The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Lucky☆Star OVA: Review and Reflections After Another Long Weekend

“I take time to watch anime. I don’t know whether I’m allowed to, but I do it anyway.” –Larry Wall

A year after Lucky☆Star‘s airing concluded, Kyoto Animation released an original video animation for the series. This OVA consists of six acts; the first details the day of Minami’s dog, Cherry, and what occurs when various friends, including Miyuki, Patricia, Yukata and Hiyori visit. Minami is saddened to see Cherry disinterested in her dinner. Later, Kagami and Tsukasa accompany Konata and Nanako play an MMORPG. While Kagami is frustrated by the gamer-speak Konata and Nanako use, Tsukasa struggles with the game mechanics. During Golden Week, Nanako ends up power-levelling since she has nothing better to do. When Kagami falls asleep while house-sitting, she dreams about being whisked away to a Cinderella-like ball by Konata, which turns out to be a martial arts tournament. Konata’s magic depletes as Kagami returns home, leading Kagami to reluctantly recite an embarrassing spell that she says aloud, to Tsukasa’s shock. Later, Tsukasa attempts to become more noticeable by beating Kagami’s team in volleyball, but ends up failing and laments that she’ll remain a side character. The penultimate act has Miyuki recall a misadventure where their group wound up lost, and despite attempting some survival tactics, ultimately are found when Konata re-enters an area cellular coverage. Although a furious Nanako lectures them, she ends up relenting and sits the four down to a late dinner. The OVA closes up with a horror-themed segment where Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki somehow end up becoming frogs after visiting a strange pet-shop, and a live-action Lucky☆Channel segment. This unusual collection of shorts was originally intended for release in June 2008, but production issues pushed it back to September 2008. While retaining the whimsical charm of the original series, the Lucky☆Star OVA also presented Kyoto Animation a chance to explore both side stories that occurred in parallel with Lucky☆Star, as well as a fantastical and non-sequitur moment through its penultimate act. In addition to being a fun addition to the series, the Lucky☆Star OVA represents providing Kyoto Animation a means of experimenting with different visual effects: the MMORPG segment is rendered entirely in the 3D aesthetic of a JRPG, and Kagami’s going to the ball similarly presents a chance to play with particle effects. All of this is wrapped up in an addition to Lucky☆Star‘s repertoire of amusing anime jokes, so as far as experiences go, the Lucky☆Star OVA earns a passing grade.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to me that until now, I’ve never actually sat down and watched the Lucky☆Star OVA in full: previously, I’d caught glimpses of things like Kagami’s ill-fated attempt to dissuade Konata from taking her to the ball, or the MMORPG segment. In retrospect, I’m glad to have done so: while this series of vignettes does not add much to Lucky☆Star in the way of story, it does represent forty minutes of comedy. My favourite of the acts are, unsurprisingly, the MMORPG segments, which has Konata and Nanako discussing their game in gamer-speak (incorrectly identified as 1337-speak in most other places online), and Kagami’s attempts to dissuade Konata from taking her to the ball. The former is hilarious because, even though I’m not an RPG fan by any stretch (I enjoy games of the genre, but do not put in a large amount of time into things), I fully understand and follow the conversations Konata has with Nanako. Similarly, Kagami’s going to the ball and being kitted with Miku Hatsune’s outfit from Vocaloid was hilarious. While Lucky☆Star has previously shown Kagami as being tsundere with a short fuse, her anger at Konata here was taken to the next level. The Lucky☆Star OVA also brings with it surprises: Tsukasa has always been a quiet, shy character, but her being defeated in volleyball proved surprisingly poignant. Although she’s a lead in Lucky☆Star, her counterpart in CLANNAD was indeed a secondary character, so this may have been a callback to CLANNAD. Miyuki’s recounting her group getting lost in camping also proved heart-warming. With a combination of bad jokes (courtesy of Konata) and warmth (Nanako relenting in the end), this vignette shows how additional time can be used to create additional contexts for the characters to bounce off one another in. I was not particularly fond of the first or final acts, although even these have their moments, and beyond the likes of CLANNAD, numerous other series are referenced. Konata’s costume references Yuki’s witch costume in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, while the “jet stream attack” is a callback to Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Black Tri-Stars. Kagami also promises not to absorb a soul, a reference to Soul Eater. Despite a weaker opening and ending, the Lucky☆Star OVA still offers a solid experience in bringing back the antics and characters to a series that gently parodies the demographic who would be most likely to watch and enjoy such a show.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Although the Lucky☆Star OVA’s first vignette opens up in a light-hearted, comical manner, a day’s worth of trouble causes Minami’s dog, Cherry, to lose her appetite during dinner, leaving Minami saddened. Each of the stories in the Lucky☆Star OVA are standalone tales that, while lacking context, provide an additional chance for the characters to interact with one another. I would imagine that a day of attention has left Cherry exhausted, but there was a melancholy about this first act that made it a little trickier to follow.

  • Lucky☆Star began with a focus on Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki, but as the series continued, the cast expanded greatly: the show had already been quite lively even with just four central characters, but adding Yutaka, Minami, Patricia, Hiyori and Izumi created a much deeper, richer world. With twenty-four episodes, Lucky☆Star harkens back to a time when creators had more breathing room to produce anime. Today, studios work on multiple series simultaneously, so things like Gundam SEED wouldn’t be possible: year-long projects divert resources away from other series. It would be exceedingly rare for slice-of-life series like Azumanga Daioh and Lucky☆Star to receive 2-cours out of the gates, and studios would instead split the series up into several seasons, so they can work on other projects, and continue on with additional seasons only if profits are good.

  • Of the shorts in the Lucky☆Star OVA, the MMORPG act stands as one of my favourites; it follows Konata, Kagami and Tsukasa playing through a game together with their instructor, Nanako Kuroi. While Konata and Nanako are experienced veterans, Kagami is able to keep up, but poor Tsukasa struggles with the game mechanics, and at one point, states that she had assumed that spell levelling was automatic. Tsukasa of Lucky☆Star had been a little air-headed but adorable in her mannerisms, unfamiliar with the otaku world that Konata, and to a lesser extent, Kagami, know of.

  • One aspect of this vignette I enjoyed was the fact that I was able to follow everything Konata and Nanako converse about; I’m not anywhere nearly as versed in RPGs as I am in FPS, but I became familiar with the terminology, and enjoy the genre, as a result of a friend’s private Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft servers from back when we were secondary students. I will note here that the RPG jargon Konata and Nanako use isn’t “1337-speak”: it’s simply RPG shorthand. Proper 1337-speak include things like calling people n00bs, pwning foes and the like.

  • Kagami’s reaction to Nanako and Konata picking up brand-name items in-game is my own: I prefer playing games without the inclusion of exclusive items that may break gameplay. As the group go through their game, Konata, Kagami and Tsukasa note they will be offline to enjoy Golden Week, and come back to find that since Nanako had nothing better to do, she ended up power-levelling her character. Nowadays, I spend most of my long weekends out and about, enjoying the weather, do things I don’t normally do and sleep in.

  • Of all the shorts in the Lucky☆Star OVA, my favourite is when the Hiiragis go to a ball of sorts, leaving Kagami to house-sit. She falls asleep, and is surprised to find Konata at her place, insisting that Kagami secretly also wanted to go but was too tsundere to admit it. Whimsical and fanciful, this Cinderella-like arc is charming and amusing, as well: Kagami in Lucky☆Star had reigned back her tendencies somewhat and only ever expresses mild frustration wherever Konata is concerned, so dropping the pair into a dream-like world means opening things up to more outrageous moments.

  • It is here that Lucky☆Star‘s reference to other series become visible: having now seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in full, it’s easy to spot that Konata’s witch outfit is a deliberate call-back to Yuki’s costume for their movie, complete with a crude wand named similarly to the wand Haruhi supplied Yuki with. It is generally accepted that one should watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya before Lucky☆Star so that all references can be understood, but in my infinite wisdom, I ended up watching Lucky☆Star first. I was moderately familiar with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya at that point, so I appreciated some of the call-backs, but it wasn’t until I did rewatches of both that the genius of said call-backs became apparent.

  • Lucky☆Star makes numerous references to other series, and as a result, is seen as a series for otaku: it is crammed with references to older works, and to an unseasoned viewer such as myself, there are many things that can feel unfamiliar. This is the reason why reception to Lucky☆Star among English-speakers is so mixed. Lucky☆Star draws most of its humour from the non sequitur conversations resulting from Konata’s profound knowledge of otaku subculture, and the frustration this creates in Kagami. As a result, some of the jokes can be difficult to follow and feel out of place as a result.

  • Conversely, those who are familiar with otaku subculture, anime, manga and Japanese games will find themselves right at home. The dramatic differences in reception towards Lucky☆Star is precisely why I hold that there is most certainly not a single, universal and objective metric for gauging slice-of-life works. Enjoyment of Lucky☆Star is entirely dependent on one’s background, hobbies and interests, so what may be flat and uninteresting for one viewer may be a hilarious and thoughtful parody to another viewer.

  • The highlight in the Cinderella vignette occurs when Konata decides to swap out Kagami’s outfit for something a little more befitting of an event. After Kagami rejects the maid and miko outfits, Konata gives Kagami Rin Tōsaka’s outfit from Fate/Stay Night. Rin is probably one of the most iconic tsundere characters around, and it is befitting of Kagami. However, when even this is turned down, Konata decks Kagami out in Miku Hatsune’s outfit for kicks, complete with the giant green onion. I’ve never understood the green onion piece, but from what little I know, it’s supposed to be significant for some folks.

  • When the little star falls from Konata’s wand, Konata is unable to restore Kagami to her original clothing: to the best of my recollection, this is the angriest that Kagami gets in Lucky☆Star, and she’s a few seconds away from kicking Konata’s ass. Despite the simplicity of the art in this scene, Kagami’s indignation can be felt, showing how expressive anime can be. Luckily for Konata, she and Kagami arrive at the venue before anything else can happen, and viewers are greeted by the sight of a martial arts tournament of sorts, where participants fight for Misao’s hand in marriage.

  • In Lucky☆Star, Misao joins the main cast later on, being a spirited and athletic character who prefers track and field, and video games, to studying. Although I suppose it would’ve been fun to see Kagami actually fight, in dreams, one’s personalities and inhibitions might still be present: much as how in my dreams, I still act as I normally would in reality, everything Kagami does in her dream is consistent with how she typically acts in Lucky☆Star. Konata doesn’t push the point and prepares to take Kagami home, but delays mean her own magic wears off, leaving Kagami in a bit of a pickle. Konata reveals an embarrassing pass-phrase that would restore everything to normal, and as Kagami awakens from her nap, she recites this out loud, to Tsukasa’s horror.

  • What Kagami says exactly has been the subject of no small discussion and remained a bit of a mystery for the past 13 years: half-asleep, she slurs the go…kitai. If I had to guess, “ご一緒に行きたい” (Hepburn goissho ni ikitai) would probably be the closest to what Kagami says: literally meaning “I want to come together with…”, it’s probably a euphemism of sorts. Although the OVA cuts the line out to avoid trouble, Tsukasa’s reaction says everything the viewer needs to know. Fans have long felt that Kagami and Konata would make for a good couple, and while it is true that banter between the two forms some of Lucky☆Star‘s best comedy, there is no evidence otherwise to suggest this is the case.

  • Misunderstandings in anime are amplified by the use of time and space; Bill Watterson has, in special collections of Calvin and Hobbes, spoken to the idea that humour also entails giving viewers time to let the outcomes sink in. In newspaper comics back when panels were large enough to support this, it would mean making use of visual breaks and empty space to create an impression that time had passed. Anime is able to use pauses to achieve the same effect, giving viewers a chance to spot what’d just happened to Kagami, and really laugh at the predicament she’s now in.

  • For me, the fourth act was probably one of the more saddening ones; tired of being a secondary character in Kagami’s shadows, Tsukasa resolves to win a volleyball match over her. Mid-match, Kanata suggests using the “Jet Stream” attack: this is an iconic part of Mobile Suit Gundam, when the Black Tri-Stars line their mobile suits up in a line, with the front suits equipping ranged weapons and creating enough of an opening for the final mobile suit to use melee weapons to finish off a target. Gundam SEED Destiny has a trio of ZAFT pilots using the same manoeuvre to devastate their foes, although one must wonder how well this trick would work in volleyball.

  • However, despite her best efforts, and even with Kanata’s unexpectedly good physical ability, Tsukasa ends up taking a ball to the face and ends up smashing the ball into the net, costing her team the match.  There was something heartbreaking about seeing Tsukasa stumbling, only to get back up and continue trying her hardest, although not all viewers feel the same way, finding the punishment that Tsukasa endures to be hilarious. Lucky☆Star is a comedy, after all, but for me, I’ve never really taken enjoyment in watching people suffer unnecessarily.

  • The arc where Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki get separated from their group while on a school trip offered some interesting humour: since they’ve got no cell reception, and Konata’s left the compass and map on the bus, the four can only wander the forest in the hopes they get back together with their class. Here, Miyuki is referred to as Miwiki, a callback to the fact that of everyone, she’s got a broad range of knowledge on wide topics. After attempting to ration their food and navigate the forest, Konata is surprised to learn she’s getting a call.

  • It turns out Nanako had been trying to call them for quite some time and is furious with them at having gotten lost. Here, I am reminded of the similarities between Lucky☆Star‘s artwork and what’s seen in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which came almost a decade after Lucky☆Star. Kyoto Animation excels in both series where visual fidelity is life-like, and in series with a much simpler design: irrespective of whether or not the world is highly detailed or more basic, the animation is always smooth and fluid. I felt that here, Nanako bears resemblance to Kobayashi., but soon, her indignation evaporates, and she invites everyone to grab some curry as the day draws to an end.

  • Now that I’ve finished watching the Lucky☆Star OVA, I believe I’ve finished off everything in Lucky☆Star. I’ve heard that a spin-off, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, was released in 2013: this series follows a different set of characters but is set in the same universe. I am curious to give this one a go, although per my modus operandi, I can only say that I’ll watch this one once I’ve got the chance. Looking ahead for what I’ve got lined up here, beyond a talk for Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!, I also am looking to wrap up My Dress-Up Darling on short order and do an introspective post on how my MCAT preparations were going a decade previously.

