The Infinite Zenith

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

Sounds of the Skies: Beyond the Dream- Sora no Woto OVA 2 Review and Reflection, or, Existentialism is not the centrepiece in the execution of Sora no Woto

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” –Colin Powell

Kanata begins to wonder what her dreams are after Mishio poses the question and finds herself without a suitable answer. Klaus arrives with a letter intended for Rio, and Kanata sets off looking for her. As the Fire Maiden festival is upon Seize again, the town is packed with festivities. Kanata runs into Yumina and later, speaks with Naomi, who provides Kanata with some help in finding Rio. It turns out Rio had set off to find some peace and consider the alternative version of the Legend of the Fire Maidens, as well as the fact that there remains conflict within their world even as the amount of habitable land is diminished from desertification. Later that evening, Rio takes Kanata up on a reconstructed hot air balloon, stating that her goal is to reintroduce heavier-than-air-flight and build an airplane. Kanata is moved and resolves to be at Rio’s side in pursuit of her dreams, helping out in any way that she can. On the day of the festival, Kanata is made to play the role of the Fire Maiden, setting off with Nöel, Kureha, Rio and Filicia. Compared to the first of the OVAs, the second Sora no Woto OVA is more contemplative in nature, following Kanata as she strives to determine her own dreams following her own experiences in Seize with the Clocktower Maidens. A simple question prompts Kanata to consider her own future, and in the end, Kanata’s decision shows that her goals are supporting those around her. Evident in her role as a bugler, the path that Kanata chooses is consistent with her beliefs and actions in Sora no Woto. It’s a fitting conclusion to Sora no Woto, and during its runtime, the second of the Sora no Woto OVAs serves one additional purpose in extending the anime’s themes – far more than existentialism, Sora no Woto‘s second OVA deals with the realisation of a dream.

Because I came upon Sora no Woto a ways after its original run, I was spared the five-month wait separating the finale from the second OVA, which serves to provide closure for the anime. The OVA builds upon the ideas of existentialism that were raised in the seventh episode – Filicia, Kanata and the others are aware of meaning in their lives even in a world that hope has appeared to long forsaken by the seventh episode’s conclusion. By the time of the events here, Kanata has chosen to walk the same path with Rio, who has a concrete goal and outline for reaching said goal. The themes in the OVA deal predominantly with working towards one’s objectives with the intent of bettering the world and realising their dreams. In contrast with merely finding meaning, a very abstract and oftentimes, idle activity, the OVA illustrates that a dream only has value if it is actualised. This is depicted through Rio re-constructing a functional hot-air balloon, creating lighter-than-air flight and setting the stage for her goals of heavier-than-air, powered flight. The process is one that involves effort, commitment and sacrifice, and while it can be uncomfortable to make an honest attempt to realise one’s dreams, the payoffs for having the courage to take these steps are enormous. Sora no Woto illustrates how these first steps are taken towards making dreams become a reality, and ultimately, it is in this OVA, released six months after the finale, that completes exploration of themes that the seventh episode began developing, making it an essential and enjoyable addition to Sora no Woto.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As with my previous Sora no Woto post about the first OVA, I’ve taken the time to ensure that none of the screenshots have been duplicated with an earlier post that I wrote back in 2012. This post features thirty screenshots, and compared to the post from five-and-a-half years ago, I think that the differences in writing between the present and five years ago is apparent: since then, I’ve written two thesis papers and published four papers. I’m no longer involved in any academic writing, and this blog is the only place where I write with any frequency now.

  • Here, Nöel handles the hot air balloon’s burner unit. Typically, they burn propane, heating up the air within the balloon to lower its density, which in turn allows the balloon to rise. The earliest balloons are of a Chinese origin – these paper lanterns (天燈) were heated by a flame source that work on similar principals and were used for military signalling. The first manned balloon flight was in 1783, with Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier demonstrating successfully balloon flight, and until the Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903 that sustained heavier-than-air flight was first achieved.

  • The second OVA provides plenty of reasons to re-watch, and noticeably absent from reviews of this OVA are some of the spectacular scenery stills that are present. Here, the fields of flowers set under a calm morning sky creates a highly tranquil picture of the area around Seize. It was seeing landscapes such as these in the first episode of Sora no Woto that led me to pick the anime up. As to how I came across Sora no Woto, the story is simple enough to deduce: after I finished K-On!, I was looking for similar anime and saw a recommendation for Sora no Woto.

  • The premise was quite intriguing, and so, I decided to give the series a spin. Upon watching the first five minutes of Sora no Woto, I immediately knew I was watching something of an uncommonly high quality, and found myself immediately drawn in by Kanata performed back during the second episode of Sora no Woto. I do not believe I’ve shared the story of how I came to find this masterpiece of an anime until now. Back in the second OVA, Kanata’s skill with a trumpet has become apparent, and she’s now able to perform the morning call with unerring skill, rivalling Rio with respect to the quality of sound and precision of her notes.

  • Mishio asks Kanata what her dreams are here, and Kanata is unable to answer. Knowing what one’s goals in life are are not always so straightforwards, and one of the things characterising Millenials, myself included, are being uncertain of what one’s future might entail. I myself did not set my sights on iOS development and systems architecting until two years ago; since then, I’ve been striving to make good on these goals. It is this phenomenon that leads folks of my generation to take a bit more time in exploring their career options, or colloquially, “find themselves” – my seniors have long held that disciplined skill building and refining value is the priority for folks around my age, and while I subscribe strongly to this branch of thought, this is a view not everyone shares.

