The Infinite Zenith

Victory costs. Every time, you pay a little more.

Hyouka: Whole-Series Reflection

“Never do anything yourself that others can do for you.” —Agatha Christie

Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of the Hyouka (literally “ice cream”) novel was released in 2012, following one Houtarou Oreki’s reluctant agreement to join his high school’s Classic Literature club at his older sister’s request to prevent the club from being disbanded. Though he initially finds their activities to be an unnecessary use of his time, together with Eru Chitanda, Satoshi Fukube and Mayaka Ibara, he nonethtless lends his natural capacity for deducing the solution to problems the club encounters, ranging from the mysteries behind Eru’s grandfather, events associated with the school’s Kanya festival or the infamous “Juumonji” case during the Kanya festival itself. Each mystery is down-to-earth and realistic, being set in a self-contained arc that flows reasonably well into the the subsequent arc, with much of the anime being about the cultural festival itself. Judging from the mundane, everyday nature of the mysteries in Hyouka, one must surmise that the original Hyouka novel would have been remarkably dull on sheer virtue of the mysteries: instead, the Hyouka novel is more focussed around solid character dynamics, especially in regards to Houtarou’s character how he changes after meeting Eru, and how this change underlies the central message in Hyouka.

  • Hyouka is littered with references to famous mystery writers, such as Sir Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The quote at the top of the page is actually quite telling and may have inspired Houtarou’s personality. From left to right, we have Satoshi, Houtarou, Eru and Mayaka.

  • Eru’s lack of personal space means she gets in Houtarou’s face quite often whenever she’s curious, and one of the earliest mysteries Houtarou solves is what the Kanya festival incident had been during her uncle’s time at high school. Armed with only several clues, Houtarou and company manages to solve the mystery behind how the Kanya festival came to reach its current state, which is a reasonably impressive accomplishment.

  • While there are several main arcs in Hyouka, the overarching theme is the school’s culture festival; preparation for it forms the basis for several stories. A few of the episodes are self-contained, such as the Classic Literature Club’s trip to a hot springs. Despite the ghost stories that circulate and subsequent claims that a ghost is seen, Houtarou manages to give the mystery another one of his now-signature analysis, reducing it to a problem between Mayaka’s siblings. This ultimately helps them work things out.

  • Fuyumi Irisu is a second year student known for her looks and mannerisms. When her class is faced with a challenge in finishing their amateur film for the culture festival, she expertly manipulates Houtarou to help them construct a suitable ending for the film, and although Houtarou is successful, he feels that the vision is not consistent with what the movie’s scriptwriter would have wanted. He concludes that the scriptwriter’s ideas were probably unsatisfactory and discarded by the class.

  • Satoshi’s presence in Hyouka is a curious one: despite being outwardly cheerful, he feels second-rate compared to Houtarou for the latter’s exceptional deductive powers, but is also quick to refer to himself as a human database. Consistent with what a database is, Satoshi typically provides information for Houtarou and the others, and does not do anything with the data itself. Patterns in large databases are usually analysed by means of data mining techniques (such as frequent pattern analysis, association rules mining and clustering, to name a few).

  • As a member of the manga club, Mayaka expresses interest in drawing and helps them out during the cultural festival, but gets into an altercation with another member who claims that masterpieces do not exist. In an attempt to disprove that, she attempts to bring her copy of A Corpse by Evening, a manga that was written by an alumni and holds a degree of significance during the “Juumonji” incident.

  • Hyouka was released back in Spring 2012, which was MCAT season. I watched none of the anime from this season until recently, and did not participate in any of the discussions: to put things in perspective, I picked up the show last summer during May, and then only began watching it now. Admittedly, watching completed shows is easier primarily because if an episode ends on a cliffhanger, I can simply load the next one and continue on without the week-long wait.

  • Mayaka demonstrates exemplary resourcefulness in the culture festival’s cooking competition: despite running out of ingredients, Houtarou’s trade-offs ultimately culminate his receiving a bag of flour that allows Mayaka to finish a simple dish, leading the Classic Literature club to victory. “Juumonji” strikes again here, and although the thief’s ultimate role and motives are anticlimatic, the anticipation was executed properly to keep viewers engaged and longing to know how Houtarou would solve this one.

  • It turns out that “Juumonji” is actually a senior student who had been involved with A Corpse By Evening. Rather than attempting to catch “Juumonji” by means of brute force, he makes use of the manga’s preface, plus the culture festival’s logistics, to prune the possible suspects to a very manageable group. Then, instead of releasing “Juumonji”‘s identity to the school, Houtarou then proceeds to extort a concession from him: in keeping this secret, the remaining volumes of Hyouka are to be sold online.

  • Houtarou’s methods suggest that by the time of the culture festival, he’s become sufficiently invested into the Classic Literature club (or, at the very least, towards helping Eru) that he’s willing to forego a short term victory (catching “Juumonji” to solve a mystery) in favour of a long term gain (selling all 200 copies of Hyouka). While Houtarou’s general indifference suggests that he is lazy, he expends efforts into doing something if it means saving trouble in the long run, which is something I do relate to.

