The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tom Clancy’s The Division: Journey Across Manhattan and Reaching Level Twenty

“I’m afraid if I dig any deeper, no one’s going to like what I find.” –Jack Ryan Sr., Clear and Present Danger

Over the past month and some, I’ve pushed further into The Division‘s narrative: with the Base of Operations minimally functional, I’ve retrieved samples of the virus from the contaminated greenbacks in a large shopping mall and returned them to Dr. Kandell, who works out that the virus is a manufactured and genetically-modified form of smallpox originating from one Gordon Amherst. In addition, with the flamethrower-wielding cleaners threatening Division operations, players are sent to deal with their napalm supply hidden in a construction site. Along the way, players slowly recover infrastructure necessary for Manhattan to function again, and make a chilling discovery; the first wave of Division agents became rogue after they were overwhelmed with the breakdown of order. These agents began working with the “Last Man Battalion” (LMB), a private military organisation that swore revenge against the government for leaving them behind with no support after the initial responders were ordered to withdraw. Completing missions have led to much more being revealed about what’s happened in this frightening vision of just how fragile society is, and in the twenty-four hours I’ve spent in The Division, I’ve also developed a bit of a better understanding of the game’s mechanics far more than was possible in the beta, allowing me to better survive firefights and continue with my solo experience of the journey to level thirty.

I’ve found that the levelling system in The Division is quite reasonable: while it will take some time to play through, at no point in the game did I find things too unimaginative, jejune or repetitive. Playing through the different main missions and side missions, each with their settings and premise, and listening to the dialogue meant learning more about what’s led to the events in-game to occur. While there are only three kinds of enemies, the different locales make the firefights interesting. This is the way to move through the ranks at a smart pace: encounters offer limited experience points compared to playing through main and side missions. During my time in The Division, I’ve also worked out my own strategy for dealing with items; I tend to sell all items that are of the standard quality or below for credits, while breaking down specialised items for crafting parts. In becoming more familiar with the game, talents, skills and items, I’ve become a bit more durable over the course of my solo run. Surviving firefights become a matter of making use of cover and equipment to turn the tides against overwhelming odds, and I’m feeling as though this is what it means to be a Division agent: resourcefulness and determination against adversity. After twenty levels, The Division‘s main campaign remains highly enjoyable as a solo player, and I’m curious to see what is in store for me to as I push towards the full level thirty.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I stand in front of the Broadway Emporium here prior to starting the next of the main missions, which involves entering the Broadway Emporium mall and hunting down infected greenbacks for traces of the virus. The wide open spaces of this building make a long-range bolt-action or designated marksman rifle a highly useful tool. At this point in The Division, my primary weapon was an assault rifle of some sort, with a long-range weapon as a secondary weapon.

  • In The Division, assault rifles are the middle-of-the-road weapon choice that is ideal for the campaign: they offer a good balance between fast firing rate and accuracy at range. Not quite as damaging as submachine guns at close quarters and not quite as precise as a marksman weapon, they are quite versatile and can be paired with almost any other weapon type in the game. I’ve stuck with a good rifle, usually the SCAR-L or G-36, as I’ve progressed through the missions.

  • While New York itself looks amazing, the buildings that players can enter are depicted in equally impressive detail: barring the flames licking the mall’s structure on the right of this image, there’s evidently a Christmas vibe in the building. Things such as abandoned merchandise and general mall clutter add to the sense that New York was evacuated in haste prior to the events of The Division, giving a superior sense of immersion.

  • For main missions, going in at the recommended level or a level above will usually yield the best experience for solo players: in The Division, the player’s level corresponds with the sort of equipment they can utilise, and having good gear is necessary to survive encounters with enemies. In cases where I encounter enemies at my level, sufficiently good gear has allowed me to absorb multiple round without losing a bar of health, and similarly, encountering elite enemies with weak gear means I can lose my entire health bar in the blink of an eye to one or two rounds.

  • With this being said, it is possible to survive and emerge triumphant in firefights against enemies of a higher level: good use of cover and abilities go a long way in improving survivability even when one’s weapons and gear are not quite up to snuff against tough opponents. Early on in The Division, players don’t need to worry too much about specifics in gear, such as talents or other attributes. My first goal was to gradually begin replacing all of my worn gear with standard gear, and by level ten, I had all green items.

  • The construction site details in the napalm production site mission are nothing short of impressive, and making my way through the area, my first goal was to destroy the napalm tanks. They can be set off using a pistol, even at range, and this conserves on primary ammunition: the pistols in The Division have unlimited ammunition. While this is unrealistic, it was a deliberate design choice to prevent players from running out of options when their primary ammunition was entirely spent.

  • I’ve never actually run into a situation where I’d run out of ammunition before: supply boxes are sufficiently frequent during the campaign missions such that I can always remain well-equipped before stepping into a major firefight. Resupply boxes out in the field will only restore one’s stockpile of ammunition; special boxes at safehouses will fully replenish grenades and med kits along with ammunition.

  • During this mission, I found myself pinned down by a sniper as the sun began setting, but as I had a LMG handy, I was able to suppress the sniper, switching over to my G36 rifle to finish him off. The suppression mechanic in The Division works against non-boss enemies: when they are affected, they will stay in cover and not return fire until the suppression has worn off, giving players a chance to close the distance between themselves and their enemies or gain a moment’s respite to heal up or reload.

  • I’m averaging a consistent 60 FPS in The Division: my GPU is no longer the bottleneck and I can play the game on higher settings than I did during the beta. The fresh snowfall here, coupled with the orange light pipes on the ground, gave this scene a highly unique composition. The locations where campaign missions are set are designed similarly to dungeons in other MMORPGs, being quite linear as to direct players down a certain path, but the levels artwork is of a superb quality.

  • The Napalm Production Site mission ends with a faceoff against the Cleaners’ leader, Joe Ferro. An ordinary sanitation worker with a fondness for radio, Ferro turned into a psychopath in the aftermath of the virus and believes that the world must burn in order to be cleaned of the virus. As a boss, Ferro is equipped with an uncommonly powerful flamethrower and has heavy armour, although being a Cleaner, he also carries with him fuel tanks that can be shot to deal massive damage. In my fight against him, I lured him into the top floor and took advantage of his low mobility to defeat him: ducking away and circling him to evade his weapons meant I could empty magazine after magazine into him without fear of reprisal.

  • The most impressive feature in The Division is probably the weather and lighting effects, which can completely change the way the game feels. While I’m running out in open daylight here under beautiful skies, there are plenty of opportunities to gaze up at the moon by night, or else find oneself caught in white-out conditions. The New York area has historically seen major blizzards and extreme weather, and on average, the city averages around 66 cm of snow per year.

  • There are numerous encounters scattered around the streets of mid-town Manhattan, but because they offer relatively small amounts of experience compared to side missions and main missions, I only participate in them if they’re between me and another objective. Missions are common fare: recovering supplies and fending off enemies, defending supplies from enemies, helping JTF forces defend against enemies or disrupting arms deals that invariably lead to firefights with enemies. I don’t go out of my way to complete them, but they can be fun for testing out new weapons that players have acquired.

  • I’ve never been too fond of the missing person side missions, since they involve a great deal of running around and occasional bit of getting lost, but in general, side missions are quite enjoyable. They’re particularly useful if one is trying to reach the level requirements for a main mission, as they offer good experience and gear pieces.

  • The Times Square Power Relay mission is unique in that most of it takes place on the streets of New York rather than inside a building or subterranean location. After a brief fight through the subway system, players return to the surface to continue with their mission. Like the building interiors, subways and other underground installations are incredibly detailed. The Division is probably what Enter The Matrix would have looked like had the latter been developed in 2013 rather than 2003.

  • Amidst the deserted roads of Manhattan near Times Square, I take cover behind a vehicle as enemy forces begin arriving. A fog covers the area, giving it a bit of a chilling quality, and my loadout meant I would engage my opponents from a distance. The long-range weapons in The Division take the form of either bolt-action rifles or the semi-automatic DMRs. The latter can kill an at-level enemy with one headshot, while DMRs cannot do the same but compensate with their superior rate of fire, and because rate of fire is valuable in a game where opponents occasionally swarm players, I value DMRs as my long-range solution.

  • For the longest time, I continued to run with variations of the SVD Dragunov: I’ve got a classic style one here with the wooden stock, but I prefer the more modern-looking versions with the synthetic polymer stock. The original Dragunov was conceived with the aim of being a squad-support weapon rather than a dedicated long-range weapon. With a high rate of fire, light weight and even attachments for a bayonet, the weapon is widely recognised and appears in a diverse array of films and games.

  • I run into the infamous bullet king for the first time here, and as I was sporting weak weapons well below my level, I couldn’t deal much damage to him, forcing me to make a tactical retreat. I would later return at level fifteen, armed with a level-appropriate weapon and promptly wasted him. Best known for a glitch that allowed players to farm drops from him because he continued to respawn so as long as his minions were still alive, this issue has long been fixed, but the roaming bosses are a great way to collect some level-appropriate specialised weapons.