  • I hold that life’s priorities at my age involve developing one’s skillset and saving money for the future. While folks contend that travel is necessary to broaden one’s horizons, travel without a well-defined purpose does very little to build one’s value in the long run, boiling down to procrastination from doing what is necessary in life. Back in the calm of a spring morning, the girls get a haircut before washing up. While it’s best to wash one’s hair after a haircut, this may or may not always be practical, leaving one with a bit of an itch.

  • There’s not one way to live life correctly, and there will be plenty of time to travel later on in life, so for the present, while I remark that I’m ready for a discussion on priorities in life at any time, I will return discussion fully to Sora no Woto for the present. My assertion that it’s a spring morning is drawn from the presence of flowers in full bloom, as well as the slightly reduced saturation in the skies compared against the dark blues of the hottest of summer days: the air still has a cooler feel to it, while vegetation suggests a season for growth.

  • Klaus hands Kanata a letter intended for delivery to Rio. It is this letter that sparks off the rising action in the OVA, and one of the great strengths in Sora no Woto, as well as slice-of-life anime in general, is that seemingly mundane or trivial occurrences can serve as the prompt for an adventure. The characters thus create memories from enjoyment of the more subtle aspects of life, and this is one of the reasons I’m so fond of the genre; it’s not necessary to spend a great deal of money or journey very far all of the time in order to make treasured memories.

  • In my original talk on the second OVA, I had a very similar frame, although the corresponding figure caption did very little to explain what the context of the image was. My blog was written with a much looser style to it back then, reflecting on how it was really more of a secondary resource. Once I began utilising WordPress more frequently, it became abundantly clear that WordPress is the superior platform, and so, discussions have become longer on average: more posts now have thirty screenshots, against the twenty that was the standard a few years earlier.

  • When I first watched Sora no Woto, I had just finished my entry-level driving exam and was still uncomfortable with driving. I’ve been driving actively for around six years now, and I can say that I did not drive like Kanata at any point of my driving career ever since I got my GDL. It was a different story when I started out: I took my learner’s license exam after my first year of undergrad, but because it was later into the summer, I only took the first exam the next summer. I did not fare so well on parallel parking or right turns on green, but otherwise, passed. By my advanced exam, I nailed the exam and very nearly got a perfect score.

  • Kanata’s lack of skill is presented as comedy in Sora no Woto, but poor drivers are the bane of my existence in reality. One of the biggest grievances I have with other drivers include driving below the posted speed limits, unsafe lane changes and my personal favourite, tailgating. It always surprises me that folks who are evidently incapable of following rules somehow manage to get their operating licenses, but I suppose that there is only one effective countermeasure I can employ to stay safe: drive defensively and maintain situational awareness so I can avoid trouble.

  • Yumina is treated to a terrifying drive when the jeep Kanata’s operating goes down a staircase, but she promptly recovers after they reach the church and Kanata sees everyone’s ema. These shinto plaques are used for writing wishes upon, and their presence in Sora no Woto suggest that Shintoism has endured even after the great war that regressed humanity to World-War Two era technology. The exceptional blending of cultural elements in Sora no Woto proved to be one of its strongest assets, creating a richly detailed world that few anime have since matched.

  • Kanata’s reaction to Seiya’s ema is one of embarrassment and flattery: he wishes to marry her someday, perhaps attesting to the change in perspectives he’s had owing to Kanata’s actions and influences throughout Sora no Woto. Of course, as Seiya is still a child, his wishes could be counted as being precocious; children often express familial feelings as love out of naïveté, although it’s no less valid an indication that his thoughts of Kanata have definitely changed since their initial encounters.

  • Kanata’s quest to find Rio takes her to Naomi’s shop, where she runs into glassmaker Maria. The glass dolphin that Kanata longs to buy slowly drops from the narrative in Sora no Woto as the story progresses, although it’s through a conversation where it’s implied that the oceans are devoid of life. Subtle remarks made in the passing further enhanced the world-building aspects of Sora no Woto, and one of the biggest pastimes that Sora no Woto fans undertook was creating speculation charts. In a project I undertook some years ago, I went ahead and introduced new charts into the community to ensure folks who were curious would be able to read the charts more easily.

  • I used the old charts, created by anonymous members of various imageboards, as templates and distilled out all objective elements. For the second OVA, I opted to eliminate any interpretations of the anime from my chart. The original asserted that Sora no Woto was an exercise in existentialism, and that each of Kanata, Kureha, Rio, Filicia and Nöel are meant to represent standalone war stories despite their archetypes. However, I find that the characters are intended to illustrate the sort of impact that optimism and open-mindedness have on a group, as Kanata has done. Through her naïve world-view, Kanata introduces a sense of hope that drives each of the characters to change.

  • Consequently, Sora no Woto is not a collection of war stories as Battlefield 1 portrays it, but rather, it’s a narrative about the positive impact one individual can have if they are in the right place at the right time. The interpretations of Sora no Woto are incredibly varied, differing between individuals, so my main aim in remaking the final chart was to remove any personal opinions and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Back in the final OVA, Naomi points Kanata in the direction, leading her to some ruins. The choice of colour makes this site a particularly memoriable one, with the verdant grasses and browns of ancient stone monuments being offset by the blues of the sky and purples of flowers.

