The Infinite Zenith

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

A Milestone at the Seven Year Anniversary and An Introspection At A Thousand Posts

“Not only are bloggers suckers for the remarkable, so are the people who read blogs.” —Seth Godin

Unlike earlier anniversary posts, today, the shortage of things to say this time around is not an issue. On a cold, grey October evening seven years previously, I published the first post to Infinite Mirai. At this time, this blog was intended to supplement a much older website that I had written to previously, but with my increasing familiarity with WordPress and its features, I began using WordPress in a much greater capacity, finally retiring my old website and transitioning here full-time. Seven years since then, this blog has certainly lasted much longer than was initially anticipated, and exactly six months ago, reached the one million views milestone. Today, at the seven year mark, Infinite Mirai reaches another milestone: I have now written and published a thousand posts, as well. A thousand of anything is a nontrivial number: with a thousand dollars, one could have 235 coffees at Starbucks, buy 33 hard cover novels, 12 triple-A games or go out for a nice steak dinner every day of the week for three consecutive weeks. 1000 square kilometers is enough to comfortably fit the entirety of my home town, and 1000 kilometers is roughly the distance between Calgary and Vancouver. For bloggers, a thousand posts represents a serious commitment to their topic of choice and a profound love for writing: on the journey to a thousand posts, there are no shortages of learnings. The first learning is that any post takes some time to conceptualise and write out: on average, my posts now average around 3500 words, up from 1120 when I began utilising WordPress more frequently. Each post takes two to three hours to write, and with the site metrics, I roughly average 1000 views per post. I do not write with a predefined frequency or schedule, and I almost never use the WordPress editor directly because there’s always a risk that my browser crashes, I accidentally hit the back button or unintentionally refresh the page. A thousand posts later, I can reasonably say I’ve learned a thousand things, as well, ten of which I will share here as the summary of something called 日积月累 (jyutping jat6 zik1 jyut6 leoi6), which means “to accumulate gradually” in my tongue.

The biggest learning, however, is that the readers deserve full credit for allowing this blog to reach such a milestone. It is a joy to writing for people who will read the content and come away from it with a positive experience. The current WordPress anime community is simply put, a very positive, inviting one and I am very grateful to be a part of it. Every blogger takes their own unique approach towards writing: from my lengthy discussions to the more concise, focused talks other bloggers publish, there is no shortage of insight, friendly discussion and appreciation for different perspectives among the community. Looking back, the main reason why this blog has endured seven years is because for me, writing about anime and games, then injecting small remarks about my life (and my attendant thoughts) is no different than maintaining a journal for mental health. When I was much younger, I kept journals for school assignments and also to improve my English (contrary to expectation, English is not my native language); this practise fell away by the time I reached secondary school, but with the advent of my anime hobby and increasing stresses associated with life, I’ve found blogging to be an immensely cathartic experience, helping me keep things in perspective and also keep my blessings in mind. Thus, at the seven year mark, rather than say that I’m not sure as to whether or not I will continue blogging, wisdom would suggest that I will continue to blog as long as I find it useful and enjoyable, even if things are now sufficiently uncertain so that I can say with certainty that my frequency will be reduced in the foreseeable future. For taking the time to read this blog, and doubly so for putting up with the very unusual way that I run things here, I offer a big thank you to all of my readers for keeping things exciting and fresh.

Ten Lessons After Seven Years and One Thousand Posts

  • The biggest challenge all bloggers will face is getting the views when they are starting out. A new blog is not indexed in Google, will have no followers initially and must exist in the shadow of other blogs writing about similar topics. However, this should not be an impediment for bloggers: don’t worry about traffic and focus on getting content, as well as developing your voice and style. When I opened my blog seven years ago, I averaged 9 views a day and rounded out 2011 with 828 views. The year after, I saw a gradual increase in traffic, from 19 views a day to 188 views a day. However, when I really began focusing on writing here, traffic increased to around 300 views per day. Time and exposure will increase visibility.

  • Finding interesting subjects to write about is another impediment bloggers of all experience levels and disciplines face. With the relative ease of posting one’s thoughts, being original can be very tricky, as someone might have already expressed your thoughts precisely as you envisioned them. In the realm of anime, for instance, reacting to events in episodes and writing about one’s feelings is an admittedly dull and tired way of writing. I tend to focus on big picture elements and their relevance to reality, especially in relation to my own experiences and beliefs. Because of this personal element, my voice becomes different enough to be noticeable.

  • Blogging regularly and consistently is essential to keep readers returning for more, but so is good quality content. Similarly, mixing things up also can draw in readers: I typically do series reviews and discussions in a standardised paragraph and commentary format, but occasionally, there are some topics that allow me to break the mold. These special posts have done very well because they are distinct and offer unique content that occasionally draws attention from folks on Reddit, Quora or even Wikipedia, who link here and bring traffic with them. My favourite examples of exotic posts include one where I do a discussion on the size of the school ships in Girls und Panzer, as well as my location hunt posts.

  • It takes good planning to blog well. A lot of folks tend to follow a schedule and promise to blog on certain days of the week, but during slower times, don’t have anything they feel that they can share. I operate in a different space, writing only when I have things to talk about: when an idea comes to mind, I usually run through it in my head for a few days, then draft out a concept. If I can return to the draft later and still see where I was going, then the topic was worth writing about and will be turned into a full scale post. This applies to a majority of my posts, although there are cases that for topics fresh on my mind, or those that I am particularly connected with, I will be able to write those much more quickly.

  • Another discovery I’ve made is that the anime blogging community in its current form is very supportive and approachable. When I began, the likes of Behind the Nihon Review, Anime History and Dark Mirage dominated the anime blogging community, flooding it with purple prose-filled posts about the shortcomings of every show under the sun and putting down all who disagreed with them. These days, largely thanks to the tools available, more people have joined the realm of anime blogging and with it, positive attitudes have prevailed. As such, don’t be afraid to reach out to other bloggers and ask them for feedback on your content, or to discuss with them ideas you may not agree with. We are a friendly group open to different ideas, a far cry from the juggernauts of old.

