The Infinite Zenith

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

The Sabagebu Specials: A Reflection and Review on the OVAs

“The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they’re going to be when you kill them.” —William Clayton

A glance in the blog’s archives show that the last talk on Sabagebu! was made back in October 2014, nearly ten months ago. Released between October 2014 and February 2015, the Sabagebu! OVAs were bundled with the BD releases; there are a total of six volumes and consequently, six OVAs, each dealing with a variety of situations that wind up being remarkably entertaining to watch. I had a separate talk for the first OVA and was intending to do separate talks for each, but my own schedule precluded a proper review. However, with the summer fast drawing to a close, and my frequent promises to write about the remainder of Sabagebu!, it’s time to actually buckle down and discuss the OVAs.

Given that I’ve already viewed and reviewed the first of the OVAs, this talk will deal primarily with the remaining five OVAs and their contributions to Sabagebu!. This contribution appears to be insubstantial prima facie, given that all five of the OVAs are purely comedy-driven and do not serve to extend Sabagebu! further. However, Sabagebu! capitalises on the unique freedom offered by the OVAs to present Sabagebu!‘s characters in a variety of situations, using a variety of formats. Each of the individual OVAs thus stand out from one another, and possess a memorable aspect: the second OVA deals with April Fools’ jokes and energy drinks, the third with an unexpected sleepover at Momoka’s place, the fourth give Miou and Yayoi a chance to bounce off one another and the fifth turns things as simple as lunch and hanami into comedy gold. The final OVA represents the pinnacle of humour, making use of meta-humour to send of Sabagebu! in style. Together, the Sabagebu! OVAs demonstrate the series’ talent for executing black humour in new and refreshing ways without ever making the show tiresome to watch. Anime such as these are quite rare in this age, so it’s always welcoming for such shows to make it onto the market.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sabagebu!‘s OVAs follow a very whimsical pattern and manages to pack in a great deal of humour into a short period: each OVA is roughly eight minutes long (if the opening and ending sequences are omitted), and the first of the Saba-Shorts opens with April Fools. I noted in the above passage that I had originally intended to do a separate talk for each OVA. However, I soon realised that doing a single post would save me around 60 percent of the effort (one post with twenty screenshots, rather than five posts with ten screenshots each). Unless otherwise informed, I’ll stake the claim that this is the largest collection of Sabagebu! OVA screenshots on the ‘net at present.

  • Here, Miou’s background means she’s unable to lie, and she turns her considerable resources towards making true certain things (such as her initial lie to Maya about the presence of cheesecake).Both Saba-shorts are broken up into small segments: in Japanese, they’re called さばよん, and in this case, よん refers to the formatting, which takes after the four-panel (yonkoma) comics. As such, each segment ends with an outrageous joke or reaction, acting as the punchline that is seen in comic strips.

  • The second half of OVA 2 deals with energy drinks after Momoka comes to club one day in a sleepy state and the others recommend various energy drinks for her. I’ve never felt the need for excessive consumption of such things: the most I’ve relied on coffee was during the second term of my graduate studies, where I drank a mug of coffee during the mid-afternoon prior to my evening tutorials.

  • This term, I’m hoping to be a TA for an iOS development course, which ends at six in the evening. Hopefully, this means I’ll have office hours instead, so there won’t be any evening tutorial sessions. Returning back to Sabagebu!, decause this is an OVA, the narrator reasons, it’s possible to get away with more; the choice of image here reflects that notion, but on the whole, the Sabagebu! OVAs manage to be quite disciplined with respect to how much fanservice there actually is.

  • Maya, Urara, Miou and Kayo arrive in Momoka’s room through unknown inter-dimensional means to kick off a sleepover. There’s a shout-out to Yuru Yuri here: Kayo is wearing tomato-themed pajamas, which mirrors that of Kyouko’s during the first season’s finale. Of all the characters, Kayo seems to be directly inspired by The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan‘s incarnation of Nagato Yuki, being into cosplay and all things anime while retaining excellent academic performance and a quite manner.

  • It was quite refreshing to see the Sabagebu! cast partake in an event that is frequently depicted in the west, right down to pillow fights, card games and love stories: refreshing because here, Sabagebu! has its own spin on things, which allows their variant to be quite memorable and distinct from the countless other iterations seen elsewhere. Apparently, this is supposed to be a rite-of-passage of sorts for youth as they develop connections with others.

  • The third OVA thus ends on a high note after an episode that, despite being a little zany at times, feels the most normal. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and as Kazue finds the next morning, the girls do end up exhausting themselves and sleeping soundly.

  • Yayoi Isurugi was only mentioned once during the season review as the student council’s president whose misfortunes lead her to dislike Miou. Sporting braids during the anime, I prefer her appearance with her hair down, and here, she slips on a banana peel that Platy left behind. It turns out that Platy’s voice is not generated entirely by an electronic means: a special contraption and some skill is how they do it.

  • Yayoi’s personality is quite hot (in the sense of creating a flaming aura around her, that is), and she decides to stick close to Miou with the intent of having her ill-luck transfer to Miou. It turns out that Miou herself is having a “bad” day. Unverified claims suggest that Yayoi’s gradually becoming infatuated with Miou, although one might have to pick up the manga to ascertain whether this is true our not.

  • Yayoi’s fate at the end of the fourth OVA is somewhat unfortunate: after carrying her out of a classroom blaze (created when Yayoi slips and knocks over enough cooking material to create a small fire), Miou uses her as a cushion of sorts to safely land and seemingly kills her in the process. Thankfully, death is cheap in Sabagebu!: we recall that Urara was toasted by sharks in the previous OVA but returns nonetheless for the remainder of the OVAs.

  • The fourth OVA returns to the super-deformed styles seen in the second OVA: similar to Lucky Star, a fair section of this episode deals with a single conversation topic. In this case, it’s Obento, the packed lunches common in Japan. After recollecting her experiences, Momoka feeds Urara the items she didn’t like before going on a hunt for food, only to find that Miou and Maya have some unusual propensities.

