The Infinite Zenith

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

Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru Zoku: Final Reflection and Review

“Faith is a state of openness or trust.” —Alan Watts

Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru Zoku, or OreGairu Zoku for brevity, has finally come to a close. Since the second episode, Hikigaya has assisted Isshiki Iroha with various duties associated with being the head of the student council, including a Christmas event, and in the process, learns of his own desires to share a straightforward, more honest relationship with Yui and Yukino. His character undergoes a more noticeable shift relative to the first season, and by the series’ end, it appears that Hikigaya’s outlook has shifted dramatically from what it was when the first season first started: he truly wishes to be friends with Yui and Yukino, but also realises that what they had done thus far might not be genuine. Whereas the Hikigaya of season one was perfectly okay with operating alone, there is no denying that the Service Club has grown quite close through their shared experiences, whether it be pulling through and helping Isshiki with a Christmas event, accompanying both Yui and Yukino to an amusement park, and coordinating a Valentines’ Day event to help Hayato’s friends out without forcing Hayato into an uncomfortable position.

While social factors, such as belonging, self-image and denial, do make an appearance in OreGairu Zoku, this anime is not a commentary about the present state of interpersonal dynamics amongst high school-aged students in general. The changes in Hikigaya’s beliefs and character illustrate the underlying strengths that can form amongst a group of individuals who have worked together, sharing experiences that allow them to learn far more about one another than might be otherwise possible through standard interactions. This forms the core message in OreGairu: after Hikigaya directs his attention towards helping Isshiki, a conversation with Shizuka helps him realise that distancing himself from Yui and Yukino will achieve the opposite of what he had intended. Far from helping them, he’s hurt them instead, and this leads him to understand that, despite Yukino’s outward appearances, she and Yui care for him as a friend. Similarly, Haruno’s dialogue implies that Yukino lacks a strong sense of self, despite her outward appearances, leading Hikigaya to wonder whether or not their interactions thus far have been a sham. While his reasoning might lead to this conclusion, I note that Hikigaya’s time spent with both Yui and Yukino (such as their visit of an amusement park and making Valentines’ Day chocolate together) provides subtle hints about Yui and Yukino’s true selves. It is this glimpse that leads Hikigaya towards wanting more honesty and openness from both Yui and Yukino.

  • A year and then some might have passed, along with an entirely new season, but I’m still of the mind that Yui and Hikigaya are the most suited for one another; while Yukino gradually opens up to Hikigaya more (with Haruno’s meddling), if what Yui mentions is true, then the true self that she’s concealing might be better counteracted by Hikigaya’s kindness. I think this and Hibike! Euphonium mean that I’ve watched two anime based off a light novel this season.

  • I’ll cut straight to the point and outright say that I absolutely hate marketing and management jargon: these words do little more than signify pretension and hold very little intrinsic meaning. Apparently, corporate jargon originates from the 1960s-1970s, when major corporations were trying to find a means of making employees feel closer to their work. What it actually does is obfuscate any real work, as Hikigaya finds out when meeting with the Kaihin students when he’s tasked with helping plan a Christmas event.

  • I’ll probably either be a sought-after person or utterly despised for my capacity to get straight to the point and convey what’s important without wasting time on jargon. What matters to me is getting the job done, rather than trying to look/sound smart. Rumi makes a return, and as with the previous season, Hikigaya gets along with her just fine.

  • One of the more touching moments in OreGairu Zoku was Hikigaya remarking to himself that he might’ve fallen madly in love with Shizuka had he been ten years older. One sympathises.

  • Compared to Brain Base’s Komachi, I think I find the aesthetic of Feels’ Komachi to be more refined. Komachi plays a slightly larger role this season, giving Hikigaya advice and help whenever he seems down. In return, he often helps her pick up household items, as well, and makes an effort to fulfill some of the items on the wishlists she gives him during the holidays.

  • After his conversation with Shizuka, Hikigaya gives into his emotions and asks for help from the service club. When they see that Hikigaya is being honest about how he feels, they decide to help him and gain a firsthand experience of Kaihin’s incompetence. Shizuka suggests that they take a step back, and with Hayato’s friends, Hikigaya, Yui, Yukino and Isshiki visit the regional amusement park to gain some ideas of what their own Christmas event might encompass.

  • This image was not modified, and unfortunately reflects on how Hikigaya is still somewhat of an outcast despite having made so much progress since season one. In spite of this, the day at the amusement park proves to be fruitful for both Christmas event planning and also helps Hikigaya learn a little more about Yukino: Shizuka is of the mind that of everyone, he’s the one most suited for helping her open up.

  • Yui is more down-to-earth compared to the likes of Yukino and Hikigaya, and consequently, has quite an impact on both Yukino and Hikigaya. I’ve noticed that numerous discussions out there that OreGairu is supposed to be a social commentary, but the second season seems to emphasis Hikigaya’s personal growth more strongly. This invariably happens with light novels: because they’re organically written, they might feel less cohesive and focused compared to traditional novels.

  • Watching Yui’s dynamics with Hikigaya suggest that her feelings for him have endured after all this time. Watching subtle hints of a dawning relationship in OreGairu was always a little painful for me, not because they were poorly done, but because the pacing is quite convincing. One can empathise with how Yui feels, and perhaps in part out of frustration at the series’ end, she outright states that her facade conceals a fervent desire to achieve her aims through any means necessary.

  • At the same time, Yui’s friendship with Yukino might act as something of an impediment, and consequently, Yui finds herself conflicted, knowing that outright asking out Hikigaya would probably devastate the Service Club’s status quo. Naturally, such actions may also indicate that Yui is aware (at least to a limited extent) of Yukino’s feelings, as well, and all of this was accomplished without any explicit dialogue.