  • Investigation of Amherst’s apartment also provides an opportunity to explore the inside of Manhattan apartments, which, while a bit on the smaller side, are nonetheless well-furnished and offer their occupants with a good amount of living space. I most vividly recall Lord of War‘s Yuri Orlov, who lived in The Prasada, which is located at 50 Central Park West and West 65th Street. Originally built in 1907, the building was renovated in 1919 and offers a beautiful view of Central Park, as well as the surrounding cityscape. Amherst’s apartment is obviously not as ritzy.

  • We’re around halfway into the first month of 2018, and by now, most of the Christmas decorations have been taken down. January is long considered to be one of the more depressing months of the year primarily because of the fact that the festivities of Christmas are over, and the cold weather in conjunction with reduced daylight hours leads to a reduced production of serotonin, in turn resulting in reduced happiness. Eating a good diet, with more fish, and frequent, regular exercise seems to be effective at warding off the blues.

  • Of course, players are treated to what could be counted as a year-round Christmas in The Division on account of the fact that it’s always winter and the Christmas lights are always up. Now that I’ve got The Division, I wonder what it’s going to feel like when I return to the game in the middle of summer; where I am, July and August daily highs average around 23°C, a far cry from the frigid start we’ve had to the start of 2018.

  • A few days ago, I caught wind from Girls und Panzer‘s official Twitter channel that Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s first episode will be released on BD and DVD on March 23. Using this as a precedent, there will be three-month gaps between the theatrical screenings and home release for each of the six parts in Das Finale. Of course, there’s been no news of when episode two will be screened, but I imagine that Das Finale will follow a similar pattern as that of Gundam Unicorn or Gundam Origin, releasing episodes every half-year.

  • Some die-hard fans of Girls und Panzer have taken the pain of travelling to Japan for the singular purpose of watching Das Finale and reported their impressions of it to online forums, where fortunately, the discussion has largely been suppressed by folks who wish to stay away from spoilers. Even if they are only flying in from the Philippines, where a plane ticket from Manila to Tokyo is roughly the half the price as flying from Vancouver to Tokyo, such an endeavour is ultimately a hugely wasteful application of funds.

  • Earlier today, I sat down for dim sum in Chinatown. One of my longtime indicators of how good a place is for dim sum is the quality of their har gao or dai zi gao: the best ones are prepared with a thin wrapping that is sturdy, and there should also be plentiful shrimp on the inside. It’s been around nine or ten years since I last went to the restaurant that I visited today, but their har gao and sui mai are as good as I remember.

  • Besides har gao and sui mai, we also ordered a fried shrimp dim sumfeng zhao, sticky rice, seafood yi mein and a variety of other things. The restaurant in question is located right at the heart of Chinatown, and while it’s a smaller restaurant, their food is fantastic. As we wrapped up our lunch, a snowfall rolled into the area, and the city center began feeling like the streets of Manhattan during a snowfall. The snow continued to fall on and off, and it’s expected to slow down later tonight. Back in The Division, I walk through one of the side pathways through a park area, and I’ve got a suppressed pistol equipped. Suppressors in The Division are supposed to extend the range that enemies can be shot at before they actively engage the player, but in practise, beyond making one’s weapon look cool and sound slightly different, they’re not too effective at the ranges I typically engage enemies at.

  • When Faye Lau discovers an Agent transponder signal emitting from the Police Academy, the player is sent to investigate. Fighting through the building, players soon learn that a Division Agent has gone rogue, and is forced to engage him in order to complete the mission. These rogue agents are much tougher than standard enemies and even bosses, as they have access to abilities and talents of their own. Furthermore, they can hack players’ turrets and drones.

  • It was during the fight against Scarecrow, one such rogue Agent, that I began making more extensive use of the LMGs in The Division: they can either be magazine-fed or belt-fed. Magazine-fed LMGs have a higher rate of fire and shorter reload time, while belt-fed LMGs can deal more damage per round and have a much greater ammunition capacity. Their accuracy improve as they are fired, making them highly effective against bosses, and I quickly found that a properly-outfitted M249 was my ticket to victory over Scarecrow.

  • I’ve heard that The Division is perhaps one of the best video game depictions of Manhattan around, with Crysis 2 not too far behind. I’ve only ever visited Manhattan during a vacation back during 2011, and Manhattan is a fast-paced, hectic place to be, more so than even Hong Kong. The unique premise of The Division offers a chance to explore a virtual version of Manhattan without all of the hustle and bustle, showing that for all of the incredible buildings and activity in Manhattan, it’s really the people that make this place special.

  • I eventually acquired a specialised M60: while slower-firing than the M249, it is able to consistently output damage, and so, it was with this weapon that I took to my fight against the named boss Corporal Wright. Sustained fire tore through his armour and made quick work of him and his minions. Named bosses roam the streets of Manhattan, and in the regular parts of Manhattan outside of the Dark Zone, respawn every four hours. At my level, they drop specialised items, but I’ve heard that they can also give high-ends and phoenix credits once players reach level thirty.

  • My opinion of free-roaming in the grid roads of Manhattan hasn’t changed since I played the beta, but the ability to fast travel between locations significantly cuts down on time spent running through the city streets when one is on a mission to finish a story-related level. However, there are times where exploring slowly can be fun, and the presence of crafting parts, special cases and bonus areas incentivise players to take the time and smell the roses, as it were, in-between missions.

  • By level twenty, I’ve achieved something I’d been looking to do since I finished The Division‘s open beta: all of my gear and weapons are specialised. My next goal will be to gradually convert my entire loadout into enhanced items as I draw closer and closer to level thirty, and as time allows, begin replacing those items with high-end items. My journey in The Division will continue as I push towards the northeastern corner of Manhattan, where I’m expecting a showdown against the LMB, but for now, I’m going to turn my attention towards a reflection on Kotomi’s arc in CLANNAD: I can’t believe it’s mid-January already. Upcoming anime posts will include the after-three talks for Violet Evergarden and Yuru Camp△; there are a large number of interesting shows this season, and of these shows, I might also write about A Place Further Than The Universe if time permits.

Despite my time spent in The Division, I’ve not ventured into the Dark Zone as of yet: my interest in The Division is first and foremost, fully experiencing the campaign in all of its glory. However, the atmospherics in the standard areas of New York remain superb, and even after twenty-four hours of The Division, stepping out into a snowstorm or watching as a sunrise bathes the Manhattan skyline in a morning light never seems to get old. The Christmas atmosphere furthers the charm of The Division, and it is superbly enjoyable to wandering around the parts of Manhattan that were inaccessible during the beta. While I’m entering a game nearing the end of its life-cycle, I’m making steady progress towards my first milestone. The endgame is entirely focused on improving my gear, and while this could be a bit of a chore, I’ve heard that the better items have a good drop rate since the game’s patches. It will be interesting to see if I can improve my gear score once I do hit that first milestone, but for now, my sights remain resolutely set on making it to level thirty so that I can fully experience the events following Division agents after the second wave’s activation.

Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter!- Final Review and Reflections

“I believed there were three ways of making people happy. First, there were people who could make lots of people around the world happy. Then, there are people who could make those around them happy, and finally, people could make themselves happy. But now, I understand: by making others happy, we make ourselves happy.” –Mayu Shimada

With WUG’s National Tour jeopardised by the release of a new V-Idol, which is set to perform at Sendai Stadium and produce a scheduling conflict, WUG nonetheless continue to work hard in their own manner as Junko and Kouhei attempt to sort things out – the girls create mini-concerts in and around Sendai to try and generate interest in their upcoming Sendai performance, all the while continuing to work on lyrics for the song that Tasuku had given them. Miyu decides to feature an idol group she enjoys on her web show, and the girls begin considering a nation-wide Idol performance, leading Mayu to realise that idol groups can inspire one another, much like how each member of WUG had a profound impact on one another. When they present Tasuku with their completed song, “Polaris”, he agrees to give them the music, impressed with their effort and skill. However, problems continue with WUG’s final performance venue, and Mayu also finds herself trying to help Shiho find her feet. Through her advice, things eventually result in Shiho deciding to decline an offer to return to I-1 as its centre and taking up a role with her group, Next Storm. When WUG learn that they are given an open field to perform in, they immediately set about cleaning the site up and setting it up to give their audiences the best possible experience. Meanwhile, Ayumi and her friends, long having watched from the sidelines, are asked to step up and perform alongside WUG at their concert. Taking on the name Run Girls, Run!, they put their best into practise for their segment, which, despite difficulties, goes well on the day of the concert. WUG subsequently takes the stage with their performance, and across the nation, other idol groups similarly enchant their audiences. These concerts across Japan lead Tōru Shiraki to wonder why Tasuku had set in motion all this by encouraging WUG, and he replies that it’s more interesting this way. Following the concert, WUG and Run Girls, Run! continue training to bring happiness to their audiences.

As a proper sequel to Wake Up, Girls!, New Chapter!‘s main challenge was presenting the path that WUG had taken after establishing themselves; Wake Up, Girls!‘ magic lie in showing how Mayu and the others overcame the obstacles on their journey to become idols, and a considerable part of the appeal was how the girls’ persistence and determination led them to make their mark. The second season could no longer wield the same magic, as this story had already been spent in the first. While New Chapter! continues to emphasise that WUG’s strength lay in the group’s unity, the sequel simultaneously took a step in a different direction in Ayumi and Run Girls, Run! – the anime depicts a passing on of the torch from the veterans in WUG to Ayumi and her friends. Having worked hard in their own right, Run Girls Run! was born from the juniors proving their worth to their seniors and managers: they are given a chance to perform. Their journey is not littered with the challenges that Mayu and the others experienced during their start – they start on the shoulders of giants and are working with a group that has paved the way, who have already learned the basics, so they can inherit their lessons. This is not to trivialise the difficulties that Ayumi and her friends experienced – watching them reach a point where they could perform alongside WUG, speaks volumes to just how much they’ve grown over the course of New Chapter!