  • I’ve no idea what motivates Momoka’s dialogue here, but shortly after, feathers begin flying as birds flock to Sakura, whose eating habits result in crumbs being dropped. It seems random, and that’s the point of the Saba-shorts, being able to turn a nonsensical series of events into something reasonably structured for animation.

  • Miou’s bourgeois background means that she’s somewhat unfamiliar with eating more conventional food items: dango are dumplings made from rice flour and served on a skewer. Downing the first two with no difficulty, Miou tries to eat the third one in the same manner and winds up impaling the roof of her mouth instead.

  • After seeing an alleged drunkard in the sakura trees, Miou breaks out a rifle to shoot them down. It turns out this is Sakura; much humour ensues from both Sakura’s irrational logic and Miou’s decision to shoot her (which understandably results in Maya and Momoka’s reactions here).

  • After reaching a standoff when a disagreement regarding the leaf on their sakura mochi, the girls see Miou sucking the insides of her mochi out and decide that’s more offensive than discarding or keeping the leaf, subsequently proceeding to plug her, demonstrating yet another instance where the unexpected outcome of a moment lends itself to hilarity.

  • The final OVA is probably the best one in a collection of already-excellent OVAs: making extensive use of meta-humour to reference the customers’ Blu-Ray purchasing patterns. The girls thank the audiences for having bought the entire collection, but Momoka wonders if it’s possible that some of the audience may have simply picked up the final volume, leading Kayo into a long-winded spiel about customer loyalty.

  • From what I know, the sales for Sabagebu! were not bad, and viewers did hold out hope for a second season. While not unappreciated, a second season would also be quite difficult to market on the basis that there is a limit to what one can reasonably do with black comedy of this sort (even if the manga itself is ongoing). Consequently, I personally find that the decision to end Sabagebu! here would be a wise one.

  • The final OVA deals with ōsama gēmu (King’s Game), where participants must draw pieces of paper, of which one is labeled as the “king.” It’s similar to the American game of truth or dare, the king gets to give out orders to any member of the group to which they must follow. After the order is carried out the pieces of paper are drawn again and a new king is appointed. Miou’s command is a bold one: she orders the system to swap Urara’s voice with that of the Narrator’s, yielding two minutes of solid laughs.

  • To top that, Maya’s clothing gets shot off yet again for no reason: even as it’s happening, the narrator reminds audiences that this will be the last bit of fanservice that will be present, implicitly justifying why it’s to happen. It’s pleasant to behold, and one imagines this is why Maya is even in the anime to begin with. Maya’s clothing damage is temporal; a few scenes later, when Maya herself takes on the king’s role, her orders are for a shoulder massage.

  • It’s appropriate that an anime about survival games ends with the cast preparing to engage in yet another thrilling round against one another. For those who’ve already seen the entirety of Sabagebu!, this final OVA acts as the proper conclusion to the entire anime, as it portrays a club whose members have accepted one another and are quite passionate about their club activities.

While there is not much in the way of themes and motifs that can be realistically explored in an anime about Momoka’s time in her high school’s survival games club, Sabagebu! manages to stand out from other comedies in being able to capitalise fully on the notion of airsoft, in conjunction with an anti-hero protagonist and a colourful cast of characters that, together, yield an anime that never fails to deliver hilarious moments: the OVAs succeed in doing so to the same extent that the anime did. The final OVA explicitly states that there will be no more animated adaptations of Sabagebu! for the foreseeable future (i.e. “never”), and knowing that Sabagebu!‘s OVAs act as the swan song, I find that as a whole, Sabagebu! earns a strong recommend for audiences looking for a comedy that’s something different, perhaps even a little macabre, to try out.

Operation Victory Arrow: Whole-series review and the future of Strike Witches

“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” —Roy H. Williams

Decried for “breaking no conventions”, being “predictable and somewhat insipid” and lacking any sort of pants for the characters, but simultaneously praised for being fun and enjoyable, Strike Witches has long been regarded as a polarising title since its initial airing back during 2008: viewers either love it or hate it, and there seems not to be any sort of middle ground. The passage of seven years has meant that the Strike Witches franchise has had ample time to mature, and while the second season (2010) proved to be déjà vu in that its structuring was nearly identical to the first season (2008), the movie (2012) explored Yoshika’s determination to do her duty as a Witch despite lacking any magic. The movie concluded on a high note, but also left viewers with a cryptic “To be continued”. Compared to the TV series, the Strike Witches Movie was less overt about its fanservice, and illustrated that the characters could hold the story on their own without the need to place the camera in interesting places every few frames. Through their dynamics with one another, the different Witches’ daily activities gave viewers the sense that the world of Strike Witches was a living, breathing entity. The Operation Victory Arrow OVAs were announced in March 2014, nearly two years after the movie’s release, and by September of last year, began airing in Japanese theatre. For most English-speakers, December is when the first volume truly came out, dealing with the Karlsland Witches between the second season and the movie. By the time volume two finished with recounting Charlotte and Francesca’s adventures in the Mediterranean region, there was no doubt that the Strike Witches of 2014-2015 had matured from its origins in the 2007 OVA.