  • Yukino’s background is only explored in brief through dialogue between herself and Haruno, or in some cases, with Hikigaya. Despite her demeanor and mannerisms, Yukino is said to lack a definitive personality, instead, striving towards an unrealistic ideal to impress her family and all the while resenting her position. Shizuka was astute enough to surmise that out of everyone, Hikigaya would be able to help her open up and find her true self, and by the time the season concludes, it appears they are taking a step down that path.

  • Isshiki is turned down after asking Hayato out. Hayato holds (presently) unrequited feelings for Yukino and also holds a small grudge concerning people’s expectations for him, even amongst his friends. Despite outwardly excelling at academics and athletics, he’s unwilling to disrupt the status quo for fear of causing heartbreak somewhere.

  • Thanks to Hikigaya, Isshiki buckles down and the Christmas event proceeds without a hitch. Throughout OreGairu Zoku, the pasts of the various characters are only hinted at. There’s no complete picture, but contrasting Hibike! Euphonium, where the main theme was music, in OreGairu, the focus is on people. To really help the audience understand each character’s motivation (especially in Yukino and Hayato’s cases), it becomes necessary to delve into their pasts.

  • Failing this, Yukino and Hayato merely appear to be paperweights throughout this season. Speaking freely, this second season lacks the same spirited as the first: as matters of acceptance and honesty come into play, OreGairu Zoku only presents a partial picture of the emotional burdens that they carry.

  • I would suppose that this is something that would necessitate a third season to explore, and consequently, how OreGairu Zoku ends is in fact quite similar to the ending of Halo 2‘s ending in impact: the audience is now left waiting for a resolution that may or may not occur.

  • Saki and Yumiko spar here over Valentine’s Day chocolates; the latter hasn’t had much of a presence throughout this season. After Yumiko comes to the Service Club to figure out how to best give chocolates to Hayato, Hikigaya decides that a joint cooking event might be able to keep everyone happy without violating Hayato’s wish of not accepting any chocolates from anyone.

  • The Valentine’s Day event provides further hints about how Yukino and Yui really feel about Hikigaya. The events do signify Hikigaya’s growth as a person, as Shizuka remarks, but the episode’s ending has Haruno throw a wrench into things, claiming that the entire event was a sham, and that Yukino is completely lacking in personality.

  • While I typically disagree with or find inadequate explanations elsewhere about anime, I did find a particularly good account of Haruno’s character out there. Said discussion surmises that Haruno’s intervention may very well prove to be the most substantial impediment that Yukino faces. Their justification, that Haruno’s role as a puppeteer of sorts, and the fact that she’s still an unknown as far as characterisation and motivation goes, provides a compelling argument for how Yukino and Hikigaya will ultimately need to find the strength to find themselves in spite of her words in the upcoming story.

  • The final episode of OreGairu Zoku does not feel like a finale at all, concluding on a somewhat anti-climatic note as Yukino, Yui and Hikigaya visit the aquarium and share a heart-to-heart talk, with Yukino finally appearing to open up to Hikigaya and Yui.

  • This post was surprisingly difficult to write, and with due respect, I’m glad to be finished. The verdict on OreGairu Zoku is that, while it’s a reasonably entertaining ride, isn’t as polished as the first season. It merits watching, but the ending may come off as abrupt. With the last of the Spring 2015 anime done, I turn my attention to the summer 2015 anime: I’ll be following Non Non Biyori Repeat and Sore ga Seiyuu on a weekly basis. The former will be given a first episode impressions post, and both will be given an ‘after-three’ post this month. Outside of anime, I’ll be putting out a talk on Wolfenstein: The Old Blood at some point before episode three of Non Non Biyori comes out.

OreGairu Zoku ends on a rather sudden note: after thirteen episodes, the season closes off. While cliffhangers are usually detrimental as a story-telling device, from what I’ve heard, OreGairu has caught up with the source material. Given that this is still going, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that a a continuation is in the works. OreGairu Zoku concluded with Yukino opening up to Hikigaya and Yui, and traces of Yukino’s personality (or lack thereof) began making an appearance. Thus, it is logical that a third season would deal with Yukino learning to stand for herself. This is the reason why I have opted not to discuss Yukino in further detail: to do so would be to make inferences purely based on speculation, and in the end, it is what OreGairu‘s author, Wataru Watari, considers as important that makes the difference (as opposed to fan opinion). Thus, rather than assume Yukino’s backgrounds and motives, it would make more sense to allow a third season to yield a more complete picture.

Hibike! Euphonium: Final Reflection and Review

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” —Vince Lombardi

This season’s premier anime about music concludes on a high note: after three episodes, Hibike! Euphonium details the personal aspects surrounding Kumiko, Hazuki and Sapphire as they continue practising to make the auditions. Such events include the mini-scandal that arises when Reina is chosen over Kaori to be the trumpet soloist, a love triangle between Kumiko, Hazuki and Shuichi, and Kumiko learning about her own passion for music as she spends more time with Reina. In spite of these turbulent events, all of these minor scrapes and bruises fall to the wayside as the day of the competition draws closer; spurred on by their own motivations, and by instructor Noboru Taki’s training regiment, Kitauji’s concert band put in their best efforts in practise. When the day of the competition comes, Kitauji’s performance, brimming with their honest intentions of excelling, leads them to be among the bands chosen for competition at the national level.

