The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: General Discussion

Jon’s Creator Showcase- A November 2019 Presentation in the Penultimate Month to a New Decade

“Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it and you’ll start believing in it.” –Jesse Owens

Foreword

Last month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase was hosted by Ayano of Kawai Paper Pandas, featuring some twenty-three submissions that I had the pleasure to be a part of. For folks who are new to Jon’s Creator Showcase, it’s an initiative by Jon Spencer to showcase and share blog posts. This project began two years ago, and while it started out as a place for folks to swap awesome anime discussions, the programme has since expanded to encompass a wide range of topics and submissions. In this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, there were a grand total of thirty-one submissions, with two short stories, an AMV, three video submissions and a range of posts dealing with topics as diverse as competition, chronic fatigue, and Amazon’s review policies among them. Of course, being submission from October, I had a fair number of Halloween-themed posts, as well. I am grateful that there were no true horror submissions: I’m weak against that sort of thing. Before going on any further, I’d like to thank everyone for their submissions: it was an absolute joy to read through everything and identify what about each submission I found the most positivity in. It’s been a wild month, and in fact, the number of submissions was large enough that, when coinciding with DICE’s release of Battlefield V‘s Pacific Theatre update, meant that I slowed the output of my blog to ensure that this month’s feature was handled appropriately, and at the same time, find the time for my other activities. I believe that I’ve done a passable job of showcasing all of the entries that were submitted. Following the format I had from my previous showcase, each submission is given a brief summary, plus some extended thoughts. For the folks who followed the original post’s instructions, they also received an additional set of thoughts from me regarding what about their blogging style makes them worth following. I think this is everything, and so, I leave readers to the main event itself: submissions from the month of October.

Featured

Three Episode Rule – Rifle is Beautiful – Episode 1: What are Beam Rifles?

Jusuchin, A Journey Through Life (@RightWingOtaku)

Jusuchin opens the party with a talk on Rifle is Beautiful, a gentle and amusing anime about a group of girls who, after restarting their club, set about practising in their chosen activity. Since Jusuchin’s old high school days were marked by a surge in popularity for robotics and weight lifting, Rifle is Beautiful captured his interest, and Jusuchin finds that this anime presents rifle shooting in a highly approachable, accessible manner. However, whereas Jusuchin has had prior experience with firearms, Rifle is Beautiful makes use of the training beam rifles, which operates similarly to a light gun. Because of the different tools being used, Jusuchin’s background means that Olympic shooting becomes quite different than what he is used to: there is little room to discuss things like firearms safety and techniques, maintenance, accessories and details like ballistics. Ultimately, Jusuchin counts Rifle is Beautiful as being a series that is intended for a very narrow band of viewers, whose characters had better be working hard to capture and hold his interest as the series progresses.

Because I’m Canadian through and through, I’ve never held or fired a live firearm, and all of my knowledge comes from reading about them extensively, whether it be though introductory visual guides from Dorling Kindersley or technical manuals to ensure a good understanding of what weapons safety, performance and handling procedures are so I can write about them. Jusuchin is more versed than I am in this area, and so, upon seeing Rifle is Beautiful for myself, I am in the same boat as he is: I am in alignment with Jusuchin when I say that I find the summer Olympics to be rather dull aside from highlights and records, being much more interested in watching winter sports like ice hockey and the biathlon. The both of us thus look towards the characters in order to hold our interest in the show, and so far, the anime has managed to hold my interest for being a relaxing, laid-back series with no major suspense or conflict to keep me on the edge of my seat. However, whereas I tend to focus on the storytelling aspects of a given series, Jusuchin’s extensive knowledge of military implements and firearms means that through his thoughts on shows like Rifle is Beautiful, one can learn something that only someone with experience will know. This is one of the joys about following folks who have specialised knowledge: their posts become more engaging since one invariably will pick up something new when reading them.

Although Jusuchin’s often mentioned that his blog’s weak point is that he writes very infrequently for it, I handily counter with the remark that the quality of a blog is not judged by how frequently one writes, but rather, by the enjoyment factor readers gain from looking through one’s materials. The reason why I bring so many seemingly random topics to the plate is because I want my readers to learn something new when they read my articles; while in a given post, I may be talking about GochiUsa and various aspects of the character growth, I may also choose to share trivial tidbits like what enka is, if it is tangentially related to my talk. Jusuchin does something similar in his reviews, and through his talks, I’ve learned about things like the traditions behind salted coffee in the navy, or big names in competitive shooting sports, to name a few. Thus, because his articles are noteworthy and engaging, I’m not terribly worried about the fact that he doesn’t post often: the posts Jusuchin does publish end up being a joy to read.

Cop Craft – This Deserved Better

Jon Spencer, Jon Spencer Reviews (@JS_Reviews)

From the originator of Jon’s Creator Showcase comes a discussion on Cop Craft, which has its origins in a light novel about a portal’s appearance and the changes it wrought in the world. With this portal’s formation came the need for a special police department, and Cop Craft focuses on one Kei Matoba, who comes to learn of acceptance as he works to keep order between humans and the aliens known as Semenians. With such a strong premise, Jon expresses disappointment that despite the strong characters, the production values in Cop Craft were sub-par, and the progression was inconsistent, disjointed. However, these shortcomings do not stop Jon from finding reasons to enjoy Cop Craft, whose unique combination of a police drama with fantastical elements creates a unique experience that strikes a fine balance between an authentic grounding and being able to see things that would otherwise not occur in reality. Overall, Jon wishes that the production team behind Cop Craft would have handled the adaptation more elegantly, since the series itself is built on a solid foundation, and recommends to readers that this could be worth checking out despite some of its limitations.

Positivity and critical thinking are often perceived as being mutually exclusive: there is a misconception that one cannot be critical and positive simultaneously. However, this is something that I often strive to do, and Jon’s done an excellent job in his talk about Cop Craft, where he covers off the reasons that make the series worthwhile in spite of its flaws. Contrary to the belief that one can only like or dislike something entirely, the reality is that it is possible to enjoy a work in spite of its flaws, and that even if the flaws are numerous, some series can still be meaningful for different individuals because of their own perspective and background. Jon makes a compelling case in his submission to watch Cop Craft; despite the shakier execution, the characters and foundations are ultimately reason enough to give Cop Craft a fair chance. Jon brings in Demon Slayer as an instance of a series where the execution was solid, but the underlying narrative was weaker, citing the characters as the primary reason why. It is the case that characters can make a series even if its technical components are not as strong as one would like, and I’ve seen numerous cases where people have found ways to enjoy a series even if it had obvious faults, simply because the characters and their journeys are relatable, holding enough weight to merit that one follow the series along out of a desire to see the characters grow and mature.

