The Infinite Zenith

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

Shirobako: Whole-series review and reflection

“The very first step towards success in any occupation is to become interested in it.” —William Osler

We’ve finally reached the end of Shirobako, an immensely entertaining anime with the premise of making anime at the fictional Musashino Animation. The first half followed Aoi Miyamori’s acclimatisation to life at Musashino Animation as they were producing Exodus, and the second half involves Aoi’s role as the production desk for The Third Girls Aerial Squad, all the while training new production assistants to help with the studio’s work. The road to completion for The Third Girls Aerial Squad is non-trivial, for its author, Takezou Nogame, seems to be dissatisfied with everything Musashino Animation has produced thus far. Moreover, the tight schedule means that finding animators is a challenge. However, it turns out that Chazawa was shirking his responsibilities, and with director Seiichi Kinoshita finally meeting up with Takezou Nogame, the two reach understanding with one another to decide on a suitable conclusion for The Third Girls Aerial Squad. Meanwhile, Ema Yasuhara gradually becomes more comfortable with her ability and confident in her assignments, taking under her wing. Misa Toudou joins Musashino Animation as one of the CG animators, and Midori Imai also is hired as a researcher for Musashino Animation. Having struggled to find employment as a voice actor, Shizuka Sakaki is assigned a small role as a character added for The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s revised ending: though their paths were winding and difficult, they ultimately fulfil their promise to work on a single anime production together, and this realisation brings Aoi to tears in what is Shirobako‘s most emotional moment. However, the journey doesn’t end here: there’s still the matter of delivering the tapes, and once Aoi is given a chance to talk to her friends, realise that there’s much to do as they work towards turning their own dreams into reality.

Shirobako has been a surprise hit like Girls und Panzer: while viewers may have initially felt the premise to be mundane, P.A. Works has largely been successful in telling a story about a group of friends’ journey into the animation industry. While Shirobako is a fictional work and cannot to be said to be a realistic depiction of the industry, the anime presents details that hint at the intricacies within the anime industry, and moreover, drives home the idea that one’s occupation very much becomes a part of them, and that their path from a starting point is largely determined by their motivation and enjoyment for the job. However, Shirobako also shows that disillusionment is possible for individuals whose vision and reality differ too greatly, and that acceptance might often be a critical part of being able to make the decision as to whether or not such an occupation is really for them; this is something that audiences can immediately relate to. University students such as myself will wonder where our degrees and experiences will lead us, while those in the workforce will look back on all of the challenges and choices that led them to their current position, and what they might aspire towards in the future. By being able to invoke this self-reflection, Shirobako becomes an anime that holds universal appeal: tapping into something that viewers constantly think about, Shirobako weaves a story of perseverance, effort and daring to have large goals, ultimately, suggesting to viewers that it is possible to reach one’s dreams, even in the immeasurably competitive environment that is the workforce. This sense of immersion is quite persuasive, and audiences feel remarkably satisfied whenever things are going on the right track or culminate successfully for Aoi and her friends.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Here I am, armed with twenty screenshots for Shirobako‘s final half: while twenty screenshots seems like a reasonably small number, it still takes a bit of time to give all of them interesting figure captions. These figure captions are, in a way, the “episode notes” that some blogs are fond of, and provide my own thoughts on particular elements that the main paragraphs do not cover. However, they take time to write, and as such, I’ve capped the numbers at twenty, so not all moments can be captured.

  • Part of making fiction captivating is doing sufficient background research to ensure that the included elements are authentic enough such that viewers can view them as a natural element of the fictional world. In The Third Girls Aerial Squad, the focus is around an all-girls squadron flying older aircraft against overwhelming odds and overcoming their own internal struggles as they fight together.

  • The casting of voice actors is no easy task, and Musashino Animation’s staff work tirelessly to select the voice actor best suited for The Third Girls Aerial Squad. Shizuka is amongst the candidates, and although Musashino Animation considers her to be meritorious, they also find her voice to sound a little young for Aria’s role. However, even now, it’s clear that Shizuka has improved since her earlier auditions.

  • With Midori having accepted a position at Musashino Animation to aid in setting research, everyone save Shizuka appears to be moving closer to their promise from long ago. Back in the real world, the economy’s fallen upon difficult times because of low oil prices, making it difficult to find full time employment. For another year, I’ll hold my position at the university, but will need to consider full-time employment after graduation.

  • To this end, I’ll begin applying for positions come September; I cannot be a student forever, and admittedly, the idea of a PhD sounds quite intimidating, even more so than a Master’s degree. I’m hoping that the economy recovers, but as Sun Tzu said, one cannot count on their enemy to fail, but rather, upon their own preparedness.

  • The Third Girls Aerial Squad presents requirements that even push the more senior artists and animators to their limits; for this project, Aoi acts as the production desk and despite the new responsibilities and pressures, manages to fulfill her role exceedingly well; this is a project filled with roadblocks brought on by a creator whose editors never seem to wish to put in touch with the animators, leading to all sorts of difficulty with character designs and even story.

  • Someone is going to have to explain to me what is so special about Ema’s angel exercise and what its relation to Tetris is: as far as I’m concerned, keeping active somehow takes on an increased significance if one’s occupation does not involve so much physical activity. I capitalise on my gym membership and lift weights, since I otherwise spend long hours with software. Beyond this, Ema’s flexibility does not warrant paragraphs of gushing.

  • The reason why I’ve got no screenshots of Exodus or The Third Girls Aerial Squad is because these two shows have their own OVAs: the former has already been released, and the latter will be released somewhere in June. Assuming a light blogging schedule, I will aim to get talks on both out in one large post, and focus on whether or not Musashino Animation’s works could be viable as standalone shows.

  • While movies have always had first rate soundtracks, a great deal of attention is paid towards music in TV shows and games in the present. While software and synthesisers can pull of orchestral music quite easily, music played by the actual instruments tend to contribute to the emotional depth that music can bring into an anime. It is this reason that allowed the Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi to perform as well as it did, it is this that I hope to see in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, and in Shirobako, the music quite good at fulfilling its intended role of drawing out the moods in the different moments.

