The Infinite Zenith

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

Towards the Miraculous Future: Aria the Avvenire OVA Episode Three Review and Reflection

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

The finale to the Aria the Avvenire OVA series follows Ai, Anya and Azusa as they create their own miracle to bring everyone together after learning that their seniors are exceptionally busy with their Undine work and will miss Athena’s musical performance. Taking advantage of the Acqua Alta event (Italian for “High Water”) that results in all their day’s duties being cancelled, Ai capitalises on the time to plan a party with Anya and Azusa for their seniors. Exhausted from her work, Alicia falls asleep and recalls when she first met Akari. It seems that Alicia has aspirations to bring change to the existing Undine Pair system that assigns Singles to a Prima and improve the existing system to encourage Singles to complete their training and become Prima themselves. As a long-established system, this is no trivial task. However, it was Akari’s presence at the Aria Company that eventually moves Alicia to pursue her wishes. Later in the evening, Athena’s singing reaches everyone, prompting Akari, Alice and Aika to recall the days they became Prima and wonder whether or not their paths will separate in the future.

Miracles form the basis for the last of the OVA’s themes yet again, except this time, Ai, Anya and Azusa’s planning of a party for their seniors to capitalise on an Acqua Alta event and bring everyone together illustrates that while there are some miracles that truly are spectacular and cannot be easily produced, miracles can take all forms and hold tremendous value even if it is as subtle as bringing friends together to share tea and pastry under the evening sun. The value of this gesture allows Alicia to remember her own dynamics with Akari. This suggests that just as seniors can leave a powerful impact on juniors, the reverse is true, as well; presumably, to encourage more Singles to complete their training and connect with their seniors more, Alicia chooses to pursue the goal of improving the Undine system for everyone’s sake. However, the true miracle of this party is seen at the very end: besides having brought everyone together, it manages to give everyone an unexpected but welcomed opportunity for listening to Athena’s musical performance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Released on June 24, I neither have the earliest nor greatest collection of screenshots for the last of the Avvenire OVAs: my review is given the customary twenty screenshots. I acknowledge that anyone who’s read the manga and/or seen the original animated forms of Aria will have considerably greater background than myself and therefore, consider this review to be that of a scrub’s. However, because of my lack of background, I can also offer insights on Aria that differ than those of anyone who’s seen the main series or manga.

  • Ai, Anya and Azusa spend a few moments in a new part of Aqua that I’ve not seen before: I have not begun watching my way through the three seasons of Aria as of yet. These wind turbines are reminiscent of those found near Pincher Creek: the wind farm there is visible from Highway 3 en route to Waterton and was Canada’s first wind farm, but the operation has become uneconomical and was dismantled during April 2016.

  • Ai, Anya and Azusa manouver their gondolas through the canals of Neo-Venezia while discussing how with everyone’s schedules look, there will be no opportunity to watch Athena’s musical performance later on despite how much everyone’s been looking forwards to things. Anya and Azusa are new characters to the Avvenire OVAs, so once I go back and begin watching the anime proper, I imagine I won’t see them around.

  • One of the joys in Aria is how even inconveniences such as floods can be turned into miracles for the characters: it’s a matter of perspective, and Ai rejoices at the six inches or so of water that’s accumulated in their quarters. She’s now afforded time to carry out her own plans in response to everyone’s busy schedules now that it’s flooded, and here, she tells Akari how they won’t be able to spend the day together.

  • The phenomenon of Acqua Alta is responsible for the minor flooding seen earlier, and in Venice, occurs when high tide coincides with sirocco winds that push water into the Venetian lagoon. In Venice, these events are common enough so that Venetians have built their city to accommodate it, storing things of importance above the water level and using wooden platforms to traverse the area. However, Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos, are so small they would not have a substantial tidal impact on Mars, so the Acqua Alta event is unlikely to occur.

  • With this in mind, I will yield that allowing the Acqua Alta to occur in Aria is intended to drive the story of the last OVA forwards and so, it’s not something to lose sleep over. As the afternoon wears on, Akari receives a message from Ai and the others, inviting her over for tea. The deep blue skies of Neo-Venezia give way to the warmer oranges and purples of evening.

  • Through their efforts, Ai, Anya and Azusa succeed in gathering Aika, Alice, Akari, Akira and Alicia, as well as Akino (known as “grandma”, she’s a well-known and masterful Prima Undine who trained Alicia to take over the Aria Company) for an evening party. Ever appreciative of miracles, Akari mentions that having a party on an ordinary day makes it feel all the more special.

  • After crossing the Bow River, we hiked up the cliff side and reached the Nordic Centre, before returning to the Canmore town centre to browse some of the shops. We stopped for a tea at the Communitea Tea House (where I ordered a chilled mint green tea) before ending the day. Such outings are relatively simple to organise and might just become a yearly tradition for us. Back in Aria, Akari is promoted to a Single: I’ve not been keeping track until now, but Pairs (Undine in basic training) wear two gloves, and Singles wear one glove.

  • A fully qualified Undine, a Prima, has no gloves: this observation will be useful for ascertaining each character’s rank once I begin watching the TV series. Here, Alicia messes with both Akari and President Aria with a wind chime: in a gentle and humours moment, both seem to be reacting as cats would to stimuli.

  • Because they were released this year, the Avvenire OVAs have exceptional artwork and animation; the finale is no different, making extensive use of lighting and colouring to convey a particular mood. After she falls asleep, Alicia dreams of a more nostalgic time when Akari was still in training. Her dialogue suggests that Akari had a substantial impact on Alicia right from the start, leaving a powerful and profound impression on her when they’d first met.

  • Earlier, I noted that the Acqua Alta phenomenon would not be plausible given Mars’ lack of a substantial natural satellite, but this image, captured as Akari and Alicia quietly sail the surface of the waters, overtly depicts a natural satellite complete with maria (basaltic plains that characterises the Earth’s moon). This raises questions as to whether or not in Aria, the moon or a similar celestial body was moved to Mars in order to facilitate the terraforming processes.

  • While such an endeavour would seem optimistic to the point of foolishness, it turns out that humanity can theoretically move celestial bodies as large as the moon using scaled-up mechanisms presently being proposed to move asteroid trajectories. Aria is set in the 24th century, and since they’ve already succeeding in terraforming Mars to the point where it is inhabitable for long periods, they might also have the technologies to move lunar-sized celestial bodies.

  • Introducing change into a well-established system is never easy, and Alicia becomes exhausted from the efforts. However, she’s motivated strongly by Akari, enough to continue in her pursuits regardless of how difficult it may seem. One of the youngest to become a Prima Undine, Alicia is married to an unspecified gentleman but delays her retirement and entry into an administrative role in order to spend more time with Akari, forming the basis for her internal conflict.

  • By the events of Avvenire, it seems that she’s managed to move forwards, knowing that Akari will be a fine Prima Undine. This is a natural reaction: transitioning from one stage to another (in my case, school to real-world) is indeed scary, but it is also necessary to do so such that one can continue to contribute to society and allow the new generations a chance to explore their opportunities, as well.

  • Alicia wakes up shortly, and from my end, the last of the OVAs was also the most tricky to follow. I went through this one twice to make certain that I could follow what was going on and therefore, could extract the themes and ideas from the OVA. I would think that the main theme here is a bit more substantial beyond merely being “cathartic”: while an anime could probably get by simply for being relaxing, I imagine that there is much more to Aria as a whole, given that it’s been met with critical acclaim and can capture the audiences’ hearts as effectively as it does.

  • Athena performs “Lumis Eterne”, a song originally performed for Aria The Origination as the final OVA’s miracle. The song’s lyrics are composed in Esperanto, an auxiliary language created in the 1870s by L.L. Zamenhof with the aim of unifying humanity under a common tongue, and it’s supposed to be easier to learn than English. I’ve heard that Athena’s voice actor, Kawai Eri, passed away from cancer and it would have been difficult to re-cast her, hence her minimal presence in the OVAs.

  • Thus, while seemingly missing the one thing everyone was looking forwards to, it turns out that Ai, Anya and Azusa’s idea to host a small party gathering everyone together also allowed everyone to enjoy Athena’s performance. This speaks to the unpredictability of miracles; even though the original goal was simply to bring people together, events result in everyone experiencing a far greater time than they had expected.

  • The final moments of the OVA ends with another beautiful sunset as the day draws to a close. We’re very nearly reaching the end of this post, as well: this means that the last of my discussions on Aria is approaching an end, as well. With all three OVAs under my belt, it seems appropriate to now go backwards and watch the whole of Aria and see for myself what about Aria makes it a timeless anime: surely, it can’t just be “catharsis” on its own.

  • Because my schedule over the next few weeks will be unpredictable, I cannot say for sure what I’ll be writing, when, but I will try to have a talk about Amanchu! after three episodes out before the month is over. I also will be taking a look at New Game! as time permits (there seem to be a lot of misconceptions out there, ranging from the idea that they’re using Dell Inspirion desktops for game development, to the idea that the anime is glorifying overwork, and I’d like to see for myself whether these opinions have any weight). In August, I will aim to roll out a talk on Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero and my second experience with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, as well as a special topics post on rock-paper-scissors in GochiUsa.