Beyond Run, Girls, Run!, New Chapter! also deals with the path that WUG take now that they’ve matured as a group: besides looking after juniors and helping them discover the joys that make being an idol worthwhile, they also turn their attention inwards when Tasuku presents them with a song to write. With a blank slate, the girls wonder how their experiences could feed into the song, and the fact that they encountered difficulties in writing illustrate that WUG take their work seriously. While each member of WUG now understand and depend on one another, they occasionally still have their differences, and seeing this is what leads them to realise that this is what best defines their group. With a concrete handle on what makes WUG, WUG, Mayu and the others turn this understanding into a means of promoting idols across Japan even as the V-Idol fad begins taking over. The simultaneous concerts held, in light of the V-Idol reveal, bring people together and hold their attention, as well as rekindling the novelty that human idols can bring into a performance: this is best symbolised during the final performance. When a snowstorm threatens to disrupt the hardware driving the performance, the V-Idol falters where WUG improvise. While it is perhaps a bit optimistic of New Chapter! to suppose that old-fashioned spirit and spunk can hold its own against technology, the message in New Chapter! is a warming one, reminding audiences that in spite of technological innovation, there isn’t quite a suitable substitute for the human touch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In this finale post, I have the customary thirty screenshots so that a wider range of topics may be covered. As the girls excitedly discuss their performance plans in their tour, I will diverge and address one of the elephants in the room: Tōru Shiraki and I-1 Club are completely absent from my proceedings, as are the antics of Kuniyoshi Ōta. For Kuniyoshi, his vociferous rallies do little in contributing to the themes in Wake Up, Girls!, and while intended to show that WUG has its proponents in cyberspace supporting them, I found Kuniyoshi’s inclusion in New Chapter! to be a vestigial trait remaining from the first season.

  • As for Tōru and I-1 Club, their moments in New Chapter! are present for the same reason they figured in the first season: compared to WUG, I-1 Club follows a highly structured, highly disciplined approach towards performances, and as such, lack the same human attributes as WUG. Here, WUG prepare for a photo-shoot with a photographer who had previously worked with Yoshino: the results are quite nice, fuelling WUG’s excitement in their upcoming performances.

  • Amidst ongoing concerns about ticket sales, WUG nonetheless work their hardest. Over time, Ayumi, Itsuka and Otome begin receiving rudimentary training as well. Unlike WUG, who started from almost nothing, Ayumi and her friends have a bit of a base to work from; WUG support them, and some of the trainers working with WUG are also willing to provide instruction for them. Their start is a bit smoother than WUG’s, attesting to how much of a difference having something to start from can make. Ayumi, Itsuka and Otome thus became the focus for one of the new messages that were presented in New Chapter!.

  • This moment succinctly captures what being in WUG means: a major part of the sincerity that I find in WUG is their resolute determination to see their tasks through. The group is very hands-on with respect to how they solve problems – throughout the first season, WUG persisted through remarkably difficult situations, and by the events of New Chapter!, they take problems in stride, turning negatives around and make the most of things. This theme had already been explored in full earlier, so in the second season, one of the things I was looking for was whether or not New Chapter! could introduce a new message that could only be delivered with a group that has had some experience.

  • In order to drive up interest and sales, WUG begin performing in public venues; this particular endeavour comes from the girls’ own initiatives. Through these free performances, their faces and names become a bit more familiar to Sendai’s residents, and slowly, sales begin to turn around.

  • One of the main challenges WUG faced internally was coming up with lyrics for the new song that Tasuku had offered them, and while this was not presented until later in New Chapter!, the journey that WUG take towards crafting suitable lyrics formed the basis for the second new theme that New Chapter! introduces. Evidently, song-writing is no easy task, leaving each of Miyu, Mayu, Kaya, Yoshino, Nanami, Airi and Minami stumped as they try to work out lyrics that best capture the spirit of WUG.

  • When Miyu meets up with Namahagez, declaring it a “Day of Idols”, it inspires the others to spread the word and put on performances of their own to coincide with the I-1 Club performance. The Namahagez speak volumes to the sort of influence that WUG has in inspiring other units: they remained together to perform after seeing the strength in WUG’s unity. It’s been quite some time since I’ve done any mention of other idol groups, if at all, so to bring readers up to speed, the Namahagez were an amateur group who performed with a unique flair during the first season and originally inspired Miyu to continue with WUG. The group later professed a desire to call it quits, but seeing Miyu and WUG prompted them to carry on.

  • Wake Up, Girlswas originally conceived as a part of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake recovery efforts in Sendai, and while the franchise remains in the shadows of giants, its unique origins and set up has certainly made me a supporter of WUG’s efforts in reality. Imagery of the earthquake and tsunami remain unimaginably haunting. In the time since the disaster, the Sendai area is still struggling to rebuild and recover: while reconstruction is occurring, and jobs are on the rise, the region has seen a drop in population. While Wake Up, Girls! never mentions the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake directly, the lead voice actors in Wake Up, Girls! were brought together by the disaster and work hard to generate interest in Sendai with their performances, which is a contributor to the recovery effort.

  • WUG travel to Tokyo in preparation for their performances here, and Mayu takes the time to find Shiho such that they might meet properly. While Shiho continues to view Mayu as little more than a professional rival, Mayu regards Shiho in a cordial fashion and so, is willing to step up to help out when the need arises. After meeting up with Shiho to discuss her situation, Mayu manages to convince Junko to arrange a meeting between her and Tōru.

  • Mayu’s meeting with Tōru goes sideways: he is unyielding and admits that idols are meant to be perfect entertainers, whereas Mayu considers idols as human beings, first and foremost. This difference in mindset is what allows WUG to separate itself from I-1 Club: while I-1 Club may have branding behind it, WUG’s music is delivered with genuine feelings and sincerity. It is for this reason that each of WUG’s performances are distinct and memorable, and why all of their songs are so enjoyable – in-universe, I-1’s dropping sales are likely the consequence of their content being too manufactured, too derivative and clearly mass-produced.

  • While the meeting might have failed, Shiho calls Mayu and reassures Mayu that she’s alright now, having committed to sticking it out with NEXT STORM. The meeting also had unforeseen consequences when a tabloid runs a bit of what is now called “fake news”, speculating that Mayu was trying to re-join I-1 Club. It speaks volumes to just how focussed WUG are when the girls don’t even flinch to this bit of gossip. They turn their attention to their own problems, and here, I’ve got a screenshot of Junko throttling Kouhei for Tōru’s actions: she’s concerned that the news might negatively impact sales to a much greater extent than the girls themselves.

  • Kouhei manages to secure a performance venue close to Sendai Airport, and having taken a look around the area, there definitely are several empty fields that could accommodate a large crowd. Back home, the Scotia Bank Saddledome is the go-to venue for the sort of concerts that WUG might perform. I’ve never actually been to live concerts at the Saddledome before on account that my taste in music is quite far removed from the sort of thing that is performed there: the Jack Singer Concert Hall and Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium are host to the kind of music that I enjoy.

  • While Junko laments the expense of setting up the location to accommodate an audience, WUG are thrilled at the site’s size, feeling that the empty land will allow them to set up a venue that will best suit their audience. It speaks to WUG’s talents for improvisation and making the most of any moment when this is their immediate impression: adversity has definitely given the girls an adaptive mindset, and when things get tough, they simply respond by getting creative.

  • It was therefore very encouraging to see the girls scatter into the fields, plainly pleased with the setting, and as they begin clearing the field of detritus, Ayumi and her friends arrive to assist, suggesting that WUG rehearse with the time that they’ve got. Ayumi, Itsuka and Otome have come a long ways from being mere fans, and the pursuit of their dreams have led them to become closer to WUG than they’d anticipated.

  • It is through Miyu’s web show that word of a nation-wide performance from various idol groups begin materialising, and the girls feel that, in response to the V-Idol concert, traditional idol groups should deliberately perform. This initiative is the culmination of the learnings that WUG has experienced both internally and from their performances previously: that they are willing to drive disruption is a strong indicator of how far they’ve come, as well as indicating that they understand their identity by this point in time.

  • The amount of sweat and tears Ayumi and her friends have poured into helping WUG, while all the while learning the basics of performance on top of their academics, have not gone unnoticed. While most of this happens off-screen, their inextinguishable zeal to make a difference and do their best is seen in the moments that they are present, and so, wanting to give them a chance, Yoshino and the others decide that Ayumi and her friends have earned a place alongside WUG on stage during their performance.

  • Junko initially feels that the difference in experience between WUG and Ayumi’s group is such that she wouldn’t be able to justify charging for the latter’s performance: there’s a certain level of professionalism involved here. However, when the girls reveal their role in starting the Wake Up, Idol! programme, which is meant to include all idols, Junko relents and assigns them to perform as WUG’s opening act. For her objections, Junko had in fact been planning to give Ayumi and her friends their first song to perform with.

