The Infinite Zenith

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

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions At The Halfway Point

“No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” –Gandalf the White, The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King

With Gama Gama’s closure fast approaching, Kukuru is desperate to find any means necessary to save the aquarium, even attempting to run a story on social media about the visions that visitors sometimes see, but this is ultimately unsuccessful – Kukuru’s grandfather feels that banking on a phenomenon whose properties are completely unknown won’t be beneficial. Kai watches Kukuru with increasing worry – he’d been there for her since their childhood, and feels worried that he won’t be able to help her out. One evening, Kukuru decides to have Kai help her draw the phenomenon out, and finds himself in the middle of his childhood: it turns out he had provided some comfort to Kukuru after her parents has passed away. However, even with this memory, Gama Gama’s fate is sealed. As a typhoon approaches, Kukuru barricades herself in and adamantly refuses to let anyone help her. Worried about Kukuru, Fūka braves the storm and ends up doing what she can for Kukuru even as the storm knocks out power and blows in windows at Gama Gama. When the emergency generators run out of fuel and the pipes begin bursting, Kukuru wonders why everything she holds dear is being taken from her. Fortunately, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan are available to help, and they are able to prevent any harm from coming to the animals. Morning approaches, and Kukuru realises that Gama Gama is too old to continue running. On the last day of August, Gama Gama hosts a farewell event for its visitors, who leave behind their favourite memories. One of the visitors includes a manager for Tingaara, a new aquarium: impressed with Kukuru’s experience, he’s interested in bringing her and several of Gama Gama’s staff on board. After celebrating forty-eight years in business, Gama Gama closes down, and Fūka prepares to return home. Before parting ways with Kukuru’s grandparents, the pair learn that Kukuru originally had a twin sister who died prior to birth. At the airport, Fūka comes to realise that Kukuru had given her so much, and she decides to skip her scheduled flight to ensure she and Kukuru part ways with a smile. After boarding her next flight, Fūka declines the offer for the movie, feeling that she’s found another path in life to walk. Here at The Aquatope on White Sand‘s halfway point, Gama Gama has finally shut down, leaving Kukuru and Fūka at the end of one journey. However, as Fūka empathetically states, endings are not necessarily sad things: she hopes that Kukuru will seize whatever lies ahead for her and find her happiness anew.

Kukuru’s last moments with Gama Gama are a bittersweet one, and with this transition, The Aquatope on White Sand speaks to viewers about the importance of being able to find another way when things don’t work out as one had hoped. Reality is harsh; it is therefore imperative that one become accustomed to setbacks and failures – no failure is ever truly final unless one were to give up entirely, and while it can seem like the world has come to a halt when one’s desires end without being realised, there are always alternative opportunities that lie unexplored. When I was an undergraduate student, I had held ambitions of becoming a medical doctor. At the time, I was not confident with my programming skills, and felt that my penchant for spot patterns and understand processes would make me suited in medicine. I thus took the MCAT, altered my remaining course load to satisfy medical school prerequisites and applied – this was met with no success, and I never made it to even the interview stage for any of the schools I had applied to. However, my supervisor saw another route and suggested that I apply for graduate school instead, where I could build out my software development skills and also contribute to the lab I’d already had familiarity with. After working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain and realising that I was indeed capable of learning new systems quickly, solving problems under pressure and managing a small team, the career path of being a software developer no longer seemed so intimidating; indeed, I am now a software developer owing to my accepting and embracing an alternate route. The Aquatope on White Sand is similarly creating opportunities for Fūka and Kukuru alike: Kukuru is initially hesitant about working for Tingaara, but after seeing Fūka pick herself up, determines that she must also find a way to smile again. Fūka decides to pursue a new path and declines an offer to star in a film. While Gama Gama is done, the world hasn’t ended, and that means the opportunity to forge a new way forward still remains – the only question here is whether or not one has the courage and tenacity to take that difficult first step forwards. Both Kukuru and Fūka have dreams they can follow, and with half of The Aquatope on White Sand in the books, it is clear that endings are not always thus; resilience in the face of adversity is precisely what lets people move forward, so it is encouraging to see Fūka and Kukuru make decisions for one another’s sakes that will see them embrace whatever their respective futures hold.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • At the halfway point to The Aquatope on White Sand, I’ll open with Kai biking over to Gama Gama. Kai has known Kukuru since childhood, and had been there the day Kukuru had learned of her parents’ deaths. Since then, Kai has done his best to support Kukuru; although this isn’t always shown on screen, the fact that Kai is willing to help out at Gama Gama in his spare time, and his hesitation whenever Maho mentions that he should date Fūka instead of being around Kukuru, suggests that for Kukuru, Kai is willing to go the extra mile.

  • All of P.A. Works’ workplace/coming-of-age anime feature a reliable, stoic male character. This trend started in Hanasaku Iroha with junior chef Tōru Miyagishi, and then in Tari Tari, Taichi Tanaka fills that role. Kakeru Okikura ends up in this position in Glasslip, and he’s the equivalent of Nagi no Asukara‘s Tsumugu Kihara. It is not lost on me that P.A. Works tends to reuse archetypes in their series; I understand that some viewers hold this against an anime, but I’ve also found that having familiar characters in different context allow works to show how environments can impact people.

  • With the end of summer rapidly approaching, Kukuru becomes increasingly desperate to keep Gama Gama open, asking Tsukimi’s mother to give a horoscope reading of Gama Gama’s future. Tsukimi’s mother gives a reading that Kukuru should be patient and not force things. In general, horoscopes are too vague to be effective (they’re ambiguous enough so that they can be interpreted a certain way, meaning that to some people, they look like they’re always right), so I never set much store by them, although purely for fun, I sometimes partake just to see how well reality aligns with fantasy: I admit that I am not adverse to reading horoscopes about what awaits me as far as relationships go.

  • The closing deadline means that Kukuru begins distancing herself from even Fūka. I have heard unnecessary hostility being directed at Kukuru as a result of her choices, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly: people tend to judge anime characters from their own perspective (“if it were me, I would’ve done this differently”) rather than empathise with them, and this creates a highly patronising tone that does little beyond demonstrate how little viewers actually care about the characters. For me, I understand Kukuru’s situation, having been in situations where it did feel like all I had was myself. How I extricated myself from those scenarios were learnings, and I therefore have no trouble with Kukuru stumbling as she learns.

  • The reason why fictional characters make mistakes at all is precisely because it provides a lesson that impacts how they approach things in the future. Thus, when Kukuru goes against suggestion and posts about the visions to social media in the hope of drawing in additional visitors, her coworkers immediately feel that this is a mistake; the phenomenon isn’t easily reproduced, and visitors are likely to leave disappointed because it’s not guaranteed they’d be able to see it. Kukuru’s last-ditch efforts to understand this phenomenon was predestined to failure: as The World in Colours indicated, forcing magic won’t work, because the power behind magic is intention.

  • Quite simply, Kukuru isn’t sincere in her motives behind using the magic, so the magic won’t willingly manifest itself for her. This sort of thing applied to The World in Colours, where Hitomi’s magic becomes increasingly effective because she begins to put intent behind her spells following her experiences with Kohaku, and Harry Potter‘s spells work on a similar principle (visualising the desired outcome and having an intent to have a specific effect makes a spell more powerful). In the end, Kukuru’s grandfather gets in touch with customers and informs them that they’d been a little hasty about the social media postings: no such event is set to take place.

  • Although Kukuru is asked to stand down, she still clings to the belief that the visions at Gama Gama might be instrumental in keeping their doors open. She therefore asks Kai to help her out, and while initially, nothing happens, Kai soon finds himself returned to the time where he’d comforted Kukuru after her parents had passed away. The visions appear to only appear for individuals under duress, and as I’d previously noted, shows what the individual most deeply desires. Fūka had wanted to find her own way, the veterinarian wished for safe delivery of her child, the elderly man wanted to speak with his brother once more, a boy longed to reunite with his dog, and Kukuru’s deepest desire is to be with her family again.

  • For Kai, then, it looks like what he wanted most was for Kukuru to be happy, and this memory shows how he’d been there for her that one day; this is likely how the two became friends, and how Kukuru ended up taking such a profound interest in marine biology. It is clear that Kukuru’s love for the aquarium, and for aquatic life, stems from the fact that she feels that this connects her to her family. Kukuru isn’t fighting to keep Gama Gama open for financial reasons or for her pride, but because the place has personal significance for her.

  • Being aware of this highly personal, emotional piece is essential to understanding why Kukuru makes the decisions that she does; courses on economics and psychology won’t be of use here. Her actions may appear irrational, but to Kukuru (in this moment), she believes that what she’s doing will have a positive outcome for Gama Gama even through they’re ultimately futile. For this reason, it is important yo watching Kukuru struggle in her goals because knowing the level of effort she’s put into things will only make Gama Gama’s fate all the more sobering.

  • I’d not given voice to this previously: while watching The Aquatope on White Sand, I originally did not feel that the series possessed the same sense of melancholy and longing that The World in Colours had. However, seeing what’s on the horizon for Gama Gama despite everyone’s efforts has a melancholy to it. As a typhoon rolls in one morning, Kukuru’s barricaded herself in Gama Gama, intent on keeping the place open on her own merits. However, just because Kukuru’s actions might appear irrational does not diminish them, and one cannot help but feel bad for her in this moment.

  • Kukuru’s internal feelings are mirrored in the weather – at least one individual had previously wondered if Okinawa was subject to convenient typhoons such as this, and after some quick reading, it turns out that The Aquatope on White Sand is well within reason to include a typhoon in the story. On average, three to four typhoons hit Okinawa in a given year, mostly between August and September. A tropical system is referred to as a typhoon when its wind speeds exceed 118 km/h (same as a Category 1 hurricane), and the average storm moves at around 16-24 km/h, although fast-movers can hit speeds of 60 km/h. With these numbers in mind, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Nanjō was grazed by a typhoon’s arms.

  • Speaking to Fūka’s concern for Kukuru, she decides to grab some lunch and take it over to Gama Gama for her. However, Kukuru initially refuses to open up, and her facial expression speaks volumes about how annoyed she is, but eventually, she relents, and comes to face with a rather scary-looking Fūka, whose hair is strewn about by the hurricane-force winds. Perhaps as a consequence of my dislike of certain horror movies, I found the scene to be a bit intimidating to watch: I’ve never been fond of onryō, and where given the choice, I wouldn’t watch J-horror movies.

  • Kukuru’s efforts to act tough backfire when her stomach betrays her hunger, and Fūka is all too happy to pass along the food she’d brought. While Kukuru refuses Fūka’s help, Fūka is determined to stay, having promised to help Kukuru see things through to the end. The two thus busy themselves preparing the deserted Gama Gama aquarium for the storm, sticking tape on the windows, securing all of the wildlife and moving the barricades to more vulnerable areas with the hopes of mitigating damage.

  • Watching these preparations brings to mind the sort of thing I read about in books, and watched in National Geographic‘s “Cyclone!”, an hour-long special on hurricanes and tornados. As a child, I was fascinated with extreme weather, and the science behind predicting it, as well as how to lessen its impact on civilisation. The conclusion these specials drew were that storms are a natural part of the world, and that as humans, our survival was contingent on preparing for the worst and being aware of what nature is capable of. In recent times, shifts in global weather patterns have made extreme weather more widespread and frequent: the very thing the books I read some twenty years ago are coming to pass.

  • I’m not too sure if things will only worsen from here on out, but if the wildfires and tropical storms are anything to go by, we’re in for a rough ride. For now, I’ll focus on lessen my personal impact on the world by conserving, recycling and reusing stuff wherever possible, although for the long term, it’ll need to be a collective effort if we’re to turn the tides. This is something that Kukuru has difficulty grasping – she attempts to send Fūka off once the work is done, but Fūka is resolved to remain by Kukuru’s side until the end, even after the power is knocked out.

  • While the storm rages on, Gama Gama Aquarium becomes a visual metaphor for the last of Kukuru’s illusions falling apart around her – while she’d done her utmost until now, the overwhelming power of the storm, standing in for the harshness of reality, gradually seeps its way in, shattering windows and bursting pipes in the building. It is here, at the climax of the storm, that Kukuru understands the gravity of her situation – the emergency generators mirror the last legs Gama Gama is on, and once these deplete their stores of diesel, the power goes back out again. It is here that Kukuru loses all hope and asks why the heavens would take everything from her.

  • In the end, Kukuru alone couldn’t save Gama Gama – even with Fūka’s help, this was a difficult task. However, as the storm winds down, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan show up to help. Thanks to the work Kukuru and Fūka have completed, the others are able to quickly stablise everything else at Gama Gama. The power is restored shortly after, and seeing everyone in the light serves to remind both Kukuru and the viewer that no, Kukuru hasn’t lost everything even with Gama Gama’s closure; there are many people in her corner, and while she’d been laser-focused on her dreams, she’s forgotten about the blessings that she does have in her life.

  • Walking through Gama Gama, Kukuru is made aware of just how old the aquarium’s infrastructure really is – I’ve got an engineer in the family, and in our conversations, while yes, it’s usually the case that companies will attempt to rehabilitate a structure, there are situations where rehabilitation is more expensive than demolition and reconstruction. Gama Gama appears to have fallen into the second category, and despite Kukuru’s original plan to raise three million Yen for parts, it is likely the case that the building itself is crumbling and requires repairs exceeding the cost it would take to build a new aquarium in its place.

  • Earlier, Fūka had received an offer to star in a film, and one of her former coworkers had informed her of this. This offer led Fūka to realise that after her original failures in Tokyo, she’d latched onto Kukuru’s dream because she wanted to be useful to someone. While Fūka had told herself that this was for Kukuru, it was really for her. Amidst the cold, blue light of the morning after the storm, there is a sense of melancholy in the air: washed out and faded colours in anime have always been indicative of a subdued feeling.

  • Kukuru bawling her eyes out was the surest sign that she’s accepted the fact that Gama Gama is simply not salvageable. Nowhere else does The Aquatope on White Sand compel viewers to empathise with Kukuru more so than this moment; I’ve been around the block long enough to see defeat as total and crushing as this, having seen two start-ups fail during my time. However, failure is not the end, and people like Kukuru are also resilient. As such, one of the important things that The Aquatope on White Sand will need to address is how Kukuru is able to take that next, difficult step forwards; while it is easy to regain one’s confidence once there’s momentum, the greatest challenge always lies in picking oneself back up after a tumble.

  • In this case, The Aquatope on White Sand reminds viewers that Kukuru does have a way forward: on the day of Gama Gama’s closing event, a manager from Tingaara gives Kukuru a surprise offer to work at the new aquarium once it’s opened, citing her previous record and experience as making her suited for the position. While Kukuru is still holding onto her memories of Gama Gama and wishes that every day could be this lively, from a more practical perspective, pursuing new opportunity with Tingaara means that Kukuru could continue to pursue her dreams of bringing the joys of marine life to visitors the same way Gama Gama had done for her.