As the brainchild behind Jon’s Creator Showcase, Jon’s run a tight ship at his blog for the past four years, primarily focusing on reviews. However, back in October, Jon’s also decided to take his blog in a different direction, with the goal of exploring different topics and ultimately, producing different kinds of content. Blogs shift focus and mature over time, and sometimes, their authors may decide to call it quits. It is fortunate that Jon is not leaving our number forever, and instead, is seeking to do a bit more than he’d previously done. Without his efforts, initiatives like Jon’s Creator Showcase would not exist. While he’s taking a break from blogging for the present in pursuit of his new endeavours, I still strongly encourage readers to visit his blog and check out his older reviews; one of the joys about blogging is that we tend to leave behind a considerable archive of posts that offer insight into how we’d felt about a certain work earlier, and for Jon, there’s no shortage of excellent material to read through.

YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of This World (Discussion) – Did They Eat Kunkun?!

EcchiHunter (@EcchiHunterX)

The folks of EcchiHunter run a very distinct site that hosts discussions about series that deal in the lascivious and indecent to varying extents, with content taking an interview format between the site’s hosts, Lynn Sheridan and Yomu, and occasionally, guest speakers. The end result is a very breezy, open discussion about series that typically are either dismissed for lacking “substance” or otherwise quietly watched and garner limited conversation. In their submission, EcchiHunter and guest speaker Dewbond presents a discussion on YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World, a series with its roots as a visual novel dating back to 1996 and received an anime adaptation in 1998. A remake was announced in 2017, and YU-NO also received a full anime adaptation earlier this year, as well. In their dialogues, Lynn and Dewbond enlighten readers how YU-NO is a precursor to the visual novel and isekai trends that are currently prevalent amongst titles of their respective genres. Besides the series’ origins, Dewbond and Lynn provide an overview of the sometimes chaotic flow the modern anime adaptation had; while YU-NO started out strong, some areas began deviating from the objectives the series had set out to cover, with the end result being that the series began weakening towards the end. Like most stories adapted from visual novels, YU-NO would have benefited from an extended adaptation to truly flesh things out. Having watched the series, Lynn expresses a wish to play the visual novel, and leaves Dewbond with a thank you for having introduced him to the series.

Conversation-style posts are always a joy to read, as they have a flow and dynamic that multiple voices provide. Multiple standing points in YU-NO are comprehensively covered, and Lynn’s conclusion is that YU-NO is worthwhile in spite of its flaws. Where anime adaptations of visual novels are concerned, I personally count it as praise for the series when one of the criticisms leveled against it is that the episode count was insufficient. Lynn’s experiences in YU-NO has parallels with my own journey through CLANNAD; after a solid anime adaptation provided a good overview of the narrative and characters, curiosity prompted me to look at the visual novel. Anime adaptations, when done well, can immerse viewers in a world completely and compel them to root for the characters as they work towards their goals. However, anime adaptations also provide much of the transitions and audio aspects to a story, leaving very little to one’s imagination. By comparison, reading a visual novel has merits of its own: prompted by the text and static images, players now must draw on their imagination to fill in the rest, creating an even more enriching experience. This is where visual novels shine, and coupled with a degree of player choice, visual novels give players a greater sense of immersion and control than the animated adaptation can. This is my experience with the first few chapters of CLANNAD, and to Lynn, I do hope that he has an opportunity to try out YU-NO‘s visual novel, as well.

I don’t mind admitting that I follow the folks of Ecchi Hunter primarily because I have a (largely unknown) enjoyment for series of this kind. The T & A aspects aside, ecchi series tend to lend themselves to much comedy that arises as a result of misunderstanding and embarrassment, and so, offers a respite from the comparatively sterile nature of reality. However, I typically gravitate towards slice-of-life series and therefore would pass on most series. By consistently providing reviews of the latest and greatest ecchi series, I can then read through Ecchi Hunter’s reviews and decide for myself as to whether or not a series could be worth watching given its premise. I don’t pick up all ecchi series, and having a succinct, instructive resource allows me to find the series that I am most likely to watch for the premise, and subsequently, get a bonus kick out of the hilarity that ensues as a result of the misadventures that can only exist in ecchi series.

Fantasy and Friction

Fred Heiser, This is my Place (@AuNaturelOne)

From Au Natural’s Fred comes a submission on the OWLS post: standing for Otaku Writers for Liberty and Self Respect, this programme not too dissimilar to The Jon’s Creator Showcase in that it allows for bloggers to freely share their thoughts with the world. For his submission, Fred submits a general overview of the fantasy genre. After surprising readers with a brief history of musical fantasy, Fred submits that fantasy is a broad category describing a non-reality, a form of escape from the challenges of life that arises when various aspects of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are not satisfied, whether it be the fundamental human drive to reproduce, experience things that would otherwise place one in no small amount of harm, seeking companionship and community with others, relive an experience, being someone to save and support others, or even just entertain the idle mind. The immersion in fantasy is something that society frowns upon: fiction is supposed to be confined in the mind, but Fred counter-argues that dreams can be turned into reality with enough perseverance, and some compromise: he cites A Place Further Than The Universe as a key example of how four girls’ goals of reaching Antarctica were realised because they came together and determined a plan that would be fulfilled. While not all fantasies are pure as driven snow, they ultimately serve an important purpose for individuals: they give people freedom unparalleled, and while the mind wanders, great and terrible things may happen. It is ultimately up to the individuals to do with their thoughts as they will, and this is an encouraging thought.

Fred nails the presentation of fiction as a simultaneously means of escape and gaining perspective: rather like how sports can provide inspiration driving improvement and team spirit, the popularity of fiction endures for being able to put one in someone else’s shoes and live experiences otherwise impossible to replicate. While Fred speaks specifically of consumable media such as books, television, film and music, I also append video games to the list. Despite having a fiercely negative reaction in the public eye, the majority of video games are simply immersive experiences with the added dimensionality of interactivity: one can be a race car driver, pilot, farmer, poker player, explorer, mayor or soldier owing to the diversity of video games, and such escapes are especially welcome in life when the world becomes overwhelming. By taking a moment to focus on something else, the mind is able to operate behind-the-scenes to process new information, and this is what gaining new perspective is about. In general, this is the worth of fiction, as it is able to help individuals find a modicum of happiness and ultimately, acts as one of many tools that help one find their way and achieve whatever they set out to accomplish.

