The Infinite Zenith

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

86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection After Three

“I hate prejudice, discrimination, and snobbishness of any kind – it always reflects on the person judging and not the person being judged. Everyone should be treated equally.” –Gordon Brown

When war erupts between the Republic of San Magnolia and the Empire of Giad, San Magnolia begins folding under the Empire’s automated machines. San Magnolian engineers claim to have developed their own autonomous machines, leading the public to believe that this war is purely fought between automaton, but in reality, San Magnolia has the Colorata people, an ethnic minority in San Magnolia, pilot these machines, Juggernauts, while the Alba majority live their lives idly. Major Vladilena Mirizé is an Alba with the military, and at the age of sixteen, is a handler for Colorata squadrons. Unlike her compatriots, she treats her units kindly and possesses a fierce desire to end the discrimination the Colorata, informally, the 86, have received. She accepts an assignment to lead the Spearhead unit, which is infamous for having driven previous handlers insane. Vladilena quickly realises that Spearhead is worthy of their reputation, and desires to learn more about them, including unit leader Shinei. The Colorata soldiers, on the other hand, find Vladilena curious at best and untrustworthy at worst: a handful of Spearhead begin to speak more freely with Vladilena, Kaie among them, but Kurena refuses to open up because the Alba had executed her parents. WiShineig to help Spearhead improve their combat efficiency, Vladilena finds a new map with engineer and researcher, Henrietta Penrose, to better improve her awareness of the terrain, but during an operation, Kaie’s Juggernaut gets bogged down in a marsh, and she’s killed in action. Theoto, one of the surviving pilots, accuses Vladilena of putting on a front about caring for those she commands into combat, and claims that Vladilena hadn’t even bothered to learn everyone’s actual names. After three episodes, 86 EIGHTY-SIX has proven to be an intriguing anime, covering a range of intriguing topics through its world building: while there are moments that lighten the mood up considerably, 86 EIGHTY-SIX on the whole

Out of the gates, the dystopian world is rife with relevant social issues of segregation and discrimination, and the protagonists represent dramatically different viewpoints on the war. The treatment of the Colorata, the 86, as non-humans, is despicable, and 86 EIGHTY SIX makes this discrimination clear out of the gates with an Alba handler verbally abusing the Colorata soldiers as they enter combat. After Vladilena is introduced, she enters a military office filled with inebriated officers who seem completely disinterested in their duties. It becomes clear that the Alba are no saints, and that their world is a fabrication. Vladilena, however, is different: she regards the Colorata as humans to the bemusement to those around her, and while other Alba lecture her for her seemingly naïve perspectives, Vladilena’s beliefs make her easily sympathetic to the audience. What appears as electronic signals on her screen, are, after all, people, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX subsequently switches the perspectives out to show the Colorata as they fight in combat against an unfeeling enemy, as well as their lives outside of battle. The Colorata are human, experiencing joy, sorrow, mirth and melancholy as acutely as any Alba (if not more so). Meals are enjoyed together, jokes are shared, amongst the Spearhead soldiers, and Vladilena plainly understands this, even if she’s not on the battlefield herself. Hoping to lead her soldiers to survival and eventual return to San Magnolia, Vladilena immediately becomes a likeable character: three episodes in, viewers have reason to support Vladilena and hope that her sincerity reaches those who fight under her guidance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve always been fond of anime with an interesting world and mecha: 86 EIGHTY-SIX looks like an amalgamation of Sora no Woto and Warlords of Sigrdrifa at first glance, with Vladilena benig 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s counterpart to Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia. Both are devoted to their duties as soldiers, but have a more friendly side to them, as well. Upon reaching the military headquarters, Vladilena is disgusted to see her fellow officers lazing around after what must’ve been a wild party. In this moment, it became apparent that in San Magnolia, very few care about doing their duties properly.

  • Consequently, I developed an immediate sense of respect for Vladilena. Vladilena’s battle station is a dark room with large displays and an uplink to real-time data that allows her to spot enemies and direct her units to proper points on a map. While it makes sense that even automated systems have human controllers, that Vladilena is speaking with the machines hints at the fact that the Juggernauts aren’t, in fact, autonomous. Fighting from behind the safety of a screen, and the comfort of a good chair, Vladilena nonetheless feels connected to the names on a screen, whereas other mission controllers, dubbed Handlers, view their units as disposable.

  • When Vladilena is given command of an elite squad, she immediately accepts. Vladilena is an idealist, speaking to things like equality, fairness and nondiscrimination: these topics have never been more relevant, with current events constantly highlighting the mistreatment of minorities and need to contain racial discrimination. As a visible minority myself, I’ve experienced discrimination, but it also speaks to a bit of luck where I’ve opportunity to overcome whatever barriers this presents on virtue of effort and merit alone. In 86 EIGHTY-SIX, however, the Alba’s systemic discrimination against the Colorata is such that the Colorata don’t even have this chance. Vladilena therefore becomes a character viewers will rally behind, as she’s completely opposed to San Magnolia’s treatment of the Colorata, and does what she can to raise awareness of this issue.

  • I suppose that it is a hallmark of this decade’s anime, where cutesy mannerisms and facial expressions find their way even into anime with a more serious premise: Vladilena melts when Henrietta convinces the former to stick around for tea, as she’s made cream puffs and cakes with real eggs and cheese. The implication is that there’s a food crisis going on, and while San Magnolia’s citizens seem to be living in reasonable comfort, their world also seems artificially clean, manufactured. This stands in stark contrast with the Colorata, the 86’s, world, which is rundown, gritty, but also possessing a human touch to it.

  • Unlike the Alba, which all have silver hair and blue eyes, the Colorata are a very diverse group of individuals, sporting a range of complexions, hair and eye colours. Having grown up in a multi-cultural nation, I’m accustomed to seeing people of all sorts, and I fully embrace the idea that different cultures share one thing in common: everyone has noteworthy customs, traditions and above all, food. Despite their poor treatment at the hands of the Alba, Spearhead squad is a spirited and energetic group: ironically, they feel more human than the Alba do, even though the Alba claim that the Colorata are non-human.

  • Between the devastated world outside of the San Magnolia walls, military emphasis, spider-tanks and general aesthetic, 86 EIGHTY-SIX distinctly feels like Sora no Woto. It’s been ten years since I first watched Sora no Woto, and admittedly, since then, I’ve had a fondness for the sort of world-building that Sora no Woto presented. Here in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it is no small compliment when I say that this series is comparable to Sora no Woto as far as creating intrigue and excitement to see what happens next. However, unlike Sora no Woto, which I watched after its airing (and therefore, could watch the episodes at my own pace), watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX as it’s airing means that I’ll have to wait a week should any episode end on a cliffhanger.

  • Whereas the Alba eat artificial foods, with actual food being hard to come by, Spearhead appear to have access to fresh peaches and cherries, as well as real eggs and flour. Even though their lives are far tougher, and death is always a real threat, one could make the case that the Colorata are living more fully than their Alba counterparts. Here in this screenshot, I’ve just got Shinei, the male protagonist of 86 EIGHTY-SIX. Brutally efficient and skilled, Shinei is a taciturn, stoic individual, and in fact, reminds me greatly of Gundam 00‘s Setsuna F. Seiei.

  • Assuming this to be the case, I feel that 86 EIGHTY-SIX will likely have Shinei become more expressive and honest with his feelings as he gets to know Vladilena better. Shinei is voiced by Shōya Chiba (B Cell from Cells at Work! and Yuito Aoi of Iroduku: The World in Colours). Shinei is notable because of his devotion to duty and attendant combat efficiency. When one of his squad-mates is injured in combat and asks Shinei to put him out of his misery, Shinei does so without hesitation: in most situations, one would at least stop and hesitate a little, so such an action speaks volumes about Shinei’s mindset.

  • Despite not expressing his emotions often, Shinei is often seen reading books when off-duty. I read primarily to lose myself in other worlds, and I therefore imagine that books are probably Shinei’s way of coping with the things he’s seen and done on the battlefield. Further to this, while Shinei isn’t particularly vocal, I imagine that there could come a point in 86 EIGHTY-SIX where Shinei loses his cool: in Gundam 00, flashbacks to his past, brought on by Ali Al-Saachez and a return to the Krugis republic, causes Setsuna to fight with a wild abandon.

  • Spearhead and the other Colorata soldiers use the M1A4 Juggernaut, a manned spider tank armed with a single 57 mm smoothbore cannon and depending on the configuration, either a pair of oscillating cutters or 50-calibre machine guns. Juggernaut pilots are called Processors to create the illusion that the Juggernauts are autonomous, unmanned machines, whereas in practise, the Juggernauts resemble Star Wars‘ TIE Fighters, which were built to overwhelm enemies with numbers and lack any notable safety features.

  • By the second episode, viewers have a chance to see what sort of enemies San Magnolia are fighting, and it’s explained that Spearhead and other Colorata pilots are engaged in a battle with the Empire’s Legion, fully autonomous machines that overwhelm enemies with their numbers and ability to sustain casualties without concern. It is briefly mentioned that the Empire might not be in full control of their machines, which attack based on some failed algorithm, and as a result, San Magnolia’s war with the Empire is set to conclude in two year’s time, when Legion machines reach their operational limits and shut down.

  • With this in mind, the Colorata become human sacrifices, fighting to keep the Legion busy while the Alba wait things out. I’ve heard that this already precipitous setup will be further disrupted in the future as more of the world becomes presented to viewers, although having very little familiarity with the source material, I think I’ll stick to an anime-only perspective of 86 EIGHTY-SIX so that any new revelations can have a greater impact. While I’ve long been neutral or tolerant of spoilers, of late, I’ve had an increased inclination to avoid spoilers as to have a more thorough and complete experience.

  • Vladilena’s convictions become reinforced to viewers when she’s invited as a guest speaker for a lecture and promptly goes on to say that the Colorata, the 86, are fully human, and that it is only with San Magnolia’s mistreatment and misclassification of them that allow the country to claim a zero-casualty war against the Empire’s Legion. Ordinarily, characters with a predisposition towards supporting a cause can come across as being quite irritating because of indecisive writing, so it speaks volumes about Vladilena’s character that hearing her bring awareness to the Colorata’s situation serves to increase my respect for her: the series is able to get viewers to rally behind Vladilena because the other perspective (i.e. those of the Colorata’s) is clearly presented, leaving no ambiguity that with few exceptions, the Alba are being unreasonable.

  • To communicate with Spearhead, Vladilena uses what’s called a PARA-RAID, a VoIP system that Henrietta had a hand in developing. Spearhead finds her calls unusual, since most mission controllers regard the Processors as expendable. While initially reluctant to open up, a few of Spearhead do eventually warm up to Vladilena, who goes by the call-sign Handler One. Here, she asks Shinei to produce better combat reports so that she may better support them: while Processor teams are ostensibly supposed to write reports for this exact reason, unofficially, most mission controllers have no regard for the Processor’s well-being and thus, never read them, so Spearhead’s taken to submitting the same one every time to save effort.

