The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: Clearing The Heart Of Bolivia and The Road To New Challenges

“In our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” –George Orwell

Flying over Bolivia, the dense jungles beneath suddenly give way to a rocky desert. All attention turns towards a convoy of trucks driving along one of the craggy roads, and I move ahead of the lead vehicle before setting down the helicopter. I equip my drone, manoeuvre it just in front of the truck carrying medical supplies, and fire off a crippling EMP blast, stopping the convoy cold in its tracks. Switching over to my BFG-50A, I disable the escort vehicles and pick off stragglers, finally securing the truck. Nomad Team comments on how the supplies will help the rebels out, and for my troubles, I gain more points to spend on an increasingly large library of skills that will make the journey towards apprehending El Sueño possible. With this goal done, I turn my attention to the evening’s next task: picking up a new weapon attachment located in a remote hut perched on the side of a mountain. Ghost Recon Wildlands has proceeded in this manner for the past few months, and outside of the story missions, my time spent in game has proven to be immensely cathartic as I gambol around the countryside, exploring to my heart’s content. It suddenly strikes me that, while Wildlands‘ main story and premise meant that the game invites political discussion, the open world environment and ability to proceed at my own pacing has meant that, outside of the tense moments during story missions and the dialogue that Nomad team exchanges with handler Olivia Bowman, the verdant jungles and remote mountains of Wildlands‘ Bolivia feels remarkably removed from the endless debates and discussions that characterises political discourse. The sharp contrast here in Wildlands offers credence to the idea that not all art and media is necessarily political; one’s thoughts are unlikely to be about how their actions may impact a policy-maker a continent away when they’re sneaking through a village by a tranquil-looking pond in search of Santa Blanca medals or weapon attachments.

Where Wildlands does have Nomad team conversing with Bowman about mission objectives, or the implications of the latest successful assignment, insight is given into Santa Blanca and how the player’s actions are affecting the bigger picture. Taking out a contingent of Santa Blanca submarines will cripple their ability to smuggle narcotics, while capturing a social media influencer stymies Santa Blanca’s ability to spread propaganda. Nomad’s actions yield a tangible change and slowly pave the path towards capturing El Sueño. It is important to note that it is through the player’s actions that advance things, and in this way, Wildlands (or any other game with a large political component) speaks to the fact that all change is the consequence of tangible action, rather than words. To this end, Wildlands shows that it is ultimately through the player’s actions and decisions that Santa Blanca’s hold over Bolivia is lessened, and to drive this point home, Bowman is operating in the field alongside Nomad, rather than directing the team from the comfort of an air-conditioned office in Langley. This is the case in reality: although the media gives the impression that politicians are getting material work done while in office, more often than not, the average politician accomplishes very little. Wildlands therefore acts as a show of how it is the people down in the weeds who get the most useful work done, even if they won’t be recognised for their contributions later. During one assignment, one of Nomad team comments on how it’d be nice to have a statue erected in their honour for what they’ve done to make the world a better place, only for another squad member to reply that as Ghost Recon units, they’re not supposed to exist, much less be remembered. The situation Nomad team’s members find themselves in is a mirror of reality: the people who get the work done and are deserving of the credit are also those whose contributions are forgotten as politicians and the media scramble to occupy the limelight. However, in spite of this, seeing that one’s work has a tangible, positive impact makes it worth doing, irrespective of whether or not one is credited, and virtue is its own reward. For me, it is sufficient to know that I did something that was of value to someone else, and it was therefore pleasant to see Wildlands mirroring this notion.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’ve been recently sidetracked by Modern Warfare II, still have yet to make my way through Metro: Exodus‘ DLC content and recently picked up a complementary copy of Star Wars: Squadrons through a promotion on the Epic Store, I’ve not forgotten my commitment to finish Wildlands to the best of my ability. Since last time, I’ve cleared out all of the three-star difficulty areas in Bolivia and have made some progress towards acquiring enough skills so I can take on the four and five star areas.

  • The four and five star areas don’t feature tougher enemies that can take more damage or hit harder, but instead, are more heavily patrolled. Santa Blanca and Unidad bases have more guard towers, alarm systems and generators, and they’ve got a more extensive network anti-air missiles. In these situations, having additional skills means being able to better identify where foes and points of interest are, before taking them out without being detected.

  • The EMP drone becomes an incredibly valuable tool in a player’s arsenal, since it can fly undetected into the heart of hostile territory and trigger an EMP that disables alarms. Once alarms are disabled, the patient player can then pick off snipers and methodically move into the base to complete their objectives. Three-star areas are the perfect place to practise one’s techniques, since the bases here are reasonably secure, but not so secure that any misstep will result in enemy helicopters being deployed to one’s area.

  • At present, I’m still currently using the MDR as my primary weapon, with the BFG-50A being an excellent secondary weapon – I’ve not made enough progress in Wildlands to begin the Fallen Ghosts expansion content, but the weapon unlocks this DLC provides are top tier. Although any other assault rifle could fulfil a similar role as the MDR does, there’s something about the MDR that makes it an especially appealing to use.

  • With the right gear and skills, Wildlands settled into a very relaxing pattern for me – I would go into a region in a helicopter and scout around to find all of the places where intel were, then pick up said intel. After I had an idea of where all of the campaign missions, skill points and weapon cases were, it was time to collect everything and finish the missions off. The variety of missions continued to impress, and there is actually more challenge in the missions where the objective isn’t to eliminate a target.

  • Beyond this, Nomad team’s objectives in Wildlands felt very cut-and-dried: in fact, listening to the exchange between the AI squad gave the distinct impression that for Nomad team, lighting up Santa Blanca cartel and Unidad alike was just another day at the office for these operators. While the dialogue is purely meant to create additional immersion, it did get me thinking, and this is what eventually led to the choice of topic for this post.

  • From the sounds of things, Nomad team is simply carrying out an assignment. While they’re special operators that act in the interests of the United States, despite being given near total freedom in how they go about finishing their work, their goal is simply to serve their nation by following orders. For Nomad team, politics is unlikely at the forefront of their thoughts when they’re sneaking through the jungle to avoid detection, or flying over from one spot to another. Being professionals, Nomad team is more worried about getting their job done, and while some moments do have them asking questions, for the most part, Nomad team sees their work the same way the typical person sees their own occupations.

  • This got me thinking: on a day-to-day basis, I’m not worried about politics or current events. Instead, I’m concerned most about what my tasks are, and how to get those done. While I do think about the bigger picture where required (e.g. ahead of meetings), for the most part, my focus on the typical day is implementing a given feature or sorting out a bug. This is partly because after a hard day’s work, the mind is in need of some rest and relaxation. Talking about current events is the polar opposite of this: political discussions can become very heated, and arguing with people is very draining, so the well-exercised mind tends to avoid these sorts of things .

  • There’s little time to be worried about what’s happening halfway around the world, and at the end of the day, I only read the news so I’ve got basic awareness of what’s happening. I’ve never understood why some people are so insistent on making their opinions of current events known to others, but after looking around, it turns out there’s one combination of traits that makes it seem like politics is a bigger deal than it is.

  • People without a focus or tangible objective in their lives may latch onto perceived problems and devote themselves into voicing concern for said issues. This happens because the human mind is inherently wired towards problem-solving and overcoming difficulties, so where there are no challenges to face, the mind may fabricate challenges to keep busy. This is the origin of the axiom, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”; individuals with nothing to do might channel that restlessness into unproductive or harmful activities.

  • Coupled with the fact that social media makes it possible for most anyone to have an audience, the elements are in place for a social problem. While social media is not inherently evil, the problems it brought to the table resulted from the fact that ordinary people could suddenly become someone of note through virality. Traditionally, anyone who came to prominence did so because they were exceptional in their field and had the right amount of luck. On the other hand, social media algorithms pick content that elicits the most reactions, and since people tend to investigate the most emotionally charged content, polarising, shocking and misleading materials tends to be promoted. It is no joke when I note that a lot of folks out there don’t deserve their followers or audience.

  • The end result of this is that social media, far from being a meritocratic platform where the most useful content becomes visible, ended up becoming a place where extremist rhetoric and misinformation dominated. Those who post such materials do so not because they wish to legitimately inform, but because they believe they are owed an audience and validation. The combination of extreme opinions and a desire for attention results in an endless stream of online vitriol, one where there is no room for moderation. Perspectives such as mine are inevitably drowned out, and there is little opportunity to learn about sides to an argument that isn’t my own.

  • This phenomenon isn’t limited to social media, as online forums see disagreement of similar proportions. At TV Tropes, for instance, some members believed that the presence of like-minded individuals who enjoy writing lists of media tropes should have meant that any discussion on politics and current events at TV Tropes would automatically “[leave] one intellectually simulated, knowing [the users] had a productive and entertaining conversation”. In reality, the idea of any conversation at TV Tropes being intellectually stimulating is dubious at best because a vast majority of TV Tropes’ userbase lacks any real-world experience. As a result, most of the political and current events topics rapidly devolve into pandemonium as a result of users pushing their worldviews over others, versus making a sincere effort to communicate and understand other perspectives.

  • Similarly, over at AnimeSuki, political “discourse” isn’t very helpful. One “mangamuscle” operates under the belief that intelligent discussion consists of calling political leaders names and constantly reiterating that certain nations are evil. While those mangamuscle and similar-minded people believe themselves to be engaged in legitimate discussion, people like these are why I hold that a disinterest in politics most certainly doesn’t render one less intelligent or knowledgable: I hardly consider name-calling to be a hallmark of a “productive and entertaining” conversation.

  • Generally speaking, whether individuals participate in internet discussions about politics or current events, unless there is a clear desire to listen and learn from all parties, I’ve found that it’s best not to participate at all. Avoiding those who aim to shock and anger, and those who presume to lecture, isn’t especially difficult – most of the time, people post extreme content in the hope of driving engagement and validation, so if one isn’t going to reply, retweet or vote, then it would show both the originator and viewers that a given idea simply isn’t worth even the simple click of a mouse. At scale, the originator may eventually lose interest in the topic if they aren’t getting the desired reaction from posting about things.

  • More tricky to handle are those individuals who have an agenda to push and a formal background in political sciences or similar – one user who frequents both TV Tropes and AnimeSuki has made it a point of posting news articles that denigrate or are highly critical of one of the world’s nations. While I’m no stranger to this behaviour, the individual in question has stated that they’re currently pursuing a Master’s of Strategic Studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and plan on a career in defense intelligence, with the hope of joining the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) one day. Given their career goals, I get the feeling that one of their goals is to try and influence forum members into sharing their own beliefs.

  • Because individuals like these appear to look like they know what they’re talking about, one may be tempted to agree with them: someone enrolled in strategic studies will constantly be working with military and security issues, and therefore have a strong knowledge of the area. Unfortunately, if one also possesses a very firmly-held set of biases, this can be highly detrimental – their background allows them to be confident in their knowledge, but at the same time, they would also refuse to hear out other opinions, especially from those outside of the field. Individuals like these are therefore ill-suited for any sort of decision-making role at CSIS; if their decision-making is guided by ideology rather than fact, the public will inevitably come to harm.

  • As a result, I cannot say I’m inclined to see this individual succeed in their aspirations. It is admittedly frustrating that some people strive to make a career of promoting untruths, but at the same time, I also acknowledge that there are simply not enough hours in the day to concern myself with these sorts of things. Posts like these are about the extent that I’ll write about outside of my area of interest – my typical modus operandi is to look at the shows and games I like, but occasionally, I find that it is helpful for me to get my thoughts on topics like where I stand on talking about politics and current events here.

  • The short of it is that no, I won’t be sharing my thoughts on the things that go on in the world, and when I do write about politics, it will be strictly within the realm of whatever work I am discussing. For instance, I am willing to share my thoughts on the narcotics trade and government responses to it in the context of Wildlands, but I won’t delve into my thoughts on the Canadian government’s legalisation of cannabis. I do not believe I can offer a vigorous, satisfactory account of why I hold the beliefs that I do in the blog post format, and for this reason, I tend to avoid bringing up current events.