Being a more mature blogger (Fred’s profile states that he was around since the days of the Cold War), I’m always curious to read about the perspectives and thoughts of those who’ve BTDT: people with experience have, over many years, cultivated an incredible set of knowledge and skills, so when they share their thoughts, it offers considerable insights into the minds of folks who are much more learned than I am. Correspondingly, their blog posts are very enjoyable to read, and Fred’s submission for this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase is an example of his writing: detailed, insightful and fun to read. I still remember initially hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase and working to pass the torch on to Fred for the month upcoming, and after things were smoothed out, it’s been a great experience; it was through Jon’s Creator Showcase that I’d found Au Natural to begin with. This is one example of how things like Jon’s Creator Showcase can bring new blogs and people into the anime blogging community.

Why We Don’t Have Enough Horror Anime

Aria, The Animanga Spellbook (@MagicConan14)

Horror is a genre that I personally do not have great interest in: thanks to a fertile imagination and a propensity for my thoughts to wander, any stimulation from horror movies reduces me into a wreck incapable of carrying out everyday activities. My experiences with horror are therefore limited primarily to the realm of Koji Suzuki’s works, classical horror like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and basic familiarity with Stephen King’s novels, as well as ghost stories. Fortunately, just in time for Hallow’s Eve, Magic Conan of Animanga Spellbook has stepped up to the plate, whose travels to Japan left her with the realisation that there wasn’t a whole lot of proper horror in Japanese literature. While Japan might be known for their frightening J-Horror scene, the inherent limitations of the genre can make some forms of horror less effectual, and MagicConan14 explores how effective horror comes with tradeoffs: jump scares are only effective in the short term, protracted build-ups leave viewers with potential boredom, and the most effective kind of horror generally lies not with shock value like gore, but a more subtle sense of dread. With these challenges, there is a comparatively smaller number of true horror anime and manga series out there, and MagicConan14 closes off with a question for the viewers – is there a deficit of horror series?

At its core, I would imagine that the relative lack of horror in Japan comes from differences in what constitutes as horror. I roll with the idea that horror is predominantly about the innate human fear of a lack of control against forces, supernatural or otherwise. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is horrified by the fact that he’s created a monstrosity of great power and destructive potential that has a will of its own. Koji Suzuki’s Dark Water and its film adaptation has Yoshimi entangled in a difficult custody battle for her daughter, and she is powerless to better her surroundings, leaving her vulnerable to a terrifying haunting in a sparsely-populated apartment block. The Blair Witch Project sees a group of students pursued by an unknown force they cannot hope to contend with. Supernatural beings like Charlie of Firestarter, Carrie White from Carrie or It‘s Pennywise possess powers that similarly wreck destruction. Coupled with feelings of regret, hatred, fear and other negative emotions, the commonality that horror fiction share is that they are relatively short, self-contained stories. The horror accompanies brevity, and as a series wears on, creating the sense of dread and unease in the audience cannot be easy. I would therefore remark that owing to the nature of what creates fear in an audience, MagicConan14’s assessment about the challenges of creating an effective horror series makes sense and would account for why full-length anime with a similar atmosphere to something like a Stephen King novel would be rarer compared to things like The Curse, which utilise the movie format so effectively that lesser folk like myself refuse to watch it from reputation alone.

With a frequent posting schedule, MagicConan14’s blog is a lively one whose presentation stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from the style I present. I’m very envious of the folk who are able to articulate themselves in a very succinct and direct manner: MagicConan14’s posts are very easy to read and take in because of their structure, translating to readers having a much easier time walking away with full understanding of what the post was intending to convey. Having looked through more recent posts, MagicConan14 also writes about the challenges with blogging and striking a good balance between it with life. As I’ve been around the blogging scene for nearly a decade, I note that this is always a challenge, and I encourage bloggers to write simply when they feel like writing: forcing a post out for a schedule isn’t fun, and it is often the case that a brilliant idea can come out of the blue and invite a full-fledged discussion. I encourage MagicConan14 to keep on blogging; this is a superbly fun hobby, and I’ve found it remarkably cathartic, akin to keeping a diary.

Samurai School for Girls (Short Story)

Lynn Sheridan, The Otaku Author (@TheEarthLynn)

With Lynn Sheridan’s short story, I think that I’ve almost got every category for this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase: Lynn’s Samurai School for Girls was originally written as a part of a collaborative project with other bloggers (score one for collaboration!) that involves picking an older anime, drawing elements from it and then crafting an original narrative from it. Lynn opted to go with a schoolgirl story: Riko has given her best into studying for a math exam, but when their instructor is murdered in the middle of a math exam, Riko finds herself locked in a fierce duel with another student. When she lands a killing blow, it turns out their “classmates” are actually robots. However, the fight takes a turn for the unexpected when a man appears and captures Riko’s classmate, Momoko. With her friend, Murasaki, Riko catches up to the unknown man, and with their knowledge of applied mathematics, devise a strategy to beat their opponent, which similarly turns out to be a robot. Their instructor appears shortly after and congratulates Riko for having passed the exam.

It’s always fun to read short stories from fellow bloggers: Lynn’s story is a particularly colourful one that portrays each moment vividly in the mind’s eye. Because Lynn sets his story in an academy for samurai, he is able to craft a compelling fight scene that integrates smoothly with the schoolgirl environment. The lesson of this short story is that a samurai must be prepared for the unexpected, and this unexpected surprise explosively is propelled into the forefront of the story as soon as the swords come out. Short stories are, compared to their full-length counterparts, always stymied by their length, and so, must do more with less. When done well, they are very concise portrayals of a specific idea; since I did walk away from Lynn’s story with an idea of what the message was, Samurai School for Girls has succeeded as a short story. I can imagine that writing the story could not have been easy, since crafting fiction requires a different set of skills than looking at fiction and writing about it in a more technical, analytical style. Attesting to this difficulty, I have previously written a sample story portraying the pilot of Stark Jegan’s perspective from Gundam Unicorn’s first episode, and while I retain most of my love for technical details, it took a considerable amount of effort to ensure that the fight between the Stark Jegan and the Kyshatriya was adequately captured. My story is only a third of the length of Lynn’s, and even that took three hours to shape into something readable: the effort that goes into fiction is evident, and Samurai School for Girls is ultimately a fun story with a meaningful theme that I certainly had fun showcasing.

The first and foremost remark I have about Lynn’s blog is that he should get the SSL certificate issue sorted out: while I’ve vetted the site myself and done my own tests to ensure I wasn’t picking up undesirable scripts, the warning message that one’s browser displays is usually one that shouldn’t be disregarded. In this case, it’s okay to ignore security warning; The Otaku Author may have an expired SSL certificate, but the site itself is totally safe and worth reading. With a wide range of posts, from creative short stories to anime reviews, Lynn’s writing is clear, concise and effective in conveying an idea about the series he watches. Of note is how he opens each section with a header that firmly establishes what he intends to cover, which provides a visual break on the screen and also reduces fatigue from the readers. Besides reviews and short stories, Lynn is also a published author with fifteen works under his belt. With a highly approachable writing style, significant experience as a writer, Lynn runs an excellent blog that’s definitely worth following.

