“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” –Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Preparations for the culture festival are in full swing. Futaba, Hikari, Ai and Makoto remain at school late into the night hours in order to finish their class exhibits. While Futaba and Hikari go around collecting juice boxes for use with their mural, Ai is creating tropical plants for her class. After Futaba and Hikari drop by with some gourd juice, Ai decides to buy another drink, and steps out to find a vending machine located at the top of a stairwell leading to the roof. She wistfully wishes that she could live in the moment forever, and encounters an enigmatic boy who goes by the name of Peter. He takes Ai on a dream-like journey through the school and mentions that she could stay in the moment forever should she chooses, but Mato intervenes, stating that Peter is a mischievous spirit. As the evening wears on, Ai becomes increasingly tired and dreams about Peter, where she runs into a much younger Mato and learns of Peter’s origins as an infant left behind at a shrine. Longing for companionship, Peter thus fabricated a dream-like world to be with others. Mato and Ai eventually board a large ship in the sky, and the younger Mato expresses a want to be with Peter forever before the dream ends. Shaken, Ai asks Futaba and Hikari to help her return into the dream, where she confronts Peter, declares that she’s in love with him, and subsequently helps him break free of his perceptual isolation in the dream world. Before the two part ways, Ai promises that she will remember Peter, and reawakens. She runs into Mato and explains that Peter’s spirit has left the school. They spot a cat that looks very similar to the cat seen in Ai’s dream, and following it to the local shrine, finds Mamoru Towano there. He explains that the infant was not left behind, and meeting Mato helped him to remember his dreams of old: Mamoru reveals that he is Peter, and it was thanks to Ai that he was able to recall everything. Ai leaves Mato and Mamoru to catch up, dissolving into tears. When she returns to the school with Makoto, she sees the mural that Futaba’s class had been working on, depicting Peter Pan and praises their work.
While the presence of the supernatural in Advance had remained quite ambiguous previously, by the Peter arc, it would seem that such elements have returned in full force: there is a limit to what neural science can account for in the turn of events that lead Ai to encounter the extraordinary. One could suppose that the drowsiness induced by working so late at school, coupled with the magical, uncommon atmosphere of being at school by night, and the amplification of the unknown results in unusual dreams: being in a school, one might say that Ai’s subconsciousness was able to piece together a story about Mato and Mamoru. However, this explanation fails to include how Mamoru knows about Peter and connects Ai’s involvement in his dreams through time and space, and similarly, does not include how Futaba and Hikari can appear with full control over their surroundings to assist Ai. The precise mechanism of how this works is not so easily fitted into accepted knowledge about memories and dreams, so one might simply be forced to accept that at least three of the Infinity Stones would be needed to make things possible and leave it at that. Instead, the focus of this arc, besides giving Ai a bit more time to shine in Advance, also deals predominantly with the dangers of living in the moment. In particular, after Ai wishes that the magical atmosphere of the night prior to the cultural festival would last forever, she is whisked away into a dream world where time has stood still, and one where feelings and emotions remain fixed in an unchanging status quo. The end result is an eternally wistful world where one can only wish for a future; Ai realises that the way to break this cycle is to accept that no moment can last forever, and that it is necessary to take the initiative of taking that step towards the future. In freeing Peter from his dream world, Ai also accepts that one must be mindful of the future. She is thus able to bring Mamoru and Mato together: throughout Advance, Mamoru’s growing feelings for Mato have subtly been hinted at, and it takes a push from Ai, although at her own expense, to advance things. Consequently, Ai’s arc marks the point in Advance where the narrative begins shifting towards moving forwards.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Culture festivals and staying overnight to prepare for them in the Japanese high school setting are a familiar aspect of anime: by nightfall, school grounds take on a completely different feel. Despite the lateness of the hour, everyone is hard at work, bringing life to a place that is otherwise quite deserted by the later hours of a day. In this Advance post, I’ve gone with the typical thirty images, although as a first for my Amanchu! posts, this post will not feature any screenshots that are underwater.
- Futaba and Hikari have a reduced presence in the third quarter. Here, they are attempting to sell gourd juice; better known as lauki juice, this particular beverage has some health effects, but everyone in Amanchu! seems adverse to its taste. While said to be refreshing, bitter lauki juice has a high conceptration of cucurbitacin compounds. In moderation, these compounds can help with inflammation and cardiovascular problems, but in excess, can be result in gastrointestinal issues.
- During my time as a middle school student, I helped with the computer science instructor’s school expos. There is indeed a bit of a magic to the school at night; a friend and I joked that we were demoing HyperCard projects, Flash Animations and HTML web pages…at night. I was very fond of helping explain to parents of newcoming students what the joys of the school’s computer courses were, and while I did not do anything of the sort for high school, in University, for my undergraduate and graduate programmes, I ended up helping my supervisor giving evening demonstrations of our lab’s work, and my last-ever full on evening presentation was a formal event celebrating my campus’ fiftieth anniversary.
