Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm – Series Review

Flying Shoes - Serious Asuka

Asuka gets serious for this review!

winter15-highw The Season Ender Specials continue! Maybe I can make up for only covering two shows during the season by doing more of these end of season ones. This one is the initially mis-categorized Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm, or Aokana, Four Rhythm Across the Blue (man, what a terrible english name) or the much more descriptive, and easier to say, Flying Shoes.

What Do You Mean Mis-Categorized?

Flying Shoes - a bad flyer

Asuka’s a terrible flyer at the beginning, but overcomes it quickly

Well, when the show is based on a Sprite bishoujo game, of course you’re going to think back to the last Sprite bishoujo game that was made into an anime, the good-until-the-end-when-they-kinda-fucked-it-all-up Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate. I’ll still maintain that I have no problem with Chisato being the girl who ended up with Yuuki at the end of that one, even if I preferred Satsuki, but it’s hard to argue against the premise that that show was really good until the last 2 episodes, and then fell down a well, so badly that Lassie would have just given up on it.

Flying Shoes - Misaki and Mashiro

Misaki and Mashiro become a lot more than the add-on characters

So when you get another similar property in Flying Shoes (er, AoKana), your mind is going to go to “it’s going to be another harem show.” And the show certainly starts out that way with the first episode, where Masaya finds new girl Asuka and takes her to school, leading to the introduction of everyone else. And like a harem show, “everyone else” is all girls: Misaki, Mashiro, and then in your typical accidental pervert way, Rika.

Flying Shoes - Asuka and Misaki

The light trails worked really well to both identify the
participants and to make the matches feel fast and athletic

But then the show diverges from that path and decides “You know, we’re not going to make this about Masaya.” After that point, there’s really no romance at all, unless you count Mashiro’s “Senpai, notice me!” crush on Misaki. And the show’s just not a harem. It manages to become a Sports Lite anime. Why do I say “Sports Lite”? Well, because it doesn’t shove. It. In. Your. Face. Every. Time. Someone. Does. The. Littlest. Thing. I find most sports anime to be a horrendous slog, because they don’t actually get anywhere (winner for this category: Yowapeda, which managed to (“raaaaaar!!!”) waste a (“Yawwwwwwrrrr!”) whole episode (“grrrrrraaaaaa!!!”) on 200 (“Yeaaaaaaaaa!!!!”) meters of (“Hnnnnnngggghh!”) a bike (“Mraawwwww!!!”) sprint, and still not actually get the sprint done). Instead, Flying Shoes turns into a nicely set school club sports anime. So what was it about?

Flying Shoes - Mashiro and Rika

Mashiro and Rika formed a nice pair


Flying Shoes - Asuka puts up a good fight against Shindou

Asuka puts up a good fight against Shindou

Flying Circus! No, not “Monty Python’s”. This is a sport played by people wearing grav shoes (and fancy suits based on 70’s Rush concert costumes that show off a lot of sideboob) where the object is to score more points than your opponent. They actually do a pretty good job of making up a sport that is, as skylion likes to say, ‘Not-Quidditch’. You can score points by hitting the pylons or by touching your opponent’s back. A nice basic ruleset like that leaves you with a lot of potential playstyles, and the show actually uses that flexibility for the main conflict.

Flying Shoes - Saki's Birdcage

Shindou has no idea what to do against Saki

That main conflict arises when Saki, another unknown in the world of Flying Circus, takes the tournament by storm by using a new strategy that physically dominates the other player, called the Birdcage. Viewed initially with silent horror by the spectators as she smacks around the previous champion, the push towards a new style actually spurs the development of other counter-styles. And that’s really an aspect of the show that I thought worked really well. It wasn’t just Asuka the noob accidenting her way into finding a way to beat Saki. There was also Misaki’s own counter, which was almost as successful as Asuka’s in drawing Saki away from her Birdcage style, and completing Misaki’s return to form, after her crisis of confidence at Asuka the beginner eclipsing her at the previous tournament.