  • Understand why you wish to maintain a blog: blogging can be a professional occupation, and even in its hobby form, can still be very time-consuming and demanding. If there’s a good reason that you are writing for, whether it is to simply share your thoughts, or because you are writing for folks important to you, or like myself, it’s a release from the challenges of life, then your inclination will be to continue using the blog to communicate with and share with others.

  • Don’t do controversy: fighting flame wars is stressful and counterproductive, even if it brings in traffic. I typically do not stray into the realm of controversy, and where I have opinions on things where I align with one side, I tend to be subtle about it (such as on the infamous journalism ethics in video games culture war some years back), or else I will address both sides of the argument (such as in things like Sword Art Online). Stressful blogging is a deterrent for putting out more content, and so, I personally prefer maintaining positivity where I can to ensure that I am always happy to come back to writing for this blog.

  • I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I blog when I feel it appropriate, rather than according to a set schedule. Writing when I have something to say always progresses more easily than if I struggle with a topic, and on days where I have no inclination to write, I am not likely to put out anything useful for the readers. It is similarly okay to take breaks from blogging without guilt.

  • In an age where common courtesy and civility is rare, I nonetheless strive to be polite to all of my readers, encouraging folks to disagree with me and also to think for themselves. Being polite to readers will encourage readers to return: the point of a blog is not to lay down one’s views as the only views, but to present one’s views as one of many. Having good discussions with other readers is always a big plus and may even lead to ideas for more posts. I admit that I am not always adhering to this, occasionally drawing on outrageous perspectives as topics for my posts to shoot down (e.g. Mythbusting in Your Name) and calling out random folks from across the ‘net for their perspectives on a series.

  • My ultimate learning is to be yourself, which I previously mentioned in my Million Views milestone. A lot of bloggers wonder what approach they must take to run a successful blog, and I’ve noticed that a successful blogger is someone who is concise, focused, polite and above all else, true to themselves. They write with their own voice, choice of words, on the topics they enjoy writing about, in the manner of their choosing. While it is important to consider one’s target audience, ultimately, readers will stick with the blogs that stand out. For me, this means making random wisecracks about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in posts about beach volleyball, compare history’s greatest survivalists to a group of high school girls who love camping and finding similarities between my favourite NHL team and a series about girls who ride tanks as a sport. It means occasionally thinking about food when I’m supposed to be writing about anime, and disappointing viewers when I write about how to have a good time in The Division or Battlefield when viewers would much rather read about pantsu in Strike Witches. Sorry, folks, but one does not keep a blog for seven years by being inconsistent: having a well-established style means it is easier to write things down, and perhaps I might reach the two thousand post mark at some point with my current approaches.

At the seven year mark and one thousand posts, I now have 1.1 million views and some 1750 comments. Akismet has blocked nearly 40000 spam comments, and I’ve got around 1.9 million words in total across the thousand posts. With these numbers in mind, “where is Infinite Mirai headed in the future?” is the questions readers invariably ask. To this, I have no definite answer: life is mutating, unpredictable and ever-changing, and circumstances always arise to both accommodate and reduce blogging. Having said this, because of the beneficial aspects of writing for me (for one, it keeps my mind focused and also helps me hone my writing), I am going to be sticking around even if I write with reduced and more erratic frequency. My focus predominantly deals with slice-of-life series, anything telling a particularly noteworthy story about life lessons and the oft-maligned military moé genre, as well as various video games I’ve experienced, and this will not be changing in the future. I still have plans to write about Girls und Panzer Das Finale, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?’s third season, Strike Witches‘ Road to Berlin and the Hai-Furi movie, for instance. Battlefield V, Metro: Exodus and DOOM Eternal also look to offer some interesting points of discussion. With the community’s support and encouragement, I will be continuing my journeys and see where things take me. I’d like to thank everyone again — you readers and fellow bloggers mean the world to me, and whether you’re a regular who shows up whenever new content is published, or if you’re here by chance because my idiosyncrasies tend to mess up search engines, your readership is precisely what keeps things going here.

The Division: Six-Piece Classified Striker’s Battlegear, One Million Damage Sniper, and the Bullfrog at The Endgame

“We won’t get that lucky. We never do.” –Faye Lau

The combination of returning Global Events and their attendant incentive to return to the legendary missions has afforded with me an opportunity to acquire both a complete set of Classified Striker’s Battlegear, as well as the Bullfrog. The weapon compliments the Classified set very well, and in conjunction with a Showstopper, I’ve found myself with an inclination to return to The Division, which has certainly proved to be an enduring game despite my usual preference of playing it solo. Global events and a bit of luck have been instrumental towards helping me complete the Classified Striker’s Battlegear set: specialised for dealing damage with automatic weapons and providing a measure of self-healing, the Striker set is counted as one of the most versatile and effective sets in The Division. In practise, it means melting enemies and having the capability to prolong one’s durability in firefights: at the endgame, The Division provides the gear for players to perform in ways previously not possible, and the variety in Classified Sets allow for enough gameplay diversity so that there is plenty to do at the endgame for folks who’ve not yet collected everything. Of course, with The Division 2 coming out and offering an entirely restructured way to play, I am curious to see how the sequel plays out.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like the Nekopara Extra OVA post, this one’s a bit of a shorter one: I note that readers aren’t terribly interested in hearing how I’ve managed to more or less get all the best gear in The Division solo, so this time, I’ve kept the post and my bragging to be shorter. For a week back in July, The Division‘s Underground DLC was freely available to all players, so I took this opportunity to give it a go solo. The Underground consists of procedurally-generated missions similar to dungeon instances and there are several game types. On the whole, I found that The Division offered plenty to do even without the DLC, so I never ended up purchasing any of the expansions.

  • Back in late July, I was still running my LVOA-C, a fantastic assault rifle whose performance and accuracy make it one of the best general-purpose weapons in the game. As one advances in The Division, the extended magazines become the best weapon modifier available, offering upwards of 120 percent ammunition capacity to double one’s ability to deliver sustained damage.