  • When it does come to something I am knowledgable about, I am much more willing to explain myself. For instance, I am a major proponent of the delegation pattern in iOS development because it allows me to pass information between view controllers sharing a common navigation controller, and the approach, when done correctly, results in clean code (in turn improving maintainability and readability). This is something I can defend because I have experience in the area. Thus, in order to avoid troubling readers with ideas I’m not an expert in, I choose not to mention about real-world politics and the like within my posts.

  • With this, I hope to have given readers a satisfactory account of why I don’t talk about politics here. In my twelve plus years of blogging, this approach has served me well enough, and I therefore see little incentive to change things up. It’s more fun to talk about the things that I enjoy doing, and here, I will remark that Wildlands has a considerable amount of activities in it. Even in the regions I’ve cleared, there are plenty of secondary missions to complete, and they offer rewards that help with gameplay. Completing all of them will take a considerable amount of time, and I’ve determined that it is probably more time-effective if I were to complete enough of the secondary missions to get at the skills best suited for my style and move on to the tougher regions.

  • On several occasions, I have previously ventured into the four and five star regions unintentionally – this happens when I’m pursuing a convoy, and while I usually end up capturing my target, the problems would show up if I foolishly decided it’d be a good idea to also raid a nearby Unidad or Santa Blanca base. In this way, I would get my face pasted into the ground, and while at this point, I’ve dumped enough skill points into the AI squad tree so that I can get two revives, dying in a place where it’s not feasible to be revived and safely get out has left me wishing for a “skip revive” option at times.

  • Outside of these most harrowing of moments, I am free to explore Bolivia at my own pace. Previously, the game had looked amazing on a GTX 1060, but with everything maxed out on an RTX 3060 Ti, the visuals look almost photorealistic. Over the past few months, NVIDIA’s Lovelace high-end GPUs have launched, and more recently, news of the RTX 4060 Ti have reached my ears. Assuming the rumours are correct, the RTX 4060 Ti is supposed to perform similarly to an RTX 3070 and sell for the exact same price point of 499 USD. In this case, the RTX 4060 Ti would be completely underwhelming – the RTX 3060 Ti had retailed for 399 USD and is almost as performant as the RTX 2080 Super, an impressive leap in technology.

  • Similarly, the GTX 1060 had been impressive because it had around 90 percent of the GTX 980’s performance for half the price. As such, when it is possible that the RTX 4060 Ti will only match a RTX 3070 in performance and demand the same cost, there is little incentive to wait for the Lovelace series. All of the news means that my decision to pick up my current video card back in September was a good decision, and the RTX 3060 Ti is expected to last me a very long time. Out of curiosity, I took a gander to see if the MSI Gaming X variant of the card I had was still available, and it seems that they are completely sold out now.

  • Weather patterns do impact Wildlands, and one can find themselves in the midst of a rainstorm even from perfectly clear skies like these. I remember that during my time spent in the open beta, rain had hit me almost immediately after clearing the first mission, and Wildlands had been detailed enough to render players’ clothing becoming wet from the rainfall. For my screenshots, however, I prefer taking them under clear skies: Bolivia looks wonderful, and the deep blue skies evokes a summer-like feeling. While playing under full daylight means that stealth becomes trickier, they do make for easier screenshots. On the other hand, if there’s a high-stakes mission, I will reset the map and wait for nightfall before beginning an assignment.

  • Side-missions in Wildlands are fun, and give players a chance to let loose: on most missions, having a suppressor is mandatory to preserve stealth and avoid alerting foes to one’s presence. There is a skill upgrade that results in suppressed weapons dealing identical damage to unsuppressed weapons, and by this point in Wildlands, I’ve unlocked it, so there’s actually no need to ever remove my suppressors. With this being said, there is something satisfying about going loud. Some of the rebel-related missions do entail fighting off waves of Santa Blanca enforcers, and it is here where I find the most use for an unsuppressed LMG.

  • When free-roaming, I tend to run the BFG-50A without a suppressor: the gun is the hardest-hitting rifle in the whole of Wildlands, and its report when firing reflects the sheer amount of damage this weapon can do. This gun has been a game-changer, and coupled with the fact I’ve maxed out my anti-vehicle damage, air vehicles are no longer a problem for me. Similarly, I can leave an entire convoy of foes as a smouldering ruin without much difficulty.

  • In a manner of speaking, the Fallen Ghosts DLC has allowed me to play Wildlands with increased flexibility, and this has, in turn, allowed me to progress at a smarter pace. With this being said, however, my map indicates that I’ve actually yet to deal with any of the higher-ranking Santa Blanca members. I imagine that for some of the buchons, some of the missions won’t entail any shooting, so I am curious to see how things turn out once I clear out the rest of Bolivia’s tougher areas. I have a feeling that it is better to clear out all of the buchons, versus just taking down enough to force El Sueño’s hand.

  • The takeaway from this jumble of a post is simple enough – I don’t like participating in online discussions of current event owing to the overwhelming ignorance and prejudices out there (as mangamuscle of AnimeSuki has been kind enough to demonstrate), and I see no reason to mention my own opinions regarding current events in a given blog post because they are neither here nor there. Beyond this, I do appreciate how Wildlands does suggest that politics or not, it is ultimately individual action that makes the difference, and as such, I find myself excited to continue on with this game.

  • The missions ahead will certainly be trickier than anything I’ve faced up until now, but at the same time, I’ve also got access to a wide array of skills and a better understanding of my arsenal. With this being said, these are interesting times – Battlefield 2042 has reintroduced the class system and implemented something in line with what I’d been hoping for, while Modern Warfare II just announced a new Japan-themed DMZ map, and while I’ve no previous DMZ experience, the map is intriguing enough for me to give it a go. I’ve also reached the halfway point in Sam’s Story in Metro Exodus‘ expansion content, and things have kept me quite engaged. I am, in short, very busy, but I should definitely make some time to push further in Wildlands – I’ve been itching to go back to Montuyoc, and it does look as though I’ve got the weapons and skills needed to survive there.

Longtime readers will likely wonder why I do not discuss current events, specifically, federal policy and foreign affairs here, even where some of the topics I write about are more conducive towards such conversations. The main reason behind this is that as a blogger, I have a responsibility to readers. My aims are to be truthful and fair, and political discourse stands contrary to these goals because, in the absence of any vigorous evidence, anything I state is strictly opinion. This blog’s core focus are anime and games, and while I may occasionally offer some of my thoughts on the systems anime and games present, stepping into things like foreign affairs is outside the scope of my discussion: readers come here to see what I make of a character and their place in a given story, or perhaps pick up trivia on the differences between a Barrett M82A1 and an M95. Beyond this, it is not my place to rattle off my personal beliefs and demand viewers listen to said beliefs, especially since I am no expert in many of the things I hold an opinion in. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some hold that they have an obligation to talk about politics because these matters impact them in some way. While is true to a limited extent, talking about things on social media or forums won’t change anything, and instead, my only obligations are to keep abreast of things and respond accordingly. I find that folks who spend a considerable amount of time writing about their beliefs online are doing the least amount of useful work while at the same time, making the largest effort in an attempt to look relevant. Simply put, people who do not spend time on forums, Reddit or Twitter trying to persuade others of their beliefs or spreading a certain brand of thought, have more time to get legitimate work done. As Wildlands suggests, those who prefer maintaining a low profile and fulfilling their obligations are the folks who will affect positive change most effectively, and even if they’re not going to be recognised or celebrated for their contributions, the importance of their actions cannot be understated.

Bofuri 2: Review and Reflection After Three

“The beast’s hide is too thick to be pierced from the outside. I must cut through it from the inside!” –Drax The Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

With Christmas Break over, the Maple Tree guild work towards clearing the fourth world. Maple herself is out with a cold, so she ends up resting. After she recovers, she returns to New World Online (NWO) and solos the boss while helping Frederica’s party; while she’d previously ended up fighting another named elite, Maple ends up with yet another powerful skill. She later meets up with Yui and May and help them defeat a named elite gaining access to the sixth level. This horror-themed space overwhelms Sally, who’s too frightened to even set foot in the world, and Maple decides to accompany Sally when the latter expresses a want for some loot from a haunted house landmark. Although they end up failing, Maple will later return and solo the haunted house. While Sally explores other levels, Maple hangs out with Mii; after they defeat foes giving Mii some trouble, the pair hang out at a café, where Mii wishes she could be herself in-game. Later, the developers start another in-game event, and despite the challenge specifically surrounding the instance Maple and Sally are given, the pair manage to clear three floors within the tower despite initially struggling with foes that were custom-made to give Maple a tough time. This is where Itai no wa Iya nano de Bōgyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu‘s second season (Bofuri 2 from here on out for brevity) lands after three episodes. After doing a special pre-airing prior to Christmas, Bofuri is set to continue on in the same manner as its predecessor, following the RPG novice Kaede Honjō (Maple), and her best friend, Risa Shiromine (Sally) as they explore NWO and its unusual mechanics. Along the way, thanks to Maple’s near-total absence of knowledge surrounding gaming, and her propensity to go with what works, she ends up having a wonderful time in the game, frustrating the developers, who appear to be at their wits’ end when it comes to handling Maple and her now-infamous guild.

After the first season had ended, I concluded that Bofuri had been an excellent example of an unusual optimisation solution in some multi-agent systems: in the typical RPG, players pick from a wide range of statistics to build characters suited for their class and play-style. Because Maple had lacked any gaming knowledge, she maximises her defensive capabilities and instead, draws upon a very unusual set of skills to advance her experience, and in the process, she ends up having a fantastic time. The lessons seen in Bofuri (and doubtlessly, Bofuri 2) is a simple one: having a varied skill set and an open mind leads to a good experience. This particular theme is general enough such that it could apply to all walks of life, and mirrors the easygoing tone in Bofuri; NWO isn’t a death-game like Sword Art Online, the competition between the different guilds are friendly, and Maple has a tendency to befriend those she meets. In the absence of high stakes and interpersonal drama, Bofuri isn’t going to tell any inspirational stories, nor is it likely to change my worldviews on a given subject. However, the series is relaxing and fun: a part of the enjoyment stems purely from seeing what outrageous solutions Maple applies towards a given problem, and watching the developers squirm as they realise nothing they propose is working. Not every series needs to compel viewers to think, and Bofuri is an excellent example of how important it is to simply focus on having fun every so often: Maple herself isn’t worried about the in-game meta or about playing the game a certain way, and as a result, she is able to have extraordinary experiences. While this means I won’t be discussing the series’ themes and their implications as I am wont to doing, as a bit of a gamer myself, I do relate to the idea of purely having fun in a game without concern for playing something “the way it’s meant to be played”.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As it turns out, the Japan-themed world in NWO was only one step of the journey, and by the time Maple has a chance to play through things following Christmas, her friends have already cleared it and are exploring higher level spaces. One thing I’ve never understood about Japanese games is why open levels are referred to as “floors”: in older RPGs where the setting is a dungeon or large building, floors make sense, but when it comes to wide open spaces, the nomenclature is misleading. Calling them “worlds” or “levels” is more appropriate a descriptor.

  • All of the RPG games I play are completely open-world, being set in large maps subdivided into large biomes, and there’s no need to clear a boss fight in order to enter new biomes. In World of Warcraft, regions do have a level requirement to dissuade low-level players from rushing ahead, and Skyrim is completely open for players to explore, as enemy difficultly scales with the player level. Japanese games are built on different philosophies than Western games, and while elements from the former have strongly influenced the latter, cultural differences result in dramatically different experiences.

  • For me, both games have their merits (I’ve found things like Valkyria Chronicles and Street Fighter just as engaging as Sim City and Battlefield), but on the whole, I generally prefer games that don’t demand a large time investment in them. The idea of spending hours upon hours levelling up and picking up usable gear isn’t something that appeals to me, and so, when games take a fair approach towards things (anything worth earning should take some effort, but not demand more effort than work), I find myself more inclined to enjoy things.