  • Daisuke Hiraoka is one of the new staff hired as a production assistant. Throughout the second half, he displays an overwhelming sense of apathy, making him an immensely unlikable character. It isn’t until his backstory is given that the audience begins to sympathise with him: his love and dedication for the anime industry caused him more pain when faced with the realities of the job, leading him to adopt the idea that rolling out a finished product on time is more important than rolling out a finished product the viewers will appreciate. Aoi allows Hiraoka to continue with his work on the condition that he communicates more clearly with the other animators.

  • I captured only 95 images across Shirobako‘s second half: most of them are actually inside Musashino Animation’s office space. Here, Tsubaki Andou and Sara Satou can be seen. They’re the new blood at Musashino Animation and have Aoi as their senior, learning very quickly the ins and outs of the job. The desks and interiors show an animation company that’s got a lived-in, inviting appearance: my own desk is probably the most tidy of everyone at the research lab at present. I’ve omitted Aoi’s excursion with Masato Marukawa to their old studio, where Aoi cries her eyes out after viewing a moving episode of Andes Chucky.

  • Director Seiichi Kinoshita dons a Western outfit and squares off with Nogame’s editorial department after emailing the latter for a meeting to discuss how The Third Girls Aerial Squad should end. The amount of effort it takes to actually speak with Nogame borders on insane, with various staff members employing some unusual measures for keeping Seiichi out, and Seiichi capitalising on his own strengths to overcome them. These moments must be seen to be believed, as screenshots do not come close to doing this section justice.

  • Watching Nogame and Seiichi converse and subsequently reach an agreement on the ending was one of the best moments of Shiobako, outlining the significance of communication between the creators and producers. It is for this reason I’ve got an eye on development management and other positions where communication is important; having a multidisciplinary background means I should be able to reasonably keep up with both the developer’s technical terms and the client’s application-driven requirements.

  • The new ending introduces a new character that Musashino Animation’s staff must incorporate into the story; it turns out that Shizuka’s voice is perfectly suited for this role, and she delivers the lines with finesse, signifying just how far she’s come since her earliest auditions at Shirobako‘s beginning.

  • Aoi realises that, with Shizuka providing her voice for The Third Girls Aerial Squad, everyone has worked together on their first project since high school and is overcome with emotion. Shirobako joins the likes of Nagi no Asukara and Angel Beats as anime that convey the moods of a moment so well, I tear up alongside the characters. It speaks to just how well-written the scenes in Shirobako are if it can invoke such strong emotions for the viewers.

  • Shirobako‘s finale is centred around the delievery of the VHS tapes carrying the finale to various broadcasting stations around Japan, and ordinarily, this would be quite a mundane task involving carrying a small package to the studio. Shirobako transforms this into a high-emotion, high-octane scene, even involving a police chase that rivals the urgency in Halo: Reach presented as it followed Noble Six’s efforts to deliver a package to the UNSC Pillar of Autumn.

  • After delivering her package, in a Calvin and Hobbes-esque bit of self-reflection, Aoi decides to continue making anime owing to the fact that she greatly enjoys the nature of her work, and the people who participate in the industry. This is a simple enough reason in and of itself, but as per the page quote, one is typically doing their job well when they are genuinely interested in what they do. Unlike Aoi, I do not have the luxury of figuring out what it is that I seek from life; graduate school has answered that for me, so it’s time to finish this program the with my absolute best, and then transform those experiences into something I can do for society itself.

  • Aoi makes it back to the celebration just in time to deliver a speech, but not before falling on her face in her haste to make it. While viewers nearly agree universally that Shirobako is good, no one’s quite been able to articulate why this is the case (before I stepped in with my uncanny analytical prowess). People can speak about expectations, production values, realism, and all sorts of other elements, but these things are secondary when compared to what makes Shirobako so enjoyable- it’s a story that most anyone can relate to, and when they see a bit of themselves in Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa and Shizuka, they cannot help but empathise with, and cheer for them as they make their way in the animation industry.

  • Aoi gives a speech to the whole of Musashiro Animation at their celebration, speaking of her awe at just how many people are involved in producing anime, beginning with the artists who created the first shows, and every single individual who has subsequently innovated in animation techniques or provided the stories for animation companies to bring to life. With Shirobako now over, it’s time for my usual speculation- Shirobako ended on such a solid note, in so decisively a fashion, that a sequel probably won’t be made. One would be quite welcome, although given Shirobako‘s impressive performance, a sequel would have some very large shoes to fill.

  • A very good place to start would be following Aoi and the others’s journey of bringing their own dream of animating and producing The Seven Lucky Battle Gods, which would act as a thrilling continuation of Shirobako. I might not recommend Glasslip to my worst enemy, but Shirobako exemplifies that one below-standard production from a studio does not suggest that a studio has lost its touch. I’m presently around halfway through Nagi no Asukara, and will probably finish in April. I also aim to pick up Isshuukan Friends and Koufuku Graffiti: typically, I steer clear of anime that gains excessive hype and will watch them on my own terms later. This way, I can say that I chose to watch a show of my own volition and found any merits in it quite independently of everyone else.

As an anime, Shirobako is one of P.A. Works’ strongest offerings in living memory; aside from offering a highly focused and relatable story, Shirobako also had a memorable cast. Consider that, even if I do not know the names of every single employee at Musashino Animation, I most definitely recognise their faces and mannerisms. Audiences can become invested in their actions and concerns, because time is taken to flesh out the characters and give their presence a context within Shirobako. As such, even if there is a vast number of characters, their presence confers a very life-like atmosphere at Musashino Animation, enhancing the sense of immersiveness and giving the impression that Musashino Animation is quite real, with numerous employees working towards the different components of an anime. Shirobako‘s capacity to incorporate all of these elements towards an anime about making anime ultimately crafts a world that is very human, even if it is fictional, and becomes something that manages to both tell a fulfilling story and serve as something that a large number of viewers can relate to.