  • All this would take is a small change in perspective. Here at the closing party, final farewells are said, and Karin announces to the others that she’s taken an interest in working at an aquarium as well, having been inspired by Kukuru’s commendable drive and devotion. With endings, come new beginnings, and during this party, even Kūya expresses emotion at the fact that Gama Gama is closing and can be seen tearing up. However, both Kūya and Umi-yan possess considerable experience, and were promptly offered positions with the new aquarium, as well. It was reassuring to see everyone land on their feet: P.A. Works has always made it clear that while one part of the journey might be over, hard work and effort do not go unrewarded.

  • Those who demonstrate commitment and loyalty will always find that this is met with repayment in equal measure somewhere down the line. This message is a rewarding one, and I’ve long believed that society should be driven by those with merit (where I define merit as a combination of dedication, perseverance, empathy and adaptivity). As Kukuru’s grandfather puts it in his final speech to the staff, kindness is something that no one can do without, and caring for life tends to bolster one’s empathy. In the end, he reads a poem from a fictional author that speaks volumes about the vastness of the ocean ultimately gives one peace.

  • After the party, Kukuru and Fūka share a moment together to discuss their dreams and how much things had changed since Fūka met Kukuru. Under the gentle moonlight (a waning crescent, true to the lunar phase recorded on August 31 in reality), the pair share their feelings. Fūka notices that Kukuru hasn’t properly smiled since the typhoon and worries that Kukuru won’t be happy after she leaves, while Kukuru implores Fūka to pursue her goals, feeling that seeing Fūka work hard will inspire her to do the same. I get where Kukuru is coming from; being around high-energy, driven people also helps me to do the same whenever I hit a slump, although I will note that for my part, my drive comes from within.

  • There is a tangible melancholy at Gama Gama the next morning: Fūka is busy packing her bags and preparing to Iwate, while Gama Gama’s staff prepare the marine life for transit to different institutions across Okinawa. Seeing the empty aquarium makes it quite visceral that this chapter has concluded, but before Kukuru leaves, the forces at play give her one more vision, a chance to feel reassurance from her sister. It turns out that Kukuru did indeed have a twin sister two died before birth, and right before Fūka leaves, Kukuru’s grandmother feels that the time has come to let her know of this truth.

  • One imagines that, while Kukuru takes this in stride and feels that her sister’s energy might’ve been what kept her going during some of the tougher times at Gama Gama, a part of Kukuru would also be seized with an immediate and powerful sense of longing. Kukuru had long wished for a sister to be with, someone who could be there for her. The reason why she and Fūka get along so well is because Fūka is able to act as an older sister figure for her, although Fūka feels that she’d clung to Kukuru, feeling that if she was able to help Kukuru reach her dreams, she might find her own happiness, as well.

  • Airports are always places of great joy and great sorrow: watching aircraft arrive and the feeling that family and friends are returning typically is a happy matter, similarly to how it can feel lonely to watch the people important to oneself depart for another destination. Fūka’s departure in The Aquatope on White Sand fits squarely into the latter and therefore creates a feeling of melancholy. As is typical of anime, The Aquatope on White Sand leaves a great deal to the last, last second: Fūka only realises that Kukuru would probably be in tears by the time she’d finished boarding and rushes off to make sure she’s alright, even though this means she’d miss her current flight.

  • This is something that one would not do in reality. I know first hand that rearranging bookings is a pain, as I discovered when I was in Amsterdam, and the Brussels bombings caused all of my flights to be delayed, leading me to miss a connecting flight out of Charles de Gaulle to Rennes. Fortunately, the realm of fiction offers tolerances for these things, and the emotional impact of watching Fūka embrace Kukuru, as sisters might, was visceral. It is clear that Fūka knows where her heart lies now, and she’s willing to give up one dream to pursue another. After their emotions settle, Fūka explains that being with Kukuru had helped her to spot this.

  • In the end, Kukuru decides that she will take up the offer to work at Tingaara and see what lies ahead for her future, promising that the next time she and Fūka meet, it will be with a smile on her face. Kukuru’s remarks about living isn’t something to take for granted struck a resonant chord here: death is something that awaits everyone, but not everyone can live on their own terms, so it’s up to oneself to really take initiative and do something meaningful for themselves and others. I have remarked previously that, from my perspective, living well and doing things that have value for others is the best way to live and find meaning. My beliefs are completely at odds with those who believe that living life to the fullest means having fun, but these are merely my core values, and I hold that living fully can have many meanings.

  • Thus, as Fūka and Kukuru part ways for the present, confident that they will meet again, I’ll wrap up this halfway point discussion on The Aquatope on White Sand by saying that with fifty percent of this series done, I have been very happy with what has been presented thus far. The series’ meanings and messages are clear, and it is evident that one doesn’t need any a priori understanding of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus to fully appreciate the themes. I realise that even in a post of this length, I’m only scratching the surface for what’s happening in The Aquatope on White Sand. This is a series that works well with the episodic review format, but this would demand a time commitment from me that I simply lack. Having said this, the Halo: Infinite open beta is live, and having preloaded earlier today, it’s time to wrap this post up and see whether or not my aging rig can run this game with playable framerates. I’ll return tomorrow to write about Hanasaku Iroha a full decade after the finale aired, and there, I’ll also provide readers an explanation on why my blogging has been a bit spotty since my last post about AI bots in video games.

Speculation about what is to come in The Aquatope on White Sand has been raging nonstop ever since it became apparent that Kukuru was locked in an impossible struggle against the clock, and the general consensus is that The Aquatope on White Sand will take a similar approach to what Nagi no Asukara did some eight years earlier – the series continued five years after the first Ofunehiki, and dealt with the challenges that the characters face after being separated from one another in a chronological sense while at the same time, striving to pursue their original goals. The Aquatope on White Sand is structured in a very similar way, and the second half will likely explore how the characters pursue old goals while working within new environments under different rules. One element that The Aquatope on White Sand still needs to deal with is the presence of the supernatural visions at Gama Gama, and what role the kijimuna will play in things. These aspects had become more common as The Aquatope on White Sand progressed, but the general rule is that, if something is introduced, then it necessarily needs to play a role of significance in the future. Having the additional twelve episodes here in The Aquatope on White Sand means that there is sufficient space to deal with this in a satisfactory fashion: spending half an episode on elements surrounding local folklore and exploring how entities like the kijimuna impact people within the context of Kukuru and her desires would elegantly tie the two elements together. This could go either way for The Aquatope on White Sand. On one hand, Glasslip is an example of how P.A. Works had completely failed to properly incorporate magic into the story, but on the flipside, P.A. Works have proven themselves to be very competent with supernatural elements in The World in Colours. Given how The Aquatope on White Sand has progressed up until now, I would suggest that optimism is warranted, and that the supernatural piece will probably be woven into the story with the same sort of finesse that Nagi no Asukara had demonstrated. Assuming this to be the case, we have what looks to be a captivating journey ahead in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half, and I am rather excited to see how this one embodies the learnings of its predecessors to create a current and moving tale of rediscovering one’s path anew.

The Relevance of AI Bots in Contemporary Games, and A Case Study in Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War

“What will limit us is not the possible evolution of technology, but the evolution of human purposes.” –Stephen Wolfram

While Agent Under Fire today might be counted as unremarkable, it was revolutionary for its time: tucked away in the multiplayer menu was an option to play against AI bots. If one’s friends were unavailable, or one wanted to learn the multiplayer maps that way, one could add a few bots into a match, set their difficulty and aggression, then enjoy a match against the AI, whether it be to explore the map or warm up prior to a split-screen session. In this area, Agent Under Fire completely raised the expectation for what games could accommodate, offering single players additional choice even if they did not have additional friends over at the time. Against the bots on iconic maps like Town or Castle, one could spend an hour just learning the map and its tactics, facing AI of difficulties one found appropriate. This feature would later make its way to Nightfire, which further allowed the bots’ AI to be customised. Bots could be team players, focused on grabbing power weapons or simply care for kills. When friends weren’t available to visit, I used to still play Nightfire‘s multiplayer with bots for amusement, marvelling at the fact that I could still learn the maps and weapons without needing a second player. When properly implemented, AI bots provide players with more choice and more options: some folks might want to explore maps and blast enemies at their own pace, without angry teammates screaming at them about what to do. Others simply don’t enjoy the frustration of excessively serious players ruining sandbox moments. However, it is rare for modern multiplayer games to feature bots; the idea behind multiplayer is that one is fighting human opponents, the ultimate foe in terms of strategy and skill. As such, most games don’t bother with implementing offline bots: writing pathing algorithms and decision trees to give the AI the proper level of sophistication is a demanding process, and studios would, understandably, prefer to focus on their core mechanics so that they can provide the best possible experience for players interesting in squaring off against other players.

The emphasis on always-online games is not without inherent risks for players. For one, if one’s connection goes down, or worse still, if the servers go offline, then an entire segment of the game is rendered unplayable. This is a longstanding problem that always-online games face: they are absolutely dependent on a stable connection and uptime. While servers and internet connections now are generally reliable, if a company decides the time has come and pulls the plug on their servers, that’s pretty much it. This sort of thing happened with Halo 2 during the Xbox Live days, and again with Halo 2 Vista‘s servers; I spent countless hours in the latter honing my skills and generally having a good time, but when Halo 2 Vista‘s servers were shut down, I was more or less left with half a game. Had Halo 2 included a bots mode, I would’ve doubtlessly spent many more hours after that on Lockout, enjoying an iconic experience. The addition of AI bots also opens the floor for creativity. After my time in Halo 2 ended, I ended up finding a replacement in Battlefield 3: this was a fantastic large-scale sandbox experience, but it was fully dependent on populated servers. On filled servers, it was non-stop, engaging chaos as players fought for objectives, and whacky emergent behaviours created some of Battlefield 3‘s most iconic moments. However, quieter servers were less exciting, and some days, I was met with empty servers where the match was awaiting enough players to join. Having AI bots to fill servers would doubtlessly had made matches easier to find, lessening the time I was waiting for things. Indeed, Battlefield 2042 appears to have learnt from this and will utilise bots to fill the void. For players looking to get the most of things, finding a server will be no problem, and as more humans join a server, the bots are simply replaced. The setup in Battlefield 2042 therefore helps players looking to enter the action as soon as possible, but the presence of bots also has a significant implication: it might be possible to spin up a local server with nothing but AI bots, and then spawn in with one’s mates and have a good time trying to kill helicopters with a bike or running around with terrible loadouts.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve not spent a minute in the online multiplayer of Cold War, but upon learning that there was an offline mode for bots, I was convinced to give things a go: overall, Cold War‘s multiplayer does feel a little less finessed compared to something like Battlefield V or Halo, and as such, playing against other players could be quite frustrating. On the other hand, against AI bots, the experience becomes much more relaxing and casual, making it well-suited for someone who has around an hour to game.

  • What I enjoyed most about Cold War‘s multiplayer was the fact that the weapons could be extensively customised, allowing a given primary weapon to feel like a completely different weapon with the use of a few customisations. This creates variety, and players can use the AI bots to play with things before hopping into a real match. Here, I’m running the MP5, which was known as the KS-7 in Agent Under Fire. Unlike the KS-7, which was a peashooter, the MP5 in Cold War is a solid submachine gun and can be reliably used at close quarters to down enemies.

  • Agent Under Fire players will know the AUG as the UGW. However, whereas Agent Under Fire treated the AUG as an automatic weapon with good accuracy and damage, but a lower firing rate, in Cold War, the AUG is a burst-fire tactical rifle that can take an enemy out in as few as two bursts. In keeping with the aesthetic seen in Agent Under Fire, I’ve opted to keep the default sights on a given weapon, modifying the barrel and underbarrel for slightly improved performance.

  • The Moscow map is one of my favourites in Cold War, showing off things like water reflections and lighting. If memory serves, I tried out the bots mode back in May after installing the multiplayer component; originally, I’d bought Cold War thinking that I’d go through the campaign, but after hearing about the AI bots, I became curious to try out a mode that could extend the longevity of this game. Having played a few rounds against the AI bots, I conclude that this is indeed a nice way to spend half an hour on weeknights if I’m ever in the mood to blow stuff up in a more relaxed environment, away from the aggressively competitive players out there.

  • I’ve switched on over to Yamantau and have decided to run with the basic AK-47 here. Cold War‘s AK-47 feels particularly powerful, being a reliable and hard-hitting weapon. In most games nowadays, the AK-47 is portrayed as a slower-firing assault rifle that is less accurate than the M-16 and its counterparts, but otherwise does more damage per shot. This is reflecting on the fact that the Ak-47 fires a 7.62 mm round, as well as the fact that the weapon was manufactured with lower precision compared to their NATO equivalents.

  • This, together with the fact that the AK-47 is made of very few moving parts and has a robust construction, contributes to the weapon’s legendary durability and reliability. In video games, this translates to NATO weapons being portrayed as more accurate and having a higher rate of fire, while Eastern Bloc weapons deal more damage but will fire more slowly and be less accurate at range. In older games like Agent Under Fire, the AK-47 (KA-57) is depicted as an entry level assault rifle that does intermediate damage.

  • Agent Under Fire had been built around its campaign, and so, as the players got further into the campaign, the weapons became more powerful. This was appropriate for the single player mode, but it meant that some weapons were evidently better than others in the multiplayer. Nightfire ended up addressing this by making weapons more specialised (for instance, players have access to a suppressed burst-fire SG-551 in the first mission, but later, the unsuppressed, full-automatic version appears). Today, weapons have a wider range of attributes, and weapons diversity means that developers must balance everything against one another.

  • Agent Under Fire‘s Windsor FSU-4 is the M16A2 armed with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher and sports a 40-round magazine. It’s an upgrade from the KA-57 and is introduced later in the campaign, featuring more firepower. The FSU-4 is a fully-automatic weapon, but in Cold War, the M16 is another tactical rifle with burst fire capabilities. Burst fire weapons have typically not been too popular, since players prefer to spray on full automatic or pick their foes off one shot at a time. However, Halo 2‘s implementation of a burst-fire weapon, in the BR-55, allows for versatility: the weapon can be controlled for longer range combat, but fires quickly enough to deal with foes at closer ranges.

  • During the Electronic Arts era of James Bond, all of their titles (Agent Under FireNightfire and Everything or Nothing) featured the SPAS-12. This Italian shotgun has a very distinct appearance because of how it looks when its stock is folded up, and while it’s a pump-action shotgun in reality, Agent Under Fire gives the weapon the more useful semi-automatic mode to increase its rate of fire. In Cold War, the SPAS-12 is a two shot kill, but has a good firing rate, making it easier to land follow-up shots.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that three years ago, I wrote about Battlefield V‘s open beta. I’d been home from Winnipeg for five days now, and while that assignment had been tough, what followed was nigh unbearable. When August had drawn to a close, we’d closed up our office and began working from home, although I was still required to meet with the founder and other staff. Because of a lack of accommodations, we ended up utilising my access to the university’s facilities to meet. During my downtime, I spent a fair bit of it playing the Battlefield V beta, which had opened the day after I returned and ran for five days.

  • Although I was knocking out work items daily, the fact that the backend’s team was essentially creating make-work (e.g. arbitrarily changing JSON responses and bouncing code reviews for choice of variable names) meant that the project continued to be delayed. I recall a cold, grey morning where I was scheduled for a live demo with the Denver team, but thanks to the backend team altering the names of JSON keys, the app crashed the moment I opened it during said demo. Fortunately for me, I’d done a video capture of the project and was able to show that, but the way the Winnipeg team worked made it an incredibly stressful environment.

