The Infinite Zenith

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

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“What do you say we tell these Squad Jam people to fuck themselves, then we can go home, find a couch and a TV, then sit back and watch Pitohui burn to the goddamned ground?” –Domingo Chavez, Tom Clancy’s Locked On

Karen Kohiruimaki is a Hokkaido native who moves to Tokyo in pursuit of her post secondary studies. Because of her height, she is insecure and finds herself wishing that she were shorter. Her best friend, Miyu Shinohara, suggests that Karen take up a VR game, where she may customise an avatar to her heart’s content, and after iterating through multiple games, Karen encounters Gun Gale Online (GGO for brevity), which provides her with a diminutive character that she takes an immediate liking to. She takes on the screen name Llenn, and after exploring the game world with her new avatar, Karen begins playing the PvE components and earns enough currency to upgrade her weapons and gear. One day, while breaking from her travels, she is ambushed by other players and manages to take them out. Rumours begin speaking about the “Pink Devil”, and this attracts the attention of a fellow player, Pitohui. She introduces Karen to the “Squad Jam” battle royale competition and asks her to compete alongside fellow player “M”. M covers a range of techniques and gear for the battle royale mode, bringing Karen up to speed, and after out-manoeuvring a team of military-trained players, Karen’s confidence increases. She and M manage to fight off an assault from another team that had commandeered airboats, but when moving to engage the final remaining team, M breaks down, fearing for his life should he lose. He admits to Karen that Pitohui would kill him in reality should they lose, and befuddled, Karen decides to leave him behind and engage the final team on her own. She is overwhelmed, but M reappears to provide sniper fire, allowing Karen to finish off the remaining team’s leader.

Emboldened by her experiences, Karen cuts her hair short to signify a new beginning, and runs into the team’s real-world players: rhythm athletics club members who are in high school. Spending time with her new friends, Karen also runs into Gōshi Asōgi, who plays M in GGO. Gōshi reveals that he knows and is in love with Pitohui, but fears Pitohui will commit suicide should she lose in GGO. Perplexed, Karen decides to help him out nonetheless and asks Miyu to join up wiht them. This is where we are in Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online (Alternative from here on out, as spelling the entire thing out is too lengthy): immediately, my impressions of this Sword Art Online spin-off is that it is very enjoyable. Kirito’s absence is a significant one, and I contend that the series proceeds smoothly without his presence. I’ve long found his character to be implausible, and his attitude insufferable. By comparison, Karen is a very plausible character who finds escape in video games, and while she may enjoy unnatural performance in GGO, her real-world struggles and desire to escape to a fictional space are something that gamers can strongly relate to. I personally play shooters because it’s fun to both explore new worlds and test the limit of my skills in a space where performance is not relevant: reality requires that put in an honest effort into what I do, so I escape this in video games and play where how I do is unimportant. Karen’s newfound sense of confidence from playing GGO is also refreshing to watch. At the halfway point, however, Alternative also reintroduces the old death-related themes that characterised Sword Art Online. Here, it is not a forced component, and Alternative explores a darker side of gaming, as well. While perhaps overtly dramatic, I am curious to see how Karen will play a role in helping Gōshi with Pitohui.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • By Alternative‘s halfway point, audiences know that Llenn is Karen and M is Gōshi, so I’m going to refer to them by their real-world names rather than their in-game names. While engaging, half of Alternative is set in a desert akin to Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds‘s Miramar map. Here, the two are playing sniper-spotter, where Gōshi decides against engaging another group of enemies. The first episode drops viewers straight into things and ends with Karen beating up a group made up of either Special Units (Japan’s equivalent of SWAT) or JDSF’s Special Forces members.

  • Karen Kohiruimaki stands at 183 centimeters and is voiced by Tomori Kusunoki (who’d played minor roles in Eromanga SenseiGirls’ Last Tour and Slow Start, but also has recently played more major roles in Märchen Mädchen). Uncomfortable with her height, Karen is disinterested in fashion, prefers reading and is quite introverted. By the time of Alternative, Karen is a second-year university student in an undisclosed major and does not appear to have a part-time job, so going on a limb and recalling my own experiences, I would also conclude that Karen’s a reasonably capable student if she can find the time to game and keep up with her studies.

  • I say this because in my second year, I nearly fell below the 3.3 GPA required to stay in my honours program because I was ineffective in managing my time. After my third year, however, things turned around. Here, Karen is talking with Miyu, her best friend and a gamer who puts me to shame in terms of hours spent gaming. There are really all sorts of people out there – while I count myself a gamer of moderate skill, there are some people who spend more time playing games than I spent working. I am always baffled by some folks who have a hundred service stars for their gas grenades in Battlefield 1, for instance.

  • Karen initially struggles to find a game with a proper avatar for her, and this is something I cannot relate to. For games where I can customise how I look, I usually choose something that isn’t too ugly and then pop straight into the game. This moment also highlights an interesting safety feature of the new VR headsets in Alternative: if the user’s vitals reach unsafe points, the system will automatically disengage. I certainly would not mind seeing more fanservice moments of Karen in Alternative, but for the present, this has been very limited.

  • Karen eventually lands on a tiny female avatar that is the epitome of Japanese standards for kawaii: a petite frame, round face, large eyes and a squeaky voice. Kusunoki does a solid job with voices in Alternative, presenting Llenn’s voice as squeaky as one is wont to hearing in shows like Kiniro Mosaic or Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?, switching over to a deeper, quieter and more mature voice when playing Karen. This avatar is precisely what Karen’s been looking for, and she prances about in celebration. Soon after creating her avatar and enjoying it, Karen decides to actually go into the world of GGO and see what it’s about.

  • Initially participating in PvE against monsters to collect the resources needed to buy better gear, Karen’s experience in GGO is not too dissimilar to that of games like Destiny or The Division. In fact, The Division encourages players to reach level thirty, wherein the entire array of skills, talents and perks unlock. In MMO terms, The Division allows one to unlock all branches of a skill tree at the level cap, and then forces players to pick the combination of skills, talents and perks that best suit their play-style. It is at level thirty when things get real interesting in The Division.

  • Unlike Karen and GGO, I’m completely optimised for PvE combat in The Division, and I get my ass kicked if I should run into any rogue agents. After some time in GGO, Karen has earned enough currency to customise her looks somewhat, and while she enjoys a beverage here, her choice of pink gear allows her to blend in to the fiery desert sunset. This is where she has her first PvP encounter: while some folks find Llenn’s design to be overpowered, her high speed and puny hitbox is offset by a low durability. While the size of female hitboxes are apparently the subject of no small debate, the best games out there with variably-sized hitboxes will always balance things out so that characters that are harder to hit are also more fragile.

  • Karen eventually meets one Pitohui in GGO: a highly skilled player, Pitohui teams up with Karen on PvE missions. Pitohui’s identity is no mystery to me, and she’s voiced by Yōko Hikasa (Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Houki Shinonono from Infinite Stratos and New Game‘s Kō Yagami). I’ve long enjoyed Hikasa’s performances: she’s able to project a sense of maturity and sexiness in her characters, and her singing voice is also quite good. The music of K-On! with Mio on leading vocals, and Mio’s character songs are the best place to hear Hikasa’s performances.

  • Pitohui plays GGO the same way I play many shooters: with different guns on almost every mission. It’s always fun to experience shooters with a diverse range of weapons, and things get old real fast if I were to run through every mission or match with the “best” or “easy” guns. This is why I will occasionally mix it up in things like battlefield, where I run with weapons I am unfamiliar with for the thrill of the challenge. Of course, if I get salty, I will switch back over to the “tryhard” guns. Karen, on the other hand, prefers to run with her FN P90, a space age-looking personal defense weapon with a 50-round capacity, fires at 900 RPM and shoots 5.7×28mm ammunition. Its design makes it highly manoeuvrable, and in Battlefield 3, I found the P90 a fine gun when outfitted with a laser sight, suppressor and Kobra RDS.

  • In Battlefield 4, I’ve unlocked the P90 but have yet to use it extensively for my engineer: the UMP-45 is my most used PDW. Battlefield 1 has changed the way gunplay works, and I’ve not touched earlier Battlefield titles for some time, but I am tempted to come back and try Karen’s loadout, which is a stock P90-only setup I would call “hipfire scrub”. Like all gamers who want to get the most bang for their buck, Karen occasionally consults online guides to better improve her strategy, although there are occasions when she gets in touch with Miyu, as well.