  • Their surprise in this assignment soon gives way to stress, but with WUG’s help, they begin preparing for their first ever performance. Ayumi, Itsuka and Otome become christened “Run Girls, Run!”, after the fact that they’ve always been running around to their destinations, and after setting up their introductions, their unit name sticks. It’s a nice name, and while I’ve chosen to spell their group name out in full each and every time here, if there is a continuation, I’ll likely stick with RGR.

  • On the day of their performance, Run Girls, Run! run into the oft-encountered problem of nerves, and they botch their introduction. However, with some encouragement, they regroup and properly deliver their introduction to the assembled viewers. Prior to their performance, each member of WUG give them the scrunchies they’d made earlier from their old uniforms, symbolic of their act in passing on the torch to the juniors.

  • While they’re not the main event, it was nonetheless a joy to watch Run Girls, Run! perform for the first time. Even though there are imperfections in their routine (they bump into one another, become desynchronised and mis-step), they do their best in spite of all this and impress the audience, both in-show and from my end, setting the stage for WUG’s event. It’s a far cry from the unattended first performance that WUG had in the park during winter when they first debuted.

  • As WUG take the stage and perform their best songs, from 7 Girls War to Tachiagare and 7 Senses, I’m going to share with viewers a bit of a personal story that takes me back to Wake Up, Girls! original run in 2014. This is quite unlike anything I’ve done before, and I remark that this story is why I consider Wake Up, Girls!, its movies and New Chapter! to be a masterpiece despite the highly visible technical shortcomings within the anime. For readers who take the time to actually read figure captions, there’s a bit of an interesting personal story below.

  • While I had been curious about Wake Up, Girls! during the winter 2014 anime season, a glance at my site archives shows that I was following a large number of other series at the time. I was doing open studies at the time, taking a combination of courses in preparation for either a future as a graduate student or for medical school. Mid-semester, I was having what one might consider to be a existential crisis, and amidst decisions of which direction to take, as well as grappling with matters of the heart, things were looking quite miserable at the time: my degree in bioinformatics meant I felt like I had neither enough medical knowledge to meet basic qualifications for medical school, nor did I feel as though I had enough knowledge about computer science to be an acceptable software developer.

  • During this time, I was enrolled in my supervisor’s advanced iOS programming class, and one of the highlights about this course is that there are a large number of presentations from guest speakers. The one that most resonated with me was the talk on start-up companies and what it took to make it as a start-up: my perspectives opened up, and I gained a bit of insight into the sort of mindset that entrepreneurs must have. At the time, I did not entertain thoughts of working for a start-up, feeling that it was a bit of a risk to do so (I’ve never been much of a risk-taker).

  • There’s no correlation between this particular guest lecturer’s moving presentation and my decision to pick up Wake Up, Girls!, but when I did begin watching it, I saw in WUG the sort of drive and determination, as well as the willingness to put the team ahead of the individual, that folks working at a start-up must have as a part of their character. Watching the girls mature and grow was superbly rewarding, and acted as an inspiration for me to do the same. With encouragement and support from my supervisor, I ended up going to graduate school.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain project was also announced shortly after Wake Up, Girls! ended, and my supervisor offered me a role in helping with the project. Having been unsuccessful in applying for summer work as a developer elsewhere, I decided to seize the opportunity and be all I could be as a software developer there. Thus, I took up Unity and learned C# on my journey to build the Giant Walkthrough Brain; late in the summer, I began watching Locodol, and in it, I realised that working under my supervisor was very similar to the environment seen in Locodol: Yukari and Nanako both work hard to accomplish their goals, but they work in a controlled environment that allows for failure while simultaneously allowing the two to grow and mature. This connection is why I enjoyed Locodol to the extent that I have.

  • If Locodol represents the environment of university, then Wake Up, Girls! is intended to depict what working in the real world is like. The comparison was very humbling, and I understood that after graduate school, I would be dealing very much with the latter. In spite of that, watching the energy and resolve of WUG proved to be a strong source of inspiration, and today, I’m working at a start-up company with the goal of leaving behind a tangible, positive impact on society with the skill set that I’ve developed over the past several years.

  • I see a bit of myself in WUG and their experiences, so from a subjective perspective, I count Wake Up, Girls! to be a masterpiece for being a positive catalyst, partially influencing the direction that I chose to take in life. It’s bloody hard work, and I admit it is scary when each and every day, I ask myself as to whether or not I’ll still have a job tomorrow. On the flipside, it’s meaningful and fulfilling work to be writing iOS apps for a purpose that will make things better for others, so as long as I can, I’m going to do just this.

  • Hence, while Wake Up, Girls! has shortcomings in each of its seasons, it’s also a bit more of a personal connection on my end, so I’ve been finding ways to enjoy this series in my own manner. For all of the complaints about the animation, there are occasionally some moments where this doesn’t matter, such as during those scenes when the girls perform. In the finale, one subtle detail that stands out in New Chapter!‘s final performance is that, in response to the cold weather, the girls’ fingertips turn a shade of pink during their concert, and their breath is visible.

  • A snowstorm begins midway through WUG’s performance, affecting electronics and even threatening the V-Idol concert. Undeterred by the malfunction in their audio equipment, the girls step into the audience area and begin dancing, showing that they’ve mastered the art of taking things in stride and improvising. This is a curious parallel to the thunderstorm that knocked out power to the Banff Center during the first-ever Giant Walkthrough Brain performance: Jay Ingram seamlessly weaved the power outage into his narrative, and audiences enjoyed the improvisation, which transitioned flawlessly back into the script once power was restored.

  • Because Wake Up, Girls! has a bit more of a personal connection for me, I offer no verdict or final score in New Chapter! because I’ve got my predispositions and biases: I found New Chapter! to be superbly enjoyable even if it was rushed, and sincere even when the animation is not satisfactory. With this, my discussions on New Chapter! draw to a close, and looking ahead to the future, I feel that Wake Up, Girls! has accomplished its initial goals, in both the anime and for the cast providing the voices. The story’s come to a reasonable stopping point: that the final scene depicts a board with the words that “this story is only the beginning” might hint at a continuation, but it also can be seen as saying that WUG’s actions have set in motion many beginnings for many people, bringing happiness to others as Mayu has described.

No discussion of Wake Up, Girls! can be complete without some mention of the visuals, and while it is quite easy to note that Millepensee’s execution of New Chapter! is amateur compared to even that of their predecessors, New Chapter! nonetheless manages to retain the spirit and messages conveyed as effectively as Wake Up, Girls! did during its first season. A solid performance from each of the cast continues to engage viewers even where the visual elements are sub-optimal, and similarly, the sincerity of the narrative offsets the uneven, rough pacing of the story throughout New Chapter!. In a manner of speaking, the execution of Wake Up, Girls! has always been similar to the experiences WUG encountered: although their performances and approach might lack finesse, each of Mayu, Yoshino, Miyu, Kaya, Airi, Nanami and Minami genuinely put forth their best efforts for their audiences. Likewise, the sincerity is evident in the voice actors’ performances for their characters. Wake Up, Girls! is unlikely to become a powerhouse comparable to juggernauts like Love Live! and IdolM@ster, similar to how WUG and I-1 remain in different leagues, but as far as sincerity and honesty goes, there is a certain joy in Wake Up, Girls! that makes the series enjoyable even in light of all of the technical limitations present within. The sequel, New Chapter!, is no different, inheriting the same characteristics as its predecessor; while it’s got the same faults, New Chapter! also manages to continue doing the things that made the first season enjoyable and provided new aspects to illustrate what ultimately was beyond the bottom for WUG.

Mount Fuji and Curry Noodles- Yuru Camp△ First Episode Impressions and Review

“Alright, magic: a little steel wool, a battery, and we got fire.” –Les Stroud

During a cold autumn’s day, Rin Shima bikes to Koan Campground on the shores of Lake Motosu, where she encounters a girl sleeping on a bench in front of a public washroom. Feeling this individual might get a cold, Rin pushes the girl out of her mind and turns her attention to setting up camp, from pitching her tent to preparing all of her cooking gear. With the beautiful view in front of her, Rin feels that there is no better time than the off-season to go camping, when she can have the entire site to herself. As the chilly autumn winds pick up, Rin relents and builds a campfire, collecting both kindling and firewood to maintain her fire. Evening sets in, and Rin encounters the girls who had been sleeping earlier. After a chase results from a misunderstanding, the girl introduces herself to Rin, who shares with her some instant noodles. It turns out that the girl had gotten lost while biking, and with Rin’s help, manages to get in touch with her sister, who picks her up. Before she departs, she leaves with Rin her phone number and name: Nadeshiko Kagamihara. When classes resume, Nadeshiko makes her way to her new school, which happens to be the same one that Rin is attending. Slice-of-life anime can present seemingly ordinary activities in an extraordinary fashion, and for this season, Yuru Camp△ is doing so with camping: the first episode introduces veteran camper Rin, whose shown to be no stranger to setting up equipment and enjoying the sights of Mount Fuji. Accustomed to camping alone, her chance meeting with Nadeshiko sets in motion things that will eventually lead her to meet new friends with which to share in adventures into some of the most beautiful parts of the Japanese countryside.