  • To counteract this, The Division 2 will be balancing out attachments so that there will be pros and cons to equipping different setups: in particular, equipping extended magazines will come at the cost of reload speeds. This will force players to choose their attachments carefully, rather than lead everyone to gravitate towards the tremendously useful extended magazines.

  • Here, I play the first set of missions for the Underground and melt my way through the final named elite in the mission. While I felt that Underground might’ve been a DLC worth picking up, I eventually decided that considering how many other ways there were of acquiring gear in The Division, strictly speaking, it was not necessary to get DLCs for that purpose. This will preclude me from getting the DLC-exclusive Shield assignments done, but that’s fine.

  • By this point in time, my Striker Set allows me to be more effective against enemy Agents in the Dark Zone. During one manhunt, I managed to burn away a rogue Agent’s health down to around ten percent before they were finished off by other Agents. This is in spite of my gear being unoptimised and not yet fully calibrated to bring out the maximum performance from the Striker bonuses, as well as lacking dedicated PvP weapons; I am still heavily configured for PvE effectiveness, favouring armour destruction and headshot damage for the most part.

  • I vividly recall that, when the Madison Field Hospital mission came out in the Legendary difficulty, my group was devastated by the final fight with the First Wave Agents despite doing okay. Playing through my first Legendary mission with the six piece Striker set, I realised that I was much more fragile than before, and while the health regeneration bonus is useful, I will need to stack other talents and roll more stamina to fully capitalise on the build’s powers.

  • Besides the Striker’s Battlegear, I’ve also got a full Hunter’s Faith and Firecrest classified set, as well. With the Hunter’s Faith set, I am now able to hit for upwards of a million damage on each headshot using a bolt-action rifle without stacking any other skills on top. When a Global Event is on, damage bonuses continue to amplify the damage dealt: I have hit for up to three million damage per headshot during the Ambush event, during which bonus damage is given when one is standing still.

  • Ever since I got a Bullfrog in a very lucky drop while farming open world bosses for GE credits, I’ve found it to complement my playstyle. The Bullfrog is a FAMAS assault rifle with the “uncomplicated” talent, which deals bonus damage if no stability mods are added. The weapon is inherently unwieldy and has a high spread at longer ranges. My Bullfrog has destructive and responsive rolled, allowing me to deal bonus armour damage and also additional damage at closer ranges, which is the range I typically fight best at. The stability bonuses offered by the Striker gearset allows my weapon to become very effective at close range, replacing the House. To quickly build up stacks, I have a Showstopper AA-12 with accurate and predatory, which ensure that more pellets find their mark.

  • If there is a case where I need more range, I’ll swap over to my M700 Carbon. After learning that one of the First Wave Agents were running a healing station, players soon began to focus their fire on the medic first. Once the medic is down, this fight became considerably easier – during my first run, I ran very late and was forced to disengage to catch sleep ahead of the next day, but now that players are familiar with the mission, finishing Madison Field Hospital on Legendary was no different than the other missions. I will need to optimise my Striker build to improve survivability; at this point, I have too much electronics and not enough stamina.

  • Thus, after 170 hours in The Division, I have a build that seems to work very well for me. My remaining aspiration is to complete a Classified Path of the Nomad set and tune this for PvP; at this point in time, I’m only missing one piece in this set. I do not expect to write frequently about The Division from here on out: I am currently going through the game a second time with a new character with the goal of gaining an extra 120 slots for items. With this post in the books, I’m now well-positioned for a special post tomorrow. Doing these short posts also lead me to wonder if folks are okay with me writing more concise discussions.

In the meantime, leading up to The Division 2‘s launch, there have been more global events and in-game activities in The Division. The Shields have been especially interesting: players who complete certain assignments not only unlock rewards in The Division, but also will gain access to different tiers of rewards in The Division 2. These Shields have been quite fun to collect, although there are others that require a considerably greater degree of commitment and patience to acquire. Like Battlefield 1, The Division was launched with less content and progression, but over time, support for the game contributed to its continued replay value; in both cases, DICE and Ubisoft have managed to elevate the excitement for their upcoming titles by offering events in-game to encourage players to get more mileage out of them before their successors are launched, and the results of this is that I’ve been finding incentive to come back to both games and experience them anew. In the case of The Division, coming back means being able to collect the last of the exotic weapons I’ve been eyeing, and also finishing off my quest to collect a good Classified gearset. The replay value and longevity I’ve gotten out of The Division is very encouraging, and my interest in seeing what The Division 2 is about has increased: I will likely have a better idea of whether or not The Division 2 is my cup of tea following the open beta in early 2019, and this game might just be worth purchasing if it starts off strong and continues to improve further during its life-cycle.

Nekopara Extra OVA Review and Reflection

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche

Set a half-year prior to the events of Nekopara‘s first OVA, Nekopara Extra depicts Chocola and Vanilla’s introduction to the Minaduki household and how, despite the other Nekos’ warm reception, struggle to fit in until Kashou reassures them one evening. Later, Kashou, Shigure and the Nekos celebrate Christmas, during which Kashou makes a delicious dinner for everyone to share and also plays the role of Santa. With the Nekos enjoying the evening immensely, Kashou agrees to make their Christmas parties a yearly tradition. This second Nekopara OVA was released to Steam in July this year and, like its predecessor before it, is an animated adaptation of the Nekopara visual novels, which follows Chocola and Vanilla’s life as kittens as they adjust to life with the Minadukis. The Nekopara Extra OVA is simple, succinct and represents twenty minutes of amusement.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It has been quite some time since I’ve written a post this short: with only ten images and three hundred something words, this Nekopara post was written so I could say I’ve covered the second of the Nekopara OVAs, and because I’ve got a special milestone coming out in very short order that involves reaching a certain number of posts; the nature of this post will make itself apparent soon enough.

