The Infinite Zenith

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

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“Today, I’m going to outline a plan for Manoyama’s economic revival – it is a bold, ambitious, forward-looking plan to massively increase jobs, wages, incomes and opportunities for the people of our country. If we lower our taxes, remove destructive regulations, unleash the vast treasure of Manoyama’s energy, and negotiate trade deals that put Manoyama First, then there is no limit to the number of jobs we can create and the amount of prosperity we can unleash. Manoyama will truly be the greatest place in the world to invest, hire, grow and to create new jobs, new technologies, and entire new industries. Instead of driving jobs and wealth away, Manoyama will become the world’s great magnet for innovation and job creation.” –Excerpt from a speech delivered at the Manoyama Tourism Board

Resolved to improve Manoyama in whatever way she can in her role as the town’s “Queen”, Yoshino begins exploring the region’s specialities, including wood carving and sōmen. Her endeavours and visions are bold – even though the tourist board cannot fund Yoshino’s ideas, they begin making progress slowly: traditional wood carvings from native artisans are installed at the train station, impressing visitors, and a local cooking festival ends successfully. A film crew also scouts out Manoyama as a viable filming location, recruiting the tourism board and locals to assist. Their plans to burn down an abandoned home are met with resistance from Shiori, who reveals that the home is special to her, and the shoot also reveals that Maki had lost her passion in acting. Later, the tourism boards hosts a romance tour of Manoyama for the Community Club, taking them around Manoyama. Ruriko finds herself envious of Yoshino’s resolve and spirit. While Ruriko is embarrassed to participate in the Manoyama dance, Yoshino has taken the courage to learn it. Ruriko later falls ill, and comes across an alternative interpretation of Manoyama’s legend of the dragon while resting away from her duties. When she learns that Manoyama was originally about being open to outsiders, she performs her the dragon song on the final day of the tour. Though it all, Yoshino herself still resents normalcy, as well as her own role in things: when a reality show is filmed in Manoyama, Yoshino finds herself questioning her goals. Even so, she continues to do her utmost in making the tourism board’s initiatives successful, helping the television studio organise a major concert.

Sakura Quest has covered a substantial amount of territory at the halfway point. With twenty-five episodes, there remains another half to go – insofar, Sakura Quest has done a phenomenal job of bringing Manoyama and its characters to life. Whether it be the struggles and doubts each of the characters face, or the realities surrounding social trends in rural Japan, details are elaborated upon to give the town and its people dimensionality. Challenges surrounding Maki’s past with acting, Saenai’s doubts about whether or not Manoyama was her running away from her problems, or Ruriko’s isolation with the community are vividly detailed: flawed and very much human, each of the characters’ attributes come into play and slowly shift through Yoshino’s influence. Despite being an outsider herself, Yoshino also begins feeling more connected to the town of Manoyama, despite having only visited briefly during her childhood – being in this quiet and close-knit community brings about a change in her perspectives that is quite noticeable from her outlooks at Sakura Quest‘s onset, and by the halfway point, it becomes apparent that the synergy between Yoshino and the others have indeed had an impact on Manoyama. With the characters established, Sakura Quest is set to continue with detailing the tourism board’s quest to Make Manoyama Great Again℠, and I look forwards to seeing what Yoshino has in mind for the future.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sakura Quest covers a considerable amount of turf during its first half: story arcs are typically contained within the span of two episodes, depicting a combination of both the main cast’s internal struggles as well as the tourism board’s difficulties in engaging the town. One of the first challenges Yoshino faces in her role as Queen is to figure out how to raise awareness for Manoyama’s wood carving sector. While innovative, the town’s more conservative Board of Merchants and wood carvers immediately take a disliking to Yoshino’s ideas, feeling them disrespectful towards tradition.

  • Feeling that she’s been running away from problem after problem, Sanae no longer feels motivated to help Yoshino, distancing herself from their duties. However, Yoshino manages to motivate her: even if people can be replaced, individuals each apply their own unique touch to a challenge to create their solutions, so efforts are not for naught. Consequently, Sanae’s interest in Manoyama is re-kindled, and she suggests a scaled-back version of Yoshino’s plan to elevate the visibility of Manoyama’s artisans, decorating the train station with work that impresses visitors.

  • Now that we are fifty percent into Sakura Quest, it is quite apparent that Yoshino does not have anywhere nearly as many funny face moments as her opposite number in Shirobako: Aoi Miyamori is a character I remember well for her exaggerated facial expressions. By comparison, Yoshino is more dialled back, and while highly enthusiastic about her duties, is less prone to overexcitement or stress than Aoi, even if her goals put her directly in conflict with the Board of Merchants, the folks who coordinate the businesses in the area.

  • The inaka are beautifully portrayed in Sakura Quest: intricate and remarkably well-done, Sakura Quest captures the countryside. While the cities (Tokyo especially) are a hotbed for economic activity and opportunity, the countryside of Japan has fallen by the wayside, seeing a general decline in population as youth migrate to the cities for better education and employment prospects. However, during my travels to Japan, I found the inaka to be much more enjoyable than the cities, feeling a lot more expressive of Japanese culture than the cities. In some translations, the inaka is represented as “the sticks”, a British expression for rural in reference to living amongst the trees (i.e. sticks).

  • After Sanae’s doubts are resolved, it’s Maki’s turn to have her background explored. A former actress capable of handling a variety of tasks, she refuses to play the role of a stand-in, feeling that she lacks the proper determination to be a proper actress. She rebuffs Yoshino’s request, leaving her with more work, but after a conversation with Sanae and helping coach Ririko with a role, slowly begins to rediscover her passion. When she stumbles across an old class video her father took of her class play, she rediscovers her love for acting.

  • After the director decides to use an abandoned house for filming, Shiori puts up a surprising amount of resistance, concealing the fact that she’d acquired permission from the house’s owners to torch it. It turns out that the house has sentimental value for Shiori, who’d spent a great deal of time there during her childhood. It is also explained that abandonments, haikyo, result from the cost of demolitions making removal of older buildings unviable. Often, buildings are left to decay where they are, creating these modern ruins. When Yoshino steps up to the plate and confronts Shiori about the situation, Shiori comes to understand that the decision is not for her to make.

  • Sakura Quest is the first P.A. Works anime I’ve given a review to since Shirobako – while I’ve watched both Charlotte and Kuromukuro, and found enjoyment in both to some extent, they did not prove to be shows that I could easily write about: thematic elements were tricky to determine, and the plot progression for both anime were inconsistent, making it difficult for me to ascertain what the anime’s main messages were. Comedy and slice-of-life dramas are P.A. Works’ specialities: their down-to-earth stories about everyday people are usually much more compelling than their science fiction or fantasy offerings (Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara are the exceptions).

  • By the episode’s final moments, Maki’s love of acting is reignited, and she agrees to stand in for Moe. Here, she prepares for a scene where she will dive into the burning remains of the home, and the entire event proceeds without a hitch. Later, one of the film staff thanks Shiori, who’s come to understand that allowing the house to be destroyed does not mean that her memories of it will be lost forever; instead, in its final moments, this derelict house allows Shiori to gain yet another treasured moment.

  • Just because Yoshino might not make funny faces does not mean that other characters do not – Maki tries to tug a beer from Yoshino, only to find that Yoshino’s maintaining a death grip on said beer despite having fallen a sleep. One of the things that I found a bit unusual in Japan (and Hong Kong) is the fact that alcohol is sold in the open at supermarkets, right beside conventional drinks. Back home, we have liquor depots and dedicated stores for selling alcohol.

  • Food is lovingly illustrated in Sakura Quest to the point where other viewers have suggested that some episodes should be watched on a full stomach, lest one desire food mid-episode. Today marks the start of the last weekend in June: this month’s disappeared, and it’s now been more than a month since I returned from Japan. Things have been incredibly busy with work, especially with our project migration to a new framework that’s taken longer than I anticipated, so I’m immensely happy that it’s the weekend. While I spent a bit of today helping with adding some features ahead of Monday, things were also relaxing enough so that I could play enough Battlefield 1 to unlock the Lebel Model 1886 and go out to the Café 100 for dinner, where I ordered the Hong Kong-style chicken steak.

  • While I’ll respond that Shiori is my favourite of the characters in Sakura Quest, with Yoshino coming in a close second, all of the main characters are likeable. Presenting realistic characters simply means giving them a range of traits, both positive and negative, and allowing these interactions to drive things – these elements mean the characters are believable, and consequently, audiences tend to care more for them, developing an interest to see what events will await them. By comparison, dull, jejune characters are blatantly overpowered, have little difficulty in accomplishing their objectives and constantly struggle from their own internal sense of inadequacy without any well-defined reason (this is the main reason I’m not particularly fond of Sword Art Online‘s Kazuto Kirigaya).