The White Box Methodology in Shirobako

“I find that when you open the door toward openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through.” —Kirsten Gillibrand

“Shirobako” (白箱) is translated as a white box, and according to the official documentation, refers to the white boxes housing the VHS cassettes that were distributed to the production staff members prior to an anime’s release. The term itself is quite dated, and although these boxes are no longer used, the term still is applied towards the delivery of footage to the production team. The white boxes, “shirobako”, lend their name to the anime; P.A. Works’ staff express a wish for the fans to experience the process that culminates in the anime that plays on our television screens, following the sense of struggle and accomplishment that studios must go through in order to produce any anime. Thus, the title for Shirobako represents, in a neat package, the entire process that staff have taken to create a finished product for the fans; Shirobako‘s run fully captures this feeling, and a full review will be published on short order. However, for English-speakers, and software developers in particular, the phrase white box also has an additional meaning: white-box testing is a software testing method that tests the internal structure of a program, including control flow, data flow, branch testing, path testing, statement coverage and decision coverage. This is contrasted with black-box testing, which evaluates software based on its output without considering how the software itself works.

  • There’s a Shirobako full-series review in the works, and I’ll get that out quite soon (say, tomorrow). Talk about the white boxes and Shirobako doesn’t exactly fit in with the elements I’ll discuss in my full reflection, but was nonetheless something I feel is worth mentioning, which is why this topic gets a post to itself. These are what they might consider to be editorial posts, although I don’t have enough of these to classify them as a separate category.

In a general sense, white-box testing involves being able to understand all of the details within a program, ensuring that each component (or even the individual lines of code within a method) are doing their jobs properly. White-box testing aims to show that all of the parts of a program are indeed working, and curiously enough, Shirobako can easily be seen as taking the white-box approach towards showcasing the different stages in anime production. Aspects such as key frame animation, CGI, sound production, dubbing, release of promotional videos and all of the administrative work that Aoi undertakes are shown in great detail. Shirobako shows that anime production is gruelling, but also can be immensely rewarding; by putting these aspects into the open (as per the white-box methodology), the viewers do gain that sense of just how much effort goes into making anime. While P.A. Works probably never intended for Shirobako‘s title to take on such a meaning, the principles behind white-box testing make their way into Shirobako, as well. For the software developers amongst Shirobako‘s audience, this acts as a nice easter egg. For the entirety of Shirobako‘s audience, the anime provides a modicum of insight into what would otherwise appear as a black box for those not in the anime industry.

Kantai Collection: Whole-series review and reflection

“We know now that in modern warfare, fought on any considerable scale, there can be no possible economic gain for any side. Win or lose, there is nothing but waste and destruction.” ―Lester B. Pearson

Kantai Collection has finally reached a conclusion: the final quarter sees Fubuki train tirelessly to gain upgrades. These come just in time for Operation MI, a massive offensive to capture Abyssal territory and push them back. Akagi’s misgivings about the battle are offset by a relatively relaxed period leading up until the operation, but once the combat begins, abnormally powerful enemies (in the form of a boss, the Airstrip princess and an upgraded Wo-class carrier), and Yamato’s delay, force the Kan-musume into a difficult position, with Akagi’s dream becoming nightmarishly real. Outnumbered and overpowered, Nagato herself joins the fray, and the girls learn that the Admiral is alive and well. However, even with their renewed spirit, their enemy shrugs off countless rounds the Kan-musume put downstream. It takes an unwavering persistence and sheer determination for the Kan-musume to defeat the Airstrip Princess and its support forces. The Kan-musume are triumphant, but their victory is empty: what was gained by wiping floor with the Abyssals? The final episodes seem distinctly out of place in a series that had previously been very light-hearted in nature, and as it stands, Kantai Collection just isn’t suited for the philosophical discussion of what fate is. However, this is a series that isn’t over yet; there’s a second season set to release somewhere in the future (probably a year from now).

One question worth considering is whether or not Kantai Collection’s animated adaptation can be sufficient in motivating viewers to at least consider trying the game. For instance, after Girls und Panzer concluded, I was quite interested to try my own hand in World of Tanks, the closest equivalent to Panzerfahren and see if I was able to surpass Miho as a tank commander. There were aspects of the game that led me to abandon this endeavour, but that is neither here nor there; the point is that Girls und Panzer was able to excite me about armoured warfare. Has Kantai Collection succeeded in doing the same? The answer is no: going solely from the anime, I am presented with a simple world with the Kan-musume and the Abyssals, and I would be locked to playing as one side. I have a roughly better idea of what the different ships are through the anime, but this is the extent of the anime’s contribution. Even within this scope, the characters are easier to remember for their idiosyncrasies rather than their role in supporting Fubuki’s growth as a Kan-musume. Fubuki herself, despite being the anime’s protagonist, evokes mannerisms and traits from the leads of similar anime (Miho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer, Yoshika Miyafuji of Strike Witches and Nanako Usami of Locodol, to name a few), rather than exhibiting a personality that would distinguish her from those before her. Consequently, beyond showcasing some of the characters, Kantai Collection’s animated adaptation cannot be said to be particularly successful at elevating interest in the game.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve finally trundled across the finish line for Kantai Collection, and one thing should be made abundantly clear: the anime’s overall contribution to the Kantai Collection francise as a whole is insubstantial, but nonetheless, even if this is something that I am unlikely to recommend, Kantai Collection is fun to watch if one disengages their cognitive faculties. A handful of the initial images in this post deal with Fubuki taking heavy fire, providing some visual imagery as to how some fans feel about the series as a whole.

  • Much of episode ten sees Fubuki getting her ass handed to her by her own single-minded determination to improve as a Kan-musume, and Mutsuki expresses concern for Fubuki after the latter very nearly sinks during a combat operation while trying to go for one more kill. As per speculation, the final quarter did attempt to make things more serious, but as noted previously, this was a series that likely wouldn’t have worked if things had been serious.

