The Infinite Zenith

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

Do You Love Your Mom on the Shore?: Okaa-san Online OVA Review and Reflection

“Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.” –Unknown

Shirase invites Masato and his party to a private resort on the beach to relax. Here, Mamako attempts to spend more time with Masato, but he declines, feeling it to be embarrassing. Shirase suggests the classic sport of watermelon spitting with a wooden sword, but when Mamako inadvertently causes him to walk into her, he chucks the sword into the ocean in frustration. An unknown entity throws the sword back, knocking him out. The impact induces retrograde amnesia: Masato fails to recognise his party and Mamako, but he vaguely recalls Mamako as being important to him. Mamako decides to spend this time with Masato, who seems more receptive to her. As the evening sets in, Masato wonders if the unusual feeling he has towards Mamako might be love and attempts a kokuhaku, but before they can kiss, a kraken appears and hauls Masato into the sea. This spontaneously causes Masato’s memories to return, and Mamako defeats it. In the aftermath, Masato and the party decide to grill the remains of the kraken for dinner, only for one of the tentacles to combust, hit each of Wise, Medhi, Porta and Mamako on the head and leave them with retrograde amnesia. This is the OVA to Okaa-san Online, an unaired episode that accompanied the BD release back in March.

If memory serves, Okaa-san Online was a series that I found to be rather enjoyable despite its unusual premise. Okaa-san Online is technically an isekai anime, built around the premise of a VR game designed to help parents and their children bond. During its run, Okaa-san Online explored different facets of the parent-child dynamic, concluding in a titanic battle against a powerful but incompetent foe that helps Masato to appreciate everything that Mamako does for him, even if it does border on the embarrassing at times. In the OVA, however, it’s an off-the-books side adventure that provides an opportunity for the characters to bounce off one another. As Shirase is kind enough to inform Masato of, this day at the beach seemingly serves no purpose than to showcase the entire cast in swimsuits, doing the sorts of things most commonly associated with a Japanese style summer break. However, when Masato takes a knock to his cranium and develops amnesia, his dynamic with Mamako shows that even when his memories are lost (temporarily), the strength of the mother-child bond is sufficient so that he vaguely remembers Mamako, giving Mamako a rare chance to dote on Masato in ways that he normally would flat out refuse. In short, the OVA is a fun addition to Okaa-san Online, featuring a space to let the characters interact more freely without the constraints of a longer-term goal that the regular episodes have.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It feels a little strange to be back, writing shorter posts again; the last five posts I wrote total some thirty-four thousand words, and admittedly, were quite exhausting. I figured that, to ease myself back into things, it would be appropriate to do a shorter post on Okaa-san Online, whose OVA was released back in March along with the BDs. It’s been around nine months since I last wrote for Okaa-san Online, and I figured that since there was an uptick of searches for this series, people might’ve been looking for the OVA.

  • Within its runtime, Okaa-san Online‘s OVA brings back all of the small details that made the TV series so enjoyable to watch, but without a primary objective to work towards, the entire OVA ends up being a chance to have everyone play off one another for comedy’s sake. Last I wrote about Okaa-san Online, one of the points that came up was Porta’s origins: her mother’s never shown on screen, and of everyone, she seems the most untroubled. As it turns out, she’s a special kind of beta tester, although her background remains quite unknown.

  • After Masato offers to help Porta inflate her inner tube, Wise grows jealous and uses a spell that blows Misato’s swimsuit away. To spare him the indigity of wandering around without clothes, Mamako covers him, but creates additional embarrassment. This leads to the question of how this particular VRMMORPG even works, if it’s able to infer one’s physical characteristics: most games simply don’t bother rendering more than they have to in order to reduce the amount of resources loaded into memory.

  • Mamako’s character is very similar to that of Ah! My Goddess‘ Belldandy, and in retrospect, Ai Kayano (Utaha Kasumigaoka of Saekano, Saori Takebe from Girls und Panzer and GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hotо̄) does have similar talents as Kikuko Inoue for voicing matronly characters, alongside a very varied and impressive range of characters. Here, after Masato brushes her off and returns to shore, Mamako wonders about Masato’s sense of embarrassment.