Besides miracles, the other theme for the finale deals with is a parting of the ways, and how the associated sorrow demonstrates the strength of bonds amongst friends. Happiness cannot exist without sorrow, and sorrow can be seen as a sign that people care. This is a fitting theme for the last of the Aria the Avvenire episodes, reminding the viewers that their own feelings as the Avvenire OVAs draw to a close are a reminder that they genuinely enjoyed the anime. The Avvenire OVA series is plainly intended for audiences familiar with Aria as a whole, and in speaking quite openly about endings and the value of memories that are created over time with those around one, this finale suggests that the Avvenire OVAs might be the last animated incarnation of the Aria manga for the foreseeable future. With the OVAs now over, I’m presently looking to begin the series proper now such that I may explore the world of Aqua in greater detail: the only question that remains is when I will actually do so.

Pure Pwnage Teh Movie: Review and Reflection

“Maybe one day, I’ll inspire so many people to help so many other people suck less, there will be no suck left in the whole world.” —Jeremy, aka teh_pwnerer

With the occasional Pure Pwnage reference I make here and there in my other reviews, it should come as no surprise that I would take an interest to the Pure Pwnage film, dubbed Pure Pwnage Teh Movie: announced back in September 2012 and released in January 2016 (I was in Kelowna assisting with a The Giant Walkthrough Brain performance for UBC Okanagan the night the movie première back home), Pure Pwnage Teh Movie aspired to be the gamer movie that captured the spirit of gaming. Originally a web-based mockumentary on gamer culture, Pure Pwnage‘s earliest videos were characterised by over-the-top, hilarious takes on what life as a gamer is like: captured through Kyle (Geoff Lapire)’s perspective, Pure Pwnage follows the misadventures of Jeremy (Jarett Cale) and Doug (Joel Gardiner) as they interact with both the gaming and real worlds. A TV series was also created but was later cancelled: the web universe generally was met with greater acclaim, so in filming the movie, the creators decided to capture the spirit present in the web series as best as they could, and Pure Pwnage Teh Movie winds up meeting expectations: its been some ten years since Jeremy and Doug have last picked up a controller or pwned someone with a keyboard and mouse. Both are working, but when Kyle decides the time is ripe to produce a film and wishes to bring back the Jeremy and Doug of the web series, he finds out that Jeremy has settled in to life in the real world. However, not everything as it seems: it turns out that Jeremy’s been longing to do something beyond accounting. Rejoining the world of gaming, Jeremy’s surprised at how much games have changed in the past ten years. Things are more team-oriented now, and Jeremy must learn to be an effective team player. While he is able to lead a team to the world championship for a League of Legends tournament, Jeremy discovers that it’s ultimately not about winning, money or fame, but rather, it’s the spirit of friendship, cooperation and being true to oneself that truly matters.

Pure Pwnage Teh Movie rightfully earns its place as a comedy film about gamers: this movie is characterised by outrageous imagery and dialogue, whether it be Jeremy applying his über-micro towards working more effectively at his desk job or Doug smashing up a keyboard in frustration when he dies in Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The movie consistently delivers humour throughout its run, and fans who are familiar with Pure Pwnage will note that many of the elements that made Pure Pwnage‘s web series make a return in some from or another in Pure Pwnage Teh Movie (at one point, when Jeremy takes off, Doug chases after him but grabs a kitchen knife first, reasoning that “you run faster with a knife”). Similarly, in preparation for the competition, Jeremy decides that, given that the South Koreans are the greatest gamers on the planet, the only way he will reach their level of proficiency is to “breath the same air” and “eat the same food” as they do, dining on Korean cuisine and training as he imagines Koreans would. This particular aspect mirrors the legendary training scene during the web series where Jeremy trains under teh_masterer to further his skills after losing to a n00b. This is a movie that will bring smiles to gamers at all turns. While it is a fantastic caricature of gaming culture and non-gamers may find some of the jokes or references difficult to follow at times, but the film is reasonably friendly towards audiences as a whole, presenting a coherent story about Jeremy’s journey to understand what he really wants from life.

In spite of its prominent comedy aspects, Pure Pwnage has always managed to fit in life lessons into its seemingly frivolous narrative. The web series suggested that one must be willing to work hard in order to succeed (“it’s those people who are better than you that make you get better, you know? You gotta just put your nose down, you gotta work harder, you gotta train harder, you know? And you gotta think about that guy so, next time you meet, you’re gonna walk up to him and say ‘you know what? I’m gonna kick your ass!’, and then you do!”), be humble about one’s ability and never become complacent (“you don’t wanna be like all pro up in people’s faces, right, ‘cuz sometimes, you start thinking that you’re probably better than you actually are, and when that happens you start to lose focus, right? Next thing you know, you’re losing to a n00b”) or to be multi-disciplinary in order to adapt to different situations (“If one is to truly pwn, one must pwn in all games”). Pure Pwnage Teh Movie brings these subtle messages back in different forms. The one of major themes in the movie is that a team is only successful if its members cooperate: Jeremy, having played independently for such great lengths, is unfamiliar with working with his teammates to win, but with some tips from Doug, manages to be a better team player. Similarly, when Jeremy’s stubbornness nearly costs him the world championship, it’s Doug, understanding what friendship means, who returns to help Jeremy out. Overall, the main theme in Pure Pwnage is that happiness arises from being true to oneself: Jeremy is not truly happy with his job and returns to gaming, but when he goes pro, he realises that teamwork is a challenge for him. When given a chance to lead a team and sponsor a product, Jeremy decides that in the end, he merely wants to be true to himself, doing what he’s good at under his own terms. He tells Kyle that the film should happen on Kyle’s term’s (rather than the studio’s), and decides to play in the championships, because he wants to, not because he’s here to showcase a new piece of technology. In the end, this is the main message that Pure Pwnage Teh Movie truly seeks to convey: more often than not, people follow paths and careers because it’s what others want, losing sight of what they themselves want in the pursuit of satisfying someone else’s ideals. However, for those who are bold enough to remain faithful to themselves (and put in the effort to make their dreams a reality), the end results can be very gratifying. In Jeremy’s case, he wins the tournament with Doug’s help and goes on to use the winnings to start his own gaming school, where the goal is to make the world suck less and inspire others to do the same.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This is my first time doing a full-sized review of a live action feature film in the blog’s entire history: the Skyfall review I wrote back in 2012 was smaller in scale and scope. Boasting thirty images, I encountered some difficulty in distilling out which moments to feature in the talk, since the entire movie, from start to finish, was one hell of a riot.

  • From the writers, the movie is a direct follow-up to the web series: by this point in time, both Doug and Jeremy have full-time employment at an unspecified firm. Jeremy is working s an accountant of some sort, and Doug seems to be involved in various jobs around the office, ranging from mail delivery to window cleaning (both tasks, he performs with the zeal of someone who is one with the first person shooter).

  • Jarett Cale admittedly resembles our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in physical appearance. Pure Pwnage Teh Movie is a Canadian-produced film, although through the movie, it should be clear that not all Canadians are hockey experts who live in igloos and eat copious amounts of maple syrup: here, Doug and Jeremy have bacon-and-kale salads for dinner while discussing technical tax terms that I have no understanding of. As Doug says, the bacon offsets the kale, making for a perfect (“strange” seems more appropriate, though) combination.

  • A parody of modern augmented reality devices, the XOBO is leaps and bounds further ahead than anything that currently exists: it’s supposedly able to read neural impulses and use those to control the UI. The closest we have at present is the Microsoft HoloLens, and my old research lab has acquired a device for development purposes. I’ve used the HoloLens, and it is an incredible experience.

  • Throughout the earlier scenes, Jeremy is taking an inordinate number of pills, and although their effects are never specified, it appears that they slow down Jeremy enough, allowing him to focus on the present. So, when Kyle takes the pills away, Jeremy suddenly realises that everything around him seems to suck, causing him to create a ruckus at his workplace and becomes fired in the process.

  • Jeremy and Doug later return to their old lifestyles and habits: here, they bring back the old RTS vs FPS debate while taking a stroll around the neighbourhood. In the web series, Jeremy and Doug have their differences with respect to which genre of game requires more skill. Jeremy argues that RTS requires more skill in demanding players keep track of multiple events and actions at once, while Doug contends that FPS is superior, boiling down to how well one knows the environment and tools needed for victory.

  • Anastasia (Miranda Plant) makes a few cameo appearances in the film here and there. In the web series, she briefly dated Jeremy but the two broke up near the finale. Jeremy and Anastasia appear on amicable terms in the movie and here, she remarks that Jeremy quitting his job might allow him to begin pursing the things he loves.

