The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Four Worlds, Four Tomorrows, and Four Fashions For Finding Fulfillment on this First Day of the Fourth Month: Remarks on A Place Further than the Universe on Exploration, Closure, Determination and Teamwork

“Sometimes, people are just mean. Don’t fight mean with mean. Hold your head high.” –Hinata Miyake

2018’s A Place Further than the Universe is a title that aired to universal acclaim for its heartfelt and sincere portrayal of a disparate group of four high school students, each resolute on fulfilling their individual dreams, and through a serendipitous turn of events, come together as members of an expedition to Antarctica. Each of Mari Tamaki, Shirase Kobuchizawa, Hinata Miyake and Yuzuki Shiraishi set out for the last continent of the world with different aims, but through their shared dream, determination and perseverance, come away from their experiences completely changed. A Place Further than the Universe‘s successes came from watching this journey unfold and how it impacted the characters, and by the time the season ended, there was no doubt as to what this anime had accomplished. However, even amidst the excitement of going to Antarctica, each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki never forget why they’d set out on this journey to begin with – viewers, on the other hand, were so blown away by the scope and scale of A Place Further than the Universe that these initial motivations were forgotten. While this speaks positively to the anime’s ability to build excitement and anticipation in viewers, the reasons behind why Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki set off on their journey are quickly shelved. However, these reasons are an integral part of A Place Further than the Universe, represent four different reasons why everyone wants to succeed in their expedition and more broadly, four perspectives on why people pursue success.

  • This post began its life as a series of thoughts after I began rewatching A Place Further than the Universe and realising that while discussions have thoroughly covered off why the anime was so rewarding, the ending outcomes were strong enough to eclipse the reasons that spurred Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki’s initial reasons for going to Antarctica. Without these initial reasons, the events of A Place Further than the Universe wouldn’t have been anywhere as moving as they were.

Success in achieving one’s goals is a central theme in A Place Further than the Universe, and the anime wastes no time in letting viewers know that success takes persistence, effort and dedication, traits that are ultimately summed up as “hard work”. Hard work consists of attributes that are necessary and commendable, and while the initial payoffs may not always be apparent, hard work is understanding that short term pains translate to long term gains which far outweigh the initial costs. Whether it’s learning how to set of navigation waypoints on the side of a mountain and learning that Mari tends to hug whoever she sleeps beside, acclimatising to the disciplined and turbulent life on a boat, or the frigid dangers of Antarctica itself, the road to the most remote continent is fraught with challenges. However, Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki, in their own reasons for being here, each rise to the occasion, and their individual rationale parallels reasons why people in reality wish to succeed. In this post, I’ll briefly explore how everyone’s motivations have roots in reality and how each motivation impacts one’s approach towards achieving their goals where real-world objectives and dreams are concerned, using my own experiences as an iOS developer to speak about everyone’s desires and experiences.

“I want to explore something new.”

Mari’s justification for participating in the Antarctica expedition is of everyone, is the most innocent. Having gone through middle school and her first year without having gone on any destinationless journeys, Mari simply wants to do something. However, she is initially unaware of what this something looks like, and supposes that cutting class to visit Tokyo would qualify. Upon meeting Shirase, however, and learning of the latter’s desire to go to Antarctica, Mari’s world is completely opened up. From visiting the Shirase II in port to attempting to speak with expedition members, Mari’s befriending Shirase sets in motion a journey that Mari never anticipated. With her naïveté and open-mindedness, a key part of her desire to try new things out, very few things can keep Mari down. She’s optimistic, enthusiastic and adaptive. A Place Further than the Universe sought to show, through Mari, that open-ended journeys, trips without destinations, have their merits because it allows one to be wholly immersed in the experience. The good become immensely pleasant memories, and the bad result in one’s learning how to better handle a scenario next time around. As an iOS developer, this is where my journey began – a love for the mobile devices and their ubiquity led me to accept a project to build an iOS app that collected survey data for patients undergoing treatment five years earlier. At this time, I’d only worked on small iOS apps for university coursework, and putting a full app together was a daunting task, considering I’d never built one before.