Operation Victory Arrow set itself apart from the previous installments in the Strike Witches franchise in that shameless fanservice has largely been eliminated. Instead, each of Operation Victory Arrow‘s volumes set about telling a coherent, focused story with a discernible theme (mistrust of new technologies, what fighting for one’s homeland means and how prejudices can be changed amongst individuals for volumes one, two and three, respectively). Each character’s personality, having long been explored in Operation Victory Arrow‘s predecessors, comes forwards to lend itself towards the individual volume’s progression. The end result is a self-contained story that is satisfying to watch, yielding a bit more insight into the fantastical world of Strike Witches. The impressive element here is that each of the three Operation Victory Arrow volumes is able to do this consistently: this release marks the first time in the franchise where a meaningful theme can be derived. The implications of such an observation is that Operation Victory Arrow has demonstrated Strike Witches can indeed be more than just a unique world rigged deliberately to maximise glimpses of animated anatomy. Instead of forcing the plot to accommodate frequent views of the Witches’ assets, Operation Victory Arrow paints compelling stories for each of its volumes and demonstrates that Strike Witches can be designed to be worth watching for more than just fanservice alone. Now, because WordPress’ “suggested posts” can be a little unruly at times, here are links to my previous Operation Victory Arrow talks, each of which deals with the individual volume in much greater detail:

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This post looks beyond the individual themes covered in each of the three OVAs. Given that each of the OVAs covered a unique theme and were standalone, there is no single overarching message in Operation Victory Arrow.  Consequently, I’ve not attempted to tie each of the OVAs together, and instead, have opted to look at their contributions to Strike Witches, as well as what Strike Witches could stand to gain if a third season does indeed focus on the right things.

  • Strike Witches’ first season was done by Gonzo, but everything subsequently is done by AIC. As such, the visuals and artwork from season two onwards is significantly more consistent, of an excellent calibre. This is not to say that Gonzo’s artwork and animation were poor, but armed with improvements in technical know-how, I prefer the character designs from AIC.

  • While I claim that Strike Witches could leave its reputation as a fanservice-laden anime behind, striking a balance between its story and the crotch-shots that Strike Witches is known for, I imagine that a focused, story-driven incarnation of Strike Witches would not likely increase the audience pool. The fact remains that the anime’s reputation precedes it, but for existing fans, such a change could be quite welcomed.

  • The major plot point in St. Trond’s Thunder was Erica’s acceptance of new technologies and ideas. Erica is shown as being quite close-minded about new concepts until an extraordinary circumstance changes her mind, even going out of her way to push a zwei-linked Striker Unit to its limits, eventually causing the link to fail. The OVAs each demonstrate how it’s possible to guide a story down a particular direction using the character’s known personalities: no one’s actions ever feel inconsistent with how they had interacted with others during the TV series and movie.

  • In each of the OVAs, the Neuroi that the Witches face appear to be somewhat tougher than the incarnations seen in the TV series. This could arise from the fact that there are fewer Witches in the air, leading to a tougher fight; in each volume, the Witches respectively pull in new hardware, devise novel strategies captialise on new-found friendships to take the Neuroi out.

  • Observers with a keen eye will have noticed that most of my posts come later in the evening: this is because, even though it’s the last week of summer, I’m still hard at work on my graduate project. This week, I returned to my Unity project and implemented several new features so it’d be more user-friendly in VR environments (the Unity version of my simulation has been mothballed since April 2015, ever since Unreal made their engine free). However, working hard is no excuse not to get out and smell the roses, so for lunch yesterday, I walked out to a nearby DQ and picked up a Flamethrower Grill Burger, something I haven’t done since 2013.

  • The burger was enjoyable (DQ burgers have a subtle flavour that suggest the beef is grilled over a flame), but the walk out there was less so, and today, I’ve decided to stay indoors, away from the still-smokey skies. I somewhat miss having the blue summer skies the Southern Alberta region is known for; as of late, raging forest fires in Washington state have blown north over the border, and consequently, the entire region’s been covered in a thick smoke.

  • I’m hoping that the smoke clears out soon, but the forecast suggests that it’s going to persist at least until the weekend. We’re now into the second volume, which focused on Charlotte and Francesca. I realise that I refer to all of the characters by their first names, but in-show, most of the characters follow Japanese convention (i.e. they only refer to one another by their given names unless they’re close to one another).

  • The second volume deals with the dedication and devotion to which individuals demonstrate when they’re tasked with something that directly affects something dear to them. Here, Charlotte and Francesca react to their primary munitions’ destruction at the Neuroi’s hands, illustrating the need for yet another method. A cargo ship with a winch was shot down earlier, and before leaving the airspace, Charlotte takes note of it.

  • Hanna makes a return, and although she’s the best Witch humanity’s got against the Neuroi for her ability as a marksman, she’s also rather arrogant. One of the charms about the second OVA deals with her swallowing enough pride to work with Charlotte and Francesca as a team to overcome the Neuroi, even if her motives do not directly align with the others’ interests.

  • The Neuroi’s beams are never explicitly explained, but its behaviour resembles a laser weapon more so than the beam weaponry typically seen in science fiction. The fact that the Witches can conjure up shields to deflect these beams or else dodge them attests to the combat advantage that their magic confer.

  • The emphasis in St. Trond’s Thunder was on technology, so it followed that there was a powerful prototype at the Witches’ disposal when things went south. In Goddess of the Aegean Sea, a partially sunken vessel’s winch becomes key in helping the Witches destroy a deeply entrenched Neuroi. While it may seem like deus ex machina at worst (or a contrived coincidence at best), the means the Witches resort to in destroying the Neuroi is plausible and merely represent a clever capitalisation on their resources to succeed.

  • Inspired by Eduard Neumann, Edytha Neumann is a Colonel who reports to General Rommel. Another strong point about the OVAs is that the secondary characters (Ursa, Neumann, Rommela and Julius) play an important role in supporting the primary characters (Erica, Francesca and Perrine) of their respective volumes, in turn enriching the sense that the Strike Witches universe is a fully-developed world with its own nuances.

  • As I’ve noted in the original discussion for the second volume, this marks the first time that conventional forces have directly destroyed a Neuroi. In all other previous installments, the Witches’ actions do the heavy lifting, and conventional forces are often present to show just how outmatched humanity is. While this is well and all, it’s more realistic and rewarding to see the Witches working in conjunction with conventional forces to destroy the Neuroi.