  • Having the Battlefield V beta to look forwards to after hours really helped me to de-stress and gave me something to look forward to after a long day of sorting out bugs and dealing with headache. In the present day, I was expecting that Battlefield 2042‘s open beta to be this week, but scuttlebutt was that there’s some delays owing to development challenges, pushing the beta out to September 24. This is, incidentally, when Halo Infinite‘s open beta is scheduled to run.  I’ve never encountered a situation quite like this before, where two betas were running concurrently, but assuming that both betas happen on the same weekend, my priority this time around will be to get a feel for how both games perform on my system.

  • Previously, I primarily played betas to gain insight into how a given game handled from a mechanics standpoint, but with my machine now entering eight and a half years of service, it’s important to determine whether or not any games I have an interest in can even run on my system before I sink any coin into it; Cold War represents a situation where I’d jumped the gun, and while upgrading an OS is comparatively straightforward, outright building a new rig is going to be more involved. Under the best of circumstances, I could purchase a new custom rig and get it up and running in two weeks or so, but with the ongoing microprocessor shortage and crypto-mining causing GPU supply to be limited, building a new computer isn’t viable (it’s still possible, but not cost effective).

  • Here, I open hostilities with the Milano 821, which I’ve got standing in for Agent Under Fire‘s Ingalls (itself a facsimile of the Ingalls MAC-10, which I haven’t bothered unlocking because that would entail playing actual multiplayer matches). The Ingalls is a step up from the KS-7 in Agent Underfire, but is overall inferior to the PS-100 (P90). Conversely, the Milano 821 in Cold War is a decent weapon, handling like a submachine gun version of the AK-47 in having a lower rate of fire and higher damage per shot compared to the MP5.

  • On the other hand, the CARV.2 (a fictionalised version of the Heckler and Koch G11) was a weapon worth unlocking: late in June and early July, I spent my weekends farming long-shot kills in Cold War‘s Zombies mode to earn this weapon. This burst-fire weapon fires 4.73 mm ammunition and is very accurate, making it a great choice for medium to long range encounters. After several weekends, I finally unlocked the weapon, and subsequently kitted mine out with the Axial Arms 3x optic, which is considered to be the best optic one can use for medium to long range combat.

  • The bonus is, of course, that the CARV.2 is Cold War‘s equivalent of Agent Under Fire‘s D17. Agent Under Fire portrays the D17 as being the ultimate weapon, a combination of high accuracy, rate of fire and damage with the largest ammunition capacity of any assault rifle in game. The weapon is only available during the final campaign mission, Evil Summit, and handily beats out all of the other weapons in-game during multiplayer. I’ve spent many a Christmas getting mowed down by the D17 because we’d fight the bots on maximum difficulty and aggression.

  • Conversely, when we returned to the GameCube for kicks more recently, working out how to corner the bots and stop them before they could grab the D17 was instrumental in allowing us to win. Agent Under Fire‘s AI bots might not be the most impressive in the world (they occasionally get stuck and fail to notice when one is sneaking up on them), but at full difficulty and aggression, they are monstrosities that can utterly wreck players. This creates numerous hilarious moments where bots achieve kills that seem supernatural, contributing to the fun factor in Agent Under Fire.

  • The combination of D17 and bots in Agent Under Fire is entertaining enough so that one could spend hours at a time just blasting the AI for fun without ever needing to hop on an online multiplayer match, and having spent the bulk of the past twenty-one months playing bots, I came to realise that these offline modes are essential parts of any game that wishes to have longevity. The idea here is that, even if the servers are offline, having the map assets and ability to fight bots locally lets one play multiplayer even when support for the game stops.

  • The other reason that bots are now something to look for in a game is that, at least for me, online gaming has become a most undesirable place to be of late. I noticed this in Battlefield V, where cheaters ran unchecked, and the community encouraged unsportsmanlike behaviours during matches. These actions ranged from pushing players using AA vehicles out of bounds to kill them and free up a vehicle slot for themselves, camping, and players not utilising their classes’ abilities (e.g. refusing to revive, heal and drop ammo).

  • Calling out these players was met with a flood of insults in the text chat, and since Battlefield V automatically censored out expletives, players would resort to making up new insults that were far more annoying and offensive, creating a new sort of meme culture in the process. I’ve heard that online gaming has only gotten worse: Fortnite players insult one another for lacking cosmetic items, and in Warzone or Apex, cheating is even worse than it is in Battlefield V. With online games are looking more and more unplayable these days, AI bots can fill that void and provide players with a quasi-multiplayer experience.

  • Here, I’m rocking the Pelington 703 (modelled after the Remington Model 703, standing in for the SSR-4000, known as the SSG 3000). In Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer matches, I never set the SSR-4000, since my aiming skills with a controller is non-existent (and in matches where I’ve tried, the bots end up steamrolling us). In Cold War, the opposite is true: while I’m nowhere nearly skilled enough against human players, I can make the sniper rifles work in matches with AI bots to have a phenomenal time. The Pelington is particularly fun to use because it feels like a hunting rifle.

  • I’ve played online multiplayer titles for about a decade; my experience started with Halo 2: Vista in 2009, and when the servers shut down in 2012, I switched over to Team Fortress 2 briefly before becoming a Battlefield fan. My first proper Battlefield experience began with Battlefield 3 in 2013, and I’ve played every Battlefield since then. I’ve noticed that antisocial behaviours weren’t really a problem in the Halo days. Trolling was definitely a present even back then, people rarely perpetrated disinhibited behaviours that we see today. For instance, the worst trolling I saw in the Halo days were players teabagging one another in matches, or people begging for Unusual hats in Team Fortress 2.

  • It was only with Battlefield V where I really began noticing hate speech, harassment, griefing and other unsportsmanlike behaviours. The uptick in antisocial behaviour coincides with the rise of in-game microtransactions and the battle royale genre’s popularity; younger players have gotten into their heads that one’s appearance in-game is directly correlated to their social status in real life, and are willing to use any method necessary to win in a given match so that others can remember who they are. Moreover, said players have taken to bullying players running “lesser” cosmetics, with hostilities spilling over to real life.

  • Video games are intended to be fun experiences that, at best, help players work on visual-spatial reasoning abilities, split-second decision-making and resource management, but recent trends have turned games into a demoralising experience and meme factories. Games like Fortnite thus become a pain to play, and multiplayer shooters with more conventional game-modes are no better, with people spewing insults and memes into the chat whenever they’re called out for unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is what made Battlefield V particularly unenjoyable for me, even more so than DICE’s constant messing with the game’s mechanics.

  • It is not particularly meaningful to have shouting matches with people who likely don’t contribute any taxes to their nation, so after Battlefield V ended, I began playing single player games exclusively. The resulting change in my well-being was profound: I became much more relaxed, and gaming returned to being a hobby I could unwind to. Single player modes further have the advantage of being titles that I can play at my own pace. If, mid-match, I need to go tend to something, I can pause the game and resume later without penalty.

  • The real joy of games is being able to immerse oneself in a different world, and enjoy things at one’s own pace, so moving forwards, I imagine that how single-player friendly a given game is will greatly impact whether or not I am likely to pick it up. Here, I’ve decided to open a match on one of the Miami maps and have loaded out the Stoner 63 LMG to look like a futuristic weapon. As it turns out, Infinite Warfare also has offline bots, and I’ve recently been getting back into that, as well: released in 2016, Infinite Warfare‘s requirements aren’t steep at all, and the game handles very smoothly.

  • I imagine that the multiplayer scene of Infinite Warfare is likely to either be depopulated, or else infested with cheaters, making it unplayable. Even though this is probably the case, because Infinite Warfare has AI bots, I am able to create a match and play against bots that are moderately challenging (and therefore, fun to fight). The shooting mechanics of Infinite Warfare are not as visceral or polished as those of Cold War, but they remain solid overall: in conjunction with the fact that the maps and weapons look rather cool, I am finding myself having a great deal of fun in a game I was otherwise only going to get twelve hours out of.

  • In this way, Infinite Warfare shows how AI bots dramatically improves the longevity of a game. Another title that did something similar is Star Wars: Battlefront II. While the original launch was plagued by lootboxes and a poor progression system, towards the end of Battlefront II‘s lifecycle, DICE added Instant Action to the game. Battlefront II thus went from being an unplayable disaster (compounded by try-hard players who already have all the best upgrades) to being an open Star Wars sandbox that allows players to kit their character out however they’d like and immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe without aggressively competitive players ruining the atmosphere.

  • These bot modes are excellent because they allow for players to enjoy an element that is often forgotten when competitiveness takes over: the game’s aesthetics and atmosphere. While I might’ve had the time to improve my skill in competitive multiplayer games ten, even five years ago, other obligations now mean that it is no longer feasible for me to do so. I don’t wish to spend hours every week trying to keep up with players half my age when there are bills to pay, and in the time that I do have, I’d much rather have fun. This is why Battlefield 2042‘s upcoming Portal mode is so interesting; if there is a full-fledged AI bots mode and all weapons, attachments and gear are unlocked for experimentation, this mode will allow me to explore Battlefield 2042‘s sandbox capabilities in a way that previous titles had not accommodated.

  • I’ve heard that today is National Video Games day, and I intend to capitalise on this by playing games in the manner of my choosing: in a private space away from all of those who believe that cosmetics equates to skill. DOOM Eternal‘s The Ancient Gods looks a good place to begin, and having just finished a delicious dim sum lunch, the afternoon is open to me. Since I’m not honour-bound to squad up in a game where the goal is to win and show off a crude victory dance, there’ll be time to iron a few things, read a few more chapters of Harukana Receive, and then make my way into The Ancient Gods, all at my own pace.

The idea that Battlefield 2042 might permit a fully-featured AI bots mode might very well be a reality: DICE has indeed announced the presence of something known as Battlefield Portal, which allows players to create their own game modes, utilising weapons and vehicles from different eras. It will be possible to pit 50 Tiger Is against a single platoon of M1A2s, or run a hundred soldiers with defibrillators versus a hundred soldiers with knives. Battlefield Portal is billed as the ultimate sandbox mode, a place where players can try out exotic and unique setups before publishing them to the community, and this means that for players seeking a single-player option against AI bots, Battlefield Portal might just be the answer. Being able to create an offline match with AI bots means being able to play Battlefield 2042 even if the servers are offline, and more importantly, being able to play in peace if one wanted to try driving a tank or messing with unusual weapon setups. Bots provide players with a highly cathartic and relaxing experience. They don’t insult the player, have no qualms with one quitting as a result of real-world obligations or become idle at inopportune moments. Games with bots remain highly playable long after the community has moved on to the next best thing, allowing a game to continue offering replay value well after its prime, and this gives the game value. In a case where Call of Duty holds the edge over Battlefield games, Black Ops: Cold War, Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered all have bot modes. Similarly, Battlefront 2 features Instant Action, an offline bots-only mode. These modes offer me amusement, an experience that can’t be had when I’m playing against try-hards half my age who have more free time than responsibilities; video games are about having fun, first and foremost, and I play to immerse myself in different worlds, not to elevate my blood pressure because some kids decided they’d spend the entire match spamming the chat with frog memes and insulting everyone who isn’t camping. I do see myself continuing to drop into Black Ops: Cold War bot matches because it’s amusing, and if Battlefield 2042 is offering full-fledged AI bots in Portal (which, on top of the game’s base maps, will also feature iconic maps from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3), this gives me plenty of things to be excited about. Being able to play Battlefield at my own pace, away from the try-hards and cheaters, would be a breath of fresh air and a return to the age in gaming where the object was to have a good time.

Mitsuboshi Colours: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“I did think this through. You can’t be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man if there’s no neighborhood. Okay, that didn’t make sense but you know what I’m trying to say.” –Spider-Man, Avengers: Infinity War

In Tokyo’s Ueno district, Yui, Saki and Kotoha, three grade-schoolers who count themselves the “Colours” and are devoted to defending the peace in their neighbourhood. Their everyday adventures occasionally cause them to run afoul of the local police officer, Saitō, but overall, the girls’ adventures are harmless fun: the Colours look after a panda-coloured cat, play hide-and-seek, help Saki’s mother sell bananas, visit the zoo and museum, attempt to collect tickets from local shoppers and even organise a Halloween event to gather candy. Mitsuboshi Colours is uncommon among the anime I’ve watched, in that it is reminiscent of some of the children’s shows I used to watch; these shows didn’t always have a specific Aesop to tell, and instead, simply portrays a series of events that characters experience. These events might be unremarkable, but there is always humour about them, as each of Yui, Saki and Kotoha find themselves in situations that are unexpected, contrary to expectations. In spite of this, the Colours always manage to take things in stride, and always make new discoveries around a familiar neighbourhood. In this way, while the Colours may not always keep the peace, through the world from Yui, Saki and Kotoha’s eyes, viewers are able to see things from a new perspective, one that is filled with curiosity and naïveté: unaffected by the harsh realities of adulthood, or the challenges that accompany adolesence, the Colours are aptly named, as their world is remarkably colourful.

The main draw about Mitsuboshi Colours, then, is the fact that the anime is able to so aptly portray the idea of childhood innoence and the fact that children possess a very unique world-view. Whereas adults are guided by prior experience, logic and reason, children are inquisitive and willing to explore. Consequently, when it comes to decision-making, Yui, Kotoha and Saki have a tendency to pick choices that seem foolish or irrational to adults, invariably creating situations that one cannot help but smile at. Indeed, children often pick up on things that adults miss, and Mitsuboshi Colours never fails to capitalise on this to drive the show’s humour. However, it is here that Mitsuboshi Colours strikes a fine balance: humour can occasionally get out of hand, and someone’s feelings inevitably get hurt. This is not the case in Mitsuboshi Colours, and it became easy to get behind Yui, Saki and Kotoha’s schemes. At worst, they are an inconvenience for others (such as when they attempt to find out why certain stretches of the shōtengai shopping district are closed and end up tracking paint everywhere, or bothering shops by asking if they sell eyeballs after imagining this is the solution to a puzzle), but at their best, the misadventures can also be uplifting: the Colours brighten up visitors to a local park when they play a zombie game, and later, while selling strawberries to people partaking in hanami so they can earn some cash for cakes, they end up brightening up a job-seeker’s day (even though it costs him his last five hundred yen). Altogether, this is the joy in Mitsuboshi Colours: the Colours are doubtlessly mischievous, but they’re also aware of those around them. While they might be rambunctious enough to push a few buttons, they know which lines not to cross. The end result of this is that Mitsuboshi Colours creates an energetic, yet gental, source of comedy through the misadventures Yui, Saki and Kotoha have.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For me, the magic moment in Mitsuboshi Colours was when Yui, Kotoha and Saki pick up an RPG-7 replica and prepare to use it against the local police officer, Saitō. Saitō is initially unable to tell the difference, since the replica is well-made, and there’s a hilarious stand-off that lasts until it becomes clear the RPG is a toy. Moments like these are the norm in Mitsuboshi Colours, and drives all of the comedy – a fair bit of the conflict comes from Saitō overreacting to the girls, who in turn are motivated to antagonise him further, leading to hilarious misunderstandings.