  • The ruins create an immediate sense of loneliness and peacefulness. It is here that Kanata finds Rio and shares with her a conversation about what Rio’s dreams entail – their exchange drives much of the themes in the OVA, and is befitting of the episode’s title. Rio shows Kanata a map of the world, revealing to audiences that the events of Sora no Woto occurred in Japan. This would have been a shocking revelation to audiences, and some folks remain unable to accept this as plausible even to this day.

  • I originally supposed that massive damages to the surface led to large-scale population migrations, and that the architectural choices leading surviving humans to rebuild modern-day Seize is a consequence of the cultures of said populations, so I had no difficulty in being receptive towards this information. Whereas I had another perspective of Nöel suppressing Shuko with a pan in the first of the Sora no Woto OVA discussions, here, I feature one of Rio looking back at Kanata (in my original discussion for Sora no Woto‘s second OVA, the camera was placed behind Kanata). This moment reveals a bit of the farmland in the valley below.

  • The state of the world was only alluded to in Sora no Woto proper, but when Rio travels to the more remote reaches of the world, she sees a sight that would truly be sobering: desert as far as the eye can see, consuming all former traces of the civilisation that once ruled the world. While the formation of deserts is a natural process arising from shifts in climate and solar intensity, desertification refers to the formation of arid lands as a result of soil loss, usually from a human cause. In Sora no Woto, the loss of arable land to desert is a direct consequence of the war with “Them”.

  • Even though the world is slowly dying, there is nonetheless a sort of melancholy beauty in this OVA when the desert landscapes are depicted: here, the sands of the desert give way to open ocean. Far from leading Rio to despair, her knowledge inspires her to take action and explore the world to see if there are lands where human populations may continue to survive.

  • I’m actually not certain why discussions of Sora no Woto stop at existentialism, as opposed to accounting for the efforts required in realising one’s goals as a result of the motivation arising from finding meaning in life. A conversation with a friend left me with the answer that some people (especially in online communities) have an aversion to effort and failure. Consequently, it becomes uncomfortable to consider what action is necessary towards achieving any goals they might have, and such individuals tend to avoid deviating from the status quo for fear of this effort or failure, preferring to remain in their comfort zones of merely talking about things. I hold that failure is just another milestone towards learning something new, so from my perspective, actions always hold more value than idle talk.

  • Early the next morning, the Clocktower Maidens prepare to launch their hot-air balloon at the ruins. The site is modelled after Alarcón’s Torre de Armas o del Campo in Spain, located some eighty clicks from Cuenca: it’s a tower dating back to the medieval age, and the tower is the first thing visitors will see when entering Alarcón. This area has a population of 159 and dates back to the Roman period, although its recorded history begins with Arabic occupation, which is when the castle was built.

  • With Nöel handling the controls, Filicia calls her to release the ballast keeping the balloon in place. At 1080p, stars are visible in this pre-dawn moment: Sora no Woto is one of the few anime I have seen that is rendered at native 1080p, and on the iPad Air 2, remains of an exceptional quality. Of course, technology has marched on since 2010, and at present, 4K is becoming the new standard for high resolution, although anime has yet to enter this domain.

  • Kureha watches as the hot-air balloon takes off under the gradually-lightening sky. I remark that today is the autumnal equinox, a time of year when lengthening days marks the gradually dissipation of summer and the return of winter. Autumn is now upon us, and with an excellent (if hot and smokey) summer behind us, the weather has definitely taken on a much chillier character as of late. We’ve also gotten some much needed rains in the area, allowing crews to combat the wildfires in the province with greater efficacy. At the time of writing, Waterton National Park has reopened to the public, and officials are counting the fires as being under control.

  • While I’ve done my best to ensure that no screenshots are duplicated, there are exceptions: this brilliant moment of Rio and Kanata sharing their dreams with one another in the hot-air balloon is one of them is one of them, being set when the morning sun breaks over the horizon, flooding the land in a dazzling light. This is the culimination of the episode, where Kanata chooses her dream as following Rio pursue hers. It is always inspiring to have a senior who motivates one to follow a certain path, and during my course as a university student, one of the graduate students continued being a source of help and inspiration as I learned more about Objective-C and Xcode.

  • It was a bit of a surprise to learn that I would get to play on the flip-side some years later, and while I was only able to help mentor undergraduate summer students for one year, at least one of the students from that summer returned to the lab to continue with their project. A wider-angle view shows Shuko decorating the balloon; it’s a far cry from when Rio first proposes to eat the northern white-faced owl after they realise he’s responsible for the ghostly ruckus. For the average viewer, this is a satisfactory explanation, but closer inspection of the different frames in Sora no Woto and the presence of a drama CD reveal that the ghost was real.

  • The second OVA is set a year after Kanata’s arrived in Seize: viewers are treated to another festival, although by now, it’s definitely old hat. There’s only really one other review out there, besides my old one, that does the second OVA justice, and this review can be found at Random Curiosity. Their writers tend to focus on different things than I do, and consequently, is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading their content. It’s definitely much more approachable than mine, and their formatting also makes it easier to write posts at a greater rate.

  • I am naturally referring to the fact that coming up with the figure captions takes the greatest amount of time when setting up a post: if I were to use the Random Curiosity format, the time it takes to write a blog post and publish it would be cut down by a factor of four. Back in Sora no Woto, while Kanata is initially embarrassed to be chosen as the new Fire Maiden, her mortification is quickly forgotten when she asks the others what they’d written on their ema as wishes.

  • Nöel becomes bashful when Kureha and Kanata learn her aspiration is to become a “cute wife”, completely unexpected of her taciturn nature. It’s a rather nice touch that amidst their experiences, each of the Clocktower Fortress’ soldiers nonetheless long for a normal life free of conflict, with Rio and Kanata taking the initiative to determine if there are places left in the world worth finding.