For all of the discussions and debates out there about the character growth in Hibike! Euphonium, the anime’s final performance illustrates how in the end, the internal conflicts in the characters ultimately are not as great of a concern as the band’s overall will and determination to give their best possible performance. Kitauji’s concert band members are able to set aside their own doubts, hesitation and reluctance to accept Noboru’s methods and their fellow band member’s dedication, working towards a tangible, meaningful goal. Thus, when all is said and done, the final performance shows a band whose members have successfully overcome their conflicts, both internally and amongst one another. This is often the case wherever a journey is undertaken: as things culminate towards the end, the bumps on the path matter less compared to what lessons were learnt from those bumps. Through Hibike! Euphonium, Kyoto Animation captures this notion perfectly.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Since I ended my last Hibike! Euphonium post with a picture of Reina, so I shall begin this post with the same. Despite being aloof and distant, viewers will warm up to Reina’s disposition as she interacts more with Kumiko: her smile is warm, and this is a side of her that she only displays towards Kumiko.

  • With the emphasis on competition, improvement and self-reflection, one might consider Hibike! Euphonium to be what viewers were anticipating when they saw K-On! for the first time. The only similarity the two anime share are that music is involved, and they’re both produced by Kyoto Animation, but beyond this, Hibike! Euphonium is about a band’s journey towards the National competition, while K-On! presented a more relaxed story about the value of time spent with friends.

  • Near Hibike! Euphonium‘s halfway point, Kitauji participates in the SunFes festival as a marching band. Despite performing after the prestigious Rikka academy, Kitauji demonstrates its commitment towards improvement here, surprising the audiences with their performance.

  • That Hibike! Euphonium was adapted from a light novel, rather than a four-panel comic, would speak volumes about why there’s a cohesive story here: after SunFes, Dr. Crane Noboru announces that there will be auditions for the upcoming competition. This adds additional weight to the story, and although audiences wouldn’t doubt that Kumiko will make it in, suspense comes from wondering whether or not Hazuki will pass.

  • Auditions, or “try outs” for the athletically-minded are intended to weed out members whose skill level and hearts are not fully on board. When auditions end, the end result is a team or group consisting of the players that satisfy the minimum requirements. Hibike! Euphonium is able to subtly capture the sense of dejection for the individuals who did not make the cut.

  • Another subtle conflict raised is the love triangle forming between Kumiko, Hazuki and Shuichi forms the conflict prior to the audition. One of the things that Kyoto Animation excels at with Hibike! Euphonium is the inclusion of natural conflicts and challenges amongst the characters without diverting an unreasonable amount of time to explore these stories. Naturally, there are some (especially those of Tango Victor Tango) that may gripe that this creates flat characters and prevents closure.

  • However, the deliberate choice to leave some elements ambiguous or unexplored is similar to how real life works: one does not necessarily know all the details of those around them, and to ask would be considered impolite or discourteous in some cases. In Hibike! Euphonium, audiences only have access to Kumiko’s narration, and as such, can only see the story from her eyes. It would therefore make sense that only what she perceives is explored in greater detail.

  • Thus, Kumiko, Shiuchi and Hazuki’s relationship woes are presented as being quite fleeting. Quite similarly, when the results of who will be the trumpet soloist are announced, there is a great deal of strife within the band; Kaori loses to Reina, leading Yuko Yoshikawa (a second year trumpeter with a bow in her hair) to accuse Noboru of playing favourites. This bit of competition drives a rift through the band, but again, finds resolution on relatively short order.

  • Reina confides in Kumiko that she wants to excel and become special at her own pace, disregarding Japanese social convention. The imagery here is evocative of the Snow Woman legend in Japan, suggesting that Kumiko is drawn to Reina’s beauty in spite of the hazards. If we look past the superficial elements, Reina’s beauty is her drive to be unique, and the associated hazard stems from this violating social convention. For the astronomers amongst my reader-base, the Venus-Jupiter conjunction can be seen in the background. This serves as yet another reminder of how committed to realism Kyoto Animation is.

  • Kumiko’s experience as a Euphonium player allows her to pass the auditions, and similarly, Midori succeeds as well, but Hazuki is unsuccessful. Maintaining an optimistic outlook, Hazuki resolves to continue playing next year. Earlier episodes show that Kumiko was reluctant to take up the euphonium again, rather similar to how Miho was initially wishing to distance herself from Panzerfahren. Because what precisely led to this is never explicitly mentioned, it’s logical to conclude that the message here is that what matters is making the most of the present, rather than atoning for anything from the past.

  • Thus, with respect to the comparatively quick timeframe in which conflicts are resolved, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the director views them as minor setbacks in the grand scheme of things; what truly matters in Hibike! Euphonium is reaching the competition and performing well. As such, I don’t see a particular need to analyse Asuka’s character. Behind her easy-going, cheerful veneer, Asuka might be hiding something, but again, because it’s not relevant to how well Kitauji can perform, it’s not necessary to consider how Asuka as a character will impact the overall theme.

  • Though Hibike! Euphonium is a drama, there are some moments where comical expressions are used to visually denote the incredulity of a particular moment.

  • Under the summer heat, Kumiko suffers a nosebleed that stains her uniform, an issue that would not have been present with the brown winter uniforms. The summer uniforms have a much lighter feel to them, and I read an interesting discussion on the uniform’s differences between summer and winter. For me, I do not see a change in approachability, but a change in atmosphere: the lighter, airier summer uniforms reflect on the characters’ gradually opening up more and following their hearts, whereas the brown winter uniforms suggest rigidity and formality, which was very much present earlier in the season.

  • K-On! featured a light rock band with five members. The number of members in Kitauji’s concert band number is more impressive, and the fact that Kyoto Animation is able to animate everyone playing their instruments is a testament to how their craft has improved in the six years since the K-On! aired.

  • The drive for excellence is what keeps me rolling: similar to Reina, I approach anything I do with the mindset of giving it my best, and will only stand down once I know for certain that all avenues have been explored. Spending time with Reina allows Kumiko to understand the same, and coupled with words of encouragement from Noburu, Kumiko masters her section in time for the competition.

