Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat; Sound of the Sky is a bad show.
It’s on my list of the worst shows I’ve ever seen.
But it’s terrible in a unique way.
To be fair, this seems to be a personal opinion. Most of the fellow people watching this show through #anitwitwatches seem to enjoy this show. And enjoy it in a way where they use words like S-tier or say, ‘It has no bad episodes.”
But before I start picking apart my cognitive dissonance about this show, I have to explain what #anitwitwatches is. Anitwitwatches is a group led by Jon Spencer Reviews who watch a show and Tweet about it every Monday.
I like the project because it allows me to explore shows that I haven’t seen or haven’t seen in a while. I get to talk about them with people who are generally invested in those shows.
For the most part, I have enjoyed most of the shows we’ve watched. And before this, my least favorite show was Kanon.
Now, I have a lot of issues with Kanon, and I still think that show is a hot mess.
It manages to make me not care about many of its characters, and creeps me out with some of its relationships.
But I understood why I didn’t like Kanon. It wasn’t a show for me; given the right circumstances, it might work for others.
You might be asking yourself, what is Sound of the Sky? Well, let me tell you. It is a 12- (or 14-) episode television series produced by A-1 Pictures. Now, some people really like A-1, and some don’t. Personally, they seem fine, but not really spectacular.
It follows the story of five girl soldiers stationed at Seize, inspired by Cuenca, Spain. When the story starts, the country has entered a cease-fire after what is likely decades of war.
Basic explanation aside, as I watched the show, I thought similar to Kanon — a show that just wasn’t for me.
That is still the case, but there is more, so much more, that is wrong with this show.
But first, I need to talk about bathtubs, parfaits and plotlines.
Anyone who has spent time in college-level creative writing classes knows what is often called “Bathtub stories.”
These stories are generally written by earnest young men who want to be edgy but in a safe, non-edgy way. (I may be projecting here.)
Usually, the story starts with a guy (or girl) in a bathtub. Now, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a bathtub, it could be on a rocking chair on a porch or dining room table. Our protagonist has alcohol and a weapon nearby. (Usually, it’s a gun, but it could be a knife or a razor blade.)
Throughout our sorry little tale, we learn how the main character’s life has turned into crap. The character will spend the next (heaven help us) three to five pages morning the loss of their wife/girlfriend, job, dog, house and how it’s all their fault.
Then at the end of the story, there will be a slow slide into oblivion and close curtain.
This comes up in almost every creative writing class because it’s a horrible story. Like Grade A, 100 percent, the worst type of story ever. Never write this. Well, unless you’re 16 years old and want to be edgy, but not really edgy, like safely edgy.
(I am so embarrassed by my 16-year-old self.)
Anyway, it’s a terrible plot because what makes a story interesting is the conflict between the characters.
The problem is that all the conflict has already happened, and we’re in the middle of a strange denouement.
Now, I’ve never seen a professionally made bathtub story, but it is a helpful starting place to talk about what I like to call “Parfait Plots.”
There is a genre of fiction called “Slice of Life.” Now, slice of life can mean many things depending on who you talk to, but for some people, it means precisely that. A slice of the daily life of a person or group of people. It would be like if a camera followed you during a completely normal average day in your life.
If that person goes out to a party with their friends, we follow them. If they put on a play, we step through each tedious step. I’m convinced that this interpretation of slice of life is more concerned with being accurate rather than telling a compelling story.
I’ve often heard people say that these stories are relaxing, and I can understand that. These characters aren’t trying to save the world. The stakes are really low. The most that is on the line is whether Ayu can get taiyaki or if Felicia can make a paper lantern.
This is why I call them Parfait plots. The main plot of so many of these is about a group of characters getting a parfait. The resolution is that the parfait is excellent.
My problem with Parfait Plots
So what’s my problem with seeing cute girls (because it’s almost always girls) getting together to blow glass or carve pumpkins or eat cake?
Well… it’s pretty simple.
IT’S FUCKING BORING.
Sorry for the strong language there, but I must emphasize this point. Walking to the store isn’t a good plot. Walking to the store to hunt for formula for a hungry three-month-old is a better plot. Needing to wade through an army of ninjas to get to the store to buy formula for a starving three-month-old is a great plot.
Why is that? Because the last one has the highest stakes. The child’s life is at stake, and there is a real threat to the walker’s life. This is part of the formula for good fiction (at least for me.)
A bunch of girls sitting around carving pumpkins or making paper lanterns doesn’t have any stakes. It’s boring (unless you have a way to inject stakes into it.)
Now, there are ways to make a Parfait Plot work. For example, Girls’ Last Tour is rife with Parfait Plots. When I considered this post, I kept thinking about the section where the girls take a bath, and it starts raining. That segment has almost no plot and minuscule stakes.
But it succeeds for two reasons. First, they keep the segment short. This is one of the strengths of Girls’ Last Tour. If a part isn’t for you, just wait five to 10 minutes, and the next one probably will be.
The second important step is that they find a visually or intellectually compelling element to replace the stakes with. For lack of a better term, they make it weird.
