The Infinite Zenith

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

Metro Exodus: Crossing the Volga by Winter

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.” –Andrew Wyeth

After the events of Metro: Last Light, Artyom grows weary of the infighting amongst the Metro. Abandoning the Spartan Order, he makes frequent excursions to the irradiated surface to listen for signs of communication from the outside world using a radio. His wife, Anna, and her father, Colonel Miller, grow tired of his insistence. When Artyom is captured by Hansa soldiers on one excursion and Anna is captured, Artyom sets off to rescue her and in the process, manages to destroy a radio jammer, revealing that humanity had not gone extinct. The two manage to capture a Hansa train and take it out of Moscow with the Spartan Order, knowing that Hansa will execute them for discovering the truth. As it turns out, during the war, the Russian government decided to jam transmission in Moscow and feign destruction to stop the destruction. After reaching a bridge crossing the Volga River, Artyom disembarks in search of a way to lower the bridge across. He encounters religious fanatics, and rescues a mother and daughter. After Artyom secures a train car and speaking with the religious leader, they cross the Volga River and head towards the Mount Yamantau complex, where radio transmissions suggest to Miller that the government remnants may be taking refuge. This is Metro Exodus after its first quarter: while the game begins conventionally, with Artyom wandering through the ruins of Moscow and its cavernous metro system, after Artyom frees Anna from Hansa captivity and steals a train, Metro Exodus brings players to quasi-open world. This represents the first time where players are free to explore a space to the extent that Metro had envisioned when the Metro: Last Light ten-minute demo was released six years previously; a far cry from the claustrophobic tunnels and narrow streets of Moscow, the level of freedom and opportunity to explored a landscape dotted with ruins makes Metro Exodus a first in the series, providing players with a refreshing new experience.

Besides an increased degree of freedom, Metro Exodus also differs from its predecessors in that the old inventory system has been given a dramatic overhaul. Pre-war grade bullets no longer act as a currency, and ammunition found throughout the game now is merely ammunition. The inventory management system has been expanded so players can craft resources depending on necessity, making use of metal scraps and chemicals to create various items. Vital elements such as filters and medical kits, plus reserve ammunition for the Tikhar pneumatic rifle and throwing knives can be crafted on the fly. Dedicated workbenches allow for repair of damaged gear, cleaning of dirtied weapons and crafting of powerful items (ammunition and explosives), but they are much rarer. The more involved inventory management system comes into play with a more flexible weapons attachment and modification system: while Metro Exodus is like its predecessors in having weapons modifications, it also provides the means to change out weapons in the field, allowing players to very quickly customise their weapons to fit whatever their needs are. The basic revolver, for instance, is a powerful close quarters weapon, but with a stock, long barrel and optics, becomes a makeshift sniper rifle. The plethora of options in Metro Exodus far exceeds those of its predecessors, and the game appears to have finally reached the level of openness that previous titles strove to achieve, striking a balance between linear, action packed segments and the opportunity to explore the ruins and quiet of the Russian countryside.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Moscow looks more or less the same as it did in previous Metro titles, and consequently, while I made my way through Metro Exodus‘ first section, there aren’t many screenshots that were particularly noteworthy. These sections are very linear, although players still have the option of using stealth and non-lethal take-downs on the Hanza soldiers. The benefits of this option is two-fold: besides saving ammunition and preventing unnecessary combat, it also helps Artyom’s karmic balance positive.

  • After stealing a train from Hanza, Artyom and his fellow Spartans end up at Zavodskoy Rayon, on the outskirts of Saratov some seven hundred kilometers away from Moscow. Here, the Volga reaches a width of three kilometres in width, and there are indeed small islands that dot the river’s main banks. By winter, the Volga is covered in ice and snow, reminiscent of the Volga map of Battlefield 1. As the first truly open area in Metro Exodus, players will have a chance to explore, but shortly after disembarking from the train, Artyom follows Anna to a large church on an island.

  • In this church, the goal is to reach the tower and scout around. The fanatics will be hostile towards Artyom and shoot him on sight, but they aren’t the enemy, and a stealth approach will be preferred. I traditionally map my key bindings so that the knockout key is easier to reach than the kill key so I don’t accidentally use lethal force on an enemy. Upon ascending the tower, Artyom will find a mother and her daughter, whom he rescues and brings back to the train.

  • With the scouting done, Artyom can take a boat to traverse the frigid waters of the Volga. Rowing the boat is extremely slow, so I fell back on using the boat to only cross bodies of water and then leg it where possible. By day, the number of monsters is fewer, and visibility is better, but there still are the shrimps of old. The Kalashnikov I have here is a decent enough all-around weapon for combat with both monsters and human foes, and in the beginning, I equipped it with the suppressed barrel and red dot sight. The basic 20-round magazine is not suited for sustained combat at close range.

  • Climbing to the top of a tower to meet a local named Krest, who despises the fanatics and wishes to lend his mechanical skills, I am afforded with a stunning view of the Volga region. The clouds are very lifelike, matching the quality of those seen in the Frostbite Engine. Compared to the narrow confines of the tunnels and Moscow streets of earlier titles, Metro Exodus offers true open areas for players to explore, and by day, the reduced number of mutant wildlife means it’s possible to truly take in the scenery. On the matter of taking in the moment and enjoying things, I’m finally done with constructing the new furniture and now have a dual-monitor setup, plus additional space for a mousepad. When August started, I built a new desk and closet wardrobe: the latter was tricky and took an entire day to assemble. After stopping for a delicious lunch of fish and chips with both potato and yam fries, I then worked to finish the drawer, enjoyed some cheesecake and Roobios tea and then played through Metro Exodus.

  • The revolver is one of the most enduring and reliable weapons of Metro, and in Metro Exodus, it begins its journey with a meagre three-round capacity. Depending on its setup, it can be a dependable backup weapon for close quarters stealth engagements or even a mid-range solution that allows Artyom to put rounds downrange more accurately than the Kalashnikov. I typically carried a Kalashnikov for its all around versatility and then swapped out weapons as I needed, using the revolver for open areas and switching to the Ashot shotgun for close quarters engagements. Despite its commonality and simple design, it packs a punch and is well-suited for dealing with mutants.

  • The Bastard Submachine Gun also makes a return, and unlike its Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light counterparts, is now chambered for the revolve ammunition rather than rifle ammunition. Performing more like a pistol-carbine in its base form, it can be upgraded to become a respectable weapon with a high rate of fire for close quarters engagements. However, it also burns through pistol ammunition quickly, and in general, the Ashot’s lower rate of fire is preferred because ammunition in Metro Exodus is even rarer than it was in its predecessors, so making each bullet count becomes even more important.

  • The low reliability of the Kalashnikov at range meant that for my part, I kept the revolver kitted out for intermediate-range combat. Metro Exodus has bandits camping at certain points in the map, and there’s no penalty for taking them out. However, after Artyom eliminates a certain number of bandits, the others will surrender. They stop being a threat at this point, although I will still knock them out for their supplies.

  • The wide open spaces of the Volga represent a first for the Metro series, and it was worth the time it took to climb to higher places and admire the scenery. Exploring the maps are also important: Nastya will ask Artyom to find her stuffed bear, a gift from her parents, and one can locate this at an abandoned chemical plant. There’s also a guitar hanging around: after freeing some fanatics from bandits, Artyom can retrieve it at his leisure.

  • Here, I wield the Tikhar pneumatic rifle, a custom-built weapon that fires steel balls at high speeds. When fully pressurised, the Tikhar can be devastating, although as it is fired, it becomes increasingly less effective. The initial tank cannot be overcharged, as it will leak, but at a pressure of anything past six, it is fairly effective, acting as a totally silent solution for dispatching enemies. Because ammunition can be crafted in the field, the Tikhar ensures Artyom will always have a ranged weapon to use.

  • Sunsets in the Volga are stunning, as every bit as impressive as the Volga map in Battlefield 1 was. It turns out that for all of the exploring I did in the Volga, however, I did not find several gear pieces that may have been helpful for later. One aspect of Metro Exodus that I am thoroughly enjoying is the well thought-out side-grade system: different gear pieces have different attributes, and since Artyom can only swap them out at workbenches, it becomes important to consider what scenarios one might encounter before picking gear. My goal moving through the Caspian will be to do more exploring for these pieces.

  • Once the mechanic is rescued, Artyom is tasked with retrieving a train car located in an abandoned factory that’s flooded. While I would normally prefer to complete story missions by day for their improved visibility, excitement meant that I chose to push forwards and visit the factory by night, with the invariable result that there were numerous mutants to fight off. I’ve never been fond of fighting mutants, since they attack via brute force and do not drop anything, so every confrontation translates to a net loss of resources.

  • The Ashot is the best weapon against mutants: the buckshot does massive damage and will deal with weaker enemies in one shot. While its default configuration only allows for a shot before reloading, it can be fitted with a double barrel. In this form, it is superb for dealing with mutants, and having gone through the process, I find that having plenty of shotgun shells is imperative if one prefers to play during the night hours, since the shotgun is the most effective means of melting through mutants.

  • In the flooded, derelict factory, stealth actually doesn’t really mean anything, but repeated confrontations with mutants left me desperately short of shells, forcing me to switch over to the Tikhar. By this point, I had found the sealed mechanism and could keep the weapon pressurised: it turns out that the Tikhar is effective against mutants, although it is still better to engage them from a medium distance. The weapon has a respectable firing rate and one will quickly burn through ammunition, plus lower the air pressure from firing quickly.

  • In the factory, Artyom will have a chance to use a trap and neutralise the giant mutant catfish that’s been stalking him throughout the Volga. Worshipped by the fanatics, the catfish actually is of some help to the player, as it will take out shrimps and other mutants. Careful timing is required to properly make use of this trap – if one can time it correctly, it will drop a massive weight onto the catfish that finishes it off. After finishing this segment, I was stuck trying to get the rail car out, only to realise that I needed to open a great gate before I could leave the facility.

  • While most players dislike the hitmarkers, I personally find them to be immensely useful to determine whether or not I hit my mark, and if so, whether or not it was a regular hit, headshot or killing shot. The hitmarkers of Metro: Last Light were not aesthetically pleasing, but in Metro Exodus, they are smaller and much more useful. Knowing what a shot did means I can plan ahead: seeing a kill marker is important, as it means I can stop firing on a target and shift my attention elsewhere. This feature is immensely valuable in Battlefield: since Battlefield 4 implemented context-sensitive hitmarkers, I’ve always used red to indicate a headshot and green to indicate a kill.

  • Because I was foolhardy enough to attempt the rail car mission during the hours of dark, I had to contend with the anomalies, which are floating balls of electricity that deal massive damage: an unfortunate mutant gets too close here and is ignited. There is no way to deal with these, and having not played the Metro: Last Light DLC, I’ve not seen these since Metro Redux 2033: the only way is to go around it and give it plenty of space.

  • The way back to the Spartans is fraught with dangers, including one section where one has to fight their way through a bandit camp. I ended up clearing the camp out after stealth failed, and made use of the Kalashnikov against the human opponents. While ineffective against mutants, carefully-placed rounds from the Kalashnikov are excellent for bandits. I ended up finding a thirty-round magazine and extended magazines for the weapon, plus a long barrel, allowing it to be turned into an RPK. While increasing its firepower and range, however, extended magazines and a long barrel also reduces its handling, lowering accuracy and increasing reload times.