  • So, for the first little while, Jeremy and Doug spend their days playing games: a few modern titles, including Street Fighter IV and Counter Strike: Global Offensive make an appearance. Bringing back old memories of Doug smashing his keyboard in a rage after dying to lag, Doug tears up a keyboard after losing in CS:GO. Long accustomed to Doug’s outrageous actions, Jeremy calmly hands Doug a new keyboard.

  • Gaming in and of itself is a hobby, but there are professional competitions that result in payouts for participants who are successful. Jeremy is surprised to learn that competitions are team-based; this stands in contrast to his background as a gamer, as he is most comfortable with playing and winning on his own. This would suggest that Jeremy’s instructor, teh_masterer (a mysterious gamer clad in ninja attire), does not place particular value on teamwork and therefore did not cover it in Jeremy’s training during the web series.

  • Thus, while trying to recruit members for his team, Jeremy runs into considerable roadblocks and constantly tears down his teammates for not playing flawlessly to his standard. It’s ultimately Doug who provides Jeremy some suggestions and pointers for being a more effective leader. With this, Jeremy finally manages to work with his team and train with them in preparation for their first tournament.

  • I personally value self-sufficiency to a very high extent, but in my professional life, I understand the importance of good teamwork and communication: a large majority of humanity’s greatest achievements arise from the result of teamwork, and working independently (such as my graduate work) presents numerous obstacles that might be handled more effectively while working in a group of people.

  • This screenshot captures a sizeable crowd at one of the competitions: such crowds were never depicted in the web series, and the largest competition was the Lanageddon event held in Calgary’s Bowness Community Center during 2005. I visited the venue for myself a few summers ago during the Omatsuri festival (a redundancy, but that’s what it’s called), taking in some of the Japanese community’s cultural events and food in the area.

  • When Jeremy discovers that Kyle’s taken his pills (directly precipitating the movie’s events), he tears up the scrip and resolves to get his job back. This scene remains one of my favourite in the entire movie: Jeremy lectures Kyle on how his actions are for drama, prompting Kyle to go with it. Kyle suggests that Jeremy continue where it’s brighter, so Jeremy counters by moving to a darker spot. When Kyle says he’ll turn up the ISO, Jeremy retorts that he’ll turn down the ISO, even though this is not possible on his end.

  • ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor, and turning it up results in camera gain, but as Jeremy predicts, his actions result in camera lose: it turns out that the movie’s gone overbudget, lost its main protagonist and failed to deliver the romance component. As a result, the company backing the film takes the rights to production and filming.

  • This is perhaps the only R-rated moment in the entire film, when Jeremy decides to expose himself on camera in protest that someone else is filming Pure Pwnage Teh Movie. The TV series had a few moments that were censored, while the web series was careful to ensure that everything remained 14A. I encountered some difficult in capturing screenshots for the movie because, unlike anime or games, there’s a great deal of motion blur, but I did manage to get a good spread of screenshots that capture some of the movie’s spirits.

  • Another director, Mike, is assigned to look after the movie.Here, Kyle and Mike fight over filming Jeremy, slinging insults at one another about notions of pedestrian and the F-stop. It turns out that Jeremy is not conducive to having someone else film him.

  • With some encouragement from Dave, and Jeremy’s background in accounting, Kyle agrees to Jeremy’s request that Pure Pwnage Teh Movie should not involved anything scripted, and simply, “just let stuff happen”.

  • With this new take on the movie, another aspect from the web series is brought back to life in Pure Pwnage Teh Movie: in the first season, Jeremy loses to a n00b and seeks teh_masterer for additional training. After succeeding in convincing teh_masterer that he is indeed ready, he trains in a variety of unorthodox ways, ranging from practising his micro in an empty room with nothing but a keyboard, jogging and executing shoryuken in real life, or eating rice with a Nintendo controller in a scene mirroring that seen in Kill Bill.

  • I love the shots of Jeremy walking down the streets of Toronto, showcasing the different areas of inner Toronto. Here, Jeremy steps into a Korean restaurant and explains that in order to best a Korean at video games, he must immerse himself in their ways. Scenes of him learning to eat (and eventually mastering) Korean food are interspersed with training scenes and Jeremy’s infamous monitor dance.

  • I watched Pure Pwnage Teh Movie on my flight back nearly two weeks ago, and found it to be the polar opposite of When Marnie Was There: whereas the latter is emotionally charged, Pure Pwnage Teh Movie delivers nonstop humour, and I could not stop smiling on my flight back home. The evening I got back, I had dinner at a Cantonese restaurant that served excellent dishes, including sweet and sour pork that was clearly grilled. The next day, I visited the Stampede for the free admissions and pancake breakfast, then walked the midway before having a smoked meat poutine, plus a deep-fried whole onion with chipotle sauce for lunch. Carnaval food is absolutely delicious but also ridiculously unhealthy.

  • Jeremy’s infamous victory dances are a critical part of Pure Pwnage, and it was most definitely welcome to see them (taking the form of Jeremy humping and spanking the monitor or controller of whatever device he’s using to pwn) make a return in the movie. I intend to upload a .gif of this happening somewhere and use it as my default response to whenever something hilarious happens (such as when a certain onee-sama got banned at an anime forum I frequent).

  • Like the web series, whether or not the training actually happens is left ambiguous: in the web series, Jeremy is found sleeping a most uncomfortable sleep on the floor after seemingly overcoming teh_masterer in a micro battle as the final phase of his training, and in the movie, he’s asleep at the keyboard at the internet café he’s training in. In both cases, I imagine that the training did indeed happens, since the sessions do appear to have a non-trivial impact on improving his performance.

  • Jeremy meets Charles, the CEO of the company behind the XOBO. A collected, laid-back businessman, he convinces Jeremy to be the face of XOBO and participate in the international competition. He assures that by backing XOBO’s branding, regardless of how the actual tournament ends, he will be paid handsomely for his troubles, and Jeremy agrees.

  • It turns out that the team he will be playing with is the same team that he had won with in the local tournaments, and in the competition’s opening stages, they proceed to demolish all teams they go against on virtue of skill in League of Legends. I’m not sure how well I’d fare in League of Legends, myself, given that I’ve never been able to motivate myself to play the game and learn its mechanics closely. Like Doug, I prefer shooters.

  • Like Anthem of the Heart, it would be quite vapid if Jeremy and his team waltzed through the tournament without any drama: similar to how Takumi’s revelation that he does not see Jun in a romantic light threatens to derail their performance, Jeremy’s remarks about Shawn being “friendzoned”, leading Emma to leave the team. This particular aspect of social interactions is one that is remarkably complex and therefore, difficult to discuss in a single figure caption (or several), so I will not explore it in greater detail in this post.

  • The new XOBO is lighter than the older model, and Jeremy has an epiphany here, realising that after everything he’s seen, it’s not really about cool stuff or money bringing people together, but rather, it’s about people coming close to one another because they share a passion (for gaming, in this case). Understanding that he’s made a mistake, he accepts that he might lose the competition and proceeds to begin the final match against the South Koreans.

  • Disappointed at Jeremy’s decisions, Doug decides to leave the tournament and return home. However, he has a change of heart, and right as Jeremy’s team is about to fold, he returns to fight in Emma’s place. When Jeremy asks him why he’d made this decision, Doug replies it’s simply because they’re best friends. This marks another theme of the movie: friends don’t expect favours to be returned, but rather, are simply there for one another when things get difficult.

  • Their combined offensive allows Jeremy to win the tournament and the associated prize money, and in the process, Jeremy and Doug reconcile. This has been a longstanding theme throughout the web series, and to see it reinforced again in the film is a reminder that despite their differences in beliefs and preferences for games, Doug and Jeremy exemplify the sort of bond that best friends have with one another. Of course, it wouldn’t be Pure Pwnage without comedy: while the message here is profound in the aftermath of Jeremy’s triumph, the writers mange to work in another moment for laughs.

  • It turns out that Kyle forgot to load fresh batteries into his camera for the tournament and runs out, leaving Jeremy to explain what’s happened. In contrast with the Harekaze sinking for no apparent reason in Hai Furi‘s finalePure Pwnage Teh Movie appropriately uses an unexpected twist to further reinforce an idea: here, it’s that the movie is supposed to be comical in nature. With his prize money, Jeremy decides to open a gaming school and make the world suck just a little less. He’s also back together with Anastasia now, and remarks that many things also happen off-camera that didn’t make it into the film, mirroring reality.

  • As such, when the end credits begin to roll, I found Pure Pwnage Teh Movie to meet expectations for what I had been looking for in the movie: it brings back the elements that made the web series entertaining and scales the narrative up to work in a movie format. In fact, although this might be an “apples and oranges” comparison for some, I would tend to think that Pure Pwnage Teh Movie succeeds in presenting a larger story on the silver screen more effectively than Girls und Panzer Der Film did: unlike Girls und PanzerPure Pwnage Teh Movie manages to keep anticipation high and suspense palatable throughout its run, leading me to constantly ask myself “what will happen next?” Overall, this movie was superbly enjoyable, and I have no trouble recommending this film for gamers. For those wondering how this movie relates to those interested in anime, there is a model of Char’s Sazabi somewhere in the movie, and I’ll let interested viewers try and find it (hint: it’s not featured in any of the screenshots).

