Dying Gracefully: A retrospective on Sora no Woto

Title card
‘This sound strikes a chord. Whether in Rome or Helvetia, it is the same.’

So here we have it: the first reminiscence post from me. But while Sora no Woto is an anime from a fair while ago, it still, to some extent, remains relevant in the collective consciousness of the anime community. As it should be: Sora no Woto is a beautiful and charming series, starting with its music, and contains hidden depth despite a seeming veneer of superficiality. It’s one of those shows I can go on and on about, but for this post I’ll be relatively brief.

Light but mostly minor spoilers for Sora no Woto from this point.

 

Insert 1

Sound of the snow.

 

If one only watches the first episode of Sora no Woto they may be surprised to hear it described as a post-apocalypse story. Sora no Woto starts off incredibly subtle about these important details, but it does leave sufficient clues. The curious amalgam of cultures, the sci-fi tank in the gym, the giant, headless fossil: all these hint at there being something more to the quiet country village Seize. We are eventually told explicitly that the world is ending, what with the barren ocean and uncontrollable desertification, but it’s a surprising development. Surprising, not in the sense that we do not see it coming, but because Sora no Woto is not at all a typical post-apocalypse setting. Relatively speaking, it’s unusually…pleasant. The end of the world brings to mind images of 19XX, dystopia, and the cockroach takeover. Sora no Woto has at most THE WORLD IS AT WAR and even then the story starts in the middle of a ceasefire. Civilisation did not collapse, or at the very least got its act back together. Life As We Know It is more or less hunky dory.

 

Sand! It's everywhere!

Especially if you’re a camel.

 

In a sense this makes Sora no Woto a rather idealistic series. In almost all instances it exudes positiveness. Seize is a lively border town filled with pleasant people, and the only real villain is a strawman representation of human violence and hubris. Everybody else are worldly souls all sharing an innate humanity, symbolised in Sora no Woto by music, which stirs something deep inside us all. Despite all this, Sora no Woto is weighty simply by virtue of its setting. The human race approaches the end of days but are locked in conflict over rapidly diminishing land and resources. We see glimpses through the curtain of the atrocities of war, political turmoil, and man demonising fellow man. Episode 10 and its discussion of death may be surprising given the optimism of the majority of Sora no Woto, but it is apt. Human civilisation, like the planet itself, is in its death throes. The question, really, is how we face it.

 

Due to the dead

In honouring the dead, we come to terms with our own mortality.

 

This brings us back to the gripping music of Sora no Woto, and in particular Amazing Grace. It’s most recognisable as that one song you always hear at funerals, because 1. it’s a beautiful hymn and 2. it’s not under copyright. As used in Sora no Woto it’s still a deeply spiritual song, and not necessarily in the religious sense. It speaks of forgiveness and redemption, of finding salvation when we have hit the bottom. In Sora no Woto it is a dirge to a dying world, but also an anthem to new hope. Often post-apocalypse stories involves an effort to try and save humanity, and there will also be an accompanying subtext about whether humans are actually worth saving. Sora no Woto definitely leans towards ‘yes’, but not before some introspection. While quiet, quasi-French-somewhat-Japanese-actually-Spanish Seize is a pretty enough portrait, but Sora no Woto also reminds us that in the greater scheme of things humans are a self-destructive race and the future is not exactly ‘bright’. In a way, in Sora no Woto the question is less about how to scrabble for life but more how to stand dignified in the face of death. That and matters of faith: faith in innate human decency, faith that it can make a small difference, and faith that little things make the world a better place.

 

I think I’ll end with the insert Servante du Feu, which basically summarises Sora no Woto into one beautiful French song.

End card

Would you like to see something in this world disappear?

The air be purer, the hearts of men changed?

Yet everything is so fragile here on Earth.

Nothing is futile, you know.

 

 

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