There’s nothing worse than untapped potential. We Without Wings: Under the Innocent Sky falls into this category; it’s one of the most frustrating anime series I’ve watched as of late. I say it’s frustrating because the premise is actually pretty cool and inventive: A guy has the ability to travel dimensions, thus occupying four different lives at the same time, in the same city. Unfortunately, this story is undermined by a variety of factors, which I’ll go over in depth.
First of all, this setup initially isn’t made completely clear, meaning that the first few episodes seem like a bunch of random, unconnected stories with no real point. I’m not saying that a show has to dumb itself down and hold the audience’s hand, but this show goes in the exact opposite direction, just jumping right in without any kind of clue. That’s bad enough, but because there are essentially four different sets of stories to follow, it’s hard to get attached to anything before the episode abruptly switches gears to something else. I must confess needing to consult Wikipedia and MyAnimelist while watching the show, which doesn’t speak well for how the show was executed.
And speaking of characters, hoo boy does this show have a lot of them. This is the most stuffed 13-episode anime I’ve ever seen, with the first episode alone introducing dozens of characters, and subsequent outings showcasing more. When there are too many characters, two things occur: It becomes difficult to keep track of who’s who (not helped by the fact that a lot of Aoi Nishimata’s designs tend to be similar to each other), and nobody is very developed because too little time is spent on each one. It would be one thing if they spent one full episode with each character (Paranoia Agent did this, and it worked quite well there), but the frequent cuts back and forth between various arcs in We Without Wings make the overload of characters very disorienting. The show feels way too ambitious for its own good, especially for 13-episode series.
Why are there so many characters here? I think it’s that the show is based on an visual novel H-game, which often contain numerous girls that the player can hope to take to bed. I’m sure the writers felt obligated (or were forced by the original creators) to include every single damn character in the adaption to appease fans, so that’s what we get. In principle, I don’t have a problem with visual novels being adapted, but they can’t just cram every character from the original source into the show and expect it to be coherent. It’s the same issue many had with the Street Fighter live action movie. Most of these characters merely recycle archetypes from previous series. making it hard to say much about them. For example, there’s the surly guy who calls every girl “wench,” the equivalent of always saying the wrong choice in a dating sim (seen in Kanon and, to a lesser extent, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), or the young girl with no inhibitions, or the girl who is alternatively subdued and hyperactive. Despite the number of characters, I didn’t find I liked many of them. About the only characters I found a breath of fresh air were some street thugs who rapped everything in an over-the-top manner. Sometimes I wish the show was about them, especially since their scenes felt like they belonged in a different show anyway.
Another thing that hurts the series is its inconsistent tone. I’m not saying a series has to be non-stop punchlines or constantly deadly serious, but there has to be a fairly consistent execution or the audience doesn’t know how to feel. Such was the case here; you’ll have a dramatic story (complete with blatantly manipulative melodramatic piano music) immediately followed by lighter scenes of friends at the local diner trash-talking each other and girls getting into compromising positions. This show should take a lesson from Fullmetal Alchemist in how to switch between moods successfully.
The story is also undermined by the fanservice. There are series like Qwaser of Stigmata and Queen’s Blade where the plots are basically excuses for T&A: it’s trashy, but at least it knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. But We Without Wings is a textbook example of a series which doesn’t need it and where its inclusion just feels forced. It signifies the creators didn’t have confidence in their interesting story, so they added skin and panty shots in random places. Some of the character arcs contain typical harem antics where one ordinary guy is illogically fought over by multiple girls, which has never happened in real life and WILL NEVER HAPPEN. It’s more of the creepy wish fulfillment schlock that Japan has been wallowing in for years. And speaking of schlock, I’ve never seen a show so shameless in the way it executes fanservice. For example, in the first episode, one of the girls pushes up against one of the guys, and even though she’s fully clothed when she does it, we suddenly get an “X-Ray Specs” view of her bare breasts. There are other moments when there’s a panty shot for no reason. I’m not even talking about staging scenes from a low angle. A character will be talking normally and then it cuts to their panties for a couple seconds. Talk about desperate. The cold open to each episode also features nudity and skimpy clothing for absolutely no reason, since it doesn’t tie into the episode’s plot. But perhaps the lamest excuse for fanservice is in episode eight, when the main character thinks he’s in a fantasy realm (long story), and gets poisoned. His female cohort strips completely naked, pours the antidote on her breasts, and rubs the guy’s chest seductively, looking way too much like a certain sexual activity. Sigh.
What’s doubly strange is how the show wants to eat its cake and have it too: it’s yet another show designed to appeal solely to its devoted, merchandise-hungry fanbase, watching this to distract them from their lives, yet it ends with the message that escaping reality (in this case, the main character pretending to be people he’s not) is unhealthy. So which is it? Should the audience get out there and interact with others, or just stay a hermit and ogle admittedly pretty anime girls all day? Ultimately, I feel compelled to ask this fanbase: What are you doing with your life? Are you truly enjoying yourself? Or are you just compulsively buying to fulfill a gaping hole inside that can’t be satisfied?
On the same token, by criticizing this show, I hope I haven’t just indirectly encouraged those who seek out bad anime to watch this just to torture themselves and write sardonic reviews. People sought out Master of Martial Hearts, despite my warnings not to, and it really annoyed me. I’m not reviewing for my health; I want to save you precious free time, because your time is valuable. Why waste it watching bad anime?
Even the audio commentaries on episodes 4 and 8 aren’t worth listening to. I learned virtually nothing from them, as they’re completely superfluous and vapid. Other extras on the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack include clean openings/endings and FUNi trailers. As usual lately, the combo pack is housed in a sturdy Blu-ray-sized artbox with pleasing illustrations.
We Without Wings started out incomprehensible, but when its plot started to make a bit more sense, it only made me realize how much potential it squandered. If Japan keeps making series like We Without Wings, anime will remain an industry propped up solely by otaku who buy all the tie-in material, which means anime writers and directors don’t have to try very hard to get viewers. All they need are cute girls and skin. In turn, badly-written series like this will continue to be the norm, rather than the exception. If that’s the future, I’m tuning out.