The Infinite Zenith

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

The Last Tiger: Reflections on the Battlefield V Campaign

“Well, commanders don’t have the luxury of saying old shit that comes into their heads like drivers do!” –Peter Müller

Peter Müller is the commander of a Tiger I tank who fought in North Africa, but as Allied forces advance across Europe, German forces are forced into retreat. Müller is assigned with defending Cologne, and as they fight to repel Allied forces, come across soldiers branded as traitors and deserters. when artillery bombards Müller’s position, he is tasked with launching a counterattack. Despite successfully destroying the artillery pieces, Allied aircraft bombard the city. Müller sends Hartmann to scout ahead for a route, but Hartmann disappears in the smoke. When aircraft renew their bombardment and damages their Tiger, Müller himself leaves the tank to fend off the aircraft while his crew repair the tank. Rejoining his crew, Müller then makes his way to another position held by American forces and recovers documents pertinent to the war. As night falls, Müller is given a final assignment: to defend a cathedral from the relentlessly advancing American units. Despite Allied orders to surrender, the crew opt to fight. Over the radio, German command issues a retreat, but while Müller is crossing a bridge, German forces sabotage the bridge and destroy it. With their Tiger I out of commission, Müller decides to surrender and removes his Iron Cross. Schröder, who shot another crew member earlier, turns his MP40 on Müller. Despite the Führer’s order to defend Germany to the death resulting in countless German casualties, both civilian and military alike, the Allies capture Cologne in March 1945. Berlin itself would fall two months later, putting an end to the war. It is rare that a World War Two game would be presented from the Axis perspective, and players have long wondered what such stories would be like: in a single war story, Battlefield V gives rare insight into the thoughts of a German tank commander who once fought with the goal of bringing glory to Germany. But as the war wore on and casualties mounted along with increasing Allied resolve to crush Hitler’s tyranny, Müller begins to wonder if the war is still worth fighting when hope for victory becomes increasingly distant with each passing day.

History is written by the victor: when I was much younger, I always wondered why the “good guys” always won wars. It turned out that the vanquished don’t have much say in things, and intrigue in alternate outcomes of wars have been the source of many stories in the realm of fiction. The Allied forces fought in Europe to keep a maniacal dictator from spreading his influence over Europe and indiscriminately exterminating all those deemed undesirable. This much, the history books explain, but there are also untold stories of soldiers and officers with the Axis forces who were not fanatically devoted to Hitler’s visions. As the Nazi leadership became more untenable, many would begin wondering what they were fighting for, and whether or not what they were fighting for held any value. This is the story players see through Müller, who beholds the destruction and death that Hitler’s decisions had brought on the German people: increasing doubt and concern when leadership fails, and lingering questions as to whether or not alternatives, such as surrendering, are viable. A successful leader is one who can sway the minds of the moderate, who are likely the majority, and when one has a majority, they can realise their vision. When this majority begins faltering, and the leader loses the confidence of their people, they can no longer realise their vision regardless of how fanatical their most loyal supporters remain. By bringing this perspective of World War Two, Battlefield V gives a very brief sample of what a World War Two game written from the Axis perspective would be like: lacking a sense of heroism and accomplishment, players who finish a game about the Axis powers would come away with doubts about the value of conflict. Such a game could be a very sobering and instructive experience, representing a very novel and unique experience compared to other World War Two shooters available.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Ordinarily, I drive a tank with the camera directly behind me, or else from within. The Last Tiger does things very differently than the multiplayer, rather similar to how Battlefield 1‘s Storm of Steel modified the Mark V’s mechanics so that players could take the campaign in a more relaxed manner than in the multiplayer. After a few minutes, the novelty wore off, and I progressed with the mission, which is set in the ruined streets of Cologne: at this point in the war, Nazi forces had been pushed back into Germany by the Allied forces, who were nearing victory.

  • The Tiger I is one of the most iconic German tanks from World War Two, being famous for its legendary firepower and ability to shrug off damage from almost all Allied tanks. Despite its fearsome reputation, however, the Tiger I was also a fickle tank, being quick to break down, and was very expensive to manufacture. While superior to the American M4 Sherman and Soviet T-34 in terms of durability and firepower, Tiger Is were produced in sufficiently small numbers to have had a minimal outcome on the war.

  • By the later days of the war, British engineers had designed new kinetic penetrators that could deal damage to Tiger tanks at range, while American tacticians focused on using anti-tank guns rather than other tanks to deal with Tigers. The Soviets, in their typical manner, deployed the SU-52, whose 152 mm main gun was more than sufficient to turn Tiger tanks into scrap metal. While technology advanced, the once-mighty Tiger would come to represent a German war machine no longer able to keep up with the Allies’ superior resources and resourcefulness.

  • The Tiger II was an upgrade to the Tiger I, featuring sloped armour that gave it additional protection and a 8.8 cm KwK 43 gun: an upgrade over the Tiger I’s Kwk 36, the Kwk 43 had a longer projectile whose increased length and propellant resulted in a higher muzzle velocity that gave it improved penetration at range. The Tiger II, Panther and Jagdpanther are noticeably absent from Battlefield V, as is the Jagdtiger.

  • Driving through the ruined streets of Cologne gives a very desolate feeling, one that I have not felt from a video game since the days when I played Sniper Elite V2. My original interest in Sniper Elite V2 came from the game giving players a chance to fight through the Flaktowers of Berlin, and my journey to land headshots took me through Berlin towards the latter day of the war.

  • Players will face the M4 Sherman during The Last Tiger: this medium tank was the most widely-produced American tank of World War Two and when introduced, it was able to deal with the weaker German tanks without much issue during North African campaigns. American military leadership never felt the need to produce a heavier tank, feeling that the logistics of supplying and maintaining heavier tanks, plus their limitations in traversing over terrain, would make heavy tanks unviable. While Shermans would be upgraded with a 76mm gun (from its original 75 mm gun) or the Ordnance QF 17-pounder, American forces opted to engage the Tiger tanks by means of numerical superiority and logistical support rather than introducing heavier tanks.

  • In The Last Tiger, M4 Shermans can be destroyed in as little as two shots, and players have access to unlimited ammunition, as well as unlimited repairs: I long imagined the lessening repair effectiveness in Battlefield V‘s multiplayer to be a bug, but it turns out that this is by design. Players operating tanks are forced to rely on resupply stations to for ammunition, and while they can self-repair tanks, friendly support players and resupply stations are much more effective. Their vulnerabilities mean that tanks are actually quite ineffective in open maps of conquest, where long lines of sight allow enemies to quickly spot armour and bring them down.

  • By comparison, more linear game modes like rush and frontlines allows tanks to be devastatingly effective. Back in the campaign, despite the sense of desolation, players still feel powerful as they single-handedly engage M4 tanks without much resistance. The Last Tiger is an excellent opportunity to experience how fearsome the Tiger I was – in the multiplayer, Tiger Is can be torn to shreds by a few coordinated assault players and feel distinctly underpowered, but here in the campaign, very little stands in Müller’s way as he pushes forward with his objective.

  • This is probably the feeling one might expect from the Tiger I: the Tiger I brings to mind Maho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer, who operates a Tiger I numbered 212 in reference to Michael Wittmann, a well-known German tank commander during World War Two. Despite her cold mannerisms, Maho is shown to be compassionate and kind-hearted; Shiho is similarly caring for her daughters despite any outward appearances, and this side of her personality is shown in Girls und Panzer: Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu!, which showcases various characters in everyday situations outside of Panzerfahren. In particular, Shiho has attempted to make amends with Miho in Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu! with a party, but ended up frightening Miho away with how ostentatious things were.

  • Shiho’s beliefs were not quite as well established when Girls und Panzer first aired, and so, were the subject of no small discussion some seven years previously. I watched this one from the sidelines: at this time of year, I was pushing through my undergraduate thesis and did not have time to spare for much else. In retrospect, I am very glad to have done this: when Girls und Panzer‘s final two episodes aired, I enjoyed both, wrote about them and then went on my merry way, leaving the flame war’s participants to their devices. Going through Girls und Panzer and hearing that the second instalment of Das Finale will come out in June has me wondering if DICE will make good on their live service model to add more content into Battlefield V‘s multiplayer in the way of new maps and factions.

  • At this point in time, I’ve almost got eighty hours in Battlefield V, meaning that I’m very close to breaking even (I believe that when I get a dollar per hour out of a game, I’ve gotten my money’s worth). The Tides of War have certainly kept me entertained –  I’ve played more Battlefield V than I did Battlefield 1 during the same period because there’s been a deep progression system and things to do each week, but admittedly, playing on the same maps gets dull fast. At this point in time, I have learned the maps well enough to anticipate where players are, and even campers blending in with the environment prove to be a lesser concern than the lingering question on my mind.

  • Battlefield V is supposed to be introducing the Firestorm Battle Royale game mode very soon, and admittedly, I have no interest in this mode whatsoever. I understand DICE’s wish to capitalise on the market demand for Battle Royale, but the game type never really appealed to me, and it’ll likely just remain unplayed. I would personally like to have more maps, more iconic battles and more factions. Back in the campaign, having pushed through the level and having melted all opposition in my path, the skies begin darkening as nightfall sets in. The mission, while largely set in a tank, has some segments where players will get to play as Müller while on foot.

  • The MP-40 makes a return here, and while on foot, it’s a solid all-around weapon for engaging American soldiers at close quarters. For the first time in a shooter, I was able to understand what the enemy was saying without the need for subtitles: having played Wolfenstein, I became accustomed to hearing enemies converse in German, and here, it was a little jarring. I ultimately did not manage to complete the stealth requirements for the challenges here, and ended up shooting my way through the entire segment of this war story.

  • This past weekend was quite busy: after an intense work week, I spent a Saturday afternoon at a shopping centre updating my wardrobe for spring, which has finally begin to arrive. After enjoying the best burgers, Russet fries and root beers this side of town, I picked up a beautiful new wristwatch in addition to shirts for the warming weather. I’ve had the old watch since I wrote the finale review for Gundam Unicorn – this watch had been with me to France, Cancún, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan; it’s a little worn and the gears aren’t in the best shape, but I was a little sad to decommission it. This new watch is a bit of a fashion statement, deliberately chosen it for its bronze highlights, distinct frame and the fact that it was on sale for five-eighths off, and I hope it’ll have a good run.

  • Yesterday was the spring lunch for my dōjō: I reached ni-dan a year ago, and while my new belt has not arrived yet, I certainly do feel a bit more with teaching and concepts than I did even a year ago. I spent most of the class helping set up the tables and transporting the food, and while the turnout this year was not quite as large as it was in years previously, it was still a good event with dragon dances and old karate films, as well as plenty of food (meat skewers, pot stickers, sweet-and-sour pork, spicy ginger beef, spring rolls, fries, fried noodles, fried rice, fried chicken, you get the picture). After the lunch ended and I had helped clean up, I took off to watch Captain Marvel with a friend who was in town. I found the movie a solid one, and while perhaps not as inspired or hilarious as Thor: RagnarokBlack PantherAvengers: Infinity War or Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a good movie in its own right that sets the stage for the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.

  • With no inclination for stealth, I ended up blasting my way through the American soldiers in the area to reach the documents. There was a similar mission in Sniper Elite V2 that saw me sneak through an empty but guarded building to locate documents relevant to the V2 programme. In Sniper Elite V2, shooting the fuel cap on a Tiger I was enough to destroy the entire tank; while unrealistic by all counts, it was a fun feature that allowed players to go toe-to-toe with armour with naught more than steady aim. I believe I got the title for five dollars, beat it once and then that was it.

  • I realise I’ve spent a great deal of this post going off-topic – the reality is that The Last Tiger is very straightforwards in its gameplay, and there aren’t very many unpleasant surprises in this mission. The Tiger I is capable of blasting all opposition into hunks of metal, and players only need to aim, fire and then take cover to repair as required; beyond this, The Last Tiger is a cinematic experience highlighting desperation in a losing war.

  • The final act of The Last Tiger is set in the burning ruins of Cologne, as Müller and his crew must fend off waves of Allied tanks. Players must contend with the T34 Calliope, which are modified Sherman M4s with a dedicated rocket launcher system so named for its unusual appearance. They can deal some damage to the player at range, so taking them out is a priority whenever they appear. The flaming cityscape screams desolation, and it is quite easy to see how this Tiger I crew, having held out for this long with a steadfast determination, begin losing resolve as their whole world appears to go up in flames.

  • This battle is intense, and despite Müller’s best efforts to stem the Allied advance on his own, the cathedral is overrun. German command orders him to retreat over the bridge, but before he can cross, the bridge is destroyed. This bridge is modelled after Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge, which crosses the Rhine River. With this post done, the last of my war stories posts is completed, and the next time I write about Battlefield V will be about the multiplayer, should there be new maps to explore. Insofar, Battlefield V‘s superior weapon mechanics and progression system have been held back by a lack of information: while I’m having fun with the game, it’s a bit problematic to not know what’s coming up next for the title.

  • While Battlefield V has proven to be a fun game, it appears that the franchise is struggling to decide what its next steps will be. The end result is that Battlefield V has not been as smooth as it could have been, although in hindsight, I don’t regret picking up Battlefield V. Having unlocked almost everything of note, it means that should I choose to direct my time elsewhere (say, The Master Chief Collection), I still have gotten reasonable value from Battlefield V. It would be a shame if iconic World War Two weapons, locations and battles never make it into the title (I would’ve liked to run more Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer loadouts), but I probably won’t be losing too much sleep over what could have been, as I reacquaint myself with the likes of Blood Gulch (Halo: Combat Evolved), Lockout (Halo 2) and Reflection (Halo: Reach).