- I understand that operating at night can result in unusual phenomenon occurring. When we’re sleep deprived and exhausted, hallucinations can take place because the body begins reducing effort in processing information from external stimuli. Sensory deprivation then causes the mind to fill in the gaps with different images and sounds. Initially, when we entered this arc, I believed that science could be utilised to explain what Ai was experiencing. However, when it becomes clear that this is a shared experience (i.e. Mato is aware of what Ai sees), the scientific approach suddenly became ineffectual.
- The manifestation known as “Peter” initially brings about questions of whether or not Ai is genuinely interested in remaining at this particular point in time forever. While we’ve seen Futaba and Hikari be challenged with a desire to let the good times roll for as long as possible, Ai had hitherto been given very little characterisation. In Amanchu!, Ai is depicted as hot-blooded, brash and occasionally violet, but also very caring and sensitive whenever romance is concerned. Through the Peter arc, one can then surmise that while Futaba and Hikari are focused on diving, Ai is dealing with her own challenges in romance.
- Peter takes Ai on a very surreal trip through the school; jarring and quite surreal, the execution brings to mind the likes of the surreal spaces seen in ARIA. While one could enjoy Amanchu!‘s first season without having watched ARIA beforehand, Advance references numerous aspects of ARIA that make them difficult to discount. I would therefore contend that folks wondering about the supernatural, surrealist components of Advance would be well-served well to watch at least the first two seasons of ARIA and become familiarised with the lore here.
- Mato counts Peter as a ghost, a malevolent force whose existence is to ensnare students. Peter’s supernatural nature becomes more apparent as time wears on: he seemingly phases through a wall at the top of the stairwell. The unusual composition and the merging of the supernatural with reality ties back in with Futaba’s belief that dreams and reality become more difficult to discern in youth; logical from a thematic perspective, I nonetheless found that conventional reasoning is inadequate to explain how things unfold for this story. This is nominally a deal-breaker for some viewers, but I’ve seen my share of stories requiring a willful suspension of disbelief.
- As such, I will chalk up the experiences in Advance here to be a product of the Living Force and be done with it (hence the page quote). Of course, some individuals have tried to mask their incomprehension of the events in Advance by resorting to pseudoacademic means. One Verso Sciolto believes that the whole point of Ai’s experiences is to put “spirituality in a different perspective”. I’ve had my disagreements with this individual before, and despite their choice of name (“Verso Sciolto” is Italian for “extremely civil and pleasant, unthreatening and welcoming”), I’ve found that this individual is none of these things, being confrontational, vague and aloof. I’m not the only one who believes this is the case: they’ve been banned from a community that I frequent for arguing semantics with others. Such folk are best ignored: very little is to be gained by sparring with folk that believe themselves college professors lecturing first-year students.
- I was tempted to count exhaustion as being the primary reason for why she begins seeing physical manifestations of Peter on the school grounds by the bonfire pyre, but from a narrative perspective, this also foreshadows Peter’s identity: Mamoru was last seen by the pyre, ensuring it was ready for the events ahead. Here, I note that this is why I don’t always write about the shows I watch immediately after I watch them; being able to reflect on what I’ve seen allows me to notice things I might’ve missed going from first impressions alone.
- Watching Futaba and Hikari trying to distribute the juice boxes to their classmates so they may use them for an art project reminds me of an episode of the PBS series Arthur, where Binky attempts to make a Popsicle stick bridge by eating Popsicle. He’s informed that the sticks can be brought en mass at crafts stores and wonders if he wasted his time eating all of the Popsicles. In Advance, I do not believe such a shortcut exists for juice boxes, but I do note that going around and giving out juices boxes is clever: students can be refreshed, provided they do not pick up the gourd juice, and then the boxes are repurposed later.
- While running in the halls, Ai trips and falls: Mamoru makes to catch her but fails. While these mishaps will come to serve a more important purposes later, they also have a more comedic purpose, revealing that Ai and Mio Akiyama of K-On! are not so different. This is the second time that Ai falls, and in retrospect, foreshadows Peter’s identity. While Advance has been more forward with its fanservice, nothing’s actually seen from our perspective, and this is the way I prefer it: ARIA is not known for unnecessary exposure, and it would seem out of place in Amanchu!, as well.
- Ai later falls asleep again and enters a world that’s very nearly identical to that of her own, with the exception that older buildings are still standing, and that there’s a clear half-foot of water everywhere. This surreal environment is most familiar to ARIA veterans as the acqua alta events that Akari occasionally encounters on Aqua. These are modelled after Venice’s acqua alta (lit. “high water”), caused by the combination of high tides and strong winds. The phenomenon is never explored in ARIA, and in Advance, this is even more unusual.
