This comes very belated, since ソ・ラ・ノ・ヲ・ト, also known as Sora no Woto or Sound of the Skies, is a show I watched as it aired several seasons ago, but since I can't get it out of my head, I'm reviewing it now. 12 episodes long, Sora no Woto kicked off A-1 Pictures' "Anime no Chikara" project with TV Tokyo to create original anime. The show is widely dismissed as "Military K-ON!" and there are superficial similarities between the two, but at their heart the two series are worlds apart.
Sorami Kanata only enlisted in the army because she wanted to learn music. Being assigned to a small, girls-only unit in the Time-Keeping Fortress in a quaint European(ish) town on the border of civilization, she is embraced by the friendliness, little mysteries, and mythical traditions of the local people, and she discovers hints and recollections of how the world came to be the ruin it now is.
Plot & Characters: Sora no Woto plays off like a series of interconnected anecdotes, some of them humorous, some of them intense, many of them heartwarming or inspiring. Its coda may be summarized in a quote by Kanata: "I often get lost, but it's thanks to that that I meet wonderful people like you!" The story has an unassuming air to it, like it's not trying overly hard to be any one thing. There's a peculiar charm to a postapocalyptic slice-of-life series that's not above making an entire episode out of a potty joke. The characters are fascinatingly layered, with most of them concealing some degree of dark past under a cheerful exterior, but even when at its most intense, the series does not discredit the legitimacy of that cheerful exterior, so that it never strays too far into distress and dispair.
Art, Animation, & Direction: Many viewers will instantly recognize that the anime's character designer took a page out of K-ON!'s book, with "moeblob" characters that look cute and animate easily. The designs work well enough and generally look pretty nice so long as you don't compare them to the Kishida Mel original designs. What viewers may not notice until a little later is how lush the backgrounds are. Each of them stands on its own as a gorgeous painting, gloryfying the not-quite-Swiss countryside and old-world-Europe town into a place one would love to visit. Sometimes the character art gets a little lazy, but usually it's fine. The series does lots of fascinating things with the episode structure and composition, interlapping scenes and placing them out of order for great effect. It also plays off of historical art pieces in interesting ways. (Granted, the same director already pulled the same trick with the opening sequence to Elfen Lied, but it worked well there, and it works even better here given a passing relevance to the plot.)
Music & Sound: Sora no Woto is at least partially about music, so it had better do well in that regard. It's no slouch, with the main soundtrack of orchestral music composed by Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist). It doesn't often stand out, but when it does the music is enchanting, and fits very nicely. The opening theme, by Kalafina, is excellent (although I'm biased), and the ending theme, while not on the same level, is kind of fun and catchy. As for voices, the cast is not full of first-tier voices, but there are some recognizable names and the voices who are there do a perfect job.
Audience Considerations: So-Ra-No-Wo-To is not an ecchi series, but it caters to an audience with some overlap and it does occasionally sneak some fanservice into the series. On the other hand, it doesn't bog down episodes in arranging for it, and the (rare) bath scenes show more effort invested into drawing the bath itself (with its gorgeous tiles) than the girls in it, but still, be warned that the girls will appear in underwear or less in a couple places. Yes, there are few male characters, but the ones who do show up have personality, and yes, the series does not aim to be an action show about war, although it does feature legged tanks and life-threatening confrontations occasionally. Viewers with an established appreciation of moe will be right at home, and viewers with an open mind should find plenty to like regardless; but if you know you're not a fan of slice-of-life, what little action there is will probably not maintain your interest.
Overall: Sound of the Skies accomplishes engrossing storytelling, excellent characterization, and beautiful sights and sounds episode after episode, incorporating a touch of many things while keeping sight of what it is and isn't trying to be. One of the most all-around quality shows in recent memory, and I can speak from experience that it doesn't lose its magic on rewatching.