Houtarou is presented as a pragmatic individual who prefers not to put more effort into doing anything than is necessary, and where required, finish the task at hand such that he may resume inactivity as quickly as is possible. This ‘energy conserving’ way of life belies his natural talent for deducing the answers to a given problem. Although he considers this to be trivial, dismissing it as luck, others constantly regard this ability as something special. Eru constantly praises him for it, Satoshi envies him and Fuyumi Irisu, a second-year student, makes use of it to solve a problem surrounding a film intended for the culture festival. Through Houtarou, Hyouka illustrates that freindship is a powerful catalyst that can help individuals recognise and use their talents, as in Houtarou’s case: while he initially refused to do anything considered extraneous, Eru’s enthusiasm (and his early desires to play along to spare himself a future of further effort) eventually does lead Houtarou to take an initiative and help out his friends in the way that he can. His decision to solve the mystery behind Mayaka’s Valentine’s Chocolates is a major example of how his outlook on life has changed, and through Eru’s encouragement, he begins to exert effort with the knowledge that it is for his friends’ sake.

  • Whenever Eru is curious and declares thus (“気になります”), her eyes take on an unearthly shine, and very little can dissuade her from trying to learn the truth. Throughout the entire series, Houtarou finds himself being pulled towards her challenges and ultimately concedes that it’s probably easier to do a good job and satisfy her curiosity, rather than attempt to worm his way out of things.

  • After the hectic culture festival, Hyouka slows back down to a much more relaxed pacing.  On any given day, the Classic Literature club spends its time reading various books, a calming activity. By this point in time, I’ve finally finished Tom Clancy’s Command Authority and find it to be a thrilling novel, although compared to Threat Vector, I found myself following less of the technical aspects in banking (Threat Vector featured cyber-warfare, and I have a reasonable background in computer systems).

  • One of the most curious aspects in Command Authority was the eerie similarity between the events of the novel and what had happened in the Ukraine back during February. While the novel had Russia withdrawing their forces, the Russian intervention in Ukraine is still ongoing (even if the media is not discussing it in great detail at present). Back in the blissful, conflict-free world that Kyoto Animation has created for Hyouka, a copy of the Hyouka novel is commemorated in a glass display, far from any of the issues that the real world faces.

  • During a particularly quiet day, Houtarou and Eru engage in a simulated discussion concerning a sudden, unexpected PA announcement. Houtarou’s theory encompasses the use of counterfeit currency, and despite him reaffirming to Eru repeatedly that it’s a simulation, that he can form theories from almost anything, the next morning, he finds out that his theory of a student spending counterfeit currency turned out to be correct.

  • Getting “凶” (or “misfortune” in Japanese) is a commonly-joked about theme in anime, in which characters remark that they did not know bad fortunes existed. Shortly after drawing one, Houtarou and Eru become trapped in a small shack and are forced to devise various ways to escape without damaging the building (the brief images depicting Houtarou escaping by force all have a hilarious subtly, depicting Eru with a horrified expression as Houtarou is desecrating shrine property.

  • Admittedly, Mayaka looks quite pleasant in a Miko outfit. After several failed attempts to escape, Houtarou finally makes use of a trick that he and Satoshi had seen in a movie earlier during the day. After being extricated, Houtarou bids everyone “Sappy New Year”.

  • Despite Satoshi and Mayaka sharing feelings for one another, Satoshi declines to reciprocate on the basis that he may become too possessive. While anime fans (although, given the demographics, no doubt all of which are completely untrained in this field) consider Satoshi’s actions to be objectionable, his mindset is not entirely unjustified, and generally speaking, people tend to fear their inner daemons that are capable of terrifying acts that defy reason.

  • The finale sees an ever-increasing number of hints that Houtarou has developed feelings for Eru, and throughout the series, it becomes clear that Eru sees Houtarou as someone she can rely on. Thus, even though their trust and feelings for one another are unspoken, by the end of the series, Houtarou has matured and helps Eru because of a sense of responsibility to be there for her when she needs someone to speak with or assist, rather than his previous paradigms.

  • Hyouka left many fans wondering whether or not the budding romances would ever become anything, and while the anime chooses to leave this ambiguous, the novels state that Satoshi and Mayaka do begin dating in their second year of high school. On the other hand, Houtarou and Eru seem to remain close friends: I might just have to acquire the novel to fully comprehend everything that happens in the series, given that, the quality of the anime adaptation notwithstanding, there is still quite a bit of material that remains unexplored.

  • I won’t rule out the possibility of a sequel or continuation for Hyouka, given that some series do get continuations years after their original run. For instance, Durarara! began airing in 2011 and is going to see a second season come January 2015. For the present, though, there’s been next to no news on the series, so I think I can presently close the books on Hyouka. The next anime I will take on is Bokura wa minna kawaisou, which has proven to be a riot after six episodes.

On the whole, Hyouka‘s strengths lie with the characters and their growth, rather than the mysteries that Houtarou is tasked with solving. With Kyoto Animation at the helm of production and animation, the setting provides a beautiful setting that enhances the credibility of the character dynamics. Besides everyday mysteries, the familiar setting in Hyouka allows the story to deal with things such as romance and the future: in particular, these two elements were subtly present throughout the anime but only became major topics as the series draws to a close. Mayaka and Satoshi, for instance, seem quite close but only reveal their feelings (or nature thereof) for one another near the end. Similarly, the growing feelings between Houtarou and Eru are only subtle (such as blushing when the other in close proximity), culminating with a heart-to-heart talk on their respective views for their futures and how, despite their developing feelings for one another, their divergent paths may not permit a relationship . Its presence in the background, rather than forcible attempts to have it take centre stage, makes Hyouka enjoyable to watch: as with reality, romance isn’t always at the forefront of things, and instead, is a part of the scenery that is sometimes noticed. As it stands, despite its seemingly complex premise, Hyouka is by no means difficult to understand and is ultimately an entertaining series to watch for being able to keep the viewer’s interest in what is to happen next, thus being suited for fans of the slice-of-life genre and are looking for a different take on it (here, with a side of mystery).

