Nao and Miki are the only two members of their middle school's digital photography club; much to the confusion of their fellow students, they spend virtually all of their free time taking pictures of the sky and clouds. While doing so on the school's roof, one day, Nao spots something strange: a cat who appears to be nonchalantly gliding on the wind. Distracted by this, she falls off the roof, only to be saved by a gust of wind conjured up by their homeroom teacher, Mr. Taiki. Having blown his cover to save her life, he reluctantly tells her and Miki that he is a so-called "wind manipulator" from a remote and tiny village, where long ago, people learned how to control the flow of wind from cats like the one Nao had seen. When they insist on learning more, he grudgingly takes them to his village, where they learn that they too have potential for this power.
Reviewer's Update, 2017: Since this has now been licensed and now has several other English-language reviews on well-known anime sites, I'd say this probably no longer feels like the most obscure thing I've ever reviewed...but it being licensed was honestly a huge surprise for me in itself (again, possibly something to do with Mamoru Oshii being named in the credits? I can only guess....)
As I sit down to write this in summer 2015, I feel like I've never tried to review a full TV series that's as obscure as this; people at least recognize Hanada Shounen Shi because of the "spank! my booty!" anime skit from AMV Hell, but there's really almost no English-language info on this show, anywhere. Of course, Windy Tales, as of the time of writing, just got an out-of-nowhere licensing from Sentai, which promises to change that, and I'd say that's great for adventurous anime fans. It's not a show that I'd ever put on a favorites list, but it's the sort of show I don't get to review that often but which always makes the part of me that got into anime for its experimental potential happy. While it may lack the underlying vision (at least one that I can pick up on) that might give it a better sense of purpose, falling short of similar experiments by Masaaki Yuasa, it's worthwhile as a thought experiment and a gentle reflection.
The first thin you might notice about Windy Tales is the art style, which is highly angular, almost Cubist but a bit less abstract than that. I'd also say that the expressiveness that the characters exhibit is amazing; the character design is very unlike anything else in the spectrum of anime designs I've come across (except maybe Kemonozume), and while I wouldn't say it's precisely "realistic," it's almost as if the artists based the characters on real people, rather than a general idea of what "anime characters" look like, and then distorted their expressions in any way possible while trying to capture the spectrum of human reactions. The world of Windy Tales is, because of this, more like our world seen through a lens that renders characters into cubist shapes and the wind into visible curls than a different animated universe.
This isn't as offputting as, say, the rotoscoping in The Flowers of Evil or Kuuchuu Buranko, but there's still a similar disorienting effect, and I suspect this explains why even a lot of experimental anime fans haven't heard of this show. It's a shame, because the world as seen in Windy Tales is actually really pretty, with vistas of cities made of leaning tower-like apartment buildings and an endless variety of cloud shapes. Honestly, if there's an anime for people who loved looking at clouds when they were kids, this is it. Windy Tales sounds beautiful, too, with Kenji Kawai (Eden of the East, Ranma 1/2) providing the show with gently scored pieces and a really, really lovely and bittersweet opening by the otherwise unknown artist YuU (the ending song is main cast karaoke, and while it's not unlistenable, it feels a bit more out of place).
So far, I'm probably making this out to be the perfect show, at least for fans who are into checking out experimental anime. It's true that I don't really have any problems with the production and presentation, and I'm also just sort of happy that this got animated in the first place. I was interested by the idea of a cryptic, semi-invisible group of people living in plain sight who can manipulate the wind; it's a compelling urban fantasy idea, and I'm also kind of amazed that, to my knowledge, this show was spawned by an otherwise unknown writer, Ootari Minami, who won an anime proposal contest. Given how much a few heavyweights actually dominate the industry, and how small the market for original shows is, it's amazing this actually got animated. I'd say the basic idea works well, although the wind society doesn't get as much attention or screentime as I would've liked; it's a bit like the silent, largely unseen interlocking between the Tanuki, human, and Tenjuu worlds in The Eccentric Family, and I wanted to know more about it. Windy Tales gives us some lovely flights of fancy, like the humans learning how to manipulate the wind from the "Wind Cats", whose name should speak for itself; they're adorable to watch, and their little trips through the sky are just lovely. Especially given the close-up drawings of all the different cats on the title cards they use during the commercial break, I can tell that somebody involved with this show is clearly a cat lover.
