The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

An Introspection on Team Fortress 2, or How I Spent My Time In Between Preparations for the MCAT and Remarks on Hats

“Throughout history, men have worn hats as a way of asserting dominance over other men. ‘I buy hats,’ a behatted man seems to say, ‘I am better than you.'” –Classless Update

Team Fortress 2 remains one of Valve’s finest games. An improvement to Team Fortress, a Half-Life mod that created a class-based multiplayer title based on team play, Team Fortress 2 took the Team Fortress concept and cartoonised it, creating an aesthetic in the manner of a clever pastiche of spy films from the mid-1960s. The resulting product was fresh, innovative and fun: the classes are balanced against one another so that no one role can be dominant in a match, and that a team with good player coordination can utilise their composition to control a match. At the same time, Team Fortress 2 had a very low barrier of entry. All of the classes have a high skill ceiling – it takes time to master each class and utilise their abilities fully, but every class begins with a solid all-around loadout that allows beginners to remain versatile in their capabilities. Over time, players can pick up or craft weapons that are more suited for their unique play style by means of a drop system. Maps are thoughtfully designed to accommodate both the game mode and for the classes themselves. Wide open spaces favour snipers and soldiers, while narrower chokepoints allow engineers and heavies to set up defensive positions. The permutations possible mean that no two games will ever be alike; players can utilise their classes both in conventional and creative manners to impact the course of a match with the aim of securing a victory. In this way, Team Fortress 2 offers nearly unlimited replay value as one competes against other players in a game of skill, and all the while, receive items that help them to play in a manner most suited for their preferences. Valve has an extensive track record of producing exceptional games and making decisions that command player loyalty – after its launch in 2007, Valve continued to improve and expand on the game. Four years later, Valve would make a decision that would irreversibly shape the future of both Team Fortress 2, and contemporary multiplayer shooters, as well: they made Team Fortress 2 free-to-play in 2011 after realising that players were spending considerable sums on keys to unlock crates, which contain rare and highly sought-after hats, cosmetic items that alter a player’s appearance, but otherwise, do not impact gameplay.

I had joined Team Fortress 2 at the behest of a friend – there is no compelling argument against free, and at the time, I’d been looking for a replacement to Halo 2 Vista, whose servers were on the brink of being shut down. Team Fortress 2 appeared to fit the bill, being a remarkably engaging and deep shooter that seemed to offer precisely the experience I had found in Halo 2. The crates, precursor to the gacha-style lootboxes and cosmetic obsession that dominates contemporary gaming, had no bearing on gameplay itself; for both myself and my friend, we found a title that appeared to have staying power. However, it soon became clear that most players were disinterested in the excellence behind Team Fortress 2‘s mechanics. One day, my friend and I joined a server. After spawning in, we picked out classes and immediately set off to capture an objective. After reaching the nearest control point and occupying it, we were both kicked from the server. The kick reason was we had joined a server that was intended for players to show off their hats and discuss potential trades. In the weeks following, it was nearly impossible to find any servers where standard game modes were permitted; players became more concerned with trading for hats than the game itself. The ability to trade for hats accentuated the issue – a virtual economy had formed around hats, and players were reportedly willing to spend hundreds of dollars for Unusuals, a rare hat type with unique particle effects. Others yet spent hundreds of hours pursuing leads to acquire the highly elusive buds, which were given out to Mac OS players for a limited time. In spite of this, I was still able to enjoy Team Fortress 2 in between studying for the MCAT; Valve had introduced a bots-only mode for offline training, and it was immensely cathartic to be able to turn the weapons I’d picked up and crafted to see their effects in an environment that was conducive towards gameplay. The sheer thoughtfulness that Valve put into Team Fortress 2 meant that, even when the game was all but unplayable thanks to players focusing on hats, there still remained a way to enjoy the unique atmosphere and game mechanics in Team Fortress 2. In this way, I spent a considerable amount of time, outside of my studies, playing matches against AI bots and taking in a game that, at its core, still remained superbly enjoyable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Team Fortress 2 became free-to-play in the summer of 2011, my friends and I immediately signed on: the game had been of interest to us owing to the gameplay loop and the interplay between the classes, as well as the campy spy film aesthetic. I found myself gravitating towards the Heavy class because the handling had been most similar to that of Halo 2‘s Spartans; while the Heavy is slow-moving, a deep health pool and a powerful mini-gun means that a Heavy could single-handedly clear out a control point.

  • The Soldier had been another class I found enjoyable. Faster-moving than a Heavy and with a lower health pool, the Soldier is armed with a range of rocket launchers that deal impact damage on a direct hit, plus a small amount of splash damage and knockback. Rockets take some skill to use, but properly utilised, Soldiers can clear objectives out for other players to move in. For my friend, he’d found the Sniper class to fit his play-style. Having long held that sniping is the highest representation of skill in a given shooter, my friend always enjoyed learning the ins and outs of being a good marksman.

  • However, Team Fortress 2‘s balance between classes means Snipers are vulnerable to spies. Unlike other FPS, where snipers can single-handedly control matches by picking off foes at ranges that leave them immune to almost everything except a counter-sniper, Team Fortress 2 has the perfect counter for Snipers. The Spy can disguise himself as another team’s classes and sneak deep behind enemy lines to backstab snipers, killing one instantly. However, the Pyro class and their flamethrowers can reveal disguised spies, nullifying their efficacy.

  • In this way, my friend would actually become a fairly competent Pyro as a result of trying to stick it to the Spies who were constantly ruining his Sniper experience. This unintended effect, an emergent behaviour, was one of the signs that Team Fortress 2 had been remarkably well thought-out. Every class has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that make them more effective in some places, and less effective in others. A good team, then, consists of a mix of classes and players who know what their class’ intended roles are.

  • Besides playing on multiplayer servers, I also found enjoyment in being able to spin up a private server with AI bots to get used to any new guns that I’d picked up. One of my favourite weapons in the whole of Team Fortress 2 was the Machina, a sniper rifle that could only fire once fully-charged, but when charged, it could also penetrate multiple enemies on a successful headshot. Save the base weapons, which are all-purpose weapons everyone starts with, the weapons in Team Fortress 2 are all side-grades, possessing attributes that make them more useful in some scenarios at the expense of a drawback that makes them less effective in other situations.

  • To this end, one could actually stick with the base weapons in the game without ever equipping new weapons, and still do well in a given match. Battlefield 3 would later adopt this method: the starting weapons for each class are great, and new weapons one unlocks will fit a specific play-style better, but the starting weapons will always be versatile enough to handle most of the situations players find themselves in. Initially, the desire to unlock other weapons and try them out were what led my friend and I to idle, the practise of running a headless client on an empty server to pick up items, which drop randomly during gameplay.

  • Our intentions had simply been to pick up crafting parts more easily, although over time, we did end up beginning to run up against the free account’s limitations. By Christmas 2011, both of us decided to purchase keys, which made us a part of the paid tier of players. The advantages of doing so were an increased number of backpack slots and the ability to trade, as well as craft hats using materials from the drops we’d picked up. As more players ended up going down this route, my friend began looking into the community’s trading scene to see if it were possible to trade crafted hats for other items of interest.

  • In the meantime, we would continue to play Team Fortress 2 in between my studies. I vividly recall one day, I’d finished my assignments and hopped onto a server that was Minecraft-themed. Team Fortress 2 had excellent official servers, but also gave the community the toolset they needed to created custom experiences. Some community maps are excellent, but others were also uninspired and dull. I would make it a point to quit every cp_orange map I landed in. In matches, especially on custom servers, I did notice a growing number of people who were standing in the spawn areas, chatting rather than playing the game.

  • It turns out people had been conversing about trading hats, and back in the day, it was only possible to do trades in-game, as Valve had not yet implemented the Steam inventory and the ability to trade for items outside of Team Fortress 2. Things came to a head by the time I began studying for the MCAT: there were more trade servers than there were actual servers in North America, and servers overseas had high enough ping that the game was difficult to play. Moreover, talk of trade and the virtual economy had far overtaken discussions about Team Fortress 2 itself.

  • This was because the updates to Team Fortress 2 had finally made it possible for folks itching to get their hands on the Earbuds to do so, and folks hanging onto Earbuds similarly realised they could suddenly pick up a large number of items if they were to ever trade said Earbuds away. The Earbuds were a cosmetic item that was introduced with a Mac OS update for a limited time, and even my friend hadn’t been immune to their allure. He managed to find a trader who’d been willing to trade his Earbuds for a game, and a deal had almost been reached, but this had been a very arduous process, one that involved staying up until 0200 local time because said trader had lived halfway across the world.

  • In the end, this deal fell through when the trader unexpectedly vanished. When trading was a big deal in the community, I found it quite difficult to join any servers. However, playing with AI bots on private matches still gave me a chance to experience Team Fortress 2 and its aesthetic. This is one of the reasons why I’ve been so fond of AI bots; they allow me to play even when there are no online options available. In this way, I was still able to try out the items I’d picked up or crafted, and AI bots also provide a way of getting used to how players move, which is great for practising sniping.

  • Here, I rock a festive Frontier Justice, an item I picked up along with a festive grenade launcher during the winter of 2012; the first year I played Team Fortress 2, I went for the Nice Festive Crates to activate my account and gain access to the increased backpack slots and trading system. However, they yielded unremarkable hats that proved to be a disappointment, so the next year, I went with the Naughty Crates instead, which give festive weapons. Weapons cosmetics are actually worth having simply because one can see them, but hats feel pointless because they’re generally not visible to players.

  • Team Fortress 2 has clearly undergone many updates in the past decade; nowadays, one’s player icon actually updates to mirror their appearance, and here, I’m rocking an Unusual Carouser’s Capotain, a gift from my friend who, in a string of unusually good luck, managed to unbox four Unusuals from a create some time ago. While Team Fortress 2 fell from my mind ever since I got into Battlefield, my friend’s continued to maintain an interest in Valve’s games. It had been he who suggested I idle, and together, we had collected a large number of items in the process, which we would craft into metal.

  • The idea had been, after his lack of success in picking up the Earbuds, we would continue to collect items and make hats on our own. We could keep the hats we like, trade amongst ourselves if either of us had a hat the other was interested in, and generally partake in the trade system the way it was meant to be used: with friends at a small scale. Over the years, I began losing interest in Team Fortress 2, but for my friend, the thought of really sticking it to the traders lingered on his mind. Picking up the Unusuals in the manner we did would vindicate him: the two of us now had some of Team Fortress 2‘s most coveted items without once grovelling on a trade forum or server for them.

  • While the way my friend and I played Team Fortress 2 would be considered unconventional, I knew of another friend who used Team Fortress 2‘s assets to make YouTube mashups with Madoka Magica. The meaning of these mashups have long eluded me, but I believe now have an answer: the fact that the mercenaries from Team Fortress 2 are protecting Madoka and her team suggest a subconscious desire to defend Madoka’s group from the struggles they face and defuse trouble with the wit and humour Team Fortress 2‘s characters are known for.

  • This in turn would likely be a sign that my friend hadn’t been happy with the suffering Madoka and her friends went through under Gen Urobuchi’s direction. Said friend had also made the videos that would pique my interest in the local anime convention, Otafest, and on that note, the attendance numbers for Otafest are now available for 2022. It turns out this year’s showing was impressive, being 99 percent of what it’d been when they last hosted a convention. Despite efforts to get the event cancelled, Otafest 2022 was a success, and this is uplifting to hear; I’m glad that Otafest had not taken a hit, and depending on how things look for me next year from a scheduling perspective, I would be happy to volunteer again.

  • I still recall sitting out Otafest back then so I could study: the summer of 2012 had been characterised by my choosing to skip many things so I could concentrate. Unfortunately for me, I also opted to miss the Stampede fireworks, which were said to be especially gorgeous that year because it’d been the event’s centennial event. If the local news is to be believed, the fireworks for Stampede 2012 were of a scale that had never been seen in Calgary previously, being a show that lasted over half an hour and featuring choreography that rivalled those of Hong Kong in scale and creativity. In the decade that’s passed, this is one of the few decisions from 2012 that I regret to this day: Calgary has not hosted fireworks of such calibre since.

  • All in all, while I may not play Team Fortress 2 with any frequency in the present, I still have a fondness for the game. The fact that AI bots exist mean I’m able to play the game whenever the wish to revisit simpler times hits me. The fact that Valve made Team Fortress 2 support AI bots despite lacking any of the sophisticated machine learning technologies back in 2011 speaks to their commitment to players, and this is something they share in common with Call of Duty games, which similarly have bots. For me, bots simply represent a chance to continue playing the game even after the servers shut down, and more recently, games like Halo: Infinite and Battlefield 2042 have added AI bots to their games, too.

  • I’m not too sure if I’ll be writing about Team Fortress 2 again, but this game ultimately proved to be just what was needed on days where my thoughts were otherwise wholly consumed by the MCAT. At this point in the summer, my physics final would’ve been on the horizon, and from here on out, my days would be fully devoted towards the MCAT itself. My summer settled into a pattern that would be consistent and unremarkable, at least until K-On! The Movie came out, and what happened with K-On! The Movie had very nearly cost me the MCAT.

  • My decision to focus on the exam benefited me, but it would also leave a lingering regret on my mind for the past decade. I will discuss this aspect in greater detail as we approach the ten-year mark to the release date for K-On! The Movie‘s BD, and for the present, I return my attention to the next post for RPG Real Estate – I will write about this series after the finale airs this Wednesday and aim to do so in an expedient manner so I have a clean slate for Machikado Mazoku: 2-Chōme once its finale airs.

