AIR was a warning about the state of work and family in Japan.
When you think of AIR, what themes remain consistant throughout the whole story? The first is family. Every character has a family-related issue. The second is the girl in the sky. Yukito’s obligation to find this girl is what brings him to Kasumi. Yukito goes there because his job leads him there.
Despite the stereotypical image of being a robot-loving nation, Japan’s work force is very focused on the human side of things. Machines have tunnel-vision. They only see what they are told to. A person is free to look at things from outside the box. Creative thinking is big.
Japan is more reliant on their employees than us western countries are. Ever since the industrial revolution, children have been raised with work and family as the priority. You study hard, get a good job with long hours, you spend a lot of time travelling from place to place, and you take good care of your family. Maybe even find a partner if your family pressure you enough.
Back in 2000, some months before AIR released, the prime minister of Japan, Keizō Obuchi, passed away. His death was attributed to Karōshi (or death from overwork.)
Obuchi spent a lot of his time trying to fix the failing economy throughout the 90s but never did much more than slow the recession down.
Karōshi has been a big thing since the 80s. It’s still a pretty big problem, and it’s one of the many reasons why people are reluctant to have kids. Somehow get housing. Somehow get a daycare. Somehow avoid working overtime every week while remaining a good employee. Somehow afford to get the child delivered, then pay for childcare and checkups regularily. There’s a reason why I respect Naoyuki from Clannad as much as I do!
Chances are, if you are a single parent/carer like many of the characters in AIR, you are going to spend more time working than seeing your family.
So here we are, the year 2000. Overworking is a problem. The economy is a problem. Parenthood is a problem. Life is stressful to say the least.
In comes Yukito - a travelling showman who barely manages to get by. His mother has passed away so. His whole life is about being a showman, and looking for the girl in the sky. His life isn’t as stressful. He just follows his goal, and holds up a fitting job.
Luckily he comes from a magical bloodline, and so he has a bit of an advantage with his work. Unfortunately that power gets weaker and weaker as the generations pass.
So the magical Yukito ends up in the Kamio household. He gets a glimpse at what family life is like for these people.
Misuzu doesn’t appear to attend school very often. She doesn’t see her mother very often. A country known for it’s hard-working family-loving people has someone like Misuzu in it. Something isn’t right here…
The Mother finally shows up! A woman who works all day, and drinks alone all night. She spends her life working to help her family… family she barely even gets to speak to.
Yukito relies on these two as he continues to try and find work. He eventually becomes so focused on work that he loses sight of his goal, and lets the problem of the girl in the sky continue for future generations.
So how does all of this fit together?
Yukito lived without a society to reinforce a work-focused upbringing. The only obligation he had was to get to his goal - the girl in the sky.
In the common route Yukito gets surrounded by a mother who works hard, and a daughter who suffers because of it. The focus on work gets to Yukito, and he passes up his goal to focus hard on work.
If he just followed his goal, he may have been able to fix the problem. Instead he dumped it on future generations that will have a weaker houjutsu.
Houjutsu’s power started to decline as generations passed. The Japanese economy started to decline as generations passed.
By focusing on work instead of focusing on the problem, workers are throwing their troubles onto future generations that will have a weaker economy and will have to work even harder to solve said troubles.
Of course, the common route is the one in which Yukito loses focus of his goal and switches to a focus on work. With only the common route to talk about, the theory is incomplete. There is more to this theory for future routes~ Soooo… To Be Continued.