  • With this final figure caption, my revisitation of the second Sora no Woto OVA comes to an end. Folks have long expressed a wish for a second season, but with the Anime no Chikara project closed now, any continuation is going to be unlikely. While the folks running Anime no Chikara mention that the exact nature of their learnings from the project are secret, the fact that lessons learned went into the development of Puella Magi Madoka Magica suggest that innocent characters being made to endure difficult trials and the resulting loss of innocence, interwoven with themes of hope and coupled with incredibly detailed world-building that make anime worth watching.

Sora no Woto‘s messages are strengthened through the second OVA: it is true that each of Kanata, Filicia, Rio, Kureha and Nöel find meaning in their world as they share time with one another, especially through Kanata’s positive influence, but in illustrating that there must be a plan to realise a dream, Sora no Woto reminds its audiences that it is not enough to merely be content with an idea. There must also be an execution stage where a dream is made reality. This is where the worth and meaningfulness of life lies, and in fact, the episode’s very title, “Beyond the Dream”, reinforces this notion. These ideas and concepts are explored in a fantastic manner: the Sora no Woto OVA is a thrill to watch from a visual perspective, with vivid colours and lighting being used to capture the optimistic, hopeful sense that the episode aims to convey. In addition, there’s a variation of Servant de Feu that is not included anywhere on the soundtrack to emphasise that the OVA is distinct. As a consequence of its themes, narrative and execution, Sora no Woto remains the cornerstone work in the Anime no Chikara project, and even seven years after it finished in whole, very few anime have come close to matching Sora no Woto with respect to world-building and strength of execution; Puella Magi Madoka Magica appears to have been designed from the outcomes of Sora no Woto, and at last, it appears that the connection between these two anime have been solved, with the latter inspiring elements in the former.

iOS 11 is True Level

 

“Wow, it’s so…oh my God!”
“Yeah, True Level, bitch.”
“Everything’s crooked! Reality is poison! I wanna go back!”

–Morty and Rick, Rick and Morty

While it’s not the Mid-Autumn Festival, iOS 11 released earlier today, bringing with it a host of powerful new features to Apple’s mobile operating system platform. This year, I’ve been running with iOS 11 on my iPhone since late August as a result of requiring the operating system for compatibility testing at work, and back in June, I tested iOS 11 with my iPad. While an impressive operating system, iOS 11 also rendered my iPad incapable of publishing WordPress posts, so I reverted to iOS 10 to ensure that I could quickly publish my Kimi no na wa talk on short order if needed. However, in the time that’s passed, Apple has refined and polished iOS 11 significantly – it’s as responsive as iOS 10, and all of my apps are operational this time around. The differences between iOS 10 and iOS 11 on an iPhone are largely under-the-hood: there’s a new Control Centre that offers customisation, and a new file system app, but beyond this, iOS 11 remains quite similar to iOS 10. Having spent a half-hour exploring iOS 11 on an iPad, the differences become much more pronounced. Multi-tasking is much more powerful, and after mastering the new gestures to being up the Control Centre, I am given an immediate overview of all open apps. The beta did not allow apps to be closed with a swipe, but the release version returns this feature. It’s easier to place apps side-by-side, and there’s a powerful new drag-and-drop feature that allows me to pull image and text from one app and place them into another. The new dock makes the iPad feel more like Mac OS X than ever before, giving my iPad Air 2 a rejuvenated feel to it.

  • The most noticeable change on the iPad’s home screen between iOS 10 and iOS 11 is the presence of a Mac OS X-like dock. Fresh after installation, I have no previously used apps here, and while simple, the inclusion of an option to immediately return to my three most recent apps was one of my favourite features of iOS 11 when I tested it in the beta, allowing me to access very quickly recent apps without needing to open a folder.

  • I admit that opening Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will take some getting used to now that it’s been moved to the right from the bottom, but the new Control Centre has a distinctly iOS feel to it now, compared to the more Android-like multi-tasking interface seen in earlier incarnations of iOS. One feature noticeably absent from iOS 11 is the fact that I cannot hold down on the Wi-Fi icon and select a network to connect to (or do the same for BlueTooth).

  • The dock can be accessed from any app, making it possible to now jump to one’s favourite apps or more recently used app much more quickly than previously possible. The changes to Safari, the default browser in iOS, are subtle: corners of the URL bar are now rounded, in keeping with Apple’s latest themes, which are inspired by magazines. I’ve never been too big of a fan of this format, but the theme feel a lot more unified now in iOS 11, since the App Store also makes use of the layout, and the larger text size does make things pop a little more.

  • Once I mastered the gestures for multi-tasking, I was able to read about and watch GochiUsa simultaneously without any difficulties. Familiar and novel at the same time, iOS 11’s improvements are most noticeable on an iPad: only the iPad Air and later will be able to upgrade to iOS 11. With iOS 11, however, Apple drops support for 32-bit apps. While they’ve been phasing this out and have encouraged developers to submit 64-bit builds since iOS 9, iOS 11 marks a point where there’s a hard cutoff. Users with 32-bit apps will find that they no longer open.