The Lucky☆Star OVA represented a hidden addition to the series after it’d released back in 2008, and although this OVA is not necessary to a complete Lucky☆Star experience, I imagine that fans of the series would nonetheless wish to check it out for themselves such that they can wholly enjoy the series. The challenges of being an anime fan harkening back to a time when broadband and streaming services was practically nil are apparent: in this era, the viewing rooms at anime conventions became the de facto means of checking series out. This was often the only time fans could try out different series and expand their horizons: visitors to anime conventions even planned their days so that they could strike a balance between guest panels and autograph sessions, and viewing series of interest. Nowadays, with ubiquitous fibre internet and streaming services, viewing rooms have been rendered obsolete: one could easily watch their shows at any time of year, on any device of their choosing. In my experiences, I’ve seen how viewing rooms can be seen as a burden on conventions. When I had volunteered at Otafest back in 2019, the viewing rooms were nearly vacant when I made the rounds of them to check in on things. As early as late 2014, the viewing rooms had already been on the decline: I had ducked into a room screening GochiUsa to catch my breath, and it was empty. A pair of attendees came into the room, saw GochiUsa on the screen and promptly left. My experiences have made a clear case for why conventions should consider reducing the number of viewing rooms they have. Otafest screened the first six episodes of The Aquatope on White Sand as a part of its lineup this year, a series I finished five months earlier. Were I in attendance at Otafest this year, I wouldn’t have planned my day around catching The Aquatope on White Sand, and I imagine that most visitors would be present for activities such as panels, exhibitors, musical performances and cosplay contests, which to remain popular: as anime conventions move forward, the viewing room will likely represent a drain on resources, requiring a convention to pay for both additional square footage of space to rent, and licensing fees to stream the shows. Arguments to preserve viewing rooms, beyond the fact that they are quiet spaces for fans to catch their breath, such places are essential for allowing socialisation and allow visitors sample a series before deciding whether or not one should get into it. While there is merit in this perspective, I contend there is limited value in showing recently-aired series. Instead, fewer rooms, showing more obscure and difficult-to-access content, would offer attendees with more value, while at the same time, continue to provide visitors with an oasis of sorts to take five. Difficult-to-access content, today’s equivalents to the Lucky☆Star OVA, would be perfectly suited for the re-imagined viewing rooms, allowing attendees to view shows that they might otherwise not have a chance to. While the technology and accessibility has advanced dramatically since the Lucky☆Star OVA’s release in 2008, some series still remain remarkably tricky to get to, and many of these series deserve to be enjoyed.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~: Reflections and Reminiscence on A Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Five Years Earlier, and Revisiting My First Visual Novel

“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” –Donald Richie

On this day in 2017, I was sitting on the benches at the Vancouver International Airport awaiting a flight back home. Although exhausted, I was immensely satisfied with my excursion. Early in May, I boarded a plane bound for Narita International Airport. We’d arrived later in the evening, so after reaching our hotel, we had time for dinner at a Chinese-style restaurant at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport before hitting the hay. The next morning, after a full Western breakfast, we boarded our ride and headed straight to the heart of Tokyo to check out the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Tokyo Imperial Palace. After stopping briefly in Ginza for a shabu-shabu lunch, the afternoon consisted of walking the Sumida River and exploring the Kogan-ji temple. The day wrapped up with an exquisite Wagyu beef and snow crab dinner at the Hotel Heritage. Here, I had the chance to soak in their onsen: having seen the procedure countless times in anime, I felt right at home in cleaning up and enjoying the experience. On the second day of our lightning tour, we travelled deep into the mountains of Yamanashi, stopping at Heiwa Park near Gotemba to view Mount Fuji from a distance. Following yakiniku, we visited Oshino Village and Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station. From here, we drove out to Shirokabako Resort by Mount Tateshima, where we spent the night. The next day opened with a drive to Magome-juku, where we took in the quiet of the Japanese countryside and had a traditional lunch before being whisked away to the heart of Nagoya to check out Atsuta Shrine. The final stop for this third day was Gifu: we were now within a stone’s throw from Kyoto, and on our final full day, we entered Kyoto itself, stopping by the Kinkakuji in the morning. Here, I enjoyed matcha ice cream and the iconic golden-leafed walls of Kyoto’s most famous temple under drizzling skies. Following a kaiseki lunch near Yasaka Shrine, we visited Todaji Temple in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer population. The day concluded in Osaka: after taking in the sights of the Sakai shopping district, we stopped for an omurice dinner, and I swung by a local bookstore to grab a copy of Kimi no Na Wa‘s manga before turning in: the next day, I’d been slated to fly on over to Hong Kong for the trip’s second leg, so early in the morning, we made our way over to Kansai International Airport. Although a flight out usually is more a matter of procedure, a pair of surprises awaited me here at Kansai International Airport; I was able to try authentic okonomiyaki, and I came upon a copy of the Kimi no Na Wa artbook while waiting for my flight. Like the protagonist Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, I had a very short window in which to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Japan, and I similarly realised an inevitable truth: that it would take a lifetime to fully experience everything Japan’s got to offer: this game had come into my path some five years prior to my travels to Japan in 2017.

As the story goes, on a miserable late autumn afternoon, I was typing away in the quiet of my office space: having finished building a sodium-potassium pump on the same principles as the renal filtration model I’d designed during the previous summer, I was working on a term paper ahead of a presentation for my research course. As I reached the section on my findings, one of my friends appeared at the lab. His classes for the day had ended, and he had something amusing to show me: a YouTuber was playing through a visual novel about visiting Japan, and was doing a throw-your-voice style voiceover of the dialogue. I’d only been mildly interested at the time, and despite having picked the game up to try it out, Go! Go! Nippon! remained a bit of a curiosity for me until, four years after its initial release, the 2015 expansion was announced. The additional content and visual improvements were enough for me to pick this up, and I’d beaten one of the Makoto routes posthaste. However, a post never materialised, and it is with some irony that I reflect on how my typical tendency for procrastination meant that I would only write about the game a full five years after I’d returned home from my travels to Japan and Hong Kong. The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! is simple: a foreign traveller decides to visit Japan at the behest of two pen-pals he’d met in an online chatroom, and upon arriving, discovers they’re sisters, Makoto and Akira Misaki. Despite the initial awkwardness, said visitor gets a very personalised tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous destinations, and along the way, becomes closer to Makoto or Akira, depending on the choice of destinations visited. Despite its hokey premise, Go! Go! Nippon! has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, being part visual novel and part Lonely Planet travel guide: the game is remarkably detailed about the history and information surrounding some of Tokyo’s attractions, from Ginza and Akihabara, to Shibuya and Mount Takao. The setup provides players the ideal environment to acclimatise to what a visual novel is like, using a story that is relatable for overseas players who might be dreaming of one day setting foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. In this way, despite being cheesy on first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! ends up being a fantastic experience for both introducing players to visual novel mechanics, as well as providing a guide to Tokyo’s sights to the same level of depth as a travel book might. The visual novel consequently received a pair of expansions, which brought Go! Go! Nippon! into the world of HD and provided animated character models using Unity. In addition, additional locations were added along with a more sophisticated decision tree that brings with it, new events for players to check out. The concept has proven quite enduring: Makoto and Akira have since become Virtual YouTubers, and the developers, OVERDRIVE, have also been surprised with the success of this series and its characters. When they’d started the Virtual YouTubers programme with Makoto and Akira, they’d made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how if they ever hit ten thousand subscribers, they would begin development on Go! Go! Nippon! 2. This particular milestone has since been reached, and all eyes are now on OVERDRIVE as they begin work on a sequel to a game that I’m certain that no one expected to reach the heights that it did.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that I ended up playing through and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! five years after my travels to Japan; a trip to Japan costs around 2400 CAD for an individual, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! and its expansions together are two orders of magnitude cheaper (since I bought Go! Go! Nippon! during sales over the years, my total for all three games was 14.91 CAD). However, despite the dramatic contrasts in the manner in which one gets to experience Japan, there are also striking similarities, attesting to how well Go! Go! Nippon! is able to capture the feelings of travelling Japan. While on first glance, Japan possesses a dramatically different culture, set of values and customs compared to somewhere like Canada, setting foot in Japan also made it apparent that the similarities were greater in number than differences. Outside of Japan’s numerous temples, attractions and sights, I found that whether it was Tokyo, Gifu, Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, the roads and streets were filled with people getting from point A to point B. Some were salarymen headed to work, while others were students who were out and about on their daily activities, no differently than how my days ordinarily went back home. My vacation had allowed me to see Japan’s sights, both iconic and ordinary. Seeing tranquil power surrounding a shrine to the striking views of Mount Fuji, enjoy some of their finest food, including kaiseki, Hokkaido Snow Crab and Wagyu beef and iconic experiences like soaking in an onsen was lovely, but I also had a chance to order ramen in a restaurant where the staff did not speak English (or Cantonese), buy manga from a bookstore and sit down to an omurice in a department store restaurant. The scope of my experiences thus ranged from the touristy, to the everyday, and in retrospect, this is what had made this vacation especially memorable. Recalling this allows me to better understand the reason why some folks seek out authentic experiences that allow them to do what locals do now, and having now revisited Go! Go! Nippon!, it becomes clear that this is also one of the reasons behind the game’s charm: Makoto and Akira take the players to iconic locations around Tokyo, but also gives one a chance to see things from a local’s perspective, whether it be a Japanese summer festival, fireworks performance or even Comiket itself. Thus, with this being said, being able to travel to Japan for real, curiously enough, gave me a better sense of appreciation for what Go! Go! Nippon! was going for, too.

Additional Remarks, Screenshots and Commentary

  • It may surprise readers to learn that, when this blog was about three months old, I’d actually written a first impressions piece about Go! Go! Nippon!. Back then, my posts had no consistent format and style; that particular post had six screenshots, and barely covers any of my reflections surrounding Go! Go! Nippon! (the idea of a reflection would come about four months later, after I finished cell and molecular biology). This post, then, aims to offer a slightly more comprehensive set of thoughts on what is my first-ever visual novel experience on top of giving me a place to reminisce about my travels five years earlier.

  • Typically, visual novels simply entail reading the text, gaining a modicum of understanding as to what’s happening and then playing through by making decisions at critical junctures, decisions consistent with one’s own values to see what the outcome is. Depending on one’s choices, an outcome can end up better or worse, pushing players to evaluate their own decision-making in specific contexts. Go! Go! Nippon! is a little more gentle in this regard in that there are no wrong choices. One’s itinerary in Go! Go! Nippon! impacts which of Makoto or Akira players spend more time with, and this cascades into a tearful ending that, sometimes, will end with a romantic outcome.

  • On my own trip to Japan, I ended up visiting Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine just a stone’s throw from Shinjuku Koen), Ginza and Sumida Park, just across the river from the Tokyo Skytree. All of these locations are fairly close to the spots that are available in Go! Go! Nippon!: in its original incarnation, Go! Go! Nippon! had been focused on Tokyo’s attractions, but the expansions allow players to check out Mount Takao and Kyoto. On my trip to Tokyo in 2017, I did not have a chance tom visit Asakusa, one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo.

  • As a natural part of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s progression, players will “accidentally” walk in on Makoto drying herself after a shower. Of Makoto and Akira, Makoto is better-endowed, and it is in the expansion games, where the character models are animated, that players really appreciate the HD updates bring to the table. The newer games are rendered in Unity, and I imagine would use the game engine’s rigging to handle animations. Attention is paid to details: when Makoto perks up or leans forward, oscillation is also present in her model. As an aside, I prefer showering in the evening, so were I to take the protagonist’s place, there’d be no chance of this happening.

  • Dialogue with Akira and Makoto is such that players gain a bit of insight into their character; Makoto feels weighted down by expectations and is graceful, studying English at the local university, while Akira is a fantastic cook, tsundere and feels like she lives in Makoto’s shadows. In between Akira and Makoto explaining the history and details behind every location to the level of detail that would be appropriate for a Lonely Planet travel guide, one gains the sense that Makoto and Akira are full-fledged characters whom, in addition to their profound knowledge of Japan, its attractions and history, also have their own unique traits.

  • One could say that Akira and Makoto’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic: both bring up nuances and details that really illustrate the history of a given area, but isn’t something that one could readily just recall off the top of their head. To put things in perspective, while I’m familiar with the history and trivia of some of the most famous attractions in Calgary, I can’t just bring this stuff up in casual conversation with the same level of detail. Granted, this is a visual novel, which allows OVERDRIVE to thoroughly research locations and incorporate them into the game, allowing Go! Go! Nippon! to be both instructive and entertaining.

  • Folks looking to learn about the locations visited in Go! Go! Nippon! can easily look up their details online, and Go! Go! Nippon!‘s expansions include a link to Google Maps, allowing one to get the precise spot that players visit in the game. Here, I’ve opted to try an izakaya out; the Japanese equivalent of a pub, izakaya are quite different than a pub in that food is served over a duration of time and is shared by a party. Having Akira and Makoto around would make an izakaya easier to experience: while my rudimentary Japanese allowed me to order food in a more conventional setting, I’m certain that without a guidebook at my side, an izakaya would be trickier to order at.

  • On the second day, players “accidentally” walk in on Akira changing after Makoto asks them to check in and see if she’d awaken yet. Unlike Makoto, who’d taken things in stride and is swift to forgive, Akira’s reaction is par the course for what one might expect in reality, and in most anime. Akira’s dissatisfaction is most apparent when she swaps out sugar for salt in the player’s coffee, but seeing the player taking their lumps leads Akira to forgive them in the end. This is where my old post ends: in 2012, my patience for playing visual novels was nil. In the decade that’s elapsed, I’ve come to appreciate a much wider variety of games.

  • From here on out, I venture into a side of Go! Go! Nippon! that I’d not previously visited; my choice of destinations for my first full play-through of the 2016 expansion took me to destinations that were quite similar to those I’d visited in my 2017 trip. This particular trip had been billed as “美食” (jyutpimg mei5 sik6, literally “beautiful eats”) oriented: attractions had been secondary to visiting places with particularly fancy Japanese cuisine, and as a result, the places we chose to visit were a bit more inconspicuous, selected to be closer to the dining venues.

  • While we didn’t visit the Tokyo Skytree itself, or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine as a part of this trip, the locations we did end up hitting were quite scenic and enjoyable in their own right. A bonus was that the crowds here were fewer, allowing us to spend less time in lines and more time exploring. In retrospect, I am glad that I picked the 美食 oriented approach: especially nowadays, it is possible to gain a good measure of what an attraction feels like using virtual reality and Google Maps. However, there is absolutely no equivalent for being able to sit down to a meal in another country and enjoy what foods a nation has to offer.

  • Unlike the original Go! Go! Nippon!, the 2016 expansion gives players a chance to visit Kyoto, as well. Kyoto was day four for me: having spent the first day in Tokyo, our second day was in Yamanashi, and the third day was spent in Gifu prefecture. On the morning of the fourth day, the Kinkakuji was the only destination I visited; this is an iconic part of Kyoto, and because we were there on a Saturday, the crowds were immense. Here at the Kinkakuji, I remember marvelling at how brilliant this gold-leafed temple was, even on an overcast day.

  • Aside from spotting some tourists decked out in maiko outfits (it was 1100 in the morning, and real maiko usually begin making their rounds at around 1700), I also had a chance to sample the iconic matcha soft-serve ice cream. Japan’s soft serve is in a category on its own: while visiting Oshino village at the foot of Mount Fuji, I ended up going for a blueberry ice cream, as well. Enjoying these smaller things accentuated my experiences, and I had been glad to have brought the equivalent of 250 CAD worth of Yen in cash for this trip. This allowed me to buy things where credit cards wouldn’t work: while Japan is an ultra-modern society, I was quite surprised to learn most places didn’t accept credit cards.

  • The Kinkakuji is such an integral part of Kyoto that every single anime with a class trip to Kyoto will inevitably feature this park, and of note is the fact that both K-On! and Kinirio Mosaic: Thank You!! visit the area as a part of their third year class trips. Besides being an iconic landmark with a storied history, I know the Kinkakuji best as Futurama‘s “Omaha, Nebraska”, and recall that one of the Kinkakuji’s most famous tales is that it was burned to a crisp by a monk-in-training during the 50s. Its lesser-known cousin is the Ginkakuji, which, contrary to its name, is not covered with silver plating.

  • Go! Go! Nippon! captures the look-and-feel of a quiet Kyoto side street perfectly; after my visit to the Kinkakuji ended, I headed on over to Torihisa, a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which numerous small dishes are served in an artistic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch; kaiseki had been high on the list of things I’ve wished to try. Torihisa is located across the street from Maruyama Park, home of Yasaka Shrine. Maruyama Park is a fantastic place for hanami,  but I’d arrived about two months too late.

  • Although the protagonist of Go! Go! Nippon! has two full days in Kyoto to explore, I was on a more rigid schedule: as soon as lunch ended, we immediately set course for Nara Park, home to their famous sika deer. The portrayals of Nara Park in anime is no joke: the deer are very friendly towards people, and I watched one deer boldly snatch a tour pamphlet from a visitor’s hand here. After Nara had wrapped up, my final destination was Osaka. During my last evening there, I had dinner at an omurice restaurant and decided to go with a curry-katsu omelet rice; this was an all-in one that allowed me to try authentic Japanese curry and tonkatsu in conjunction with what is a contemporary Japanese comfort dish.

  • Just like that, my week had come to a close. Go! Go! Nippon! makes it clear to players that there is so much to see and do in Japan that a single week will be insufficient to experience things in full. This message is accentuated by the visual novel format; one has the opportunity to go back to a save point and make different decisions, allowing for a more complete experience. The equivalent to doing this in real life would be prohibitively expensive, but I was impressed with the breadth of my experiences over the course of a week.