Sword Art Online II- Excalibur Arc Reflection

“I started looking at small companies that were running a sort of virtual reality cottage industry: I had imagined that I would just put on a helmet and be somewhere else. That’s your dream of what it’s going to be.” —Thomas Dolby

It’s not often I step in to do short talks on a series-in-progress, but the Excalibur Arc bears mentioning because it represents a point in the story where the stakes are quite as high as they’d been in previous arcs. No one’s lives are in immediate danger, and as such, events take on a much more casual pacing as Kirito, Asuna, Suguha and the others take on a quest to clear the Þrymheimr dungeon and restore Jötunheimr its former state. After three episodes of combat, Kirito’s company succeeds and, with Sinon’s help, retrieves the legendary Excalibur Sword. Over the space of three episodes, elements of RPG return to Sword Art Online II, and while I was initially wondering if the second half would deal with the Alicisation Arc; in the light novels, this sees Johnny Black poison Kirito by an unknown means and setting off Kirito’s quest to escape the Soul Translator virtual reality environment. Admittedly, this arc sounds a little intimidating in tone relative to what has been seen so far. However, it seems like the Mother’s Rosario arc will be covered from here on out, and if the light novels are to be believed, this arc could be quite moving if executed properly.

  • Before we get into the more serious tone on the Mother’s Rosario arc, the Excalibur Arc offers a brief respite and showcases the protagonists doing what MMORPG players enjoy doing most: talking about rare in-game items and planning their next major raid. I haven’t played an MMORPG proper before: the when I played World of Warcraft and Ragnarok Online, both of those were private servers a friend was hosting.

  • Here is this post’s obligatory fan-service shot. While I don’t particularly do MMORPGs, I can get along just fine with RPGs like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I’ve got a paltry forty hours in the game right now and are level 24; I’m going to try and finish the main story before continuing to explore Skyrim in its entirety.

  • Leafa and Asuna return from their preparations for a major procedurally-generated quest-line that involves Norse mythology. I am not familiar with Norse mythology to any real details, save some of the more well-known aspects (and any references to it in the Halo universe).

  • Strangely enough, the weapons in Skyrim don’t have a durability statistic and as such, can last forever. In World of Warcraft, weapons and clothing had to be repaired, otherwise they’d degrade in performance or even be rendered unusable. With this said, Skyrim is emphasises the dragons and exploration above subtle elements of realism, so this isn’t too big of a deal. Mine eye might be deceiving me, but Lizbeth appears to have taken after several design elements that Kyoto Animation is known for.

  • Although Alfheim Online possesses a much more diverse colour palette than did Gun Gale Online, Kirito and company travels into one of the sections of the game characterised by desolate, icy wastelands. They had previously assisted “Tonkii”, a squid-like being, in its fight against humanoid demons and unlocked the condition that allows them to utilise Tonkii as transportation.

  • En route to Thrymheimr, Urðr, the Goddess of the Past and eldest of the Norn Goddesses, appears and explains to Kirito’s party that, should they fail this quest, Alfheim Online stands to enter Ragnarok and be utterly destroyed. Most games typically trigger a game over condition should this ever happen, but the Cardinal System, more advanced than even what researchers are investigating, appears to be capable of permanently altering a game state. Such features might be touted in future games should they be implemented, and one would imagine that the game would probably remain playable even in this state if it is to ever retain its player base.

  • The only Minotaurs I’ve encountered in gaming is in DOOM (no one calling themselves a first-person shooter can do so without having played the classic DOOM); known as the Barons of Hell in DOOM, they were actually reasonably straightforwards to fight despite having incredible endurance and being capable of dealing massive damage. In the mod Brutal Doom, Barons of Hell will tear the player in half (the long way) if one is too close to them.

  • If I were to be a player in Alfheim Online, I would probably focus on magic-based capabilities or archery, as I prefer ranged combat in RPGs to other forms of combat. Ironically, in first person shooters, I excel at close quarters and usually try to close the distance between myself and the opposing team’s members in order to damage them from up close. Players tend to panic when engaged at close range, and their shot placement tends to go all over the place: by maintaining a calm manner, it is then straightforward to either track them and fire with a weapon (Battlefield 3), or use melee attacks (Halo 2) to finish them off.

  • Freyja (or Freya) is the Norse Goddess of Love and appears as an NPC en route to Thrym’s chambers. A part of Alfheim Online’s UI is shown here, bringing to mind the 3D feel of all the user elements seen in Sword Art Online. Games like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and the upcoming title, Tom Clancy’s The Division are shifting towards holographic HUDs that give these elements a non-intrusive feeling.

  • Despite protests from the others that it’s probably a trap, Klein decides to help Freyja and frees her from her icy prison. There are games where making some decisions to save people are rewarded, and as Klein will shortly discover, his decision will end up being the correct one.