  • The first half of the Nekopara Extra OVA can be summed up to “Chocola and Vanilla struggle to get used to their new life”. Right from the start, it’s clear that the other Nekos are friendly and amicable, getting along with the new kittens straight away. I’ve mentioned previously that it’s a bad idea to give cats milk since they’re lactose intolerant, but because Chocola and Vanilla are cat-like, we will suppose that their digestive systems are also more human-like.

  • Kashou’s kindness towards Chocola and Vanilla are the reason why they cling to him by the events of Nekopara. Last I wrote about Nekopara, I made no mention of the title and realised that I did not really have an explanation for the etymology, but it turns out that Nekopara is really just a portmanteau of neko and “paradise”. Given the light, fluffy nature of the OVAs, this seems a fitting title.

  • I’m not sure how many of my readers are big on visual novels, and of those who are, I’m certain that the number of folks who’ve played Nekopara would be even fewer in number. On the off-chance that I do have some Nekopara fans in the wings, I’m curious to know what the game’s draw is and which aspects (the physics slider does not count) makes the game worth buying.

  • For me, the Nekopara OVAs represent simple escapism: there’s nothing terribly thought-provoking about the anime, but there’s nothing wrong with this. The strength of the OVAs lie in their ability to create a very gentle atmosphere, and I am glad that the Nekopara Extra OVA does away with anything risqué. I’ve heard that the games go the whole nine yards with this content, although I’ve long felt the aesthetics and atmosphere in Nekopara to be less suited for this sort of thing.

  • High on the list of things I enjoy about Christmas Day is simply being able to relax and not do anything. Of late, being able to relax in this fashion has been incredibly rare, and over the past weekend, I took a much-needed breather out to the salmon runs a province over. Being able to go on a road trip and relax was most welcoming, especially with how pleasant the weather was. After crossing over the Alberta-BC border, the moody grey skies gave way to blue, and the temperatures warmed. By the time we reached the Adams River Sockeye Run, it was later in the afternoon, but salmon were moving upriver at a steady pace. There was a bit of glare, so I don’t have good photographs to show, but the spectacle was one to behold.

  • The day ended in Vernon, and next morning, we stopped by D Dutchman Dairy near Sicamous, where I enjoyed a maple ice cream (no photographs, as it was so good, I finished it before remembering to photograph it) in an open field beside the dairy shop before taking off for Revelstoke, a quiet town in the middle of the mountains where we stopped for lunch. The final destination was Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park: I’ve never actually been there before until now, having skipped it the last time I was in Yoho because crowd sizes made it impossible to find parking. This time, however, Emerald Lake was deserted, and the lake itself was mirror-smooth.

  • Being offline and away from a computer proved to be exactly what I needed, and at present, it’s back to the grind. The current project is almost over now, and once finished, I’m considering a change of scenery. There are a lot of unknowns here, so I won’t go into too much details, but I think it will be a good chance for professional development. This may have an impact on my blogging, but I think that once things settle down there, blogging will resume in some capacity.

  • The events of the Nekopara Extra OVA culminate with the result that the Minadukis develop a new Christmas tradition of spending time together with the family Nekos. It’s a touching end to an OVA that largely has no conflicts, and the OVA itself is well-suited for a quieter day.

  • In retrospect, I likely should have watched this during Christmas, the Nekopara Extra OVA was light enough so that a shorter post was sufficient, and truthfully, there isn’t too much to talk here. So, I suppose that for the Christmas season, I will likely take a look at something else. In the meantime, I am going to be writing about Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, and ahead of a certain milestone, I am going to do another post on The Division: after the past few Global Events, where I’ve completed my six piece Classified Striker’s Battlegear set and got a Bullfrog with solid talents.

Described as a heartfelt comedy, reception to Nekopara‘s OVAs is quite varied; folks who’ve played the game will either enjoy the Nekopara OVAs for bringing the game to life, or else count it as being an inadequate adaptation. On my end, having never played the games myself, the Nekopara OVAs are not something that particularly inspire me to pick the games up: we recall that my interest in games are driven by immersion and strength of gameplay, and while Nekopara‘s supposed to have a physics setting, this alone is hardly an adequate reason to try the game out. With this being said, the OVAs nonetheless remain a moderately amusing way to spend twenty minutes: for a pair of OVAs inspired by games and made possible with kick-starter funds, the animation and voice acting in the Nekopara OVAs is of a solid quality: Nekopara Extra OVA might be shorter than the first, but the quality remains generally high and provides a bit of additional narrative for folks wondering about the Nekopara universe.

Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“What I love most about this crazy life is the adventure of it.” —Juliette Binoche

Aki Shiina is often mistaken as a girl for his looks, so he decides to move to Tokyo and enrol in a school here so he can learn to be more manly. When he lodges at the Sunohara Dormitory, he meets its caretaker, Ayaka Sunohara, and the other residents, including Yuzu Yukimoto, Sumire Yamanashi and Yuri Kazami, who are on the student council, and Nana, Ayaka’s younger sister. Aki begins acclimatising to life at the Sunohara Dormitory, but his efforts to become more manly are often met with gentle failure, and all the while dealing with the eccentricities of the Sunohara Dormitory’s other residents. In spite of this, Aki grows accustomed to life at Sunohara Dormitory, and over time, develops a bit of a crush on Ayaka. The original manga has been running since 2014, and Silver Link’s adaptation brings Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō to life. While its setup presents numerous opportunities for awkward moments, Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō‘s presentation is also surprisingly relaxing and heart-warming, focusing on the ordinary events of everyday life that many take for granted, well beyond the fanservice the series outwardly seems to focus on.