  • If I had to pick the most standout moment in a vacation that was one long pleasant memory, it would be on the first full night. After we spent the day exploring Tokyo, we went out over to Saitama’s Heritage resort, a secluded retreat on the western edge of Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park. This evening saw the fanciest meal of the entire trip: an exquisite Wagyu beef nabesashimi and several small, artfully presented dishes, including unagi, pickled daikon and a side of fried potato croquettes. This was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. There is an old saying of unknown origin: the Chinese eat with their mouths (taste is king), the Japanese eat with their eyes (presentation matters) and the Koreans eat with their stomachs (a meal should be satisfying). I’m not sure where this comes from, but seeing the artful presentation of meals in Japan, I confirm this certainly holds true.

  • To round out what was an excellent dinner, I set foot inside the onsen, and because of my timing, I had the entire baths to myself. After cleaning myself off thoroughly, I lowered my body into the waters and felt all of my aches melt away. Meals on the other days were still solid: the second night saw me at a buffet at Shirakaba Resort Ikenotaira Hotel. What stood out most to me here was the fact that they had bakke and fiddlehead tempura available. We’d travelled through Yamanashi so we could see Mount Fuji from several different vantage points on this day, and although Mount Fuji remained completely obscured by cloud throughout most of the day (as Yuru Camp△‘s Rin would describe it, “wearing a hat”), we did end up hitting the Fifth Station at Narusawa for an up-close-and-personal look at Japan’s most famous mountain. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona start their ascent of Mount Fuji here in Yama no Susume‘s second season, so my second day essentially had me visiting Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume destinations.

  • On day three, we continued through the mountains of Nagano on our way into Gifu. The highlight of this day was the stop at Magome-juku, the forty-third of the stations along the Nakasendō trail. It’s a beautiful village perched on a hillside, and after venturing from the top of their main street to the bottom, we stopped for lunch at Magomekan Food Stands. Their set lunch was as beautiful to behold, as it was generous in portion sizes, and tasty to eat. Featuring rolled omlette, karaage and grilled fish, as well as a massive bowl of noodles, it was the perfect way to round out the morning’s activities.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, I’ve reached the end of my first playthrough, and thanks to the way I roll, I ended up with what is considered the best ending for the Makoto route: I chose a Makoto destination for days one and three, and did an Akira destination for day two. In this way, I unlocked the ending where players and Makoto ring a bell together. Although Makoto struggles to be forward about her feelings, in the end, she comes through and openly returns the player’s feelings. Contemporary reviewers found the whirlwind romance aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! to be completely contrived, out of the blue.

  • However, players with enough maturity will quickly realise that Makoto and Akira are representations of the joys of visiting Japan itself: in this way, Go! Go! Nippon! might be seen as a visual portrayal of falling in love with Japan over the course of a week, coming to see for oneself the nation’s pluses and minuses, and deciding for oneself if their initial impressions were on the mark or need rectification. Whether it is house-hunting, travel or romance, there are many commonalities. All involve that initial honeymoon-like phase where everything feels perfect, and how over time, imperfections manifest. What happens next then depends on the person: individuals willing to accept imperfections and embrace what they’ve fallen in love with will find happiness, while those who cannot accept the imperfections will restart the process anew.

  • In my case, nailing the Makoto route on first try was quite entertaining. However, in the spirit of playing through Go! Go! Nippon! properly, I switched over to one of my other saves so I could check out the destinations I’d not visited on my first run. Tokyo Skytree ended up being first on my list; while in Tokyo, I gazed wistfully across the Sumida river: this hadn’t been a destination we had in mind, and therefore, we skipped over checking out the tallest building in Tokyo. In retrospect, I am okay with this choice: that day had been overcast, and the view from the top wouldn’t have been quite as impressive.

  • In 2015, following my journey to Taiwan, I ended up going to Hong Kong, and here, I did check out the Sky100 observation deck, in addition to Taipei 101. On any given vacation in East Asia, Hong Kong inevitably becomes a part of the itinerary because the flights are actually more economical this way, and it gives me a chance to visit family. Whenever heading into Hong Kong, I always get the feeling that I’m going home: to me, Hong Kong simply feels like a super-massive Chinatown, where Cantonese is the lingua franca. Unlike Japan, or Taiwan, where I only know enough phrases for the basics (and in the case of Japan, enough to surprise store clerks and servers at restaurants), I’ve got level three proficiency with Cantonese and can carry out conversations.

  • While I technically are a native Cantonese speaker, I have next to no exposure in legal and professional vocabulary, so I’m unable to conduct business in Cantonese; for instance, I have no idea how to describe the process for sorting out a build error in an Xcode project in Cantonese. While my Cantonese is practically native at the conversational level (I know enough slang to keep up with things, for instance), I hesitate to say I have native proficiency on things like a resume because that would imply I can read and write, as well. If I had to guess, I have level 2 proficiency with written Chinese, and level 3 proficiency with Cantonese, having worked in a Chinese language-setting previously.

  • Here, I accompany Akira to a ramen joint after picking the “ocean” option, and she demonstrates how to properly eat ramen. While it is appropriate to make some noise in Japan, the practise is not kosher in China or Hong Kong, but when I visited the ramen place in Gifu, I followed local customs just to express my enjoyment of the noodles all the same. Sushi etiquette is a little easier to follow, and this reminiscence did leave me with a hankering for sushi. Fortunately, there’s an excellent sushi place within walking distance now, and I’m making good on my promise to try things out. Yesterday, I ordered a combo with California, Volcano and Dynamite rolls, plus salmon, tuna and shrimp nigiri with a takoyaki: this was a very tasty lunch, a welcome change of pacing just before the Victoria Day Long Weekend arrived.

  • By now, I’ve become a ways more receptive of raw fish dishes: five years earlier, I ended up dousing my sashimi into the nabe at Heritage Resort, rendering it cooked, as back then, I wasn’t too fond of raw fish (exposure to shows like Yuru Camp△ have since broadened my mind). These days, I enjoy raw fish as much as I do cooked fish: the salmon and tuna nigiri were the highlights, being excellent with a dash of soy sauce. Although it is mentioned frequently, food is only a secondary aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!: being a virtual experience, things like food cannot be adequately mimicked. While one can see Akira explaining how to properly eat a ramen, one’s imagination must kick in to fill in the rest; imagination plays a very large part of enjoying visual novels: these games are quite static, and although they provide a few cues (such as sound effects and whatever visuals are available) to convey a moment, on top of what the dialogue yields, one must let their mind’s eye do the rest.

  • One of the numerous events players can unlock in Go! Go! Nippon! is the summer festival; although absent in the original, the expansions introduce events which unlock after certain conditions (flags) are met. The summer festival is a pleasant event and would allow players to really experience an authentic Japanese celebration; the natsumatsuri is equivalent to the state fairs of North America (or for my Canadian readers, the Calgary Stampede), featuring plenty of games and eats, plus performances and fireworks. If memory serves, unlocking the summer festival requires going to specific destinations on the first and second day.

  • Visual novels have a vocabulary that is quite related to programming. “Flags” in software usually refer to Booleans that control whether or not something happens (e.g. if the “isLoggedIn” flag is true, show the home screen, otherwise ,show the login screen). In visual novels, flags keep track of a player’s state, and “events” result from certain combinations of flags being set. I normally think of events as certain actions or inputs a program listens for, but in visual novel speak, “events” are simply things to show a player. Go! Go! Nippon! allows me to demonstrate this: if I visit certain destinations on days one and two, the flag for the Comiket event are set true, allowing me to experience it. It took me several attempts to get this right.

  • On the topic of conventions and gatherings like Comiket, it’s the May Long Weekend, and that means Otafest is now in full swing. Back in February, I declined to submit an application to volunteer, feeling it to be more prudent to leave time open in the event that my move had left me busier than anticipated. In typical fashion, I’ve finished all of the essential tasks, and even got my driver’s license and banking information updated to reflect the new address, so this long weekend, I’ve actually had more time than anticipated. However, I’ve decided against attending the local anime convention; having experienced Japan so thoroughly, the appeal of visiting an anime convention as a guest has diminished for me.

  • Instead, I became more interested in taking a more active role through volunteering, which gives me a chance to give back to the local community. My plans to continue volunteering at Otafest will depend on my schedule, so I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I’ll be returning closer to next year’s application deadline. For now, my long weekend has consisted of sleeping in, tending to housework and hitting the gym, before swinging by the local mall so I could pick up some new shirts and shorts. Afterwards, we sat down to our first-ever Southern Fried Chicken at the new place. This year’s Otafest looks like it’s a scaled-back event, and there’s nothing particularly stand-out on the schedule, so I’ve no qualms with sitting this one out in favour of a relaxing long weekend.

  • Go! Go! Nippon!‘s easy-to-use UI means the user experience is solid, and in this way, I was able to go through the game several times in order to accrue screenshots for this post. Here, I accompany Akira to Mount Takao, which Hinata and Aoi hit back in Yama no Susume‘s first season. Located about an hour from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao is about a ninety-minute hike in total and offers stunning views of Tokyo. It was nice to see Go! Go! Nippon! include a vast range of destinations into the expansions: the original game only had six destinations and two possible routes.

  • This would have made it considerably simpler to complete, and in retrospect, Go! Go! Nippon! “grows up” with players. The first game truly is a suitable introduction to the visual novel format for first timers, and I’ve long felt that while the game’s subtitle is My First Trip to Japan, the title also can count itself as My First Experience With a Visual Novel: the premise of travelling and exploring different destinations is a much gentler and accessible introduction to the format compared to something like CLANNAD or Higurashi, where making bad decisions can irrevocably alter the outcome of one’s experiences.

  • First-time players will also be unfamiliar with the save mechanics. Visual novel veterans will tell players to save right before decision branches come up. This is a matter of efficiency: if one makes a bad choice, they can instantly revert and make another pick. Similarly, in a game where a choice causes the story to open up in a different way, one instantly has a snapshot they can go to. On my first playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, I saved simply when I needed to leave the game, and this made revisiting the game somewhat cumbersome. By the 2015 expansion, I was better versed in how visual novels work and more ready to explore new routes.

  • In the present day, I know enough of the ins-and-outs so that I could easily navigate the storylines of Go! Go! Nippon! and swiftly acquire screenshots for this post. I am glad to have picked up the 2016 expansion; I had debated doing so when it first came out, having already dropped coin for the 2015 expansion, but after visiting Japan in 2017, I decided to bite the bullet and complete my Go! Go! Nippon! experience when the expansion went on discount during the summer of 2018. Although I had intended to play and write about Go! Go! Nippon! back then, 2018 was a bit of a more difficult time for me: my start-up was in dire straits, and I had been in the middle of discussions to take on a Xamarin project, which meant I needed to swiftly pick up Xamarin and C#.

  • Further to this, I had been invited to Battlefield V‘s closed alpha, and Harukana Receive was airing. Between everything that was going on, Go! Go! Nippon! was benched, and for four years after that, sat untouched in my Steam Library. The five-year mark to my return home from Japan, coupled with one of my friends bringing the game’s recent successes in the Virtual YouTuber scene and OVERDRIVE’s intention of making a sequel came together to provide the encouragement I needed to finish enjoying, and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! in its latest incarnation.

  • I am glad to have done so now: the game offers an interesting parallel with my own experiences, and although I didn’t have two kawaii guides walking me through the history and etiquette of various areas, I was able to see for myself the wonders of Japan, both historical and modern. While my experience with Go! Go! Nippon! started out as a joke, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in a game meant to instruct and gently poke fun at foreign impressions of Japan, there is a considerable amount of depth in the writing. For instance, Akira’s tsundere personality is not representative of Japan as a whole, but from a broader perspective, shows how something that initially seems difficult to understand has more to it than meets the eye. Akira feels like a close friend, a companion over time as players spend more time with her destinations.

  • I’ve long been a Makoto fan, and my decisions on my first run through Go! Go! Nippon! reflect this. However, in revisiting the game, I learnt more about Akira. In time, I came to like her character, as well. Finding newfound, pleasant surprises in the familiar is something I’ve always been fond of, and much as how revisiting Titanfall 2‘s campaign allowed me to get my paws on the EM-4 Cold War in one mission, re-playing Go! Go! Nippon! let me to see a side of the game, and a set of destinations that I’d otherwise never see.

  • The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! shows players why there is incentive to replay the game again and make different choices; this outcome would extend to different visual novels and similarly encourage players to go back and try things out again. In the case of CLANNAD, for instance, players can make choices to go down the most well-written central route, which follows Nagisa, or they can opt to check out Kyou, Kotomi and Fuu’s stories. However, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! does not have a persistent state that lingers even after one has completed multiple play-throughs, CLANNAD does: certain actions can only be achieved by revisiting the game multiple times and making smart decisions. In this way, Go! Go! Nippon! can be seen as an introduction to a genre which is one that I do not play often, but one that has its own nuances, as well.

  • As a consequence of playing the Akira route with the aim of unlocking one of the events (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to succeed), I ended up with the second outcome for Akira, which has her bringing players to Toshimaen, a theme park that is quite special to Akira. After returning to Tokyo from Kyoto, the sum of a player’s decisions allow them to visit a special destination, and there is no “bad end” here in Go! Go! Nippon! in a traditional sense. Visual novels are legendary for their bad endings: unlike the average first person shooter campaign, which only has one ending, and any “bad end” is dying in the campaign, visual novels can take depravity and the macabre to the next level.

  • All told, spending a day with Akira at the waterpark isn’t a bad outcome by any stretch: it gives players a chance to see Akira rocking a polka-dot bikini. Tango-Victor-Tango incorrectly pegs Akira as being flat, although this moment also led me to wish that there was such an equivalent moment with Makoto. I’m now curious to see what the optimal route for Akira yields, but I’ll likely get around to this later in the future. The Division 2 had just opened their ninth season, and having spent the whole of last year on break from The Division 2 after completing the Manhunt event for Faye Lau, it’s been fun to return to the game and learn that my old standby, the Hunter’s Fury gear-set with the Chatterbox and Ninjabike Kneepads, is still viable. Similarly, I’ve recently resumed playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on account of an excellent sale, so between these two games, I expect to be somewhat busy in the gaming front for the foreseeable future.

  • For the remainder of my revisit through Go! Go! Nippon!, I have a bit of footage from the other destinations I ended up going to as a result of trying to unlock various events. Here, I’m back in Ginza: in a curious turn of fate, Ginza was the first place I visited when I played through Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, and it was also the first stop on my trip to Japan in 2017. Ginza is known for its high end shopping experiences, and while we browsed shops, we found that prices were jaw-droppingly high. Here, Makoto welcomes players to the district and the famous Wako Store, with its distinct clock face. I most vividly recall Ginza because we had shabu-shabu here.

  • Because of the scope and scale of any trip to Japan, I would contend that there is no right or wrong way to go about things. Anime fans tend to visit Tokyo and Akihabara, while folks looking for a more historical experience will tour Kyoto. Visitors looking for the ultimate seafood experience are best served checking out Hokkaido, while Japan’s southern section, near Hiroshima or Kumamoto, would provide a quieter experience. For me, one potential return trip would entail taking a closer look at Kyoto’s highlights; it’s a destination that K-On! and the Kiniro Mosaic movie both swing by the old capital as a part of the third year’s class trip.

  • However, this would be secondary to my long-standing wish to travel Takehara in Hiroshima. Well off the beaten track, Takehara is home of Tamayura, and even a full decade after I’ve finished watching the anime, the town’s iconic warehouse district has more or less remain unchanged. If I were to visit, I imagine that I’d be able to see the sights that Fū and her friends saw in their everyday lives. On such a trip, I’d likely choose lodgings anywhere outside of the Warehouse district: hotels right in the old town are considerably pricier. I imagine that a week in Takehara would be more than enough to explore all of the spots in Tamayura.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, for my shot at getting Makoto’s second ending, I ended up playing through a completely different set of locations, in turn allowing me to unlock a host of achievements to go with my adventures. The 2016 expansion is the only way to actually unlock achievements, but as of the 2015 expansion, Go! Go! Nippon! added Steam Trading Cards and badges. It took me a while to collect enough cards to make a level 5 Makoto card. The only way to get an Akira badge is to get foil drops, but badges cost a dollar apiece, so the logic of doing so wouldn’t be sound.