  • From what I’ve seen of NWO throughout Bofuri, the game’s biggest draw seems to be a dynamic skill system that allows players to pick up any skill and use them in conjunction with one another. Maple uses them in unorthodox ways to trivially solve most of the challenges she encounters, and I am reminded of the classic game, Magicka, a satirical game that allows players to combine magic in different ways to solve puzzles. Most RPGs don’t allow players to combine skills in an unusual manner (for instance, a World of Warcraft mage can’t use spells to bring the dead back to life, and shamans can’t use powerful frost spells to control crowds) with the aim of preserving balance.

  • Maple’s first adventure after returning to NWO from a cold is to solo the boss in the Japanese level, and then she joins her friends in the subsequent world to mop the next boss. Her overwhelming power leads the others to wonder if there’s anything left to do, and I am left to feel that Maple is similar in Donnie Yen’s portrayal of Ip Man in Ip Man – Yen’s Ip Man always finds a way of winning the most important fights and tends to draw in fights of lesser significance. While an indestructible protagonist is generally counted as being dull to watch because there’s no struggle and payoff, stories can still make such characters work.

  • This happens when the protagonist is made to learn that power isn’t going to be the answer. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is a fine example of this – although Yuna is exceptionally powerful, she finds that jumping into the middle of a problem and solving it with her fists or magic won’t cut it all the time, and in doing so, she slowly learns to listen to the world’s inhabitants. Here in Bofuri, it appears that Maple’s state in the game is such that she’s able to purely focus on having fun, but I do find myself wondering if the story is set to go further than this.

  • Bofuri‘s ability to vividly render every region is impressive: Silver Link has spared no expense in making sure every world is vividly rendered and packed with detail. The animation and artwork in Bofuri is of an excellent standard, and this shouldn’t be too surprising – Silver Link has an impressive repertoire, ranging from Non Non Biyori and Brave Witches to Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow and Kokoro Connect, and most of their shows have been well-presented.

  • The sixth world, a horror-themed space, might hint at what’s upcoming in Bofuri 2 – although Sally is a remarkable player who built her character around agility and has a reputation similar to Maple’s, her fear of all things horror means that she’s left conflicted as to whether or not she wants to play on. On one hand, Sally doesn’t do well with ghost stories, but on the other hand, she’s tempted by some excellent gear that’s said to drop in this region.

  • Using game spaces to help characters grow as individuals wouldn’t be a bad idea, and having spent the whole of the first season showing how Maple’s able to visit all sorts of spaces without worrying about being defeated, it would be nice if Maple could spend more time with her friends and help them with various in-game objectives, in time, coming to learn more about their real-world traits and potentially using the game to help them overcome an individual shortcoming. In the present, Maple agrees to accompany Sally into a haunted house where some interesting gear is set to drop.

  • If I had to guess, once players acquire a skill in NWO, the skill’s performance probably scales as one levels up. This would allow Maple to continuously use her old skills in higher levels without worrying about them becoming obsolete. The Division and The Division 2 had a similar mechanic in play, allowing seeker mines, explosive drones and remote turrets to do more base damage as one levelled up, so that they would remain useful as one hit the endgame. By using her Machine God ability, Maple carries Sally through the haunted house, both literally and figuratively.

  • Maple’s firepower actually does tangible damage to whatever ghosts are in this world, and as such, it stands to reason that, had Sally simply stood her ground and fought back, she’d be able to hold her own. However, since her fear of ghosts and spirits surpasses her confidence in NWO, she ends up being ineffectual during the exploration. I recall a similar scene in Metro: Last Light, where during the mission to save Pavel, Artyom has a frightening vision where hands of the damned protruded from the walls while he follows the Dark One. Back then, I only had a GTX 660, but I was still able to run the game at high settings and maintain 60 FPS with the 1080p resolution.

  • When Sally gets separated from Maple, her ensuring reaction is adorable. This was a somewhat unexpected side to her character, and although I vaguely remember Sally being uncomfortable with ghost stories and the like, seeing moments like these really accentuate her dislikes. Admittedly, it was also quite amusing to see the otherwise cool-and-collected Sally reacting in such a manner. In the end, she does manage to link up with Maple, who uses her latest ability to give Sally a chance to regroup, and when some other adventurers enter the house, they draw the spirits off the pair, allowing Sally and Maple to escape.

  • Sally’s original quest of gaining some new items ends up unsuccessful, but for their troubles, she and Maple both gain access to a new skill. While I’ve never had an experience quite like Sally’s in a game before, I have had times where I entered a mission thinking I had what it took to complete it, only to get stomped. This most often happens in games like The Division – after I completed my six-piece Classified Striker’s set, I foolishly thought I was capable of handling Incursions solo and found myself hopelessly outmatched; this activity had been scaled for four players with good gear. Similarly, in The Division 2, I’d imagined that the Hunter’s Fury would be an asset when I tried to solo the raids, but during the airport level, I couldn’t even make it off the tarmac into the terminal.

  • As a predominantly solo player, I definitely wouldn’t make it very far in NWO unless I managed to make a Maple-like build. Back in Bofuri, after logging out, Sally is surprised to find her home empty; her parents are working late, and she’s still a little jittery following the excitement of having just escaped a haunted house. The real world is rarely shown in Bofuri, but I am fond of its portrayal, since it does remind viewers that this series isn’t an isekai, strictly speaking, and as a result, the stakes are much lower. A few months ago, I would’ve been a little envious of Sally’s home setup, but post move, I’ve put together a setup of my own that has suited my needs.

  • Luckily for Sally, Maple’s on hand to talk her through things. Moments like these speak to what’s really important in gaming, and while Bofuri doesn’t have the same high stakes as the typical isekai or something like Sword Art Online would, the change of pacing makes this a relaxing series to follow. Understanding this about Bofuri means managing my expectations accordingly: I’m not here looking for a world-class, life-changing tale, but instead, it’s sufficient to see characters learn and grow alongside one another in a world where the only aim is to have a good time, something that many streamers and gamers in the present seem to have forgotten.

  • In the end, Maple ends up soloing the haunted house and secures all of the stuff that Sally had been looking for. In the time that has passed between Bofuri and Bofuri 2, I’ve managed to finish The Division 2 fully – seeing the excitement in Bofuri 2 about loot brings back memories of when I’d spent my downtime after work running through Washington D.C. doing various things for exotics. In The Division, I ended up joining random groups in order to complete legendary missions, but with the presence of exotic crates in The Division 2, I was able to amass a reasonably extensive collection of exotics without needing to play the toughest content.

  • My old Hunter’s Fury gear set, paired with the Chatterbox and Ninja Bike kneepads, allow me to trivially beat missions in PvE – the fact I get health and armour back on each kill, coupled with the fact that every kill also returns a third of my ammunition, and the Chatterbox’s ability to increase its firing rate when near enemies, renders this the perfect setup for PvE. On the other hand, against individually strong opponents, the Hunter’s Fury loadout I have now is quite ineffective. My approach towards The Division 2 was partly inspired by Bofuri, and since I have no intention of playing PvP or the game’s tougher content, things work out well enough for me.

  • The main reason why I’ve not returned to The Division 2 since finishing the Faye Lau manhunt had been because for most of 2021 and 2022, the game went on a bit of a hiatus as no new content was added. Ubisoft had launched a roadmap indicating that new content would be added, along with a new free-to-play title, but having felt I’d gotten my money’s worth from The Division 2, I ended up moving on. Back in Bofuri, after receiving a request from Mii, Maple joins her and uses her newfound defensive buffs to give Mii a chance to use her powerful, but slow-to-deploy AoE skill. This particular spell brings to mind Megumin’s ex~PLOSION~!, which similarly was damaging but was stymied by a high magic requirement and long charge time.

  • On the topic of Megumin, it turns out that next season, Konosuba: An Explosion on This Wonderful World is going to be released. This spinoff will deal with Megumin and show her life prior to meeting Kazuma, and I’m rather looking forwards to seeing how things turn out. During the start of the global health crisis back in early 2020, I found myself with an abundance of time at home, so I spent most of it powering through anime I hadn’t had time to watch. Konosuba was one of them, and in this series, I found comedy of a consistently good quality. Besides KonosubaKuma Kuma Kuma Bear is also going to get a second season.

  • While I don’t typically watch or write about isekai anime, there are a few series that do catch my interest from time to time – I prefer to watch the more relaxed and comical series over the serious ones. Back in Bofuri, Mii and Maple swing by an in-game café following their adventure, and the conversation switches over to something on Mii’s mind; she’s been wanting to be herself, but obligations to her guild means she must maintain a more serious persona. Hanging out with Maple allows her to relax and show her true self, and I am hoping that at some point, seeing Maple doing what she does best will also help Mii to relax around others.

  • When conversation turns to hanging out with folks one otherwise normally wouldn’t, I am reminded of how slice-of-life anime are able utilise their casts and have different characters interact with one another, in turn creating new experiences that may differ in tone and outcomes compared to what is seen with the lead characters. GochiUsa had done an especially good job with this: while Cocoa and Chino carry most of the show in earlier seasons, later on, episodes give the other characters a chance to shine. Episodes of Bofuri around other characters in the Maple Tree guild, or even the other guilds, could act as a fun way of showcasing more of NWO.

  • Bofuri is wasting no time on pushing ahead – by the game’s seventh major event, Maple and her friends are fully ready to take things on. This time around, rather than a large-scale event involving multiple guilds, small groups must take on instanced areas. The idea of an “instance” originates from World of Warcraft, where small groups were given their private copy of a dungeon to take on. The term itself comes from Object-Oriented Programming, where an instance of an object is a occurrence of an object that can be acted upon. The easiest way to describe this is with physical entities: supposing that Person is a class describing people, then Maple would be an instance of the Person class. The term stuck, and since then, private dungeons have been referred to as instances.

  • Maple and Sally end up taking on their instance together, but unbeknownst to them, the developers have altered theirs so the pair end up with far tougher foes than necessary. As Maple and Sally destroy their opponents, the developers watch in horror; nothing they have seem to work. However, their conversations also suggest that these foes were designed to be challenging, but not unbeatable. The problem NWO’s developers have stem from a fundamental design problem in their game: caps to skill power and statistics, coupled with limiting what combination of skills can be equipped and earned, would’ve eliminated most of their headaches.

  • Game balance is eschewed in Bofuri precisely to accommodate Maple’s outrageous adventures, and as such, the developers find themselves on the backfoot. Battlefield 2042 had suffered from this – originally, the class system was abolished, and this reduced the incentive for teamwork. The reintroduction of classes is intended to ensure that players are locked to a specific role, increasing the need to work as a team. Here, Maple equips her Wooly skill: this one is one of my favourites because Maple’s response to using it is always adorable. While outwardly envelopes Maple in wool, she is able to utilise it in a creative way.

  • Writing for Bofuri is admittedly a bit of a challenge: since the anime’s objective is simply present a fun experience, there isn’t much to do in the way of speculation, either. As such, Bofuri is one of those series where it’s easiest to kick back and watch things as they unfold. With this in mind, while I’m writing about both Bofuri and Mō Ippon! in the same manner, the latter does provide more opportunity for the sort of discussion I’m partial to; I’m not sure how many readers here follow my references to games, for instance.

  • Back in Bofuri, upon fighting their first foe, Maple and Sally initially have a tough time damaging its exterior. Once they spot that the monster’s mouth might be a weak spot, Maple decides to cut it up from within. This is the inspiration for the page quote, sourced from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, during the opening fight against a multi-dimensional monster known as the Abilisk. When Drax determines that the only way to deal damage to it is from the inside, both Gamora and Peter Quill are perplexed, since skin is supposedly the same thickness from the outside as it is from within. However, there is merit in Drax’s argument – the fleshy interior is probably not as tough as the exterior, so more damage can be done.

  • In this way, Maple and Sally conquer the first floor without too much trouble and move onto the second, where they fight a foe that takes the form of a large book and utilises Maple’s own skills against them, while at the same, preventing Maple from using any skills it’s taken. This enemy is actually pretty cleverly designed and brings to mind the likes of Aaron Keener, who had access to the same plethora of skills as the player’s Agent. Against Keener, I found the best way to handle him was to continuously push the offensive – staying behind cover isn’t too effective, and I found that it was by getting up close and personal that let me do effective damange.