  • From left to right, we have Kotoha, Yui and Saki (who’s affectionately known as Sat-chan). Kotoha is taciturn and has a sadistic streak a kilometre wide, but also enjoys video games and is rarely seen without her Nintendo DS. Yui is the group’s leader, but she’s also shy and the most pragmatic of everyone. Saki is carefree and energetic; most of the Colours’ adventures come at her suggestion. Together, these three form the Colours. The Colours have parallels with GochiUsa‘s Chimame Corps: Kotoha is basically a more sadistic, games-loving version of Chino, Saki is Maya with a fixation on crap and Yui is a bolder Megu.

  • As soon as I got these vibes out of Mitsuboshi Colours, the anime became an order of magnitude more compelling; Mitsuboshi Colours suddenly becomes Chimame Corps’ Fantastic Adventures, and everything suddenly felt more adorable as a result. Each of Yui, Saki and Kotoha’s traits are a bit more exaggerated than Megu, Maya and Chino’s, but since there’s no real equivalent of Cocoa and the others here, it makes sense to liven up each of Yui, Saki and Kotoha, who are playing a ramped up version of hide-and-seek here.

  • Mitsuboshi Colours is set in a shōtengai somewhere in Ueno, which is located near the heart of Tokyo. I imagine that some of the locations in Mitsuboshi Colours were probably modified to fit the story better: a quick glance at Ueno finds that there isn’t exactly a large park capable of housing the Colours’ clubhouse. However, there is a shopping district in the area, an elevated freeway running through, and Ueno Station itself.

  • Moreover, Yui, Kotoha and Saki are often seen chilling near Shinobazu Pond: as children, they wouldn’t be able to go too far, but anything within walking distance is fair game. Mitsuboshi Colours does a reasonable job of bringing this area to life, showing that there is an eclectic collection of shops in the area – I’m certain that one could find an exotic meat shop in Ueno, along with a shop that specialises in replica weapons (real firearms are illegal in Japan, and folks are only able to apply for special shotgun and airgun licenses under some conditions).

  • One day, Saki visits home and finds her mother struggling to move her last box of bananas. The girls offer to help out and each manage to sell their quota in their own way, with Yui’s approach being a reminder of how Megu might’ve gone about doing things. While it takes some effort to clear all the bananas, the girls manage to succeed – Saki’s mother gives them three chupacabra costumes as thanks, and the girls immediately use them to mess around in the neighbourhood.

  • As Mitsuboshi Colours continued, Nonoka joins the cast: she’s a high school girl who occasionally encounters the Colours, and holds aspirations to inherit the family business so that she can continue to sell bread. Whereas most anime has high school girls act as children might (GochiUsaK-On! and Kiniro Mosaic immediately come to mind), Mitsuboshi Colours presents Nonoka as being more similar to Non Non Biyori‘s Honoka: slightly more mature than the children in some areas, although still childish in others.

  • This change in perspective makes Mitsuboshi Colours fun – although rather more knowledgable than Yui, Saki and Kotoha about the world, she’s still young enough to have flights of fancy. Conversely, Nonoka’s older sister, Momoka, intends to turn the family business into an onigiri shop, and her cooking happens to outstrip Nonoka’s. While she’s shown as having trouble with men, Momoka is quite friendly towards the Colours, especially when they enjoy her onigiri more than Nonoka’s bread.

  • On the day of a parade, Yui participates along with her classmates before joining everyone in the summer festival. Yui, Saki and Kotoha each attend different schools, but Mitsuboshi Colours portrays them as spending a lot of time together, similarly to how GochiUsa had Chiya and Cocoa attend the regular high school, and Rize and Sharo attend a more elite school. In spite of spending less time together in the classroom, the four have numerous adventures and experiences together that make them friends; Mitsuboshi Colours similarly shows that Yui, Kotoha and Saki are close despite going to different primary schools.

  • There is quite a bit of non sequitur humour in Mitsuboshi Colours – these stem from the puns that Yui attempts to make, as well as Saki’s more juvenile sense of humour. However, it wouldn’t be appropriate to say that the humour in Mitsuboshi Colours is subtle: comedy here works as a result of expectations being subverted, as well as the timing of delivery. These are universals in humour: when a work uses timing and contexts to drive its humour, one can appreciate the joke and laugh at the expected spots even without the same cultural background. This is something Steven Chow particularly excels at; his comedy films might be Chinese in origin, but have found an audience around the world nonetheless.

  • Upon reading Kawaisō na Zō (“The Pitiful Elephants”), Yui, Saki and Kotoha worry about the wellbeing of the animals at their local zoo and swing by the check things out. The original book was written to familiarise children with themes of sadness and the desolation of warfare. Upon arriving at the zoo, the Colours’ worries double after noticing that primary school children get free admissions, leading to the question of how the zoo would afford food for the animals at all. These sorts of questions are an extension of the curiosity that children display, and at their age, I used to wonder about such things.

  • Depending on who owns the zoo, zoos receive a combination of public funds from taxpayers, private and institutional donations and proceeds from admissions. I’ve not been to the local zoo for two years; back then, we visited because there were pandas, and the price of admissions had gone up dramatically (the surest sign that the zoo’s expenditures were outpacing the revenue and donations it had received), but overall, the animals were still in great shape. Similarly, when exploring the zoo, Yui, Kotoha and Saki slowly realise that in the present day, their zoo appears to be in decent shape, too.

  • Their worries assuaged, Yui, Kotoha and Saki continue spending the day exploring the zoo. A child’s curiosity is boundless, and each of Yui, Kotoha and Saki exhibit the sort of thinking that accompanies inquisitive primary school-aged children do. When I look back to my time as a child, I was similarly curious about the world. However, I’d frequently get in trouble for asking questions about things that weren’t relevant, or exploring out-of-bounds places. My instructors caught on shortly after and realised there was a way to encourage this sort of curiosity without causing extra work.

  • This is how I became introduced to the wonderful world of books, tomes of knowledge housing answers to the questions I sought. From why the night sky was black, to what evolutionary purpose the stripes on a zebra served, I read books like no tomorrow. It’s a story I’m fond of telling because as a child, my favourite thing to do was read, and this is something I feel more children would benefit from (balanced with a healthy combination of playing outside, as the Colours do). These days, I’ve heard that screen time has gone way up amongst children, creating anxiety and other problems.

  • While Kotoha’s always got her face inside her DS, the other girls are very much attuned to the world. In an anime like Mitsuboshi Colours, there’s always enough going on so even someone like Kotoha is focused on the real world. Here, they speak with Daigoro “Oyaji” Kujiraoka, the boisterous owner of a local toy shop who sports unique novelty eyewear in every appearance. Daigoro gets along fine with the Colours and is seen providing puzzles and activities for them. His actions are actually quite helpful to the neighbourhood, allowing the girls to occupy their time with something that’s age-appropriate and keeping them out of trouble as able.

  • Daigoro’s activities don’t occupy the girls’ entire time, but the time it does occupy helps keep them happy and away from trouble. After spotting some statues, the girls decide to go around the shopping district and photograph themselves so that everyone is immortalised. This moment also showcases some of the background art style within Mitsuboshi Colours: I’ve noticed that in some anime, backgrounds have a painting-like quality to it. I imagine that this is a stylistic choice; some anime have previously employed this style, and while it does feel a little crude, it also allows for details to be put in without taking focus off the characters, who are fluidly animated.

  • Like the Chimame Corps, each of Kotoha, Yui and Saki are adorable in their own right: I’ve no favourites among the Colours, and this is reflected in the fact that for this post, all of the screenshots have Kotoha, Yui and Saki present in some way, mirroring the fact that the anime is as amusing as it is only because everyone is present. Here, the Colours have managed to get a shopkeeper to lie down for a picture, and I’m particularly fond of how smug Kotoha looks. Saki’s laugh is also adorable – while mischievous, the Colours aren’t destructive in any way.

  • Kotoha is usually pretty detached about things, being more engrossed in her games, but whenever Yui becomes irate at Kotoha, she’ll call Kotoha’s gaming skills into question. Looking back, I was rather similar to Kotoha when it came to skill with games: I never could make it past the first level of things like Super Mario BrosJungle BookDonkey Kong and the like for SNES, and I didn’t fare any better with the GameBoy, having only gotten through a few missions in games like Super Mario Land and Volley Fire.

  • Of the adventures the Colours have, my personal favourite was the Halloween special: Saki and Kotoha create a special zombie-themed event rather than go trick-or-treating, and the park’s visitors end up participating out of curiosity. When the whole park is “infected”, leaving Yui to save everyone, the visitors are pleased at how everything turns out, and in the aftermath, Yui, Kotoha and Saki receive candy from everyone for having livened everyone’s days up. Heartwarming and cheerful, moments like these show the Colours at their best.

  • When the Colours begin wishing they had an extra member of sorts, they decide to swing by the local museum in the hopes of recruiting an exhibit to fight by their side. Naturally, nothing comes out of this, but the girls do spend a pleasant day at the museum, where they check out a range of exhibits. If I had to guess, I’d say this was the Ueno National Museum of Nature and Science owing to the venue’s sizeable paleontology exhibits. The Colours do live in a nice area since they’re so close to everything, to the point where they can just swing by and visit. When I was a primary student, visits to zoos and museums were exciting field trips.

  • When the Colours become interested in gathering tickets for a prize draw, they go around hassling the customers of a shopping mall to give them their shopping tickets in exchange for tissue packs. The day’s antics are ultimately harmless, and the girls end up securing the number of tickets needed to play in the draw, only to win a packet of tissues instead. This exercise provides two lessons for viewers: it acts as a reminder that sometimes, taking shortcuts to accomplish something can fail, and second, attempting to re-sell something typically results in a net loss for the seller because things are typically marked up, so the original dealer and everyone involved in the process makes a profit.

  • I’m actually quite fond of Momoka: as a university student, she’s caring and dependable, even more so than Nonoka. Her hime-cut and stern facial features brings to mind the likes of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto, although Momoka is voiced by Hisako Tōjō (Hinako Note‘s Chiaki Hagino). Yui is voiced by Yūki Takada (Aoba Suzukaze of New Game! and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid‘s Elma), Marika Kouno (Hinako Note’s Yua Nakajima and Silence Suzuka from Uma Musume Pretty Derby) voices Saki and Natsumi Hioka (Super Cub’s Shii Eniwa) plays Kotoha.

  • When New Year’s arrives, the girls get New Year’s money from their parents, and immediately set about trying to acquire some firearms with which to blast Saitō with. They end up swinging by an airgun shop with an impressive collection of replica firearms: among the weapons seen include a POF P416, M4 carbine, MP5-K, MP7, Ingram Mac-10 with suppressor, Karabiner K98, UMP, Remington Model 700, MG-42, AT-4, SVD with a modern polymer body, and even a Barrett M82 50-caliber rifle. These are a handful of the weapons I do recognise off the top of my head, a consequence of spending far too much time in shooters, and several of the M4s are modified to have optics.

  • Giving the Colours even replicas of these would be a bad idea, and at any rate, 1500 Yen isn’t enough to purchase one anyways (an airsoft MP7 goes for around 350 CAD, for instance). In the end, the shopkeeper declines to sell the Colours any airguns, citing the law as prohibiting such a transaction even if they did have the funds, and the girls end up visiting Daigoro, where they buy a set of handheld transceivers, informally known as walkie-talkies, such that they can communicate their plans more readily. While lacking the same range as mobile phones, their advantage is that they can communicate reliably at closer ranges, making them great tools in a range of situations where it may be impractical to use mobile phones.

  • As winter begins setting in, Yui, Kotoha and Saki decide to make a time capsule with an empty biscuit tin after they finish them off. This ends up being an endearing idea, and while finding mementos is easy enough, determining a good spot to hide their capsule proves much trickier. They initially try to bury it underneath a large tree, but upon encountering Nonoka, the Colours learn that the can would probably rust before the decade is up. In the end, the girls figure that Daigoro might be able keep the time capsule safe.

  • In ten years’ time, the Colours will be high school students, possibly the same age as Nonoka, and things will be quite different, but for now, life in Ueno continues on as it has for the past age, with Kotoha, Saki and Yui running around, making the most of their childhood and solving whatever cases come their way.

  • As spring returns to Ueno, the Colours decide it’s time to take another shot at playing hide-and-seek. This time, they dub it hyper-hide-and-seek, for they’re using the walkie-talkies to make things more exciting: whereas Kotoha and Saki totally ditched Yui last time, this time around, Kotoha hides somewhere more reasonable. However, Saki decides to be sneaky and hides in her cabachubra costume. Yui and Kotoha manage to work this out, and Kotoha totally trashes Saki as a result.

  • By the time the cherry trees are in full blossom, the Colours end up helping Saki’s mother sell off extra strawberries from her shop in order to earn a bit of cash for some sweet cakes. Amongst the crowds of people partaking in hanami, the girls manage to sell of the strawberries rather quickly – there is truth in this, since freshly-picked strawberries are delicious. When I was in Japan several years back, we stopped by a roadside strawberry stand by Enakyoo Bridge in Gifu, and the vendors had assured us that their strawberries could be eaten as is, since said strawberries had been grown without the use of any pesticides. Small experiences like this really made the trip memorable.

  • With Yui, Kotoha and Saki down to their last basket to sell, they convince a young man who’d come from a difficult job interview to buy the strawberries. While it seems like they might’ve screwed him over in the moment, a positive mind might suppose that the unexpectedness in the moment might give him the encouragement he needs to keep trying. In this way, Mitsuboshi Colours tends towards the idea that the energy children bring to the table should be encouraged in an environment that is supportive and safe of adventure and exploration.

  • There’s no better way to wrap things up than to have the endlessly energetic and fun-seeking Colours sleep, having hauled a futon all the way out into the park for their afternoon nap (to Saitō’s shock). Overall, it’s easy to recommend Mitsuboshi Colours, as the series represents a reminder of how carefree childhood really is: it’s an A- in my books, and with this post in the books, I’ve now knocked out three slice-of-life series sitting on my backlog (having beaten both Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits earlier). This leaves me with enough time to determine what posts will be written next: I have an Oculus Quest-driven location hunt in mind on top of the special talk for Hanasaku Iroha, and both are going to be larger, so the extra time will be an asset.

Altogether, Mitsuboshi Colours is a solid series, and in a curious turn of events, the original manga was created by Katsuwo, who also wrote Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu. Both series portray children and youth in a plausible manner, placing them in situations that evokes a sense of pathos and pulls on the heart strings, while at the same time, presenting the characters as people worth rooting for. The end result is that every episode of Mitsuboshi Colours is worth watching, similarly to how Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu was similarly compelling. However, whereas Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu was focused on Bocchi’s efforts to make friends, Mitsuboshi Colours is more about how the size and variety in Ueno district gives Yui, Kotoha and Saki no shortage of places to explore, and no shortage of ideas to pursue. The local park contains the trees to be destroyed for creating hay fever, but those same trees become a potential landmark when the girls decide to put a time capsule together to remember their friendship. When their panda-coloured cat decides to go for a stroll, the girls follow him, thinking his destination to be cool beyond words. Their tour leads them back to their clubhouse. In this way, Mitsuboshi Colours suggests to viewers that even in a familiar setting, there’s enough going on so that every day is different, and consequently, there is something new to look forwards to all the time, even when the scenery and sights appear to, on first glance, be unchanging. While people are constantly looking to change things up, there is also a certain comfort in familiar sights; I’ve long held that one isn’t really ready for adventure until they’ve come to fully appreciate everything their home as to offer, and as Mitsuboshi Colours indicates, more often than not, home can be full of pleasant, unexpected surprises just waiting to be discovered.