  • I actually picked up Metro Exodus early in June during the Epic Sale: while I had intended to buy this for Steam, it became an Epic exclusive. My final decision was that, since the Epic sale put Metro Exodus as being less expensive than the Ace Combat 7 season pass, I would pick Metro Exodus up first. While folks have been unhappy with the exclusivity, my work with Epic and the Unreal Engine during graduate school meant I actually still had an account I could use. I updated my launcher, picked up the game for 28 CAD and started the party after finishing Valkyria Chronicles 4 in June.

  • With the train car secured, Artyom heads off to convince the fanatics to lower the bridge. While I equipped the Tikhar here, I ended up knocking out any and all opposition I encountered. Combined with my other actions earlier on, I managed to confront the fanatic leader, who reluctantly lets Artyom lower the bridge without further incident. I now enter the spring phase of Metro Exodus, and so far, I am very impressed with the game for introducing new settings that really change up the experience while at once, refining the core experience and gameplay.

Whereas the first two Metro titles were set in Moscow, moving Metro Exodus into the countryside pushes the series into a realm I’ve longed to explore. There is a great deal of intrigue in the remote wilderness of Russia, as well as surrounding abandoned structures. Previous titles were more limited in their setting, so the change of pace has allowed Metro Exodus to highlight the diversity of the Russian landscape, which remains one of the most remote and least densely populated places on Earth. As I made my way though the watery expanse of the Volga, I took the time to explore the map, finding some upgrades to my gear and even a small child’s teddy bear in the process. However, the open world presents new threats, and so, I took to exploring by day, where visibility was improved. After becoming more familiar with the crafting system and weapon customisation options, I felt comfortable in pushing onwards: after locating Anna and then stealing a train car, I saw Artyom push to the bridge, where he stealthily confronts the cult leader and persuades him to allow the train safe passage. Winter will give way to spring, and I am greatly looking forwards to seeing what Metro Exodus has in store as I press forwards into the latest instalment to a series I’ve come to greatly enjoy and respect.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Your Lie in April, A Journey in Vanquishing Past Dæmons and Discovering the Colour of Love

“Maybe there’s only a dark road ahead. But you still have to believe and keep going. Believe that the stars will light your path, even a little bit. Come on, let’s go on a journey!” –Kaori Miyazono

After his mother died, child pianist Kōsei Arima withdrew from competition and consigned himself to an ordinary life with his best friends, Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. However, when he encounters Kaori Miyazono and her wild, free-spirited violin performance, his world is flipped outside down: despite claiming to have developed a crush on Ryōta, Kaori hauls Kōsei to be her accompanist. Kōsei’s skill at the piano had decayed, and he suffers from an inability to hear his playing, causing his performance to suffer, but the won’t-take-no Kaori continues to push and encourage him, even forcibly signing Kōsei up for a competition. Spurred by her boundless energy, Kōsei gradually realises that irrespective of what had happened in the past with his mother, her spirit endures within him, and that for all of the bad moments, there were an equivalent number of treasured moments, as well. Kōsei’s return to piano also inspires Takeshi Aiza and Emi Igawa to step their game up: after seeing Kōsei’s phenomenal performances years previously, both sought to surpass him and reach the standard that they believed Kōsei had set. While Kōsei continues to suffer, constant support from Kaori and Hiroko Seto (a renowned pianist and friend of Kōsei’s mother) allows Kōsei to rediscover his style and express his gratitude through his music. While he does not progress in the competition, Takeshi and Emi realise the extent that he’s matured. Kōsei later agrees to be Kaori’s accompanist again, but she falls ill, leaving Kōsei to perform on his own. Through an emotional performance, Kōsei comes to terms with his mother’s decisions and is able to cast off the spectre haunting him. However, Kaori’s illness begins taking its toll on her, and Kōsei struggles with his growing feelings for Kaori and fear for her well-being, while at once agreeing to mentor Takeshi’s younger sister in piano. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is forced to deal with her own feelings for Kōsei: she dates a senior to take her mind off things, but her mind never strays far from Kōsei. An ailing Kaori decides to accept a highly experimental surgical procedure, gambling her life with the hope of playing alongside Kōsei one last time, but the operation is unsuccessful. She dies on the same day that Kōsei is set to compete, and midway through the competition, Kaori’s spirit provides Kōsei with encouragement. He puts his fullest effort and feeling into this song as a farewell of sorts for Kaori, and in the aftermath, Kaori’s parents leave Kōsei with a letter that reflected on her heartfelt enjoyment of their time together, as well as how she had been in love after all this time. Tsubaki catches up to Kōsei and reminds him that he’s not alone, promising to be with him from here on out. This is Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Kimiuso for brevity), which was adapted from Naoshi Arakawa’s manga as an anime that ran from October 2014 to March 2015, and over the course of its twenty-two episode run, viewers found a series that was profoundly moving and meaningful.

Using music and Kōsei’s initial inability to perform with a piano, Your Lie in April integrates multiple themes into its story. There are two central elements that stand out: Your Lie in April‘s first half deals with the idea that the dæmons one faces are largely self-created. Moreover, these spectres can only be solved by oneself, but encouragement and support from others is absolutely critical in starting this particular journey. Time and time again, Your Lie in April presents Saki, Kōsei’s mother, as a cold and unforgiving parent determined to craft Kōsei into a flawless pianist in her own image, fulfilling her own wish of becoming a pianist where she suffered illness and being so focused on this objective that she is willing to physically punish Kōsei for any mistake. Kōsei subsequently grew to resent this and wished Saki to die; when Saki’s illness finally overtook her, Kōsei was devastated and held himself accountable, feeling that his ill-will ultimately cost Saki her life. The resulting trauma manifests as Kōsei’s inability to hear himself play. When Kaori appears and begins forcing Kōsei out of his comfort zone, Kōsei is made to confront his past dæmons. Your Lie in April portrays this as a gradual journey, one that is filled with pain: Kōsei initially succumbs to his guilt when playing the piano and loses his composure, but undeterred, Kaori pushes him forwards anyways. As he begins to appreciate Kaori’s actions and willingness to stay with him, Kōsei begins to play the piano with more conviction and resolve, putting his feelings for her into each keystroke. By taking up piano once more and rediscovering what music meant to him, Kōsei also comes to see his mother from a different perspective. It turns out that Saki was not as cold and unfeeling as viewers are originally led to believe: between learning more about “Love’s Sorrow” and speaking with Hiroko, Kōsei discovers that Saki had always intended for him to grow into being a pianist, demanding the best from him so his fundamentals were strong enough for him to develop his own style. Kōsei recalls that there were cherished memories, as well, and ultimately, is able to come to terms with both the good and bad. With his past no longer haunting him as a result of Kaori’s inspiration and his own decision to do something for her sake, Kōsei is able to overcome his dæmons and return as a pianist.

Entering Your Lie in April‘s second half, the leading theme switches over to how contrasting personalities play an integral role in changing one’s world views, to the extent that one cannot help but fall in love with the agent that catalyses this change. When Kōsei starts his journey to rediscover piano, his world is devoid of colour and joy. Kōsei is content to live life out without taking charge, but a fateful meeting with Kaori throws his world into disarray. The juxtapositions between Kōsei and Kaori’s manner are apparent: whereas he is quiet and low key, Kaori is brash and expressive. The fantastic energy that Kaori brings to the table, manifesting from her desire to live life as fully as possible, is infectious, and a reluctant Kōsei slowly comes to enjoy the joy she brings into his life, even when Kaori will happily thrash Kōsei for any slights, imagined or otherwise. Not a day goes by without some sort of excitement, and Kōsei begins realising that there are things in the world to live for and work towards. His improvement is mirrored in his ability as a pianist: the more time he spends with Kaori, the more he experiences happiness, which translates to playing the piano with more emotion and intensity. The right individual and the right level of persistence ultimately is what breaks Kōsei out of his rut, and ultimately causes Kōsei to fall in love with her. While most stories are content to end here, with the idea that opposites in personality are able to offer one with a different perspective and help them grow, Your Lie in April cruelly cuts things short with Kaori’s illness. This additional factor suggests that nothing is to be taken for granted: the time Kōsei spent with Kaori is priceless beyond measure. Despite being so fleeting, its impacts were very tangible and genuine, showing that true love can exist in all forms and durations. During the short time they spend together, Kaori is glad to have had met Kōsei, who similarly is grateful that someone with such wild abandon could remain in his company and help him into the next, more colourful chapter of his life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Your Lie in April was airing, I was busy with graduate studies and therefore did not have time to watch the series. While I’d heard nothing but praise for the series, a full schedule precluded any chance to watch it while it was airing. However, after I finished watching Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s second season, I noticed that many familiar names (Risa Taneda, Ayane Sakura, Inori Minase, Saori Hayami and Ai Kayano) were present in the cast. Between the positive reception and half of GochiUsa‘s cast, I entered Your Lie in April intending to enjoy seeing the characters in a different role than the happy-go-lucky world that is GochiUsa.

  • What happened next should not come as a surprise: I went through Your Lie in April, enjoyed it thoroughly and found that Kōsei’s experiences were superbly written, challenging my views on love and pushing me towards introspection. Your Lie in April is as much of a journey of self-discovery as it is about falling in love, and openly gives the impression that both events are interconnected, dependent on the other. In other words, Kōsei falls in love with Kaori because she helps him accept his past, and his return to piano leads him to fall in love with Kaori.

  • Kaori is voiced by Risa Taneda (Rize Tedeza of GochiUsa and Aya Komichi of Kiniro Mosaic, to name a few). Here, Taneda presents Kaori as being superbly energetic, bold and rowdy, contrasting the shy, reserved manner of Rize and Aya. Kōsei is voiced by Natsuki Hanae, whom I know best for his roles in Nagi no Asukara as Hikari Sakishima and Aldnoah.Zero‘s very own Inaho Kaizuka. An all-star voice cast convinced me to check out Your Lie in April, but even just a few episodes in, it became apparent that Your Lie in April‘s cast was but one of its many strengths.

  • While I’ve opted to focus on Kōsei and Kaori for my own reflections, the supporting characters play a much greater role in giving weight to Kōsei and Kaori’s stories, far more than I’ve gone into detail in this post. Even early in the game, Kaori’s insistence on hanging with Kōsei suggests that she’s been longing to spend time with him, and while they get off to a rough start (with Kaori making her best effort to paste him into the ground with naught more than a recorder), Kaori’s positive energy means that Kōsei has little choice but to go along with her.

  • The artwork of Your Lie in April is of an exceptional quality: the anime was done by A-1 Pictures, who are known for their incredible series. Colours in Your Lie in April are especially vivid and like series before it, they often serve to tell the true story of how the characters are feeling in a given moment even when their dialogue is unclear or in contradiction with their feelings. Having been in the anime game for a shade over a decade now, I’ve come to count on visual metaphors in helping me read a moment – colour and lighting usually speaks volumes about things, being a typically reliable way of ascertaining how everyone is feeling in a given scene.

  • Particular detail is paid to concerts, with every key and cable of the piano animated as Kōsei performs on stage. His early performances are marred by a sense that he’s drowning in an ocean, and occasionally, the spectre of Saki appears to haunt him. Saki comes to represent Kōsei’s own guilt and regret: while Your Lie in April is no horror series, these manifestations are nonetheless terrifying in their own right and convey to viewers the horror and desolation that Kōsei experiences.

