The Infinite Zenith

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

Is The Order a Giant Walkthrough Brain?: On the use of setting to immerse users in virtual spaces

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.” ―Tony Hillerman

The construction of neurosurgeon Joseph Bogen’s “Modest Proposal” for a Giant Walkthrough Brain museum into a special performance that was one part musical and one part science lecture during 2014 represented a pivotal milestone for game engine environments: built for the Beakerhead 2014 performances, the Giant Walkthrough Brain utilised the Unity game engine to present a virtual space that augmented Jay Ingram and his band’s performance. By providing 3D visualisations of the locations within the brain, audiences immediately connected with the different areas of the brain and their attendant stories, following figures in brain history ranging from Phineas Gage to Auguste Deter. By all counts, the Giant Walkthrough Brain was an absolute success. From Jay Ingram’s first performance at the Banff Center in July, to the flagship showings at Beakerhead and several subsequent performances, The Giant Walkthrough Brain opened to a sold-out audience. The software infrastructure designed for The Giant Walkthrough Brain would be utilised extensively in one of my colleague’s Master’s project, and principles would later be adopted towards my own thesis work. There is no denying that The Giant Walkthrough Brain has had an impact on a great number of individuals: it is a powerful example of applying computer science in a community setting through presenting scientific talks in an approachable manner. What is perhaps surprising, then, is that some of the design elements of The Giant Walkthrough Brain parallel those found in 2014’s Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? (GochiUsa for brevity). While a seemingly far-fetched comparison, there remains the fact that I directed the design development of the application and navigation tools that would eventually become integral towards building a virtual world that helped to guide audiences on a journey of discovery.

The element from GochiUsa that made its way into the Giant Walkthrough Brain that these two unrelated works share is the attention paid to details. In GochiUsa, I noted that the first season’s charm was primarily in its exceptional setting: the town Cocoa finds lodging and friendship in is modelled after Colmar of France, and the animators had taken great pains to ensure that the cityscapes were authentic. From the design of timber-frame buildings to cobblestone streets and gas lamps, the town of GochiUsa presents an idyllic environment for Cocoa and the others to explore. It creates a sense of immersion and uniqueness that really draws in viewers; in fact, the first season proved quite distinct from any slice-of-life anime I’d previously watched, and in retrospect, it is not unreasonable to say that the town in GochiUsa‘s first season was a living, breathing entity as prominent as any of the characters. It is not until the second season that the characters begin coming into the spotlight to present a tangible narrative, and consequently, when I finished watching GochiUsa, I began looking at the architectural and design elements that made the first season such a pleasure to watch and applied the principals towards displaying 3D spaces of a virtual brain. GochiUsa succeeded because of its commitment to a consistently authentic environment, and so, I strove to ensure that the tools and logic implemented into the Giant Walkthrough Brain was similarly consistent in creating an authentic guided museum tour. The pre-set paths were carefully placed to give the sense of walking along a walkway or taking an elevator. Transitions between different scales were scripted, reducing the abruptness of moving from the brain into a synapse where neurotransmitters could be seen. A minimap provided audiences with constant context of where in the brain a story happened, and I used Unity Pro’s powerful functions to construct a system that allowed The Giant Walkthrough Brain to double as a slideshow for both images and video. Much like how GochiUsa creates a compelling European town’s historical district, the end result for The Giant Walkthrough Brain was a visualisation tool that really enabled audiences to feel as though they were moving through a vast brain museum that Joseph Bogen had envisioned fifty years previously: seven consecutive sell-out performances speaks volumes about as to whether or not the learnings from GochiUsa were successfully applied to The Giant Walkthrough Brain.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about GochiUsa, and three years now separates the present from when I started work on The Giant Walkthrough Brain. In my original post on GochiUsa, I did not discuss any major themes in the first season because quite frankly, there were no central messages or ideas the anime conveyed. This is not a bad thing by any stretch: what I found was a fantastic slice-of-life anime whose use of setting set it far apart from any shows in the genre that I’d previously seen. While conceptually similar to other anime of its type, the exquisite setting is ultimately what set GochiUsa apart.