With this post, I’ve finally finished writing about the war stories of Battlefield V: The Last Tiger brings a different style of gameplay with respect to tank operation, and as I came in with some experience from the multiplayer, things were a little unusual. Unlimited ammunition and self-repair capabilities makes Müller’s Tiger I much more survivable than any tank I’ve operated in the multiplayer, and players cannot actively switch between a third-person and first person view. Instead, the game locks players to an over-the-shoulder camera with options for optics. These decisions were made to purely accommodate the story (I can imagine that limited ammo and repairs against large numbers would be considered unfair), and while making it easier to take in the story, also means that the war story cannot be really considered to be a tutorial for the multiplayer. The Last Tiger is also unique among the war stories for being the only story to offer a vehicle skin on full completion, and for being added to Battlefield V separately after launch. It is a shame that despite their modular design, no more war stories will be added; the voice acting and set-piece creation is an intensive process that would divert resources from improving multiplayer and adding new content, and so, I can understand the decision to not add new war stories. With this being said, The Last Tiger was a welcome addition to the game and definitely does keep in line with Battlefield V‘s war stories, that deal with perspectives that are less explored. However, since players are focused on the multiplayer, that’s where DICE’s resources should be going, and moving ahead, I am hoping that DICE makes a massive push with respect to their content; the basic gameplay is now stable, and the Tides of War have steadily added weapons and vehicles. What Battlefield V is missing is new maps, and new factions. Bringing these into the game would transform a minimally-viable game with solid mechanics into a memorable and long-lasting shooter that could (and should) break Battlefield from the mold that bi-yearly releases have wedged the game into. Supporting a single title for longer would create a game with extensive replay value, and especially with the news of Halo: The Master Chief Collection coming to PC, DICE will need to put in an effort to convince me that Battlefield is a comparable shooter to the likes of Halo.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown- At the Halfway Point

“Don’t pretend like you deserve any better! Continue with the operation!” –AWACS Bandog

After successfully defending the 444th’s airbase from attack, Trigger is deployed to act as a decoy for Osean forces that are mounting an offensive on Erusean facilities. After drones arrive, Spare Squadron is forced to retreat, and one of the pilots are shot down by the drones. The 444th are subsequently deployed to deal with Erusean radar stations. When nearby allied fighters require assistance amidst a thunderstorm, Spare Squadron is sent to help. They are able to shoot down a number of drones, but an Su-30M appears and destroys several aircraft. Trigger is ordered to engage this unknown pilot and buys enough time for the others to escape. The Su-30M and its escorts eventually retreat as the weather worsens. With the drones becoming increasingly problematic, Spare Squadron is assigned to attack an Erusean oil refinery and storage site. Some tankers manage to escape into a sandstorm, but on Bandog’s orders, Trigger manages to eliminate them before they can deliver their cargo. In a later operation, Trigger is assigned to destroy additional Erusean radar sites, although a flight of F/A-18s ambush Spare Squadron. Bandog tags these as hostile, and despite fire from the Helios missiles, Spare Squadron eliminates the hostile aircraft. Full Band is also shot down in a friendly fire incident. The 444th’s actions in combat have earned them a full pardon, and Osean moves to merge the 444th with their regular forces. Colonel D. McKinsey is reassigned, and Spare Squadron escorts his craft over Erusean airspace. After destroying multiple surface-to-air missile sites, an unidentified drone appears. Trigger engages the drone and after a fierce battle, manages to shoot it down. Ace Combat 7‘s halfway point sees Trigger engage in a variety of missions in different environments, and over the course of these levels, players begin accumulating the in-game currency needed to upgrade their aircraft.

Ace Combat 7 utilises the Aircraft Tree system that was first seen in Ace Combat: Infinity. Earlier Ace Combat titles required that players score a certain number of points and complete missions, or else accomplish specific tasks, to unlock aircraft. However, from Infinity onwards, aircraft and upgrade parts could also be unlocked using a tree-like schema. This system was entirely absent in Assault Horizon, which gave players a pre-set selection of aircraft to use during a mission, and as such, Ace Combat 7‘s progression system can be seen as a vast improvement over its predecessor. With the ability to fine-tune aircraft, older aircraft can be made to perform much more reliably in increasingly complex missions, and players can pick the specific parts that accommodate their play-styles. The tree also forces players to choose their aircraft and parts carefully: on the first play-through, players will not be able to unlock everything outright, and instead, it is a wiser decision to invest in one branch of the Aircraft Tree until they hit the end. Besides allowing for a degree of customisation not seen in earlier Ace Combat titles, the Aircraft Tree also encourages replay: completing missions at different difficulties, gunning for the S-ranks and playing multiplayer matches will yield in-game currency that can be used to buy parts. Over time, players will be able to complete the tree by playing the game. The Aircraft Tree speaks to the replay value of Ace Combat 7 with its design, and I’m presently working my way through the American line of aircraft with the goal of unlocking the F-22 Raptor for its performance and cool factor.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The sixth mission reminds me a great deal of settings in Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, an iOS game I played more than six years ago. Of course, being a full-fledged game with desktop hardware powering it means that Ace Combat 7 is superior in every way except in the department of pricing: I got Air Supremacy for a mere five dollars. Having said this, the Sky Gamblers series of games were very impressive for their time and platform, rivalling a PlayStation 2 in terms of visual fidelity.

  • For this annihilation mission, I ended up going with the MiG-21 and its machine-gun pods again. The point of an annihilation mission, a direct translation of the Japanese 殲滅 (senmetsujyutping cim1 mit6), is to destroy a quota of targets such that one can reach a certain score under a time limit. These missions are probably old hat for anyone who’s played an Ace Combat game previously, but for new players, it can be a little tricky to decide which targets to prioritise – Assault Horizon had Air Strike Mode which gave players a much easier time of engaging ground targets, and in Ace Combat 7, it’s up to the players and their judgement to decide how to approach the mission.

  • Having the Eight Target Air-to-Ground Missile (8AGM) would make annihilation missions trivally easy, but at this point in the game, I only have the MiG-21 and its machine gun pods. The challenge that one is thus faced with is the prioritisation of targets: strafing ground targets from a bad angle means the need to circle around and then attack again, consuming precious time. If one has powerful anti-ground munitions, this becomes much easier, but things are still doable in their absence: slowing down and concentrating fire on targets will allow one to take out several ground targets in one run.

  • Destruction is more impressive in Ace Combat 7 than it ever was in Assault Horizon: being able to destroy bridges connecting the plateaus of two mesas together is one example of the sort of stunts one can pull off in a true Ace Combat game, and the feeling of accomplishment from taking on ground targets without Air Strike Mode is more pronounced. After a set amount of time has elapsed, drones will appear in this mission, and they fill the sky with missiles. Careless players will be destroyed in seconds, and I found that keeping an eye on the radar was the best way to determine how to evade a missile.

  • There’s a return line in the sixth mission: these are intended for players to resupply should they run low on munitions, and while Bandog will tell players this isn’t for them, players will be able to utilise it should their stores run dry. Using it does not affect the story, but can cost precious time. I ended up finishing the mission without making use of it: the lower score requirement on easy difficulty means that things are a bit more lenient. Once I become more versed with the levels and their objectives, I am going to return the game on normal difficulty to unlock the Wyvern.

  • The seventh mission is set in Yinshi Valley, a beautiful valley resembling Hunan’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Zhangjiajie resembles karst formations, but the area is not composed of limestone: instead, the quartz-sandstone formations were formed from countless years of physical erosion. It stands to reason that Yinshi Valley has a similar history. The narrow formations make flight here tricky; it takes patience to get through the rock pillars and target the ground forces. Ace Combat missions are rarely straightforwards, and midway through the mission, drones appear.

  • One of my favourite aspect about the Spare Squadron missions is the banter that goes on between Bandog and the 444th’s convicts. Bandog comes across as someone who takes himself too seriously and enjoys his job a little too much; the exchanges between him and the sharp-tongued Count are hilarious and give the missions a light-hearted feel. It’s a far cry from the all-serious dialogue of Assault Horizon, and adds humour into the game, humanising the characters as effectively as heartfelt speeches could.

  • After learning that the seventh mission was going to involve some of the most serious anti-air combat I’d seen, I decided to field the F-14D, which was the most powerful aircraft I had at the time for anti-air combat. Its main advantage is a larger missile payload, which would allow me to handle the drones and surprise of this mission more effectively than guns alone.

  • As the mission progresses, lightning strikes become more frequent and intense. If the player is hit by lightning, their HUD malfunctions and targetting goes offline for a few moments. Manoeuvrability is also reduced, leaving players at risk of crashing into the rocks. Whether one gets hit by lightning or not is a matter of chance, and while players do not incur damage from being hit, the attendant immobilisation can cause certain death amidst the rock pillars.

  • I don’t claim to be an expert in all things Ace Combat, but I have no qualms with sharing my experiences in the game. This is far removed from the antics that some, such as Tango-Victor-Tango’s “Imca”, claim to have had extensive “practise” doing, such as “only [taking] damage in the campaign twice, and [flying] though the wires of suspension bridges for fun”. While they claim “the secret is that [they] play way more video games then[sic] westerners do and have more practice”, I find that anyone who speaks in this manner is probably being untruthful about their station: the last time I saw someone with such a lofty attitude, they were attempting to convince others that they were an instrumental member of the World of Tanks staff.

  • After most of the drones are eliminated, I fly above the clouds and turn to face a new opponent that has remained hitherto unseen. The atmospherics here are spectacular, and definitely show just how far Ace Combat has come from its beginnings – even Infinity and Assault Horizon seem drab in comparison compared to Ace Combat 7, where lighting effects and volumetric clouds add considerable depth to the look and feel of the game.

  • Mihaly A. Shilage is the enemy ace of Ace Combat 7, being the counterpart to Assault Horizon‘s Markov. Up until now, he’s terrorised the player by being an unseen threat who downs several named characters, and his skills are legendary. When players finally have a chance to confront him, he’s a very skilled pilot who can evade and surprise players. However, Mihaly’s moves are still within the realm of what players can keep up with, and other pilots comment on Trigger’s skill in being able to hold off Mihaly long enough for allied forces to escape. After sustaining enough damage, Mihaly will order a retreat, ending the mission.

  • The eighth mission is another annihilation mission in its first segment: the goal is to destroy as much stuff as possible before the timer runs to zero. I ended up picking the MiG-21 because it was equipped with rocket pods: a combination of large clusters of stationary targets and insufficient funds to buy aircraft equipped with the 8AGM, coupled with my familiarity with rocket pods, meant that this aircraft was satisfactory for the job at hand.

  • Being able to fly around and destroy highly explosive, combustible materials is the sort of thing that every kid imagines doing. Strafing ground targets and making stuff go boom made the first part of this mission superbly fun. In reality, doing this to a refinery and port of this size would create an ecological disaster rivalling the Gulf War’s effects, where retreating Iraqi forces lit Kuwait’s oil fields on fire to deny other parties from accessing the resources.

  • Of course, since it’s a video game, we don’t have quite the ramifications, and so, players can torch oil processing plants, storage sites, tankers and refining units without any guilt. I’ve noticed that the overpressure waves in Ace Combat 7 are much more distinct than those of Assault Horizon: the latter actually has a more realistic overpressure wave, being a subtle lens of air formed by the explosion that is just barely visible.

  • The second half to the mission is a little less entertaining, involving flying around in a sandstorm to locate tanker trucks. It took me a few attempts to get this right, and I found myself flying into the ground more often than I liked while hunting down the tanker trucks. The disruptive effects of the sandstorm made it difficult to track down everything, and UAVs later arrive to make things more tricky. Besides affecting visibility and steering, the sandstorm also makes for uninteresting screenshots.

  • Mission nine takes players high into the mountains as Trigger continues to engage ground radar installations ahead of Osea’s counterattack. Bandog will advise players on how to avoid setting off the missiles, but for some reason or another, I interpreted this as the game prohibiting players from using missiles, lest the operation failed. While English is technically not my first language (that honour belongs to Cantonese), I have native fluency in English, so for something like this to happen is actually quite atypical. I would rate my Cantonese as intermediate: while I have native fluency when speaking, I can’t read or write anywhere nearly as effectively.

  • I ended up using only my guns to destroy the radar stations and their surrounding defenses anyways, and in retrospect, using my missiles would have made the mission considerably easier. Still, I got the job done, and it was fairly entertaining to roast ground targets with naught more than the F-15C’s M61 Vulcan. The F-15C is my latest purchase at this point: in reality, the F-15C is a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter with an excellent combat record and despite its age, is a formidable fighter.

  • During the mission, anti-air missiles will lock onto and track players if they gain too much altitude. Flying lower to the ground or into the clouds will mitigate the risk, but inside the clouds, players run into a different set of challenges. Missiles take longer to lock on, and staying in cloud cover for prolonged periods will cause ice to build up. I equipped a de-icer to help with this as a part of my upgrade setup, allowing me to fly through clouds for longer. No longer a cosmetic entity, clouds offer a tactical means of escaping multiple missiles without expending countermeasures.

  • After the radar stations are destroyed, “friendly” F/A-18s appear. They turn out to be hostile, using a spoofed IFF signals to masquerade as allied fighters. The Identification, Friend or Foe system identifies friendly aircraft by emitting a signal that aircraft listen for. A friendly aircraft will recognise that signal and send a response back to the emitter. These systems can only positively identify friendly aircraft – enemy aircraft or friendly aircraft with an inactive or malfunctioning transponder will not be distinguishable. This confusion is rectified when Bandog manually tags the aircraft, allowing Spare Squadron to finally engage them.

  • The F/A-18 is a solid multi-role aircraft, and fighting against them was a thrilling experience. As if this was not enough, one of the Arsenal Birds begins slamming the area with Helios missiles. These long-range ballistic missiles have a powerful airburst effect and emit an unearthly blue light upon detonation. Bandog will advise players the impact zone, and should players be hit, they will sustain massive damage. The Helios was first seen during the second mission, being carried by a land vehicle, and at that point, unsuspecting players may be surprised by an unexpected weapon.

  • In Ace Combat 7, the consequences of death are more unforgiving than Assault Horizon, which, in retrospect, was too easy in that players had regenerating health and checkpoints were more common. Ace Combat 7, on the other hand, has a few checkpoints, and damage is cumulative, forcing players with fly with more caution and skill. This added challenge makes Ace Combat 7 a superbly engaging game, although upgrade parts allow players to reduce ground damage or else automatically repair some damage.

  • Here, I fly near a Helios explosion: surprises like these are what make each mission in Ace Combat 7 entertaining: like a classic Ace Combat title, Skies Unknown does not need to change the gameplay or perspective away from one character, and as such, has much more focus. In conjunction with the aircraft tree, Ace Combat 7 has a very high replay value, and I can see myself going through missions again in the future to unlock everything. Assault Horizon did not have this feeling, and while some missions are worth replaying, the game as a whole lacks the same replay value.

  • The biggest surprise in mission nine is when Bandog deliberately tags Full Band as hostile, causing one of Count’s missiles to shoot him down in a friendly fire incident. While Bandog passes it off as an accident, dialogue suggests that Full Band knew something that might have been compromising, foreshadowing a future mission.