  • Kumiko’s ponytail makes a return in the finale, neatly evening out the series the way it started. However, when Hibike! Euphonium started, Kumiko decided to wear a ponytail merely for appearances’ sake, to leave behind her past self in a manner of speaking. By the finale, she does so out of practicality’s sake, and these minor differences in motivation can do much to convey the sort of character growth that Kumiko’s undergone over Hibike! Euphonium‘s run.

  • On the day of competition, whatever unresolved tensions between Kumiko and Shiuchi have largely been set aside as tensions and pressure mounts prior to performance. Some of the band members who were not selected to compete worked together to create good luck charms for the performers, showing that this is a band whose members do care for one another, and that any bad blood from earlier have largely dispelled.

  • Thus, when everyone is on stage, there is only music: nothing else matters. This is really what Hibike! Euphonium boils down to, and while the anime takes the time to show the scratches that occurred on the journey here, the sweat and tears that each member have contributed ultimately result in a payoff, illustrating that for all the challenges faced, with the right motivator, Kitauji’s band can indeed perform well.

  • Naturally, being an anime about music, I imagine that the soundtrack for Hibike! Euphonium will be an excellent listen. It’s set for release on July 8, a short ways from the present, and I most certainly look forwards to hearing “Crescent Moon Dance” in all of its glory. I was originally intending on writing about OreGairu Zoku first, but a quick glance at the site metrics made the decision for me: there does seem to be a great deal of interest in all things Hibike! Euphonium.

  • The finale comes full circle with Reina crying, although this time, Reina’s tears are of joy rather than disappointment. It’s finally over now, and what a journey it was. This is an anime that is relatively easy to recommend, as it succeeds in telling Kumiko’s story, balancing the main story with side elements to provide realism (in life, there’s always more than one’s occupation), and making use of audio-visual elements that show KyoAni as a studio that’s always improving their game.

With this theme in mind, it’s not too surprising to see dynamics between Reina and Kumiko, or the conflicts that Shuichi remark as having afflicted Kitauji’s concert band in previous years, become less relevant as the day of the competition moves closer. Hibike! Euphonium is an anime about a band overcoming past limitations and doubts: under Noburu’s watchful eye, each member learns to awaken their own drive for excellence. The role of these smaller details, serve to push Kumiko towards understanding her internal desire to excel and reach the nationals, rather than contributing to the theme directly. When Kumiko embraces her passion for music, these internal conflicts are resolved in a satisfactory manner. While the uninitiated may claim that this does not result in good closure, Hibike! Euphonium in fact resolves the all of the sub-stories that gradually developed in a rather elegant and logical approach. This marks the end of Hibike! Euphonium for the present, although to close the anime off here is to leave room open for future developments, either in the form of a movie or second season. While a continuation would be nice, it’s not necessary, given that Hibike! Euphonium successfully conveys its message to the audience.

Reflection at mid-summer: days under the prairie sun and site awards

This year’s Canada Day was peculiar, if only for the fact that it was during the middle of the week. Instead of travelling a little further out. much of the day was spent in the historical main street of a neighbouring town, which was lined with antique shops, old-time ice cream parlors and even a hotel from the days of the pioneers. It had been overcast when I’d set out, but after enjoying a fried chicken sandwich, the skies had mostly cleared out. The pleasant weather continued today: while not quite as hot as the second of July in previous years, it was still warm today during today’s lunch hour. This year, the sheer magnitude of the attendees meant that I skipped this year’s free Stampede lunch on campus in favour of something a little more practical with respect to time. As I had a meeting with the staff operating our University’s Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) afterwards, it would not have been wise to line up for free food in spite of how nice it was today. My project’s old Unity incarnation made a return, and with a few minor adjustments, we got the right eye running in MiddleVR. My goal now is to get it working with the left eye, as well, since virtual reality is meant to be enjoyed in a stereoscopic fashion.

  • This year’s post is graced by a single photograph that is somewhat more modest than last year’s. It’s kind of surprising how quickly time passes: a mere year ago, I was in the midst of building something in Unity, and at present, I’ve fully ported my model to Unreal. I am planning on visiting the Stampede this year with several friends: the lobster corndog is most tempting, and by evening, there will be a fireworks display, as well.

Outside of everyday life, Ninety Beats of Ninety’s Blog had nominated this here blog for the Sunshine Award a ways back, and perhaps attesting to the unpredictability of my own schedule, I had also been nominated for an ABC award a year-and-a-half ago. If memory serves, I was busy with graduate school applications at the time, and by the time summer arrived, I was tasked with building the Giant Walkthrough Brain in Unity. Such a busy schedule naturally precludes an honest effort at fulfilling the award’s criteria. With that being said, I am honoured about both nominations, and at some point in the future, I will complete the awards’ terms. These blog awards are excellent opportunities to raise awareness of other blogs; I will strive to roll these out as pages rather than posts, and optimistically predict that both the ABC and Sunshine awards will be published shortly after I review Hibike! Euphonium and OreGairu Zokui (both posts are in draft stage right now and merely require figure captions for their screenshots).