  • With all of the formalities out of the way now, the Squad Jam event begins. My main reason for not playing current battle royale titles like Fortnite or PUBG is that I am an impatient gamer. I am at my best running around, killing people and then dying, respawning and doing the same. As a result of my styles, I have a very high number of deaths in Battlefield games, but I also contribute greatly to my team’s performances. In other games, where staying alive is important, I tend to play more cautiously. Here, Karen is seen with Gōshi: as M, Gōshi rolls with the M14 EBR and the HK45. In order to approximate his loadout, I would run with support class with the M39 EMR and the Compact 45.

  • I’ve opted to leave out most of the combat scenes in Alternative because they’re meant to be watched in motion, not as individual stills. After taking down a team of players with real-world training and a team with airboats, Gōshi and Karen evade a third team. Gōshi reveals a plot to kill Karen so he can stand down without dying, leading to the most hilarious moment of Alternative that leaves Karen’s Llenn with what I’ve come to call funny faces. The presence of these funny faces show that Alternative is not taking itself as seriously as its predecessors, which I greatly welcome.

  • Against a team of deadly-looking female players, Karen finds herself outgunned, but clever use of plasma grenades that look a great deal like the seeker mines of The Division and support from Gōshi, who’s regained his composure, allows Karen to escape defeat and fight another day. As Llenn, Karen’s playstyle is absolutely brutal and sexy: she makes use of Llenn’s small size, speed, game mechanics and her environment to devastate her enemies in ways that I’ve not seen from the YouTubers that I follow, even sacrificing her P90 to stop the enemy’s bullets for the sake of victory.

  • In a one-on-one, Karen manages to best the remaining group’s leader with a knife, bringing an end to her first-ever Squad Jam competition. Despite the first five episodes being focused around Squad Jam, Alternative never becomes boring at all, and I am very fond of Karen/Llenn’s characterisation. Lacking the things that made Kirito a dull protagonist at best (and an insufferable one at worse), I feel that Sword Art Online would have done better to have Kirito encounter a larger number of male players, doing away with the group of female admirers he accumulated in favour of people who are there to share his experiences and challenges. Back in Alternative, Karen’s win brings to mind how Jeremy defeats DeathStriker6666 in Pure Pwnage by means of a knife in the “Lanageddon” episode.

  • In the real world, Karen meets up with the high school students whom she’d played against in the Squad Jam tournament and finds in them a new group of friends who are impressed with her play-style. Having long envied them for their short stature, Karen had no idea they were equally envious of her figure, and it is with the confidence of victory from GGO that Karen finally is able to break the ice with this group of high school students. She’s cut her hair short to signify the turning over of a new leaf.

  • I’ve been called a scrub before for using PDWs like the P90 in Battlefield 3, and in Battlefield 1, players who use the Automatico M1918 Trench are similarly disparaged. High RPM weapons, or “spray-and-pray” weapons require very little skill to use in single combat: because they fire quickly, they have a higher DPS as well. In this sense, Karen is a scrub for favouring PDWs and speed: her approach is one of my favourite ways to roll, although since Battlefield 1 introduced the sweet spot mechanic and increased muzzle velocity to make sniping easier, I’ve taken to using bolt action rifles more frequently. At present, I can make use of any rifle outside of their sweet spot and be modestly effective with them.

  • Introducing everyone on the rhythm athletics club members will be an exercise for another day, but their story is another example of how video games can be helpful. Initially, this group of girls lacked team spirit, so their coach encouraged them to work on this in a virtual space, where faces and names do not matter. After becoming hooked on GGO, the girls have seen an improved performance in their club activities and also have another hobby from which to bond over. They seek Karen’s counsel in trying to improve, since the thrill of Squad Jam has left a considerable impression on them.

  • Karen travels home while on break, and upon returning to Tokyo, finds herself face to face with Gōshi. She’s visibly shocked at meeting Gōshi in person, sufficiently so that she has another funny face moment. I note here that if my readers are interested in meeting me in person, there’d better be a bloody good reason for it.

  • Gōshi explains a bit of his story with Pitohui to Karen and details Pitohui’s obsession with death in a story that is chilling as befitting of Sword Art Online. Thrill-seekers such as these are rare in reality, and Gōshi’s devotion to Pitohui foreshadows at what is to happen next. The second half of Alternative will follow another Squad Jam battle where the stakes are much higher, and if executed well, this will certainly be a blast to watch.

  • I will conclude this Alternative post with a fanservice image of Miyu for your amusement, and explain the page quote: it’s sourced from Tom Clancy’s Locked On, and is a reasonable approximation of how Karen might feel about things concerning Gōshi and Pitohui. Instead of backing down, however, she recruits game expert Miyu to help out, and I’m curious to see what Miyu brings to the table. Since we’re dealing with games, The Division‘s Onslaught global event begins tomorrow, and Wednesday will see the reveal trailer to Battlefield V.

It is therefore appropriate to say that, despite its simpler showing insofar, Alternative has nonetheless done a fantastic job of conveying what a VR battle royale shooter looks like, and for illustrating the postive impact that video games may have on folk like Karen. Sword Art Online had always excelled in having strong background and world-building, as well as for inclusion of game mechanics in its narrative. I understand that presently, battle royale games are all the rage, especially with the likes of Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, so Alternative is also relevant to the period. While I’m adamantly against playing battle royale games because they involve more running than shooting, I also accept that the unpredictability and the attendant thrill adds to the genre’s appeal. Seeing terminology and mechanics from first person shooters make their way into GGO, with a game type that has surged in popularity was therefore highly entertaining. GGO is especially attractive for me because I’ve played enough shooters to know how they work from a technical level (I presently don’t play MMOs). By comparison, Sword Art Online‘s thematic elements and characterisation have traditionally been weaker. While themes of death slowly begin to return with a host of individuals with uncommon backgrounds, Alternative has remained reasonably grounded and relatable. One would therefore hope that this trend continues; at the risk of treading on toes, Kirito’s absence and all of the romance-related turmoil makes Alternative all the stronger, and one would hope that Karen’s story in GGO is unfettered by unnecessary romance, allowing Alternative to focus purely on video games and their potential positive impact on one’s mental health.

The Real Life Camping Grounds and A Mystery Lake: An Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ Part Three

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” –George A. Moore

While this is a Yuru Camp△ post, permit me to indulge in an anecdote completely unrelated to Yuru Camp△, whose relevance will become apparent once I finish. I refer to the mockumetary series Pure Pwnage, whose unusual take on gamer culture and unique sense of humour made the series a highly memorable, timeless satire of gaming. I’ve referred to Pure Pwnage here on several occasions and have even written about the movie, which premièred in 2016. In Pure Pwnage, I’ve found a surprising depth in the series for how it handled life lessons, and another aspect that stood out is that Pure Pwnage is all-Canadian. The series predominantly features locations in Toronto, but also makes some use of locations in Montreal, Hamilton and even Calgary. The biggest query on my mind was where in Calgary FPS_Doug’s most famous scenes were shot: the streetlights seen while Doug is driving around and explaining his backstory are only found in Calgary, and the neighbourhood looked very familiar. The precise location continued to elude me, but then I realised that I could make use of a unique-looking landmark to figure things out. While Doug is driving, he passes by a school with a green, conic roof. Armed with this bit of information, the knowledge that such a school did not exist in the quadrant I am most familiar with, and Google Maps’ 3D mode, I found out that the school is called Monsignor JS Smith School, and using some additional tricks, worked out where FPS_Doug’s most infamous moment occurred. One of Pure Pwnage‘s most iconic moments was filmed in Douglasdale, a community in southeast Calgary, and it turns out that this is probably why FPS_Doug is called Doug. How is this pertinent to Yuru Camp△, one asks? The knowledge of a few basic clues, some resourcefulness and a powerful tool has allowed me to work out some of the locations behind Rin and Nadeshiko’s camping trips: unlike the previous trips, these locations proved to be more challenging to find, and without these techniques, this third and (maybe) final armchair journey post would not exist.