  • It is for this reason that Halo still deploys Marines alongside Spartans on operations, and why traditional tanks and aircraft still exist in Gundam: a highly effective technology against a particular foe usually represents a particularly large investment that, while having a profound impact on a conflict’s course, is too expensive or difficult to mass produce. Thus, the universes where highly advanced prototypes and units fight alongside a competent conventional armed force is far more convincing.

  • We step into Arnhem Bridge at present, and for the longest time after its announcement, viewers kept their fingers crossed that OVA volume three would deal with Eila and Sanya, whose dynamics they found to be the most endearing. The most dedicated of fans delved into the documentation and found that Eila and Sanya would make an appearance, but were puzzled as to how they’d fit into a story about Perrine and Lynette.

  • However, it seems that discussion on the OVAs has been quite scant, so if there is disappointment about Eila and Sanya’s limited appearances in Operation Victory Arrow, I have not heard it. On the whole, however, it appears that the whole of Operation Victory Arrow was well-received by existing fans of Strike Witches: similar praises have been offered concerning the positive direction that this mini-series has decided to take.

  • As evidenced by the gorgeous panoramas of the landscapes in Strike Witches, AIC does not disappoint when it comes to animation. A part of the reason why I wish to see an increased emphasis on story is such that more of the Strike Witches world can be explored; their alternate history, though more fitting for character growth rather than exploring more complex themes surrounding warfare, nonetheless feels sufficiently immersive such that it would be nice to see how other regions in and outside of Europe are faring.

  • Arnhem Bridge‘s theme deals with how the Witches’ actions in Gallia help a young boy, Julius, overcome his dislike of the Witches. As with its predecessors, the third volume told a self-contained, entertaining story. One of the challenges that the third season will face is which themes they will focus on throughout the anime’s run and how these are to be tied in so the story can be explored in adequate depth when there are twelve episodes’ worth of space for development.

  • When everything is said and done, Operation Victory Arrow represents the culmination of nearly eight years of experience: Strike Witches has matured into a work that can tell a compelling story from its origins as a fanservice-laden anime. For existing fans, Operation Victory Arrow is easy to recommend, and for those who’ve not seen Strike Witches until now, Operation Victory Arrow does represent the best of what Strike Witches presently has to offer, striking a balance between character development and combat scenes. In the meantime, for completeness’ sake, I may return and do a talk about the original 2007 OVA at some point in the future.

By demonstrating the contributions of solid writing in Strike Witches, Operation Victory Arrow has raised the bar for what viewers could now reasonably expect out of any future Strike Witches releases. Coupled with the incredibly vast number of Witches outside of the 501st, there is much possibility for the Strike Witches franchise. It would seem that this possibility was not missed; if sources are to be believed, there is to be a third season of Strike Witches that will follow the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing. It will be quite welcoming to see new Witches enter the scene after nearly eight years of having the 501st at the forefront of everything. If Strike Witches‘ third season continues to tell a focused story, the franchise will allow audiences to gain further insight into their world, enhancing the setting’s credibility. These are exciting new directions for Strike Witches, and ever since the announcement of a third season since Vividred Operation, I’ve been looking greatly forwards to a third season of Strike Witches. Strike Witches armed with a cohesive, well-executed plotline will doubtlessly impress current fans in providing new directions for the franchise.

The Third Girls Aerial Squad: Shirobako OVA II Review and Reflection

“We’re on another useless joyride at the cost of mere millions to the US taxpayer.” —Stackhouse, Behind Enemy Lines

Produced during the second half of Shirobako, The Third Girls Aerial Squad follows Aria Hitotose in a world where a mysterious entity, known only as the Builders, appeared. They created vast constructs known as pillars and assimilated the world’s technology, before eliminating their originals, limiting resistance groups to only technology dating before the 1970s. The first episode of The Third Girls Aerial Squad follows the 307 Aerial Squad on a rescue operation at Midway base; Aria manages to rescue the sole survivor after a transport aircraft is shot down, but comes under fire from the Builders’ F-22s. The 307th’s leader, Olivia, sacrifices herself to save Aria, and the survivor bonds with Aria, eventually taking on the name Catherine Weller. The episode closes off with the 307th sortieing to take down a squadron of Builder jets carrying a Pillar Seed to prevent them from creating a pillar in Japan. The first episode paints The Third Girls Aerial Squad as an anime that feels and handles like Strike Witches, Kantai Collection and Vividred Operation, but with a more serious, character-driven tone.

While Exodus was modestly entertaining, The Third Girls Aerial Squad is much more focused and engaging: it’s a science-fiction type anime with plenty of opportunity for world-building and character development. Though presented as a stoic character, Aria demonstrates that she is not truly the “Ice Doll” others paint her out to be after rescuing Catherine, dissolving into tears during their conversation. In doing so, Aria shows that there’s much more to her than initially meets the eye; audiences would therefore be compelled to continue watching to see how Aria matures as The Third Girls Aerial Squad progresses. Aria’s wingmates each also have their own defining characteristics that make them memorable and easy to distinguish from one another. In conjunction with an alternate history that seems to have drawn inspiration from Strike Witches and similar, the first episode to The Third Girls Aerial Squad suggests that emphasis will be on characterisation, rather than the implications of warfare on society itself. The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s premise means that it could either occupy a one or two-cour timeslot, were it to ever become its own anime. The former would focus on merely Aria’s growth and leave the Builders as faceless enemies, doing away with morality to keep the focus on the 307th Squad. On the other hand, the latter necessarily demands an enemy that is much more complex than the Neuroi or Alone: more episodes means more time in which to flesh out their universe, and this would serve as fine opportunity for the writers to convey their thoughts on conflict and warfare.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve dawdled for nearly a month now before sitting down to write this here review, and consequently, cannot lay claim to having the first set of screenshots and discussion for The Third Girls Aerial SquadWith that being said, I’ll nonetheless offer my usual twenty images with a concise talk: it was much easier to write for The Third Girls Aerial Squad than it had been for Exodus and this review was particularly fun to write. With that being said, there’s still much to discuss that I have not covered in the figure captions or main paragraphs; that’s why the comment section is open.

