The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Rain With Occasional Fortune Telling: A Submission to the Shining Star Challenge in Koisuru Asteroid’s Tenth Episode

“我跟你打” –萬宗華, 葉問4: 完結篇

Chikage Sakurai (Mikage’s younger sister) and Yū Nanami take an interest in the Earth Sciences Club: to welcome the new members, Mira decides the time is ripe for another barbeque, and while it rains on the day of, instructor Yuki decides to go ahead anyways, having found a spot that keeps them out of the rain. As the girls share food and conversation, they learn that Yū’s background is in meteorology. Unlike Mira and the others, Yū appears to demonstrate no love for her specialty, having taken it up to save others from trouble. Some time previously, Yū’s relatives had gone through a flood, and while no one was hurt, the resulting flood damage left her aunt in a difficult situation. The rain stops, and the girls manage to get Yū to warm up when a circumhorizontal arc (common name “fire rainbow”) appears. Mira and Ao begin preparing for the Shining Star Challenge, which screens participants with an essay. This challenge marks the first step towards a studentship at an observatory to discovery asteroids, and both girls put their best efforts into their essay. However, only Mira’s submission was accepted, and both end up being heartbroken. When Mira goes to Okinawa for the studentship, she and Yuki discover that Ao’s accompanied them, as well. Koisuru Asteroid is an anime full of surprises, and the final quarter opens strong. The new club members are immensely likeable from the beginning; Chikage gives a very calming, gentle aura standing in contrast with her sister’s intensity, and Yū’s meterological aspirations are relatable. Seven years ago, a 100-year flood affected my home town, devastating every neighbourhood near the river, and while I was not directly affected, I saw for myself how destructive nature could be. I consider myself immensely lucky to live somewhere where natural disasters are comparatively uncommon, and watching the community unite to recover was very encouraging. I myself donated to the flood recovery efforts in a bid to help out, and it’s easy to see why Yū’s taken up the choice to go into a profession that can help forecast and mitigate tragedy.

Much of the tenth episode was devoted towards welcoming Yū and Chikage into the Earth Sciences Club, but like clockwork, Koisuru Asteroid has also set in motion the journey that Mira and Ao must take towards fulfilling their promise to one another. The final minutes of the episode has Mira and Ao finalising their applications towards the competition that they’d missed the previous year, which only admits even applicants. The application entails writing As the starting point towards discovering an asteroid, Mira and Ao both pour their hearts into the qualifying essay, which asks participants to express their feelings about space and the stars. It is here that Chikage and and Yū begin to see how devoted Mira and Ao are to their craft; for Yū, she’d initially felt that Ao, Mira and Mai were too easygoing, but hearing that Ao and Mira have spent the past evenings completely dedicated towards writing and polishing their essays leads her to see them in a new light. Chikage dabbles in geomancy and forecasts that of the two, only one will make the competition. While this threatens to divide them, the two should push forwards with their dreams anyway; this ends up being precisely what happens. Mira appears to have written about the joys of sharing discoveries and fun with others, and it is here that I am reminded of a similar application I submitted to earn my admissions to the University of Calgary’s Bachelor of Health Sciences programme in bioinformatics. I no longer have the original essays that I submitted as a part of the application, but I vividly recall expressing the importance of melding the disciplines of computer science and biology as the capabilities of software and algorithms become increasingly powerful, which would let the medical sciences identify patterns and solutions in health more readily than previously possible. The end result of this path was my graduate thesis: applications of game engines to better visualise and illustrate complex biological processes for educative and communicative purposes. The nostalgic factor in Koisuru Asteroid led me to wonder: what would Mira’s essay look like? I thus answered myself, that it would be a fun exercise to recreate Mira’s essay using what we’ve seen so far in Koisuru Asteroid so far. The parameters I’ve applied for the essay are: “Describe how you feel about astronomy, the stars and space, within a 500 word limit”. The resulting composition is below:

Looking up into the blackness of space, I’ve always felt a sense of longing to explore: it’s easy to forget how large the universe is when we’re so busy in our everyday lives, but when the sun sets and the stars come out, we remind ourselves that up there in the heavens, there are entire worlds, each with their own stories to tell. The universe that we can see is estimated to be 13.7 billion light years across, but it is so incredibly vast that light from these distant worlds have not yet reached us. The size of the universe gives perspective on how small we as a species are, but it is also an invitation for discovery. Through the lens of a telescope, I’ve gazed upon the craters of the moon, and Saturn’s rings. From these images of the celestial bodies in our solar system alone, it becomes clear just how extensive the universe is, and just how much more there is to learn. There is no shortage of new discoveries to be made, making astronomy a meaningful pursuit.