  • There’s actually quite a bit of terminology in 86 EIGHTY-SIX that takes some getting used to, but fortunately, after three episodes, I believe I’m a little clearer now. A Handler is a mission controller, an Alba who sits behind a screen to direct the Processor, human pilots running the M1A4 Juggernaut spider tanks. To ensure a line of communications, the PARA-RAID system is used. The Legion refer to the autonomous war machines the Empire has created, and I think that’s everything.

  • Here, in between operations, the women of the team decide to frolik in a nearby stream, and after hunting a boar, some of the guys figure it’s a good idea to cop a look. They get busted almost immediately, and in the chaos, Kurena accidentally lets slip that she has feelings for Shinei, which leads to all sorts of good natured teasing subsequently, causing Kurena to puff up her cheeks in indignation. The use of visual elements such as puffed-up cheeks is unusual for a series of this premise, and I recall that Warlords of Sigrdrifa did something similar, with exaggerated facial expressions. I come from a time where serious anime had serious, consistent facial artwork, so seeing these elements always suggest to me that a given series, whether it’s 86 EIGHTY-SIX or Warlords of Sigrdrifa, is reminding viewers not to take things so seriously all the time.

  • Of everyone in Spearhead squad, I immediate took a liking towards Kaie: friendly and outgoing, she’s very forward and direct, as well as possessing a greater understanding of the Alba and Colorata’s history. As with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Kyon, I’ve long had a thing for ponytails, and despite 86 EIGHTY-SIX being a new anime, I felt that Kaei looks very familiar, even though can’t quite put my finger on which anime character. Kaie is voiced by Haruka Shiraishi, whom I know as Himouto! Umaru-chan‘s Kirie Motoba, Ruri Hibarigaoka from Anne Happy! and Hanawa Ushiku from Anima Yell!.

  • By evening, Vladilena uses the PARA-RAID to contact Spearhead. One aspect I particularly liked about 86 EIGHTY-SIX was the fact that the same moments would be portrayed from Vladilena and Spearhead’s perspective as the two converse, which really accentuates the idea that there’s two sides to the coin here. Although the only thing connecting them is voice comms right now, 86 EIGHTY-SIX will almost certainly go down a route where Vladilena’s conviction in equal rights and fair treatment of the Colorata will have her show up on the frontlines, which would show Kurena and the others that Vladilena means business.

  • After retrieving a map from the archives with Henrietta’s help, Vladilena is confident that she’ll be of greater help to Spearhead. However, things quickly go pear-shaped when Spearhead is ambushed by the Legion, and in the chaos, Kaie’s Juggernaut becomes stuck in a marsh that the maps did not denote. She becomes a sitting duck for the Legion’s guns and is subsequently destroyed. Theoto subsequently lashes out at Vladilena, and while his words come from the heat of the moment, there’s truth in them. Vladilena doesn’t know the horrors of the battlefield. As accusation after accusation comes in, Vladelina loses composure.

  • Three episodes into 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and I’m sold on the premise; there’s a lot of moving parts in this anime, and correspondingly, much to consider. I could be here all day discussing various ideas, as 86 EIGHTY-SIX offers food for thought on many fronts. However, I also appreciate that there will be a smaller set of themes this series will likely wish to focus on as it progresses. To give 86 EIGHTY-SIX a fair chance to explore the themes its author had intended the work to convey, I’ll close things off here and note that with this post, I’ve now established all of the anime I’m actively watching and writing about this season. I’ll take a look at Yakunara Mug Cup mo in another week: because the series is broken up into an animated and live-action component, there’s only the equivalent of a half episode each week, so I figured I’d best wait to see more of the series before sitting down to write about it. In the meantime, it’s time to catch up with the fourth episode: I’d deliberately held off on watching it so this after-three talk was not impacted by knowledge of future events.

Beyond social matters, 86 EIGHTY-SIX also speaks to the disconnect between the Alba handlers and Colorata soldiers. Theoto’s grief-filled rant carries this message plainly; while Vladilena may care for those around her, all she sees on the screen is a series of pixels representing a soldier. She’s not present to know how losing a comrade feels, or see the battlefield painted with allied blood with each and every death. 86 EIGHTY-SIX thus indicates that there exists a gap between leadership and the foot soldiers in general: leaders often have sight of the bigger picture, but are blind to the experiences (and sufferings) of those with boots on the ground, and short of visiting the frontlines themselves, will have very little idea of what individual soldiers see and feel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, foot soldiers have their concentration focused on getting the next objective done, and without a connection to leadership, can find it easy to lose sight of what they’re fighting for. When one loses their best friend, or a squad mate, the overarching objectives of a war become secondary: someone dear to them is gone, and achieving victory won’t bring them back. As Vladilena and Shinei get to know one another better through both conflict and whenever Vladilena contacts the Spearhead, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is clearly set on reconciling these two differences, both closing the gap between leaders and soldiers, and also set in motion the events that will see the Colorata receive equal rights, and perhaps reconciliation to demonstrate that irrespective of one’s appearance, ethnicity, beliefs or creed, everyone is human, with rights to life and security. 86 EIGHTY-SIX has covered a considerable amount of territory thus far, and this series could prove to be immensely enjoyable if all of these elements are brought together to accentuate the idea that at the end of the day, even seemingly-disparate people are more similar than unlike.

Houkago Tea Time’s Real Life Visit to London, England: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of K-On! The Movie

“In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in.” –Paddington Bear.

Whereas I’ve kept my virtual location hunts limited to Japan thus far, in this post, I will take readers to the heart of London, England, home of Houkago Tea Time’s impromptu but memorable graduation trip. In K-On! The Movie, a plan to make a graduating gift worthy of Azusa transmutes into a graduation trip when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi do their utmost to conceal it from Azusa. London differs from any location I’ve previously written about: for one, everything’s in English, making it much easier to plan a trip and get around. In conjunction with the fact that there are undoubtedly K-On! fans in London, and that the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook identifies key areas that Houkago Tea Time visit meant that, within a few months of the film’s première, fans were already purchasing train or plane tickets bound for London, ready to retrace the same steps that Yui and her friends tread during their lightning trip in Britain’s capital, home of some of the world’s most famous music locations. Abbey Road crossing, The Troubadour and Camden Town are iconic spots, associated with the development of rock music around the world, and speaking to Mio’s love for music, wind up being places that the girls visit during their haphazard but exciting travels. During the course of their travels, Yui and her friends both visit famous spots, as well as perform their own unique music for London’s citizens in a trip that helps the senior students to remember that their greatest gift to Azusa would take the form of the music that had inspired her to join their light music club in the first place. While folks have travelled London and done their location hunts previously, the combination of circumstance and curiosity led me to turn the Oculus Quest towards London for the internet’s first-ever virtual tour of K-On!‘s locations. Despite nearly ten years having elapsed since K-On! The Movie premièred (and with it, the inevitable fact that London’s cityscape has changed considerably since Naoko Yamada visited to research locations for the movie), the power conferred by the Oculus Quest and Google Maps’ ability to seamlessly display historical map data has meant that it remains quite possible to have an authentic virtual tour of London à la Houkago Tea Time, utilising the Oculus Quest’s unmatched ability for immersion.

  • Having already done a post about Toyosato Elementary School some nine years earlier, I’ve chosen to skip ahead to London proper. While I’m armed with an Oculus Quest and the best that technology has to offer, folks looking to reproduce Houkago Tea Time’s trip back in 2012 were not left at a disadvantage: K-On! fans who lived in London shared locations with prospective visitors, and the official movie guide also points out where the different stills are from. Coupled with a bit of path finding and use of Google Maps (already decently sophisticated in 2012), finding the locations for the film proved quite straightforward.

  • The taxi from Heathrow International Airport to the girls’ first destination, Hotel Ibis London City, takes them past Famous 3 Kings, an iconic pub serving classic fare like burgers, wings and pizza that is known for their excellent drinks, food and ambience. While Yui and the others never swing by a pub for dinner (presumably, only Mio’s English is sufficient to navigate the menu), were I to visit London for myself, a pub would be on my list of places to check out, along with a place for a proper plate of bangers and mash, fish and chips, Sunday roast and a full English Breakfast. I concede that a lot of pubs back home have a very British or Irish feel to them, but nothing beats checking out the real deal.

  • Because Ritsu imagines that there’s only one Ibis in London, she supposes that they’ve booked the one in London City. Their first stop thus ends up being the Ibis at London City, rather than Earl’s Court. The Ibis at London City is located in an excellent spot – it is within walking distance of iconic London landmarks like the Big Ben and Tower of London. The decision to not have Houkago Tea Time lodge here was likely because the point of this trip wasn’t about London itself, but rather, their shared experiences – the Ibis at Earl’s Court isn’t near any London icons, but instead, offers Yui and the others a chance to check out a side of London known to the locals.

  • While the London cityscape has changed considerably in the past nine years since K-On! The Movie premièred, as evidenced by the different storefronts here on Commercial Street, the buildings themselves are still recognisable. The traffic in the Google Street View versions, however, is considerably denser, and one of the long-standing limitations of a virtual reality approach – the Google Street View car takes images at specific intervals, and this means that I’m not always to get the exact same angles as seen in an anime.

  • Because of how the London Underground is set up, Mio and the others have a chance to swing by Camden Town, whose location made it a transport hub in London. As the district became the nexus for rail lines and canals, warehouses were constructed here to store goods. However, the area was redeveloped, and today, is better known as an entertainment district with a highly unique aesthetic. K-On! The Movie captures this particularly well, showing it as a colourful district with a myriad of storefronts.

  • Yui and the others travel from Aldgate Station to Camden Town Station: after Yui notices Azusa having trouble walking, the girls take a detour in search of new shoes for Azusa on Mio’s suggestion. After leaving the station, the girls immediately comment on the atmosphere in Camden town, and at an outdoor market, they end up picking out something that works for Azusa. The kaiten sushi place that Yui and the others perform at is no longer around: it’s the former Proud Music Venue, which opened in 2001 and closed in 2018.

  • After a lengthy day, Yui and the others finally make it to the Ibis at Earl’s Court, and since the check-in isn’t shown, it stands to reason that the process was very seamless. Unlike Ibis London City, Ibis Earl’s Court is located further from central London attractions: the hotel has its own conference facilities and brings to mind the likes of the hotels in the eastern part of my city. Ibis Earl’s Court is noted for its clean facilities and friendly staff, although the hotel’s age is showing. The prices here are slightly lower than those of Ibis London City, making it suited for a group of high school students whose graduation trip came out of the blue.

  • While the locations in London initially seem intimidating, Naoko Yamada and her staff fortunately drew their stills from nearby locations, and a brief walk down Lillie Road allows for everything to be located with relative ease. The scene of London’s iconic double-decker buses was taken at the intersection between Lillie Road and North End Road looking west: the spot is only 210 metres away from Ibis Earl’s Court.