  • This is Apple’s file system on iOS 11: it’s modelled after Mac OS X’s Finder, and while it does not provide access to an iOS device’s local file system, it is quite functional, working with iCloud. I foresee storing some of my documents here in the future to make use of the system, even if I’ve previously been not so big with iCloud. It typifies Apple’s tendency to only provide features once they’re fully fledged, and once added, iOS users find the features immensely useful. This prompts the choice of the page quote, which comes from Rick and Morty‘s third season: once one experiences something of a high standard, it’s hard to go back.

Other features added with iOS 11 include an improved file system, which has allowed me to free up upwards of 4 GB of space on my 16 GB iPhone 6 (this is something I was most pleased with), a new image compression format that allows images taken from the camera to take up a little less space, and upgraded Siri, which feels more powerful than it has previously. The keybaord on the iPad has been improved so one no longer has to hit another button to access some numbers and symbols, which could be useful for conversations and writing passages that are rich with symbols and numbers. On the developer side, I’ve also got access to Xcode 9, which adds the long awaited Swift refactoring capability and an upgraded error system that makes it easier to find and correct errors in code. AR Kit and Core ML are exciting new additions, as well, and while I don’t foresee a use for these APIs in the near future, there is no doubt that these powerful new libraries could allow developers to make apps of a much greater utility and immersion than before. This year, the upgrade paths for both Xcode 9 and iOS 11 proved remarkably smooth: I still vividly recall the year where a botched update forced me to restore my iPad. On the other hand, things this time around were as simple as hitting the “Update” button and entering a password. I’m curious to see how I’ll make use of the new features in iOS 11, especially for the iPad, in the days upcoming. One thing is certain, though: iOS 11 is a very welcome update, and explaining the title of this post, “True Level” is sourced from the latest episode of Rick and Morty. In this context, something that is “True Level” is sublime, and of an incredible quality, rather than referring to a hypothetical surface where every possible point is perpendicular to the plumb line.

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflection at the Penultimate Episode

“Whether it’s from the biggest, most powerful city, or from the dinkiest little podunk town, there is a certain attachment and connection, and yes, pride about where you came from.” –Cheech Marin

Yoshino and the other ministers manage to locate the Hanging Drum hidden away in the derelict school, while Maki decides to try her hand at an audition. After learning she was unsuccessful, she returns to Manoyama, where Yoshino has planned out a formal closing ceremony for the school. Maki coordinates the play, which is well-received, and it is announced that the school is to be repurposed as a multi-use installation. Later, Erika runs away from home, fearing her destiny is a slow death in Manoyama. Maki and the others look after her, although the situation deteriorates when her younger brother runs off in search of the Golden Dragon after overhearing its power to grant wishes. He is found, and Erika decides to stay in Manoyama for his sake. The Golden Dragon is eventually recovered, but it turns out to be a toy. When the Belem Bakery proposes to open a branch in Manoyama, Yoshino’s team has difficulty finding a spot, later learning that one of the citizens had been burned in the past and is reluctant to assist. This leads to a change of heart amongst one of the Board of Merchant’s members, who agrees to rent his shop to Belem Bakery. Preparations for the Mizuchi festival continue in earnest, and even when Yoshino learns that Manoyama is to be merged with Tomikura, she nonetheless wishes to continue with the festival, feeling that having a distinct culture might be sufficient to raise a compelling argument against the incorporation. A TV company takes interest in the festival and proposes to broadcast it widely on the condition that they are allowed to replace Ririko in the play, but Ushimatsu refuses. Even in light of the ending of her contract, Yoshino continues to do her best, learning that Sandal’s parents met in Manoyama, and later, is given a surprise birthday party. On the day of the festival, Ushimatsu takes off in search of Mayor Naumann, who is visiting the area, with the proposal of twinning Manoyama with his city, which is also Sandal’s birthplace.

From the relentless advance of technology and social norms leaving small towns behind, to the pursuit of dreams and understanding circumstances behind why people make the decisions that they do, Sakura Quest has continued to maintain its exceptionally captivating narrative right up until the penultimate episode. There is a great deal going on in Sakura Quest, and all of this is handled remarkably well; the anime strikes a fine balance between depicting the smaller details and integrating the resulting themes into the overarching narrative, with the effect of giving the characters a sincere, authentic sense. In particular, Yoshino’s term ending has forced her to consider what she might be doing once the term ends, and her remarks, in saying that she now desires a career that is fulfilling, show just how far she’s come since the mistake that took her to Manoyama. A year’s worth of experiences has made Yoshino a problem solver, quick to identify the intricacies in a system and devise solutions that are acceptable to involved parties. Creative and mindful of traditions, Yoshino’s time in Manoyama confer upon her with a highly unique skillset, and a newfound perspective on what a career is. Millennials, such as myself value a sense of fulfilment and purpose in their occupations above all else; in accepting a position she was quite unprepared to work in, Yoshino has learned for herself what she desires from a job. She has come to understand that she desires a career where she is constantly being challenged, one defined by the unexpected and where things are never normal. Such a career, Yoshino, reasons, might or might not be in Tokyo, and in making this realisation, Yoshino concludes that she is okay with working in a small town as well as in a metropolis. From an external perspective, Yoshino’s experiences over a year have made her much more mature, introspective and aware of her surroundings. She’s more decisive and confident now compared to her self from Sakura Quest‘s inception. These are vital attributes, and the Yoshino who’s got a year’s worth of experiences in Manoyama is much better equipped to convey her ability to contribute to whatever occupation she seeks in the future. Yoshino’s growth lies at the core of Sakura Quest, and seeing these subtle differences over time is a major contributor to what makes Sakura Quest worth watching.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The nineteenth episode of Sakura Quest has the best funny faces from Yoshino yet, after the group hears Ririko’s ghost story about how the school is allegedly haunted by a Santa-suit wearing spectre. However, owing to Sakura Quest‘s down-to-earth delivery so far, audiences are well aware that there won’t be any ghosts in the story, so even when a shadowy figure appears, it is hardly any surprise that the “ghost” really is Maki’s father. A little bit of logistics before we continue: I will be featuring thirty screenshots for this discussion, as per usual.