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3: A Reflection

“I’m going to do my best not to try and compare this game with Battlefield 3, not at all.” —TheRadBrad

I’ve completed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3‘s campaign now, wrapping up the story that began with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The campaign winds up feeling less like a game and more like an interactive movie: clocking in at around six hours, it’s a relatively straightforward continuation of the events of Modern Warfare 2, and to drive home the point that war is pointless, instigated by the madness of individuals, Modern Warfare sees the deaths of several major characters. The notion of “the will of a single man” and “stand[ing] alone” are central themes to this game; Makarov’s drive towards restoring the USSR’s glory and subsequent actions lead to the deaths of millions, and consequently, when Price finally defeats him at the end of Modern Warfare 3, the victory feels empty. Granted, extremists were bested and won’t be shaping the discourse of history, but their impacts nonetheless remain. This is a subtle reminder that events with far-reaching consequences can be instigated by a small group, and in contemporary society, the presence of highly efficient information dissemination systems (social networks in particular) means that seemingly trivial disagreements can erupt into full-fledged conflicts, with the opposing sides resorting to extreme means towards an end. When the conflict settles, one might be forced to ask themselves if the cost of “winning” was truly worth it: in Modern Warfare 3, stopping a fanatic extremist makes sense, but in real life, there are some battles, the so-called “good fights” that are meaningless to fight.

One of the key topics for discussion whenever Modern Warfare 3 is mentioned is how the game compares to its competitor, Battlefield 3. My experiences are quite consistent with the discussions that conclude both games can be enjoyed equally: Modern Warfare 3 is the more cinematic experience, featuring a superior campaign with familiar characters and incredible set-pieces. The campaign makes use of its atmospherics to present a bombastic, explosive story that is certainly eye-grabbing, even if it’s not the deepest story in the world. Moreover, there is the option of playing single-player survival and spec-ops games. These elements mean that Modern Warfare 3 can be highly entertaining even in the absence of other players, and vastly improves the game’s replay value. Being able to play against bots is something few games do these days, but it is sometimes fun to simply start up a survival game and see how long one can last. This aspect is particularly positive, since there are days where one might wish for a multiplayer experience without other human players (and E3 revealed that Star Wars Battlefront will indeed have such a mode). On the other hand, Battlefield 3 is superior with respect to responsiveness, handling, graphics and multiplayer experience. Modern Warfare handles a lot more sluggishly, and I found myself dying because of slower movement responses. It’s clear that the engine is a bit dated compared to Frostbite 2, and ultimately, the gameplay is smoother in Battlefield 3. This is more important in multiplayer, where being able to react and respond quickly is important.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Modern Warfare 3 picks up right after the events of Modern Warfare 2, with Soap being injured. After the prologue and first two missions, the story returns to Soap and Yuri. Soap is stabilised from his wounds, but Makarov’s forces show up, forcing Yuri and the others to blast their way out.

  • One of the things I loved most about the first Modern Warfare was the maps set in forested regions Azerbaijan and the Altai Mountains. The terrain in Eastern Europe and Asian Russia has been of interest to me; there’s a pull about these regions that I can’t quite explain, although I don’t imagine I’ll be visiting these places for myself in the foreseeable future. Consequently, Modern Warfare is probably the closest it’s going to get.

  • Some missions in Modern Warfare 3 appear to be modeled after the missions from Modern Warfare, following similar patterns of gameplay. Here, I’m equipped with a suppressed semi-automatic marksman rifle and a suppressed pistol; the mission is to find a cargo container Makarov is transporting. While the first sections of the level are stealthy, the latter half gives way to firefights.

  • The tactical knife is one of the weapon attachments that allows for quicker melee combat with the knife. Not available in Battlefield, this attachment enables for a more fast-paced play-style at close quarters. In the campaign, this setup is primarily a last-resort for close quarters engagements, although one cannot deny that it looks cool.

  • In contrast with Battlefield 3Modern Warfare 3 has a far wider variety of locations in the campaign. London, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Siberia and New York are part of the campaign, whereas in the former, much of the game is set in Iran.

  • This segment of Mind the Gap reminds me of the airport mission in Enter the Matrix: fighting through the London Underground was another exhilarating experience. Compared to Battlefield, the Call of Duty franchise emphases more diversity in its settings within the campaign. The downside is that individual missions are rather short and linear, which limits the possibility of exploring further.

  • While Modern Warfare introduces the idea of hiding enemy intel (appearing as laptops) throughout maps of the campaign to encourage exploration, they distinctly feel like an after-thought more than anything. After fighting through the London Underground, the player exits near the Palace of Westminster, with an iconic telephone booth and double-decker bus appearing, as well.

  • The Hamburg mission opens off with Black Hawks and an armada of hovercraft converging on a beach, reminiscent of the Charlie Don’t Surf mission from Modern Warfare. Frost starts with an M4A1 (ACOG sight) and an SMAW, but accompanying tanks will engage and destroy enemy armour.

  • Similar to the campaign in Battlefield 3 and Bad Company 2, it is quite unnecessary to switch to weapons that the enemies make use of, since the starting weapons come with a plentiful supply of ammunition and usually have balanced stats. For a little variety, though, sometimes, I will switch to the other weapons for sheer amusement.

  • One of the things that Modern Warfare 3 does, that is absent in Battlefield 3, is the traversal of the Paris Catacombs. The catacombs are part of the Mines of Paris that once supplied stone to the city, and the vast expanse of subterranean tunnels, but by the 18th century, necessity led a portion of these tunnels to be used as an ossurary. These tunnels are supposedly haunted by paranormal beings, although it’s difficult to feel intimidated with a good rifle in hand.

  • The darkness of the Paris Catacombs soon give way to daylight again, and while it is possible to perform modestly well with the starting loadout the entire way through a mission, I find that sometimes, marksman rifles and semi-automatic sniper rifles can make it far easier to pick off enemies in the campaign.

  • The cinematics in Modern Warfare 3 are undeniably large scale, and despite the older game engine, appears impressive nonetheless: here, sustained airstrikes brings the iconic Eiffel Tower down. Javelins haven’t changed since Modern Warfare, and are used here to blow some enemy armour away.

