area that deals with the story of the Flame Maidens that has a strong tie the distant past.

When I watched this as a simulcast, I got into the character drama of it a lot but wanted more of the setting for the world, the why of events and how it all ended up this way. We get some great teases about it here and there, such a brief look at a map and a flashback that shows one phase of how the world ended and turned into these simpler times where most anything related to technology has been lost to a different era. These kinds of stories can be fascinating, but there’s also always that feeling that there’s some gaping holes in how life would be at this point and that there’d always be some that would be trying to bring the technology back. We do get a bit of that, but it”s pretty tame considering what would be left in the ruins of even a far flung place like this.

Still, we’re offered an interesting world here that’s beautifully animated, which was one of the big reasons the show captured my attention so much at first. A-1 Pictures did a beautiful job in capturing the look of this Helvetian town and the way much of it has fallen to ruin but is still usable by everyone as they eke out the life that they can and the happiness they can. The town itself is a real treat, but the backgrounds are even more beautiful to look at. From the fall settings that we get with the sun setting to the time spent in the winter where the girls trudge through the snow, it all has a great feeling of being very well versed in nature that allows it to feel even more real, drawing you into the atmosphere that it’s created.

In Summary:
While I had some problems with how Sound of the Sky worked during its simulcast run, as it felt like it wasn’t capitalizing on its promise of the first episode, it definitely does build towards something. It simply takes a leisurely pace in getting there and brings in the larger story elements little bit little in a natural way. It does make you want more of it because it has a lot to offer, and that becomes the main frustration. With what it wants to do though, giving us the tale of five young women with their varied pasts and stories that have come together to this place and time, it does it very well. It has plenty of atmosphere, some good humor where appropriate, fun bugle playing and plenty of intensity when required. They’re a well rounded cast overall and with the supporting characters that wander in and out, it all comes together in a very engaging and entertaining way.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Full Opening Sequence Version of Episode 1, Character Bios, Line Art Gallery, 40-page book featuring series artwork and staff commentaries!

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: July 5th, 2011
MSRP: $49.99
Running Time: 355 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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