While I largely found the Excalibur arc to be a laid back adventure, one thing did strike me as unusual: the Cardinal Engine powering Alfheim Online was said to procedurally generate quests based on information retrieved from repositories of folklore. This system continues to update the game world’s state as events occur, and it turns out that if Kirito and company had failed to complete their quest, Ragnarok would have triggered, destroying Alfheim Online. While a solid plot element that adds urgency to the quest, it is unlikely that game developers would intentionally give their game engine enough power to permanently alter the game world to render the game unplayable. Assuming Alfheim Online is an MMORPG that follows the subscriber model (similar to World of Warcraft), customers would be most dissatisfied to know that their in-game progress was lost because a small group of players had failed a quest. Modern game engines are reasonably powerful: the ones I’m most familiar with are tailored towards small-scale environments (such as detailed destruction effects in shooters). As far as role-playing games go,most of my experience is with Skyrim, which featured a combination of scripted and procedurally generated quests. While I’m not far enough into the game to differentiate between the two, I understand that the technology is still limited. Procedurally generated quests, dialogue and contexts is one of the aspects that role playing games have yet to tackle, but properly implemented, these quests could make a game with a truly infinite play-time. Of course, developers would have to carefully consider the consequences of giving the game engine full reign over the world: a logical choice would probably be to design a system that can do everything short of destroying the game. As technology continues advancing, one might expect such games to be present by the 2020s, which is when Sword Art Online is set.

  • Lizbeth gazes upon the piles of treasure in the dungeon’s final level. In almost all existing RPG games with a loot system, vast treasure troves cannot be looted from because they’re a part of the scenery, although by the time of Sword Art Online, graphical processing capabilities could have reached a level where it is possible to have millions of interactive physics objects in a game world: such innovation will probably be allowed by a combination of clever game optimisation (such as only loading what players see in a virtual environment relative to their surroundings) and improved hardware: it’s been just a year and a half since I built my computer, and the NVIDIA GTX line has already released the 980, which surpasses even the GTX Titan, the best card around when my computer was built, so GPUs will definitely continue improving and may reach a similar levle to that of Sword Art Online by 2020.

  • Þrymr (Thrym)  was king of the jotnar and was known for stealing Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, to extort the other gods into giving him Freyja as his wife. This story is reproduced in the quest, although there is the classical twist of allowing anime characters to enter the myth and play their own part in it.

  • Freyja and Thor are the one and the same in the Sword Art Online arc, and Klein’s decision to save Freyja winds up providing their party with a member who is capable of overhealing them. When Freyja comes into contact with Mjölnir, she transforms into Thor, giving Kirito’s company a powerful ally in the battle and making it much easier.

  • Sinon recovers the Excalibur after Kirito discards it in order to make a jump. She returns it to Kirito on the condition that he thinks of her every time he uses it, leading Silica, Leafa, Asuna and Lizbeth to give him a death glare. This is about the maximum extent of Sinon’s feelings for Kirito, and admittedly, this aspect was particularly well-handled. There is no drama, just a subtle action.

  • With Excalibur extricated from the base of the castle, Þrymheimr crumbles and Jötunheimr is restored to its former state as Yggdrasil is once again able to access its water supply. The cold wastelands give way to a more temperate, hospitable climate, and sunlight pours through the sky. Moments such as these make games particularly rewarding: yes, some games are violent, but for positive, moral actions one takes in some games, sometimes, players are treated to incredible cinematics that make it worth the effort.

  • Excalibur would probably be classified as an artifact or legendary item in a modern MMORPG, although its precise stats are never given-in game. Many RPG games have items ranked by their rarity, with poor (grey), common (white) and uncommon (green) items occupying lower tiers, rare (blue) and epic (purple) occupying the middle tiers, and legendary (orange) or greater being of the greatest rarity. Such items take numerous raids to attain or craft, and in some cases, only drop for players out of sheer luck.

  • For their efforts and success, the three Norns, Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld appear before Kirito’s party to thank them for their actions. Kirito is officially given the Excalibur here, closing off the arc. If memory serves, Kirito and company complete this quest on New Year’s Eve. In previous years, I typically did not game on New Year’s Eve and instead, spent most of the day watching anime or tinkering with electronics.

  • The Excalibur Arc of Sword Art Online marks the first time I’ve seen Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld in an anime setting: the last time was with Ah! My Goddess‘ Urd, Belldandy and Skuld. Whereas the latter seem to have been stylised, the Norn’s appearances in Sword Art Online would probably be more consistent with how they would have appeared in Norse mythology.

  • Kirito is seen working on a “mechatronics” project that makes use of cameras and sensors to allow Yui to interact with the others in reality. At this point in time, I wonder how many viewers of Sword Art Online are involved with development of virtual reality technologies; after discussions with my supervisor, my graduate thesis project has finally been fleshed out and curiously enough, will make extensive use of contemporary virtual reality technologies.

  • By the New Year, I’ll hopefully have learnt enough Maya to begin making the graphics elements, and the first few months of 2015 will probably be spent tuning the graphical assets and interactions. I imagine that March-April 2015 will see the real work on the VR components take off in earnest. Returning back to Sword Art Online, the episode closes off on a high note, with everyone sharing lunch together. The next talk will be on Battlefield 3: it’s been a year since I purchased the game, and a year’s worth of experiences can be shared. As well, I’ll aim to get a talk on Hyouka out: I’ve finally watched it, which means it’s time share what I thought of the series. As well, I’ve gotten a request from a friend to watch Psycho-Pass, and one of my readers have requested that I check out Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou: I’ll begin watching the latter in a day or two, and anticipate having a post out before mid-December. Psycho-Pass has two seasons, one of which has finished: I anticipate finishing that somewhere in January to February 2015 and should have a talk on both seasons once they’re finished.