- While wandering the deserted, flooded streets, Ai runs into a much younger Mato, who’s also carrying a cat resembling President Hime M. Granzchesta of Himeya Company. Mato provides a bit of background into the phenomenon that viewers and Ai are seeing, clearing up some of the questions that might arise from a story that has become increasingly surreal with time. Advance‘s references to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan have become very overt at this point in time: while it might have been ambiguous when Peter wondered if Ai was interested in living in the moment for all eternity, entering a dream world with Mato and encountering a vast ship in the sky removed any doubts about the allusion.
- As a child, I was minimally familiar with the story of Peter Pan and Neverland, having read it as a part of my early primary school curriculum. However, it’s been quite some time since I’ve actually read them, and the Disney interpretation is missing thematic elements, so I did some reading to familiarise myself with the original, which is considered a very well-known and famous story in the West. Dealing primarily with themes of innocence and conflicting responsibility.
- Peter Pan is, in a way, meant to be viewed as a tragedy: to be stuck as a child forever is a curse, as it deprives one of the responsibilities and privileges of growing up. These particular aspects go hand-in-hand: with adulthood comes the increasing duty of contributing to society and family, as well as the freedom to pursue the things one wishes for, as well. Children, while free from many responsibilities, also lack agency.
- Ai is minimally familiar with Futaba’s profound ability to have lucid dreams. For my part, I have full agency when I dream, although perhaps attesting to my character, I don’t do anything in my dreams that I wouldn’t do in reality. Most of my dreams are set in a largely-believable world not dissimilar to reality, but with minor differences, although there have been cases where I’ve had some incredible experiences through my dreams. With this being said, I wake up, and push the dreams out of my head because I need my mind firmly focused on what’s upcoming. This is why I don’t share my dreams with the world.
- After reaching the airborne pirate ship, Mato and Ai breach into the ship’s interior, a portal to a Shrine on a hill. A large statue of the Cait Sith can be seen holding a bassinet where an infant sleeps, with tears from his eyes. The water the pours from the ship into the world below is therefore from the infant, who is full of sorrow for having been left behind. In his melancholy, the infant create an entire dream world with the hope of meeting others and tempering the incredible loneliness that he experiences. The sum of these meetings manifests as the young man that we see as Peter.
- Mato’s strong choice of words to Ai about Peter in the present contradicts her actions within her dreams, where she interacts with Peter as one might treat a lover. Seeing these interactions also leads Ai to understand her own feelings. Peter represents the yearning to live in the present, so Ai seems to be drawn to her world and its people.
- Ai reacts strongly to being unceremoniously thrown out of her dream, feeling that Peter’s fate is too sad to be left alone. She’s become very invested in what happens with Peter and Mato, but at this point, is still unaware of what it entails. Once all of the pieces come together, this arc might be seen as a bit of a love story for Ai: we recall her propensity for embarrassment where romance is concerned and also note that this love story is about falling in love with the abstract, rather than an individual.
- Unable to let things slide, Ai recruits Futaba’s help in helping her return. It is technically possible to return to a dream and actively shape its outcomes: it requires a very strong imagination and will to execute. Thus, with Makoto watching over everyone, Futaba and Hikari help Ai out. They fall asleep with her and enter her dream world, being acutely aware that they are in a dream space.
- Spawning brooms back in, Futaba, Ai and Hikari fly up to the airborne ship, where they keep the doors open long enough for Ai to step through the portal back to the shrine once again. After this point, Futaba and Hikari depart from the dream, leaving Ai to face Peter on her own. Futaba and Hikari return to their classmates and are not seen again until the episode’s ending.
- While it comes out of the blue, it is no surprise that Ai openly declares that she’s love in Peter. However, rather than promising to stay with him, Ai asks him to take a step forward, waking up and crying out. Breaking this cycle of eternal longing would bring Peter what he desires, Ai reasons; her thoughts here show that Ai, while enjoying the present, is also aware that very little is to be gained by being stuck in one time period. Wanting what she feels is best for Peter is what prompts her to give this suggestion.
- I do not believe I’ve included a screenshot of the vast airborne ship in whole. This ship is gargantuan and features elements common to pirate ships seen in fiction. I’ve never really been a big fan of pirates of the skull-and-crossbones, peg-leg variety: stories about pirates that interest me are much more modern in nature. The film Captain Phillips is an excellent instance of what I prefer my pirate stories to be, rather than things like Pirates of the Caribbean.