Waiting for Godot has one of the most Parfait Plots ever conceived. The characters are literally standing on the side of the road. They are not active participants in the plot.
But parsing their conversation and trying to figure out what it means is what makes the play worthwhile.
The Sound of the Sky doesn’t do either of those things. We are just about following these characters through their humdrum life at a pace of 22 minutes at a time.
I’ve already alluded to the most Parfait Plot in the entire series. It comes in Episode Seven where we learn Felicia’s background through a series of flashbacks.
(Note: Flashbacks are not a plot. See my earlier discussion of Bathtub stories.)
If you strip away all the flashbacks, the episode’s plot is “the girls make paper lanterns.” While the girls are worried about Felicia, they don’t do anything about it. And Felicia essentially solves her own problem.
Now, there are moments where the episodes do shine. The music, visuals, and some key dialogue managed to evoke some emotion. But in many cases, in the same episode, I feel intensely bored.
I can count on two fingers the episodes I recommend to anyone else (episode 6 and episode 9). I would also say Episode 12 is pretty good, but you have to slog through the rest of the series to watch it.
If this was the only problem with Sound of the Sky, I would have just written it off as a show I didn’t like. I wouldn’t have rated it any better, but I would have felt less angry at the show.
But this isn’t the show’s biggest problem. No. Sound of the Sky wants to be a war epic too.
So let’s talk about what really makes Sound of the Sky bad.
The Sin of the Sound
In the show’s first episode, we are presented with a story about five maidens who once saved Seize from an angel or a demon or who cares. It doesn’t really matter.
What is important is the show wants us to know that these girls are supposed to fill a similar role. The opening is a metaphorical two-by-four clobbering the viewer upside the head with the message, “THESE GIRLS ARE GOING TO SAVE THIS TOWN.”
And, look, if that was the plot, then I would be all in. I love The Seven Samurai, or Samurai Seven or The Magnificent Seven.
On top of that, in the first episode, we see fossilized remains of the angel/demon that still exists in this town. So we’re told that this isn’t going to be metaphorical.
We’re also given a great B-plot. Kanata, our main heroine, is joining the contingent at the Seize so she can learn to be a great trumpet/bugle player. The problem is that even with her perfect pitch, she is a lousy player.
Again, I love Beck, Those Snow White Notes and Chihayafuru. Give me a great story about a teen triumphing over personal adversity to become great at something, and I’m there.
The problem is that the show doesn’t care about either of those plots. Kanata’s musical ambitions are realized unceremoniously in an episode when she learns, “The problem was inside of me the whole time.” And magically, she can play perfectly.
The demon/angel/whatever plot gets brought up once and spends most of the rest of the series languishing.
But that’s not all because, in episode 1, we’re introduced to a second B-plot. One of the girls, Rio, has some sort of tie to someone important. She has run away from whoever that is and is living in Seize.
This will never really develops into anything. But Rio is, by far, the best character in the show, so I won’t rail on her too much.
Then in toward the middle of the show, we get introduced to another possible plot, when we learn that girls are bootleggers.
You’ve probably guessed it by now, but that plot doesn’t go anywhere, either.
Then, after ignoring it for nearly the entire series, Episodes 11 and 12 finally pick up the angel/demon/whatever plot and try to resolve it.
But trying to take a story from introduction to climax is never a good idea, and they do not handle it well here. Instead, we get introduced to what has to be the single worst villain I’ve ever met in any show.
If he grabbed one of the girls and lashed her to the railroad tracks, he would have been just as believable as a villain.
This is the problem with the Sound of the Sky. It’s not that it doesn’t have any plot. It’s that it has too many of them and doesn’t take time to develop them. Instead, it’s far too concerned with having the girls go shopping, worry about going to the bathroom, or make paper lanterns.
It’s a bad show, but at least it’s bad in a unique way.
So I did the rankings on Twitter, but I’ve made it a habit to update my list here. So there have been two other shows that we have watched since the last time. I haven’t really talked about them because I wasn’t ever driven to do that.
I will say that Terror in Resonance is great. I was surprised when I watched it, just how smart that show is. It tells a story about generation gaps in Japan and talks a lot about class warfare.
RahXephon is just a special show to me, which is why it stays on the top of the list, but in all fairness, I considered whether I would rank it higher than RahXephon. For me, it’s truly a classic.
As for Girls Und Panzer. Well, that show is fun, but I don’t have much to say about it.
It was easy to figure out the slot for that one. It reminds me of a better plotted but less good version of Rolling Girls. It really loses out because Rolling Girls just has better characters and better handling of its themes.
It’s easy to figure out where Sound of the Sky goes. This is the worst show I’ve watched through #Anitwitwatches. It’s the only time I’ve considered bailing halfway through.
It’s hard for a show to be this bad, but this one manages it. Good job, Sound of the Sky. May time wipe the memory of this disaster away.
The list as it stands now is:
Terror in Resonance
Astra Lost in Space
Girls Und Panzer
Girls’ Last Tour
From The New World
The Perfect Insider
The Sound of the Sky
(Note: I didn’t participate in the first two #anitwitwatches or in the few movies we have watched.)