As Sword Art Online is set a “mere” six years from now, it raises the question of just how prevalent virtual reality and augmented reality technologies will be six years from the present. Back when Sword Art Online first aired, the research lab I work for had implemented an early form of augmented reality for our anatomy software: this program made use of QR codes to automatically bring the program to an appropriate anatomical model. During this period, the lab had also focused on Natural User Interfaces to provide a more intuitive means of interfacing with the software, and the Oculus Rift had only begun development. With a consumer model set to release somewhere in 2015, virtual reality is looking more and more to be a part of life, rather than merely a distant science-fiction construct. These are exciting times, and as both virtual and augmented reality technologies advances, they’ll soon find their way onto the consumer market: rather than acting as experimental technologies that might be used in biology visualisation lab, things like the AmuSphere may very well become a reality. The social implications of such technology are non-trivial, but this will remain a discussion for another time.

The Girls und Panzer Movie is set for a summer 2015 release

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” —Samuel Johnson

News has just reached my ears that the film is now set for a release during summer 2015. Although no specific month or date has been provided yet, the movie has been long overdue; the last post that concerned the movie was drafted back in June 2013, well before even the Anzio OVA was released. The existence of a movie has long been known, but whatever the production issues or challenges the producers have experienced, very little news was ever publicised, and the only information anyone has heard dates back to last year: this information was that the film was set for release somewhere in 2014, would have a runtime of eighty minutes and would be a sequel featuring new characters and tanks, as well as a team that was purportedly superior to Black Forest in some fashion. With some (tentative) numbers about when the Girls und Panzer Movie is going to release, it is now possible to estimate when the movie’s home release will be. On average, it takes roughly six to seven months for home releases to hit the consumer market: this trend has generally held (The Strike Witches Movie was screened on March 17, 2012 and saw a home release on October 26, 2012. Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home was screened in March 30, 2013 and released for BD/DVD October 16, 2013. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion Story was shown in theatres starting November 12, 2013 and was released on BD/DVD on April 2, 2014. AnoHana premièred on August 31, 2013 and released on BD/DVD on March 05, 2014. Tamako Love Story was shown in theatres April 26, 2014 and had a home release on October 10, 2014). With this pattern in mind, the anticipated home release of the Girls und Panzer Movie will be between November 2015 and March 2016.

  • I wonder if the Girls und Panzer Movie will serve as a conclusion to the series, or if it will segue into future installments. Insofar, discussion on the movie’s release has been quite limited, although I imagine that excitement and anticipation will rise as more information becomes known, and as summer 2015 arrives. Until then, it’s time to go back to my regular programming: up next will be a talk on the Excalibur Arc for Sword Art Online, followed by my take of Hyouka.

From a personal perspective, I am personally hoping that Cineplex, one of the national entertainment companies, will pick up the Girls und Panzer Movie for airing in theatres come summer 2015: I recall mentioning somewhere that I was most displeased that Cineplex had chosen to release five anime movies during the course of an academic year during exam season (including Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion Story), which resulted in my missing all of them for the sake of maintaining satisfactory standing and competitiveness for funding. However, as this is a summer release, and I am anticipating that summer 2015 will predominantly focus on my thesis research, which means I can definitely make time to see the movie. In fact, I resolve to move heaven and earth to see this movie in theatres, assuming I am fortunate enough that the movie is screened here. However, judging relative lack of interest in Girls und Panzer in my AO, I do not imagine that this will be a very likely possibility: if there are Girls und Panzer fans in my AO, they either do not exist or else have done a phenomenal job of remaining under shadows, for I’ve not met any of them, seen anyone talk about it or cosplay as their characters at the local anime conventions. I’m hoping that I am completely wrong about this, and that there is sufficient interest to warrant screening the movie here once the time comes, otherwise, it’ll be a long wait for the home releases.

A reflection on the five hundred-post milestone

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavour.” —Vince Lombardi

We interrupt the regular programming to note the fact that I’ve finally reached the five hundred posts milestone. This milestone may not seem substantial (and it probably isn’t, in the grand scheme of things), but it is a reminder that I’ve been blogging about anime and games for quite some time. A little bit of statistics follows: let’s assume that, as of today, my blog is 1125 days old (in other words, three years and 30 days, counting the extra leap year during 2012), I’ve averaged around 0.44 posts per day, or a full post every 2.25 days. The average post I write now takes roughly around 110 minutes to complete, and the average post has twenty images. Leaving the quantitative stuff aside, a lot has happened over the past three years: I was writing my MCAT during the blog’s first summer in 2012, finished my undergraduate thesis by the time summer 2013 rolled around, and entered my graduate studies program when summer 2014 had concluded. Three years ago, I remarked that if the blog had lasted a month, it would probably continue on, and though I probably would’ve never thought of this back then, five hundred posts later, it seems that such a prediction was correct.

  • From what I’m reading, most blogs don’t last very long because of the commitment it takes to write them; I suppose that the fact that I’m still here is a mark of my own commitment to the things I enjoy doing. I maintain a similar blog for my research to act as a progress journal of sorts, to keep my supervisor informed of what I’ve been up to and also to provide both myself and others with tutorials on how I got things working so in the future, I don’t forget what stunts I pulled to coax software into playing nice.