  • While the skies may not match up entirely between the Yuru Camp△ images and the real-world equivalent, it is clear that Yuru Camp△ has captured the moody, brown landscapes of the Nagano hills by autumn, right down to details in the road signs. Unlike many of the previous locations, however, this stretch of open road was not easy to find, since there were no major landmarks to help determine where the route was. It turns out that this is Route 194, just north of the gas station where Rin waved to the traffic camera.

  • I will outline briefly the technique for how these lonely stretches of road are found here, and reiterate the process later – quite simply, it entails knowing roughly where Rin started, where Rin is going, and the fact that Yuru Camp△‘s attention to detail has led the girls to take the shortest path to their destinations. Taken together, this means that we can at least narrow down the route to one. Having a single path to follow means a brute force search of the spots seen in Yuru Camp△ is not as painful as it otherwise would be.

  • This is one of several paths up the mountain to the Yatsugatake-Chushin Kogen. In Japan, a Quasi-National Park is a park that is managed by nearby prefectures, rather than the federal government. Yatsugatake-Chushin Kogen is a quasi-national park designated as such in 1964, managed by the Nagano and Yamanashi prefecture governments, and has a surface area of close to forty thousand hectares: it encompasses several lava plateaus and is a popular site for skiing. The area’s volcanic origins mean that onsen are also found here.

  • Here, we are looking at an ordinary roadside turnout. According to Google Maps, Rin would’ve continued on into the mountains along route 194, turned onto route 199, and then made her way back down along route 142. She would then turn right onto the Shimo-Suwa-Okaya bypass, continued on until she reached the Takabochi Skyline route and then ascend upwards into the mountains again. The entire run is around 37.1 kilometres, and back home, this distance can be traveled in roughly a third of an hour on open road. However, the winding mountain roads and area traffic slow things down.

  • The sign here (高ボッチ鉱泉) to the Takabocchi Hot Springs indicates that it is around six kilometres out, and last I checked, this hot springs has been permanently closed. While there’s the misconception that it was closed for the season, the sign seen in Yuru Camp△ indicates that this closure is indeed permanent, otherwise, the sign would indicate that it was closed seasonally. One can empathise with Rin, who’s traveled for upwards of an hour and a half outside, where it is 2ºC: while this is warm for folks of the True North Strong™, I know that being outside for this long without proper outerwear can be quite chilly.

  • Rin busts some mad moves on her way down to the Takabocchi hot springs. Six more minutes further would have seen Rin arriving at Akanejyuku Hot Springs, which visitors report to be quite comfortable and relaxing. Akanejyuku is a ryokan, but their hot springs are open to the public; admissions for adults is 700 yen, although the site asks visitors to limit themselves to sticking around only an hour to respect the accommodations for the ryokan‘s guests. Like the hot springs at Banff, the site’s water temperature may fluctuate unexpectedly.

  • With her plans to warm her bones in the onsen dashed, Rin returns up the way she came and stops in the wide open spaces of the Takabocchi highlands, which offer a sweeping view of the Japanese Alps to the northwest. Mount Fuji is also visible in the east when visibility is good. Between May and October, dairy cows also graze up here, although since it’s November by the time Rin visits, the grasslands are now quite empty.

  • The Yuru Camp△ incarnation of this field, with its cattle, seems a mirror of what I managed to find on Google Maps, and admittedly brings to mind “Bliss”, one of the most famous Windows wallpapers of all time. Featured as the default wallpaper for Windows XP, “Bliss” depicts an open field in California’s Sonoma County and was photographed by Charles O’Rear, but the site has changed considerably in the years since the photo was taken; there’s a wineyard up here now.

  • The combination of radio transmission towers and fog gives the area a distinctly Syphon Filter-like atmosphere: this series of third-person stealth shooters were released for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles of old, and when older graphics hardware meant that fog was widely used to conceal distant objects owing to limited draw distances. The towers at Takabocchi belong to NTT DoCoMo, a phone service provider whose name is a shorthand for the phrase “do communications over the mobile network” and also is phonetically similar to the phrase dokomo (どこも, “everywhere”).

  • From this entry, it’s a short 400-metre hike to the very top of Mount Takabocchi, which is 1664 metres above sea level. The ascent is actually not too arduous, as it’s quite flat up here, and, quite dejected by how her day’s turned out, Rin decides to climb up to the summit. It’s impossible not to feel bad for Rin, who wonders if it would’ve been easier to camp closer to home. Her first-ever long-range camping trip was met with a few disappointments, but from the viewers’ perspective, her day also had its high points, as well.

  • Whether it’s the sunset or midday, the view from Mount Takabocchi is spectacular. On Rin’s walk up to the summit, the dense clouds gradually give way, and she’s afforded with a spectacular view of Lake Suwa and the valley below. The density of particulates make it difficult to discern Mount Fuji from this spot, but Rin’s rewarded with a good view of Japan’s most famous stratovolcano, as well. I remark that Lake Suwa formed the inspiration for Itomori Lake in Your Name, and while I was in the area last, I was also actively avoiding spoilers about the movie.

  • As such, I did not make the connections when my travels took me close to Lake Suwa. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my travels considerably, and it was an added bonus that I did end up in the area that partially served to inspire Your Name‘s Itomori. We presently leave Lake Suwa behind and return to Hottarakashi Camping Ground, where Nadeshiko has decided to undertake a walk under the night skies. During her walk down from the campsite, she’s visibly frightened by the dark, but nonetheless persists in her walk and is rewarded for her troubles. Visible on the left is a fruit shop.

  • This viewpoint overlooking Yamanashi offers a stunning view to match the view that Rin’s got at Takabocchi; Yuru Camp△‘s deliberate choice to pick locations with beautiful night views and juxtapose Rin’s solo camping trip with Nadeshiko’s group camping with Chiaki and Aoi show that in spite of outward differences in their chosen approaches, both ways of camping have their merits and lead to a similar destination: a sense of wonder associated with the outdoors.

  • Rin’s travels come to an end with a visit to Suwa’s Takashima Castle and a proper soak in an onsen. The original castle was built in 1592, during the Edo period but was dismantled during the Meji Restoration. The current structure was the result of a reconstruction project that finished in 1970; the rebuilt castle is not entirely accurate to its original form, but it’s nonetheless a pleasant place to visit. Besides a museum, there’s also a park that provides a good view of cherry blossoms.

  • Nadeshiko accompanies Rin on her latest camping trip; after Rin expresses a desire to test her shiny new portable grill out, she invites Nadeshiko to come with her to Lake Shibire. This time, Rin and Nadeshiko receive a ride from Sakura. At the beginning of their journey, Sakura takes a route over Toyama Bridge on the Katakajima Bypass on her way to Iitomi, where the girls pick up provisions for their camping trip.

  • Google’s directions tool provides several possible routes to reach Lake Shibire: Sakura opts to take the slightly-longer but presumably more familiar Motosu-Michi route, which brings the girls by their high school. This particular stretch of road leads up to Lake Motosu, although rather than making a right onto route 412, Sakura continues along route 300 to their destination. From the concrete barriers to the retaining wall, Yuru Camp△ has lovingly illustrated the girls’ routes; at this point in the game, it is evident that intrepid adventurers can take the very same paths in Yuru Camp△, but further to this, one would likely need to rent a vehicle to begin trekking along some of these paths.

  • Sakura takes route 414, a narrow mountain road that leads up to Lake Shibire. The guard rail and narrower road indicates that this spot is deeper in the mountains, ruling out the small valleys along the way, and so, just like that, we find our location. Again, the attention to detail in Yuru Camp△ is exceptional; inspection of the real-world and anime images find considerable similarities: the same power cables can be seen in the anime screenshot as in the image from Google Maps.

  • There is only one way up to Lake Shibire from route 414, and this is up route 409. Because route 414 is down a very narrow, winding road, one imagines it would be quite easy to miss important intersections, so it makes sense that signs indicating directions of places would be placed at said intersections to help motorists out. Thus, the sign and mirror seen here were found fairly quickly. I should note that if my links break for any reason, please let me know immediately, so I can set about replacing them!

  • As much fun as it sounds, the legend of the bull that Yuru Camp△‘s narrator explains is, unfortunately, bullshit; the lake’s name in kanji is 四尾, or “Four tails”. This is said to have originated from a legend where a four-tailed dragon god resides up here. Here is the same monolith that Rin passes by en route to their campground, although the photograph does not capture the autumnal beauty of Lake Shibire in its full glory. Here, I mention that other sources have considered Yuru Camp△‘s narrator as ‘mysterious’, but I think that the narrator is Rin’s grandfather. Encountered while Chiaki is hunting for camping spots, Rin’s grandfather is an expert camper and inspired Rin to take up camping: it is only logical that he is the one explaining to audiences what the campers are up to.

