Iriya no Sora: UFO no Natsu
Naoyuki Asaba is a high school student on his last day of summer break. Before school begins again, he decides to go swim in the swimming pool on the premises. However, he runs into a mysterious girl who introduces herself as Kana Iriya. Although Iriya appears to have come inside to do the same, she is unable to swim, and while in the middle of teaching her, a group of men come by to pick her up and take her back to the nearby air force base where she's staying.
When school begins, Naoyuki is surprised to see that she has joined the class for this year. It would later be revealed that Iriya is an expert pilot of the Black Manta aircraft, which is the deterrent in a war between humans and aliens that's been going on since 1947 (the Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting). However, she is put under incredible strain piloting the craft, to the point where psychological trauma and bleeding at random is sadly common.
It must be said that based on the final episodes as well as the general premise, a review of Iriya no Sora: UFO no Natsu can't be written without mentioning SaiKano by name. While I have to say I've never seen SaiKano (I want to watch it, but I've never found it), I can at least liken what I know of it to Iriya. And from what I've seen, Iriya no Sora is a rather toned down version of the same kind of premise. However, I readily admit that there were quite a few things about this series that I liked, and quite a few things that made me just sit and scratch my head. So let's begin.
Although it looks incredibly dated despite being only six years old, there was something charming about the rather simplistic character designs and landscapes. It's not a visual masterpiece, largely because of blurring, but the series does convey surroundings well, but as the series goes on, it leads to something rather strange: while the first two episodes have fairly bright colors and plenty of light, the final four are very dark and dreary, almost as if they were part of a dramatic feature film. While it's true that the most depressing episodes of this anime are the later episodes, was the sudden transition of style symbolic or unintended? It worked, for what it's worth, as the somber art style of the later episodes did contribute to the mood of the story at that point. However, even if the dark tones were unintentional, it's far from the biggest problem with this series, as I'll mention later.
While the art quality can be hit or miss depending on the viewer, the animation quality can truly be called top-notch. The fluid motions would work well with any style of art, and in this one, it helps a rather aged style of art achieve a sort of living that makes it capable of rubbing elbows with five-star shows of the period. If there was any part of the anime outside the plot that can be called it's best feature, this animation is that part.
There's not too much music in this series, but what there is of it, I liked. The rather calming opening theme as well as the like-minded ending were a good balance with the anime itself, and I hummed along when they came on. However, inside the series proper, the music seems to be a bit lacking. It's not necessarily in impact (it manages that very well), but rather in the feeling that for a production like this, there seems to be too little score. Rather than being a vital part of the episode, it feels like a gopher, popping up when needed and going back in when it's done.
I also enjoyed the characters. Although Naoyuki starts out pretty cliche, he at least runs with the cliche just enough to avoid being cardboard. Iriya herself seems to switch between stoic and action-ready personalities, but in a later episode, she goes through heavy post-traumatic stress, and I felt horrid about the circumstances, as by this point she's rather fragile (but due to her occupation, it's reasonable). Akiho Sudo and Kunihiro Suizenji round out the "Sonohara Wave Press", the newspaper club that Naoyuki and Iriya are members of. Akiho begins by having a crush on Naoyuki and hating Iriya (even excluding her from club activities), but after a bonding sequence a la Man Vs. Food (HUH?), finally warms up to her. Kunihiro is just a weird, but likeable, character, complete with helpings of ham and quotes (considering his passion for UFOs and the paranormal, the Sonohara Wave Press seems less like a newspaper club and more like a branch society of the SOS Brigade). Alternately, we have Enomoto, who portrays the protective brother figure of Iriya, and Mayumi Shiina, who also seems protective, if a bit enigmatic and drunk. However, the most significant character is Erika Proudfoot, but to explain why she's significant (or even why she's here) would require large spoilers. There's also Yuko Asaba, but I didn't get to know her because of her limited screen time (her biggest role was with Kunihiro in the second episode). I just know she's Naoyuki's younger sister. In fact, outside Iriya and, to a smaller degree Naoyuki, there's almost no backstory or real time spent to the characters.
Now, looking back on what I wrote, I point out how I liked it, but then how the music seems a bit lax, the characters lacked much story, and that the art style changed. Although the art was excusable, why are the other two so noticeable? It's all part of the biggest problem, by FAR, with this series:
It has horrible pacing.
This is an OVA that was born to be a 12 episode epic. And for all intents and purposes, it should have been. A full twelve episode series would have had better cohesion and also would have helped flesh the story out better. True, most of the show does work, but at points, there's this sense that we should know more than we actually do going into this. While I did know a little about this series going in (largely from info about the games and light novels), but for a person who's never read or played the others first, it feels a bit quick. The worst offender is the first episode, which plays like it should have been three episodes, which could have been used for backstory and explanations.
And explanations would have been nice. There are quite a few plot holes here. For instance, Iriya, in the middle of a bleeding spell or lapsed consciousness, needs to be injected in the chest (in a particular area) to calm the problem. What's injected? Not only is no answer or explanation given, it ends up becoming a bit more risque sounding than it should be. The biggest missing explanation is the ending, which, while I won't spoil it, I need to point out that I would've preferred some indication of what ultimately happened. This is really odd, considering that the series gave us a "where are they now" rundown at the end, but why did it eschew the most important detail?
And now that I pointed out the pacing issues, I must at least give it due credit. It tries admirably to turn the whole show back into a quality watch, in spite of the odds against it. It didn't pull a complete turnaround, but I was taken aback by how it sought to change. Unfortunately, the turnaround came too late (middle of episode four late), and I'm once again reminded of why this should have been longer than it is. Even so, I found the struggle of the main couple emotional and depressing and with the accidental-on-purpose darkening art, it did add to the story from there. However, the episode count and pacing combine to hurt the story from being fully told.
It's sad and somewhat upsetting: this could have been five star material, and in fact it probably should have been, but that pacing and that episode count are just too much. It barely gets into four star territory when it starts to honestly try at the end through effort that can be called miraculous, but in the end, its five star hopes were foiled by a fatal production flaw that lets everything else down.
This should have been, at most, twice its size. It would have very likely made a difference in quality, but instead, it's a badly paced six episodes, and Iriya no Sora: UFO no Natsu pays for it. Barely manages four stars. — Jake L Godek
Recommended Audience: There's partial nudity which wouldn't be much, but this series is so depressing and dark later on that most children probably wouldn't be able to watch it.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-release Fansub
Review Status: Full (6/6)
Iriya no Sora: UFO no Natsu © 2005 Toei Animation
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