  • I’ve known long ago about the “marriage” system in Kantai Collection, which is supposed to confer advantages in-game. From a practical perspective (as far as how the Pacific War actually played out), marrying a carrier would be most useful; the Pacific War was decided by the aircraft carrier.

  • I’m noticing a fair number of discussions on Kantai Collection throwing around the phrase “wasted potential” or similar without ever going justifying themselves. This is not a sufficient argument against Kantai Collection. It’s laziness: this is because the discussion’s participants never address what a show could have been. If there’s “wasted potential”, what would they have liked to see? However, forcing participants to think about this may sometimes be met with hostility: it’s always easy to tear down and criticise, but it’s much tougher to stop and rationalise it: since disappointment is felt rather than quantified, articulating one’s thoughts can admittedly be challenging for some, although it never really hurts to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.

  • I won’t throw the phrase “wasted potential” around without justifying what stems my thoughts. I consider that Kantai Collection might have been able to differentiate itself from the anime by making use of its twelve episodes to build a rich world for the Kan-musume: this world-building would foster that attachment to the characters and motivate the Kan-musume’s necessity as a weapon against the Abyssals. Such a world building would need to focus on one aspect in order to be fully explored within the space of twelve episodes.

  • I was admittedly disappointed when Fubuki’s upgrades only appeared to give one tier’s worth of change, whereas Yuudachi appears to have gotten the full package. The changes are very subtle and include superior armaments, and perhaps in a bit of meta-humour, Fubuki herself is disappointed with the minimal change to her appearance and assets.

  • Kantai Collection was at its best with humour-driven moments, and when Akagi begins mentioning something about “overcoming fate”, it feels like a distant attempt to give the girls’ sorties some weight to them that comes too little, too late: the Kan-musume aim to “protect everyone”, but so far, this “everyone” is never shown.

  • So begins Operation MI to annihilate an Abyssal force: Operation MI’s real-world counterpart was part of Admiral Yamamoto’s strategy for the Battle of Midway. He intended to disperse his fleet and attack the American airfield in waves, employing deception to ensnare the US fleet. However, Yamamoto’s plan did not account for the fact that the Americans had already repaired the USS Yorktown, assuming they only had two operational carriers and the fact that their naval codes had been cracked.

  • The Battle of Midway itself opened with American forces launching light attacks against a Japanese escort group, and the Japanese forces launching to unsuccessfully bomb the Midway airfield. Douglas TBD Devastator groups were also launched, and although they were eliminated completely and inflicted no damage, did delay the Japanese forces’ ability to refuel and rearm their aircraft, leading them to leave ammunition on their carriers’ flight decks. This left them vulnerable to the Dauntless dive bombers, which wasted the Japanese carriers and crippling the IJN’s capacity to project air power for the remainder of the war.

  • The Kan-musume do not suffer the same fate in their Operation MI: despite losing her operational capacity, Akagi is saved by a well-timed shot from Fubuki, and Kaga lends her a bow. Later, Zuikaku makes and appearance and lends Kaga a bow, saying that they were half-expecting the First Carrier Group to run into trouble.

  • Despite squaring off with the airfield princess and coming under heavy fire, Kongou never loses her cheerful manner, casually laying down her usual pseudo-English phrases and artillery bombardments against the Abyssal forces. During the fight with the Abyssals, any semblence of a respect for the laws of physics go out the window as the Kan-musume resort to even melee attacks to take on the Abyssals.

  • Haruna and Hiei’s cannon configuration is identical to that of an X-Wing from Star Wars and also appears to be able to execute quad-fire, where every cannon is fired to inflict additional damage. I’ve seen Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and truth be told, while the former has a more focused story, the character designs from Kantai Collection are more appealing.

  • Discussions I’ve had here seemed to foreshadow that a Wo-class carrier would serve as the final boss for the series; but this was not the case, as Fubuki quickly wipes out the Wo-class that she’d damaged in an earlier sortie. That showdown was brief and quite anti-climatic, but yesterday was anything but; I picked up volume seven of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, and spent most of the day preparing to teach Java’s Swing API. The day ended with Korean BBQ chicken and a skewer of grilled shrimp as some Tuesdays and Thursdays are wont, given that my tutorials occur by evening this term.

  • Fortunately, the term’s almost over, and once I can finish the implementation of my agent-based system soon, my team can finally test it and submit it for the term assignment. After this comes the oral exam for multi-agent systems, and if I can survive that, the summer will be upon me. I’ve finally gotten some of the basic elements of my project imported into the Unreal Engine and will be acquiring a newer computer for development soon. Back to Kantai Collection, the airfield princess’ durability is such that the Admiral’s orders encompass bringing out every last Kan-musume to the fight, including Nagato, who has hitherto acted as a secretary and operated at command rather than fighting on the front lines.

  • While the IJN suffered a major defeat at Midway, the Kan-musume triumph over their adversaries. The Abyssals’ origins and stories are never officially explained in Kantai Collection, and fan speculation has varied greatly concerning how the Abyssals came to be: some theories claim that they’re supposed to be representations of the Allied vessels, while others take a leaf from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and suppose that the Abyssals are born of a downed Kan-musume’s grudge.

  • The first theory would suggest that Kantai Collection is an attempt to glorify and justify the IJN’s actions during the Second World War. Although I have a strong dislike of the IJN for their actions and do not condone their role in the Second World War, at the end of the day, Kantai Collection does not appear to be giving off a vibe that suggests it is advocating Imperial Japan’s beliefs or actions in any way: instead, Kantai Collection‘s popularity (for the browser game) stems from its attention to detail. On an unrelated note, here’s something I’m wondering: does Akagi resemble Girls und Panzer‘s Hana Isuzu from a physical perspective?