DOOM Eternal: The T-Shaped Slayer and A Duel Between Titans At The Finale

“…and you will be their savior, your strength will be their shield and your will… their sword. You remain…unbroken…for your fight…is eternal.” –King Novik

With the way to Urdak open, the Doom Slayer slaughters his way to the Khan Maykr: here in Urdak, the Khan Maykr is preparing a ceremony to bring the Icon of Sin under her control. The Doom Slayer interrupts the ceremony and prevents the Khan Maykr from activating the Icon of Sin by stabbing the mortal heart of the Argenta. This causes the Icon of Sin thus sets off on a rampage towards Earth, and with the Khan Kaykr’s pact with Hell broken, dæmons begin invading Urdak. In order to reach Earth, the Doom Slayer reconfigures a Celestial Portal. destroys the Khan Maykr before following the Icon of Sin. After fighting through an abandoned city, the Doom Slayer confronts the Icon of Sin, destroying its armour and causing it to flee into a different area. Here, the Doom Slayer is able to finally bring down the Icon of Sin, and plunges the Crucible’s blade into its exposed brain, killing it. In the aftermath, King Novik reconsiders his words to the Doom Slayer, indicating that the Doom Slayer has been reinstated and will be counted upon should the need arise. This brings my twenty two and a half hour journey through DOOM Eternal to a close; having now beaten the whole of DOOM Eternal, I can say that I have a sufficient measure of this sequel to 2016’s DOOM to make a verdict about DOOM Eternal. Simply put, DOOM Eternal is a worthy successor to DOOM, being bigger and bolder in every way. The changes to the core combat system is a direct improvement, adding a new dimension to the way DOOM Eternal plays, and the nuances players must keep up with constantly pushes them to get creative and adapt whenever the going gets tough. The end result of this is that combat becomes more involved, and split-second decisions must be made more often. If DOOM had meant to suggest to players that they needed to play in a highly mobile and aggressive means by remaining on the move at all times to survive, then DOOM Eternal is reminding players that they must be mindful of all the tools they have at their disposal in order to survive. DOOM previously allowed players to plow through entire levels with naught more than the heavy cannon and plasma rifle, but the variety of dæmons in DOOM Eternal means this is no longer possible. Players must triage, prioritise and maintain calm nerves in every firefight in order to survive, and it becomes clear that this additional dimensionality is a logical evolution of what DOOM had established.

In this way, DOOM Eternal becomes the perfect sequel to DOOM: familiar elements make a return, but changes to the mechanics means that players end up with a new experience, one that builds upon what they’d previously learnt and mastered in DOOM. There is more to think about now, and more options available to players. Not every path is viable: using just the plasma rifle or heavy cannon against a Flameborne Baron, for instance, simply results in a great deal of ammunition expenditure, but combining the ice bomb, grenade and Blood Punch in conjunction with the heavy cannon and plasma rifle makes a difficult, lengthy fight trivially easy against an intimidating foe, allowing one to deal with them without spending precious time on weapon switching, especially when there are lesser dæmons also filling the air with deadly plasma fire and flame. DOOM Eternal thus addresses the problem of Maslow’s hammer in a highly elegant manner: in most contemporary video games, players are limited in the number of weapons they can carry, and as such, to maximise combat efficiency at a variety of ranges, players often stick to assault rifles, which balance rate of fire with accuracy at range, and in games like Battlefield or Call of Duty, it becomes possible to complete the entire campaign with the starting assault rifle, plus whatever pickups are needed to advance certain parts of the game (like a marksman rifle or anti-armour weapon). However, this can create complacency among players, who stick to one setup during an entire game. When games allowed players to carry an entire arsenal of weapons, weapons were often crafted to fit very specific roles. Half-Life and Half-Life 2, for instance, required players to constantly switch weapons to deal with threat of different types and at different ranges. When Halo: Combat Evolved released, it revolutionised the ways players played. Carrying two weapons at a time create a new problem for players to overcome, and deciding which weapons to pick became critical. This worked well for Halo because the sci-fi setting meant weapons could be specialised for different roles. However, since Call of Duty‘s dominance, players have grown accustomed to simply optimising their setups. DOOM Eternal forces players out of this as a wake-up call, reminding them that weapons are in a game for a reason, and that to be successful, one must utilise all of the tools at their disposal in order to be successful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • We’ve come to it at last, the battle through the Khan Maykr’s turf, Urdak. For these last few missions in DOOM Eternal, I’ve been rocking EVGA’s Z15 series gaming mechanical keyboard with the bronze Kailh switches. I’d picked this keyboard up a couple of weeks ago because I was looking for an upgrade to the Devastator II I’d bought five years earlier. Having a mechanical keyboard means louder clicks, but I find this highly satisfying. For general computing, the mechanical keyboard doesn’t change much, but during writing, having a tactile response really makes a difference.

  • In gaming, the Z15 is reasonably responsive, and the further travel distance means I can make inputs with more confidence. Overall, while a more experienced keyboard specialist will suggest that the Z15 is eclipsed by other mechanical gaming keyboards on the market, I did pick mine up for a full 40 percent off, and it’s improved my computing experience, so I’m not complaining. The fact that the Z15 has customisable lighting is a nice bonus: while I use an all-white light for most days, I’ve also set some presets to give things a little more flair.

  • The only real strike I have against the Z15 is the fact that keystrokes register before the keys click in some scenarios, which feels quite cumbersome at times, but this occurs primarily when I’m typing: when I game, keystrokes register very well. It is with the Z15 that I beat DOOM Eternal with, and having this extra tactile feeling in controlling my character meant the last few missions to DOOM Eternal were particularly enjoyable, as well as demonstrating that the Z15 is going to be a solid keyboard for my uses.

  • Entering the penultimate mission, I knew that since this was the Maykrs’ homeland, it would be the case that I’d need to fight the Khan Maykr herself. However, unlike the fight against The Gladiator, Urdak is filled with combat encounters, and some of these were very demanding. By this point in DOOM Eternal, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that I am going to die in a given firefight on my first few attempts if I am careless: DOOM Eternal now has no problem throwing everything at me all at once, creating waves of incredibly challenging enemies that demand a balance of coordination, reflexes and resource management.

  • On a few occasions, I finally brought out the Crucible: against the Flameborne Barons and Tyrants, the Crucible can be used to create breathing room, although in a fight with these dæmons , I can get by well enough by comboing the ice bomb with the frag grenades, and the chipping away at their health with something like the super shotgun, rocket launcher or chain gun. However, the Archvile’s ability to summon buffed dæmons means that any fight involving them could potentially overwhelm me. In these scenarios, I break out the Crucible and make a beeline for them, since taking them off the field becomes my first priority.

  • The sights around Urdak are impressive: the Maykrs’ world has very clean and elegant looking architecture. They also appear to have sakura trees about, creating a very unique aesthetic compared to the locales previously visited: everything about the Maykrs conveys the air of a higher civilisation, and digging into the lore finds that they were the ones who first figured out how to convert Hell Essence derived from agony and suffering of trapped in Hell souls with Sentinel energy. The process creates an infinitely renewable source of energy, but also transforms the souls into dæmons.

  • One of the few things I never got around to doing in DOOM Eternal was properly get the masteries for all of my weapons. I did encounter mastery tokens throughout the missions, but I’d intended to save them for the few masteries I did not unlock by the time I was ready to fight the Khan Maykr. Fortunately for me, it’s not necessary to have all of the masteries unlocked: these augment the way a weapon mod handles, typically improving it by getting rid of the cooldowns or adding a new effect, but beyond this, spending the weapon points will improve a mod more tangibly.

  • During one segment, I ended up unlocking the mastery for the heavy cannon’s sniper scope: enemies now explode when hit with a headshot that kills them, dealing splash damage to their surroundings. The mastery for micro-missiles is the ability to continuously fire micro-missiles, which is actually a superbly powerful and overwhelming option. Whereas there’d been little incentive to use the sniper scope in DOOM, since the Gauss Cannon was the superior long-range weapon, and long range combat was already uncommon, the inclusion of weak points in DOOM Eternal makes the sniper scope a viable choice.

  • The changes in core mechanics in DOOM Eternal are not subtle, and completely alter the ways players approach the game. DOOM had started the trend: taking cover and  being patient was punished, since enemies were constantly moving; to be successful, players would need to stay on the move, as well. DOOM Eternal adds on top of this the idea that every tool in the Doom Slayer’s arsenal is there for a reason, and therefore, should see appropriate use. In this way, DOOM Eternal was designed for players who enjoyed DOOM and wanted more out of their experience.

  • This is why I’ve paid Reddit very little heed; there are entire threads dedicated to bemoaning DOOM Eternal as being inferior to its predecessor because the fundamental gameplay had changed too dramatically, forcing players to play a certain way. It is the case that, had DOOM Eternal utilised the identical approach as did DOOM, those same players would’ve griped that Eternal did nothing novel. The negativity and entitlement in the community is astounding, and I’ve noticed that the LEGO community is no different: new sets are constantly being torn down for being too pricey if they’re innovative or unimaginative if their price is low.

  • Once I got the portals aligned, the effect here is not unlike that of Nidavellir in Infinity War after Thor and Rocket restart the Heart of a Dying Star. With this one, there’s nothing left to do but fight the Khan Maykr herself. Continuing on from the topic of negativity, in the case of LEGO, people have written and argued that there is no basis for this negativity, only for those people to come out and defend their right to be negative. While there is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, I do take exception with people who think they have a right to upvotes and retweets because they’re tearing something down.

  • Where I issue criticisms, I also offer suggestions. In the case of DOOM Eternal, for instance, I did not like the fact that the BFG 9000 and Unmaykr are on the weapon wheel because that negatively alters the dynamic of the most demanding firefights: running out of ammunition and automatically switching to the BFG 9000 has cost me precious ammunition unnecessarily. What I would’ve preferred is the DOOM style approach, where there’d been a separate key to equip the BFG and Unmaykr: these are powerful weapons like the Crucible in terms of function, and it’s important to not wrest this decision from players.

  • Incidentally, the BFG 9000 is not something I’d use in the fight against the Khan Maykr. She’s actually a fun enemy to fight, since this one emphasises movement, map knowledge and efficiency. Unlike other foes, the Khan Maykr has a recharging energy shield. When the shield drops, one must rappel up with the meat hook and do a Blood Punch to blow away her health pool. In this fight, keeping a constant stream of fire on the Khan Maykr is essential, so found that the slower-firing weapons were actually less useful.

  • While I’m using the heavy cannon with the sniper scope here, it turned out that using the bottomless micro missiles and taking advantage of their ability to weakly lock onto targets was the answer. It took me a few tries to get things right, but once I figured out the solution that worked for me, I was able to destroy the Khan Maykr in no time at all. During the process, I did die a few times, and DOOM Eternal offered me the Sentinel Armour, but I declined, believing that I’d been onto something. In this way, I was able to defeat the Khan Maykr and progress to the final mission, during which the task is to stop the Icon of Sin.

  • I jokingly refer to the Sentinel Armour as the “Upper Echelon Gaming” mode because of the fact that it greatly reduces incoming damage without punishing the player otherwise. Sentinel Armour pops up whenever a player dies too often at a certain point, and is intended to ask players “are you short of time, and need to get through this part quickly?” My response is a resounding “no”, since I expect to die a lot in games and see that as a learning experience. The reason why I call it Upper Echelon Gaming mode is because shortly after DOOM Eternal‘s release last year, a modestly popular YouTube channel made a review critiquing DOOM Eternal. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, Upper Echelon Gaming openly insulted people who disagreed with his assessment, which in turn started a massive firestorm.

  • For the record, I completely disagree with Upper Echelon Gaming, will remark that I’m glad I wasn’t part of the flame wars, and note that since he’s been banned from Twitter, there’s no real need to build a rebuttal (especially considering others had already done so in a satisfactory manner). Back in DOOM Eternal, I’ve entered the final mission: the first combat encounter is brutal and tense: the main challenge is that the space is very small and open, meaning that while one has a good line of sight on everything up here, enemies can similarly fire on the Doom Slayer, as well. Combat was relentless, brutal and punishing: constant movement and resource management is needed to gain a foothold here.

  • Here, I fight yet another Doom Hunter: these foes are still a pain to beat, and on the narrow rooftops that open this final mission to DOOM Eternal, I found myself squaring off against the toughest fight yet. Fortunately, endlessly regenerating chainsaw fuel, coupled with a better familiarity with game mechanics means that in the endgame, I was enjoying every moment of this fight. There were a few places where I ended up bringing out the Crucible to quickly smash up the super-heavy dæmons: the last level really gives more opportunity to savour being able to bring down a Flameborne Baron or Tyrant in a single stroke. This is a critical element, since removing a super-heavy dæmons swiftly can mean the difference between living and dying.

  • If memory serves, today was my third full day in Winnipeg three years earlier. After working on several tickets as best as I could, I was blocked by the fact that I was missing several updated endpoints. The developer working on that had already left for the day, so I wrapped up by making a list of tasks for the final day before I was set to fly back home. After this was done, I returned to the Beachcomber for dinner, then walked around The Forks after to unwind, before returning to the Fort Garry. The next morning, I got up early so I could pack, then walked back over to The Forks.

  • Here, I sat down at a place called Danny’s All Day Breakfast, where I ordered something called the Pan Scrambler (a scrambled egg omelette topped with cheese, green pepper, tomato, onion, white mushrooms, bacon, ham, garlic sausage and potatoes with a side of white toast). This breakfast was delicious and hearty, reminding me of Man v. Food‘s Mother’s Cupboard’s Frittata Breakfast Challenge in Syracuse. Fortunately, my breakfast was a more manageable size, although it was still very filling and gave me the spirit I needed to face that last day. I ended up finishing off a few tickets, but waited for over half the day for the backend developer to return; he’d been out of office for reasons unknown and hadn’t informed anyone, leaving several critical endpoints incomplete until close to the end of the day.

  • I ended up receiving the endpoints ten minutes before my taxi arrived, and I was whisked to the airport, more than ready to head home after a gruelling week. Back in DOOM Eternal, after vaulting over to a building, I found myself faced with a Tyrant in a room full of dæmons. I thus stepped back, discharged the BFG into the room and then waded into the resulting carnage. The initial blast had softened things up, allowing me to kill the Tyrant relatively quickly. However, in typical DOOM Eternal fashion, the game managed to up the stakes.

  • Two Tyrants spawned into the room shortly after. While perhaps overwhelming at first glance, there is a way to succeed: I used the ice bomb and frag grenade combo to weaken one Tyrant, then hammered it with micro-missiles, before repeating the process on the second Tyrant while back-pedalling. In this way, I was able to avoid total destruction: overwhelming waves of enemies are pretty cut-and-dried now, so it became a matter of triaging the targets, picking one’s approach and then engaging them. I have noticed that firefights in DOOM Eternal aren’t blisteringly fast; every combat encounter gave me enough time and space to think things through, so long as I was moving.