I’d like to thank the readers, without whom I probably would not have been motivated to write nearly as frequently. While I do regard this blog as a personal diary of sorts, I am pleased when a reader finds the content here useful, or unique (or both). Some of the more unusual or detailed posts here are still topping the charts as far as interactions and views go, and it is good to see that my particular brand of blogging has been meaningful to even a single reader. Where will I go from here? The answer for that seems to be open to discussion, but I probably will continue blogging as I find time to do so, in the same manner as I’ve done so (on different topics, of course); perhaps I’ll reach the 1000 post mark a few years down the line…now theres a milestone worth talking about!

 

Tamako Love Story: Tamako Market Movie Review

“But not everybody is loved by somebody.” – Midori

The last time this blog hosted a talk about Tamako Market was more than a year-and-a-half ago, during which I noted that the series was slowly paced, being meant to showcase the kind of community present in Usagiyama Shōtengai, one that is diverse and close to one another. When Dera arrives and Tamako might be whisked away to be the princess of some distant country, Usagiyama’s reaction is naturally one of concern. Similarly, Tamako herself had grown up in this district and cannot imagine life elsewhere, leading to a bit of internal conflict. When the movie was announced and slated to be a love story, more than a few heads were turned: during Tamako Market‘s original run, the plot line emphasised Dera, Mechya and the southern islanders. Any signs of romance were only hinted at, and Mochizou never had a chance to properly speak to Tamako about his feelings. Thus, when the TV series ended, disappointment reigned. Tamako Market had been stymied by its wish to develop two stories within a twelve episode anime, and as such, was not able to satisfactorily explore either in detail. The movie, Tamako Love Story, aims to rectify this: as Tamako, Mochizou, Midori, Kanna and Shiori near the end of their high school careers, they must each pursue their own future. The movie’s central conflict is Mochizou’s aspirations to become a filmmaker, and in order to do so, he must leave for Tokyo. In doing so, he will be leaving Tamako behind, and thus, he struggles to find the courage and make his feelings known to her. Throughout the movie, the bonds between Mochizou and Tamako are reinforced by means of flashbacks, which show the two as being there for one another as long as they’ve been children, offering each other emotional support wherever things looked difficult. Mochizou thus realises that “the person just for him” is Tamako: no one else understands him in quite the same way.

Following Mochizou’s love confession to Tamako, the latter’s world goes into a nose-dive. Consistent with Tamako’s personality, Mochizou’s confession is a preoccupation that distracts her. She does not know how to respond and tries avoiding the matter, but after encouragement from Midori and Kanna, manages to catch up with Mochizou as he sets out to write an entrance exam and respond to his feelings, showing that she reciprocates them. The sort of confusion and chaos, the internal conflicts that afflict Mochizou and Tamako are fluidly woven into them; their emotions are nothing unreasonable and are consistent with Mochizou and Tamako’s respective personalities. The journey it took to reach a point where Mochizou and Tamako come to terms with their feelings for one another was well-fleshed out: most anime typically does this sort of thing over the span of minutes, but Tamako Love Story lengthens this. Though this might be seen as “second tier”, one must consider that love stories in real life can occupy any length of time, being resolved in as little as minutes or taking months (or even years). Tamako Love Story chooses to go with a slower route, allowing characters to comprehend their feelings and make their next decision; this take on a love story is natural and rewarding to see. We note that the diversity of styles in love stories are so incredibly diverse that it is a fool’s errand to judge which styles are better: some left the movie feeling shafted, thinking that Tamako Love Story have shown Tamako and Mochizou together at the end. Generally speaking, the latter is not necessary: love stories can be open-ended and remain satisfying to watch, and the main element in Tamako Love Story is about getting to this first step, rather than how Tamako and Mochizou’s relationship subsequently progresses. It is sufficient to know that they reciprocate feelings for one another because, as noted earlier, they have known each other for many years and therefore will understand each other well enough to pursue a meaningful relationship. Tamako Love Story set out to explore the events that would happen following Mochizou’s confession to Tamako; by far and large, they have succeeded in delivering a concise, touching story.

Besides the love story aspect of Tamako Love Story, the future beyond high school is also touched upon. The transition between high school and what follows, whether it be post-secondary education, apprenticeship or work is a major point in people’s lives, where individuals (hopefully) join society as productive members. However, making this transition is quite challenging in and of itself. As such, anime choose to illustrate the final years of secondary education as a point where individuals discover a path they wish to follow, and that these paths may lead individuals to diverge. There is a bit of melancholy in Tamako Love Story as Midori and Kanna set out on their separate paths following high school. However, the girls decide to leave on a high note and participate in a Baton competition. While the results aren’t known, it is clear that to perform with one another one final time before their high school career closes will produce memories to cherish, and that counts for something. All in all, Tamako Love Story provides a satisfying continuation and conclusion to the Tamako Market series, answering questions about Mochizou and Tamako’s relationship that have dogged audiences since last April. This story is packaged together with animation quality that is characteristic of Kyoto Animation, and while prior knowledge of Tamako Market would help with comprehension (mainly pertaining to Dera, Choi and Mechya), the story is sufficiently self-contained so that the movie can be enjoyed on its own even if one has not seen the TV series yet.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There are a vast number of characters in Tamako Market, far too many for me to efficiently name in a single image or even over the course of a thirty-image post. Many of them make a return in the movie: as refresher, here’s a chart of the characters in Tamako Market to match names to faces I had translated a few years back.

