At five episodes in, AOKANA is already at the point that Haikyu!! took 15 episodes to achieve: the start of the first major tournament.
Thanks to a smaller core cast, and less complications than most other sports series seem to face before reaching this point, AOKANA has successfully managed to keep a steady pace and reach this point without any issue. And at this point in time, it provides a nice change of pace from the slice-of-life with sports feel of the earlier portion of the series.
As is common among other sports series, this episode takes some time to reintroduce us to the main rivals, in this case the Takafuji High School team, as well as introduce new rivals, the former British FC player Saki Inui. This sets the stage for the upcoming competition nicely, albeit in a basic manner, and allows the real star of this episode to shine.
In this case, it’s the FC matches themselves. While the series still has yet to fully show off one of these matches, this episode does manage to give each member of the Kunahama team a chance to show off. Whether it’s Mashiro’s quick two points against Satouin, or Misaki’s toying with Rika, each of the characters gets a fair chance to look cool, whether they won or lost.
Even Asuka, who is most definitely the “main” heroine of this adaptation, is not singled out over the others when it comes to her FC match. It makes this really feel more like a sports series than just another visual novel adaptation.
However, as is quite common among visual novel adaptations, Masaya is still not being utilized. Sure, the original game is definitely more of a dating sim than a game like Steins;Gate or Little Busters, but Masaya has expressed enough personality throughout the earlier episodes, and this one, to make his continued lack of importance to anything going on quite noticeable.
It doesn’t really harm the series right now, as it remains quite firmly planted in the sports-centric storytelling format, but if they attempt to build up any drama or emotionally charged aspects in future episodes, they’re going to have to actually spend some time developing him as a character. It’s something that the series seems quite reticent to do, and I’m not totally sure why. He never needs to eclipse the girls as they aim to become better at the sport, but his hinted at backstory is definitely worth exploring.
Other than that issue, this was a really good episode. It doesn’t do anything truly original, but for a sports series I’m quite glad that it retains the charming atmosphere of earlier episodes and has managed to give each of the team members some decent screen time. The fact that the FC matches are consistently animated, and quite appealing to the eye, also helps this episode a lot.
Overall, AOKANA is maintaining a nice pace and a high level of quality. It’s definitely one of the more enjoyable series airing this season.
Episode 5 Rating: 8/10
AOKANA streams new episodes Mondays exclusively on Crunchyroll.