  • Ritsu and the others pass by West Brompton Station on their second day en route to breakfast. Located on the London Underground District Line, one can easily reach Aldgate Station from here: had Yui and the others chosen not to go to Camden Town per Mio’s request, reaching the Ibis Earl’s Court from Ibis London City would’ve been fairly straightforward, and indeed, thanks to the District Line, the Ibis at Earl’s Court is an excellent alternative for folks looking for slightly less pricy accommodations while at the same time, still be somewhere close to a line back to central London.

  • This intersection is located at Old Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road, and the angle seen in K-On! is from Earl’s Court Road, looking south. K-On! The Movie has Yui and the others looking left per the signage on the road surface to check for vehicles before crossing, which I found a little strange, since Japan also has left hand traffic. Conversely, left hand traffic is foreign to me: whenever I visit Hong Kong, the fact that everything is the opposite of what I’m used to always requires a bit of adjusting to.

  • After crossing the intersection and backtracking a little, Yui’s curiosity about The Troubadour leads the others to stop for breakfast here. The Troubadour is a coffeehouse that dates back to 1954 that has played host to music icons, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. The location was chosen precisely owing to its connection to music history, although for Yui, I imagine she picks it owing to its distinct appearance. A glance at The Troubadour’s brunch menu shows that Yui had the Eggs Benedict, which goes for 9.5£ (16.27 CAD): brunch is served from opening until 1430, and this does feel a bit pricy, but on the flipside, their dinner menu is much more reasonably priced, with their iconic braised Rosemary and Garlic Lamb shoulder going for 24£ (41.11 CAD). The Troubadour is definitely a restaurant I’d be happy to swing by should I ever decide to visit London.

  • Upon finishing K-On! The Movie, a few locations did elude me, such as the Chelsea Ballet School and the apartments along Oakley Street. The K-On! Movie Official Guidebook was instrumental in helping me to sort out where everything was located: the guidebook had indicated that Yui and the others had travelled along King’s Road, and this is what led me to Oakley Street. There’s nothing innately special about the Chelsea Ballet School: it offers youth instruction in ballet, and according to the notes, substituted David Bowie’s house, which the team couldn’t find during the time in London.

  • With the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook to go off of, I first found Oakley Street first, and then did a bit of backtracking to find the Chelsea Ballet School. While this row of apartments seems quite unremarkable, the spot is actually close to the Bob Marley Blue Plaque, which is across the street from the spot Mio and the others pass by en route to World’s End. Since the moment happens so quickly, it stands to reason that Mio did not end up stopping the others for a quick photo, which speaks to K-On! The Movie‘s themes: even in London, home of music legends, Houkago Tea Time are more wrapped up in their own adventures, doing things at their own pace.

  • With Azusa’s planning, the group next swing by the backwards clock at World’s End: this store sells what is advertised as timeless music fashion, and I imagine that the clock is supposed to be indicative of this. Having now taken a closer look at the range of locations Houkago Tea Time visit in London, it is clear that Yamada and her team researched the locations thoroughly for their connection to music, and even if Mio and the others never actually stop at the iconic locations she’d wish to check out, through serendipity, the girls do end up passing by some of the most famous music spots of London anyways.

  • Just a stone’s throw from World’s End is this apartment block and a set of benches that Yui et al. catch their breath at. The apartment can actually be seen from World’s End, making this a relatively easy location to find. I believe that in Britain, apartments are referred to as flats in casual speech, although realtors call them apartments. The gap between British and North American English is noticeable, especially with regard to pronunciation and vocabulary, but aside from these differences, English is English: were I to visit London for myself, I’d have a much easier time of it for the simple fact that, besides my Canadian inflection, my command of English is sufficient for me to get by over in England.

  • Abbey Road Crossing is probably the single most famous crosswalk in the world: Apple Records’ John Kosh had designed the album on the idea that The Beatles were so famous that they could get away without the album or band name. The actual photograph was taken in 1969, and since then, The Beatles’ famous crossing has been imitated endlessly. When Azusa, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Ritsu cross, their minds aren’t even on the fact that they’ve tread on hallowed grounds: Azusa is busy trying to figure out what other spots the group can visit next.

  • While K-On! The Movie is generally faithful to the placement of locations, the biggest one that would’ve thrown location hunters off was Harpers Café at the intersection Southwark Street and Borough High Street: it is located south of the River Thames, and is nowhere near Hyde Park or the British Museum. Serving a range of sandwiches, Harper’s was replaced by a Costa Coffee at some point after the film released: location hunters today would have no chance of checking out Harpers Café, which featured in the movie because their neon coffee sign drew Yui’s attention for its resemblance to the Houkago Tea Time logo.

  • It is not lost on me that numerous Blogspot blogs have come up over the years portraying their owners’ trips to London in search of K-On! The Movie‘s locations. During an exercise I conducted some years ago, a hypothetical trip to London, England would cost no less than 3500 CAD in total. However, this trip was conducted using estimates of the price, and today, using something like Expedia, I was able to put together a flight and accommodations package for a total of 788 CAD. I appreciate that the current global health crisis has resulted in travel prices plummeting, but even assuming that the actual price is twenty percent greater (946 CAD), this is still considerably less pricey than my original estimates.

  • Of course, if I were to do a trip to London, I would allocate about a week to fully explore and take in everything; K-On! had condensed the trip down to five days and three nights for the sake of the story, but to really take in everything, I would prefer to do things at a slower pace. Big Ben and Palace of Westminster can be seen while crossing Westminster Bridge here: Big Ben was originally built in 1859 to act as a highly accurate clocktower, and the Palace of Westminster adjacent to it was finished in 1876 after some 36 years of construction: the site had been home to an older palace that hosted the British parliament, but a fire in 1834 decimated the original building.

  • At the time of K-On! The Movie‘s première, the London Eye Ferris wheel was the highest viewpoint until The Shard opened two years later. Even now, it still offers a breathtaking view of the London Skyline. Tickets cost £31 per adult (52 CAD) if one were to order them on the day of, as Yui and the other have done during their trip. Visiting the London Eye offers them a spectacular alternative that, while unexpected, was nonetheless enjoyable. Even Mio, who’d developed a fear of rotating things during the trip, casts her worries aside once she sees the London cityscape.

  • After returning to the Ibis Earl’s Court for their second night, a still from the intersection at Old Brompton Road and Warwick Road looking north is shown. There’s a unique charm about London, and K-On! The Movie manages to capture a feeling that looks like it came straight out of SkyfallSkyfall really captured the moody, brooding aesthetic of London in a way that previous Bond films had not, and K-On! The Movie replicates the Cold War-like feeling of the nighttime London streets. What’s impressive is that had come out before Skyfall, speaking to how much effort went into the film.

  • The next morning, while out and about, Yui wanders past the Brompton Cemetery. She passes by the stone arches and gates on its northern end while noting that she’s having trouble with the song for Azusa, and looking around the area, the recycling bins have since been removed. I imagine that Yui’s just wandered here while contemplating what Azusa’s song should sound like: moments later, Azusa calls out to her, saying it’s time to head off for that morning’s adventures.

  • Because Yui and the others are set to perform on their final full day in London, they swing by Denmark Street near Tottenham Court Road to check out instruments. The large buildings at the end of the street are office blocks, and Google CGS, as well as Central Saint Giles have their offices here, too. This was about the last of the spots I could easily check out using the Oculus Quest: in this post, numerous locations, such as the Waitrose & Partners Gloucester Road supermarket, Borough Market, Tower Bridge, Jubilee Park and Tower of London have been omitted because limitations in Street View precluded their inclusion.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with the London Bridge Experience, a tourist attraction claiming to be the United Kingdom’s spookiest. As a callout to this fact, K-On! The Movie has Mio running away from a staff dressed up in horror garb in abject terror. While my post is by no means the first ever location hunt for K-On! The Movie, nor is it the most comprehensive, it does demonstrate the level of effort that went into making the film memorable, and having life-like locations definitely helped to make Yui and Azusa’s London trip special.

Revisiting the locations Houkago Tea Time visit during the course of K-On! The Movie was a trip down memory lane: when the film became available overseas, I was well into my MCAT review, and exam anxiety had gripped me. To be able to watch Yui and the others explore London in a carefree, spirited fashion conferred catharsis that allowed me to regroup, and over the years, my fondness of K-On! The Movie has only increased. The film’s messages of appreciation and living in the moment, of going with the flow are timeless and universal, and while the film is cheerful throughout its run, a hint of melancholy permeates every scene; viewers know that with K-On! The Movie, K-On!‘s animated adaptation would be drawing to a close. The film’s decision to visit London, birthplace of rock as we know it, and whose musical icons doubtlessly inspired the way Houkago Tea Time play, acts as a swan song for the series. After watching the film, I ended up purchasing the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook, the first time I’d ever bought an artbook, and a few pages in, I’d noticed that the locations seen in the film were catalogued. For the longest time, I’d been meaning to do a location hunt for the movie, but eventually, such a project fell from my mind. However, with the recent resurgence brought on by the Oculus Quest’s capabilities, I decided the time was ripe to go visit London. The technology has its limitations: there are a few points in London where Google Street View does not offer coverage, so I was not able to visit all of the spots that Houkago Tea Time had, but beyond this, it was a fairly comprehensive experience. While Yui and her friends only stay in London for three days, it becomes clear that even this short trip was filled to the brim with new discoveries. With this in mind, given how much London has changed over the past nine years, visitors looking to see things precisely as Yui and the others do might prove disappointed: some shops have been replaced, and new buildings are found in London’s skyline (including the Shard, which was under construction back in 2011), so the scenery isn’t going to be entirely what Houkago Tea Time saw. In spite of this, many spots still remain as they once did: the Hotel Ibis at Earl’s Court, and Troubadour are still around, as is the British Museum and Chelsea ballet school. Camden still retains its unique aesthetic, and the view of Big Ben from Westminster Bridge remains quite unchanged from nine years earlier. In short, London is still worth visiting, and I imagine that such a trip would be life-changing, well worth it: I certainly would be interested in purchasing a flight across the Atlantic and booking accommodations at Ibis Earls’ Court.

Yui Needs A Weapon: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 with Halo Weapons

“I need a weapon.” –Spartan John-117, Halo 2

Having now finished the original two Left 4 Dead campaigns, the only thing that was Cold Stream and The Last Stand, two community missions that rounded out the game. Cold Stream sees the Left 4 Dead 2 survivors fighting through a forest in the mountains to reach a helicopter to evacuate them before a forest fire catches up with them, while The Last Stand represents an alternate interpretation of what had happened in Death Toll had the survivors gone a different route. After abandoning their truck at a roadblock, the survivors make their way into a junkyard and eventually reach a lighthouse. Here, the survivors signal for rescue from a boat, fending off hordes of Infected while awaiting the boat. These community missions are quite unrelated to the stories portrayed in the regular campaigns, providing players with a remote forest setting to explore. At this point in time, the mechanics and objectives were simple enough: having beaten the last two campaigns (and fighting with the community workshop directory, which had been giving me some trouble with the character name plates), getting back into Left 4 Dead 2 to finish off the single player experience was not particularly tricky, and I ended up wrapping up both of the community campaigns with time to spare. As noted in my previous posts, the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 had been remarkably entertaining, completely altering the aesthetic and mood in Left 4 Dead 2. However, this time around, I’ve decided to further increase the mods introduced into the game: as amusing as it had been to run Left 4 Dead 2 with Houkago Tea Time characters, even new models and sound files can get old to write about. As such, I decided to introduce an additional set of mods into the game which would modify the experience somewhat without conflicting with the K-On! mods.