While it’s been more than ten years since Pure Pwnage first was posted to the internet, Pure Pwnage Teh Movie has lost none of its efficacy in both conveying a sense of humour, as well as integrating a rather compelling reminder about being true to oneself. It’s a film that I enjoyed immensely, bringing Pure Pwnage into the modern age, complete with Jeremy’s transition from an older gaming culture to one that’s more widespread and occurring at a greater scale. In Pure Pwnage Teh Movie, some of the moments served to remind me of why the old web series was such a phenomenal watch, while at other points, one must marvel at the scale at which some things happen, especially with regards to the tournaments themselves. The web series was done with a much smaller budget, at a much smaller scale, but the different tournaments and competitions in Pure Pwnage Teh Movie illustrate that the writers can effectively tell a bigger story with a bigger budget. In spite of this increase in scale, however, Pure Pwnage Teh Movie remains true to its own theme and true to its origins: it is a comedy about gamers, first and foremost, providing a humourous take on a hobby and community that’s only really begun to become more widely known. Pure Pwnage Teh Movie easily earns a strong recommend from me (I am a gamer and relate fully to all of the jokes), and even for audiences who are not gamers, this movie still earns a strong recommendation for being able to weave in a solid narrative and theme together with consistently good comedy.

 

When Marnie Was There: Movie Review and Full Recommendation

“When you grow as old as I am you can’t any longer say this was someone’s fault, and that was someone else’s. It isn’t so clear when you take a long view. Blame seems to lie everywhere. Or nowhere. Who can say where unhappiness begins?” ― Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There

Released two summers ago, When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mānī, literally “[My] Memories of Marnie”) is a film adaptation of Joan G. Robinson’s novel of the same name. Twelve-year-old Anna Sasaki is uneasy with the fact that her foster parents receive government compensation to raise her and is afflicted by asthma. After a particularly debilitating asthma attack, she spends her summer at a coastal town to live with her relatives with the aim of easing her asthma. While she’s here, she becomes enamoured with a seemingly abandoned seaside manor. She encounters Marnie, an enigmatic girl who asks Anna to keep her existence quiet from others, and as the two spend more time with one another, Anna comes to learn more about her past and eventually, accepts her foster parents fully. Produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli, I believe that this is my first shot at reviewing one of their films: their movies masterfully weave a narrative that holds the viewer’s interest. They further capture the subtle and plain emotions in its scenes, making full use of audio and visual elements to convey a particular mood or atmosphere to strengthen the story, and each of their films have rendered me speechless. This is partially why up until now, I’ve not written about any of the Ghibli films, but When Marnie Was There succeeded in changing that: I watched this film on the first leg of my flight to Cancún, and was failing in all attempts to stem the tears at the film’s conclusion. In being able to capture the strength of Anna’s realisation of who Marnie is, as well as her acceptance of her foster parents and their love for her, When Marnie Was There prompted me to wonder: what about the film makes it so powerful?

So I answer myself, the magic of When Marnie Was There lies entirely within Anna’s journey of self-discovery and how this is intimately tied to her friendship with Marnie. Marnie presents herself as simultaneously being quite similar and different to Anna: Marnie is envious of Anna’s freedom, while Anna longs for a family. As Marnie and Anna spend more time with one another, the once-introverted Anna begins to open up and grows to appreciate Marnie’s companionship, learning of the joys and frustrations that accompany friendship. However, one aspect critical to any friendship is trust, and as Anna attempts to learn more about Marnie, she finds herself encountering inconsistencies: the shore mansion is in fact becoming the new home for Sayaka and her family. Sayaka and Anna are brought together by Marnie’s diary, and its entries suggest that Marnie pre-dates their current time period. Conversation with Hisaki, a painter in the area, finally clarify that Marnie would go on to marry Kazuhiko and had a child, Emily. After Kazuhiko’s death, Marnie was institutionalised and Emily was sent to a boarding school; Emily would grow to resent Marnie for never acting as a proper mother and later had a child of her own. When Emily and her husband perish in an accident, Marnie looks after the child until her death. It turns out that this child is Anna: in perhaps a rather strange fashion, Anna’s grandmother can be seen as looking after her even from beyond the veil, helping her learn the value of friendship and understand her foster parents’ circumstances. By the time Anna is set to leave the town, she’s befriended Sayaka and resolves to get along better with some of the girls from the area. These changes in Anna’s character are profound and quite moving, illustrating the extent that friendship can induce growth in individuals.

While Marnie’s impact on Anna is undeniable, one of the largest questions that doubtlessly remain is whether or not Marnie is indeed interacting with Anna together. Throughout the movie, the narrative keeps the audience guessing: is Marnie a benevolent spirit, a doll brought to life by magic or merely a figment of Anna’s imagination, brought on by the seemingly boundless tranquillity of the seaside town? The answer can be derived with a little bit of thinking (and mine is provided below in the figure captions), but because When Marnie Was There chooses to leave this facet unanswered, the implications are that how real Marnie is less relevant to the narrative: the story is about Anna and how her time in a quiet town leads her to discover friendship. By all definitions, this excursion is successful, and ultimately, Anna leaves her summer accepting who she is, understanding her foster parent’s situations and looking forwards to returning to spend time with Sayaka in future summers. In doing so, When Marnie Was There further aims to show that a rustic, quiet region far removed from the hectic, manic environment of the city can play a substantial role in helping individuals journey within themselves. As an increasing proportion of people now live in urbanised regions rather than rural areas, people are gradually losing their appreciation for the quiet of the countryside. In providing an incredibly detailed depiction of the town that Anna stays in, When Marnie Was There paints an idyllic picture of what life in a rural area can be like: far removed from the bustle of a city, the countryside is quiet and the perfect place for adventures that can shape the course of one’s life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As a movie review, I’ve opted to go with the larger format with thirty images, although it was difficult to succintly capture every detail in When Marnie Was There in such a small space. Anna is seen here after a particularly nasty asthma attack: it’s a condition characterised by inflammation of the airways, resulting in coughing and a shortness of breath. Although there is no cure, milder cases can be easily managed.

  • To help Anna recover, she’s sent to live with Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa, relatives of her foster parents’. As they reside in a remote seaside village, the air here is cleaner. This form of treatment is reminiscent of the approaches used during the late 1800s and early 1900s to treat tuberculosis: at the time, it was thought that mountain air would slow the disease, resulting in the construction of secluded sanitoriums. These were shut down following the development of antibiotics. In the case of asthma, while bronchodilator medication is available, trigger avoidance is in fact a commonly-used form of management.

  • The Oiwas welcome Anna into their home; they have a daughter of their own but she’s pursuing studies elsewhere, leaving her room free for Anna to use. Cozy and inviting, the interior of the Oiwa residence and numerous other locales in When Marnie Was There are rendered in great detail: Studio Ghibli’s latest films are among the few that stand toe-to-toe in comparison with the incredible level of detail seen in Makoto Shinkai’s films.

  • There’s a balcony outside of Anna’s room that overlooks the area. The town is said to be located somewhere between Nemuro and Kushiro of the Hokkaido prefecture; Anna is from Sapporo. Incidentally, ALIFE XVI is set to take place in Japan next year, with Sapporo and Tokyo being two of the cities under consideration for where the conference is to be hosted.

  • Shortly after arriving, Anna finds an old mansion on the edge of a cliff, across a salt marsh. At low tide, she’s able to traverse it quite easily, making her way through the shallow waters to reach the mansion on the other side.

  • Upon arriving, she finds that the mansion is deserted, as quiet as Wayne Manor during the events of The Dark Knight Rises, but nonetheless feels that the location seems familiar to her. As the afternoon wears on, the tide returns, trapping her. She’s rescued by Toichi, a fisherman and a man of few words: during her transit back to the mainland, she sees the mansion occupied and in fine condition for the briefest of moments.

  • I’m always fond of watching the small details in any given anime directed at the rendering of food. As the Oiwas and Anna settle down for dinner, I recall last week; I attended the Calgary Stampede and woke up at 0600 despite having just gotten home from the ALIFE Conference the previous evening. This year, the cooler and rainy weather reduced the attendee count, but last week was still reasonably lively. After walking the grounds, I stopped for lunch: a Montréal smoked meat poutine (which never ceases to impress me how they use large chunks of smoked meat rather than slicing it thinly), a colossal fried onion with chipotle sauce and later, deep-fried cheesecake.

  • Monday was the start of my work week. I’ve been working part-time since May began, but now that my defense is done, I’m working full-time. This accounts for why I’ve not put out more posts since I’ve returned; I’m presently still trying to settle into (read “optimising”) my schedule, so it’s been a little difficult to figure out when I can blog.

