Ahiru no Sora is a sports anime set in high school. Despite being a shounen anime, it breaks the typical cliché of the sports genre and brings a unique experience. Most shows tend to keep a lighthearted tone with the theme of hard work, friendship and coming victorious in the end. But this one throws everything out of the window and shows the perspective of the underdogs who are going through failure, bullying, rejection, depression and many other problems in life. Even in this dark chapter of life, Ahiru no Sora insists on getting back up even if the whole world is against you and keep moving forward with new hope and inspiration. As the title implies, it’s a story of a duck learning to fly in the sky.
The story follows Sora Kurumatani who just got into high school in a new town. He wants to dominate the high school basketball tournament to fulfill the promise to his dying mother. His mother Yuka Kurumatani once a pro basketball player, trained him to be one of the very best. But since Sora’s height is short, he often becomes a laughing stock and a victim of bullying. The school he’s admitted to is a turf for delinquents. The basketball club he’s supposed to join is only a hangout for thugs who have no aspirations for life. When Sora tries to talk them into forming an actual club, he gets beat up like a rag & gets tossed aside. The more he shows resilience, the more he’s beaten. But Sora shows determination and challenges them in a match. He overwhelms the group with the skills he has learned over the years. His effort and devotion to basketball gradually affect them and gets them to find their passion in basketball.
There are many aspects that make the story compelling. Here we see some great character developments. Those who started as bullies become Sora’s best companions. Their design, characteristics and interaction with others at first suggested them as side characters who would get tossed aside as the story progressed. But the way their life is turned around is something to take note of. That shows that no matter how bad your situation is and what others may think of you, there is always hope to be better. Soon their design starts to evolve and their action stands out more. And later people also start to appreciate them and stick out for them in time of need.
The second aspect that is shown is overcoming failure and depression. Past failure can be devastating and can turn someone into something horrific. This aspect is present throughout the whole series. In every new event and new characters are introduced, the idea of past failure and depression overtakes. Whether it’s losing in a basketball game, a romantic relationship not working out or conflict between brothers. It’s like an over-looming dread, hovering over the head like dark clouds and you do not want to face it. It’s as if no matter how hard you try, you will always fail and it’s inevitable. Hard work, determination, inspiration, all just seem nonsense. You just want to give up on having a dream and make do with whatever. This anime shows the characters’ lowest points and what they have become because of their past experience. But even in the darkest moments, the light of hope always shines. It’s up to us whether we want to follow the light or not. This is where the anime peaks when the characters decide to take on that hope, face their fear and try again for the better or worse. This internal struggle of overcoming such obstacles and moving towards the ray of hope in this darkness-filled world is what makes the story compelling.
Another aspect of this show is how stakes are set. It always feels like there is a ticking bomb that’s gonna blow up at any moment. The idea of Sora’s mother on her death bed can always keep the audience on the edge. Also, there is a stake when the protagonist team goes up against in matches without enough training experience. What if the worst happens without our protagonist reaching his goal? What if there everyone ends up in regret and sorrow? What if the love of the life slips through the fingers? What if they can’t score enough in the game just to barely win? What if there is no happy ending? The presence of such stakes can make the audience want to see through the entire journey.
Following through with different types of characters can make a story interesting. In this anime, some characters are optimistic, some are grumpy, some are internally shut-in, some are overconfident and some are downright evil. Every character has a distinct design and unique characteristics. The show even focuses on their thoughts, struggles and contribution to the story. Even the newly appointed advisor of the basketball club has his moments. From the moment he is introduced, he stands out due to his design and the decisions he made. He does have a minor role but when it’s his time to act he does his best. Even his struggle in life has gotten ample focus like when he sticks out for his students and him having to take care of his pregnant wife while his salary got reduced. Some of the rivaling team members got their backstory and reason to struggle. A little bit of the romantic aspects also got highlighted. It makes the world feel whole when we see the story from the secondary characters’ perspective.
Ahiru no Sora is one of the best character driven stories I’ve seen in a while. There are some gut-wrenching moments as well as some lighthearted comedy that can make you smile. The sports aspect also gets the most focus as they explain some of the techniques and strategies. Very few sports anime/manga put this much thought as this one does. The anime of 50 episodes is aired in 2019-2020 and it was adapted from the manga by Takeshi Hinata by the animation studio Diomedéa. And this is only the prologue to what comes next as I highly recommend checking out the manga. The anime does end without realizing the character’s goal but ended with the hope of a better future.