  • The visual quality in the second floor’s fight is degraded somewhat, as the character models become more blocky in terms of appearance. The darkness in the room somewhat masks this, but it was still noticeable. Silver Link generally has a solid history of producing visually consistent works, but there have been cases where things have seen slippage (such as 2016’s Brave Witches). However, if their record is anything to go by, Bofuri 2 shouldn’t see any delays to its schedule: it is possible that some shortcuts were taken to ensure that episodes aired in a timely fashion.

  • The fight against the second floor’s boss ends with Sally using her speed to overcome it, and the two advance to the third floor, which is controlled by an elemental golem. Initially, the environment resembles World of Warcraft‘s Molten Core, but after Sally begins using cold spells against it, the golem switches over to cold-based attacks. Maple ends up using her Atrocity form and consumes the golem, defeating it instantly and giving the developers more headaches. At this point in time, it almost feels like Maple and Sally would be better served as play-testers brought on before a game ever hit alpha stage: their unconventional play-styles would expose problem areas of a game that can then be fixed.

  • Having said this, with the way Maple plays, one might be inclined to consider fool-proofing certain things, and this approach towards development does have its detriments. One longstanding axiom in software development is that users will always find ways of breaking something no matter how well-guarded something will be. For NWO’s developers, it may not be a meaningful exercise to keep up with Maple, so here in Bofuri 2, I am curious to see how they react as the story continues. Viewers will likely have an excellent ride ahead, and I look forwards to seeing what the second season will present.

The ability to play a game in any manner of one’s choosing is a topic of debate amongst those who partake in video games. On one hand, game mechanics may lead to certain tactics being more effective than others, and in PvP environments, this can result in heated exchanges regarding whether or not said tactics are fair. For instance, the practise of camping in a first person shooter is regarded as dishonourable because it gives the camper an advantage over their foes. By staying in one spot and remaining hidden, one can defeat unsuspecting foes with ease. There is, however, one legitimate use of camping: if one has just exited a firefight and needs to regenerate their health, it is perfectly acceptable to hide behind cover or somewhere safe while awaiting recovery. If one is ambushed in the process, there’s nothing unethical about defending oneself. In PvE games, play-styles are irrelevant, and one can choose to have fun in any manner of their choosing. The whole point of gaming is to have a good time, and this is why for me, single-player experiences are my preference. I can do something in my own manner of choosing, in an environment where my mistakes won’t harm any teammates or allies. Similarly, when I play PvP experiences now, I enter a match without any expectations: the goal isn’t to help my team win or maintain a positive KDR, but rather, to have a blast, and I’ve found that when approaching games with this mindset, I tend to do better and have a better time of things along the way. Bofuri celebrates this approach towards gaming. With all of the streamers out there trying to engage their audiences by using meta loadouts and strategies exclusively, as well as viewers who try to emulate them, the spirit of video games is somewhat diminished, so Bofuri acts as an amusing counterargument for this in suggesting that even using the so-called “off meta” methods and equipment can still be viable so long as one has an open mind, and above all else, a willingness to have fun in the process.

Mō Ippon! – Review and Reflection After Three

我係精武館最水皮嘅徒弟, 我想試吓日本拳頭嘅味道!” –陳真, 精武門

After suffering a devastating defeat during the middle school judo competition, Michi Sonoda enters secondary school with her heart set on having a bittersweet romance. However, it turns out that her opponent, Towa Hiura, had longed to get to know Michi better and to this end, ended up enrolling at the same school as Michi and her best friend, Sanae Takigawa. In spite of herself, Michi ends up swinging by the judo club and, at Sanae’s behest, decides to pick up judo again: the judo club is in danger of being disbanded from lack of members, and Towa had been so excited to join. Seeing this, Michi decides to return; she reveals that she’d been disappointed that she hadn’t improved despite having practised judo since primary school, but seeing everyone’s spirits spurs her on. Meanwhile, Sanae struggles to convince her parents to sign her permission form, and Towa finds it difficult to approach Michi, worrying that she might still be upset with the manner of her defeat. As it turns out, Michi’s not concerned with things and looks forwards to training alongside Towa. Later, Sanae and Michi are shocked when they physical education instructor turns out to be a hulking, no-nonsense man. However, when his comments go too far, fellow instructor Shino Natsume steps in and subdues him. She reveals herself as the judo club’s advisor and, after flipping Towa during training, remarks that she trained alongside her students to reach her current level of skill. Encouraged, Michi and Sanae begin preparing for a competition, but after Towa runs into her previous club’s members, she reveals to Michi and Sanae that with her previous judo club, she’d become disliked after her skill allowed her to be selected for competition over a senior. On the day of the competition, with Michi’s encouragement, Towa decides that she’ll compete in the middle slot to face off against her senior. This is Mō Ippon! (Ippon Again!), an adaptation of Yu Muraoka’s manga which had begun running in 2018. Since then, twenty-one volumes have been released, and Mō Ippon!‘s anime opens with the tried-and-true idea of people returning to an activity despite their yearning for a fresh start.

The premise of being drawn back into an activity is not new, and stories have previously employed this as a means of motivating their characters to see things from a new perspective. It is difficult for people to make sweeping changes to their habits or traits, and the expression “a leopard cannot change its spots” mirrors this: Michi may desire to do something else with her time as a secondary student, but she inevitably finds herself pulled back to judo. In the process, she’s now able to meet Towa, who promises Michi that this time around, training won’t be as brutal as Michi had known it, and with this, a fateful encounter sets Michi back along the path of jacket wrestling. With Michi’s participation in judo assured, the remainder of Mō Ippon! can therefore be devoted towards giving Michi a chance to learn and grow, as well as experience the things she otherwise had not thought possible even though she’d been participating in judo. The smallest hint of this is seen in the second episode: when old habits return, Michi and Sanae begin practising while they’re tasked with returning the tatami mats to the storage room, and this ends up drawing a crowd of impressed onlookers, including several of the male students. While Michi’s path is just beginning here in Mō Ippon!, that she’s committed to judo again means the series is able to explore different aspects of the sport, things like sportsmanship and discipline, and the importance of maintaining an open mind. These are mainstays in anime, but what’s exciting is that there is no real limit or constraint to what messages can be portrayed within Mō Ippon!: so far, beyond returning to judo and competing to improve herself, Mō Ippon! has not defined a concrete goal yet, and this means that over the course of the anime, I rather look forwards to being pleasantly surprised.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’m not a judoka, I am a nidan practitioner of the Okinawa Gōjū-ryū (hard-soft style) school of martial arts, and I’ve been training since I was nine. If memory serves, my parents enrolled me in the class because the dōjōchō had been a combat instructor with the Hong Kong police force and knew one of my relatives. When I started, I remember being quite casual until reaching green belt, after which I began having fun with taking things more seriously. Although I have troubles with memorising everything, the things I do know, I know enough to help teach. However, since it has been some time since I’ve been to the dōjō (on account of the global health crisis), I’ve become very rusty, and now I understand how my senpai feel when they comment on having forgotten the shishochin kata.

  • Judo is the focus in Mō Ippon!, and unlike karate, which emphasises strikes, judo is all about grappling and throws. As a karateka, if I were facing off against someone like Michi or Towa, my first inclination would be to keep my distance, strike swiftly and retreat even more hastily before I can be grabbed. In the event I am grabbed, Gōjū-ryū does provides its practitioners with a variety of techniques for escaping and maintaining distance, but beyond this, I’d likely be in trouble if the judoka knew what they were doing, since they have access to a wider range of techniques for the ground. Of course, the whole point of martial arts and self-defense is recognising how to get out of a bad situation first – a martial artist knows when not to throw a punch.

  • In Mō Ippon!, things open with judoka Michi participating in her final competition of middle school. Having given up a great deal of her time to the sport of judo, Michi wants to explore other aspects of life, and so, she’s decided that after this competition, she’s hanging up her gi. Before then, however, she wanted to score an ippon (一本) – in judo, this is a full point, awarded for throws, holds and pins. However, her opponent is the skillful and powerful Towa. Unaware of her opponent’s prowess, Michi is defeated and humiliated.

  • Towa reminds me a great deal of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto and Love Hina‘s Matoko Aoyama – she’s a severe-looking girl and is voiced by Chiyuki Miura, a relatively new voice actress. On the other hand, Michi is voiced by Ayasa Itō, who had previously played GochiUsa BLOOM‘s Miki and Slow Start‘s Tamate Momochi. In the aftermath of her loss, Michi’s best friend, Sanae, is mortified to learn that Michi’s funny face during her loss was captured and uploaded onto the internet for the whole world to check out.

  • Despite the loss dampening Michi’s desire to end her time in judo with a bang, she’s still in fine spirits and expresses to her friends that she’s rather looking forwards to secondary school, where she’ll have more time to really experience youth in all of its glory. Her reaction surprises Anna, a classmate who’s in kendo: Anna’s constantly trying to pry Michi and Sanae away from judo into kendo, and a recurring joke in Mō Ippon! is that Michi and Sanae constantly leave Anna in the dust.

  • Anna resembles a slightly more haughty version of Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi and Blue Thermal‘s Tamaki Tsuru. Curiously enough, Blue Thermal had Tamaki looking to enjoy her youth in post-secondary. When one’s been around anime for a non-trivial amount of time, similarities begin to appear in the shows one watches, but I’ve never been too bothered by this because every story has its own distinctions that make them unique. Even though a premise or outcome might feel familiar, the most important part of any series is how the characters end up at a milestone or conclusion, and how their learnings along the way help them to be better people.

  • Sanae, being Michi’s best friend, had been there with her throughout middle school and judo. While she’s not quite as experienced as Michi and had previously sustained an injury, she remains a steadfast presence in Michi’s life. Sanae’s appearance suggests someone who is a bit bookish, and she’s voiced by Yukari Anzai, whose breakout role was as Cue!‘s Miharu Yomine. I still have yet to check Cue! out – an adaptation of a mobile game, Cue! began airing a year ago and is said to be a reasonably enjoyable watch.

  • Had Mō Ippon! allowed Michi to do her own thing, the series would end here and now. One thing I appreciated was how the anime wastes no time in pulling her back into the world of judo: had the series spent an inordinate amount of time portraying Michi being conflicted by things, there’d be less time for the highlight. Instead, circumstances nudge Michi back into judo swiftly, and she ends up recalling why she’d trained so hard – the thrill of a good throw or hold had captivated her, and nothing was more satisfying than hearing the judge yell out, ippon.

  • This is where Mō Ippon!‘s namesake comes from: Michi had always longed to score them in competition, but she became discouraged after realising she hadn’t improved despite spending all that time in judo, and seeing people out in the world excelling despite having trained for a shorter period than herself probably accelerated her wish to do other things. When exploring the clubs at their new school, Anna decides to make another attempt to recruit Michi and Sanae, but owing this school’s circumstances, the judo and kendo clubs share the same space.

  • To Michi’s surprise, Towa has also enrolled in the same school, and she’s quite adamant about breaking out the tatami so they can begin training immediately, even though the judo club is on the verge of being disbanded on account of a lack of members. Towa immediately tries to pull Michi over to join her, prompting a jealous Anna to tug Michi back and join the kendo club. Seeing what’s about to happen, Sanae gives Anna a gentle nudge, and Michi ends up flipping Towa. Sanae might have a quiet personality, but this moment shows that when the chips are down, she knows how to give her friends a nudge.

  • In this case, recalling the old thrill of a good throw reminds Michi that she was being dishonest to herself about quitting judo, and what’s more, with the right people in her corner, it is possible to push herself further and improve. Michi thus agrees to join the judo club, and with Sanae accompanying her, the judo club now has its requisite three members to become reinstated. I’ve noticed that in anime and manga, the minimum number of club members tends to vary, and while this can be explained away as a result of different schools having different regulations, I wonder if it’s also done for the author’s convenience – the character count can affect a story’s ability to help readers connect to the characters, and depending on the story and character backgrounds, having fewer characters initially allow their relationships to be fleshed out to a greater extent.

