In cities across the United States, Europe, and Asia, electric scooters have proliferated, with the devices offering an inexpensive, environmentally clean, and nimble new form of transportation. In some parts of Los Angeles, the vehicles are ubiquitous, and its common to see groups of riders zipping around in packs or stunting on vacant streets. Once I even spotted a few riders engaged in a sport that resembled polo, as competitors zipped around trying to put a soccer ball in their opponents improvised goal.
The recent release of Aokana – Four Rhythms Across the Blue (known in Japan as Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm: Beyond the sky, into the firmament) imagines a recreation that’s even wilder. Here, the discovery of anti-gravity particles has led to what might be one of the greatest consumer products ever created: anti-gravity shoes. Without any kind of noisy engine, this invention is poised to revolutionize transportation. Realistically, society is still coming to terms with the contraption, and like electric scooters, the government is wrestling with what kinds of safety restrictions need to be relaxed. In the meantime, they’ve chosen the Shitou islands as a testing ground.
But when kids have access to an awesome piece of technology, they’ll think of novel ways to use it. And that’s exactly what has happened with anti-gravity shoes. Flying Circus (often called “FC”) is a relatively new sport that uses the device for competitions held above the island seas. Competing against one other, participants race around a three-hundred-meter course shaped around four floating buoys. Players score points by either touching a buoy or the back of a rival.
Like any respectable imaginary sport, there’s nuance in Flying Circus’ ten-minute matches. Strategy is rooted in the three types of competitors, with Speeders effective is straight lines, Fighters able to tag opponents with their superior control and breakneck acceleration. Naturally, All-Rounders favor balance, but more importantly they’re able to adjust their tactics to match the approach of their opponents. Competitors are also in communication with strategists who view the match remotely, and do things like relay the position of their opponent. Pleasingly, Aokana mines every detail of its imagined sport and when coupled with a sprite-based visual delivery, ensures that FC matches are consistently rousing.
Smartly, Four Rhythms Across the Blue’s cast is every bit as appealing as its competitions. The novel’s lead Masaya Hinata was once a prodigious FC player. But a crushing defeat and an enigmatic matter threatened to sever his interest in the game. But his reluctant return as a coach seems to have reinvigorated his spirit, especially his interactions with the novel’s four emerging female competitors. While the medium often centers around character who use over-confidence as a defensive mechanism, Masaya is thoroughly likable. As such, when he cultivates a relationship with the game’s leads (Aokana was once a hentai and can be reverted to a mosaic-ed state with a free patch), it’s believable that the novel’s women would want to pursue him.
Success hinges on the likability and enjoyment of these routes. Fortunately, Aokana largely delivers. Interestingly, each FC contestant brings their own approach to the sport, helping to delineate the cast and divulge some of the strategies of the sport. From Asuka Kurashina, the perpetually upbeat transfer student who epitomizes ganbaru, to Misaki Tobisawa, who is intensely competitive and is a perpetually quick learner. Sure, the four characters might seem a bit tropey, but their disposition shapes their approach and attitude, making Aokana an interesting character study. The one downside is the lack of routes for noteworthy characters like Aio Kagami, a former FC Pro and Masaya’s homeroom teacher or Reiko Satouin, the novel resident ojou (rich girl). Pleasingly, a few rival FC competitors have noteworthy outlooks as well.
Undoubtedly, capture the intensity of Flying Circus with static images must have been a challenge for developer Sprite. But Aokana triumphs. CGs are beautiful drawn, with sunlight gorgeously illuminating the novel’s environments. Emotional representation is a vital part of most works and here Four Rhythms excels, offering a multitude of facial expressions for main and secondary characters as well as chibi art. Bitmaps are used for matches, adding a dynamism that’s missing from most visual novels. Like many VN, transitions between background songs can be a bit jarring, but there’s little fault to be found in the soundtrack. From plaintive piano-driven melodies to stirring pieces during taut matches, Aokana rewards the ears just as much as the eyes.
With the recent releases of top-tier titles like YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world and Date A Live: Rio Reincarnation, Aokana – Four Rhythms Across the Blue has some tough competition. But like its cast of competitors, the novel is up to the task. Build around an engaging concept and a likable collection of characters, Aokana soars. Funny, taut, occasionally sexy, and often beautiful to look at, it’s an essential experience for fans of the medium.
Aokana – Four Rhythms Across the Blue was played
on PC with review code provided by the publisher.