  • Overall, I was very pleased with the F-15C, and its performance as a fighter in Ace Combat 7 makes it a worthy plane of using into later missions for its power in the skies. Its missile payload also gives it versatility, and it can deal with ground targets without too much trouble: when players defend Colonel McKinsey, his aircraft is targetted by surface-to-air missiles launched from unknown positions. Smoke trails allow players to easily find the launch sites and destroy the launchers.

  • If McKinsey’s aircraft is destroyed, the tenth mission will fail, so it is imperative to eliminate as many SAM sites and aircraft as possible. During the whole of the mission, McKinsey expresses open displeasure at Spare Squadron, but this is idle chatter, and focusing on the mission at hand will allow McKinsey’s aircraft to reach its destination without too much trouble. During this escort mission, enemy fighters will also appear, but in small enough numbers so that they’re not a serious problem to deal with.

  • Even though I’m halfway into Ace Combat 7, the satisfaction of being able to destroy enemies without Dogfight Mode is immense. Ace Combat 7 has been an excellent game well worth the price of admissions, bringing the PlayStation 2 experience over into a modern title. It appears that this trend is returning in games: games of old with solid gameplay are fondly remembered, and save their dated graphics, can handle comparably, or even better than modern titles. Returning Ace Combat to their fundamentals, while introducing improved visuals and handling has resulted in an excellent title, and this concept is now being applied to Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is coming to PC on Steam.

  • An unknown drone appears as the final enemy, and Trigger is tasked with dealing with it while McKinsey’s aircraft returns into Osean territory. This drone is far more sophisticated than anything players will have faced before, but there is only a single drone to deal with. Because it is a machine and therefore immune to high G-forces, it can turn very sharply and surprise players. I ended up making distance and then hammering it with the F-15C’s Short-Range Aerial Suppression Missiles (SASM), airburst missiles that can deal some damage to an enemy even if it’s not a direct hit.

  • The drone is eventually downed, and the tenth mission comes to an end. I am aiming to wrap up Ace Combat 7 by April so I can get a start on Valkyria Chronicles 4, and with news of The Master Chief Collection coming to PC (this will include fully remastered versions of Halo: ReachHalo: Combat EvolvedHalo 2Halo 3Halo 3: ODST and Halo 4), I have every intent of getting the full Halo experience. The Halo games are legendary, and I had almost given up the hope of continuing the Halo experience on PC after finishing Halo 2: Vista and becoming a legend in my own right in the multiplayer. However, with this dream now a reality, I foresee myself playing more Halo and less of everything else, even Battlefield, so it is prudent to at least finish the titles that I have remaining.

While Ace Combat 7 is limited in what it can do with its gameplay owing to its genre, the game has been surprisingly refreshing and varied. While the objectives invariably end up being very similar (defend something, destroy a certain amount of stuff under a time limit, etc), the varied settings of Ace Combat 7 keep things fresh. From deserts, to rocky valleys resembling those of China, and more temperate surroundings, the missions are each unique and distinct in their own right – the locations players have passed through in earlier Ace Combat games are brought to life in the Unreal 4 Engine. The gameplay may be repetitive, but the combination of beautiful settings and surprisingly entertaining characters, plus the fact that some missions have a surprise (such as the chance to fight Mihaly one-on-one in mission seven, or the appearance of the Helios missiles in mission nine), allows the game to remain fresh. I’m looking very much forwards to continuing: having seen some of the upcoming missions, I know the second half of Ace Combat 7 is going to be spectacular. In the meantime, with the accrued in-game currency I’ve currently got, I’m able to begin improving my planes in a slow but steady manner: the American tree offers some solid upgrades to acceleration, manoeuvrability and missile power that has certainly made many missions more straightforward – as entertaining as the MiG-21’s basic loadout is, newer aircraft have proven more effective for missions involving a great deal of air combat.

Small Palms: A Swan Song in Revisiting CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

“Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me. You made me so happy. I don’t want you to be lost, or afraid, or anything like that. From here on out, I know things might be hard sometimes. But no matter what happens, please don’t regret meeting me.” –Nagisa Furukawa

The Girl in the Illusionary World is unable to continue on her journey, having failed to construct an operational aircraft and the robot regrets having encouraged her in this undertaking. She reveals that they knew one another in a previous world, and as she hums Dango Daikazoku, the world begins fading away. Tomoya appears on the hillside road lined with cherry blossoms and chases after Nagisa, promising that he’ll never let go. Nagisa is glad that he’d called out to her, and Tomoya reawakens prior to Ushio’s birth. Nagisa has survived delivering Ushio, and Tomoya prepares to bathe her for the first time. Outside, a miraculous phenomenon can be seen – orbs of light are floating into the sky. The couple sing Dango Daikazoku to Ushio, and begin their journey of raising her together as a family no longer bound to their doom. Five years later, Kyouko is taking Fuuko to the hospital for a check-up, but Fuuko runs off into the nearby woods, where she encounters Ushio sleeping peacefully under the shade of a tree. This marks the end to a journey spanning a year and five months: from CLANNAD‘s first episode, where Tomoya and Nagisa met, to the conclusion resulting from a well-deserved miracle that allows the Okazakis to finally find happiness, CLANNAD has come to an end, and with it, my own journey of revisiting the series ten years after its original airing. In this seventeen-month long journey spanning a total of forty-four episodes, CLANNAD has explored an incredible range of themes, encapsulating this in a story that is engaging, humourous and poignant manner. The characters are multi-dimensional, complex and human; in conjunction with a vividly-portrayed world where attention is paid to detail, weather and lighting that augments every emotion and a sublime soundtrack, CLANNAD represents anime at its very best, telling a compelling and genuine story that viewers of all backgrounds and experiences can connect with.

For me, CLANNAD is a veritable masterpiece among masterpieces for its exceptional execution and presentation of life lessons essential for most everyone. However, the series has not impacted all viewers quite to the same extent, and in particular, the finale left viewers feeling that deus ex machina was employed to provide Tomoya with a happy ending. In effect, these individuals contend, Tomoya is given a free pass and it would take a considerable suspension of disbelief to accept such an ending. Such a reaction can only arise from individuals who’d perhaps forgotten the presence of the light orbs and their function as a visual representation of the strength of individuals’ wishes: ~After Story~ is a very lengthy story, after all, and there are numerous details that foreshadow the possibility of Tomoya being given a second chance. To deny Tomoya this happiness is to contradict the expectations that ~After Story~ have set; Tomoya’s acts of kindness permeate the whole of CLANNAD, and the series does, on top of its other themes, strive to convey that 好心得好報 (jyutping hou2 sam1 dak1 hou2 bou3, literally “good heart, good repayment”, and most similar to the English expression “what goes around comes around”). Having been made to suffer, and in spite of all this, coming out stronger and a better man for it, Tomoya has earned a happy ending with Nagisa and Ushio ten times over for having put everyone ahead of himself throughout CLANNAD. His selflessness and altruism cost him, but Tomoya never complains, never expects repayment and simply does his best for those around him, even when faced with his own challenges, and as such, the forces that are recognise this. Leaving a trail of mended dreams and lives in his wake, even as he struggles to find happiness for Nagisa and Ushio, to deny Tomoya a happy ending would be the epitome of cynicism – the visual novel provides a more detailed explanation of why this is allowed to occur, and in the anime, the end result is identical. Viewers are treated with closure to a very lengthy and very rewarding journey; there is no doubt that Tomoya and Nagisa can share a peaceful and normal future with Ushio. This is the ending that viewers deserve and needed for such a powerful series which indubitably left a profound change in my life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • We come to it at last, the ending of a great journey that spanned seventeen months. The page quote is an extended version of Nagisa’s words to Tomoya after they meet again on the path to school; Tomoya had come to regret meeting Nagisa and bringing suffering upon them both, but she found the limited time they’d spent together to be the happiest she’d known. Naigsa and Tomoya here still retain their memories, having been transported into a pocket universe of sorts where they come to terms with everything that’s happened. After cashing in on the wishes carried in each light orb, Tomoya reunites with Nagisa and his consciousness is transported back to the real world.

  • In this reality, Nagisa survives labour and successfully gives birth to Ushio without any complications, bringing an end to the curse that had lingered. When I first watched this, I found that even in the absence of a complete understanding of the light orbs, the outcome still followed logically from the sum of the acts of kindness Tomoya carried out. To Tomoya, the stress of labour would have dulled his sense of time, and he might have experienced five years’ worth of events in his mind’s eye while tensely waiting for Nagisa to give birth. Of course, this is the scientific approach to things that disregards the light orbs, and the fact is that the light orbs very much have a tangible presence in CLANNAD, acting as the catalyst that allows Ushio to wish for a happy, normal life with her parents.

  • After bathing Ushio for the first time, Tomoya tenderly holds her while Nagisa, the Furukawas and the midwife looks on. The worst is clearly over, and we enter one of the longest, most well-executed dénouements to be shown in any anime I’ve seen. When I first watched CLANNAD seven years previously, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was gearing up for the first of its crossover films with The Avengers, and only two of the Infinity Stones were showcased. The reality and time stones were not introduced until later: of the Infinity Stones, these two could prove useful in creating the realm that Tomoya is returned to.

  • The Infinity Gems were originally conceived in 1972 and since then, have been wielded by a variety of characters, with Thanos being a particularly notable user for having united them to wipe out half the life in the universe. A common joke is that the stones can be used for more mundane purposes, and CLANNAD definitely seems like one such instance. Having said this, the ending strictly does not count as deus ex machina as some have asserted: there is a very well-established basis in how the happy ending came to be. Here, the phenomenon of light orbs rising into the sky can be seen as a sign, a lifting of the curse.

  • Large snowflakes resembling these light orbs are also seen in Kanon, Kyoto Animation’s precursor to CLANNAD. I would very much like to revisit Kanon at some point in the near future. For the time being, as ~After Story~ wraps up, Nagisa and Tomoya sing “Dango Daikazoku” to a sleeping Ushio. The song transitions into Lia’s “Palm of a Tiny Hand”, a highly poignant, but optimistic and uplifting song that accompanies the montage of Ushio growing up. This song is one of the other songs in my library that I typically avoid listening to while out and about: besides “Natsukage” (also by Lia) and “Ichiban no Takaramono”, it’s one of the few songs that can make me cry.

  • Moments of normalcy dominate the montage as viewers watch Ushio grow up with a loving family. From being held, to learning to walk, the ending montage shows Ushio doing the sorts of things that young families do. My parents inform me that I learnt to talk before I could walk, and filled the house with babble before I was going all over the place. Some parents wonder about the correlation between talking early and intelligence, although there is a massive variation in when babies develop linguistic skills on account of things like their environment. For instance, babies who are talked to a great deal will learn to mimic speech earlier.

  • Common, everyday events are a source of joy, and the montage goes through the effort of depicting these moments. Here, Ushio falls after being surprised by a shiba inu after trying to pet it: these spitz breeds are very independent, love being clean and were originally bred for hunting. One of my friends of old has a shiba inu, and I was able to play with this dog as a puppy. It may come as a surprise to some that I’m actually quite fond of smaller dogs, but then again, readers should not be so surprised, since I’ve often expressed that I would like to look after rabbits.

  • Ushio celebrates her fourth birthday at home. I have a photograph of me with a muffin and a candle stuck on it for my earlier birthdays: having celebrated with relatives ahead of time, my parents decided to do something simple on the actual day of my birthday. There’s actually a fairly funny story behind this – I’m told that at the age of two, I was afraid of candles and wouldn’t get near the flame to blow it out.

  • Akio is an avid baseball player, and Tomoya managed to win Nagisa’s hand in marriage after succeeding in hitting a baseball: with the role that baseball has had on Tomoya, it stands to reason that Ushio also begins learning to play baseball. Here in Canada, ice hockey is the national pastime, although it’s an expensive one from a financial and time perspective, so I never got into it. Instead, I took swimming lessons and did karate: today, I still retain basic knowledge about swimming, and I’m a nidan.

  • One summer, Tomoya and Nagisa decide to take Ushio out into the countryside for a vacation of the same one that Tomoya had done in the other timeline. The observant viewer will note that Tomoya is wearing a similar button-up shirt as he did in the Ushio arc, but here, said shirt is buttoned-up and ironed properly. Such a minor detail might easily be missed, but it plainly shows the difference between the Tomoyas seen in the different timelines.

  • The key difference ~After Story~‘s finale shows is that with Nagisa present, Tomoya’s true nature is much more prominent as he devotes his energy towards raising Ushio with Nagisa. The two have differing personalities that complement one another, and having gone through so much together, Tomoya and Nagisa understand one another better than anyone else. The same trip they take with Ushio here is much more relaxed, and taken under much happier circumstances.

  • After watching Super Sonico‘s “Star Rain” episode, I longed to explore somewhere that was nearby, and in the five years following, I have realised this particular dream in a manner of speaking, having capitalised on the summer weather to do hikes and other things. Having said this, I still can’t help but wish that there was a more extensive train and bus service that would allow me to reach the far corners of my province: while driving is fun, so is sitting back and admiring the scenery passing by.

  • Under the same flower field, Ushio runs with a look of pure bliss on her face. There are no meadows where I live, but there are plenty of parks where children have space to hang out and run to their heart’s content. The countryside of CLANNAD is portrayed as a magical location far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city: in Japan, space is at a premium, and such locations are rare in cities. By comparison, Canada is the land of open spaces and beautiful parks are everywhere.

  • Tomoya and Nagisa are probably my favourite anime couple. Despite the extraordinary events they experience, both are down-to-earth and pragmatic. Their relationship is characterised by finding happiness everyday things. If I had to pick a second-favourite couple, Ryuji Takasu and Taiga Aisaka tie for second with Your Lie in April‘s Kōsei Arima and Kaori Miyazono. I have indeed watched Toradora!, having finished the series three years ago and loved every second of it for its natural development of a love story, as I did the developments of Your Lie in April. My favourite love stories involve characters who discover an unexpected love for one another as a result of their objectives bringing them together over a period of time.

  • While my age means that meeting that special someone underneath the cherry blossoms or in a classroom by evening is now relegated to little more than a distant dream, an impossibility, I know that love can come from anywhere, anytime. Rather than pursue something for the sake of being in a relationship, I am going to continue doing me, and then make the most of wherever that will take me. Life is a journey, and the folks who pace themselves for a marathon invariably will find their way in the world.

  • After Ushio is seen joyfully exploring the flower field while her parents look on, the montage transitions over to the what that the other characters have made of their time since graduation. These scenes are functionally similar to the “where are they now” segment of Animal House, which showcases the protagonist’s futures, and which was parodied in Futurama‘s “Mars University”, but in ~After Story~, serve to communicate to viewers that everyone’s found their own path following graduation.