  • Kaori’s diving off a bridge into the river below is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of her free-spirited manner. I was originally intending to write about Your Lie in April during April, but a busy schedule precluded that. I’ve encountered considerable difficulty in putting a proper discussion of Your Lie in April together because this series had a very strong emotional impact and it was challenging to coherently explain what appeals make Your Lie in April a masterpiece.

  • While Kaori is ostensibly in love with Ryōta, Kōsei ends up spending a great deal of time with her as the two gear up for concerts and competitions. Kaori’s approach borders on the insane, and one of her most outrageous acts was to scatter sheet music in impossible quantities throughout locations that Kōsei frequents. However, in spite of all the fighting the two engage in, they also share quieter moments together, such as when they return to the school by night.

  • I’ve not featured too many moments in this reflection, but one of the aspects in Your Lie in April that stood out was the over-the-top degradation of facial features and animation at certain moments. These are deliberately utilised to convey a particular emotion, whether it be shock, frustration or even joy in a comedic context: of note is whenever Kaori believes Kōsei to be acting inappropriately, as seen in their first meeting. Like CLANNAD, the juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy is used to great effect in Your Lie in April, bringing the characters to life.

  • Takeshi and Emi are two accomplished pianists whose remarkable skill and devotion to piano can be traced back to being inspired by Kōsei’s playing. Both view Kōsei as a role model, and are also absolutely determined to best him, having failed time and time again previously, but when they encounter him and learn that he’s in no shape to compete, find themselves disappointed. As Your Lie in April progresses, their view of Kōsei shifts: he goes from being an unbeatable competitor to a fellow human being.

  • At his best, Kōsei is a masterful pianist known for his precision. Despite still being plagued by an inability to play all the way through, Kōsei’s recovery is marked by his resolve to continue performing, even if it means starting again from the beginning of a piece. I am no pianist, and my musical ability is nonexistent despite my having played the trumpet and clarinet back in middle school. As a result, I’ve opted not to discuss any of the technical elements behind the music in Your Lie in April: besides the area being outside the realm of my knowledge, the main messages in Your Lie in April are thankfully not dependent on musical theory.

  • The changes in Kōsei, and the resulting shift in the interactions he has with Takeshi and Emi are one of my favourite secondary stories in Your Lie in April, as they reinforce sense that Kōsei is maturing because of his time spent with Kaori. I recently watched the live-action adaptation of Your Lie in April and found it an equally enjoyable experience. With only the core narrative present, the live-action film is much more focused and concise, succeeding in delivering its emotional impact. I count the film to be a conference publication: short and succinct, while the anime is a thesis paper, with the time and space to explore more.

  • Where I live, there are no fireflies, but their symbolism is evident enough, representing illumination and gentle support in most cultures. In Japan, fireflies also signify love. After a competition, while Kōsei did not make the cut for stopping play, he spends time with Kaori and remarks that she was why he was able to regroup and continue in spite of himself. It’s a tender moment that indicates Kōsei’s feelings for Kaori.

  • Love’s Sorrow (Liebesleid) is the second part of Alt Wiener Tanzweisen, a series of three pieces written by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano. While the exact date that Kreisler wrote them is not known, they were published in 1905. Saki enjoys Love’s Sorrow most of the three parts because of its transition from the minor to major key: I previously noted that I am no expert in music theory, but I do know enough to say that songs written in the minor key sound sad, while passages in the major key are happier. Thus, Love’s Sorrow can be seen as sorrow giving way to happiness.

  • Shown as an eyeless spectre up until now, it turns out that Saki had wanted the best for Kōsei and her resorting to physical punishment whenever Kōsei failed to play flawlessly stemmed from a desperation to see him realise the dreams that she could not. As time goes on, Saki’s illness worsens, and with it, comes the desire to see Kōsei play piano where she was unable to. However, when she was well, Saki genuinely loved Kōsei and the two have as many happy moments together as they did the more painful memories that Kōsei vividly recalls.

  • Understanding that he is drawn to Kaori, Kōsei agrees to be her accompanist for a performance. Even when Kaori falls ill, Kōsei takes to the stage and plays with his heart, delivering a moving performance that shows his acceptance of his past. His playing is sufficiently moving that he is asked to perform an encore despite the performance being centred around violins. With his past no longer an issue, the second half of Your Lie in April moves towards Kōsei and his growing feelings for Kaori, which are tempered by his fear of getting closer to her.

  • This fear comes from the fact that Kaori suffers from a terminal illness of unknown nature: she was unable to make the performance earlier because she’d collapsed, and the illness is likely fatal. Hence, Kōsei worries that if he allows himself to fall in love with her, the inevitability of Kaori’s death would leave him hurt. Kōsei thus occasionally fails to visit Kaori unless otherwise hauled in, drowning himself in piano once more.

  • Tsubaki is a central character in Your Lie in April, and while I’ve not mentioned her much, she is Kōsei’s neighbour and has known him since their childhood. Tsubaki is constantly feeling conflicted: Kōsei rediscovering his love for piano also means his falling in love with Kaori. While Tsubaki wants Kōsei to be happy, she’s been in love with him for a long time, and fears that he may forget about her in the process. Ayane Sakura voices Tsubaki, with the inevitable result that Tsubaki sounds identical to GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and VividRed Operation‘s Akane.

  • Nagi, Takeshi’s younger sister, also comes into focus during Your Lie in April‘s second half: after a chance encounter with Kōsei, she reveals some skill with the piano and attempts to get Hiroko to become her instructor so that she might keep an eye on Kōsei. Hiroko instead assigns Kōsei to instruct Nagi, wherein he begins picking apart her playing, and while Nagi is initially resentful towards Kōsei, she comes to see him as a proper mentor and develops a crush on him in time, as well.

  • Your Lie in April‘s use of colour is exceptional, but nowhere is the choice of palette more apparent than with Kaori’s hair – ever since her hospitalisation, her normally golden hair takes on a faded shade of yellow, indicating that she’s unwell. It’s a very visceral reminder that Kaori’s time is limited, but in spite of this, her spirits remain: she surprises him with a visit to their school. While Kōsei seems to be headed down the route of the oblivious protagonist, the carefully-tuned writing in Your Lie in April makes it clear that Kōsei’s heart lies only with Kaori, and ultimately, budding feelings elsewhere never take away from the central story in the series.

  • As it turns out, Nagi picked up the piano to impress Takeshi, and it is here that Kōsei openly admits that he is in love with Kaori. The progression of love in Your Lie in April is rather different than that seen in CLANNADAngel Beats! and Tora Dora!, series that I’ve found myself thoroughly impressed with for their genuine portrayal of how people come to fall in love. They’re a rather different beast than romantic comedies, which chronicle the mishaps and chaos that surround falling in love. Of course, I am open to both approaches, but the more natural-feeling love stories invariably have a much greater emotional payoff when I watch them.

  • The realisation that Kōsei is actually quite similar to her leads Nagi to develop nascent feelings for him, as well. This particular aspect was absent from the film, and I imagine that it’s meant to show audiences that Kōsei has a great deal of impact on those around him. Truthfully, Your Lie in April has enough moving parts so that writing about this series in an episodic manner would be warranted, as there’s a great deal going on; because of the complexity in Your Lie in April, this post has not covered every noteworthy matter that is relevant to the anime. Similarly, forty screenshots is actually an inadequate amount of space to cover every scene or moment that holds a high emotional impact.

  • While Kōsei is instructing Nagi and asks to perform with her in a school festival, Tsubaki struggles with her feelings for Kōsei. Having done her utmost to stem them, these feelings have only strengthened. The fellow she was dating notices this and decides to break up, feeling it unfair to himself, Tsubaki and Kōsei to continue what was essentially a sham. Tsubaki’s best friend, Nao, has been looking after her during this time and offers advice. While seemingly knowledgeable in the realm of relationships, like myself, Nao’s understanding of relationships is entirely theoretical.

  • The song that Nagi and Kōsei perform is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano arrange of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, a four-handed piece that requires two players simultaneously. During their performance, Nagi senses the emotional intensity of Kōsei’s playing and attempts to match his performance, resulting in a thoroughly impressed audience. Takeshi is moved, as well, and demands to face off against him one day in competition.

  • Towards the end of Your Lie in April, the buildup that resulted from the earlier arcs and episodes create a sense of connection between viewers and the characters: having taken the time to develop everyone’s stories gives every individual a raison d’être that gives audience members reason to root for and care about them. The moments of comedy and friendship come together to create individuals that are lifelike. Thus, entering Your Lie in April‘s endgame means that viewers must now confront the harsh reality that Kaori is not going to recover.

  • In spite of this, Kaori is in sufficient condition to compliment Kōsei’s playing and remarks that his actions have inspired her to take up music again. She reveals that she’s agreed to a highly experimental operation that may extend her life expectancy long enough for her to play alongside Kōsei once more. The framing provides a subtle hint as to how things will turn out: Kōsei and Kaori are in the distance, foreshadowing the reduced probability of a successful operation. The odds notwithstanding, Kaori feels that a chance of hope is better than no hope, and she elects to go forward with it.

  • It is not difficult to imagine that under different circumstances, Kōsei could have ended up friends with Emi and Takeshi much earlier: as he plays piano increasingly for those around him rather than purely for the sake of playing, his heart opens up, and both Emi and Takeshi would’ve seen a human being behind the stoic and seemingly-distant pianist. While late in the making, the three get along as friendly rivals and fellow pianists would late in Your Lie in April.

  • Throughout Your Lie in April, Hiroko’s child, Koharu, can be seen accompanying her. Voiced by Inori Minase (GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu), Koharu deeply enjoys Kōsei’s piano performances and is often seen clinging to Hiroko, being quite bewildered and amused by the events around her. Small children are rendered in a very distinct manner in Your Lie in April, and as CLANNAD had done so vividly with Ushio, Your Lie in April similarly captures the innocence and wonder that children have of the world. Minase does a spectacular job of playing Koharu, adding to her impressive repertoire as a voice actress.

  • Kaori is such a memorable and distinct character that when I saw the initial trailers for Violet Evergarden, I identified Violet as Kaori to one of my friends by mistake. Because Your Lie in April carries the distinction of creating such noteworthy characters and giving viewers reason to root for them, as well as for covering themes of love, recovery and discovery with a masterful balance of breadth and depth. Because of this, the series was able to appeal to a very wide range of audiences, and the only real criticism I have to level at Your Lie in April is that the first half proceeds a bit more slowly, before things accelerate wildly towards the end. This is a very minor complaint, as it does not diminish the impact that the series ultimately has.

  • As the day of the competition nears, Kōsei fears that with Kaori’s imminent operation, playing the piano will be bound to the loss of two people he greatly cared for and loses the will to play. Kaori insists that he proceed, and when Kōsei is set to compete, he wonders if he can continue. Hearing Tsubaki sneeze in the crowd, Kōsei is reminded that for his losses, there will always be people in his corner, and regrouping, Kōsei begins to perform. His world fades away, and he becomes enveloped in his music, deciding to give this performance everything he’s got for the girl who’d given him so much.

  • At the same time as Kaori’s performance, Kaori’s operation is unsuccessful, and she dies. However, her spirit endures for a few moments: she plays alongside Kōsei and is able to appreciate his music one last time. The visual impact of the final performance is beyond words, creating a feeling of longing, hope and finality that brings Kōsei’s music to life, as well as making tangible his feelings for Kaori that would otherwise have been remarkably difficult to put into words.

