What They Say:
The invention of anti-gravity footwear has opened an innovative world of sports for students across the globe. Dreaming of flight since childhood, Asuka can’t resist the action-packed competitions of Flying Circus. But with her head in the clouds and a clumsy disposition, she’s got a lot to learn before she can go toe to toe with the toughest challengers at other schools.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English language dub gets a 5.1 mix, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that does lean more into dialogue overall but it has a good number of flying sequences and racing material that provides for the action component of the show. Both tracks handle this really well as there’s a lot of movement across the forward soundstage as they zip about while there’s also some good impact with how the races and various combat elements of it unfold. The dialogue for the show is fairly straightforward in comparison with it mostly basic conversation when not involved in the action side. Both tracks are pretty solid with a clean and clear design to it and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortion during a regular playback.
Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs in a nine/three standard format for a series like this. Animated by Gonzo, the show has a bright and colorful look to it with a lot of it taking place in the open sky or above the water, so the quality of both of those helps it to stand out well. The character designs are bright and colorful as well and the highlight of both with the action sequences of flying just pushes it all forward in a really good way. There’s a lot of vibrant elements to this beyond the bright colors themselves, such s the contrails of flying, and the action scenes show off a lot of the overall quality. Colors are solid throughout with no visible macroblocking or breakup to be had. It’s an appealing encoding with what it presents through the show itself does cut a few corners here and there as a lot of the backgrounds are a bit more standard overall. It’s a good looking show and a good encode.
The packaging design for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case where both discs are held against the interior walls with no hinges. It’s a rare release with no DVD included and a rare one where there’s no o-card as well, making this a title that feels like it’s being pushed out quickly. The front cover artwork is nice as it showcases the main group of girls together up int he sky in their synthetic outfits that has a nice wispy style with the color tone and the clouds. There’s a lot of nice detail to the clothing and hair as well that helps to sell it. The back cover goes with a white background and re-uses the image of Asuka from the front cover to the right, which makes you wonder how little material was available for the packaging. The summary covers things well and we get a good listing of the extras and the digital copy element. The technical breaks down the Blu-ray information well and it just feels weird to have only that here after so many dual format releases. While there are no show related inserts here we do get a nice two-panel spread that showcases the location of the series with its appealing colors across it while the right side features three of the main characters.
The menu design for this release is a nice one overall as we get a static image that goes for the bright and vibrant side of things. With the blue sky with clouds background giving it some good color richness, the right side features the character artwork that has some nice vibrancy to it such as the pinks and oranges of the first disc. The logo is kept to the let of them and below it we get the triangle navigation element that has the basics and is easy to navigate both as a main menu and as a pop-up menu during playback.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With a game that came out initially in 2014 and then expanded past the PC platform to others beginning in 2016, AOKANA is a twelve episode series that aired as part of the winter 2016 season. The property brought out a companion manga just before it that didn’t generate much and it’s had a few other games in the years since. It’s a kind of surprising project in that it always felt like it was a bit left behind in a lot of ways but it finally got this bilingual combo release through the Crunchyroll and Funimation partnership. Animated by Gonzo, the show excels with its core intent of showing off some fun sports elements with a game involving anti-grav shoes and that has a lot of appeal, especially with the way Gonzo puts together the scenes for that.
Beyond that, however? AOKANA is a bit of a rough work. Taking place in a present day alternate timeline, we’re introduced to new transfer student Asuka Kurashina, a second-year student who has come to the school on this island chain. It’s here that she finally gets the chance to wear the anti-grav shoes that allow people to fly, something that she’s never had an opportunity before. The island is nicely setup in that it has some laws on how it all works with specific launching platforms throughout the city that makes it so that people don’t just flit all about and causing accidents or problems, such as peeping and so forth. It’s a nice little thought out piece that I like since having them flying constantly would remove some of the appeal. For Asuka, she falls in easily with a few other people her age and in her school who help her out with the shoes.
Her primary help comes in the form of Masaya Hinata, a young man who was involved in the sport related to the anti-grav shoes called FC, aka Flying Circus. The school doesn’t have much of a team as it’s basically in a bus near the back of the island because Masaya has had little interest in the sport after a particularly bad defeat. Now, in most shows you can see the path for this pretty easily and I certainly expected that here. But AOKANA subverts expectations nicely as Masaya reluctantly becomes her coach to teach her but he doesn’t put the shoes on himself or compete. There are a few other girls that end up becoming club members and working with Asuka such as Misaki and Mashiro so we get their stories along with group encouragement and general growth.
But the best part for me? Masaya doesn’t become a love interest here. While that may be an element in the game for all I know, what we get here is something where he’s a quietly encouraging coach, not one that’s overly harsh or angry, but also not crushing on her and trying to turn the whole coaching gig into a relationship. In fact, the series is completely free from relationships in this regard as it’s more focused on friendships or team companionship, some of which goes back to the past with a couple of other competitors and a teacher that has a bit of a history with the game. Some of this works nicely, some of it just turns the whole game into something where it makes you cringe because Asuka somehow, with no experience at all, becomes one of the top players that changes the game. It’s an element that’s just a bit too much for me.
Honestly, the sport as it plays out here doesn’t do much for me as we get a one-on-one approach for most of it where they flit over the water with all kinds of tactics to score points. There’s a lot to like in terms of the visuals for it because it’s all about the flying and anime does that better than anything else out there. It doesn’t go for over the top fanservice costumes and it executes the action well with some slick sequences, but it is mostly just your basic sports story. The deeper problem is that the characters don’t have much personality to them beyond the baseline and it becomes hard to really root for them since so much time is focused on the training or the matches themselves. It all just felt kind of superficial and bland, with that layer of predictability. Again, it was nice that it wasn’t focused on romances or anything but it also largely keeps us without any adults, minimal school material, and minimal home life material. There are some basic explorations of sibling dynamics and a little more but it just doesn’t resonate.
While AOKANA features some fun design elements and some really nicely done action pieces when it comes to the anti-grav aspects of the show, the character side is pretty superficial and what we get for the overall story is your basic sports story. But one without a lot of the strong character drama to really propel it forward. I do like that it largely plays to a smaller design and scope but the characters lack anything to really make them resonate in an engaging way combined with the whole transfer student that’s never worn them becoming a radical game-changing player within the first season of getting the school club running again. There are some really good positive elements to it with the action and the lack of romance but it’s a balance that doesn’t even out. Fans of the show will definitely enjoy being able to own this in a really good quality release that includes a solid dub as well.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Textless opening and closing songs
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: September 11th, 2018
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.