  • Once Maki’s father puts the lights on, he speaks with Yoshino and company about the derelict school’s state, helping them locate the second of the three treasures. The hanging drum has been stored in a shed at the school for quite some time, and when found, it is in a deplorable state owing to age, exposure to elements and a lack of maintenance. The question of taking it in for repairs is raised, since this is to be a pricey process. Yoshino learns the school is scheduled for demolition, and attempts to work out a solution to preserve it in the meantime.

  • As December sets in, there’s a definite chill in the air as Yoshino takes Ushimatsu across Sakura Pond overlooking the Chupacabra Kingdom’s main building. While Shirobako‘s title was a bit more obscure in nature, referring to the white boxes used for ferrying master tapes around, Sakura Quest‘s title is a bit easier to work out, referring to the Quest around the Sakura Pond area. The water effects are beautifully rendered in this moment, comparable to water effects of a Makoto Shinkai film.

  • It turns out that Ririko’s been practising her performances of the Dragon Song, and she looks to Maki for some assistance, who provides Ririko with some suggestions. I remark here that quite a bit happens, and consequently, even with thirty images, it is not possible to capture all of the moments, including the disagreement that Maki has when visiting home, and her later unsuccessful audition. In spite of these failures and tribulations, Maki continues to push on; her father notes that he misses her old spirit back when Maki had her sights on a career in acting.

  • As an elementary and middle school students, we’ve never had curry days: in Canada, Pizza Days are the most common, and it was here that I learned that I was okay with pineapple on pizza. Yoshino’s first plan, to host a lunch event at there derelict school, is a total failure: no one else shows up, leaving them to eat lunch together. While this could have been a melancholy event, especially since Maki returns from a failed audition, the atmosphere is unexpectedly chipper as the girls decide to host another event once they realise Manoyama’s citizens probably do not know the school had ever been shut down. To this end, they begin organising a proper closing ceremony for the school.

  • For me, one of the greatest joys about watching Sakura Quest was that each week, there had been something to look forwards to, and for the twenty-something minutes that Sakura Quest ran, I was able to completely immerse myself in a different world quite different than my reality. I’ve come to enjoy the sorts of adventures that Yoshino and the others find themselves on in their quest to Make Manoyama Great Again™, and next week will mark the last episode of a fantastic series.

  • Maki’s father is quite enthusiastic about the idea of converting the school into a mixed used facility, after Yoshio draws inspiration from Sandal arriving in the art room to make use of the facilities. While he has very little screentime relative to the other characters, Sandal is a solid character who generally provides comic relief to make a situation less tense, but on some occasion, interacts with the characters that helps them determine a solution.

  • By December, a bit of snow has fallen in the Manoyama region, enough for the ladies to have a snowball fight. Manoyama is based off Nanto City in Toyama Prefecture, which means that my earlier prediction proved correct. Details around the city are replicated with exceptional precision. The real-world Nanto City has on average 10.6 snow days in January, 9.8 snow days in February and 4.8 snow days in December: these happen to be the wettest months in the area, as well. With a population of around 50000, comparable areas in Canada include North Bay, Ontario and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, while the nearest city of this size is Airdre, Alberta.

  • Maki is at her happiest whenever she’s acting, contrary to her claims otherwise, and during the Christmas play for the school’s closing ceremony, she immerses herself fully within her role; the Christmas play was written to dispel rumours about the school’s being haunted by a bloody Santa, and it’s an incredible performance that audiences in-show, as well as in reality, are treated to.

  • At the play’s conclusion, Maki showcases a mural at the school that Yoshino and Shirori find while exploring the facilities. Alumni are impressed with the play and efforts; they fully back plans to convert the school into a mixed-use facility. The event is a successful one by all definitions, and plays a substantial role in staving off plans for the school’s demolition. Later, Maki’s father signs off a cheque that will cover the costs of repairing the Hanging Drum, after seeing Maki and her friends’ commitment towards a better Manoyama. Maki herself is inspired by this experience and decides to return to acting in her own way, by creating her own acting troupe.

  • While it’s something I’ve not mentioned until now, Sakura Quest‘s soundtrack, titled “Sakura Quest BEST”, is set to release on the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival on October 4. It retails for 4200 Yen (46.21 CAD at the time of writing), and will feature a total of four disks. The tracklist has not been released yet, but the sheer size of the album is a reminder of the diversity of music seen in Sakura Quest itself. The background music varies from providing a gentle ambiance to strongly accentuating the atmosphere of a scene, and as such, I look forwards to listening to the music.

  • An irate Erika runs away from home, but before she can hitchhike her way out of Manoyama, she’s picked up by Shiori. A minor character working at the local café, Erika is voiced by Tomoyo Kurosawa, who has played as Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Itsuki Inubozaki and Hibike! Euphonium‘s Kumiko Oumae. However, the aural characteristics of Erika’s voice bring to mind Kotori Koiwai (Renge of Non Non Biyori), and so, I was quite surprised to learn that Kotori was not playing Erika. After they give their word to Erika that she can stay with them, Maki and the others tend to Erika and inform her mother of their situation.