This mod takes the form of Halo weapon skins to replace the original weapons. While the weapons still function identically to their original forms, the weapons look and sound different. The end result is simple: I am now running with the automatics, pistols, shotguns and long-range rifles from Halo, rather than more familiar weapons. In addition to a new, highly-detailed skin, the Halo weapons also have new firing sounds. Altogether, these new weapons feel considerably more powerful and reliable than any of the classic weapons. Every shot fired feels powerful. The base pistols and Tier 1 weapons, which had felt diminished in power compared to the Tier 2 weapons in their original form, suddenly gave the impression of being viable, lethal tools that could hold their own against the hordes of Infected. The suppressed MAC-10 felt inadequate against special infected, but when replaced with the M7/C submachine gun, players suddenly appear to have a better fighting chance. The hunting rifle is replaced by the DMR, firing rounds with a slow but reliable outcome. The Tier 2 weapons themselves feel even more effective, and when the mods are properly applied, even the introductory pistol becomes a more entertaining weapon to use. I’d first heard about the Halo weapon mods from a friend who’d been interested in asking about why the modders had removed a particularly unique skin from the marketplace. I’d speculated it might’ve simply been because the mod needed more work and suggested said friend get in touch with the modders to inquire about it. After checking out the modders’ workshop, I became intrigued, and subsequently resolved to try the weapons out for myself. The end result was highly entertaining, and after ensuring that the new mods did not conflict with or modify the way my previous mods worked, I set about finishing off Left 4 Dead 2‘s remaining missions.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I figure it would be appropriate to open with the dual M6H pistols: the original pistols felt quite weak despite being useful weapons in practise, but upgrading them to the pistols seen in Halo completely changes the impact they have. In this post, not only do I have Halo weapons, but I have Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi wielding Halo weapons. I imagine that with this mod, once Google properly indexes my content, I’ll have the first result whenever one does a search for “K-On! Halo” or similar. All of the Halo weapon mods in this post are supplied by Adorabirb!, whose done a phenomenal job of rendering the weapons and ensuring they sound identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • The suppressed MAC-10 is replaced by the M7S suppressed submachine gun seen in Halo 3: ODST. While one cannot use the reflex sights, and the weapon handles otherwise identically to the MAC-10 in Left 4 Dead 2, there’s something incredibly reassuring about using the M7S against hordes of Infected. The Uzi is similarly replaced by the M7/C with the right mods, and with the Halo submachine guns, I suddenly feel a lot more optimistic about fighting Infected. There’s a psychological boost that results from using cool-looking and cool-sounding weapons.

  • Cold Stream was a particularly fun campaign mission – despite being non-canon, its setting makes it the next best thing to being out in the mountains for myself. It’s now been over a year since I’ve taken a hike in the mountains and had any poutine from the best poutine shop this side of the country, and I do miss it greatly. While games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Skyrim do allow me to visit the mountains and their beautiful forested trails, there is no substitution for a full day spent hiking the mountains for real, followed by a hearty Montreal Smoked Meat poutine and spruce soda afterwards.

  • My yearning to return to the mountains means that I have recently returned to Skyrim with the aim of finishing the main story off: a year ago, while writing about KonoSuba, I mentioned an interest in playing Skyrim again, and it is only now that I’ve managed to do so. Returning to Skyrim, I am impressed with how immersive and detailed the game is. I will be sharing a full post on my experiences once I am finished: at the time of writing, I am pursuing Alduin through Sovngarde, and expect that in a few weeks or so, I should be done with things.

  • Before then, however, I determined it would be best if I wrapped up my thoughts on Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! and Halo mods first. Here, I’ve picked up the DMR: it replaces the Hunting Rifle, a weapon that I typically did not play with much on my old play-throughs on account of its poor firing rate and small magazine size. Again, the psychological changes brought on by a Halo skin were profound – the DMR’s firing rate feels faster than that of the Hunting Rifle even though the weapon stats remained unchanged, and I had a blast using it to pick off distant foes.

  • The fact a simple re-skin completely changed up the way Left 4 Dead 2 feels, despite having no actual impact on gameplay, speaks volumes to how something as simple as changing up a weapon’s appearance and sound could completely refresh an experience to the extent where Left 4 Dead 2 could feel like an entirely new game. Prior to switching out the Hunting Rifle for the DMR, I’d never used the weapon simply because its low rate of fire and limited situations where a long-range weapon made it less useful to have. However, in Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the DMR is intended more of a precision weapon filling the range between the sniper rifles and Battle rifle.

  • I ended up swapping out the FN SCAR-L for the Battle Rifle: the Combat Rifle in Left 4 Dead 2 fires in three round bursts, and while dealing less damage per shot than the other assault rifles, it compensates for this with a good accuracy. With this in mind, given how often engagements were close quarters, I generally preferred the AK-47 or M-16 where available. The Battle Rifle I ran with is the Halo 2 variant, which is my favourite iteration of the Battle Rifle in any Halo game. The mod lacks the original’s heavy-hitting sound: besides performance, the Halo 2 Battle Rifle feels solid and sounds lethal.

  • The one weapon I was most impressed with in the mod was the SRS99-AM sniper rifle, which is seen in Halo 3. This weapon excels at long range combat, and equips an advanced optic for sighting distant foes. I chose the weapon to replace the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, with the end result that what was originally an anti-materiel rifle with a four-round box magazine now could hold thirty rounds. The weapon sounds powerful and looks even better: the optics will depict the same view, just as the sniper rifle in Halo 3 did.

  • One of the things I needed to get used to was the fact that I’m technically still using the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, which behaves more similarly to the DMR than the Halo sniper rifle. If I were to go purely for accuracy, the Hunting Rifle would be better represented by the Halo sniper rifle, and the semi-automatic rifle would be replaced by the DMR skin. This would allow the mods to be more faithful to their original weapon’s roles.

  • While crossing the bridge, I ended up picking up a grenade launcher: the M319 grenade launcher is a single-shot break-action grenade launcher that functions identically to its real-world equivalent, the M79. In fact, aside from a superior construction and digital display, the weapon is more or less a M79: the M79 is the original weapon in Left 4 Dead 2, and this Vietnam-era grenade launcher was intended to give platoons additional firepower. The M79 proved effective and reliable, but being a single-shot weapon left operators at a disadvantage, limiting how much firepower they could put out downrange.

  • Moreover, carrying a dedicated launcher meant grenadiers were limited to their sidearms as a ranged weapon. In Left 4 Dead 2, this is definitely to one’s detriment, unless they were carrying dual pistols, as well. While fantastic for clearing out hordes of Infected and even making short work of the Special Infected, the grenade launcher’s utility is quite limited, and the weapon itself is also quite rare: I only encountered the grenade launcher a handful of times while playing through the original campaign.

  • Conversely, the M60 (replaced by Halo 4‘s M739 SAW) is an excellent special weapon, and when outfitted with a laser sight, becomes the ultimate weapon for taking on common and special Infected alike. Halo 4‘s SAW features a 72-round drum magazine and, while firing the same calibre rounds as the assault rifle, had a higher rate of fire and accuracy, on top of a larger ammunition capacity, making it a straight upgrade to the assault rifle. Spartan Ops missions went more smoothly the instant I picked one up. In Left 4 Dead 2, the M60 is similarly powerful, limited only by the fact that its belt cannot be replenished.

  • At the time of writing, the mod did not replace the weapon icons for the M16 or AK-47. The M16 is replaced by the MA5C assault rifle, which was featured in Halo 3 and for the first time, felt like a proper assault rifle. While the MA5C’s skin does not accurately reflect on the actual amount of ammunition remaining, the modders have taken the effort of ensuring that the digital display uses an emissive texture: in dark environments, the display will glow in the dark, which is a nice touch.

  • Towards the end of the final chapter, I picked up an M90 shotgun with a reflex sight, which replaces the SPAS-12. However, since the final part of the mission entailed pushing through a horde, the shotgun proved inadequate and I ended up dropping it for any faster-firing weapon. Shotguns have always had a limited utility in Left 4 Dead 2, and in Halo, I found them more useful against the Flood rather than the Covenant. With this being said, shotguns have always been fun to wield against the Elites, and my strategy in Halo games has always been to use the battle rifles, assault rifles and marksman rifles against weaker foes, saving shotguns or other powerful weapons for swiftly putting away groups of tougher enemies.

  • The last segments of Cold Stream requires that players reach a tall tower for extraction, and unfortunately, during my run, I ended up losing Tsumugi to the Infected. In spite of this, I still finished the mission in a reasonably efficient manner, earning myself a nifty achievement for my troubles. My best friend has indicated that there is an elegant and simple way to get the toughest achievements in Left 4 Dead 2 without breaking a sweat. I’m not sure if this is something I’ll seek to be doing in the foreseeable future just yet.

  • The last of the community missions, The Last Stand, returns perspective to Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nadoka’s perspective, as well as the grim and foreboding dark of a coastal forest. This mission starts players off with the Uzi, which the mod switches out for a M7/C Submachine gun. Insofar, I’ve referred to the Halo weapons mod in singular, but it’s actually a collection of mods one can download. Like the M7S, the M7/C feels distinctly better than the Uzi, even though the damage model remains completely unaffected.

  • It’s reassuring to know that the modder behind the K-On! mod made certain that the smaller details were properly rendered – I half expected the character models to clip or be hollow underneath, but thankfully, this is not the case. When I first played the K-On! mods, I’d heard that the modders even took into account the special attributes surrounding Mio, and while I’d never had the characters walk up onto a higher surface in campaigns with Yui and the others, I have played as Mio before. Being ensnared by a smoker demonstrated that those rumours surrounding Mio were true, and this level of attention to detail is commendable.

  • The darkness of The Last Stand meant that unlike Cold Stream, the weapons I pick up won’t be in sharp relief for everyone to check out. With this being said, having seen the M7S’ model, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince readers that the M7/C is equally as well-designed as the M7S. Besides the same report when fired, the modder had also ensured that the submachine guns’ reloading sounds are identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • Somewhere along the way, I decided to swap out my dual pistols for the Tactical Magnum. In any real cooperative matches, such an action would be unthinkable: dual pistols offer firepower and accuracy nearly equivalent to that of an assault rifle, and so, players will hang onto dual pistols for the duration of a match if they can find them. However, since this isn’t a match with other players, I am able to switch things up for the sake of discussion.