  • The Third Girls Aerial Squad immediately captures the audiences’ attention with squadrons of third generation fighters flying towards a massive construct known as a “Pillar”: the name of this game is to rescue survivors left on the airbase just underneath the Pillar. Right from the start, it’s obvious that The Third Girls Aerial Squad would easily be one of Musashino’s best anime for its attention to detail and characterisation.

  • Said attention to detail include watching the combatants dropping their fuel tanks, suggesting that they’ve flown in from a considerable distance. The F4 Phantom can indeed carry a maximum of three externally mounted fuel tanks and with them, has a maximum range of around 2600 kilometers. This suggests that the 307th is based in Hawaii, which is 2113 kilometers from Honolulu. Another fine example of detail is watching a F4 Phantom pilot dumps his flares in response to missiles: his initial salvo works, as two missiles are thrown off, but once the flares are exhausted, another missile hits him from behind.

  • The 307th are seen serving as an AC-130’s escort: the members of this squadron, known as “Hell Alice”, are renowned in-universe for being exceptional aces able to pull off manoeuvers other pilots deem impossible. Shirobako shows that the aircraft used in The Third Girls Aerial Squad were meticulously researched by Midori Imai, and include accurate engine sounds, combat characteristics and even cockpit designs.

  • It would not be unreasonable to imagine that P.A. Works’ staff had a fantastic time in creating this OVA: most of the audio assets they required to depict Musashino’s production of The Third Girls Aerial Squad can easily be reused, and in fact, unverified sources claim that P.A. Works has enough storyboards to produce three additional OVA episodes for The Third Girls Aerial Squad. I would love to see more of this, but it’d be more than acceptable if P.A. Work chooses not to pursue this further and focus on their ongoing projects to ensure their quality.

  • The Builders are hitherto an unknown faction with unknown intents, being stated to have arrived on Earth and immediately began assimilating humanity’s technology while suppressing anything post-seventies. Coupled with their the crystalline constructs, one must wonder if The Third Girls Aerial Squad derived inspiration from Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer‘s ELS. The ELS (Extraterrestrial Living-metal Shape-shifter) were a sentient lifeform that operated and propagated in a similar manner, although their intentions were seen as hostile in the movie.

  • Aria Hitotose is the protagonist of The Third Girls Aerial Squad and is best known for her seemingly emotionless demenour, as well as ice-cold resolve in battle. Aria is said to not so much as flinch when her own wingmates are shot down, bearing a degree of similarity to Halo Legends‘ Ghost, who likewise was viewed as a cold and sadistic figure. Aria’s personality is a consequence of her background, seen briefly in flashback during the episode, and as such, helps to give the notion that there’s a legitimate reason for why Aria is generally emotionless: it’s a coping strategy for a past emotional trauma.

  • After the AC-130 lands, an F-35 exits a hanger and decimates it, forcing Aria to go in herself to extract the survivor. Later, Aria engages a Builder version of the Japanese ATD-X. A fair number of the fifth-generation fighters share a similar airframe, and consequently, it can be quite difficult to differentiate them during the frenzy of a battle (especially in anime). The ATD-X and F-22 Raptor are twin-engined, with the F-22 having rectangular exhaust ports compared to the round ones on the ATD-X. By comparison, F-35s have a single engine. Here, an ATD-X destroys an allied fighter before shifting its attention to Aria.

  • Aria realises that using a forklift to move the survivor would be much quicker, and also makes it easier to transfer her into the cockpit without climbing a ladder normally used for entering the plane. From a cinematographic perspective, there is no denying the impact and visual oomph that the decision makes, perhaps even underlining a certain boldness in Aria’s character.

  • The single survivor comes to just as Aria leaps into the cockpit, surprising her. One of the things I noticed about The Third Girls Aerial Squad was that the cannon fire from the fighters still sound like traditional machine guns, but the M61 Vulcans fire with a distinct buzzing sound. While some fans will invariably claim that the M61 Vulcan can’t be used, the cannon has in fact, been around since 1959: at the time, European designers were experimenting with 30 mm rounds, but US designers felt that accuracy was more important at high speeds, and the M61’s 20 mm rounds’ higher muzzle velocity would theoretically be superior in this regard compared to the 30 mm rounds.

  • Lacking a second seat, Aria seats herself on top of the survivor. The second (and last) bit of nitpicking I’ll do pertains to the brevity codes that NATO pilots use to indicate the firing of anti-air munitions: the Hell Alice squadron makes extensive use of missiles, but never signal to their wingmates that they’re about to fire, which could elevate the risk of friendly fire (not amongst Hell Alice on account of their skill, but amongst other blue forces). These are the two main issues in The Third Girls Aerial Squad, and are the only complaints I’ve got.

  • Being quite minor in nature, this is to say that on the whole, The Third Girls Aerial Squad is definitely something I would watch. This is an opinion that is nearly universal: because The Third Girls Aerial Squad places additional emphasis on character development over blatant fanservice, viewers surmise that the anime would wind up being a powerhouse performance. Aria’s launch is, for me, reminiscent of the opening scene to Tomorrow Never Dies, during which James Bond commandeers a Czechoslovakian L-39 Albatross armed with nuclear missiles to prevent a cruise missile from detonating them: in both cases, it’s a thrilling few seconds to watch the aircraft get into the air ahead of their threats.

  • While the ATD-X is a prototype aircraft, the Builders appear to have assimilated it and got it into a working state. Here, the lead pilot of Hell Alice, Olivia, sacrifices herself to keep Aria safe, and in the chaos, the ATD-X overshoots them, allowing Aria to bring it down and exit the hostile airspace.

