What's it about?
Setting: Slightly futuristic high school
Second-year high school girl Asuka moves to the Four Island Archipelago, where people wear 'grav-shoes' which allow them to fly without letting them fall. She soon becomes involved in the grav-shoe sport, Flying Circus - she may not know how to fly properly yet, let alone the rules of FC, but she hates to lose.
How's the fanservice content?
To make it as fanservicey as possible, we don't know who this girl is. We don't know her name, her story, her personality. She is literally half-naked window dressing.
This was the one major fanservice scene in the pilot though, and seriously tonally out of line with the rest of the episode, so I thought it might just have been a one-off. I should have known better - in episode 2, right before the advert break, Masaya looks out of his window, sees nothing, breathes a sigh of relief, then...
I like to think she knew exactly what she was doing. Masaya's not an unattractive guy, she liked the look of her new neighbour and was laying the foundation for a bit of a window-facilitated intimacy a la Clarissa Explains It All, Dawson's Creek, Scream - wait, what?
Anyway, once again this was the stand-out fanservice moment in a sea of low-level fanservice, so I decided to watch just a little further, to make absolutely sure I'd made the right call...
And that is WEIRD. The tone of the show is childish. The main character is childlike. The premise feels like it was made to sell toys and costumes, and the animation style backs that up. Then suddenly, BOOM, "Oops, my implausibly designed bra untied itself while I was facing outside!" Repeatedly. Is this show for young girls or adult men? Who is watching and enjoying this?
What's good about it?
We follow a flying sports team on a special island where anyone can fly with a special set of shoes which never let you fall. It's safe and sweet, a premise that feels designed to appeal to children. That doesn't work for me, but I also don't think I would get into similarly cute shows like Pokemon or Cardcaptor Sakura if I watched them for the first time now.
Flying Circus requires a combination of speed, manoeuvring skill, fast thinking and a fighting mentality which I can see being played with to keep the matches fresh and interesting. As far as made-up flying sports go, there are fewer obvious sources of dramatic tension than in quidditch as there's no team aspect and zero chance of being hurt by gravity, but if individual sit-down games like those in Chihayafuru or Hikaru no Go can be nail-biting events then Flying Circus can too. In theory.
Aokana is actually based on a dating sim, and the characters instantly made more sense once I discovered this. The female characters each have certain obvious defining traits which are more male gazey than not: Asuka is a sweet ditz, Misaki is a pseudo-catgirl, Mashiro is obsessed with Misaki and says she is Misaki's "slave". Masaya is an everyman with no defining personality traits, just some issues with flying to brood over in a quiet, brooding, everyman fashion. They are all essentially good-natured and low on conflict.
The most rounded characters so far are Masaya and Misaki, both unfortunately secondary to Asuka in the narrative. Masaya used to play Flying Circus and seemed to be pretty good at it, but these days he doesn't even like to fly to school and has to be dragged into coaching the team. Misaki seems to have played when she was younger too, so she picks it up more quickly than Asuka when they begin training together, but I expect that to change.
I would be interested in a rivalary between the more experienced Misaki and the fast learner Asuka, hurting Mashiro by leaving her behind and causing Misaki and childhood friend Masaya to clash if he tries to pull rank on her as team coach. I don't know if that's where the show is going, but it can't sustain this lack of conflict forever. I don't expect it to go full-on dramatic, this is still essentially a children's show (with occasional half-naked teenage girls on screen) but I imagine they have some decent character exposition and development ahead for Masaya and Misaki at least.
If you like the idea of a futuristic and light-hearted sports drama mostly starring female characters and are willing to overlook the occasional overt fanservice scene, you might enjoy this. If you like the idea of sexualised but cutely innocent female characters and are willing to overlook the whole sports drama aspect, you might enjoy this too. Everyone else, I have other anime to recommend.