  • A variation of the hybrid sight appears in Eye of the Storm: a red dot sight is attached to the RSASS rifle in conjunction with a standard rifle scope, making the weapon useful at moderate to long ranges. This approach resembles the canted iron sights of Battlefield 4, and as with the hybrid sights, were quite fun to use.

  • When I first played through Modern Warfare, one of the things I immediately noticed was how vulnerable my character was to tanks. Prior to that, I was predominantly a Halo 2: Vista player, where I had access to a powerful rocket launcher that could take down tanks in a one shot and even lock onto airborne vehicles. Modern Warfare and Battlefield in general reinforces the idea that armour is difficult to dispatch while on foot, and experiencing this for the first time contributed to the immersion in the original Modern Warfare.

  • While the shooting mechanics in Modern Warfare 3 are reasonably smooth, the movement system is quite stiff, and there were numerous points in the campaign where I died to grenades or enemy fire from getting stuck in the ground or because I was colliding with my squad-mates.

  • The M14 EBR is a semi-automatic rifle that Frost starts with in the Scorched Earth mission, and finds usefulness a short ways into the mission. One of those things about modern military shooters that can be somewhat irksome is the fact that enemies blend in with the environment, and I’ve had several cases where I died because I missed the last guy still firing.

  • The multiple storylines of Modern Warfare begin converging near the end, as Task Force 141 and Metal work together to rescue the Russian President’s daughter, who was kidnapped by Makarov’s forces as a bargaining chip such that Makarov could gain access to the Russian launch codes. This penultimate mission is set in a Siberian diamond mine, and most of the sections are set deep underground.

  • While it’s been one of my wishes to play a shooter set in Siberia (especially in the Kolyma area), the vast expanse of barren wilderness understandably would lead to some monotonous gameplay. This is about as close as it gets in Modern Warfare 3, as Metal and Task Force 141’s fight takes them to the pit-mining section, culminating in an elevator ride deep into the mine.

  • The final mission involves donning a suit of Juggernaut Armour and making use of the PKP LMG to storm an Arabian hotel in the hunt for Makarov. It’s, in the words of TheRadBrad, the most badass mission in the campaign: the small arms that Makarov’s guards wield are pitiful and can be shrugged off quite easily.

  • Once Price and Yuri reach the hotel’s top floors, Modern Warfare 3 turns into a long quick-time event. Compared to Battlefield 3, quick-time events are mercifully fewer in Modern Warfare 3. Thus, when everything is said and done, though Battlefield 3 has better gameplay and mechanics (especially in multiplayer), Modern Warfare 3‘s campaign is better, and the game also comes with better single-player extras. With that being said, I’m on neither side of the debate: I’ve played through both games and enjoy them both for their different merits.

With Modern Warfare 3 under my belt, the journey I began in 2012 comes to an end. What began as a curiosity in the Pripyat missions eventually became full-fledged interest in Modern Warfare, and while the games definitely don’t feel as smooth as contemporary shooters, the atmospherics and cinematics have aged more gracefully. For me, Modern Warfare 3 is a trip down memory lane, when I spent most of my days studying under summer skies and wondering what it would be like to experience Modern Warfare 3 for myself. I’m unlikely to touch the multiplayer, given that word of cheaters, quick-scopers and the infamous twelve-year-olds have reached my ears, but for what its worth, a campaign with memorable set-pieces and solo-play elements like survival mean that there is still something about this title to enjoy even in this day and age.

Hell’s Kitchen: Angel Beats! OVA Review and Reflection

“I don’t care if you don’t like liver or not. This is delicious…at this very moment, this is the best liver I’ve had in my life.” —Les Stroud

It’s been five years since Angel Beats! finished airing, and three years since I crossed the finish line for myself. Three years is a nontrivial amount of time, and consequently, it was quite surprising to learn that there was another Angel Beats! OVA in the works back in December. The OVA itself comes with a new Blu-Ray set that was released a few days ago, and in the same spirit as the previous OVA, deals with Yuri’s plans to learn more about Tenshi’s true nature by having the members of the SSS eliminate one another to bring out a daemon of sorts under the cover of a picnic in the mountains. While most of the SSS are destroyed in amusing and mildly grotesque ways, the Girls Dead Monster group encounter considerable difficulty in ensnaring Masami, only to waste their coup de grâce on Hisako and inadvertently have her transform into a monster even beyond Tenshi’s power to stop. Thus, the outrageous nature of the OVA hails back to the comedic side of Angel Beats!, which is a hallmark of the earlier episodes.

Hell’s Kitchen initially evoked a vision in my mind’s-eye: I imagined that the episode would’ve dealt with more food preparation as per Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen reality programme. The OVA’s premise of a picnic seems quite far removed from anything related, and much of the time is spent watching the main members of the SSS betray each other in painful but hilarious ways. In a turn of events similar to their guild visit, Yuzuru manages to become the last man standing. This is immensely funny, but one must wonder where the episode’s namesake comes from: after all, no one’s cooked anything, and there certainly isn’t an anime version of Gordon Ramsay insulting everyone’s cooking. It turns out that the title foreshadows Miyuki and Shiori’s concoction that ultimately brings out Hisako’s inner demon. Consisting of laxatives and raw liver, the strange mixture hits Hisako rather than Masami owing to Eri’s error at the episode’s climax. The resulting daemonic Hisako proceeds to force-feed a distraught Shiori the raw liver/laxative mixture, easily dispatching anyone trying to stop her. While the camera angles might be misinterpreted otherwise, the daemonoic Hisako is not actually consuming Shiori (presumably, that would cross too many lines).At the episode’s end, suffers from a painful bit of bowel evacuation, done intentionally for comedy, of course.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As a talk about an OVA, this post will consist of thirty screenshots. The above quote comes from Les Stroud’s Survivorman, specifically, from the Norway episode that aired back in 2012. During this time, I was in the midst of studying for the MCAT, and after the day’s work, I dropped by Discovery Channel to watch the episode’s second half, where Les had discovered hunters’ cabins with deer remains nearby.