  • With the package secured, Hell Alice returns to base. It is here that the survivor begins bonding with Aria, leading the latter to express emotions audiences hadn’t seen before. Right off the bat, audiences understand that the survivor and Aria will be quite closely connected to one another as the series progresses; Aria will likely be a major factor in helping the latter overcome her amnesia, and again, the possibilities for character growth here are nearly limitless.

  • As a consequence of having listened to a vast quantity of soundtracks, I’m now able to pick out very distinct patterns in each composer’s style. For Shirobako, the music was composed by Shirō Hamaguch, who had composed the soundtracks to Girls und Panzer, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari. Ordinarily, I do not not usually pay attention to the artist, and as such, when I hear familiar patterns in the music, I look up the soundtracks’ composers for both. Most of the time, my intuition winds up correct: I’d been wondering why some songs in Shirobako sounded so familiar to the incidental pieces in Girls und Panzer.

  • While they’ve made appearances alongside Aria, I’ve not included any screenshots of the other 307th members just yet, so for completeness’ sake, here they are. Now identifying herself as Catherine Weller, there is a new member on board with the 307th, adding an additional dynamic to the group that the others would have not seen previously. The page quote comes from Behind Enemy Lines, and I figured that it’d act as an interesting parallel to The Third Girls Aerial Squad, where the pilots’ actions are intended to prevent the Builders from gaining any more ground on Earth.

  • In the absence of further context, one would be forgiven that Catherine and Aria are about to engage in activities unfit for this blog, but it turns out that besides being a rather empathetic person when the moment calls for it, Aria is also susceptible to embarrassment after she glimpses the dimensions of Catherine’s assets. The angle of this scene is finely balanced such that nothing more is shown, and while OVAs have been known to be more open about anatomy, this is about the upper limit of what The Third Girls Aerial Squad would show, given that it was intended to be a TV series in Shirobako.

  • I’ve found that anime that do much of their fanservice during the first episode subsequently are able to stick to their story more effectively later on; once the fun and games are done, the all-business mood can be conveyed without unnecessary interruptions. While Aria is teased for her emotions here, the sortie alarm goes off, bringing an end to what was a more relaxing moment.

  • Contrasting Exodus, where I had a bit of difficulty in coming up with things to say for each figure caption, The Third Girls Aerial Squad is so rich in content that there was no difficulty in drafting something for each of the figure captions. The episode closes off with the 307th sortieing to take out a Builder squadron carrying a pillar seed, used for creating new pillars. Readers who’ve been hearing endless praise in the anime communities about The Third Girls Aerial Squad out there, heed well: said praise is well-deserved, and this OVA definitely merits watching.

  • It’s unlikely that we’ll get any sort of continuation, which will be disheartening, but because there are purportedly three more episodes’ worth of usable content, it is conceivable that a movie might just end up happening if reception and demand warrant a continuation. Thus ends my talk on The Third Girls Aerial Squad: of the two anime that Musashino produced, this one is easily the more solid offering.

My response to Exodus was mostly positive: I can see myself watching it and giving it a recommendation (i.e. “comparable to good anime of its genre”), but The Third Girls Aerial Squad looks to be something that would have high expectations, deliver a solid performance and earn a strong recommendation were it an actual anime. The first episode suggests that The Third Girls Aerial Squad looks to be a more serious variant of Strike Witches. Consequently, this is an anime I would easily follow after reading about it in the season preview: it’s right up my alley as far as genres I enjoy watching go, and moreover, appears offers a more unique take on a sub-genre that has not strayed far from the lighthearted mood and minimal antagonist development. Consequently, anime like The Third Girls Aerial Squad would be quite interesting to watch and discuss. Of course, because The Third Girls Aerial Squad is an anime made in the context of Shirobako, it’s unlikely that an author or studio will take up the mantle of bringing it to reality. Nonetheless, The Third Girls Aerial Squad represents (for me, anyways), one of Musashino’s better shows, perhaps reflecting on how Miyamori and her coworkers have found their momentum and are now able to balance their schedules with the author’s requests to create an anime that captures The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s spirit.

Exodus: Shirobako OVA I Review and Reflection

“How could you lose him?”
“He’s got a lot of firepower.”
“What? And you don’t?!” —Exchange between Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Foley and a cop in The Dark Knight Rises

The Shirobako OVAs were included in Blu-Ray volumes; capitalising in Shirobako‘s premise as an anime about making anime, audiences are treated to the first episode of both series that Musashino Animation worked on in-series. Because they are relatively unique compared to other Blu-Ray exclusives, their corresponding reviews will take into account that these are not full-fledged anime. Instead of focusing on the thematic elements and other aspects present in a typical anime review, these OVA talks will instead delve into whether or not Musashino’s anime might be something that would have merited picking up (and if so, the manner in which I would watch it). Exodus is the first anime that Aoi Miyamori contributed to during Shirobako as a production assistant, dealing with the idol group Tracy and their journey towards a live performance at Musashino Dome. The first episode shows them as being an obscure group quite uncertain of their futures as idols, but an effort to talk to their producer, Taguchi. However, things turn sour when he is found murdered. As fugitives, Akane, Aya, and Arupin evade the law enforcement: in a chase evoking memories of one from The Dark Knight Rises, their escape leads them to fall into a river and see each other without makeup for the first time. Here, Akane, Aya, and Arupin express their intentions to clear their names, and as the episode concludes, a voice over states that this marks the beginning of a great journey.