  • Audiences already know that Kyou has become a kindergarten teacher and gets along well with her students. Being able to work with groups of children, while prima facie a fun and joyful job, doubtlessly also has its challenges, and it takes a certain mentality to be successful in this career. I have nothing but respect for my kindergarten teacher, as well as all of my primary school teachers, who were made to put up with my curiosity and the attendant trouble that is supposed to have brought.

  • Ryou is a nurse, and the visual novel further shows that she finds romance, as well. Nursing is a respectable profession, and I have a friend who’s in nursing. I encountered him while visiting a new health campus and was initially wondering if it was indeed him, but thought better of greeting him in case I was wrong. The next day, during karate class, it turns out it really was him, and he was wondering if I was really me, or someone else.

  • Kotomi went overseas to study cosmology in an American university, and is devoted to continuing her parents’ research in M-theory and higher dimensions, an integral part of parallel universes. Her work would likely put her in contact with research from giants like Steven Hawking and Brian Greene. Alternate realities did end up playing a role in CLANNAD ~After Story~, although their precise mechanisms are deliberately left unexplored because they are secondary to the narrative: what matters is that there does appear to be some elements that accommodate the ending that Tomoya ended up getting (and deserving).

  • Youhei pursued a career in modelling, and has reverted to his natural hair colour, indicating a return to the right path. He’s shown screwing up in a road test, and after apologising to his instructor, focuses on continuing with the course. Because Youhei has found a path to pursue, Mei, also has become more cheerful; no longer worried about her older brother’s future, she is free to pursue her own dreams whole-heartedly and is seen hanging out with her friends here.

  • Tomoyo’s future is a bit more uncertain: she’s shown to be gazing out at a sunset on a beach. Many viewers associated this with melancholy and felt that Tomoyo’s future was less positive than they would have liked: in CLANNAD, her main objective was to preserve the cherry trees for her younger brother, and not much more about her aspirations were presented in ~After Story~, but supplementary materials suggests that she is able to realise other accomplishments and find happiness.

  • One question that the epilogue does not explicitly cover, is whether or not Tomoya comes to terms with his father in this new timeline. In the original timeline, Ushio’s presence eventually compels Tomoya to understand his father and make amends. I imagine that Nagisa’s continued presence, her gentle influence and desire to see Tomoya happy would eventually see her encourage Tomoya to make amends, allowing a similar outcome to be reached. It is not inconceivable for a happier, more empathetic Tomoya to undertake such a course of action: they are visiting a town here close to where Tomoya originally met his grandmother, and it could be implied that the whole family is here to catch up with Tomoya’s father and grandmother.

  • If and when I am asked, CLANNAD ~After Story~ is my favourite anime series. I have seen numerous series both before and after, but few have compelled me to care for the characters and their journeys quite to the same extent that CLANNAD ~After Story~ had. In conjunction with superb artwork that looks amazing even a decade later, strong writing, a colourful cast and a soundtrack that adds atmospherics to a scene sufficiently well so that the music itself might be considered a character, I have next to nothing negative to say about ~After Story~.

  • The soundtrack in particular incorporates a range of instruments and composition styles: besides Dango Daikazoku and its variations, the pieces are all appropriate for different moments in the series. It worth mentioning that the incidental pieces in CLANNAD are not all found on the original soundtrack: a handful of pieces with a more distinctly Irish component is included with the Mabinogi soundtrack, itself named for a collection of Welsh prose known as the Mabinogion. The Mabinogi soundtrack is very heavily influenced by Irish elements, giving it a very distinct and unique sound, while the original soundtrack is more conventional in composition, making extensive use of piano to capture emotions.

  • The name “Clannad” is derived off the Irish word for family, “Clann”, and was first used by a family band of the same name that was formed in 1970. Originally known as “Clann as Dobhar”, their name was later shortened to Clannad. Clannad is known for their eclectic musical style, performing folk music and rock with Celtic elements, smooth jazz and even Gregorian chants. Jun Maeda eventually saw this name while writing out the story for CLANNAD and imagined it to be the Irish word for family, giving the series its name.

  • In the epilogue, Fuuko and Kyouko are headed to the hospital for Fuuko’s checkup. Fuuko’s unusual way of thinking gives rise to non sequiturs that make no sense even to Kyouko, and Kyouko can only play along. It’s a gentle ending to what was a highly poignant and emotional journey, and returning Fuuko briefly to the spotlight is a callback to the first season, where Fuuko ends up being the first individual Tomoya helps out, and the first person to feel that Tomoya and Nagisa was a couple. Folks wondering whether or not I will go back and write about the OVAs will be disappointed: I’ve already covered them in some capacity and admittedly, writing about CLANNAD is very taxing.

  • The settings of CLANNAD are based in Mizuho, a town located on the western edge of Tokyo. Its name is never given in CLANNAD, but the city is referred to as Hikarizaka (lit. “Hill of Light”) amongst the fans. As we draw to the close of a revisitation project that spanned seventeen months, I note that even in this time frame, a great deal has happened. CLANNAD captures the idea that the flow of time is relentless, and life is what we make of it: when I first began this journey, it was an October evening that coincided with a pleasant Mid-Autumn festival, I remarked that I would be curious to see whether or not my thoughts would change on this series.

  • My verdict is that, like a fine wine, or a good steak, CLANNAD has become even more enjoyable with age. It’s a timeless series whose messages continue to remain relevant, and I am very glad to have revisited it. When I finished the revisitation for the first season, I asked readers if they would be interested in a continuation. One reader stands out to me for having made the request, and I continued into CLANNAD ~After Story~ for them: if even one reader wishes for me to explore something, I will do my best to honour their request. I understand that this particular is very busy at present, but I do hope that they would have the chance to take a look at these later posts when time allows them to: we both share commonalities in our background, and I greatly enjoyed hearing new perspectives on experiences I have also encountered.

  • This is one of the joys of blogging that has given me the inspiration to continue writing: being able to really connect with readers and share experiences gives both me and the readers a sense that we’re not really alone in this vast world. On the flipside, I am admittedly a little curious to also hear from those who may have not found CLANNAD as moving as as I have; at the end of the day, mine is just an opinion (no matter how well-defined, thoughtful, insightful and detailed it may be), so I would like to see also why some folks did not enjoy CLANNAD. As ~After Story~ draws to a close, Fuuko runs off after feeling something special in the woods nearby: she encounters the Girl from The Imaginary World, who turns out to be Ushio, sleeping peacefully under the shade of a tree.

  • The final still of ~After Story~ shows that in the end, the sum of good deeds, genuine compassion and empathy in CLANNAD has allowed the very city itself to accept its citizens. That Ushio is sleeping in an untouched grove adjacent to a modern hospital shows that humanity and nature can co-exist, much like how people of different backgrounds, experiences and station can co-exist. With this, I have fully finished my revisitation of CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~ in full. Even though these posts have been very difficult to write for, I think the journey itself was well worth it, and I hope that for the readers, these posts have clarified what CLANNAD means to me. Everyone will have their own stories as to which series have had a profound impact on them, and for me, CLANNAD occupies a very special place in my heart, being something that lifted me through challenging times and also broadened my perspective on family.

While a decade may have passed since CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~‘s airing, that the anime remains relevant, moving and engaging in the present is no small feat. With its universal themes of family, friendship, kindness and resolve, CLANNAD is a timeless anime that deals in matters that are common to all of humanity. It is for this reason that CLANNAD is peerless as an anime – touching so many elements that are involved with being a decent human being, the sorts of thing I know in my tongue as 做人道理 (jyutping zou6 jan4 dou6 lei5, literally “principles of being human”), the series forces viewers to introspect and consider what matters most to them. While CLANNAD may not deal with academic, social or philosophical matters that some echelons of the anime community feel to be more important in what counts as a “good” anime, I personally find that the anime that are most relatable and relevant, happen to be those that deal with life lessons ubiquitous to all people. At the end of the day, regardless of one’s station, education and occupation, everything boils down to how one treats those around them. In the contemporary world, it is disappointing and disheartening that so many have forgotten these fundamentals: people no longer look out for one another and put themselves ahead of others with greater frequency, and as such, anime such as CLANNAD can act as very subtle reminders that life is more than the self; happiness is found in being there for others, for putting time into things far greater than oneself. Despite its themes being at the forefront of most everything in CLANNAD, the series never preaches these messages to viewers, leaving them to draw their own conclusions after everything has wrapped up, and subtly inspiring audiences to do good, put in an honest effort and appreciate their blessings. I am certainly glad to have watched CLANNAD: this is a series that pushed me to explore what love is and allowed me to find the strength to face down the MCAT. For everyone who’s been reading these posts every step of this seventeen-month-long journey, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having accompanied me all this way, as well as for putting up with what I would imagine to be increasingly sentimental and soppy posts.

Non Non Biyori Vacation: A Movie Reflection, Full Recommendation and Perspectives from Travelling to Okinawa

“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

After Suguru wins plane tickets to Okinawa in a shopping mall lottery, Renge, Hotaru, Komari, Natsumi, Kazuho, Kaede, Hikage and Konomi prepare for a vacation in the southern islands. Upon arrival, the girls set off for their inn and check in. Here, they encounter Aoi, the eleven-year-old daughter of the inn’s managers, and after settling in, spend a day on the azure beaches of Okinawa. That evening, the whole group enjoys a delicious Okinawan-style dinner at the inn, and after dinner, Natsumi encounters Aoi practising badminton on her own later, and the two strike up a friendship. Before turning in, Natsumi suggests grabbing some instant noodles, saying that the absence of adults makes things taste more intriguing. The next day, the group goes snorkelling. Renge and Kaede see a stingray, while Hikage is stricken with motion sickness. When they go canoeing, Komari and Hotaru are ensnared by a branch; Kazuho rescues them, and later, they climb up to a waterfall. On the spur of the moment, Kazuho jumps into the pond and is soaked. Later, the girls take photographs by a lighthouse as evening sets in, and spend time with Aoi, who mentions that she is available the next day. To help her out, the girls clean their room that morning. They end up visiting Aoi’s school, and she takes them around lesser known spots around Okinawa, including an ice cream shop, a secluded beach and a viewpoint providing a beautiful view of the island. When night falls, Aoi brings the girls to the beach, where they admire the star-filled skies and frolic in the phosphorescent waters. When their vacation draws to a close, Natsumi is saddened to leave, and she bids farewell with Aoi, asking her to stay in touch. The group return home as evening sets in, and Renge announces that she’s back. Released on August 25, 2018, Non Non Biyori Vacation brings Non Non Biyori to the silver screen for the first time, and during its seventy-minute-long run, brings back the familiar elements that made Non Non Biyori such an enjoyable run, while simultaneously providing a new setting that broadens the girls’ everyday experiences.

Despite being a slice-of-life series, Non Non Biyori excels with its focus on the subtle details of everyday life that often are ignored or taken for granted. Non Non Biyori Vacation continues in the path of its predecessors, detailing the wonders found in the ordinary. In this film, Non Biyori focuses on the different aspects of a vacation. The girls (and Suguru) first experience the highlights of Okinawa from the perspective of a tourist, relaxing on the beach, as well as joining a group to go canoeing and snorkelling in the warm, inviting waters of Okinawa. Besides these more tourist-oriented activities that showcase the best of Okinawa, the girls also befriend Aoi, a girl roughly their age who helps out at her family’s inn. In doing so, they are able to gain a much more personalised experience of Okinawa from a local. Having grown up in Okinawa, Aoi knows all of the ins and outs of the island, and so, is able to bring Natsumi, Hotaru, Komari and Renge on an intimate tour of spots she’s enjoyed. The ice cream shop and viewpoint would not be on the list of destinations for a tour group; the girls thus learn that life on Okinawa is both quite distinct, but also quite similar to their homes. This is the joy of travelling that Non Non Biyori Vacation aims to convey to viewers: being able to travel means being able to experience for oneself the different ways of life people have in different corners of the world, but also appreciate that there are also many similarities in how people live. At the end of the day, we are all human and therefore, part of a global community; sharing many commonalities while at once, having unique cultural aspects that are all immensely valuable. Non Non Biyori Vacation presents both sides of this coin in a concise package: for Natsumi, Komari, Hotaru and Renge, going to Okinawa shows them both what is special about the southern island long considered to be Japan’s Hawaii, as well as the aspects of their lives that are not so different.

At the end of Non Non Biyori Vacation, the film portrays two conflicting different angles on the conclusion of a vacation: one is simultaneously yearning to stay for longer and continue exploring, while at the same time, also begins looking forwards to sleeping in their own bed once again. Natsumi channels the former, having had a much better time in Okinawa than she had originally anticipated, and having made a new friend in Aoi, feels saddened that they can’t spend more time together. Conversely, the other characters have had a similarly enjoyable experience (except maybe Hikage, who was beset with an unexpected number of minor grievances during the trip), and while satisfied, are also growing a little exhausted. The feelings of travel are captured well in Non Non Biyori Vacation, and at the film’s end, Renge expresses what I’m certain everyone feels upon returning home. The film strives to and succeeds in capturing the different facets of travel – these elements are accompanied by visuals that are incredibly life-like. Non Non Biyori Vacation bears the traits of an anime movie, featuring impressive visuals that are vivid and photorealistic. Audiences feel as though they are there beside the cast as they travel Okinawa, feeling the intense heat of summer, refreshing cool of the ocean and everything in between. The exceptional artwork is complimented by a very well-done collection of incidental pieces: the soundtrack for Non Non Biyori Vacation incorporates elements of Okinawan music into its composition, but at the same time, sounds distinctly like the Non Non Biyori soundtrack. This further accentuates the movie’s theme, that travel highlights both the uniqueness of another region, as well as the similarities despite our differences, and as such, acts as a solid accompaniment for the film.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Non Non Biyori Vacation opens up in Asahigaoka, a small rural village located in the heart of the mountains and sporting some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in any anime set in the inaka, which is saying something, considering that shows like Ano Natsu de Matteru also have solid artwork. For this post, I’ve given it the full silver screen treatment: besides an extended discussion, I also have sixty screenshots, each of which can be viewed in full 1080p – the movie is gorgeous from a visual perspective, and I absolutely intend to convey this to readers.