  • While Towa is brutal when participating in judo, off the tatami mat, she’s quite shy and finds it difficult to speak up. Her original motivation for attending the same school as Michi was because she’d been drawn in by Michi’s never-give-up attitude and spirit, and while she lacked the resolve to approach Michi back at the tournament, she has since wanted to befriend the boisterous judoka. Martial arts is often touted as an aid in confidence, but in fiction, it’s often portrayed as a silver bullet that can make an extrovert out of an introvert. To see Mō Ippon! depict characters as being shy despite martial artists was a refreshing nod to reality.

  • For the second episode, the focus is on Sanae as she tries to convince her parents to allow her to continue participating in judo; since Sanae had suffered several injuries previously, and since secondary school is a time of study, her parents believe that it is in Sanae’s interest to quit judo and wholly devote herself to securing a spot in her post-secondary of choice. I can see where Sanae’s parents are coming from: one must be focused in order to do their best, and I recall how in both my final year of secondary school, and in my final year of undergraduate studies, I sat out my extracurricular activities where appropriate.

  • The advantage of participating in extracurricular activities anyways actually outweighs the disadvantages, and with the right time management, balancing both allows the mind to regroup and rest from the other activities. If one tires of studying, extracurricular activities act as a break. Similarly, when extracurricular activities begin to become difficult, one could always resume their studies. As Michi and Sanae take the tatami mats back to the storehouse after Towa’s latest attempt to bring them back out, Michi becomes lost in memories of old.

  • Soon after, Michi and Sanae end up actually practising judo out in the open, drawing the interest of some onlookers. As it turns out, Sanae was actually quite keen on rejoining, but finds it difficult to convey to her parents this desire. Character traits like these normally take whole seasons to iron out, so when Mō Ippon! addresses this right out of the gates, it may foreshadow that the story’s going to continue advancing at a good pace. I am reminded of Tari Tari, which had done something similar: Konatsu manages to assemble a choir so she can perform after the second episode, but having achieved her goal so early, the story has this choir dissolve shortly after, leaving her to explore other avenues later.

  • The infamous “bread rush” in anime is something that some shows have portrayed vividly – K-On! and Azumanga Daioh have both shown how chaotic lunch hour is for students who wish to buy bread from the school store. As a freshmen, Towa is unprepared for things, but the attendant staffing the store was kind enough to let her buy something once the other students finish their orders. In K-On!, the “bread rush” was only mentioned briefly, when Jun mentions that the senior students’ being away on a class trip means it’s finally possible to buy a chocolate baguette.

  • It turns out Towa had been trying to get a chance to speak with Michi for the whole of the day and ends up treating her to the bread she’d managed to pick up earlier. She reveals that she’s only at her most confident when wearing her gi, and after donning it, she properly apologises to Michi, who’s simultaneously conversing with Sanae and Anna. Despite her haughty manner, Anna hangs out with Michi and Sanae quite a bit, and while she’s always always trying to sell the merits of kendo and being given the short end of the stick, I do get the feeling that the three are on fairly friendly terms despite their bickering.

  • Because Michi is not one to hold a grudge, she immediately welcomes Towa into things. Seeing Towa overcome her shyness compels Sanae to do the same. Once Sanae ends up convincing her father to sign the form, the judo club has enough members to become reinstated, and this allows for Mō Ippon! to really begin focusing on its area of specialisation. Early in the game, Mō Ippon! is all about getting the club back together, but through solid writing, Mō Ippon! simultaneously uses the beginning to give some insight into the series’ characters and their traits, as well as showing how each of Michi, Towa and Sanae already have an intrinsic drive for self improvement.

  • Here, I will explain the origin of the page quote: it’s sourced from Bruce Lee’s 1972 film, Fist of Fury. After Chen Zhen (Lee) swings by a Japanese dōjō to return a sign that reads “Sick men of the East”, he challenges the students and destroys them in a fight. Prior to the fight, Chen Zhen introduces himself as “the weakest student of the Jingwu School”, declaring that he wants to get a taste of Japanese martial arts. While the Japanese martial artists initially laugh at him, Chen Zhen ends up surprising them with his uncommonly brutal fighting techniques. This sort of thing makes for an excellent movie scene, and while Fist of Fury is not known for its deep plot or nuance, it has become treated as an iconic part of Hong Kong cinema.

  • Mō Ippon! isn’t a story of revenge and injustice – it’s a tale of self-improvement with a gentle dose of humour and slice-of-life. I’m not expecting any Yuen Wo Ping levels of choreography here in Mō Ippon!, but this isn’t going to stop me from drawing on my own martial arts experience to see how well this anime can deliver its story, and I did feel that Bruce Lee’s desire to see what Japanese martial arts was about is no different than Michi’s own desire to improve in judo, even if the circumstances vary dramatically. Shortly after the judo club is reinstated, Sanae and Michi end up having a spirited disagreement about whether or not they were revived or restored. Sanae asks Towa to hang onto her glasses so she and Michi can settle things out of doors.

  • After a harrowing few moments when Mō Ippon! leads viewers to the impression that the hulking instructor is the advisor for judo, Shino appears and flips him, before proceeding to warn Michi and Sanae about the importance of training under supervision. As it turns out, she’s the judo club advisor. Earlier, Sanae had been fantasising about what their advisor would be like, and the moment gives another bit of insight into Sanae; it appears that she likes otome games.

  • When the first session begins, Shino promptly flips Towa with such finesse and power that Michi and Sanae are blown away. Although a part of Michi had been disappointed by the fact that she hadn’t improved, her optimism is boundless, and now, she realises that being in the same club with someone as skilled as Towa, and an instructor who understands judo on top of what it takes to improve, means that there’s plenty of room for growth. The three thus begin training in earnest for the first competition of Mō Ippon!‘s run.

  • With a competition coming up so quickly, it becomes clear that Mō Ippon! is pulling no punches; although there’s been plenty of slice-of-life moments, the series also gives viewers a clear idea of where it’s intending to go. Hitting the ground running means there’s more time for sports, and along the way, viewers are given an overview of the different techniques and rules surrounding judo. These elements come together to make for a series that looks very promising.

  • After a training session, Towa, Sanae and Michi swing by a family restaurant that is modelled after Denny’s. Mid-meal, Towa runs into her old classmates and fellow judoka, who come about after a mistake leads a parfait to be delivered to Michi. The moment shows that Michi is an extrovert and more than capable of joining any conversation, but her biggest shortcoming, in Sanae’s words, is that she’s quite oblivious to the emotional tenour. The arrival of said former classmates creates a sense of seriousness that Michi misses, and she presses on even after being told to cool her jets.

  • The severity of the conversation brought to mind memories of Girls und Panzer, where Miho had similarly run into her older sister, Maho, at a café. As it turns out, Towa had been a skilled judoka, and in middle school, she’d been selected to compete over a senior. This created a rift between Towa and her old classmates, who felt that she’d waltzed and taken all of the glory. The situation here reminds me of Hibike! Euphonium, where considerable drama had occurred when Reina had dazzled the instructors with her trumpet skills and was chosen to play the solo, even though a senior was originally slated to do so. The idea of seniority is an integral part of Japanese culture, where juniors are expected to observe etiquette and defer to their seniors.

  • This stands in stark contrast with North American values, where people are encouraged to put their best forward and excel. The cultural differences are why, when Hibike! Euphonium aired, viewers found it perplexing that choosing Reina was such a big deal to the rest of Kitauji’s senior band members. The idea of individualism versus collectivism is one of the largest points of contention in anime – what may be trivial to Japanese viewers may cause a controversy for foreign viewers, and similarly, the Japanese may emphasise something that seems inconsequential to foreign viewers. At the end of the day, it is worth comparing and contrasting both viewpoints, although I will remark that attempting to say one is better than the other isn’t going to be too productive.

  • Back in Mō Ippon!, while one may see Michi as being unaware of the mood in a room, she does have a talent for bringing people back on their feet. Shino’s spotted this, and Sanae comments this is how Michi is – after seeing Towa down after she ran into old classmates, Michi ends up encouraging her during training in her own manner. The light-hearted moments in Mō Ippon! appear to be quite dominant, and the overall tone of this series suggests that, even if some moments do become more serious, the series will retain a more easygoing aesthetic about it.

  • From a visual standpoint, Mō Ippon! isn’t exceptional in artwork and background detail, but things are rendered in a consistent manner, and the animation during judo sequences is of a high standard. The technical aspects of Mō Ippon! are satisfactory, and I expect that the best choreography will be observed during judo-focused moments. Mō Ippon! is produced by Tatsunoko Production. This studio’s got a lengthy history, but a quick glance at their list of work finds that I’ve only watched one of their previous titles before: Wake Up, Girls!.

  • Discussions on Mō Ippon! elsewhere on the ‘net is very limited at the present: outside of brief reactions, I’ve not seen any further conversation on martial arts and the like. Series like Mō Ippon! admittedly tend to generate very little excitement and are more likely to interest folks who enjoy slice-of-life, or possess a particular knowledge in an area. In my case, while I don’t do judo, I am a martial artist, and I am a proponent of slice-of-life anime, so watching and writing about this one wasn’t a particularly tough decision.

  • We are therefore set to see what happens during the tournament. At present, my expectations for Michi and her friends aren’t high because this early in the game, it makes little sense to have them be powerhouses, even though everyone does have judo experience. Instead, what matters during this first competition will be seeing how each of Michi, Sanae and Towa handle things. Three episodes in, Mō Ippon! has my attention, and in a relatively quiet season, this anime represents one of the two series I will be actively following, with the other being Bofuri‘s second season.

Having practised martial arts for most of my life, I’ve found that the most valuable takeaways from learning martial arts isn’t the self-defense or improving one’s physical prowess. Instead, it is the cultivation of discipline and mental fortitude that make martial arts so valuable. The way I practise is quite different than what makes for an interesting story; I do not compete actively, and instead, partake in martial arts for self-improvement in both physical and spiritual terms. However, martial arts extends well beyond this, and works of fiction emphasis the combat aspect of martial arts for the sake of entertainment. So far in Mō Ippon!, judo acts as the metaphor and tangible activity that brings Towa, Sanae and Michi closer together, helping them to discover their best selves and in the process, overcome their individual shortcomings. However, in addition to the more visceral act of throwing people, Mō Ippon! has also begun exploring the mindset behind judo: once instructor Shino begins advising Michi and the others, Michi is surprised to learn that there is more to judo than being physically stronger than her opponents, and that there is also a mind-body connection. This is what allowed her to throw Towa without effort, and even take on the significantly larger male physical education instructor who’d been intimidating Michi and her friends. Because martial arts is traditionally seen as being very Japanese, I am curious to see how the physical aspects of judo are presented in Mō Ippon!, alongside the mental and spiritual aspects. This anime is off to a strong start, and with Michi, Towa and Sanae already at their first tournament of the year, I am left in anticipation of seeing where everyone’s efforts end up taking them.