  • Her thoughts are interrupted when Wise, Medhi and Porta splash her, leading them to frolic in the warm waters. Such waters remind me of those of Cancún, whose waters are similarly pleasant to wade into, and possess a beautiful shade of turquoise. Deep blue skies, such as those seen here, are among my chiefest reasons for watching anime: they evoke a sense of contentment that I cannot readily describe, and I have been swayed into picking what anime I check out for a season based on blue skies alone.

  • Suikawari is a longstanding tradition in Japan, resembling the Western version of piñata smashing. The game is, coincidentally, similar to the VR game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes in that it requires someone to talk to the individual smashing the watermelon in the right direction (in the game, someone looking at a separate screen walks the player using the VR headset through defusing the explosives). Masato gets talked into accepting the suikawari challenge with Mamako as the giver of instructions, and ultimately, he walks into her, failing the challenge.

  • Where Masato is unsuccessful, Shirase uses a knife to cut the watermelon into cleaner slices. One of the things about suikawari is that it tends to leave a bit of a mess, and a cloth is usually laid out so the remains of the watermelon can be eaten. Curiously enough, suika (kanji 西瓜) is rendered as sai1 gwaa1 in jyutping, but broken up into its components, 西’s Hepburn is nishi, and 瓜 is uri. Different contexts change the use of kana and pronunciation of certain kanji, and here is an interesting example of how Cantonese and Japanese share some similarities.

  • When the wooden sword Masato chucks into the sea is returned to him, striking him in the head, Masato is knocked out and awakens with no memory of himself. This is a common enough storytelling element in comedy; having a character forget their sense of self is no joke in reality, but in fiction, can be used to create unusual moments. Okaa-san Online, however, is a VRMMORPG, and as such, such a mechanic doesn’t seem to make much sense, since the characters can sustain harm in-game without physical injury to their bodies in the real world.

  • While the game world of Okaa-san Online is one that leaves many questions, some of the phenomenon can be rationalised as a consequence of the game being in beta form. Here, it is conceivable that taking a hit to the head can shock the brain in the real world into an amnesia-like state. Having said this, I’m typically not a stickler for things like plot holes and the like, and I enjoy filling plot-holes when watching a given work that may feature unexplored events.

  • In the absence of his old memories, Masato consents to participate in several games that Mamako proposes, including Twister. The original game was intended as a game of physical skill and conceived as a party game in 1966 by Reyn Guyer and Charles Foley. The game became a smash hit, but also drew controversy for potentially putting the players in compromising positions; this criticism has been used as a comedic device in anime. Okaa-san Online presents a milder version of this, and nothing particularly questionable happens beyond providing the viewer with a rather scenic view of Mamako.

  • A draw game results from Masato and Mamako playing Twister, after which Mamako decides to go crab hunting next. What happens next is worthy of Nande Koko ni Sensei ga!?, and here, I remark that while the series ran last year during the spring season, I didn’t get around to actually watching it until this March. Having gone through Nande Koko ni Sensei ga!? in full now, I can say that the series provides some laughs, although it offers nothing substantial by way of themes and isn’t exactly a series that one could recommend.

  • Consequently, I don’t think I’ll be writing about Nande Koko ni Sensei ga!? unless there is a particularly strong wish to see what I could do for that series: ordinarily, I am able to include the odd screenshot or two in a post for those moments because it offers a nice change of pacing, but in a series that is built entirely around improbable moments, writing for that could get tiresome very quickly. The equivalent moment in Okaa-san Online occurs when a crab destroys Mamako’s swimsuit, prompting Masato to cover her.

  • Fearing that Masato’s improving relationship with Mamako may threaten their adventures, Wise and Medhi devise a plan to swiftly restore Masato’s memories. However, Masato appears to see right through their ploy, and delivers two devastating blows that leaves Medhi kicking a palm tree in anger, while Wise is left commiserating after his remarks. Having now seen KonoSuba, it’s not lost on me that Okaa-san Online and KonoSuba share similarities in that for both series, male lead winds up with an all-female party.

  • The OVA actually opened here, dropping viewers right into things without creating the proper context and therefore, captures their interest. Masato’s kokuhaku comes as a bit of a surprise, and given his usual personality, invites viewers to delve into the OVA to see what precisely led to such a moment. In the absence of any context, the moment alone seems suited as being a proper kokuhaku, being set under a beautiful sunset on the beach.

