Anime: Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm / AoKana: Four Rhythm Across The Blue
Original Run: Jan 12, 2016 to Mar 29, 2016
Genres: Sports, Science-Fiction, Drama
The invention of Grav-Shoes, footwear that uses anti-gravitational technology to allow people to fly, have led to a new way of life, especially within the four-island archipelago to the south of Japan where the Grav-Shoes can be freely used. Their advent has also led to the development of a new sport called Flying Circus in which two participants face off and race to win points by touching four buoys or the opponent’s back.
Asuka Kurashina is a transfer student at Kunahama High School and a newcomer to the four-island archipelago’s casual use of flight. But despite being inexperienced with Grav-Shoes, she demonstrates a natural aptitude for Flying Circus and is promptly pulled into Kunahama’s nearly defunct FC Club. She drags Masaya Hinata, her flying coach, as well as her classmate Misaki Tobisawa and junior Mashiro Arisaka into the club along with her. Matches and tournaments follow, each one challenging the rookie group as they struggle to find their balance with both the sport and each other.
AoKana is my second made-up sport anime, Prince of Stride being the first. It’s based on the invention of Grav-Shoes which allow people to fly and also led to the a sport called Flying Circus which involves two competitors flying around four connected buoys, gaining points by touching either the buoys or the opponent’s back. As such, it’s dependent on speed as well as agility and fighting instinct. Players usually focus on one of these elements but there are all-rounders as well.
Sounds thrilling, right? And it is. Flying Circus is easily the best part of AoKana. It’s interesting to learn about and riveting to watch. One of the main reasons why I find sports anime appealing is the way the sport in question gets me pumped up in a way real life sports rarely do. Prince of Tennis, Yuri on Ice and Kuroko no Basket all excelled at this while Prince of Stride fell short. AoKana occupies the middle ground. It’s always fun to see the characters flying around in those pretty skin-tight clothes but there are moments in each match where it stops being merely fun and becomes outright exciting. These moments become more frequent towards end of the show, with the final match being the best of the bunch. The fact that both men and women play Flying Circus together rather than in gender-segregated teams also serves to make it all the more interesting.
This anime’s no slouch in the character department either. There’s a definite girls’ club vibe to the story from beginning to end and the interplay of their different personalities lends a certain charm to the show. It would be quite boring on its own without the competitive sports angle but the combination of the two is enough to make each of the prominent characters engaging and their struggles sympathetic. All three of the main girls, Asuka, Misaki and Mashiro, have their own arcs where they face down some internal problem and got stronger with their friends’ help and support. It’s a familiar formula but it’s executed in an appealing manner. Other characters also go through the same but the main antagonists’ reformation comes across as rather cliché. Cute but cliché.
The only complaints I have about AoKana is its rather slow start and the at times irritating attitude of its protagonist. Neither really affects the quality of the story though. They’re just minor irritants. On the whole, this is twelve episodes of good, gravity-defying fun.
Our main characters belong to Kunahama High School’s Flying Circus club. Asuka, Misaki and Mashiro are the players while their coach Hinata and supervisor Kagami also have notable roles. Naturally, students from other schools also show up, some more important and memorable than others.
Asuka is the face of the show who also functions as the naïve newcomer whose ignorance about all things involving flying gives the show the opportunity to explain things to the audience. Asuka is sweet, bubbly, and hard-working but with a tendency for self-deprecation. The reason I called her occasionally irritating is due to her high-pitched optimism which often has a clueless quality to it that gets on my nerves. Aside from that, she’s a nice character who combines hard work with natural talent and a genuine love for the sport. It’s always great to see her diligently work toward her goals and treat her failures as an opportunity for both fun and improvement.
Misaki is an experienced Flying Circus player but it’s clear from the start that she doesn’t take it too seriously. She lacks any significant drive and has a penchant for running away from things she’s too invested in. Most of her character development comes from her confronting her fear of commitment while learning to enjoy the game for its own sake. Mashiro is the baby of the group, being a first-year student with a puppy crush on Misaki who follows her around everywhere, even to Flying Circus. Mashiro’s energetic and bold but prone to possessiveness and insecurity. She eventually learns to step out of Misaki’s shadow and follow her own path while making new friends in the process.
While the story focuses on these three there are other minor characters whose personal issues are also touched upon. Even with the lesser amount of detail, some of them manage to be just as interesting as the main cast. There’s Hinata Masaya, the Kunahama club’s coach who has a past with Flying Circus that he’s eager to run away from, and Kagami Aoi who used to be a professional player but remains haunted by past mistakes that naturally come back to bite them all in the butt. Other school’s players are also an interesting bunch, especially the reigning champion Shindou and the antagonist duo Saki and Irina.
Art and Music:
The art alone would get full marks from me. It’s bright and beautiful, especially the gratuitous nature shots. The character designs, especially those of the girls, are cute without being suffocatingly moe, and off-model faces don’t occur often enough to be a bother. The Flying Circus matches are where the animation truly shines – they’re brilliant in a way that must be seen to be fully appreciated.
The music is peppy and catchy. It’s not my usual taste but it’s pleasant enough to warrant listening. The opening theme is Contrail ~Kiseki~ by Mami Kawada and there are two ending themes: a-gain and Kimi Toita Sora, both by Ray.
Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm is a delightfully distinct show that left me happy and thoroughly entertained but not wanting more. The sport, Flying Circus, alone is worth the time spent on this.
(Maybe 7.5 but not quite an 8)