  • Celebrating Sayuri’s moving out to become a nurse, Shiori and her family encounter Kumano, an old friend of Sayuri’s from high school who trained in France as a chef and intends to inherit the family restaurant. He has long held feelings for Shiori’s older sister, Sayuri, but owing to a miscommunication, neither was able to make their feelings open to one another. In spite of this, his dedication is commendable: his original intent to study French cuisine was because Sayuri greatly enjoyed French toast.

  • Shiori’s response to Kumano’s French Toast speaks volumes as to its quality. Sakura Quest states that French Toast is not French in origin – P.A. Works has plainly done their homework, and the combination of soaking bread in egg before frying it with milk has been around since the fifth century, being of Roman origin. The French take on this dish is called pain perdue (lit. “lost bread”), after the idea of making tough or stale bread more palatable by frying it in egg, and both England and Germany have their own variations on this dish. The modern incarnation of French toast is actually a bit of a misnomer: similar to French Fries, they are a food item popularised by arrival of French immigrants in North America, hence the nomenclature.

  • While the Tourism board’s plan to host a cooking special event conflicted with the Merchant Board’s event, Shiori takes control of the situation and strikes a compromise that allows both events to proceed: the cooking competition will be to make the best sōmen dish, which is a Manoyama special. It typifies Shiori’s resourcefulness when the situation demands it, and she’s the first person that Yoshino turns to whenever questions about Manoyama and its background arise.

  • While Shiori works out the details to ensure the event’s success, Yoshino works behind the scenes to get a special display ready: a mechanised nagashi-sõmen game where the goal is to catch and eat noodles as quickly as possible to maximise score. It’s a little messy, as Yoshino finds out, but the exhibition turns out to be a success, drawing the children’s interest. Yoshino is open to making use of new technologies into reviving Manoyama traditions, and while this initially puts her at odds with the townspeople, this new perspective also offers Manoyama something new.

  • Shiori and Sayuri are both rather clumsy at times: when their mother remarks that Shiori’s fear over the festival date is a trait her sister shares, Shiori realises that Sayuri must’ve missed Kumano for the same reason. She sets in motion the events that allow Sayuri and Kumano to meet again at the Chubacabra Palace, bringing their story to a solid conclusion and also allowing the two to make their feelings open to one another. One wishes reality would allow for such neat resolution, but more often that not, this is not the case.

  • With the festivals over, Yoshino makes Shiori a “Minister of Mediation” for her role in talking things through to ensure that all parties are reasonably satisfied with arrangements.

  • The Manoyama romantic tour programme turns out to be yet another story arc filled with a fine balance of comedy and mystery: comedy arises with the community club’s members putting the moves on to impress the ladies who arrive for the tour, and despite their reduced numbers, Yoshino and the others do their best to ensure the events are successful. It is here that the Manoyama dance and its origins are revealed: like the Legend of the Fire Maidens in Sora no Woto, there are two different versions of the story behind Manoyama’s dragon.

  • The men and women participating in the tour are in their middle ages: travelling around to meet people is a rather interesting concept. One observation thrown around amongst folks of my generation, the millennials, is that it is more difficult to find meaningful courtship relative to previous generations – commitment and trust is weaker than it has been for numerous reasons, but I personally think that it’s a lack of maturity for the most part. Once folks become a bit older, they will have a more well-defined notion of what they want, and by extension, more realistic expectations of what a relationship entails.

  • The Manoyama dance is an area tradition that all Manoyama girls learn. Ririko’s shyness precludes her from participating, and as a child, she’s withdrawn, spending very little time with her peers during school. Her interests are in the occult and supernatural: things like extraterrestrials, spirits and cryptids are right up her alley. Despite this, she slowly opens up as she spends more time with Yoshino and the others. By comparison, Yoshino is very much willing to learn and experience new things, picking up the Manoyama dance well enough to perform it for their guests.

  • Noticably absent from the proceedings is Ririko: similar to how Sanae, Maki and Shiori have seen exploration with the wood carving, film-making and cuisine arcs, respectively, the romantic tour arc places emphasis on Ririko. Reserved, shy and stoic, she lives with her grandmother after her father left for work overseas following divorce with Ririko’s mother, an outsider. This explains her grandmother’s mistrust for Yoshino and also explains why she’s cold towards the Tourism Board’s activities. Walking home alone under a thunderstorm, she catches a cold and is resting for much of the subsequent episode.

  • Alexandre Cena Davis Celibidache, known by his metonymy as “Mr. Sandal”, is a wanderer with blonde hair and who speaks with a very laid-back manner, dropping by to offer deep and mysterious insights whenever Yoshino or the others are wondering what their next move is. Voiced by Vinay Murthy, Alexandre’s Japanese is slower, more broken and accented, hinting at his foreign background: he also speaks English quite well. His story is that his grandparents were Manoyama natives, and despite his wandering nature, he is a skillful artist familiar with Manoyama’s history.

  • The climbing wall and tower overlooking Manoyama offers a fantastic view of the area. This moment in Sakura Quest offers yet another reason why I continue to watch anime after all this time: the attraction of skies of deepest blue and vast landscapes of mountains, plains and forests have long held my attention. I have not seen any cartoons of Western animation that go to quite the same lengths to render these landscapes: in FuturamaRick and Morty and Adventure Time, skies are usually a solid blue colour on clear days.

  • Yoshino finds Ririko at a local temple after the latter sneaks out to the library while she’s supposed to be recovering from her cold. It is here that Yoshino learns the alternative interpretation of the myth, and in an emotional moment, Ririko and Yoshino shed tears as they open up to one another. This brings about a change in Ririko: while her grandmother is long-weary of Yoshino and the others for their perceived tendency to disturb the peace, Yoshino sees this as a chance to show that the Tourism Board is not selfishly absorbed in their own machinations. Thus, she invites Ririko’s grandmother to the finale of the romance tour.

  • The surprise is that Ririko performs the Dragon song; while she whiles away her days on the internet and is not employed owing to her withdrawn nature, Yoshino manages to bring out the best in her, allowing her to take the first step towards changing. Ririko is voiced by Chiemi Tanaka, a newcomer in voice acting whose only previous role was as Sansha Sanyou‘s Sasame Tsuji, but Sakura Quest shows that Tanaka has a beautiful singing voice. Her rendition of the Dragon song is incredibly moving, to the point where it would be an insult should it not be included in the soundtrack or one of the character albums. The anime’s opening and ending albums have been available since June 7.

  • I take a brief detour to note that in its current form, the slogan “Make Manoyama Great Again℠”, is attributable to a design that I alone have created. It’s an uncommon enough slogan so that a cursory search for it will not yield too many results – one may find other usages before my first post on Sakura Quest, but since that post, folks on image-boards have taken to using the slogan more widely. The page quote is an adaptation of the current POTUS’ economic speech at the New York Economy Club back during September 2016, modified to work with what is in effect, what the Tourism board is trying to do with Manoyama.

  • The pressure of a reality film crew filming the Tourism Board’s daily routine causes Yoshino and Shiori to speak strangely, with Yoshino finally cracking up under the pressure. It takes a certain degree of control to ignore the camera and proceed normally, and while I’ve done several appearances on local television for news segments featuring my old research lab, as well as being comfortable in speaking in front of audiences, I’m not entirely sure I am cut out for live-streaming my Battlefield 1 and other gaming endeavours on Twitch.

  • Yoshino’s personal peeve of being “normal” is mirrored in her appearance – she’s the only character to have a distinct hair colour, and her uncommon way of thinking is what’s precipitated all of the events in Sakura Quest insofar, to the point where even Ushimatsu praises her. The definition of “normal” is the point of contention in Christopher Boorse’ definition of health, which states that “health is the absence of disease defined by a statistical normality”. My classmates still repress a shudder when the name Boorse is brought up despite the six years that have elapsed since we read the original 1977 paper: we argue that health is an incredibly complex topic and extends well beyond the state of being free of disease. Further to this, health as a human construct is intrinsically value-laden: by Boorse’s definition, if a large portion of humanity were to be afflicted by a condition such as blindness, then being blind would still constitute as “healthy”, since it is typical that most folks cannot see in this hypothetical population. Conversely, a value-laden approach would tell us that this population has an endemic condition impairing their quality of life.

  • I’m not here to continue discussing the definition of health: I exited the course with a decent mark and we’ll leave it to the medical specialists to discuss what health is. Returning things to Sakura Quest, the reality show is compounded by the appearance of a famous band, which promises to bring in a large number of visitors into the Manoyama region. While exciting, the logistics prove to be a rogue element, since the producers continue to assure Yoshino and the others that everything is under control. The outcome of this will be left for the upcoming episode.