  • I replaced the basic pump action shotgun with the M45D Tactical Shotgun. This weapon, I’ve never actually seen in a Halo game for myself before, but it’s supposed to be a straight upgrade to the shotguns seen in earlier Halo titles. I’ve heard that it is unlikely that Halo 5 will ever come to PC: of the Halo games, Halo 5 had suffered greatly from a series of decisions that dramatically altered the campaign, and this in turn led the game to receive poor reception. 343 Industries’ decision to leave Halo 5 without a PC port was likely a consequence of knowing that Halo 5 wouldn’t sell very well if brought to the PC, and instead, it appears 343 chose to focus their efforts into Halo: Infinite.

  • Because shotguns aren’t really my jam, I ended up switching it out for the MA5D with the reflex sight. Informally referred to as the recon assault rifle, this weapon differs only from the M16’s replacement in that it has a reflex sight. I’ve always wondered how Halo weapons would look with contemporary weapon attachments: in Halo, the presence of smart-link scopes means that soldiers don’t really need dedicated attachments to aim with, as a computerised system would do the work for them. Of course, with Halo 5, when the Battle Rifle was given a reflex sight, people took to complaining about it loudly online.

  • In Left 4 Dead 2, since there’s no aiming down sights for weapons without a magnifying optic, the presence of a reflex sight is purely cosmetic, and I chose this rifle purely to differentiate it from the MA5C replacing the M-16. Like the MA5C, the digital ammunition counter doesn’t actually reflect the amount of rounds one has left to them, but in the dark of The Last Stand, the glowing display is rather more visible: here, I make my way through a burning forest with Ui, Azu-nyan and Jun after fighting my way out of a junkyard to reach the safehouse.

  • The Last Stand was so-named because the original mode was about the survivors fending off wave after wave of Infected, at least until ammunition and supplies ran out entirely, leaving them to be overwhelmed. Conversely, in the campaign, players actually can escape successfully after reaching the lighthouse. Here, after exiting the safehouse, I came across a warden’s outpost.

  • Curiosity soon led me to ascend the watchtower, and I picked up another machine gun for my trouble. Whenever holding a special weapon, I’ve always found that having the dual pistols is most effective, giving me enough firepower to deal with the horde. This leaves me free to save the special weapon for the situations that demand it the most. Of the special weapons, the M60 (SAW in my case) is my favourite: possessing the same accuracy as the AK-47 and dealing the same damage as the magnum pistol per shot, the M60’s 150 round capacity eliminates the need to reload.

  • I wasn’t able to do so in The Last Stand, but locating a laser sight and equipping special ammunition dramatically increases the M60’s accuracy and damage further, to the point where it can destroy tanks and witches in the blink of an eye. On my play-through, I wound up saving the SAW for the final confrontation, anticipating that I would need its firepower.

  • This turned out to be a good decision, since a few tanks did crash my party, and with the damage the SAW deals, they were quickly eliminated. Looking around, I’ve noticed that there are also weapon mods for the melee weapons, but because I’d been interested in keeping Yui’s Les Paul Gibson, I chose not to install anything that could conflict with them. The challenge about running a large number of mods at once is that conflicts could be introduced, and it’s up to the players to choose which mod they’d prefer.

  • The mod prioritisation function in Left 4 Dead 2 is actually pretty well-written in this area: if a conflict is detected, the game will automatically load the one that’s higher up on the list, but if this doesn’t produce the desired result, one can always go into the mods menu and deactivate the ones that one isn’t interested in running. There is one more nuance about running the K-On! mod: by default, the game won’t always show the modded names correctly. Online, people suggest moving the mod .vpk files out of the workshop directory into the addons directory, which prevents Steam from automatically fetching newer versions, but also allowing all of the data to be read.

  • I’ve actually found that this doesn’t work: if one is subscribed to a mod, the game will automatically query the server for updates every time it loads. This means that every time I started up Left 4 Dead 2, a fresh copy of the mod .vpk would be downloaded into the workshop directory. Instead, to preserve my settings, one only needs to subscribe to the mod to download it, then move the .vpk out, and unsubscribe. This method is a bit cumbersome, but it does allow me to keep my settings as I like them.

  • Of course, having now completed every campaign and bonus set of levels in Left 4 Dead 2, I’m not too sure if I’ll be returning in the near future: while it could be fun to get those special achievements my friend mentioned and also re-run the game with Halo weapons, there’s quite a bit on my plate, and I’m just glad to have finally gotten the game done. Towards the end of my run, after depleting the SAW’s ammunition, I returned to the trusty BR-55 rifle to round things out.

  • Unlike my Cold Stream run, this time around, I managed to escape with everyone. Having brought back K-On! into my life in a big way, I am inclined to write one more K-On! related post before the month’s out. Once that post is done, I’ll enter May with a clean slate, ready to go through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War: while perhaps a bit pricier with respect to how much time I get out of them, I’ve always had a blast going through them.

While Left 4 Dead 2 is very much a squad-based game that is best played with friends, mods like K-On! and Halo weapons transform the way the game feels, while simultaneously leaving the central mechanics intact. This seemingly minor set of changes alters enough of the look and feel such that Left 4 Dead 2 appears as a completely different game. Admittedly, the base Left 4 Dead 2 never really appealed to me in terms of its aesthetic, and I’d only picked it up because the sale price was excellent: my friend is very big on Valve games for their ease-of-modding, and I imagined that we’d spend more time messing around as a two-person team once I’d picked the game up. While we did spend a few fun-filled hours blasting zombies, the base game never really excited me to the same extent as I imagined. However, with things like the K-On! mod, Left 4 Dead 2 became considerably more entertaining, to the point where I can say with confidence that it would be worth buying Left 4 Dead 2 solely for the K-On! mod alone. At that point, the variety of mods available in the Workshop means that, were one so inclined, they could completely transform the way Left 4 Dead 2 handles: particularly well-done and extensive mods allow players to replace the existing Infected with Halo‘s Flood, and similarly, the very same techniques for using K-On! characters as character models allow for one to run with Spartans. Such mods even provide a means of changing up the HUD to closely resemble the Mjolnir armour system, customised for Left 4 Dead 2‘s inventory system. There is no ceiling on what is possible with the mods in Left 4 Dead 2, and while Valve currently has no plans for a continuation, the ability to change the experience via mods has meant that Left 4 Dead 2 has proven unexpectedly fun: what had initially been little more than a curiosity became a full-fledged, meaningful experience that was well worth the price of admissions. Thanks to mods, I’ve now finally completed Left 4 Dead 2‘s single-player experience in full, and while my friend and I are unlikely to co-op in Left 4 Dead 2 with any frequency owing to our schedule, knowing that I’ll be able to retain a highly customised setup should we take this up means that I’d be happy to co-op if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

007 Agent Under Fire Review and Reflection

“Well, I like to do some things the old-fashioned way.” –James Bond, Skyfall

When operator Zoe Nightshade is captured by Identicon Corporation while investigating allegations of weapons smuggling, James Bond infiltrates their Hong Kong facility to rescue her and recovers a courier case. While eluding Nigel Bloch, head of Identicon, in a vehicle chase, Nightshade is killed and the vials are retrieved. However, Bond manages to catch up to them and recovers the vials, which are found to contain blood samples of world leaders and that of ambassador Reginald Griffin, who is working in the British embassy in Bucharest, Romania. Bond discovers that the vials are related to Malprave Industries in Switzerland and arranges to visit their facility. Upon realising he and CEO Adrian Malprave had previously met in Bucharest, Bond attempts to escape the facility, obtaining photographs of Malprave’s plans. He learns that Dr. Natalya Damescu had left Malprave Industries and is under the protection of the British embassy, as she possesses knowledge of their plans. Returning to the embassy, Bond fends off the terrorist attack, including their leader, and picks up a data chip pointing to Poseidon. Bond next travels to an oil rig in the South China sea in pursuit of Bloch and follows up to an underwater cloning facility. After destroying the lab, Bond escapes and encounters the real Zoe Nightshade: the Nightshade at the Identicon facility had actually been a clone. The two board a British aircraft carrier and discover Malprave’s plan to clone the world leaders and replace their originals in a bid to take over the world. Returning to Malprave’s facilities in the Swiss Alps, Bond rescues the world leaders and defeats Bloch in a showdown before escaping with Nightshade, while Malprave dies when her base self-destructs. This is 007: Agent Under Fire, a 2001 first person shooter that was the first James Bond game for sixth generation consoles that featured an all-new story and return to the style that GoldenEye had pioneered.

Agent Under Fire never quite hit the same heights as GoldenEye did, being criticised for flimsy AI and short missions by period critics. Indeed, the game hasn’t aged as gracefully as its successor, Nightfire: Agent Under Fire holds the players’ hands throughout all of the campaign missions, and there’s very little room for exploration and discovery. Moreover, the storyline is, for the lack of a better word, tacky. The notion of creating clones of world leaders as a proxy by which to rule the world is roundabout and ill-conceived: the same outcome would be better achieved by manipulating the media (Tomorrow Never Dies), controlling fuel transport (The World is Not Enough) or investing in super-weapons to challenge the world’s militaries (Die Another Day). Similarly, use of clones opens the floor to deaths that suddenly lack impact or shock, and brings about storytelling clichés that diminish the weight of Bond’s actions. However, where the story is lacking, Agent Under Fire excels with its gameplay. In particular, the integration of gunplay and using Q Branch’s sophisticated gadgetry to advance was particularly smooth, and one could go from hijacking crane signals to destroy an entire group of guards back to sniping distant foes at the press of a button. GoldenEye had a comparatively unwieldy gadget system, but capitalising on the controller’s D-pad to cycle between weapons and gadgets, as well as mapping different buttons to weapon and gadget use simplified things considerably. Moreover, while Agent Under Fire is a first person shooter, the game also features driving segments that allow players to get behind the wheel of Bond’s gadget-laden super cars. Racing around modestly open maps to complete objectives offers a pleasant change of pace from the on-foot combat, and altogether, while Agent Under Fire‘s story might not win any Newbury awards, the game completely succeeded in demonstrating what was possible from a James Bond game on the most advanced consoles of the time.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Agent Under Fire opens in Hong Kong harbour, on a facility that looks like something straight out of a science fiction novel. Set under a golden sunset, the mission would come to set the expectation of what sort of atmospherics would accompany a James Bond game, and here, I equip the P2K, which I’ve unlocked the golden version of for scoring well on this mission. The P2K is modelled on the Smith and Wesson SW99, but unlike its real-world equivalent, the P2K is limited to a six-round magazine (and the real version accepts 10, 15 and 20 round box magazines).

  • As the evening light casts the Identicon facility’s interior in orange-yellows, I fight my way through guards en route to the submarine pen. Along the way, I pick up the infamous Koffler and Stock KS7 (Heckler and Koch MP5), which was a bit of a joke amongst players of the time. In FAQs dating back to 2001 and 2002, the KS7 is described as the worst gun in the game, whose inaccuracy and weak damage meant that it would often take an entire magazine to take out one enemy. Agent Under Fire has a wide range of weapons, and throughout campaign missions, Bond will have access to all of the weapons featured in the game.