October Submissions

My Perspectives Of: Fanservice and Character Agency

Scott, Mechanical Anime Reviews (@MechAnimeReview)

Scott of Mechanical Anime Reviews explores a particularly polarising and current topic within the anime community: the matter of fanservice and its place in anime. In this discussion, Scott establishes that he has nothing against the presence of indecent exposure or other questionable moments in anime, provided that the moment does not degrade or demean the character subject to it. There are cases where such moments can be used to establish a character’s personality or create humour. Conversely, when poorly done, fanservice is a distraction at best, shifting the camera away from the characters’ faces and their environment. At worst, it transmutes a character into a walking joke made to suffer unnecessarily. Such moments offer nothing to viewers. Scott covers examples of fanservice across the board, from Fire Force‘s poor treatment of Tamaki as an example of a series that hasn’t executed saucier moments well, to Quitterie of Astra Lost in Space as an example of when fanservice is properly wielded to enhance the character by giving her autonomy over her situation. Because the efficacy and worth of fanservice in a given anime varies based on what the anime does with such moments, Scott concludes that in and of itself, fanservice isn’t to be generalised as an evil or quintessential part of anime; instead, whether or not the fanservice is welcome is to be gauged based on what it does for the characters, and whether or not it is abused for no discernible reason. As a result, the recent perspectives about fanservice favouring censorship are not to be taken seriously.

Excellent bloggers do not shy away from topics outside their realm of familiarity, and Scott’s submission is a relevant post. Even though I tend not to participate in the social media aspects of anime blogging with the same frequency as those around me, I have nonetheless seen the insipid and boorish arguments supporting censorship in anime from individuals whose opinions are ill-defined and based on little more than an appeal to emotion. The presence of these individuals has been on the rise, and with social media platforms offering them an audience, it can certainly seem that rational thought and reason is being lost to madness. Scott’s post, a strong example of what reasonable discourse looks like, shows that there are those (myself included) who simply wish to enjoy their entertainment without some arbitrary and unqualified party imposing their unlearned world-views on others. For me, I tend to regard fanservice as an optional extra in anime: the true scope of fanservice is much broader than mammaries and posteriors, extending to clever references to earlier works and the return of iconic aspects of a series. However, specifically where anatomy is concerned, like Scott, I appreciate it if it adds to the story, are neutral towards it if it adds nothing, and will sympathise with characters who unduly suffer having their bodies paraded about. Extending on Scott’s point, I note that for the most part, opinions from vocal individuals on social media are generally not meritorious of consideration, and in general, while everyone might be entitled to a voice, not everyone is entitled to an audience, especially if they do not take the pains of explaining their perspectives clearly.

Senran Celebrations Day 7 – The Future of Senran Kagura (Discussion)

Average Joe Reviews (@joe_reviews)

Senran Kagura is the topic of Average Joe’s submission, the finale in a seven-part series celebrating the Senran Kagura franchise that deals with their future. While Senran Kagura‘s creator, Kenichiro Takaki, intends to continue working on Senran Kagura titles for platforms besides Sony, which has imposed increasingly draconian censorship policies that detract from the experience Takaki intended players to have for the games. The move to different platforms like PC and the Nintendo Switch is projected to allow Takaki the creative freedoms need to deliver the vision he has for the series, although censorship might continue to be a challenge: Sony’s policies degrade the experience that creators envision, breaking up the narrative and impact that a work might otherwise have. The end result is that customers will invariably seek their entertainment on other platforms, as Joe has done. While censorship does appear to be increasingly commonplace, Joe nonetheless expresses optimism for Takaki’s future works: Kandagawa Jet Girls is one such title that Takaki is working on, and with the Senran Kagura series still strong, Joe hopes that the future will be marked with old and new fans alike discovering the merits of Senran Kagura.

Sony’s shift towards censoring elements they deem “questionable” has been a long-standing issue, and at first glance, is a move that looks irrational from a business standpoint. As Joe describes, deliberately degrading an experience drives customers away to seek different products, which corresponds with a decrease in sales and revenue. However, companies inexplicably seem to be imposing American values on overseas entertainment in spite of this, practising political correctness and favouring a loosely defined implementation of wholesomeness over entertainment value. Companies like Sony doubtlessly will have justifications at the ready for their actions, and while I do have my own guesses as to what’s going on, the end result is that the customers end up paying for an inferior product. However, the same individuals whose work becomes censored also appears to have the creativity and flexibility to continuing crafting their work without it being diminished. This is the route that Takaki has taken, and try as Sony might to suppress his work, Takaki’s new avenues should allow him to deliver the best possible experience for his audience.

Top 5 Creepy Anime OP’s and ED’s

Karandi,100 Word Anime (@100wordanime)

In the spirit of Halloween, Karandi of 100 Word Anime presents a top five countdown of the best anime opening and ending sequences that fit the Halloween spirit of horror, unease and other suspenseful feelings. Starting off the countdown is Demon Slayer‘s ending, From The Edge, a seemingly upbeat and optimistic song whose composition conceals a darker tone. Coming up next is Ghost Hunt‘s main theme: the anime itself already screams horror for including the word “ghost”, and despite a less impressive visual aspect, Ghost Hunt’s theme definitely conveys a horror feel, using the minor key, staccatos and a tense female vocalisation to create a very gothic feeling. In the middle of the list is Still Doll, Vampire Knight‘s ending. With an ethereal, ecclesiastical composition, and whose title has an ominous ring to it (“a doll that stands still”), Still Doll is a song that gives off horror and Halloween vibes. Madoka Magica‘s ending theme, Kalafina’s Magia, follows: this song is known for its tense vocalisations and use of the minor scale to create a sense of abject terror, not just in the supernatural, but in things that are seemingly beyond comprehension, befitting of the abominations known as Witches that serve as the force behind the magical girls in Madoka Magica. Topping out the list is Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni Kai‘s opening, Naraku no Hana. The song’s juxtaposition of the calm with sudden breaks creates an unease that mirrors the anime’s composition, that there is hidden danger lurking behind the moments of seeming normalcy and calm.