  • Yoshino, Maki and Sanae are surprised at the unexpectedly large turnout for their concert. The twelfth episode comes to an end here, and looking ahead, I imagine that Sakura Quest is building up towards Yoshino’s inevitable departure once her year-long contract expires. Regardless of what the outcome will be, Yoshino will have gained a considerable amount of experience working in Manoyama by this point: staying in Manoyama and calling it home, or else returning to Tokyo with a competitive set of skills are both possibilities, and I look forwards to seeing the journey that Yoshino will have in reaching this milestone in Sakura Quest‘s second half.

It should not be surprising that I am enjoying Sakura Quest the most out of any of the anime this season. With its character development, stunning artwork and a highly relatable narrative, Sakura Quest represents a triumphant return of P.A. Works – with the exception of Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara, I’ve long felt their work and slice-of-life anime to be the strongest. Incorporating genuine social issues into the narrative is also a fantastic touch that elevates the anime’s authenticity: whether it be the community dynamics of a smaller town overarching in the anime or something as simple as why haikyo come about, Sakura Quest is faithful towards occurrences in the real world. This is something that Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha excelled in depicting. Sakura Quest is following its predecessors in execution, and it’s difficult to find any strikes against this anime – even the more critical of viewers are enjoying Sakura Quest. Each episode has been enjoyable to watch thus far, and having passed the halfway point, Sakura Quest appears on track in its the quest to continue captivating its viewers. With its honest but colourful depiction, it might be more appropriate to consider not whether or not Yoshino and her colleagues can Make Manoyama Great Again℠, but rather, the route that they take to get there and what changes Yoshino’s time in Manoyama will have on her, those around her and the town as a whole.

Feast: The Fortress at War- Sora no Woto OVA 1 Review and Reflection

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” —Ernest Hemingway

On a hot summer’s day, the 1121st prepare for an afternoon barbecue. When Kanata and Yumina’s suspicions about the Clocktower Fortress’ source of income threatens to expose their calvados operation, Filicia decides that a contest is in order to determine whether the truth should be disclosed. She covertly spikes everyone’s tea with their in-house alcohol, and the stakes are that, if Kanata and her team should prevail during a mock combat exercise with water pistols, she will explain what is going on. The buzz from the alcohol causes everyone to develop higher spirits, and when Noël unveils a powerful water Gatling-gun, the battle shifts to Kanata’s favour. She manages to corner Rio inside the distillery and defeats her. Later, Kanata agrees to keep the distillery a secret and spends the night with an increasingly drunk 1121st, who take an uncommon interest in Kureha. By the next morning, in the throes of a vicious hangover, Filicia, Rio, Noël and Kanata struggle in the aftermath of their indulgence, while Kureha tearfully records the events of the previous evening and laments her inability to forget what’s occurred. Included with the fourth home release volume, the first of the Sora no Woto OVAs is set between the seventh and eighth episode: in the interim between the sixth and eighth episode, Kanata has enigmatically come into the knowledge of the 1121st’s secret distillery. While the natural progression is not particularly tricky to work out, fans nonetheless counted this as being worth speculating about. The first OVA thus brings some light to this, answering the question of what occurred and also showcasing some good-natured misadventures resulting from the girls enjoying too much alcohol.

Released quite separately from the televised release, OVAs are able to be a bit more overt and brazen with their depictions of events in an anime. While raising some thought-provoking questions, as well as striking a balance between drama and comedy, Sora no Woto‘s televised run remained quite focused on thematic elements owing to the fact that there were only twelve episodes to adequately explore the unique world Sora no Woto was set in. The characters remain quite consistent in manner and personality even if they do mature over the anime’s run, and so, in this Sora no Woto OVA, it was quite surprising, not to mention hilarious, to see the different characters under the influence of alcohol. A world apart from their usual selves, the alcohol leads the characters to act in over-the-top, melodramatic ways quite unlike that of their usual selves. The OVA ends up being a non-stop comedic ride; while simple in premise and contributing little towards the world-building that Sora no Woto is known for, it nonetheless offers the characters yet another dimension to their personality. From its open depiction of underage alcohol consumption to the implications that Kureha was desecrated by the others, Sora no Woto plainly capitalised on the OVA format to present an episode that offers another perspective on the characters which would not have likely been approved for broadcast on television. In the freedoms offered by the OVA format, however, viewers are treated to some nice laughs.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I had done a discussion of the first Sora no Woto OVA some five-and-a-half years previously, and in my Sora no Woto discussions earlier this year, I wondered if it would be worthwhile to go back and do another talk on the OVAs, since I’d already covered them. Looking back, I will be covering the OVA both for completeness’ sake, as well as because the insights I have on the different OVAs have changed somewhat since my initial posts. To ensure that these posts remain fresh and avoid venturing into dank territory, I’ve gone with a completely different set of screenshots; none of the images I have here are duplicates from the original post.

  • While it’s only for the briefest of moments, and not shown anywhere else on the ‘net, the “feast” component of this OVA refers to the pile of steaks that the Clocktower Maidens are grilling for lunch, bringing to mind the Chinese-style dinner buffet I attended last Saturday to help out at. Besides the usual suspects at Chinese buffets (sweet and sour pork, ginger beef, lemon chicken, fried chicken, fried shrimp, fried noodles, basa in garlic sauce, roast potatoes, a variety of vegetables and the like), this particular place has a different spin on the carving station: prime rib is grilled on demand, and tastes quite nice.

  • In my original post, I had a picture of Noël pressing a plate against Shuko, who’s taken an interest in the steaks being grilled. This is that same moment from another perspective, where Yumina reacts negatively to Kureha’s use of Calvados as a cooking wine. She begins to wonder where the 1121st get their alcohol from, and it takes Kureha some effort to deny that they are participating in anything illegal.

  • Elsewhere, a curious Kanata begins wondering what could be on Rio’s mind when she fetches Rio for lunch. This moment features several funny faces from Rio, none of which I’ve featured here. Rio’s behaviours here is most telling that she is unnerved, even though Kanata has made no mention of wondering what’s behind the door she’s watching to any capacity. Instead, her curiosity is piqued by Rio’s insistence that there’s nothing here worth looking at.

  • Befitting of the OVA’s light-hearted mood, the weather remains sunny and warm, befitting of a lazy day well into the summer season. Because weather has played such a substantial role in Sora no Woto, it is possible to very quickly ascertain what moods the characters will experience based on the sky conditions and lighting. This is one of the greatest strengths in Sora no Woto, and the lessons derived from the anime have been applied elsewhere to great effect.

  • Tea is commonly drunk with Chinese and Japanese meals: some kinds of tea can help with digestion, and so, after the steaks have been enjoyed and their plates cleared, Filicia brings out some tea. Immediately upon trying it, the girls become enamored with it: Filicia only mentions that it’s a “special” brew. With Calvados in it, I imagine that the tea would have a bit of a sweet, apple-y taste to it. It certainly would not go well with my preferred tea, Tieguanyin (鐵觀音): with its leafy taste, this oolong tea is something I ask for whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant and is well-suited for aiding digestion. During my trip to Hong Kong, family members there seem to prefer pu’er tea (普洱茶).

  • The alcohol’s effects begin kicking in, and Filicia’s suggestion to have a mock training exercise is initiated, with the victors’ terms being met. In this case, Rio agrees to disclose the truth about what’s happening with the Calvados. The teams are Rio, Kureha and Filicia on one side, working to keep thing secret, and in Kanata’s corner are Yumina and Noël, who aim to win and find out what’s going on. Playing elimination, a team wins when all of its members are taken out, by means of dyed water to make it immediately apparent who’s been hit.

  • Thus begins the elimination match, bringing to mind some of my misadventures in Battlefield 1. During the last weekend, I played several poor matches of domination and was utterly defeated, but the next day, I returned to play my usual conquest; I favoured the medic this time, making use of my syringe and health kits to heal teammates. Although I did not focus on kills as much as playing my intended role, I nonetheless made MVP with a paltry thirteen kills. During that same match, I also unlocked the second tier of the Royal Order of the Stag medal.

  • I subsequently grinded TDM modes until I secured a pair of victories, allowing me to earn my first-ever medal of Battlefield 1. It’s about time, too, having been some eight months since I bought the game. Back in Sora no Woto, Noël’s broken off from the others to retrieve a special surprise to aid their team’s victory. During their time together, Yumina and Kanata share a conversation, with Yumina mentioning that she’s from a far removed part of the country where things were quiet.

  • While the terrain in and around Seize is filled with sandstone cliffs, Yumina is from a part of Helvetia with more mountains and hills. The landscapes of Sora no Woto are beautiful and contributed greatly to my decision of picking up and following the anime – even if some may consider it a superficial way of determining whether or not a particular show is worth watching, a part of what influences the list of shows I watch in a given in a season is where the story is set. Alternative worlds such as that seen in Sora no Woto or Break Blade have long captured my interests.