I still vividly recalling the days where my MCAT preparation course would end, and I’d walk along a sun-lit corridor, thinking to myself that, after I finished doing drills and revisions for that day, I would’ve liked nothing more than to spend an hour just blasting AI bots and allowing my mind to rest. The MCAT would come and go, and by the time autumn rolled around, it turns out that Valve had several more surprises planned out for players. When October arrived, a Halloween updated was queued, and Team Fortress 2 became a spooky, ghost-themed game with cakes replacing the health packs scattered around levels. Excited to try the Halloween-exclusive maps out, players would begin moving back into the servers with the aim of trying out the maps. Games became populated again, and Valve would continue to support Team Fortress 2 for years to come. Although Team Fortress 2 holds the infamy of introducing loot boxes to shooters, and ended up creating a community that cared more for hats than the game itself, Valve had also shown itself capable of both creating game modes and options to allow players to play even when no one was available for multiplayer, as well as righting negative trends it created and revitalising player interest in the game itself. Contemporary titles have not fared particularly well with their loot box mechanics: without the vision and talent Valve possessed, modern games have a very sophisticated set of cosmetics, but lack other elements that make them worth returning to. Conversely, owing to all of the care Valve has directed towards Team Fortress 2, the game remains enjoyable even today – playing through the AI bot training on my own brings back memories of a time when, after reviewing topics as diverse as exam technique, verbal reasoning, electromagnetism, metabolic pathways and halogen reactions, I would lose myself in a 1960s-style spy film world. Over the years, I would stop playing Team Fortress 2 – while the game was still enjoyable, I ended up gravitating towards Battlefield and its aesthetic. Like Team Fortress 2Battlefield gave new players a good place to start from, but rewards experience and skill, but the key difference was that the modes and classes were a little simpler, allowing one to also lose themselves in a round of TDM, something that Team Fortress 2 doesn’t offer. I’d been very much a fan of Halo‘s Slayer mode, and Team Death Match represents a mode where it was possible to unwind without having an objective to focus on. However, Team Fortress 2 has never left my mind, bringing to mind those moments in between lengthy and intense study sessions.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island, A Review and Reflection and Remarks on Human Faces Amidst Warfare

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” –G.K. Chesterton

Following the battle at Jaburo, the Federation prepare to capture Odessa, a Zeon stronghold. After arriving in Belfast, Amuro and White Base resupply before receiving unexpected orders to eliminate Zeon forces stationed at Alegranza, a remote island, after Federation forces sent there were wiped out. When Amuro arrives with Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi, they are shocked to learn that there are children on the island, and moreover, rather than Zeon forces, Amuro encounters a lone Zaku that overcomes him in combat. After coming to, Amuro meets the Zaku’s pilot, a man named Cucuruz Doan, and sets off in search of the Gundam, which he’d lost during the encounter. Although he is unable to find the Gundam, Amuro finds that the islanders, many of them children, live a life of moral simplicity, working with one another to maintain the island’s infrastructure and their very means of survival. Meanwhile, after an overwhelming performance at Casablanca, Zeon’s Southern Cross team is assigned to assist with an operation – Zeon General M’Quve begins negotiations with the Federation’s General Gopp as a ruse for his plan to decimate critical Federation cities using a hidden MIRV. As it turns out, Zeon had placed a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile there as an ace-in-the-hole, but find themselves unable to utilise it because of communications jamming. Thus, the Southern Cross are assigned to investigate Alegranza and determine if there’s a saboteur there. As Amuro’s gone missing, Bright Noa quietly orders a search team sent out to search for Amuro even as the Federation begin preparing for their attack on Gibraltar, delaying their launch to give his team a chance to find Amuro. Amuro himself comes to understand Cucuruz and impresses him when he is able to help fix a broken water main. While searching for his Gundam, Amuro learns that Marco, one of the oldest boys on the island, also wants to help Cucuruz fight. Surprised that Amuro made it to Cucuruz’s workspace, Marco and Amuro briefly engage in fisticuffs. Cucuruz sends both back, forbidding them from going further. It turns out that Cucuruz had once been a formidable pilot, but deserted Zeon after being ordered to fire upon children during a battle. When another storm hits Alegranza, Amuro repairs power to the generator, giving the children light for the first time in a while. He also reactivates the lighthouse, impressing Marco. The power confirms to White Base’s search party that the island is inhabited, but it also eliminates any doubt in the Southern Cross’ mind that Cucuruz is on the island. They begin their operation to launch the ballistic missile; Danan, Selma and Egba engage Cucuruz with their custom Zakus, while Wald and Sanho infiltrate Cucuruz’s silo and manually prepare the missile for launch. While they are successful, Amuro manages to retrieve his Gundam with help from Marco. He eliminates both Wald and Sanho before stepping in to fight Egba, who’d disarmed Cucuruz. Recalling how Cucuruz had defeated him, Amuro uses island’s geography to surprise Egba before finishing him off. In the aftermath, the missile launches, but its payload detonates harmlessly in the atmosphere – Cucuruz had been successful in sabotaging the missiles. M’Quve laughs off their failure to destroy key Federation cities, and Amuro reunites with Fraw Bow, as well as the others on White Base. He realises that so long as Cucuruz keeps the Zaku, trouble will continue to find him, and offers to discard the Zaku. Cucuruz consents, and the two group part ways on amicable terms, with the islanders hope that they can preserve peace in their home the same way Amuro and Cucuruz do.

Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the latest Gundam instalment, returning to the Universal Century’s One Year War and Amuro’s journey in fighting for what he believes is right. However, at this point in his career, Amuro is still very much a novice pilot unfamiliar with the horrors and demands of warfare; he only pilots the Gundam reluctantly, and Bright Noa expresses as much, stating that he’s only as strict as he is with Amuro in order to remind him of the importance of doing his duty to protect those around him. When Amuro is defeated and meets Cucuruz, Cucuruz’s words to Amuro are simple: he fights to protect those on his island as a means of atoning for the sins he committed on the battlefield. By having Amuro meet someone whose actions are motivated by nothing more than a desire to defend life, Amuro comes to realise that Cucuruz wasn’t so much fighting to kill those who were on the other side, as much as he was trying to keep the islanders safe from whatever conflicts the outside world might bring with them. The reason why Cucuruz spared Amuro was because he recognised the machine that, even at this point in the war, developed a fearsome reputation for mangling Zeon forces despite its pilot’s inexperience. Meeting Amuro and hearing him out allows Cucuruz to similarly realise that warfare only results in bloodshed. While Gundam series are best known for their mobile suit combat scenes, exploring the human stories for both Federation and Zeon characters alike is meaningful because it shows how wasteful warfare is, and how where given the choice, rational individuals would very much prefer to live their lives peacefully, free of armed conflict. In every Gundam series, conflicts are motivated by a combination of ideology, greed and a lust for destruction perpetrated by those who are in power and have every reason to cling onto this power. Through their perverse desire, corrupt politicians and military leaders manipulate soldiers into dying, often needlessly; when soldiers are freed from their obligations and given a chance to see their opponents’ faces, to talk things out, they often find that they are more alike than different. This is precisely what happens in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and although it represents only one detour in Amuro’s journey, understanding Cururuz helps Amuro to become a more resolute pilot. While he still values human life and only reluctantly pulls the trigger, Amuro understands that there are circumstances that demand he act decisively. These learnings allow Amuro to help stop the Southern Cross from escaping and potentially giving his allies further trouble, and ultimately would impact how he fights his counterpart and arch-rival, Char Aznable, as the One Year War rages on.

Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a fantastic addition to the Universal Century for showing one step in Amuro’s growth. In addition to this, it also brings to light a side of Gundam that is rarely seen – even somewhere as grim as the Universal Century, there can be humour, as well. Bright Noa arranges for a series of phoney delays to give White Base the justification they need to stick around and look for Amuro while Mirai suppresses her laughter. When Sleggar Law attempts to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, he words things in such a way as to earn himself a slap to the face. Upon arriving on Alegranza, Kai and Hayato manage to escape their damaged Guncannons, and for their troubles, are rammed by a rampaging goat. The presence of children do much to to lighten the mood in Cucuruz Doan’s Island: a war might be raging, but the combatants and civilians alike are still human, able to experience both sorrow and joy. Seeing the characters smile and laugh gives additional weight to Amuro’s fight. Amuro is defending the children’s smiles the same way Cucuruz was defending Alegranza’s residents. Humour is a fantastic element to employ because it humanises the characters and gives weight to their goals. Jun Maeda is no stranger to this approach, and although people attribute his stories’ emotional impact to over-written scenarios, the reality is that Maeda gives characters a chance to see what individuals are like before tragedy strikes. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the approach taken is unlikely to satisfy individuals who believe that grim, dark tones equate to realism, and that tragedy corresponds to maturity. However, to suppose that only suffering can create meaningful context for growth would be to eliminate an entire aspect of one’s being. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Amuro’s growth is precisely driven by the fact that viewers have a chance to see what peace brings to people, and why it’s worth defending. By giving viewers a chance to laugh at Kai’s antics, or the daily lives of the children on Alegranza, a juxtaposition is created between the atrocities both the Earth Federation and Zeon governments are willing to commit in order to achieve their supremacy, and the everyday lives of both Earth Federation and Zeon citizens would rather live.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ll open this post with the combat between Cucuruz and an unnamed Federation pilot running a GM. The RGM-79 GM is the earliest mass production Federation model, being a cut-down RX-78 II with superior acceleration and the ability to equip various weapons – its design and role would later inspire Gundam SEED‘s GAT-01 Strike Dagger, which was similarly a cut-down Strike Gundam designed for mass production. Although the GM is made cannon fodder in Gundam and slaughtered en mass by named pilots, the design paradigms follow closely how real-life prototypes enter mass production. In Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the film opens with a group of GMs attempting to fend off Cucuruz’s Zaku. Before delving further into this discussion, I note that Cucuruz Doan’s Island premièred on June 2 in Japanese theatres, but the BDs became available shortly after for overseas viewers to check out. Unlike other publishers, Sunrise understands that a short release delay is the best way to maintain interest in a series and drive sales. Other studios (especially CoMix Wave and Showgate) could take a leaf from Sunrise’s book – rather than waiting eleven months to release BDs, strive to release them within a few weeks of the theatrical opening date.

  • Although the original Zaku is technically inferior to a GM in terms of durability and firepower (a single shot from the beam spray gun would be enough to neutralise the Zaku), Cururuz is an uncommonly talented pilot, and despite lacking any ranged weapons, makes use of his heat hawk to completely destroy the GM team, as well as their landing craft. The loss of forces that stumble upon Alegranza is what prompts the events of Cucuruz Doan’s Island: Federation forces become convinced that Zeon remnant forces occupy the otherwise uninhabited island and therefore, may pose a threat to their operation.

  • At this point in his career, Bright Noa is a junior lieutenant, although after an attack on White Base kills much of the original crew, Bright becomes the de facto captain of the ship. Bright would subsequently go on to bring the White Base to Luna II while evading Zeon forces, before crash-landing on Earth and attempting to reach allied territory. The elements of the original Mobile Suit Gundam eventually make their way over to Gundam SEED, with the Archangel, Murrue Ramius and Kira Yamato replacing White Base, Bright Noa and Amuro Ray, respectively.

  • Bright presents himself as a strict leader who does his utmost to rally those around him, and believes in discipline. This is how he’s able to maintain order and a command hierarchy amongst the civilians that have boarded White Base; besides Amuro, Fraw Bow, Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi also join White Base’s crew. In The Origin, Kai Shinden and his friends are portrayed as minor delinquents who get into hot water with authority figures owing to their curiosity and disregard for rules, but when the events at Side Seven force them into combat, Amuro and his friends, however reluctantly, do become an integral part of the Federation effort to repel the Zeon forces.

  • Mirai Yashima was previously seen as a helmsman of sorts in Gundam Origin and becomes White Base’s helmsman, as well – she offers advice to Bright where appropriate and is seen guiding him whenever he doubts his own leadership; being astute and driven to improve, Bright often reflects on the way he does things. Here, he wonders if he’s being too strict on Amuro and the others. From an external point of view, Bright is doing precisely the right thing. I recall a similar conversation in Tom Clancy’s Locked On, where John Clark reminds Jack Ryan Jr. that chains of command exist so soldiers act cohesively under stress, but he understands how can be difficult for civilians to get used to this fact.

  • Bright’s orders are simple enough: his higher-ups order him to send out a reconnaissance team to investigate Alegranza, and to this end, the Gundam, plus two Guncannons, are sent out. The island appears uninhabited, until children suddenly appear and begin throwing rocks at Kai’s Guncannon. The presence of children on Alegranza foreshadow what Cucuruz Doan’s Island deals with, and meanwhile, Amuro himself wonders at what awaits them on an island that’s a little too quiet. The designs of the cockpits in Cucuruz Doan’s Island and The Origin speak volumes to how quickly mobile suits advance. Here in UC 0079, cockpits use flat-panel monitors and analogue controls, but by the events of UC 0093, cockpits are immensely sophisticated and provide a full 360° panorama.

  • When The Origin concluded back in July 2018, I was a little disappointed that the series hadn’t given viewers a cameo appearance of the RX-78 II, which had been shown to be in development as being the answer for Zeon’s Zaku mobile suits. The Origin did give viewers a glimpse of Bright Noa and White Base as they set off on their first assignment to retrieve the RX-78 II, and overall, when I finished The Origin, I was immensely satisfied. The Origin began back when I was in graduate school, and originally, I’d figured that it would finish similarly by the time I was graduating; the third episode aired a month before my defense, and the fourth episode was scheduled close to my convocation.

  • However, the producers determined that more episodes were needed to adequately present the story. Two new episodes were added to the line-up, greatly expanding things and also giving The Origin a chance to showcase the large-scale battles between Zeon and the Federation. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, viewers get their first look at the completed RX-78 II, a revolutionary mobile suit that uses mega-particles to drive its weapons system, giving it exceptional firepower. Amuro is prevented from using his beam rifle at close quarters, which is capable of destroying any mobile suit of its time with a single shot, and when facing off against Cururuz’s Zaku, he is forced to switch over to his beam sabres.

  • Pushed against the cliff, Amuro attempts to attack, only for the ground to give way. He tumbles into the ocean and is knocked unconscious, but later reawakens in a small hut and is surprised to learn that the door isn’t locked. The islanders look at him with hostility – it turns out that the children on the island were orphaned by the One Year War and dislike soldiers for failing to protect the people. Cururuz does nothing to stop Amuro from leaving, knowing the island’s harsh conditions will soon result in Amuro returning to them.

  • Since he’d had a rough idea of where the Gundam had fallen, Amuro attempts to trek across the five kilometre wide island on his own. He ends up at a massive crater in the island and is forced to turn back as both night and exhaustion sets in. Early on, it was clear that Amuro would not find the Gundam this quickly: had he simply located it, he likely would’ve left and rejoined White Base as they prepared for the operation at Odessa. This wouldn’t allow Amuro to see the One Year War from a different perspective, which is the crux of Cucuruz Doan’s Island‘s story.

