Windy Tales – Review
“One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of this mean obedience to paltry decorum, in which pet-squirrels steal through existence, like sluggish waters through a marsh, without either honour or observation.”
Windy Tales is an unusual anime with an artistic non-mainstream style and an adherence to the slice-of-life-genre that few animes show. If you like slice-of-life-series and haven’t seen this series… well, watch it, I’d say. If you want to know what’s so great about it, read on.
Original run: September 11, 2004 – February 26, 2005
Plot Summary: A collection of episodes in the lives of people with the power to control the wind. In a small village in the Japanese countryside lives a clan of kazetsukai (風使い), wind handlers, people with the power to control the wind. Nao Ueshima is a middle school student and president of the school’s two-member digital camera club. Taiki, one of the kazetsukai, leaves behind the village and his brother’s widow, Yukio, to become a mathematics teacher at Nao’s school. Nao learns of Taiki’s power after he uses it to save her life. Nao and her friends travel to the kazetsukai village to learn for themselves the secret of how to control the wind. – ANN
Windy Tales is one of these animes that tries to mix the Mahou-Shoujo-Genre with the Slice-Of-Life-Genre. On one hand it has the typical tropes of girls coming into contact with a supernatural world in which they play a significant role but on the other hand instead of putting them against evil or fighting for some other good cause, the motivation of the plot lies solely in understanding their everyday-life.
So while there is a supernatural element that marks the setting as fantasy it’s still the same life we know that the characters have to face. This is strengthened by the simplicity of the supernatural. It isn’t an invasive force that is different from reality or changes it. Although it may look supernatural at its basis it’s often very similar to reality. More so than in other series like this, Windy Tales makes an effort to integrate the supernatural into reality. The ‘Wind-Manipulation’, the ‘Flying Cats’ and Taiki’s village with its mystical task aren’t flashy spirits from another world or destructive magic-spells. The weirdest aspect of Windy Tales supernatural side is not how strange Wind-Manipulation is but how normal it is.
Seeing a flying cat in this anime isn’t a moment of surprise, shock or disbelief, it’s – acceptable. It’s like watching great natural phenomena (for example an aurora borealis). While one may say that it’s strange one would never assume that it’s impossible or wouldn’t believe his eyes. Of course one could ask why and the series would tell that certain cats can fly because they are Wind-Users and one can ask why again and the series wouldn’t have an answer. The normalcy of Wind-Manipulation is purely empirical. Some people can do it so there’s your answer. But I guess this series would be very flat if asking why is considered a bad move on the part of the viewer.
What this series does instead is giving the experience of the normal a sense of wonder. Wind in this series isn’t just a natural phenomena, wind in this series is a part of life. At one point one of the characters remarks that how well one can manipulate the winds depends on how happy one is. And in another episode Nao riding with her father on a motorcycle can tell how happy he is driving because of the wind. And that’s why it’s so normal. Wind isn’t something invisible and untouchable in this series, it’s like picking up a leaf from the ground in autumn. You can see it, you can pick it up and you can so with it whatever you want but the leaf also tells you from which tree it came and by the yellow color of the leaf you can tell that the tree’s preparing for winter. Wind’s just the same here, not only that it’s made visible by the artistic style of the anime, wind in this series says as much about the person who manipulates it as the world that surrounds this person.
It’s always nice to see characters who know the precise psychological moment for thinking instead of being helpless.
And through the integration of this sense of wonder the character can express their understanding of the world that surrounds them with ‘Wind-Manipulation’ that seems fantastical to us but is completely normal to the world. And it’s great how the fantastical aspect in this series isn’t something that’s described with ‘there’, the supernatural in this series is ‘right here’ in the normal world. And it’s that subtleness with which the supernatural was made normal that in the end makes this series still a seemingly relevant slice-of-life-series of our known world in contrast to other series like Aria that ultimately become abstract or something more allegoric in nature. But here the fantastical aspect doesn’t interfere with the direct relation of the viewers experience with the understanding of the series. This offers directness in the slice-of-life-aspect that wouldn’t have been possible if the fantastical would have outweighed the realistic aspect or if both would’ve been clearly divided setting-wise.
And this concept also clearly shows in the dialogues. It isn’t demanding stuff as far as complexity goes but the series is dialogue-heavy as probably is every series which actually includes a chamber-play-episode. But the dialogues often flow more in relation to the characters than the plot. As it’s typical for a slice-of-life-series the everyday-situation is also reflected in the dialogues as those become occasionally derailed or fundamentally just futile remarks. And it certainly stretches some scenes longer than they should be which means that there are good news and bad news. The bad news is that it isn’t Speed, these girls won’t really have to duel a Bombing-Terrorist via a Bus that can’t stop but the good news is that it isn’t Speed 2, so it’s at least not retarded.
It really gets obvious with episode five as Nao lies in the Infirmary and the Nurse and various characters come to the infirmary for various reasons and talk about traveling. There’s practically no movement in this episode as the dialogue stays in this room but the topic of travelling is an interesting contrast to that as it shows what talking about distant places means and dreaming up how travelling to that place feel like. The episode shows very good that the exotic air of distant places is something that we dream up in our imagination even before we actually see those places.
The interesting thing about the dialogues in Windy Tales is that they really aim to reproduce this sense of everyday-life. It doesn’t feel like a scripted soap-opera only waiting to let a character burst out into tears to make things a bit more dramatic. The priorities lie with what a character would naturally say in a situation and not what would advance the plot in a dramatic way.
While it’s not too soapy it also has no kind of ‘message-time’-moment where a character starts a long monologue that’s aimed at the viewer instead of what the character is surrounded by. Of course it’s a two-edged-sword and this makes most of the dialogue as slice-of-life as that’s possible. One won’t spend this series at the edge of his seat but it’s also not the kind of slice-of-life like Aria that tries to relax the viewer by some form of poetic happy end to episodic stories. The series lacks any kind of dramatic excitement in this way and depends totally upon its characters. If one doesn’t like the characters there’s not much to be gained from this series. There is nothing great about the characters, they aren’t geniuses, they don’t have a great destiny and they aren’t remarkable but their normality gives them their own dynamic that relies as much upon the flaws of these characters as their strengths. Because the episodes put nearly no dramatic pressure from the plot upon the characters, they don’t have to behave as the situation demands it but can behave as their personality demands it. And following these characters, understanding their personality and beginning to sympathize with them is the only dramatic purpose of the series. You may say that if there’s no evil to be fought and no hardships to bear, there wouldn’t be much entertainment left but the excitement of such a down-to-earth series like Windy Tales is its subtleness and simplicity with which it approaches its fantastic setting but still maintains such a natural way of interacting. The final episode of the series shows best how the series doesn’t want to make any dramatic impact and just says that life goes on, the characters aren’t changed by any supernatural experience, they just get older and change with the passage of time.
The irony is that she still thinks about making pictures of the flying cats while aready falling to her death. Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Windy Tales is in the end a really good slice-of-life-series not only because of the unique style of animation but also because of how slow and down-to-earth it approaches slice-of-life-elements while still adding a fantasy-touch to it. The interesting characters in their daily endeavours are only as interesting as one tries to understand them and there’s the problem. This show is slow and ultimately more about studying characters than following a plot. Not everybody may like it and it certainly tries the patience of the viewer just to sit back and watch but I think it’s ultimately worth the patience seeing those characters because of the good down-to-earth characterization and interesting everyday-life-stories with a subtle charm of taking something normal and trying to make it special.