  • I’ve opted to spend less time at the shopping mall that everyone visits because this is a post about going to Okinawa, but have chosen to mention it in some capacity: the film establishes for viewers that Suguru manages to win a vacation while the girls explore a local mall. Because Asahigaoka is a small village, going to a mall such as this would be a very exciting experience. The mall itself is named “Weather” (hiyori is also pronounced biyori, 日和 in kanji), and the series’ name seems to be “non non weather”, a reference to Non Non Biyori‘s often nonsensical but genuine humour in everyday life.

  • Character-defining moments are also set early in the film: Komari is very sensitive about her short stature and diminutive figure, being quite jealous of Hotaru, who is seen here looking at belts and unintentionally embarrassing Komari to no end, who is under the impression Hotaru is looking at undergarmets. The dynamic between Komari and Hotaru is a hilarious one, and created some unique humour during the TV series. In Non Non Biyori, such antics are decidedly fewer, being condensed into the film’s opening moments.

  • Natsumi ends up purchasing a game console with Suguru, having pooled some of their saved money to do so. Despite purchasing a last-generation console, Natsumi remains quite excited and is looking forwards to giving it a go. I’ve never been much of a console gamer: the newest consoles I have are a PlayStation 2 and a GameCube. Despite my being a PC gamer through and through, I am well aware of the merits of a good console: for one, being able to play split-screen with friends means that multiplayer experiences are top-tier.

  • Komari is visibly still hot and bothered from the events of earlier, but when Suguru wins a mall lottery, all thoughts suddenly turn towards their impending trip to Okinawa. Non Non Biyori Vacation follows the structuring of the manga faithfully: the events in the OVA “We’re Going to Okinawa” are original and deal primarily with the preparations leading up to the trip, but scenes of the girls and Suguha at the airport are sourced from the manga.

  • It suddenly strikes me that four and a half years has elapsed since I wrote about that OVA, and presently, it’s great to see Non Non Biyori continue along its run. In that time, I’ve flown to a handful of conferences, went out of country for work-related matters and realised my dream of travelling to Japan for the very first time. While the time frames between anime releases are extremely long, and their waits can seem quite unreasonable, individuals with busy, productive lives will find that time passes in the blink of an eye: it only seems like yesterday that I wrote about the first Non Non Biyori OVA while taking a break from developing the Giant Walkthrough Brain.

  • After Renge takes off to grab some food, Hikage begs Kazuho and Kaede to allow her to accompany them on the trip to Okinawa, admitting that she was acting nonchalant to play it cool in front of Renge. Unfortunately for Hikage, Renge saw everything go down. Moments of exaggeration such as these form the joy in watching Non Non Biyori, and it also speaks to the characters’ familiarity with one another when Kazuho remarks that she’s already got a ticket for Hikage.

  • For the remainder of this post, I will be focused on Hotaru and company’s time in Okinawa: the OVA had covered everything up to their flight, so I’ve jumped ahead to everyone’s arrival in Okinawa. The temperature and humidity is immediately apparent: while the skies are precisely the same shade of vivid azure as they were in Asahigaoka, and the vegetation just as verdant, the tropical vegetation and ambient sounds create a sense of warmth that is not seen in Asahigaoka.

  • The long pauses allow Non Non Biyori Vacation to capture the atmospherics and sights around Okinawa: these visual gaps are intentionally chosen to mirror those of the stills from Asahigaoka, reminding viewers what while Natsumi and Renge are in Okinawa, there are some things that are similar to the sorts of things they might encounter back home. This dichotomy forms the basis for the theme in Non Non Biyori Vacation: travel might be about experiencing new things, but it also provides an opportunity to really see for oneself that there are similarities across the globe in how people live their lives, as well.

  • Upon arriving at their inn, Kazuho and the others check in. They are greeted by Aoi, an eleven-year-old who is the same age as Natsumi. Aoi is unique to the film and was not present in the manga. She is voiced by Shino Shimoji, an Okinawa native who previously played Stella no Mahou‘s Marika Shimizu and Aki from Girls und Panzer. Despite being the same age as Natsumi, Aoi actively helps her family run the inn and Natsumi’s friends point out that despite their ages, the two seem quite disparate as far as maturity goes.

  • After settling into their rooms, Renge decides to show the Okinawan landscape her drawing of home. After Natsumi tampers with the air conditioning (this is a perfectly natural choice of action, and I typically do the same while travelling, since unoccupied rooms usually have their units switched off to save power), the girls subsequently don their swimsuits and hit the beach, kicking Suguru out while they change. The manga has everyone lodging at a more modern hotel, but in the film, the choice to go with a more traditional style inn gives a more distinct character to things.

  • The water effects in Non Non Biyori Vacation are top-tier, comparable to the water seen in the Cry Engine and Frostbite. It looks photorealistic and captures all of the warmth that tropical waters possess. Years previously, I was in Cancun for a conference on artificial life, and during mornings, I would walk the beaches, marvelling at the fact that the water was not bitterly cold. I rather enjoyed that experience, and after delivering a pair of successful talks, one of which was for a colleague’s project, I sat down and sipped a lemon daiquiri under the evening sun.

  • Komari is not particularly skilled at swimming, and while Hotaru is enjoying the water, Komari hesitates to step further out. Everyone is shown as enjoying the beach in their own manner of choosing: Renge sips a fruit cocktail while Kaede watches her, while Natsumi and Konomi play in the waters. Suguha and Kazuho end up resting on the beachside. In Non Non Biyori, the taciturn Kaede is often seen watching over Renge, and despite her disposition, she seems to enjoy keeping an eye on Renge.

  • While it may seem like a paradise that remains confined to the realm of fiction, the beaches of Okinawa do look this nice. Non Non Biyori‘s Okinawa is more vivid and detailed than Harukana Receive‘s Okinawa: here, the setting itself is a character in its own right, while in Harukana Receive, the Okinawa setting was chosen because the warm climate accommodates beach volleyball nicely. Harukana Receive‘s setting is beautiful and well done, but it was secondary to watching Haruka and the others mature – it naturally does not hold a candle to the Okinawa of Non Non Biyori Vacation, whose surroundings are so well done that it does feel like I’m there with everyone else.

  • While it’s a tropical paradise equivalent to China’s Hainan and America’s Hawaii, Okinawa was the site of some of the fiercest fighting during the later days of World War Two. The American forces had advanced via island-hopping to the doorsteps of Japan in 1945, and in April, began a massive offensive to capture the islands. Casualties were staggering, totally some 160000, and by late June, the Allied forces had secured the islands. With ninety percent of the island levelled, and massive civilian casualties, the Allies would convert the island into an airbase from which offensives could be launched against the home islands.

  • Today, the United States maintains an air force base in Okinawa, and the islands have been redeveloped, making it a paradise. Okinawans are among the longest-lived people on earth as a result of their diet and lifestyle, and the karate that I practise, Okinawa Gōjū-ryu originates from Naha. As a result, I would very much like to visit the birthplace of the “hard-soft” style that I practise, and the karate whose principles subtly impacted many aspects of my life. Here, Renge does a sketch of the scene she’s seeing unfold before her: it is pure bliss.

  • This post actually would’ve come out a bit sooner, but this past week has been quite busy, and I’ve had not time to blog: the post about CLANNAD ~After Story~ was written back in mid-February. On my itinerary was a company retreat that saw me visit the mountains with the entire team, and despite being overcast, the weather was very warm. Aside from doing team-building exercises and pushing on with polishing an app for deployment, we visited a frozen-solid Lake Minnewanka, saw more wildlife than I’d ever seen in the National Parks (big-horn sheep and a herd of elk, including one with 12-point antlers), ascended Sulfur Mountain and reached the top as a break in a snowfall occurred, and took a horse-drawn sleigh ride around Lake Louise, where we saw an ice-waterfall.

  • For those wondering, ostrich is quite tough and chewy, with a dull flavour. Kangaroo resembles a very rich, gamy and flavorful steak, while the shark meat I tried is not dissimilar to cod. Alligator meat resembles turkey in texture but has a more fishy flavour overall. The Grizzly House is a Banff institution, although I think that it is only with more adventurous folk, such as my team, that we’d try these: my family would very much prefer a classic cut of AAA prime rib. Tonight, I hit the roads again to visit a local Chinese style buffet, and will need to diligently hit the gym to ensure the food doesn’t defeat me.

  • Following dinner, Natsumi encounters Aoi practising badminton, and then helps Aoi hide this when her mother comes out to check on her. Seeing that Aoi is not so different than herself, Natsumi strikes a quick friendship with her. This particular aspect was absent from the manga, but it adds an additional degree of depth to Non Non Biyori Vacation‘s theme: the story told in the manga alone merely depicts Renge and the others visiting Okinawa for fun, but the movie juxtaposes the differences and similarities of different places to create a much more compelling message.

  • Natsumi decides to pick up some cup ramen after dinner, commenting that no adults around means being able to do the sorts of things they might not normally do otherwise. Her sense of adventure is boundless, and Natsumi is certainly more bold than I am – supervision or not, I tend to be highly rigid, disciplined and quite unwilling to do things that deviate from what I’m used to for the most part. The singular exception is when I am in an environment that allows me to loosen up a little, and I decide that there is no major risk to lightening up a little.

  • Slice-of-life anime prima facie appear to have little by ways of conflict and story, but I’ve found them to be fantastic vehicles for exploring life lessons in a cathartic manner. This is why I have nothing but positive things to say about shows like Non Non Biyori, and why I might be seen as more lenient about such series than most. I particularly enjoy considering personal values and life lessons that these shows bring about: while action-oriented shows might have a more tangible message for its viewers, subtleties in slice-of-life shows make them worthwhile in their own right.

  • Hotaru is ecstatic to be sleeping in the same bed as Komari, but then realises that she always asks her mother for extra time when sleeping in, and then worries Komari might see this side of her. It turns out that she does exactly thus, and then bolts up in embarrassment. Meanwhile, Hikage sleeps on the floor, as they’d run out of beds, and finds herself dissatisfied with the arrangements.

  • For their second day in Okinawa, Kaede and Kazuho take the crew snorkelling and canoeing. They depart the inn under breathtaking weather conditions: the rich colours in Non Non Biyori Vacation give a very visceral sense of being in Okinawa, and I continued finding myself impressed with the artwork, the further I went into the movie. The stunning artwork in this movie is precisely why each and every screenshot can be viewed at full resolution.

  • While Renge and Kaede enjoy the sights of the ocean, even spotting a stingray, Hikage suffers from motion sickness and is unable to explore to the extent that she’d like. It appears that Hikage runs into minor misfortune after minor misfortune during this trip to Okinawa – while this device is employed as a means of comedy, I admit that I am not keen on witnessing people experience low-level problems on a frequent basis: the occasional moment of surprise is what keeps things fresh, and after a while, one would come to feel pathos for individuals like Hikage rather than experience any humour.

  • After snorkelling, the girls join a canoe trip. Komari immediately requests a two-person canoe, citing the reduced risk of falling into the water, but when she boards the canoe, immediately falls in to the water. Dramatic irony and situational irony are abundant in Non Non Biyori: despite its gentle atmosphere, the series is very fond of placing the characters in a series of unfortunate situations to remind viewers that life can sometimes simply be unfair, but in spite of this, there’s plenty of good things, too. Portraying minor misfortunes as something to laugh off, Non Non Biyori shows that looking past these small ills means being able to enjoy things that are truly spectacular.

  • Hotaru and Komari pair up in a canoe and begin to make their way downriver, but while admiring the mangroves, they lodge their canoe in the roots of one of the mangroves. Canoeing down the river of mangroves is a quintessential experience in Okinawa, and the river’s course is smooth enough so that anyone ages three and over can participate. Hence, viewers cannot help but feel a twinge of pity mixed in with their laughs when Komari and Hotaru get stuck and begin panicking in an adorable manner.

  • Movies oftentimes give characters a chance to shine, and in Non Non Biyori Vacation, Kazuho has such an opportunity. Her students can evidently be a handful, and despite her laid-back, lax manner, as well as her tendency to sleep during work hours, she’s actually quite attentive and is mindful of her students. When Kazuho arrives and hears the pair’s calls for help, it’s just another day at the office: she helps Komari and Hotaru extricate themselves from the branches, allowing them to continue on with their adventure.

  • Despite having left their tea and bread in the car from excitement, Kazuho has noticed this earlier and brought the provisions that Komari and Hotaru have left behind. Being able to see another side of some characters in an anime movie serves to enhance the viewer’s ability to relate to them, showing that everyone is multi-faceted. I find that the joy of slice-of-life anime is precisely in seeing characters react and interact under different conditions, revealing a more complex character than one might have otherwise expected. Over time, these interactions shift gradually and the characters mature, mirroring how individuals in reality slowly change over time, as well.

  • After their canoeing adventure, the girls climb a trail leading to a beautiful waterfall. On the spur of the moment, Kazuho jumps into the water, feeling invigorated. It is here that everyone’s adventure begins transitioning from more tourist-oriented activities into a more personalised, self-guided one: Non Non Biyori has long conveyed that the best adventures are often those that occur unexpectedly, and the beautiful scenery surrounding this waterfall gives the cast a chance to explore on their own.

  • Konomi is a third-year high school student who had limited appearances in the TV series: being a ways older than the others, she’s looked up to as a role model and is voiced by Ryōko Shintani, whom I know for her roles in Saki and Love Lab. She takes a photograph of Komari, Hotaru and Kazuho in the water here. In the manga, Kazuho does not jump into the water, and her energy simply results in her crashing subsequently, whereas in Non Non Biyori Vacation, she tires out from a combination of heat and being soaked.

  • As evening sets in, Renge, Natsumi, Hikage and Kaede enjoy the cooling air and darkening skies by the Cape Zanpa Lighthouse. This thirty-metre lighthouse is located in a particularly picturesque area and is suited for photography. Renge sketches the lighthouse here, before joining Natsumi and Hikage in a photograph. The purples of the sunset convey a unique sense of distance to the day’s end: in Asahigaoka, sunsets predominantly have colours in the oranges and reds, but the Okinawan sunsets feature more purples and pinks. This is likely to hint at the different feeling that a tropical sunset might evoke.

  • The page quote for this talk is from J.R.R. Tolkien, whose perspectives on adventure and travel coherently and succinctly mirror my own personality. Being very literal and straightforward, I rather enjoy Tolkien’s style, and in this quote, he simply means to say that knowing there is a home to go back to makes all adventure and hardship more bearable. I admit that I am not much of a traveller; unlike others of my generation, I do not believe that travelling is the sole means to enrich oneself. Justifications for why people of my generation travel include notions that exploring the world is the single most effective way to become a better person, and to this end, travel frequently. While travel does broaden one’s horizon, it is also an endeavour that requires a time commitment. For me, I would much rather put my time into work, developing my interpersonal and technical skills to positively impact the lives of others in a tangible way.