  • The Tanabata Festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month (by the lunar calendar) in Japan. Besides festival events, making wishes is a tradition: they are written on strips of paper and hung on bamboo known as “wish trees”. Unlike The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, which was significant in-universe because this is when Haruhi technically meets Kyon for the first time, Tanabata in When Marnie Was There serves as the backdrop for Anna’s first real meeting with Marnie after the former leaves the festival following a heated exchange with Nobuko Kadoya.

  • Anna’s self-loathing derives from her total lack of understanding of her origins: her blue eyes stand out and constantly remind her that she has no family. Blue eyes in East Asians without a Caucasian ancestor are possible but incredibly rare (someone would probably have albinism if they do not have any Cacucasian ancestry whatsoever), and from a genetics perspective, the allele for blue eyes is recessive, whereas darker coloured eyes are dominant.

  • The next day, under one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in any movie, Marnie and Anna go for a picnic under the evening light. Here, Marnie teaches Anna to row properly. Voiced by Kasumi Arimura (Airi Katagiri of Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, which I’ve yet to watch but have heard good things about), there’s a quality about Marnie’s speech that makes it appealing to listen to. Kasumi’s voice here is somewhat similar with Akari of Five Centimeters per Second, who was voiced by Yoshimi Kondō.

  • In a scene reminiscent of the “I’m Flying” scene from James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, Marnie climbs to the bow of the boat and stands up, extending her arms  in the same fashion as Rose does. In most large vessels, the bow is deliberately cordoned off for the passenger’s safety, so couples won’t be able to re-enact the scene as shown in Titanic.

  • Later in the evening, Marnie and Anna share a conversation under starlight, asking questions about one another. When Marnie asks about life at the Oiwa residence, Anna blanks out for a few moments, and to Marnie, appears to have fallen through the space-time continuum. This is the first occurrence that suggests the flow of time and the consistency of reality in When Marnie Was There is not that it seems to be.

  • After Anna returns, Marnie decides to take her to a party hosted at the mansion, where folks are ornately dressed in evening attire, conversing about whichever topics are befitting of society’s upper echelons. Anna plays the role of a flower girl at Marnie’s request, but shyness overtakes her and she flees. She downs a glass of wine here, initially unaware that it’s wine. During the course of my travels in Cancún, I discovered that I’m okay with cocktails, so perhaps there’s something about beer that I’m not able to process.

  • Marnie and Anna share a dance under the moonlight following Marnie’s dance with Kazuhiko. After the party, Anna is found asleep near the post office with no recollection of how she got there. The reality of Marnie’s existence remains a question throughout When Marnie Was There, although it is my opinion that this aspect is not explored further because it’s not directly important to the main story.

  • Differentiating what is reality in When Marnie Was There can be a bit of a challenge, but some scenes plainly happen in reality: here, Anna has breakfast with the Oiwas. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was eyeing the NVIDIA GTX 1070 as a replacement for my aging card (mainly so I can play DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided The Way It’s Meant To Be Played™), but I later learned that mid-range, more affordable GTX 1060 will be releasing in two day’s time. I’m sticking to 1080p gaming for the foreseeable future, and on second thought, I don’t think I can justify buying a 600 dollar video card just for two games, so I’m now going to try and purchase the GTX 1060. The smaller price point and (near) 980 performance means this card should be more than enough for what I’m looking to do with it.

  • This interior shot of the Oiwa’s kitchen provides yet another example of how detailed interiors in When Marnie Was There are: the only other animated features with this level of detail comes from Makoto Shinkai’s movies. His latest film, Kimi no na wa, is set to release on August 26. The film was shown in advance at Anime Expo on July 3, but for the time being, it seems that discussion has been fairly limited at my usual haunts. The lack of spoilers is welcome, and I look forwards to checking this one out for myself in a little more than a month.

  • Hisako is an elderly lady living in the area who paints the landscapes around the town. She’s impressed with Anna’s sketches, despite Anna’s own dissatisfaction: from an external perspective, Anna is quite skilled with a pencil and manages to produce some excellent artwork of the mansion, as well as profiles of Marnie.

  • Sayaka is a girl who movies in to the Marsh House with her family. She wonders if Anna is Marnie, given the diary she’s found, and in a strange twist, the diary’s contents line up totally with everything Anna’s experienced up until now. Sayaka’s addition to the narrative throws an additional wrench into things, making it difficult to ascertain how Marnie is interacting with Anna, but because Anna and Sayaka both are intrigued by Marnie, their shared curiosity allows Anna to befriend Sayaka.

  • On a particularly fine day, Anna and Marnie hike through the woods: Marnie’s versed in outdoorsman skills to some extent and is munching on a wild mushroom here after ascertaining which of the two are safe to eat. As per Les Stroud’s Survivorman, mushrooms can be a bit of a gamble, so if one isn’t totally certain of a mushroom’s identity, it’s safer to not eat it. The mycotoxins are metabolites that have a range of effects, ranging from gastrointestinal discomfort in the mildest cases, to death.

  • Anna opens up fully to Marnie on their walk, explaining that she hates how her foster parents are being paid to look after her, and how she’s never really known her real parents. In turn, Marnie reveals that she makes her own life a little more fun than it is; her parents are hardly ever home, leaving the nanny and maids to frequently mistreat her, threatening to lock her in an abandoned grain silo near the mansion.

  • Thus, Anna resolves to help Marnie overcome her fear of the silo, and the two set out together. The skies darken, resembling the weather we’ve had for the past week. According to family and friends, the weather in Calgary’s been unpleasant since I left for Cancún, with frequent downpours, thunderstorms and even the odd funnel cloud recorded. The weather’s been so poor that the Calgary Stampede has offered reduced admission prices on consecutive days, although so far, they are still reporting that attendance has been down 80 000 people compared to last year.

  • Reality seems to distend here as Marnie flashes in and out of existence. Anna later finds her trapped and offers to walk her down, but Marnie is rescued by Kazuhiko. Feeling betrayed, Anna rushes home but succumbs to the storm’s ferocity and her own exhaustion. By this point, I personally think that the tranquility of the landscape and region, permeated with the strong memories from the Marsh House, creates a psychological landscape that imprints Marnie’s memories and experiences into Anna, who sees things from her dreams.

  • After locating the missing pages of the diary, Sayaka is able to deduce that Anna’s accompanying Marnie to the grain silo and locates Anna, collapsed along the path and sporting a fever. Sayaka and her brother help bring her back to the Oiwa residence, where she can recuperate. In her dreams, she meets with Marnie again, and in spite of herself, she manages to forgive her.

  • The next morning, Sayaka drops by to visit Anna. Thanks to Marnie’s memories, the two are able to meet and become friends, helping Anna overcome her mistrust of people. Sayaka and Anna share a conversation with Hisako, who tells the full story of the Marsh House and Marnie. Because Hisako seems to know Marnie well, I imagine that she’s the other girl that Marnie mentions in her diary.

  • It turns out that Anna is Marnie’s grand-daughter, which could account for why the area leaves such an impression on Anna. In a manner of speaking, When Marnie Was There is ultimately about how a grandmother helps guide her granddaughter along the path to understanding and recovery, as well as to help her discover friendship. Supernatural elements are completely absent from When Marnie Was There, but the final message remains a very moving one.

  • I imagine that Anna is able to experience particularly vivid dreams about Marnie as a consequence of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the area; coupled with the knowledge that Marnie told her numerous stories when Anna was a child, the combined sensory aspects would trigger her memories, resulting in Anna being able to experience things like the party and Marnie’s sojourn to the silo as though she was there for herself. Since I’m two years too late to the party, though, I wonder what folks who’d watched the movie back during 2014 have to say about this particular assessment.

  • Thus, with all loose ends resolved, Anna finally understands and accept that her foster parents love her as dearly as they would their own child: Anna calls Yoriko “mother” for the first time in the film, and becomes at peace with her situation. As the summer draws to a close, Anna bids farewell to Sayaka, promising to return again next summer and also makes amends with Nobuko.

  • I love the ending song (“Fine on the Outside” by Priscilla Ahn), as I completely relate to it. Now that I’m drawing close to the end of this review, it seems that I’ll probably be doing most of my blogging on the weekends as time permits. Coming up next will be a talk on Pure Pwnage Teh MovieAmanchu! after three episodes, the last of the Aria: The Avvenire OVAs and, when I finish, Yuuki Yuuna Is A HeroPure Pwnage Teh Movie will be fun to write about, and I’m looking forwards to seeing what happens next in Amanchu!

  • I’ve seen that the latest installment in Strike Witches (this appears to be the third season), Brave Witches, is set for release in October 2016. With around three-and-a-half months between today and then, I will have settled into my schedule for sure by then, and there might just be time for episodic reviews. For now, though, the weekend’s just about over, and it’s time for another work week to begin. I spent most of it working on the revisions to my thesis, but nonetheless, I’m now feeling (mostly) rested and with that being said, let’s get it!