  • As a series that utilises music to drive its characters forward, the soundtrack in Your Lie in April is unsurprisingly of a solid quality. From highly emotional vocal inset songs, to a varied collection of incidental pieces that capture the light-hearted and emotional moments in the series, each song in Your Lie in April serves a purpose. Of note are are the main themes and original songs that project a melancholy sense of longing.

  • Besides the soundtrack and vocal pieces, Your Lie in April also makes extensive use of classical pieces. From Beethoven, to Chopin, Kreisler and Tchaikovsky, classical piano music is also provided in a dedicated album. Folks with a background in classical music and musical theory will doubtlessly be able to tie the meaning of each song and draw on symbolism inherent in the music itself to appreciate what Kōsei is experiencing at a given time. For me, while I appreciate classical music, my background is not extensive, and therefore, I’m not able to make these connections quite so readily.

  • After Kaori dies, her parents give Kōsei the letter Kaori’s written for him. Even at its dénouement, Your Lie in April manages to hit viewers with another poignant moment. Viewers are already aware that Kaori had been in love with Kōsei, but hearing the contents of the letter was particularly rending. While mere words on paper, each character carries a weight to it that really emphasises the extent that Kaori had reciprocated Kōsei’s feelings. I was forcibly reminded of the letters I’ve received over the years and recall with a striking clarity forgotten promises of old. This is why it was so tricky for me to write for Your Lie in April: I did not wish to impose upon readers irrelevant recollections as I explored what made Your Lie in April work.

  • I’m not sure if this post can be considered to be hopelessly sentimental to the point of foolishness, but I do hope that I’ve been able to capture what made Your Lie in April so enjoyable for me, and also what aspects led it to change my world views on love, namely, that falling in love can compel individuals to rise above their problems in a spectacular fashion. It was through Your Lie in April that I appreciated why falling in love was akin to jumping into a colourful world from one that was previously monochrome, and also reminded me that for everything else I’ve done so far, my world is still very much monochrome.

  • As a child, Kaori had been so moved by Kōsei’s performance that she immediately wanted to drop piano and take up violin with the sole objective of being able to play alongside him. This scene was adorable, and A-1 Pictures flawlessly captures the excitement of a small child whose world was unequivocally moved. For all of the sorrow in Your Lie in April, there is also great joy, and it makes it very plain that Kōsei has done many things for those around him, even if he does not know it.

  • Kaori was thus overjoyed when she learnt that she was going to the same middle school as Kōsei, but wondered how to best approach him. She decided to re-imagine herself and then make a single lie with the goal of getting closer to Kōsei. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is often compared to Your Lie in April, with the former being a streamlined version that does away with music in favour of purely focusing on the relationship between the two central characters. This is true to an extent, as the series even share a central theme, but Your Lie in April is much more comprehensive and utilises its secondary characters in a much greater capacity, as well as music itself to tell its story. At the end of the day, both series are enjoyable, and my verdict is that if an individual finds one enjoyable, the other will also be worthwhile.

  • The image of Kaori walking into the distance is a striking one: her remarks on life being a journey and that one should trust to hope is an uplifting way to approach the world. The gentle optimism of her words remind me of CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa, and while Kaori is rather more animated than Nagisa, the two ultimately share a great deal of similarities in being able to motivate a brooding male lead and help them come to terms with who they are, as well as embrace their respective futures.

  • It may seem cruel to say so, but Tsubaki’s unwavering feelings for Kōsei also indicate that, while there is indeed loss in life, there will always be people willing to provide support. Tsubaki had been present throughout Your Lie in April to support Kōsei in her own way, even when it meant risking losing him to Kaori. As it turns out, Tsubaki does make another attempt to make her feelings known to Kōsei, and his original desire to learn the piano was actually to cheer up Tsubaki when her grandmother died. It can therefore be reasoned that Kōsei and Tsubaki could find happiness together.

  • The photograph here shows that Tsubaki and Kaori had known one another for a long time, and Kōsei’s decision to frame this picture shows that he is able appreciate everything Kaori and Tsubaki have done for him. This brings my talk on Your Lie in April to a close, and I hope that this talk was of a satisfactory standard. This Your Lie in April is now in the books, marking the first time I’ve written with a dual-monitor setup. With a pair of monitors, I’ve cut the time it takes to make a post down by a third, and with this, I am shifting my attention next to Metro Exodus and HBO’s Chernobyl. It is not often I write about live actions, but the themes and subjects explored in Chernobyl hit very close to home and merit consideration.

Your Lie in April has many moving parts beyond Kōsei and Kaori; his exceptional skills as a pianist means that Kōsei’s acted as inspiration for Takeshi, Emi and Nagi. His gentle nature and longtime friendship with Tsubaki means that she also loves him dearly. The complexities of each character in Your Lie in April shows that for what Kōsei sees his world as, he ultimately is in a place where there are many people who care for and respect him. Being able to accept Kaori’s friendship means Kōsei is able to mature and open his eyes to the world that he previously ignored, allowing him to rediscover joy anew. These elements together transform Your Lie in April into a masterpiece that touches viewers. Giving Your Lie in April this particular honour was a relatively easy call, but what was not easy was summoning up the resolve to write this post: I finished Your Lie in April three years earlier, but the series touched upon matters of the heart, and long have I lacked the maturity and strength to write about this series without my thoughts straying back to my own inexperience. I admit that even now, writing this post was a challenge, but for thoroughly exploring the role that each of the secondary characters play without compromising the focus on Kōsei and Kaori, breathing life into their world through stunning visual metaphors (such as Kōsei’s feeling of drowning in an ocean of silence when he attempts to play the piano earlier on), the exceptional audio engineering that went into the series, heartfelt voice performances from the cast and a top-tier, emotional soundtrack, Your Lie in April represents a milestone series that illustrates how love can manifest and what miracles might occur as a result, a series that is definitely worth sharing. Watching Your Lie in April was a very emotionally-charged experience, and with the series covering such a wide range of ideas, well beyond what’s been discussed here, it is evident that there is something in this series for everyone, whether it be love, persistence, perspectives or even just the complexity of animation that went into the performances. With this in mind, I can confidently recommend Your Lie in April for all viewers irrespective of their backgrounds.

Ano Natsu de Matteru: Reflections on the Infinite Skies and Wistfulness of a Past Summer Day

“Summer break was about to start, one we’d never be able to forget. I’m sure everyone felt the same way. Happiness and sadness, even pain, all of it put together in one package. There’ll never be another one like it.”

Kaito Kirishima is a high school student who enjoys recording with an old 8mm video camera belonging to his late grandfather. While out filming one evening, he encounters a extraterrestrial craft that crash lands nearby. The next day, Ichika Takatsuki transfers into their school. Drawn in by her beauty, Kaito invites Ichika to join him and his friends, Tetsuro Ishigaki, Kanna Tanigawa and Mio Kitahara in a summer project. Ichika’s classmate, Remon Yamano also joins in. Under the long summer days, the group work on their film, which Remon claims will have the same quality as a Hollywood production with her helming the script, and also struggle to come to terms with their feelings: Kaiton begins falling in love with Ichika, and Kanna feels increasingly left behind. Meanwhile, Tetsuro also deals with his unreciprocated feelings for Kanna, while Mio longs to make her feelings for Tetsuro known. As the summer progresses, Ichika’s background as an extraterrestrial is revealed. Kaito and his friends have no issue with this, but Ichika protests that her people’s government have begun searching for her, and explains that she arrived on Earth to find an important location. With her time on Earth limited, Kaito and his friends, with help from Remon and her connections to government assets, aid Ichika in finding this location. She ultimately is retrieved by her people, leaving the others with an incomplete film. Some years later during graduation, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio reminisce about the past and watch the now-completed film, suggesting that Ichika had returned at some point to complete it. Airing during the January of 2012, Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer) is counted as the spiritual successor to Please Teacher!, which was also written by Yōsuke Kuroda: it is therefore unsurprising that both works feature similar elements and themes surrounding adolescent relationships and how these impact a group of closely-knit friends both by bringing people closer together and further apart simultaneously, as well as making the most of a moment because of how transient and fleeting experiences can be.

While Ichika, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio’s dealing with their feelings forms the core of Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s conflict, and the sci-fi aspects add an additional dimension of intrigue to the dynamics between Ichika and the others, there is an oft-overlooked component in Ano Natsu de Matteru: similar to its predecessor, Please Teacher!, the anime is set in Nagano, a prefecture known for its mountains and beautiful landscapes. The vast verdant fields, distant mountains, towering clouds and endless blue skies capture the feeling of summer, of openness and opportunity of a long day, but also creates a sense of melancholy. Without the hustle and bustle of a city, or the excitement of a coastal town, the landscape of Nagano paints a simultaneous picture of possibility and of wistfulness. This unending desire, this longing to be with someone. These are unsurprisingly the very same feelings that are experienced during the nascent stage of a relationship, and the choice of a landscape allows Ano Natsu de Matteru to visually represent how each of the characters are feeling. Indeed, the beautiful weather offered by the summertime creates a natural inclination to explore and capitalise on what a long, warm day has to offer. Longing and wistfulness permeate the whole of Ano Natsu de Matteru, and when coupled with the impermanence of certain moments, really adds to the sense that falling in love is a matter of great happiness, as well as of sadness. The use of a landscape to augment the thematic elements is nothing new: Please Teacher! and Yosuga no Sora have both made deliberate use of their respective settings to create another avenue to explore what falling in love feels like. However, in taking after its predecessor, Please Teacher!, Ano Natsu de Matteru uses a rural setting to present longing, rather than loneliness and isolation as Yosuga no Sora had done. Whereas Yosuga no Sora‘s setting allowed the series to convey how lonely the couples were outside of one another, Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please Teacher! both use the long days of summer and a remote setting to present a more positive, if still somewhat melancholy outlook on falling in love.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This first screenshot sets the precedence for what the remainder of the screenshots of this summer-themed post will look like: I’ve chosen to only showcase moments with the endless blue skies of Nagano, and here are the principal characters: from left to right, we have Tetsuro, Kaito, Mio and Kanna. Their entry into the summer season is marked by a sense of longing and of new experiences, especially for Kaito, who encounters Ichika one evening while filming near a pond.

  • Ichika is Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s Mizuho Kazami: this time around, their age gap is much smaller, the concept of “Standstills” is absent, and the difficulties of concealing a marriage is replaced by a much more gentle awkwardness between Kaito and Ichika. Without distinct aspects in Ano Natsu de Matteru, the whole of the story is focused towards those feelings that arise in the summer as a result of long days spent together – compared to Please Teacher!Ano Natsu de Matteru is less comedic and more natural.

  • Four summers ago, I wrote about Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s OVA, which I found to be superbly enjoyable and also a trip down memory lane: this time around, we return to the original run of Ano Natsu de Matteru, which aired during the winter of 2012. During this time, I was in the throes of biochemistry, bioinformatics and cell and molecular biology: while I’d been watching Rinne no Lagrange, and held an interest in Ano Natsu de Matteru, my goal at the time was surviving all of my courses and ensuring I did not drop below satisfactory standing in any of them.

  • Thus, watching Ano Natsu de Matteru was something that ended up being deferred into the late spring and early summer, when I had finished the physics course I had taken to replace the course I’d withdrawn from earlier, and had also made substantial headway into studying for the MCAT. Looking back, it turns out there was a lot more than just CLANNADK-On! The Movie and various Discovery Channel programmes that kept me motivated: watching a host of anime and shows helped me to relax and regroup.