By making outrageous situations out of common activities, audiences are able to see the sort of turbulence in Aki’s life at Sunohara dorm. His attempts at normalcy typically end up unsuccessful, although even with the sort of disruptions that Ayaka, Yuzu, Sumire, Yuri and Nana bring to the table, Aki handles the chaos as well as can be expected of anyone in his position. Over time, however, Aki begins to adjust, and, appreciative of the help that Ayaka has given him, seeks ways of expressing his gratitude, whether it be offering to help Ayaka with household activities or else looking after her when she catches a cold. While initially irritated from being treated as a girl at the hands of Sunohara Dormitory’s residents, Aki begins to regard everyone as friends; a year after his arrival at Sunohara Dormitory, Aki expresses that the past year was not so bad, being quite livelier than before. The appreciation for the energetic is a common theme in many series: The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi’s Kyon ultimately prefers a world where things are lively when confronted with a choice, despite vocally voicing a want for an ordinary life, for instance, and in Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō, it would appear that, in spite of his reluctance to say so, the rowdy life at Sunohara Dormitory is something that Aki would now see as being something to enjoy.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While substance and a strong narrative is what compels people to watch fiction, there remains a large amount of fiction where the focus is not in a particularly cohesive or well-defined journey. Various slice-of-life and comedies do just this, preferring to subject characters to various misadventures; despite their being counted as unnecessary by some, I’ve long felt that such stories can be relaxing in their own right.

  • Ayaka is the star of Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō, and is voiced by Rina Satō (Gundula Rall of Brave Witches and Kaede Kagayama of Non Non Biyori). With her maternal mannerisms, Ayaka is likely simply acting in the interests of those living at the Sunohara Dormitory, although how aware Ayaka is of the feelings (and embarrassment) of those around her remains open to speculation.

  • Small in stature, assertive and loud, Yuzu is the student council president who wears a small chicklet hairband with the aim of boosting her height. Despite her professed disapproval of Aki, she occasionally will try to get closer to Aki in a manner of speaking.

  • Besides Yuzu, Sumire and Yuri (left and right, respectively) also reside at the Sunohara Dormitory. Sumire is tall, aloof and has feelings for Yuzu, while Yuri enjoys various questionable activities. Their presence in Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō do much to liven the show up, and while the dynamic between Aki and Ayaka acts as the basis for the show, the addition of three characters provides additional insights into Ayaka’s character, namely, that she treats everyone similarly.

  • While Aki is initially unsuccessful with helping Ayaka run Sunohara Dormitory, his efforts are not for naught; as time wears on, he is able to contribute here and there. On one occasion, Aki attempts to help Ayaka cook. While there is a common stereotype that men are ill-suited for cooking, the reality is that this is largely used for comedy: I’ve seen men and women cook equally well, the same way that men and women can write software equally well.

  • While Aki’s first and foremost desire is to be recognised as a man, he is definitely lacking in confidence and a take-charge mindset: situations tend to sweep Aki off his feet early on, and he finds himself at the mercy of everyone at Sunohara Dormitory. One of the joys of Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō, then, is watching Aki slowly find his own approach as he becomes accustomed to life here with Ayaka and the others.

  • After a minor accident with a ladder strands Ayaka and Aki on the roof while they are trying to patch it, the situation is compounded with a sudden downpour. While Aki occasionally entertains the notion of marrying Ayaka one day, he also feels conflicted about these feelings and becomes quite embarrassed whenever Ayaka seizes the moment. However, Aki also comes to treasure these moments: when not embarrassed, he feels warm and at ease with Ayaka, allowing him to live in the moment.

  • While in Japan last year, I was visiting during May, the time of year when temperatures are very pleasant. I’ve heard that during the summer, the heat can be quite intense. I’ve experienced the full force of summer in Hong Kong, during which it feels like standing in a furnace whenever one is directly outside, and because of the intense air conditioning Hong Kong uses, the temperature contrast between the outdoors and indoors is even more pronounced. Having experienced the heat and humidity of Hong Kong, I thus wonder whether the apparent temperature in Japan’s summers are more strongly-felt than even those of Hong Kong’s.

  • Watermelon is a fruit to be enjoyed during the summer: while I bemoaned the lack of summer this year on account of the forest fire smoke blanketing this side of the world in a thick haze and for being out of town for a better part of it, I did enjoy watermelon on many a summer evening, on those days where the refreshing cool of a watermelon was precisely what was needed to beat back the heat lingering from the day.

  • I was quite surprised to learn that Ayane Sakura, of GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto fame, would be playing as Nana, Ayaka’s younger sister. Despite her outward appearance as a gyaru (Japanese slang referring to a fashion-conscious girl), Nana is perceptive and is well-rounded, being sociable, capable with her schoolwork and also has a diverse array of interests, including old-school video games. From Nana’s remarks, Ayaka is not approving of video games and attempts to enforce a time limit for Nana.

  • After an evening spent watching horror movies, unsettling sounds keep Aki and Yuzu up. When they make to investigate, it turns out that Nana is using an empty storeroom as a personal gym of sorts. Her choice of equipment suggests exercises to slim down and tone up – she remarks it’s necessary to maintain her figure. Outside of shonen anime, it’s rare to see characters exercise regularly, and as someone who hits the gym with some frequency, a question on my mind is how many of my readers also are lifters or otherwise do regular exercise.

  • Channelling Cocoa’s spirit of competition, Nana’s first course of action whenever a conflict arises is to compete with the other party. She typically tramples Yuzu in a competition of smarts and physicality, but Yuzu later turns the table with a test of endurance. I vividly recall that when I was in my final year of primary school, I could still hang from monkey bars and swing around like nobody’s business; during a party with friends in the time since, where we visited a playground for fun, my shoulders ached after swinging across once.

  • After looking for ways to thank Ayaka for her efforts at the Sunohara Dormitory, Aki wonders if a massage might be the way to go: Yuri forces Sumire to be a test subject of sorts and asks Aki to use her for practise. Taken out of context, the various moments in Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō might raise a few eyebrows, but on the whole, once folks get into the show, it becomes clear that much of the humour comes from Aki’s innocence.

  • Ear-cleaning is featured in anime as a means for expressing closeness between two people: anime typically presupposes that everyone has the dry earwax that does not form easy-to-remove globs. Left to accumulate, it can impact hearing, and North American remedies are not so effective, leaving manual extraction as one way of removing it. While the reality is that my ear canals are rather sensitive, and it does hurt a little for me, anime portrays this as a very quiet experience to signify familial-like bonds between those involved.