Music related posts are always fun submissions to include, and Karandi’s post is perfectly timed for Halloween. I still vividly recall primary school music lessons, where my music instructor would note that horror music would make extensive use of the minor key, and then go on to have us sing songs in the minor key surrounding Halloween-themed topics. The very same songs, when performed in the major key, lose that sense of eeriness and fear factor. Having seen this in simpler terms, it becomes evident that music is a powerful means of shaping the emotional tenour of a work; properly chosen theme songs do much in shaping how audiences view a series. Karandi’s choices showcase some of the best there is, and I only say this because the entries for first and second place happen to be songs I’m very familiar with, having enjoyed them greatly alongside the series they are featured in. While horror music generally isn’t something I actively search out for my preferred playlist, music from the genre can be very compelling and create a sense of weight, doubt and worry: good music can evoke certain moods in people, and given the impact horror music has, I’d say that Karandi’s done a fine job of showcasing some of the highlights of anime openings and endings with particularly strong pieces.

Reflections of healing

Taryn The Dragon, Dragons Codex (@arcanedrag0n)

Healing is the core of the post that arcanedrag0n submits to Jon’s Creator Showcase, dealing with a very personal topic about dealing with a loss in her family, when her mother passed away from leukemia and the process of recovery in the aftermath. arcanedrag0n recalls the period of grief following, and ultimately went into therapy, where she discovered that she was grieving for herself; having direct a monumental effort towards saving her mother, from the fundraising to secure the finances for treatment, to ensuring her mother’s assets were appropriately handled, arcanedrag0n became exhausted. The therapy process became invaluable for her, helping arcanedrag0n to understand her thoughts, render them in a tangible form and then accept them. To help with management, arcanedrag0n took up new hobbies, taking small steps like building an exercise routine and personal art projects to regain focus. With this newfound perspective, arcanedrag0n would eventually hike up a mountain near her home. Conquering the summit of a mountain allowed arcanedrag0n to rediscover her strengths and worth to the world: in life’s journeys, we are often a far worse impediment to ourselves than any external foe, but with the right support, one can turn their efforts inwards and fix issues from within, coming to find what it means to be alright after all.

Personal stories such as these are always immeasurably touching, and as much strength as it takes to conquer internal challenges, it takes strength in equal measure to share these experiences with others so candidly. The topic of cancer is an unfortunately common one, and I’ve lost family to cancer, as well. Similarly, grief is a difficult topic to share, and while everyone handles it differently, not everyone is able to find their feet at the same rate. Stories like these are therefore inspiration, showing that there remains hope. There are many people in this world, each with their own struggles and stories – seeing recollections like arcanedrag0n’s is a constant reminder of the strength of the human spirit, and our incredible resilience in the face of adversity. However, arcanedrag0n’s path to recovery is not one taken alone: support from therapy is a major contributor, showing how people can find their strength with the right tools. It’s a very visceral reminder that life is fraught with challenges, and inspiring posts like these serve to reiterate the idea that people are meant to support one another. With the world seeming as though it is on the precipice of an irreversible descent into chaos, that the human resolve endures is an encouraging thought.

The Listless List: Top 5 Anime of Summer 2019

Lethargic Ramblings, (@AlwaysLethargic)

While AlwaysLethargic would have me believing otherwise, summer is a finite period of year defined astronomically as the period from the time of maximal insolation to the autumnal equinox. The summer might be limited to a three-month window characterised by long days, beautiful weather and opportunity to explore the outdoors, but for folks in the anime community, it is also a season of summer anime. AlwaysLethargic’s submission has him detailing five of the noteworthy shows of this summer, starting the list off with Dr. Stone, a series about a student who sets out to rebuild civilisation after a phenomenon petrifies him. The anime is known for its adherence to science and the manga’s content, which makes it worth watching despite weaker animation and a smaller episode count. Fire Force occupies fourth place, featuring strong art and animation, as well as an engaging story, and while there has been much criticisms surrounding fanservice, AlwaysLethargic argues this is a non-issue, overshadowed by the enjoyment factor in the fight scenes and character dynamics. DanMachi‘s second season follows, excelling as a sequel to the first season. Taking second place is Vinland Saga, which AlwaysLethargic has long anticipated and found to be a respectful adaptation of the manga that proved quite compelling. In first place is Arifureta, which defies all expectations contrary to community reception.

My own tastes and styles are dramatically different than most of the anime community that I participate in, but the commonality that I share with those within this community is an open mind. I’ve watched none of the shows that AlwaysLethargic mentions, but a good, concise justification is sometimes all it takes to turn my head and pique my curiosity. Top five lists are a highly precise and simple way of doing this, allowing folk like myself to quickly gain a measure of what made a series work well for someone, and I also enjoy them for the reason that the top five of anything means I’m reading through reasons someone enjoyed something. For their concise nature, lists have the advantage of being easily digestible, and leaving AlwaysLethargic’s summer 2019 top five, I could be persuaded to give Arifureta and Fire Force a shot, for instance, because of straightforward and clear reasons for what I might get out of said series. By comparison, list format or more traditional essay format, negativity and criticism, calls to skip, drop or boycott a given series are nowhere near as fun to read. I can’t imagine sitting through something one would rather not sit through for the sake of telling others not to watch something, and for what it’s worth, life is finite. Those who would rather do things that make them happy have evidently figured out their place in the sun, and going by AlwaysLethargic’s example, positivity should be something that everyone be more mindful of.

Amazon Reviews: Everything You Need To Know As An Author And A Reviewer

Ray, The Ray Journey, (@TheRayJourney)

One of the joys about Jon’s Creator Showcase is where submissions come from: this time around, we have an entry from an author who’s published an e-book to Amazon, and in their post, they discuss the importance of understanding Amazon’s policy for reviews, which are the first point of contact for potential customers. In this highly detailed article, Ray covers some of the guidelines surrounding how reviews are published – to ensure quality review, Amazon only allows verified customers with no direct association with the product’s vendor. Amazon has a highly intricate setup for checking for bias, conflicts of interest and review swapping. In addition, product page optimisation also is a factor, with URL formatting to the product impacting whether reviews are retained. Accounts found in violation of Amazon’s rules can have their reviews deleted, reviewing privileges revoked or in some cases, the product is removed from sales. However, there are ways to obtain reviews that are legitimate, and for family and friends, as well as paid reviewers, there is a special utility to add editorial reviews and customer discussions. While Amazon initially started its journey as an online book retailer, Jeff Bezos has since transformed Amazon into a juggernaut, and with its impact on selling products, it is quite unsurprising to know that there is such a sophisticated review system in place to ensure that assessments of a product are genuine.