  • Nadeshiko takes a walk around Lake Shibire while Rin sets up the campfire. This particular camping trip proved to be quite entertaining for viewers: Nadeshiko’s fear of the dark means that she’s reluctant to be out and about after sunset, and she decides to make the most of things while it’s light out. Rin seems unperturbed by the dark, although when returning from the bathroom, encounters a “mysterious shadow” that she bolts from. Rin is so shaken that she decides to spend the remainder of the night in Nadeshiko’s tent, and while she does not outright say it to Nadeshiko, it’s clear that in this moment, Rin is glad that she was not camping solo.

  • Prior to the events of Yuru Camp△, Nadeshiko lived at the edge of Hamamatsu, a moderately-sized city with a population of nearly eight hundred thousand people. She mentions that she was close to Hamana Lake, so this is where I began searching. Because 3D buildings are available, it was possible to fly overhead and, even though I was applying a brute force search, it was moderately quick to locate this intersection by viewing the shoreline of the lake and then working out what landmarks below looked familiar.

  • From features seen in Yuru Camp△, I eventually found this spot, located on a bridge south of Lake Hamana, connecting an island where Nagisaen Camping Ground is located to a series of reclaimed islands. As a software developer, I believe in good documentation and good step-by-step instructions. While I am of the mind that ideas and information that is worth something should definitely be protected, simple or trivial things, such as a simple “indexed table view with a search bar” or locations of an anime are not meant to be kept behind lock-and-key.

  • Nadeshiko had long admired Mount Fuji from afar, and when her family moved to Nanbu, her first decision was to see Japan’s best mountain up close and personal. Nadeshiko recalls the drive to Nanbu from Hamamatsu, so to find this spot along Nadeshiko’s route, I decided to see how one would get from Hamamatsu to Nanbu. The returned results include the Tōmei Expressway and Shin-Tōmei Expressway, a divided highway, and the image from Yuru Camp△ depicts the freeway as cutting through a forested, mountainous area with an overpass visible in the distance. The Shin-Tōmei Expressway cuts through more forest, so I looked overhead for any intersecting routes, and eventually came across the one depicted in Yuru Camp△, which is near the Maoten Shrine. While Mount Fuji is visible from this point on a good day, it is nowhere near as prominent as seen in Yuru Camp△.

  • The remainder of the locations in this post are fortunately, not so obscure: we return to the valley where Nadeshiko and the others spend their everyday lives in Yuru Camp△ here. This is Minobu station, which has been in operation since 1920. The current building dates back to 1980, and the station averages around four hundred and fifty passengers daily. From Minobu Station and the surrounding town of Minobu, the locations that Chiaki, Aoi and Nadeshiko travel along to reach the Caribou outdoors shop are easily found along route 10.

  • This crosswalk is found adjacent to Minobu Station: we are looking at a liquor store and a restaurant. A little further down the road is the confectionery store where the girls buy manju. These are apparently so good that Nadeshiko and Aoi eat their way through theirs in a heartbeat, and rush off to buy more. In their conversation, Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko wonder why the manju are overlooked amidst the other offerings in Minobu. However, since Yuru Camp△ aired, this particular shop has seen an increase in sales, and visitors find that true to what the girls experience, the manju are excellent.

  • Because talking about benches is quite dull, I will deviate from what the screenshots above yield and discuss the Caribou outdoors store: in one of my reviews, I mentioned that looking around the area does not find such a store to exist. I wondered if I was simply not looking hard enough, but Hanabira.Kage, one of my readers mentioned that Caribou is based off a Swen store. A closer look around Hamamatsu finds the store that Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko visit. Thus, a thanks goes to Hanabira.Kage for having brought up the store’s name, since I was able to ultimately locate it – this is why I love being able to talk to my readers. I imagine that like Glasslip, the change in location is intentionally so to facilitate the story: from the girls’ train station at Kai-Tokiwa to SWEN in Hamamatsu is a journey of at least three hours rather than the sixteen minutes it takes to get from Kai-Tokiwa to Minobu Station.

  • As we near the end of this third part of my Yuru Camp△ Armchair Journey mini-series, I will note that there might be a fourth part in the future as my schedule allows, but for now, readers will have at least three comprehensive parts to look through and explore. I will make a map available in the future, but for now, readers do have direct links to the Street View points for more obscure locations. For obvious locations like Minobu Station and its surroundings, I leave it to you, the reader, to explore around.

  • While landmarks such as Minobu Station and its surroundings are straightforwards to find, there are challenges encountered with more mundane, obscure locations. Fortunately, locating the last of these locations was not as tricky as finding that intersection in Hinamatsu: as we near the end of this post, we have one more ace-in-the-hole. Previously, we figured out where Rin and Nadeshiko’s school was, and judging from the lighting of the sky, it’s after school. So, the question then becomes “how does Nadeshiko get from school to Kai-Tokiwa Station?”, and knowing this, if we follow the shortest route from school to the train station, we have a relatively short walk that we can follow. Exploring this allows us to find the exact spot where Nadeshiko waves to a dog on a truck.

  • As we follow this route to its conclusion, we come across a bridge with a sign indicating that its maximum load is fourteen tonnes. It is here that Nadeshiko encounters a Google Street View vehicle, with its distinctive camera fixture. From the road sign and storefront, to the adjacent white apartment and street lamps, Yuru Camp△‘s attention to detail is visible again here. While her voice and message indicate excitement, Nadeshiko also seems a bit shocked that she’s encountered such an unusual vehicle here.

  • During the evening, Rin explores the area surrounding her school using a tablet. Google Maps was launched in 2005, and a mobile version for Android became available in 2008. The technology has come a very long way since then, and one of the features I make use of the most frequently is offline mode. This function is most useful when I’m in areas without a cell signal or WiFi, and today, Google Maps on tablets is immensely powerful, allowing me to explore areas in Street View as smoothly as I do on a desktop computer.

  • The surprise that Rin finds while exploring familiar streets is as much of a nice easter egg as the various Stan Lee cameos and the end credits sequences of MCU movies. The real world location is quite devoid of people, and I note here that while Yuru Camp△ is excellent in terms of details, they missed one thing in this Street View segment: Google routinely blurs out faces and license plates to preserve privacy. Nadeshiko’s face is not hidden here: while Google is reasonably thorough, they can sometimes miss things, and users are asked to report anything that they would like to be blurred. Of course, this is one case where realism is not of utmost important: a blurred Nadeshiko would destroy the joke of running into her at this crosswalk.

The backroads Rin took to Mount Takabotchi, Nadeshiko and Rin’s ride to Lake Shibire, Nadeshiko’s flashbacks to Hanamatsu, and the Google Maps locations that sees Nadeshiko encountering Google’s Street View vehicle, were far more obscure than any of the locations I had previously kept track of. There are no distinguishable landmarks, street signs or other indicators of where some of these locations are. However, there is my accumulated knowledge of how Yuru Camp△ does things: two approaches were used to find the locations showcased in this final Yuru Camp△ Armchair Journey post. The first is that the anime sees the girls take the most efficient route to get from point A to point B, and so, given that we know what the optimal route is, we can trace this route and, following it, find things that are more obscure (such as the highway Nadeshiko recalls driving down while moving to Nanbu or the sign pointing to Lake Shibire). The second is that as long as the girls are on foot, we can explore nearby areas (within a one-kilometre radius) if their starting point is known. Nadeshiko’s viewpoint of Yamanashi and the hot spring Rin initially hoped to enjoy were found in this manner. The end result of this is that I find myself highly impressed with the attention to detail that Yuru Camp△ takes in depicting not just the techniques for camping, but also the journey and paths everyone takes to their destinations. By now, it’s become clear that the only way to really enjoy these locations is if one has home field advantage, or a considerable amount of vacation time on their hands – for everyone else, I again defer to the incredible capabilities that Google Maps has conferred upon us. Short of travelling to Japan in person, this tool has offered no shortage of exploration options that will serve to deepen the audiences’ appreciation of the effort that went into making Yuru Camp△. I close with the remark that, back in Pure Pwnage‘s first season’s eighth episode, Jeremy and Doug square off again DeathStriker6666 at LANageddon in Calgary. I immediately recognised the streets and hills as being in Calgary, but for the longest time, I wondered where the location was. After attending a Japanese festival at the Bowness Community Centre, I realised that the site was the one and the same for LANageddon, bringing an answer to yet another long-standing question I’ve had about Pure Pwnage. One thing’s for sure: I highly doubt that there exists anyone else out there who’ve had the audacity to mention Yuru Camp△ and Pure Pwnage in the same sentence, much less in the same blog post.

