Air is a 2000 nakige produced by Key. It’s one of the most famous eroge out there so I don’t think it needs much introduction. It’s been adapted into anime (both TV and film), manga, drama CDs, etc. Everyone knows Air.
The story of Air lies somewhere between that of Kanon and Clannad (it also falls between the two temporally and in terms of quality). It has the family themes of Clannad with the greater fantasy focus of Kanon. This combination works very well. Even if a lot of the drama involves fantasy, Air is at its core a family drama. As a result the drama is far more fulfilling than Kanon’s. On the other hand the fantasy emphasis adds another level of fascination and intricacy to the plot. Air is divided into three chapters: Dream, Summer, and Air.
Dream revolves around Kunisaki Yukito, a traveler in search of a winged girl in the sky. He arrives at a small seaside town. There he meets and develops relationships with various girls. Dream has the format of your standard visual novel and contains three routes. Misuzu’s route is really good. Her family drama is compelling and her situation is heartrending. The route feels somewhat incomplete since it’s a lead-in to later parts of the game, but it does feel more complete than Nagisa’s route in Clannad does. Kano’s route has the largest fantasy focus of the Dream routes but also the weakest drama. However that’s not to say that the drama is bad. Far from it. Additionally, the mystery involved in the fantasy side of things makes the story very interesting. Overall it was the most similar to Kanon. Minagi’s route probably had the best overall story of the Dream routes. The drama involving Minagi, her mother, and Michiru is excellent. On the other hand the pacing was poor enough to detract from my enjoyment of the route. There were a few times where I thought the story was about to wrap up, only to have it drag on for much longer. The route wouldn’t have been as good as it is if it had stopped at any of those points, but it would have been nice if it flowed a little better. It was also interesting how this route had pretty much no romantic element (though even the other two routes focused more on the family situations of the heroines than romancing them).
After completing all three Dream routes the Summer chapter is unlocked. I won’t go into too much detail on it because that would spoil things. The chapter is about as long as one of the Dream routes, maybe somewhat shorter. It introduces some relevant information for the overall plot of the game, but I thought it broke up the flow of the story. While the chapter itself is certainly enjoyable (maybe not quite as much as any of the Dream routes) I wonder if it added enough to the game to really be necessary.
The final chapter of Air. Think of it as Air’s version of Clannad’s After Story. While not quite the masterpiece that After Story is, it’s pretty close. Air is a continuation of Misuzu’s route from Dream. This has the best drama, the strongest representation of the game’s family themes, and the most tears. The way the narration is handled is also really interesting. A nearly flawless chapter that takes the game to another level. It’s fitting that the chapter shares the same name as the game itself, because this chapter is what Air is all about.
Nakige tend to focus on tear jerking scenes to make the reader feel emotion. Good nakige make the reader feel something even outside of those scenes. Air is a prime example of this because the game does it better than any other nakige I’ve played. The entire story is wrapped in sentiment and the atmosphere is wonderful. The music contributes a lot to the atmosphere, but so does the writing, which is beautiful. The writing style is simple but poetic. While the game has three writers and there are noticeable differences in quality, the level of writing as a whole is quite high. Putting all that aside, Air still contains its share of tear jerking scenes, all of which are great. It might have even made me cry more than Clannad.
Since writing the first draft of this review I’ve read some Japanese explanation sites for Air, because the final ending of the game is vague and raises many questions. After reading up on it I’ve realized that Air’s plot has much more depth than it first appears to. While a lot of what I read was probably fans overanalyzing things, the large amount of foreshadowing is undeniable, along with other easily-overlooked aspects that make the story even more impressive than it looks on the surface. The Summer chapter is also more relevant to the rest of the story than I first thought, as there are more connections than just the obvious ones that I picked up on.
Kamio Misuzu: The main heroine, and my favorite. She’s pure, innocent, naïve, and always does her best. Even if she always does her best she usually still ends up failing. Moe. Misuzu is very likable (as well as easy to sympathize with) and she’s one of my favorite eroge heroines period.
Kamio Haruko: Misuzu’s mother. A bad, irresponsible parent. She neglects her daughter while she drinks, rides her motorcycle, and does various other bad things that bad parents do. She also speaks in Kansai-ben, which is annoying both in trying to figure out what she’s saying (it was my first time having to read Kansai-ben) and also just hearing it.
Kirishima Kano: A genki girl who is childish even for her age. Her childishness adds an interesting dynamic to her character when more about her and her past is revealed. Probably the least unique of the three heroines, but she still didn’t feel stereotypical. I liked her a lot and she was my second favorite heroine after Misuzu.
Kirishima Hijiri: Kano’s older sister. Also the town’s doctor. On the surface she seems like a serious, no-nonsense woman. However it turns out she jokes around quite a bit. She’s also a huge siscon, maybe because she’s raised Kano by herself. Seeing her dedication and sisterly love for Kano was really heartwarming.
Potato: A dog who’s the mascot character of Kano’s route. He’s awesome. There was also this one part with him that I was more touched by than I probably should have been…
Tohno Minagi: At first I thought she was going to be one of those typical quiet shy girls, and I didn’t like her. She actually isn’t exactly quiet, just rather polite. She’s also a very unique character. Her personality is really bizarre but entertaining. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character like her.