  • Unsurprisingly, the most powerful and versatile weapons are found towards the end of the game. As I near the last segments of the first mission, I find an SSR-4000, which is based on the SIG-Sauer SSG 3000. On a per-shot basis, the SSR-4000 is the most powerful and accurate weapon in Agent Under Fire, being a bolt-action rifle with two zoom levels. The weapon’s slow firing rate and small magazine is typical of a bolt-action rifle’s, being balanced to favour long range combat. In the campaign, enemies equipped with the SSR-4000 also have a laser sight, allowing players to quickly work out where they’re aiming and return fire or get to cover as appropriate.

  • Agent Under Fire has a disproportionately large number rail-shooter missions, in which the game automatically drives a player around, and the only aim is to fend off enemies. While the concept of rail-shooters have been maligned owing to titles like Call of Duty, back when they were introduced, they did represent a fun way to have a high speed shootout where players could focus purely on shooting. In Agent Under Fire, the rail shooter missions follow the same approach: Bond is equipped with an RPK, modified SPAS-12 and occasionally, an anti-vehicle option.

  • While Agent Under Fire fails to account for the fact that Hong Kong has left-hand traffic, the game otherwise does a phenomenal job of capturing the Hong Kong aesthetic. Roads are perhaps a bit wider, and traffic is considerably lighter than things are in real life, but the apartment buildings and neon signs are spot on. As Bond beats an escape, droves of Bloch’s men follow in pursuit, making use of cars and limousines alike in a bid to head off Bond. Rail shooting missions feature an impressive ammunition pool, and unless one were to keep their finger on the trigger for the whole of a mission, it is unlikely that one will run out.

  • The CH-6 rocket launcher is named for the fact that it can fire six shots before reloading, and it is immensely effective against vehicles. Owing to its power, it is only available in the second mission, and here, I’ve got the Golden CH-6, which has a bottomless reserve of rockets. With this unlocked, one can pretty much just stick to the CH-6 and decimate all vehicles on the road.

  • Bond subsequently picks up his own vehicle, the BMW Z8: this vehicle was first seen in The World is Not Enough, and its presence in Agent Under Fire speaks to the fact that the game was originally meant to be PS2 and PC versions of the Nintendo 64’s The World is Not Enough, but midway through development, the PC version was scrapped, and the PS2 version was changed into Agent Under Fire. In Agent Under Fire, the Z8 is equipped with two forward-facing machine guns, unguided rockets and homing missiles. Thanks to an unlock, I have unlimited missiles, which renders the mission considerably easier.

  • Racing through the streets of Hong Kong in a weapon and gadget laden BMW proved quite fun: once Bond re-enters the city, likely Central, the main objective will show up: a special van carrying the stolen vials will appear, and Bond must use an EMP pulse to disable it without destroying the samples. The Q-pulse is instrumental for this, and players must drive up beside the van in order to use the Q-pulse, which has a short range. More points are scored if players can disable the van sooner, although care should be taken not to fire the EMP when one is out of range: the EMPs are in short supply and must be picked up by driving around the level.

  • The fourth mission is a strictly non-lethal mission, and the only time where Bond uses a dart gun. Regardless of difficulty, the darts will knock out guards with a single shot, and in the quiet of the British embassy in Bucharest, the aim is to sneak in, figure out what happened to Reginald Griffin, and get out. Stealth missions in swanky locations always remind me of Christmas – back in the day, one of my relatives always hosted the annual Christmas parties, and my cousin, would invite us to spend the evening playing Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer after dinner wrapped up while the adults conversed. My cousin favoured cooperative play, and we would challenge ourselves by fighting the bots on maximum difficulty and aggression.

  • In subsequent years, I would come to own a GameCube of my own and beat Agent Under Fire‘s campaign for myself. I occasionally still partake in the multiplayer with maxed-out bots for old time’s sake, and nothing gives more hilarity than squaring off against the Griffin clone on Town. Back in the campaign, I enter Griffin’s office to find him dead, and confront the Griffin Clone, who requires a full magazine of dart gun rounds to take out. Once Bond collects information from Griffin’s computer, it’s time to leave the embassy by taking the elevator back to the main floor and simply walk out the front door.

  • The mission at Malprave’s Swiss headquarters sees Bond pose as a journalist, but his cover is blown shortly after, and he is sealed in the reception area. The mission’s title, “Cold Reception”, is a play on words: the reception is unfriendly, and the setting is chilly, so this becomes a bit of a double entendre of sorts, which the James Bond franchise is known for. Once Bond is sealed in, hitting a switch on the desks will open a side passage that allows the mission to progress. The key here is to hit the switch on the desk to the right of Malprave’s portrait: the others will sound an alarm. Time is limited, so players should keep an eye on the clock.

  • After the classic espionage manoeuvre of photographing classified blueprints, Bond sneaks into a server room and downloads Malprave’s data for analysis before escaping. Agent Under Fire‘s game mechanics haven’t really changed: twenty years later, games like The Division still have similar objectives, and while the modes have changed (ISAC replaces the Q-decryptor and Q-remote), the end results are the same. Here, I’ve picked up the SPAS-12, the Frenesi in-game. It’s a pump-action shotgun that excels in close quarters, although it is limited by a low firing rate. The multiplayer incarnation has an alternate fire mode that allows it to fire in a semi-automatic fashion, sacrificing damage for the ability to make quick follow-up shots.

  • At Agent Under Fire‘s halfway point, Bond fends off terrorists attacking the British Embassy in Bucharest. This mission was provided in the demo version of Agent Under Fire back at the local toy stores back in the day, and I vividly remember dying after walking into the path of a sniper’s laser sights every time a controller freed up. This mission has the same aesthetic as that of Nightfire‘s second mission, requiring that players fight their way through a relatively classy setting. With the P2K, I ended up using manual fire to carefully place my shots and aim for the head: headshots are a one-hit-kill, and allow one to pick off enemies with relative ease. Body shots are highly ineffectual even on low difficulties, and although the manual aim (the precursor to today’s ADS mechanics) was tricky, when things connect, it allows one to save on ammunition.

  • I’ve never been much of a marksman on the console, and so, when the opportunity presented itself, I immediately picked a KS-57 off a terrorist. The KS-57 (AK-47) is an iconic assault rifle, but in Agent Under Fire, it’s a relatively weak weapon with improved accuracy and stopping power compared to the submachine guns, but is otherwise eclipsed by other assault rifles. Here, I enter a bathroom with a suggestive hologram, concealing a secret entrance that opens into the next area. Fanservice has never really been a thing in the games that I prefer playing, and having seen what contemporary graphics are capable of now, moments such as these are absolutely tame compared to what’s possible nowadays.

  • After reaching the rooftops, Bond rappels over into the next building with the Q-claw, rescues the embassy’s staff from the terrorists and enters the building’s basement, where he confronts the Jackal. The first time I fought the Jackal, I was unaware of how the game’s mechanics worked and died instantly. Later, I realised that the Jackal doesn’t actually take damage, but instead, retreats on the catwalk to a different position after taking enough fire, and eventually will fall after trying to fire on Bond from above a ventilation fan. The Jackal is armed with the Windsor FSU-4 (basically the Colt M16A2 with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher), and in the mission, the Windsor Viper (Colt Anaconda) can be used, as well.

  • With the Jackal defeated, the last step of the mission is to destroy an AH-64 attack helicopter. Agent Under Fire makes it easy for Bond to do so: there’s four mounted machine guns on the roof, and while their ammunition is limited, empty the boxes on two of those guns will do significant damage to the attack helicopter, to the point where a few magazines’ worth of fire from the FSU-4 will destroy it. For folks looking for a shoulder-fired solution, there’s also an MRL-22 rocket launcher and extra rockets lying around. It goes without saying that one should give plenty of space between themselves and the attack helicopter if opting for the MRL-22 approach: the splash damage is very much lethal to Bond.

  • While the Jackal had been carrying a data chip, the terrorists manage to extract it, and Bond heads off in hot pursuit in his iconic DB5. The DB5 is equipped with the same capabilities and equipment as the Z8, so operating it is no problem. Like Hong Kong, Bucharest’s streets offer players with a degree of freedom in how they wish to go about reaching their target, and these segments of the game handled very smoothly. With my unlimited missiles, I had no trouble recovering the data chip, but after the DB5 is totalled following a daring jump over a canal, Bond switches over to a tank in a manner reminiscent of GoldenEye.

  • The tank segment of the mission is a rail shooter, which makes no sense considering that Bond is also the one operating the tank: this tank resembles the Russian T-90, and in-game, is equipped with a MGF-34 main cannon, as well as a minigun. I imagine the weapons were named and chosen purely for cool factor: the real T-90 is armed with the 2A46 120mm smoothbore cannon and a 12.7 mm Kord HMG, whereas here, it looks like it’s got an M134, which is an American weapon and therefore would not be equipped on a Russian tank. While the mission itself isn’t logical, it’s also a fun ride through Bucharest as Bond tears apart hordes of Malprave’s forces.

  • In 2001 and 2002 FAQs, writers wondered why the splash damage from the tank’s main cannon was so minimal despite the weapon working well against vehicles. Per my remarks in Rogue Agent, since it’s been two decades since then, I doubt that reaching out to the FAQ writers would be effectual, but the answer is simple: the MGF-34 is firing kinetic penetrators rather than HE rounds. I understand that at the time, gamers assumed that tanks would always fire high explosive shells owing to how developers intended tanks to really be used in single-player campaigns and therefore, didn’t need balance. In today’s games, things have become rather more sophisticated, and different rounds are implemented to have different functions.

  • The data chip that Bond finds takes him to an oil drilling platform in the South China Sea as he pursues Bloch. Agent Under Fire marks the first time I’ve fought on an oil rig, and I admit that this mission was masterfully designed: Bond has the option of charging in loud, using a side passage to stealthily reach a mounted 50 calibre gun, or sneak closer to the side railing and take out the sniper, then seize the sniper for himself. I went the route of the mounted gun, and after decimating everything, including an attack helicopter, I proceeded across the now-quiet deck with the Calypso submachine gun in hand. The Calypso P750 is based off the Calico M960, whose unique helical magazine allows for a very high ammunition capacity. In-game, its high RPM makes it an excellent close quarters weapon.

  • The second half of the mission entails climbing progressively higher in the oil rig. Bond begins in the pump room and must use the Q-jet, as well as a pumpjack, to escape. Enemies begin dropping the FSU-4, and while it’s been fun to use the Calypso, the FSU-4 is better suited for long range combat. A few snipers can also be found, and they’ll whittle players down very quickly if not dealt with. Climbing the ladders to higher platforms, Bond can use the Q-remote to drop enemy snipers without trouble, and an MRL-22 rocket launcher can be found, allowing one to drive off the attack helicopter that shows up, if need be.