Altogether, When Marnie Was There is a fantastic film from a narrative and technical perspective: this is a movie that earns a strong recommendation. I’ve heard from unverified sources that When Marnie Was There is going to be the last film that Studio Ghibli will produce; on the infinitesimal chance that this holds true, When Marnie Was There is a film that can act as a proper send-off for Studio Ghibli, weaving a wondrous story that remains grounded in reality. This film has motivated me to go read through Robinson’s original novel, which is set in Norfolk, England rather than Sapporo, Japan, but the overall plot is supposed to be quite similar. I will reiterate that this film is definitely worth watching for audiences of all ages and interests: there’s not much more I can really say about this spectacular film that proved to be a fantastic, if somewhat tear-inducing way of passing time during a flight. Next time, I’ll be a little wiser and watch a Studio Ghibli film from home on a large HD screen, although back on the ground, I doubt I will be able to use the excuse of air pressure differences as the reason for my tears.

ISAL’s ALIFE XV Conference: A Personal Reflection

“I was in Cancún, Mexico, sitting in a disappearing-edge swimming pool, on a bar stool that was actually under the water, watching palm trees sway in a sultry breeze against the unmistakable aqua splendour of the Caribbean Sea; drinking coconut, lime, and tequila from a scooped-out pineapple, with salt spray of breaking surf and sun kissing my skin. Translation: I’d died and gone to heaven.” ―Karen Marie Moning

I’ve returned from the ALIFE XV Conference now: held in Cancún, Mexico, for the first time, this conference deals with artificial life. This is a field where life and natural processes is studied by means of simulations, robotics, engineering and biochemistry; my research is related on the software side of things, since I primarily work on building agent-based models to illustrate biochemical reactions at the molecular level. The emphasis is on illustrate, since my models largely lack a solid implementation of protein-protein and protein-substrate interactions to act as a predictive model. So, back in February, my supervisor and I submitted a paper to the ALIFE Conference about my research, which was being held in Mexico for the first time. Another paper about a project a colleague had worked on was also submitted, and in both cases, our papers were accepted. Owing to logistics, I attended this conference alone, flying out to Houston last week. Unlike Laval, the flights proceeded very smoothly, although when I had arrived at Houston, I realised I had forgotten to arrange for transportation from Cancún International Aiport to the Zona Hotelera. Fortunately, some quick thinking rectified that, and by the time I boarded my flight to Cancún, my transportation was confirmed. So, I was able to reach the Zona Hotelera without difficulty and set about preparing for the pair of presentations I would give.

The first day of the conference was uneventful, and I attended several of the different workshops and keynotes. On the second day, I presented my paper and sipped a lemon daiquiri with my evening meal (chicken au tequila). The third day saw the trickier of the two presentations: my colleagues were unavailable, and I was to give a presentation on their behalf. Although I was quite nervous, that presentation went quite well. The remainder of the conference was dedicated to speaking with the other attendees (some know my supervisor and others were my instructors during my undergraduate), attending different keynotes and learning about the exciting research being done in the field of artificial life. As it turns out, NetLogo is gaining the capacity for multi-scale ABM, and I also heard a keynote about how tumour cells propagate (in addition to how blood vessel formation is disrupted severely during tumour development). There were other keynotes on how infants’ attentions gradually move from face to hands as they mature, and how networks might be useful in relating the different scales of a model together so that an individual’s behaviour can in fact, be used to predict what might happen throughout the system. ALIFE XV was a spectacular conference, and not all of the exciting elements lay in the conference itself. The food and locale were both amazing. During the mornings before the first keynote presentation was set to begin, I took strolls along the white sands beach near the conference venue. The weather was remarkably pleasant: there was no rain or even cloud cover during duration of my stay in Cancún. So, I was able to take to the beaches in the mornings and relax under the morning sun, marvelling at how warm the water was and walking along relatively quiet beaches. From the food side of things, the conference provided dinners on a few of the evenings (there was one excursion to Porfirio’s Cancún, where dinner included crab tacos, Mexican-style steak and Churros, and the farewell dinner was a surf-and-turf, featuring steak on a bed of mashed potatoes, prawns and vegetables). On other evenings, I stepped out and sat down to dinner at Casa Tequila, a restaurant serving Mexican and Mayan dishes that also has some of the best atmosphere I’ve seen anywhere: I dined under a sidewalk patio with Mexican music playing all around.

  • Nothing beats walking down the quiet beaches of Cancún at eight in the morning: this is before other beach-goers begin showing up, so for all intents and purposes, I had most of the beach to myself to stroll along and explore. Even at this hour, though, it was still around 29°C, so it was plenty hot.

  • A short ways down the beach from the entrance near Plaza Forum By The Sea, there’s a small rock face that juts out from the beach. The first morning I walked this, I brought my full shoes and tread carefully so I wouldn’t get sand in my shoes; during later excursions, I wore my swimsuit and brought sandals, walking bare-foot along the beach. To prevent myself from burning, I liberally applied SPF 60 sunscreen, and for the most part, it was effective.

  • Before anyone poses the question, these morning walks did not negatively impact my conference performances. I woke up at six in the morning, had breakfast by seven, spent around an hour on the beaches and returned to the conference venue (a mere 120 meters away) just in time to take in the first keynote of the day. The conference ran from nine in the morning to six-thirty in the evening, and I attended most of the sessions.

  • On my second morning, there were no clouds in the southeastern skies, so the photographs I took turned out amazingly well. Armed with my sunscreen, I stood on the water’s edge and allowed the waves to wash over me: unlike the icy waters of the Pacific near Vancouver or those of Lake Okanagan in Kelowna, the waters in Cancún are a comfortable 29°C. Aside from the clusters of kelp, they’re pleasantly clear.

  • Besides the more obvious modifications I’ve made to each of the images, the colour balance, saturation and hue in each of my images have not been altered. The vivid turquoise colours of the water and white of the sand are exactly as I saw them on the beaches. Every image in this post was taken with an iPhone 6 and then subsequently resized to fit the 16:9 aspect ratio. The water colours arise from the shallow water that allows light to reflect off the sand or reefs at the bottom, preventing the longer wavelength colours from being absorbed and results in this distinct colour.

  • For the presentation I delivered, I used the original variant of my thesis defense presentation. I had enough content to last around 25 minutes, but the thesis presentation only allowed a maximum of 15 minutes, so I trimmed out quite a bit of content to ensure that I could succinctly describe my project. Armed with more time, I could elaborate further, and similar to Laval, one of the questions I got was concerning my background, given that my research involved molecular biology and simulations to a substantial extent. Thankfully, the questions I got were rather easier to answer than those of my thesis.

  • For my colleague’s presentation, I was mostly familiar with the project’s concepts, but less so for the implementation. I practised this one extensively and read enough of the background to give a reasonably solid talk. After the presentation ended, the audience seemed impressed with the project. With both presentations done, I took a few more liberties with my time and went souvenir shopping.

  • I realise that Cancún is probably too nice of a place for an academic conference, so I clearly must be bullshitting readers if I said I went to Cancún for a conference. To convince readers that ALIFE XV did indeed happen in Cancún , here are the conference proceedings published to the MIT Press. The entire thing, with all of the papers, is around 26.3 MB in size and consists of 753 pages of content.

  • During the second evening, after I delivered my presentation, I was feeling quite pleased and decided to have an alcoholic beverage of some kind. I eventually settled on a lemon daiquiri, sipping it under the warm evening sun at Casa Tequila after dinner. I got a minor headache of sorts and decided to close my eyes for a bit on the hotel’s roof: when I woke up half an hour later, the sunset was underway and gave rise to beautiful cloud patterns visible in this image.

  • All of the images in this post have been vacation-like in nature, so to thoroughly convince the reader that I was in fact at a conference, here is a poster bearing the ALIFE conference’s name. With this post over, it means I’m formally back, and while I will note later that I’m going to write about Amanchu! and Planetarian to some capacity in the near future, the two posts that are immediately upcoming (i.e. to be finished before July is over) will be When Marnie Was There and Pure Pwnage T3h Movie, both of which I watched while flying to and from Cancún, and both of which occupy opposite ends of the spectrum. The former made me cry my eyes out, and the latter, I could not stop laughing.

Thus, yesterday morning, I was a little saddened that the conference was ending whilst preparing for the journey back home. I flew back amidst thunderstorms and several delays, and are back now from my second conference. Like Laval Virtual, I learnt quite a bit about the diversity of research occurring in the field of artificial life, and some of these experiences will be useful even as I wrap up my thesis paper and gear up for application of my experiences in the industrial setting. The ALIFE XV Conference marks the first time where I travelled alone (in Laval, I was accompanying one of my colleagues); this definitely was an eye-opening experience. Lacking a travel buddy of sorts, there was no second person to converse with or bounce ideas off of with respect to itinerary. As well, I needed to observe double-vigilance to look after my belongings. However, I did experience all of the freedoms associated with travelling alone, and since I was travelling light (this is the first time I’ve given presentations off the iPad Air 2), moving about at the airport and in the city was quite straightforward. I further learnt that I have no problems with dining alone at all: while some folks are embarrassed to do so (solomangarephobia is quite real), I feel like it’s a scene straight from a Tom Clancy novel or similar when I eat alone in a restaurant. Given my experiences in Cancún, I would definitely like to make another return trip: perhaps on my next trip, if I’ve got a week, I will book visits to the Mayan ruins and explore those in greater detail, as well as enjoy the beaches once more. For now, it’s time to get my mind back in routine and start work. Returning to the blog side of things, I’ll be writing about Amanchu! and Planetarian for the summer season, at intervals that work best with my schedule: we’re in the depths of summer now, the perfect time to explore and enjoy the long days that summer has to offer.