  • Final Sin was the one mission in DOOM Eternal where I willingly fired the BFG 9000: ammunition for this superweapon is common, and there are cases where it is prudent to use it for clearing out rooms before entering. This was one such moment: I carefully pointed the BFG into a point and opened fire. The trick with the BFG is to aim at a point without obstacles – the orb will travel through the air and emit highly damaging discharges that can instantly kill lesser dæmons. The longer it travels, the more enemies the orb will kill. When the orb impacts any surface, it detonates, releasing massive damage.

  • We’ve come to it at last: the fight against the Icon of Sin. This boss fight is quite unlike any other, requiring the Doom Slayer to fight it over two rounds. The first round has the Doom Slayer destroying its Maykr armour, which protects it from attack – the Maykrs had intended the Icon of Sin to be their weapon, and greatly augmented its powers. There are a total of armour pieces to destroy, and once a piece is taken out, no further damage will be sustained. Opening the fight, I shot at the Icon of Sin with the BFG 9000, which only does damage if the orb connects, but every successful shot will outright destroy an armour piece.

  • During the fight, countless dæmons will enter the arena and complicate things, but thanks to respawning Blood Punch and Crucible pickups, one can very quickly deal with any lesser dæmons before returning attention to the Icon of Sin. My strategy was to use the slower-firing, heavy hitting weapons for the head and chest, while the chaingun was best suited for the arms. While the Icon of Sin’s biggest weapon is its sheer size, it can shoot fireballs from its head, deploy flamethrowers from its hands and emit a beam of damaging energy, as well as attack the Doom Slayer physically, making it a lethal leviathan. As such, it is imperative to keep moving and take advantage of the lesser dæmons to top off on health, armour and ammunition.

  • In the words of Forged in Fire’s Doug Marcaida, the Crucible is a weapon that will definitely KEAL (Keep Everyone ALive) – I use it to instantly destroy a Flameborne Baron here, and will remark that for the past month, I’ve been watching a Forged in Fire extensively. Episodes are always fun: the show is a competition to see who can forge the best blade under challenging circumstances, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the sportsmanship. Even competitors who lose on the first round or suffer from a catastrophic failure during testing will comment that just being able to compete is an honour, while the judges are always professional and offer constructive criticism to even the roughest of entries.

  • I first watched Forged in Fire in Winnipeg, during my Xamarin assignment, and became hooked after watching the KEAL tests – after dinner, I would retire to my accommodations at the Fort Garry and saw the show on TV. While episodes follow a formula, it was engaging to see how competitors could overcome the challenges coming their way, and watching the final two return to their home forges and build the final weapon was fantastic, since it was a chance to really see how a bladesmith worked on their own turf. For me, it also reminded me of the fact that I tended to work better when I had home field advantage.

  • However, the two weeks that followed were even more exhausting as I fought the Winnipeg team on virtually every decision they had made – besides changing the JSON responses arbitrarily, causing the app to crash, they also refused to simplify the endpoint needed to carry out two-factor authentication, requiring users to enter a 26 digit long alpha numerical code. I had suggested that this code be simplified to six digits, but was met with the claim that this would mean the app was no longer HIPA compliant. Nowhere in the HIPA documents is it stated that a 26 digit long code was specifically required (only a PIN), and in the end, I won out: an app would be quite unusable if users were forced to enter a 26 digit code of random strings and numbers during sign in, and my implementation was still compliant while offering a far superior user experience.

  • Three weeks after I returned home, I finished the Xamarin project and finally was in a state where the app was ready for submission. It was approved shortly after, although this ended up being a Pyrrhic victory – the startup I was with folded because I was unable to properly develop our product. Earlier that September, we handed back the keys to our building, since funds had run low enough so we could no longer maintain our rent, and it did feel like things had ended then. With all that was going on, Forged in Fire fell from my mind, but after watching the History Channel recently, my interest in the show was reignited. Going through Forged in Fire again brought back memories of my Xamarin assignment’s Winnipeg phase, and I am very grateful to be able to watch Marcaida say a blade will KEAL, without the dread of what the Winnipeg team would fumble next, hanging over my head.

  • The second phase of the fight agains the Icon of Sin is the same as the first, albeit in a different location. Similar tactics apply here: using the BFG and hard-hitting weapons on the chest, and then automatics on the arms will be enough to bring this monster down for good. When enough damage is dealt to the Icon of Sin, the Doom Slayer will equip the Crucible and plunge the Argent blade into its brain, putting it down for good. This boss fight was reminiscent of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood‘s final fight, and is significant for showing how the Doom Slayer had accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of killing Titans previously, in turn showing that the Doom Slayer’s killing of the massive Titan in the Umbral plains. Lore suggests that the Doom Slayer might’ve used an Atlan to assist in this feat.

  • With my victory over the Icon of Sin, I’ve now beaten DOOM Eternal‘s base campaign in full – this has been a helluva experience, and I am very glad to have bought the Reiko version of the game (I still have The Ancient Gods to look forwards to). I’ll probably start The Ancient Gods later this month. Yesterday had been quite exciting, as I drove out to Vulcan to check out their Star Trek museum. Today, I ended up taking things easy: after a ten-kilometre walk, I enjoyed a homemade burger (whose flavours reminded me of summer), installed new curtains and finally got started on the Harukana Receive manga’s sixth, seventh and eighth volumes (which I’ve been waiting to read since November of last year). It’s a pleasant way to end the Labour Day Long Weekend, and with DOOM Eternal in the books, I look forwards to kicking off The Ancient Gods. In the meantime, the next major post I have scheduled for this month will be for Hanasaku Iroha and The Aquatope on White Sand: the latter will be a talk about the series at the halfway mark, and the former will be a special post celebrating the ten year anniversary.

The approach DOOM Eternal takes towards encouraging players to make full use of their arsenal and equipment is a rather clever reference to real life: while it is often the case that people specialise towards one role in reality, there is considerable desirability in possessing what is known as a T-shaped skillset. This describes individuals who have competence in a broad range of topics (the horizontal stroke in the character T) and have also simultaneously cultivated depth in one area to be very effective (the vertical stroke). Individuals with T-shaped skills can collaborate and contribute in a range of disciplines, while at the same time, offer expertise in one specific area. In DOOM Eternal, players necessarily must understand what every tool available does: if one were to go purely through the game with the super shotgun, they’d find themselves short of ammunition very quickly. However, understanding that the super shotgun can be combined with ice bombs, the meathook and ballista means being able to put together impromptu solutions for less-than-ideal situations. This is where DOOM Eternal‘s genius is: players are compelled to experiment and keep on their toes because one can never be too sure what the next combat situation is going to be. While one might have a preference for certain weapons, success is found by developing an understanding of the full toolset and effectively making use of it. Real life similarly is conducive for T-shaped individuals: having a good breadth and death of knowledge means being able to apply one’s expertise to help in other scenarios, as well as being able to draw on a wide range of problem-solving techniques to solve a particularly difficult challenge in one’s area. DOOM Eternal offers no room for sticking to one weapon type or one set of strategies: the game is fluid, and the tips offered work best in a situation where everything is contained. The moment one is dropped into an arena, it is no longer viable to play an optimal way. In this aspect, DOOM Eternal is masterfully done, since game design can also send a particular message to players. It is the case that one is only really successful when they learn to make use of all the tools and tricks available to them. DOOM Eternal’s combat mechanics remind players that they should get comfortable with being uncomfortable, a state which encourages people to learn and try new things in an eternal quest to improve.

ARIA the Crepuscolo: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past. It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.” –George Foreman

Anya becomes worried when she notices that Alice and Athena have both a little off of late, and relays her worries to Ai and Azusa, who suggest that they do a surprise party for the pair. After speaking with Akari, and on President Aria’s suggestion, the three decide to time things for the Festa del Redentore, a July festival that gives thanks to the end of the 1576 Plague and has since included fireworks. However, Aika denies this request, since Himeya Company plans on doing a fair on the day of Festa del Redentore. In spite of these initial setbacks, Akari remains optimistic that they’ll be able to put something together. Anya later runs into Aletta, a Sylph-in-training, who gives her a brief ride over Neo-Venezia and encourages her about finding beauty in the present. Anya later has a chance to speak with Alice in the baths, learning that Alice had been down since Athena had set such an incredibly high standard as a senior that she feels like she hasn’t done anything similar for Anya. Alice recounts a story from back when she was still a pair: during Christmas, Alice had grown disheartened that Befana (Neo-Venezia’s equivalent of Santa Claus) doesn’t exist and found it difficult to get into the holiday spirit. One night, Athena had arranged a surprise party for Alice with help from Akari and Aika, and when Alice had arrived, Athena noted that the Christmas spirit for adults lies not with the existence of mythical figures, but rather, being able to look back on how wonderful the world had previously been, and using one’s own experience to help the new youth realise their dreams. On the day of Festa del Redentore, everyone is engrossed with their duties, but after the workday draws to a close, Akari and Aika meet up with Anya, Azusa and Ai. As it turns out, even Alicia and Akira were in on the plans to cheer up Alice and Athena: they’ve arranged for Alice and Athena to meet just prior to Athena’s concert and sing together. In the empty auditorium, Athena admits to Alice that during the latter’s exam to become a Prima, a part of her had wished that Alice might fail such that they could spend more time together, and moreover, Alice’s poor singing had come from her own doubts. Athena suggests to Alice that she sing in a way that she enjoys, and that moreover, it’s okay to make mistakes, allowing Alice to finally find her voice and pass her exam in full. In the present, Athena and Alice sing together before the evening show, and then board gondolas for the Yakatabune Cruise. While Alice and Athena are graceful for their past memories, Alice and Anya feels that being able to look back is what makes something so memorable, but the present will also come to become a precious memory, and the future will doubtlessly be full of new experiences, too. Thus, ARIA the Crepuscolo draws to a close. This first instalment was announced last year just ahead of ARIA‘s fifteenth anniversary, following an original story set somewhere after Avvenire. Crepuscolo is dedicated to Orange Planet’s Athena and Alice. Eri Kawai, who provided Athena’s singing voice, passed away in 2008 from liver cancer, and Tomoko Kawakami, who voiced Athena, passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011. This meant that Athena was largely absent from Avvenire. However, Rina Satō has since taken up this mantle and does a wonderful job as Athena. The themes within Crepuscolo mirror the respect for the older voices: ARIA remembers both Kawai and Kawakami’s contributions to Athena’s character, and at the same time, keep things moving forwards to honour their work.

I first watched ARIA through the Avvenire OVAs in 2016, and I subsequently picked up the three original seasons, which ran between 2005 and 2008. ARIA is an impressive series for its world-building and cathartic tone, for being able to convey the majesty of once-in-a-lifetime moments and the merits of the everyday. However, ARIA also proved a desperately tricky series to write for; ARIA is a series that covers a plethora of themes through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences together, and it is appropriate to say that there isn’t just one central theme or idea in ARIA. Being a self-contained experience, Crepuscolo does not continue on in the same vein as its predecessors: it speaks broadly about the doubts and concerns that arise during what is colloquially referred to as the passing of the torch. Alice presently worries about being a good enough mentor to Anya, but also recalls a time when Athena didn’t feel ready to guide Alice, either. However, bit-by-bit, Athena grew into the role and began understanding Alice a little better, such as being able to help create a visceral representation of how as adults, the Christmas spirit could be appreciated from a different perspective (rather than deriving enjoyment from recieving magic, adults get to experience the joys of making others happy). Over time, Alice and Athena would come to deeply treasure their time together. However, owing to Alice’s innate talents as an Undine, she rises through the ranks and can bypass the Single rank, which cut short the time Alice and Athena spent together. While things might’ve been short, Athena imparts the bit of advice that has since shaped who Alice is now, and in the present, Alice is able to sing as well as she’d like, although athena wondered if Alice had been unhappy with her. Introducing new juniors into ARIA really helped to depict succession and the passing down of knowledge to new generations, and here in Crepuscolo, the doubts that Alice face in mentoring Anya are the same as what Athena had experienced. It is the case that people can find it difficult to be honest about how they feel, as well as how newer generations can feel it exceedingly difficult to follow in their forerunners’ footsteps, but as a senior, one can always find their own approach towards things; friendship and magical circumstances can help one open up, and all it takes is a little nudge from the important people in one’s corner to set them down this path. Experience is what allows Athena to now help Alice find her way again, and in doing so, Crepuscolo indicates that Anya’s got much to look forward to, as well.

Anya and Alice both reflect on how being able to look back on past memories enhances the sense of nostalgia and wistfulness, rather like how the night looks darker when the sun is rising. This is why flashbacks are featured so prominently in Crepuscolo: they deliberately break up the story’s flow and directs the viewer’s attention away from the present. By forcibly altering the focus, viewers are inclined to pay more attention to events in the flashback to determine how they impact the present. This allows viewers to therefore see two critical moments in Crepuscolo that were of significance to Alice and Athena. Alice believes that Athena’s greatest moments come from imparting wisdom to her and helping her to appreciate what being an adult means, while for Athena, the lessons she taught to Alice have done much to make Alice the Undine she is today. While these are dramatically different moments, they had a nontrivial impact on how Alice and Athena view one another. In spite of doing much to shape the present, however, these things are also past, something to reflect on and appreciate, but not become bound to: with morning approaching, and the dawn of a new day, Crepuscolo also visually indicates that things don’t end here, with plenty more in the future that will be worth experiencing and discovering. This is openly stated during the Yakatabune Cruise; having come forward with their honest feelings, Alice and Athena are able to be truthful about how they feel about things and walk the future without anything concealed. Akari herself mentions something similar during the morning cruise, saying that she wonders what sorts of new discoveries and growth her future self will have made. While Crepuscolo might have spent half the film in flashbacks, Akari’s remarks thus remind the viewer that there is more to self-discovery than understanding moments from long ago, and that is to seize the moment, making the most of what lies ahead. Overall, the past, present and future figure prominently in Crepuscolo. All of the characters have matured (most notably, Akari, Aiko and Alice), but the traits that make everyone unique are still present: altogether, while Crepuscolo might be set a ways after Avvenire, the film feels timeless. ARIA has always excelled in conveying a sense of timelessness, and by weaving these elements together in a world quite different from our own, it does feel as though time has stood still: Neo-Venezia looks like it hasn’t aged a day, but it certainly is more vivid and detailed than I remember.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been five years since I last wrote about ARIA: after Avvenire finished, I took an interest in the series and watched all three seasons in the space of a few weeks. On the whole, ARIA excels in encouraging viewers to appreciate the mundane and extraordinary alike, to keep an open mind and always be mindful of one’s surroundings. In conjunction with the gentle guitar motifs, the peaceful world and fantastical setting that combines the great beauty of Venice with exotic future technology, ARIA creates a highly immersive and compelling world that is simultaneously similar to and unlike our own.