  • The CG scenes in Go! Go! Nippon! are of a varied quality: the protagonist is rendered without eyes, and this creates a bit of a disconnect whenever he’s visible. The faceless male is a long-standing element in visual novels, meant to give players additional immersion, but here in Go! Go! Nippon!, the effect is quite uncanny and looks a little off. Conversely, stills of just Makoto and/or Akira look gorgeous, and I found myself thinking that, were Go! Go! Nippon! ever to be made into an anime about touring Tokyo, I would have no qualms in watching it.

  • That no such anime has appeared a decade after Go! Go! Nippon!‘s release indicates that such a wish will remain a pipe dream at best. Here, at Tsukiji Market, I explore Tokyo’s largest fish market. After departing Japan and landing in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of checking out Sha Tin Market, an indoor wet market, while awaiting a dim sum lunch with relatives. I’ve always been fond of wet markets because they represent a very active place where seafood is sold; by comparison, most seafood is frozen at home, although some supermarkets do carry live seafood, as well.

  • Looking back, the Hong Kong side of my travels were also superbly enjoyable: I know Hong Kong like the back of my own hand, despite only having visited a handful of times, and this is largely in part owing to the fact that 1) there are English signs everywhere and 2) I speak Cantonese well enough, allowing me to ask for directions without any trouble. The MTR is also intuitive, allowing one to visit any part of Hong Kong with ease. My time in Hong Kong was characterised by spending plenty of time with family, window shopping at various malls, and experiencing Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.

  • In Go! Go! Nippon!, since Makoto isn’t much of a cook, players won’t pick up anything from the fish market here, and instead, she’ll bring players to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple that originally opened in 1617 but burned to the ground forty years later. It was moved to a new site, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923. The modern temple was completed in 1934. This does appear to be a recurring theme in Japan’s landmarks, which have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. While the buildings we see now might not be in their original form, seeing them rebuilt is a testament to the tenacity of the Japanese people.

  • Having now gone through three-quarters of Go! Go! Nippon!, it is evident that attention has been paid to the background artwork, as well. Backgrounds in this visual novel are intricate and life-like, and although some scenes are blissfully quiet, others are filled with people. This aspect is one of the most crucial elements in Go! Go! Nippon!: visual novels often feel empty and devoid of human presence, isolating players and forcing their attention towards the heroines. This was the case in Sakura Angels: although the artwork was stunning, the world felt very empty. According to my records, I began Sakura Angels in June 2015, but never finished, and the last time I opened the game was back in 2017, so the time is probably appropriate for me to go back and wrap this one up.

  • Stay! Stay! DPRK! had similarly felt quite empty, but then, it was a logical design choice because players are visiting North Korea. As such, when Go! Go! Nippon! strikes a balance between the tranquil areas of Tokyo, and the livelier ones, it gives this world a more life-like feeling: Sakura Angels exuded a sense of isolation and loneliness that is simply absent in Go! Go! Nippon: Makoto and Akira keep it lively, but cues in the game’s artwork and presentation also serves to capture the sheer energy (and volume) of crowds in Tokyo’s most iconic locations.

  • Having tea in Japan is a quintessential experience: for 850 Yen, one could stop by Nakajima-no-Ochaya for whisked matcha and wagashi. One element in Go! Go! Nippon! that initially appears inconsequential to gameplay was the inclusion of a wallet. Players are asked to enter the exchange rate (at the time of writing, 1 CAD is exactly 100 Yen), and then the game keeps a running total of how much one has spent over their travels. One could play the game as someone with infinitely deep pocketbooks, or approach things more frugally, but as far as I can tell, one’s expenses don’t affect outcomes. Having said this, the wallet mechanic helps one to ballpark how much their itinerary might cost in reality, to within a precision of ±20 percent.

  • As far as landmarks go, I know Tokyo Station best as being the home base for Rail Wars!, and in 2017, I do not believe we passed by this landmark: the original brick building was constructed in 1914, and over the years, became infamous as being the site of two high-profile assassinations. With a passenger volume of up to half a million every day, it is the busiest station in Japan and is Tokyo’s equivalent of New York City’s Grand Central Station. With the ten-year mark of Rail Wars! fast approaching, I have plans to revisit the series again.

  • On my all-Makoto run, I ended up wrapping up the day to Tokyo Station by accompanying her to a sweets shop of sorts, located in the labyrinthine interior of Tokyo Station and its many shops. Owing to the sheer volume of foot traffic at train stations in Japan, stations also double as shopping centres. This stands in stark contrast with home, where our light rail stations appear to be arbitrarily placed. Urban planning in North America is built around vehicle ownership, and while this creates sprawling cities where people have a great deal of space to themselves, it also results in inefficiency. Having now moved to somewhere within a stone’s throw of a light rail station, I am rather excited by the fact that I can now hop on a train and be anywhere in the city on short order.

  • Moments like these really serve to showcase Makoto and Akira’s personalities beyond initial impressions the original game presented: Makoto might not be a capable cook, but she absolutely enjoys her sweets. It was very endearing to see Makoto this way. This is something that was only introduced with the 2016 expansion, which really fleshes things out. I would hold that the expansions are not optional add-ons, but essential parts of the Go! Go! Nippon! experience: the expansions each give the UI significant upgrades, and the 2016 version will openly indicate which of Makoto or Akira will accompany a player to a destination.

  • This makes it much easier to determine which destinations one should visit when playing through Go! Go! Nippon!: on my first run, my thoughts were that I should bias the game slightly towards Makoto. To this end, I picked Makoto destinations for two of the three days, and then went with an Akira destination for the remaining day. If I had to guess, going with Makoto or Akira for all three days seems to create in Makoto or Akira an overwhelming sense of yearning, causing both to wish to remain with the player, whereas balancing things out gives either Makoto or Akira a chance to think things through and come to terms with expressing how they feel more openly.

  • On this route, I ended up taking Go! Go! Nippon! over to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park at the heart of Tokyo that folks know best as the setting for Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. For the player and Makoto, a rainstorm soon develops, perhaps being a clever (and subtle) callback to the events of Garden of Words, soaking Makoto to the bone. During my trip to Japan, our destinations did not include Shinjuku Gyoen, and instead, the day began with a visit to Meiji Jinju Shrine, which is a twelve-minute walk away from Shinjuku Gyoen.

  • The end result of this route sees Makoto pick up a stylish new outfit, and with this, I’ve now got two of the three possible Makoto endings unlocked. I never thought that Go! Go! Nippon! would be quite as engaging as it was; my introduction to the game had been through a friend who was watching a YouTube playthrough of the game in between classes, and the game had seemed quite hokey at first glance. However, going through the game again, I’ve come around: while Go! Go! Nippon! might be a dating simulator pretending to be a Lonely Planet travel guide, it does feel sincere in its portrayal of things.

  • This is why I’m rather excited to see what Go! Go! Nippon! 2 has in store for players; since Makoto and Akira broke into the Virtual YouTuber scene, their popularity has increased, and generated enough buzz so that OVERDRIVE seriously considered a sequel. While Makoto and Akira are unvoiced in Go! Go! Nippon!, they have the traditional “anime dub” voices as Virtual YouTubers, which makes them sound like RWBY characters. High on my wishlist for Go! Go! Nippon! 2 would be to have some proper dubbing: in particular, Ayano Taketatsu is suited for playing Akira and her tsundere personality, and Ai Kayano similarly could play Makoto: Kayano’s voice has a matronly and warm character to it.

  • Besides complete voice acting, other items on my list include a wider set of destinations, extending north to Hokkaido, and south towards Hiroshima and Kumamoto, or even perhaps Okinawa. Additional things I’d like to see include high resolution character models and 4K support: Go! Go! Nippon!‘s character models look a little fuzzy compared to their CG counterparts and the background artwork, so seeing improved assets would be fantastic. Similarly, Go! Go! Nippon! only goes up to 720p, but even back in 2016, 1080p resolution was already commonplace. A 4K visual novel with 1440p and 1080p settings would bring this series into the present. Beyond these technical aspects, it’ll be exciting to see what OVERDRIVE chooses to do with their next iteration in the series.

  • Reminiscing about my vacation to Japan and Hong Kong in 2017 a full five years later was a fun exercise: since then, I’ve only travelled abroad for business (having gone to Denver to consult on and save an app, and then to Silicon Valley to attend an F8 developer conference). Aside from statuary holidays, I’ve been putting my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, and as a result, my world now is quite different than it had been then. While I had a life-changing experience in Japan, I continue to maintain that it would be most unwise of me to uproot my life and become an expatriate in Japan (as one of my former friends had done, at the expense of their career), but now, things have reached a point where I am able to begin considering a return trip: for me, one of the biggest joys of travel, outside of seeing the world outside my routine and enjoying a culture’s best, is knowing I’ve got a home and a warm bed to return to.

Although travel is doubtlessly a large aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!, the elephant in the room is the fact that this game also has elements of a traditional dating simulator, in which player decisions impact the story’s outcome in a tangible way. The setup in Go! Go! Nippon! prima facie appears implausible, and contemporary reviewers felt the romance aspect in Go! Go! Nippon! to be wedged in as a means of appealing to the demographic most likely to look at such a title. While it is the case that the romance in Go! Go! Nippon! can appear superficial at first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! cleverly utilises the dating sim mechanic to, again, speak to the joys of travel. It is the case that Makoto and Akira can be anthropomorphic representations of what travel entails: there are goods and bads, moments worth remembering, and accidents one would rather forget. When one travels to a destination for the first time, they fall in love with the initial impressions. As one’s experiences broaden, they learn more about the destinations, both the pluses and minuses, ultimately cultivating a unique and distinct collection of memories that accompany them home, and in some cases, creates a yearning to return. With this as a metaphor, it is not so implausible to suppose that one could fall in love with someone as quickly as they do a place. Watching the player depart, and how each of Makoto and Akira handle this moment, brings to mind what happens at the end of a vacation: there always is a desire to extend one’s stay, to do more. This aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! proves surprisingly enduring, and it is, curiously enough, through a dating sim setup that different facets of travel can be explored. I imagine that OVERDRIVE had initially designed this more as a piece to ensure players would gain the classic dating simulator experience when going through Go! Go! Nippon!, but the consequences of this element, intentional or not, is that it brings additional depth and enjoyment to the game. Curiosity to see what happens when one makes different decisions to see how things with Makoto and Akira turn out also pushes one to visit, and learn about, different spots. Getting to know Tokyo and its surroundings better, then, is analogous to getting to know Makoto and Akira better. On my first run of this game, making decisions as I would in reality earned me what is considered the “best end” for Makoto: I received a kokuhaku and the story allowed us to reunite. This speaks volumes about my character, but jokes notwithstanding, I would very much like to visit Japan again in the future. Until then, Steam is suggesting that I’ve still got about a quarter of the achievements to unlock in Go! Go! Nippon!, and its successor, Go! Go! Nippon! 2, looks like it’s going to be a reality now, so I’m curious to see what this entails. This time around, I will try to complete Go! Go! Nippon! 2 at least once before planning out a return trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

A Party at the Grand Base- Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! OVA Review and Reflection

“Take it easy, because if you start taking things seriously, it is the end of you.” –Jack Kerouac

With a party scheduled for the following day, Javelin decides to head on over to the gymnasium and show Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 her dance moves. Here, they find Sirius still attempting to practise for her waitress duties so she may impress the Commander during the party, and despite their best efforts, Sirius succumbs to various accidents during training; she becomes visibly flustered at the thought of serving the commander. Later, South Dakota and Massachusetts show up, hoping to practise ahead of the party. It turns out they’re slated to play a piano duet here. When they begin playing, Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 appreciate the performance. On the evening of the party, South Dakota and Massachusetts perform while festivities are under way. Laffey enjoys herself with the food, while Sirius appears to have overcome her clumsiness and is able to serve. Javelin lets loose on the dance floor and ends up colliding with Sirius, resulting in some laughs from the other party-goers. This is about the gist of what happens in the special that was bundled with Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!. Airing last year, Slow Ahead! had been a slice-of-life spinoff that portrayed Javelin’s life on base after the main series’ events had concluded. At this time, Ayanami has joined Javelin and Laffey in their everyday misadventures, and even Z23 becomes close with the three: in the absence of conflict, Slow Ahead! shows how the ship girls are more similar than different, and it is ultimately this that allows everyone to befriend one another. This special inherits the aesthetic and tone from Slow Ahead!, as well as the smoother animation and improved artwork: originally, Azur Lane had run into challenges during production and overall, did not possess the same depth or engagement as the game the anime had been adapted from. However, Slow Ahead! reverses this, showing how, even in the absence of an overarching conflict and longer term objective, anime series derived from mobile games can still be remarkably fun to watch. While Slow Ahead! never had any of the severity or conflict that Azur Lane sought to portray, it remained entertaining because it allows the characters to simply bounce off one another, and the special accompanying Slow Ahead!, while nothing innovative, succeeds in this area.

Having now seen Azur Lane and Uma Musume Pretty Derby as examples of how anime adaptations of mobile games can find success, attention turns towards the upcoming Kantai Collection: Itsuka Ano Umi de. Kantai Collection had originally received an animated adaptation back in 2015, which had proven to be quite similar to Azur Lane in several ways. Both series attempted to delve into the more philosophical aspects of endless cycles of warfare while maintaining a balance with everyday life on base, and both series were ultimately at their most enjoyable when dealing with slice-of-life moments, being weaker with their more serious moments. Kantai Collection and Azur Lane both have impressive soundtracks. After its original run, Kantai Collection ended up expanding on their universe with a movie that dealt with the cycle between Abyssals and Kan-musume, while Azur Lane decided to pivot towards a more comedic and gentle portrayal of their ship girls when not in combat scenarios. It is unsurprising that Azur Lane‘s spinoff has proven to be more enjoyable: neither series had quite been able to reconcile the horrors and desolation of warfare with comedic antics that belong in other genres, and Kantai Collection: The Movie had insistently ploughed on with this story and ultimately ended up leaving the universe open. However, with over seven years having elapsed since Kantai Collection last aired, I imagine that, most English-speaking views would not remember the anime. As such, Itsuka Ano Umi de now faces a unique challenge. Presenting the Kantai Collection universe from a slice-of-life or comedic perspective would provide viewers with a conventional, if enjoyable experience, but Itsuka Ano Umi de appears to be taking a riskier route: promotional materials suggest that this series, centred around Shigure, could be a grim one. The original Shigure had fought at the Battle of Surigao Strait, which saw near-total casulties. There is the possibility that Itsuka Ano Umi de would be about Shigure dealing with the outcome of an equivalent in Kantai Collection and finding happiness anew in the aftermath, although save a handful of these promotional trailers, not much more is known. It is equally possible that the series could go in a different direction and continue on with where the film had left off. With this in mind, Japanese viewers do appear excited for the series, and I imagine that the key here is not to expect too much out of Itsuka Ano Umi de: for me, if it does go down a route where Shigure must come to terms with past losses and rediscover her reason for being, that’ll be satisfactory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Until quite recently, I hadn’t even known that Slow Ahead! would receive an OVA with its home release: despite having greatly enjoyed Slow Ahead! during its run more than a year ago, Slow Ahead! isn’t a series that I would count as being so riveting and compelling that I’d keep up with related news. As such, that there was an OVA had completely slipped from my mind. Having said this, I am glad to have gone through and taken the time to watch this OVA, which became available in July of last year and follows the ship girls as they prepare for a party on base.

  • Slow Ahead!‘s greatest strength had been the fact that it was entirely comedy-driven: in series like Azur LaneKantai Collection and virtually every other online game, characters form the bulk of the appeal, so an anime that is able to take these characters and let them bounce off one another in a slice-of-life setting can result in an entertaining anime that expands the world further without overlapping with the topics the game seeks to cover. This is, in part, why both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane‘s original anime series were a little less effective; the aspects that drive the game may not be quite as consistent or coherent from a narrative standpoint..