Flying Witch: Full Series Review and Recommendation

“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” —Arnold H. Glasow

Proceeding past the third episode, Flying Witch earns its place as one of the most solid anime of the Spring 2016 seasons, and even as a contender for one of the best-executed slice-of-life anime I’ve seen. Continuing to following Makoto’s everyday adventures in Aomori with Chinatsu, Kei and Nao, everyone experiences together the different facets of Makoto’s witch training. Along the way, they meet Inukai, a girl who develops dog-like features during day hours undr the influence of a powerful spell she inadvertently invoked. As time wears on, Chinatsu, Kei and Nao join on Makoto’s adventures in greater frequency’ after Chinatsu follows Makoto’s cat, Chito, on a mini-adventure, she watches as Makoto learns to fly more effectively and volunteers herself in a magic experiment after wanting to become a witch herself. Together with Kei, Makoto and Chinatsu later visit a special café, read fortunes together, pick apples, fly to visit a sky whale and in the season finale, Makoto crafts a high-grade witches’ robe for Chinatsu before viewing land-fish gathering in anticipation of an upcoming festival.

Flying Witch presents a novel take on magic that sets this anime as being quite distinct from J.R.R. Tolkien and also, more similar to that of J.K. Rowling. Commonplace in Western fiction as a powerful supernatural force, magic is portrayed differently according to the narrative’s requirements. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, magic is an abstract power that higher beings such as the Maiar and Valar can wield to control natural forces or the will of beings. In his novels, magic wielders are oftentimes limited in how much of their power they can wield to avoid cataclysm in the physical world; Gandalf is forbidden from using his raw power against Sauron during the War of the Ring, and likewise abstains from taking the One Ring. Instead, he uses his magic sparingly to assist Frodo and the others in their quest, influencing Middle Earth’s history in a positive direction to release it from the threat of Sauron. Conversely, in Harry Potter, magic is regarded as a highly versatile utility for carrying out tasks, both everyday (cooking and cleaning) to practical (potions making, transfiguration, charms) or even combative (Defense Against the Dark Arts and the Unforgivable Curses). Witches and Wizards train to master these spells and other magical utilities in order to maintain their livelihoods, rather similar to how Muggles create technology of increasing complexity (household utilities such as microwaves or vacuums, concepts such as the scientific method, law, ethics and military hardware, ranging from assault rifles to cruise missiles, fulfil similar roles for us Muggles). As with Tolkien, the magic in Rowling’s writings are subject to different limitations and laws: Hermione mentions that food cannot be created freely as one of the exceptions in Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration, and similarly, Voldemort’s demise arises from him exploiting magic without understanding its implications. It becomes clear that magic in any fictional context can be quite cumbersome, but both Tolkien and Rowling do a fantastic job of crafting their own rules to ensure things remain plausible. In Flying Witch, the magic that witches such as Makoto and Akane wield are likewise subject to limitations and laws. Compared to the abstractions of Tolkien’s magic, or the more commonplace, tangible usage of magic in Rowling’s writings, the magic in Flying Witch appears to be a low-key and subtle variation of Rowling’s magic: there are potions that can induce partial transfiguration (such as in Inukai’s case) or different emotions (such as one that causes Chinatsu to find everything hilarious), and spells that can summon crows. Brooms also exist, but for transportation alone rather than encompassing sport. However, in Flying Witch, magic is not quite so commonplace or as flashy as seen in Harry Potter.

Makoto’s activites never draw too much attention, and in fact, magic is only one facet of her training. Despite being a witch, Makoto engages in a wide range of different activities; Akane notes that Makoto’s spellcraft is weaker and also helps Makoto learn about potions. The nature of Makoto’s witch training suggests that to be an effective witch is to be multi-disciplinary and well-connected with the nature in the world around one, far beyond simply just possessing a high proficiency with spells and potions as the stereotypical images of witches typically portray. This attention to subtleties in one’s surroundings to observe wondrous things often going missed by others is shown time and time again in Flying Witch: Makoto points out various supernatural and uncommon occurrences to Kei, Chinatsu and Nao. These events are typically found right in their backyard or locally, showing that there can be interesting things nearby. Because familiarity breeds complacency, individuals often miss things in the areas they know well simply because they’ve grown accustomed to the scenery. In showing the different aspects of the world that witches know, Makoto’s role is meant to evoke the idea that beauty, splendour and novelty can be seen quite close to home: ranging from creating robes and picking apples to visiting a hidden café or welcoming the Harbinger of Spring, mandrakes and sky whales, with her around, Chinatsu, Kei and Nao experience truly spectacular things, as well as simpler but equally meaningful moments together with Akane, Makoto’s older sister.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This Flying Witch review is a bit longer than the usual format: this is a series I can whole-heartedly and easily recommend to viewers of all sorts. As such, there’s a bit more space to talk about things, although even in this extended format, I nonetheless had to pick thirty screenshots from seventy (otherwise, writing this would take at least six hours). Here, Kei, Chinatsu and Makoto get their photograph taken at a temple by spring.

  • Inukai is a full-fledged witch like Akane, and is proficient at card-based divinitation. She appears with dog-like features by day because she ingested some chocolates that Akane had made while drunk. Her condition only persists during the day, and she is restored to her human appearance by night. These features are said to wear off over time, and until then, Inukai dresses in a heavy coat to hide her appearance to avoid dissuading customers seeking fortunes.

  • Despite being a traveller, Akane begins dropping by with increasing frequency as the series continues. Here, she shares a morning meal with Makoto and Kei’s family: despite the presence of magic and supernatural elements, Kei’s family take things in stride. Various dishes are depicted in loving detail, and I recall sitting down to poutine perogies while watching Flying Witch back during May.

  • Chito is Makoto’s familiar: these are spirits that, in medieval folklore, would aid witches in carrying out their magic. Seen as both malevolent and benevolent, they can take on different animal forms. Cats, dogs, mice and frogs are common, with a familiar entering a magically binding pact of sorts with a witch under most cases. In Flying Witch, witches can understand what their familiars are saying, and here, Chito leads Makoto to an locale where cherry blossoms are fluttering about.

  • Both Kei and Chinatsu are probably intended to represent the reactions of ordinary folk, or Muggles, to magic. Although both are initially surprised by the existence of magic, Kei accepts it quite quickly and Chinatsu becomes very keen to become a witch herself, exhibiting a great deal of excitement after Akane considers taking Chinatsu as a trainee. Chinatsu is absolutely adorable throughout the whole of Flying Witch‘s run and mirrors the boundless energy and curiosity in children.

  • During one experiment, Akane gives Makoto candies that will induce crying. Chinatsu ends up trying candies that make her laugh uncontrollably. In Harry Potter, various potions and charms have similar effects on their recipients; Harry and Ron mention Cheering Charms in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phornix, and later in the novel, a calming draught is used to help students recover from the stress of taking the OWLs.

  • However, magic is never shown as a force taking the forefront of all events in Flying Witch. In most episodes, Makoto also has opportunities to experience life in the Aomori region. Far from being a snow-covered, desolate region of Japan where secret weapon development programmes are carried out (as with Terror in Resonance), Flying Witch presents Aomori as a charming rural region that offers a completely different vibe than the well-travelled paths of Tokyo and Kyoto.

  • After spending an afternoon picking Fiddleheads, Makoto and Kei prepare them for consumption. These sprouts of the Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, can be consumed after cooking; they’re supposed to have antioxidant properties, as well as omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids, iron and fibre. They’re known as kogomi (コゴミ) in Japan and enjoyed during the spring.

  • Café Concurio is a quaint establishment located a short ways from the Kuramoto residence. Like magical locations in Harry Potter, it appears as a decrepit ruin to a Muggle, but a simple spell transforms it into its proper glory. I’m not sure if there have been any instances of Muggles entering magical places such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley in Harry Potter or its supplemental works, but in Flying Witch, being in the presence of a witch familiar with the area is sufficient to gain access to these special places.

  • Upon learning their waitress, Hina, at Café Concurio is a ghost, Makoto places a spell to render her visible. Born during the Meiji Era, Hina has been around for quite some time and is quite shy, immediately retreating into the shadows upon learning that she’s now visible. The equivalent of a full episode is spent at the café, and despite this being a seemingly normal activity, Flying Witch transforms it into a very relaxing experience for the viewers, to reflect on how we visit such places to relax.