  • A recurring joke in Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō is that despite his constant efforts to be more manly, Aki ends up being treated akin to a cat or dog, instead: he often finds the older ladies familiar with him to treat him like a plaything and becomes frustrated. During a summer festival, he runs off and becomes lost, but is eventually found.

  • Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō covers the flow of events over the course of a year, so things like Halloween and Christmas are invariably covered. Unlike anime such as Non Non Biyori or GochiUsa, where the flow of seasons is very distinct, the weather patterns in Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō are much less varied. Instead, viewers are given a sense of what time of year it is based on the presence of certain events. Such series show they are very strongly character-centric, counting on characters and their experiences to drive the flow of events, while series that feature the natural environment more strongly aim to show the unique impact a setting can have on the flow of events.

  • Aki’s older sister, Matsuri, appears late in the season and comes across as an aloof, but loving older sister who wishes nothing more than to keep Aki sheltered. Intent on taking Aki back home, she challenges Ayaka to a series of tests to assess her capability in looking after Aki – despite Matsuri’s intent to fail Ayaka, Ayaka manages to exceed all of her expectations and she relents, allowing Aki to stay.

  • Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō ultimately ends up being a fun ride: while thematic elements and conflicts are not at the forefront of the series, what Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō does excel at doing is managing to create amusing situations that utilise ecchi elements without crossing over the line. I was quite surprised the series was as disciplined as it was, and in the end, the cast of characters and their mannerisms is what convinced me to finish this series.

  • One aspect of Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō that I paid little mind to was the soundtrack: above average in its execution and application as incidental music, the music serves to accentuate the mood of a moment in Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō despite being nothing remarkable. The ending song, Sonna no Boku ja nai, is an upbeat song that starts off with a somewhat melancholy opening, befitting of Aki’s improving experience as the series progresses.

  • In the end, Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō earns a B- (7.5 on the 10 point scale, or 3.0 of 4 on a 4-point scale). While nothing particularly groundbreaking, Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō never tries to be something it’s not, and ends up being entertaining by sticking to its guns. If there were a continuation, I would count it as a series worth watching, although I confess that it would be quite difficult to write about.

While Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō is unlikely to be counted as a highly moving or thought-provoking series, it does offer consistent comedy throughout its run. The situations that Aki finds himself in are amusing, as are his reactions to some of the more embarrassing moments. With its cast of familiar, yet dynamic characters, Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō manages to avoid the trap of falling upon tired and family-unfriendly elements, instead, presenting a story of a young boy who would like nothing more than to be regarded as a man: confident, reliable and dependable. As he continues to live at Sunohara Dormitory, his actions demonstrate a commitment to this, and he gradually begins to be counted upon more. However, there are moments where Ayaka and the other residents will continue to dote on or tease him, reminding audiences that appearances can be a little hard to overcome, even if the spirit is present. With this being said, Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō ends up being a modestly fun watch that surprises with its disciplined fanservice and interesting portrayal of Aki’s time in a dormitory where normalcy is very quickly disrupted.

Underworld- Sword Art Online: Alicization First Episode Review, Future Directions, and Brief Parallels Between Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya and John Patrick “Jack” Ryan

“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” —Morpheus, The Matrix

Kirito is recruited to test the development of a new technology known as the Soul Translator (STR) system, an interface that directly interacts with the neurological impulses within the brain to create a dream-like sequence. In his time using the device, Kirito befriends Alice in a fantasy world, but after venturing out of bounds after their search for ice takes them into a deep cave, Alice is taken away for execution. Meanwhile, Sinon asks Kirito to help her with another Bullet of Bullets Tournament in Gun Gale Online, after they confront a team whose modus operandi is killing other players. While he listens to Sinon’s request, Kirito reveals to Asuna he’s been working on an experimental new full-dive system several orders of magnitude more sophisticated than any previous technology. He later expresses to Asuna a desire to go overseas to study North American technologies, and encounters Jonny Black, the remaining Death Gun member who was never apprehended. Despite his attempts to fend off Black, Kirito is stabbed with an injector containing succinylcholine. Thus, Sword Art Online‘s third season, Alicization for brevity, has begun: unusual in its opening, and unusual for having four cours’ worth of episodes, Alicization is the next great journey for the Sword Art Online franchise. Out of the gates, Alicization wastes no time in setting up the new environment and new stakes. I’ve long regarded Sword Art Online with a mixture of engagement and disappointment: on one hand, the character development is lacking and outrageous, but on the other hand, world-building and storytelling are solid. Having followed Sword Art Online since its first season, some interesting patterns are also beginning to emerge from this series, especially with respect to Kirito, a bit of a controversial character at the centre of virtually all discussions on Sword Art Online.

Originally a Sword Art Online beta participant, Kirito became known for his past experience after the SAO incident began, and sought constantly to prove himself. Kirito’s singular determination and persistence, in conjunction with a deep-seated desire to help those around him and prevent deaths where he could help it, eventually led him to defeat Sword Art Online’s lead developer and creator. With his involvement, the Japanese government begin involving him in solving a variety of crimes surrounding the VR technology. Through Kirito’s adventures, his uncanny ability to amass female companions and develop limit-breaking skills from raw emotions have made him somewhat of a dull character; many count Kirito to be a clueless young man who stumbled into incredible fortune, as Tom Clancy might put it. Infallible, firmly determined to do what is right and look out for those around him, Kirito does indeed resemble Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the central character to Clancy’s early novels. Born in Baltimore, Ryan majored in economics and minored in history before joining the Marines, where he was injured in a helicopter crash. Leaving the Marines, Ryan becomes a stockbroker and makes several million on Wall Street before enrolling in a PhD. While in England, Ryan saves the Royal Family from a terrorist attack and is knighted. His abilities lead him to become a consultant for the CIA, and Admiral James Greer, noticing Ryan’s accomplishments, offer him a position at the CIA. Ryan is promoted and later, Ryan reluctantly accepts the post of Vice-President. When a plane crash caused by a Japanese airline pilot kills most of the administration, Ryan is made the President of the United States. Clancy originally created Ryan as an every-man, and from an external perspective, it is true that Ryan stumbles into incredible fortune. Like Reki Kawahara’s Kirito, Ryan is competent, but is otherwise an ordinary man dedicated to doing what’s right. Circumstances come, time and time again, that force both Kirito and Ryan to step their game up. Rising to the occasion each time, both become well-known in their own worlds, with Ryan taking on the presidency twice, and Kirito becoming regarded as an asset in the controversies surrounding VR technology. Clancy uses Ryan to voice his own opinions on the political landscape, creating a character whose position of power allows Clancy to, in effect, write out his thoughts on what a government should do. Kawahara likely wrote Kirito with a similar idea in mind, that as Kirito continued progressing, his experiences would similarly make him suitable for providing a means for Kawahara to express his thoughts on where VR technologies are moving, and their subsequent impact on society.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sword Art Online was wreathed in controversy from the day it began, and was polarising the day it began. At the start of Alicization (IPA aˈliˈzāSH(ə)n rather than aˈliˈkāSH(ə)n as I originally imagined), however, Kirito’s traits are nowhere to be seen. Curious and and somewhat chivalrous, Kirito appears to behave as any child would, working on his assignments, messing around with Eugeo and enjoying Alice’s baking.