  • There is a beauty about the Japanese inaka (countryside) that is found nowhere else in the world, creating a sense of melancholy and yearning. This is captured especially well in Ano Natsu de Matteru, where the framing creates a sense of distance – the rest of the world seems far away, seemingly a part of the sky itself. This gives the impression of isolation as the characters work out their own feelings: everyone has their own experience with relationships, and the imagery suggests that in the end, it is up to the individuals to determine a solution.

  • While both Ichika and Kaito reciprocate the other’s feelings, an awkwardness surrounds the two that make it difficult for both to be honest and forward with their feelings. To compound things, Kanna also has feelings for Kaito, and Mio has feelings for Tetsuro. Remon, on the other hand, acts as the amused observer, pushing the characters ahead with wisdom that is clearly beyond her apparent age. Remon is the counterpart to Ichigo, who was similarly mature for her physical age as a result of her “Standstill”. Remon lacks any of these problems and ends up playing the role of facilitator, catalysing many of the events that bring Ichika and Kaito closer together.

  • Ever since I received my complimentary Oculus Quest, I’ve only made use of it to play Superhot VR and use Wander, the VR version of Google Street View. The latter has actually been remarkably fun to use, allowing me to truly immerse myself in another location in the comfort of my armchair: I am now able to visit locations such as the fields and valleys of Nagano simply by putting on a headset, forgoing the need to drop a considerable amount of coin and time for flights and accommodations. While VR has advanced in a big way, however, there is no substitute for the real experience, and Wander will not allow me to experience the wistfulness and melancholy of summer love.

  • Kaito ultimately decides to film a movie, which puts his videography skills to use while simultaneously bringing everyone together in such a way so that they spend more time around one another. Remon claims that she’s done work for George Lucas previously and therefore has the qualifications to write a script, which is surprisingly accurate with respect to Ichika’s status as an extraterrestrial. Her easygoing manner implies that she knows a lot more than she appears to, and she maintains a very calm, mischievous demeanour.

  • Kaito’s use of an 8mm video camera to film scenes for the movie creates a sense of nostalgia and timelessness in Ano Natsu de Matteru, rather similar to how Please Teacher! has a very timeless feel to it. A full seven-and-a-half years after its initial airing, Ano Natsu de Matteru still feels current. The absence of contemporary instruments like smartphones has no impact on the story, leaving viewers to focus purely on the relationship challenges and filming process.

  • Mizuho brought the biological terminal, Marie, with her in Please Teacher, and Ichika is similarly accompanied by Rinon, who serves a very similar purpose. Besides managing Ichika’s vessel, Rinon also can teleport Ichika to specific spots and remotely manage Ichika’s gear. While Kei worked hard to conceal Mizuho’s extraterrestrial origins, Kaito’s friends take Ichika’s background in stride once they learn about it, and do not appear too surprised at Rinon’s appearance.

  • While the plains and valleys of Nagano already project a summer atmosphere, the beach and ocean are noticeably absent: the nearest coast is around a hundred kilometres away as the mole digs. By a turn of fate, Tetsuro’s older sister acquires some tickets for a trip to Okinawa and suggests that he use them. Thus, Kaito and the others find themselves on the shores of a beach in Okinawa, enjoying the beautiful weather and beaches in a summer fashion.

  • While Kaito and the others are filming, they run into Kaori Kinoshita and Chiharu Arisawa: Kaori’s known Kaito since childhood, and is overjoyed to encounter him again after all this time. It turns out that she’d come on a trip to Okinawa to escape feeling of despair after she was rejected, seeking a change of scenery to help her forget. There’s definitely a sense of loneliness in Kaori’s story, and because she was not initially forwards with what happened, both Kanna and Ichika get the wrong impression.

  • Despite her own feelings, Kaori agrees to help Kaito and the others out with their movie, showing that at the end of the day, she’s still a kind person at heart. On the other hand, Chiharu is much more aggressive and immediately takes a liking to Tetsuro, who is put off by how forward she is. When he steps away to retrieve something from the cabin, Chiharu immediately confronts him and overpowers him. Intervention from Mio prevents anything from getting out of hand, but also reveals that she’s a nudist.

  • The misconceptions that everyone brings with them to Okinawa are washed away on the shores of the island’s warm, inviting beaches – Kaori and Ichika come into the open about how they feel, Ichika and Kaito sort out some doubts between them, and the conflict between Mio, Tetsuro and Chiharu are rectified after Tetsuro rejects Chiharu’s advances before reassuring Mio that there’s nothing wrong with her nudism. For Kaori, she remarks that while she went to Okinawa to escape from her troubles, it turns out that Chiharu’s heart was broken in the process, showing the tumultuous nature of romantic love.

  • As a result of what’s happened in Okinawa, it becomes clear that the distance between Kaito and Kanna widens, and Mio becomes more confident – having spent most of their time in a jacket, she boldly decides to discard her jacket on their last day on the beaches. One of the points about Ano Natsu de Matteru that I enjoyed thoroughly was that all of the characters proved to be relatable in their own way, showing just how complex and messy love can be.

  • After returning home from Okinawa, Ichika and Kaito draw closer. Remon’s been manipulating things behind the scenes and suggests that everyone visit a local summer festival together, where she’s got a “Test of Courage” planned out. These are common in anime, playing on the individuals’ fear of the dark to get closer to one another. While there is nothing to be feared from the darkness itself, there are dangers associated with running around the forests at night with naught more than a flashlight. It is here that Kanna realises the depth of Kaito’s feelings for Ichika, and where Ichika’s extraterrestrial origins are revealed to everyone.

  • This time of year is marked by the Heritage Day long weekend, and is one of the reasons why I’ve been able to get two posts out on the same day in previous years. This year, I spent the whole of the long weekend constructing new furniture, which includes a new wall unit for hanging onto clothes and a corner desk, which allow me to run a dual-monitor setup. A two-screen setup would have been superbly useful for my university and today, two screens simply increases my efficiency when it comes to blogging. I presently feel that dual monitors might be cool, but otherwise wouldn’t confer much of an advantage in my other tasks. I also spent most of today building a wardrobe closet to replace an ancient one that was falling apart.

  • With Ichika’s revelation, and the fact that the rescue probe was destroyed, Ichika worries that her time on earth will be cut short – her original goal was to find a special spot in her memories, and so, with the clock ticking, the pacing in Ano Natsu de Matteru amps up as the entire group strives to help Ichika complete her goal, while simultaneously finishing their movie before the inevitable moment where Ichika must leave the others.

  • As the drive to finish the movie and find the place in Ichika’s memories increases, so does the emotional intensity surrounding the relationships amongst everyone in the group. Kanna makes her feelings known to Kaito, who gently rejects her, and she in turn rejects Tetsuro. Both Tetsuro and Kanna demonstrate exemplary courage for being open and truthful about their feelings, believing it is better to at least have made an effort than to never attempted at all. Mio is devastated to know of Tetsuro’s feelings, but after his failed kokuhaku with Kanna, she consoles him in her own manner.

  • In relationships, hurt feelings and pain are often inevitable if multiple individuals are involved. Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s outcome is such that Kanna ends up with the short end of the stick: Mio and Tetsuro end up deciding to enter a relationship to see if things could work out, while Katio retains his feeling for Ichika, who reciprocates his feelings. One review I recall reading for Ano Natsu de Matteru, which was written shortly after the series’ finale, making the heartwarming wish that their readers will eventually find their own happiness, as well.

  • Because today is special, I have an inclination to also impart some wisdom that can only accompany the inevitable process of growing older. I feel that this happiness can extend to beyond just relationships, encompassing fulfilment with one’s station in life regarding career and health. A rejection, or several, is not the end of the world, and as much as I say this to my readers, I also say this for myself: there will always be another way. Happiness comes in many forms, and ultimately, a life spent making others happy, no matter what approach one takes, is a life well-spent.

  • After the distress signal is sent, Ichika’s older sister arrives on Earth and immediately sets about trying to bring Ichika back. As it turns out, Ichika’s people are highly evolved and regard humanity as being at a level of technology sufficiently low as to not warrant intervention. Given their ability for FTL and teleportation, it stands to reason that Ichika’s people are at least as advanced as Halo‘s Forerunners.

  • While content to simply manipulate things from behind the scenes, Remon comes out to help Ichika and the others once the extraterrestrials show up. As it turns out, she’s a member of the Men In Black (whose membership also include Will Smith, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson), an organisation that specialises in dealing with extraterrestrials. They possess a range of high-tech equipment that seem moderately effective against the droids that Ichika’s people send to retrieve her.

  • With the feelings between Ichika and Kaito apparent, and remaining conflict between Kanna and Ichika resolved, the final segments of Ano Natsu de Matteru deal with the rush to locate the spot Ichika was originally looking for. The science fiction elements come to play here: having been subtly present throughout the series, space aliens and technology exceeding that of human comprehension are openly employed here to create a memorable climax.

  • For folks wondering, I have indeed finished Please Teacher! by now: having been intrigued by Ano Natsu de Matteru, I decided to check it out. The similarities are very visible, although the latter is much gentler in mood and features more humour than the former, which is more serious by comparison. Despite their similarities, the thematic aspects of Please Teacher! differ from those of Ano Natsu de Matteru, showing the importance of constantly moving forwards and making the most of the hand one is dealt, as well as how there are limits to persistence.

  • My original interest in Please Teacher! actually stemmed from the fact that Mizuho is voiced by Kikuko Inoue, who provided the voice to Ah! My Goddess‘ Belldandy. At the time, I was still relatively new to anime and was curious to know what other series Inoue appeared in. However, a combination of a busy schedule resulting from making the transition from high school to university meant that Please Teacher! fell to the back of my mind, and it was only with Ano Natsu de Matteru in conjunction with time that I managed to finish the series some seven years after I started.

  • Ultimately, Ichika and Kaito are able to reach the coordinates that the former had been searching for: it’s a tree by a nondescript pond bearing an ai ai kasa carved onto a tree. It turns out that the extraterrestrials had been to Earth previously and presumably found the spot worth remembering. In the present day, the extraterrestrials receive memories of this location, as well, and with this, Ichika is retrieved, parting ways with Kaito.

  • With Ichika gone, Remon transfers back to the Men In Black. She leaves Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio with the incomplete film, but some time later, the group of friends decide to show the now-completed film at a school festival shortly before their graduation. The memories of a long-distant summer remain as vivid as though they’d happened yesterday, but the film’s completion indicates that Ichika was able to return again.

  • While I’ve been reiterating that wistfulness and yearning permeate Ano Natsu de Matteru, folks with more familiarity than myself have also described this series as nostalgic. They refer to the exploration of Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s thematic elements, which, while nothing innovative or novel, nonetheless comes across as being authentic, genuine and sincere. However, the timeless setting of Ano Natsu de Matteru also brings about a wish to revisit the older days, when things were simpler. In this sense, nostalgia is very much a part of Ano Natsu de Matteru.

