Nao and Miki are the sole two members of their middle school's digital photography club, and to the befuddlement of their fellow students, they spend virtually all of their free time taking pictures of the sky and clouds. While doing so on the school's roof, one day, Nao spots something strange: a cat who appears to be nonchalantly gliding on the wind. Distracted by this, she falls off the roof, only to be saved by a gust of wind conjured up by their homeroom teacher, Mr. Taiki. Having blown his cover to save her life, he reluctantly tells her and Miki that he is a so-called "wind manipulator" from a remote and tiny village, where long ago, people learned how to control the flow of wind from cats like the one Nao had seen. Upon their insistence, he grudgingly takes them to his village, where they learn that they too have potential for this power.
As I sit down to write this in summer 2015, I don't think I've ever attempted to review a series as obscure as this, or one for which English-language information is quite so scarce. This show's out-of-nowhere licensing from Sentai promises to change that, however, and it's a good thing, too. While Windy Tales isn't a show I'd ever count among my favorites, it's the sort of anime I don't get to review that often but that is probably about as close to my original incentive for doing this as possible, that is, a show grounded in experiment and independence. It lacks the underlying vision that might've given such an abstract series a greater sense of urgency or purpose, as such a vision does in the works of the man whom I view as the master of such shows, Masaaki Yuasa; nonetheless, it's worthwhile as a thought experiment.
What one might first notice about Windy Tales is the art style, which is highly angular and at times suggestive of Cubism, though with the distortion toned down somewhat. It's also commendable for the expressiveness of its characters' faces, and it appears to interpret the range of real-life people's expressions into its mildly-distorted and dreamlike animation style rather than use the spectrum of facial expressions offered by the "usual" look of characters in anime, if there can be such a thing. As a result of this, the world of Windy Tales is almost more like our world, but seen through a lens that renders characters into cubist shapes and the wind into visible lines and curls, than it is a newly-imagined universe.
Though this a less immediately off-putting technique than is, say, the rotoscoping in The Flowers of Evil or Kuuchuu Buranko, the effect is similar, and I suspect that this explains some of the show's obscurity, even among fans of experimental works. If so, it's a shame, because the world as seen through this lens is ultimately quite pretty, with its vistas of towering, bent city buildings being seen from above and the ever-present myriad of cloud shapes in the sky. In fact, if there's an anime meant for those with fond memories of childhood days spent looking at clouds, this might be it. Windy Tales also boasts a beautiful, serene, and rather bittersweet eponymous opening theme courtesy of the otherwise unknown YuU, and a pleasant score from Kenji Kawai (Eden of the East, Ranma 1/2); the main-cast karaoke of the ED doesn't quite fit the show, but that's easy enough to skip.
So far, this probably sounds like just about the perfect show for me and for other fans of experimental anime, and I really have few, if any, real problems with the presentation. The underlying idea of Windy Tales, that of a near-extinct and essentially invisible group of people who can control the wind, is a compelling one, and especially given that the idea was spawned by the otherwise unknown Ootari Minami and taken up by Production I. G. as part of a contest, I'm happy to see that it was animated. Indeed, given the usual dominance of a few heavyweights in the production of original animation, the fact that this was ever made at all is impressive, and heartening, in itself. The basic idea of the series works fairly well, for although it is not elaborated upon, the "Wind Tribe's" quiet integration into "normal" Japanese society somewhat resembles the intricate interlocking of the human, Tanuki, and Tenguu worlds in The Eccentric Family, especially given the supernatural capabilities in both cases. The series engages in some lovely flights of fancy, such as the ability to use the wind having originally been taught to humans by so-called "Wind Cats," whose name is self-explanatory and whose sojourns into the sky are both lovely and adorable to watch; given the close-up drawings of cats on the title cards, somebody involved with this show is clearly a devoted cat lover.