Amanchu! Advance: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point, and Remarks on Miracles

“I never bullshit, Pickle Man. This can only end with one of us dead, and I have never died.”
“That will be your downfall, Jaguar: not being open to new experiences.”

—Jaguar and Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

On an autumn day, Hikari runs into Kokoro, who is buying Marron Pie for her parents. She subsequently spends the afternoon with him, and they walk under the brilliant autumn foliage of a nearby park together. Meanwhile, Futaba is enjoying a cool afternoon at a café with a book, but falls asleep and has a lucid dream where she’s a witch. She takes another one of the café’s patrons into the skies with a broom and soars over town, before flying to a park, where sakura blossoms are blooming. When Futaba reawakens, she recounts her experiences with Hikari. Later during a dive using drysuits, Hikari notices that Futaba is highly motivated. Futaba panics when she finds herself unable to descend with the others, and is saved by Hikari and Mato; Mato lectures Futaba on the dangers of a rapid ascend. During lunch, the diving club meet Hikari’s younger sister, Kodama, and with encouragement from her friends, Futaba’s motivation is restored. While diving, Mato finds herself in imminent danger of injury, but is saved by the “Black Mermaid”, a gargantuan diver. He signals for them to accompany him; Mato, Hikari and Futaba accepts, so he brings them to a beautiful reef under the ocean. It turns out that the Black Mermaid is Hikari’s grandfather, who is an experienced diver. During Halloween, Futaba and Kokoro compete to earn the prize from a scavenger hunt: a kiss from Prince Hikari. Determined to win, Futaba overcomes her fears of talking to a stranger with a costume beard and pushes for the finish line, tying with Kokoro, who had his sights set on winning the giant octopus stuffed toy. Hikari and Futaba relax an exclusive spa with Mato and Ai, and later, Mato wonders when she lost sight of the magic in the world. Thus, we are at the halfway point of Amanchu! Advance, and by my admission, Amanchu! Advance is a step away from the grounded, ordinary setting of its predecessor. Fantastical escapes are explored, blurring the line between reality and fantasy: Futaba frequently alludes to this message, which is a recurring theme that we’ve seen so far.

One of the greatest joys about sequels are that they offer an opportunity for writers to present different aspects to characters that audiences have already become familiar with. In Amanchu! Advance, Hikari’s character is seen as being more prone to embarrassment: her carpe diem outlook on life has its limits, and she sometimes feels this when things cross the line. However, Futaba has received a more interesting bit of growth in Amanchu! Advance: having long regarded Hikari as a dear friend, her desire to be with Hikari has also manifested a hitherto unexpected side of her character. She’s expressing jealousy now at the prospect of someone else vying for Hikari’s attention, and similarly, has become more protective of Hikari, as well. Futaba’s drive in the scavenger hunt indicates this very strongly, as do her dreams of being the prince to Hikari’s princess. On the topic of dreams, Amanchu! Advance has also given audiences exposure to Futaba’s desires and thoughts through her dreams. While relaxing at a café, the atmosphere leads her to fall asleep. She’s well aware of being in a dream and all the more assertive for it; conjuring a broom and soaring through the skies, Futaba encourages another patron to partake, as well, expressing a confidence and assuredness that we’d previously not seen in her. In conjunction with Futaba’s allusions to the merging of boundaries between the tangible and dreams, I get the sense that Amanchu! Advance intends to convey to its audiences that magical moments are so moving they often feel unreal, and that these magic moments have profound changes, both good and bad, on individuals that experience them; it is clear that Futaba, for whatever other doubts she may possessed, has matured since meeting Hikari.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I continue to find interesting things to talk about in Amanchu! Advance, so this post will have thirty screenshots. We open with Hikari running into Kokoro. Both have their sights set on Marron Pie: having nothing to do with Hai-Furi‘s Maron, Marrons are another name for chestnuts, and in Japan, these chestnut pies are made by wrapping a light, flaky pastry around candied chestnuts. Japanese pastry shops mark this as an autumn specialty, the same way that pumpkin spice has more or less worked its way into everything when autumn rolls around in North America. While some folks find it overrated, the sweet and subtle kick of pumpkin does have a distinctly autumn taste to it.

  • It suddenly strikes me that none of the bloggers whom I’m in regular correspondence with, are writing about Amanchu! Advance. I’d love to hear other perspectives on this show, even if Amanchu! Advance might not be the most conducive towards discussions. While Futaba and another patron enjoy their books, hot beverage and sweets, I look back a few evenings, when I finally tried out the Louisanna-style fried chicken from a new place in the area. Their chicken is very crunchy and flavourful, fried differently from the place I normally go, and the cajun fries have a bit of a kick to them. The best surprise were their biscuits, which are moist and buttery.

  • The page quote for Amanchu! Advance thus comes from the notion of being open to new experiences, albeit one made in jest. In general, being open-minded leads to unexpected surprises, and here, Futaba encourages the other patron to fly with her. Futaba is enjoying tea at the Izukogen Rose Terrace café. With its unusual architecture, this cafe is well-regarded in both its atmosphere and menu: locals recommend it as a place to drop by if one is in search of a short breather while exploring the numerous museums in the area.

  • The events of Amanchu! Advance and Amanchu are set in the coastal town of Itō. With a population of sixty-nine thousand, most of the locations of Amanchu! are set in and around Itō, although unsurprisingly, some creative liberties have been taken to ensure that the locations of Amanchu! work with the story. Having said this, this aerial depiction of Itō is largely faithful to the real-world incarnation; Nagisa Park is visible in the image.

  • In her dreams, Futaba has the same grace and charm as Flying Witch‘s Makoto Kowata: she smoothly mounts her broom and takes flight using the same approach as seen in Flying Witch where she channels her magic into the broom. I invite readers to check out my old talk on Flying Witch; aired some two years ago, I greatly enjoyed Flying Witch, and readers will have noticed that I have a particular fondness for slice-of-life anime defined by a highly cathartic atmosphere. I’ve stated this previously: my enjoyment in these shows come from simply being able to watch them in the moment, and I note that I am never on the lookout for themes or analysis while watching a show.

  • While my posts on these anime predominantly feature thematic elements and the like, I only consider these elements once I’ve decided to sit down and write these posts. Back in Amanchu! Advance, Hikari and Kokoro stroll through an area with red leaves. Kokoro, being only eleven, is a ways younger than the other characters, and his dynamics with Hikari are endearing. He swings between wanting to hang with Hikari and wanting to avoid her at the same time for the latter’s indefatigable spirit.

  • The young patron that Futaba befriends is Kotori Misaki, who is Kokoro’s sister. She has yet to be formally introduced to the cast, and is voiced by none other than Ai Kakuma (Brave Witches‘ Hikari Karibuchi): characters in anime are not introduced on a whim, and so, I expect that Kotori will meet up with the main cast in due course.

  • A brilliant sunset marks the end of the day: in Japan, sunsets and sunrises come very early. While in Japan last year, the sun began setting as early as 16:00 JST, and it would already be fully up, equivalent to around 08:00 MDT when I woke up at 06:00 JST. I’m a morning person through and through, but waking up to see the sunrise, which is at a reasonable time back home, would be unfeasible for even me. When the sun sets at home, I usually am not treated to such a vivid experience as seen in Amanchu! Advance, either: the most beautiful of sunsets usually occur in late October and early November, when chinook clouds are illuminated by the last light of day.

  • The legend of the Jet-Black Mermaid is a story that Mato tells her students: this story is local to Amanchu! Advance and won’t be found anywhere else. Mato describes a beautiful and mysterious entity that roams the oceans, helping divers in need out, moving at quick speeds and also is willing to take them to Ryūgū-jō, a mystical underwater palace that is home to the Dragon God, Ryūjin. While an interesting story, Mato remarks that it is little more than a mere myth, and the diving club thus begins their day’s activities.