Even when we look closer to Earth, the neighbourhood around our world is incredibly crowded: there is an estimated 22000 objects (as of March 2020) that have been catalogued. These objects are of interest owing to the potential dangers they pose both to our world and space travel, and I’ve long been interested in helping to discover more of these objects. Identifying asteroids in the Earth’s neighbourhood is important towards determining the threat from an asteroid impact: there are at least 1955 objects which may pose a danger in the future. Even if some of these asteroids are not likely to collide with Earth in the near future, those that pass by offer a valuable opportunity to study objects that may help us to understand the early solar system and its formation.

However, even if we look at just the neighbourhood surrounding itself, the scale of space is mind-boggling, too large for any one person to begin looking at. The experiences with my high school’s Earth Sciences club have shown me that scientific discoveries and knowledge is something to be shared, to pursue together. Our club was merged from a group of astronomy and geology students, and while we started out with distinct interests, spending time towards learning about one another’s disciplines has shown me that discoveries are most meaningful when they are made together. I believe that this is how we go about understanding more about our universe: we must do so together, collaborating and sharing what we find for the betterment of us all.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas haircuts for anime characters typically signify a failed relationship and the desire to re-imagine one self, in Koisuru Asteroid, Moe’s haircut shows that she’s taken Misa’s advice to heart. It would appear that after her kokuhaku, Misa replied that Moe should begin by looking after herself first and admire herself above all else, rather than chasing after others. This advice has had a tangible effect on her, and with her shorter hair, Moe’s noted that business at the Suzuya Bakery has only increased.

  • I absolutely enjoyed seeing Yū and Chikage join the ranks of the Earth Sciences Club. We’ve previously seen the two during the culture festival. Chikage enjoyed every bit of it but was presumably too shy to make an appearance, while Yū, despite enjoying it, feels that the Earth Science Club’s not doing enough from a practical standpoint to help the world out. I had long wondered what Yū’s story was, and here, we begin to gain insights into the more subtle elements from earlier episodes.

  • Chikage is a ray of sunshine: while she possesses all of Mikage’s love for geology, she’s soft-spoken and kind-hearted. I immediately found her character to be likeable; although this means Mira won’t be trading barbs with anyone any time soon, Chikage’s got a very soothing presence similar to that of Mai’s. By comparison, Yū gives off a more aloof, distant vibe, and feels decidedly more serious than anyone else in the club. Ao characterises her as being responsible in nature.

  • After seeing the Shooting Stars Challenge, I felt an inclination to take a shot at the writing essay myself. My love for astronomy is not to the same extent as Ao or Mira’s, but I felt it to be a worthwhile exercise to try my hand at seeing if I could create an essay for the contest written from Mira’s perspective. Admittedly, it was difficult to write in a voice that isn’t my own, and I’ve made several key assumptions here (e.g. the essay is more of a qualitative one rather than quantitative and has a word limit). It’s a little challenging to step into someone else’s shoes, but following Koisuru Astreroid, I feel as though I’ve got a good measure on what Mira is feeling.

  • On the day of the barbeque, the moody weather seems to mirror the sense of gloominess that Yū brings with her. Koisuru Asteroid‘s main weak point lies in its pacing, which is inconsistent even for a 4-koma adaptation, and it suddenly strikes me that such a series could have done well to have double its run time, such that everything is properly explored. Slower slice-of-life series like Koisuru Asteroid may not prima facie appear to benefit from an extended runtime, but my favourite instance of a series that fully utilised an extended runtime was K-On!!, whose second season slowed things down enough to help viewers really appreciate what Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi meant to Azusa.

  • The joy that Mira and the old guard of the Earth Sciences Club convey stands in stark contrast to the rainy weather: Mira, Mai and Ao are dressed in bright colours that make the stand out, symbolising how they bring their own energy and warmth with them. The barbeque is thus under way, and in anime, yakitori and kushiyaki skewers are often presented, featuring succulent cuts of meat with corn on the cob, onion and green peppers. Over good food and good company, conversation begins to venture into the realm of the sciences, and as it turns out, Yū’s interest in meteorology comes from a personal experience.