  • One of the aspects about GochiUsa‘s first season is that unnecessary exposure is a lot more commonplace than the second season, and Cocoa’s first encounter with Rize is with the latter in her undergarments. She claims to be hiding from an unfamiliar individual, and the gun she’s wielding is a model Glock 17. Whether or not it was a real weapon was one of the biggest topics of discussion in the first season: if we go by French gun laws, Rize is wielding a model gun. While it is legal to own a weapon chambered for the 9 x 19mm Parabellum cartridge provided that the weapon’s magazine does not exceed 20 rounds, the wielder must be at least eighteen.

  • It may come as a surprise for folks that GochiUsa does have a few Hinako Note-like moments, such as when Rize images herself in a revealing outfit complete with mammary oscillation and subsequently is embarrassed by the thought. Revisiting GochiUsa means being able to look back on the different moments that characterised the first season, and finding more entertaining frames, such as this one. For the purposes of this post, I have thirty screenshots, each chosen to be different than those of my first discussion from three years ago.

  • Rize and Cocoa run into one another with increasing frequency when Cocoa tries to make her way to school, leading Rize to wonder if she’s entered the multiverse of Rick and Morty. During their respective commutes, the streets of the town are shown in loving detail, and it became quite obvious that the town itself was as much of a character as each of Cocoa, Rize and Chino.

  • The moment that Chiya and Cocoa meet for the first time is adorable, as Chiya is trying to entice some wild rabbits with chestnut Yōkan, and Cocoa is cuddling with the rabbits hanging about. A couple of lop-eared rabbits can be seen in the upper center part of the image, and after learning that classes don’t start for another day, Cocoa and Chiya strike up a fast friendship. of everyone, Cocoa grows closest with Chiya the quickest, since they share similar outlooks on life.

  • Cocoa describes herself as having very little talents to speak of, but is reasonably skillful as a baker and has an eye for mental mathematics. With her newfound friend, Chiya, Cocoa, Chino and Rize spend a day baking bread and enjoying the results. Bread is said to be the only thing Cocoa can prepare properly, and while we’ve not seen her prepare other food items, one can surmise that she’s not exactly incapable to the point of creating lethal dishes.

  • Although refined and seemingly of regal background, Sharo is actually quite poor, living in a small wooden shack beside Chiya. Her being honest to the others about her background forms her internal conflict for a portion of GochiUsa, and when she finally comes forwards with the truth, it turns out that Rize and the others don’t mind at all, showing that everyone is friends with one another because they choose to be.

  • Here, Cocoa watches as the herbal tea leaves are steeped at the Fleur Lupin, French for “Flower Rabbit”, on invitation from Sharo. All of the cafés the girls work at have some relation with rabbits: “Rabbit House” is rather plain to spot, while Chiya’s Ama Usa An (甘兎庵) approximates to “Sweet Rabbit Cabin”. Throughout the town, rabbits can be seen this way and that: in my town, there aren’t any rabbits, but plenty of snowshoe hares (L. Americanus) roaming the streets, and it takes great care to ensure I don’t hit any while driving about.

  • While the town’s idyllic setting and older architecture in GochiUsa seemingly suggests a world set in an earlier time before the rise of modern technology, but the characters’ use of phones plants their time period as being similar to ours. Cocoa uses the Fujitsu F-01C, a feature phone that dates back to 2010, while Chino uses the Sony Xperia SP, a mid-range smartphone. Chiya rolls with the  Sharp Aquos Phone SL, a phone in the same class as Cocoa’s, while Sharo rocks a Honey Bee 201K, a rudimentary Android Smartphone. Rize has an iPhone 5, the most expensive of the lot and a device that can still hold its own even five year after its release.

  • Here, Chino and Sharo are shopping at a local supermarket. While I did an episodic review for GochiUsa‘s second season, this exercise came out of the blue when I realised that there was quite a bit to discuss and talk about during the second season. The result was my first-ever attempt at episodic reviews, and while immensely fun, it was only possible because my thesis project was progressing at an acceptable pace. Looking back, I’m actually not too sure if I would have been able to do a talk on GochiUsa‘s first season back during 2014, if only for the fact that most of my time was spent working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain.

  • GochiUsa‘s first season features numerous locations in town that showcase the area’s unique architecture: this is the local library that Chino and the others visit to study, as well as to find a book Chino’s been seeking. The diversity of locations in GochiUsa is nothing short of impressive, as are the details taken to render all of the structures: close inspection of this image will find that reflections of the sky are seen.