  • While underwater, Futaba experiences a curious phenomenon when Hikari, Makoto and Ai blow rings of air. I am reminded of folks who can make smoke rings. This is a technique that requires practise, and experienced individuals can create faster or slower moving rings, as well. Having said this, because I am a non-smoker, this is not something I will practise or take up any time soon. The most impressive smoke rings I’ve seen in any context goes to The Lord of The Rings‘ Gandalf The Grey, who created an entire smoke galleon in The Fellowship of The Ring.

  • After failing to modify her buoyancy before descending, Futaba finds herself being pulled upwards and risks decompression sickness, informally known as the bends. This is caused by a reduced pressure causing dissolved gases to come out of solution, creating bubbles in the bloodstream. Because these bubbles can form in any part of the body, the effects can be lethal. This is why Mato gives Futaba a stern lecture: the effects of the bends are not trivial.

  • While Futaba is a bit disheartened that she got a bit cocky, conversation with her friends allows her to regroup. Futaba is presented as being someone who’s quite hard on herself and doubtful, and while she still occasionally succumbs, it is clear that her friendships have given her a newfound confidence. Mindful of her errors, Futaba learns from her mistakes more rapidly now and seems less bothered by the weight of her errors.

  • While manga readers will be familiar with Kodama, Hikari’s younger sister, it came as a surprise to me that Kodama was introduced this late in the game. She’s the opposite of Hikari, being reserved and feeling that Hikari’s boundless enthusiasm is a liability. Despite her not being an active diver, she’s familiar with the basics. The two are as different as night and day, and Kodama thanks the others for looking after Hikari.

  • Hikari and Futaba prepare to enter the water. When Futaba expresses doubt at performing a back roll entry, Hikari suggests the giant stride. One of my impediments is that I cannot tumble at all, so when I was younger, the rolling entry into water was something I never could execute for swimming classes. The stride dive is usually employed when one is on a larger vessel, while the back roll is used if one is on a small boat or RHIB.

  • Yesterday, I went ahead and watched Avengers: Infinity War at a local cinema before returning home to a dinner of roast beef and peppercorn gravy and cheesy mashed potatoes with bacon and sour cream. This particular theatre has fancy, comfortable reclining chairs, and the film itself was superb. Like Girls und Panzer Der Film and Strike Witches The Movie, this is an experience that requires some knowledge of the previous entries in the film. It was a thrill to see all of the MCU characters bounce off one another, and despite being darker than some of the other MCU films, Infinity War does have its humourous moments, such as when Stark and Strange clash. References to earlier films are also made, and it is this a priori knowledge that makes some of the moments more enjoyable. The film is the first part of two, and the latter releases next May.

  • This is about as far as I’ll go in talking about Infinity War: my readers, who may or may not be fans of the MCU, are likely hear about my thoughts on anime, so I’ll return the discussion to Amanchu! Advance, where Mato’s just been rescued from a nasty bump to her dome by a gargantuan diver whose proportions defy normalcy. After this mysterious diver saves Mato, he invites Mato, Hikari and Futaba. With Mato’s story about the Jet-Black Mermaid still fresh on their minds, the girls accept the new diver’s invitation.

  • Swimming at a speed much faster than previously thought possible, the massive diver takes Mato, Futaba and Hikari into a beautiful coral reef under the ocean. While not Ryūgū-jō, this area is beautiful, being populated by colourful corals and schools of fish. With its vivid colours and volumetric lighting, Amanchu! Advnace has gone the full ten yards in creating a scene that captures the majesty and wonder of the oceans.

  • The result is a truly magical moment that stands amongst the miracles that Akari, Aika and Alice encounter on Aqua: Amanchu! Advance manages to accomplish this without any supernatural or otherworldly forces. Initially, the mysterious black-clad diver’s identity is not known, but his benevolent actions and calming presence is reminiscent of ARIA‘s Cait Sith, who appears to Akari occasionally and is considered to act as a spiritual guardian of sorts for Aqua. However, in the absence of supernatural, it is not particularly rational to consider this diver as Amanchu! Advance‘s equivalent of the Cait Sith. Instead, subtle bits of foreshadowing hint at who this diver is.

  • As it turns out, the diver is Hikari’s grandfather; he’s a big guy for you. The clue I refer to is the vast towel that Kodama brings to Kino, which the others immediately find curious for its dimensions. Despite his build, Hikari’s grandfather is evidently a skilful diver.

  • During a Halloween festival of sorts, Futaba dresses up in a vivid red dress and finds the scene surrounding her so unreal that she has to convince herself that it is not a dream. She and Hikari enjoy the festival, later running into Kokoro. When Hikari heads off to buy some drinks, an uncomfortable silence arises between the two, but the pair nonetheless draw a crowd.

  • While walking around the Halloween festival, Hikari and the others run into Ai and Makoto, who are handling a scavenger hunt. No one’s shown up, and Ai wonders if they’ll need to up the ante for prizes. The group brainstorm some prizes, landing on “a kiss from the prince (Hikari)”: this draws the interest of a little girl, and word spreads, hauling in a large group of participants. Feeling that Hikari is threatened, Futaba decides to join the scavenger hunt and win it to protect her. Kokoro can be seen here in a lilac cat costume, and he joins because the original prize caught his eye.

  • The scavenger hunt’s participants quickly hit impediments that slow them down for good. Kokoro’s assignment is to find a handkerchief, which he considers straightforwards, but he’s scared off by the principal and decides to ask a lady instead. His plan backfires when the woman asks him what kind of trick he might play on her should she decline his request, but the outcome later suggests that he managed to overcome his fear.

  • Futaba initially has trouble finding the courage asking a man dressed as a kangaroo for his beard, but like Kokoro, succeeds. It was unexpectedly adorable to watch Futaba squeal in panic when her prize was so near and simultaneously so far: we recall that she’s voiced by Ai Kayano (Chisaki Hiradaira in Nagi no AsakuraGirls und Panzer‘s Saori Takabe and Mocha Hoto in GochiUsa), who excels at gentle voices.

  • The conclusion of the scavenger hunt is a thrilling one, and it ends up a draw between Futaba and Kokoro, when Kokoro trips and ends up in Futaba’s arms. This outcome was not particularly unexpected, and from a narrative perspective, is done to indicate that both Futaba and Kokoro were motivated by their own, non-intersecting reasons for winning.

  • Futaba began Amanchu! with a graceful but distant expression that gradually shifted to one of wonder, warmth and happiness when she met Hikari. I believe this is my first time seeing Futaba wear such an expression on her face, when she remarks to Kokoro that she’s not about to let anyone steal Hikari from her. The afternoon soon gives way to evening, and after receiving a kiss from Hikari, Futaba declares that she’d like to be Hikari’s prince.

  • I’ve been enjoying Amanchu! Advanced considerably thus far, but even in a series as cathartic and laid-back as Amanchu!, it seems the deep places of the internet can still find criticisms to level against this series. In this case, accusations of discrimination against Amanchu!‘s author, Kozue Amano have been made because some entitled, ill-read individuals on Reddit cannot differentiate between different kinds of friendships. I’m normally accepting of Reddit discussions since they tend to be useful, but some parts of their anime community are about as credible and useful as that of /a/, which is to say, their discussions are a load of bollocks. Having said this, if there are people reading this who think that Redditors and /a/ have value, however negligible, then by all means, make it known to me. I welcome it.

  • I’ve also heard that one chapter of Amanchu! is controversial, and having taken a look, I can say with total confidence that this is a gross overreaction. The chapter in question might be adapted into Amanchu! Advance, and while I think nothing of it, the lesser parts of the internet apparently find it to be srs bsns. Quite personally, I hope they adapt this chapter into Amanchu! Advance so viewers can make of things for themselves, rather than leaving it to the sensitive and narrow-minded folk out there to shape perceptions on things. Here in Amanchu! Advance, Hikari and Futaba share a dance in one of Futaba’s dreams.