  • While Okaa-san Online is no Makoto Shinkai film, its visuals are of a generally high quality, and there are moments, like this sunset, which look stunning. This isn’t too surprising: Okaa-san Online is helmed by J.C. Staff, a studio which has the likes of KonoSuba, Ano Natsu de Matteru, Amanchu!, Flying Witch, Machikado Mazoku and DanMachi in their repertoire, all of which are impressive-looking series.

  • Once the kraken appears and hauls Masato into the water, Shirase reveals that it was her doing: a tentacled monster for a beach episode is apparently an essential. Kraken originate from Nordic folklore, speaking of squid of gargantuan proportion: the legend likely came from sightings of the giant squid (Architeuthis dux), whose preference for deep ocean waters meant that they were rarely sighted. Medhi and Wise are unimpressed with Shirase’s blunt attempt at introducing fanservice in a context where it’s already quite unnecessary to push things further. It becomes apparent here that it was likely the kraken that returned Masato’s wooden sword, irate that Masato had hit it.

  • Initially, the kraken goes after Mamako, but takes Masato instead. In a panic, he calls out to Mamako, and his memories are restored. Mamako subsequently retrieves her swords and defeats the kraken: with the help of Mamako’s top-tier swordsmanship, the kraken is defeated. The kraken of Okaa-san Online is not as tough as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Watcher in the Water; this monster, of unknown origin, was able to keep attacking even when several of its tentacles were severed and ultimately forced the Fellowship of the Ring to take the Mines of Moria.

  • While the OVA might be fun and games, it also sheds a bit more light into Masato’s past: as a child, Masato had been knocked over by a wave, and Mamako had pulled him from the water. In the present, Mamako uses a spell to part the waters and reach Masato in a moment that will immediately bring to mind the Biblical story Exodus, where Moses parts the Red Sea in order to lead the Israelites to safety from pursuing forces.

  • Masato and the others enjoy a grilled squid dinner with the Kraken’s remains. Grilled squid is a common dish in both Taiwan and Japan. In Taiwan, grilled squid is found at night markets, where vendors grill it with light soy sauce and chilies. The Japanese version of the dish, ikayaki, follows a similar recipe with slightly different ingredients, and both are delicious. Admittedly, it is a little surprising the Kraken is edible: if we assume that the Kraken is physiologically similar to a giant squid, the high levels of ammonia in its flesh would render it quite unsafe to eat.

  • To provide some final laughs before the OVA ends, the Kraken tentacle Masato and the others are happily grilling begins to heat up unevenly, and ruptures, propelling it into the air. It outright kills Shirase and knocks out Mamako, Wise, Medhi and Porta. When they come to, each has amnesia, leaving Masato in a bit of a bind. Writing for the Okaa-san Online OVA was fun, being a return to the shorter format, and I will be doing the same for Kandagawa Jet Girls‘ OVA in the near future.

The OVA thus represents a short but enjoyable return to Okaa-san Online, whose story stood out for making an honest effort to use a VRMMORPG in order to convey a specific story about the mother-child dynamics amongst people. As an isekai series, Okaa-san Online is typically light-hearted and easygoing, preferring to use comedy, made possible by being set in a game world, to drive most moments forward. This is something I’ve noticed a trend: my enjoyment of isekai series stems largely from how well the series is able to utilise its setting to communicate a particular message and furthermore, where there is a good reason to have a characters enter an alternate world, in a setting where the real world definitively exists (as opposed to being set in a completely different world outright with no connection to the real world as we know it). In the case of Okaa-san Online, the VRMMORPG world is used to eliminate the space separating Masato and Mamako. While this is typically done for comedy, it also has the tangible effect of helping Masato to appreciate Mamako more, as the two spend time on adventures together with Porta, Wise and Medhi. When I last wrote about Okaa-san Online, the light novels had been ongoing: since then, two more volumes were released, and the series concluded in April. Given that the entire light novel series is done, one wonders if there will be a second season to Okaa-san Online: at the time of writing, I’ve not heard anything that indicates that Masato and Mamako’s adventures will continue in the anime format, but it would be interesting to see where this series would go in a second season if one were to be made.

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