  • Rize and Chino share a short conversation about the latter’s doubts about performing well during a badminton mini-tournament at her school. It would appear that Chino is not particularly athletic and skillful with arts, as seen in her reservations about performing and drawing, but given her character, it stands to reason she’s pretty studious.

  • This is another instance of the beautiful architecture seen in GochiUsa: Cocoa and Chino overlook a ramp, and Cocoa contemplates the joys of having a bike here, while Chino’s imagination is rather more gloomy in outlook. As far as content goes, GochiUsa‘s first season has enough to talk about so that I could probably have done an episodic review if asked to revisit it, but my schedule in the three years since the first season has only become busier.

  • There’s a right way to pick up rabbits: they are quite fragile and start easily, so most suggestions involve gently using both hands to reduce the risk of frightening and injuring the rabbit. The preferred method is to place a hand underneath their chest and then gently lift their hindquarters, while here, Cocoa’s method is used for moving a rabbit short distances – their heads should always be above their hindquarters. That the rabbits of GochiUsa do not mind being picked up suggest they are very much acclimatised to a human presence; in general, rabbits do not like being picked up.

  • When I was working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain, I would watch GochiUsa during lunch hour, and this scene of Rize making a heart stands out to me – I still vividly remember watching this in a windowless player in iTunes while Unity and Monodevelop were open underneath. By this point in the summer, I had become quite comfortable with the Unity Engine and C#, having created the prototypes of almost all of the systems that we would utilise for The Giant Walkthrough Brain. The project was progressing very smoothly until a request came in to incorporate a slideshow with movies: back then, Unity could only handle static images in its free incarnation.

  • I ultimately received permission to upgrade to Unity Pro, and promptly implemented the movie playback functionality. Returning back to GochiUsa, Sharo has leporiphobia, a fear of rabbits, and befriended Rize after she’d saved Sharo from feral rabbits. Here, the rabbit who would later become known as Chuck Norris Wild Geese is resting on Sharo’s café’s fliers, causing her to beg for mercy. Rize arrives to help shoo the rabbit away.

  • Cocoa presents Sharo with a baby bunny to see if Sharo can lessen her fears slightly. Rize’s dome is just visible in this image: she’s still recoiling after a bug lands on her. Strictly speaking, the rabbit in this image is probably three to four weeks old: they’re small enough to rest comfortably on one’s palm, attesting to how small young rabbits are. My friend had two rabbits once, and when I’d met the first, she was roughly this size, but grew to full size in no time at all.

  • While imagining herself under the effects of coffee, Rize fires a Barrett M82A3 anti-materiel rifle. A recoil-operated, semi-automatic rifle firing 50-calibre rounds, the weapon is immediately recognisable by its distinct muzzle brake. There are bullpup versions of the M82, but the magazine of the rifle here has a conventional placement. Rize’s firing rate and stance suggests a semi-automatic firing mode: the M95 looks quite similar but is a bolt-action rifle.

  • If memory serves, I do not think it ever rained in GochiUsa during the second season. Weather remains generally pleasant in all of the episodes. By comparison, season one has a bit more diversity in weather, ranging from snowfall to rain. One detail that is subtly present in GochiUsa is the fact that the ground becomes increasingly reflective as the showers continue – this was done previously in Tari Tari, and is a subtle but clever touch, indicating that more water has fallen during the course of the showers.

  • Besides a library and swimming pool, GochiUsa‘s first season also brings Cocoa et al. to a movie theatre, where they watch “The Barista who Turned into a Rabbit”, a film adaptation of Aoyama’s novel. The older architectural choices of the theatre fit in with the timber-framed buildings in town, and also brings to mind some of the LEGO models of modular town buildings.

  • Regardless of where one goes in GochiUsa, timber-framed buildings dominate the architectural scene. The styles seen in GochiUsa are derived off those seen in the Alsace region, which have a strong German influence. Such buildings can be constructed relatively quickly, and the framing itself accommodates flexibility of interior walls and doors. However, preserving timber-framed building can be tricky, as the buildings may undergo deformations that make them difficult to maintain, and the wood itself can become infested with fungi, moulds or other pests.