Through this experience, I learnt the ins and outs of RESTful APIs, authentication and the fundamentals of implementing view controllers, their data models and having everything play nice on different phone sizes. After five months, the app was finally finished, and while it was certainly not my best work, it was the first commercial app I’d assembled. There were more failures than successes, and it was frustrating work to debug things while at the same time, getting used to Swift. However, looking back on this project, I remain grateful to have taken it, because the underlying principles would be what I subsequently saw in every app I’ve since worked on. Similarly, in A Place Further than the Universe, Mari is quite unprepared for her Antarctica expedition and treats things as a game. However, when the chips are down, Mari proves more than willing to learn, and much as how her body adjusts to life on a rocking boat and the harsh climate of Antarctica, Mari develops a more resilient mentality, allowing her to begin appreciating the exceptional experience she finds herself in. Mari’s motivation to simply do something, even if she does not know the outcome, represents the explorer’s mindset: her goal is the journey itself, and so, without any specific objectives beyond this, Mari is open-minded, flexible and adaptive. Someone seeking to explore will similarly be willing to take things in stride, seeing adversity and challenge as being an integral part of the experience, and whose presence simply serves to make successes even more rewarding.

  • Where stepping into the unknown, there’s a little Mari in all of us. Mari represents the optimistic greenhorn, inexperienced but willing to learn. Because Mari is so new to everything, she has no expectations going into a given challenge – this leaves her slower on the uptake compared to veterans, but at the same time, also means that she’s not limited by existing knowledge when it comes to solving problems.

“I want to find closure and finish what was started.”

For Shirase, ever since her mother, Takako, went missing in Antarctica three years earlier on the first-ever civilian expedition, Shirase’s been absolutely resolute on returning there to see for herself what Takako had seen, and gain closure on the fact that Takako hadn’t been in her life for the past three years. The sense of powerlessness and helplessness that Shirase feels each and every day, from not knowing precisely what had happened to Takako, is focused onto a single, concerted effort to make the journey and find the answers that she seeks. Shirase had long known that Takako held an utmost respect and a great love for Antarctica; her words in the book A Place Further than the Universe accentuates this, that despite its inhospitable conditions, the continent was also home to unmatched, unspoiled beauty. Takako’s disappearance left more questions than answers, and for both Shirase and many of the expedition members, a part of this operation had been intended to fulfil a long-standing promise to Takako, to return and continue on the work she had envisioned. While Shirase is doubtlessly driven, her focus is such that she puts earning money for such a trip ahead of everything else. When Mari meets her for the first time, Mari’s innocence and optimism is surprising to her: for Shirase, the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to her mother has pushed everything, even friendship, out of her mind, and A Place Further than the Universe shows here that sometimes, our search for the answers and solutions can cause us to lose perspective. However, when given a chance to regroup, things turn around rapidly: having the support from Mari, Hinata and Yuzuki is what allows Shirase to find a conclusive answer in the frigid cold of Antarctica.

In reality, being driven to finish what one starts is a respectable trait, demonstrating one’s willingness to see things through to the end. Finishing something represents commitment and dedication. It is only by fighting and working hard to the last possible second that one can say they put in their best efforts, and because one had genuinely put in an effort, there are no regrets lingering as a result of wondering if one could’ve done more. This is the sort of mentality that is mandatory in iOS development – bugs or difficult-to-implement features remain on my mind until I’ve taken a good shot at them and have either solved the problem or at least, ascertain what would be needed to solve the problem and determine whether or not something is outside of my skill set (for instance, my knowledge of Core Animation isn’t as strong as it is with Core Location or AV Kit) – to leave bugs and issues unattended is inviting future disaster, since errors could propagate and affect other parts of the system. For Shirase, the question of what happened to Takako was always going to hang over her head, and it was only by going to Antarctica that she is able to decisively accept things, having seen it for herself. While this knowledge is painful, it also brings Shirase closure that she was able to gaze upon Antarctica with her own eyes and finally connect with her mother’s dream: Takako is gone, but her experience now lives on in Shirase, and this allows her to move on without regrets. Seeing something through and finding closure is unsurprisingly a key reason why people are driven: we want to be able to do something that we have no regrets about, and this is accomplished by finishing what one starts.

  • While Shirase states that she wishes to succeed and stick it to those who doubted her, her actual motivations for going to Antarctica are far deeper than A Place Further Than The Universe initially presents. Shirase’s conflict in the series stems from understanding her mother’s probably deceased, but at the same time, she holds out hope that they might one day reunite. To move on from the latter and gain closure for the former, Shirase intends to travel to Antarctica and decisively find closure. However, along the way, with the others, she’s able to really express how she feels and comes to terms with the outcome of her journey: at the end of A Place Further Than The Universe, Shirase cuts her hair short to signify that she’s turned over a new leaf, and the closure she found allows her to seize the future with her best effort.