  • While trying to seek out ice to keep their food from spoiling, the turn of events change their world forever. The great advantage of Sword Art Online is that there is opportunity to depict a variety of settings, and with A-1 Pictures driving the show, audiences are treated to visually pleasing environments and animation. Compared to 3Hz’s presentation of Alternative, A-1’s world is brighter, more crisply animated and more immersive.

  • If and when I am asked about Sword Art Online, I’ll say that if Sword Art Online aside from Kirito’s unparalleled tendency to become involved in outrageous situations and implausible backstories for characters, then the series otherwise did a reasonable job of create a compelling environment to explore the prevalence of virtual technologies and the impact on social sub-systems in a society.

  • Now that I understand why Kirito is written in this manner, and see his similarities to Jack Ryan, my antipathy for Kirito diminishes slightly. At the end of the day, I think maturity is the deciding factor here: Kirito was originally immature and prone to moping around, while Jack Ryan’s sense of duty means that he will enter situations that he may not agree with and still do what is right. Consequently, if I were to offer a suggestion into Sword Art Online, it would have been to make Kirito a ways older, as a university student, and then have him meet male and female gamers along the way. Similarly, I could come around if Kirito’s decisions in Alicization are consistently more rational and mature, more befitting those of a man than a boy.

  • The world inside the STR is said to be many orders of magnitude more sophisticated than anything seen previously, and a bit of digging around finds that this system directly interfaces with the neurons of the brain to create dream-like experiences. Reading the summaries in writing makes it difficult to appreciate what is going on, and whatever other faults there might be in Sword Art Online, A-1’s execution means that these stories become much more approachable.

  • Alicization has number of references to Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”. Written in 1865, the story’s nonsensical premise and use of logic makes it a popular work to allude to in both software and science fiction. Originally intended to be a parody of Victorian culture, the story has since been used to represent flights of fancy. I’ve never read the story in full for myself, and so, will not likely fully appreciate all of the references made to it, but some are common enough so that it’s clear when something is being said in allusion to “Alice in Wonderland”.

  • When Alice’s accidental contact with the Dark World is discovered, she is arrested and set to be executed. Lacking any of his abilities elsewhere, Kirito is powerless to stop the knight from taking off. Like any nightmare, Kirito soon wakes up shortly after, only with tears in his eyes and very little memory of what’s happened. Sword Art Online is set in 2022, and by the events of Alicization, it is 2027; originally airing in 2012, I wondered if the resurgence in consumer-grade VR technologies would begin with the Oculus Rift.

  • While we’ve made considerable strides in GPUs and power supplies, technical limitations still limit VR from being as robust as they are in Sword Art Online. Convenience is still the main issue, given that the need to set up motion sensors, connective cables and necessity of having a powerful desktop to render the images in 3D make VR setups one that require considerable expense and space. It is unlikely that real-world VR will reach the same prevalence as seen in Sword Art Online by 2022, but I hesitate to say “never reach that point” because technology is always marching ahead, and some things once thought to be impossible, such as virtual assistants, are now becoming increasingly commonplace.

  • Folks complaining about customisation in things like Battlefield V should probably hold their tongues: the customisation seen in GGO is far beyond anything DICE is likely to implement into Battlefield games, and in such games, it is most fair to implement a system where armour and protection in gear be inversely proportional with movement speed and agility. Simply put, players wearing Sinon’s loadout would be quite fast, but at the expense of durability.

  • Liz’s in-game appearance resembles that of Sakura Quest‘s Yoshino Koharu, but beyond their outward characteristics, are completely different. Liz is voiced by Ayahi Takagaki, whereas Yoshino is voiced by Ayaka Nanase. She uses a Mossberg shotgun here against their unknown assailants, and admittedly, her choice of customisations is rather more appropriate than that of Sinon’s.

  • Silica mans the mounted machine gun here and lays down suppressive fire. It’s been a while since the likes of GGO has graced this blog, and unlike Alternative‘s Squad Jam, Bullet of Bullets (itself named after “King of Kings”) has a different rule set. Battle royale was the focus of Sword Art Online II‘s first half, and in reality, the basis for the battle royale shooter was inspired by the DayZ mod for Arma II. In 2013, Brendan Greene subsequently took this concept and further modified it in his own DayZ mod, drawing inspiration from Battle Royale, a Japanese film.

  • Since then, the concept had widely taken off: proponents cite the excitement and unknown as the biggest thrill of this genre, while folks like me, lacking patience, would prefer more traditional shooters. With battle royale games becoming increasingly commonplace, giants like Activision and DICE have taken notice: Black Ops IV and Battlefield V have their own battle royale modes.