Michiru: Minagi’s loli friend. At first she just seems like an annoying selfish brat. Over the course of Minagi’s route, which is almost Michiru’s route with how much it focuses on her, she opens up to Yukito and her true character becomes apparent. In the end I really liked her, even more than I did Minagi. Like with Kano and Hijiri, Michiru’s relationship with Minagi is very heartwarming to witness.
Kunisaki Yukito: The protagonist. He’s fairly similar to other Key protagonists. He’s sarcastic and enjoys teasing the heroines. However he doesn’t take it as far as Tomoya, Kouhei, or even Yuuichi. I don’t think anyone would consider him an asshole, like they might those other protagonists, and he demonstrates how nice of a guy he is fairly readily. He’s a good balance of the usual Key protagonist traits. He’s got enough of an edge to be a good tsukomi and provide comedy, but not enough to make readers angry at him.
The Summer chapter of the game introduces some new characters, but it would be too much of a spoiler to describe them too much. I’ll just say the Summer characters were good, but not as good nor memorable as the main cast. Overall Air’s characters are great and the main cast is very memorable. There aren’t many of them, but they’re all likable and develop nicely over the course of the story. Surprisingly, Haruko ends up being the character that develops the most, with Misuzu coming in second.
The soundtrack is what you would expect from Key. In other words great. The music really adds to the excellent atmosphere of Air, and also enhances the impact of the most emotional scenes. It’s full of great BGM tracks. Not a single one is bad. However a couple of the most played ones might get somewhat annoying by the very end of the game. The only other complaint I have is that many of the songs sound sort of harsh, not because of the composition itself but because of the synth they used in the songs. I don’t remember Kanon, which is older, having this same problem so I don’t know what happened.
I’m going to write an entire paragraph about Air’s OP, Tori no Uta, because it deserves it. This is my favorite eroge OP. There’s a reason it’s jokingly referred to as the national anthem by Japanese fans. The composition, instrumentation, lyrics, and vocals are all flawless. The lyrics and even the music itself fit Air and its atmosphere perfectly. The first time I heard it it was stuck in my head for at least two weeks, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Even now it’s not at all unusual for the song to pop into my head and grace me with its presence for the rest of the day.
Air’s ED is also pretty good but is completely overshadowed by Tori no Uta. The game also has an insert song. It’s a vocal arrange of one of the best BGM tracks in the game, so it’s no surprise that the song is awesome. It even stands up quite well to Tori no Uta. The lyrics were definitely written specifically for the scene during which it plays, which adds another layer of emotion to the scene (which is already the most memorable in the game). As a result it will have you bawling not only during the scene but also whenever you listen to the song and remember that part of the story. Or at least that’s how it is for me.
Air was originally released without voices. It was later fully voiced when it was ported to the Dreamcast, and eventually a voiced PC version was released as well (ero scenes weren’t voiced). I’m not sure if the voice actors are the same as the ones in the anime, but the voice work is perfect other than the bit parts. The voices really help to bring the characters to life. This is especially true considering the wide use of verbal quirks among the cast (as you would expect from Key). They’re even cuter when you can actually hear them. Additionally the voices add a lot of feeling to the emotional scenes in the game, which isn’t something I think happens very often in eroge. It’s definitely worth playing the voiced version of Air.
The art is also what you would expect from Key. In other words not so great. I think that most Key fans have gotten used to Hinoue Itaru’s art like Umineko fans have gotten used to Ryuukishi07’s. I know I have. I actually find it charming for the most part. And I think Air is Itaru’s best art, not counting the upcoming Rewrite. Other than a couple small exceptions there are no problems with the CGs or sprite art, while keeping Itaru’s unique style. Some of the CGs actually looked surprisingly nice, helped in no small part by the great coloring. I liked it a lot better than Clannad’s softer coloring. Number of CGs is pretty low, which seems to be a trend with Key, but they’re placed at just the right moments, and their rarity actually increases the impact they have.
There are four ero scenes in Air. Two of them are actually relevant to the plot, and you can complete the game without seeing the two that aren’t (in fact you have to get a bad end to see Minagi’s scene). There are also three optional mini-ero scenes that are just Yukito’s perverted imagination. The ero quality isn’t very good. The writing is like that erotica that tries really hard to avoid vulgar terms and instead uses a lot of euphemisms. This certainly fits the game (seeing words like chinpo or omanko in Air would feel really out of place) but it doesn’t exactly make for arousing ero. The ero scenes are also very short. Despite that most of them have three base CGs. Somehow one of Misuzu’s ero CGs turned out to be very hot. I have no idea how that happened. Must have been a fluke of some sort.
Pros: Great drama that skillfully expounds meaningful themes about family; touching scenes that make you feel a range of emotions; memorable and well-developed characters; excellent soundtrack and atmosphere.
Cons: Drags a bit during a few parts in Minagi’s route and the Summer chapter; has Key art if that puts you off.
Air is one of the best eroge I’ve played. It’s a must play for fans of nakige, as it definitely deserves its legendary status within the genre. Even people who aren’t necessarily into nakige should give it a try unless they really hate the genre or Key.