  • Forbidden Depths is the last of the rail shooting missions, and Bond is equipped with both the pump action shotgun and RPK. Beginning with an absurd amount of RPK ammunition means that players shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with the enemy forces. The mission is one lengthy tram ride through the tunnels to Malprave’s underwater cloning lab: Agent Under Fire really took the idea of an elaborate lair to new heights, and the cloning lab is an example where the designers were really free to build levels as they appeared in their imaginations.

  • The only other Bond game with such imaginative environments was 2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, which took things even further. While racing through the underwater tunnels, Bloch eventually joins Bond and drops mines that must be shot at to avoid damage. The trams will eventually reach a terminal that begins sinking into the lava below, necessitating use of a camera-guided rocket launcher to stop. With this rollercoaster-like mission over, Bond’s finally reached the underwater base. This is the only mission where players will have a chance to use the PS100 and the UGW.

  • The exotic components in Malprave’s cloning lab has a distinctly sci-fi feel to it: simpler graphics back in the day meant that increasingly creative means were used to convey a high-tech asthetic, and games have come a very long way since then. Today, games like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and even Division 2 do a more realistic presentation of what ultra-sophisticated labs would look like. Here, as I fight through the research labs, I wield the PS100, a personal defense weapon modelled on the P90. The PS100 is the best weapon in the submachine gun category: while sporting a smaller magazine than the Calypso, it is more accurate and makes short work of enemies.

  • Once Bond’s through sabotaging Malprave’s cloning facility, it’s time to beat a hasty exit: Bond’s deactivate pressure stablisation and tempreature regulators, causing the base to go critical. I’ve picked up the UGW here: this assault rifle is the second best in the game, dealing reasonable damage and mounting zoom optics that allow for medium range combat. The UGW is based on the Steyr AUG A1 with the Swarovski optic, and here, I fight my way through the submarine pen en route to my exfil. Blowing up enemy lairs has long been a staple of James Bond movies and games alike, and in this area, Agent Under Fire delivers.

  • Once the underwater cloning lab is destroyed, Bond returns to a British carrier on the Mediterranean Sea and clears it of Malprave’s forces: it is here that Bond learns what Malprave’s plans were. While it’s fun to fight on an aircraft carrier (I would not do so again until 2010’s Crysis), the story in Agent Under Fire definitely left something to be desired, resembling a hastily-written Bond fanfiction whose goal was to incorporate as many iconic Bond experiences as possible at the expense of coherence. Malprave’s plot is implausible as it is ludicrous. Nightfire completely improves on things, sporting a superior, cohesive and engaging (if still familiar) story that made every mission’s contribution to the campaign more obvious.

  • After reaching the deck and reluctantly freeing a member of the crew, Bond heads off to rescue Nightshade again. This final segment requires caution, since she’s surrounded by depth charges that will explode should anything hit them, sending players back to the last checkpoint. Agent Under Fire utilises a lives system: players have only have two attempts to clear a mission before running out of lives, after which they would need to start over from the beginning. In the end, Bond is able to save Nightshade and stop the clones of the world leader from getting out by shooting down a helicoper they’re in. The British carrier has 50-calibre machine guns on deck, and unlike the 7.62 mm mounted guns, the 50-calibre guns do not run out of ammunition.

  • As evening sets over the Swiss Alps, I begin the final mission, dubbed “Evil Summit”. The biggest challenge about the first area are the snipers, and fortunately, off in a storage room, players can grab their own SSR-4000 for some counter-sniping. After acquiring the program to unlock the access way, hordes of Malprave’s soldiers will flood the platform. They’re armed with the Koffler and Stock D17, which is based on the Heckler and Koch G11 caseless rifle. The D17 is the single best weapon in the game, with a high RPM, accuracy and magazine capacity.

  • Upon picking up the D17, there’s no real reason to use any other weapon. Having the D17 makes this last segment mangeable: the goal is to rescue all of the captured world leaders. After clearing the central control room, Bond must enter four missile silos and rescue the remaining leaders, who will see themselves out. Once this is done, all that’s left is to fight Nigel Bloch. While Bond appeared to have killed him in an earlier mission, it turns out this was his clone. The fight against Bloch plays out similarly to the fight against the Jackal: Bloch is technically invincible and upon taknig enough fire, will simply move to a next area.

  • After pursuing Bloch through a ventilation system, Bond picks up a spare MRL-22 and uses this to defeat Bloch in a scripted sequence, bringing the game to an end. Because of how boss fights are written in Agent Under Fire, I found them to be quite unsatisfying. However, for the most part, Agent Under Fire is a solid game that demonstrated what was possible on a sixth generation console, and the sequel, Nightfire, would return as a refined, polished version of Agent Under Fire.

Indeed, Agent Under Fire would receive a sequel not a year later in Nightfire: using polished concepts from Agent Under Fire, Nightfire proved to be an improvement over its predecessor in every way. The balance of gadget usage and sure aim was further polished, and the game retained a balance of on-foot missions and vehicular segments. However, the story was superbly-written, this time around, and the Nightfire even had James Bond with Pierce Brosnan’s likeness. The learnings of Agent Under Fire were evidently applied to Nightfire, and in this way, Agent Under Fire might be seen as a proof-of-concept, using the Id Tech 3 engine to explore different mechanics. The mish-mash of concepts, while feeling distinctly disjointed in Agent Under Fire, still worked very smoothly. The gunplay remains impressive, and alternate fire modes allow some weapons to be more versatile. Vehicular segments handled well. With gameplay concepts proven to be viable, Nightfire was therefore able to incorporate a better written story, superior visuals, stronger voice acting and a more iconic soundtrack into its experience. Consequently, while perhaps not the most imaginative or memorable James Bond title, Agent Under Fire nonetheless remains an enjoyable experience for its gameplay and aesthetics: the story doesn’t really make much sense, but it does give players a chance to visit a wide range of locales, from Hong Kong and Bucharest, to a classic underwater lair and the Swiss Alps, all the while doing classic James Bond stuff. Furthermore, while the campaign is quite short, Agent Under Fire features one of the best multiplayers ever to grace a James Bond game, and replaying the campaign missions for high scores will allow players to unlock improved gear, as well as more multiplayer options. Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer is a work of art, worthy of a separate discussion, and even now, provided one has a few extra controllers available, one can still invite some mates over for some classic, 2001-style TDM hailing back to a time where games didn’t need an internet connection or lootboxes for fun to be had.

Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou.: Review and Reflections After Three

“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” –Sam Keen

After his kokuhaku is shot down by supervisor and coworker Airi Gotō, Yoshida wanders off into the night after downing a few too many drinks, and encounters a high school girl under a lamp post. She introduces herself as Sayu Ogiwara and makes him a proposal: in exchange for letting her crash at his place, she’ll boff him. Shocked, Yoshida immediately declines, but allows her to stay anyways. The next morning, he learns that Sayu has made him miso soup, claiming that he’d been talking in his sleep. With the effects of the alcohol gone, Yoshida wonders what to do next, since Sayu is a runaway from Hokkaido who’d been going from place to place, trading her body for a place to stay. Worried about Sayu, he reluctantly lets her stay with him until she can go back home, on the condition that she help him with household tasks and not make any advances on him. Yoshida’s coworker, Hashimoto, hears about this situation and promises to keep quiet about it. At work, junior Yuzuha Mishima’s inexperience causes a project to go off schedule, and Yoshida sticks around to help her rectify her mistakes. She repeats a rumour floating around Yoshida, wonder if he’s got a girlfriend now that he’s looking well-kept. As a result of working overtime, Yoshida decides to pick up a mobile phone for Sayu, and explains that it’s to help them keep in touch should anything arise. Later, after spotting Yoshida with Yuzuha, Sayu becomes jealous and runs off. She coincidentally runs into Yuzuha, who offers her some advice before Yoshida arrives to bring her home. Sayu tries to seduce Yoshida again, wondering why he’s been so kind to her, and he explains that ever since she’s arrived, his life’s become more colourful, making him look forwards to coming home each day. Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou., or Higehiro for brevity, has been a very curious series insofar: its premise was certainly attention-grabbing, and as Yoshida is quick to comment, opens the floor for disaster if not handled properly.

While Higehiro appears to be walking a tightrope with its content, the series immediately sets about conveying a story of emotional closeness over physicality: Yoshida immediately spots this about Sayu, and openly states that he’s into older, well-endowed women. He rebuffs Sayu for even considering seducing him, and constantly warns her not to do so. At the same time, he treats Sayu kindly as a result of his own nature; at work, Yoshida always picks up after the messes his coworkers leave behind in addition to getting his own work done. Yoshida is someone who wants what’s best for those around him, even if there’s a cost to him, and as a result, his actions for Sayu are strictly that of a friend’s. Indeed, Yoshida is an admirable character, although his manner means that, similar to myself, he’s not attuned to what’s around him. Yoshida is someone who knows what he wants and is confident in stepping up to the challenge, but when things blindside him, he’s unable to regroup. This makes his character immediately relatable, and while he certainly doesn’t see Sayu as a love interest, he does come to greatly value the warmth and companionship that Sayu brings into his life. In this area, Higehiro excels; Sayu seems to represent what most anime would do given such a premise, and then in the opposite corner, Yoshida represents what any reasonable person would go when placed in such a scenario. Where the two opposing approaches clash is something that Higehiro presents as a part of the journey, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes poignant, and sometimes humourous. I am therefore pleased with how the series has chosen to handle a most unlikely meeting and its consequences, as the story is moving in a direction that creates a very pleasant sense amongst viewers: Sayu is in a better place and can take the first step towards her recovery, while Yoshida now has something in his life to look forwards to beyond his work, and as a result of Sayu entering his life, Yoshida will undergo change that will help him to move on from his failed kokuhaku.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Higehiro‘s opening begins in a manner I’ve bore witness to: Yoshida is a hardworking and successful individual, but lacks luck in his love live. After working up the courage to make a kokuhaku to his senior and supervisor, Airi, he is shot down in a most painful manner. Unlike Yoshida, however, I tend to drown my sorrows in a good book or game – my acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes are less effective than that of the average person’s, and since I glow in the dark after drinking a few, I choose not to drink at all if I can help it. I joke to my peers that my weak enzymes mean that my sorrows have learned to swim. Further to this, unlike Yoshida, who runs into Sayu after getting wasted, I’d previously slept things off and woke up the next day with the resolve of bettering myself.

  • If Yoshida’s life had run the same way as mine, however, there’d be no Higehiro, and as such, we’ll allow highly improbable events to run their course to accommodate the story. Almost immediately after Yoshida and Sayu return to his apartment, Sayu attempts to get the party started, only for Yoshida to fall asleep immediately and groggily mumble that he’d totally be down for some miso soup. The next morning, Yoshida is shocked to find a high school girl in his apartment: he’d been so drunk he’d had no recollection of anything, and Sayu takes the time to explain what had happened the previous night.