“I want to prove it’s possible that I can do something big.”

The drive to explore and push the limits for what’s possible has been one of the major reasons why humanity has been able to accomplish feats like putting a man on the moon or creating microchips that transform the way we communicate. Hinata, the most energetic and spirited of the group, initially joins Mari and Shirase because she appeared to like the pair’s personalities, but later, she explains that she’s here to do something big before returning to high school. As it turns out, Hinata had been an exceptional track-and-field athlete, but because of her ability, antagonised more senior members of the team, who would go on to slander her. Unable to deal with the social pressures, Hinata dropped out of high school. While her confidence was shaken, Hinata nonetheless studies independently and hopes to one day return with a smile on her face, with an achievement or two to her name. For Hinata, Antarctica thus represents a chance to do something amazing, and she seizes the opportunity upon meeting Mari and Shirase: people doubted her, and Hinata intends to demonstrate that each and every one of her detractors wrong, as well as to prove to herself that she can make it on the merit of her own skill and traits. Of the girls, Hinata’s reason for going to Antarctica is one that I relate to the most. As an iOS developer, I have previously worked with other developers who were uncooperative, and who even actively worked against me: the first app that I’d been working on depended on JSON responses with keys spelt a certain way, and I was informed that the keys would always be lowercase. I thus built my serialisation logic on this assumption, although one day, where I had a meeting to demonstrate the app to the product owner, the backend developers unexpectedly changed the keys and capitalised the first word, resulting in the app crashing.

Because I had the presence of mind to take a video of the app working (a habit I got into because the simulator could occasionally be unreliable back then), and swapped out the keys for that meeting to match the responses from the backend, I was able to show the product owner the iOS app was working fine (and suggest that more communication about changing keys would be a good idea). Communication and conflict-diffusing thinking allowed me to sort that problem out: it simply felt more appropriate to fix things on my end and ask for clarification, rather than point fingers. I meet challenges head-on, and like Hinata, I enjoy nothing more than showing people that I am able to keep my word and deliver what was promised no matter what obstacles present themselves. This drive is doubtlessly something that motivates people to work hard and find their success: when people say something isn’t possible, it fuels my desire to test their assertions out for myself. It therefore becomes easy to root for Hinata, and once the Antarctica expedition draws to a close, it is quite clear that this group of friends wouldn’t have made it as far were it not for Hinata’s constant encouragement of everyone. In exchange, Shirase is able to help Hinata find her closure by blasting Hinata’s old classmates on a live broadcast, stating that no matter how hard they dragged Hinata down, Hinata’s own determination and perseverance led her to go somewhere that these classmates can only dream of visiting, proving decisively that Hinata has indeed done something big with her time, both for herself and to prove to her detractors that they ultimately mean nothing. While admittedly petty, proving wrong those who would underestimate me is something I like doing, as well. Of everyone in A Place Further Than The Universe, I am most similar to Hinata, striving to demonstrate what can be done when I’m playing for keeps.

  • Outwardly, Hinata’s diminutive stature means that people underestimate her. However, as Yuri Orlov would describe, Hinata is a big spirit in a small package – pound for pound, she’s livelier and more cheerful than anyone else, and has the book smarts to match her energy. She’s always pushing people forwards, and while never hesitating to speak her mind, is mindful of those around her as well. As such, Hinata is a go-getter, fully aware of what her objectives are and longing most to prove her worth, both to herself and those around her.

“I want to do something special with the people I care about.”

When Yuzuki met Mari, Shirase and Hinata for the first time, she assumed the three were best of friends on account of how well they got along with one another. Reluctant to take an assignment that would see her report on an Antarctic Expedition for the entertainment industry, Yuzuki is convinced upon realising that Mari and the others are more than willing to accept her as a friend. Having been a child actress all her life, Yuzuki never had time to partake in everyday activities and make friends. However, when her current “friends” from school end up leaving her behind, Yuzuki realises that the eccentric but genuine Mari, Shirase and Hinata are there for her, prompting her to accept her assignment on the condition that these three are allowed to come with her: she wishes to really be a part of a team and work on something with others, whereas previously, her assignments had never really allowed her to connect with those she worked with. As a result, Yuzuki’s desire is to work on a team with Mari, Shirase and Hinata: in her own words, she wishes to commiserate over setbacks, celebrate successes, argue and laugh with the others. Indeed, over the course of the expedition, Yuzuki will do precisely thus, experiencing the aspects of friendship that had, until recently, been a foreign world to her. It becomes clear that through ups and downs, Mari, Shirase and Hinata are here to stay, understanding her circumstances and choosing actively to remain by her side in spite of this. Teamwork is something that I greatly respect about Yuzuki: we both have an appreciation of what it entails and what is possible because of teamwork, but in both cases, our situation means that we’ve not really had a chance to be a part of something larger.