Kaginado: Reflections After The Second Half and Welcoming The Year of The Rabbit

“I don’t think it’s possible to have a sense of tragedy without having a sense of humor.” –Christopher Hitchens

After Yuri and the SSS arrive at the school festival, she announces her intention to destroy this world and its god, feeling that the idyllic life here must be a ruse. To this end, Yuri tasks her force with capturing mascots from the other storylines to force the god’s appearance. Later, Yuri tries to hijack the buses taking the others to a summer trip, but when Yuzuru develops trauma from being within a tunnel, the SSS’ ploy fails, leading them to be buried in the beach as punishment. Back at school, Yuri next tries to put on a concert, confident that god will show up if they create some noise. Over time, the SSS begin settling into life with the other characters, and Yuri herself becomes excited about the student council president elections, feeling she can become god-like in the role. When the nail-biting election campaign begins, countless candidates join, and Yuri decides to sabotage the votes in her favour. For her actions, Yuri is thrown into solitary confinement, and meets Ayu, who’s confined for having stolen taiyaki. On the day of the election, it turns out that votes were evenly distributed, and when Ayu arrives, the other students pursue her so she can vote and break the tie. After elections end, the characters reflect on how being together has helped them to gain a better understanding of one another. The show thus draws to a close, and while Ushio is sad to see things end, planetarium attendant Yumemi reassures her that the show will continue so long as she remembers it. Nagisa and Tomoya arrive and pick up Ushio, while the Junker thanks Yumemi for another excellent performance before the pair set about preparing the planetarium for the next showing of Kaginado. With this, Kaginado‘s second half draws to a close, and with it, a wonderful parody of the worlds within Key’s impressive compendium is done. Kaginado was a part of the twenty-first anniversary project, and as a crossover, this series of shorts wound up being a very gentle and entertaining way of celebrating Key’s most iconic characters in a respectful, but cheerful manner: Key’s visual novels have a reputation for bringing tears to the player’s eyes, and anime adaptations have been similarly touted for their emotional impact, so being able to see the characters bounce off one another and parody their own past experiences shows that, while Key may excel at poignant stories, their writers also have a sense of humour.

The highlight of Kaginado‘s second half lies with the introductio of characters from Angel Beats!. After Kaede, Yuri, Yuzuru and the SSS join the party, Kaginado becomes even livelier as Yuri and the SSS do their utmost to cause a disturbance such that Yuri may draw out the world’s god so she can have a throwdown with them. To this end, the SSS embark on the same activities they had originally carried out within Angel Beats!, and while Yuri is certainly trying to take her work seriously, the fact that Kagonado is a parody with no regard for emotional tenour means that unexpected events thwart her every attempt. Kaginado shows how Yuri’s original plan within Angel Beats!, despite being motivated by rightous feelings of resentment and a desire for vengence, was ultimately one that couldn’t succeed. Angel Beats! would ultimately have Yuzuru approaching things with heart rather than bullets, leading the characters to make peace with their pasts, and here in Kaginado, Yuri similarly fails as those around her begin accepting the outlandish would that is Kaginado. That Angel Beats! premise works with both a dramatic and comedic environment speaks to how there are cases where how a story unfolds is dependent on the author’s intentions. Since Angel Beats! had been meant to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings and create a story of making a sincere effort to make peace with one’s past, things were more serious as Yuruzu strove to understand the world he found himself in. On the other hand, Kaginado is simply meant to parody these stories and give them a humourous twist. Yuri’s plans seem out-of-place, ill-conceived and unnecessary. However, despite the gap on intentions, the outcomes end up being the same after Yuri realises that within the other worlds, there were other characters who share her feelings. By hanging out with Kyou, Nayuki, Komari and Kotori, Yuri realises there is worth in this world, and ultimately decides to live life to the fullest, while at the same time, choosing a path most consistent with her desires. Because of the implications that Kaginado brings to the table, the parody series also reflects on the strength of the writing in Angel Beats!, a series that, after over a decade, still remains immensely enjoyable to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote about Kaginado was near the end of August, and back then, my original plan had been to watch the second half shortly after: Kaginado‘s second half had begun airing during the spring of 2022, shortly after my move, and I had been settling in then, leaving little time for my other pursuits. Once things had settled down during the summer, I began watching Kaginado, but my usual propensity for procrastination meant that once I’d finished the first half, I found little time to continue as the fall season began, and Yama no Susume: Next Summit kicked off.

  • However, within moments of starting Kaginado‘s second half, it immediately returned to me as to why I found the first half so enjoyable. The characters in Kaginado are largely faithful to their portrayals in their respective series, but additionally possess a modicum of awareness about how they were treated. This drives some of the humour; watching Ryou hand Botan to Ooyama, seemingly in order to spite Kyou, only for Ryou to betray Ooyama and alert Kyou to Botan’s position, was hilarious.

  • Classic elements from Angel Beats! make a return in Kaginado, with details like Yusa’s role as Yuri’s intelligence officer being faithfully brought over. Yusa’s story in Angel Beats! is that of a tragedy, but owing to Angel Beats! runtime, most of the characters’ backgrounds actually aren’t explored, and it is not lost on me that two twenty-five episode seasons would probably be required. In place of this, Angel Beats! ended up receiving a visual novel, but after the first volume was released, no more news of the project was heard.

  • Yuri’s plan to cause disruption in this world mirrors her old actions, and right out of the gates, I was reminded of the original Angel Beats! – as the story goes, I decided to pick the series up eleven years earlier because one of my friends had sent me Lia’s My Soul, Your Beats, and curiosity led me to watch Angel Beats!. After finishing Angel Beats!, I was greatly moved and proceeded to give CLANNADKanon and Air a go. Each of these series were characterised by the balance of comedy and drama, as well as an overwhelming feeling of yearning.

  • In Kaginado, the drama and tragedy is entirely discarded, leaving the entire focus on the comedy. Much of the humour is dependent on a familiarity with Key’s other works, and as such, folks who’ve not seen a handful of Key’s shows or played through the visual novels will find some of the moments in Kaginado difficult to follow. For instance, when Kaede shows up in the SSS headquarters, this is outrageous because originally, Yuri had gone to great lengths to keep Kaede at a distance, including setting traps. Here in Kaginado, Kaede is able to saunter freely into headquarters without any resistance, and playing on her love of the Sichuan dish, mapo tofu, she’s always seen with a bowl in hand.

  • Although short, every episode of Kaginado is packed to the brim with hilarious moments; when Yuri’s initial plans fail, she decides to pull something during the big class trip to the beach. Her efforts end up failing, since her SSS are not equipped to deal with people possessing extraordinary combat prowess. The unexpected moments that occur in Kaginado means there is never a dull episode, and the series utilises its new additions from Angel Beats! to great effect.

  • Kaginado‘s irreverent and whimsical presentation of elements from Angel Beats! serves to put things in perspective – although Angel Beats! had its share of comedy, a consequence of Yuzuru’s initial attempts to adjust to life in the Afterlife world, once Yuzuru began empathising with Kaede and began making efforts to make amends, the series became increasingly poignant as it became clear that every last person in the Afterlife had come in because of their own regrets, and this world had become a place for everyone to overcome said feelings of longing.

  • Moments like Yuzuru’s sacrifice in Angel Beats! are brought back in irreverent but hilarious ways, ones which do require a priori knowledge of Angel Beats!. After the bus enters a tunnel, he develops a panic attack – his original story was that in life, he’d been a bit of loser, but ended up turning his life around and aspired become a medical doctor as a promise to his sister. En route to the entrance exams, a rock slide trapped his train, and Yuzuru ended up organising a survival effort, but died from dehydration and exhaustion moments before rescuers came through. In the absence of this background, Yuzuru’s outburst would not make much sense.

  • Kaginado‘s first half had a swimsuit episode, so for kicks, the second half has a beach episode, and for good measure, both the idea of rendering the girls with a higher level of detail, and the battle between two pairs of siblings, make a return. Here in the second half, meta-humour remains present, although it is the SSS that drive most of the comedy – as punishment for their antics, they’re buried in the sand and forgotten wholly.

  • The Chinese New Year always creates an interest in horoscopes, although here, I note that people take an interest in horoscopes because they are way of comforting those who are facing uncertainty in their lives. Where tried-and-true methods fail, people look for patterns and hope in anything they can find, and astrology offers this. For instance, my own horoscope for the Year of the Rabbit is that, if I work hard and manage my finances well, I’ll have a good year. At first glance, this does sound like my financial fortunes will improve, but it is, in fact, contingent on my putting in an effort to improve things. My horoscope is therefore fully accurate, provided I take the initiative to make it so.

  • Similarly, if I receive word of incoming bad luck, it’s simply just a caution to not overdo things – receiving poor fortunes simply means that one should be more observant of their surroundings, and more mindful of themselves. Back in Kaginado, things switch over to a concert that Yuri organises; she hopes things will be noisy enough for the gods to appear. Unfortunately for Yuri, while the concert is a success, and Masami disappears after performing the ballad she always wanted to perform, the gods don’t appear, and instead, attendees are treated to Lia’s Aozora, one of her most iconic songs that was used as Air‘s ending theme.

  • Later, for no apparent reason, the characters across the different Key universes are pitted in a one-on-one against one another, and the characters in the show I watch end up winning against their opponents. Mai’s sword technique destroys her foe, while Kanna overwhelms her foe when she flies into the skies and loses all of the clothing in the process. On the other hand, when Matsushita squares off against Kotomi, I had expected Matsushita to win owing to his martial arts skill, but Kotomi cheats by breaking out her violin, which returns as a weapon of mass destruction.

  • As a callback to the first half of Kaginado, Kyou had already foreseen this happening – here she sits, with a smug little smile on her face and her pockets full of cash, ready to enjoy the show. Little details like these weren’t necessary for Kaginado, but their inclusion serves to accentuate the humour. The resulting pandemonium is befitting of a show like Kaginado, and once Kotomi’s done her beatdown on Matsushita and everyone in the stadium, judge Kaede break out her “Harmonics” guard skill in retaliation, lamenting how her mapo tofu is destroyed.

  • Later, while a pair of sleepovers are happening, the secondary characters who were shafted by their respective stories commiserate together in what is visibly a miserable time. It’s easy to laugh at them, but of everyone, I feel most pathos for Nayuki and Kyou – I’ve experienced precisely what the pair have gone through before, and it deals one’s confidence a crushing blow. One thing that I would’ve liked to see, even though this is strictly unnecessary from a storytelling perspective, was seeing how Kyou and Nayuki found their footing after losing their respective love interests.

  • On the other hand, the heroines’ get-together is set in a neatly-organised room, and the lights are on. Conversation is spirited, but once it turns out Riki isn’t a heroine (despite being voiced by the legendary Yui Horie), the others pull him aside for “research” purposes. This was one of those moments that I don’t have any background in, and as such, the moment flew over my head. However, it also suggested that perhaps now is the time to get into Little Busters.

  • Towards Kaginado‘s end, Yuri ends up deciding that she wants to take on the role of a student council president, having seen how much power the role entails. Originally, Yuri had sought the power to help those around her after losing her siblings and her own life during an armed robbery that went bad – she most regretted being unable to protect them, and since then, had sought vengeance against the god of a cruel world. Angel Beats! had left the existence of a god ambiguous and suggested that any higher powers in their world did not intervene in the world of humans, but was benevolent enough to give people a second chance.

  • Admittedly, seeing Yuri’s determination in Kaginado was adorable because of all the characters, she feels the most unable (or unwilling) to accept Kaginado‘s world – she retains all of her old resolve to destroy this world, and this comes across as being immensely out of place, leading to humour. With CLANNAD and the other characters, their comedy comes from being placed into ridiculous situations or what’s known as meta-humour, in which the characters critique or challenge the writing that created their circumstances.

  • However, even Yuri begins showing signs of desiring a normal life: after her latest tantrum, Yukine passes her a cup of tea, and Yuri loosens up a little. Here, I remark that discussions on Kaginado have been limited despite the series’ entertainment value, and this time around, I do have a guess as to why this is the case – CLANNADKanon, Air and Angel Beats! are older than a decade, and the constant stream of anime means that older titles can be forgotten. Interest in Kaginado is understandably diminished, although it’s worth reiterating that folks who have previously seen Key’s works will find Kaginado worthwhile.

  • To Yūichi, Tomoya, Yuzuru and the others, seeing their worlds collide in a hilarious way leaves them without words – as the student council president race heats up, smaller groups form as the campaign for different things, and this creates a multi-way race. Seeing this leads Yuri to employ under-handed techniques to win the election, and while Angel Beats! may have accommodated this because of the Afterlife’s unique setting, the other characters eventually intervene and chuck Yuri into solitary confinement for some self-reflection.