  • Choi and the other southerners have a minimal role in Tamako Love Story: besides a short appearance in the movie’s opening moments, they do not appear anywhere else for a significant duration and do not affect the story heavily. With that said, the scenes featuring them are immensely amusing, and one can very nearly feel the warmth of the tropical sun, a welcome sight in light of the approaching winter.

  • This scene was particularly entertaining: Choi is under the impression that Dera has made mochi resembling an anatomical feature I am not permitted to outright mention here, and proceeds to deck Dera out of embarrassment. When Mechya appears, it turns out the mochi is merely replicas of Dera in miniature form. Beyond these moments of comedy, the remainder of the movie is a love-story and drama that is decidedly more serious than what was seen in the TV series.

  • Mochizou is seen to be longing for Tamako, and throughout the movie, is quieter when alone. In his friends’ presence, he’s livelier and jokes with them; Mochizou appears to be quite close to his friends, as they can plainly tell something’s on his mind even as he helps prepare a short film for a school event.

  • The baton club sets out to compete with other baton clubs, and begin training in earnest to ensure their preparedness is sufficient. While Tamako’s involvement in the baton club is depicted in both the film and TV series, it ultimately becomes a secondary element; much of their practises probably happen off-screen, and are only shown where the dialogue helps advance the film’s story.

  • Shōtengai (商店街) are shopping districts  running along streets. They are usually pedestrian-only and are covered with a roof, featuring various shops and boutiques, offering a kind of intimacy that larger shopping centres lack. Owing to this closeness, Tamako is very familiar with everyone in the district.

  • Before proceeding, I note that I am no expert in the matters of the heart. As such, when I am assessing on how fluidly or naturally events proceed in a given anime, the basis for that is how reasonable it is for some event to occur provided the set of events that occurred before it and the conditions the aforementioned events have created. In other words, I eyeball things.

  • Generally speaking, it’s easiest to write about things one is familiar with; for me, this means I cannot particularly provide a fair, unbiased and accurate assessment of what I think of different love stories, having no experience in this field. It’s a particularly difficult to make things work since there are an unlimited number of factors at work here: I’ve resolved to merely be patient, making the most of an opportunity should one be presented and in the meantime, focus on the things that matter most to me.

  • I had finished this movie about a week-and-a-half ago, the evening I was set to help out with my first-ever exam invigilation, and since then, it’s been quite busy. There’s been a slight respite now, so I’ve finally been able to catch up and start drafting out this talk.

  • I’ve never actually tried building cup phones before: in theory, they operate by transmitting vibrations funneled into a string, which oscillates with the same pattern as the audio. When it reaches the other cup, the vibrations are amplified and turned back into sound. These phones only work if there is no interference that prevents the string from oscillating. Electric phones operate on a slightly different principle, making use of electrons to carry audio information over much greater distances.

  • Anko reminds me greatly of K-On!‘s Azu-nyan and, though her presence in the movie is limited, she does liven things up. Here, Mochizou mistakenly thinks Anko is Tamako after Anko enters Tamako’s room in search of some pencil leads, and therefore, is unable to talk to Tamako about his moving to Tokyo for post-secondary education in film-making.

  • I interrupt the flow of events to feature a completely unneeded screenshot that somehow prompts Tamako to start thinking of some unusual concepts for mochi, which was briefly explored at the film’s opening. The classic question of fower-fife-fife and ait-zeero-zeero-ait-fife is subtly incorporated into the movie for comedic purpose. From a mathematical perspective, the latter would quickly win, although exact semantics to this argument is well outside the scope of what I’m willing to discuss.

  • In the name of keeping things G-rated for the most part, water effects in anime are typically limited to what would be considered as ‘low settings’. In Unity3D, the standard license offers a very basic shader for water, and one needs the Pro license to get access to reflective and refractive water. My work for the Giant Walkthrough Brain granted me access to Unity Pro so I could incorporate videos, but at present, I have not made extensive use of any of the Pro features.

  • After classes one day, Mochizou summons up the courage to tell Tamako about his future, although Tamako manages to continuously redirect the conversation away from Mochizou’s news. One might suspect that Tamako is probably somewhat aware that Mochizou has feelings for her, and her actions throughout the TV series suggest that Tamako herself fears dramatic change.

  • There are a disproportionate number of screenshots surrounding the love confession because this is a pivotal point in Tamako Love Story, because this moment marks the point where the rising action really begins. Such pacing may seem quite misplaced in most shows, where the rising action happens earlier on to motivate the story, but Kyoto Animation’s specialty seems to be slowly-paced stories that tend to focus on nothing and as such, progresses at a much more casual rate.

  • Love stories in general are quite difficult to write, and although some self-proclaimed critics out there may argue that they alone know all of the tropes that make a good love story, I contend that they’re wrong. Love stories are similar to walking in that people are generally quite attuned to what they see as natural, and as such, when things deviate slightly, it becomes rather noticeable (consider how quickly we can pick up poor walking animations). The same holds true for love stories: while we cannot immediately or readily explain what makes a love story work, we probably intrinsically can tell when things are working reasonably or not.

  • The impact of Mochizou’s love confession is sufficient to send Tamako into the river. While the movie may be slow, one must admit that this is probably one of the more unique reactions to a love confession, deviating from the usual blush and awkward silence that follows.