Objectively, Exodus‘ first episode is quite busy, covering a variety of genres and introducing a large number of conflicts amongst the characters. Exodus initially presents itself as an idol anime with a large action component, simultaneously depicting the challenges that Arupin and the others face as starting idols (in a manner reminiscent of Wake Up! Girls) while adding on top of this a detective mystery, and action-adventure elements after the girls escape a police force determined to find them as the perpetrators of their manager’s murder. Thus, Exodus‘ first episode might be seen as doing too much in so short a time. However, because Akane, Aya, and Arupin’s goals are immediately made clear in the first episode, the anime would likely try to tell a story about how this single motivation allows the three to overcome difficulties border-lining on the ridiculous during their journey across twelve nations, over three months, to stay ahead of their pursuers. If memory serves, Shirobako depicted the finale as something that’s over-the-top: Arupin, Aya and Akane are escaping their pursuers via horseback, and a biplane appears. Thus, Exodus could conceivably be done within a twelve or thirteen episode span, telling its story concisely and perhaps, though not giving Akane, Aya, and Arupin a happy ending in the finale, would paint a decidedly optimistic picture for their futures.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tracy’s choreography and execution is above average, and it’s clear that Musashino is able to make use of solid cinematography to portray their performance, but their group seems to be relatively unknown in-universe: their first performance in an open area has an audience count of zero. This is even more abysmal than WUG’s debut performance in Wake Up! Girls, but in Wake Up! Girls, the focus is on the group’s progression.

  • The discussion for Exodus is nonexistent, and the certainty for this claim stems from my having done a thorough search before making thus. The reason most likely stems from the fact that Exodus is intrinsically more challenging to review (not that it’s going to stop me). Consequently, I will step up to the plate and offer the usual twenty screenshots. By comparison, The Third Aerial Girls Squad was executed so well, there’s no shortage of material to discuss.

  • The unidentified figure threatening Tracy’s manager, Taguchi, seems to exhibit characteristics of a villain that lacks the intimidation factor that one would typically anticipate from a proper antagonist. While his appearance does seem somewhat lacking, his actions set in motion the remainder of the events in the episode (and the remainder of the series).

  • It’s probably reasonable to say that Tracy is not well-regarded in their universe, given that their change room is the bathroom of a mall. Their conversation turns to their current situation: far from being well-known idols, the group lacks the audience and reach of a rival group.

  • Arupin shares some manjū with Akane and Aya, mentioning that even though the manjū itself appears unremarkable, its taste is exceptional. Manjū is typically made fromflour, rice powder and buckwheat and filled with red bean paste. This leads Akane to realise that Tracy can stand on the merit of their music, rather than through their appearances alone, and so, she resolves to talk to Taguchi. However, they find him dead, murdered by the same knives that the girls are presently carrying.

  • Thus, in the space of seconds, Exodus transforms from an idol anime into a detective fiction of sorts. Taguchi had left a message before he succumbed to his wounds, leaving “あ” behind, but because Akana, Arupin and Aya’s names all begin with an “A”, the message might be seen as incriminating.

  • Thus, for the present, the girls agree to leave the scene of the crime. They are aided by someone only known as onee-san, who plays a similar role as 007‘s M and Human Revolution‘s Prichard. Providing remote support from a desk and occasionally offering advice about the girls’ performances, her presence suggests that Tracy may be more than a mere idol group.

  • Detective Miho Koigakubo is assigned to investigate Taguchi’s murder, and she’s presented to be quite zealous in her duties, even resorting to excessive force during a previous case. Because of her single-minded drive to solve cases, she would serve as a minor antagonist were Exodus to have continued and might very well likely turn around, helping Akane, Aya and Arupin capture the real murderer at some point in the series.

  • Aya, Akane and Arupin meet outside the Musashino Dome, expressing their wishes to one day perform there. It’s blatantly named after Musashino Studios, and from the looks of things, Exodus turned out (in-universe) to have been quite successful. Curiously enough, Shirobako was a powerhouse performance that saw near-universal acclaim from fans: in their eyes, Shirobako demonstrated that P.A. Works had not begun sliding down a slippery slope after the debacle that was Glasslip.

  • With onee-san‘s help, Akane, Aya and Arupin gain access to a secured phone and a motorbike. Arupin has prior experience in operating a motorbike, suggesting that she’s older than she lets on. This element was mentioned briefly in Shirobako during Exodus‘ production as part of designing Arupin’s character.

  • The page quote comes from a scene in The Dark Knight Rises, during which the Batman, while pursuing Bane’s men after their hit on the stock exchange. Usage of motorbikes and pursuit by an inordinate number of law enforcement units in Exodus means that it’s quite difficult not to draw this comparison, and this scene in The Dark Knight Rises was, for the lack of a better word, downright epic. In Exodus, their equivalent was similarly fun to watch.

  • I’ve tried timing “Risen from Darkness” to the chase scene in Exodus for my own amusement: this track was used during sections of the pursuit scene in The Dark Knight Rises after the Batman shows up and begins going after Bane’s men, before Foley orders all his available units to apprehend the Batman instead. Here, Miho authorises the use of small arms to apprehend Tracey.

  • There’s a certain charm about Aya’s expression here after she relieves an officer of his service revolver. Gun laws in Japan are strict: the law states that citizens may not possess firearms. Those who wish to use an airsoft rifle or shotgun must pass a stringent series of examinations and checks, and even law enforcement officers are trained to rely on non-lethal means of apprehension. So, when pistols are cleared for use, Miho implies to the audience that she sees Tracy as being sufficiently dangerous as to warrant use of firearms.

  • During the pursuit, Tracy’s online presence takes a sudden climb upwards, and although it’s mostly bad press (with claims of individual users spotting the alleged murderers), it nonetheless helps spread the group’s name as online users begin searching for and storing every piece of information about them. While murder allegations are certainly not the most ideal means of generating publicity, it’s not difficult to see that, once Tracy clears their name, it is possible that this is probably what Tracy needs to take off as an idol group.

  • Like Gotham’s forces did to try and slow the Batman down, the police under Miho’s command cordon off a bridge with the hopes of forcing them to slow down. In response, Aya raises her revolver and fires a single shot. The bullet’s impact isn’t shown to illustrate that the shot itself was not of great consequence, but it does cause the riot officers to scatter in surprise.