  • It turns out that Yū’s relatives had experienced a devastating flood that destroyed most of their worldly possessions, and Yū began to wish she had the power to forecast and mitigate such outcomes. There is no denying that natural disasters have a profound impact on those who live to see such times: the Alberta 2013 floods had a massive impact on Calgary in particular, and while I live far from the Bow River, the effects permeated every aspect of life here. The sense of community allowed us to overcome this particular disaster, and even now, amidst one of the worst pandemics in recent history, I continue to hold my faith that people will prevail so as long as we set aside petty differences and work together to reach a solution for recovery.

  • After hearing Yū’s story, Chikage offers her a stone cast of Blue Lace Agate, which is supposed to help provide clarity and understanding in communication. Chikage mentions it to help the mind relax and dispels negative emotions, as well. Unlike Mikage, Chikage has a natural talent for reading the atmosphere and is very much a people person despite being so soft-spoken. Here, the girls also explore the applications of each of their fields: geology has value in seismic research and mining, astronomy’s most practical use is identifying and tracking near-Earth objects  and facilitating the launch of satellites.

  • That Mira is able to so readily identify her favoured field’s applications shows that she’s become knowledgeable on her interest. While Moe prepares a baumkuchen, the others admire a circumhorizontal arc that’s appeared in the sky following the dissipation of rain clouds. Yū’s tough shell dissipates with the clouds: upon seeing this phenomenon for the first time, she’s quick to admire the fire rainbow and explain its formation from hexagonal ice crystals refracting light. Mira initially misidentifies it as a rainbow, and indeed, the common name for the circumhorizontal arc, “fire rainbow”, is a bit of a misnomer, since this is not a true rainbow, nor does it involve fire in any way.

  • While Yuki might be lazy at times (indicated as such when she leaves Mai and Moe to cook earlier), she genuinely does care for her students and imparts wisdom where needed. She notes that Yū’s advanced knowledge of meteorological phenomenon shows that whether she admits it or not, she does have a love of the material, given how much time and effort she’s spent studying it, and encourages her to have a little more fun in the process.

  • Together with the Earth Sciences Club, Yū thus begins to embrace her interests and look on the positive side of things, as well. I feel that warming Yū up to the others is something that could’ve been spaced out over two episodes, but Koisuru Asteroid is very rapidly reaching the end of its run soon, and so, things are condensed. With this being said, Koisuru Asteroid manages to retain the emotional impact of each moment, and so, there is nothing particularly forced about how Yū comes to accept Mira, Ao and Mai’s interpretation of the Earth Sciences Club as a more laid-back environment.

  • Mai had made a large number of teru-teru bōzu earlier to ward off the rain. These hand-made dolls are composed from cloth or tissue and have their origins from the Edo Period, and depending on how they are hung, can either be a prayer for clear skies (right side up) or rain (up side down). The west has its own set of weather-related superstitions, with some being rooted in science (e.g. “red sky in morning, sailor’s warning” and halos around the moon preclude inclement weather).

  • It should be clear that with its new members, the Earth Sciences Club’s future is secure. Mira and Ao had secretly hoped for new members earlier so they could secure the funding for an equatorial mount, but Yū and Chikage’s decision to join has a more important function. Here, the girls stargaze as darkness sets in, and Yū demonstrates the proper technique for taking a collimated photo, in which she aligns her camera’s lens to a special point from the eyepiece to photograph the moon. This is equivalent to taking a photo with the telescope as a zoom optic, and can be tricky.

  • Yū’s growth ultimately is set over the course of one episode, and after their barbeque, Yū is now very much acclimatised with Mira and the Earth Science Club’s way of doing things. If memory serves, K-On! actually took two episodes to detail how Azusa would come to terms with the easy-going, carefree spirits of the light music club. With her story resolved, the remainder of the tenth episode deals with the Shining Star Challenge.