  • While travelling would help me connect with people better, I still would need to prove it with my work experience, and as such, travel is a lesser priority compared to contributing to something much bigger than myself through my work. At the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my friends ended up moving to Japan after meeting someone there while doing a home-stay program, leaving behind family, friends and a prospective career. I don’t think I could pull off something like this: I’m rather like a Hobbit in many ways, preferring the comforts of home and a good routine. Having said this, I am okay with adventure in moderation, and at any rate, moving somewhere to pursue matters of the heart is not exactly a good ROI if things should go south.

  • After arriving back at the inn after a day’s worth of adventure, Natsumi greets Aoi. The gentle purple-pinks of the evening skies become more pronounced, and gives a magical quality to Natsumi’s growing friendship with Aoi. Despite different backgrounds, Natsumi finds that she shares similarities with Aoi, as well. I was quite surprised to learn that Natsumi is voiced by Ayane Sakura, whom I know best as GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto: if one listens carefully, a bit of Sakura’s kawaii voice can be heard in Natsumi.

  • Another evening in Okinawa means another scrumptious dinner. Entering this month, the weather was still brutally cold, and as the work week began, I sat down to a hot and tasty fried chicken ramen with miso-sesame broth, charred corn and snap peas, plus a soft-boiled egg at a local pub. Their fried chicken stands as some of the best I’ve had, being crisply fried while maintaining juicy chicken on the inside. In moderation, good food during a cold day is the perfect countermeasure, and after a meal such as this, even -20ºC weather is not quite so cold. Of course, things are now warming up again, and I am quite glad to see the worst of winter behind us.

  • After dinner, the girls invite Aoi to hang out with them, where Renge shows her some of the drawings that she’d made. It turns out that Aoi is free the next day, and she offers to take them around different spots in Okinawa that are far removed from tourists. This is the side of the world that Rick Steves promotes in his series, Rick Steves’ Europe: taken the path less travelled, Steves highlights local cuisines and sights that often go missed by travellers in favour of more well-known attractions. Having a local guide who knows the area helps greatly and serves to create a more authentic experience: folk of my generation wish to experience this in particular, and I cannot fault them for that.

  • The next morning, Aoi wakes up bright and early to meet up with Natsumi and the others. Even at this early hour, the Okinawan heat is apparent: with the temperature averaging highs of 26ºC throughout the year, the humid sub-tropical climate of Okinawa is a world apart from the winters in my area. This year, winter came later: January was unusually mild, and then the bitter cold slammed the city with five straight weeks of cold. Forecasts are showing warmer weather incoming, and this will be a breath of fresh air, to finally be able to walk outside without a scarf covering my face.

  • Mirroring Aoi’s thoughtfulness, Hotaru and the others have given their room a cleaning so that she is not burdened with the task, and this makes it speedier for everyone to go on their day’s adventures. Simple gestures like these show that for their occasional misadventures, the cast of Non Non Biyori are ultimately good people. Some individuals have stated that this creates the impression that Non Non Biyori has no conflict, and in turn, this prevents the characters from developing. However, I find that exploring characters over time and portraying different sides in an individual is equivalent to character development, so it is inappropriate to dismiss Non Non Biyori on the basis that there are no conflicts in a traditional sense.

  • The soundtrack for Non Non Biyori Vacation is a well-composed one, integrating traditional Okinawan elements (such as the Sanshin) into the incidental music. Familiar motifs from Non Non Biyori also make a return, and together, this is meant to accentuate that Non Non Biyori Vacation is about the fusion of the familiar and unfamiliar. I greatly enjoyed listening to the music for this reason: it evokes imagery of Okinawa in the mind’s eye, while at once being distinctly Non Non Biyori in tone, and as such, the soundtrack is a perfect aural representation of the film’s thematic elements.

  • Aoi takes the girls to her school, where she briefly meets up with a friend before showing them around the grounds. Again, minute details in the environment, such as the stains in the walls surrounding the school and cracks in the pavement, give the environment a more realistic, worn sense. This stands in contrast with the near-flawless infrastructure of Harukana Receive – highly clean environments provide less visual clutter, which is excellent where the focus is on the characters. In something like Non Non Biyori, including these details immerse viewers in the environment.

  • While summer in the inaka often evokes feelings of melancholy in something like Yosuga no Sora, Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please! Teacher, the same colours and atmosphere in Non Non Biyori creates a sense of excitement and adventure. A similar palette was used in CLANAND ~After Story~ to great effect: long days are perfect for adventure, and skies of deepest blue that seem to stretch on forever might be seen as acting for a visual representation of this unlimited possibility. What effect the sky has is affected by the nature of an anime, and seemingly unending skies can also signal uncertainty, as is often the case where romances are involved.

  • Aoi gives everyone a chance to play badminton, and after Natsumi plays Komari, an irate Komari asks Aoi to play Natsumi after she’s beaten. With her experience, Aoi tramples Natsumi without much effort, and Natsumi is utterly exhausted after the fact. However, there’s little time for a rematch, as Aoi’s got an exciting itinerary planned for Hotaru and company. I know the excitement of stuff occurring: things have been hectic as of late, and earlier this week, I had the opportunity to go attend a live-event featuring former U.S. President Barack Obama. In his talk, he emphasised the importance of innovation, cooperation and above all, optimism. I greatly enjoyed the talk, and Obama is a very charismatic, presidential speaker: the reality is that in a world ruled by enmity and discord, we overcome it by showing equal bonds of friendship and trust.

  • This is why I am so insistent about optimism and positivity in whatever I do, whether it be in real life or for my blog. Back in Non Non Biyori Vacation, one subtle touch that I found to be pleasant is the fact that each of Hotaru, Renge, Komari, Natsumi and Aoi have different hats that mirror their personalities. Hotari has a simple but elegant sun hat, while Komari’s hat has a ribbon on it. Both Aoi and Natsumi have ballcaps, and Renge has a bucket hat. Having a good hat is essential in places like Okinawa, where the sun is intense and so is the corresponding UV index. While folks often associate pleasant weather with a high UV index, in places with a higher elevation, there can be a high UV index even when it is overcast.

  • Aoi takes the girls to a shop that sells hand-made Okinawan accessories. In a subtle call-back to Komari’s being perceived as a child, the others notice that a pendant looks sharp on Hotaru, who is more mature for her age. Viewers are largely dependent on dialogue to expose this fact: except for Renge and Kazuho, who have a distinct eye shape, the characters in Non Non Biyori have the same facial features. Barring their hair styles and eye colour, they look very much alike, and I have gotten into the pitfall of mixing characters up. In particular, I find that Hotaru looks very similar to Konomi.

  • After visiting an ice-cream shoppe and savouring sundaes, Aoi brings everyone to an observation point looking over Okinawa. While ice cream had previously not been something I was too interested in, I’ve come to realise that it actually boils down to the hardness and flavour of the ice cream; I’m fond of softer ice cream, and maple ice cream in particular hits the spot. During this past week, I had the chance to try a beaver-tail maple ice cream, which is about as Canadian as ice creams can get.

  • Having local knowledge of an area means being able to take in sights away from the crowds: Aoi brings the girls to a quieter beach, where they enjoy the sights of a calm, rocky beach that is quite far removed from path better travelled. I’ve long had a fondness for exploring the more hidden corners of my homeland and discovering local gems that I normally pass over. For instance, it was taking a second look for holes in the walls that I came across the 514 Poutine in Canmore.

  • In the manga, Renge decides to take a shell home, but in Non Non Biyori Vacation, Aoi suggests that the girls take some white sand home with them, having bought small glass vials with her. This is a wonderful souvenir of what was an immensely relaxing and enjoyable vacation, and also brings to mind a vial of sand from Cancún that I bought. This vial also has a few small seashells within, and the vial is stoppered by a glass ball to keep the sand from coming out.

  • By evening, Aoi takes the girls to the beach where, away from the effects of light pollution, Natsume, Renge, Hotaru and Komari are treated to a stunning view of the night sky, with the Milky Way plainly visible. This is perhaps a more optimistic view of the night skies in Okinawa; most of the island is as bright as Cochrane, which is around 36 kilometres from the city center. While the night skies at this distance are more pronounced than they are in the suburbs of Calgary, it’s still bright enough so the Milky Way would not be easily spotted. As Non Non Biyori Vacation is fiction, this is forgiven.

  • Aoi’s brought the girls here to show them a spectacular phenomenon: Noctiluca scintillans exhibit bioluminescence and when stimulated, will emit a blue light. The girls frolic in the water in a truly magical setting, and similar to a moment in Non Non Biyori Repeat, where Kazuho takes the girls to a pond to watch fireflies, Non Non Biyori Vacation sets one of its most magical moments under the night sky.

  • For me, Non Non Biyori represents a film where, despite the lack of a unifying conflict or an end goal, messages about life are nonetheless present in full. The film is working within the constraints of the manga, which presented the trip to Okinawa as a detour from their routine. There is not supposed to be a conflict or explicit lesson: life simply has breaks in it, and the movie has certainly succeeded in capturing this particular concept, bringing it to life with first-rate visuals and sound. Silver Link has done a phenomenal job on the movie, and presently, with an impressive collection of anime in their profile, I am happy that the studio has continued to find a way.

  • While the manga had Natsumi crying for no discernable reason, the film allows this moment to carry more weight: she’s clearly saddened to leave such a beautiful place, but also is saddened because she’s not able to spend more time with Aoi. The format in Non Non Biyori Vacation allows the film to do things that the manga could not, and this creates a more solid story that can be touching, as well as comedic.

  • For better or worse, the time has come to depart, and Aoi bids everyone farewell. Natsumi promises to write her, and improve on badminton in the meantime. A part of every vacation is the part where one must leave for home, and in my experience, this is usually a mixed bag. On one hand, being in another country engenders a desire to continue exploring, but on the other hand, being elsewhere also amplifies one’s appreciation for their own home. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in one’s own bed after a vacation.

  • While Natsumi is probably the rowdiest of the group, seeing her grow in Non Non Biyori Vacation was probably one of the strongest elements. Despite being unscholarly in manner, Natsumi is shown to have a strong knowledge of the outdoors and is also quite active. She tends to create trouble for others, but at heart is caring for those around her. The film offered Natsumi an opportunity to develop in a manner that the manga did not, and by taking advantage of this, helps viewers like myself warm up to her further.

  • The palm trees and pristine beaches of Okinawa give way to the rolling hills and endless fields of Asahigaoka as the group returns home. The deliberate choice of lighting here, with purples and pinks dominating the evening sky, mirror the sunset of the second day; this was done to remind audiences that while everyone might be back in Asahigaoka, they’re still under the same skies as Okinawa, similarly to how Aoi and Natsumi have commonalities.

  • Having the characters walking apart as they wave goodbyes for the present creates a visual break here. While everyone is parting ways for now, they’re still planning on hanging out in the time that is left before summer is over. I imagine that this film segues into Non Non Biyori Repeat: the manga seems to portray things as taking place after Hotaru arrives in a linear manner, but the TV series’ second season suggests that it’s set in between the episodes seen in the first season. With a third season announced, one wonders where it will fit in the timeline.

  • After arriving home, Hotaru shares her experiences with her parents. Non Non Biyori presents the girls as living in a more old-fashioned environment, and so, do not have access to things like smartphones. I usually communicate with my parents while travelling to inform them that I’ve arrived safely by means of WhatsApp. While I prefer iMessage and Skype in every way, I usually aren’t too picky about the choice of tool I have to use.

  • At the Koshigayas’, Komari recounts her experiences in Okinawa to her mother, while Suguru chills. Natsumi is seen in her room, fondly hanging up the image that Renge had drawn of her and Aoi. Everyone’s gotten something unique out of their experience in Okinawa, and come away with what will be memories to treasure for a lifetime. I note that for the most part, Suguru has not been mentioned to any real extent in my discussions: he’s unique in that he has no voice actor, and his presence is quite minimal.

  • When the Miyauchis arrive home, Renge immediately runs into their house and declares that they’re back. Earlier, Renge wonders if they’ll be able to go back to Okinawa, and Kazuho remarks that such a vacation is too pricey to be doing on a regular basis. Renge decides that in the future, she’d like to go back again anyways. Simple details in conversation give great insights into the characters, and I found that while still having a secondary role in the film, Kazuho was given a few moments that present her as being attentive, mindful of those around her and astute, leaving audiences with the sense that she’s qualified to look after elementary and middle school students despite her lethargic appearance.

  • For my readers, I’m also back in full now: I’ve been writing less so far because my priorities have been on work-related matters. With one major milestone now in the books, I look forwards to continuing on with my work, but for the present, this means that I will be blogging with at least a better frequency than I have in the past several weeks. I’ve long anticipated Non Non Biyori Vacation with enthusiasm, and having finished this post, which is this year’s largest (having some seven thousand four hundred and seventy-six words), I look to the future. I have one final post left for CLANNAD ~After Story~, and will be writing about Ace Combat 7 now that I’ve passed the halfway point. Endro!‘s ending is coming later this month, and I still have one more post on Battlefield V‘s campaign, as well. Finally, I do have (tentative) plans to write about Nagi no Asukara. I would like to thank the reader who’ve stuck around long enough to read this entire post.

Taken together, Non Non Biyori Vacation is an excellent film that capitalises on the silver screen format to deliver a bolder, larger-scale theme while simultaneously remaining very faithful to the structuring and atmosphere seen in the original TV series. Like the themes the film conveys, Non Non Biyori Vacation is both familiar and different relative to the TV series. Watching all of the characters sightsee and experience a more personal side of Okinawa was superbly enjoyable. Non Non Biyori has long excelled at conveying subtle lessons on life in its gentle, cathartic run, and Non Non Biyori Vacation continues on in the same manner its predecessors did. This is a movie that I can easily recommend to anyone who enjoyed Non Non Biyori, and for folks who are looking for something relaxing, Non Non Biyori Vacation fits the bill even if one is unfamiliar with the series. Granted, there are some jokes that require some background in the series to fully appreciate, but the film itself is reasonably standalone such that one could enjoy it even without having seen the TV series or read the manga. It’s been a shade over six months since Non Non Biyori hit the theatres in Japan, and presently, having had the chance to see the movie for myself, I find that this is something that viewers should definitely experience for themselves. Finally, looking ahead into the future, I’ve heard that a third season of Non Non Biyori is in the works, and this is exciting news: Non Non Biyori‘s success comes from being committed to its ability to do more with less. By utilising a simple moment and then drawing the fun from the ordinary, Non Non Biyori shows the merits of taking a step back to smell the roses when the world constantly seeks to accelerate – this is something that is most welcome in my books.