I’d actually been meaning to write about Ano Natsu de Matteru for quite some time: a few summers ago, I wrote about the OVA, which was an epilogue of sorts for the series. When I picked Ano Natsu de Matteru up, it was the summer of 2012, a time when I was preoccupied with studying for the MCAT, and upon finishing the series, I found it an enjoyable coming-of-age story that showed how awkward love matures into something more full-fledged and meaningful through persistence. Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s setting contributed greatly towards accentuating the different emotions that each of Ichika, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio felt and correspondingly, the enjoyment factor. However, in addition to the setting, Ano Natsu de Matteru also possesses a cast of relatable characters whose actions and emotions are plausible, the appropriate dose of science fiction, a balance between the dramatic and comedic, and finally, excellent opening and ending songs that fully convey the different emotions that Ichika and the others experience throughout the series. Ray’s Sign captures a very Kotoko-like tenour akin to that seen in Please Teacher’s opening, which had a very upbeat but distant feel, while Mami Kawada’s In The Forest of The Sky and Yanagi Nagi’s Bedoro Moyo share a slower, more melancholy pacing. The similarities between Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please Teacher! resulted in my eventually checking out the latter, and I found a very similar series with its own unique merits when I finished: Ano Natsu de Matteru is much lighter in tone and can be seen as being more approachable. Overall, I credit Ano Natsu de Matteru with establishing my association of the summertime with the juxtaposition between exploration and longing: for the longest time, I struggled to put these thoughts into words, accounting for why I’ve not fully reviewed Ano Natsu de Matteru. With this in mind, I have no trouble recommending this series for viewers seeking a romance-comedy with a science fiction flair and hope that anyone who’s seen this, or are planning on seeing it, find (or found) it as enjoyable as I did.

Valkyria Chronicles 4: Squad E, To The Beach!, and a reflection on the Summer DLC

“A simple life is good with me. I don’t need a whole lot. For me, a T-shirt, a pair of shorts, barefoot on a beach and I’m happy.” –Yanni

Shortly after the Siegval offensive concludes, Squad E is tasked with severing the Empire’s supply lines at the knees. Upon reaching their destination, they find the battlefield to be a beach with white sand. While engaging Imperial forces, Squad E finds additional “equipment” that turns out to be suited for their locale. Raz is particularly pleased and looks to start a beach party, but additional Imperial forces appear, forcing Squad E back into combat to repel the attackers. With the Imperials dealt with, Claude and the others set about enjoying the beach party: Claude and Riley go for a race, while Kai beats up Raz for staring at her assets. Minerva is initially too embarrassed to participate, but her curiosity gets the better of her, and she tries on one of the gear pieces dropped from an Imperial soldier from earlier, only to come face-to-face with the entirety of Squad E. Feeling that Minerva had also wanted to unwind, Claude authorises the group to enjoy their day at the beach for a while longer. This is the summer DLC for Valkyria Chronicles 4, which adds additional cosmestics to the leader units for Squad E and provides Valkyria Chronicles 4 with light-hearted comedy before the more sobering events that take place as the Federation forces are routed by Imperials once the winter sets in. Since it is the middle of summer, it seemed appropriate to go through this side mission and enjoy the more comedic moments amongst the members of Squad E (and Minerva) again.

While locating all of the enemy aces that drop gear is said to be a challenge, the coastal map that the side mission is set on is actually quite small, and moreover, recycled across the two missions. On my first attempt, I finished the mission with defense boost and two command points’ worth of expenditure, only for Valkyria Chronicles 4 to inform me that there was more to the mission. The trick with the first part lay not in swift completion of the objective, but progressing through the map and locating all of the enemy aces, who are rather well-hidden in the nooks and crannies of the map. Investigation and exploration allowed me to find all of the items in short order. The second mission thus unlocked, and this time, I set about clearing the way to find the final gear piece, which is located at the western edge of the map behind an entire column’s worth of tanks. Moreover, enemies carried special ammunition that could instantly deprive my units of any consumable ammunition. While seemingly difficult, I managed to get to the end of the map making use of Raz and demolitions boost. Subsequently, capturing the enemy base became a trivially simple task to accomplish, and I managed to earn a special emblem for the Hafen, as well as a special ending. Returning the mission to secure the A-rank, I wrapped up within the space of one turn, and over the course of ninety minutes, I smashed my way through Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s most well-known DLC to unlock some rather aesthetically pleasing comestics for Riley, Kai and Minerva, as well as enjoy a few laughs here and there.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Squad E, To The Beach! is nothing like Normandy, and with Battlefield V not delivering an authentic D-Day experience insofar, it appears that the only means of landing at Omaha would be to pick up Call of Duty: World War Two, where the campaign provides such an experience right out of the gates. Instead, in Squad E, To The Beach!, the mission is so straightforwards that one could complete the missions in one turn without any orders.

  • I initially did this and wondered why the DLC was so short, but then recalled that there’s an entire area behind where enemies were hidden. The first sign of this is an enemy elite on the path leading away from the beach into the interior: once defeated, he drops some gear that ends up being Claude’s swimsuit. With this, players must then push inland and explore the trenches and other areas to find aces. They can be well-hidden, so effective use of scouts and the direct commands are useful.

  • In the first mission, there are four swimsuits that can be collected. Squad E, To The Beach! can be played after the tenth chapter in Valkyria Chronicles, and having beaten the game already, there wasn’t anything in this map that proved to be a threat even while hunting down the different aces, who are well-hidden. Most of the enemies deal negligible interception fire damage, and potentials, plus base stat improvements mean I can run across the map and ignore almost all damage taken.

  • Finding the elites is a matter of understanding what would take the most AP to accomplish: because Valkyria Chronicles 4 is about optimising turn count, AP and movement distance management is central to victory. It therefore stands to reason that the elites would be placed in places that take the most AP to reach. This particular aspect of Valkyria Chronicles 4 means it’s fairly easy to find a global optima for completing a given mission, and one wishes that there were alternative game modes that encouraged destruction of enemy materiel over speed.

  • Of course, the efficiency-based combat is likely a reminder of Japanese perceptions of warfare – similar to Ace Combat, players are rewarded for efficiency rather than destruction, indicating a respect for doing the minimum to complete an objective without unnecessary collateral damage. Once all of the aces are downed, a single scout could capture the enemy point to swiftly bring an end to the first mission.

  • After Kai, Riley, Raz and Claude change in preparation for enjoying the quiet, additional Imperial soldiers appear. There’s no time to change back, and players must continue fighting. Implausibly, but fortuitously, the swimsuits are purely cosmetic and do not appear to impact one’s defense or resistance to damage to a significant extent. Of everyone, Kai is the most entertaining to operate during the second mission, but her limited movement range and finite ammunition make her decidedly less effective.

  • The enemies of the second mission have a unique attribute: their weapon fire will immediately drain out a player’s ammunition reserves to zero, including sniper rounds, mortar shells and grenades. On the other hand, the scout’s rifles and shock-trooper’s primary and secondary weapons are immune to ammunition depletion, so they are unaffected. Thus, for this mission, a pair of scouts and a shock-trooper is all one really needs to complete the mission with haste.

  • Using two scouts and a shock-trooper will allow for the second mission to be finished within one turn. However, there is one additional elite hidden on the map. Because of my own haste, I did not switch out Riley’s mortar to an anti-personnel variant and therefore could not eliminate the enemy elite located on the most distant corner of the map. Anti-armour shells do next to no damage against infantry, and so, I rendered Riley useless during my playthrough.

  • However, appreciation for the scout and shock-trooper classes allowed me to reach the target without too much trouble: enough enemies are behind cover such that having a flamethrower makes this particular mission much easier, since the special ammunition the Imperial forces have do not impact the ammunition available to players. Most guides recommend bringing an engineer along to replenish ammunition in response, but strictly speaking, this is not necessary.

  • Claude’s beachwear is unremarkable and the first to be recovered from downed Imperial forces. While it makes sense for them to have men’s swimwear, one wonders what they are doing, since they also drop swimsuits for Riley, Raz and Minerva. There’s also the question of hygiene (i.e. whether or not it’s a good idea to wear swimsuits captured from enemy forces when one does not know where it’s been), but given that this is wartime and fiction, such elements are not particularly worrisome.

  • Ordinarily, once players reach the north edge of the map, it’s time to capture it and bring the mission to a close. While this assures the A-rank, one is unlikely to have picked up Squad E, To The Beach! simply to humiliate Imperial forces in a showdown: the goal is to give Valkyria Chronicles 4 a more summery feel through Riley, Kai and Minerva. In the mission’s second half, Minerva’s swimsuit has yet to be retrieved, and while the mission itself is direct, finding the elite that drops her swimsuit takes a bit of time.

  • Raz and demolitions boost makes for a hilariously effective and overpowered way of defeating all enemy armour and gatling cannons along the route, while applying all units defend bolsters durability. Unlike the DLC of Valkyria ChroniclesSquad E, To The Beach! actually has access to orders, which shift the mission overwhelmingly in the player’s favour: the gatlings and tanks would ordinarily shred anyone passing through, but the right orders allows Raz to completely and totally eliminate all obstacles with ease.

  • Right around this corner is a pair of gatling guns. While normally a threat, having a demolitions boost-equipped Raz deal with them neutralises the problem in an expedient manner. I originally had planned to bring Claude closer so the direct command could be used on him but quickly changed my mind after seeing that Raz actually had enough AP to make the distance and moreover, was capable of handling the tank at the end of the road.

  • I ended up leaving Minerva at the capture point such that once I eliminated the elite, I could bring a quick end to the mission. On my first attempt, I finished in four turns for a B-rank, but with superior map knowledge, I’m certain that if I were to go back and get all the elites on top of the base objective of seizing the enemy base, I could probably now finish within two turns: a straight run without care for the elite means this mission, similar to the first, can be completed in one turn.

  • The final elite is actually hidden behind some sandbags, and therefore, it is imperative to bring Raz (or another shock-trooper) to the table such that their flamethrowers may be used. Because the elite is an elite, it will take two actions to finish him. Once done, Minerva’s swimsuit drops, and players can wrap up the mission to enjoy the cutscenes, which is precisely what one presumably came for when picking up Squad E, To The Beach!.

  • Two-piece swimsuits have existed for quite some time, but strictly speaking, the bikini was named after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, where atomic tests were being done. The name subsequently caught on as a catch-all name for two-piece swimsuits after the design was shown in Paris during 1946. The caveat is that in Valkyria Chronicles, the Valkyrur and the powers that they channel through ragnite do not appear atomic in nature. Thus, there is a lack of atomic devices, and presumably, no Bikini Atoll either. Yet, the swimsuit Riley picks out is called a bikini.

  • Kai goes with a one-piece suit optimised for swimming, and immediately sets about going for a dip in the waters. However, when Raz runs afoul of her, Kai schools him off screen, leaving players to wonder how exactly she managed to subdue him long enough to bury him in the sand. More modest in design, a one-piece suits Kai’s personality and does nothing to diminish accentuating the most noticeable aspect of her figure, although one might surmise that a two-piece would also work for her.

  • The last swimsuit found is less modest than Riley’s, and its mere presence is something that greatly embarrasses Minerva, who promises to disposes of it accordingly. However, when the final cutscenes are watched, it turns out that Minerva had other ideas in mind. Claude interprets this as Minerva wanting in on the fantastic weather and solitude of the beach. Of the characters, Minerva has the most oscillation, and when she scores a kill, the physics functionality of the Canvas Engine is put to good use in animating this.