  • Knowing that Amuro would be struggling in the island’s desolate landscape, Cururuz sends Cara out to look for him, and she is shocked to learn that Amuro had made it all the way to the crater. He gratefully accepts the water she’s brought, along with her invitation to dinner. In his position, Amuro quickly realises that he must make his way back to White Base, without the Gundam, things will become trickier. His heart never strays from locating his machine, but for now, Amuro also spots that he’s probably going to be here for a while.

  • The children on the island initially do not take kindly to Amuro’s presence. As an outsider and a soldier, Amuro is seen as being a threat and unaccustomed to the way Cururuz does things. However, Amuro appears to show no objection to Cururuz’s suggestion that he’ll need to earn his keep on the island, much as the others do. While the island life would deviate from what Amuro is used to, spending time in the armed forces, under Bright’s eye slowly begins imparting a shift in him, too; Amuro becomes acclimatised to doing what he’s told and living a spartan life.

  • I would imagine that landing on the island and doing what he can to survive reinforces what Bright had been trying to show Amuro; although Bright had been vehemently opposed to Amuro piloting the Gundam early on, he quickly spots that Amuro has a natural affinity for the machine and is the only one capable of using it to keep the Zeon forces off their back. Thus, when Amuro refuses to pilot the Gundam and evade his responsibility in Mobile Suit Gundam, Bright motivates him in one of Gundam‘s most iconic moments with the now-legendary Bright Slap.

  • That Cururuz Doan’s Island brings this moment back (in flashback) with modernised visuals would represent a welcoming call-back to the original series. The moment is referenced in numerous other series – Amuro’s “not even my own father hit me” is as well recognised as the Bright Slap itself, and as a curious bit of trivia, Amuro’s voice actor, Tōru Furuya, similarly was struck by author Yoshiyuki Tomino after Tomino became displeased with the recording sessions’ progress. Tomino then told Furuya that all of the shock and indignation he’d felt there was how Amuro would be feeling, which in turn became Furuya’s now-famous delivery of those lines in Mobile Suit Gundam.

  • Upon learning that Amuro might’ve been shot down, Bright struggles to do what he believes is right (delaying departure and rescuing Amuro), and following orders from the top. Bright is in an unenviable position; although there is a war to fight, the Gundam has become a significant asset in their arsenal and, together with White Base’s cutting edge equipment, has been the reason why a novice crew has been able to give Zeon forces so much trouble. As Bright contemplates following orders, Fraw Bow loses composure and breaks out in tears at the though of losing Amuro.

  • Meanwhile, M’Quve and Gopp enter negotiations about Gibraltar: M’Quve wishes for the Federation to hold off on their operation and indicates they have an ace-in-the-hole in event of the Federation’s refusal to comply. Gopp appears unconcerned with M’Quve’s threats, but M’Quve is confident in his ability to make good on his promises should the invasion proceed. At this point in time, the Antarctic Treaty prevents both Zeon and Federation forces from resorting to weapons of mass destruction, but M’Quve indicates that Zeon isn’t particularly respectful of their terms. Although prima facie giving Zeon a massive advantage, Zeon actually had limited resources to wage war long-term, and this would buy enough time for the Federation to rebuild their forces, including the development of their own mobile suits.

  • M’Quve’s plan is contingent on something stored on Alegranza, and whatever this is is important enough to warrant withdrawing the elite Southern Cross team. With their high mobility Zakus (which would inspire the high mobility Tieren in Gundam 00), the Southern Cross are able to turn the entire tide of a battle on their own. At Casablanca, they rescue a detachment of Zeon forces that were slowly being overrun by Federation forces: high mobility Zakus are equipped with thrusters on their legs that allow them to hover and move with a far greater speed than standard Zakus.

  • Each of the Southern Cross’ Zakus utilise a loadout suited to the pilot’s preferences, and here, one of the members fires an anti-materiel rifle against a Federation GM, blowing its head unit apart with a single well-placed shot. The team’s members only nominally get along with one another, but in the battlefield, their coordination and teamwork are sufficient to overwhelm the comparatively disorganised Federation GMs. GMs have the unfortunate distinction of being easily destroyed, and in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, their simplistic design belie the fact that they’re still sophisticated machines meant to act as the Federation’s answer for the Zaku.

  • The disparity in machines appears to be the fact that, while Zakus are technically inferior to GMs, Zeon possesses better pilots – The Origin shows that Zeon’s mobile suit program has existed for longer than the Federations, giving them additional time to train pilots. While the Federation’s Gundam and the GM derivatives are excellent machines, their pilots are significantly less familiar with them, nullifying any technical advantage the GMs possess. Mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island might not be as frequent as one might expect, but this is in keeping with the film’s themes, and moreover, what combat sequences that are shown are wonderfully animated, really showing the weight and scale of each engagement between individual pilots.

  • The lack of mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island was a point of contention for Anime News Network, who suggested that the Southern Cross are “shallow filler” and the film as a whole was “[lacking] of variety in the action”. As previously noted, the emphasis on the human side of things in Cucuruz Doan’s Island means that more time is spent on Amuro interacting with Cucuruz and the islanders. The Southern Cross are therefore less of a foe than Amuro’s own doubts; while he was knocked out, Amuro dreams uneasily of his own mother rejecting his decision to take up arms, and Amuro himself is torn between using force to defend those important to him.

  • As such, it is plain that Anime News Network’s expectations of Gundam clearly differ than my own, and I’ll remark that folks looking for intense mobile suit combat set in the Universal Century won’t be disappointed by works like Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt. Back in Cururuz Doan’s Island, Cururuz is seen working on the schematics to what appears to be an MIRV, but there is never any doubt in the viewers’ minds that he’s no sleeper operative; in a flashback, Cururuz refuses to fire on civilians, and this is what led him to desert. When Amuro sets off to try and find his Gundam, Cururuz lends him his hat and canteen – he knows that Amuro can’t stay on the island forever.

  • Back on White Base, the children have barricaded themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out until the crew promise to rescue Amuro. Although there is little Bright can openly do about things, he clandestinely authorises a search and rescue mission. Sleggar Law, an ace pilot, decides to help out, and after managing to convince the children to come back out, organises the search team. Sleggar forms the basis for Gundam SEED‘s Mu La Flaga: both are amicable and exceptionally skilled pilots, but also have a tendency to flirt with the ladies. When Sleggar explains his plan to Sayla here, he earns himself admonishment to the face.

  • In the end, Sleggar is able to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, although Kai and Hayato are exasperated that Sleggar used such a means to accomplish his goal. Moments like these quickly indicated to me that Cucuruz Doan’s Island was going to incorporate humour together with the more serious moments, and while this seems out of place in Gundam, it is effective because it reminds viewers that behind every machine is a human being. Later Gundam series are all-business; there are some moments that may elicit a chuckle here and there, but on the whole, comedy is not something Gundam is known for. Thus, in an episode about the human aspects of warfare, it is appropriate to give the viewers a few more laughs.

  • Amuro reaches the end of the island, and upon finding the spot where there are mobile suit footprints, he realises that his Gundam must’ve fallen into the ocean. He turns back, defeated, and soon, finds that the islanders have encountered a new problem: despite a massive rainfall, they’re out of fresh water. Cucuruz and Marco are heading off to fix things, and without anything else to do, Amuro decides to accompany them. This decision turns out to be a good one; Cucuruz quickly identifies that while their water supply is fine, the line itself has broken.

  • Cucuruz is too broad to fit through the opening in the cave, and Marco hesitates upon seeing how tricky the walls are. Conversely, Amuro volunteers to go and does his task admirably; after reaching the break, he seals it and repairs the line, allowing water to return to the islanders. Marco ends up growing resentful of Amuro, feeling that his thunder was stolen, while Amuro’s stock among the islanders improve. Between his prior experiences on White Base, and his own skill with mechanical systems, Amuro is well-equipped to deal with some of the islanders’ problems.

  • It turns out that Cucuruz’s main work on the island is devoted towards altering a launch system belonging to Zeon. Through his work, Cucuruz is able to jam any external communications to the weapons, preventing Zeon forces from remotely firing the ballistic missile. This control room notably has what appears to be a .30 calibre machine gun port, allowing the launch controls to be defended in case of an attack, but the flipside is that such a system could also be used by unauthorised forces to fend off anyone trying to stop a launch; it shows Zeon’s faith in their own soldiers’ loyalty.

  • The Southern Cross’ Egba Atler is their current leader. A hot-blooded and brash pilot dead-set on proving that he’s a superior leader to Cucuruz, he becomes violent when Danan Rashica expresses interest in their latest assignment. Danan seems to be star-struck at the prospect of meeting Cucuruz, a consequence of hearing about the latter’s legendary exploits when he’d been a pilot, but all Egba sees is a traitor who discarded his duty. For Egba, nothing would give him greater satisfaction than squaring off against their former leader to settle who’s the more suitable pilot once and for all. To save their teammate from a physical beating, Danan’s teammates restrain Egba and buy him enough time to escape.

  • Pilot Selma Livens, on the other hand, had similarly respected Cucuruz, but is more reserved about things. In combat, she’s confident and capable, but she feels that Egba is not as effective as Cucuruz had been. Egba resembles both Dozle Zabi and the Black Tri-Stars in temperament. While Anime News Network’s reviewer found the Zeon pilots to be “filler”, I disagree with this sentiment on the grounds that the Southern Cross are simply a team of pilots who were sent in to advance M’Quve’s plans as a part of a larger political game. The choice to pick the Southern Cross rather than a generic outfit is deliberate; a special forces team would create additional tension in a way that unnamed soldiers would not.

  • Generally speaking, I don’t place much stock in Anime News Network and their movie reviews. Given what I’ve seen there for film reviews, it appears that criticisms are doled out for criticisms’ sake, rather than as a result of any legitimate shortcomings in a given movie. In a review, the negatives end up being only touched upon, as though all reviews are subject to a quota of criticism in order for Anime News Network to appear informed and relevant. This was most apparent with their reviews for Non Non Biyori Vacation and Violet Evergarden: The Movie: both film’s successes are callously brushed off in a few sentences, and no additional justification (or evidence) for the remarks were given.

  • I’ve long found that criticisms in a vacuum are meaningless; if one is to criticise, then one must also either offer suggestions for improvement, or acknowledge the reasons behind why a given work may have turned out the way it did. For me, I only will make remarks on improvements if a limitation particularly noticeable, and the Southern Cross don’t come across as such. Back in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Sayla and Sleggar prepare to launch. The search and rescue mission is something Bright has approved of – he was originally shocked to learn that the operation at Alegranza was called off after Gibraltar became a larger priority and struggled to make the call. In the end, Bright places his faith in Amuro and the Gundam.

  • To this end, Bright stages a scenario where White Base is still attempting to prepare for take-off: with just about every part of the ship seemingly seeing delays or problems, Bright gives the impression to Federation command that they’ll need a little more time before they can go anywhere. This charade buys White Base enough time to recover Amuro from Alegranza: Salya, Sleggar, Hayato and Kai have all taken off for the island with the goal of bringing Amuro back, and this time, Fraw Bow and the children accompany them, as well.

  • Mirai’s suppressed laughter speaks volumes to the light-hearted nature of their ruse, and reinforces the fact that outside of Zeon and Federation atrocities, the soldiers are ultimately human. Bright’s decision here also speaks more loudly about what’s in his heart: while he voices doubt about pushing Amuro too hard or even treating him harshly, choosing to delay departure, against orders, shows that Bright places great stock in Amuro and the Gundam. This is something that will later impact how Bright operates; in Gundam Unicorn, Bright’s been around the block long enough to know that any worthy Gundam pilot can achieve whatever they set their mind to and as such, places his faith in their ability and resolve. This is what motivates his speech to Banagher shortly before the Garuda transfer, and there, Banagher would prove that Bright’s intuition is on the money, a result of years of working with Gundam pilots.

  • When a massive storm slams into Alegranza, Amuro decides to look around and see if he can get the power up and running: while life on Alegranza is relatively cozy, the residents don’t have access to power. Some of the children are deathly afraid of the dark, and when the storm appears, they become inconsolable. With a deft hand for repairs, Amuro ends up not only restoring power to the cottage, but also fixes the lighthouse. Marco and the others are overjoyed with this; the residents have long discussed fixing the lighthouse but lacked the knowhow to do so.

  • With the lights back on, the children are much happier, and Marco admits he’s happy to have Amuro around. The two reconcile here, but when Cururuz arrives, he states that Amuro’s actions were a mistake – he deliberately kept the lighthouse and electrical power offline to avoid drawing any attention to the island. The addition of power would broadcast to the world that the island was inhabited and worth looking at. Shortly after, both Amuro’s allies and the Southern Cross spot the lighthouse, removing any doubt in their mind that Cucuruz must be there.

  • Kai and the others’ original plan had been to land on the island and quickly retrieve Amuro, along with his Gundam. However, the mission suddenly becomes considerably more dangerous when they spot the Zeon forces approaching the island. In previous Gundam, mass production units have been presented as a bit of a joke: unnamed pilots are typically slaughtered whole-sale, and often presented as standing still when under fire. I appreciate that this is done to illustrate a disparity in power, similarly to how in Hollywood films, exotic machines and monsters can make short work of F-22s and M1A2s, which are, in reality, impressive machines.

  • However, seeing Zakus in The Origin was a reminder that even the mass production machines can be formidable. I would’ve liked to have seen more battles between basic Zakus and GMs, but here in Cururuz Doan’s Island, the final battle feels tense even with only a squad of machines; having spent the whole film seeing the children in Cara and Cucuruz’s care, it always felt that Cururuz would have his hands full in trying to keep the battle away from the other islanders. I imagine that for the Southern Cross, they’ve got no information about the islanders and are here purely to neutralise Cururuz and get the launch mechanism working again.

  • When Sayla and Sleggar arrive, an iconic Mobile Suit Gundam theme begins playing. It’s titled “Fear of Battle”, and here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the song has been modernised while at the same time, retaining the aesthetic of the original, which had been composed with a disco-opera tone, blending the grandeur of space opera music similar to John William’s Star Wars with 1970s disco elements. The modernised version has a slightly heavier tenour and a richer sound, but beyond this, is immediately recognisable. Overall, the music in Cucuruz Doan’s Island is of an excellent quality – Takayuki Hattori repraises his role from The Origin as composer.