Flying Shoes - Misaki loses her way

Misaki loses her confidence, but gets a chance to talk about it with Shindou

And that’s another thing that made this show interesting. Because it never went for the “Masaya’s Harem” format that you might have thought it would fall into, and instead told the story of Asuka, Misaki, and Mashiro, it had a chance to really develop all of those characters as people, rather than as “potential girlfriends.” Mashiro feels like she’s falling behind Misaki and the newcomer Asuka, and undertakes with Rika to form a first-years training alliance that helps her improve her flight and find her own style of play. Misaki thinks that she’s made progress, and does better against Shindou, only to see Shindou stretched to a much higher level by Asuka, who Misaki has also felt superior to yet now realizes has surpassed her. And then Shindou gets annihilated by Saki, making Misaki lose faith in the whole idea of competition. With time for self-reflection, she rediscovers what makes it fun to her, and while she doesn’t get better than Asuka, she is able to not worry about their relative rank and just have fun.

Flying Shoes - The Main Pair

Asuka’s trying to take it to Saki

Flying Shoes - Dominated

But it doesn’t go so well at first

And Asuka has her own large story arc, from beginner who can’t even fly straight to up and comer who pushes the champ to losing her own confidence to using her unique perspective to come up with a way to beat Saki. If there’s a bit of a complaint about the show, it’s that Asuka is a little bit too much of The Determinator trope and powers through things on the strength of her ditziness and sense of fun. But even with that, I think that her development was nicely mapped out through the series and came in believable linear elements, not in great big chunks of GARRRRRRR!!! And I think they manage to subvert the Determinator trope enough to soften the edges of it because Asuka never does do that “I’m gonna go all out until I win!” thing. It’s more just “I’m gonna have fun and do my best!” Even at the end, where she matches Saki’s strategy of disabling the stabilizer on her grav shoes, it’s not about “I’m gonna win!” It’s about “I’m gonna go have fun!” So it really worked for me.

Flying Shoes - Surprise

Whoop, too slow

Production Thoughts

Flying Shoes - Winning

Looking at still frames, there was a lot of motion blur used, but that helped give the battles speed

This show by Gonzo was pretty well done, I thought, and the visuals of the Flying Circus battles worked really well with the light trails, bright colors, fancy suits, and winged shoes. The character designs were good, with attractive people but no silly body shapes (aside from everyone being “anime thin”). Any show you have skintight suits on girls, there’s going to be elements of sexy fanservice, but as part of the ‘not a harem’ thing, there were really no obvious moments, just the occasional non-emphasized sideboob that I mentioned before. The characters are definitely not the same, although having them all in different colored suits for a lot of the time makes it easy to differentiate them. The voice work is fine (although more of Rika would have been better for more of Madoka Yonezawa), and Asuka’s “damedamedesu” continually cracked me up. OP and ED were nothing amazing, but nice to listen to for 90 seconds each episode.

Flying Shoes - a furball

The final furball has everyone’s rapt attention as Asuka wins


Really, this show turned what you would have thought was a standard harem bishoujo game adaptation into a nice sports-lite anime. Focusing on the sport of Flying Circus, instead of the girls getting with the one guy, gave the show freedom to explore their characters, develop their personalities, and do much more of a detailed story. I really liked the direction they took the show in, and think that that would be good way to do other shows like this. I’ve started taking a look at the source VN for this show, but haven’t really gotten anywhere yet. I’ll continue more on it, because having seen the show, I think it would be interesting to see more of a romance angle from these characters since this show covered a good non-romance story. I’d certainly recommend the anime, because it brings enough different stuff to not be samey-samey, and it has some nice character arcs.


Proving that you don't have to be young to love anime, I enjoy all genres and styles of shows. If it's not hurting anyone else, you should never be ashamed of what you like!
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6 Responses to “Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm – Series Review”

  1. skylion says:

    This was a great subversion of all those sports genre tropes (in anime, in storytelling in general). When you cast away whether or not the person/team “wins” – cause of course they have to – or “lose” – cause they would learn a…lol…lesson – all you have left is what they can do. It always feels that way when you choose either part of the binary as a storyteller; you end up dragging your cast to that conclusion instead of finding out who they are in their own right.