  • Anime have typically struggled to animate large numbers of anything, and traditionally, it was commonplace to simplify large crowds out with white figures or by minimising each individual’s LOD so that they become easier to animate. With CG techniques taking off now, it becomes possible to animate scenes with much more visual fidelity, and Knights of Sidonia is an excellent example of what an anime done entirely in CG would look like.

  • Despite clearing the obstacle, Miho remarks that the way is shut. Similar to Foley, Miho is somewhat arrogant in her belief that throwing a large number of cops at something will be sufficient to solve the problem. In The Dark Knight Rises, Foley soon realises that Bane’s threat is real and loses hope in his duties after Bane murders the Special Forces units covertly sent into Gotham, but regains his composure and leads Gotham’s police forces against Bane’s men. Because there’s only one episode of Exodus, it’s not known whether or not Miho will play as substantial a role.

  • The Batman used the Batpod’s cannons to lower a ramp from a car-carrier trailer stuck in traffic and made use of said ramp to reach another segment of the freeway to continue pursuit of Bane’s forces. In Exodus, a conveniently-placed car-carrier trailer provides a similar role, allowing them to drive over the bridge’s side and land on a boat. With the sheer number of similarities between Exodus‘ chase scene and that of The Dark Knight Rises, I find myself wondering if the former inspired the latter. The girls’ landing on the boat also seems somewhat inconsistent:carrying a pile of loose rock, the impact should have dispersed pebbles and transferred their force straight down, but instead, it’s treated as a single solid surface.

  • Aya, Akane and Arupin see one another without makeup for the first time: I personally prefer their appearances sans makeup, as they look much more natural in its absence. Exodus seems to make extensive use of jazz music in its score. Jazz is known for improvisation, mirroring the fact that the girls have little idea about what their plans are, but just as jazz music itself is pleasant to listen to, the girls find themselves making the most of their new situations to continue surviving.

  • With the only episode over, Exodus was a romp through several different genres and in Shirobako, enjoyed above-average reception and consequently, might be something I could enjoy were it a full anime. This would set the stage for Musashino Studios to produce the well-known The Third Aerial Girls Squad.

Exodus‘ first episode shows that the anime could provide solid entertainment, and that, were it to be a real anime, would likely keep viewers on the edge of their seats each week. This unique interplay between the idol and action genre would allow Exodus to explore different avenues that would allow the genres to complement one another. After one episode, I would give Exodus a chance and likely stick around for three episodes before coming to a definitive conclusion: I enjoyed the first episode and presently wonder what Arupin, Aya and Akane’s fates are. Provided that I have watched the first episode, Exodus is probably an anime that I see myself watching on a weekly basis. On the flipside, in the absence of watching the first episode, it is conceivable that Exodus would not have ended up on my watchlist during a season if I had merely read about it in a season preview or watched a trailer for the anime, given that the anime’s premise and genre are outside the realm of what I normally watch during a given season. In such an event, curiosity would lead me to pick it up if there is sufficient discussion as to motivate me to see for myself what Exodus was about.

Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita: Song & Drama Albums (~Itsudemo Genki! Nana-chan to Nonbiriya no Yukari-san to…~) set for August 19 Release

Originally announced back in July, the Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita (Locodol for brevity) character albums were supposedly set for a release on July 29, although for reasons unknown, this date was pushed back to August 19, 2015: so, tomorrow, these albums will go on sale for 2000 yen (roughly 21 CAD) each. There will be one album for Nanako (Itsudemo Genki! Nana-chan, performed by Miku Ito and Maya Yoshioka) and one for Yukari (Nonbiriya no Yukari-san, performed by Sachika Misawa and Inori Minase). The albums were announced during the Second Early Summer Nagarekawa Festival back on June 13, and the title was inspired by the lyrics from the Nagarekawa Girls Song, which was performed during the anime’s finale. The tracklists for each album are as follows:

~Itsudemo Genki! Nana-chan to…~

  1. さきどりドリーマー
  2. Wish Upon a Star
  3. 2 the Dream
  4. 魚心くんソング (幻のオリジナル・ヴァージョン)
  5. オリジナルCDドラマ「奈々子の日常篇」
  6. さきどりドリーマー (Off Vocal Version)
  7. Wish Upon a Star (Off Vocal Version)
  8. 2 the Dream (Off Vocal Version)

~Nonbiriya no Yukari-san to…~

  1. また明日ね
  2. 未来飛行
  3. 4 the Dream
  4. あぁ流川 (幻のオリジナル・ヴァージョン)
  5. オリジナルCDドラマ「縁の日常篇」
  6. また明日ね (Off Vocal Version)
  7. 未来飛行 (Off Vocal Version)
  8. 4 the Dream (Off Vocal Version)

Besides the release of a pair of much-welcomed Locodol albums, the manga also revealed that there is to be a new OVA in production. It will serve as a sequel of sorts for Locodol, but beyond this, there hasn’t been any additional information on what the OVA will be about or when it will be released. Though I found the anime to be solid from a critical perspective, its reception in Japan was more modest, making only 3816 sales. While Locodol was a newcomer on the scene, especially in comparison to more popular idol anime (such as Love Live and IdolM@ster), I personally find the smaller scale, more personal touch of Locodol to be significantly more meaningful and enjoyable to watch, but the sales figures, coupled with the knowledge that the second OVA is a sequel, suggests that said OVA will serve as the swan song for Locodol. With that being said, the blackout on information means that, although it’s a given that there is an OVA, the main question for the present will remain when it comes out (a well-reasoned conjecture would suggest Winter 2016 at the earliest, since it’s not present in the Fall 2015 lineup). Naturally, I’ll do my utmost to write about it, but until then, there are two albums to anticipate.