  • Despite technically being superior marksmen, having trained for longer, Filicia and Rio run into Noël’s ambush and very nearly allows her to score an Ace (killing all enemies on the opposing team on your own). Kureha is at a bit of a disadvantage here, fulfilling the role of a support class while Rio and Filicia play assault. While they manage to evade, Noël and the others go after them, utilising their superior firepower to press the initiative. Noël’s look of anticipation is priceless, and it is one of the few times in the series audiences get to see her genuinely excited about something, even if it is under the influence.

  • Under heavy fire, Filicia is eliminated from the match shortly after Rio resolves that they will fight. The siege vehicle Noël devised requires three operators: one to carry the water and one to act as a source of propulsion. In exchange for its firepower, it is slow and cumbersome. Inspection of the dyed water shows that the girls are using similar water to the kind that is present at Seize’s Water Festival.

  • In retaliation, Rio returns fire and manages to eliminate both Noël and Yumina after their siege vehicle runs out of water. Kanata subsequently pursues them, leaving the others to on the ground under a pleasant summer sun. Lacking a weapon herself, Kureha can only watch the match progress. Sora no Woto‘s first OVA is set entirely on the Clocktower Fortress grounds: despite the lack of other locales, the episode remains quite exciting and even showcases some parts of the fortress previously unseen. It typifies the slice-of-life genre to have a relatively small number of settings in exchange for additional emphasis on character development.

  • Cornered in the bowels of the Clocktower Fortress’ secret distillery, Rio and Kanata find themselves in a standoff. Rio explains the truth to Kanata about the purpose of their project, that it is to enrich their own pocketbooks and has allowed them to live more comfortably than otherwise possible. After additional exchanges of dialogue, Kanata and Rio open fire on one another, with Kanata winning the duel.

  • Later, the 1121st take a trip to their on-site onsen to bathe off the aftereffects of their drinking. While partaking in alcohol and bathing in an onsen have been shown in a non-trivial number of anime, it is actually not advisable to take hot baths while under the effects of alcohol, since the combination of impaired judgement and increased circulation in conjunction with increased heat can make one lose quite a bit of water through perspiration.

  • Ever since a particularly memorable Christmas party during my final undergraduate year with the Health Sciences programme, I’ve not been able to partake quite as much as folks of a similar build and constitution to myself, so for the most part, I do not drink alcohol. Kureha is seemingly immune to the effects of alcohol and does not suffer from hangovers or the loss of memory. This is purely a genetic trait: I tend to get headaches, while other folks get stomach aches, although like Kureha, I tend to remember what happens even when I’m a bit fuzzy.

  • Not much is left to the imagination as to what Filicia, Kanata and even Yumina do to Kureha, although it appears that by the next morning, everyone save Kanata has forgotten everything, bearing only hangovers as the single indicator that they’d had such a wild evening previously. While done for laugh’s sake in Sora no Woto, such actions during war were certainly much more brutal and sobering  in nature, bringing to mind Timothy Findley’s depiction of rape in The Wars, illustrating that war takes away from people totally, including privacy and all that is sacred.

  • The next morning, Filicia, Kanata and Rio see Yumina off. Having forgotten the events of the previous evening, Kanata and Filicia are in fine spirits, seemingly over their hangovers, while Rio is still a bit worn from the previous evening. The same dilation of blood vessels is responsible for the headaches, and can cause stomach irritation, as well. I’m actually not too sure what the biological utility of drinking is, owing to all of the adverse effects it has on the body. While social science may suggest a social function, I sometimes wonder if wings and Irish potato nachos are equally as effective at bringing people together.

  • Noël, on the other hand, is reeling from a debilitating headache. This is the hangover I experienced after the Christmas party and a mere three drinks: I woke up with my head feeling as though a drum was beating against my cranium. I staggered awake, drank several glasses of water and tried to ignore the headache by playing Halo: Combat Evolved. Fortunately, the headache had abated by the afternoon, and since then, I’ve been more cautious with drinking — my last drink in Cancùn, a lemon daiquiri, while not giving me a headache, did make me immensely sleepy.

  • Whatever sort of defiling that Kanata, Yumina and Filicia did to Kureha was apparently so traumatic that she breaks out in tears when forced to recall it. If I were to surmise what happened to any level of detail, this blog would likely be reported for family-unfriendly content. So, I leave it up to the readers to imagine the fire (and in a rare exception to my usually-lax commenting rules, I will excise any comments that go too far). With the first of the OVAs in the books, I will return to write about the second OVA in September to coincide with its release date seven years ago.

At the time of its release seven years ago, I was quite unaware of Sora no Woto and was engaged in summer research at the university, working on a model of blood flow and oxygenation within the lab’s in-house game engine. I had returned from a day trip with the lab out to the mountains, and my project had been progressing smoothly, and I was gearing up to go on vacation to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hanzgzhou and Suzhou). I’m not quite sure how I came across Sora no Woto, but it is likely that I found the anime while looking for recommendations of shows similar to K-On!: a year later, I came across Sora no Woto and found myself blown away with the overall quality and enjoyment factor the anime provided. I’ve an older review of the episode here that dates back to January 2012, a few months after I finished Sora no Woto. In the five-and-a-half years that has elapsed since then, my blog and writing style have both undergone a dramatic change in style. However, looking through the older post, it’s quite clear that my enjoyment of Sora no Woto‘s first OVA has not changed. The second of the OVAs would not be released for another three months at that point, and while it seemed a long wait for contemporary reviewers, my coming across Sora no Woto after it finished airing allowed me to continue watching the OVAs uninterrupted.

Revisiting Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words): Another Review and Reflection

“We’re heading into tough times. As people get into their homes and their home is in trouble, people will feel despair…we have to lift them up with our love and support.” –Mayor Naheed Nenshi, The City of Calgary

The home release to Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words came out four years ago today, right amidst the Great Flood of 2013: I was watching the film even as a heavy rainstorm swept through the region, dropping upwards of 200mm of precipitation in the Rocky Mountains that, in conjunction with saturated lands and snow on the surface, overwhelmed the waterways that flowed through my city: by the morning of June 21, the university had emailed its staff, saying that campus would be closed. Throughout the day, the media showed the whole of the city center covered with waist-high water, and having left my laptop on campus, I was unable to work on my simulations. The only other pursuit was to watch The Garden of Words, which a colleague had informed me of while we were out for lunch at an Indian restaurant. Sure enough, The Garden of Words turned out to be a highly enjoyable film: fifteen-year-old Takao Akizuki is a high school student and aspiring shoe-maker. Fond of skipping his morning classes whenever it rains, he frequents Shinjuku Gyoen and one morning, encounters the enigmatic Yukari Yukino, who happens to be skipping work. Amidst the problems that both face in their respective lives, the two strike up a friendship. When the summer break draws to a close, Takao learns that Yukari is a literature instructor at his high school who had been subject to harassment from students. The attendent anxiety led her to skip work, and Yukari began losing her way until she’d met Takao. She subsequently resigns, and later runs into Takao at Shinjuku Gyoen. After a storm hits, they return to Yukari’s apartment, where Takao confesses his love to Yukari. Taken aback, she notes that she’s moving back to Shikoku, leaving Takao heartbroken. He makes to leave, but Yukari catches up with him and tearfully admits that it was through his kindness that she’s managed to find her way again. In the epilogue, Takao continues with his dreams of becoming a shoemaker, while Yukari has resumed teaching.

Despite its short runtime, The Garden of Words manages to condense into its narrative an exceptional degree of symbolism, evident in the tanka that Yukari recites and shoes as a metaphor for life experiences. Shinkai himself makes it clear that the central theme of The Garden of Words is loneliness, captured in Yukari and Takao’s interactions with the individuals around them. Both characters share the commonality of being isolated: Yukari is withdrawn from her colleagues and family, being limited to dealing with her troubles on her own, while Takao receives little support from his family while he pursues his career. While this overarching theme applies to The Garden of Words, Shinkai also manages to bring about another, emergent theme through the decision to feature a noticeable age gap between Yukari and Takao. The companionship and understanding that the two find in one another, amidst a garden of both greenery and the literal garden of words they craft together, form very naturally. In a place where age, background and station are hidden away, Shinjuku Gyoen acts as the perfect sanctuary for two individuals brought together by the seemingly-mundane occurrence of rain, to begin opening up with one another and drive forwards the events in The Garden of Words. Shinkai intended for The Garden of Words to capture love in a traditional sense: Yukari and Takao’s time together, caring about and helping one another out, is a form of love that can be experienced independently of age and station. It is the deliberate choosing of a high school student and an instructor in a setting crafted of rain and greenery, that expresses the idea that this particular tenderness is a form of love that is as genuine and authentic as any romantic love.