  • Chino runs into Aoyama here after the latter misplaced her fountain pen and loses the motivation to continue writing. She subsequently takes up a post at Rabbit House as an interim job and provides advice for customers. In the background here, the leaves are taking on yellow-gold hues as autumn sets in, giving the town a new feeling. While most of the season is set in spring and summer, the arrival of autumn and winter adds additional depth to the anime: the second season is set during spring and summer, with only the first episode really being winter.

  • While this image without any context would not make much sense, Cocoa is helping Chino look for Aoyama’s fountain pen by evening. The warm orange glow is indicative of an autumn’s evening, when the air is cool and the days slowly grow short. Cocoa grows distracted chasing rabbits, but Tippy locates the pen. Numerous sources state that Cocoa is implied to be the reason why Chino’s grandfather’s spirit inhabit Tippy’s body, suggesting a supernatural cause not unlike that of Your Name, but beyond this, everything else in GochiUsa is quite ordinary.

  • The customers at the Ama Usa An seem bewildered as Chiya and Coca dance about in delight, underlining their friendship. I certainly would have no objection to seeing this happen at a sweets shop, myself, but owing to the culture here, such a display, however adorable it may be, would be very unlikely to witness. While Rabbit House employees, Cocoa, Rize and Chino have worked at Ama Usa An and Fleur Lupin to some capacity: Rize did so to earn some extra money to purchase a Father’s Day gift, while Chino does so as a part of her school’s curriculum.

  • In a stroke of luck, the artbook for GochiUsa‘s first season was restocked, and I hastened to order it online before stocks depleted once more. As with the second season’s instalment, the artbook is beautiful, filled with artwork of the different locations and even photographs of Colmar itself. Both artbooks are perfect companions for the anime, essential for all fans of the anime. They cost 2500 Yen apiece before shipping, but provide insights into the anime that genuinely demonstrates how much effort went into creating the world that Cocoa and the others live in.

  • I’ve chosen to skip over the Christmas episode of GochiUsa, having done a whole post on it two Christmases ago, but in this talk, I’ve also included some winter screenshots of the town covered in a light dusting of snow. Rolling through episodes one per day, every lunch hour, I finished GochiUsa on very short order and found an anime whose world was simply magical. It was influences from GochiUsa and its immersion that led me to translate Jay Ingram’s script into a more fluid adventure through the virtual brain: I wished for The Giant Walkthrough Brain amaze and immerse audiences the same way GochiUsa had done for me. Thus, the incarnation that went into the Banff Center Show was a modification that I made after deciding to take audiences through a more interesting route, and during a demonstration to Jay, he and my supervisor approved of it, making a minor request to time the route with the script.

  • In the end, The Giant Walkthrough Brain ended up being a great success: during our first showing, the power had gone out. There was a thunderstorm in Banff that evening, which was surprising considering that it was clear skies when we had sat down to dinner in the Banff Center’s canteen, a modern area with large glass windows that provide a beautiful view of the Bow River valley. Fortunately, the fact that The Giant Walkthrough Brain had been optimised to run on a 2013 MacBook Pro laptop, paired with Jay Ingram’s exceptional improvisational skills, meant the show progressed very smoothly.

  • Back in GochiUsa, Cocoa, Maya and Megu walk into the sunset after Cocoa helps them learn more about local cafés (even as her wallet takes a few hits) during the finale episode. After the Banff Center performance, I spent the August of three years ago further refining The Giant Walkthrough Brain. One of the biggest concerns I had was the fact that our next venue, the Telus Spark Science Center and its dome theatre, could present problems for our projection, but after learning the requirements were to accommodate a flat projection, the month was dedicated towards tuning the model, as well as adding new features and visuals. The Beakerhead shows were a massive success, selling out fully both nights.

  • Unlike Hinako’s friends, who totally prank her while she’s sick, Cocoa’s friends genuinely care for her when she catches a cold. We’re nearing the end of this post, and I’ll take a moment to say that, for folks who are curious, I am following Rick and Morty, and the third season’s second episode is bloody phenomenal, being hilarious and dark, as per Rick’s promise in his opening rant about their adventures. The biggest joy about Rick and Morty is its unique combination of over-the-top black comedy with quasi-scientific concepts that invite discussion; it’s similar to Futurama in a sense, but with a bit looser feel to it, and much more gratuitous violence. Unlike GochiUsaRick and Morty is certainly not for everyone.

