I have a confession to make. Walkure Romanze, the series based upon a visual novel all about girls competing against one another in jousting tournaments, is one of those guilty pleasure series that people talk about. I enjoyed the ludicrous scenario, the characters and the series overall, but I couldn’t easily recommend it to other people. AOKANA, on the other hand, shares many of the same conceits as Walkure Romanze, but is a series I feel confident in recommending. Three episodes in and it is probably one of the most relaxing and enjoyable series to have started up in 2016.
Based upon a visual novel released in 2014, the premise of AOKANA revolves around a world where flight has been discovered and implemented through “grav-shoes,” which allow their user to fly. In conjunction with this discovery a sport known as Flying Circus was started up that takes advantage of this newfound skill. Following a former player of the sport, who for reasons yet to be revealed gave up on it, named Masaya Hinata, as well as his childhood friend Misaki Tobisawa and new transfer student Asuka Kurashina, AOKANA follows them as they restart the Kunahama High School Flying Circus team.
It’s a very basic concept for a sports series, and one that has definitely been seen multiple times before across the world. However, the execution of this scenario has been excellent so far and is proving why this is an enduring form of story. Time has been taken to introduce the main characters, flesh out their personalities somewhat and even give some insight into their pasts; albeit the latter in very miniscule amounts so far. The exposition and world building for this alt-future Earth has also been doled out quite well. Info-dumping scenes are few, and when they’re present they don’t feel as if they’re there just to give the audience information.
And the level of fanservice in this series is quite low. Episode three was the first time that any real amount of time was dedicated to any form of fanservice, in the form of a bathhouse sequence. Earlier episodes featured an unfortunate case of curtains being open at the wrong time for Hinata and his next door neighbour, but were otherwise devoid of any real fanservice. It’s actually been beneficial to the pacing and buildup of AOKANA’s story so far. However, I’ll be completely honest, the ludicrous and awkward nature of those encounters near the window was funny. The only issue with those scenes is that there was no resolution or interaction between Hinata and the young woman he accidentally wronged (seriously, close your curtains when changing if there’s a window right across from yours), making the overall feel of those scenes quite superfluous.
The animation, however, isn’t as strong as the rest of the production. Animated by Gonzo, a studio that used to be far more prevalent than they’ve become, the 2D animation is crisp and quite nice to watch, despite periodic hitches and hiccups. However, the periodic usage of CG, which has become quite normal in recent years, is jarring and harms the overall flow of the animation. Thankfully, by episode three the CG sequences are usually kept only for long shots and intense aerial acrobatics during Flying Circus matches, where they are less obtrusive and even look relatively decent, rather than close ups as they had appeared to be in the first two episodes.
Overall, these first three episodes of AOKANA are pushing it towards the top of my list for the 2016 winter season, and I highly recommend checking the series out. It’s a fun, and relaxing, take on the slice-of-life sports genre. The only other series with better opening episodes this season are ERASED and GATE, so check this one out.
Episodes 1 – 3 Rating: 8.5/10
AOKANA streams new episodes Mondays exclusively on Crunchyroll.