I remark partially in jest that Yuru Camp△ is merely an anime version of Les Stroud’s Survivorman featuring high school girls in place of a Canadian survival expert and outdoorsman; the contents of Yuru Camp△ indicate that the anime’s main theme will be friendship and how adventures shared are more memorable than those undertaken alone. However, there is some truth in calling Yuru Camp△Survivorman The Anime” – the first episode goes to considerable lengths to showcase some of the smaller details that Rin is familiar with in camping. From her setting up shelter while it’s still light out, to the process of gathering both forest duff and firewood for her campfire, the writers have evidently done their homework on the basics of the outdoors. The anime also takes the pain of explaining to audiences Rin’s actions to familiarise them with camping essentials: Rin’s collection of a dry, easy-to-ignite agent to warm up the fire and careful stoking of the fire to ensure that she doesn’t accidentally blow it out are consistent with what outdoorsman guides recommend. In getting the details right, Yuru Camp△ does indeed feel like Survivorman, where Les Stroud explains his actions in a survival situation, and while Yuru Camp△ is unlikely to put the girls in a situation where they must survive for seven days without a consistent supply of food and water, the first episode does set the precedence for what audiences could expect from Yuru Camp△ – a combination of heartwarming moments between a group of friends, and what might be considered an introduction to the fundamentals of camping.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • From left to right, we’ve got Nadeshiko Kagamihara, Ena Saitou, Aoi Inuyama, Chiaki Oogaki and Rin Shima: the first scene of Yuru Camp△ has all of the girls roasting marshmallows together by a campfire. The composition suggests a reasonable familiarity with both one another, as well as the fundamentals of camping: this is something audiences will see later in the series. For now, however, viewers will require an introduction to where things first began.

  • The scenery of the lakes and hills in the Yamanashi Prefecture are spectacular. During my visit to Japan last year, while I did not pass by Lake Motosu on my travels, I did visit Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station and had a fantastic yakinuku at a restaurant on the shores of Lake Yamanaka. Yuru Camp△ does a fantastic job with the scenery, and the locations within the first episode are all derived from their real-world counterparts.

  • There’s an indescribably endearing and amusing feeling that stems from watching Nadeshiko sleep. She’s described as being an avid cyclist despite her appearances, and while the first episode focuses on Rin, promotional images and artwork feature her as the central character. It is therefore not a particular surprise to know that Yuru Camp△ will be told from her perspective: while the season previews make no mention of this, Nadeshiko is new to the area, which is intended to correspond with viewers who are similarly watching the anime for the first time.

  • My cursory Google-fu finds that admissions cost 1000 Yen per stay if one is pitching a tent at Koan, and parking is an additional 1000 Yen: spaces are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and reservations are not accepteed. The public facilities Nadeshiko sleeps outside of is a hundred metres to the northeast of the Koan Cental Lodge, where Rin purchases her admission to the Koan campground. A further 315 meters’ walk is required to reach the spot where Rin has set up camp, so on each occasion where Rin answers the call of nature, she would take a 415 metre walk (which would take roughly 5 minutes one way), which some folks have found a bit inconvenient.

  • Koan campground is very popular and so, this is why Rin’s chosen to go camping in November: the lack of crowds means that she has the entire area to herself. A quick glance at reviews of the Koan campground find that visitors are generally satisfied: the facilities and grounds are well-maintained, and the scenery is naturally one of the draws. Folks interested in visiting should note that there are no grocery stores or convenience stores nearby, so anyone looking to have a cookout here would need to bring their food in advance, and from what I’ve heard, the coin-operated showers leave something to be desired.

  • Exceptional attention is paid to replicating the surroundings of the Koan Campground, right down to the placement of the chain cordoning off the path leading to the campground and the sign on the roadside from the 709 route. The extent that Yuru Camp△ reproduces real-world environments will almost certainly result in a large number of anime fans in Japan paying the area a visit, and suggests that other locations that the girls visit in Yuru Camp△ will likely get a similar treatment.

  • Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the shores on the opposite end of Lake Motosu stand adjacent to Aokigahara, a undisturbed, pristine forest whose trees have grown very dense thanks to the volcanic soils, and deep in the heart of the forest, fauna and flora thrive in the absence of human activity. The location is better known for being home to yūrei, Japanese ghosts from the spirits of those who have perished there either by choice or against their wills.

  • In fact, Aokigahara is the second most popular suicide site in the world, and officials are tasked with removing bodies from the forest as they are found. Of course, such a macabre topic is better suited for a horror novel rather than the likes of Yuru Camp△, and so, I’ll return the discussion to the point in the episode where Rin begins debating whether or not she should build a campfire. While she’s initially against it, already having settled in with her book and not feeling inclined to smell smokey, the brisk wind changes her mind.

  • Whereas Rin uses pine cones to light her fire, Stroud often uses a variety of materials, from cotton lint to punky wood, to light a fire. After the fire is started, Yuru Camp△ and Survivorman both continue applying larger branches to the burning fire. One of the key differences is that Rin’s not in a survival situation and so, is able to use matches to light her fire, while Stroud often is dropped into a survival situation with few or no matches. One of the more clever actions Stroud has used include starting a fire with nothing more than chocolate and an empty soda can, and he recommends splitting matches in half to double one’s stock of quick fire starters. I’ve heard from some folks that pine cones don’t work as fire starters, but it is more likely the case that individuals with this experience were attempting to light pine cones that had a bit of moisture in them.

  • The shores of Lake Motosu are beautifully rendered, and it is here that Rin finally settles down, messaging a friend and reading a book under the cool autumn skies. Lake Motosu is one of the Fuji Five Lakes, being the middle of the pack in terms of surface area and have the greatest maximum depth. One of the lake’s more interesting attributes is that its temperatures do not drop below freezing, allowing the lake to stay unfrozen even during the winter.

  • Evening begins setting in over Lake Motosu: by November, temperatures remain in the positives, but when the breeze picks up, it can become quite chilly, and so, Rin’s decision to set up a campfire turns out to be a wise decision: Stroud usually will go about setting up a fire immediately after his shelter is prepared, and cites a good fire as being important for maintaining warm when temperatures plummet during the night, helping in keeping insects and other animals away, and providing a psychological boost with its light.

  • On one trip to the bathroom, Rin notices that the sleeping girl has taken off and turns around, coming face-to-face with a crying Nadeshiko. Frightened out of her wits, Rin drops her torch and runs off, with Nadeshiko in close pursuit. However, it turns out to be a misunderstanding, and after hearing Nadeshiko’s situation, Rin tries to work out a way of getting her back with her family. The situation isn’t quite so hilarious in reality, but in anime such as Yuru Camp△, one cannot help but feel bad for characters who suffer misfortune.

  • The weather where I am has been remarkably warm as of late, reaching as high as a balmy 9°C: it’s a testament to my Canadian spirit that I consider -16°C “warm”, and anything above zero during this time of year reminds me of spring. However, forecasts are stating that as of tomorrow, winter is going to be back in full force, with a daily high of -20°C. The colder weather certainly does amplify feelings of hunger, and evolutionary theory suggests that it’s a trait we developed to survive colder weather, using the extra calories to keep warm: mid-conversation in Yuru Camp△, Nadeshiko certainly feels the effects of hunger, and fortunately, Rin’s on hand to assist with some instant ramen.

  • Nothing beats hot food on a cold night, and while Nadeshiko enjoys her ramen with what J.K. Rowling would describe as “indecent enthusiasm”, I met up with a friend and former colleague from my graduate student days at BIg T’s BBQ, a local institution. Amidst conversation about just how radically different the lab’s been since I graduated, conferences, thesis papers and games, I enjoyed a beef short rib with spicy Andouille Sausage, fried green tomatoes and yam fries. Their BBQ never fails to impress: the meat fell off the bones and was smoked to perfection, being tender and tasty, while the sausage was spicy enough to give a much-needed kick on a cold winter’s night. The Flames game tonight against the Minnesota Wild was being shown, and we’d gotten our first goal of the night shortly after I finished off the last of my fries – the game ended in overtime with a Flames victory.

  • Of course, eating ribs in a warm restaurant is a world apart from eating hot ramen under the star light: with Nadeshiko introduced now, I inexplicably feel as though Nadeshiko is supposed to be Yuru Camp△‘s version of Cocoa or Yui. Much like how military-moé anime feature a protagonist sharing similar features, slice-of-life anime do the same, and while some viewers are quick to dismiss these characters as generic, I’ve long held the perspective that such characters provide grounding for viewers, encouraging (or allowing) them to focus on the world the story is being presented in.

  • Nadeshiko’s original goal was to bike to the “nearby” Lake Motosu so that she could see for herself the beautiful scenery of Mount Fuji, having been inspired after seeing it on a 1000-yen bill. having tired out and fallen asleep, Nadeshiko found herself in the darkness and panicked. However, with Rin’s help, she’s able to view Mount Fuji under an autumn’s moon and get in touch with her sister: a quick glance at moon phase calendars finds that Yuru Camp△ took the care to get the moon phase correct, as well.