  • The shopping district has, similar to this blog, been ailing for quite some time with respect to business, perhaps a sign that I’m a bit out of touch with the times. Yoshino constantly wonders if there’s a way to preserve tradition while introducing innovation, and here, speaks with the owners of a local bookstore. I’m very fond of privately-owned bookstores in small towns, even if their selection is more limited compared to a large retailer such as Chapters Indigo.

  • Ushimatsu speaks with the craftsman handling the construction of the Shrine Float here as the Mizuchi festival draws nearer. The page quote for this discussion comes from the sense of spirit that people have for their home towns, and while Manoyama may not be Yoshino’s hometown, she’s come to love it as if it were her hometown, all the while coming to appreciate her own hometown more.

  • Under the cold of a winter’s night, Takamizawa and his friends locate their clues that point to the location of the Golden Dragon, the last of the Three Treasures required to re-introduce the Mizuchi Festival. Developments in Sakura Quest mean that the anime has not devolved into a treasure hunt as some have predicted; a handful of individuals have claimed that they are “not satisfied with the way the show is going”, “[betting that] the ending is going to be really disappointing” on the virtue that Manoyama will not be saved with the time remaining. It’s quite evident that these individuals are not aware of what the themes of Sakura Quest are – the anime has done a tremendous job of depicting the process involved, and while Yoshino often is faced with reality, she’s doing her best to set in motion events that will help the town from an external interest perspective.

  • Erika develops a toothache from a loose tooth, and lacking any painkillers, Yoshino and Shiori set out to purchase children’s medication. Questions have been raised as to why Yoshino does not split an adult painkiller in half, but the answer does not require a degree in medicine to reach – some pills should not be split because they are structured to work on a timed release. Splitting the pill could result in an overdose, which would be detrimental. Other pills have a hard coat to improve swallowing, and altering them could impact they way the active ingredients are delivered. Splitting an adult pill could make Erika very sick, and so, their choice was correct. While some purport that reopening the pharmacy was “unrealistic”, this perspective only comes about from a lack of understanding of the themes in Sakura Quest. Small stores are more flexible than larger ones, and so, are able to accommodate citizens much more quickly than supermarkets should the need arise.

  • Upon overhearing talk that the Golden Dragon can grant wishes, Anji runs into the winter night in search of the Golden Dragon. His disappearance sparks a search, but before anything happens, Sandal finds him and brings him to the police station, where he is reunited with his family. It turns out he longs for Erika to come home, hence his desire to make a wish. Later, Takamizawa and his friends find the Golden Dragon, but it turns out to be a plastic toy. While it would appear that the actual article has been lost to time, Yoshino later agrees to use it in the festival.

  • Taking inspiration from Warabiya, Shiori and the others prepare LED lanterns that gives the shopping district a warmer, more inviting feel by nightfall. While seemingly a small action, Yoshino’s influence and choices have definitely made Manoyama’s citizens more aware and appreciative of their town. Thus, when I’m met with the response that Sakura Quest is in need of “new settings, plot progression events, interesting new characters, etc. [where] the experiences would add up to a nice exciting finish”, I counter that Sakura Quest exceeds expectations precisely because it is grounded in realism. There is a limit to what Yoshino can credibly accomplish with the Tourism Board, but even the small accomplishments, such as introducing lanterns into the shopping district, are enormously satisfying to behold.

  • While subtle, one of the details I’m always fond of seeing in Sakura Quest are the discussions of future plans around mealtimes, and in Sakura Quest, one of the challenges Yoshino originally faced was figuring out a cuisine unique to Manoyama. In Calgary, Alberta Beef, pancakes and Ginger Beef are counted as regional specialties, although for folks like myself, a taste of home is never too far away. There are plenty of Hong Kong style establishments in Calgary, and tonight, I enjoyed the evening special (deep-fried pork chop and mango sauce on a bed of spaghetti) at a local restaurant.

  • One of my favourite aspects of Sakura Quest that I predicted would occur was the gradual warming up of Chitose to Yoshino; while staunchly opposed to the Tourism Board’s activities in the beginning, she’s come to accept Yoshino in both helping the town out, as well as for befriending her granddaughter, despite Yoshino being an outsider. It speaks volumes as to the sort of impact Yoshino has had since joining the Tourism Board, and here, Chitose makes to speak with a fellow by the name of Akiyama, hoping to convince him to rent his property to a well-known bakery.

  • Takamizawa and the others decide to open a café of sorts in the old school, and Sandal here assists with the refurbishing of the interior. The effects of a fresh coat of paint are already apparent in this image: the classroom has taken on a much warmer, inviting feeling than the classroom seen at the beginning of this post when Yoshino and the others were hunting for the Hanging Drum in the dark hallways.

  • Chitose calls a meeting to discuss a possible dissolution of the Board of Merchants, as their businesses no longer seem viable in light of being unable to secure a location for Belem to open. Where Chitose reveals that Akiyama had once opened his space to an outsider to rent, but the shop owner deserted, leaving Akiyama to pay the difference. Since then, he’s been unwilling to open his space. Yoshino decides not to force Akiyama into making a difficult decision, but this changes the perspective of another shop owner, who decides he will accept the smells associated with a bakery.

  • During her time in Manoyama, Yoshino has become a capable listener who makes decisions based on all perspectives. While Manoyama’s citizens have traditionally placed a degree of mistrust on outsiders, Yoshino is the first to demonstrate a genuine love for the town. She thus acts as the catalyst for change and finds herself successful precisely because she considers all pertinent arguments before devising a solution.