  • It is here that Kozue Amano is able to really present her ideas: Aqua is a terraformed Mars, and Neo-Venezia is a faithful reproduction of Italy’s Venice. In order to ensure that Aqua remains livable for humans, Amano introduces specialised space stations and exotic generators that help the planet to retain its atmosphere and retain an Earth-like gravity. When I watched Avvenire five years earlier, I joked that use of DOOM‘s Argent Energy would certainly have provided the power supply needed to fuel such functions. Said theory never took hold, and I’m rather surprised that a search for similar puts another blog ahead of mine, even though said blog has written exactly nothing about DOOM. In a curious turn of events, I beat DOOM Eternal last weekend, so I’ll be aiming to get a post on that done very soon.

  • Returning to ARIA, “Crepuscolo” is Italian for “twilight”, referring to this film’s focus on endings; this latest instalment of ARIA places emphasis on Alice and Athena, whom I felt were both shafted by Avvenire. This is a remark I can only make now that I’ve seen the whole of ARIA. I imagine that some readers will be wondering why I’ve not written about the original ARIA in my usual manner, and the reason for this is two-fold. First, I blitzed through this series at a breakneck speed, and at the time, I’d also been keeping up with episodic reviews of Brave Witches, so I was a little too swamped to write for ARIA. The second season is that ARIA is a pleasantly deep series, and there are many themes that Amano covers through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences.

  • At Crepuscolo‘s opening, Pair Anya is able to meet up with Athena, who is a legendary singer and was a former Prima of Orange Planet, Neo-Venezia’s largest Undine company. At present, she’s retired from her duties as an Undine (a Gondola operator and tour guide) to focus on opera singing, but still shows up from time to time. Since Athena had mentored Alice, Anya figures Athena’s the best person to speak to, since she noticed that Alice has been a little down of late. During their meeting, it’s clear that Athena still retains all of her old traits; she adds a little too much condensed milk to her beverage out of absent-mindedness.

  • At Aria Company, Alicia’s similarly retired and had since become a manager of the Gondola Association, leaving Akari to be Aria Company’s sole Prima. At this point in time, Ai’s become a Single, and here, she accompanies Akari while they give two guests a tour of Neo-Venezia’s beautiful canals. With JC Staff at the helm, Crepuscolo is beautiful: Aqua and Neo-Venezia are even more detailed than they were before, really coming to life. One noticeable change was that all of the characters have been given minor changes so they more closely resemble the characters of Amanchu!, another manga from Amano that JIC had adapted.

  • These changes bring the designs of ARIA‘s characters to be more consistent with Amanchu!‘s to mirror this fact, although things are subtle, so the differences are never too dramatic. With this being said, the characters do look a ways more mature, speaking to the amount of time that has passed since ARIA‘s beginning. Even with this newfound maturity, everyone still bears their most iconic traits, which was a pleasant reminder that while people do grow up and grow old, the heart of their personalities often remain consistent.

  • Alice’s peers notice that she’s been a little odd, and here, Alice is so distracted that she decides to eat her omuice sans ketchup. Because of Alice’s reputation as a rowing prodigy, others are intimidated by her and so, are hesitant to approach her. However, Alice’s true nature is that she’s a bit shy and not comfortable around new people; she takes time to open up to those around her. These traits are reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and now that I think about it, Alice might’ve been the inspiration for Chino: save the fact that Chino uses elastics as her hair-ties, Alice and Chino are quite similar both in terms of appearance and personality.

  • Back at Aria Company, Akari shares a meal with Anya, Azusa and Ai. One detail I liked was the fact that President Aria is seen happily polishing off his rack of lamb before wilting when Ai reminds him to eat his veggies and hands him a plate of salad. President Aria’s antics are awesome, and in the original ARIA series, he’s gone on some wild adventures of his own while Alicia and Akari were out servicing customers and training for Akari’s eventual promotion to Prima: if I’m not mistaken, President Aria even has a super-hero alter-ego, where he goes around Neo-Venezia fighting crime and keeping the peace. In this way, I am strongly reminded of Peanuts‘ Snoopy, who was a similarly amusing and intelligent character.

  • Over three seasons, there are fifty-two episodes of ARIA (excluding other OVAs like Avvenire), and some of the more incredible moments pertain to the cats, including one time where Akari finds herself whisked to the past after crossing a covered bridge when spotting some cats, and another time where curiosity leads Akari and Aika to the Kingdom of the Cats. The blending of the commonplace and supernatural had always been one of the great strengths in ARIA, and I believe that in Avvenire, Akari reminisces about a rumoured road tile that brings misfortune on those who tread upon it. When she tries the same, she’s thrown into the sky and encounters the Cait Sith, a benevolent cat spirit who seems to show up whenever Akari is in need.

  • Akatsuki appears mid-lunch, and going from Ai, Azusa and Anya’s reactions, they’re none too fond of him because of his brash, hot-headed character. In ARIA, Akatsuki was the first customer Akari had served, and while he’s quick to call Akari “pigtails”, Akatsuki spends a great deal of time with Akari every time he visits. The other characters dislike Akatsuki, but Akari treats him a little better, taking the time to speak with him whenever he visits: he began ARIA in pursuit of Alicia’s heart, although having made it a point to meet Akari on all of his visits, Alicia suspects that Akatsuki is probably in love with Akari.

  • When Anya, Ai and Azusa consider what they can do to bring Athena and Alice together, they realise that they can time something for Festa del Redentore. The real Festa del Redentore is an Italian festival dating back to the 16th century, featuring plenty of fireworks. Many Italian festivals and events are imported into ARIA, and then subsequently adapted to fit in with the future world’s customs: ARIA‘s Festa del Redentore similarly features fireworks, as well as a boat ride over to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The original was also built in the 16 century and can be seen from every point along the Riva degli Schiavoni.

  • Aika is Himeya Company’s heiress, and throughout ARIA, had long struggled with her familial connections to the company. Despite her a no-nonsense personality and tough exterior, Aika is sensitive and kind, as well. She constantly strives to prove that she’s a worthy contributor to the family company, but after meeting Akari, begins to appreciate the smaller moments in life, as well, although she retrains a very competitive and driven manner.

  • The iconic chibi art style makes a return in Crepuscolo – they were very prominent in ARIA, and every character takes on distinct features when flustered, embarrassed or surprised. These aspects carried over to Amanchu!, and while I had found them a little distracting early on, over time, the shifts in character art would become very endearing to me, speaking volumes about what was happening in a given moment in ways that dialogue alone could not fully convey.

  • The extensive use of flashbacks in Crepuscolo is not a particularly novel thing for ARIAAvvenire had done something similar, and flashbacks also figure in the original ARIA seasons. Their presence is meant to show that important memories have as much weight as the present, and that neither are inherently more valuable than the other. Such a remark would, of course, prompt the uptight Aika to shout, “embarrassing remarks are prohibited!” Here, Athena and Alice meet for the first time, and although Athena is a skilled Prima, Alice initially worries about Athena, who is so clumsy that she ends up spilling most everything. Over time, things between the two change as Athena and Alice get to know one another.

  • It turns out that Aria Company is located down the Riva del Sette Martiri along Saint Mark’s Canal. Neo-Venezia is the location hunter’s ultimate dream, being a 1:1 reproduction of Venice, and as such, the only thing one would need to do for the complete and comprehensive ARIA experience would simply be to book a trip to Venice. Famous landmarks like Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica feature prominently in ARIA, so there’s no missing them. After Ai, Azusa and Anya depart, they decide to find places in Neo-Venezia where it might be good to bring Athena and Alice together.

  • Here, Azusa passes by Ponte di Rialto, oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, while considering a possible spot. The original bridge was constructed in 1181 and was a pontoon bridge, but as the nearby Rialto Market expanded, the bridge was rebuilt with wood. This bridge burned down in 1310, then collapsed twice (once in 1444, as Azuisa mentions, and then in 1524). By 1551, it was proposed that the bridge was to be rebuilt using stone, and in 1588, construction began, finishing three years later. Although the design was criticised after its completion, Ponte di Rialto is an iconic Venice landmark today.

  • Guided by President Aria, Ai gets a tour of Neo-Venezia’s premiere eating spots and learns that President Aria himself had conquered numerous food challenges, including one for ramen and pizza. Cats in Neo-Venezia are treated great respect, being the mascot of their respective Gondola companies. All of the cats are endearing in their own right, and President Aria’s a special breed with full sentience. Alicia and Akari indulge him, leading him to become pudgy, but he’s kind-hearted and helps out where he can, as well.

  • While struggling to find a suitable spot, Ai runs into Alicia and explains that she’s searching for memories for Athena and Alice’s sake. Such an idea is inherently peaceful and is an integral part of ARIA: entire episodes have previously been spent on trying to find locations of interest, track things down or get something done, and while this meant that ARIA is a very slow series, this proved to be the series main joy. Humour in ARIA is very gentle, a world apart from the laughs that something like Azumanga Daioh provides.

  • Animation has certainly come a long way from 2005: Crepuscolo is comparable to P.A. Works and Kyoto Animation’s best. Of note are the water effects: so much of ARIA is set on the canals of Neo-Venezia, and while the original series did feature some reflections, highly-detailed, real-time reflections and ripples on the water come together to really create a sense of tranquility. Here, Akira takes a group of friends along Neo-Venezia’s Grand Canal, where she notices Azusa and Anya together.

  • While wondering what to do about the fact that Alice seems so down, Anya runs into Aletta, a Slyph (mail carriers) in training. In the original ARIA, Woody was a Slyph who often dropped by with messages for the main characters: back in 2002, phone calls, faxes and emails were the most widespread form of communication. In the nineteen years since Amano had penned ARIA‘s manga, the world has changed beyond recognition when it comes to communications. Instant messaging represents the easiest form of rapid communication, and video calls are now commonplace. This change gives letters and messengers a more romantic feel, hailing back to a simpler time.

  • Over the buildings of Neo-Venezia, Aletta explains that what makes her position so enjoyable is that, even though she’s a trainee and therefore limited to a certain altitude, the view nonetheless remains impressive, and she’s confident that once she becomes fully qualified, she’ll still enjoy the scenery over Neo-Venezia as she does now. This helps Anya to understand that while it’s important to think about the future, she should also be mindful of her present, as well.

  • In a brief flashback, while Aletta waves up at the sky, Anya takes an interest in a passing gondola. Simple moments like these don’t consume too much time, but even these can speak volumes about the characters and everyday observations. In this case, it’s the idea that while the future is uncertain, there are some things that occur during our childhood that can do much to inspire who we are as people today. While flying through the skies with Aletta, Anya realises that the scenery holds a piece of her past, too.

  • Right on cue, Woody appears and greets the pair before flying off for his duties. Throughout Crepuscolo, a gentle piece of incidental music can be heard playing in the background. The soundtrack in ARIA has always been of a fine standard, and I greatly enjoy music from the original series for how relaxing it is (just listening to the music alone reminds me of a gentle summer’s day with blue skies). However, for Crepuscolo, I believe only the film’s opening and ending songs are available.

  • Because I don’t often write about ARIA, I’ll present a stunning view of Neo-Venezia by sunset – from the location, this appears to be the Orange Planet’s base of operations (two large gates leading onto the canals can be seen to the left). In reality, Orange Planet is located at the site of Basilica St. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in real life, but the canal feels a little wider than the one in reality. Like other anime, ARIA is quite faithful to real-world locations, but some liberties have been taken to accommodate the story.

  • Back at Orange Planet’s headquarters, Alice has returned to her room with Maa and finds Anya admiring an autumn leaf that she’d picked up while meeting Aletta. Alice invites Anya to dinner, but Anya declines, leading Alice to wonder if Anya’s doing alright. Coincidently, when Anya bounces the question back at Alice, Alice wilts. The conversation suggests that Anya and Alice are both bad at being forwards with how they feel about things. Being honest with oneself, and being open about one’s feelings is always a challenge; even now, this is something that I struggle with.

  • Of course, there is time yet to improve this aspect about myself, and I try to be expressive about the things that don’t work for me. Given what anime has presented, I think it is reasonable to suppose that people who are the least likely to come forward with their feelings are usually the most considerate people; they’d rather take one for the team if it means those around them are happy, but sometimes, this can lead to miscommunications. In the baths, Alice admits to Anya that she’s worried about not being a good mentor for Anya, especially considering everything that Athena had previously done for her.

  • The story thus flashes back to when Alice, Akari and Aika were still trainees; it’s Christmas, and while Akari and Aika are in the holiday spirit, Alice seems a little detached from everything. Venice is beautiful during the Christmas season, and besides the Christmas markets, the area is quite foggy during the winter, so it feels like the buildings are floating in the skies. During winters, Venice can be quite chilly because of the humid air, so bringing a coat is suggested. I imagine that Neo-Venezia inherits Venice’s climate, as well; the real Venice has a humid subtropical climate with cooler winters and hot, humid summers.

  • Akari transforms into a chibi form while admiring a Befana doll – it appears that in ARIA, elements of Halloween are combined with Christmas, with the witch, Befana, replacing Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of the Christmas season and deliverer of gifts. I’ve always loved these chibi expressions, as they represent the character’s true selves in a visual format. Akari’s flat, angular lines signify that she’s completely lost in the moment, while Aika’s eyes become shiny and her mouth take on a cat-like shape, perhaps indicative of someone who’s trying hard to remain cool and composed. Alice’s chibi form signifies lack of amusement in the situation.

  • It was around here that I really began noticing how Amanchu!-like everyone looked – while it has been five years since I’d watched ARIA, seeing the characters in the present day meant some of the visual changes weren’t immediately apparent. However, comparing each of Akari, Aika and Alice in the present, versus their past selves, shows that everyone’s matured. It’s a subtle and pleasant touch. Here, Hime can be seen clinging to Aika: she’s the president of Himeya, and President Aria has a bit of a crush on her. During the original ARIA, President Aria would do things like sucking in his gut to impress Hime, but things always would backfire.

  • The dynamics among the cats bring to mind how the bunnies in GochiUsa act, and now that I think about it, ARIA might be seen as a more contemplative, quieter forerunner to GochiUsa, which shares in common with ARIA lovable characters, strong animal motifs, and a wonderfully designed world that is simultaneously similar to and different than our own. Upon returning to her room, Alice collapses on her bed, completely defeated that Christmas isn’t getting her excited. Athena ends up hearing Alice out, and does her best to cheer Alice up, but when nothing works, Athena takes a more dramatic route.

  • One evening, Alice spots something out the corner of her eye, and although she knows it’s Athena, curiosity takes a hold. Alice stumbles into a darkened courtyard after following Athena’s singing, and finds herself face-to-face with Athena, who’s decked out as Befana. It turns out that, with help from Aika and Akari, Athena had prepared a Christmas party of sorts for Alice and even granted her wish, of becoming the princess to the kingdom of bubbles. Alice had been saddened to learn that Befana was merely a myth for children and didn’t exist; her reaction is what most children go through upon learning Santa Claus is a story.

  • However, the transition from being a child to adulthood means helping the next generation of children to have fun and make their own discoveries. To this end, Athena puts a little something together for Alice and notes that it was very rewarding to have done something for those around her. This is the spirit of Christmas, and an integral part of growing up; becoming more mature means understanding others well and being able to address the challenges they face in an effectual, instructive manner.

