The young man is a traveler. He has two companions. One is a very old doll that walks without a hand touching it. The other is an ancient promise passed on to him by someone with great power.
So begins AIR, an H-Game by Key/Visual Arts with a clean version that spawned two anime, a movie by Toei Animation and a TV series by Kyoto Animation. (It was actually the first of three Key games that were animated separately by these two studios, although the Toei version of Kanon came out first.) It is seen as and marketed as a companion to Kanon; both deal with a young man with little to go on who arrives in a new town, begins living with a girl upon arrival, and meets various other girls while sorting out the supernatural mystery of the town. The themes of fate and miracles also run deeply through both series.Kunisaki Yukito is a traveler running low on money who lives day-to-day by performing a telekinetic puppet show. His travels, however, have a deeper meaning, one he's been trying to push away: for a thousand years now, his family has been searching for a girl with a curse upon her. A series of girls in town - cute, immature Misuzu; sly, friendly Kano; and quiet, serene Minagi - present themselves as possible candidates to be this "girl in the sky", as they all have mysterious dreams of flying and connections to the spirit world that unfold along with their problems in the present day. If the girl isn't found and somehow saved, once she reaches a certain age or finds someone dear to her heart, she will become very ill, lose her memories, and die...Not to be confused with the French electronica duo, the graphic novel, or the stuff you're breathing.
This program provides examples of:
Achey Scars: Yukito was born with a scar that suddenly relives the time that his past life received the same scar, causing Yukito to collapse to the floor.
Justified. His past life was the victim of a curse for being too close to Kanna, resulting in the wound not healing properly. Yukito began to suffer it because was likewise getting too close to Kanna's own reincarnation of that time period, Misuzu.
Adaptation Distillation: Watch the movie or the anime, then watch the other and note how different the main characters' personalities are.
Adaptation Dye-Job: Everyone in the year 1000, not just Kanna, has blue hair in the movie. Ryuuya is nearly unrecognizable.
Against the Setting Sun: Several scenes take place by the sea, against a sundown scenario. Especially relevant is the scene in which Misuzu calls out to Haruko, accepting her as her mother, and the two embrace as the waves crash against them.
All There in the Manual: Due to time constraints, the explanation of Yukito's past exists only in the game, and much of the medieval journey is relegated to an OVA. Also, the conditions of breaking Misuzu's curse are stated in the game and implied in the anime, making the ending more positive if you paid attention).
Bittersweet Ending: Finding true happiness breaks the curse that the Buddhist monks laid on Kannabi no Mikoto, allowing the next life to freely pursue happiness. So, although Misuzu dies in this lifetime, her next life will be a happy one, giving the ending a heartwarming undercurrent of hope.
Downer Ending: And yet we leave off on a grieving mother and the knowledge that in the past there were a bunch of monks who got off scott free for causing the last winged being and numerous generations of her reincarnations to suffer immensely.
Chekhov's Gun: Sora is really Yukito. Especially well done since he's given exclusive screentime hiding in the background throughout the whole series.
Children Raise You: Played with in Haruko's subplot — she's an immature and irresponsible woman raising her dead sister's child, but she behaves the way she does for a good reason. She does become a loving and responsible mother figure at the end, though.
Decoy Protagonist: In the anime, at least, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is Yukito's story. Then he's excised from the plot via reincarnation as a crow, and the conflict between Haruko and Misuzu takes center stage.
Deus Sex Machina: Kano believes that "becoming an adult" will give her magical powers. Unfortunately, she was misled. No wonder Hijiri's so overprotective of her.
Disproportionate Retribution: Note to any winged beings: leaving the temple, even if it's just to see your mother, will result in you being hunted, cursed, and killed by Buddhist Monks and other peoples under orders of the emperor. Said curse will haunt you and all your reincarnations. The curse? Die when you fall in love. And that means feeling any sort of love too, including if that love is familial, or even platonic, like friendship.
Identical Descendant: A thousand years and lord knows how many generations later, and Yukito's mom still looks like Uraha with brown hair and Yukito himself like Ryuuya without long or pulled-back hair.
Important Haircut: Haruko cuts Misuzu's hair, accidentally cutting it much shorter than intended, thus giving her a more childish look that foreshadows later events.
Jacob and Esau: Minagi was a Daddy's Girl, and her mother was hoping that the new child would be closer to her. When she miscarried, she lost her sanity.
Karma Houdini: Unless Nobunaga was around to raid the temple (which he was not, as he wasn't even born at that time), the Buddist Monks, who are responsible for the deaths of Misuzu, Kanna, and God knows how many countless incarnations, get away scot free.
Ryuuya gets ready to kill as many of them as he can, but Uraha forces him to stop; saying that Kanna wouldn't want Ryuuya to go back to being a killer. They weren't worth it.
Mood Dissonance: Done pretty well with Kanna and her companions joking and dreaming peacefully while encircled by enemies, misused and abused everywhere else in the series. Did anyone laugh at any gag involving Haruko and Misuzu?
Spiritual Successor: The 2010 Jet Li film Ocean Heaven (his first non-Martial Arts Film) is thematically almost identical to Air; a bittersweet tale with symbolic allusions to the ocean and sky, about the love between a parent and a child in their final summer together. However, the roles are reversed and Gender Flipped; it is the single-father aquarium technician (played by Jet Li) who is diagnosed wth cancer, and must find a way to part in peace with his mentally-retarded son.
Story Arc: In order - episode one, Kano, Minagi, episode seven, Heian period, Sora, Misuzu, episode 12.
In the game, the arc with the first three scenarios involving Kano, Minagi, and Misuzu is called "Dream", the Heian period arc is "Summer", and the final arc with Sora, Haruko, and Misuzu is "AIR".
Street Performer: Yukito tries to make a living as a performer by making his doll do tricks.