It is based on a bishoujo game, so after the first episode we thought we knew what to expect. But we were wrong.
For starters, the male protagonist, Yukito, has a character. Yes, he isn't just some 'kind older brother' or somesuch -- not a set piece for the cute female characters to play off of. Yukito has a goal: he is searching for a winged girl in the sky. He has inherited some kind of magic from his mother who has tasked him with this quest. Using the magic, Yukito animates a puppet, living hand-to-mouth and travelling.
In the village where the series plays out, he meets three girls. There is something with each of them, related to the girl in the sky. Kano has 'attacks' in which she channels someone else -- when she is like that, she tries to take her own life or that of others. Apparently this is related to a feather (!) that is held in the shrine in the city. Through his magic, Yukito 'frees' her from it's possession.
Minagi lost her younger sister, but she is followed everywhere by a younger girl with the same name as her deceased sister... It turns out that Michiru is a fragment of Minagi's dream, powered by a feather. When Minagi's mother has come to grips with her loss, Michiru returns to the sky.
Finally, there is Misuzu. She is clumsy, innocent and child-like. She lives with her aunt, who keeps her distance from her. It turns out that she channels the spirit of the winged girl in the sky -- she dreams sad dreams, and when the dreams stop, Misuzu will die because she can not contain the reincarnated spirit of the winged girl.
During a set of episodes in the middle of the season, the so-called 'Summer arc', we get to see the story of the winged girl: how she escaped the temple where she was being held with her servant and a guard to search for her mother. At the time, Buddhism was becoming the state religion, and the old shinto kami, amongst them the winged girl, were being eradicated. In the end, she was killed and targeted by a subjugation curse from Buddhist monks.
Yet she still lingers on, and her spirit reincarnates in a human vessel, and the cycle keeps on repeating. The subtitle of Air is 'The 1000th summer' -- apparently the events of the Summer arc took place a thousand years ago.
Through various trials, Yukito (and we) learn about the nature of the winged girl in the sky, and how she affects those back on earth.
The story is very, very deep with multiple layers. And it is very, very sad. The ending had me in tears. But it is also very, very good. I saw a certain resemblance with Kanon, and that is not a coincidence: Visual Arts/Key also made that game/anime.
- Animation and character designs;
- Not your average bishoujo anime;
- Very deep, multilayered story.
- Sad, sad ending.
I give it a 9.