One of the oldest known forms of drama is the tragedy. First recorded in the Greek world of the polis, these plays recorded the best and the worst of mankind. The framework is always the same. From the time the play starts, in fact, from the time the ticket is purchased, the viewer already knows the ending. The tragedy records the struggle of the hero against insurmountable odds. There is no suspense of wondering if he will pull it off or if he will fail. There is no possibility of a happy ending. The gods have spoken. The die is cast. It is the hero himself that is the core of the play. His bare mortal fiber exposed in its breaking.
Iriya no Sora is a beautiful story. The characters are some of the most real I have seen. The story is the most painful I have seen in animation and second only to Ran in all film. (I must here admit that I have not had the courage yet to watch Grave of the Fireflies). The series is only six episodes long. The first two are seemingly childish and romantic, though all is not as it should be. By the end of the third, I was beginning to suspect that this might not end well. By the fourth, I suddenly realized the truth. The very framework of this story was conforming perfectly to the old tragedy and that was not a good feeling.
Throughout the series there is a dark undertone. I am still having trouble pinning it all down, but here is a bit of it. The truth that we know and the truth that is real are not always the same. The Greeks were also the ones who invented history as a way of remembering the past as distinct from the collection of facts. They remembered the good old days when all Greeks stood as one against Persia. The people who look out for this girl's wellbeing may merely have been manipulating her for the final battle. It seems much the same.
In truth, Iriya no Sora is all about the people. The great war is merely in the background. Iriya herself is eerie. While her personality rarely showed, the portrayal of her physical condition was only too familiar. Due to her background, she is on heavy medication. The nosebleeds, the passing out, the times her heart stops; it is all straight out of a drug addict's nightmare. More like cocaine than meth. She is lonely and desperate for friends, even though she doesn't realize it or know how to behave when she finds them.
Asaba is an interesting one. While he has the wishy-washy personality common in anime boys, he is a fierce defender of the downtrodden. In fact, while he will absorb any amount of abuse himself, he becomes the proverbial lion when he sees such treatment of others. He has no real experience of hardship or pain. At the worst moment, when Iriya needs him most, he breaks. Could I really have done otherwise?
There are others. Asaba's friend Akiho. She's a far more "normal" girl, full of the crushes, rivalries, and nervousness that is part of growing up. There's Enomoto, Iriya's caretaker. In the end, we find we know far less about the man than we had thought earlier. At first, he seems all about Iriya's happiness and wellbeing. In the end, his true motivations are far less clear. The "nurse" Mayumi seems more genuinely compassionate, but her background is not that of a doteing mother. On several occasions she displays contempt or fury at those that display condescension or apathy to the plight of others. Pacifism is not a path out for her.
The most painful part was after Iriya cracked. Up until now, Iriya always seemed withdrawn, shy, she may smile, but we never really know what she is thinking. Over the course of fifteen minutes, we see her proceed *backwards* through every major event of the show. She speaks openly and honestly with her confidant (who isn't there) about her hopes, her fears, her dreams. She relives her rivalry with Akiho, her desperate wish to go to the school dance, her date with Asaba, and finally the afternoon after first meeting him. Then she collapses.
"Who am I?"
Repeated so many times. "Who am I?"
Asaba is given a window into this little heart he has hurt. Though it would be so easy to run away, he stays with this broken little being. In the end, he would challenge the world rather than see her come to harm. Will they ever meet again? It is as if the whole world leans its weight against it.
Iriya is a powerful tale that cost me a good night's sleep. It speaks not of a great hero's journey, but a desperate tale of two's struggle to live another day. I am glad to have seen it, I doubt I could watch it again. Let us go and face the day before us.