The presentation of rain as being a multi-faceted force in The Garden of Words is central to the movie’s magic: at times, it is a gentle, natural force that allow Yukari and Takao to interact together in slow, tender steps, but by the film’s conclusion, it is a tempest that crescendos into Takao’s confession and Yukari finally opening up to him. Occupying both ends of the spectrum, Shinkai’s masterful use of rain allows The Garden of Words to express emotions and thoughts that even colours and scenery together cannot. Weather has been utilised to great effect in fiction to further develop a narrative, and The Garden of Words is no different: in this film, Shinkai demonstrates that he is able to further his artwork’s ability to convey an idea in ways that his previous films did not explore too rigourously. A powerful force in The Garden of Words in bringing Yukari and Takao together, the power of rain was shortly demonstrated in reality: the Great Flood of 2013 I’ve alluded to in several of my earlier discussions is an interesting example of rain being able to cause both separation and togetherness. In its excess, the rainfall responsible for causing flooding throughout southern Alberta physically separated people, but it was in these difficult times that communities were unified by the flood, demonstrating exemplary citizenship to help one another out in the ways they could, whether it be something as simple as making a generous donation to the Red Cross and flood recovery efforts, or else selflessly stepping out into the field and helping flood victims clean up. Regardless of the scale of their actions, each individual who reached out in their own way to help was a part of that community, and while the Great Flood of 2013’s effects are still felt four years later, it is only because of the community’s actions that recovery has made substantial strides.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Almost all of my posts this month have been gaming-related so far, and I have an inkling that readers grow weary of this trend. One might even say it’s getting dank. To rectify this, I will be posting about anime for the remainder of the month (unless I find time to write about Battlefield 1‘s “Nivelle Nights” update). When I last wrote about The Garden of Words, it was 2013. Battlefield 4 had been announced for three months, I had graduated with an Honours degree in Health Sciences, and a flood had hit my area, causing my research to grind to a halt as I did not have a Mac to work on at the time. I noted that by The Garden of Words, Shinkai and his team had so finely honed their craft that his visuals became comparable to photographs in terms of detail and colouration. This image of the Tokyo streets is one such example, and at a glance, it really does look like a photograph.

  • The original The Garden of Words post I wrote featured thirty screenshots, but looking back, the post is quite devoid of content besides a basic “their loneliness brings them together”, praised the film for giving the male characters a more driven personality (as opposed to the passiveness that defines Takaki) and remarked that the movie’s strongest point is how focused and concise it is. Rather than diverting time towards symbolism, The Garden of Words weaves symbolism directly into the narrative. In doing so, the character’s eventual fates are clearly presented, leaving no loose ends that became somewhat of a challenge in Five Centimeters per Second.

  • When Takao first meets Yukari, there’s little indicator of what she does or how old she is. She leaves Takao with a tanka from the manyōshū‘s eleventh volume: besides suggesting that the rain brought them together, it’s something that only literature instructors or enthusiasts would be able to recite. Takao is wrapped up in the moment and does not realise this, taking an interest in the fact that Yukari has an enigmatic air to her that seems quite enchanting. This chance meeting, seemingly willed by the rain itself, sets in motion the film’s events.

  • To emphasise the theme of isolation in The Garden of Words, Shinkai presents his supporting characters as being distant, engrossed in their own worlds to be of much help to either Yukari or Takao. For Takao, his mother is more interested in chasing men than caring for her family, while his older brother is moving out with his girlfriend and cannot otherwise spare much time to listen to Takao’s concerns. Similarly, Yukari’s colleagues and coworkers are only able to do so much for her. Thus, with limited support from the most obvious sources, Yukari and Takao’s fateful meeting drive them to turn towards one another.

  • As they spend more time together, bits and pieces of each individual comes out into play. Yukari reveals that her reason for drinking beer and eating chocolate near-exclusively is that she has hypogeusia, a diminished sense of taste (some articles label it as dysgeusia, a superset of taste disorders that describes both partial and total loss of taste). Shinkai himself describes Yukari’s taste disorder as a metaphor for her mental health, and while it is seemingly a fanciful condition tailored to drive The Garden of Words‘ narrative, the working through things suggests that Yukari’s stress causes the quality of her diet to decrease, in turn resulting in a lessened zinc consumption. Zinc is a cofactor in enzymes and is involved in taste-related pathways, so a zinc deficiency sufficient to cause Yukari to lose much of her sense of taste would be indicative of her situation.

  • The events of The Garden of Words also deal greatly with mental health; while Shinkai may have intended for his works to convey a certain theme, and the more prominent anime writers out there have largely focused on the movie as a love story of sorts, the focus of The Garden of Words on everyday events means that some ideas can be derived from the film’s events even if they are not immediately apparent. This is the advantage about being multi-disciplinary – one is afforded different perspectives on things that would be missed in the absence of familiarity with a particular discipline.

  • In this case, Yukari’s mental health is the crux of her problems within the movie. Previous events have given her anxiety and depression, leading her to skip work and suffer from a decreased quality of life. Alone and without much in the way of assistance, it takes intervention taking the form of the determined Takao, to help her get back on track. In dealing with mental health, I’ve seen that a good support system is perhaps the single most aspect of intervention and recovery. These topics are always a challenge to deal with, especially since reporting is tricky and the lack of good data makes it difficult to learn the cause and potential solutions. However, awareness for mental health is much greater now than it was earlier, thanks to growing understanding of the importance of emotional well-being.

  • After the flood waters receded, the weather in Southern Alberta became remarkably nice: Canada Day that year saw some of the most spectacular weather I’d known, but I still vividly recall feeling quite down in the aftermath of the flood. Under a blazing hot sun, I enjoyed a Flamethrower Grill burger from the DQ nearby and spent the afternoon playing Vindictus, but I had been filled with a sense of longing and for the longest time, did not really understand what was the reason behind this feeling of melancholy. Four years later, I think I can answer that question – matters of the heart were troubling me, and the flood’s disruption precluded opportunities to assuage the sense of emptiness that was welling as my friends began going their separate ways following convocation.

  • Unlike myself, Takao has a very clear vision of where his dreams lie, and what it takes to reach his chosen career of being a shoemaker even while in high school. At the age of fifteen, I was vaguely aware that my future lay in the sciences, likely biology, but otherwise did not make a concrete decision until I was in my final year of high school. In my university’s bioinformatics programme, I saw a path that would leave options open: I would gain background in both health and computer science. Indecision has been one of my old weaknesses, and it was only during the final year of my graduate studies programme that I decided that iOS development was a career I really desired.

  • In order to raise funds for his aspirations, Takao works at a variety of part-time positions, including that of a dishwasher. Although he is not particularly skillful at shoemaking, his innate passion for the career provides him with his drive to practise his craft. At his age, this is viewed as an expensive hobby rather than a viable career path, but his persistence is most admirable: while his friends are out enjoying the summer, he pushes towards his objectives.

  • A closeup of Takao and Yukari’s shoes find that Takao has crafted his own shoes. With a reasonably-priced pair of shoes going around 80-110 CAD while on sale, I’ve found that good shoes should be able to last about two years under normal wear-and-tear conditions, but gone are the days when I have a single pair of general-purpose shoes for the more pleasant times of year and second pair of shoes for the winter.  In this image, minor details in the environment, such as the ripples of raindrops hitting water on the ground, are also visible.

  • During my trip to Japan last month, I did not have the opportunity to visit Shinjuku Gyoen, but we did pass by on the way to the Meiji Jinju, which was an oasis in the middle of Tokyo. The joys of large parks such as these give the sense of a sanctuary amidst a world that is constantly moving: at the heart of the park, it was calm and quiet. Here, I saw a sight that until then, I’d only seen in anime: groups of students praying for success in their exams. We later visited the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda and found groups of students eating lunch there.

  • One of the things on my mind is how the weather for the upcoming summer will be. Spring this year’s been quite nice even if it has been a bit rainy, and moving into the summer, meteorologists are forecasting that the prairies will have a summer with near-normal precipitation and temperatures. These are my most favourite times of year, when the days are long and the skies fair: I am hoping to spend a few weekends doing day trips in the nearby mountains should the weather be favourable.

  • When Takao begins cooking for Yukari and inspires her to begin cooking again, Yukari’s sense of taste is gradually restored. An improving diet is the biochemical reason why this occurs, but this is worked cleverly into the narrative to suggest that it is the act of being together with someone, to share one’s burdens, that prompts this change. It typifies Makoto Shinkai’s ability to craft powerful metaphors and symbols into his stories without sacrificing scientifically plausibility: while his stories cannot always be said to confirm fully with reality, a sufficient number of elements are accurate so that his stories’ more fanciful elements are not too detracting.

  • Images of Takao and Yukari sharing time together in Shinjuku Gyoen remain the single most enduring imagery pertaining to The Garden of Words, similar to the spectacle that Comet Tiamat yielded in Your Name. Being able to create immediately recognisable scenery has driven up Shinkai’s stock amongst fans: while Shinkai is modest and cautions audiences against comparing him to Hayao Miyazaki, I find that Shinkai’s single greatest contribution is his unique talent for making use of colour and light in highly detailed environments to assist in his narratives. Compared to Miyazaki, Shinkai’s characters tend to be stylised to a lesser extent and so, are not always as expressive as those of Miyazaki’s. Instead, Shinkai takes a different approach: expressiveness in his films is achieved through the use of the environments in conjunction with the characters’ facial expressions and tones.