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby is the exception to this: because the horse girls have unique goals and aspirations, in conjunction with the fact that every horse girl’s experiences is rooted by their namesake’s history, an engaging story can be written for the anime format, all the while expanding on their world in a way the game might not. It is therefore unsurprising that Uma Musume Pretty Derby is receiving yet another continuation.

  • With this in mind, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more Slow Ahead!, either: Javelin and her friends end up involved in a variety of experiences on base, and these moments do fit the short format quite nicely, offering viewers with a few laughs here and there. Despite my never having played Azur Lane in any detail, Slow Ahead!‘s portrayal of the characters is accessible and simple, allowing this series of shorts to be one more addition to my collection of shows to watch when I’m looking for something simple.

  • In this OVA, Slow Ahead! shows Javelin as being quite excited to take to the dance floor for their party, in hopes of impressing the commander with her fresh moves. Eager to show Z23, Ayanami and Laffey what she’s got, the group head over to the gymnasium, where they find Sirius already there, practising for her waitress duties during the party. The real HMS Sirius was a Dido-class light cruiser that was launched in 1940 and assigned to assignments around the Mediterranean Sea from 1942 onwards. In Azur Lane, Sirius is portrayed as a well-endowed maid who struggles with her practise.

  • All thought of dancing is forgotten as Javelin and the others decide to help Sirius with her practise out: it turns out that Sirius is also hoping to impress the commander. This is a recurring theme in Slow Ahead! as the ship girls vie for the unseen commander’s attention: with Azur Lane‘s original series, the higher-ranking ship girls made their own calls as to what assignments they would take on and what tasks they would carry out, so in this regard, Slow Ahead! does bring back an element that was present in the game.

  • As a bit of an aside, this post has actually been sitting in my “drafts” folder since the last week of April; I had originally been looking to get this post done before May had arrived, but things became quite busy towards the month’s end. While I’m now settled in and have a consistent schedule, the end of April saw me working on pushing through posts for Project Wingman and wrapping up talks on anime that I’d been meaning to write about, as well as begin preparing special topics talks surrounding my trip to Japan five years ago, and the preparations for the MCAT a decade earlier.

  • The largest of these tasks was revisiting Go! Go! Nippon! so that I can do a full scale post for a lengthier recollection about both my travels, and thoughts of the game. With those done, I’ve had a chance to make a dent in my backlog of shows (as Akebi’s Sailor Uniform demonstrates), and this comes just in time as the Calgary Flames make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs; entering this week, I stayed up much later than I normally would to watch the heart-stopping game seven, which took place at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

  • Although the Flames had fallen into a 1-0 hole after the first period ended, Tyler Toffoli tied things up during the second period. Moments later, Dallas would score again, but before the second period expired, Matthew Tkachuk tied the game 2-2. The third period was scoreless, and so, the Flames went to overtime. For fifteen minutes, Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom, and Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger duelled to keep their respective teams alive. Finally, Johnny Gaudreau would put one behind Oettinger at a bad angle, taking the Flames to a second-round showdown with the Edmonton Oilers.

  • I’ve not seen the Flames in a round two series since the 2004 playoffs, when Martin Gelinas scored in overtime to help defeat the Vancouver Canucks, and on this first match in the iconic Battle of Alberta, the Flames exploded out to a 9-6 victory over the Oilers at the ‘Dome. This victory saw Tkachuk with a hat trick, and while winning the first match feels amazing, Edmonton is an excellent team, so the next game is going to be tough. One thing’s for certain: the Battle of Alberta will be intense and emotional. Back in Slow Ahead!, with Sirius struggling with various tasks, the other ship girls do their best to reassure her that despite nerves, she’ll be fine once the party arrives: Sirius has taken several spills, including one moment where she gets cake on herself, causing Laffey to try and help Sirius to “clean up”.

  • Although Sirius’ misfortunes persist, South Dakota and Massachusetts soon appear: it turns out they’re going to perform on the evening of the party, and have also shown up to practise their piano piece. To give Sirius a chance to catch her breath, Javelin and the others decide to hear South Dakota and Massachusetts practise: a grand piano’s already been placed on the main stage, and the gymnasium is soon filled with a warm piano as the pair practise.

  • South Dakota and Massachusetts did not figure prominently in Slow Ahead‘s original run. Both South Dakota and Massachusetts are classified as battleships in Azur Lane: in-game, battleships bring massive firepower to the table, and a quick look around finds that the most iconic World War Two battleship, the USS Missouri, do exist in the Azur Lane universe as ultra-rare vessels, although to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen them in combat or on base previously. However, reflecting on her role in World War Two, Missouri is portrayed as being highly efficient with paperwork (the USS Missouri was the site where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed).

  • The previously-empty gymnasium is a completely different place on the night of the party and is aglow with warmth. This party, although only portrayed for a few moments in Slow Ahead‘s OVA, speaks volumes to how far things have come since the events of Azur Lane proper: Kaga and Enterprise are no longer at one another’s throats, for instance. Seeing slice-of-life moments in Azur Lane had proven surprisingly enjoyable; longtime readers will know that I am very fond of quiet, ordinary moments. This is because life is already busy and hectic as it is, so moments I have to myself are appreciated, and enjoyment of quieter moments extends to my entertainment, as well.

  • Just this past weekend, I ended up having a few hours of Sunday afternoon to myself: having gone grocery shopping and mopped down the floors, I had enough time in my afternoon to walk over to the neighbouring bookstore, where I spent an hour blissfully browsing through the latest novels and reference books. On the way back home, it suddenly hit me that I’ve not felt this relaxed for quite some time. Back in Slow Ahead!‘s OVA, Sirius has managed to overcome her doubts and becomes comfortable with serving just in time for the party.

  • To reiterate the fact that this party is a magical moment for all those participating, the entire scene is filled with a warm, golden glitter: all of the preparations appear to have been successful, and the event itself is further given a dream-like character by depicting the various scenes as stills. Although this technique was previously used to offset the fact that some moments are too intricate to animate, slice-of-life series utilise it as a visual metaphor and emphasise the idea of living in the moment. This is the reason I’ve given as why Akebi’s Sailor Uniform‘s final performance uses stills rather than animation; for both Erika and Komichi, they’re completely immersed in what they’re doing, and the anime intended to convey this, rather than CloverWorks’ prowess, hence the outcome.

  • Laffey lives up to her promise of eating to her heart’s content at the party. While reception foods are quite tasty, I’ve never really been one to over-do it: eating too much at a party, especially when one’s in formal wear, can create for some challenges. The key here is that at parties, dinner is often served buffet style, and the best approach I’ve found is to sample everything, then “fill up the corners” with one’s favourite dishes once everyone’s had a chance to eat and settle down. This familiarity comes from a lifetime of eating dinner Chinese style: everything is communal, rather than served in individual portions, so it’s considered good etiquette to let everyone at the table try something, and then slowly pick away at the dishes over conversation.

  • Javelin, on the other hand, dances her heart out during the party. After a series of watching the ship girls struggle in a life-and-death battle with the Orochi Project, Slow Ahead! gave viewers a chance to see the girls enjoying everyday life. Slow Ahead!‘s OVA continues in the vein of its predecessor, bringing back memories as to why Slow Ahead! had been so enjoyable. The look of joy on Javelin’s face is priceless, although in the moment, Javelin loses track of her surroundings and collides with Sirius, who’d otherwise been having a fine evening, as well.

  • While perhaps a little embarrassing, no lasting damage is done to either Sirius or Javelin. The moment does leave me with another screenshot of note: fanservice in Azur Lane is comparatively disciplined, and this was something I found a little surprising, since series of this sort traditionally capitalised on the moment to show pantsu and make mammary jokes like both were going out of style. Having said this, while such moments are not a bother for me, I do feel that in a series where the characters can stand of their own merits, such moments could be stripped out entirely, and the work would still stand.

  • Slow Ahead! is one of these series: the characters and their misadventures carry the show, so even in the absence of things like pantsu, the anime would still be quite charming to watch. However, the presence of such fanservice is not unwelcome, simply serving to add yet another layer of comedy to things. With this post in the books, I believe I’m as caught up as can be for Azur Lane at present. This means I’m going to focus my attention on wrapping up My Dress-Up Darling, and then make my way through Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which I picked up for 10 dollars during the past weekend. I’ve been wanting to return to Bolivia and start my fight with the Santa Blanca cartel: the last time I played Wildlands was during the 2017 beta, and I’ve been wishing to return and finish the fight since then.

While this may come across as a bit pessimistic, I will note that Japanese viewers are more open towards another Kantai Collection adaptation. Folks who’ve seen the trailer and promotional artwork are looking forwards to seeing more of their favourite Kan-musume brought to life in the animated format, as well as seeing what sorts of things await viewers. This is the more mature perspective to take: Azur Lane‘s appeal had similarly been with its characters. Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 had made Slow Ahead! remarkably entertaining even though the series had no combat whatsoever, and while the writing is largely dependent on familiarity with the characters’ in-game incarnation, the fact that the spin-off had given viewers a chance to know the characters better meant that I’d left Slow Ahead! with a better measure of each character, despite never seeing anyone fight against the Siren. The prevailing sentiment amongst Japanese viewers is that the characters make Kantai Collection worth watching, and these thoughts are valid: my hopes are that Itsuka Ano Umi present viewers with a central cast that are every bit as likeable and charming as Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23. For the time being, there’s a full half-year between the present and when Itsuka Ano Umi is set to air, and having just finished Slow Ahead!‘s special, I am glad to have taken the time to check this one out: despite its short runtime, it brought back everything that had made Slow Ahead! enjoyable and condensed it out into a short format to give the series a swan song of sorts. It’s unlikely that Slow Ahead! will receive another continuation, but in the event that such a continuation does occur, I would have no qualms about watching it. While Slow Ahead! might not be a thriller or a philosophical masterpiece, it does succeed in its function of giving viewers a few laughs, which is something that everyone could do with more of.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform: Whole-series Review and a Full Recommendation

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

When Komichi Akebi enters middle school, she’s enthralled to don a sailor uniform, modelled on her favourite idol’s attire: she’s chosen Rōbai Academy because of their sailor uniforms. Moreover, Koichi is unaccustomed to life with other classmates and looks forward to getting to know everyone; as a primary student, Komichi had been the only student in her year. On her first day of classes, Komichi is shocked that everyone at her middle school wears more modern uniforms, but gains permission to continue wearing her home-made sailor uniform, as it was a valid uniform. While Komichi sticks out like a sore thumb, her classmates soon find that Komichi’s energy makes her immensely likeable. After she befriends Erika Kizaki, Komichi also gets to know Tomono Kojō and Tōko Usagihara during lunch break. While Komichi’s athletic skill catches the eyes of various clubs, Komichi ends up spending time with class representative Kei Tanigawa, who’s come to encourage Komichi to join a club: Komichi picks the drama club, but also finds time to spend with her newfound friends. She hangs out with Tōko, where Kei is surprised to learn there’s a bashful side to Komichi, and later, makes friends with Minoru Ohkuma. Later, Komichi struggles to decide how to invite Erika over to hang out, and upon spotting her with a book on fishing, suggests they fish in the pond near Komichi’s home. After another classmate, Oshizu Hebimori, promises to play the guitar for Komichi despite not knowing how, she puts in a serious effort to improve and impresses Komichi. Encouraged, Oshizu promises to continue practising and improving. After exams finish, Rōbai Academy prepares for their athletic festival. Komichi longs to try a variety of activities and ends up taking a bet with Riri Minikami to see who will start for their class. Although Komichi desires to win because the bet entails trading uniforms, after she loses, Riri explains she wanted to see Komichi at her best. To purchase supplies for the athletic festival, Komichi visits the local mall with Erika, Kei, Tomono and Tōko. Tomono loses her bookmark, but ends up recovering it with help from everyone. As Komichi and her friends practise a cheer routine, seeing Komichi’s determination helps Riona Shijō, a former tennis player, to regain her confidence. Since Komichi is still weaker in volleyball, Hitomi Washio agrees to help Komichi practise, and Komichi calls her old instructor to request permission to use her old school’s gym as a practise venue. Hitomi ends up rallying the entire class to show up, bringing tears to Komichi’s former teacher; she’s overjoyed that Komichi’s been able to make so many friends. Erika spends this time preparing for a special performance with Komichi On the day of the festival, after a successful showing in the day’s events, Komichi performs a dance for the school with Erika on piano and violin. Komichi awakens the next day, wondering if the sports festival had been a dream, but after getting dressed, looks forwards to a new day at Rōbai Academy.

At the heart of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is Komichi’s eponymous sailor uniform, a uniform harkening back to an older era. This uniform lies at the heart of Komichi’s desire to attend Rōbai Academy, and the staff’s decision to allow her to continue wearing this uniform suggests that Rōbai Academy is a school that respects tradition. At the same time, allowing Komichi to continue wearing her homemade uniform gives Akebi’s Sailor Uniform its unique charm: it allows Komichi to stand out from the others, and affords her the opportunity to really get to know those around her better. Unsurprisingly, throughout Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, it is not her sailor uniform, but her outgoing and kind personality, that allows Komichi to know her classmates better. The sailor uniform may make Komichi distinct from a crowd, but rather than allowing this to affect her, Komichi trundles on with a sincere honesty. The visual element in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform brings to mind a Canadian classic: Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater. This story is an iconic piece of Canadian literature, and follows a boy who idolised Maurice “The Rocket” Richard and the Montreal Canadiens. To this end, the boy and his friends play hockey with Canadiens uniforms. One day, the boy’s mother notices how worn his jersey is and orders a new one, but mistakenly receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. The boy’s mother refuses to send it back, and so, the boy reluctantly wears his new Maple Leafs jersey to the rink. The boy is benched and only gets on the ice in the third period, but is immediately penalised for “too many men on the ice”. Frustrated, the boy chucks his stick on the ice, prompting the referee to send him to the church to pray for forgiveness. Instead, the boy wishes a horde of moths would descend upon his jersey and eat it. Although The Hockey Sweater is seen as a portrayal of the Canadian love for the sport, it also portrays how strongly people are bound to their identities. The boy in the story, Carrier himself, is penalised simply because he wears the jersey from a bitter rival. Komichi initially fears this: her sailor uniform makes her stand out, and she worries about not fitting in with the other students, who sport a modern blazer as a part of their uniform. However, whereas The Hockey Sweater ends on a somewhat humourous note that echoes how dedicated Canadians are to their home team, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform suggests that, outward differences notwithstanding, it is what’s on the inside that counts most.

From photography, to books, music, athletics and academics, Akebi possesses the versatility to keep up with everyone around her. At the same time, she’s also defined by a love of acting, and of her favourite idol. These traits allow Komichi to be the star of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, but even in moments where Komichi herself is not the focus, it becomes apparent that Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is a tale of being true to oneself, and moreover, one’s identity is not something society can define (or should be permitted to define). Despite garnering stares for both her uniform and notable introduction, Komichi embraces the environment at Rōbai Academy, befriending her classmates and getting to know them better. Over time, Komichi’s classmates swiftly spot that, her quirks notwithstanding, Komichi is a genuinely kind and worthwhile person to be around. Despite standing out, Komichi remains true to herself: she’s a big fan of idols and never hesitates to express this, but at the same time, she’s also a fantastic listener, reading a moment and acts appropriately. Meeting Komichi encourages each of her classmates to pursue their own goals. Erika is inspired to play music again, while Kei becomes a photographer. Oshizu ends up developing a desire to play guitar after being spurred on by Komichi, Riri expresses joy that there’s someone whose swimming ability can push her further and after seeing Komichi give cheerleading her on, Riona finds it in her to take up tennis again. Even the stoic Hitomi comes to respect Komichi for her endless determination. Although all of Komichi’s classmates are working to find their place in the sun, seeing Komichi pursue her own goals so openly and sincerely leads those around her to do the same. Komichi would’ve likely been able to do this, sailor uniform or not; this speaks volumes to how one’s actions, rather than their appearances, define who they are as a person. In a society that is too hasty in slapping labels and categorising one another, people often fail to give others a chance and appreciate that the mark of another individual’s character isn’t their appearance or preferences, but rather, how they regard those around them, and how they act towards those around them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Akebi’s Sailor Uniform had been on my watchlist during the winter season, but owing to how busy it’d been, I deemed it prudent to hold off until things had settled down somewhat: at the time, I was preparing for the move on weekends, and on weeknights, my routine had kept me occupied. Since the move’s been done for a month and a half now, readers would suggest that I’ve no longer a reason to put things off further: if I didn’t kick off Akebi’s Sailor Uniform now, it would join the list of backlogged series that I’d get to at some indeterminate point in the future.