The reason why teamwork is so vital is because it enables the sharing of knowledge and perspectives towards problem solving: a problem that I can’t solve on my own might simply require a fresh set of eyes, or a procedure that I might not have thought of because of my experience and background. Indeed, when teamwork is at its finest, miracles can happen; Neil Armstrong’s historic achievement in 1969’s Apollo 11 mission, for instance, involved some four hundred thousand scientists, engineers, technicians and other support staff. Until then, landing on the moon had been something relegated to the realm of fiction, but with four hundred thousand people working on a shared vision, the impossible suddenly became merely challenging. Similarly, as a developer, while I may not always see eye-to-eye with other developers, I nonetheless respect and appreciate the work they do. At the time of writing, I can’t build my own SQL databases or write NodeJS endpoints to allow apps to retrieve and modify information stored in a backend. Working with the people who do possess these skills is how my apps are successful, and also allows me to learn off these developers, as well. On larger teams, with more people, it becomes possible to bounce ideas off one another, and even solve problems in novel ways. With few exceptions (such as individual sports), success and teamwork go hand-in-hand, with synergy resulting from the sum of everyone’s efforts leading people to new heights. With Yuzuki, being able to coach Shirase in speaking more effectively also helps her to feel more connected to the others, as does participating in the routine work at Showa Base and heading out to conduct experiments: she returns home with three friends, and although everyone heads their separate ways for now, everyone’s more connected than before.

  • Yuzuki’s desire to see every aspect of friendship, both the good and bad, stems from having worked on her own for so long, and never really being able to connect with anyone. Where given the chance to connect, Yuzuki is able to support those around her, and even if a few rough moments arise, her honesty allows the group of friends to sort things out with nothing held back. Yuzuki parallels folks who wish to share in their experiences with everyone, believing that the individual succeeds with the team, and despite not having many friends until now, gets along very well with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

While individual motivation and hard work is central to each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki making their dreams a reality in A Place Further than the Universe, it is unfortunate that in reality, the respect for hard work and effort isn’t quite what it used to be. The ceaseless social media controversies and politics does give the impression that traditional values are being displaced by a demand for instant gratification and an entitlement to an audience, where retweets and memes matter more than having done something useful with one’s time for the benefit of others. For instance, video game developers now place emphasis on lootboxes and cosmetics over engaging gameplay, as functional gameplay demands skillful development. Governments tackle non-issues because this make it look like they’re doing something, as opposed to addressing matters of economics and sustainability, something that requires a considerable effort to even begin approaching. Journalists run with misinformation because it’s easier to draw an audience with sensationalism than using legitimate news based in fact. There appears to be a genuine aversion towards hard work and effort, and should such trends continue, society will be in for a very grim future. While this sounds pessimistic, the reality is that hard work and being useful can take many forms. Once one accepts that this is a long-term deal, things become much more manageable. I consider someone worth respecting if they choose their actions such that they are able to make even a single person’s day better; kindness and effort are both scalable, with the mindset for helping one person easily being applicable for bettering the lives of many. While A Place Further than the Universe has Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki setting off on their journey for themselves at the onset, they come to impact many lives in a positive manner, beyond satisfying their own initial objectives: everyone started their adventure for a different reason, but everyone arrives in the same place, leaving behind the same positive impact together. Consequently, A Place Further than the Universe suggests that there is value to taking that first step, and that people can have a nontrivial, positive impact on others as well as themselves with a bit of effort and hard work. I thus leave readers with the question: what gets you up each and every morning?

  • I will note that today’s April Fool’s Day, but the only thing about this post that’s an April Fool’s joke is the fact that the post is actually not a joke in every way – I stand behind every word I’ve written, and this post was actually more for myself, more than anything. Today, I start work as an iOS Developer for a new company, and this post is to remind me of the things that I believe in, to never compromise those core values that I adhere to, no matter how difficult things get. I understand there are many ills in the world, but it’s not on me to convince governments to stop pursuing Sisyphean Tasks or for game developers to remove lootboxes from their games. As long as I am able to do what I can for those around me, and make any part of their day smoother, easier and better, I’ve done my part for the world, and that counts for something.

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