  •  The expression “no man is an island” is applicable to the events of The Garden of Words, being sourced from John Donne’s “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”, and looking back four years, the notion that we need human contact in order to maintain our mental well-being is reinforced. In Yukari’s position, it can seem a Herculean task to break out of her melancholy, and Makoto Shinkai captures this reality in a very fluid, believable manner: it is her happenstance meeting with Takao that sets in motion change.

  • Yukari is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who has played notable roles in many of the anime I’ve seen, including but not limited to Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea‘s Manaka Mukaido, Cleo Saburafu of Broken Blade, Sonoko Nogi of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Gabriel Dropout‘s Raphiel Shiraha and Infinite Stratos‘ Charlotte Dunois. By comparison, Miyu Irino, who provides Takao’s voice, I’m only familiar with for his role as Mobile Suit Gundam 00‘s Saji Crossroad.

  • Takao measuring Yukari’s feet in the beginnings of his plan to craft a pair of shoes for her is the one of the most tender moments in The Garden of Words, attesting to how far the two have come to trust one another since their first meeting. Shinkai meticulously details the process that Takao takes in capturing the dimensions of Yukari’s foot, conveying intimacy as deeply as when Akari and Takaki shared their first kiss during the events of Five Centimeters per Second.

  • Takao’s older brother resembles Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below‘s Ryūji Morisak, Asuna’s substitute instructor whose knowledge of the mythical Agartha is extensive. Takao’s brother’s girlfriend bears some resemblance to Akari Shinohara. Of his older films, Akari and Sayuri of The Place Promised in Our Early Days look quite similar, as well. Shinkai’s exceptional prowess as an artist nowithstanding, one of the few limitations about his art style are how his characters can look quite similar to one another. By Your Name, however, his team’s craft has definitely improved: Mitsuha and Taki look unique, unlike any of his previous characters.

  • Takao explicitly notes that he’s attracted to the air of mystery surrounding Yukari, but when he returns to school, it turns out that Yukari is actually one of the instructors here. The truth is soon shown to him: she’s a classical Japanese instructor who got into a spot of trouble when a younger male student developed a crush on her, and said student’s girlfriend retaliated with a series of rumours. I cannot speak to how things would be handled in Canada if such an occurrence were to be real, but it would likely be a major news story that would certainly force the school board to launch an inquiry.

  • While seemingly far-fetched for students to go to such lengths to discredit their instructors, high school drama is quite real. I recount a story where a fellow classmate, salty about the fact that I was kicking ass in introductory science course seemingly without any effort in our first year, accused me of harassment. The individual’s parents got the administration involved and I was warned that a suspension could follow, even though I had not acted against this individual directly. I argued that without any hard evidence beyond said individual’s word, their very efforts to get me suspended was in and of itself harassment. The administration realised they’d been pranked and promptly dismissed things, leaving me with a hilarious story about how I out-played this individual, although that is only in retrospect: there was nothing remotely funny about things at the time.

  • School rooftops have featured in anime with a similar frequency as the coveted spot in the back corner of the classroom beside the window. Questions have been posed concerning this, and the answer is a very mundane, unordinary one: it is much easier to animate these locations owing to the ability to illustrate a smaller number of people, reducing the costs associated with animating busy scenes. Having said that, Makoto Shinkai is not one to shy away from incredible levels of detail in his films, so his inclusion of a school rooftop and its quiet environs is intended for another purpose: to visually convey the sort of loneliness that surrounds Yukari’s story.

  • The fellow in the red T-shirt is a big guy…for Takao. After Takao slaps Aizawa, the senior student for having caused Yukari this much grief, the big guy steps in and displays a lot of loyalty for a mere friend of Aizawa’s: he decks Takao, sending him into the floor. A fight ensues, leaving a few scratches on Takao’s face. The fight’s outcome is not shown because Shinkai feels it to be not relevant: what matters is the fact that Takao’s feelings have precipitated this moment. In the manga, the big guy continues beating on Takao, but like the film, Takao rushes him. Because his injuries are light, it stands to reason that he manages to win this fight, or at least, surprises the big guy long enough to escape. Aizawa is voiced by Mikako Komatsu, whom I know best as Nagi no Asukara‘s Miuna Shiodome and Sakura Quest‘s Sanae Kouzuki.

  • Some of my insights on The Garden of Words come from the manga, which I bought last Thanksgiving: the weather that day had not been conducive for a drive out to the mountains, but was just fine for visiting a local bookstore. The remainder of this revisitation, containing just a ways under half of the screenshots in the post, deals with the film’s final act. This is not an accident: the final act is an emotional journey that sees Shinkai’s writing at its finest. His stories are at their strongest when his characters are honest and open with their feelings.

  • When Yukari and Takao meet again under the gazebo of Shinjuku Gyoen, they are caught in a torrential downpour. I vividly remember the June 21st of four years ago as though it were yesterday. After receiving an email from the university that campus was closed on account of the flood, and having left my laptop on campus, I was unable to get any work done that day. It was an unexpected day off, and I spent it reviewing The Garden of Words, as well as playing through Metro: Last Light, which I got complementary with my GTX 660. I’d only just watched the movie the night before, and with rain dousing the Southern Alberta region, the irony of watching a movie about rain when rain waters were causing flooding was not lost on me.

  • The rains began in earnest on June 20 after the skies filled with rain clouds, and some areas of the city begun evacuations as water levels surged in the Bow and Elbow rivers. The whole of the city centre was covered in water on June 21, and the Stampede Grounds were flooded, as well. By June 22, the rains had lessened, and the flood waters began receding. Tales of courage and sacrifice to save people emerged, along with the comprehension of just how much damage the flood had caused. When the weekend ended, and the extent of the flood’s became known, I made a substantial donation to the Red Cross for Flood relief. Meanwhile, some of my friends working with companies over the summer began helping out with the cleanup effort.

  • The waters had fully retreated come late June, and the weather became the characteristic of an early July in Calgary: hot and sunny. However, even as I returned to my routine in writing simulations for my research lab, a melancholy had gripped me. The cause was unknown at the time, but the sum of extraordinarily good weather, the inability to make the most of my summer days, some love-sickness and the fact that most of my friends were going their separate ways following convocation would have likely been the reason for this melancholy. A summer later, I would go on to buy the book “The Flood of 2013: A Summer of Angry Rivers”, whose proceeds would go towards flood recovery. 

  • Slender and beautiful, Yukari is quite unlike any of Shinkai’s previous female leads. Freed from their role as teacher and student, the two enjoy their rainy afternoon together, with Takao cooking for Yukari. Their conversation is not heard, with a wistful track overlaid as background music, affording the two characters a modicum of privacy in a similar manner that Daniel Handler used in A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Slippery Slope, when Violet and Quigley are given some time alone halfway up the frozen waterfall. It’s a literary device that is intended to show characters in more personal, intimate moments, and while the bond that Yukari and Takao share cannot be said to be romantic love, it does count as love in a sense.

  • In my original The Garden of Words post, I had a close-up of the omurice that Takao’s cooked. I’ve made an effort to ensure that no image was duplicated from the original post, but unlike previous years, where it became difficult to do consecutive posts on the K-On! Movie because of overlap, the artwork in any given Makoto Shinkai film is so diverse that picking unique screenshots were not a challenge. Over the span of the four years that have passed since I first watched this, much has happened, and one of those things includes my having omurice dispenses with the ketchup on top in favour of a curry-in Osaka. It’s a simple but filling dish – the incarnation I had katsu, so I could say I had the equivalent of omurice and curry rice all in one go.

  • During an awkward point in their conversation, Takao declares that he loves Yukari, but when Yukari seemingly rejects him, he takes off. Not quite understanding what’s happened, Yukari runs after him. As I have experienced, Takao is confusing his appreciation of Yukari’s company, and his desire to help her, for romantic love. It’s perhaps more of a bond of friendship, or even parental love, that has come out of this relationship: Takao is charmed by Yukari’s mystery and the positive feelings he gains by helping her. This compassion and empathy for someone else is a compelling force that one can indeed fall in love with, although people can sometimes mistake this as falling in love with a person.

  • This is not to say that falling in love with helping people, and romantic love with a person, are mutually exclusive. Takao probably harbours feelings for Yukari to some extent, and she, for him, although these are overshadowed by the positive feelings they’ve developed as friends. Challenges in differentiating from between the two can cause younger people, like myself, to pursue relationships they sense to be sustainable. Sometimes, things work out for the better, strengthening the couple and allowing them to find happiness, while other times, things don’t work out so well.