  • While normally stuffy and formal, Minerva reveals a more bashful side of her personality, as well. With all of the swimsuits unlocked, I also earn a hibiscus emblem for the Hafen: this means that I’ve done Squad E, To The Beach! to full completion, and with this DLC, I also obtain access to A United Front With Squad 7, which will allow me to play as Welkin, Alicia, Rosie and Largo in the updated Canvas Engine. After seeing what Valkyria Chronicles 4 looked like, it is not difficult to see that a remastered Valkyria Chronicles would look stunning.

  • Kai and Riley encourage Minerva to join the others, bringing the DLC to a close, and while I will be returning to write about A United Front With Squad 7 at some point, there is another special summer-themed post in the works. Once that’s done, I’ll be turning my full attention towards writing about and experiencing Metro: Exodus; having finished the winter quarter of the game, there are some thoughts on that I’d like to share. The fact that there are no seasonal posts scheduled for August means that I also should have some time to do a Terrible Anime Challenge post, as well as a Masterpiece post.

The practicality of these new cosmetics in standard gameplay notwithstanding (besides the disparity between the cosmetics and their environment, there aren’t very many moments in Valkyria Chronicles 4 where one could rotate the camera and admire the polygons that went into making these cosmetics, which put those of Battlefield V to shame), Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s DLC proved to be a short, but highly amusing addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4. In particular, seeing the more everyday, ordinary side of each character reinforces the idea that behind every gun sight, is a human being, and that everyone has their own stories to tell. Japanese titles have always excelled in creating highly compelling characters whose backgrounds and reasons for fighting are every bit as engaging as the gameplay mechanics and skill-driven aspects of the game. With this DLC in the books, I intend to return to Valkyria Chronicles 4 once more for what I would consider to be fanservice in its purest form: for purchasing Squad E, To The Beach, I also received A United Front With Squad 7, the legendary group that fought through Valkyria Chronicles into the annals of history. I can’t wait to see Claude and Welkin fight alongside one another to repel the Empire, and Alicia will make a most welcome return, as well.

The Giant Walkthrough Brain: Revisiting a Presentation with Jay Ingram at the Five Year Anniversary

“Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Please take your seats, and welcome to The Giant Walkthrough Brain. Introducing your tour guide…Jay Ingram!”

Three years after Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, neurophysiologist Joseph E. Bogen, MD, published A Modest Proposal, or The Planning, construction and use of a giant brain for the edification and entertainment of us all to the Bulletin of the Los Angeles Neurological Society. This “giant walk-through brain” was intended to be a museum of gargantuan proportion, standing some 150 metres in height. Bogen’s proposal was never taken seriously, and his vision faded into obscurity. Fortunately, in 2014, science communicator and host of Daily Planet, Jay Ingram, adopted Bogen’s concept of a brain museum and approached the LINDSAY Virtual Human lab at the University of Calgary with a proposal of his own: to construct and implement a giant walk-through brain show that would truly bring Bogen’s vision to life. Part musical performance and part science communication, The Giant Walkthrough Brain covers the essentials of brain function, from major structures to the electrochemical reactions that allow neural impulses to travel through the brain, and explores major figures in the history of neurophysiology. Whether it be Phineas Gage, who survived impalement from a tamping rod during an accident and his pronounced personality change, to how Alois Alzheimer came to diagnose Auguste Deter with what is known as Alzheimer’s disease, the whole of Ingram and The Free Radical’s presentation in The Giant Walkthrough Brain created an incredibly accessible, and successful performance that provides the public with a memorable and catchy introduction to the complexities of the human mind. Ingram and the Free Radical’s performance was accompanied by a virtual Giant Brain, implemented by the LINDSAY Virtual Human lab, which provided a highly viseral and immersive visual experience that brought Ingram’s performance to life. After opening to a sold-out crowd at the Banff Arts Centre during its début opening, The Giant Walkthrough Brain would go on to give critically-acclaimed performances at the Telus SPARK Science Centre in Calgary during Beakerhead 2014, two sold-out showings at the Timms Centre Edmonton during April 2015 and finally, two more sold-out performances at the Kelowna Community Theatre in January 2016.

Spanning an hour, The Giant Walkthrough Brain took audiences on a vivid journey through the brain’s major regions and presented pivotal figures in brain research. However, unlike a traditional lecture with its slideshows and dry presentation of the material, Jay Ingram and the Free Radicals bring each aspect of the brain to life by making use of the Unity project’s visuals in conjunction with a highly accessible, humourous and instructive talk. Each segment is broken up with a creative and clever song: from upbeat pieces that discuss dopamine and free will, to more sombre songs that explore Alzheimer’s Disease and Henry Gustav Molaison’s memory disorder. The wide spectrum of information gave audiences a glimpse of how complex the brain truly is. When it functions well, it functions exceptionally well and is counted as one of the most sophisticated constructs known to humanity. When any part of the brain malfunctions, the results are devastating and tragic. While neuroscience is something that is not always at the forefront of everyday thought, it is important to be aware of the highly complex machine that exists in all of us. In between the exceptional feats and sobering fragility of the brain, Ingram also discusses trivia about the brain, from how we perceive optical illusions to concepts of free will. A great deal of material is covered in an hour, bringing neurological research much closer to audiences in an accessible, informative and fun manner. This speaks to Ingram’s talents as a speaker, and also the creativity of those involved in the project’s development: while I am an alumni of the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme and have a some background in biology and medicine, The Giant Walkthrough Brain presented aspects of the brain in a different, novel perspective that led me to make new discoveries about the organ that makes us distinctly human. I learnt more about the brain by participating in the project than I did during the whole of my undergraduate degree. My involvement with the project also marked the first time that Jay Ingram and the Free Radicals had utilised a 3D, interactive visualisation in their performances before: a smooth implementation here contributed to the show’s successes.

While concepts surrounding a virtual brain museum predate my involvement with the project, The Giant Walkthrough Brain as I knew it began in the April of 2014. The LINDSAY Virtual Human lab was looking for an environment that was capable of supporting a virtual brain museum, and the in-house game engine, despite its extensibility, did not have the performance needed to render a model of the brain with satisfactory visual fidelity. In a curious turn of fate, the Unity game engine had been made free just a month earlier: having been employed in games such as Kerbal Space Program and Wolfire’s Receiver, the engine was a contender capable of handling the visual requirements The Giant Walkthrough Brain would need. The question remained: was Unity suited for creating an on-rails, scripted experience that could be timed with Ingram’s presentation and the Free Radical’s musical performance while at once providing traditional mechanisms for an image and video slideshow? The extent of Unity’s capabilities had not been tested at the time, and after successfully putting a similar brain model onto an iPad for coursework, I was tasked with determining whether or not Unity would fit the bill. After the first week of May had passed, I had ascertained that the component-based structure of a Unity project was flexible enough for the requirements outlined by The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and moreover, the use of C# scripting would allow for reuse and easy configuration of components that would allow any on-rails presentation to be easily reconfigured to synchronise with the performance. After my report to the team, The Giant Walkthrough Brain began development at full speed: I was made the lead developer in the project, becoming involved with implementation of the entire pathing and movement system, coordinated transitions between the brain museum, neurons and synaptic gap scenes, built the slide-show viewer that would allow images and videos to be displayed on the screen, and completed the minimap solution that translated the user’s location in world space to a 2D map on screen space to provide real-time feedback for viewers as to where in the brain the show was at any given time. Two full months of development later, and after rigorous testing of the Giant Walkthrough Brain Unity project itself, the software and the show were ready at last for a public performance at the Banff Centre.

Commentary and Personal Reflection

  • I only wish that my readers would have had the chance to view The Giant Walkthrough Brain for themselves: part science lecture and part musical performance, with a vivid and detailed visual component, the performance is a fantastic overview of different areas and functions of the brain, explaining each aspect in a highly engaging manner. As a reminiscence about the project, this post can also be seen as a “behind-the-scenes” of sorts, providing a bit more of a visual account as to what the The Giant Walkthrough Brain I’ve previously mentioned really is.

  • Jay Ingram treats the The Giant Walkthrough Brain as a tour on a bus, except instead of visiting the mountains or coasts in a motor coach, one is travelling through a vast virtual brain museum. The model itself is around 230 MB in size, and when I started the Unity project to test the engine’s viability, my first exercise was to determine what sort of frame rates could be achieved on a lower-end MacBook Pro.

  • I ended up averaging around 30 FPS on a 2012 MacBook Pro, which demonstrated that despite the model’s size, the game engine was suited for the task. One of the main challenges I faced throughout the project was that the brain model itself was constantly evolving: the platforms, walkways and exhibits inside are all custom made, and importing a new version of the model always took anywhere from a half-hour to an hour.

  • The component-based architecture in Unity was very similar to the architecture I used in our in-house game engine for my undergraduate thesis, and after I worked out how to set up the interactive pieces of The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s Unity project, I began to experiment with a splines as the means of pre-defining paths for the guided brain tour. Placing the knots (points that govern where the spline must pass through) was the trickiest part, but within a week, I had a rudimentary walkthrough of the brain based on Ingram’s script, and after showing this to the team, they were convinced that we had our toolset, methods and developers to really bring the project to life.

  • The presentation opens with a talk on the frontal lobe, an area of the brain that controls for cognitive functions such as problem solving, reason and emotion. I’ve never been too fond of mid-twentieth century approaches towards neuroscience, where it was found that lobotomies could be used to impact one’s temperament. The process is fairly macabre, involving sticking an ice-pick like implement into one’s nose and then swirling the instrument around to dislodge brain tissue.

  • Phineas Gage is a well-known figure in neuroscience: a railway worker who was caught in an accident and ended up with a rebar through his brain, he survived the accident and was noted to be no longer his old self. Prior to the accident, Gage was friendly, professional and punctual. After the accident, he was less approachable, swearing more frequently. Textbooks often cite Gage as an example of what the frontal lobe’s function is, but neglect to mention that he eventually accepted a job as a stagecoach driver in Chile, where it is hypothesised that the rigid schedule and mental demands of negotiating mountain roads allowed some of his neurons to re-develop.

  • The “Retina Ride” was one of the trickiest parts of the spline to insert: I had to precisely place the path between two knots so that they entered a small passage in the eye and then navigate the optic nerve into the occipital lobe. There’s a small crimp in the path owing to how the splines were calculated in the first iteration that I subsequently fixed, and my challenge was controlling the journey so that the thirty seconds it took was not wildly out of control. One emergent property that resulted was that the camera would slow down at tight turns before speeding up on straighter trajectories.

  • In most images of the brain visualisation, a pair of orthogonal brain projections are visible. These mini-maps were for the viewers’ benefit, indicating where in the brain model the show was. I was initially worried that the minimap should be in 3D, which would have required that I take a smaller projection of the full model, scale it down and give it a transparent mesh, and then use a smart camera to track the user’s active location, but the requirements were fortunately more simple: with two projections, I ended up obtaining the camera’s (x, y, z) coordinates in world space and then computed the equivalents on screen space.

  • Even from this distance, the size differences from the Ebbinghaus illusion can be plainly seen. This is the slideshow system I worked on: capable of supporting both video and images, the implementation of this feature allowed Ingram to discuss certain aspects in more detail using traditional media. I was able to put this viewer together quite easily, but at the time, Unity’s free version did not support video, so my supervisor promptly picked up the Pro license, allowing me to finish building the slideshow viewer. The original version used assets hard-coded into the compiled project, while later, I wrote a more dynamic system that allowed users to drag and drop .jpg, .png, .mov and .mp4 files into a directory, and the program them picked these files up and displayed them in order of file name.