  • Enjoying their fancy spa experience, Futaba and Hikari share another moment of joy following Futaba’s recounting of her dream to Hikari. Lucid dreams were mentioned in this post, but I’ve not mentioned them in too much detail until now: these dreams are defined as when the individual is aware of their being in a dream and may be able to exert varying degrees of control over how things unfold. A few people I know, both in real life and among my fellow bloggers have such dreams – I am a bit envious, since the most amount of control I can exert in my dreams is to exfiltrate when I feel a situation is unfair or dangerous. Beyond this, my dreams are very mundane and ordinary for the most part; I’ve flown on a couch over my home town and duelled a Balrog of Morgoth once, but more common are dreams where I’m involved in my daily routine or treading familiar ground.

  • Outside, Mato walks about. Hearing the conversation that Futaba and Hikari share leads her to wonder when she stopped looking around the world for the magical and began viewing it in more practical, mundane terms. The presence of a routine tends to do that: adults tend to be a lot more boring in this regard.

  • With this final screenshot of Mato looking over a cluster of Jack’o-Lanterns, my talk for Amanchu! Advance after the halfway point draws to a close. We’re nearing the halfway point of May, and having another Amanchu! post in the books, the third and final part of my Yuru Camp△ Armchair Journey series will be completed in the near future. We’re also closing on the release dates for Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai and Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?: Dear My Sister – I intend to write about Dear My Sister as soon as it becomes available, and will be saving Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai for June. Finally, Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth and final instalment still needs to be watched and written about, so there is that to look forwards to, as well.

The past three episodes of Amanchu! Advance leading us to the halfway point have moved the series in a direction where it feels more like ARIA; magical moments are more common and suggest that miracles can be found in life’s smallest details. This is a welcome step for Amanchu! Advance, giving the show the chance to portray characters outside of their activities as divers. In doing so, Amanchu! Advance reiterates to viewers that while diving might be what brought people together, people (and not diving) are ultimately at the forefront of everything in Amanchu! Advance. Slow and calming in its pacing, Amanchu! Advance has shown that in spite of its presentation, there are definitely things worth considering. The anime continues to impress with its visual quality, and the music has also taken a step forwards, playing a more visible role in setting the emotional tenor for a moment. The sum of these elements come together to create an atmosphere not unlike that of ARIA, and even though Amanchu! is set in the real world, with a different premise and aims, the similarities between the two series in terms of atmosphere are evident. As we move into Amanchu! Advance‘s second half, I expect that audiences will continue to see different aspects for the characters that give them a more credible feel and make the show increasingly enjoyable. I further speculate that Amanchu! Advance will advance in a direction that sees Futaba working hard for, and earning her advanced diver certification. The rationale for this is that Amanchu! Advance‘s tile, in incorporating the word “Advance” to signify both the act of moving forwards and a higher level of knowledge, is leading Futaba down a path where she is able to do both and mature further as a person.

The Real Life Camping Grounds and Two Campers’ Views: An Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ Part Two

“Life is a journey, and if you fall in love with the journey, you will be in love forever.” –Peter Hagerty

Yuru Camp△‘s first episode set the precedence for what to expect with respect to attention to detail and atmosphere, so when the anime continued into its run, it was hardly surprising that the locations depicted were highly faithful to their real-world counterparts. As the anime moved ahead, Rin undertakes a camping trip at Fumotoppara. Her solitude is soon interrupted by Nadeshiko, who’s asked Sakura to help drive her there. With a host of ingredients in tow, Nadeshiko makes a fantastic dinner for Rin as a thank you for earlier. Later, Nadeshiko formally joins with the Outdoors Activity Club and takes a camping trip together with Chiaki and Aoi at. Their adventures happen in parallel with Rin, who takes a solo journey out to Kirigamine Highland in Nagano prefecture with her shiny new bike. Like Rin’s journey to Koan, details in both trips are rendered with exceptional precision, to the point where one could follow the girls’ travels in a near-flawless manner and experience what they did with naught more than a set of coordinates representing the routes they took. Similar to the last post, I will be making use of Google Maps’ Street View utility – all of the screenshots shown here are openly available on Google Maps. The landmarks, such as train stations and the Fuefukigawa Fruit Park, are trivially easy to find. My approach in tracking down Rin’s route through Nagano is a bit more involved but still straightforwards: because Yuru Camp△ takes the time to show highway signs, it becomes possible to work out which route the sign is found on and what intersections it might be near. With this one, a range of locations between the second and forth episodes are found, illustrating the exceptional details Yuru Camp△ places into illustrating the locations the girls travel through and to.

  • Rin travels along a small road off Route 139 leading to Fumotoppara Campground. The Google Street View team evidently has come later in the year: the leaves have already fallen from the many of the trees, making the distant hills and plains more visible than in Yuru Camp△.

  • This view is taken some 15 kilometres away, as the mole digs, from the quiet country road Rin is travelling on: we are looking east along Route 803 towards the bridge that Nadeshiko was crossing in the first episode. From Nadeshiko making a request to the point where she touches down at Fumotoppara, every step in Yuru Camp△ is presented. This is one of the reasons why I count Yuru Camp△ worthy of the mantle “Survivorman The Anime” – Les Stroud is very meticulous and methodical in his survival advice, similar to how things are done in Yuru Camp△.

  • While Sakura was seen giving Nadeshiko a (admittedly adorable) physical beating in the first episode, her willingness to drive her all the way out to Fumotoppara from Nanbu is a strong indicator of the warm bond that the two siblings have. A large mountain range separates the two locations – the road distance is a hair over 40 kilometres, and owing to speed limits, it takes around an hour to go around the mountains.

  • The Fuji River is visible down Route 10 here: in both the anime and real-world images, the green guardrails lining the road and a train tunnel to the right, are visible. With a total length of 128 kilometers, the Fuji River features several dams along its run for generating power, and downstream, the bridge where the Tōkaidō Shinkansen crosses the Fuji River, with Mount Fuji visible in the background, is one of Japan’s most iconic views. When I first looked at my itinerary to Japan more than a year ago, I thought I would be going south through Shizuoka, but my travels brought me to Yamanashi and Nagano.

  • The turn here is located along Route 469 near the Hachiman Shrine between the Toshima and Inako station. The mountains in Japan are by no means formidable compared to the likes of the giants that characterise the Canadian Rockies, but nonetheless represent barriers to travel. Tracing the route that Sakura takes to Asagiri Plateau shows that she’s taking the most efficient route possible. This is logical from a production perspective, as well – the art crews are unlikely to be impressed if their route is all over the place, and it is more economical to simply follow a route and render choice points along the way.

  • This stretch of road is quite near Asagiri Plateau: owing to the narrow lanes, the speed limit here is 50 kilometres per hour. It is located around 21.6 kilometres (thirty-six minutes) away from the point illustrated in the earlier set of screenshots: the times and distances returned by Google Maps indicates that a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour is the norm. While this seems very slow, having driven on narrow mountain roads, I can say with confidence that these lower speed limits are intentionally so for the drivers’ safety: while in Banff National Park, the narrow, winding roads to some features are such that I feel uncomfortable going any faster than 30 kilometres per hour.

  • While Google Maps passed this area in November, the area has dense foliage. By comparison, the anime incarnation of this area shows a much sparser foliage, making Mount Fuji more visible. Careful inspection of the images also show that along the guard rails of Route 139, those tall grasses are visible in both the anime and real-world screenshots, suggesting that, even if I’m not precisely where Nadeshiko and Sakura pass by, I must be close. The choice of colours in Yuru Camp△ suggest a much chillier, drier day.

  • As evening sets in, Sakura and Nadeshiko finally reach the parking lot at Fumotoppara. This wide open expanse is a far cry from the cozier spaces of Koan Campground at Lake Motosu: with an elevation of some eight hundred metres above sea level, the region east of Mount Fuji consists of a large amount of pasture land. This is quite suitable for dairy farming, and during Yuru Camp△‘s final camping trip, Chiaki and Aoi enjoy ice cream from a local producer.

  • The Outdoor Activities Club’s first camping trip takes them to Hottarakashi Campground. Minobu Station to Yamanashi Station is around an hour and sixteen minutes by train, and from here, the girls have a bit of an uphill walk to reach their campsite: it’s 4.1 kilometres out, and while this can be walked very quickly, Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko are also carrying a nontrivial amount of gear for their trip. As such, when the girls reach the uphill portion of their walk, they tire very quickly.