  • While some folks consider the ending a little unusual, having Chino step into a snowy night to find medicine for Cocoa shows that despite her cold attitude towards Cocoa, she does care for her. It’s a subtle character growth that is further explored in the second season, and with this, my revisitation of GochiUsa comes to a close. Some posts upcoming in August, which is looking to be a much quieter month after the excitement that was Your Name, will be a talk on the Amanchu! OVA, and the Brave Witches OVA. Because of the unexpected depth and enjoyment Sakura Quest has provided after eighteen episodes, I will also be visiting this very shortly. Finally, Battlefield 1‘s Łupków Pass map will be released later this month in advance of In The Name of The Tsar, and having tried the map in CTE, I’m looking forwards to seeing how it will play out.

I originally concluded GochiUsa‘s first season was enjoyable for its portrayal of a calm, cheerful life in a European-style town but otherwise had very little to say about the characters and their experiences. In GochiUsa‘s first season, the setting ended up being the star of the show – it was not until the second season where the characters really began to shine. However, as the star of the first season, GochiUsa‘s intricate, consistently high-quality and authentic setting contributes substantially to the immersion that the first season was able to confer. As a slice-of-life anime, this set GochiUsa far apart from other shows of this genre that I’d seen previously, and it continued to hold my interest long after I finished the final episode a month before The Giant Walkthrough Brain’s opening night at the Banff Centre. The reason why GochiUsa is so successful is because its first season was able to capture the feeling of an old town consistently to create a place that is inviting and friendly. The Giant Walkthrough Brain likewise makes use of visuals in order to create a very specific image of the brain to maintain the audience’s attention. By fully capitalising on the visual elements to evoke a particular feeling or impression, both The Giant Walkthrough Brain and GochiUsa make the most of their respective formats to immerse audiences into another world – it is this immersion that my old supervisor aims to capture in biological visualisations, although I would imagine that Jay Ingram, his band, my colleagues and supervisor would be a bit surprised to learn that some of the design choices I imparted into The Giant Walkthrough Brain come from an anime with bunnies. I say surprised, but not displeased; these are very open-minded people, and I was able to cite Rick and Morty in my thesis, after all.

3 responses to “Is The Order a Giant Walkthrough Brain?: On the use of setting to immerse users in virtual spaces

  1. Remy Fool August 7, 2017 at 21:56

    A great read as usual. While GochiUsa follows a format, which you discussed in your New Game!! write-up a few weeks ago, that is associated with Manga Time Kirara Max / Manga Time Kirara Carat series that happen to receive two seasons (the first season is on focused on lighthearted gags and character introduction while the second season serves to flesh out said characters), GochiUsa has an edge on other such shows through its authentic environment.

    I keep dreading the day I’ll review GochiUsa since I am anxious that I might not be able to do it justice (good job on noticing details about the architecture and the phones the girls carry), but maybe one day I can write something like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith August 8, 2017 at 22:16

      Thanks for dropping the feedback! The magic of GochiUsa is precisely in its setting that is so lovingly depicted, and in my first review, written back in 2014, I spent the entirely of it discussing the setting and how it gave the anime such a unique feel compared to other anime of its genre. I think that Kiniro Mosaic and Urara Meirocho are close contenders for enjoyment factor, but as you’ve noted, GochiUsa‘s world makes it quite distinct.

      As for writing a review, GochiUsa is one of those anime that offer a degree of challenge: both seasons can be quite tricky to write for, as I found out during my episodic blogging of the second season a few years ago, but the way to go about doing so is probably to write about GochiUsa in a manner that best relates to you. I’m certain that you’ll be able to capture elements about GochiUsa that I’ve missed and provide unique insights on it in your style; I look forwards to seeing what you’ve got to say about GochiUsa.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Remy Fool August 9, 2017 at 08:17

        No problem!
        Mmm it really does stand out. I’ll have to take a look at what you’ve written back in 2014 and onwards.

        Mmm that is true. Thank you for your reassuring words. The idea of you running an episodic review for the second season is intriguing given how much detail you out into your posts. I have to check this out.

        Like

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