  • While they still refer to one another by their nicknames, it’s clear that Chitose and Ushimatsu have reached a point where they now (reluctantly) accept the other: Chitose gives the go-ahead here to continue with the Mizuchi Festival at full steam. I’ve been taking a look at opinions of Sakura Quest elsewhere, and for the most part, reception to this anime has been very warm: the folks at Random Curiosity are rooting for Yoshino and the others, while at AnimeSuki, viewers largely feel Sakura Quest could be one of the most solid slice-of-life anime of the year. In other words, expectations entering the finale are quite high, but I’m confident that whatever direction P.A. Works chooses to take with Sakura Quest, it will be a satisfying ending.

  • While it might be a plastic toy dragon, Yoshino nonetheless accepts it as a stand-in for the real deal. One wonders what happened to the real Golden Dragon, but a bit of logic would likely lead one to the conclusion that it’s embedded in the mud at the bottom of Sakura Pond ever since Ushimatsu tipped the Shrine Float over, and recovery would require a considerable amount of effort. Here’s a bit of trivia: apparently, there’s a manga incarnation of Sakura Quest that is serialised in Manga Time Kirara.

  • When Ushimatsu returns to Manoyama later, he bears bad news: the area is to be incorporated into another region. The merger or splitting of a municipality usually is done by consensus and was originally designed so that regions could increase usage of facilities without creating new ones, such as schools, as well as ease burdens on areas that are in debt. While sobering news, Yoshino remains optimistic and believes that a successful Mizuchi Festival could at the very least, further awareness of Manoyama’s unique culture. Because the merger is still quite some time away, Shiori and the others resolve to worry about the present and focus on putting on the Mizuchi Festival.

  • Progress for the Mizuchi Festival is underway, and the Shrine Float here reaches completion. However, when the TV crew from earlier return and request that an idol be inserted into the Dragon Song play in place of Ririko in exchange for an extended broadcast, Ushimatsu puts his foot down, saying that the Mizuchi Festival is by the people, for the people. His commitment to integrity is his way of atoning for shutting down the festival fifty years previously, reflecting on his desire to follow through with the hard work that everyone’s put in without compromising the locals’ efforts.

  • While cleaning up the Shrine where the Shrine Float’s route concludes, Doku finds a stone engraved with a commemorative message. It turns out that Sandal’s ancestors engineered Sakura Pond, and that this is where they’d met. Sandal’s connection to a distant city later inspires Ushimatsu to try and get Manoyama twinned, and he sets off abruptly to meet with the mayor of said city right as the festival begins to raise this proposal. While Chitose fears he will interfere with the festival again, Yoshino and the others have faith in his decision, knowing he’s working to Make Manoyama Great Again™ in his own fashion.

  • Preparations for the festival leave Yoshino so busy she’s very nearly forgotten her birthday, but Maki and the others have not. Maki asks Yoshino to inspect a prop, closing her inside before preparing the birthday surprise. It’s a rather warming moment, and as a gift of sorts, everyone’s sporting the same happi coats. Yoshino had earlier remarked that it’d be nice if everyone could have the coats, but understanding that they have budgetary constraints, she was okay with not providing happi coats for everyone.

  • With this post now over, I’m greatly looking forwards to seeing how Sakura Quest ends. It’s been five months since the anime began airing: I still recall watching the first few episodes on a quiet Sunday morning after playing my first few matches of Battlefield 1‘s They Shall Not Pass expansion, and it seems that these past few months have passed by in the blink of an eye. While I initially found it a fun anime, Sakura Quest eventually became an immensely immersive, entertaining and instructive anime that augmented my world views. It’s a little early in the game to be saying so, but if the finale succeeds in bringing the messages together, I would count Sakura Quest amongst the few anime I’ve seen to score a perfect ten, a veritable masterpiece. This verdict, I will decide upon once the finale has concluded.

The question that is worthy of speculation, thus, is what path Yoshino will take once the finale is reached and the time comes to make a decision. Yoshino herself states that she might be willing to move back home and make opportunity there, and folks with familiarity in narratives such as these will often predict that Yoshino will stay in Manoyama, having grown attached to the town, its people and attractions. Another reasonably likely outcome is that she does leave, but manages to find a position elsewhere as a result of her accumulated experiences. With due respect, both outcomes are equally likely – regardless of what direction Yoshino chooses, she now has the skill and experience, plus understanding of her own aspirations, to find success in whichever path she follows. While I’ve decided to focus on Yoshino for the post prior to the finale, the closing stages of Sakura Quest deal with a variety of issues, from Maki’s conflicting desires to act, to the Board of Merchants’ struggles to keep the shopping district relevant in an age where modern supermarkets defeat their purpose, or Erika’s refusal to stay somewhere with no prospects (mirroring the real-world phenomenon of youth leaving their homes in the countryside to seek opportunities in urban areas). There is considerable depth in Sakura Quest, and all of these elements come together to create P.A. Works’ strongest presentation since Shirobako: I’ve come to care for each of Yoshino, Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko, plus Manoyama’s citizens, who each have their own stories and goals. In short, they are fantastically written, as human as you and I, and each week since April, it’s been an absolute blast to immerse myself in Yoshino’s world. This is a series that I will miss considerably once it concludes, but for the present, there remains the finale that will be airing come Wednesday; I look forwards to seeing where one chapter of Yoshino’s story concludes and what her future entails.