  • The second theory, on the other hand, is subtly endorsed by the anime: after Operation MI ends, a hair ornament not dissimilar to Kisuragi’s floats to the surface, suggesting that the souped-up Wo-class carrier might’ve been her. If this is indeed the case, there’s less explaining to do with respect to history, but such an outcome would also necessitate a better explanation of what this world constitutes exactly: is it an alternate history or just a game running on someone’s computer?

  • I admit that, as someone who’s not played the game or are likely to play the game in the foreseeable future (between Kantai Collection and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, the former isn’t even an opponent), my own reflection on the series might not be as complete or representative of which audiences the Kantai Collection is suited for. With that being said, there are a few meaningful reviews out there that fans of the game have drafted, and from the looks of things, this series was so-so for them on average.

  • While Kantai Collection is unable to deliver a final product that sets it apart from the game, there is a single aspect that few can criticise. This is the soundtrack, a behemoth with sixty four tracks spanning hundred-and-fourty-five minutes that does a superb job of capturing and amplifying the emotional tenor of every moment in Kantai Collection, whether it be the majestic, militaristic songs for the Kan-musume, the Abyssal’s ominous motifs, and making use of strings to really bring out the right mood for the more emotional pieces. The soundtrack has an older feeling to it, reflecting on the Kan-musume’s origins, and I dare to say that soundtrack is so good that Kantai Collection doesn’t even deserve it: some of the best pieces on the soundtrack could be used in a far more serious film, such as Letters from Iwo Jima, and they’d still probably work.

  • A second season’s been announced, and I might just watch it because some days, inconsistent plots and flaws do not triumph over the eerily effective combination of moé and explosions. This is it for Kantai Collection posts from this blog as far as I can foresee, and over the next week, I will be striving to complete talks on Shirobako and SaeKano before the Spring 2015 season is officially upon us even as I gear up to wrap up the agent-based system I’m working on with my group, and finish grading for my students in a timely fashion.

As an anime, Kantai Collection is at its strongest when it chose to stick to Fubuki’s character and build the events from her perspective in the early episodes. This meant that there is always a familiar character to view events from: as a new destroyer when the series starts, other characters explain to Fubuki how various things work. As the series progresses, later episodes show deficiencies concerning how the universe of Kantai Collection is explored: is this strictly a simulated world that is intended to showcase what the game looks like from the Kan-musume’s perspective, or is there actually a reason the Abyssals are antagonising humanity? If it’s the latter, what about the Kan-musume make them more effective at combating the Abyssals then fully-trained Naval staff? What are the stakes of allowing the Abyssal threat to go uncontested? There is the possibility to give the Kan-musume’s campaign more weight (otherwise, this would simply be a full-blown slice-of-life anime), although this aspect never really is explored to any extent. Kantai Collection does have some good visuals, and a soundtrack that rivals those of a full-on war film in quality, but without giving the viewers a solid reason to support the Kan-musume, these elements ultimately are insufficient to counteract the overwhelming sense that the world of Kantai Collection feels very empty. This is an anime that’s difficult to recommend: from what mine ears have picked up, this is a series that left even its target audience (namely, those who’ve played the game) disappointed, and as such, Kantai Collection best suited for the most die-hard fans of the military moé genre, or those who have an uncommonly open mind.

Goddess of the Aegean Sea: Strike Witches- Operation Victory Arrow Episode Two (Screenshots, Reflection and Commentary)

“But courage which goes against military expediency is stupidity, or, if it is insisted upon by a commander, irresponsibility.” —Erwin Rommel

The second Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow volume is finally out, and this time, the episode’s focus is Charlotte and Francesca, who are assigned to a squadron with Hanna and her partner Raisa Pottgen to destroy a Neuroi on Delos Island. While the command’s plan is to annihilate the island completely with the hope of taking out the Neuroi, Francesca’s strong family ties with Delos means that she object’s to the objective, and they manage to convince General Erwin Rommel to change the plan. Their initial strike fails, but the next day, Charlotte, unwilling to let Francesca down, decides to make use of an abandoned ship’s winch to pull the Neuroi out of its hiding place, allowing the naval forces to destroy the Neuroi without any damage to the island. Afterwards, Francesca takes Charlotte and the others on a tour of Delos and its artifacts.

Goddess of the Aegean Sea‘s main message lies with Francesca’s single-minded determination to destroy the Neuroi without causing any collateral damage to the island: having long valued the island as a special place for her family, Francesca is willing to do her utmost to protect her homeland. This stands in stark contrast with her more childish, laid-back mannerisms throughout most of the TV series, and together with another episode from the second season, demonstrates her love for Romagna and that, when the chips are down, even the youngest of the 501st is indeed a capable Witch. This OVA also shows a more serious side to Charlotte, as well: similar to Francesca, Charlotte is generally easy-going, but is ever-willing to help Francesca out to the fullest of her abilities. Conversely, because Hanna cannot initially understand the island’s emotional value to Francesca, she is unable to contribute to the fight on their first attempt to destroy it. A conversation with Raisa and Colonel Edytha Neumann rectifies that: and after watching Charlotte’s efforts to utilise a winch to force the Neuroi out, finally lends herself to carry out the mission and learns that Delos was worth preserving after all.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • At long last, a week after its release, the internet finally has a half-decent collection of screenshots that can be accessed without the need to install an ad-blocker and some solid anti-virus software: the only other place to have screenshots is a site with an orange triangle for its logo, and their lead writer is presently inactive. Of course, their discussions are also woefully lacking, so, even from an objective perspective, my blog is easily preferable to theirs as far as Strike Witches content goes.

  • Existing Strike Witches fans will have no trouble recognising Francesca Lucchini, and as is my custom, I refer to all characters by their given names, rather than family names. As the youngest member of the 501st, Francesca had minimal focus in the first season and was typically seen sleeping around the base, and in the second season, her devotion to Romagna was given a full episode’s worth of exploration.