  • To make it clear, I’m not in the camp that hates the mere concept of Sword Art Online, nor am I in the camp that believes Sword Art Online to be flawless and incomparable. Instead, I see the series as a reasonably entertaining one, with its strengths and weaknesses. Of late, word has reached my ear that folks are taking Alicization as a chance to drive up their own visibility: apparently, hating on this series is what’s trendy right now. Both aware of the flaws in this series and of what it does well, my assessment of Alicization will be determined by the enjoyability factor. I can enjoy and recommend this series even if there are things I did not like, for instance.

  • Sinon attempts to recruit Kirito to help her in the next Bullet of Bullets, which he accepts. One aspect of Sword Art Online that I found completely unnecessary were the implausible stories some characters had. Sinon is an example of this: having picked up a pistol and killed a bank robber as a child, she developed a fear for handguns. When GGO was introduced, she played the game with the aim of overcoming her fear. Having Sinon play the hero was strictly unnecessary: had she witnessed a firearm go off in her childhood, the effects would have been similar to drive the story forwards without need for this additional drama.

  • If Kirito is Jack Ryan, then it makes sense to see Asuna as Caroline “Cathy” Muller-Ryan, Ryan’s wife. Both Cathy and Asuna are sensible, smart and concerned whenever their respective partner puts himself in the path of danger while on duty. Asuna worries about Kirito’s health, and Cathy grows suspicious, before concerned, after Ryan reveals that he’s doing fieldwork for the CIA. I’m certain that had the technology existed in reality, Cathy would likely track Ryan’s health the same way Asuna does for Kirito.

  • Kirito explains the concept behind the STR system to Asuna and Sinon here, stating that photons inside the microtubules of the body carry the soul. This is a reference to the orchestrated objective reduction theory, which supposes that the quantum vibrations in microtubules are somehow responsible for consciousness. While I appreciate that Alicization is science fiction, this is wrong: microtubules are part of the cytoskeleton, participating in maintaining cell shape and transportation by providing a pathway for motor proteins traverse. Thanks to dynamic instability, the tubulin monomers that make up microtubules can assemble and disassemble rapidly in response to conditions within the cell: dynamic instability and other cellular conditions would make microtubules ill-suited for storing information; by Kirito’s account, if we held this to be true, every time the microtubule disassembled, the photons would escape, causing information loss.

  • We’re at the end of the Thanksgiving Long Weekend, a time to mostly relax and capitalise on the pleasant weather. After a month of non-stop cloud cover, things have finally cleared up, giving rise to the beautiful autumn skies I know the area for. The trees did not yellow quite as nicely this year on account of the unpleasant weather: most of the leaves are still green or else went straight to brown, but otherwise, it was very pleasant. Weather or no, however, Thanksgiving dinner was as pleasant as always: after an afternoon of cooking, things were ready to be enjoyedBesides turkey, we also had ham, cheese prawns and mashed potatoes of a home-made recipe. As well, the turkey turned out well: by cooking the it with brine and adding carrots, onions and parsley to the interior, the cooking forces moisture into the turkey.

  • Kirito expresses a desire to study VR over in the United States: the US is indeed the forefront of VR technology at present, and is also home to some of the world’s most advanced software and hardware groups. Asuna supports his decision and resolves to be by his side: at this point in Sword Art Online, I’m glad that it is established that Kirito and Asuna are meant to be together, and once the love tesseract plaguing Sword Art Online was solved, the series could finally explore more interesting ground. Of everyone, Asuna is the most similar to Cathy Ryan, so I figure that she’s the most suitable to be with Kirito.

  • Kirito and Asuna run into Johnny Black, a member of Laughing Coffin who would later develop an addiction to murder and participated in the Death Gun incident. When Kirito confronts him, Black stabs Kirito with succinylcholine: in Tom Clancy’s The Teeth of the Tiger and Dead or Alive, the Campus employs it as an agent to dispose of enemies. Clancy and other fiction writers characterise it as the ideal murder weapon: it acts quickly, relaxing muscles to the point of shutting down the heart and starving the brain of oxygen. Furthermore, succinylcholine metabolises into succinic acid, amongst other things, which is not something routinely looked for unless one was suspecting a murder with this compound.

  • In his fight with Black, Kirito is hit with a lethal dose: unless he is put on a respirator, the next few minutes for him will be living hell, as the Emir in Dead or Alive discovers. Eventually, the Campus uses other methods beyond what they colloquially refer to as poison pens: by the events of Locked On, the drug is not utilised, and Clark only uses it for a hit on a Libyan terrorist cell in Threat Vector. This is a potent way to begin Alicization, and from what little I know of this arc, Kirito will be sent back into the STR system, where he will continue to unravel the mystery of Alice and her fate. A year’s worth of Alicization is on the table, and with so many unknowns on the table, I think the best course of action will be to sit down and simply enjoy the ride.

With this in mind, Kirito’s portrayal, as a character who stumbles into incredible fortune, has a justification from a narrative perspective; Kirito’s role in the anime becomes more relevant, providing viewers an idea of what Kawahara thinks of VR. One episode into Alicization, and the traits that define Kirito of older episodes is absent: he is more weary, more reserved and contemplative, even if he does still allow his emotions to get the better of him. His characterisation in the anime has improved over time, signifying a gradual maturity. Of course, at this point, it is still early into Alicization, so it remains to be seen as to whether or not some of the weaker aspects of Kirito’s character make a return, or if his experiences continue to shape his decisions in a rational manner. Over the next year, I imagine there will be plenty to cover and discuss. Because of the scale Alicization, however, I will not be blogging about this series with my usual frequency: Sword Art Online‘s strength is exploring details, and the big-picture materials I tend to cover usually require several episodes before there is something significant to say. Further to this, blogging with a high frequency about any series is a bit of a challenge on my end, so I would prefer not to burn out writing about Sword Art Online. Having said this, I will be watching the series and will return to offer feedback after certain milestones in this series. It would make sense, for example, to write about Alicization once the halfway point is reached, and once the finale has aired. With a year ahead, this is looking to be an interesting series, and while I might not be writing about it half as much as half of my readers might like, folks looking to pick my mind about Alicization are always free to do so here, or on Twitter, should they so choose.