  • To prevent Akebi’s Sailor Uniform from suffering such a fate, especially since I did watch the first episode shortly after its airing in January, I focused on getting through this series earlier this month. It is quite plain that the recommendations I’ve received from readers to give Akebi’s Sailor Uniform a go were well-justified: the series is indeed up my alley, and the first episode captivated me with its stunning landscapes, as well as the portrayal of Komichi as immensely energetic, likeable and friendly. Although she attended a local schoolhouse for primary, she’s always been outgoing and approachable.

  • Even a mistake in the uniform type isn’t enough to get her down: the gap is why I’ve likened Akebi’s Sailor Uniform to The Hockey Sweater: in both Komichi and Carrier’s case, a misunderstanding results in their having an outfit that sticks out. Whereas Carrier’s reminiscence has him penalised for this mistake, Komichi is able to embrace different (Rōbai Academy’s headmistress allows Komichi to continue wearing the sailor uniform) and soon finds that while her uniform may differ from that of her classmates, she’s standout not because of this factor.

  • Every journey begins with a single step, and Komichi’s starts when she befriends Erika Kizaki. Although their meeting is unusual enough (Komichi runs into Erika while the latter is clipping her toenails), this memorable start to a friendship allows Komichi to become closer to Erika, and in doing so, sets precedence for how Komichi ends up getting to know the remainder of her classmates, all sixteen of them. With this being said, Komichi overdoes her introduction on her first day, and leaves a very strong impression that leaves even their instructor speechless.

  • Komichi comes to know the quiet Tomono and the happy-go-lucky Tōko, over lunch break; Tōko brings to mind the likes of Azumanga Daioh‘s Tomo Takino, as well as K-On!‘s Ritsu Tainaka, while Tomono is a big fan of books and would much rather spend her time reading. The dramatic contrasts in personality do not preclude Tomono, Tōko and Erika from getting along with one another, although the resulting conversation is vociferous enough such that the remainder of their classmates overhear. Such moments bring back memories of what life had been like during my time as a student.

  • When class representative Kei attempts to persuade Komichi into joining a club before the deadline, Komichi’s remark, that Kei’s got nice legs, lingers in her mind. This ends with Kei stripping down and sending a risqué photo of herself to Komichi by accident. She’d considered deleting the image, but her mother’s sudden appearance causes Kei to press the wrong button. Such moments are counted as “problematic” by certain subsets of the community, although I see things in a different perspective. At this age, people experience puberty and the plethora of changes that occur in one’s body, but the curiosity that accompanies these changes is natural; education is key here.

  • I’ve never really understood why there is such a fear or sense of shame in one’s body and its functions; as far as I’m concerned, it’s the vessel that houses one’s mind, and much as how every mind is unique, so is every body. Akebi’s Sailor Uniform gives Kei a reprieve in that she only sends such an image to Komichi, who is astute enough to promise to not share it with anyone else. In reality, such mistakes can have serious consequences, and a part of the education here would entail teaching youth what to never share under any circumstances, especially since technology is so prevalent nowadays.

  • The outcome of this little incident in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is benign; Kei simply ends up taking photography after Komichi expresses that Kei might have a knack for taking interesting photos. Meanwhile, Tomono shares a conversation with Kei and decides to go around campus with Komichi such that the latter may find a suitable club. For Komichi, whose talent stack is quite large, every club has its own appeal and selling point. The other club’s members similarly are excited about the prospect of having Komichi on boards, since she’s proving to be quite capable in physical education.

  • Although Akebi’s Sailor Uniform may portray life at a private Japanese middle school, the experiences that Komichi has here are immediately relatable: this series is seen as being a trip down memory lane, when one was still a student and had a different set of concerns than they presently would. Whether it be visiting different clubs, or quieter moments spent together, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform portrays both the exciting and the mundane moments of everyday life to remind viewers that life is a series of peaks and valleys.

  • For folks wondering what my life was like in middle school, the answer will probably be none too exciting or remarkable. I was a 90s student with a penchant for math and science, but could hold my own well enough in the humanities, and for extracurricular activities, I was involved with the concert and jazz bands, playing clarinet and trumpet, respectively. I also was a part of the computer club, helping the computer instructor with various activities like setting the school’s then-cutting edge digital news bulletins and managing the audio-visual equipment during assemblies.

  • Although I entered my first year of middle school as an unpopular individual, my classmates came around once word had gotten out I was a good person to have on group projects and had a penchant for helping classmates with coursework. Some of my classmates also were amused by the fact that at the time, I was hooked on The Matrix and would do impressions like Neo’s iconic bullet dodging and wall-running on the lockers. Once the “mystery” evaporated, I found I was getting along with people just fine, from the popular people and the athletes, to my fellow band members and so forth.

  • Komichi’s choice to join the drama club is a suitable one; being an actor or actress means taking on whatever role is needed of her in the moment, and this signifies how Komichi can become anything she wishes to be. Drama, of course, is also related to a skill that her favourite idol would possess in abundance. Once clubs are chosen, in any typical slice-of-life series, the anime would shift focus to club activities. Akebi’s Sailor Uniform does not take this route, and while Komichi is shown doing club activities, more emphasis is shown on common, everyday moments.

  • This decision allows Akebi’s Sailor Uniform to portray characters in a way that showcases more of their character. When Komichi learns that her socks have holes in them, she’s mortified that the others have found out. Kei had spent the entire episode wondering about other sides to Komichi’s character, and although Komichi has an idol-like charm about her, Kei wonders if there’s a facet to Komichi she hasn’t seen before. In this same episode, viewers learn that Tōko is an excellent cook, having picked up the practise in her spare time.

  • Minoru had run into Akebi during an orientation event prior to the start of term, and she prefers observing the world around her. When Komichi does strike up a conversation with Minoru, it is to Minoru’s surprise that Komichi also is fond of being attuned to those around her; both Komichi and Minoru take detailed notes of their observations. I found Minoru to resemble Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari: although quiet and reserved for the most part, when their respective interests are brought up, both become significantly livelier.

  • Minoru and Komichi thus spend a day observing those around them, although Komichi’s extroverting nature means she’s prone to wanting to help out or join the party. Komichi would probably not make for a good tail, but following Minoru’s preferred activity does allow Komichi to learn even more about her classmates. Komichi’s tendencies come from a desire to really make friends: even more so than Asahigaoka Branch Elementary, Komichi’s primary school only had her as a student, and at present, Komichi’s younger sister is the only student. Being on her own has never dampened her spirits, but being with others brings out the best in Komichi.

  • Ayumi had been curious about Komichi since she’d started; on the day of the exams, Komichi had assisted Ayumi with her medications, but they parted ways before Ayumi could return her handkerchief. Since then, Ayumi had wanted to properly thank Komichi and return said handkerchief. Ayumi reminds me of Yama no Susume‘s Hinata Kuraue and Bakuon!!‘s Chisame Nakano in appearance: one aspect of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform that took me some getting used to was the fact that several of the characters resemble Komichi in appearance, with long black hair, and it hit me that, although allowing Komichi to keep her sailor uniform makes it immediately apparent as to who’s who, one could tell Komichi apart from the others simply on virtue that Komichi’s eyes are a striking shade of blue.

  • For Komichi, middle school is a time of firsts, and when she wishes to invite Erika over to her place, she initially struggles (in no small part, thanks to the fact that her home’s roof leaks). After a day of trying to figure something out, Komichi spots Erika with a book on fishing, deduces Erika might enjoy being outside. This allows Komichi to suggest going fishing, allowing her to have Erika over. Although Erika and Komichi have a completely different idea of what fishing entails, both manage to see merits in the other way, having a great deal of fun in the process: Erika even manages to catch a trout with Komichi.

  • When I was in middle school and primary school, I went over to friends’ places more often than I had people over. This was in part a consequence of me having more books than toys and video games. However, I have had people over for school projects, and the environment was suitable for people to get stuff done: I still remember one time, I worked on a Rube Goldberg machine at a friend’s place, and the entire team got distracted because said friend had Half-Life 2 and a PC powerful enough to run it. I managed to push us across the finish line, and we were able to spend more time with Half-Life 2 after that.

  • The visuals of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform are gorgeous: Cloverworks has spared no expense in ensuring that all backgrounds are vividly rendered, and in fact, Komichi’s world feels as detailed as anything from Kyoto Animation or P.A. Works. Having said this, I have heard that some folks found the character designs to be a little off-putting. The exaggerated facial expressions in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform are quite pronounced, but for me, they serve to speak volumes about how a character is feeling in a given moment. Visual cues like these are a central part of anime, so it’s important to consider their usage before drawing any conclusions or dismiss their usage as a distraction.

  • Longtime readers will know that I get along with small children well, and I’m fond of working with them. Although Komichi and her classmates are amusing, Komichi’s younger sister, Kao, is downright adorable. She does her best to encourage Komichi and sees her as a role model of sorts. Here, after their day of fishing draws to a close, Komichi and Erika run into Kao, who’s carrying a large fuki leaf. There’s something immensely adorable about children using giant leaf as an umbrella, and for me, the most memorable usage was back in Sora no Method. Here, I supposed that Noel and Carol were using Alocasia macrorrhizos (giant Taro) leaves because of their shape. The leaf that Kao is carrying appears a little different, and for our benefit, Komichi’s mother identifies it as a Petasites japonicus leaf.

  • After meeting Erika for the first time, Komichi’s mother is pleased that Komichi’s getting along with her classmates at Rōbai Academy. She addresses Erika by her given name, causing Komichi to become jealous. Although this phenomenon may seem a little strange to English-speakers, it is a common enough occurrence in anime such that viewers are familiar with things; calling people by their given name is something that is reserved for situations where there is closeness. This is why Komichi refers to all of her classmates by their family name, and it is only out of envy that Komichi ends up overcoming her reservations: from here on out, Komichi and Erika refer to one another by their given names.

  • Small details like these are done to emphasise closeness, and it follows that Erika’s the first person that Komichi becomes on a first-name basis with. Having gone through primary and secondary school addressing my instructors by their family names, university created a bit of confusion in me: some professors preferred to be addressed by their title, while my supervisor wished to be addressed by first name. In the workplace, I’ve slowly grown accustomed to addressing coworkers and leadership by first name. Kao’s happy to see that Komichi’s brought a friend over from school and immediately goes about sharing stories with Erika.

  • Oshizu is a sullen-looking classmate with a profound love for music despite lacking any technical familiarity with it. When Komichi approaches her one day, excited to hear her play, Oshizu decides to bite the bullet and learn how to read music. While the journey is a difficult one, one where Oshizu considers quitting, her roommate encourages her to continue, stating that anything will be difficult initially. Lessons like these are interspersed throughout Akebi’s Sailor Uniform: they are by no means subtle and are easily picked up, but I’m always surprised that folks tend to skate over these things in discussions.

  • Although Oshizu is discouraged by Erika’s talent, Komichi convinces her to perform anyways, and seeing Komichi’s enjoyment of this experience leads Oshizu to stick with the guitar. Events like these typify the beginnings of new experiences, and it’s not difficult to see Oshizu eventually join a club or continue guitar as a hobby later down the line. Oshizu resembles Her Blue Sky‘s Aoi Aioi in manner, and it suddenly hits me that both Her Blue Sky and Akebi’s Sailor Uniform are both produced by CloverWorks. This studio cut their teeth on 2018’s Slow Start after A-1 Pictures rebranded their Kōenji Studio, and since then, have gone on to work on shows like Seishun Buta YarōSaeKano: Fine and even My Dress-Up Darling.

  • As such, the animation traits here shouldn’t be too surprising: it would appear that the character designers who’d previously worked on Her Blue Sky have returned to Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, whose characters are illustrated by Hiro in the manga. Hiro had previously designed Super Cub‘s characters; while the facial expressions and character movements differ dramatically, some similarities can be spotted between Komichi and Koguma. On the topic of Super Cub, I find myself surprised at how quickly a year’s passed since Super Cub was airing; Super Cub is just as laid-back as Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, so it came as a shock to me that there was such a negative, adverse reaction during the former’s airing a year ago.

  • Conversely, conversations about Akebi’s Sailor Uniform have been more limited in scope, and correspondingly more peaceable as a result: in fact, at the series’ conclusion, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform was described as “incredible”, “amazingly put together” and generally a “fun show”. This is high praise coming from folks who are quick to melt other slice-of-life series with criticisms (Super Cub did not escape and was branded as unwatchable by the same folks). I’ve found that people seem to have very inconsistent metrics for what makes a slice-of-life work, and there’s no methodology behind things.

  • For me, whether or not a slice-of-life series is enjoyable is dependent on how well the characters’ experiences relate to the story’s overarching goal. For instance, in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, there isn’t a specific goal per se, but as Komichi works together with her classmates towards a successful athletics festival, it gives her a chance to focus all of that energy and talent towards something tangible, showing to the remainder of her classmates what she’s made of. This is in keeping with the growth Komichi’s had up until now and shows beyond any doubt that she’s been able to find her way.

  • When Komichi, Tomono, Erika and Tōko head to the mall to pick up materials for the athletics festival, it gives everyone a chance to hang out together outside of school and show a side of their characters that were hitherto unseen. Here, how Tomono’s love of books came to be is shown, and Erika’s upbringing is hinted at. Simple things like a conversation about Tomono’s treasured bookmark, or Erika’s enjoyment of a fast food burger, speaks volumes about the characters that wouldn’t otherwise be shown in the classroom. The outing is full of ups and some downs: Tomono’s missing bookmark ends up bringing this group of friends even closer, as Komichi works out a solution to help Tomono retrieve it.

  • For the athletics festival, on top of participating in class events like volleyball, Komichi’s also volunteered to be a part of the cheerleading team. With her extroverted manner and a love for idols, Komichi is a natural fit for the position, performing her move set with boldness. This stands in contrast with Riona, who’s uncomfortable with her figure and admits that these changes have led to her decreasing interest in tennis, even though previously, she’d greatly enjoyed the sport. Although she’s initially envious of Komichi’s build, seeing the effort Komichi is willing to go spurs her onwards, as well.

  • In the end, Riona decides to take a leaf from Komichi’s book and do her best, no matter how embarrassing it may be, and even regains her interest in tennis anew. Komichi’s presence in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform shows how she’s had a positive impact on all those around her. In this way, she’s Akebi’s Sailor Uniform‘s equivalent of Cocoa, who had similarly brightened everyone’s day up to the point where, when she’d gone home for a visit, each of Chino, Chiya, Rize, Sharo, Maya and Megu begin feeling a little down. Such individuals, who bring the sunshine with them, are indispensable for morale: during tough times, having people who can smile anyways and bring everyone up with them can make even overwhelming problems appear manageable.

  • I’ve seen a very large number of anime over the past decade, and one recurring element that I’m always fond of is when characters puff up their cheeks. I’ve never seen this as an actual facial expression anywhere in reality, and I’ve always wondered where the origin of this expression is. Here, Kao expresses a want to join Komichi after she manages to secure her old school’s gym for volleyball practise. Komichi ends up relenting; it’s hard to say no to someone like Kao, who’s essentially Komichi in miniature, the same way Yuru Camp△‘s Akari Inuyama is basically a small version of Aoi.

  • Although Komichi is shown as being competent in a range of activities, her talents are shown as having limits. She’s not the strongest or fastest student in her class, nor is she the most brilliant. This aspect makes Komichi’s character plausible and easier to cheer for; she’s always willing to put in an effort, which is why she’s got a good talent stack with her, and this effort continuously shows, time and time again. For this training session, Hitomi also shows up: while my impression of her was that she’s very dedicated towards volleyball, she also seemed to be a bit cool towards Komichi for the latter’s carefree and cheerful mindset.