Episodic in nature, most of Windy Tales consists of vignettes related to the characters' up-and-coming abilities, the new perspective these abilities give to their efforts towards photography, and some whose connection to the underlying premise takes some work to figure out. I especially enjoyed an episode centered around Nao's father, which turns his getting a motorcycle as a midlife-crisis impulse buy into a look into the exhilaration of wind felt while riding, and it's telling that her initially skeptical mother, after experiencing this for herself, resolves to outdo her husband's motorcycling and have this exhilaration herself, afterwards. Another of my favorite episodes centers around Nao and Miki's trying to enter a photography contest with pictures intending to capture the abstract qualities of wind; they fail, but they ultimately bond with the winner of the contest because of their shared interest and her having practiced and eventually succeeded at it.
While I enjoyed the variety of stories presented, however, Windy Tales doesn't string the different episodes together in much of a coherent manner. After we uncover the existence of the wind manipulators and visit their (rather lovely) village a single time, the show doesn't do much to build on the relationship between Mr. Taiki or the two girls, or to develop the latter two over the course of the show. That isn't to say that Nao and Miki aren't good characters; they are, and they're multi-dimensional in their mix of near-spiritual fascination with the wind and the immaturity and short attention span that might be expected of middle schoolers. I also appreciated that their interest in photography as a means of better understanding the wind and their new abilities was fully explored rather than merely given lip service as hobbies often are in anime. But really, the two don't change much over the course of the series, and while we get a nice scene near the very end, when an older Nao reflects back on this experience, this scene nonetheless seems to say that the point of all this, ultimately, was nostalgia.
Now, nostalgia being the underlying current of a series or movie isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it worked wonders for me in My Neighbor Totoro. It isn't the most compelling thread with which to tie together an experimental series such as this, however. Windy Tales can't really function as a "healing" anime or a slice-of-life because most of its individual episodes urge the audience to think about some aspect of wind or human perception of it and not merely to passively absorb the show; the focus on photography and the art style itself speaks to the series' interest in art as a lens through which to view life. Indeed, if Windy Tales had merely wanted us to watch passively, I feel that it might've given us a more traditionally "pretty" animation style and color scheme.
As such, the overall show is weakened when it ultimately says that the point of all this was nostalgia, specifically nostalgia for Nao and Miki's middle school days. To be frank, Windy Tales looks great and works well on an episode-by-episode basis more often than not, but it lacks a sense of urgency and such a show, I feel, absolutely needs to have this. The individual stories simply don't build on past events or experiences enough, and the basic theme of wind and its aspects is certainly interesting but not quite compelling enough to stand on its own, as do, say, memories in the episodic portion of Kaiba. I thus often took very long breaks between episodes of this show; if you don't believe me, I started it in Summer 2014, watched seven episodes over the course of two months, and then stalled on it before picking it up again in May 2015 and finally finishing it in July. That's not to say that this show is boring, but each episode doesn't necessarily leave me begging for the next one.
Overall, lack of urgency is the most serious complaint I have about Windy Tales; although another weakness comes in the form of the show's apparent token male high school character, Jun, whose blabbering cluelessness struck me as the only real concession to the conventions of school-themed slice-of-life anime, that's relatively easy to ignore. I can imagine that some people wouldn't have the same problem with this show's using nostalgia as its only real underlying thematic thread, but given that Windy Tales appears to hope that its audience spends some time thinking and contemplating, I was hoping for something that I wouldn't just see in another slice-of-life series. It hardly ruins the show for me, however, and I'm ultimately grateful for getting to spend time with it and review it. Here's to more unexpected licensing acquisitions like this one.
It lacks the urgency of, say, Masaaki Yuasa's output and that keeps me from giving it a perfect score, but it's still a fascinating series. Don't bother with this if you don't like your anime slow; if, in contrast, you really, really enjoy anime that's on the slow side then this might be a five-star series for you. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There's really nothing that children shouldn't see. Thankfully, we never see anybody's underwear because of the wind blowing.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Windy Tales © 2004 Windy-Tales Project
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