  • From the first episode of Yuru Camp△ alone, it’s quite tricky to gauge the characters’ personalities properly, so Sakura’s physical beating of Nadeshiko might just be a one-off rather than something that happens frequently. With this being said, I have a feeling that what I colloquially refer to as “funny faces” will be seen in Yuru Camp△ with a non-trival frequency. For the folks who’re new around these parts, one of the things I’ve come to enjoy in slice-of-life anime are exaggerated facial expressions that are a world apart from their usual characteristics.

  • In frustration, Sakura throws Nadeshiko bodily into the back of her SUV, but Nadeshiko later gives Rin some kiwis as thanks for the instant ramen from earlier, along with her phone number. In meeting Rin, Nadeshiko’s interest in camping is kindled, and she asks Sakura whether or not they have any camping supplies at home. While both Nadeshiko and Sakura are named for flowers, I’ve long felt that focusing extensively on names in an anime is not particularly conducive towards understanding what the anime’s messages are, and imprudent analysis certainly isn’t a requirement for a show to be enjoyed.

  • With the excitement of the evening over, Rin returns to her camping trip. I’ve heard folks say that the scenery in Yuru Camp△ is not quite up to snuff against anime with truly spectacular artwork, but overall, Yuru Camp△‘s art is of a good quality in general. With this first episode post out the gates, I remark here that even though only Rin, Nadeshiko and Sakura appear, I’ve tagged everyone in preparation for future posts, and further to this, I will be referencing Les Stroud and Survivorman frequently as I talk about Yuru Camp△. This is intended to drive discussions down a more interesting direction.

  • Nadeshiko’s bike ride to school really showcases the Yamanaka region’s beautiful landscapes: besides Lake Yamanaka and the fifth station on Mount Fuji, I also visited Oshino Village, Fuji Busshari Heiwa Park at Gotemba and stopped briefly on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi’s eastern end before heading north towards Shirakawa Lake. I occasionally wonder what it would be like to live in Japan close to their mountains, and I’m sure that there are folks in Japan who would wonder what it’d be like to live an hour away from the Canadian Rockies: Japanese tourists love Banff, and this is evident in the Japanese language signs and number of Japanese staff who work there. This is the consequence of a Japanese soap opera that made the location a popular one to visit, which speaks to the power of how fiction can drive up tourism in an area.

The meeting between Rin and Nadeshiko ended up being a riot to watch: despite her quiet nature, Rin is a caring individual. By comparison, Nadeshiko feels to be a bit of a klutz, which suggests that she could be Yuru Camp△‘s main protagonist (this seems to be the trend for a non-trivial number of manga run in Manga Time Kirara). Taken in conjunction with Yuru Camp△‘s focus on details of camping, loving portrayal of the scenery surrounding Mount Fuji and a fitting soundtrack that captures the splendour in nature, Yuru Camp△ is this season’s anime for catharsis. Similar to Slow Start, this season’s other Manga Time Kirara adaptation, things in Yuru Camp△ are taken very slowly, encouraging viewers to take in all of the small elements that are present while Rin is camping. Such anime are not everyone’s cup of tea, but considering the speed of the world that I live in, casual, carefree anime represent the suitable form of relaxation that I’m certain I’ll need as this year progresses. Unlike Slow Start, however, the topic of camping and outdoors activities in Yuru Camp△ is conducive towards some interesting discussion, and as such, I will be writing a bit more frequently for Yuru Camp△: it’s not every day that we have what is essentially Survivorman The Anime, and as I greatly enjoyed watching Survivorman, it’ll be curious to see what sort of parallels exist between the two.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus- Episode Zero Reflection

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. –Jimmy Johnson

After Blazkowicz finishes off beating up Nazis and sends General Engel to Davy Jones’ Locker, there are three other Resistance fighters, each on their own adventure to undermine and destabilise the Nazi regime with their own unique talents. The expansion content to The New Colossus introduces former quarterback Joseph Stallion, the OSS Agent Jessica Valiant and Captain Gerald Wilkins as playable characters. In Episode Zero, players briefly play as each character – Stallion breaks out of a Chicago Nazi facility and steals a Panzerhund, Valiant infiltrates Nazi bunkers in California to find information on Operation San Andreas, and Captain Wilkins moves through an Alaskan base on the first steps of stopping Operation Black Sun. It’s a taste of what’s to come in each of the upcoming DLC packages: as a result of having picked up The New Colossus on launch day after curiosity took me, I received Episode Zero free of charge, as well. Each of the newly introduced characters have one of Blazkowicz’s contraption abilities, allowing them to be played in a certain manner, and their stories each serve to extend the depth of what’s happening in the world of Wolfenstein following General Engel’s death, furthering the world-building that Wolfenstein has excelled in since The New Order released.

The biggest draw about The New Colossus DLC are the play-style choices that are imposed on players. Because each character has a slightly more limited version of the contraption upgrades Blazkowicz has, each new character force players to adopt a particular playstyle that they might have not otherwise made extensive use of in The New Colossus‘ main campaign. Stallion’s extensive football background allows him to tackle opponents, withstand explosions and throw things further, but he’s not capable of stealth to the same extent as Blazkowicz or Valiant. Valiant can sneak through ventilation shafts as Blazkowicz could with the constrictor harness and excels at reaching spots that others cannot access, but she’s also vulnerable whenever situations devolve into a direct firefight. Captain Wilkins’ Kampfwanderer gives him the ability to access high ground, similarly to the battle walker upgrade. Each of the characters do not have any of the perks that Blazkowicz has, and weapon upgrades are gone, forcing players to play more carefully in each of the segments. It’s a fun approach to The New Colossus that showcases a different adventure to Blazkowicz’s, and Episode Zero does a succinct job of setting the stage for what players stand to experience should they choose to buy the DLC.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The full DLC, titled The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe, for Joseph Stallione’s story was released back in December 14 of 2017. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I actually had Episode Zero available in my account: this DLC is only available for players who pre-ordered the game or bought the season pass (both of which are risky manoeuvres), but it seems that buying the game on launch date seems to have been sufficient to make me eligible for Episode Zero.

  • Episode Zero released on November 7, a week after I began playing through The New Colossus, and I did not beat The New Colossus until eighteen days later. After clearing through the Übercommander missions, I finally set my sights on Episode Zero, which begins with Stallion. It felt a bit strange to have lost all of the perks that I unlocked through the main campaign, and my weapons were sent back to their starting incarnations. Fortunately, exploring the mission will find weapon upgrade kits for Stallion’s weapons.

  • Unlike The New Colossus‘ campaign, however, the upgrade system in the DLCs seem more similar to those of The New Order, where upgrades players find will be specific attachments for a weapon. I acquired a drum magazine and the nailgun upgrade for the submachine gun, which was my preferred weapon for this mission on account of ammunition availability: rifle-calibre rounds were more uncommon. The close quarters hallways seen in the first section of Episode Zero means that dual-wielded weapons on full-automatic are the most effective.

  • Stallion’s football experience confers him abilities equivalent to Blazkowicz’s ram shackles prior to upgrading them, and are on the whole, slightly less powerful: I don’t think it’s possible to tackle a commander and have them explode into chunks of meat and a shower of blood as Blazkowicz can do, but for the most part, Stallion can sprint through metal grates and take out soldiers without too much difficulty.

  • Going purely from Episode Zero‘s preview of all the DLCs, I feel that Stallion’s is probably the most unremarkable of the three: it’s set in a bunker that appears largely recycled from assets seen in The New Colossus‘s main campaign. While I’ve heard that Stallione gets to fight on Venus, the setting had already been explored in The New Colossus: I’ve seen some footage of The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe, and the fact that it looks fun notwithstanding, I think that I will wait for the other DLCs to be released before I make a concrete decision as to whether or not I’m grabbing the season pass come the next Steam Sale.

  • Stealing the Panzerhund results in some gameplay reminiscent of when Blazkowicz was rampaging through the ruined streets of New Orleans: the flamethrower is absolutely vicious in the narrow hallways here, and will make short work of any opponent. Its armour can be replenished from pieces dropped by enemies.

  • Panzerhunds were the bane of my existence when I was forced to fight against them during The New Order: when one broke into the Kreisau Circle’s headquarters, I expended more than half of my ammunition stores trying to stop it. By The New Colossus, however, heavy weapons and contraptions make the fights a bit more straightforward, even if the Panzerhunds seen in The New Colossus are supposed to be more powerful than their counterparts in The New Order.

  • After seizing the Panzerhund and escaping, the story shifts over to that of Agent Valiant in The Diaries of Agent Silent Death. Her stealth-driven gameplay is rather more exciting, forcing players to choose their battles carefully; Valiant seems less durable than Stallion and Captain Wilkins, making it imperative to make use of the shadows to get around without being caught. She starts Episode Zero with a knife and a suppressed pistol: in spite of its weak damage compared to other weapons, it can be used to silently dispatch foes with a single, well-placed shot to the head.

  • There’s an entire roast suckling pig with potatoes and vegetables that can boost Valiant’s health up by a hundred points, overcharging it. However, with the ability to keep overcharged health as with The New Colossus‘ campaign with the right perk, Valiant’s health will slowly deplete back to 100 points over time. While I lamented the lack of burgers in Super Spesh’s All American Diner during the Roswell Übercommander mission, food items are scattered through the game, and one of my preferred techniques for situations where I had been low on health was to collect health items after I’d reached a particular increment.