Ray’s presentation of the Amazon review policies in approachable terms means that prospective authors are much more aware of how reviews are treated on the Amazon platform. This information becomes invaluable to ensure that reviews for a book are useful and informative for those who are on the fence about whether or not an item is for them, and for an author, it also means knowing the regulations can prevent some of the more unpleasant consequences, such as seeing one’s products removed, refuse dispersal of payments, or even legal action, from occurring. With an increasing number of people looking to self-publish their books, understanding the marketplace they are selling in goes a long way towards ensuring the continued success of a product. Of particular note in Ray’s article is the final section on editorial reviews and customer discussions, which allow for certain kinds of reviews to be published without impacting other parameters affecting a product’s reviews – this feature is useful for reviewers and vendors alike, as they permit for a transparent way to let prospective customers know the angle of a perspective.

Competition Slows, Friendship Grows; The Secret to Fast Success

S.S. Blake, Earth and Water (@Earthand_Water)

With Earth and Water’s submission on competition, this Jon’s Creator Showcase enters the realm of the blogging community I admit that I do not venture frequently into: S.S. Blake’s post on competition presents an interesting perspective on the most fundamental aspect of life itself, and suggests that social progress has rendered competition less desirable compared to collaboration. Working with others can produce mutual benefits for participants, but the results are not always immediately apparent. Instead, collaboration is something that is nurtured over time, favouring a human touch over highly mechanised approaches to yield meaningful relationships and ultimately, a synergy that is far more rewarding and meaningful towards long-term, sustained growth.

We’ve now ventured into posts that are well outside of my area of expertise: Earth and Water’s post is an example of the world of blogging outside of discourse on fiction, and admittedly, I don’t read advice blogs often. These are written with a significantly different style, and the layouts are much more colourful, relaxing than the blogs I am accustomed to: going through the post itself, I am met with a very concise and focused presentation of the value of collaboration over competition. Reading these submissions really drive home the idea that blogging is an incredibly diverse and varied hobby, with each author’s blog being stylised and written to convey a specific mindset to readers. Earth and Water presents an upbeat, optimistic “you got this!” mindset, standing in stark contrast with the utilitarian, “focus on my content” feel that I run with here.

AD: Global 1st Vie Gourmet Coconut Bowls | Eco-Friendly Kitchenware For Sustainable Foodies

Hannah Read, Pages, Places, & Plates (@PagePlacePlate)

Hannah Read’s post presents Vie Gourmet by Global 1st’s Coconut Bowls, from a company dedicated to sustainability. These coconut bowls are fashioned from coconuts and are highly versatile: Hannah has used them in a variety of functions, from soups to salads and everything in between. While they’re not microwave safe, they are suitable for holding onto hotter foods thanks to the insulation the coconut material provides. Moreover, they appear rather durable, and come in a variety of sizes. Their composition makes them a sustainable alternative to conventional bowls, and Hannah recommends these as being must-haves – aside from their functionality, the coconut bowls are also photogenic and work rather well for folks who create content for social media.

Lifestyle blogs are similarly a topic that I read very little, as I have enough on my hands with keeping my own life upright. As such, there are many things that I use each and every day that I take for granted, which is ironic when I am constantly reiterating to readers through discussions on slice-of-life anime that it is worth enjoying the small, everyday aspects of life. Hannah Read’s review of Coconut Bowls from Vie Gourmet is an example of how lifestyle bloggers go about finding joy in everyday things: something as simple as a bowl for food becomes a story worth sharing, as subtle details are brought to the forefront. While I might normally skip over the details and simply see the Coconut Bowl as a bowl, Hannah insightfully details how the bowls are durable, aesthetically pleasing and practical on top of being crafted from coconuts. It means that unlike the ceramic bowls I normally use for soup, I don’t stand to burn myself, risk breaking the bowl if I am careless, and on top of that, have a sustainable product that I could be proud of.

Review: Fire Force Episode 14: Benimaru On High And Shinra Fast On His Feet

Terrance Crow, Crow’s World of Anime (@CrowsAnimeWorld)

Terrance Crow of Crow’s World of Anime presents the highlights of Fire Force‘s fourteenth episode. This series is set in a world where certain individuals are afflicted with a condition that causes them to undergo spontaneous combustion, becoming referred to as “Infernals”. Later generations of individuals develop pryokinesis and band together to form an organisation to manage the Infernals. Fire Force follows Kusakabe Shinra, who is a part of Special Fire Force Company 8. As he investigates the Infernals and helps to put out the fires they create, he discovers the origins of his power and dives towards the source of what caused his family’s death twelve years previously. By episode fourteen, Terrance features the top moments from the episode, which sees Asakusa descending into chaos as the Infernal’s activity grows. The episode sees character growth from two of the leads: Shinra affirms his duties to protect his world. The episode effectively makes use of its music to accentuate each moment, and Terrance draws parallels between the characters’ attitudes towards power and those of Gandalf from Lord of The Rings. The honourable choices that Fire Force‘s characters make enhances Terrance’s enjoyment of the series.

Because all I’ve heard of Fire Force stems primarily from social media griping about the fanservice piece, it can be a little tricky to discern the signal from the noise. Fortunately, the anime blogging community has stepped up to show that, beyond these superficial remarks, lies a series that makes use of its premise to create a much more meaningful and engaging story than watching Kotatsu provide visual comedy each episode. Character growth and development in Fire Force is clearly one of its core features, and Terrance’s comparison between iconic fictional characters like Gandalf, or historical figures like George Washington, show that there is more to Fire Force than some espouse: this does seem to be a recurring theme of late, where certain members of the community fixate on the mundane or irrelevant details of an anime without directing any thought towards the bigger picture. It is therefore fortunate that amongst the anime blogging community, there are plenty of folks with the maturity and open-mindedness to approach series with a more thematic and character-based outlook, preferring to see where the stories and characters go, as well as working out what makes an episode enjoyable in the greater context. Terrance’s episodic review format is an effective one; besides focusing on the things that make Fire Force works, pointing out highlights of each episode to underline what its contributions are also creates a very succinct post that gives readers a solid at-a-glance of what an episode accomplishes.

YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (Visual Novel): The Ayumi Route

Dewbond, Shallow Dives in Anime (@ShallowDivesAni)

Besides collaborating with Ecchi Hunter, Dewbond also presents his own submission on YU-NO, this time, focussing specifically on one of the characters and her route in the visual novel. Dewbond finds Ayumi’s story to be compelling in its visual novel form. The anime incarnation does have its own merits, by presenting a more detailed exposition for a time-travel mechanics; the visual novel simply was a game mechanic, but the anime transforms this into a tool that enhances the strength of Ayumi’s story. However, on the whole, the visual novel possesses a deeper and more meaningful as a story that creates a much stronger dynamic between Ayumi and Takuya. Even without the voice work and motion that anime adaptations possess, YU-NO‘s visual novel is able to craft a powerful story and effectively convey emotions, so when Takuya and Ayumi realise their love for one another, the emotional pay-off is immense. Both the visual novel and anime have their own strengths, and ultimately, Dewbond finds that the complete experience comes with both watching the anime and playing through the visual novel, where details complement one another.