- Ai’s persistence pays off, and Peter agrees to wake up and see what his future entails. In their final moments together, Ai promises to never forget about Peter. The dream world dissolves, and unlike Mitsuha and Taki in Your Name, Ai’s immediately reminded of Peter by seeing visual cues in her environment. She finds Mato and informs her that Peter’s spirit is unlikely to walk the halls of the school again. While it felt very much a dream, Mato and Ai soon spot a cat looking very much like the cat seen in Ai’s dreams. They follow him to the local shrine.
- When they reach the shrine, Mato and Ai are disappointed to find Mamoru there. However, he reveals that he is well aware of his experiences within the dreams, recalling vividly his conversations with Mato and Ai. For him, he immediately connects the dots about Ai thanks to a very clear visual cue, and in the process, confirms that he had known Mato through his dreams, as well. From a logical perspective, one might surmise that Ai has developed a crush on Mamoru and the stressors of working late, while forgetting that Futaba and the others were doing something related to Peter Pan, resulted in her dreams, but Mamoru’s recollections immediately causes this bit of speculation to be incorrect.
- Mamoru fills in the remaining story for Ai and Mato: the baby was recovered, having only been left there for a moment, and subsequently, grew up as everyone else did. I conclude that the supernatural is at play here, taking the form of either an anomaly of the Force or some clever use of Infinity Stones, and leave it at that. A trace of Peter’s smile is visible in Mamoru: Ai is embarrassed beyond all measure that he’d seen her pantsu, but later relents and understanding what is about to happen, excuses herself, allowing Mato and Mamoru to catch up.
- Mamoru himself had been uncertain that Mato was really the same Mato he’d seen while dreaming, and Mato had long wondered when she closed her mind to miracles and the extraordinary. Mamoru’s long held feelings for Mato, and I’m curious to see if anything will occur now that Mato knows about Mamoru being the same Peter she’d dreamed about. What goes on in the minds of infants is presently not well characterised: babies sleep a great deal to build neural connections and learn to adapt to the different sensory inputs they have while in the world, so Advance‘s take on this might be to say that this is one possibility as to what’s happening in the minds of infants who’ve not yet learnt to communicate through a spoken language yet.
- Makoto comforts the embarrassed and heartbroken Ai, reminding her that the school festival is a time of happiness and smiles. Having been there previously, I know that heartbreak is no joke, although as Makoto says, Ai’s best bet is to for now, be in the moment and appreciate all of the effort that she and her classmates have put into making the school’s culture festival a success. Of course, this is merely my interpretation of things, and I could be completely off-base here. If there’s another account for Ai’s reactions, I would love to hear it, since quite honestly, I’m a little unsure as to what’s happening.
- This is the first time I’ve written about Amanchu! where diving is not featured to any capacity. However, I feel that despite the absence of descending into the ocean with specialised gear, this arc represents diving into the mind and the feelings that normally don’t come into the foreground. With the themes in Advance, I would not be surprised if the series ended up hinting at the idea that diving into the ocean is no different than dreaming: immensely magical and sometimes perplexing.
- Here is the culmination of Futaba, Hikari and the remainder of their class’ efforts: a spectacular Peter Pan mural marking the school’s sixty first culture festival. The next I return to write about Amanchu! Advance will be the season finale in roughly three weeks, unless something occurs in Advance that merits additional posts. Upcoming posts will deal with The Division‘s Urban MDR, The Road To Battlefield V and some special posts ahead of this year’s summer solstice, so until next time, have a good one, and take it easy!
Given what we’ve seen, it is then reasonable to say that the learnings Ai has accrued will apply to Futaba and Hikari. This will in turn form the basis for the main message of Amanchu! Advance; it is likely that as the sequel gears up towards its finale, we will have the introduction of Kotori, who still has yet to formally appear in Advance, as well as Futaba going for her advanced certification and diving with Hikari by night for the first time. The anime has been headed in this direction for quite some time, and in its latest episodes, suggests that there are some phenomenon in this world that cannot be so readily justified by science and logic. In choosing this approach, Amanchu! suggests that the vastness of the world means that some things will be those that we cannot understand. This ties back in with the constant allusions to the idea that it can become difficult to separate dreams and reality, and although this can seemingly immobilise an individual, compelling the to live in the present, advancing and moving ahead become essential so one may explore the unknown and realise possibilities that otherwise remain a dream. This is what Amanchu! Advance has conveyed nine episodes into its run, and with three episodes remaining, it would appear that Advance must return to a more grounded world in order to fully convey messages of moving forwards and embracing the future. It will be interesting to see just how Advance does this, although depending on the direction that Advance chooses, I can also imagine that some members among the audience may not find the journey or outcome agreeable; with this being said, I’m definitely excited to see where things go, and will return to write about whether or not the remaining quarter did a satisfactory job with its execution.