  • This outlook changes after seeing the sheer determination to which Komichi demonstrates during training; to ensure their success, Hitomi ends up gathering all of their classmates to make use of this facility for practise. Komichi’s old instructor is overjoyed to see Komichi’s connection to her classmates, and ultimately, on the day of the athletics festival, Komichi’s class dominates their competition, spurred on and inspired by the spirit Komichi had brought to the table. Erika is noticeably absent from the proceedings; Komichi’s senior in the drama club had a surprise for her, and to prepare for this, Erika’s spent the day practising for this event.

  • The partnership between Komichi and Erika brought to mind the likes of Your Lie In April: in her mind’s eye, Erika imagines playing her accompaniment for Komichi, and the entire moment is infused with magic about it. Although Komichi gets along with everyone in her class, she and Erika share a particularly special bond, the mark of best friends. Much of the final performance is animated using stills, and while this did leave some viewers disappointed, I imagine that the choice was deliberate: previously, stills were used during moments where it wasn’t feasible to bring every movement to life.

  • However, I would imagine that here in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, the use of stills is to allow the viewer’s mind to fill the gaps in themselves and make of Komichi’s performance with Erika what they will. This performance showcases the music in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform: the soundtrack is rich and warm, befitting of the friendly atmosphere within the anime. Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t have a conventional album release, and instead, will be released as a part of the Blu Rays disks. The incidental music is set to release somewhere in July, but it is worth a listen.

  • When Komichi and Erika’s performance wraps up, it is so moving that the students are on their feet for a standing ovation. The finale doesn’t quite beat out the emotional intensity seen in Your Lie In April, but the fact that it comes close speaks to how well-done Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is. Despite there being no stakes, there was something remarkable about seeing just how colourful everyday life as a student can be. While the portrayal of student life here in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is perhaps a bit more idealised, I found it to be a fair presentation of how things felt.

  • The day after, Komichi wonders if the events of the previous day had been a dream: to be able to celebrate with classmates after a successful athletics festival seemed quite surreal, but Kao pushes her awake. Realising the lateness of the hour, Komichi rushes awake, ready to head to school. The faded, purple colouration accentuates the fact that things seem a little surreal, reminiscent of how things felt the day after a band concert. Of course, there’s no time to put the brakes on, and Komichi prepares for another day. The idea that there is no stopping point is one aspect I’ve always enjoyed about slice-of-life series.

  • Speaking subtly to Kao’s growth, she’s able to spot a misalignment in Komichi’s uniform and helps her to fix it before Komichi sets off for school. In this way, Komichi prepares for yet another wonderful day with her friends and classmates at Rōbai Academy, bringing Akebi’s Sailor Uniform to a close. While the series’ premise had betrayed very little about what Akebi’s Sailor Uniform would entail, the anime ended up exceeding my expectations for its nostalgic depiction of life as a student. This is an A series (4.0 of 4.0), being an addition to the list of anime that I have no qualms recommending to viewers.

  • I’ll close up with a still of Komichi running off to classes in the idyllic countryside of Japan. The setting plays a major role here in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and I’ve long felt that anime set in the inaka are able to really emphasise characters, because the setting is so laid-back and languid. Without the hustle and bustle of a large city, rural settings allow the focus to remain purely on the characters and their experiences. Now that Akebi’s Sailot Uniform is finished, I am going to switch my attention over to My Dress-Up Darling, which has also been on my watchlist for some time, and is also produced by CloverWorks. I have heard this series has been the subject of no small discussion, so the only way to see whether or not this anime lives up to its reputation would be to enter the fray for myself and see what it’s about.

Outside of speaking vividly to what the world looks like from a student’s perspective, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is a technically solid anime. The animation is fluid, and the artwork is gorgeous. Backgrounds are richly rendered, and lighting brings Komichi’s world to life. From the Akebi residence’s rustic designs, to the crisp rural air and the tenour of Rōbai Academy’s facilities, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform spares no expense to detail, creating a captivating world that is every bit as immersive as reality to really draw in viewers and evoke a sense of nostalgia, giving the sense that viewers were there alongside Komichi and her classmates as they make the most of their youth. Similarly, with a warm and full sound, the incidental music creates a feeling of nostalgia; for Komichi and her friends, living so wholly in the present creates unparalleled memories, and for viewers, seeing this group of youth seizing the moment brings back memories of one’s own time as a student. Altogether, the aural and visual components in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform are every bit as strong as its thematic piece. The world of youth is one of curiosity, exploration and discovery; giving Komichi every opportunity to learn her strengths, cultivate her friendships and develop an identity is facilitated by the wonderfully detailed and inviting world this group of students find themselves in. With Akebi’s Sailor Uniform now in the books, it is plain as to why this series one folks have recommended to me: the messages and setting might be familiar, but the combination of the two sets Akebi’s Sailor Uniform apart from its predecessors. Ultimately, I found this anime to be a worthwhile one for bringing back memories of my youth, as well as for celebrating the notion that there is no better time than youth to discover one’s place in the world: appearances notwithstanding, people are defined by what they do, and promoting this early on instills in people the confidence they need to find success as the grow older.

Revisiting Titanfall 2: Exploring Hidden Depths in Blisk’s Philosophy and Reminiscing on the Start of a Journey to Japan Half at the Quinquennial Mark

“I’ve got other people with money to see.” –Kuben Blisk

On this day five years earlier, the sound of an alarm clock shakes me from my sleep. Blearily, I rub my eyes and prepare to start my day. However, it’s no ordinary day: on a typical day, I would wash up, get dressed, eat my breakfast and then drive to work. However, this day is different: I’m fulfilling a long-standing dream of flying out to Japan with the family. Although the itinerary states that this is a lightning tour, whisking us from Tokyo to Osaka up through Saitama, Yamanashi, Nagano, Gifu and Kyoto over the course of five days, before heading on over to Hong Kong to visit the other half of my family. Excitement for this particular vacation was enormous: this represented my first time travelling out of country since a pair of conferences a year earlier, and it was also the first vacation I’d taken since I began working. Having finished all of the preparations the night previously, this particular morning saw me drive to the airport for a direct flight from home to Narita. Upon touchdown, we found the shuttle bus that took us to the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport, which overlooks the countryside and is elegantly appointed. After a hasty dinner, I was surprised to find that night had already fallen in full. Deciding against exploring the area nearby, I retired for the evening ahead of what would be a fantastic vacation. My vacation had come at a curious time: it had been booked for over a half year, and at this point in time, I’d been with my first job, a start-up, for just a shade over half a year, as well. The founder had bootstrapped said start-up, and six months into my work, I’d already delivered a rudimentary iOS app for a computational oncology firm based in the United States. Our founder, and the president of the American computational oncology firm, had spotted the potential in mobile apps, leading my start-up to pivot from a 3D visualisation tool, to a mobile platform intended to bring health data collection to users through smartphone apps. The concept was a revolutionary one, and at this point in time, our company had a number of brilliant and dedicated people looking after things, so I was able to go on vacation without worrying about the work that would pile up in my absence. In this way, I was able to enjoy what would become my favourite vacation in recent memory, and I came back to work refreshed and ready to go. Before I’d set off on this journey, I had spent the previous month playing through Titanfall 2, which had caught my eye when it first launched. Upon finishing Titanfall 2, I had been thoroughly impressed with the gameplay. More recently, nostalgia led me to play through Titanfall 2 again, and this time around, having already known how Jack Cooper’s journey concludes, I was able to appreciate other details within what was a superb narrative.

In particular, the presence of the Apex Predators, mercenaries led by one Kuben Blisk, and their role as Titanfall 2‘s primary antagonists, proved to drive the story and characterisation in ways that wouldn’t be possible had Cooper and the Militia directly fought against the IMC. The additional personality that each of Kane, Ash, Richter, Sloane and Blisk brought to the table indicates the size and scale of the IMC, but because the Apex Predators were mercenaries, Titanfall 2 had implicitly shown players that right from the start, the IMC were consigned to failure in their attempt to utilise the Fold Weapon against the Militia world of Harmony; after IMC’s fuel depot on Demeter had been destroyed, they were denied access to the Frontier, and in a bid to destroy the remnants of the Frontier’s Militia, the IMC have resorted to hiring mercenaries. Conversely, for pilots like Cooper, their motivation lies purely in protecting their home. The strength of their conviction rather outweighs the motivation the Apex Predators have for completing their assignment: mercenaries will fight on the behalf of anyone who offers a sufficiently large sum. Politics and ideology are irrelevant to groups like the Apex Predators, and it is not inconceivable that under different circumstances, Blisk and his crew may have fought the IMC instead. It is for this reason that Cooper and the Militia are able to have their victory in staving off the destruction of their home world. While Cooper’s achievements at the end of Titanfall 2 are doubtlessly impressive, the game also provides subtle cues to players that, while the IMC are doubtlessly a threat to freedom and the like, the Apex Predators themselves are not irredeemably evil, despite its members acting in dubious ways. In particular, Blisk is shown to have a sense of honour. He expresses a begrudging respect for Cooper and, after Cooper defeats Sloane, invites him to join the Apex Predators if he so chooses. In addition, Blisk is very precise and detail-oriented; he refuses to kill Cooper despite General Marder’s protests, stating that Cooper was never part of his original contract. That players never have the chance to fight Blisk directly suggests that the Apex Predator’s way of thinking is not intrinsically evil or macabre. Although it is respectable and honourable to demonstrate loyalty and fight for one’s way of living, the flipside is that there are cases where one must also consider fighting for themselves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Titanfall 2‘s soundtrack was what ended up persuading me to give the game a go: I previously had played Titanfall during a trial period, and Stephon Barton’s compositions had captured the gritty nature of warfare between the IMC and Militia. In particular, MacAllen’s Endgame had been a particularly standout track: about forty-five seconds into the track, the iconic Titanfall motif can be heard, and there’s a sort of somber finality about the war being fought. The emotional tenour conveyed in this track evokes a feeling of departure, and thanks to the wonders of shuffle mode, I listened to this song while flying out of Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport at the end of my journey there in December 2014.

  • My vacation to Taiwan in December  2014 had been a first: traditionally, I travel during the summer months, but that year, I’d been busy with the Giant Walkthrough Brain. After arriving on December 24, we did a counterclockwise tour of the island, beginning in Taipei before heading over to the Xitou Yaoguai Village, a Japanese-style village that was constructed in 2011. This eccentric site features many Japanese features like torii and Japanese lanterns. Despite being a well-known attraction in the area, the fact that it was located in the deep forests of Taiwan’s central island gave it a bit of an eerie vibe, and that evening, I developed serious stomach problems while trying to turn in at the Leader Hotel, an old hotel surrounded by forest with a wing that clearly looked like it was not in use.

  • These stomach problems went away after leaving the area, and I was able to enjoy the remainder of my trip without issue, including a delicious all-fish lunch in a restaurant under the Kao-Ping Hsi Bridge. In fact, the only thing I wish I was able to try was the grilled squid I’d seen at the night markets: although night markets are sanitary owing to government regulations, I decided to exercise caution to avoid unnecessarily putting strain on my constitution. As we moved from west to east, we travelled along a narrow, winding mountain road that took us through Daren Township. From here, we headed north towards Taitung.

  • I remember that evening particularly well: we stopped at a vast jade warehouse on a remote country road under the mountain, and after hearing a pretty guide explain the details of jade production in Taiwan, we headed for dinner before retiring at the Yih Shuian resort. There were numerous sulfur hot springs here, but I decided against trying them out: unlike Japanese onsen, swimsuits were required. The next day, we travelled north towards Hualien for Taroko Gorge. The trip would conclude with a train ride to Yilan and a visit to Jiufen Old Street. This vacation proved remarkably fun even with my constitution troubles, although back then, I only had a Nokia Lumia phone with a weak camera and therefore, did not take very many photos.

  • On a return trip to Taiwan, I’d love to explore the Taitung and Yilan side in greater detail: this mountainous side of Taiwan has stunning scenery. With this being said, spending time in larger cities like Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Taipei would allow me to sample the foods at night markets, as well. On my to-do list, Taiwan would be second after a trip to Japan: my desire to visit Takehara or a ryokan has not diminished. Such vacations remain in the planning stages for now, but since I did listen extensively to the Titanfall soundtrack, hearing the music brought back old memories of my Taiwan trip.

  • Stephen Barton would return to score Titanfall 2‘s soundtrack: familiar motifs make a return, and this time around, Titanfall 2 would feature a full-fledged campaign set on the planet of Typhon. Here, the gorgeous mountain scenery and vast research labs, coupled with use of Traditional Chinese characters, gave the planet a distinctly Taiwan-like feeling. As I made my way through the campaign, I was thoroughly impressed with how the game handled. Movement was smooth and responsive. However, what stood out was the fact that every mission was unique in its own way, making use of a specific gameplay mechanic to challenge players and keep things fresh.

  • My decision to pick up Titanfall 2 for myself came while I had been queued up for a late February meeting with my financial advisor to get my investments renewed: I received an email that had indicated that both Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare had been going on discount. After my meeting ended, I hastened to get back in front of my computer and ended up buying both titles on sale: Titanfall 2 had been going for 60 percent off, and Infinite Warfare‘s Legacy Edition was going for a third off, allowing me to, in effect, pick up Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered for the price of one game.

  • I subsequently made my way through both campaigns and found enjoyment in both. Although Infinite Warfare had been widely criticised for being a knockoff of Titanfall 2, I ended up enjoying that game quite thoroughly. Titanfall 2, on the other hand, was universally acclaimed, and a large part of this was the fact that the campaign was so solid. The combination of novel gameplay in every level, coupled with the fact that the campaign’s missions slowly opened players up to what Pilots could do, and a companion that greatly served to ease the overwhelming sense of isolation on Typhon made it quite memorable.

  • Although this isn’t usually discussed in great detail, Typhon itself proved to be a well-done location for Titanfall 2‘s events; the game opens in a verdant tropical valley with waterfalls and steep cliffs, and transitions over to a sewage processing facility. As Cooper and BT get closer to Major Anderson’s position, they pass through a vast underground complex that surpasses even the sewage processing facility in size. Once the pair reach Major Anderson (more appropriately, what’s left of him), Cooper explores a derelict IMC research facility, and then to get their findings back to the militia, they hit a communications site set in a karst landscape.

  • The terrain and vegetation on Typhon brought back memories of Taiwan, and I remember during one lunch break at work, I decided to see if I could find the Xitou Yaoguai Village. Because I’d travelled Taiwan without a good set of offline maps, I had next to no idea of where precisely our destinations were. One of the search terms I’d put into Google was “Ghost village”, and while this approach did eventually lead me to Xitou Yaoguai Village, I also stumbled upon, purely by chance, a remarkably well-written travel blog by a web-developer and travel photographer named Alexander Synaptic.

  • In this blog, Synaptic details various haikyo around Taiwan, and in one post, he writes about the Mingxiong Ghost House, a famous haunted house in Taiwan located just a ways outside of Chiayi in the Chianan plains. Although the precise story of how this once-gorgeous stone mansion fell into ruin is unknown, what is known is that the site is very famous, to the point where a café opened next door to provide visitors with refreshment after they’d finished visiting this landmark. At the bottom of the post, the related articles ended up sending me to Synaptic’s bike tours across Taiwan.

  • By coincidence, Titanfall 2‘s soundtrack came onto my music rotation, and I listened to Burton’s majestic compositions while reading about Synaptic’s travels through Taiwan’s central ranges, an unforgiving region lined with narrow mountain roads and tough conditions, as well as down the sunbaked eastern coast. The striking scenery fit remarkably well with the Titanfall 2 soundtrack, and since then, I’ve felt an inexplicable connection between Titanfall 2 and Taiwan. Subtle hints, including hanzi characters, and a subtropical climate, reinforces this connection to me.