With the number of submissions on YU-NO convincing me that the series is one that could be worth checking out, I might need to queue this one up for watching during intermediary periods where things are a bit slower for me. Dewbond has, through his submission, succinctly outlined how both YU-NO‘s anime and visual novel have their own unique standing points that make them worthwhile. While time is limited and some folks may choose to only pursue one, a more comprehensive experience is to be had by investing time into other avenues related to the work. I’ve briefly touched on this earlier in the showcase by mentioning CLANNAD, and I’ve similarly heard that CLANNAD ~After Story~‘s ending, which many count as an instance of deus ex machina, is actually well-justified and fits in with the rules and convention that CLANNAD‘s visual novel establishes. While some may choose to assess their experience from the basis of whether or not the standalone anime could deliver an effective story, folks who ended up with a positive overall experience may be inclined to give the source materials a go, and this in turn yields a much more meaningful and engaging journey far beyond experiencing any one thing. Seeing bloggers write about their visual novel experiences is a constant reminder that one of these days, I will need to make some headway into CLANNAD‘s visual novel.

Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo – O Maidens in Your Savage Season – O Maidens – AMV

Matija (@tfwanime)

Matija presents the first video submission in the form of an anime music video (AMV) from the series Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo (O Maidens in Your Savage Season), a slice-of-life manga by Mari Okada that was adapted into an anime for the summer 2019 season. Dealing with the elements of youth, Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo follows a group of students in the literature club who are unified by a desire to understand romance in its physical form, and whose time together propels them down a journey of discovery. In this music video, Matija uses the series’ opening song, Otome-domo yo, as the basis for capturing the emotional tenour that the series conveys. Using clever placement of the English translation of the lyrics, which draws the viewer’s eye to different parts of the video and therefore encouraging viewers to look at every quadrant of the video, Matija selects moments from the series that best captures the mood. The strength of HoneyWorks’s performance is brought to the foreground in Matija’s AMV: through a clear and upbeat, yet emotional delivery, HoneyWorks creates a song that captures the spectrum of emotions that youth experience as they struggle to make their way in the world and understand the storm of emotions that they must deal with as a part of learning. Choosing the perfect moment to match a segment on the opening could not have been easy, and Matija does a spectacular job of summing up their feelings for the series, highlighting Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo at its finest – for me, watching Matija’s AMV is a sign that I probably should pick this one up, having passed over it only for the singular fact that my summer was quite busy, and that I’m a bad procrastinator.

AMVs represent one form of creativity that conveys love for a series: without any words, analysis or discussion, putting an AMV together using a series’ opening song shows a great enjoyment of the anime first and foremost. As Matija writes in their video description, this song was a very enjoyable one. Coupled with going through the entire series to find moments that best fit areas of the song, timing the chosen scenes to fit and the music and presenting a translation the lyrics in a creative manner, it is clear that Matija’s AMV is a testament to Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo‘s strengths. AMVs take considerable effort to make, and are one of the strongest ways to convey love of a series. While there are some scenes that come across as a bit rougher in the AMV (I generally feel that both text and scenes should disappear or transition in a way that matches the music for videos), these are relatively minor in an AMV that is of a superb quality overall. While I’ve not made any AMVs for over a decade, memories still remain regarding the sort of commitment that goes into creating them, and Matija’s favourable impressions of Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo is evident in their AMV. Seeing this AMV has prompted me to put Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo on my watch list, and while I might not get to it for a while, I am going to start the party by listening to the series’ music – music is how I’ve found many anime I’ve come to love.

Why do I find it so hard to make friends?

My Anxious Life (@_MyAnxiousLife)

Friendship and the difficulty of finding new friends as one becomes older is the topic of MyAnxiousLife’s submission for Jon’s Creator Showcase. While MyAnxiousLife found the process more straight forwards as a child, there’s an inexplicable challenge in sharing with peers as one becomes older, and despite presenting a forward and cheerful manner, the conversations that MyAnxiousLife has with others feel exhausting. Identifying why this is the case seems a challenge, could it be from a lack of confidence and fear of rejection, or is it merely a subconscious reflex? With prospect of opening up to new people a daunting one, MyAnxiousLife suggests creating a new type of service for cultivating and nurturing friendship for more people.

As children, people tend to think in more straightforward terms and look towards commonalities like interests, appearances or background in order to connect with those around them, but as adults, a better understanding of social convention means that more seems at stake in every interaction one has. I certainly don’t have it easier making new friends, but there is one additional factor that stymies my ability to befriend new people: working means spending most of my days with my eyeballs in Swift code, and when a day ends, my only inclination is to sleep. Skills atrophy if not used, and a part of the challenge people encounter when making new friends as adults can also come from the lack of practise and opportunity to simply talk to new people the same way students might. The utility that MyAnxiousLife suggests is something I would consent to developing, potentially being a fun tool to simply reach and help others. I argue that such a platform would be best done as mobile app (and development should start out in Xcode): this could be the start of a brand-new company rooted in an app!

Jump Into Fear: 6 Common Fears & How to Overcome Them!

Cassie, Upcycled Adulting (@Upcycledadultin)

Cassie of Upcycled Adulting presents a discussion on besting fear, an emotion that brings out the best and also the worst in people. In this article, six major causes of fear are covered: fear of opinions, failure, success. rejection, the unknown and decision-making. In each category, a specific countermeasure is proposed towards handling that particular fear. Concerns about what people think of us are lessened with increased confidence in one’s own ability. Worrying about failure and success boils down to persistence and preparation. Rejection is ultimately a matter of mathematics and can be beaten with effort. The unknown only becomes problematic if one is unprepared, so informing oneself of a situation to know what factors can and cannot be controlled can help one approach it more effectively. Good decision making comes from owning a decision and making the most of it. With an encouraging tone, Cassie suggests to readers that agency to better their circumstance lies with them, empowering them to take charge of their situation – all fear ultimately stems from being powerless, and Cassie’s post reinforces that proactive attitudes are what turns fear into just another manageable, solvable problem.

