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Not long ago, Sora no Ao wo Shiru Hito yo, another anime film written by everybody’s favorite Okada Mari dropped to Japanese cinemas. It’s supposed to be another part of a trilogy, after Ano Hi Mita Hana and KokoSake, but who knows, maybe they won’t stop at three parts? Why would they? Anyway, are you interested? If you are, and are an unfortunate denizen of the Third World who can’t just go to a cinema and see it, like me, you have no choice but to wait until SoraAo comes out on video, right? Well, NO. I found a way around that problem. Apparently, a novelization of SoraAo was published around the time the movie came out. The blessed existence of this book, written by Nukaga Mio, an experienced young writer, gave me the opportunity to check what the story is about months before I’d usually be able to.
This won’t be a very long post, though. Spoiler: I didn’t like it.
The story is set in Chichibu, as always – the home of the rocket festival and a silly monument of a coin. Aioi Aoi, The Girl With The Brows, the protagonist of SoraAo, whom you probably have seen in a trailer or somewhere, has no parents and is as grim and unfriendly as they come. Still, let’s say her personality can be spinned into a virtue, not a vice. Let’s say she’s “interesting” that way. Aoi plays bass guitar – she wouldn’t even have that one redeeming skill if not for the efforts of the previous generation of Chichibu residents. Her older sister Akane in her high school days was the fifth, unofficial member of a band led by a wild and jolly boy named Shinnosuke – her boyfriend at the time. Shinno was the one who taught Aoi guitar. Inspired by her seniors, Aoi intends to leave Chichibu behind after graduation, go to the capital, form her own band and make it big. Sadly, at the moment she is all alone, and even turns down an offer by an existing band saying they’d only drag her down. Akane, now 31, lives an uneventful life and thinks of marrying Masamichi, the old band’s drummer. She’d had the opportunity to escape Chichibu together with her boyfriend but refused, with Aoi’s welfare in mind, which now weighs on the schoolgirl as a feeling of guilt…
And then, Shinno appears in town as his teenage self. A familiar turn of events if you know your Okada, except Shinno is more like Tsukimiya Ayu than Menma. Is he a ghost? But the real Shinno isn’t even dead. I guess he’s a materialization of all the characters’ angst, an apparition who appeared in this world to solve a problem and then disappear. I guess? His visit coincides with an upcoming music festival the town is preparing for. And if that wasn’t enough, the real Shinnosuke comes back to his hometown for the first time in years, as a member of a band backing Nitobe Dankichi, a jovial (and very troublesome) enka singer who’ll be the main draw of the event. And then, thanks to Nitobe being irresponsible, two other members of his band get food poisoning and Aoi herself will need to play guitar in their stead…
Sigh… What follows is nearly 200 pages of people fucking around without really getting anywhere. Aoi will have to practice hard for her first big performance while being a self-centered clod to both people she likes and dislikes. Akane will be her doting older sister. Shinnosuke will prove to be the polar opposite of the likeable teenage not-ghost with a dream, Shinno. The adult musician is a bitter asshole who’s had his big dream shattered. And nothing of consequence happens, really. At the end, the story swerves once – there’s an earthquake, Aoi and her peeps go rescue Akane from a mudslide. At the place, Akane turns out to be alright and Aoi appreciates her being around a bit more. Shinno disappears, as if his job was done. What job though? Nothing changed. There is no catharsis or a proper resolution of the plot in SoraAo. Shit just happens. And at that point, the proper story ends.
I expected SoraAo to end at the music festival. Aoi would go out on stage and maybe Okada would throw her a curveball at the last moment for some dramatic tension. I dunno, she’d lose her guitar or something. That way, the story at least would have an actual climax instead of fizzling out unceremoniously. Nothing of the sort happens, though. The hills of this narrative are low and the valleys are long and inconsequential. For most of the book, I was like “it’s harmless, I can continue reading, no problem”. And then there was nothing after the last turn of this circuit. I only lost some of my precious time. The epilogue, set several years later, doesn’t mention the festival in detail. Shinnosuke mellows out. I guess that one meeting with his teenage self had a bigger effect on him than the novel described. Him and Akane are now married – apparently, it’s become a tradition in the Okadaverse to end stories on weird pairings. It counts as a happy ending, but an unbelievable one pulled out of nowhere. And (behold, the last nail to the coffin), Aoi goes to Tokyo and manages to form a band. Wait, wasn’t that recurring line by Akane, “i no naka no kawazu, ooumi wo shirazu / saredo sora no ao wo shiru” supposed to be an acknowledgement of her giving up and making peace with her place in life? After alluding to the saying in the title, ain’t that weird how Aoi got a run-of-the-mill happy ending where all her dreams come true, suspension of disbelief be damned? ???
The end. In the afterword, Nukaga Mio writes a bit about what writing a novelization felt like. It was completed before the movie’s release date, based on the script, character designs by Tanaka Masayoshi and storyboards (e-konte) by Nagai Tatsuyuki. In a way, her task was the opposite to what a manga artist would typically do when making a comicalization, where you get the finished original work and then adapt it. It was being made parallel to the movie, which could result in an alternative kind of story, if the writer’s job wasn’t strictly to make a “novelization”. Oh and she mentions that Nitobe was voiced by Matsudaira Ken in the movie. I can’t imagine a more perfect actor to play that annoyer.
Oh man. After the film came out, I’ve seen opinions like “I liked all of the Chichibu trilogy, but this one was the best out of the three”. And so, since I was half-indifferent, half-disappointed towards AnoHana and KokoSake, I expected SoraAo to be a Good Okada. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the worst! Whoops. I can’t imagine the actual film to change my judgement on this story much, but I’ll definitely see it when it’s out. Till then…