  • Since health recharges up to a maximum of twenty points to the nearest multiple of twenty, finding three donuts could allow players to go from 20 points of health back to 80. This system is a fine balance between the recharging health of Halo and the non-regenerating health of games like Half-Life 2, allowing players improved survivability while maintaining their attention on keeping their health in a good state.

  • The Diaries of Agent Silent Death is set to release later this month, and I’m actually curious to see what it will entail. If Episode Zero is a reliable indicator, Valiant’s maps are a bit more exciting than those of Stallion’s, being styled in an ostentatious manner with golden monuments, Nazi artwork and the like. Here, players will find themselves in large rooms that seem to be made of nothing but locked doors, but fortunately, there are small openings that Valiant can make use of to sneak through and access new areas.

  • Valiant does not last very long in straight up firefights with only a mere pistol, but once more powerful weapons and some armour is found, the tables are turned. This recording studio feels quite similar to the courtroom seen in the mid-game of The New Colossus, but there are differences enough to make the mission feel unique. Being a spy of sorts, her missions look quite exciting, and I’m a bit curious to see what Operation San Andreas will entail.

  • During my playthrough, I managed to remain stealthy right up until near the end, where I ran into a Supersoldaten and set an alarm off. Fortunately, I managed to sneak into one of the ventilation ducts and continued on deeper into the facility, out of range of the alarm. I did not manage to find any of the upgrades for Valiant’s weapons save the suppressor for the pistol, and admittedly, it does make me feel a bit under-prepared to enter new areas without the marksman optic mounted to the assault rifle.

  • Valiant’s mission ends when she reaches the documents archive where the file she’s seeking is held. The file’s sitting out in the open and once she finds it, her part in Episode Zero comes to an end. In the end, I barely made it to the final part of the mission, with only twenty health remaining, and stopped to look around the details in this area before wrapping the mission up.

  • Evergreen trees can be seen out the windows of Captain Wilkin’s mission in Episode Zero; his mission deals with the experiences he has in Alaska while trying to stop Operation Black Sun. I don’t think I’ve seen any shooters set in Alaska, and the last time I was in Alaska was many years ago, on a cruise to the Inside Passage. It’s absolutely beautiful here, being a place where snow-capped mountains merge with the ocean to create a unique landscape.

  • The Amazing Deeds of Captain Wilkins is supposed to deal with the “Sun Gun”, a planned Nazi weapon that would have been placed 8200 kilometers above the surface of Earth and have a surface area of nine square kilometers. The weapon would have worked by focusing the sun’s rays onto a narrow point on the surface that would have hypothetically burned through cities and even boil away bodies of water. The Sun Gun was well ahead of its time, and Nazi scientists predicted that it would take at least fifty years before such a weapon could be built.

  • Captain Wilkins is equipped with the Kampfwanderer, which performs similarly to the Battle Walker, allowing him to take the high ground over his opponents, and here, I deal with Nazi soldiers standing between him and the objective: Episode Zero has him fighting through a facility set along the western coasts of America (as evidenced by the evergreen trees), with the aim of softening up a Nazi facility and destroying a heavy weapon at the facility: here, I finish off the remaining Nazi soldiers firing at me, leaving naught but a pile of bodies in my wake.

  • In English, the phrase “bury the hatchet” stems from American tradition, where hatchets or tomahawks were buried in a peace ceremony to signify disarmament. Its origins tie in with the idea of making peace with a past conflict, but in Wolfenstein, “burying the hatchet” takes on a whole new meaning. English idioms are rather interesting, and despite my background in English, there are many phrases that I remain unfamiliar with. The Chinese similarly have what are called chengyu (成語, jyutping “sing4 jyu5”); some of them are pretty intuitive and make perfect sense, while others are quite obscure.

  • Of all the DLCs, I’m most looking forwards to seeing The Amazing Deeds of Captain Wilkins, especially if flying to the Sun Gun space station and engaging in space combat is a part of the missions. Here, I reach the control room and clear it of remaining hostiles so I can make use of the control panel. Level designs notwithstanding, one thing that I found consistently enjoyable through each of the characters was their extensive exposition and the fact that they give monologues similar to Blazkowicz’s, offering further insight on their personalities.

  • By the brilliant  morning light of the West coast, I prepare one of the defensive cannons and aim it towards the much larger weapon to destroy it, bringing an end to Episode Zero, this discussion and the end of my Wolfenstein II writings for the present. I still find myself impressed that buying The New Colossus on launch date gave me access to Episode Zero; in the end, while it was a bit costlier to do so, I ended up saving quite a bit of time, so I find that I did get good value for my decision. Looking ahead into January, I’ve got my Yuru Camp△ post inbound in not more than a few days, and I’ll be wrapping up Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! soon.

For the present, while I’m convinced that each of the three DLC packages, one each for Stallion, Valiant and Captain Wilkins, are likely to be quite fun in their own right and add newfound well-written stories into the Wolfenstein universe, the sample of the gameplay through Episode Zero suggests that there’s no new weapons, enemies or abilities. Furthermore, The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe, already released, seems to be quite short – if this instalment’s length is an indicator, then the DLCs together will likely add around five to seven hours of additional content in total (compared to the nine advertised). When one looks at the price tag of 30 CAD for the season pass, it’s probably not worthwhile to pick the DLC up in the absence of a good sale. For the present, then, I have no plans in continuing my adventures with Stallion, Valiant or Captain Wilkins – for one, I still need to go back through and beat The New Colossus on the Fergus timeline, which gives me access to the Laserkraftwerk. Of course, once I gain a bit more insight as to what the DLC offers once all of the instalments are released, and if a good sale should appear, I could change my mind and pick things up to continue what folks have concisely described as more Nazi Slaughtering Goodness.

The First Butterflies: Slow Start First Episode Impressions and Review

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” —Helen Keller

On her first day of high school, Hana Ichinose timidly introduces herself to her new classmates. When her instructor, Kiyose Enami, mentions that this first day of classes also happens to be Hana’s birthday, three of the other girls that Hana had spotted earlier, Eiko Tokura, Kamuri Sengoku and Tamate Momochi, wish her a happy birthday and gift her some ema. They later take the initiative to speak with her and bring her out to gaze at the blooming sakura blossoms near the train station; on the way there, Hana learns more about Tamate and Kamuri’s names. Later that evening, Shion is pleased to learn that Hana’s made new friends, and the next day, Hana properly introduces herself to her newfound friends. While the first episode did not mention thus, Hana had missed her entrance exams the previous year on account of being afflicted with mumps, and so, is a year older than those around her. Being separated from her peers, Hana feels a bit out of place and envies those who know others in her year, but after the first day, she finds herself in friendly company. Slow Start was originally a four panel manga from Manga Time Kirara, and as its brethren in this magazine, possesses the same sort of atmosphere and premise; there’s nothing novel or stand-out in Slow Start, but in this case, simplicity is Slow Start‘s greatest draw right now. While the manga began running in 2013, I’ve not had a chance to read it, and so, going into Slow Start this season, I’ll be entering without a priori knowledge.

Befitting of its name, Slow Start is slow to start, placing a particular emphasis on the minute details and happenings that precipitate a new friendship. From the moment that Hana enters school, her attention is caught by the same three individuals who are the most quick to befriend her: this fateful meeting sets in motion the beginnings of a companionship that will be endearing to behold. Out of the gates, Slow Start possesses the same atmosphere as GochiUsa, conveying a sense of calming that I’ve greatly come to value in shows that I watch. The characters immediately feel familiar despite their novel characteristics: the quiet Hana occupies the protagonist’s role and, despite playing the same role as Cocoa, also exhibits Miho Nishizumi’s shyness. The two share circumstances, and both girls are approached by fellow classmates who will grow to become close friends. As Hana Isuzu and Saori Takebi do for Miho in Girls und Panzer, Eiko and Kamuri do the same for Hana in Slow Start. The role of Yukari Akiyama is then fulfilled by Tamate, who is similarly energetic. Familiar characters mean that the anime immediately feels inviting; moving ahead, one wonders when Hana’s background will be made known to the others. Until then, Slow Start does not appear to have too many surprises in store for viewers: standard-issue high school activities and adventures will likely follow Hana and her friends as we move further into the season.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I realise that I said I would write about Yuru Camp △ soon, but an error of logistics occurred that resulted in my taking a look at Slow Start first: for one reason or another, I somehow got it into my head that Slow Start would begin airing tomorrow, not today, so I’m going to push back Yuru Camp  by a few days. Kicking things off in Slow Start, Hana receives her school uniform in a pristine state, and her cousin, Shion, is rather excited to see Hana in it.

  • The simple colours and textures of Slow Start make it apparent that, like Yuyushiki, the anime is intended to focus on the characters. This is not to say that the visuals of Slow Start are substandard in any way: they are fitting of the atmosphere in the anime. The incidental music is also of a reasonable quality, fitting the overall mood within Slow Start. With the basics covered off, the main focus of the discussion can then be directed towards the characters.

  • Besides Miho Nishizumi and Cocoa Hoto, one other character that Hana resembles is CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa, who similarly is behind a year owing to an illness. That Hana seems to draw features from characters in anime that I’ve seen previously could easily be written off as derivative, lazy writing, although I’m a bit more lenient than most anime bloggers and so, will chalk these comparisons as a consequence of the fact that I’ve been watching anime for close to eleven years now.