  • Things thus get to an awkward start, since Yoshida is at a loss for what to do next after hearing Sayu’s story. However, her miso soup proves to be excellent, and despite entering Higehiro with no a priori knowledge, that Yoshida takes a liking to Sayu’s soup foreshadows what will happen next. It sounds like despite his physical attraction to Airi, Yoshida had also desired a deeper connection to her. Thus, when Sayu whips up the same miso soup he’d expect Airi to make, Higehiro suggests that despite a rough start, Sayu and Yoshida will develop the sort of emotional connection that the latter had most wanted from a relationship. This is what I seek from a relationship – I wish most to be depended on, reliable and there for someone at all times.

  • In the absence of a partner, I work hard for those around me so I can pursue my one great love, of giving back. While Higehiro is very much about the emotional aspects of a relationship, Sayu has very little understanding of this and initially, believes that her only way of repaying Yoshida’s kindness is with her body. She comments that she’s got very nice figure for someone of her age and would have no objections to Yoshida seeing if she’s comparable to Airi. Naturally, Yoshida declines to comment and settles on a solution – as long as she doesn’t try anything funny with him, he’ll allow her to stay while they determine what Sayu’s next steps are.

  • At the office, Yoshida seeks counsel from Hashimoto, his coworker and friend: unlike the serious Yoshida, Hashimoto has a more laid-back personality, although he is every bit as competent and efficient as Yoshida is. Yoshida trusts Hashimoto a great deal – he’s the first person Yoshida gripes to after losing Airi, and he confides in Hashimoto about the whole Sayu situation. Hashimoto suggests keeping quiet for now and seeing what he can do to get Sayu back home to Hokkaido. Unfortunately for Yoshida, Sayu’s mere presence induces a slight change in him: he begins shaving regularly, and his female coworkers notice that his shirts are now ironed. They suggest that Yoshida must’ve found a girlfriend of sorts, which could become problematic if the truth got out.

  • For me, I shave every morning, even on weekends, mainly because I hate the feeling of facial hair, and I iron my own shirts and pants. In Yoshida’s position, I imagine even the most eagle-eyed individual wouldn’t be able to notice the difference, since I tend to have a pretty good poker face about such things. After noticing that Sayu’s posture has worsened, he decides to get her a futon. Sayu is perplexed by Yoshida’s kindness: previously, to keep the men who’d taken her in happy, she put on a fake smile and offered her body as payment for lodging, but with Yoshida, she cannot see why he’s doing this for her without expecting something in return. Sayu’s reaction to Yoshida’s looking out for her is actually a saddening one, suggesting that despite her friendly personality and dazzling smile, she’s got a bit of emotional baggage coming in.

  • Consequently, Higehiro would do well to show how kindness and openness is a powerful tool on the path to healing. The ten-year gap between Sayu and Yoshida means that Yoshida sees Sayu as a child. He treats her as a teacher might a troublesome student, going the extra mile to keep an eye on her and as often as he can spare them so she can get back on her feet. He picks up moisturiser for her here and contemplates getting her a phone so he can reach her in event of emergencies, but she declines the phone, feeling it to be a burden and also fearing it will put her in further debt with Yoshida.

  • Because of Sayu’s beliefs about repaying debts and the fact that Yoshida can see through her fake smiles, I expect that Higehiro will eventually cover how Yoshida will begin helping Sayu to understand that debts incurred between individuals can and should be dealt with by way of returning favours, rather than through sex. This really speaks volumes to how rough Sayu’s had it, and even without her explaining what had led her to run away from home, it’s clear that she’s made a series of poor decisions. Yoshida, however, indicates that running away shows that she’s probably spoiled – someone with the resilience and faculties to deal with situations when things don’t go as one would hope wouldn’t run away, but seek to solve their problems. However, given what Sayu’s gone through, being with Yoshida is something I imagine will kick start her recovery: despite all she’s done and gone through, Sayu’s still kind at heart.

  • Yoshida’s junior, Yuzuna, is the typical ditz who barely manages to get by, but despite her comparatively poor work ethic, she respects Yoshida and is competent enough when the moment calls for it. After Yuzuna submits a build riddled with bugs before a release, Yoshida makes her stay after hours to iron out the issues. In exchange, he buys her dinner from a nearby convenience store. While Yoshida works for an IT company, and he and Yuzuna are seen working with an IDE, it’s hard to pin down whether they’re in IT or software – any software company using Agile will likely have a CD/CI system and QA teams, so that things are pushed and tested thoroughly before reaching customer hands. Fortunately, how software companies work do not figure in Higehiro, and I’ll accept that their work is similar enough to mine, but inconsistencies will not impact overall thematic elements for me.

  • After returning home late from work, Yoshida finds that Sayu’s prepared dinner for him. While Sayu feigns anger at his coming home late, she reveals that she’s not actually mad at him, and finds his reactions amusing. He promises to eat in the morning, and here, I note that Yoshida’s on the money when he notes that Sayu is more like a child than a peer, naïve in the ways of the world, and also cute in her own right.

  • Initially, I thought this moment, of Airi and Yoshida having dinner together, was a flashback, but it turns out that Airi is curious to know how Yoshida turned around so quickly. The truth would violate several laws, and Yoshida notes that nothing interesting had happened. In exchange for having answered her questions, Airi allows Yoshida to ask her any one question, and Yoshida immediately asks what Airi’s bust size is. Airi consents to answer, revealing that in this area, Sayu’s completely beat.

  • After Yoshida gives Sayu a phone, the two exchange contact information. For Sayu, this is a symbolic moment, indicating a fresh start and a chance to learn things anew (such as how to properly express gratitude). While Sayu can come across as a spoiled brat who is ignorant in the way of the world at times, Higehiro has done an excellent job with the characters insofar, and I find everyone likeable, respectable enough for me to hope that they make those critical discoveries that will help them along.

  • Sayu begins feeling uneasy with the arrangement she has with Yoshida: whereas previously, men had immediately jumped on the “benefits” piece of such an arrangement, Yoshida’s done nothing of the sort, and instead, simply has her keep busy around the house while he’s at work. Her insecurities kick in here, and she wonders if Yoshida will soon see her hit the bricks if nothing should happen. This is, of course, contrary to the sort of person Yoshida is, but it also says a great deal about how much Sayu’s gone through. At the third episode’s beginning, there’s a flashback (or perhaps a dream) in which an unknown individual is getting it on with Sayu, but Sayu’s eyes are completely lifeless.

  • While Yoshida’s other coworkers have no qualms about the unexpected changes in his style, Yuzuha is taking exception to all of the rumours, and it’s clear that she’s smitten with him. Of course, Yoshida sees Yuzuha as an unreliable but well-meaning junior who needs more supervision, seemingly oblivious to her feelings. Of course, this infuriates Yuzuha, who kicks Yoshida in frustration. Yuzuha is voiced by Kaori Ishihara, whom I know best as Rinne no Lagrange‘s Madoka Kyono and The World in Colours‘ Hitomi Tsukishiro.

  • As thanks for having bailed her out again, Yuzuha invites Yoshida out for a movie. However, while out and about, Sayu spots Yoshida with Yuzuha. Consumed with jealousy, she runs off – while Sayu had initially thought that Yoshida was at most, an acquaintance and therefore wouldn’t be attached to him, as she had with the previous men she’d stayed with before they’d evicted her, the sight of Yoshida with Yuzuha elicits a different response.

  • Yuzuha meeting Sayu is pure coincidence, and her words to Sayu suggest that she should step her game up. Yoshida catches up soon after, and it was a bit of a tense moment, as I wondered whether or not things could get out of hand here. However, I imagine that Yuzuha sees the relationship between Sayu and Yoshida as that of family: she doesn’t ask questions at all or even suspects anything, so I conclude that at least, for the time being, nothing crazy will happen. It is conceivable that the truth could get out towards the end of the season, but whether or not that happens will be a bridge to cross once we actually get there.

  • Sayu’s actions can therefore be thought of as a manifestation of her own lack of confidence and insecurities. She’s desperate to know why Yoshida seems resilient to her advances, but eventually stands down and explains that this is how she came to scratch a living after running away from home. There’s a desperation in her voice, and in this moment, Yoshida understands where Sayu’s coming from.

  • Yoshida’s hugging Sayu is more an act of compassion more than anything: with this embrace, he’s saying that he gets where Sayu is coming from. With this being said, he’s not in love with her, and that certain acts are reserved only for people he’s genuinely in love with. With this in mind, assuming that Higehiro will go with a route that resembles reality, I would think that the best possible end goal for this season would be to eventually see Sayu return home and make amends, then get her life in order. Once this is resolved, I’d be okay with whatever ending the author goes with, as emotional closure would’ve been achieved.

  • Because Yoshida is resolute and strong-willed, the same traits that allow him to succeed at his job allows him to convince Sayu that her advances are probably not coming from the right place. She subsequently realises that Yoshida is as truthful as can be about what he thinks of her: Yoshida’s life has become much more pleasant, as he’s able to look forwards to something beyond work. Yoshida’s remarks speak to the idea of appreciating the ordinary, and that in a world that is as hectic as we know it, knowing that one can come home to a quiet conversation and meal is very reassuring indeed.

  • Realising that she can be true to herself, Sayu notes that while she and Yoshida might be lonely and pathetic, they’re now lonely and pathetic together. Even in spite of himself, Yoshida concedes that Sayu’s real smiles are cute. With this, my talk on Higehiro after three draws to a close. Ever since I’d read about the premise, I’d been curious to see how this one turned out, and thus far, I am not disappointed. With this post in the books, I intend to write about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo at the halfway point and may do the same with 86 EIGHTY-SIX. In the meantime, it’s time to go file my taxes, hang out with some mates via ZOOM (or whichever tool of their choice is), and then kick off my Modern Warfare 2: Remastered experience.

As I am a complete novice where Higehiro is concerned, I have no idea as to what will happen next. However, what Higehiro has done in its first three episodes is establish that this is going to be a story about understanding one another, the idea that togetherness is more about the mental aspects than the physical, and that unexpected events in life oftentimes help people to contemplate their past stumbles and come out stronger for it. Together with an immensely likeable cast, Higehiro has proven to be remarkably entertaining and encouraging. Rather than go down a slippery slope, Higehiro instead chooses to explore the human side of relationships, of things like trust, conflict resolution and honesty: having established that Yoshida has integrity, viewers can be reasonably assured that Higehiro will not likely devolve into crude jokes, and instead, draw humour from the interactions between a man and high school girl as they strive to make their current arrangement work. In doing so, both Yoshida and Sayu are expected to learn more about one another, as well as themselves: this is about all I can say with reasonable confidence with what I’ve seen insofar, and I’ve got no idea of where Higehiro actually ends up going beyond my own guesses. With this being said, as long as Higehiro stays true to the route it’s already established, this could prove to be an entertaining series with interesting insight as to what romance and relationships entail, well beyond the physical components. As such, I’m looking forwards to what happens next in Higehiro; this setup is as every bit as outlandish as what was seen in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, but three episodes in, Yoshida has proven to be a much more reliable and relatable male lead than Kazuya Kinoshita, whose indecisiveness and weak will was to that series’ detriment. Of course, my thoughts on Kanojo, Okarishimasu will be a story for another time.