  • Unfortunately for Kai and Hayato, Sayla and Sleggar’s arrival do little for them: the Core Booster’s taken damage and Sayla is forced to make a crash landing, dislodging Sleggar’s GM and causing its head to pop off. Sleggar is thus unable to contribute in a meaningful way to the combat after shooting down the aircraft carrying the Zakus, and while this puts the Guncannons in a difficult position, this moment also creates comedy reminiscent of what is seen in a 1970s anime. Both Hayato and Kai manage to escape their machines’ destruction, and before the Southern Cross finish them off, Cururuz finally arrives.

  • One of the joys about writing Gundam posts is that there’s almost never a shortage of screenshots to draw from, and correspondingly, no shortage of things to talk about. For this post, I started with a screenshot collection totalling 258 images, and had to cut it down to a more manageable sixty. While I could, in theory, find enough content to discuss regarding the mobile suits themselves, this would result in exceedingly long posts that I’m certain readers would have no interest in reading (and writing extremely long posts takes an inordinate amount of time, as well).

  • Wald disembarks his Zaku and enters the control room, where he finds Cucuruz’s handiwork. He quickly overrides the changes Curucuz had made and re-arms the ballistic missile, which begins counting down for a launch. Confident he’s done his duty, he prepares to his Zaku. Meanwhile, Marco and Amuro have managed to sneak into the hangar; Amuro is unaccustomed to swimming the underwater passage and ends up swallowing water. Marco revives him, and the pair manage to reach the Gundam. They are noticed by Yun, who sets off to investigate.

  • Yun ends up following Amuro and Marco into the hangar, where he finds a curtain covering a mobile suit cage. Upon pulling the curtain back, Yun is horrified to find himself face-to-face with the White Devil. Amuro swiftly activates the Gundam’s beam sabre and burns a hole in Yun’s Zaku, killing him instantly. At this point in time, the Gundam’s already developed a fearsome reputation amongst Zeon’s pilots. It is here that Marco realises that Amuro is similar to Cucuruz – he’d developed a respect for Amuro after the latter had repaired the island’s power supply, but to see Amuro willfully use a mobile suit and deal lethal damage shows Marco the sort of resolve Amuro must have.

  • For Amuro, operating a mobile suit is a morally tricky duty because it entails taking lives during the line of duty. During a flashback, Amuro recalls his mother’s shock that he would pick up a weapon and pull the trigger. However, the flipside of this is, if Amuro lets an opponent live, they might return and kill others important to oneself. Thus, when Amuro spots Wald trying to reach his Zaku, he decides to trample him with the Gundam. This kill mirrors how in war, difficult decisions must be made, and also shows how Amuro is prepared to take a life if it means saving other lives, although he retains enough of his humanity to feel remorse for what he must do.

  • Back on the surface, Cucuruz decimates the Southern Cross. Danan is positively honoured to die at the legendary Cucuruz Doan’s hands, while Selma wonders why things had to turn out this way when Cucuruz smashes her Zaku. While Federation GMs use beam sabres as their melee weapon, early Zakus are armed with heat hawks: these hand-axes have a super-heated blade that utilises thermal energy transferred from the Zaku’s main reactor, and generate enough energy to both cut through armour and resist a beam sabre, although its small size means it’s a weapon that takes skill to wield effectively.

  • Soon, only Egba remains: he’s a cut above even the other Southern Cross pilots, and is intent on taking Cucuruz down himself. His Zaku is equipped with a heat sabre, a blade composed of a shape memory polymer that allows the sabre’s blade to be stored while not in use. Heat sabres work on the same principle as a heat hawk, with the polymer conducting heat from the Zaku’s reactor to augment its cutting ability. For their efficacy, superheating the polymer would cause it to degrade rapidly, meaning that heat sabres ultimately have a limited lifespan and are thus discarded after use.

  • While Egba is focused on fighting Cucuruz, Kai and his team encounter Cara and the children, who are chasing after the island’s one goat. Cucuruz Doan’s Island had hints of humour interspersed throughout its run, but it is here that Kai and Hayato’s misfortunes are made light of – the goat lifts them into the air and the moment is frozen in stills for posterity. Gundam employing humour to this extent is uncommon (Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 were, for the most part, deadly serious), but the presence of children creates the opportunity for creating lighthearted moments that act as a break in tensions.

  • However, even with the bit of comedy offered by a goat and White Base’s more hapless crew, Egba’s determination to finish off Cucuruz is real; he hammers into Cucuruz’s Zaku, and while Cucuruz is able to hold his own, Egba ends up disarming Cucuruz. Cucuruz refuses to give up, but a hail of 60 mm rounds suddenly distract Egba. With Cucuruz disarmed and nearly beaten, Egba turns his attention towards the Gundam, confident that he can beat it.

  • The moment had felt grim when Cucuruz had fallen, but with the Gundam’s arrival, the mood tangibly shifts. Fraw Bow is overjoyed to see the Gundam arrive, and the heroic incidental music speaks to the fact that this is Amuro’s time to shine. Use of music is a classic storytelling element, and longtime viewers can often guess at what will happen next based purely on what themes play. Of course, in shows where the hero’s theme plays, the outcome of a battle will almost feel preordained; in Gundam Unicorn, for instance, whenever the Unicorn motif is heard, Banagher is certain to do some damage.

  • For this fight, Amuro has access to only the Gundam’s beam sabres, having discarded his beam rifle earlier whilst fighting Cucuruz. The Gundam’s beam rifle was a first for mobile suits. Up until this point, mobile suits had carried kinetic weapons. Zeon’s Zakus carried machine guns that were powerful enough to puncture the hulls of Federation ships and shred their fighters, but against the Gundam’s armour, these weapons proved ineffectual. Conversely, the Gundam’s beam rifle fired rounds as powerful as those of a battleship’s main gun, allowing it to destroy mobile suits trivially.

  • Without the beam rifle, Amuro is pressed into close quarters combat, and while Egba is a powerful foe, Amuro holds his own, counting on the Gundam’s superior technology. However, after landing on a ledge, Amuro quickly spots that he’s in the same scenario he was in when he first fought Cucuruz – the perilous cliff edge overlooking the ocean had been his downfall earlier, and now, Amuro realises he can use the terrain to his advantage. This is significant because it would show Amuro learning to think tactically and utilise every element available in a fight, rather than purely depending on the Gundam’s power.

  • To this end, Amuro utilises the Gundam’s vulcans to force Egba off-balance, creating an opening in which to strike him down with. Vulcans in Gundam are typically 60 mm, and fire at very high rates. However, in Gundam, rounds appear to deal much less damage than their calibres suggest: 60 mm rounds are considered to be only really useful for soft targets and point defense against missiles. Similarly, Zakus fire 100 mm rounds that do negligible damage to the Gundam’s armour. However, in reality, even 30 mm rounds have anti-armour capabilites, and 100 mm rounds are approaching the size of the shells used in tank guns. This likely speaks to the necessity of using beam rifles and beam sabres, given the defensive capabilities that mobile suits possess with respect to their armour.

  • The advent of beam weapons lead to a paradigm shift in mobile suit design: less emphasis is placed on armour, and newer designs will favour speed. Although cutting-edge mobile suits like the RX-93 ν Gundam and RX-0 Unicorn possess an I-field, capable of deflecting beams, even these have limitations. As such, for newer mobile suits, firepower is life, and speed is life insurance. Of course, in 0079, mobile suits are still a nascent technology, and so, Amuro has the advantage where weapons are concerned. While successful in defeating Egba, Amuro is unable to prevent the ballistic missile from launching. In the heat of battle to protect the islanders, the ballistic missile and its MIRV payload is forgotten.

  • For M’Quve, the Southern Cross appear to have succeeded in their efforts to reactivate the ballistic missile on Alegranza. In this moment of triumph, he watches the missile launch, while the horrified Federation Navy hastily launch cruise missiles in a bid to intercept the ballistic missile. Ballistic missile interception during the boost phase is desperately tricky – while the missile is vulnerable during this time owing to its fuel stores, it is rapidly accelerating, limiting the intercept window. Unsurprisingly, the missiles the Federation send out cannot reach their mark, and the ICBM manages to disperse its nuclear warheads.

  • To everyone’s surprise, the warheads suddenly detonate shortly after they enter the mid-course phase. Gopp is relieved; although M’Quve called his bluff, Cucuruz’s intervention single-handedly saves tens of millions of lives, and with Zeon’s bargaining chip gone, the Federation is able to push forwards with their assault on Gibraltar ahead of their plans to capture Odessa. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro’s visiting of Alegranza was plagued with production issues, and while it aired in Japan, never was shown in English releases. The story, while seemingly a detour, contributes greatly to Amuro’s growth and also shows some of the behind-the-scenes of how the Federation’s counteroffensive against Zeon begins.

  • For Cucuruz, although he was beaten in mobile suit combat, he was successful in preventing unimaginable casualties. The fact that Zeon was willing to resort to such means speaks both to their disregard for life and perception of the Federation’s people as being little more than obstacles; The Origin had shown the Zabi family as being quite divided on how they wanted to handle the war. Degwin had been hoping for a quick war and negotiations until the “Zeon is Exhausted” speech spurs him to keep fighting, while both Gihren and Kycilia had more militaristic ambitions. On the other hand, Dozle is a loyal soldier who genuinely fights for his people’s survival. Cucuruz is relieved to have survived, and that his actions have prevented the war from escalating.

  • The dynamic between Fraw Bow and Amuro is probably one of the more subtle but relatable aspects of Mobile Suit Gundam: early in their journey, she sticks with him, but as Amuro begins developing feelings for the other women that come into his life, and Fraw Bow begins seeing Amuro’s best friend, Hayato, instead. This is a natural progression in life, and both friendships and crushes do not endure forever. For now, however, the two are still relatively close – Fraw Bow tearfully embraces Amuro after he defeats Egba, relieved he’s alright. In the aftermath, the White Base crew part ways with Cucuruz and the islanders after Amuro chucks Cucuruz’s Zaku into the ocean, feeling that the only way to really be free of the fight is to live a peaceful life on the island without any weapons.

  • With this excursion over, the children on board White Base bid farewell to the islanders on Alegranza, and White Base itself prepares to head on over to Gibraltar for the next step of its operation. Cucuruz Doan’s Island ends up being a meaningful, self-contained story that helps viewers to see one set of events that would come to shape how he fights as a pilot, and for this reason, Curucuz Doan’s Island can be seen as a necessary stop rather than a detour. Seeing the growth and evolution of Gundam pilots is something that always captivated me: from watching Setsuna F. Seiei become more mindful and attuned to those around him, Kira Yamato become increasingly willing to fight once he realises he can do so without unnecessarily taking life, or Banagher realising that he has a responsibility to see something through, Gundam series have typically done a fine job of showing how people can rise to the occassion.

  • As such, when it comes to the autumn’s Witch of Mercury, my expectations remain consistent with what they’ve been for every other Gundam work I’ve seen previously. To be an enjoyable series, Witch of Mercury must deliver on three fronts. Firstly, the protagonists must mature in a meaningful way to mirror the interplay between responsibility and capability (as a pilot experiences things, they become more suited for using their power to defend what is dear to them). Second, I do not wish for unnecessary drama at the interpersonal level, since Gundam has always been about individual response (and eventually, rising up) to challenges at scale. Finally, combat choreography must be of a high calibre, at least as smooth and visually fluid as Gundam 00Gundam 00 is now more than a decade old, but it set the bar for what’s possible with Gundam, and therefore, is the yardstick I gauge other Gundam fights against. In the Universal Century, mobile suits are heavier, but the fights are still well-choreographed.

  • Cucuruz looks on as White Base departs from Alegranza; his encounter with Amuro leaves him a changed man, as well, and without the burden of a Zaku to maintain, as well as a Zeon silo to sabotage, a great weight is lifted from his chest, allowing him to fully devote himself to a peaceful life on Alegranza without worrying that Zeon or the Federation will show up again. It is here that I will note that Cucuruz’s name sounds quite similar to that of Kukuru Misakino from The Aquatope on White Sand – the two are prima facie about as different as night and day, but on closer inspection, both Cucuruz and Kukuru care very much about the things around them.

  • A look at the blog’s archive finds that mid-June does seem to be the month when I write about Gundam films: in 2019, it was Gundam Narrative, and then last year, I had the chance to watch Hathaway’s Flash. This year, the streak continues with Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and I finish this discussion just in time to celebrate Father’s Day with the family; my parents were treated to a Korean fried chicken dinner from a nearby joint. We ended up going for chicken three ways (crispy, garlic-soy and Gang-Jeong style) with a side of fries; Korean fried chicken is a bit pricier than our go-to Southern fried chicken, but the cost is reflected in the fact that the chicken is fried to crispy perfection while remaining tender and juicy.

  • Cucuruz Doan’s Island concludes with Cucuruz fulfilling a promise of properly celebrating a young boy’s birthday, complete with a cake. It’s a fitting close to the film and shows that Cucuruz is determined to preserving the peace on his island. Even without a Zaku, Cucuruz can still do this by looking after the island’s children with Cara. Altogether, Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a superb and insightful addition to the Universal Century timeline, and I would count this film an A (4.0 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten point scale, 9.0 of ten): this movie is a chance to see the RX-78 II remastered, something I’d wanted to see since The Origin ended, and on top of this, tells a meaningful story. While yes, it would’ve been nice to see more mobile suit combat, I appreciate that this isn’t the story’s primary objective, and what combat we did get was still of a superb quality.

Altogether, Alegranza Cucuruz Doan’s Island represents a remarkable show of how the original Mobile Suit Gundam was set in a universe that could tell a compelling story, and how with a fresh coat of paint, the classic story of the One Year War and the first Gundam could reach new audiences: Mobile Suit Gundam introduced elements that are now iconic in the Gundam franchise, but it has not aged particularly well. Inconsistencies in animation resulted in some segments of the story being removed, and Cucuruz Doan’s Island is one of them. However, seeing Cucuruz Doan’s Island brought into the present, while at the same time, remaining respectful of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s original aesthetic, sets one exciting precedence for what could be possible. A fully remastered portrayal of White Base and Amuro’s exploits during the One Year War would not only introduce new fans to where the story began, but for existing fans, it would be a phenomenal experience that breathes new life into memorable scenes. Such a project would be fraught with challenges: for one, some die-hard fans would be unwilling to accept any remaster that isn’t completely faithful to the original. Similarly to how Halo: Anniversary was criticised for altering the aesthetic in some missions, reducing the suspense the level designs conveyed, there is always a possibility that a remaster may make changes that could disappoint some. On the other hand, when a remaster is respectful of the original while modernising the visuals, it can be successful. Halo 2 Anniversary is one such experience, being a direct upgrade to its predecessor without dramatically changing the aesthetic that was present in the original. A Mobile Suit Gundam remaster that is done similarly to how Halo 2 Anniversary was done would be a welcome experience, and I’d certianly watch it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, Cucuruz Doan’s Island has been a superb experience, one that places a greater emphasis on the human sides of warfare and at the same time, portraying mobile suit battles as being a very intense and personal experience in ways that are possible now thanks to significant advances in animation methods and technology. Cucuruz Doan’s Island becomes an essential experience for Universal Century fans, updating all of the visuals in the Universal Century to modern standards and presenting excellent insight into Amuro’s character through a detour that would ultimately contribute to how he fights his battles, giving him the resolve and strength needed to stand toe-to-toe with Zeon’s legendary Red Comet.