  • Seeing Ayu and Yuri together is something that was only possible in a crossover like Kaginado – Ayu’s here for stealing taiyaki repeatedly, and is apparently a repeat offender. This room was seen in Angel Beats!, used to confine students engaged in misconduct. It speaks volumes to how memorable Angel Beats! had been; even eleven years later, I still recall smaller details within the anime. While I’ve watched many series since then, the fact that Key adaptations still stand out speak to their staying power.

  • Although the so-called losers end up bemoaning their fate and even coughs up blood, the four of them pull their act together and try to encourage Yuri to simply do her best. Things turn around after the SSS appear, having rounded up the traitors within their ranks. Seeing this returns Yuri to her old self, and she resolves to campaign with all of her heart.

  • Going through Kaginado is a far cry from my usual anime experiences: since episodes are only four minutes each, it was possible to watch the whole of Kaginado in a single sitting, and this in turn made the series very easy to go through. Normally, I watch one or two episodes of a given series in a day, and it takes an average of two weeks for me to complete an anime if it has fully aired. While some people prefer watching their shows all at once, I’ve found that this can be an exhausting process. I personally enjoy going through things more slowly so I have time to take in something and give some thought to what I watched.

  • There is no right or wrong way of watching anime, and different people will find different processes better suited for their schedules. Back in Kaginado, after the campaigning comes to an end, and the results are in, it turns out Ayu was absent from the vote, making her Key to a tiebreaker. The entire school ends up pursuing her across Japan to secure her vote, and in the end, it looks like the new student council president’s identity is a mystery. However, with the elections over, everyday school life returns to normal for the students, who welcome the routine and enjoyment of an ordinary life.

  • Throughout all of Key’s works, it does feel that the ordinary as something to cherish is another common theme. In keeping with tradition, Kaginado also presents this, albeit in a more roundabout way as the series parodies every aspect of the works the characters featured in. Overall, because of its presentation, I count Kaginado to be an enjoyable experience that is worthwhile for anyone who is a fan of Key’s works. Since Key series tend to be emotionally charged, it is nice to see everyone interact in an environment where there is no tragedy.

  • Kaginado features six of Key’s works, and here, I’ve featured stills from the four series I’ve previously watched. At present, I feel that my next Key adaptation is going to be Little Busters; this anime is actually quite lengthy, running as long as CLANNAD did. With my schedule, assuming I start next month, I could be done by the time summer arrives. On the other hand, I’ll probably look at Rewrite at a later date; I’m still on the fence about this one owing to the more dramatic portrayal of the supernatural, but again, Kaginado has shown me there may be merit yet in keeping an open mind and giving this one a go.

  • Once Kaginado comes to a close, Ushio expresses a desire to see more of the world, and Yumemi explains that while the show’s done, it will continue living on so long as she remembers it. Kaginado was one of the projects done to celebrate Key’s twenty-first anniversary, and over the years, this developer studio had accrued a reputation for creating works of emotional impact. With their extensive history, Key continues to produce visual novels and kinetic novels (essentially digital picture books), and their company also produces their own music through Key Sounds Label.

  • With both halves of Kaginado in the books, and the appearance of Planetarian‘s Yumemi, I am reminded of the fact that while I have watched Planetarian in full some six years earlier, I never got around to watching the Planetarian movie despite having promised one of my readers I’d do so. Because it’s been so long, I don’t think said reader is around, but there probably is merit in my going through the Planetarian movie at some point in the future so I can finish things off.

  • We’re now a shade over two thirds of the way through January, and with Bofuri and Mō Ippon!‘s third episodes past, I plan on writing about them. Both series have impressed me enough to warrant a discussion. In addition, word has reached my ears that Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san‘s live-action Netflix adaptation has become available. Titled The Makanai: Cooking For the Maiko House, this series will present Kiyo and Sumire’s experiences from a different perspective and looks promising. I look forwards to writing about this along with, Lycoris Recoil and a revisit of Kokoro Connect come February.

Having now completed Kaginado, I am reminded of the fact that amongst Key’s works, I’ve yet to take a look at Little Busters! and Rewrite. The Key adaptations I’ve seen so far (Air, Kanon, CLANNAD and Angel Beats!) have been remarkable experiences, masterpieces, because of their ability to strike a balance between comedy and drama, using moments of levity to build a connection to the characters such that when tragedy struck, the impact was felt ten-fold. However, Key works have also accrued a bit of an unfair reputation amongst some viewers, who feel them to be inconsistent and incomplete. These sentiments come from the storytelling approach Key works tend to take; because Key stories are rooted in themes of longing and regret, their resolution is reached when the protagonist is able to overcome their past regrets and make peace with what’s happened. Because different protagonists have different backgrounds and regrets, it can be a little tricky to definitively tell when a resolution does occur, and this in turn creates a situation where a given story’s ending can come across as open-ended or inconclusive. However, this mode of storytelling is consistent with the idea of transience, and folks who approach Key’s works aware of this have typically found moving stories. With this in mind, Kaginado acts as encouragement for me to give Little Busters! and Rewrite their fair chance: these series have initially not drawn my interest, but seeing all of the characters here in Kaginado, having a ball of a time with folks from Air, CLANNAD, Kanon and Angel Beats! has piqued my curiosity. As such, I do see merit in taking the plunge and giving the remainder of Key’s animated adaptations their fair chance. In the meantime, today is the Chinese New Year, and I’d like to wish all readers a Happy Year of the Rabbit!

KanColle: Itsuka Ano Umi de – Review and Reflection at the ¾ mark

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.” –Joan Didion

After reviewing Yamashiro’s post-battle report, Yahagi determines that the Kan-musume are still combat-capable. The next day, Shigure shares a conversation with Isokaze and Hamakaze, learning in the process that to them, being sunk in combat isn’t quite as frightening as being forgotten, and Shigure promises to never forget their accomplishments. When the newly-formed Second Torpedo Squadron neet, Yahagi announces a BLUFOR/OPFOR training exercise to test everyone’s readiness. Shigure and Yukikaze end up assigned to the same team, and despite unexpected surprises appearing during the exercise, the pair manage to score hits on Yahagi herself. With confidence that the remaining Kan-musume can perform, the Second Torpedo Squadron is tasked with escort missions, defending convoys from Abyssal attack as they transport critical supplies. Shigure is happy to see an old friend, Ryūhō, and although Yukikaze develops stomach problems that end up requiring her to return to Kure for engine repairs, leaving their group down one defender, the escort mission continues. Shigure, Hamakaze and Isokaze manage to destroy the initial waves of Abyssal submarines, but things look grim after their store of depth charges is depleted. Fortunately, coastal defense Kan-musume are nearby, and they manage to repel the remaining Abyssal submarines, allowing Ryūhō and her escorts to safely reach their destination. With this, Itsuka Ano Umi de finally reaches its three-quarters mark; only two episodes remain, and Shigure’s nascent friendship with Yukikaze means that Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s theme is slowly starting to manifest in a series that has otherwise been quite melancholy, a consequence of a lengthy conflict that has been gradually eroding at the Kan-musume‘s numbers.

At first glance, Yukikaze appears to be better suited for Kantai Collection‘s first season rather than Itsuka Ano Umi de: she’s cheerful, easygoing and hardly anything appears to dampen her spirits. This stands in stark contrast with the reserved and stoic Shigure, who’s weighted down by the losses she’s experienced over the years, and Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s aesthetic appears to be in keeping with Shigure’s feelings; the use of lighting and music conveys her general feeling of melancholy and introspectiveness, but where Shigure experiences happiness, the music relaxes, and during battle, the soundtrack similarly becomes tense. After Yukikaze’s introduction, Shigure appears to be smiling more, and it is plain that she admires how Yukikaze is able to still find cheer even during more difficult times. Meeting Yukikaze, then, serves to drive change in Shigure: while this won’t change the fact she’s lost friends previously, being able to fight alongside someone so optimistic gives Shigure hope, and a reason to return after battle. The approach that Itsuka Ano Umi de is taking, in short, looks like it’s progressing exactly as I’d imagined it would. Anime generally seek to tell a story of growth and optimism; since Shigure had started her story burdened by losses and the prospect of fighting a war people would forget, it was logical that a new encounter would help change her perspective. On this reasoning, it appears that Itsuka Ano Umi de will likely wrap up with a difficult, but hard-won battle that shows Shigure that it is sufficient for her to always remember those she fought alongside, while at the same time, doing her best for the people in her present.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s production woes meant that, owing to scheduling conflicts, the sixth episode was only able to air in January after its episodes were delayed. Kantai Collection isn’t especially noteworthy, and even though Itsuka Ano Umi de has above-average production values, it’s difficult to say that the delays are worth it; Girls und Panzer had been an instance of an anime where it’d been worth the wait – the story and characters, coupled with the incredible attention paid to detail, had made it a series deserving of a proper conclusion.

  • Kantai Collection‘s second season is superior to its predecessor in tone and story, but it hasn’t given viewers quite the same opportunity to connect to the characters and root for them because delays in result in the unfortunate effect of making it easy to forget what’s happened, even though we’ve now reached Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s halfway point. While I have only good things to say about Itsuka Ano Umi de, it isn’t the case that this series is one where I’d say the wait for individual episodes are worth it.

  • While war is evidently a tragedy that leaves its mark on all involved, portrayal of its effects on individuals is something that requires a bit more time to capture – the decision in Itsuka Ano Umi de to go with with eight episodes rather than twelve, in conjunction with the delays, has meant that the Kantai Collection sequel hasn’t left quite as strong of an impression on me as I was originally anticipating. Elsewhere, I’ve noticed that reviews about Itsuka Ano Umi de has been similarly limited: a Google search finds that besides myself, there’s only one other site that’s actively writing about this series (excluding Reddit and MyAnimeList).

  • It’s fair to say that interest in Kantai Collection isn’t anywhere close to what it’d been seven years earlier, and while the franchise still has a dedicated following in Japan, that it’s been seven years since the original series aired means that this series was probably unlikely to have done well from the start owing to declining interest. This is lamentable, because Itsuka Ano Umi de is otherwise an overall improvement to Kantai Collection. Having a longer runtime, and a more consistent release pattern would’ve been to the series’ benefit, allowing the series to show the side of Kantai Collection that the first season had failed to convey.

  • Having said this, what Itsuka Ano Umi de does convey to viewers is well-done: the series has done a satisfactory job of striking a balance between the naval combat and slice-of-life pieces. I’ve long held that in any given series colloquially referred to as “cute girls doing cute things”, the ordinary moments spent away from said work’s main premise are equally as important as the moments portraying the characters advancing their craft. The reason for this is that it shows the characters as having more depth beyond their activity of choice, and because it also provides an opportunity to show how mundane experiences may unexpectedly provide a stroke of inspiration.

  • In the case of Itsuka Ano Umi de, showing the Kan-musume‘s lives outside of battle serves to humanise them and remind viewers that even the spirits of naval vessels share the same desires as people do, preferring peace and normalcy over warfare and destruction. The Kan-musume might be fighting a fierce war against a foe dead-set on humanity’s annihilation, but they’re doing so precisely because it gives humanity a chance to live on. By choosing to show what’s at stake in Itsuka Ano Umi de, there’s a stronger reason for the Kan-musume to sortie here in the second season, than there had been in the first.

  • Adding Yukikaze into things and having her pick up the mikan that Shigure are so fond of is to create a bond; while Yamashiro and Fusō have retired, and the number of active Kan-musume dwindles, the positive spirits that the remaining vessels to the newly-formed Second Torpedo Squadron gives viewers the sense that, even though it looks like the Kan-musume are on the backfoot, so long as everyone’s got one another, hope still remains.

  • To ensure that this disparate group of Kan-musume are able to work as a team, group leader Yahagi decides to organise a training exercise to see how everyone cooperates and respond to unexpected circumstances on the open seas. The admiral himself is present, and traditionally, shows like Itsuka Ano Umi de have always invited political discussions to some extent because of their historical associations, but so far, viewers are fortunate that those elements of the fanbase are absent. I’ve never been fond of those who shoehorn politics into everything, and on this note, I’ve got a brief update about one infamous military-moé fan, “Toukairin”. I had this individual banned from AnimeSuki some years earlier owing to their radical opinions about current events, and had hoped this ban would force him to re-evaluate his life decisions.