  • The bridge over Fuefuki River is less than two hundred metres from Yamanashi Station, and true to its real-world counterpart, has a railing that is reproduced faithfully. The smokestacks visible in the Yuru Camp△ screenshot are not found in the real-world equivalent: this series of warehouse and storage tanks belong to the Japan Carbon Co. Ltd: they have a manufacturing plant in Yamanashi.

  • Nadeshiko’s boundless energy stands in stark contrast with Aoi and Chiaki, who slowly haul their gear up the mountain. During this trip, Nadeshiko is also carrying an entire rice cooker. This road is located off a right turn on Route 140: maps mark this as “Fruit park Entrance”, and the street lamps here are fruit-themed, as seen in their distinct red housings. One interesting thing in Japan is that their streets don’t have names: districts in Japan are divided into blocks, and while unintuitive for us gweilos, the system is actually similar to the Military Grid Reference System that NATO militaries use.

  • While I leave readers to again enjoy the similarites between Yuru Camp△ and real life, I continue on from the point before. Use of a system similar to the MGRS eliminates ambiguity: back in Canada, if I say “5th Street and 4th Avenue”, because of the way this works, I could be referring to different intersection. To solve this, I would need to specify which 5th Street and 4th Avenue I’m referring to (e.g. 5th Street East and 4th Avenue North). Another minor detail about Japanese addresses is that they start with a coarse granularity and work their way down, while addresses most of my readers are familiar with will start with a fine granularity and work their way up.

  • After an ardous climb that leaves Chiaki and Aoi exhausted, the girls reach the park at the base of Fuefuki Fruit Park. Nadeshiko has energy to spare and runs around like a cheerful puppy, and while the Street View has not provided readers with the same view of Mount Fuji that Yuru Camp△ does, on a clear day, the summit of the stratovolcano is just visible over the other mountains in the distance.

  • The Fuefukigawa Fruit Museum consists of three large glass domes. One acts as a greenhouse and houses a variety of tropical fruits, the second is a combined restaurant, fruit shop and book store, and the third is an enclosed open space that occasionally hosts performances. For folks in this area, the museum is definitely worth visiting: for one, it’s free admissions, and the area also provides a spectacular view of the Yamanashi valley below. The domes are open between 09:00 and 17:00, and the gardens and parks surrounding these are always open. I will be covering Nadeshiko and the others’ camping experience at Hottarakashi in a later post.

  • We hop over some 46.25 kilometres (as the mole digs) to a spot on Route 17: Rin passes by this point on her way to the Kirigamine Highland. For both anime and real-world images, some greenhouses are visible here. I passed through this region last year while travelling from Lake Kawaguchi to the Shirakabako Hotel on the shores of Lake Shirakaba last year: rather than Route 17, I was on the Chuo Expressway. Unlike the Outdoor Activities Club’s camp, whose locations are not only walkable, but also trivially easy to locate, Rin’s route is a bit more obscure. Locating it by brute force would take forever, and this is time I don’t have, especially considering that I did not pass along this road, but fortunately, there is a trick.

  • We recall that in my previous Yuru Camp△ armchair journey, I mentioned that the total accuracy in signs between the anime and real-world incarnations would be useful. With this sign, we know that Rin is taking Route 17 and is coming up on an intersection for the Yatsugatake-Echo Line (八ヶ岳工コーライン on the sign). With this, we can precisely pin down where Rin is, and from here, it becomes reasonably straightforwards to trace Rin’s path as she travels into the Kirigamine Highlands.

  • Moving along Route 17, one can see all of the intersections Rin stops at: she’s following a car with a dog in it for a considerable distance, and I feel that a some of the Manga Time Kirara series seem to have animal motifs for their characters. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?‘s characters resemble bunnies, while Kiniro Mosaic and K-On! characters are kitten-like. In Yuru Camp△, puppies seem to be the motif.

  • We are very nearly at the end of this post, and I will take some time to explain the rationale behind these posts. While looking around for information, I found another series of similar posts that dealt with the real-world locations of Yuru Camp△. While similarly detailed as the content here, the difference between my posts and theirs is that theirs uses small 320 by 140 images. My story with location hunt posts begins in 2012, when I was given a request to translate and make accessible a series of location posts for CLANNADKanon and The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi. Originally formatted in SHIFT-JIS, the pages were indecipherable in some browsers and featured tiny images that made comparison difficult.

  • I am forgiving of the old SHIFT-JIS sites because years back, broadband was just becoming commonplace and bandwidth was still expensive. However, it is now 2018: 2007 called and want their 320 by 140 images back. These images are too small to be comfortably viewed on a phone and are too fuzzy to appreciate on a desktop browser – I know that some folks are protective of their content, but we exist in an age where some things exist to be shared. Since the screenshots of Yuru Camp△ and the corresponding locations in Google Maps are publicly accessible, I see no reason that anyone should play the gatekeeper for freely available content. As such, this series of posts will feature screenshots in a proper resolution.

  • While I’m a bit lazy to link the screenshots directly, folks interested in checking the locations out for themselves can always click on the links to do so, and I am willing to send out links to the full-resolution screenshots if there is demand for them. Returning the party to Yuru Camp△, we’ve reached the Kirigamine Highlands, and here, Rin stops in front of the Chaplin Restaurant, which visitors have remarked to have a good view and reasonable service. However, Rin’s destination is a smaller inn to the back, known as the Korobokkuru Hutte. This inn is not reachable via Street View, but by this point in time, I should have no troubles in convincing readers that Korobokkuru Hutte is also faithful to its real-world counterpart.

  • Up here on the Kirigamine Highlands, it feels distinctly like the open plains around Southern Alberta’s foothills. Shorty after the episode aired, I popped up here for myself and located the very same traffic webcam that Rin is waving from. Because I knew where Korobokkuru Hutte was, I reasoned out Rin’s path of travel and found a gas station facility further to the west. I’ve mentioned this in the earlier post, but for folks who don’t like clicking on links back to another page on this blog, here is the location in Google Maps. In my talk at Yuru Camp△‘s halfway point, I noted that the webcam Rin waved at is real and has a website providing real-time footage. However, because it is powered by Flash, readers will have to give Flash permission to run in order to see anything.

  • iOS devices will not run Flash unless jailbroken, and Android devices need some tinkering with to run Flash, so if you’re running stock iOS, that link to the webcam won’t work. I left my talk at Yuru Camp△‘s halfway point on the conclusion that in Yuru Camp△, either Flash is more secure and mobile phones allow Flash to run natively or Nadeshiko has 1337 phone customisation skills. This brings my second part of the Yuru Camp△ armchair journey to a close, and looking ahead, there is to be one more part in this mini-series. This final post should be out before May is over, but for now, my attention has turned towards Amanchu! Advance and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, which has turned out surprisingly engaging. As well, with Battlefield 1‘s latest weapons crate update, and some of my latest experiences, I will also be looking to share that with readers in the very near future.

Thanks to remarks from Yuru Camp△‘s author, Afro, and a bit of Google-fu, Rin’s second campground is quickly pinned down, along with the location of Korobokkuru Hutte, a small restaurant that Rin stopped at en route to her campground in Nagano and the route the Outdoors Activity Club take on their way to Pine Wood campground, including Fuefukigawa Fruit Park and Hottarakashi onsen. To be able to trace these routes means that fans can experience both Rin and the Outdoors Activity Club’s travels in full, down to the exact same dishes and food items that the girls enjoy on their adventures. With this in mind, the Outdoors Activity Club’s trip to Pine Wood is the easier of the two to replicate for visitors: Yamanashi station up to the campground is around a 4.7 kilometre walk. With an elevation gain of 371 metres, the walk can be completed in around 50 minutes at a moderate pace. By comparison, Rin’s travels from Minobu to Korobokkuru Hutte is around 102 minutes and spans 108 kilometres: the shorter route has a toll, so it follows that Rin will be going the long way around. Unless one has their own transportation, following in Rin’s footsteps would be rather more difficult. Consequently, if individuals were interested in retracing the adventures of Yuru Camp△, I imagine that a greater number of recollections for Nadeshiko and her friends’ path would exist. However, this should not dissuade inquisitive individuals from checking Rin’s journey to Nagano if their resources allow for it – as I’ve mentioned in the first part of this Armchair Tour of Yuru Camp△, if you’ve got adventures to share about your visit, I would love to hear about it!