AirOne of the earlier Maeda Jun’s works, Air is a drama about the friendship between a homeless traveler, Yukito, and a borderline autistic girl, Misuzu.

Odd female characters, odd as in not eccentric but borderline mentally ill, are the staple of Maeda Jun’s (and Key’s) works and Air is no exception. The lighthearted, somewhat surreal atmosphere and dramatic themes common to his writing are also prevalent here. Unfortunately, though his visual novel has a lot of good to offer, a plethora of lousy design choices nearly undermine its otherwise strong emotional impact.

Vague, unexplained fantasy elements not only make it harder to take the story seriously, they also cheapen all of the drama as you are inclined to expect magic to solve all the problems in the end. There is also a whole story arc which takes you through medieval Japan dedicated to the origin of the strange ailment Misuzu is suffering from, which could have been explained much better by a single word – autism. Not only it just throws a completely new cast of characters and a new story at you, contrary to what it makes you believe at the start, it, ultimately, is barely related to the main plot-line at all. I was expecting to see the two stories intertwine and bring some sort of mutual conclusion in the last route, yet all I got was the story about the relationship between an autistic girl and her mother with the medieval part pretty much forgotten at that point. Basically, the medieval story is left hanging without a clear conclusion and its fantasy elements feel cheap and even inconsequential to the main story.

If Maeda had chosen to do away with all that fantasy bullcrap, explaining the special behavior of Misuzu through logical, sensible means instead, not only the emotional impact of the story would have been stronger, the pacing would have been considerably improved, too. Pacing is a common issue in Key’s works and Air does drag a lot, especially in the medieval part and the routes of the two extra heroines which are, for the most part, irrelevant to the main story as well. Only the route, or rather ‘routes’, of Misuzu feel like they were written with a real idea in mind here.

The last, “true”, route of Misuzu, which gets unlocked after you clear everything else, makes you go through the same conversations as her original route from a different perspective, and while it gives more insight to a couple of scenes, a lot situations are just repeated word for word without anything new added. It’s also odd how the relationship between the protagonist and heroines is more akin to friendship than something romantic in this visual novel, making the later love scenes feel quite unnatural and jarring indeed. What’s even stranger is that Yukito never really does anything except for narrating things in the last route, which really brings the protagonist’s importance to this story in question. In the end, Air appears to be a dramatic story about the suffering of an autistic girl and her relationship with her mother, while protagonist just hangs around and does nothing of relevance.

It really saddens me that I had so much trouble enjoying this story since I personally really liked Misuzu and felt invested in her troubles. Unfortunately, bad pacing, unnecessary fantasy elements and surprising irrelevance of the protagonist make Air into a pretty disappointing visual novel. The work does have its dramatic and funny moments, so you might still enjoy it considerably, if you have a heart to forgive its many flaws. It is pretty clear that Maeda Jun was not that experienced by the time he wrote Air, as his later works, Clannad and Little Busters!, feel a lot more polished (though they still suffer from the same pacing issues).

Positive: Negative:
Simple, emphatic prose Slow pace
Interesting likable heroine Plot is riddled with unnecessary overwritten scenes
Some good dramatic scenes Routes other than Misuzu’s feel derivative
Fantasy elements cheapen everything
Medieval arc comes off as an incomplete
Misuzu’s mother changes her attitude out of nowhere in the end

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