  • After the 501st disbanded following the second season, Charlotte stays with Francesca in Sicily, the largest island in Italy. With a Mediterranean climate, Sicily has mild and wet winters and hot, dry summers, and with its volcanic soil, the island is particularly suited for agriculture. Wine is one of the most well-known exports from Sicily Italy, although tourism also constitutes a fair portion of the island’s economy.

  • Zuppa di pesce Sicilia is a fish stew with various fish fillets (swordfish, sea bream and conger are common), crustaceans (prawns here) and mollusks. Strike Witches spares no detail in detailing this, and this looks absolutely amazing at 1080p. While lunch is being served, a phone call sends Francesca and Charlotte to a nearby installation, with word of an impending operation against a Neuroi holed up in an island.

  • Thus, the peace and calm in the episode’s opening moments are lost as Francesca and Charlotte head off to group with local forces. Having learnt that Delos is the island in question, the operation takes on a personal significance for Francesca, whose family visits the island to relax and spend time with one another.

  • The vivid blues of the skies in Strike Witches are one of the reasons why I enjoy the artwork in this series to the extent that I do: the colours add a sense of depth and purity to their world, and, even if it is a world ravaged by alien monstrosities, there nonetheless remains a great deal of beauty, and in regions far from the front lines, this world’s inhabitants continue to live their lives normally.

  • Hanna-Justina Marseille makes a return from the TV series; she previously participated in an operation to boost morale, and is supremely confident in her own abilities. While this aggravates Gertrude to no end, Charlotte somehow manages to maintain a cool head and wastes no opportunity to poke fun at her.

  • The original operation involved making use of the Witches as decoys to distract the Neuroi, and then utilising the naval forces’ full power to utterly decimate island with the aim of taking out the Neuroi with it. Such a measure is unlikely to have been successful in the absence of dedicated ground penetrator munitions, and 1940s-era battleships did not have nearly enough firepower to completely destroy an island.

  • Given that it’s the 1940s in their universe, it’s easy to forgive them for this minor bit of inaccuracy: in actuality, such sustained bombardments were performed historically. At Iwo Jima, the US Navy conducted a nine-month long operation to soften the island up using a combination of Naval artillery and airstrikes, but aside from destroying a handful of bunkers, most of the reinforced structures the Japanese had remained intact, and the Battle of Iwo Jima became a five-week long campaign to take the island.

  • With General Rommel’s permission, the Witches are given an opportunity to lure out the Neuroi and bomb it using what appears to be 250-pound or 500-pound bombs, counting on their explosive power to destroy the Neuroi’s core. Neuroi is a curious term, and as a noun, has no plural form. While this might be considered unusual, there are a large number of English words without plural form (barring uncountable nouns), such as aircraft.

  • Like St. Trond’s ThunderGoddess of the Aegean Sea is actually quite restrained as far as posterior shots of the Witches go, and there are only a handful of them throughout the OVA. Reflecting that, I’ve only chosen to include two moments in this here review, and this image of Hanna doubles as yet another example of the superb choice of colours that Strike Witches makes use of to depict its world. This has been mentioned in Shirobako, and as they correctly note, the choice of colours can do a fantastic job of telling a story about the atmosphere within an anime.

  • Despite reaching their destination and delivering their payload, the Neuroi reveals its anti-air countermeasures, destroying both the bombs hurtling towards it. Contrasting the aircraft-shaped Neuroi of St. Trond’s ThunderGoddess of the Aegean Sea‘s Neuroi resembles a Chinese-style Dragon, or perhaps a centipede. Unlike Western Dragons, which are scaled lizards with wings and gargantuan proportions, Chinese Dragons are more serpentine in nature.

  • Frustrated by the Neuroi’s resilience, Francesca abandons reason and attempts to rush the Neuroi, but sustains damage in the process. With their primary means of destroying the Neuroi spent, the Witches decide to withdraw from the battlefield, with their first attempt having ended in failure. However, before leaving hostile airspace, Charlotte notices the wreck of a freighter vessel that was sunk in the episode’s opening moments.

  • Seeing Francesca’s dejection spurs Charlotte to make another attempt, leading her to clash verbally with Hanna. Raisa, on the other hand, is more sympathetic, offering to listen to Francesca’s concerns.

  • This scene lacks the traditional fog layers and lens flare effects that a TV series would have, being much more in line with a BD release, and as such, this is the maximum level of detail I’m permitted to show here. This leads me to wonder if the original theatrical screening of Goddess of the Aegean Sea would have made use of the aforementioned fog and/or lighting layers to keep it more work safe (or at least, as work safe as one can make Strike Witches).

  • The next morning, Charlotte and Hanna sortie first to carry out the original plan. At this point in time, this Operation Victory Arrow talk is being pushed out ahead of my Terror in Resonance post: I do write reviews on requests from the readers, and I occasionally pick up anime on requests from the same. However, owing to time constraints, I priorities the materials that I myself have planned for in advance, especially during a busy time such as this.

  • Edytha Neumann is a Witch affiliated with the Karlsland Air Force and serves as the commanding officer of the Jagdgeschwader 27 Gruppe I. Unlike Minna, she’s more rigid and disciplined, expecting those under her to follow orders and also holding high expectations for Hanna.

  • After a bit of effort, Charlotte manages to tie the freighter’s cable winch to the Neuroi. So, this leads to the question of what’s keeping me occupied at present; the answer to that is a term project that involves creating computer agents for a rescue simulator. The software platform is quite difficult, since the in-line documentation is relatively limited: to enforce agent cooperation, agents can only communicate with one another through the simulator.

  • As such, reading through the simulator’s API and figuring out how to access certain information about the simulated map is quite challenging. At this point in time, the cooperation concept, and the agent’s situation set, action set and decision functions have been designed. All that’s left is the implementation, and hopefully, our team will finish soon so we may test out our agents. I’m also experimenting with the Unreal Engine; Epic Games made Unreal Engine free back in early March, prompting Unity to release Unity 5’s full version for free, as well. The paid version of Unity will feature more team development and profiling tools.