  • On their way home, Chikage calls upon geomancy to see what’s in store for Mira and Ao. The ensuing results is that she expects one of the two to be accepted into the competition, and that despite this setback for the other, both will remain unified in their pursuit of fulfilling a longstanding promise with one another. One could easily attribute this to the powers of geomancy, but the reality is that geomancy is about as reliable as astrology, and it is more reasonable to suppose that Chikage is just an excellent judge of character and very much attuned to what those around her is feeling. In conjunction with a bit of common sense (e.g. how the competition may only allow for one successful applicant per school to be selected), Chikage’s prediction is based off of educated guesses rather than anything in the realm of the supernatural.

  • I ended up including this moment because it shows the focus and tenacity both Mira and Ao have: anime like Koisuru Asteroid typically show the club members doing fun things rather than the sorts of things that really drive the club’s progress, and so, one of the most common criticisms levelled against slice-of-life series is that the characters often do not “earn” their successes because they’d rather hang out and drink tea than practise or further themselves. However, this is a deliberate choice: fun moments serve to humanise the characters and reinforce that how everyone comes together is as important as the more technical aspects of being in a club.

  • Admittedly, I was initially a little surprised that Ao’s composition was not successful: of the two, Ao seems more knowledgeable about astronomy and its applications. However, in retrospect, Mira’s successful application makes sense. Between the two, Mira is more outgoing and personable than the quiet and shy Ao: Mira’s long been shown to have a talent for scientific communication, being able to capture the attention and interest of children in an age-appropriate manner whenever communicating about astronomy, whereas Ao seems more limited in that she’s unable to express herself fully without resorting to more technical terms. Thus, I did my best to capture Mira’s ability to tell a more convincing story through clear applications and intents, notions of multidisciplinary collaboration and strike a balance with the numbers in my re-creation of her essay.

  • Mira ends up falling into melancholy despite her own acceptance to the competition, and ultimately, it takes a phone call to Mikage and Mari to lift their spirits. Mari reminds the two that while only Mari might be attending, the learnings will help both of them, and Mikage encourages Mira to seize the chance, saying they’ll be around to support. With Chikage mirroring this sentiment, Mira and Ao prepare for the next step of their adventure.

  • In a way, that only Mira was selected, and Ao’s remaining behind parallels astronaut Michael Collins on the Apollo 11 flight: while he never shared the experience of walking the lunar surface with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, he never once despaired about his assignment, understanding that his role was critical all the same: in his autobiography, he wrote that: “[this lunar mission had] been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two”. Similarly, while Ao might not directly be participating, her role in supporting Mira is no less important.

  • For the competition, Yuki and Mira arrive in Ishigaki, Okinawa, some four hundred kilometres southwest of Naha. This island is home to the Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory, and the Murikabushi telescope is the largest in Japan. In a surprising twist, Ao’s also followed the two along. While perhaps impractical, this moment was endearing, bringing the tenth episode to a close. The page quote comes from Ip Man 4, from when Master Wan agrees to fight Barton Geddes after the latter challenges him to prove the inferiority of Chinese martial arts. Throughout Ip Man 4, Wan is presented as being stubborn, but honourable, and its relevance here in Koisuru Asteroid is that, Ao is similarly stubborn, but loyal, having followed Mira all the way to Okinawa in a heartwarming, if unexpected, moment.

That Koisuru Asteroid‘s final quarter has already prompted me to come back with what is, in effect, a special-topics episodic post speaks volumes to the strength of the series. Far from being unremarkable or dull, Koisuru Asteroid captures the intellectual curiosity and appreciation of teamwork that characterises human achievement, of which the greatest-known would be the 1969’s Apollo 11 mission in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to ever walk on another world. While Mira and Ao’s aspirations are not quite to the same scale, they are nonetheless founded on the same intents, to learn more about their world and satisfy their curiosity. The same wonder about the cosmos that drive Ao and Mira to find an asteroid led humanity to build engines that could reach other worlds, and in doing so, learn more about ourselves in an unprecedented capacity. It is this reason that compels me to keenly follow Koisuru Asteroid, and as we advance into the final two episodes, I am very excited to see what awaits Mira and Ao as they make steps towards fulfilling a long-standing promise with one another: the inclusion of two capable and unique juniors in Yū and Chikage only serve to further enhance the series and keep things dynamic, engaging. Given that Koisuru Asteroid has consistently yielded meaningful discussion, a question that I raise for myself is whether or not to take an episodic route for the remainder of the series, especially now that the groundwork for Mira and Ao’s asteroid hunt is laid down.

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