This Art Club Has a Problem!: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” –Henry Ward Beecher

Mizuki Usami is a member of her middle school’s art club, and although she’s devoted to her craft, she struggles to handle her fellow club member, Subaru Uchimaki: although a talented artist in his own right, Subaru is more interested in producing anime drawings rather than conventional art. In spite of this, Mizuki holds feelings for Subaru and struggles to express herself; she manages to convince Subaru to stay in the art club. Later, Colette joins the art club after Subaru helps her in searching for a locket, and instructor Yumeko Tachibana takes up the role as the art club’s advisor. The art club’s everyday life is characterised by chaos and heartwarming moments: from Colette creating a bit of a ruckus after doodling on one of the model heads, to a fellow classmate botching a kokuhaku with Subaru and Mizuki encouraging Subaru in entering a contest after a classmate disparages his work, life in the art club settles into a familiar and comfortable pattern. Maria Imari transfers into their school shortly after, and quickly bonds with Subaru over their common interests, to Mizuki’s displeasure. Despite her chūnibyō tendencies, Maria gets along with everyone, including Colette, who sees her as a master of sorts, and even Mizuki finds that Maria is probably no threat to the status quo, since Subaru appears interested only in fictional characters. The three share more adventures together and even go on a treasure hunt the previous art club left behind, only to find it was an adult magazine. This magazine would later cause the art club some trouble. Later, the art club’s president encounters Moeka, a little girl who’s arrived to find her grandfather: Yukio Koyama, the art club’s former advisor. Outside of their club activities, the art club’s members still must deal with exams: Mizuki and the president are decent students, but it turns out that Subaru and Colette have failed, pushing Mizuki to suggest a home study session. With her help, both pass and are ready to take on the school’s culture festival. With help from Yumeko, the art club prepare a tin can exhibit; despite suffering from setbacks, the art club manages to produce a work in time for the festival. On a rainy day, one of Mizuki’s friends, Kaori, arranges for Subaru to accompany Mizuki home. Later, Mizuki overhears Subaru asking Maria about how to make his feelings for someone whose traits resembles Mizuki’s. Certain it must be her, Mizuki attempts to do a kokuhaku, only to discover Subaru’s referring to an anime character who shares her surname. Although relieved that the status quo at the art club seems to be maintained, she promises to do her best in the future, too. With this, I’ve crossed the finish line for This Art Club Has a Problem! (Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru), an anime I was given a recommendation to watch.

Standing in contrast with the usual gamut of slice-of-life anime I typically watch and write about, This Art Club Has a Problem! represents a departure in that this anime is purely comedy-driven. There isn’t an overarching theme, a goal that unifies the episodes or a lesson to be learnt; instead, each episode consists of several, loosely-related vignettes that showcase Mizuki’s everyday life as a member of the art club, and some of the misadventures she goes on as a result of her involvement with some zany, but authentic individuals. Some of these misadventures are particularly well-written: when Colette doodles on a model head and hides it in a box to evade trouble, Yumeko stumbles upon it and faints, leading Subaru to try and revive her while Mizuki fetches help. However, the club president misinterprets the situation, reports it to Mizuki, who goes wild at the thought of Subaru doing mouth-to-mouth with Yumeko, resulting in catharsis. In another moment, after a treasure hunt finds an adult magazine on school grounds, this seemingly-irrelevant object creates trouble for the art club as Subaru and Mizuki try to smuggle it off campus for disposal. Ironically, Maria and Colette were on the search for a grimoire, and Yumeko coincidentally mispronounces the grimoire’s name as being the same title as the adult magazine. When two differing objectives converge, Subaru ends up taking the hit for things, releasing the tension from the moment. In both cases, a comedy of errors is used to create a build-up in tension, culminating in a dawning of comprehension that drives much of the humour. This is where This Art Club Has a Problem! excels, although smaller moments from character dynamics, especially Mizuki’s tsundere traits and the resulting misunderstandings, also allow This Art Club Has a Problem! to elicit laughs during quieter moments. This Art Club Has a Problem! demonstrates how universal elements of comedy (namely, dramatic irony, timing and subversion of expectations) can be successfully utilised in anime without becoming stale. In previous years, it was asserted that works driven by meta-humour were better received critically because self-referential humour was intelligent and demanded that viewers think to get the joke. This is untrue: if one needed possess a modicum of background to understand obscure cultural references or self-awareness, a work has failed in delivering comedy. This sort of thing is something that Steven Chow understood: his movies are universally regarded as excellent examples of comedy because they employ methods that are universally appreciated, making use of timing and subversion of expectations to create absurdity. To enjoy a Steven Chow film, one needn’t have a profound knowledge of Chinese culture. Similarly, here in This Art Club Has a Problem!, the anime is able to convey humour effectively because it utilises means that are universally understood.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Known as Konobi! in short, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a series that was recommended to me not too long ago. Unfortunately for me, I’ve long forgotten who made this recommendation, but on the flipside, I did get around to watching and writing about this show. The main reason why I took up this recommendation was because I’d already had one anime about an art club in the books, Sketchbook, and I was curious to see how This Art Club Has a Problem! proceeds. Right out of the gates, viewers are introduced to Mizuki Usami, who shares a family name with Locodol‘s Nanako Usami and resembles Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s Special Week.

  • With a love for the arts and a fiery personality, Mizuki is voiced by Ari Ozawa, whom I know best as Kurumi Ebisuzawa of Gakkō Gurashi, Himena Tokikawa of Yakunara Mug Cup MoYU-NO‘s Yuno and Nozomi Moritomo of The Rolling Girls. Her first act in This Art Club Has a Problem! is punching out one of Subaru Uchimaki’s works in frustration, and the first episode is appropriately-named: “these people have problems”. However, these problems are not derogatory, and it is the case that this particular art club has its share of issues.

  • Half of Mizuki’s problems come from Subaru’s enjoyment for drawing manga characters, and whenever she’s asked to model for him, Subaru invariably renders her as something else: in fact, the only detail he bothers to keep true-to-life are Mizuki’s pantsu, to her great embarrassment. However, whenever accidents befall the art club, Mizuki puts her own embarassment aside for the club’s sake. Early on, after destroying Mizuki’s competition piece by mistake, Subaru and the club president do what they can to distract her. When Mizuki learns the truth, she forces Subaru to submit one of his works as a replacement, and this ends up winning second place, to everyone’s surprise.

  • Colette is introduced into This Art Club Has a Problem! shortly after. She has a similar role to Sketchbook‘s Kate, a foreign student, but unlike Kate, who’s Canadian and relatively new to Japan, Colette’s lived in Japan for several years and has no misunderstandings about Japanese culture. In manner and personality, Colette is a cross between Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen and Hitori Bocchi‘s Sonoka. Character archetypes are often counted as dull or boring, but they serve an important purpose, giving viewers familiar characters so they can focus on how everyone bounces off one another in different contexts.

  • Mizuki’s friends swing by the art club one day to visit: her feelings for Subaru are a badly-kept secret, and they often intervene to bring the two closer together. From left to right, we’ve got Sayaka (a member of the news club), Kaori (who resembles Rifle is Beautiful‘s Hikari and The Quintessential Quintuplets’s Yotsuba) and Ryōko (a tall girl with glasses and similar vibes as K-On!‘s Nodoka). Here, Kaori challenges everyone to a drawing contest to see who can do the best job, with the loser having to buy everyone else drinks. Kaori ends up getting defeated, creating a scenario where Mizuki shares an indirect kiss with Subaru by means of a drink can.

  • Yumeko is introduced as the art club’s new advisor: she’s a cross between Locodol‘s Saori, GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori of Girls und Panzer and Dropout Idol Fruit Tart‘s Hoho, being clumsy and inexperienced, but also kind-hearted and willing to go the extra mile for her students. On her first day, she ends up observing the students, and typically leaves everyone to their own devices: Mizuki is responsible and can be counted upon to work on her art for competitions, while Subaru also produces a good amount of competition-worthy pieces despite being present only to draw manga characters.

  • Although This Art Club Has a Problem! begins in a slower manner, what kicked things up a notch was a comedy of errors that resulted from Colette defacing one of the model heads. When she conceals this in a box to avoid Mizuki’s wrath, she inadvertently knocks out Yumeko, who thought it was a real head. Spotting this prompts Mizuki and Subaru to seek out another instructor for help: while Mizuki finds another faculty member, Subaru grapples with the idea of resuscitating Yumeko via mouth-to-mouth. The club president misunderstands this and hastens to tell Mizuki. The build-up and timing of everything is worthy of Bill Watterson, and from here on out, I became more appreciative of the jokes in This Art Club Has a Problem!.

  • Aside from more intricate jokes that depend on timing and context, This Art Club Has a Problem! also falls upon more conventional jokes: after a bad draw leaves the art club to clean up the school pool, Mizuki and the others take on the task. However, true to the art club’s approach, they end up bringing some paints and make art of Subaru’s choosing. While everyone else has already changed, Yumeko struggles to fit into her swimsuit. Yumeko provides all of the t n’ a in This Art Club Has a Problem!: the opening sequence even has her posing suggestively, and throughout the show, Yumeko’s figure gives her no shortage of trouble.

  • Beyond this, This Art Club Has a Problem! is very disciplined, capitalising on its time to create jokes based around the art club’s misadventures, which result from carelessness for the most part. Here, it turns out the president’s picked up the kind of paint that’s water insoluble: there’s now no way to remove the mermaid everyone’s drawn in the pool. The president is on the hook for this, and chooses to evade responsibility by putting on the same mask Colette had worn earlier. Non sequitur humour is common in This Art Club Has a Problem!, similarly to how Sketchbook and Non Non Biyori operated.

  • Compared to Sketchbook, which had a very large cast and a busy art club, This Art Club Has a Problem! rolls things back: Colette is only a nominal member of the art club, and the president prefers to sleep rather than participate, leaving only Mizuki and Subaru to do related activities. When Maria Imari transfers into their school, a part of me had hoped that she would join the art club, too; she takes an interest in Subaru after learning they both share the same hobbies, and immediately get along, causing Mizuki no shortage of trouble.

  • Her chūnibyō tendencies notwithstanding, Maria is actually quite social and quite astute when it comes to people: she quickly spots that Mizuki’s got a crush on Subaru, and is able to elicit a response when she takes his arm. Originally, this outing had been just for Mizuki: she’d been wanting to get a new bag charm since her old one fell apart, and had been hoping to spend some time alone with Subaru. Mizuki is constantly torn between getting closer to Subaru and trying to conceal her feelings for him to others. At the bookstore, Maria’s antics cause the clerk to inwardly wish this rowdy bunch of students would hit the bricks.

  • On their way back home, Subaru, Mizuki and Maria encounter a tearful child: it turns out his balloon’s caught in a tree, and, unable to reach it, Subaru suggests piggy-backing to increase their reach. Mizuki initially hesitates, but when Maria offers to do so, Mizuki comes around. Mizuki’s been dreaming of such a moment and wishes Subaru would compliment on how light she is, but when he states the opposite, she presses her thighs together against his face in displeasure. In the end, this is unsyccessful: Mizuki is a few inches short, and it takes a jump from Maria to retrieve the balloon from the tree. She returns it to the boy, but loses herself in another soliquay that causes the boy to very nearly lose the balloon again.

  • Although This Art Club Has a Problem! has the characters refer to one another by their family names, I refer to everyone by their given names for simplicity’s sake, and here, I will jokingly remark that Subaru’s name, when rendered in colloquial Cantonese, is “掃把佬” (jyutping sou3 baa2 lou2, literally “broom guy”). In This Art Club Has a Problem!, Subaru’s name is rendered purely in hiragana, and as such, there is no hanzi equivalent to draw a pronunciation from. Here, Subaru and Mizuki are faced with a competitor who apparently knows art theory but lacks the practical skills to back it up.

  • Subaru isn’t particularly bothered, but Mizuki is left indigniant and declares that Subaru will kick his ass. To this end, Mizuki ends up helping Subaru in the competition and even models for him. The competitor remains unnamed, speaking to his insignificance in the context of This Art Club Has a Problem!, and I further see this character as a satire of folks who act high and mighty even though their knowledge of a topic is theoretical. This happens quite often in anime discussions, where some folks take it upon themselves to endlessly (and incorrectly) analyse minutiae in anime without understanding the topic, or the context behind why a particular detail was presented.

  • Fans who care excessively about the theory and whether or not an anime’s portrayal of real-world details is plausible tend to both miss out on the main messages a work strives to convey, and alienate themselves from other parts of the community. This is mirrored in This Art Club Has a Problem!, where the competitor gets wiped and Subaru wins first place. To add insult to injury, it turns out the competitor’s submission didn’t even make it to the stage where it could be featured, and he is promptly forgotten.

  • While in search of another model head, Subaru and Mizuki venture into the unused room next door, but because said room has a faulty sliding door, the pair become trapped in the room. Mizuki’s imagination goes into overdrive, and despite Subaru’s efforts to try and get them out, they are initially unsuccessful. When he attempts using a pocket light to catch the attention of a patrolling instructor, Subaru only succeeds in scaring the living daylights out of Yumeko, who promptly faints. However, when Subaru and Mizuki find some old photographs of the art club’s previous members, they spot another door that leads back to their clubroom. With this, they are able to escape the room.

  • When exams draw close, Mizuki begins studying in earnest, but quickly becomes distracted after hearing Maria and Subaru laughing in the now-open storeroom: they’re leafing through manga volumes the previous art club’s members have left behind. She orders the pair to be more respectful, but the resulting silence similarly bothers her. Despite being a straight-laced student, Mizuki is still prone to childishness from time to time, and worried that Maria will take Subaru from her, Mizuki decides to call a break. This coincides with their finding of a treasure map that was clandestinely left in the manga.