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve actually seen the interior of the SSS’s briefing room; I picked up Angel Beats! during March 2012 and finished by around April 2012. During this time, I was up to my eyeballs in cell and molecular biology, as well as biochemistry, and I still recall vividly coming home to study during noon hour. Of course, I would prepare lunch first, watch Angel Beats! or Mighty Ships on Discovery Channel.

  • In the time that’s passed, nothing seems to have changed within Angel Beats!, and although there are subtle differences in the characters’ appearances here and there, as well as slightly improved lighting and reflection effects in the landscape, the voices and shenanigans the characters of the SSS pull off remain as amusing as they had during the anime’s original run.

  • Unlike the anime series, Miyuki and Shiori get a lot more screentime in the OVA and play a pivotal part of the OVA’s story. One of the main laments fans have about Angel Beats! was its short length. Owing to the amount of detail and resulting emotional investment the major arcs yielded, viewers wondered what everyone else’s backgrounds were. This is one of those few cases where the fans criticisms are valid: there is so much possibility in Angel Beats! that the anime could have been presented over twenty-six episodes, and it would have retained its emotional impact.

  • Yuzuru’s story of the original anime was particularly moving: when he had been alive, he tended to his sister, who was terminally ill with cancer. Her death spurred him to become a doctor, but he died in a train accident en route to writing the equivalent of the MCAT. While he did his best to keep the survivors alive until rescue arrived, Yuzuru succumbed to his injuries. His last act was to sign an organ donor card.

  • Some of the characters I would have liked to see more story from include TK, whose tendency to dance and quote lyrics from English songs are quite interesting. Ooyama and Matsushita also merit additional exploration, as does Eri Shiina. This colourful cast of characters made Angel Beats! highly unique, giving the sense that every single character must have some sort of background that led them here.

  • The amount of traps and the victim’s fates are passed off as strictly comedic, since this universe is one where there are respawns. The series of cruel and unusual fates that befall everyone is reminiscent of the second Angel Beats! episode, one of the earliest episodes that exemplified the sort of humour that was possible within Angel Beats! given the setting.

  • Angel Beats! irrevocably reminds me of March-April 2012, when I was enrolled in biochemistry. The days of my studying biochemistry and trying to memorise all of the processes in aerobic respiration have long passed, but in a curious turn of fate, I’ve revisited it several times for my own research. It is rather more pleasant to be learning about something without the threat of an imminent examination.

  • Despite the traps doing some rather brutal things to the individual unfortunate enough to be caught in one (here, Matsushita gets pulled apart by something the drama club set up), the level of actual violence occurring on-screen is pretty tame compared to the level of karnage available in something like the upcoming DOOM title, although it’s still sufficiently gruesome such that Ooayama vomits (complete with high-definition sounds of splattering).

  • The deaths get more clustered as the episode wears on, and continue to occur in order of increasing hilarity. Here, Fujimaki is pulled off by a fishing wire into the river and drowns, while someone (or something) mocks them from the river. Fujimaki cannot swim, and this is alluded to in the earlier episodes. His similarity to Noda in temperament means that I had a tough time telling the two apart.

  • Things get kicked into twelfth gear when a small squadron of helicopters (similar in function, if not appearance, to the MH-6 Little Bird) appears. Armed with gasoline canisters and Hydra 70 rockets, they begin targeting Ooyama, but TK ultimately takes the fire in Ooyama’s place. This is over-the-top, overkill and quite unorthodox, considering that the Guild was unable to recreate a howitzer, but has somehow managed to build something as involved as an MH-6-like helicopter.

  • TK ends in a blaze of glory, warning the others to be cautious of the manga club’s traps. While his English is seemingly nonsensical, the lines actually sum up most situations the SSS finds themselves in quite nicely. Michael Rivas (TK’s voice actor) delivers some of the best English in any anime out there, although given that he’s fluent in English, this should come as no surprise for the viewers.

  • Ooyama himself is caught by an unknown force in the river, putting an end to him, as well.

  • With Ooyama down for the count, it’s just Yuzuru and Hideki left. A trap in the woods ensnares the latter, and high-velocity calligraphy brushes are shot at him, annihilating him and leaving Yuzuru as the sole male survivor. This turn of events was probably deliberate and alludes to his survival in the original anime, and with the male characters (save Yuzuru) down for the count, the story returns to the members of Girls Dead Monster.

  • Unfazed by the sheer number of pitfalls that Miyuki and Shiori have set up for her, Masami continues to tranquilly continue her story about music, leading the former pair to wonder whether or not their plan was such a good idea or not.

  • Three days prior to the operation’s start, it turns out that Miyuki and Shiori were preparing some sort of concoction that involves what appears to be a laxative and raw liver sourced from their school’s canteen. This putrid-looking mixture is quite unpleasant and is intended to be a finishing move of sorts.

  • Eri is bought out when Miyuki and Shiori bring her a stuffed doll of sorts. I believe Angel Beats! is where I first noticed the prominent eyebrows so common to anime: they allow for more expressive faces and can do much to visually represent what the characters are feeling during a moment; here, while Shiori is enthusiastic about their plan, Miyuki seems a little more hesitant.

  • While some may find the comparison unorthodox, there does seem to be a fair bit of similarity between Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka‘s Chino Kafuu and Angel Beats’ Tenshi. Both characters speak quietly and conduct themselves in a polite manner, sporting long white hair and a gentle mien. I’ll briefly steer this figure caption off-mission to remark that Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka‘s second season is now purportedly to air during Fall 2015, rather than my prediction of Winter 2016.