  • While making her way to Class 1-2, Hana sees two friends reuniting for the first time since primary school and feels that high school would be less intimidating if she were to have a few people that she were familiar with. I begin reminiscing about my first days of university: of all my friends, only I enrolled for the health sciences programme and so, I had no friends accompanying me into the program. However, I befriended a handful of the folks early during orientation week, and through our shared experiences with the challenging courses that constitute the honours degree, I became familiarised with over half of my graduating class over my four years in the health sciences programme.

  • Having long been friends with Eiko, Kamuri is intimidated by Tamate, who knows Eiko from middle school. I’m not sure how it works elsewhere in the world, but in Canada, school assignments are based on geographical locations rather than academic performance, and so, I remained with most of my friends during primary and secondary education. Of course, some folks, I’m still friends with even if at present, we’re all occupied with our careers and the like, as opposed to spending lunch breaks and classes together each and every day.

  • This is, then, the joy of being a student: as we age and mature, more of our time is spent on other things. Back in Slow Start, Hana introduces herself to Class 1-2. So far, instructor Enami has only made a short appearance and going strictly from appearances, is a no-nonsense individual who is voiced by Manami Numakura, who’s also played roles in anime such as Hibike! Euphonium (Mamiko Oumae), Rail Wars! (Aoi Sakurai), Love Lab (Riko Kurahashi) and Dagashi Kashi (Saya Endō).

  • Before I push any further into Slow Start, I will remark that Slow Start has absolutely nothing to do with the TCP congestion control strategy of the same name: slow starts are used to avoid network congestion. Since TCP and computer networks are hardly the focus of Slow Start, it stands to reason that the title itself refers to the delay that Hana’s had getting into high school.

  • Each of Kamuri, Eiko and Tamate give Hana a phone strap-sized ema that is intended to provide luck in safety while travelling. While three times the ema should hypothetically confer three times the safety, I’m not sure of this is quite how it works. One way or another, the friendliness exhibited by each of Kamuri, Eiko and Tamate sets in motion the events of Slow Start. While four characters were introduced right off the bat, I’ve experienced no difficulty in remembering everyone’s names.

  • Excitable like Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari Akiyama, and being similar to Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki in both appearance and manner, Tamate prefers to be called by her nickname. Eiko is a bit more mature than the others but seems to be fond of jokes, while Kamuri’s speech patterns is reminiscent of both Chino and Renge’s. It is therefore unsurprising to learn that Kamuri is voiced by Maria Naganawa, who provided Kanna’s voice in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. On the topic of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, I’ve not actually watched it, and while I’ve been hearing positive reception for the anime, I’m still wondering if it’s my cup of tea.

  • Slow Start was originally announced seven months ago, and was confirmed for this anime season in July 2017. Looking around, excitement on this series has been limited discussions as to whether or not Slow Start is something that A-1 Pictures should be working on, rather than the anime’s content itself. The manga has also been quite challenging to find, making it difficult to gauge what Slow Start would entail prior to its airing.

  • Tamate feels that her full name is a bit embarrassing on account of it being derived off 玉手箱 (Romaji tamate bako); 玉手 yields “beads” in a direct translation, whereas “Tama” alone (玉) can be seen as referring to a treasure of sorts. In Chinese, 玉 is “Jade” (jyutping “juk6”), and the last character of my name is a derivative of this, being meant to symbolise “double Jade”. Its character “珏” is read “gwok3” in jyutping, although hilariously, it’s rare enough so that most folks do not know the pronunciation for the character in Cantonese, and the jyutping dictionary I use returns nothing when I do a search for the character.

  • Arriving at the sakura trees near the station, Hana and the others arrive to find the trees in full bloom. It’s a beautiful sight, and one that I was a month too late for last year when I visited Japan: sakura blossoms are best viewed in April, which is also when the academic term starts in Japan, but my visit there was in May. In spite of this, the trip stands as being one of the most enjoyable (if not the most enjoyable) I’ve been on, and I’ve got plans to return in the future.

  • Hana’s simmilarities to Miho become more pronounced here as she admires the blooming sakura, and one could easily suppose that Slow Start is what would have resulted had we taken the Panzer out of Girls und Panzer. Unlike Girls und Panzer, which was concealing one hell of a ride, however, I think that there won’t be any surprises in Slow Start, and strictly speaking, that’s fine, as well.

  • The conversation topic soon turns to food, and it is here that Hana reveals that she’s not from the area, having moved here recently, so she’s not too familiar with local shops or specialties. Her dialogue hints as the fact that she’s late by a year, but owing to the fact that she doesn’t really know Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate yet, she’s not ready to disclose this yet. They likely have missed this moment and view it as Hana being a bit shy around them. Listening to Hana’s voice further brings to mind Miho: while Miho is voiced by Mai Fuchigami, Hana is voiced by Reina Kondo, who’s a relative newcomer in the voice acting industry.

  • Shion’s mannerisms bring to mind those of Mocha Hoto; she’s Hana’s cousin, as well as the landlady for the apartment that Hana lives in, and here, the two celebrate Hana’s birthday in style with a fancy dinner that has prawns and egg roe on rice with peppers, mushrooms and lotus rhizome (蓮藕). Sashimi can also be seen, as well. Now that I’m back home, sashimi is not likely to be on the home menu; things like today’s lunch of homemade honey-garlic sausage dog infused with double cheese and tomato sauce, or tonight’s Louisana-style breaded wings for dinner, are more of the norm. It’s been a bit of an eventful day for Hana, and one she’ll likely remember for a while. On my end, today was a quieter one compared to last week, and I spent it shredding bosses in The Division, before watching the Flames humiliate the Anaheim Ducks – with only sixteen seconds left on the clock, Dougie Hamilton scored to put the Flames up 3-2.

  • While Kamuri earlier expressed a desire to get Hana a birthday cake, Shion buys a proper cake and gifts to Hana an umbrella styled after a leek. Being older than Hana, Shion also seems to be this series’ provider of fanservice, given the placement of camera angles, and seeing as the other characters don’t seem well-suited for that sort of thing. With this in mind, it’s quite clear that Slow Start is not about unnecessary focus on mammaries or posteriors, although audiences may be subject to such moments if the oft-utilised hot springs or beach episode is present later in Slow Start‘s run.

  • On a phone call with her parents, Hana assures them that everything is fine, and they seemed immensely relieved to learn that Hana’s fitting into her new environment. Unlike Miho, whose relationship with Shiho was a quite cool at the start of Girls und Panzer, Hana’s on excellent terms with her parents, so I imagine that she moved to get away from the stigma associated with missing a year and gain a fresh start. I further imagine that what Hana did during the year in between missing the exam and her present enrollment at Hoshio Private Girls’ Academy will be the topic of a later episode.

  • The apartment that Hana lives in is a small one that looks well-maintained. With A-1 running the party, the animation quality of Slow Start‘s been of a good quality, and as this post draws to a close, I note that for Slow Start, I’m bypassing the three episode rule and committing to this show for the season. Reviews will come out at the halfway point and the finale, simply because shows of this category, while immensely effective at being relaxing, may not always be conducive for interesting discussions. Writing for shows of this sort usually takes me more time as I try to figure out what to say, so the fewer ideas I have, the longer the post takes.

  • It turns out that Hana’s new friends do not quite remember her name yet, recalling her as the birthday girl. However, their warm welcome suggests that the events of yesterday are not a one-off. Encouraged by this, Hana introduces herself formally to them, setting the table for the remainder of what’s upcoming this season. While an unassuming anime, Slow Start‘s looking quite encouraging, and while it won’t be a world-changer as far as moral implications or thematics go, sometimes, easygoing entertainment is precisely what one needs after a long day’s work.

  • With Slow Start in the books, I’m going to begin setting up the post for Yuru Camp △ soon, as well as turn my attention towards Episode Zero of The New Colossus.  As I’m also closing in on level twenty in The Division, I will be dropping by to write about that experience, as well. That’s pretty much it for now, and looking ahead, the winter anime season looks to be quite a good one for someone of my uncommon interests. Finally, there’s a CSI Miami reference in this page somewhere for readers to search for, if this post’s contents were not sufficiently exciting for readers.

The slower pacing and content of Slow Start means that I’m unlikely to write about this series at a higher frequency, although this isn’t to say that Slow Start is lacking in any way: in fact, I found the first episode of Slow Start immensely enjoyable. However, with this being said, even with my proficiency with English, there is an upper limit to how many variations of “this is adorable” one can say before it becomes stale. I imagine that the heartwarming moments of Slow Start will continue with its current frequency, making Slow Start another excellent show for folks seeking to relax in this upcoming season; the anime itself is visually appealing, with simple, clean environments and expressive characters that contribute to the lively atmosphere in Slow Start. Folks who’ve enjoyed GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic will be right at home with Slow Start, and while I might not be doing a large number of posts for Slow Start, readers can reasonably expect me to drop back in at the halfway point and once more at the finale, where I can offer more comprehensive thoughts on the anime once additional episodes have been aired and gain a better insight as to what’s really going down in Slow Start.