So Ra No Wo To (TV Series, 2010)
Produced by TV Tokyo, Aniplex
“It's slice of life. It's slice of life. It's slice of life.”
This is something I've had to tell myself over and over in regards to So Ra No Wo To.Years and multiple viewings of it have led me to increasingly cynical reactions. For far too long I've allowed myself to be deceived by the military uniforms, ranks and insignia and the cool walking tank, but as a military anime So Ra is excruciatingly disappointing.
Throughout the series' twelve episode run a considerable amount of time is spent laying down the backstory and folklore of Seize, a small cliff-side Helvetian town, along with the recent war which took a catastrophic toll on the entire planet. The effects of the war are clear on some of the town's chief inhabitants: the troops of the 1121st platoon, a tank unit locally dubbed the “Fortress Maidens.”
The setup is great. The serious scenes related to the war and ongoing military tensions are, for the most part, well done. The folklore and history is intriguing. Big things are taking place in and around Seize. Unfortunately, this world's potential is greatly untapped, and much of So Ra has the characters dilly-dallying, going off on silly, episodic side-ventures true to standard slice of life form.
But... the thing is, as a slice of life anime So Ra outperforms. The animation is fantastic. The characters, while perhaps bearing far too much resemblance to K-On!'scast, are well voiced and charming. The music is great. Everything is well produced.
So Ra staff members, inspired by the Spanish town of Cuenca, did a wonderful job in creating the town of Seize. The drab tones of the wood and stone construction, often carefully-detailed, mix beautifully with the rich greens and blues of vegetation and vast sky. Exceptional lighting, be it from a flickering candle, a glowing sunset or a dark-blue night sky, makes the art of So Ra difficult to grow bored with. The characters are drawn in a simpler, looser style, but they are well animated and fit with their more elaborately-done settings. Even the CGI bits look excellent more often than not.
As mentioned beforehand, the five troops of Clocktower Fortress are generally likable, but they're also recycled tropes, both visually and behaviorally. Kanata Sorami's good nature is upsetting to her equal number, the twin-tailed and militarily-minded Private Kureaha. Sleepy and secretive, Colonel Noël Kannagi works tirelessly on restoring the unit's tank to operational capacity. The officers on base tend to sit at opposite ends of the personality spectrum: Master Sergeant Rio is often an intense crab while Second Lieutenant Filicia (her holding of the rank a real suspension of disbelief) operates on tender emotions and motherly love. Anime is prone to relying on long-overdone tropes, and these (again, spirited and charming) characters are no exception.
The gentle and sad Spanish guitar pieces, “Relique abandonée,” “Un lumière envoûtante,” feel right at home in the town of Seize, where peace is celebrated with somber memories of those lost and misplaced by the war. Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei) composes a number of awesome pieces. But, for me, the one song which will always come to mind with So Ra, is the touching “Servante de feu,” credited to Matthieu Ladouce. This beautiful, soaring blend of guitar, orchestral elements and vocals encapsulates the beautiful sights of So Ra No Wo To and then some.
So, while it may not deliver much to those seeking intense wartime action, So Ra is a nice series with gorgeous sights, impressive sounds and a lot of silly and warmhearted moments to go hand in hand with the sad and serious times. There is certainly the feeling that it could have been something more if it wanted to be, but So Ra No Wo To is still an enjoyable slice of life anime.
-2 Awful, ruined it
-1 Took away from the experience
0 Okay, didn't leave an impression good/bad
+1 Added to the experience
Personal Bias: -1