A Tide’s Ebb and Flow: Revisiting Ushio’s Story in CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

“Sanae-san told me that places that I can cry are in the bathroom, or in daddy’s arms.” –Ushio Okazaki

Five years after Nagisa’s death, Tomoya has fallen into a depression, spending his days working and down time drinking. Sanae decides to visit Tomoya one day, and after taking him on a date of sorts, strong-arms Tomoya into taking a vacation with her and Akio. However, on the day of their trip, the Furukawas are nowhere to be found, and Tomoya decides to take Ushio on the trip. While having a difficult time getting closer to Ushio, he buys her a toy robot, and later takes her to a field of flowers. Tomoya realises that his father had once taken him here, and while Ushio searches for her robot, which she’d lost, Tomoya climbs a hill, running into his grandmother and learns that his father had poured his heart and soul into supporting Tomoya after his mother, Atsuko, died in a car accident. Realising that his father had done his best to look after him, and that he’s neglected to do the same for Ushio, Tomoya realises that his father had never stopped caring for him. He returns to the field, where Ushio is still searching for the robot. She cherishes it because it’s the first thing her father’s ever bought for her, and Tomoya asks Ushio if she is willing to forgive him. On their way home, Tomoya tells Ushio about Nagisa. The father and daughter settle into their new life together: after convincing his father to rest and that his duties have been completed, that it’s okay to return home, Tomoya learns that Ushio’s kindergarten instructor is none other than Kyou. Ushio also befriends Fuuko, and Tomoya later agrees to visit Ushio for her school’s sports day. However, Ushio develops a fever and is bed-ridden. Tomoya stays by her side and asks the Furukawas to help out. When her illness worsens, Ushio requests one final trip from Tomoya, who reluctantly agrees in spite of Ushio’s condition. As they set off, a snowfall sets in. Ushio collapses and dies soon after. Consumed with agony and grief, Tomoya clings to Ushio and succumbs to death shortly after. Ushio’s story in ~After Story~ remains an iconic centrepiece that is integral to the themes and messages of CLANNAD; despite only spanning five episodes, numerous life lessons are elegantly fit into the narrative, and each of these lessons hold weight in real life. With its exceptionally strong and moving story, Ushio’s arc represents the culmination of every discovery, triumph and setback in CLANNAD.

Notions of family have always been at the heart of CLANNAD, and in the beginning, the sharp contrasts between Tomoya and Nagisa’s families served to set the stage for what Tomoya comes to value in his family. Through the warmth and support Tomoya sees in Nagisa’s family, a part of Tomoya falls in love with Nagisa because she comes to embody the precise sort of person who would be able to pass this sense of family along to the next generation. However, when she dies, the concepts of family that Nagisa came to represent would die with her. However, these concepts continued to endure in Ushio, and Tomoya’s subconscious decision to travel into the countryside, mirroring what his father had done for him many years previously, shows that Tomoya resembles his father in many ways. Tomoya himself comes to realise this after speaking with his grandmother; from her recollections, Tomoya’s neglect of Ushio for the past five year is more despicable than his own father, who, despite his numerous faults, always strove to put Tomoya first. This revelation, and the fact that Ushio is a very visceral, tangible representation of his own past, forces Tomoya to open his eyes. Despite his past actions, Tomoya accepts responsibility for his actions and owns his mistakes, resolving to turn over a new leaf. Tomoya’s change of heart here is a touching moment: by asking Ushio to come live with him and forgive his mistakes, and Ushio accepting Tomoya as her father openly, ~After Story~ suggests that it is never too late to redress past mistakes and make good on the future. These revelations, however, can take some manoeuvring to reach. In ~After Story~, a Tomoya’s intrinsic kindness, in conjunction with a bit of fate, allows him to enter the future a far better man and father.

In addition to notions of family, CLANNAD also explores the concept of cycles, of how traits slowly move through generations and how history can repeat itself if one is blind to its consequences. Throughout CLANNAD, audiences have the impression of Tomoya’s father as an irresponsible alcoholic whose callousness results in Tomoya’s shoulder injury and loss of a new career opportunity. However, when it is shown that his father also struggled to make ends meet while simultaneously looking after Tomoya, the audience’s image of him change drastically; Tomoya’s father can now be seen as dealing with very difficult circumstances that led him to low points, and despite Tomoya’s determination to escape this, he is initially forced along the same path. To further accentuate the likeness, Atsuko is suggested as being quite similar to Nagisa in both manner and appearance, also dying early. Because Tomoya had earlier been so consumed with a desire to escape his past, he failed to understand the circumstances that resulted in his own experiences. Through dramatic examples, Tomoya is shaken out of this; he resolves to make amends and look after Ushio, as well as expressing his gratitude for his father and informing him that at long last, his father’s responsibilities and efforts can come to an end. Being able to see and understand his past more clearly enables Tomoya to own his actions, and so, it is quite fitting that Ushio is named after the tides, which endlessly come and go along the coast, ebbing and flowing each and everyday regardless of the weather or whatever challenges the inhabitants of the planet endure.

Because Tomoya ultimately sees the errors of his own ways, he is able to finally come to terms with the relationship he shared with his father. Grateful for his father’s support despite the great cost his father paid to keep Tomoya happy, he is finally able to put these feelings into words, and with his father’s job finally done, he is able to move back home. By facing his past as a man, and ultimately making peace with it, the curse that haunts Tomoya is lifted: Tomoya is able to step into the future at last, whereas before, he would have been weighted back by his resentment of the past, and thus, never would have been able to properly embrace the future. The gap between the Tomoya here and the Tomoya who encouraged a shy Nagisa to follow her dreams is apparent: Tomoya’s happiness is more genuine than it has ever been, and with this new outlook on life, Tomoya is the kind, gentle individual towards everyone as Nagisa had originally seen him to be. Whereas Tomoya’s actions for the past five years might be seen as being disrespectful towards Nagisa’s memory, the changes in him after meeting Ushio and his grandmother show that Tomoya has begun to move on, while being mindful of the past. Looking after Ushio to the best of his ability and making amends clearly show Tomoya as living in respect of Nagisa’s memory, and the days that follow are the happiest Tomoya’s experienced since meeting Nagisa. From picking up Ushio from school to spending time with the Furukawas, Tomoya’s days are filled with discovery and normalcy. While most stories would be content to end here, ~After Story~ seems to suggest that everything has a cost: the same disease that claimed Nagisa’s life now comes knocking on Ushio’s door. Tomoya’s last act, to fulfil Ushio’s wish, shows just how far he’s matured, and when both succumb to death, audiences are left to wonder what kind of universe would so cruel as to wrest away all happiness from a family that has endured and given viewers much to root for.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When things resume five years later, the toll of despair and his efforts to forget have had a very visible impact on Tomoya’s life. His scruffy appearance and unkempt apartment reflect on this, and time relentlessly passes. In the five years since, the town has undergone dramatic changes, with new constructions altering the cityscape. Because Tomoya’s become trapped in his past, he fails to notice these changes until one summer’s day, when Sanae shows up out of the blue and visits him. Tomoya reluctantly decides to accompany her into town. With a bit of convincing, Tomoya agrees to travel with Sanae and Akio.

  • A lot can change in five years – five years ago, I was set to enter graduate school and had not yet been invited to work on the Giant Walkthrough Brain, nor had I suffered heartbreak of the sort I’d not experienced up until that point. Since then, I finished my graduate degree, became a second-degree black belt and began my career. Despite the extraordinary events within CLANNAD, the series’ focus in dealing with everyday life is first and foremost, and as such, I will be reminiscing quite a bit in this post, which has forty screenshots and accompanying figure captions.

  • The choice to set Tomoya’s turnaround during the summer is deliberate; ~After Story~ had previously made extensive use of the seasons to convey very specific ideas. Summer is a time of hope, and of change: Tomoya proposed to Nagisa in the summer, decided with Nagisa on their child’s name in the summer, and so, audiences cannot help but feel a sense of foreshadowing here. In the long, hot days of summer under blue skies that beacon for adventure, something is going to happen now that Tomoya’s decided to take a step into the world he turned his back on years previously.

  • It turns out that Akio and Sanae punk’d Tomoya, but this choice is a calculated, well-chosen one on their part. Tomoya meets Ushio for the first time, and at the age of five, Ushio is polite, perceptive and a spitting image of her mother. In the presence of her father, Ushio is quite shy, having not met with him: Tomoya was reminded of Nagisa and distanced himself, leaving the Furukawas to raise Ushio. The blunt, despairing Tomoya has no idea how to connect with Ushio, but the Furukawas have raised Ushio well, and she defaults to her own activities while Tomoya struggles to work out what to do now.

  • When Ushio accidentally totals her turtle toy, Tomoya fixes it for her. Having neglected Ushio for five years to dampen the pain of having lost Nagisa, Tomoya’s decision can be seen as being selfish. However, it is important to note that these can be seen as extenuating circumstances, and Tomoya’s lack of a support network would have only made things more difficult for him. Parents would doubtlessly see Tomoya as irresponsible in the absence of a greater context, and this is ~After Story~‘s subtle way of reminding viewers not to be so hasty in dealing out judgement, especially when stories behind others are not fully known.

  • From a narrative perspective, Tomoya’s actions create a situation that he must redeem himself from. The changes in Tomoya are apparent, and he is content to leave Ushio to her own devices. Being raised in the Furukawa household, Ushio is very independent, and when Tomoya cooks lunch for the two, Ushio decides to add seasoning of sorts to the rice, being unaccustomed to the way Tomoya cooks. After realising that he probably should make good on his promise to Sanae and Akio, Tomoya decides to take Ushio on a trip into the countryside.

  • Sullen and ill-tempered, Tomoya inadvertently frightens Ushio when he yells at a mother and her child for being excessively noisy on the train. With five years of unfamiliarity between them, Tomoya finds it very difficult to connect with his daughter, while Ushio initially is hesitant to open up to Tomoya as her father. A part of parenthood is being close to one’s children and being there for them, so despite being related by blood, father and daughter feel exceedingly distant at the start of their journey. The choice of an outing to the countryside thus acts as a visual metaphor for the journey the two undertake within.

  • While browsing around a store, Ushio asks for a toy robot from Tomoya, who buys it for her despite his remarks that it’s an unusual choice of toy. While Tomoya’s world has since reverted to the dull monochromes it was prior to meeting Nagisa, ~After Story~ presents the world as being exceedingly colourful when Ushio is introduced. The disconnect between Tomoya’s mood and the colours of the world are a first in CLANNAD: it is meant to show that this arc is less about Tomoya, and more about Ushio, whose universe is one of exploration, taking things in stride and discoveries. Having helped so many people in CLANNAD, Tomoya’s now receiving help from Ushio in a manner of speaking, and the colours of the world seem to mirror her thoughts and feelings.

  • Thus, when the two step off a train into the vast blue skies and expanse of fields on a hot summer’s day, the highly-saturated landscapes indicate new possibility. There is a certain mystique and allure about a far distant countryside by summer; the environment invites exploration. It is under the long days of summer where discoveries are made: when there are many hours of daylight, there is opportunity to remain outdoors longer, and as such, the hottest days of year are also my favourite. Under such conditions, the world gives Ushio and Tomoya plenty of chances to catch up and learn about one another.

  • By my admission, I would love to meet a girl in a sundress and wide-brim hat while waiting for a train in a remote station on a beautiful summer morning. There is a tranquility in the countryside by summer, although as I’ve remarked previously, a lack of train stations in my area. The closest I would have is driving along highways cutting through endless canola fields, and upon closer inspection, that isn’t a bad substitute: summers here at home are beautiful, and there’s a charm about the southern province with its blue skies, foothills and canola fields.

  • Upon arriving at a field of yellow flowers, Tomoya and Ushio genuinely feel like father and daughter for the first time; to give Ushio a better look, he gives her a piggyback ride. She later runs off into the flowers while Tomoya rests under the shade of a tree, seemingly blissful and content for the first time. Afternoon soon gives way to evening, and Tomoya has a sudden flashback. Despite the field being somewhere seemingly new, shadows of a memory manifest in his mind: he realises he’s been here before.

  • While the area’s apparent familiarity lingers in Tomoya’s mind, Ushio’s lost her robot. Tomoya gives her permission to keep looking for it, and sets off to confirm his suspicions. Tomoya’s trip to the area is likely subconscious decision, and the fact that his father once took him here is an indicator that history is repeating itself. When I was much younger, my father was fond of driving my brother and I around the country roads surrounding the city after eating lunch at a restaurant. We were always thrilled to go on these excursions, and they were cost-effective ways of relaxing. Being able to relax takes many forms, he told me, and it is not necessary to break the bank in order to have a good time.

  • After climbing onto a bluff overlooking the coast, Tomoya runs into his grandmother. Under the oranges and golds of a sunset, the colours of a day’s end, Tomoya hears from his grandmother the journey his father had taken in raising him. Standing in sharp contrast with Tomoya, who’d turned his back on Ushio after Nagisa’s death, Tomoya’s father decided to push on ahead and raise Tomoya on his own after his wife’s death. Despite his own shortcomings and failures, that Tomoya’s father stuck to his promise as best as he could is honourable – Tomoya realises that for all of his own promises to raise Ushio, he had completely and totally failed Ushio by leaving her to the Furukawas.

  • What makes Tomoya an honourable man, then, is the fact that he is able to see his mistakes and own them. The worst kind of person is blind to their own failures, defending themselves even when there is no position to defend. It is true that Tomoya has made poor choices, and it is true that his neglect for Ushio is appalling. However, he accepts that he has made a mistake and also understands that it is not too late to begin setting things right. Learning about his father’s history helps Tomoya put things in perspective, and realising this, Tomoya is determined to make amends for Ushio’s sake.

  • Having inherited her mother’s perceptiveness, Ushio accepts Tomoya’s apology and his invitation to be a proper family. This turning point is set deep into the evening, as the reds become more pronounced. Signifying the end of a day, of a time when things close off, the emotional buildup comes to a gentle but significant close. Watching Tomoya come to terms with his past, and watching Ushio connect with her father for the first time in unison was a very moving moment because shows that people can indeed look past their prior experiences and be willing to accept their circumstances.