  • At the film’s climax, Takao finally expresses his own resentment at Yukari’s air of mystery – the very thing he was attracted to about her becomes a source of pain when he learns that she’s a teacher, and stung by her rejection, he demands her to be truthful, voicing that his dreams are unrealistic and unattainable, that her refusal in opening up to him and being truthful led him on in a manner of speaking. The sum of their emotions build, and breaks over right as the sun comes out, washing the land in a golden light.

  • Yukari’s refusal to mirror Takao’s accusations shows that, rather than acting out of malice or spite, her unwillingness to open up to him is mainly because of her own experiences. When the sun appears, it represents the reappearance of truth. Both Takao and Yukari are honest with their feelings, as well as how they feel about one another. In this moment, Shinkai again demonstrates his masterful use of the weather to advance the story – including Your Name, no other Shinkai film ever draws so heavily on the weather in its narrative.

  • Following the events of the flood, I invited a friend out to the Calgary Stampede as a date of sorts to express thanks for having attended my convocation and helping me take photographs, as well as for having listened to my numerous grievances about the summer and unwaveringly providing support by ways of listening to me. The Stampede grounds were cleared out, and attendees wore “Through Hell or High Water” t-shirts. It was a herculean effort to clean up the grounds and prepare for that year’s Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but the event was a success, attesting to the community’s resilience in face of adversity.

  • By July, the weather had become extremely pleasant, but I had fallen into a summer melancholy, longing for the company of friends. The resentment that I was stuck is mirrored in my blog posts from the time; a hint of bitterness can be found in the writing. I concentrated as best as I could on my research project and managed to build a distributed simulation system, where multiple computers could each run individual modules representing one body system, and passed messages to one another to give the sense that the entire simulation was on one system. I also went on two road trips into open country near the end of summer (one to Canmore, and one to Jasper), lifting my spirits.

  • However, it would not be until the spring a year later, when I was asked to help with the Giant Walkthrough Brain project, that I truly began feeling myself again. Having come fresh from heartbreak during April, I entered the summer with a newfound determination to immerse myself in a new project to dilute the pain of loss. The outcome of this was that I left the summer far happier than I had been for the past year. Here, Takao places the completed pair of shoes for Yukari. After the film’s climax, Yukari heads home and accepts a new teaching position, while Takao continues studying to be a shoemaker. His promise of having Yukari walk again in the shoes he’s crafted her is seemingly unfulfilled in the film, but in spite of this, he maintains a resolute belief in finding her again once he’s made some steps in his own career.

  • Shinkai uses walking as an analogy for facing life’s challenges, and shoes become a symbol for a tool in aiding walking. Takao’s finished product represents his commitment to her well-being – the shoes are beautiful and capture the beauty that is Yukari. Here, I note that the earliest shoes date back a few thousand years. However, it is hypothesised that humans began wearing shoes around 40000 years ago, corresponding with changes to our skeletal features in the foot. This likely coincides with our migration away from warmer climates, where footwear would along us to walk greater distances without being affected by temperature extremities.

  • Thus, Yukari is back to doing what she does best, teaching Japanese literature in Shikoku. Although separated, both Yukari and Takao often think of one another. While I’ve been punching out a record number of posts today, this evening, I spent an evening with some classmates from my BHSc graduating year, and over a poutine with grilled chicken, we spent the evening catching up. It has been four years since our graduation, and it’s great to know that everyone is doing alright: some folks are becoming medical residents, while others are working. It attests to how much time has passed; conversations about buying houses and work stories have displaced talks of the conflicting definitions of health and other coursework.

  • In the manga, Takao mentions that time without Yukari has flown by, also showing that Yukari has received Takao’s shoes and is now wearing them. The movie is careful with its framing to not show this explicitly and leave open for viewers what the outcome was, while the manga implies that Yukari and Takao do end up meeting again. Yukari’s appearance in Your Name is an interesting one, conflicting with her presence in The Garden of Words, so it’s best to suppose that, à la Rick and Morty, Your Name and The Garden of Words are set in alternate dimensions in the multiverse. I’ve seen failed efforts to work this out; attempts are inconclusive owing to flawed reasoning. Ergo, my explanation is the only one that is viable.

  • I feel that, compared to my original review four years ago, this The Garden of Words review is the true review that the film and readers deserve. Themes are better explored, and even though I am reminiscing for a greater half of the post, I am using this retrospective to better frame the themes. I think I’ve succeeded with this post. In addition to being an exercise to illustrate how much has changed in the past few years, this post also serves as a warm-up of sorts for the upcoming Your Name discussion. With the concrete date of July 26 out in the open, I am very excited to try my hand at looking at one of the biggest anime films around in a unique and insightful manner.

The Garden of Words is one of Makoto Shinkai’s strongest works, matching Five Centimeters per Second in emotional impact despite its shorter length. An exquisite amalgamation of sight, sound and narrative that is neatly packaged into a concise, focused story that is very clear about its goals, my own enjoyment of the film is further augmented by the imagery of rain depicted throughout The Garden of Words. Although I did not realise it at the time, my own experiences with relationships (or at least, efforts to) stem from my falling in love with the idea of helping people, rather than being related to falling in love with a person per se. Similar to Takao, I feel drawn to being able to have someone lean on me, and at the time, it definitely did feel like falling in love; in retrospect, it is love in this form that likely manifested, and a part of the melancholy I found during the summer of 2013 was feeling so disconnected from an individual in the flood’s aftermath. However, having re-watched The Garden of Words with a new mindset, looking back, it is not such a terrible thing to be in love with helping others, and like Five Centimeters per Second before it, The Garden of Words is indeed a film that can withstand the test of time, being as enjoyable to watch today as it was when it came out four years ago. There is one important distinction: this time around, precipitation during this month has been normal, and the weather is fine, so the chances of seeing another flood like The Great Flood of 2013 are thankfully slim.

Thoughts of Metro: Exodus while crossing the Flood-Stricken Bridge in Metro: Last Light

“If you’re on the fence about buying this game, I was reading that the PC version uses a lot of power…I know that some people have the most monster computer, and I can’t even run this at a hundred percent.” —TheRadBrad on Metro: Last Light

Motivated by the recent E3 announcement of Metro: Exodus, I returned to the mission that I played through the day that campus had been closed owing to the Great Flood of 2013, and as the rain continued to fall outside, I reached this point in the campaign, following the young Dark One as he guides Artyom to his destination. Artyom’s pursuit of the young Dark One takes him back to the surface, where he intends to travel to Polis and make known the truth at a peace conference. As Artyom begins making his way across the bridge, a ferocious rain storm picks up, obfuscating the large number of enemies. In my original playthrough and a second one during the following summer, I went loud in this mission and immediately found myself against hordes of mutant animals. Fun it may have been to shoot my way through things, to acquire the screenshots for this short talk, I decided to go with a different, quieter approach: I made use of the throwing knives and carefully moved across the bridge. Firing exactly zero shots right up until the zip-line, it proved much more effective to be sneaky. Some of Metro: Last Light‘s best moments are set in the ruins of Moscow above the metro tunnels, and after starting out in yet another tunnel, the E3 demo brought viewers to a beautifully-rendered village above-ground. Artyom removes his mask, suggesting the air is clean, and equips a crossbow before preparing to board a train in the Ural Mountains. The sequel to Metro: Last Light, Metro: Exodus follows Artyom and Anna as they move with other Rangers to the Far East. Exodus will feature a new crafting system and dynamic weather, as well as a greater degree of open-world elements compared to its predecessors, and is set for release in February 2018.

  • One of my favourite aspects about Metro: Last Light after all this time is that droplets of water and mud that can accumulate on Artyom’s gas mask, requiring that players wipe it off with a stroke of the “G” key. There’s a Valve bolt-action rifle with a holographic RDS for close quarters engagements, but my old save files had me start out with a customised Valve equipped with a longer range scope, so I did not switch out my weapons here. After climbing out of a stairwell, players will find themselves on the lower deck of a bridge.

  • It would appear that during my last playthrough of Metro: Last Light three years ago, I had access to the Kalash 2012 and the Saiga-12 in addition to a Valve outfitted for long range engagements. In short, I was well-equipped to continue on with the game at this point, having weapons that draw from a different ammunition pool to ensure that I would never be without some options even if one of my three weapons were depleted. During the course of my playthroughs of Metro: Last Light and Metro 2033: Redux, I never used my military grade rounds in combat. Made with pre-war technology, these rounds hit incredibly hard and will emit a brighter muzzle flash as a result of their increased power.

  • To walk across the bridge again evokes many old memories: prior to my undergraduate convocation in June four years ago, the weather had been quite unassuming. It was not until the day of my graduation banquet with the Faculty of Health Sciences that rainfall had intensified: a light rain had been falling in the morning, and as I sat down to play through Highway 17 and Sandtraps in Half-Life 2, rainfall had intensified, continuing well into the evening. I still vividly recall shooting my way through the Overwatch Nexus the Monday after the flood waters receded, making a substantial donation to the flood relief efforts before pushing through with the mission.