  • The Unreal Engine is far more difficult to use and far more resource-intensive than Unity, but if used properly, I feel that it can substantially improve my project. As such, once my hardware’s been upgraded, I will begin learning Unreal in earnest and port my project over. Admittedly, this is quite a daunting task, since Unreal is remarkably complex and is the same engine that powers many of the Triple-A titles out there, including Borderlands 2Mass Effect and BioShock Infinite. Back in Operation Victory Arrow, Charlotte is encountering considerable difficulties in using the winch to pull the Neuroi all the way out.

  • One of the main limitations of the Unreal Engine actually stems from its complexity: it’s optimised for mainly first and third person games with a beautiful but fixed world, lacking the capacity to provide a means of procedurally generating worlds. A procedurally generated world could hypothetically have an infinite size, and if constructed appropriately, such a game could have a vast replay potential.

  • Impressed with Charlotte’s ingenuity, Rommel authorises Charlotte’s actions despite Neumann’s protests and personally arrives to provide assistance. General Erwin Rommel was a famous officer who was widely seen as a humane, professional commander who never committed any war crimes (in fact, he chose to ignore orders to brutalise POWs). Girls und Panzer‘s Riko Matsumoto draws inspiration from Rommel, sporting the same German Field Marshal’s Cap and is a capable commander.

  • While Hanna is not particularly skilled in working together as a team owing to her attitude, Goddess of the Aegean Sea has her work with Charlotte and the others to complete the operation and also defend her pride as the Star of Africa. With her cooperation, the results cannot be denied, and at last, the Neuroi is forced from its cave, where a full armada of battleships await.

  • With the Neuroi’s main body exposed, the fleet opens fire, and the sustained fire destroys the Neuroi. I believe this is the first instance where conventional forces can be credited with a kill against the Neuroi, although even then, it could not have been accomplished as effectively without the Witches.

  • In most of my Kantai Collection talks, I express an interest in learning more about the Abyssal. Generally, I prefer antagonists to have a bit of background so one can at least understand what their motivations in opposing the protagonists are, although I grant the generic, nameless antagonist one legitimate use: in series like Strike Witches (and perhaps Kantai Collection), the antagonists serve as a catalyst that reinforces the relationships amongst the main protagonists without pushing war-related thematic elements to the forefront.

  • As such, a series featuring antagonists such as the Abyssals or Neuroi encourage the viewers to worry less about the morality of their conflict, and focus more on the interactions between the characters. The end of Strike Witches‘ first season seems to deviate from this approach, when Yoshika approaches a human-shaped Neuroi. However, this idea is promptly abandoned by the second season, suggesting that the Neuroi probably aren’t meant to facilitate discussions on morality and warfare beyond the black-and-white approach Strike Witches normally takes.

  • Having defeated the Neuroi, Francesca, Charlotte, Hanna and Raisa take a monent to check out the island and the remnants of the Greek structures that once stood here. The Sicily region does indeed have Greek ruins that date back to 750 BC, and it is during this period that olive and grape vines become farmed here.

  • The ending suggests that Francesca and Charlotte have left Sicily and are travelling along the northern shores of Africa on their next great adventure: they eventually reach Tobruk, a city on Libya’s Mediterranean Coast. The city was captured by Axis forces in June 1942, and the Allies recaptured it in November 1942. The city presently has a population of 120000.

  • I’ve decided that each Operation Victory Arrow post will have a picture of Yoshika sharing the Witches’ adventures with her best friend, Michiko Yamakawa for the reasons that I’ve mentioned previously: no Strike Witches post is complete without mentioning the series’ heroine, Yoshika, at least once. For the time being, I’m holding back on my Terror in Resonance post until at least my term project makes good progress, and instead, priority will go to ensuring that I get the final Kantai Collection and Shirobako talks out on time. With The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan coming out in early April, I anticipate pushing the Terror in Resonance post back a ways: it’ll come out when it comes out.

  • The last picture will be of the Witches who were shown in the episode. Like the first Operation Victory Arrow volume, the second volume was also fun to watch and also managed to raise a little bit of discussion: I hope that other viewers enjoyed it, and given that my previous prediction was correct, the next Operation Victory Arrow post will come out somewhere in August. By then, I’ll hopefully have a better grasp of Unreal and will have made some progress with the VR component of my thesis, as well.

St. Trond’s Thunder was about Erica’s aversions to experimental technology, and the second Strike Witches OVA manages to keep pacing with the first episode and continue to tell a compelling story that manages to be self-contained and satisfying. While the TV series was purely dedicated towards illustrating the character dynamics amongst the whole of the 501st, the OVAs’ setup allow for characters to be fleshed out, both with respect to their typical character and their more serious sides. Thus, even though St. Trond’s Thunder had already done so, Operation Victory Arrow manages to impress again with its focus and decision to present a serviceable story while simultaneously maintaining the atmosphere that viewers have come to expect from Strike Witches. This allows the audience to empathise with the characters to a greater extent and become invested in the outcome of their adventures; it’s a welcome direction in the Strike Witches franchise and does much to convey the idea that such a world, rich in lore, can be properly explored even if there is a lack of pants. The next and final OVA, Arnhem Bridge, will feature Lynette Bishop, Perrine H. Clostermann and Amelie Planchard. It’s set for a release in Japanese Cinema on May 2, 2015, and assuming the three month trend to hold, we could see this OVA out by mid-August.

Battlefield Hardline: A Reflection on the Beta

“We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.” —Jim Gordon, Batman Begins

Battlefield: Hardline is the latest installment in the Battlefield Series, and there was an open beta that was active between February 3 and February 8. I only heard about the beta on the final day, but nonetheless, had an opportunity to try things out for myself. Compared to previous titles, Battlefield: Hardline is set from the law enforcement and criminals’ perspectives, rather than from a warfare perspective, and features new multiplayer game types to keep the series fresh. The beta included Heist (a variation of capture the flag), hotwire mode (where drivable cars take the role of traditional conquest “flags.” Like Conquest, capturing cars will bleed the enemy team’s reinforcement tickets) and a more traditional conquest game-type. Battlefield: Hardline is set for release on March 17, and the campaign is set in Miami. Embroiled in a drug war, the story follows the newly-minted detective, Nick Mendoza. Alongside his partner, veteran detective Khai Minh Dao , he follows the drug supply chain from the streets to the source. In a series of increasingly off-the-books cases, the two detectives come to realize that power and corruption can affect both sides of the law.