  • The patronage at Café Concurio is a wonderfully diverse one, and here, everyone strokes a fox who’s attempting to enjoy his fare in peace. Earlier, a ladybug couple visit and order some nectar from thistles. They’re rumoured to bring fortune to whoever’s fingers they land on, so Makoto and Chinatsu spend a bit of time chasing them around.

  • Inukai later returns to read fortunes for Makoto and Chinatsu. It’s a style that I’ve never heard of before, and I’m more familiar with Chinese fortune telling (which is not saying much, since I have no idea how it works). In the context of reality, fortune-telling is totally useless, being presented as vague and general enough to capture most events. In fiction, however, they can become rather more fun, as viewers can observe situational irony in some fortunes that are given.

  • Inukai returns to a human form by nightfall, and bids everyone a good evening. Yesterday was Canada Day, and in previous years, I wrote dedicated posts for those events. This time, I’m leaving for Mexico tomorrow, so I’ve decided to push that reflection in with the Flying Witch reflection: yesterday was quite pleasant, despite an unreal traffic jam on the Trans Canada highway leading into Banff National Park.

  • Makoto and Chinatsu pick radishes for Nao; it appears that Makoto’s herbology skills are reasonably good, as they’ve got a surplus of radishes. By the time we arrived, it was noon hour, but fortuitously, parking spaces were still plentiful. We parked, stopped for lunch (an Angus burger with hickory-smoked bacon and a smoky sauce for me) and then walked around the Banff townsite. The Banff Park Museum National Historic Site of Canada had free admissions and we stopped in there to take in the exhibits, before walking around the Bow River and stopping for maple-walnut ice-cream while waiting for the Canada Day parade to begin.

  • After the Canada Day parade ended, we walked to Bumper’s Beefhouse for dinner to celebrate my defense’s outcome. It’s been eleven years since we last went, and they’ve moved since then. Their steaks remain as delicious as I remember: I ordered the 12 ounce rib-eye steak with a baked potato and prawn skewer. Every bite of the steak was tender, flavourful and juicy, and the salad bar was quite nice, too. Later that evening, Akane returns to the Kuramoto residence with souvenirs in tow for Chinatsu and Makoto, showing that Inukai’s fortunes turned out to be true.

  • I’ve not taken a home economics course since my days as a high school student, but the activities I’ve participated in were fun and the skills and have made me more comfortable with cooking. I will definitely need to master the art of making simple but nutritious and delicious meals in the very near future, now that I’m nearly graduated and are seeking to move out within the next few years.

  • The Kuramotos, Makoto and Akane help with pruning the flowers on an apple tree to ensure the apples are of good quality. Back in 2007 October, I took a short trip to Kamloops during the Thanksgiving Long Weekend to watch the salmon runs, and one of the destinations on our itinerary was an apple farm, where we picked apples. At the time, I had braces, so I couldn’t eat the apples directly, but apple juice was an option, so I had some of the freshest apple juice of all time in lieu of apples.

  • After climbing onto a step ladder to reach the higher flowers, Makoto is treated to a spectacular view of the landscape above the apple trees. The artwork depicting the landscapes in Flying Witch is spectacular and brings to mind the stills that were seen in Non Non Biyori.

  • On a foggy morning, the Slenderman paperman drops by to deliver a newspaper. Chinatsu is no longer frightened by the wonderous things of Makoto and Akane’s world and here, wonders if the paperman is related to the Harbinger of Spring in any way owing to their similarities. According to Akane, the witches’ newspaper is packed with useful information ordinary newspapers lack (it’s probably better than the Daily Prophet), and I’m reminded of how electronic news in the Muggle world is rendering traditional papers obsolete. The paper that we subscribe to has shrunk over the years, and there are ads letting readers know that the full deal can be accessed via app or website.

  • The news reveals that a sky whale will be observed overhead in Makoto’s AO, so with Akane and Chinatsu, they decide to see if they can spot it during the penultimate episode. A large construct, the sky whale is reminiscent of Laputa in Miyazaki’s 1986 film, Castle in the Sky (itself inspired by Laputa of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels). Unlike those castles, where technological superiority led citizens to distance itself from society, the sky whales of Flying Witch serve a different purpose.

  • This episode is one of the most beautifully animated among all the Flying Witch episodes; the landscapes of Aomori prefecture are shown in incredible detailed and coloured well to give the sense of an unending peacefulness. They explore some of the old structures in the sky whale and encounter Anzu Shiina (seen earlier at Café Concurio): she has a fascination with history and explains the sky whales were once homes for people and appeared more frequently.

  • Voiced by Yuka Iguchi (Mako Reizi of Girls und Panzer and Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki), Anzu’s voice has a similar attribute as that of Yuki Nagato’s in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. It turns out that Anzu’s knowledge extends well beyond archeology, and she’s also familiar with the histories of a variety of things. Here is another shot of the tranquil skies above Amori: the penultimate episode was delayed by a week for reasons unknown, and some viewers have speculated that the incredible animation quality in this episode might be the contributing factor.

  • After viewing the whale, everyone returns to the Kuramoto residence for breakfast. Apparently, pancakes are perhaps one of the oldest known cereal-based food items, pre-dating even the ancient Egyptians and Greeks; the nomenclature “pancake” is more recent, being used in Middle English of the 15th century. Pancakes breakfasts are a staple of the Calgary Stampede, and around this time of year, they’re held by large organisations and retail shops in the days leading up to the Calgary Stampede.

  • The finale returns to a quieter, lower key events that characterise Flying Witch: the penultimate episode’s events are more exciting in a relative sense. Here, while Makoto is maintaining her broomstick, Chito finds one of her old robes. Realising that she’d likely need a new one, Makoto decides to take the broom and visit a local fabric store.

  • Although the acceleration and handling on Makoto’s broom is probably not comparable to that of a Firebolt or Nimbus 2001, by this point in Flying Witch, she’s gotten the hang of flying and can do so without too much difficulty, lending the anime its name. The brooms of Harry Potter are bewitched for flight, while in Flying Witch, the broom acts as a conduit of sorts for a witch’s power.

  • After floating about in the sky and landing, Makoto runs into Nao, who’s out delivering liquor to her customers. Makoto asks her for directions and manages to arrive at her destination. While she’s generally got a poor sense of direction, this aspect of Makoto’s character is lessened over time as she becomes accustomed to life in Aomori, and here, the interior of the fabric store is beautifully rendered, feeling very much like a fabric store in the real world.

  • While Makoto does her best to surprise Chinatsu with a robe of her own, the latter’s curiosity leads her to persuade Makoto to let her know what’s going on. Makoto relents and allows Chinatsu to watch her craft the robe. With the robe completed, Chinatsu is thrilled and here, imagines herself casting spells as a witch.

  • With Akane drunk from consuming so much alcohol and Chinatsu falling a sleep, Makoto shares a quiet moment in the evening prior to stepping out with Kei and Nao for a festival. She mentions that with the time that’s passed by, she’ll be required to do a progress report of sorts, akin to those that I’ve completed in the past two years for graduate school. I’m not sure what the contents of a report for witches would be, but mine entails my research’s directions, teaching and professional development, such as conferences.

  • Before falling asleep, Akane explains to Makoto that these land fishes aggregate whenever a festival is about to occur. These fish seem fond of sake and behave similarly to conventional fish, but also begin glowing red and take to the skies, creating yet another beautiful sight for Makoto to behold. It’s the perfect ending to Flying Witch, and brings to mind the fireworks show I saw for Canada Day yesterday evening.

  • This marks the end of the review for Flying Witch, and now that I’m packed, I’m set to board my flight tomorrow for Mexico. There’s been a minor hiccough with the online system, so I’ll try again later this evening before turning in, and failing that, I’ll get it sorted out at the airport. Other than that, I’m rather excited. Regular programming will resume when I return, and as I settle in to a new schedule, posting patterns may become a little erratic or sporadic.

The verdict on Flying Witch is an easy one: it earns a strong recommend for all audiences for being able to capture the beauty and joy of the subtle, simpler things in life. Coupled with the peaceful setting of Aomori and its depiction in great detail, character dynamics that are warming and amicable, and a beautiful soundtrack that accentuates the atmosphere surrounding Aomori and Makoto’s everyday life, these elements combine to create a truly unique anime that appears to illustrate the interface between Non Non Biyori and Harry Potter in a completely new and welcome direction. Dispensing with typical anime tropes, Flying Witch chooses to intricately construct and present an incredibly detailed and noteworthy world that captures the audience’s interest. Then, the interactions among the characters allow Flying Witch to hold the audience’s interest. There are not many negatives that can count against Flying Witch, except perhaps that there isn’t a second season; all of these elements culminate to result in my final decision. Flying Witch is easily worth watching, and I note that for Minami Shinoda, her role as Makoto Kowata is her first. In spite of being new, she delivers a solid, consistently good performance in Flying Witch that does much to bring Makoto’s character to life.

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