  • After this particular evening, Alice appreciates that Christmas isn’t about the existence of Befana, but rather, being able to realise the dreams of others. The entire scene is quite magical: Athena, Akari and Aika have prepared non-burst bubbles with candles to create an otherworldly feeling. The cat waiters serving Alice and Athena are Aika and Akari – while ARIA has a very noticeable supernatural piece to it, the series is very measured about when to incorporate such elements. Here, the magic comes purely from the effort Athena directs towards helping Alice to rediscover her joy for the winter holidays.

  • Back in the present, Alice’s recounting this story to Anya shows what sort of senior Athena had been, giving Anya an idea of what Alice wishes to do as a senior. The natural progression in ARIA means that the series presents both perspectives very well. I’m sure a great many people have experienced this: as a junior, they’d see their seniors as role models, people to learn from and even lean on, and as the senior, they’d treat their juniors as they wish their seniors would’ve treated them. As a TA, for instance, I always strove to be clear in my instruction to students, and assess their work fairly. When I was a second year student, an excellent TA had prevented me from failing data structures, so by the time I became a TA, I worked hard to ensure no-one in my sections were left behind.

  • I also ended up going out for lunch with the product owner from Denver, where I had a breakfast burger (British bangers and a fried egg with onion), although if memory serves, that had been a bit of a stressful day, being my last in Winnipeg. Now that I think about it, without Alicia around, Aria Company does feel like it’s a bit of a lonelier place, but so long as Akari and Ai are present, things are a little livelier. Here, Akatsuki shares another conversation with Akari, hoping he’d be able to join her for a spot of tea, but with things being busy, Akari declines. I’ve noticed that present-day Akari speaks in a more confident and measured manner: Erino Hazuki has always given Akari’s voice a hesitant, soft inflection, so hearing the changes in Akari’s voice is another reminder that the characters are maturing.

  • On the day of Festa del Redentore, Aika is flooded with work, but fortunately, the Undines from other companies also show up to help out, and even President Aria has appeared to help direct guests to their tables. Akari and Ai are out taking passengers on gondola tours, so they’re unavailable to help out, but Anya is around to lend a hand. Orange Company and its large number of Undines means she’s able to get away on occasion to help out during festivals.

  • ARIA‘s presentation of different company sizes is a faithful and truthful representation of what is commonly referred to as the “bus factor” – for a given company, the bus factor is a measure of risk based on how well skill and information is distributed amongst a team. Specifically, it is a measure of how many people can become unavailable before productivity stops outright. Aria Company has a bus factor of 1 (if Akari were unavailable, Ai is not qualified to take customers on her own, and Aria Company’s operations grind to a halt), while Orange Planet has a bus factor of 20 (there are 20 Primas, so all 20 must be unavailable before business is halted). When I started working with my first startup, our bus factor was 1.5, and with my last position, our bus factor was 1 since I was the only mobile developer on the team (and similarly, our main product was an iOS app).

  • To reduce the bus factor on a team, cross-training is important: even if other developers can’t fully develop new features into the app or architect it out, having enough knowledge to debug smaller bugs and manage releases can save headache down the line. Generally speaking, a larger bus factor is desirable because it means more people can become unavailable before productivity sustains a decrease, and in more practical terms, it means that on a team with a higher bus factor, I can go on vacation for a week and not feel guilty about letting work accumulate dangerously. With the day’s work over, Akari joins Aika, Azusa, Ai and Anya as they prepare their surprise for Alice and Athena.

  • While Aika might be a Prima now and deeply respects her mentor, Akira, for allowing her to develop into a full-fledged Undine under Akira’s watchful tutelage, this hasn’t stopped Aika from calling Akira a dæmon instructor. Ironically, Akira happens to overhear Aika, causing the latter to jump in shock: Akira’s still got a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense personality. A major part of the fun in Crepuscolo was watching old dynamics amongst the characters make a return. There’s a sense of nostalgia surrounding ARIA, and I imagine that this fifteenth anniversary project will be a pleasant trip down memory lane for longtime viewers.

  • For me, I watched ARIA to completion five years earlier: I remember starting in August and slowly made my way through the series until by October, I’d finished. Back then, I was still working with my first startup, and I spent lunch hours watching episodes. During my marathon, one episode particularly stood out to me: during ARIA The Natural, Akari encounters a lady in black who asks for a ride to the cemetery at Isola di San Michele. Akari had heard about a ghost story surrounding such a lady in black, and finds out for herself that this lady is in fact a spectre. She is saved at the last second by the Cait Sith and finds herself back at Aria Company, although it is suggested that Akari’s experiences were no dream.

  • With all of the principal characters involved planning out the surprise for Athena and Alice, Akira and Alicia indicate they’ve found something that will work, and begin recalling a time when Athena had seemed quite down about something: when Athena had been assigned to mentor the brilliant but young Alice, she’d been worried about disappointing Alice; other Singles at Orange Planet had found it difficult to befriend someone like Alice, so Athena ended up deciding to take things slowly with Alice.

  • Over time, Alice would come to treasure her time with Athena, but because of Alice’s own skill, she advanced through the ranks quickly, and Athena despaired that their precious time was going to be cut short. Athena thus found herself wishing that time would pass more slowly, and chastises herself because a part of her wished Alice might fail, so that the two might be able to spend more time together. Athena recalls that Alice’s weakness had been in her singing: Primas also sing for their customers, and like GochiUsa‘s Chino, Alice’s voice isn’t particularly loud.

  • In the end, Athena suggests that Alice sing in the manner that makes her happy, and that with confidence, her love of singing would also reach her customers: Athena is famous in Neo-Venezia for her angelic voice and natural talent for singing, but despite this natural talent, Athena is also able to properly explain how she makes her singing work for her. This is the mark of a genius: although society has long counted someone as a genius if they possess uncommon talent in a field, as well as a ceaseless drive to explore, I’ve found that genius also entails being able to approach complex problems with elegant approaches.

  • In Athena’s case, she’s able to put into words what makes singing work for her and convey this to Alice. Being able to capture the feelings in one’s heart is a highly challenging task, and Violet Evergarden had similarly suggested that honestly articulating one’s feelings is a skill that must be cultivated over time. Athena is able to do just this, and I am reminded of Steven Hawking and Richard Feynman, both of which had a knack for finding creative ways of communicating incredibly abstract and tricky concepts in a way that even laypeople would understand. My old graduate supervisor similarly believed in this: the Giant Walkthrough Brain and my graduate thesis resulted from this, striving to present neuroscience and cellular biology in an accessible way to people.

  • With Athena’s words, Alice is able to reach her full potential and sings well enough for herself, allowing her to pass her exam and do what became a landmark accomplishment in ARIA: go from a Pair straight to a Prima. The composition of this scene evokes a sense of nostalgia, in recalling a pivotal moment in Alice’s career as an Undine, and for me, there was a lingering feeling of familiarity that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

  • As it turns out, the big surprise plan that everyone was helping with was to bring Alice and Athena together; Athena and Alice had been worried about not being able to meet one another, so the group writes a letter to bring Alice to the concert hall where Athena is performing. In the moments before the concert begins, the pair share a conversation together, reflect on the journey Alice took to become a Prima and everything she’d learned from Athena in the process. As the others indicate, it was difficult for both Alice and Athena to be honest with one another about how they feel.

  • However, in the end, with everything out in the open, Athena is able to express her happiness at having mentored someone like Alice, while Alice is immensely grateful to have learnt under Athena. The idea of cycles and the student becoming the teacher is especially apparent in CrepuscoloAvvenire had depicted the events following Origination and showed that Ai had joined the Aria Company, while Azusa becomes Aika’s student, and Anya began under Alice. However, Avvenire had only really scratched the surface, and having now seen the whole of ARIA, I found that Avvenire was only really an essay in the craft.

  • As such, the new series of ARIA movies have the possibility of really showing the relationship between the current generation of Prima Undines and their students, all the while giving an opportunity to expand upon moments from the original ARIA series. Crepuscolo has already shown what is possible in the movie format, so I’m hoping that Akira, Aika and Azusa will get some shine time in the upcoming movie, and then assuming this to be the case, Alicia, Akari and Ai will have their stories told in the third, and final movie.

  • With their hearts at peace, Athena and Alice are able to sing together. The vocal pieces in ARIA are beautiful: originally, Choro Club collaborated with Takeshi Senoo to compose the series’ incidental pieces and Eri Kawai’s most iconic songs. The “lyrics” were composed of tones not from any known language, to create a sense of timelessness, and according to director Jun’ichi Satō, the opening and ending songs were originally intended to be written in this way. However, Kawai decided that the lyrics should be Japanese in the end to better convey the feelings consistent with ARIA‘s aesthetic.

  • There is a sadness about Athena’s character in the knowledge that both Kawakami and Kawai have passed away: this sadness seemed to permeate Crepuscolo as Alice feels like she’s treading on eggshells where Athena is concerned, perhaps mirroring the difficult decision to recast Rina Satō as Athena. Assuming this to hold true, the remarks that Athena has for Alice, and Alice’s subsequent singing with Athena parallel Crepuscolo‘s desire to let viewers know that what happened before were to be treasured forever, but what happened in the past notwithstanding, there’s a future ahead of everyone that is worth seizing, and should be seized, free of the burdens from the past.

  • In this way, Crepuscolo‘s message is a very encouraging one; the film may have begun in a melancholy and introspective fashion, but remembering the times of old and what joy it’d brought means that the film is also optimistic. As the performance’s audience begin filing into the concert hall, they are pleased to see Athena and Alice singing already; in particular, Alice’s coworkers are happy. They’d been quite worried about Alice earlier, but seeing her on stage with Athena indicates beyond any doubt that Alice had found her answers and is no longer down.

  • Al, Akatsuki and Woody were noticeably absent from the events of Avvenire. Having seen Woody and Akatsuki, it’d be nice if in Benedizione, Al and Aika are able to spend more time together: during the events of Natural, it was shown that Aika had fallen in love with Al, who works as a Genome (an occupation entailing the maintenance of the equipment that regulates the artificial gravity on Aqua to be about 1G). This story was particularly touching, and it was fun to see the normally collected Aika become flustered in Al’s presence.

  • There are a large number of opera houses in Venice, but based on the building façade, as well as ARIA‘s tendency to use the most iconic locations of Venice, I am going to guess that Athena is performing at La Fenice, which is one of Venice’s (and even Italy’s) most renowned performing venue. The current theatre, seen in Crepuscolo, was actually built in 2001, the same year ARIA‘s manga began running. It was destroyed by a fire in 1996, a consequence of arson from electricians who’d been servicing the building’s wiring. The original theatre was opened in 1792, but was also destroyed by fire in 1836. Fortunately, swift construction efforts meant that La Fenice reopened a year later, in 1837. The building has so far rebounded thrice after fires, and therefore, lives up to its name, which is “The Phoenix” in English.

  • In flashbacks, moments from ARIA the Origination‘s ninth episode are brought to life in full, given the HD remaster treatment and completely refreshed. Because Crepuscolo brought back so many memories, both for me and for the characters, I began developing this feeling that I’d seen everything before. I therefore hopped on over back to Origination, and sure enough, the very same moments in Crepuscolo were shown in Origination, albeit with a massive visual update.

  • Athena and Alice’s smiles speak volumes about the catharsis both experience after being open with one another. While the concert Athena performs at isn’t shown, the fact that we got to hear familiar, iconic performances in Crepuscolo was very heartwarming. The combined nostalgia and warmth that Crepuscolo conveys, coupled with the fact that Benedizione isn’t going to be out until May or June 2022, there’s probably enough time to go back and re-watch the whole of ARIA, front-to-back (even with my schedule and tendency to procrastinate).

  • With the concert over, the group of friends take a Yakatabune Cruise together into the dawn. Crepuscolo had covered a very wide array of themes, from the importance of honesty and an appreciation of the learnings the past holds, to the idea that growing up can mean taking one’s childhood memories and applying that to make others happy even when one knows the truth behind some things one might’ve believed as a child. However, the strength of the symbolism here, of sailing from the dark of night into the dawn, coupled with Alice and Akari’s remarks, really drove home that Crepuscolo was about living in the present and valuing the past in equal measure.

  • The strength of this message meant that I exited Crepuscolo feeling completely refreshed: like ARIA, I am a bit of a sentimental, nostalgic person, and as the anime suggests, I do view the past with a rose-tinted lens. However, this isn’t because I want to go back to those days per se, but rather, because the sum of my experiences now allow me to appreciate the importance of what had happened previously even more strongly. For instance, while my work with the Winnipeg team was not enjoyable to me in that moment, I also learnt a great deal and became a stronger iOS developer for it: today, were I to go back, there’d be a few things that I’d do differently, and I’m confident that I’m now better prepared to handle conflicts and work towards a completed deliverable.

  • Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo was a very welcome trip down memory lane, and I was very moved in watching it. It’s a strong recommendation for all fans of ARIA, and folks wondering if this film is worthwhile do have enough time to go back and check out ARIA in full before the next film releases. Themes of the past, present and future within Crepuscolo reminds me of how these days, my thoughts are turning towards what my first home will look like; I’ve been saving for a very long time for this, and since this is a major milestone, I wish to make certain I’m satisfied with everything before signing on the dotted line. Being able to watch Crepuscolo was a reminder that some things are inevitable, but with the right mindset, I will be prepared to handle what comes up, rather like how Alice is now a bit better equipped to be a good mentor for Anya.

As it turns out, JC Staff handled the production of ARIA the Crepuscolo; JC Staff had previously been involved with adapting another one of Kozue Amano’s works, Amanchu!. In typical JC Staff fashion, backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and lighting is masterfully used to convey emotion and totally immerse viewers in another world. Within moments of spotting Anya, it becomes clear that JC Staff have also brought on board the character designers from Amanchu!. Throughout Crepuscolo, visual traits from Amanchu’s characters can be spotted amongst everyone, including sharper facial features, eyelashes and brighter eyes. While not quite what I remember from the original ARIA series, the choice to subtly shift the characters’ appearances closer to their Amanchu! equivalents really accentuates the fact that Amano had created both Amanchu! and ARIA. Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo is a welcome addition to ARIA, possessing all of the aesthetics that had been present in the originals, bringing back familiar characters and presenting hitherto unseen stories, while simultaneously giving the ARIA universe a fresh coat of paint and giving fans of the series a new story to enjoy. The first of the movies for the ARIA fifteenth anniversary project shows that in the town of Neo-Venezia, there’s always something new to explore, whether it is learning more about those around one, or some obscure treasure that has gone unnoticed. The next of the ARIA films will be titled ARIA the Benedizione and is scheduled to première in Japan on December 3, 2021. The wait this time was absolutely within the realm of what is reasonable, being only five and a half months. I am rather looking forwards to seeing what happens in Benedizione, and because Crepuscolo‘s focus was on Athena, Alice and Anya, one could reasonably surmise that Benedizione will follow Himeya’s Akira, Aika and Azusa. The basis for this is that, since ARIA originally had Akari and Alice occupy the spotlight, it follows that the last of the movies will be about the smallest Undine Company, but one that has nonetheless built out a legendary reputation over the years and therefore, would act as a proper conclusion for this set of movies.