  • I don’t mind admitting that I spent a little more time than I should have browsing through Synaptic’s blog; his writing style is precise and informative, and I absolutely love the pictures that are posted. In the months leading up to my Japan trip, and shortly after I purchased Titanfall 2, work had slowed down somewhat because the start-up I’d been with was mid-pivot: after I delivered my first-ever commercial iOS app to a computational oncology firm in the United States, our founder saw the potential for a genericised app for handling medical follow-up surveys.

  • At this point in time, the details were still being hammered out, and I was asked to develop a functional mock-up of what the app would look like. At the time, I wasn’t particularly versed in things like UIKit or Autolayout (another developer handled that), and therefore, spent most of my time working with the JSON parsing code, as well as designing survey formats that could be stored to a backend and then parsed within the app to deliver questions for users. This was a realm I was a ways more familiar with, and because this had been more tedium than difficult, my days ended up being a ways slower as a result.

  • As such, I did slack off during quieter moments, browsing through both Synaptic’s blog and Google Maps to see if I could find those same spots for myself. Through these virtual travels, I fell in love with Taiwan’s eastern side, especially the Huadong Valley extending from Taitung to Hualien. This valley consists of a vast plain surrounded on both sides by mountain. There’s a tranquility about this place found nowhere else in Taiwan, and I noticed a large number of bed and breakfasts located in this valley. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself waking up on a hot summer’s morning at one of these bed and breakfasts, sitting down to a scrumptious breakfast before biking off for that day’s itinerary.

  • In reality, I’m not too sure how well I’d be able to navigate such a trip: my Mandarin is weak at best, but I imagine that ahead of such a trip, a little touch-up and having some translation apps would probably be helpful. While enjoying the sights of Huadong Valley is within my wheelhouse, wandering Taiwan’s haikyo is probably something I’ll leave to the pros. Urban exploration has long fascinated me, but there’s an inherent danger about it such that were I to go on such an expedition, I would prefer to have a good guide handy.

  • For now, my exploration of haikyo is limited to video games, where there are no threats like broken glass or asbestos to deal with. Exploring the derelict IMC facility and seamlessly transitioning to a functional facility was probably one of the most innovative modes of gameplay I’ve ever seen, comparable to Portal and SUPERHOT. No games since Titanfall 2 have been this creative or enjoyable: many games of the present are completely fixated on in-app purchases at the expense of gameplay, and these trends have resulted in increasingly inferior games of late.

  • This isn’t to say there aren’t good games: DOOM Eternal and Ace Combat 7 have managed to maintain good gameplay without sacrificing it for cosmetics. While skins make sense in third person games, I’ve never understood why people care for them in first person games, when one can’t even see what they’re wearing. Since the success of Titanfall 2, even Respawn has entered the battle royale cosmetic shooter realm; Apex Legends is a spinoff set 18 years after the events of Titanfall 2, and with the IMC defeated, Blisk founds the Apex Games. Although Apex Legends is most certainly not the kind of game I’m interested in playing, it was interesting to learn that Blisk was the founder: Titanfall 2 denied players a chance to fight Blisk.

  • Despite being the antagonist, I never felt any animosity towards Blisk or his Apex Predators. Blisk himself openly expresses respect for Cooper and declines to kill him, stating Cooper and BT were never part of his contract. Five years later, I’ve seen now for myself why Blisk was adamant about Cooper not being a part of his contract; scope creep can make even seemingly simple projects into monstrosities that seemingly cannot be completed. When I signed the original agreement for that Xamarin project, the expectations were that I would spend about a month on the project, get the bugs sorted out and then walk the computational oncology firm through the App Store submission process, which had previously given them trouble.

  • Had we stayed within this scope of work, I would have wrapped up mid-September and had time to focus on our own product. Instead, this project expanded in scope as I continued working on it. Fifteen bugs became sixty, and I was asked to implement features that hadn’t been covered in the original contract. This pushed the project out to October, and I remember being contacted to fix a “high priority high severity” bug while I was out in Vernon for a well-earned break (the salmon run had been going that year), only to learn that it was a user error that produced the bug (they downloaded an outdated build).

  • This experience immediately sees parallels in Titanfall 2, being equivalent to General Marder asking Blisk and his Apex Predators to go after Cooper. Throughout the course of Titanfall 2, Cooper and BT-7274 become such a formidable pair that they are able to begin picking off Blisk’s subordinates. In this way, Kane and Ash are killed after underestimating what the pair are capable of. From the player’s standpoint, this follows logically, but I imagine that for Blisk, Cooper represents an unexpected thorn in their plans. However, despite Cooper and BT-7274’s actions, they are not successful in stopping the Apex Predators from bringing the Ark to the Fold Weapon.

  • Revisiting Titanfall 2 meant having a chance to explore more thoroughly, and here, I managed to find the only EM-4 Cold War in the campaign. This burst-fire bullpup grenade launcher fires small, but highly-damaging rounds in fours, and against the foes in the campaign, they are quite effective: a single hit will vapourise IMC soldiers, and even the Reapers will go down in a few bursts. Playing games again is fun for this reason: I get to discover new things about them, and oftentimes, revisiting a game under different circumstances impacts how I feel about a given scene.

  • In the case of Titanfall 2, I see a fantastic story that has aged gracefully, and with five more years of life experience, I also see a convincing tale of why scope creep is undesirable. Had Marder managed to convince Blisk into accepting that killing Cooper and BT-7274 was a part of their scope of work, Blisk likely would’ve died by the player’s hand. My Xamarin assignment with the computational oncology company indeed saw scope creep of an unreasonable extent, and I got the distinct feeling that the Winnipeg team was actively working to prevent me from finishing my tasks.

  • Reading through the commit history, it was similarly clear that the previous developer who’d been working on the mobile app was competent, but similarly hampered by the Winnipeg team; the changelogs show that the endpoints were added very late into the game (about a month before I was asked to start). There is little doubt in my mind that the fact I was nailing down issues, and fixing a fatal flaw in their user onboarding flow (transforming a ten-step process into a three-step process), was making their developers look bad, so they were attempting to save face by throwing more bugs at me, and even introducing changes prior to demos that they knew would cause the app to crash.

  • Thus, what was supposed to take six weeks at most doubled to twelve weeks, and I was left exhausted by this project. Looking back, I know now why Blisk states to Marder that Cooper was not his problem; Cooper represents a low severity, low priority issue to Blisk in that since he’s already delivered the Ark, he’s done his work. For me, my contract was explicitly stated as ending once I submitted the app to the App Store, although this was later expanded to “taking care of any high priority, high severity bugs that the Winnipeg team introduced”. Dissatisfaction at this project for dragging out as long as it had, coupled with the fact that it ultimately cost us the other deal we had, led me to resign from my first startup.

  • Although the work had been engaging, I was not able to see a future in which we would be successful: that the Xamarin project was allowed to expand in scope as it did also gave me little confidence that we would be able to work on our own products without being interrupted constantly by external factors. Had I continued, I likely would’ve continued to suffer as a result of the Winnipeg team’s incompetence. When I transitioned over to my next position, another startup, I found myself far happier, and under a new founder, I ended up cultivating a diverse range of iOS skills, from UIKit and Autolayout, to things like writing my own networking wrappers and reachability tests, push notifications and payment handling through the Stripe SDK. The only reason why I ended up leaving this position was because investment dried up after the results of the 2020 election. With revenue dwindling, the founder and I shared a conversation about our directions.

  • Unlike my first start-up, whose founder has fallen off the radar, I’m still in contact with my second start-up’s founder and occasionally lend my time to help out with a side project. Curiously enough, towards the end, my second start-up’s founder also asked me to lend my skills for another project, but this time, armed with significantly more experience, I delivered a product I was proud of, and one where there had been no scope creep because all of the lines were clearly drawn in the sand. More importantly, unlike the Xamarin project, I was also fairly compensated for my work: with the second start-up’s project, I was involved in every step of the process and knew exactly how much the client was paying, as well as how the funds would be dispersed.

  • Conversely, with the Xamarin project, I wasn’t involved with discussions when money was concerned, and although it sounded like the payout was considerable, in the end, my compensation only equaled the sum of my travel expenses. Considering the amount of trouble the Winnipeg team put me through, I was definitely shortchanged by this turn of events. Experiences like these reshaped my experience with Titanfall 2 a second time around, and so, while Blisk might be an antagonist, I completely empathise with his sentiments in the present; considering the amount of experience I’ve accrued as an iOS developer (and all of the ancillary know-how I’ve picked up), I agree with Blisk’s thoughts: “I don’t work for free”.

  • Blisk’s remark, that he’s got “other people with money to see”, shows that his skills are in high demand, and that he’s able to make his own call as to what assignments he wants to take. Since there are other clients implied to be bidding for his services, Blisk no longer regards Marder as his employer, hence his attitudes towards the end of the game. Others have argued that this lessens Blisk’s character: from this point of view, Blisk is only saying this because Cooper has thoroughly beaten his team of elites. However, given the tone Marder takes with Blisk, the opposite is true; Marder sees Cooper as a threat to the IMC, but Blisk simply has no interest in doing what’s outside of his original scope of work.

  • My experiences doing contract work at start-ups to help keep my lights on has meant that I look at Blisk’s character completely differently now, and for this reason, I’m glad they chose not to have Cooper fight (and defeat) him: it shows that Titanfall 2 understands the other side of things. The me of five years earlier had been more similar to Cooper, fighting loyally for a cause to both learn and protect. I only left my first start-up after it became clear there was no future, and I was fighting right to the end. This was, in part, because I was not confident in my skill as a developer at the time. Correspondingly, the me of five years earlier was a little disappointed at the fact that Cooper never did get to take Blisk on.

  • According my site’s archives, I reached the penultimate mission of Titanfall 2 mid-April. Fighting through the various IMC warship en route to the Draconis, I was fighting off a minor head cold at the time. However, a cold was not enough to dampen my spirits: at this point in time, my Japan trip was only a few more weeks away, and I was very much looking forwards to my experiences. After my experiences in Taiwan, I was most excited about the fact that I was rocking an iPhone 6: despite only sporting 16 GB of internal storage, this phone had an eight megapixel camera and shot images of a decent resolution.

  • Moreover, access to the App Store meant I had access to offline maps, which proved instrumental in helping me to remember which destinations I visited. This bit of technology allowed me to record my vacation in greater detail than any vacation I’d been on previously, and so, I am able to recall specifics about this particular vacation with a much higher precision compared to something like Taiwan. Owing to an incident when I was migrating machines a few months ago, I lost all of my original photos, which were carrying the EXIF and date information, but since I uploaded my images to social media, I at least still have a majority of the photos I took.

  • As noted earlier, I will be returning to revisit this particular journey later this month. However, rather than share the vacation photos a second time here, I will be recounting how this vacation shifted my perspectives. I will be fitting this discussion around Go! Go! Nippon!: this game acts as a virtual simulation of what an idealised first-time trip to Japan is like, and while it began as a bit of a joke, this visual novel is surprisingly well done, providing players with some useful information about Japan, along with an amusing scenario that makes the game more immersive than its premise would suggest.

  • Having said this, I’ve never actually written about Go! Go! Nippon! despite having beaten it twice. The game has received two expansions, once in 2015, and again in 2016, which dramatically upgraded the resolutions and number of destinations one could visit. As such, the time has come to correct this, and for my play-through this time around, I will be going through the 2016 expansion: my last play-through of Go! Go! Nippon! was for the 2015 expansion, which proved to be a remarkably enjoyable one. Games like Titanfall 2 are more commonly seen in my wheelhouse compared to things like Go! Go! Nippon!, but I will remark that, while I’ve got a bias towards FPS and action-oriented titles, I am generally open to a wide range of games.

  • Towards the end of Titanfall 2, as a clever callback to the overpowered MK5 Smart Pistol of Titanfall: the Smart Pistol was originally able to instantly kill a Pilot in the multiplayer. While automatic target acquisition took some time and only could occur at short ranges, a skilled Smart Pistol user could decimate foes in close quarters without retribution. However, the Smart Pistol was useless at medium and long ranges. To mitigate these issues, Titanfall 2 has the Smart Pistol become a boost rather than a loadout weapon, and while retaining most of the original Smart Pistol’s functions, the MK6 cannot be fired unless one has a lock, and players will be alerted to the fact they’re being locked onto.

  • In the campaign, it becomes a weapon that Cooper can reliably fall back on: after securing the Ark, Cooper is captured, and BT-7274 is destroyed, forcing Cooper to retrieve the SERE Kit and reach a drop point to continue the mission. Having the Smart Pistol offsets the overwhelming odds, and this is the only point in the campaign where the Smart Pistol appears. The speed and efficiency players have here is a culmination of everything one has learnt throughout the campaign, and it is expected that one can make full use of their weapon and environment to reach the drop site for a new Vanguard-class Titan equipped with the Legion setup.

  • On this date five years ago, I was on a plane bound for Narita. On that day, I certainly wasn’t thinking ahead five years; today, I’ve finished another workday, and by, this point in time, I feel like I’ve settled in after the move. Housekeeping has become smoother, and I’ve found enough time at the end of a day to write. I’ve also resumed my anime schedule, and at the time of writing, I’ve now finished Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, which I look forwards to writing about soon. In addition, settling in means being able to capitalise on both the fact I’ve got several brilliant parks and good restaurants within walking distance.

  • Over this past weekend, I had a chance to try out the pizza place just across the way: we ordered a Greek pizza (purple onions, green peppers, black olives, feta cheese and tomato slices), alongside a house special pizza (an all-meat pizza with pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese and crispy salami slices) and honey-garlic wings. Having not gone out for pizza for quite some time, what stood out was the fact that the pizzas from this particular place (a 2-minute walk) were packed with toppings. I’m not a pizza connoisseur, and the mark of a good pizza for me is the toppings: a winning pizza has a flavourful and healthy amount of meat, vegetables and cheese.

  • With this, I’ve beaten Titanfall 2 again, but this time, it’s under different circumstances. Five more years under my belt means I’ve been able to see the story from another angle, and in this way, I’ve also found that Titanfall 2‘s answer to the question I’d posed whilst playing Project Wingman is simple: mercenaries don’t really care for ideology and concern themselves with a job well done, so it was interesting to fight on both sides of the fence (as a mercenary in Project Wingman, and against them in Titanfall 2). I imagine readers tire of non-anime posts here, so my next goal is to swiftly wrap up a post for Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and then kick off Go! Go! Nippon!: since I moved to my current desktop, I’ve lost a host of save files on top of my old travel photos. This means that I’ll have a chance to go back through Go! Go! Nippon! with a fresh set of eyes.

While I passed through the Meishin Expressway cutting through the farmer’s fields near Shiga, my iPhone began playing BT’s theme. The me of five years earlier had admired the majesty and scale of Titanfall 2‘s soundtrack, as well as the game’s movement system and visceral gunplay. I hadn’t yet caught onto the fact that Titanfall 2‘s portrayal of Blisk was strikingly similar to that of a software developer. Blisk is described as being in his line of work both for the fact that it pays well and because Blisk loves the the thrill of a challenge. In addition, Blisk is particularly fond of testing out cutting edge hardware and weapons, as well as experimenting with different solutions and pushing himself to complete assignments at all costs. Blisk is loyal to no flag or ideology, serving a client only until his task is completed as stated. As a software developer, I’m surprisingly similar: although some problems are frustrating, there’s a certain satisfaction in solving them. Working as a developer means being able to play with beta builds, new SDKs and even cutting-edge hardware. I’ve similarly worked on assignments (both in an organisation and as a consultant) where I stop development once the stipulated milestones are reached (and out-of-scope work is described as such). Seeing the commonalities between myself and Blisk led me to appreciate Titanfall 2 in a new way, and at present, I understand Titanfall 2‘s choice to let Blisk live by disallowing players the chance to fight him. Looking back, I’d been similar to Cooper in that I had been loyal, to a fault, with my first startup. As I accrued more experience, both professional and personal, realities meant that it became easier to see what drives Blisk’s character; Titanfall 2 has Blisk end the game by stating to Marder that with his current contract over, Cooper is no longer his problem, and that he’s got people with money to see. For me, the first start-up I worked for ended up failing: with the paycheques no longer coming in despite having delivered a working app, the time had come for me to move on, as well.