  • CLANNAD is sublime because of how every element comes together to convey a very specific, powerful message: from the dialogue between Tomoya and Ushio, to the choice of incidental music, the deliberate use of lighting and time of day, all of these components come together to completely immerse audiences in a moment. I do not feel that any other anime I’ve watched comes close: CLANNAD stands alone even among the series I’ve counted as a masterpiece, and such moments are more effective than my own writings in conveying what about CLANNAD makes it so enjoyable to watch.

  • After opening up to Ushio, Tomoya finally speaks about Nagisa for the first time in five years. He accepts her death, recounts her as beautiful, frail but above all, kind. Understandably, speaking about Nagisa brings tears to Tomoya’s eyes, but by talking it out to Ushio, he releases the stress of five years. Ushio has inherited an interesting thought about tears; being quite strong-willed like Nagisa, the Furukawas told her that there are two places where it’s okay to cry. I believe most translations give the first as the toilet, but I’ve always known facilities as bathrooms, hence my own take on the quote. The second location is in a parent’s arms, and so, by crying in Tomoya’s presence, audiences are left with no doubt that Ushio accepts Tomoya.

  • Upon returning from their trip, Tomoya visits the Furukawas and prepares to move Ushio’s belongings over to his place. The night before, Sanae finally cries for Nagisa, having stayed her emotions after all this time so she could be strong for Ushio. With one journey over, another begins – despite their rocky start, Tomoya and Ushio bond very quickly, and in no time at all, the two feel like a proper family.

  • Preparing to head off after thanking the Furuakawas for everything they’ve done, Tomoya and Ushio set off under a beautiful summer day. The vivid saturation in the skies, despite Tomoya and Ushio’s return home, show that another adventure is just around the corner; on a long day such as this, the possibilities are as endless as the sky itself. I recall the weather of summers past where the days were precisely like this – whether it be the weight of an MCAT or a flood-stricken city, summers in Alberta are persistently pleasant for the most part, reminding residents that the world will go on regardless of the troubles one might have, and that it’s okay to live in the moment.

  • Traces of the Furukawa’s upbringing are visible in Ushio, who boldly gives a thumbs-up to Akio after he asks if she’ll be alright with her new life. Ushio is voiced by Satomi Kōrogi – Kōrogi delivers Ushio’s lines in a very realistic manner, capturing the vocabulary and manner of an inquisitive five-year-old. Ushio’s sentences are short and succinct; she answers questions with brevity. When she’s enjoying a moment and laughing, Kōrogi manages to sound precisely as a five-year-old would, as well, attesting to her talent. I’m actually not too familiar with Kōrogi’s other works, and the only other role I’ve seen is her performance as Please Teacher!‘s Maho Kazami. Mizuho’s younger sister, Maho is absolutely opposed to Kei’s marriage to Mizhuho and is a brat, but she’s also mischievous, resembling GochiUsa‘s Maya Jouga in appearance and manner.

  • After moving some of Ushio’s belongings from the Furukawas’ place, Tomoya shows Ushio a picture of Nagisa. The return of the Dango plushies gives Tomoya’s apartment a sense of home; this is a feeling we’ve not seen since Tomoya and Nagisa had lived here together. While Tomoya goes to work, Ushio demonstrates her independence: she explores the empty house on her own and then takes to her own activities. Despite being quite accustomed to solitude, Ushio is very well-behaved.

  • Tomoya catches up with Kouko and Fuuko one day: Fuuko’s finally been discharged from the hospital and despite the considerable amount of time that has passed since her last appearance, Fuuko looks and acts very much as she did previously. Tomoya immediately takes to trolling her: evidently, being older and having experienced the difficulties that he did has not completely diminished Tomoya’s more playful side. Upon seeing Ushio, Fuuko immediately desires to keep her, and while both Kouko and Tomoya are against this, Tomoya does allow Fuuko to play with Ushio; the two get along very well.

  • Having come to terms with his father, Tomoya takes Ushio to visit him. They clean up his place, and Tomoya helps him pack, saying that it’s now okay to step back. Seeing his daughter, Tomoya’s father consents, and the two part ways on amicable terms. Having come to appreciate and understand his father’s decisions, Tomoya has now properly faced his past and accepts it. While Ushio may not have had an active role in accomplishing this, she reminded Tomoya of his own past, and drove him towards being a better man.

  • With his past addressed in full, Tomoya is now able to move into the future without anything holding him back: his desire to make things better for Ushio now stems from a genuine love for her, rather than his previous goal of putting as much distance between him and the past. In this moment, a light orb appears, but only Ushio notices it rise into the skies. Despite being a benign moment, watching Tomoya and his father separate for the present was an emotional moment.

  • I note that originally, I intended to write about this particular arc in February: this post would have coincided with the ten year anniversary to the twentieth episode and ended with Ushio developing a fever, but looking at the ~After Story~‘s progression, it ended up being more prudent to extend this post and then fully cover things right up to the penultimate episode. Doing so also allowed me some breathing room to focus on the other drafts I had lined up.

  • When Tomoya and Kyou meet for the first time in over five years, he’s surprised that she’s become an elementary teacher. In spite of this, their old friendship remains as strong and familiar as ever: Tomoya reacts to Kyou’s introduction, and is immediately reminded of their time in the drama club. Tomoya remarks to Ushio that despite Kyou being kind and friendly as a teacher, she was once violent and put him through a great deal of trouble. Despite this, they were very much friends. Tomoya’s description of Kyou is not untrue, and it exemplifies Tomoya’s character to get the negatives out of the way first and then focus on the positives, speaking volumes of his character.

  • Kyou remarks that after Nagisa’s death, Youhei and the others wondered if they should get in touch with him to offer support, but ended up deciding that it was better for Tomoya to work out his problems. This always struck me as being a little difficult to accept: during difficult times, support from peers is precisely what people might need, and one cannot help but wonder if Tomoya might’ve fared better were his friends there for him. On the flip-side, Tomoya manages to overcome that particular stage of his life following his fateful decision to take Ushio on a trip; in being able to own his mistakes and then regroup, viewers come to rally behind Tomoya.

  • CLANNAD, and ~After Story~ in particular, deals with the ups and downs of life, of comings and goings. Moments of great tragedy are offset by the bliss of normalcy, and the anime presents happiness as being something to be at its most profound during the most ordinary of moments, whether it be sharing a meal together or picking up one’s children from school after work. The world that CLANNAD was first released in 2004 was a very different place: the internet, smartphones and social media were not ubiquitous, but even then, advancing technology and the increasing expectations people had meant that the more subtle things in life were being forgotten and taken for granted.

  • By deliberately focussing on these messages, CLANNAD can be seen has having an ancillary theme – genuine happiness is not found in material possessions, personal success or social status, but through appreciation of the simpler things in life. Tomoya is able to create a profound memory and bond with Ushio by taking a trip into the countryside, and he is at his happiest doing ordinary, everyday things: this is the sort of stability that families need to mature. There is not one way to live life, and while some of my peers may disagree with me, I feel that the happiness one might gain by backpacking in Thailand and Vietnam for a year is not so different than the happiness found from taking an afternoon stroll in a hill overlooking the city.

  • Kyou remarks that Ushio is brimming with energy and optimism, being the splitting image of her mother. When the elementary school’s sports festival arrives, Tomoya is initially reluctant to attend until Ushio convinces him to do so. He subsequently displays his old determination, exercising during his lunch breaks at work so that he’s able to keep up with her. After reuniting with Ushio, Tomoya’s old personality begins manifesting again, indicating that Tomoya’s begun living life anew. A new status quo is reached, and it would appear that Tomoya has once again managed to build happiness for himself and Ushio.

  • Seeing the energy and enthusiasm in youth, such as when Ushio expresses that she’ll be doing her best during the sports festival, is always a breath of fresh air for me. A few weeks ago, I volunteered as a judge for a science fair being held at the top private school in the city: one of the instructors there was my old biology instructor back when I was in high school, and I attribute my successes in university a result of his inspirational teaching approach. This year, I judged some of the best projects I’ve seen yet. I assessed several projects as being more than qualified for the city-wide science fair in April. I am always happy to see what the best minds are working on, and their youthful optimism. The world of late is as pessimistic and cynical as I’ve ever seen it, and it is for this reason that I always strive to surround myself with positivity.

  • Ushio embodies everything about children that I get along with: I have no trouble getting along with children, and during my days as an undergrad, I worked with small children in a Chinese school. They seem to gravitate towards me for help and support. With this being said, I am not qualified to be a parent in any way. I’ve heard that most parents feel this way about their first child: beyond some cursory materials to help them along, it’s mostly touch-and-go.

  • While visiting a new hospital in the far southern quadrant of my city, I remarked that the best hospital is a near-empty one, as it would imply that the citizens are healthy and well.  One evening, Ushio is taking a walk on her own and finds herself near the hospital, being unable to answer Fuuko when the latter asks why she’s in the area. The supernatural aspects of CLANNAD are subtle, and it is implied that there’s a curse that manifested after Akio begged for Nagisa’s life long ago. Shortly after, Ushio develops a fever and is unable to participate in the sports festival. Tomoya remains by her side as doctors struggle to find a cause for Ushio’s illness.

  • Themes that lessons of the past can haunt the present carry over into Ushio’s illness: it turns out Ushio’s inherited her mother’s enigmatic condition, and despite having been in excellent health, this illness has returned with a frightening finality. The normalcy that Tomoya had experienced is slipping away again, creating a lingering sense of doubt in the viewers. To have concluded the discussion here as I originally intended to would have created an unnatural break; I decided to push this post back and include the penultimate episode so that Ushio’s arc was covered in its entirety.

  • As Ushio’s condition worsens, he decides to resign from his job to look after her full-time, signifying his dedication and love for Ushio. Again, Tomoya is seen as taking an action that might seem brash or ill-conceived: Akio and Sanae have already offered to look after Ushio wherever Tomoya is busy, and a lack of income invariably means being unable to afford the healthcare and materials needed to lessen the severity of Ushio’s illness. However, CLANNAD manages to frame this as being honourable – while quite irrational as a decision in reality, fiction allows Tomoya’s decision to be an honourable one in that he is willing to give his all for Ushio.

  • My remarks about Tomoya’s actions in both a fictional and real context are intended to show that some narrative decisions that seem poor in real life can be relaxed in fiction, as they serve to strengthen a message. Not everything needs to be realistic, and realism can sometimes be detrimental to a work’s ability to convey its theme. Here, Tomoya and Akio share a conversation: Tomoya declines Akio’s assistance and wonders if the changes in the city might be affecting Ushio strongly. It certainly does feel that, as more developments appear, the city extracts a toll from its citizens to expand, and in CLANNAD, both Nagisa and Ushio are made to pay this toll.

  • The months pass, and soon, the cold of winter returns. With Ushio showing no indication of recovering, Tomoya decides to fulfill her wish of going on another trip with him. Under melancholy, grey skies, the two step out and prepare to head for the train station. The weather foreshadows what is to happen, and when snow begins falling, viewers brace for the inevitable – CLANNAD had long excelled at using weather and time of day as visual indicators for emotions and story progression, so the grim mood at the penultimate episode’s end is felt long before viewers see anything occur.

  • With her remaining energy, Ushio tells Tomoya that she loves her, before dying. Consumed with grief and despair he’d not felt since Nagisa’s death, Tomoya dies shortly after, as well. However, this is not the end: the Imaginary World that had made its appearance is shown, and it turns out the brown-haired girl here is Ushio. It turns out that in death, Ushio and Tomoya’s consciousnesses were transported into another world: Ushio is able to create a pocket universe with the aim of sparing her father and mother from a terrible fate. The phenomenon that occurs subsequently is within the realm of quantum cosmology, which contemporary science is constantly developing, and where science fiction may apply fantastical constructs, like the Infinity Gems, to conceptualise.

  • While it may seem cruel to conclude an ~After Story~ post with Tomoya and Ushio’s deaths, it is no secret that Tomoya and Ushio are about as dead as the vanished people in Infinity War. I have a one final post for the finale of ~After Story~, where I will explore why the ending viewers got was an ending they deserve, why criticisms of the ending are misguided, and how this comes together to make CLANNAD the strongest anime in the past decade. It is also a bit humbling to know that this Ten Year Anniversary Series for CLANNAD is very nearly at an end: I started things more than a year ago, and it’s been surprising as to how quickly time flies. I hope that readers will have found these revisitations to be relevant and illuminating, both for CLANNAD, as well as providing a bit of insight into why the series was so moving and meaningful for me.

At its core, family is more than just people related by blood: it is a bond stronger than the likes of any other, and the willingness to support and aid one another in difficult times as much as it is about enjoying the good times together. The dramatic extremes of CLANNAD, and especially of ~After Story~, are particularly vivid for this reason. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, life is a journey: happiness and despair cannot exist in the absence of one another, and this is why comedy and melancholy figure so prominently in CLANNAD, showing both sides of the coin. Extreme examples are sometimes necessary for a story to have impact, and for it, ~After Story~ is remarkably visceral. Criticisms that CLANNAD and ~After Story~ are melodramatic, then, are ill-founded; the contrasts serve a very specific purpose in painting an image of what family means, as well as the ups and downs of life. Like the coming and going of the tides that Ushio is named after, life is about cycles, of comings and goings. ~After Story~‘s penultimate episode left viewers in a great shock, and I imagine that watching someone losing so much despite their efforts distracted and dissuaded many from CLANNAD‘s core themes. However, the reality is that a kind heart and benevolent attitude will rarely go unrewarded. CLANNAD was written with a myriad of life lessons in mind, and in the decade that has elapsed since its airing, it should be evident that ~After Story~ has lost none of its relevance, emotional impact and sincerity. ~After Story~ is a masterpiece in my books precisely because of its ability to capture such a broad spectrum of themes so effectively. Despite its breadth, ~After Story~ also conveys each concept, from family to forgiveness, in sufficient depth such that viewers can relate to it. For me, ~After Story~ reinforced the way I came to look at family and opened my eyes to how accepting responsibility can manifest, allowing me to tangibly conceptualise what family is defined as. While the definition of a masterpiece invariably differs between people, for me, a series is a masterpiece if its execution is sufficiently powerful as to alter my world views in some way. Because I am the sort of individual who can only be convinced with well-reasoned arguments and evidence, series that can change the way I think about the world have done something exceptionally well in presenting its ideas to me, attesting to the strength of its execution. ~After Story~ ended up having a noticeable impact on my world-views in this manner, and so, is something I would count a masterpiece.