What’s it about? Kaina lives on the Canopy, far above the Earth; while there were once other villages, his small family is all that remains. Princess Ririha lives far below on the great Snow Sea and is desperately searching for a way to save her home. When the two cross paths, they begin a dangerous journey to try and find a future for their world.
It’s tough to be an all-CGI anime airing at the same time as something from Studio Orange. Kaina doesn’t look bad by any stretch—in fact it renders the uncanny landscapes of its post-apocalyptic world with an uncanny beauty—but its human figures are rather functional at best. Their facial expressions have a stiffness to them, and at one point when Ririha takes a bad fall it looks like she’s been bounced along the environment by a mouse cursor. Polygon Pictures has a skill set, and people just aren’t it.
It’s to Kaina’s benefit, then, that its environment is basically the whole of the story. This is a “humans fucked up the planet” story nodding back to the days of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (and reality), and the worldbuilding is easily the most engaging part of the story thus far. I love stories of far future societies that have turned unexpected elements of modern culture into lore—here, metal signs (broadly categorized as “billboards”) were the only surviving piece of human writing that people seem to know about, passed down to designated “signreaders” from generation to generation. This, in addition to being a handy shot with a hookshot, is Kaina’s main skill.
I was able to peek ahead a little thanks to a screener copy for this series, at least as much as episode two; and Ririha, unfortunately, hasn’t gotten nearly as much to do yet. The plot seems structured to allow Kaina and Ririha to balance one another out, each with skills the other needs in order to make it on their perilous journey. There are multiple lines about how Ririha has planned the expedition that introduces her in the first episode, while others comment about her determined, decisive expression. Unfortunately, because she’s currently the fish out of water, a lot of what she gets to do in practice is ask lore questions and stumble into danger that Kaina needs to save her from.
In theory this situation will reverse once they get closer to Ririha’s home and Kaina is suddenly the one without any clue of what to do, and I really hope the series manages that shift—I have definitely been burned before though, on series that have a lot of dialogue telling me that someone is a Strong Female Character (never mind a complex one…) only for her to become more of an escort mission for the more important male lead. But keep in mind, that is very possibly preemptive cynicism. It’s too early on to say the series has failed Ririha (and fortunately the opening hints at some more female characters).
What I can already say I don’t love is the weird commentary from Kaina’s elderly family about how the appearance of a girl definitely means she and Kaina are going to bone. Sure, most of us have probably fielded weird relationship questions from relatives that seriously jump the gun, but Kaina’s total lack of objection (and Ririha’s low level discomfort) plus the fairly dire situation made it feel way more awkward than charming. Plus it lays out the show’s cards much too fast. Sure, this kind of show more or less presumes the leads will fall in love thanks to their intense bonding experience, but if you get on your megaphone and scream “THE HETEROS ARE GOING TO BREED” then it preemptively kneecaps my investment in seeing them develop a rapport. What does their emotional compatibility matter if their union is preordained by “must preserve the future of the human race”? At least the concept of fanservice is well beyond the visual limitations.
As an environmentalist narrative, there’s appeal here. I want to see more of the strange world the characters find themselves in…it’s just a shame I can’t summon more than bland neutrality about the characters themselves.