  • Back in the days of Enter The Matrix, there was the Colt RO635 9 mm submachine gun, which was a derivative of the M-16 family that fired pistol rounds. As a reasonably effective and accurate weapon in the game, this SMG was less effective and less common than the Heckler and Koch MP5-N later on in the game. Back in Battlefield: Hardline, the RO933 is a weapon for the game’s equivalent of the assault class, and comes with a stubby grip, flash hider and a Micro T1 sight.

  • Although it’s not as powerful as an assault rifle, the RO933 is a reasonably effective weapon for closer engagements, although a combination of inexperience with the maps and the other players having gear better suited for their styles meant I was killed often. The Beta featured three levels: Dust Bowl (the current map), Downtown (which I don’t have any screenshots of) and Bank Job. I personally preferred the city maps, but for one reason or another, Dust Bowl was the most frequently available map when I tried the beta.

  • Coins take the place of ribbons for performing actions that contribute to the team’s score, although similar with the previous installments, they’re achieved for obtaining a certain number of actions (such as flag captures, kills with different weapons or kill types). The HUD in Battlefield: Hardline is an improvement over that of Battlefield 4‘s, featuring Sans Serif fonts that are easy to read, and a design that reminds me of both Microsoft’s Metro and Apple’s Flat designs.

  • I’ve always wondered if there would ever be a game about drug wars and so on, and Battlefield: Hardline appears to deliver that. However, as I much as I would love to play this for myself, at present, I’m still a little behind on some titles, hence my decision to skip on it. I’ve finally begun Valkyria Chronicles, and with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood releasing in May, I’m going to hold back and pick the latter up once the time comes, along with Wolfenstein: The New Order should it go on sale.

  • It would’ve been nice if Battlefield 3 gave bonuses for spotting as well as spotting accomplished with the TUGS. Here, I’m playing a heist match on Bank Job, the other map that I do have screenshots for. My only match on Downtown was a hot-wire game, and I won that simply by spawning in a vehicle and rode around for the entire duration of the mission. Here, I’m rocking the Professional class, who starts with the Scout Elite rifle. I’ve used it to score some headshots at range in Dust Bowl.

  • Set in the city, I personally find that Bank Job does an excellent job with lighting effects and atmospherics on the inside of buildings: this definitely feels like a grand, old American bank. Battlefield: Hardline takes the game back to the United States and the campaign will initially start out in Miami, Florida. While I’m not likely to play Battlefield: Hardline for a while, I will probably take a look at the campaign through TheRadBrad’s play-throughs.

  • After experimenting with the different classes, I found that the assault rifles were my personal preference, and in no time at all, got myself a bronze service star for the RO933. I believe at this point in time, Battlefield 4‘s “Final Stand” expansion pack has been released; this expansion is said to act as a prequel of sorts to Battlefield 2142 and features some futuristic weapons, including the Rorsch Mk-1 Rail Gun, the XD-1 Accipiter Multiple Kill Vehicle (a small drone with a supremely powerful minigun) and the HT-95 Levkov prototype hover-tank. It seems logical that the next big Battlefield title will probably be a modernised version of Battlefield 2142, given this expansion, although I’m personally hoping for Battlefield: Bad Company 3 to come out.

  • The enforcer class replaces the support class and was much more difficult to play, given that I no longer have a LMG to lay down automatic fire with. Instead, the support class gains access to a shotgun in Battlefield: Hardline, unlocking the heavier battle rifles later on. Back in Bad Company 2, I excelled with the medic class because they had access to an LMG, and in Battlefield 3, the support class was my go-to class because of the LMGs.

  • Unfortunately for some, it appears that any of the promotions and experience one has gained during the beta will be lost once the game launches on Tuesday. While this won’t affect me, I imagine that it will be a little disheartening to see all of that experience and unlocks disappear, but this is a good idea in the name of fairness, so all players who do decide to play the game from launch will start out on an even footing. A quick look at my BattleLog shows that all my stats have indeed disappeared since the beta closed.

  • Here, I’m rocking the mechanic class, who comes with a personal defense weapon and specialises in repairing/destroying vehicles, and as with Battlefield 4, the last game I managed to play before I called it quits was a game that I won. Earlier, I mentioned that a Terror in Resonance post was coming out: news of the Girls und Panzer movie just came out earlier today, and I realised that with Battlefield: Hardline releasing in two days, I might as well finish this talk (which I should’ve written in February but forgot to). Volume two of Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow (Goddess of the Aegan Sea) released on Friday, and I’ll get a review for that out as soon as my copy arrives.

The Battlefield: Hardline beta handled quite smoothly; the weapons were responsive, shots landed where I intended for them to and the game performs well at high settings on my two-year old machine. There’s a new unlock system where players can purchase which weapon attachments and equipment based on their earnings through performing in-game objectives, and also, a vast array of weapons and gear that are more fitting of law enforcement and criminal groups. This means changing up the dynamics of Battlefield: the enforcer class no longer has access to a LMG and instead, makes use of a shotgun for combat, for instance, and AT missiles for the mechanic are exchanged for grenade launchers. I only spent two hours in the Battlefield: Hardline beta, and while it was a little limiting to only have access to the base weapons, the game remained fun for the new gametypes. However, from a personal perspective, I probably won’t be picking this title up: as entertaining as the cops-and-robbers dynamics are, there will probably be some issues on launch day, and moreover, I’ve got a pile of games to either play through or get (Valkyria ChroniclesWolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood) but I may consider it in the future as time permits.