Most of Windy Tales consists of vignettes related to the characters' up-and-coming abilities and the new perspective these abilities give their photography; there are, also, a few one-off episodes that don't really feel like they add much to the show, and if I had to name one quip with this show, it's that. I really enjoyed an episode about Nao's father, which turns his getting a motorcycle as a midlife-crisis impulse buy into a look into the exhilaration of wind felt while riding, and it's telling that her skeptical mother, after experiencing this for herself, resolves to outdo her husband's motorcycling and have this feeling for herself, afterwards. Another one of my favorite episodes centers around Nao and Miki trying to enter a photography contest with pictures that capture the abstract qualities of wind; they fail, but they ultimately bond with the winner of the contest because of their shared interest and their respect for her ability to actually pull this off, after practicing for so long.
But while I enjoyed the variety of stories presented, Windy Tales doesn't really string the different episodes together in a way that added up to something greater than the sum of the parts. After we uncover the existence of the wind manipulators and visit their (rather lovely) village a single time, the show doesn't do much to build on the relationship between Mr. Taiki or the two girls, or to develop the latter two over the course of the show. That isn't to say that Nao and Miki aren't good characters; they are, and they're multi-dimensional in their mix of near-spiritual fascination with the wind and the immaturity and short attention span that might be expected of middle schoolers. I also appreciated that their interest in photography as a means of better understanding the wind and their new abilities was fully explored rather than just given lip service, as often happens in anime. But really, the two don't change much over the course of the series, and while we get a nice scene near the very end, when an older Nao reflects back on this experience, the scene seems to drive home an idea that there wasn't really much point to any of this, except for nostalgia.
So, nostalgia being the underlying current of a series or movie isn't inherently a bad thing. But it isn't the most compelling thread with which to tie together an experimental series such as this, and while I feel like I've started to appreciate this show a bit more in retrospect, I still feel like there isn't as much hiding under the surface, ultimately, as you'd find in, say, Kaiba. Windy Tales doesn't really work as a straight-up "healing anime" like Non Non Biyori because it seems to be trying harder to get the audience to think about the wind rather than just stand still and appreciate it; I'd say that the photography focus speaks to this, as a metaphor for a "lens with which to view life."
Because of this, the show is weaker than it could've been because it seems to be trying to make some point about art, but unless I badly bungled my interpretation, it seems to be saying that it's just about nostalgia for Nao and Miki's middle school days, in the end. It sometimes needs a lot more urgency than it has, not that I want it to be fast paced, but I also felt like I spent a lot of time wondering where this was going to go, and the individual episodes really don't build on each other enough. I took some very long breaks while working my way through this; if you don't believe me, I started it in Summer 2014, watched seven episodes over the course of two months, and then stalled on it before picking it up again in May 2015 and finally finishing it in July. That's not because this show is boring, and, to be fair, I was writing my undergraduate thesis during a good chunk of that time, but it's also true that while I loved a lot of these episodes, I wasn't necessarily craving more every single time, and it was easy to forget about it for long periods. Of course, a show that you savor over a very long time isn't necessarily a bad one, and I'd never call this show "bad," but still, I've never taken so long to finish a show that's this short.
Overall, that's the most serious complaint I have about Windy Tales; there's another weakness, the apparent token male Jun, whose harmless stupidity struck me as the only real concession to the conventions of school-themed slice-of-life anime, but it's relatively easy to ignore (and at least he isn't a perv). I can imagine that some people wouldn't have the same problem with this show's using nostalgia as its only real underlying thematic thread, but given that Windy Tales appears to hope that its audience spends some time thinking and contemplating, I was hoping for something that I wouldn't just see in another slice-of-life series. But it doesn't ruin the show for me, and I'm really glad for the time I got to spend with it. Here's to more surprise licensing acquisitions like this.
It doesn't have the "so what" of, say, Masaaki Yuasa'a shows, but it's still lovely and fascinating. Don't bother with this if you don't like slow anime, and if you can't get used to the art style after a few episodes, you might as well give up. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There's really nothing that children shouldn't see. Thankfully, we never see anybody's underwear because of the wind blowing.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Windy Tales © 2004 Windy-Tales Project
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