  • Maria’s knowledge of manga is extensive, but she’s unfamiliar with art. Since the treasure map was meant to be for art students, it takes Mizuki’s help to actually locate the prize, which is located on school grounds. Upon reaching the final spot on the map, expectations are high as Maria, Mizuki and Subaru dig for the treasure. To their great disappointment, they find an adult magazine inside the treasure box. Too embarrassed for words, Mizuki closes the box and promise to never speak of this moment again. However, in keeping with This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s approach for humour, the adult magazine promptly returns in the next episode.

  • This time, said adult magazine lies at the heart of a multi-directional misunderstanding between Subaru, the club president, Yumeko, Maria, Colette and Mizuki: the comedy of errors leading up to the final release was masterful, with every little event adding to the moment where Yumeko would ultimately take Subaru to the woodshed for possessing the magazine. Originally, the president had planned to dispose of it, but was reluctant to allow Subaru to do so when he’d offered to take it off-campus. I suppose now is a good time as any to remark that Nao Tōyama voices Maria: Tōyama has a leading role in a large number of the shows I watch (Yuru Camp△‘s Rin and Karen of Kiniro Mosaic immediately come to mind).

  • Later, the competitor attempts to start a rematch with Subaru, and this time, the challenge will be to see who can do a better rendering of Mizuki. Incensed by Subaru’s propensity to modify her, Mizuki roots for the competitor, causing his heart to flutter, and the pressure eventually leads him to fail, leaving Subaru to win by default. Mizuki is, aside from her tsundere traits, an ordinary character in every respect, and her frustrations would likely parallel those of how an ordinary individual might deal with the antics within a fictional world.

  • While the president is cutting class, he encounters Moeka, a four-year-old girl who had previously run into Mizuki and Subaru. It turns out Moeka has a fondness for visual arts and often wanders off on her own to visit her grandfather, who happens to be the art club’s former advisor. It is lucky that Moeka’s misadventures don’t result in much trouble, although her mother does eventually become frustrated enough at Moeka’s treks as to purchase a walking rope to keep Moeka in arm’s reach at all times. After her grandfather scolds her for running off again, he admires the work she’s created and hopes that one day, she can also join an art club.

  • Whereas Mizuki had totally pwned her exams (even going on a treasure hunt isn’t enough to throw her off her game), Subaru and Colette end up getting sucked into an anime and neglect their studies, causing them to fail their exams. Yumeko can actually be quite strict when the moment calls for it, and she prohibits the pair from club activities until they pass their make-up exams. To help them out, Mizuki suggests that they hit the books at her place. The study session does end up being fruitful: Subaru pushes himself to the limits to ensure he passes, and even Colette is putting her nose to the grindstone.

  • An ordinary study session such as this is par the course for what would happen in reality, but since This Art Club Has a Problem! is a comedy, something was bound to happen. Subaru becomes exhausted and asks to crash on Mizuki’s bed, and she consents. However, when Colette disappears, Mizuki is outraged to find her sleeping beside Subaru. In the end, both Subaru and Colette pass their exams: in this case, simply getting distracted was what caused both to initially fail, suggesting that both are reasonably competent students otherwise. In anime with a school setting, I’ve found that series with a particular focus will have characters that tend to perform well enough so that the story can focus on their activities.

  • When Kaori grows suspicious that Maria is trying to take Subaru away from Mizuki, she performs some fieldcraft that is so atrocious that John Clark and Domingo Chavez would roll their eyes. She tries to tail Maria, ends up being burnt and makes no attempt to hold a conversation with Maria. However, she does learn that Maria is genuine, and after listening to Maria speak, concludes that Mizuki’s going to be fine. Kaori is voiced by Sora Tokui, a voice actress I know best as GochiUsa‘s Maya. Hints of Maya are heard in Kaori’s voice: of Mizuki’s friends, she’s the most energetic

  • This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s episodes portray a self-contained story, and while aspects from previous episodes make their way into later episodes, events are given enough separation so that each episode can comfortably fit each story without running over. When their school’s culture festival arrives, Yumeko is filled with a desire to do something for the art club and suggests they do tin-can art to improve their visibility. Everyone’s initially reluctant, since the art club’s focus is more about competition, and since everyone’s also involved with their class’ projects, but seeing how spirited Yumeko is encourages everyone to participate.

  • The process towards building their sculpture, one of Mizuki’s design since it ends up representing the art club, is a difficult one: all of the cans collected must be washed and processed, which tires out the president. Although they begin amassing a decent number of cans, miscommunication results in most of their prepared cans being discarded. The instructor responsible profusely apologises, and with time running out, it seems that the art club won’t make the deadline. However, Subaru reasons that since the theme is using cans from their school, things should be okay as long as the drinks were enjoyed by students. To this end, the art club arranges for a drink rally, and with Maria in their corner, the event is a success.

  • The music in This Art Club Has a Problem! was actually something I found immensely enjoyable. Much as how Sketchbook made extensive use of piano to create a warm, nostalgic tone, This Art Club Has a Problem! also utilises piano to create a sense of melancholy, speaking to Mizuki’s yearning for Subaru to realise she has feelings for him. The incidental music in This Art Club Has a Problem! is varied, with light-hearted pieces complementing the more wistful songs, and this comes together to bring This Art Club Has a Problem! to life.

  • I ended up finishing This Art Club Has a Problem! last Saturday: having now settled into my new routine, I watch anime during lunch break, and on days where I work from home (but don’t lift weights), I can actually get an episode in before my day starts. This has allowed me to move through series at a much higher rate than before, and in this way, I wrapped up This Art Club Has a Problem! very quickly. I am glad to have finished this series: the reason This Art Club Has a Problem! slipped past my radar was because it aired during the summer of 2016, which had been when New Game! was airing.

  • At this point, I’d just finished my thesis defense and had returned home from my Cancún conference to begin my first job at a start-up. I had precious little time for anime, but going through This Art Club Has a Problem!, the art and animation have aged gracefully. Together with its emphasis on humour, and a cast that ends up being very lovable, endearing, I’ve no issues in giving this series a B grade (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 on a 10-point scale). Watching the characters bounce off one another and still succeed in their aims shows how despite shortcomings people might have, when their positive traits are allowed to shine, they can accomplish great things nonetheless. For Mizuki and the art club, it means finishing their sculpture on time to display it at their school’s cultural festival.

  • The finale feels more like a dénouement: on a rainy day, Mizuki becomes annoyed when Kaori takes her umbrella, but it turns out this had been a play to get Mizuki closer to him. Although this brings the pair close to a kokuhaku, a misunderstanding defuses things. In a bit of irony, a massive rainfall begun yesterday afternoon and lasted through most of today, bringing 75 mm of rain to the area. While a local state of emergency was declared, meteorologists are suggesting we should be spared of the flooding that ravaged the area nine years earlier. The rain came right as my parents dropped by with a surprise yesterday; they had managed to pick up roast goose from the restaurant downstairs, along with salted egg prawns, a delicious cabbage dish and sweet and sour pork. Goose is normally sold in limited quantities, and it’s a far leaner meat than duck. Today, the rain was joined by 90 km/h wind gusts, although the storm’s supposed lighten up by tomorrow. With This Art Club Has a Problem! in the books, I’ll be looking at Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island this coming weekend.

In a manner of speaking, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a modernised presentation of 2007’s Sketchbook: like Sketchbook, This Art Club Has a Problem! sees limited character development. Sora spends her day finding new things to draw and deals with the antics surrounding her art club, much as how Mizuki struggles to make her way in a club that only appears tangentially interested in art. However, while there’s no overarching story, no singular objective that the respective art clubs in Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! strive to achieve, humour underlies both series to showcase how colourful the world of young artists can be: in trying to capture the world on physical media, artists are attuned to things that others might miss, and as a result, are able to experience moments that are spectacular as they pursue their creations. This was particularly prominent in Sketchbook, which had been a relaxing and soothing series. This Art Club Has a Problem!, on the other hand, emphasises the humour resulting from Mizuki’s constant struggle in trying to deal with her feelings for Subaru. While this makes This Art Club Has a Problem! more rambunctious, the experience resulting from working towards an artistic piece is no less significant: Mizuki and Subaru work together to submit a piece for a competition to prove a classmate wrong about Subaru’s work, and the art club ends up building a tin can sculpture together for the culture festival, which allows them to elevate the art club’s prominance and do more around their school, as well. Both Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! emphasise different aspects of being in an art club: Sketchbook is more introspective and thoughtful, while This Art Club Has a Problem! is more boisterous and in a seemingly contradictory fashion, more melancholy, as well. Romance was not a significant part of Sketchbook, but in This Art Club Has a Problem!, Mizuki’s pursuit of Subaru’s heart is subtly hinted at through things like lighting and incidental music. The emphasis on the rowdiness is a world apart from the laid-back tone of Sketchbook, speaking to a shift in aesthetics in the nine-year gap between Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem!, showing both how even something as quiet as an art club can have excitement, as well as providing an answer for what Sketchbook would’ve looked like had it been produced more recently.

You Never Let Us Down: Watashi ni Tenshi ga Maiorita! OVA Review and Reflection

“If your actions were to boomerang back on you instantly, would you still act the same?” –Alexandra Katehakis

When summer vacation arrives, Miyako reluctantly accompanies Hinata, Hana, Noa and her mother, Chizuru, out to the countryside for a camping trip by the lake. Despite Miyako’s objections, she eventually dons a swimsuit and enters the water to join the others. As the day draws to a close, Miyako ends up helping her mother to set up the tent and begins preparing dinner, before sitting down to make s’mores with the others. When night falls, a strange noise in the bush shocks the group: they find that it’s none other than Kōko, who was originally set to join them but got lost along the way. Kōko recalls her rather one-sided friendship with Miyako, and during Halloween, while Miyako becomes excited to see what costume Hana will wear, Kōko and Yū both appear: it turns out that Kōko’s been itching to have Miyako model her latest creation, and has even managed to convince Yū to help her in persuading Miyako to give things ago. When Hinata, Noa, Kanon and Koyori show up in costume, Miyako is thrilled with how adorable everyone looks. However, Hana is late, and she’s defined expectations by showing up in a rather grotesque costume. Miyako later recalls meeting Hinata after the latter had been born, and how quickly they bonded. With this, I’ve crossed the finish line for Wataten!‘s OVA, which was released with the BDs a few months after the series had concluded back in 2019. Although Wataten!‘s initial premise had raised more than a few eyebrows, the series would come to present an endearing story about how the right influences and experiences can push individuals out of their comfort zone and also temper some aspects of one’s personality so that they may better present themselves and their feelings towards others. In Wataten!, Miyako’s effort to pursue Hana ultimately leads her to lend her own skills and hobbies towards others beyond Hinata, whom she dotes on, and in doing so, Miyako becomes better-adjusted as a result. Wataten! originally left with Hana expressing that, while she’s still occasionally put off by Miyako’s actions, getting to know her better had shown Hana that Miyako’s intentions are genuine, and not something to trivially cast aside.

Wataten!‘s OVA is contingent on viewers having already seen the original televised run: there’s four distinct vignettes weaved together to give viewers a collection of stories that show how Miyako’s changed since Wataten!‘s beginning. It is plain that for Hinata, Miyako is willing to do most anything, and so, when Hinata expresses a desire for Miyako to get out more and experience life more fully, Miyako accompanies Hinata, only to find herself enjoying things more than she’d expected. However, there is another aspect that drives Miyako’s growth: she eventually meets Kōko properly and finds herself shocked at how Kōko views their friendship. From an external observer’s point of view, Kōko regards Miyako the same way Miyako originally sees Hana, going to great (even unhealthy) lengths to win their object of affection over. From the story’s standpoint, Kōko fulfils a very important role. By making Miyako uncomfortable, Kōko is able to show Miyako how difficult she’s making things for Hana. Realising this is what leads Miyako to dial back her emotion: although she still loves Hana very much, Miyako slowly begins to master her impulses so that she’s not frightening Hana away at every turn. Of course, what would really be valuable is if Miyako could express this towards Kōko, as well: like Miyako, Kōko is well-meaning and skillful in her own right, but common sense seems to be defeated by infatuation wherever Miyako is concerned. However, Kōko’s behaviours are not fixed in stone: Wataten! has shown how over time, characters will change for the better as a result of their shared experiences, and consequently, it is not inconceivable that even Kōko could learn to reign things back some to build a more meaningful friendship with Miyako, of the sort that she dreams of in her mind’s eye. Wataten!‘s flawed but loveable characters forms a majority of the series’ charm, making this journey of development particularly enjoyable, and because everyone is distinctly human, this corresponds to the possibility for further stories to be told. This fact is not lost on the writers: a film, Wataten!: Precious Friends will premiere in Japanese cinema later this year to advance things further.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because there is a Wataten! movie, I determined that while I’ve got the opportunity now, I should wrap up my journey here before the film releases; I typically leave some time between finishing a series and the OVAs so I can return to them with a fresh set of eyes and determine whether or not the OVA is successful in capturing the same feeling the anime conveyed. The main drawback about my approach is that I have a tendency to procrastinate, and one risk about this is that I’d only realise I’d have an OVA to watch once the movie actually screens.

  • For Wataten!, the only thing I know of the release date is that it’s somewhere in the autumn, and given how anime films release, overseas viewers usually have an eight to eleven month long wait. As such, I’ll probably get to writing about the movie next September or so. Although I initially passed over Wataten! as a result of my schedule and struggled to regain my motivation in watching this series, I ended up doing so earlier this year. For my troubles, I was met with a series that proved surprisingly heartwarming and amusing despite its initial impressions.

  • Having said this, Wataten! getting a movie came as a bit of a surprise for me: the TV series had ended on an excellent note, and this OVA acts as an encore of sorts. From a thematic perspective, Wataten! had done a thorough job of portraying Miyako’s growth: she starts as someone who exudes questionable tones but, as a consequence of being open to new experiences, slowly acclimatises to interacting with others. The anime closed with Hana remarking that, while she still finds Miyako a little dubious at times, seeing her try so hard to be her best self has convinced Hana that they can be friends nonetheless.

