Last year, I wrote a post about the worldbuilding in Sound of the Sky (So Ra No Wo To) and Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou); although both shows are very different in atmosphere and story, they both portray life of soldiers in a world after apocalyptic-scale events.
In February, I watched Sound of the Sky (for convenience, I will shorten any name drops to SNW after the Japanese title Sora no Woto) for the second time as part of /r/anime’s rewatch. While most of my fellow rewatchers (and first timers) focused on the story itself, I found myself once again intrigued by the world that the series takes place in. As a History major and self-proclaimed World War II buff, I watched the show again from the lens of a military historian, searching for and breaking down any neat historical touches that the animators included.
As elaborated in my first post, SNW is an odd mishmash of multiple cultures across a variety of time frames. However, the military equipment in particular is clearly based on that from WWII (hence my fascination and keeping a watchful eye during my rewatch). In this write-up, I figured I would dive deeper into how A-1 Pictures’ staff presented the historical gear, weaponry, and vehicles used by the Helvetian Army (meaning the futuristic Takemikazuchi and modern-day Japan Ground Self-Defense Force equipment shown in Episode 7 will not be discussed).
In 2016, fellow Redditor /u/twoduy posted a fantastic write-up breaking down the worldbuilding in SNW, and I feel obligated to share it here. Many of the military aspects discussed below are also in the post, but twoduy goes beyond that to explain the world as a whole.
Expect full series spoilers below
Sound of the Sky is an odd world, one that uses futuristic tanks that pose a strange juxtaposition against the World War II-era uniforms and guns. This regression in technology (weapon-wise) can be best summed up with Albert Einstein’s quote “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Although the step back isn’t as drastic as in Einstein’s line, the conflict—whoever or whatever it was—was severe enough to force the switch to less robust equipment.
As a result, the Helvetian Army is stuck in 1930s and 1940s uniforms and guns. Just from a glimpse, it is obvious that the uniforms are based on the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany; to be more exact, they are modeled after the Wehrmacht’s M36 field uniform, which itself has become synonymous with Nazis and German soldiers in film. Officially known as the Heeres Dienstanzug Model 1936, it consists of four pockets with dark green shoulder plates and collar. Although later German uniforms like the M40 through M44 also featured similar traits like the pockets, the collar and plate colors typically resembled the base coat to reduce manufacturing costs. Nevertheless, the M36 remained in use until the end of the war.
While staying on the topic of uniforms, one little aspect I really appreciate is the use of colors by the army to differentiate occupations. If one looks closely at the 1121st Platoon’s shirt collars, they might spot a tiny pink tab; this signifies they are tank personnel, as supported by Kureha in Episode 2 when she remarks, “We’re a pink squad, and yet we don’t have a working tank.” Later in the series, we are introduced to Major Klaus, a courier who wears a light blue tab on his collar.
Both of these color codes take a page from Nazi Germany and are also historically accurate, though the real-life counterpart makes the distinctions more obvious. The Panzerjäger, a branch of the Wehrmacht focusing on tanks, wore pink trim along their patches and uniforms, while light blue was given to supply and transport troops. Yeah, poor Klaus is a commissioned officer yet all he does is deliver stuff to the 1121st.
Each of the units also wear patches with animals on them. The 1121st has an owl, the 1147th (Filicia’s old squadron) has what looks like a beetle or bull, the 9th Independent Mobile Division has a rhino, and two unnamed soldiers have a bear and bat. Panzer divisions used a variety of symbols in their insignia, including but not limited to animals, so I don’t believe this is strictly inspired by the Wehrmacht.
Keeping true to the Wehrmacht pattern, it only makes sense for Helvetian troops to be running around with German equipment, and A-1 Pictures took full advantage of that. In the featured image above, the main characters are shown holding Karabiner 98 Kurz (98k) guns, the standard-issue rifle for the Wehrmacht beginning in 1935. The 98k appears at various times during the show (amusingly without its bolt handle in a photograph in Episode 9), and even its sniper variant is depicted at one point.
Ironically, other Helvetian arms are most prominently shown in one of the more “slice-of-lifey” episodes. In Episode 6, the 1121st (sans Kanata) stages a confrontation with (collaborating) mobsters to keep their illegal distillery under wraps. Said mobsters use the Walther P38, the service pistol of the Wehrmacht, to act out the meeting taking a violent turn, only to be met with a pair of German submachine guns as Noël breaks out the “buzzsaw” that is the MG42 (with bonus drum magazine) and Kureha with the MP40. Rio also gets in on the action with the older pistol Mauser C96 M712 Schnellfeuer (the Mauser also appears in Noël’s holster in Episode 5).
For vehicles, the 1121st gets around with two Volkswagen Kübelwagens, which was the Jeep equivalent for the Wehrmacht during the war. Also known as the Type 82, the Kübelwagens used by the 1121st follow the license plate pattern of “T 03-16. 1121. [X].” 1121 is self-explanatory, T 03-16 refers to the 1121st’s location (region of Trois = 3, city of Seize = 16), while [X] is either A or B to signify which car is which. For the two-wheel fans (and Klaus), they literally roll with the Zündapp KS 750, a bike that also has sidecar capabilities (itself a staple of WWII).
On the smaller scale, even details as minute as watches are rather historically accurate. Throughout the series, Kanata checks her “Cristal” watch for the time. While Cristal is not an actual company, the watch face resembles that of Zenith watches; although Zenith is a Swiss company, it and fellow Swiss watchmakers produced timepieces for both sides during the war (reasonable considering Switzerland’s neutrality).
So… why the Wehrmacht gear the first place? Does it have to do with Japan’s alliance with Nazi Germany during the war? Is it just because the uniforms admittedly look pretty cool?
This choice seems to fit with the story itself: in the later episodes, we learn of the Helvetian Army’s dark past with bioweaponry like the Invisible Reaper and the mentality among certain higher-ups like the warmongering Hopkins. In contrast, the Roman Empire, a side portrayed as the bad guys throughout (Kanata even specifically saying she thought Romans would look like ogres), wear American uniforms and use American weaponry like the M1 Garand and Colt M1911. Regardless, the 1121st Platoon develop a rapport with a Roman soldier and eventually take on Hopkins’ division in an effort to stop another war from flaring up.
In a way, the decision to have the protagonists in uniforms associated with evil and Nazism in our world is foreshadowing the horrific backstories of certain characters and the Helvetian military. Rather than being a war between good and evil like we see in traditional war stories, it’s a war between people of many ideas, one between humans. I’m not going to argue ethics and morals, especially of that in World War II, but in the end, Sound of the Sky pushes the idea that some things transcend politics, languages, and borders.
In this case, it’s “Amazing Grace”.