The story situation seems absurd: five teenage girls, two older, three younger, are a military platoon assigned to guard a crumbling European fortress, and the town nearby, during a war. But the fortress must be far behind the lines and the war distant. The setting is bucolic and peaceful. The girls don't take military discipline very seriously. The time of the story is unclear; it may be in our far future, or in another world entirely. There is a 'walking tank', mostly disassembled, in the castle's basement. One of the girls, Noel, is slowly trying to restore it. Will she succeed? Will this peculiar situation eventually resolve into a giant bot show with bishoujos?
The isolation of the cast, the mystery of the situation, and the pastoral setting remind me of Haibane Renmei. I ultimately found Haibane Renmei unsatisfying because it never fully explained its situation, and ended inconclusively. I like Sora no Woto, and hope it does better.
Production values vary from 'pretty' to 'ravishingly beautiful'. A scene in Episode 4 where the enthusiastic but hapless Kanata finally figures out how to play her bugle brought me to tears. Maybe it's all schmaltzy sentimental clap-trap. I don't care. It's goddamn gorgeous.
Backgrounds remind me of a Miyazaki imaginary Europe, as in Kiki's Delivery Service or Porco Rosso. The fortress is said to be based on a Spanish castle, but the neighboring village of Seize looks Italian to me. Character design is attractive. There are fan complaints that it's too close to the character design of K-On!. I suppose it is, a little. But the anime is so different, I don't think it matters. There is sometimes a clash between the backgrounds, which tend to be slightly soft focused, and the foreground characters which are sharply drawn. Animation is detailed and fluid. Music is good, and closely tied to the story's action. Fan service is minimal.
I like Sora No Woto a lot, but I worry about where it's going. Four episodes in, the tone is still light and semi-comedic. These episodes have dealt chiefly with the interpersonal relationships of the cast, with a strong flavor of bildungsroman with respect to Kanata, whom the story follows most closely. But unlike a similar bishoujo cast in a school life comedy, whose greatest threats are poor grades or dull dates, these girls are in an army. There is a war, somewhere. And there's that tank in the basement, as sinister as a gun on the mantel.
In the very first episode, the viewer learns that the village of Seize has a legend about the 'Fire Maidens', who successfully defended Seize from a monster in some mythical past age, at the cost of their own lives. And lo, in the second and subsequent episodes, the OP is a montage of images of these Fire Maidens. The art is highly decorative, reminiscent of Gustav Klimt, the accompanying music sweet and sad. But the faces of the doomed Fire Maidens are the faces of our five cast members.
Anime is not afraid to start a show as comedy, that becomes by degrees darker and darker until by the end all the characters you have come to love are dead. Evangelion pretty much did that. Daughter of Twenty Faces comes close, as does Mouryou no Hako. I want these girls to survive. But I'm worried about 'em.
Good show. It will surely be licensed for US distro. If you don't want to wait a year two for the DVDs, grab the torrents now. Incidentally, Sora no Woto is the first fruit of a joint project between TV-Tokyo and the Aniplex production company, 'Anime no Chikara', which is supposed to develop original TV anime. Excellent start. I'm looking forward to future work from this project.