  • Although she’d not brought a swimsuit and was intending on doing some photography, Noa and Chizuru both planned ahead: it turns out that Kōko has Miyako’s measurements on hand (and now that I think about it, Kōko feels like she’s into Miyako to a much greater extent than any of the stunts Miyako herself had pulled when trying to persuade Hana to cosplay), and both Noa and Chizuru had anticipated some resistance from Miyako, so they’d bought a swimsuit for her using this knowledge and even prepared a waterproof case for her camera.

  • The camping trip in the Wataten! OVA would suggest that while Miyako is more receptive towards hanging out than she had been previously, it still takes a nontrivial amount of effort to get her to do so. Hinata is particularly versed at coercing Miyako into doing things, and in retrospect, this is no similar than Miyako attempting to win Hana over with sweets. The joke here, then, is that despite being quite a ways older than Hinata and the others, Miyako is still child-like in some ways.

  • Back in Wataten!‘s OVA, Miyako ends up being dragged into the water, where she finally relents and joins the others. This outcome speaks to how everything can seem more imposing than it is, but once gets over that initial hurdle, it becomes easier to continue. For Miyako, now that she’s actually in the water, she’s able to relax a little and live in the moment, joining Hinata, Hana, and Noa in enjoying the lake water. The same holds true in reality; once the inertia of starting something is overcome, one will typically find it easier to get into things, whether it’s a new project or anime.

  • This particular camping site is located in a generic location: Wataten! is a series where the focus is on the characters, rather than the characters and their surroundings. In series that allow it, location hunts are an immensely enjoyable activity, allowing me to explore a setting and feel as though the events of a given work could’ve really happened. Conversely, in series that are set “somewhere in Japan”, the message I draw is that the characters are the sole stars in the show, and that the events of that story could happen anywhere and still succeed in conveying its themes.

  • As a safety measure, everyone’s donned life jackets to ensure they don’t sink in the lake: unlike beaches seen in other series, there are no lifeguards around, but fortunately, Hinata, Noa and Hana are well-behaved and keep close to shore. In this way, what started out as something she was disinterested in becomes a morning of bliss for Miyako, and in the OVA, it does feel as though the effort needed to persuade Miyako to participate was much less than what it’d been when Wataten! first started.

  • I first had their poutine when I was doing my open studies term. I vividly recall watching Tamayura ~More Aggressive~’s finale during a lunch break during mid-Autumn, and in fact,  The Fried Chicken Poutine is one of the simpler poutines on the list of poutines I’ve tried, but Waffles n’ Chix delivers such a good poutine that, when food trucks began regularly appearing on campus, I made it a point to have lunch there at least once a year. After entering graduate school, I remember enjoying this poutine again after a getting Unreal Engine set up for my thesis work, and again when I finished watching Gakkō Gurashi. According to the blog archives, they used to add a dash of maple syrup to their poutines, and while this practise stopped in 2015, their poutine remains top-tier, the perfect fuel for a busy, and productive day.

  • Back in Wataten!‘s OVA, while Hinata, Hana and Noa get dinner set up, Miyako and Chizuru pitch the tent before joining the others for dinner. Barbeque is a popular activity in Japan during summers, although anime portray skewers and thinner cuts of meat as being popular, whereas over here in Canada, barbeque means burgers, hot dogs, wings and whole steaks. I’m moderately competent with cooking, but grilling is an area I’d love to get into: there’s something immensely satisfying about the sizzle of meat on a fire, likely a consequence of our evolutionary origins.

  • It takes Chizuru a bit to light the coals, bringing to mind a similar moment from Yuru Camp△ when Rin struggled to get her binchotan fire going. While the others become worried after the third attempt, it turns out there’d been some fire starter floating around that greatly accelerates the process, and finally, the fire’s hot enough to cook on. Having watched Survivorman for as long as I have, in the absence of any additional fire-starting material like paper, my first inclination would be to gather dried leaves, punky wood, small twigs or pinecones to start the fire, and then add larger twigs or small branches to keep the fire going.

  • One returning joke from Wataten! is Hana’s propensity to butcher even the most basic of meal-prep: the slice of meat she lays on the grill crumples and falls through the grating into the fire, being burnt to a crisp in the process. Worried Hana will burn up their stockpile, Noa offers to lay the meat on the grill. Being bad with food has long been employed as a comedic device, there is a biological basis behind clumsiness: opposing dominance between one’s hands and eyes create a delay in spatial-visual perception, resulting in errors in coordination that manifest as clumsiness.

  • The TV series had presented Chizuru as being a little intimidating (she once tied Miyako to the ceiling for having spoiled the girls’ appetites), but as the anime continued, it becomes clear that she loves her children very much. Now that I think about it, Chizuru somewhat resembles OreGairu‘s Shizuka in appearance, and here, she introduces Hana, Hinata and Noa to the idea of toasting marshmallows over an open fire. This is a longstanding camping tradition that’s seen in virtually every portrayal of camping on television and in film; recalling this piqued my curiosity, and I found myself wondering how marshmallows came to be an indispensable part of camping.

  • As it turns out, marshmallows were originally intended as a medical supplement, with sap from the Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) plant being mixed with white meringue and rose water to form a candy that could help soothe the throat and boost immune response. Because Marsh Mallow sap is difficult to gather, in the 1900s, confectioners eventually replaced the sap with corn syrup and gelatin, forming today’s marshmallows, and although the origins of marshmallow roasting is lost to time, it is thought to have coincided with when s’mores became popular. After Hana’s luck runs out when she overcooks her marshmallow on one side, causing it to fall off the stick, Chizuru gives Hana an alternative recipe that is less likely to fall.

  • The addition of a roasted marshmallow to crackers produces a ‘smore, and Hana digs in. Watching Hana eat has always been adorable: I liken it to watching rabbits eat, something that I also find immensely cathartic. From what I’ve read, adorable things resemble children and activate the brain’s amygdala, triggering a release of oxytocin, which helps defeat stress. The reason why this is hardwired into people is to promote looking after offspring, and moé anime have made a science of this: such series elicit the same sense of warmth as one might experience when watching videos of small animals.

  • When night falls, Chizuru falls asleep immediately, and the bushes suddenly begin rustling. Since this is Wataten! and not a horror flick, it turns out the source of this commotion is none other than Kōko, who was apparently invited along with everyone but got lost in the process. The OVA subsequently transitions to a flashback of what Kōko makes of her friendship with Miyako: even back in high school, Miyako had been introverted and stoic, but Kōko saw this as Miyako having an aloofness about her that made her particularly appealing. However, Kōko struggled to break the ice, and settled for following Miyako around.

  • The transition over to Halloween is smooth: one of the things I particularly liked about the Wataten! OVA is how the transitions between the vignettes were handled. After realising it’s Kōko who’d been given them a scare, the OVA portrays Kōko’s perception of her relationship with Miyako, and this ends with a scene of Kōko walking past Miyako’s house with Yū. In the present, the story returns to Miyako, who’s positively aglow with excitement at the thought of seeing Hana in a Halloween costume.

  • When the doorbell rings, however, it’s Yū and Kōko who show up. Yū was a very welcome part of Wataten! despite having made only a few appearances: she’s even younger than Hinata, Noa and Hana, and befitting of a child, brings with her an adorable aura that adds to Wataten!‘s already cuddly and warm atmosphere. It turns out Kōko’s brought Yū along as a secret weapon of sorts: there’s a cosplay she’d been wanting Miyako to model, and figured this would be the best way to convince Miyako without going to further measures.

  • Kōko herself is dressed as Wendy from Where’s Waldo: created in 1986 by Martin Handford at the behest of David Bennett, Where’s Waldo features intricate drawings that require players to locate the iconic character. Earlier iterations just featured Wally (Waldo in North America), but later books would feature lookalikes and additional characters to find. Over the years, Where’s Waldo challenges have become progressively difficult, and here in Wataten!, I imagine that this would be the easiest game of Where’s Waldo anyone would have the opportunity to play.

  • Thanks to Yū, Miyako reluctantly agrees to wear the costume that Kōko’s made for her. It’s a perfect fit, and also indicates to viewers that while Miyako wears a tracksuit which conceals her figure, she’s technically no slouch in appearances: it’s commented that if Miyako were to spend a little more time tending to her own appearances as she does on her cosplay and cooking, and go out more often, she’d probably turn a few heads, although her reaction suggests that she’s unlikely to be fond of this outcome.

  • Miyako’s look of mortification says it all; for me, more so than Hana’s initial cold attitudes towards Miyako, it’s Kōko that evokes the strongest change in Miyako. While Kōko is very overbearing and even resembles a yandere at times (albeit without the violent tendencies), when the chips are down, she genuinely looks up to Miyako and has stepped up to help Miyako out previously. Assuming one could accept that Kōko’s tendencies are probably here to stay, Kōko is a good person to have in one’s corner. With her desire to see Miyako wearing her outfit satisfied, Kōko and Yū take off, giving Miyako time to change back into her usual outfit.

  • Later, Hinata arrives along with Noa, Kanon and Koyori. In a turn of events, everyone’s dressed up precisely as Miyako had envisioned in her mind’s eye (with the key difference that Miyako had imagined Hana wearing all of the outfits). Halloween has always been a fun time to dress up and get candy: this tradition is one that I grew up with, and as a child, I went as a wizard. Once I hit secondary school, I kitted myself out in an old karate gi and went as a white belt for the in-school costume event. In university, I picked up a basic Stormtrooper costume, although I’ve never bought a blaster to go with said costume.

  • Trick-or-treating used to be quite popular in my old neighbourhood, but as the demographic aged, we’d received fewer and fewer visitors, until the global health crisis hit and we sat the event out. Having now moved, I’m not too sure how trick-or-treating works now that I’m not in a detached house. However, old traditions, namely watching both It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, have endured. Regardless of whether the HOA’s rules allow for trick-or-treat or not, I do plan on picking up some KitKats (my go-to Halloween candy) and watching my favourite Halloween specials.

  • The joke’s on Miyako, who’s noticed that Hana’s late: the observant viewer will have noticed that including Miyako herself, all of the costumes that she’d imagined have now been shown, so whatever Hana’s brought to the table will be something else. The humour in this scene comes from the fact that viewers will be well aware of the fact that Miyako is expecting something adorable, but Hana will almost certainly defy expectations in some way. This comes to pass as soon as Hana shows up: while Hana herself may have captured Miyako’s heart, her definition of cute stands in stark contrast with the norm.

  • Viewers are thus left to take in the situation, and Wakaten!‘s OVA switches over to its final vignette, a flashback to how Miyako became close to Hinata. Even before Hinata was born, Miyako had been most excited to finally meet her younger sister: she’s holding a stuffed penguin in anticipation, and it’s clear that Miyako has probably asked Chizuru on how to properly hold a baby: the cradle hold is one of the easiest positions for infants, with one hand supporting the baby’s head and neck, and then the other hand supports the baby’s bottom to create a cradle of sorts.

  • From the very moment Miyako meets Hinata, she begins to realise that she’s important to Hinata: although Hinata had suddenly begun to cry, seeing Miyako soothes her, and she suddenly begins smiling. This is a sign that the sisters are closer than Miyako realises here; in this moment, Hinata’s smile is more of a reflexive smile, a response to a comforting situation, but a baby’s smile is still precious, and Miyako is immediately filled with joy to be holding Hinata. From this moment on, the sisters are as close as can be, bringing to mind the likes of K-On!‘s Yui and Ui, and GochiUsa‘s Mocha and Cocoa.

  • With this last vignette, the Wataten! OVA draws to a close, and I’m left in a position where I’m as caught up as can be for Wataten!. I don’t mind admitting that while Wataten! had been on my radar since I read the season previews back in 2019, my own doubts about the series after one episode and the fact that my schedule at the time had been quite overwhelming, so Wataten! ended up falling off my watchlist. I am glad to have picked the series up again; time and time again, I’ve found that whether they’re series on my own list, or from recommendations, I tend to enjoy most of the anime that I watch to completion.

  • Of late, I’ve finally begun my journey into Konobi (Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru! or This Art Club Has A Problem!, not to be confused with the currently-airing Kenobi): I started Konobi on recommendations from one of my readers, and although I can’t quite place when I received the recommendation, at the very least, I’m watching the show now. I’ll reserve my final thoughts on Konobi once I finish, but I can say that I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and will be writing about it in full once I cross the finish line. In other news, Battlefield 2042‘s finally got an update: titled “Zero Hour”, it will see the addition of a new map that I’m excited to try out.

  • Overall, I enjoyed Wataten!‘s OVA: this addition to the series doesn’t extend the thematic elements explored in the TV series, but instead, represents a chance to simply see the characters again before the film releases. Seeing how close Miyako and Hinata were ends up being a fitting way to enter the movie, and while I’ve no idea what the film will entail, experience suggests that Precious Friends will likely scale things up in Wataten! for the silver screen similarly to how Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!! had. Time will tell where Wataten! goes with its movie, and while the release date is a ways off for us overseas viewers, I will aim to write about Precious Friends once it’s available.

While Wataten!‘s first episode may have started things on a rough footing for viewers, folks with the patience and maturity to continue the series would ultimately find it to be a heartwarming tale of how love pushes people to be their best selves. That a film is in production speaks to Wataten!‘s staying power: not every anime series will receive a theatrical adaptation, so the fact that Wataten! is getting a movie means that reception to the series in Japan has been positive. There’s hardly any controversy surrounding Wataten! in Japan, standing in sharp contrast with some reception of the series at some North American anime news outlets. Cultural differences are not responsible for this gap; Wataten! deals with how people handle and respond to falling in love, and while different cultures may approach things differently, the process is one that people can universally relate to. As such, if Wataten! had indeed been a sub-par portrayal of these topics, its reception in Japan would have been sufficiently poor so that no movie project would have been approved. The existence of a movie similarly speaks to the fact that this series was well-received in Japan, and moreover, viewers overseas have also spotted Wataten!‘s merits and joys. Because there is a movie, the conclusion is simple enough; reception to Wataten! is positive, and the initial flaws (largely a consequence of Miyako being completely unfamiliar with social convention) are swiftly overshadowed by what the series does well in its portrayal of how meeting Hana acts as a catalyst for Miyako to better herself and become more socially apt. Since Wataten! had been a story of showing how Miyako’s experiences become the agent for her growth, one wonders what would await viewers in Precious Friends. Without much more known about what the film will cover, one can reasonably surmise it’ll be a heartwarming and humourous story; I’m certainly excited to see what’s on the horizon. Given the film is estimated to hit Japanese cinema in the fall of this year, I estimate that overseas viewers, like myself, will have the chance to watch Precious Friends once the spring or summer of next year arrives.