  • I finished Half-Life 2 and Metro: Last Light closer to the end of June. By this point, I had completed Crysis and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, as well. Owing to the disruption to transportation services resulting from the Great Flood of 2013, I was not able to go out to the mountains or even downtown, and so, spent a fair portion of early July wondering which titles could occupy my interest. I decided to give Vindictus a shot, and while it was fun to play through the first few missions, it became clear that this game was meant to be played with friends. After reaching level nine on a quiet, hot Canada Day, I felt that the game had lost most of its appeal.

  • Because the Steam 2013 sale had not commenced yet that year, I dropped Vindictus and began exploring Tribes: Ascend at a friend’s recommendation. While a fun experience, the learning curve and community made it difficult for me to really get into Tribes: Ascend. I had many great matches on beautifully-made maps (Crossfire and Dry Dock were my favourites): though nowhere near as detailed as something like Battlefield 1 or Crysis 3, there was definitely a charm to the visuals in Tribes: Ascend, continuing to play even after the 2013 Summer Sale occurred.

  • While remarkably entertaining and quite able to fulfil my original expectation of being a space shooter for replacing Halo 2, offering diversity in gameplay between Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Alan Wake, the prospect of a long progression ahead, coupled with the fact that I purchased Battlefield 3 later meant that my time spent in Tribes: Ascend dwindled. Even today, I’ve not found an equivalent for Halo 2 for PC as a space shooter, but Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1 have proven to be exceptional multiplayer shooters that have since fulfilled the role of my online experience.

  • On my original playthrough, I opened fire and drew the ire of every living thing here; I’ve become a bit more cautious in the four years since then. Using just the throwing knives and the cover the storm provides, I managed to clear the entire bridge without altering the mutants to my position. It’s a little extreme as to how much of a difference being stealthy can be – even in other games, like Deus Ex and Crysis, a little stealth can turn the highest difficulty setting into a walk in the park.

  • While my filters are slowly being depleted, I looked around at the scenery in of the bridge. Armed with the GTX 1060, I am playing the game at full settings without any difficulty – previously, I played at “merely” high settings. With the slew of new titles announced at E3 (Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, Wolfenstein IIMetro: Exodus and Far Cry 5), I’m actually quite curious to know if the 1060 will be able to run these games on recommended settings: it’s done remarkably well for Battlefield 1, and DOOM, so it’ll be insightful to learn where the card’s limits lie.

  • I imagine that the GTX 1060 will be able to perform admirably for most games released in 2018: even if I cannot get 60 FPS at ultra settings for 1080p, I’m generally okay with running on very high or high, since the differences usually require careful inspection to discern. This screenshot here of me with the Valve is an example of why I am so fond of the above-ground sections of Metro: Last Light, and I’ve heard that Metro: Exodus will be a cross-Russia journey, beginning in Moscow and concluding in the easternmost reaches of Russia.

  • My reminiscences about the games of summer 2013 draw to an end here, and for the remainder of the post, I consider some of my expectations for Metro: Exodus. Having played through this mission for the first time four years ago, and having made mention of the Great Flood of 2013 here, I will be returning very shortly to discuss the flood in a bit more detail, in conjunction with a revisitation of Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words – I feel the time has become appropriate to look at the movie again with a different perspective.

When I first played through Metro: Last Light during 2013, I was impressed with the narrative and visuals of the game. Delving into things, I became more familiar with the Metro franchise as a whole, and it was therefore a pleasant surprise to learn that a continuation was being made. From the E3 footage and new information, the game is becoming closer to the title I was anticipating after watching “Ten minutes in the swamp” to learn more about the game I received with my old GPU. With its greater emphasis on crafting, and open exploration in conjunction with superb visuals, I am excited to see what directions Metro: Exodus will take. Further to this, the fact that Metro: Exodus is set in the Eastern reaches of Russia, with the eventual goal of reaching Siberia, Kolyma or even the Kamchatka peninsula, has greatly elevated my interest in the game. I’ve long been drawn to the mysterious nature of Russia’s far east beyond the Ural mountains, and a game set here provides a fantastic opportunity to explore a virtual interpretation of this side of the world. Cold, vast and desolate, it is here that some of Stalin’s most infamous Gulags were situated, and even today, the remoteness of the area means that populations remain very low. The area’s history means that, even though the terrain and biome is quite similar to the forests and tundra of Canada, there’s a sense of history in Russia’s far east that is simply absent in Canada. As such, I look forwards to learning more about Metro: Exodus, although it is most likely that I will, as I have for numerous games previously, pick it up once I learn more about the system requirements and game length, before making a definitive decision to buy the game shortly after launch or otherwise wait for a sale.

Reflections on the 2017 Summer Solstice

“I am a summer person.” —Elin Hilderbrand

The longest day of the year visits the world today: it’s the first day of summer, and while the light is welcomed, today is forecast to be a little cooler, with a projected high of 18°C. We thus enter the most favourable time of year, when the skies are pleasant and the air comfortable, conducive for hiking along the river in the mountains or unwinding with a novel and cold beverage in hand. A year ago today, I was gearing up for my graduate thesis defense, and while I was feeling quite confident that things would go well, there was also a healthy bit of nervousness. When the defense ended, I was most relieved, having passed, and with that, a new chapter on life began for me. I was set to begin work, but before that, I attended the ALIFE XV Conference in Cancún. Since then, I’ve been working: time has passed in the blink of an eye, and we’re stepping into another summer. While the days of summer research have long passed, and I’m busy all weekdays, this has done little to diminish my plans for the summer. I’ve yet to capitalise on the complementary parks pass that I received as a part of the celebrations for Canada’s 150th Anniversary; on my list of places in the nearby National Parks to explore include Takakkaw Falls and Peyto Lake of the Canadian Rockies. Closer to home, walking around parks in the neighbourhood and ending with shaved ice is also a simple but pleasant way to enjoy the summer. Finally, the long days of summer also afford me time to return to my old hobbies of sketching and reading. It’s a far cry from last year, when I spent all of my walking moments preparing for the thesis: without this occupying my every thought, free time is finally, for the lack of a better word, free. Of course, today is a Wednesday, so I will be heading off for work once this post is done: the weather may be warm, but iOS apps won’t implement or test themselves.

  • The vast blue skies and long, warm days of summer are a blessing, a far fry from winter days where it is forty below. It is a time of adventure, both large and small, and for appreciating the small things. While it’s my favourite time of year, summer melancholy is very much a real thing — it is caused by a longing for something (or someone) and a regret that opportunity gives way to routine. It’s an unpleasant experience, but one that can be surmounted by a willingness to appreciate the small things, whether it be a particularly beautiful sunset or a chance to enjoy a cold drink under sunny skies following a walk. Of course, there’s also the Steam Summer Sale to look forwards to: I’m eyeing Ori and the Blind Forest, Poker Night at the Inventory 2 and the legendary Stay! Stay! Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  • Because I travelled in May, a time where temperatures remain comfortable in both Japan and Hong Kong, I have the whole summer free to enjoy the pleasant air in and around my city, as opposed to burning alive in the heat of a Tokyo or Hong Kong summer. I used to wonder what it would be like to live in the inaka, but ever since my travels, I’ve realised that the quiet suburban parks of Canada are about as peaceful as the rural parts of Japan. A day well spent is one that need not necessarily involve my overly-large Steam library — one spent out in the sunshine of a nearby park is surprisingly similar to walking in the inaka and is remarkably cathartic.

In my summer solstice post for last year, I mentioned that Your Name was something on my radar. Originally, I had been anticipating a release pattern similar to that of The Garden of Words, but this was plainly not the case. As such, my review and discussion for it will come out in late July. With Your Name in mind, the future of this blog finally enters the discussion: because this blog has proved surprisingly resilient against matters of scheduling, the only thing I can say with any confidence is that blog posts will be written as I find the time to do so. Sometimes, there will be more time, and other times, there will not be any time. However, I am not packing it in any time soon: besides Your Name, Koe no Katachi, Kono Sekai no Ktasumi ni, Kantai Collection: The Movie, Gundam Origin and Girls und Panzer: Final Chapter remain on my stack of anime to write about. In addition, Battlefield 1 has proven to be one incredible adventure, and I will be looking to continue telling my stories as walk the path to rank 110 (hitting the level cap has been something I’d never done before), and finally, with several new games on the horizon, there will be material to write about, as well. This blog’s continued existence is also largely thanks to you, the readers: knowing that folks are enjoying the discussion and content here is more than sufficient a motivation to write. Having said this, two more posts will be coming out later today: I will be looking at Metro: Exodus and revisit The Garden of Words with a renewed perspective.