    Which this show did. Bravo.

    Not-Quidditch is a stroke of genius to me. Now, I’m no sports fan (quite the opposite), but even I can tell that it was just made for drama, not for competition. It was purpose built for all those “reversals”. So I guess it’s a distillation?

    Good show. I disagree with you on the ED, I thought it was quite lovely, but other than that…good stuff.

    • Highway says:

      Well, as someone who pays a lot more attention to sports, I actually thought that FC worked pretty well as a fictional sport for the sake of an exciting game. Too often, when someone makes up a fake sport, they load it down with a ton of rules that have to be explained (and for the characters to fall afoul of), but this didn’t have to do that. I’m sure as a real sport it would eventually get more rules, but that doesn’t make for good TV. There was only one thing that I wish had been explained as a rule, and that was “why can’t Person B go straight for buoy #2 if Person A goes for buoy #1”, but that would have made for some boring matches.

      And you’re right that this show didn’t give you that feeling that the result of the matches was a foregone conclusion, like most sports anime do because the hero character has to either triumph or learn a lesson. The way they presented the last tournament arc, everyone was going to learn something. And I thought it was good also that Saki got a focus both in her match with Asuka and with Misaki. It made the character change a lot more believable that it occurred over multiple encounters.

      • Lin says:

        The rule was explained. I don’t remember which episode though. Anyway, the rule says the person who takes a shortcut can only go for the next buoy after membrane contact between the two competitors (being able to touch your opponent, or being touched by them).

        As for why the rule exist, I think it’s fairly obvious. It would be hilariously silly if you could go directly for the buoy after a shorcut. The rule exists to force dogfight instead.

        • Highway says:

          Thanks, I apparently missed that (or heard it and forgot). That’s pretty much the perfect explanation, and all the rule they need.

  2. belatkuro says:

    While I did enjoy the sideboobs and the sidewinding flights they did, it just made me disappointed that Masaya was left unused. Sure, the main characters of the anime are the girls, but there’s still the trace of Masaya’s presence that they couldn’t write off since they would have to rewrite the whole thing if they did. They really should have written him off or replaced him with a different character if they weren’t going to utilize him. Instead, he was still there, being a coach that doesn’t really seem to make them better or give good advice at matches, the enigmatic talks with Kagami-sensei about his past, and even appearing for a very brief moment to show his OP skills to train them.

    There’s also the fact that he’s connected to the past of Misaki and Asuka and that it influenced their growth without him in that slumber party. He’s like a plot device by that point, and I laughed out loud when Misaki said “who cares” when they were wondering who that little boy was in their past. Maybe it’s because it’s an eroge that I felt Masaya should have been more central here since he’s the main character there. I wouldn’t mind that the main characters are Misaki, Asuka and Mashiro here in the anime. At least he could have had more presence and influence to the girls as a supporting character rather than have characters like Shindou snap Misaki out of her slump.

    Ah well, what’s done is done. I’ll just wait and hope that the supposed translation project of the VN is true and going smoothly. I still haven’t played Koichoco as well. Really should get to that.

    • Highway says:

      I think Shindou was a much more relevant character to Misaki than Masaya, because his situation was similar to hers. It was in the difference in their reactions to being shown up that Misaki was able to grow. Masaya would have had no way to influence Misaki in that way because it would have been completely “Do as I say, not as I do” since he also bailed on the whole sport when he was disappointed a single time. But Shindou gave Misaki an example of picking yourself up when you get knocked down, and not in the happy-go-lucky way that Asuka did. So I thought that Shindou was the perfect character for that task.

      I actually think that it’s not a bad decision to sideline Masaya the way they did. VN MC’s are notoriously blank, because you don’t want that dissonance with the player. So they would have had to graft an anime character onto Masaya. And I really don’t think the show needed it.

      As for the VN, you could do what I’ve done… learn Japanese and give it a try. I actually finished my first Japanese VN (Hoshizora e kakaru hashi)!!! Yeah, it took me over 3 years from first starting it, but I did the last 4 routes (out of 6 total) in the last 3 months, and have found that I’m a lot better at reading now.

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