Reflections on Lessons Learnt From Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and A Turning Point in Kinematics on the Road to the MCAT

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

It had been a brilliantly sunny day, but this fact was entirely lost on me as I left my first physics midterm, utterly defeated. Kinematics had never been my strong suit, and I ended up flubbing enough questions to wonder if I would make it through this spring course in one piece. I boarded the bus and made my way over to my friend’s place: although this exam had been devastating, I had not forgotten my promise of delivering to said friend a pair of headphones. He was scheduled to visit family in China in less than two days’ time, and after my bus reached its destination, I cut through a footpath to reach his place. When I arrived, my friend had another request for me: this was back during a time when Team Fortress 2 still was open to idling, and at the time, my friend had been quite keen on collecting drops from a headless Team Fortress 2 client, with the intent of transforming duplicate weapons into scrap, combining this into reclaimed metal and ultimately, refining this metal with the goal of making hats. To this end, my friend had created no fewer than four accounts, and the ask had been simple: I would leave a headless client running while I was at the university and cycle through each account. My friend would leave for China, and I began the process of idling. During days where the cap was reached, I spotted that my friend had Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in his account, and curiosity led me to beat the game over the course of a week. In between finishing lab reports and trying to keep up with the new topics in my physics course, I saw Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish fighting alongside Captain John Price and Bravo Team to prevent Imran Zakhaev from seizing Russian ICBMs and levelling the Eastern Seaboard with them. Throughout Modern Warfare, I was impressed with the sheer grit MacTavish and Price demonstrated: regardless of being outgunned after trying to make their way to an extraction zone, or pressing forwards with preventing ballistic missiles from hitting the continental United States even after they’re launched, Bravo Team never once give up; they simply soldiered on with a grim determination to get the job done. At this point in the summer, I had been more than ready to throw in the towel: in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, summer courses don’t affect the GPA calculation for things like the honours thesis or scholarships, so it would’ve been sufficient for me to simply pass physics and focus on the summer’s main foe, the MCAT.

With its uncommonly well-presented atmospherics, Modern Warfare completely immersed me in its story. When I reached the One Shot, One Kill mission, I noticed that the game presented all of the variables Price needed to account for whilst placing the shot needed to take Zakhaev out. I’d been a little surprised that the bullet drop would be that severe over the distance: at 896.7 metres, I imagined that with the M82’s muzzle velocity of 854 m/s, the bullet would still fly true en route to Zakhaev’s cranium. I quickly broke out the kinematics equations and worked out the drop: the expression d = v₀·t + (a·t²)/2 was sufficient to work things out, and if the bullet was in flight for 1.05 seconds, then assuming a vertical velocity of 0 m/s when leaving the barrel, we can assume that the only acceleration the bullet experiences is due to gravity (8.91 m/s²). With these values in mind, the bullet would drop 5.40 meters (16.4 feet), to three significant figures, over that distance. Spotting this, I was swiftly reminded that although kinematics might not be my forte, there was still relevance in studying it. I thus resolved to put in a more concerted effort for the second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first midterm. Doubling down on my studies, I also spent my spare time going through the remainder of the Modern Warfare campaign, striking a balance between becoming comfortable with the physics work and experiencing an iconic part of the Call of Duty franchise as a means of unwinding. I felt better prepared for the second midterm, and walked away from this one with a greater confidence: two days after the midterm ended, I published a post about my cursory thoughts on the One Shot, One Kill mission and finished Modern Warfare. When my midterm results returned, I was surprised that I’d done significantly better, and by the time the final exam rolled around, I was able to perform. In this introductory physics course, I turned my grade around from a C- to an A-, and moreover, this course acted as a refresher for a major part of the MCAT: kinematics was very much a part of the physical sciences section, and with biology, biochemistry and organic chemistry still fresh on my mind, I had enough of a background to begin mastering the exam-taking techniques. Completing my physics course on a high note gave me the confidence I needed during the early days of MCAT preparations. When my friend returned home from China, I returned the Steam accounts and no longer had access to Modern Warfare, but the atmospherics and emotions lingered with me. I thus entered the MCAT with the same sort of deadly focus and resolve that Price and MacTavish had when staring down what seemed to be certain death.

Additional Remarks and Commentary

  • Modern Warfare‘s campaign represents one of the most iconic in gaming history, right alongside the likes of giants like Half-LifeHalo and GoldenEye. Games of this time period were polished and thought-provoking, and when I first set foot here, during the infamous “Heat” mission, Modern Warfare would’ve just turned five. As memory serves, I became interested in Modern Warfare while looking up ghost stories surrounding Chernobyl and happened upon a text that described the Pripyat missions as being ghostly in terms of atmospherics.

  • Watching footage of Modern Warfare on YouTube convinced me that this was a game worth trying, but when my friend asked me to idle for Team Fortress 2 hats, I ended up  having the chance to play the game on his account instead. This experience allowed me to experience the campaign to the extent that I wished, and over the space of a week, I finished the entire game. In those days, I had an older computer that, while not quite powerful enough to run Crysis or Bad Company 2, could still play Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare without any issues.

  • I had nailed most of the questions, but I still remember the final question had me licked. I ended up with a 65 on this first midterm as a result. Looking back, this was a consequence of my going through the motions; the introductory mechanics course was basically a revisit of kinematics from secondary school, and I’d fallen into the trap of thinking that, since I’d done well enough back in secondary school, my old knowledge must’ve still been intact. Coupled with the fact that I was moderately distracted by Otafest and Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode, my focus wasn’t fully on physics.

  • After the shock of the first midterm wore off, and with a series of accounts to idle for, I realised that the only way to get through everything with a passing grade was if I focused on my studies when I needed to, and to this end, I would sit down and re-structure my days. I would only deal with laboratory materials on Monday, then catch up with lecture materials after classes ended on Mondays and Wednesdays by doing review problems. Tuesdays and Thursdays were devoted to assignments, and any leftover time I had in the week, I would focus on revisiting any concepts from the week I’d been feeling less confident about.

  • Each day of the week, anywhere after 1700 would be my downtime, in which I wouldn’t look at any coursework. This was when I’d go through Modern Warfare, and later, when I finished, Portal 2. In this way, I would regain rhythm in my spring course, and in conjunction with the grit and spirit seen in Modern Warfare, I would come back around and decided that, rather than throwing in the towel, I would do what I could for physics. On this day a decade earlier, I would sit down to my second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first.

  • After conquering the second midterm and performing as I had wished, I had enough momentum to push on forwards. It helped considerably that things like momentum, work and energy were concepts I was much stronger with, and I’d also been more comfortable with collisions and energy transfer than I’d ever been with kinematics. My old spirits returned to me, and this timing was critical: shortly after the second midterm ended, my MCAT course had also begun. With only two months left to exam day, I received a crash course on MCAT content and also learnt the means of testing more efficiently.

  • Because I’d been fresh out of physics, and having taken several organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology courses, the MCAT content ultimately wasn’t a concern to me: I knew enough of the basics to understand what was being asked, and testing thus became a matter of triaging the exam, keeping cool under pressure and managing time well. For me, strategy mattered more than content, and these elements were helped by the fact that by mid-June, I was simultaneously juggling physics and the MCAT course.

  • The strategies from the MCAT course would, curiously enough, carry over to how I took my physics exam, and I recall knocking out the final exam with a greater confidence than I had been. At this time, since I was still focused on wrapping up physics, I did not do well on the recommended practise MCAT exam when it became available to me. This performance was not yet worrisome, since I’d known that my attention had been divided, and that it was still mostly early in the summer.

  • According to the date-stamp on the screenshot, I would’ve reached this point in Modern Warfare on the same day as my midterm. Recollections elsewhere in this blog remind me that I had a lab on the same day, as well: spring and summer courses are far more condensed than fall and winter courses, and while this creates tremendous pressure to gain a satisfactory knowledge of the material, the flipside is that I wasn’t taking other courses, so I could focus on physics entirely. Whenever revisiting these missions in Modern Warfare, then, my thoughts always flit towards that June Wednesday back in 2012, during a time when I wished I were doing anything else with my days besides studying.

  • However, in retrospect, the summer of a decade before was ultimately what shaped how I approached challenges and adversity. In secondary school, and then for most of my undergraduate programme, I approached things with a brute force solution, resolving to learn principles and systems well enough to pass exams on my own. My cell and molecular biology course began changing this: being able to appreciate the context of a concept helped me to understand its significance. By the time my physics course ended, and the MCAT course had been in full swing, it became clear the old methods would no longer cut it.

  • Some of my friends, who’d already finished the MCAT, ended up holding study sessions for myself and a few other classmates who were staring down the MCAT. Outside of the MCAT preparation course and my own studies, we would meet up at the medical campus and spent hours going through exams together. In groups, I could ask questions and get a second set of thoughts on things. Even to this day, I’m impressed my friends went through this level of effort to get us through when they themselves had already finished the exam.

  • This is why, when my friends received their offers to medical school, I was thrilled; these are brilliant and compassionate individuals with the personality traits and moral fibre to be a physician. I myself would never make it to the interview stage: in feedback I received from my application, my commitment to ethics and sense of volunteering had been insufficient. In a private conversation with my friends, they felt that the day-to-day of a physician wouldn’t have been for me, and with a decade’s worth of life experience, I whole-heartedly agree with them.

  • While I would never again use my MCAT score for anything more than a conversational topic, the exam-taking process itself proved invaluable to me: I ended up performing exceedingly well in my final undergraduate year, and during an open studies term, I was able to excel in all courses despite being preoccupied with medical school applications and a lingering melancholy from the summer following the Great Flood. The same skills ended up carrying over to graduate school, which stand as some of my fondest memories of university: readers can actually spot this as when I really began writing for this blog.

  • Four years after the MCAT ended, I would pick up Modern Warfare for myself after it went on discount during the Steam Summer Sale. This time around, I’d been rocking a newer computer and was able to replay the game at 1080p: revisiting old maps brought back memories of the MCAT, and I found myself immensely glad to have finished. At this point in time, I’d also finished defending my graduate thesis. While this examination was supposed to be as tough as the MCAT, the main advantage I had was that, rather than only two months, I had a full two years to prepare for this exam.

  • In my revisit of Modern Warfare in 2016, I wrote of my enjoyment of how the game had remained highly immersive despite almost nine years having passed since its launch. The next year, Modern Warfare Remastered became available as a part of the Infinite Warfare: Legacy Edition. I ended up buying this because it’d been on sale, and because by then, five years had passed since my MCAT. The world is now a very different place than it had been since the MCAT, and in the past few months, I’ve taken advantage of the spring weather to revisit campus.

  • Some spots have changed beyond recognition: the library block and tower where I’d spent mornings doing revisions prior to the MCAT course (and where I watched Listen to Me Girls, I Am Your Father! during downtime) has been demolished and completely rebuilt. However, the building I studied physics in during mornings is still there, although the study spaces have now been repurposed as office spaces, and the home of my old lab remains as it had when I was still a student there.

  • In this post, I reminisce fondly of how Modern Warfare played a pivotal role in getting my game back together in physics, and how this would set me on a path to take on the MCAT with confidence. One would therefore wonder, had my friend not asked me to idle for him in Team Fortress 2, I would have never played Modern Warfare. I imagine that, while I wouldn’t have been as inspired or encouraged to make a comeback, the fact that I was more comfortable with materials in the course’s second half would’ve allowed me to still recover my grades somewhat, and since I’d just begun watching CLANNAD then, this, in conjunction with study sessions from my friends, I would still have some inspiration from other sources.

  • The short answer is that, even without Modern Warfare, I would have likely survived the summer, and had that occurred, I would likely have ascribed the outcomes of that summer to something else. However, it is the case that Modern Warfare did act as the catalyst for me to get my head back in the game and pull through physics: it is fair to suggest that Modern Warfare did have a nontrivial impact on how my summer unfolded: seeing Price and MacTavish motivated me to do what I could, and so, on this day a decade earlier, I was able to walk out of that second midterm with a much greater feeling of confidence that I did well.

  • After my second midterm ended and finals began approaching, my friend returned home from China. Although this meant my access to Modern Warfare would end, my friend ended up sending me a discount code for Portal 2 as thanks for helping him idle, and in downtime outside of my studies, we ended up playing Team Fortress 2, as well as MicroVolts. The games might’ve differed, but the outcomes were the same, and altogether, I would suggest that the combination of maintaining a balanced schedule, having things to look forward to on a day-to-day basis and support from friends would carry me through that summer.

Looking back, conquering the MCAT had a significant knock-on effect on my career trajectory: the techniques and approaches I used on the MCAT would prove to be immeasurably helpful during the final year of my undergraduate programme. I no longer worried about exams, realising that I could hit the principles and then reason my way through to solutions rather than attempting to memorise facts and figures, and used triaging methods to hit high-value-low-effort problems first. With this newfound confidence, I performed better in my final year than I had the remainder of my undergraduate degree, and for the first time, it hit me: doing well for the sake of doing well is meaningless, but when I changed my mindset to simply learn and appreciate the material, the pressure associated with scoring high on exams evaporated. I carried this confidence into graduate school; my medical school applications weren’t successful, but I would see another path I could follow. I thus walked this path with conviction, and ended up cultivating the skills needed to succeed in the realm of mobile development. It may appear to be a stretch that I say this, but if my successes on the MCAT imparted in me the know-how of rising up to life’s challenges more effectively, then turning my physics course around gave me the encouragement to do so, and this in turn was facilitated by the fact I was able to play through Modern Warfare and draw inspiration from the game’s progression. I would not have gone through Modern Warfare had my friend not requested that I help him to idle for Team Fortress 2 item drops, so it seems reasonable to suppose that my friend’s simple request set me on a path I certainly could not have foreseen taken. While some of my outcomes ultimately do boil down to what I brought to the table, independently of any external experiences I may have had, the fact is that having Modern Warfare to play through helped me in a tangible fashion: whether it’s Bravo Team surviving the assault from Ultranationalist forces, or MacTavish pressing onwards to stop nuclear-tipped missiles from flattening the Eastern Seaboard, I am irrevocably reminded of those breaks between a frenzied effort to stave off a poor grade in physics. Going back through Modern Warfare now, I am appreciative of the efforts I’d made back then, and the fact that nowadays, I can play though the game again without this particular weight over my head.