  • One cool feature afforded by Unity Pro was that I had access to emissive materials that could be used to create a glowing effect on the corpus callosum, a band of nerve that divides the left and right brain in two. I experimented with a wide range of lighting effects and textures: while one configuration had a diffuse light around the corpus callosum, it also negatively affected lighting elsewhere in the model. The simpler, LED-like approach proved acceptable, and I ended up keeping things this way for all subsequent builds.

  • My participating in The Giant Walkthrough Brain made me feel as though I were a part of a Discovery Channel special. During my third year’s second, three days of the week saw my classes ending at eleven, so I always ended up heading home for lunch. While waiting for my food to cook, I would often flip the television on and watch Discovery programmes, then eat my lunch and proceed towards reviewing whatever I had covered in lecture that day.

  • Later that year, I squared off against the MCAT, and turned to Discovery Channel’s programmes to relax during lunch, in between breaks from MCAT review and my physics class. While I’ve not mentioned it, watching shows like MythBusters Survivorman and Mighty Ships helped me relax to the same extent as K-On! The Movie. Discovery Channel ended up being an incredible inspiration. By the time of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, I had watched all of the Survivorman episodes.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s world space consisted of three main levels: I handled the implementation of features at the brain museum level, and also coordinated with the other developers on the lower levels to ensure that their work functioned as expected. Here, we are looking at a network of neurons placed within the scene. The original plan was to fly through this space, but this introduced new complexities to the presentation, so in the end, I ended up placing a stationary camera here that allowed one to look around the space and watch the impulses travel. Each neuron was painstakingly placed by hand, since the algorithmic approach to generate them had not been implemented yet.

  • Delving in even closer to the molecular level, this was The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s depiction of a synapse, where electrical impulses through the neuron created an action potential that released neurotransmitters (the glowing yellow and green spheres). When an artificial compound is introduced (the pink spheres), a neuron will keep firing. While the show only spent a total of five minutes in the neurons and synaptic cleft, it took upwards of two months to set these views up properly. One of the biggest challenges was importing these scenes: until I had designed the procedure, importing from the other developers’ projects into mine always caused objects to be misplaced. This problem persisted for a month until I worked out how to properly export supporting projects and then import them into the main application.

  • The mouse inside the green sphere represents the pleasure centre of the brain. This particular segment of The Giant Walkthrough Brain stands as one of my favourites: Ingram discusses an experiment involving mice hooked up to electrodes that would stimulate their pleasure centres when a switch was hit. These mice ended up forgoing food, sleep and even copulation to hit the switch, simulating a drug addiction, and while we may laugh at the mice for their simplicity, the reality is that addiction is a non-trivial problem.

  • The chemical at the core discussion surrounding the reward system is dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in directing a behaviour towards pleasurable experiences and away from undesirable experiences. Recent studies have suggested that rather than directly triggering pleasure, it is more of a salient motivational agent in medical terms – while medical definitions are a bit more stringent, for everyday purposes, dopamine can be thought of as one of the central agents in pleasure.

  • Discussion of the pleasure centre of the brain segues into my most favourite song in The Giant Walkthrough Brain: “Press The Lever”. This highly upbeat song speaks of the pleasure centre and its function, as well as how addiction is purely a consequence of brain chemistry, and brings to life the experiments that were conducted in 1954 by Olds and Milner. More recent studies have reproduced the results of the old experiments.

  • The animation in the background is actually sourced from a predecessor to The Giant Walkthrough Brain, which was a pure scientific communications lecture with a traditional slideshow and no musical accompaniment or 3D brain walkthrough. The latter was made possible by advances to game engine technology, and in particular, Unity’s well-timed decision to make the engine freely-usable. While a 3D visualisation would have been possible with the LINDSAY Lab’s in-house engine, the resulting show would have had a lower frame rate and lacked features such as the minimap and built-in slideshow display.

  • Because of the unique setup of The Giant Walkthough Brain and its ability to engage the audience, the project saw tremendous success wherever it was presented. Each and every showing was to a sold out audience, and in Kelowna, interest was so great that Jay Ingram and the Free Radicals were asked to put on a second, encore presentation. Even two years after its debut in Banff, the 3D brain visualisation was still-considered cutting-edge, attesting to the sophistication and elegance of the design that went into the original application: for 2016, I made minor adjustments to the Unity project for Kelowna to improve its flexibility, but the codebase and Unity build had remained untouched since the summer of 2014.

  • If memory serves, this is The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s hippocampus, a structure responsible for short and long term, as well as spatial memory. Defects in the hippocampus impair memory, and one of history’s most well-known figures was only known as “HM” until his death. Because HM suffered from seizures, period science suggested brain surgery. During the operation, a piece of his hippocampus was removed to control the seizures. While the operation was successful, HM developed anterograde amnesia: he could not create new memories and was unable to recall something like what he had for breakfast, even though his older memories appeared to remain intact.

  • HM’s name was posthumously revealed as Henry Molaison, and his brain was taken to California to be sliced for analysis and imaging. After imaging, the full set of images was made available in 2014. Alzheimer’s disease was also covered: the accompanying song and talk was sobering, subdued in mood. As one of the more prevalent neuro-degenerative diseases, its causes and mechanisms are still not well understood, and there are no treatments for it.

  • Discussions turned towards free will in The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and the Free Will song is another one of my favourites. While determinism and free will have been the topic of philosophical discussion, a study done by Benjamen Libet in the 1980s asked participants to decide when they would stop a clock. During the process, their brain activity would be measured, and it was found that brain activity began even before the individual consciously knew they were about to stop the clock.

  • The Libet experiment remains controversial in its validity, and the matter of free will is still unclear from a scientific perspective. One curious outcome of free will is that individuals who are more likely to be unfaithful if they did not believe in free will. The gap between determinism and free will from a philosophical perspective is not in the scope of this reflection, so I won’t pursue the topic further or delve into which side I personally believe in.

  • In this post, I’ve only shown a few areas of the virtual brain model: its cavernous interior was modified to feel more like a museum, featuring walkways, benches and exhibits. The finished virtual brain that I worked on actually has numerous features and functions that were present but never used in The Giant Walkthrough Brain itself. The most prominent one was that the skybox could be changed, so that when the show started, it would be daytime, and at the show’s end, the sun would set. This was intended to give a sense of the passage of time but ultimately was deemed unnecessary to the show, so it was never used.

  • I’ve alluded to this previously, but during the Banff Centre performance, a lighting storm had actually knocked out power to the area. All of the audio-visual equipment powered equipment was knocked out, and Ingram began improvising. The transition was so smooth I did not notice the power was out until a technician had stepped onto the stage and informed him the power was lost. It was restored, and as the 3D virtual brain was run on a laptop with its own internal power supply, once the power returned, it was a matter of continuing the show.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain notes that most of our knowledge of the brain comes from situations where the brain is not operating normally, and towards the end, mentions that after Albert Einstein’s death, his brain was studied. While some researchers claimed that certain attributes of Einstein’s brain made him uniquely capable of developing the Theory of Relativity and other contributions, it turns out that his brain was actually quite unremarkable from a structural perspective.

  • As the performance ended, Jay Ingram concluded with a series of myths about the brain, including how the notion that “ten percent of the brain is actively used at a given time” is totally and utterly false; no other organ in the body has a high oxygen and energy requirement as the brain, and it stands to reason that our brains are always operating at full capacity. This brings The Giant Walkthrough Brain to a conclusion, and at the end of the show, all of the contributors, myself included, walked onto the stage. I’ve chosen not to include that moment in this discussion.

  • With the first successful performance in the books, The Giant Walkthrough Brain officially opened at Beakerhead 2014 at the Telus SPARK Centre. On the evening of the first presentation, I was invited out to dinner with the entire team and we ended up going for pizza in a community near the performance venue. In a curious turn of fate five years later, I returned to the same community to celebrate a successful Otafest with some of the volunteers. The weather was beautiful and allowed for activities long associated with summer, such as grilling hamburgers and hot-dogs, playing with a Frisbee and going on a scavenger hunt (that I lost interest in).

  • I spent the past weekend watching Spiderman: Far From Home and with a delicious crab-topped salmon bake in the books, we’re now passing through the halfway point of the summer months: in a few days, we roll into August, my favourite month of the year. The summer this year’s been quite enjoyable: while a ways cooler and rainier, we have had some nice days and with them, the attendant opportunity to enjoy the sunshine. For August, I have a few posts lined up, including a special talk for Your Lie in April and Ano Natsu de Matteru. This summer season’s also been reasonably solid for anime, and a preview of the upcoming season shows a handful shows that look interesting, as well.

  • The first run of The Giant Walkthrough Brain ended with an electric violin performance from Jay Ingram and a promise to do the “Giant Walkthrough Gut”. While this project became a bit of a running joke in each performance, the giant walkthrough gut materialised in my time. In the years following, Jay Ingram published several new books, including The Science of Why (and three sequels) and The End of Memory. A sequel is very unlikely, although with the sophistication of game engine tools and the groundwork laid down, I can see future students taking these older projects and building on them to create more complex, powerful and exciting projects.

July 30, 2014 was opening night. I had sat through no fewer than three dress rehearsals, and had spent the day working from an iMac from the LINDSAY lab to make continuous adjustments to the Unity project’s configurations. I was admittedly nervous: even though the project had been tested extensively to ensure it was functional, Murphy’s Law states that anything unexpected could happen. After sharing dinner with the LINDSAY team, my supervisor and Jay Ingram’s team, we headed over to the performance venue as the skies began darkening. The show began smoothly enough, but when we reached the part on dopamine, the power suddenly went out: a thunderstorm had hit the area. Within ten minutes, the power was restored, and I breathed easier. The remainder of the performance continued smoothly, wrapping up with an electric violin performance from Ingram himself. No matter how many times I had seen the performance in rehearsals, Ingram and the Free Radicals were refreshing, engaging and immersive each and every time. Ingram’s masterful storytelling captured the audiences’ attention fully, being simultaneously entertaining, amusing and instructing. In the background, the Unity virtual brain ran seamlessly. After walking across the stage as a part of the development team, we left Banff and returned to Calgary under darkened skies. I spent the next day off, sleeping in, and after a debriefing with the team, it was decided that the remainder of August was to be spent tuning up the Unity project: because the initial build had been assembled in two months to meet the July 30 deadline, some best practises had not been observed, and it was important to refactor the project. A week ahead of the Beakerhead performance, the work was done. The Giant Walkthrough Brain Unity project had become extensible, easy to configure and sleeker than ever, just in time to be put on the planetarium screens at Telus SPARK. While there have been no more presentations of The Giant Walkthrough Brain since Kelowna, the project left a large legacy in its wake: for one of my colleagues, The Giant Walkthrough Brain would become the centrepiece in their Master’s Thesis, and the discoveries I had accrued as a result of the project led me to decide on the topic of my own Master’s Thesis. While The Giant Walkthrough Brain is no Apollo 11, and comes a mere five years later where the Apollo 11 moon landings have reached fifty, the project for me remains highly significant for having helped me come to terms with who I am, rediscover what it means to have a goal to reach towards and ultimately, for reminding me that even if unrequited love happens, I can still find my own happiness in lending my skills and knowledge towards the happiness of others. While not reaching anywhere near the same number of people or involving the same level of resources it took to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon, The Giant Walkthrough Brain ultimately came to represent what the journey towards self-discovery look like – for me, this was one small step for me, and one giant leap for the future.