  • Yuri speaks with Yusa concerning their operational status. This is perhaps one of my favourite settings in the afterlife’s school; the view of the school grounds and surrounding forests is beautiful and nostalgic. It’s been some years since I’ve seen Angel Beats! in full, but I believe that several important conversations were set here.

  • Masami’s deplorable state becomes apparent through torn clothing, as well as the lodging of a tin can and fish bone in her hair. During Angel Beats’ original run, she was the lead vocalist for the Girls Dead Monster band, and disappeared after accepting her belief that she will be able to sing again someday. Her presence is how viewers deduct that this OVA was set between episodes two and three; Masami is still present (so it’s before episode three), and Yuzuru appears to be on somewhat familiar terms with members of the SSS (implying he’s already survived the journey to the Guild).

  • Eri understands that invisibility is a matter of patience and agility and lies in wait for Masami. However, despite being a highly capable practitioner of ninjitsu, her penchant for cute things is a weakness that her enemies will not share. She accidentally knocks the pail carrying the mysterious concoction over prematurely, drenching Hisako with its contents. To my understanding, pails exclusively refer to small, handheld, metallic containers; pails are a subset of buckets, with the latter can varying in size and composition.

  • Stricken by Masami’s state, Hisako is intent on dispensing punishment to Miyuki and Shiori. No explanation is given regarding how the transformation occurs, but it’s not unreasonable to suppose that it’s an emotional response that invokes some subroutine in the afterlife, given that Matrix-esque digits appear while Hisako is in a daemon form.

  • Despite Hisako’s transformation into a daemon, the OVA continues to treat things in a very nonsensical manner. I’ll clarify again, since it does appear that daemon Hisako is gouging out Shiori’s innards, but what’s actually happening is that she’s pulling the liver remains off her and forcibly making Shiori ingest the liver in revenge.

  • Not even Tenshi is able to stop the monstrosity that Mikyuki and Shiori have birthed, as daemon Hisako effortlessly picks Tenshi up and tosses her a fair distance, far beyond the realm of what is reasonable with normal physics. This here post was intended to have come out earlier, but the past few days have been surprisingly busy. On Friday, I went out with friends to finally watch The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and thoroughly enjoyed it. While Ultron might not be as intimidating as The Dark Knight‘s Joker, the film was nonetheless quite fun to watch and continues with the story from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

  • While Yuri is absolutely horrified at what she’s seeing, Masami’s so mellow and laid-back that she is content to watch the daemone Hisako rend her friends. Things on Friday were a tight squeeze with respect to scheduling, but my friend’s knowledge of a burrito place near the theatre meant that dinner was quick but tasty (it’s been a while since I’ve had a hard-shell taco, and tacos go rather well with sirlion beef). Then, yesterday and today, I spent most of the time building a wall unit. It’s largely done now, and we’re minus a screw that failed to come with the package, so that’ll need to be taken care of.

  • The others have respawned by the time Hisako becomes a daemon, but are promptly defeated in close-quarters combat. I’ve captured this scene of Hideki getting his clock cleaned, complete with comical facial expressions.

  • Yui makes a short appearance here, signing up to be one of the assistants for Girls Dead Monster. She’ll later become a full-on band member and lead vocalist once Masami disappears. To dispel any confusion arising from this here post, my verdict on the Angel Beats! OVA 2 is that, while not possessing a substantial story relevant to the original anime, its motley construction means that the OVA is nonetheless successful at evoking memories of the parts that made Angel Beats! fun to watch.

  • Hilarious this might be to watch in a fictional context (doubly so if it’s in a simulated reality or dream world), unsolicited bowel evacuations are absolutely not funny in any sense in real life. For the most part, such incidents caused by a viral vector are thankfully self-limiting, and usually stop once all of the nasty stuff arising from food poisoning is expelled fully.

  • The first volume of the Angel Beats! visual novel has been released, and features an all new opening song (“Heartily Song”) by Lia. It’s the first of six volumes, meaning there will be plenty of opportunity to explore the back stories for all of the different characters in the level of detail that they deserve. However, at present, I do not believe there is an English-translated version yet.

  • Masami’s smile is probably the best way to conclude this post, which was sort of an interruption from the original scheduling. I’ll be returning to regular programming on the next post to do a talk on the finale to OreGairu Zoku, followed by a talk on Hibike Euphonium‘s finale. July will open with a talk on The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan; I’ve decided to do a separate post on the Disappearance arc, and then write the finale post to encompass the final few episodes, and from there, I’ll do my best to roll out a single post on the remainder of the Sabagebu! OVAs.

While Angel Beats! is perhaps best known for being able to fluidly switch between comical and more emotional moments, the Hell’s Kitchen OVA episode sticks purely to the amusing facets. Set between the second and third episode, this is a time when Yuzuru is still getting used to the intermediary world between life and the great beyond. As such, Yuri is still organising the SSS towards engaging Tenshi and striving towards a chance to fight against God with the aim of settling an injustice from when she had still lived. These are fairly serious topics, but by keeping a light-hearted mood in the beginning, audiences do have a chance to see the characters as being relatable, in turn allowing audiences to develop empathy for the characters when things do become more serious. This is how good stories are constructed. In the OVA’s case, the combination of a large gap since having watched the anime, and the inclusion of comedy means that even after all this time, audiences can immediately recognise the characters they’d seen years previously. The OVA allows for each character’s defining features to be showcased (even if it is only briefly in some cases), and consequently, although this OVA does not contribute to the story per se, it nonetheless represents a nice addition that succeeds in evoking the memories of Angel Beats!.