  • Unfortunately for me, Toukairin simply fell back on his old habits through Twitter, posting insults and hateful messages as “@AKDNManUtd2010”. I managed to find this account by pure luck, and have since been working towards getting him suspended from Twitter. There’s no place for people who believe that petty insults constitutes as intelligent political discourse, and just today, I managed to get the AKDNManUtd2010 account temporarily locked. Although this lock will expire in a week, Toukairin has already lost a number of followers since his account was temporarily locked. I doubt AKDNManUtd2010 will check his tone once his account’s reinstated, but I will continue to report him for as long as necessary until AKDNManUtd2010 is permanently banned: Toukairin may be entitled to an opinion, but owing to his attitudes and actions, he certainly isn’t entitled to an audience or agreement. Returning back to Itsuka Ano Umi de, the training exercise begins shortly after the objectives are outlined, and everyone becomes fired up.

  • With the Admiral having a tangible presence in Itsuka Ano Umi de, the world of Kantai Collection becomes a lot more plausible. One of my biggest grievances about Kantai Collection‘s first season had been that it was too game-like, which in turn diminished the world’s ability to immerse viewers. One example of a game-turned-anime with excellent world-building and immersion is Uma Musume: Pretty Derby – all game elements have been removed from the anime, and instead, compelling stories are told about the characters. At the same time, the characters’ experiences take place in a world with a lived-in feeling, giving things significantly more depth.

  • In taking this approach, Itsuka Ano Umi de shows that yes, it is possible to tell good stories so long as the world is properly fleshed out. On an unrelated note, after doing some digging around, I’ve found nothing about the music in Itsuka Ano Umi de, save the fact that the incidental pieces are composed by Kaori Ohkoshi, who had worked on the music to the game. This is a shame, since the music in Itsuka Ano Umi de is excellent, and similarly, the opening song exudes World War Two vibes. There’s been nothing on whether or not a soundtrack exists at all for Itsuka Ano Umi de, and I imagine that things could go the same way as they had for Luminous Witches, where the original soundtrack had remained unreleased long after the series had ended.

  • For some of my military moé posts, a large part of the joy comes from being able to look at the hardware and tactics, and using real-world specifications, try to speculate on how something might end up. This is one of the things that made Girls und Panzer so enjoyable, but in Kantai Collection, the Kan-musume themselves are only modelled after their real-world counterparts, and the foes they fight have unknown properties, so trying to guess at the outcome of a battle isn’t something that can be reliably done.

  • While Kantai Collection players would probably have a better idea of how the different Kan-musume would perform in battle, as well as against one another during mock battles, my lack of familiarity with the ships’ in-game statistics leaves me ill-equipped to ponder how battles turn out. As such, I am content to simply watch things unfold: for my part, I don’t recognise half of the Kan-musume that appear, and it’s times like these where I do wish that they’d do as Shirobako had and provide name tags for characters making their first appearance.

  • Unlike the frenzy of a night battle, doing a training exercise by day under calm seas allows for the animation team at ENGI to really show viewers what they’ve got. ENGI has previously worked on Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out! and its sequel; although Itsuka Ano Umi de is more detailed than Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out!, both series are characterised by extremely sharp lines and a more faded colour palette.

  • In the end, despite surprise attacks from aerial and sub-surface foes, Yukikaze and Shigure end up working together to reach Yahagi and “sink” her in the exercise, leaving Yahagi with a better measure of what the  Second Torpedo Squadron can do. Viewers have some reassurance that, despite the internal struggles Shigure faces, she’s still a team player and can cooperate with those around her.

  • Post-exercise, the Kan-musume maintain and clean their gear. Actions like these were absent in Kantai Collection‘s first season, so showing them here in Itsuka Ano Umi de serves to enhance the feeling of immersion. I get the sense that the first season had been rushed out as a means of promoting the game by fitting in the largest number of characters possible, and this had come at the expense of giving viewers a chance to connect with Kantai Collection‘s story and world. On the other hand, Itsuka Ano Umi de has made a more concerted effort towards giving viewers a chance to see why the Kan-musume are fighting, even as the tide of battle begins shifting against them.

  • Yukikaze’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky demeanour is prima facie better-suited for the likes of the original Kantai Collection, or perhaps Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!. However, on closer inspection, she’s precisely the sort of person that Shigure needs: since Shigure has seen many losses on the open oceans, she’s become quite reserved and jaded; having someone like Yukikaze in her corner would liven her world up and show that even though many of her allies and friends have retired from active service or were lost at sea, there’s still things worth fighting for.

  • Hence, when Yukikaze shows up and immediately helps herself to the onigiri and tangerines that Hamakaze’s brought, Shigure smiles while Hamakaze and Isokaze look on with surprised expressions. Small moments like these do much to remind viewers that even though Shigure is serious for the most part, there are things in the world that bring her joy, and as such, she still retains a reason for heading out into battle and returning alive. With characters that are written to have little left to live for, they often push themselves in battle and fight with little regard for their own safety.

  • In series like those, writers often have said characters developing a friendship or discovering something worth living for, which alters their mindset. Itsuka Ano Umi de doesn’t portray Shigure in this light and instead, has taken a more incremental route. Shigure may be rendered grim and taciturn from what she’s seen, but at the same time, she also understands there’s value in her commitment. In battle, Shigure fights with determination and caution. Outside of battle, there are still things she enjoys, and here, seeing Shigure interacting with the sprites maintaining one of Ryūhō’s aircraft show that Shigure’s able to value the smaller moments in life. It helps that Ryūhō is on excellent terms with Shigure: the pair have fought alongside one another previously.

  • When Yukikaze unexpectedly experiences stomach problems and is brought to her knees by the intensity of the pain, I was left wondering if Itsuka Ano Umi de was going to take a darker route to things, but these concerns were quite unnecessary: as a result of having eaten too many tangerines, Yukikaze is rendered unable to participate in the next assignment, to escort Ryūhō, and instead, requires repair work to be done. This leaves the escort ships down to three: Shigure, Isokaze and Hamakaze must carry out their task without Yukikaze.

  • The smaller team sizes and relative absence of secondary characters in Itsuka Ano Umi de makes things a little easier to follow, and most of the introduced characters do have a more substantial role, whereas in Kantai Collection, it could become difficult to keep track of everyone. Anime with a large number of characters will always have this challenge, and while some series will provide labels identifying the characters, I’ve always found that my preferred approach for handling this is to remember the names of the central characters and focus on their experiences.

  • In a briefing with Yahagi, the assignment is defined – the Second Torpedo Squadron is to follow a course that will see them escort Ryūhō over to the island of Taiwan to resupply forces there. The observant reader will note that the route the Kan-musume are taking hugs the coast of China, with red markers presumably denoting areas of Abyssal activity. I am glad that Ituska Ano Umi de returns things to Japan, since it gives the Kan-musume‘s fight greater weight – when Kantai Collection had set things in a generic location that was plainly not tropical (deciduous trees are visible), it felt as though the Kan-musume were fighting in a vacuum.

  • Separating the characters from the homeland they’re fighting for took away from the impact of their actions, and as such, while I felt that Fubuki and her goals were noble, Kantai Collection never quite succeeded in conveying this to viewers. Kantai Collection: The Movie was when the series began utilising setting more seriously – the Kan-musume were based out of the Solomon Islands, and the mystique of a tropical jungle in the remote reaches of the Pacific contributed to the feeling of unease the film had sought to convey.

  • Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s sixth episode spends quite a bit of time showcasing the launch of the Second Torpedo Squadron. Moments like these accentuate the fact that the Kan-musume are naval vessels – in contrast with the original Kantai Collection, where the Kan-musume‘s launches felt more like the deployment of Iron Man suits, things happen much more slowly, suggesting at the mass and power of each vessel.

  • A quick look at Ryūhō finds that the original had been a light aircraft carrier that was primarily used as an aircraft transport and training carrier owing to her small size, poor speed and weaker construction. As the Pacific War turned against Japan, the Ryūhō would see increasing combat assignments, and in December of 1944, the Ryūhō was assigned on a run to Taiwan with Shigure, Isokaze and Hamakaze. History has Ryūhō reaching her destination and surviving American airstrikes before successfully returning home to Kure.

  • Assuming that Itsuka Ano Umi de uses this assignment as the final assignment, one can readily predict what will happen in the series: Ryūhō will reach Taiwan with Hamakaze, Isokaze and Shigure, where they will get hammered by Abyssal forces. A combination of teamwork and luck will allow them to survive and return home. Of course, if Itsuka Ano Umi de goes for the historical route, Ryūhō was attacked while in harbour in March of 1945 and mission-killed. Hamakaze was sunk outside of Nagasaki, and Isokaze would be scuttled after sustaining heavy damage while escorting the Yamato a month later.  Seeing everyone sunk or decommissioned would likely go against the themes Itsuka Ano Umi de is seeking to convey, and ending the story on an optimistic note seems more likely.

  • Here, after running out of depth charges, Shigure pulls out a box and throws two reserves into the water, successfully sinking another Abyssal submarine in the process. By this point in time, the fierce enemy counteroffensive means that everyone’s running out of anti-submarine options, but fortunately, they’re close enough to their destination so that coastal patrol Kan-musume can help them deal with the remaining enemies.

  • I’ve never seen Kan-musume of this sort previously, and I’d expect that had they been in Kantai Collection, the episode would’ve likely had a more slice-of-life focus. Speaking to the gravity of the situation in Itsuka Ano Umi de, the newly-arrived coastal patrol team is all-serious as they dump their depth charges to take out the remaining Abyssal submarines giving Shigure and her team trouble.

  • The dark weather and rainy seas means another battle set under moody conditions, where the combat isn’t quite as visible to viewers as something that occurs during the light of day, but once the friendly patrols arrive, breaks in the cloud signify the end of a difficult stage of Shigure and her compatriots’ journey, giving viewers a chance to breathe again as the threat posed by the Abyssals are eradicated for the time being. It was lucky that this episode ends on a positive note, since there’s now a bit of a wait before the seventh episode. Without a cliffhanger, the wait will be significantly more manageable.

  • While the breaks mean that Itsuka Ano Umi de will have a tough time maintaining its momentum, one of the big positives is that this actually makes my blogging schedule a little more manageable. Had Itsuka Ano Umi de aired with more regularity, I would’ve found difficulty in getting Mō Ippon! and Bofuri into my schedule. These are the next two anime-related posts I’ve got planned for January, and I’m also eyeing a post on Kaginado!‘s second season; this had aired back during the spring, but owing to timing, I never did get around to watching it back then.

Itsuka Ano Umi de continues to demonstrate that it is the Kantai Collection viewers deserved back in 2015: character progression is meaningful, and the aesthetic is authentic. Coupled with world-building that hints at a much richer world, Itsuka Ano Umi de has proven to be enjoyable on all front save one: owing to production delays, the entire airing schedule for Itsuka Ano Umi de has been thrown off. Scuttlebutt has it that the delays meant that broadcasters were left trying to fit the remaining episodes in with currently airing shows, and because slots are limited, the anime continues to be pushed back. The delays between episodes is understandable, but it does give the feeling that Itsuka Ano Umi de has been given the shaft. I imagine that at the height of its popularity, broadcasters would’ve ensured that Kantai Collection got a reasonable time slot to ensure viewers were happy, but given that it’s been over seven years since Kantai Collection was a popular topic, it is fair to suppose that diminished interest in the series means that the consequences of pushing Itsuka Ano Umi de back are minimal. This is a little disappointing, since the long gaps between episodes breaks the momentum within the story; a consistent schedule helps to maintain engagement, and if a story is too broken up, it does require a bit more effort to recall the previous episode’s events, and excitement is diminished as other things come up. While I expect Itsuka Ano Umi de to deliver a good experience to viewers, the next episode’s release date is February 12, and this suggests that Kantai Collection isn’t something that people are especially interested in. In spite of this, I am looking forwards to seeing Itsuka Ano Umi de send off the franchise in a respectful manner.