  • Tamako’s immediate response after Mochizou’s confession is a familiar one, though I may be completely unversed at what happens past this point. While Tamako may say that she’s honoured by Mochizou’s feelings, Mochzou is left hanging here, as Tamako leaves her honest thoughts ambiguous past this point. For the viewers wondering what would’ve happened in Tamako Market had Mochizou confessed his feelings to her, this scene provides a definitive answer for that.

  • While Kyoto Animation may not be masters at crafting a love story that viewers are familiar with, they do manage to craft love stories that are fitting with the environments their anime are set in, and they most definitely have a talent for making use of visuals to illustrate the atmosphere surrounding a moment.

  • Thus, following this unexpected moment, Tamako’s entire world has been thrown into chaos, and in reflecting that, Tamako is shown running through a blurred world: her mind cannot shake off what has just happened, and everything in her surroundings suddenly become of little significance. It’s clever, and it fits the situation quite well.

  • Officially, Tamako Love Story released on October 10, nearly a month ago, but because of various logistical reasons, I haven’t been able to find much time to keep up with new anime, much less blog about them. This post was written over the course of a week, during time periods where things were modestly quiet. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, but writing the figure captions for each image is more time consuming than the main body of the post itself.

  • Kanna makes a surprising catch, impressing everyone, during practise. She suggests to Tamako that the latter understands where her baton’s centre of mass is to better catch it by following its angle; this metaphor, if extended a ways, might also apply to Tamako’s conundrum of choosing between Mochizou (breaking the status quo) or mochi (keeping the status quo). If the aim is to understand how things are balanced and naturally follow through, then Kanna is implying that Tamako should face her own challenges with a more analytic, balanced approach.

  • I am way out of the game as far as anime goes; many fans picked up on Midori’s unspoken feelings for Tamako, and that the former was well aware of the fact that Tamako would never reciprocate her feelings. This aspect was always subtly present in the series but was never brought to the foreground to introduce some conflicts between the characters, and in the movie, Midori appears to come to terms with her emotions, helping Tamako out even if it means her own feelings go unreciprocated.

  • Perhaps my memory isn’t serving, but the movie does seem to be a little washed out in some scenes, giving rise to a melancholic, distant feeling. After Mochizou’s confession and Tamako’s subsequent confusion, she avoids Mochizou: one scene shows the two sitting together in their classroom during a time lapse, suggesting that unexpected love confessions can dramatically alter the dynamics between two people.

  • The fact that Tamako finds herself at a loss for what to do for a better half of the film has been the point of contention for some, who feel that the film dragged out and left too many points unresolved. However, the open ending, if anything, adds to the sense of plausibility: I understand that some individuals like linear stories that walk them through everything that happens and fully resolves everything, but life, and stories of the heart in particular, is hardly ever that direct.

  • After Tamako’s grandfather is hospitalised after a minor accident, Tamako and Mochizou have a short talk with one another, with the latter asking Tamako to disregard his confession. Tamako deflects the question yet again, but finds herself distracted for the remainder of the evening. Earlier, Mamedai, Tamako’s father, speaks with Mochizou and implies that he is supportive of the latter’s feelings.

  • The baton competition spoken of at the film’s beginning finally arrives: despite everything that has happened, Tamako puts her best efforts into the competition and manages to perform quite well. However, Mochizou is notably absent from this performance: as time wears on in the film, Mochizou’s belief that Tamako’s answer is “no” strengthens.

  • We come to it at last: in Tamako Love Story‘s final moments, Tamako finally decides to face her feelings and sets off to find Mochizou. While he is merely going to Tokyo to write an entrance exam, Midori, now accepting of reality, encourages Tamako by making it sound as though Mochizou was transferring. Spurred on by desperation, Tamako resolves to let Mochizou that her answer is going to be “yes”.

  • Thus, there are two love confessions in Tamako Love Story, both of which were very heartwarming, but simultaneously melancholic to watch. I am envious of those who reciprocate feelings for one another: as I journey further and further into my occupation and life, bit by bit, I gain more experience and wisdom. All of that accumulated wisdom and knowledge seems to indicate that it will be remarkably difficult to find “someone just for me”, my present efforts notwithstanding.

  • I hope that there may come a day, far out there, when I am reading through this blog’s archives, that I may say to myself that I did indeed find “someone just for me”.This phrase originated from Chobits, an anime I finally got around to watching during the summer and generally enjoyed. Thus ends this reflection on Tamako Love Story: though my final impressions are thirty images ago, I’ll reiterate that for all of the melancholy this movie evokes in me, I nonetheless enjoyed it for what it was.

Quite personally, I enjoyed Tamako Market for its eccentricities when it came out back during Winter 2013; I had picked the anime up because it seemed to be a light-hearted slice-of-life that would be well-suited for a busy university student. Enjoyable in its own right, but not particularly memorable, Tamako Market had fallen to the back of my mind by the time the movie was announced in December 2013. Now that the movie’s done and watched, it’s time for some speculation, and with due respect, Tamako Love Story closes off the series in a satisfactory manner, such that there are no loose ends. As it stands, Tamako Market is done for good, and it would not be unreasonable to expect that no further continuations of this series will be made, so it’s time to close the books on what is a familiar, but not unwelcome addition to Kyoto Animation’s repertoire.