Everyone has developed different mechanisms for coping with their challenges and worries, but when situations become overwhelming, we may let fear get the better of us. Cassie’s post provides a back-to-the-basics approach, reminding readers that irrespective of what they might be facing, the first step is to take control and be proactive in working out the beginnings of a solution to mitigate that fear. The smallest of actions, which we may dismiss as trivial, serve to restore this control, and also helps put perspective into a problem. Dividing and conquering is a viable tactic: seemingly insurmountable fears often become much more approachable, if not trivially easy to solve, when one returns to the basics, and armed with a post of positivity, provides a very optimistic outlook on the benefits of fear. Folks who embrace this fear and practise management tactics are able to constantly push new boundaries and find increasingly creative, effective ways of dealing with their problems. I admit that common everyday challenges like fear is a topic I don’t often share with my readers because it’s far removed from my usual topics, and I deal with my own fears with preparation and study: seeing that method being a part of what others count as effective means I’m doing something right.

What an M.E. Crash Feels Like

Sopx X, Mummying and M.E. (@mummyingandme)

Soph of Mummying and ME’s submission is on the topic of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), or Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). With a prevalence of up to three percent in the adult population, ME is characterised by fatigue, difficulty standing, headaches, sore throat and sensitivity to stimuli, amongst other symptoms. With a poorly-characterised cause and no known cure, ME is a condition that the medical community has limited agreement to regarding management and treatment mechanisms. Soph’s article discusses the onset of an ME Crash, where fatigue and other symptoms suddenly set in after exertion. The aftermath is difficult: Soph describes the world as being a blur, with every noise being overwhelming, and existence becomes painful. Soph notes that the effects are very real, and different people with ME may experience it differently, but the worst aspect is that even when being mindful of one’s lifestyle choices and working to lessen exertion, ME crashes may happen anyways. Until medical researchers begin probing ME more closely for physiological factors resulting in ME crashes, the causes remain quite unknown.

Health conditions are immensely taxing, and can often have its tolls; blogs like Soph’s Mummying and ME serve a very important purpose in that it provides a very candid, first-hand experience of conditions like ME so that for other individuals affected, they are able to see the perspective and understand that they are not alone in their experiences. The community and unity in individuals affected are strong precisely because people are able to support one another, giving one another encouragement and also share their journeys. While medical experts may not be able to identify effective treatment and management methods, through writing and sharing their experiences on a blog, people like Soph can still help other individuals with ME by telling their stories and giving them perhaps the stepping stones of forming a group that can share their own management measures while researchers and health professionals catch up.

How to Cook a Series: Violet Evergarden

Dave D’Alessio, Confessions of An Average Otaku (@dalessio_dave)

Violet Evergarden was met with universal acclaimed during and after its airing for its particularly heartfelt presentation of Violet’s journey to understand what love was through her post-war job as a ghost-writer. Dave D’Alessio of Confessions of an Overage Otaku explores what made the series work for him: the central ingredient, as it were, is Violet herself. Born of a devastating war, trained to be ruthlessly efficient in her singular duty of eliminating the enemy, Violet begins her journey as unaccustomed to civilian life, having suffered devastating losses both to her body and to her mind after losing Gilbert and her arms. Left only with Gilbert’s words, “I love you”, Violet thus sets out to understand what this means and in the process, opens herself up to other emotions that are distinctly human. Through Violet’s journey throughout Violet Evergarden, Dave feels that Violet’s own limitations serve to enhance her plausibility as a character; her solid technical skills are tempered by an initial inability to adequately convey the intent her client desires, and it really forces Violet to learn empathy to succeed in her role. In conjunction with a vividly presented world, Violet Evergarden has enough going for it to craft a very strong experience that explains its strong positive reception amongst viewers.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Violet Evergarden myself, Dave’s article touches on many of the facets that made the series one meritorious of praise. For me, it was the overall journey and what Violet became as a result of her initial drive to understand “I love you”; while she set out to find the answers, along the way, and with support from those around her, Violet ended up discovering so much more, which serves to help her begin the healing process after the war. It is always a joy to see what specifically about a series that made it work for others, and in general, one would be hard-pressed to find any negativity surrounding Violet Evergarden simply because the series does so many things correctly that flaws become inconsequential. However, I am going to have to disagree with Dave’s remarks that Violet Evergarden can be compared directly with Neon Genesis Evangelion; while sharing the commonality that both Violet and Rei Ayanami might be unexpressive, stoic, the series’ intentions, themes and aesthetics are completely different. Violet Evergarden excels in its execution for different reasons than Neon Genesis Evangelion, although from a different point of view, to see the former compared against a well-known classic might be seen as an indicator of just how powerful and well-done Violet Evergarden is.

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day

K At The Movies (@K_at_the_movies)

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, or Anohana for brevity) is an 2011 anime renowned for its moving and emotional story. Even eight years later, Anohana remains a particularly noteworthy work: K of K at the Movies delves into the series and how its cast of characters give the series its strength. While K might not relate to any of the characters directly, each character is presented in such a way that it becomes possible to root for them despite their initial attitudes. Attributes of each character are explored, including their strengths, weaknesses and ultimate contributions to the story being mentioned. K then focuses on how all of the pieces come together to create a highly enjoyable and poignant series. Specific design choices in Anohana, specifically pertaining to notions of closure and melodrama are some of the leading criticisms against the story, but K finds that overall, they are present to drive a specific message. With a multitude of themes covered, K finds that Anohana‘s success comes from being able to present a genuine and heartfelt story. K’s post coincides with reaching the two hundred follower and three hundred post mark: it is things like Jon’s Creator Showcase and enthusiastic readers that inspires him to continue with his blog.

I would like to similarly thank K for his submission to this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase and hope he will continue to run his blog. The experiences along the way are inspiring and encouraging, being fulfilling and rewarding as one connects with the positive members of the community. As for Anohana itself, I watched the series back in 2013, two years after it finished airing, and out of a curiosity to see whether the praises for the series were justified or not. When I finished, I found myself unable to adequately put into words what I’d seen and experienced: it wasn’t until watching the movie a year later, which recounts the events of the TV series as the characters, having moved on with their lives, reflecting on their experiences, that I came to understand what made Anohana an immensely enjoyable experience. Seeing the series from a new perspective helped me to appreciate what each of the characters had gone through following Meiko’s death, and with the movie taking on the perspective of a retrospective, it helps audiences appreciate how each individual has begun to heal. I share K’s thoughts in that Anohana is definitely worth watching, and note that with the sheer amount of stuff out there, K will have no shortage of things to write about for his blog that readers will find value in reading.

The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms Review

Alyssa, Al’s Manga Blog (@AlyssaTwriter)

Al’s Manga Blog is a unique blog that focuses on manga reviews, and for the October submission Alyssa reviews Nagabe’s The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, a manga about anthropomorphic animals attending an academy of magic not unlike J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. The specially enchanted animals of The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms exist in harmony and do their utmost to learn their magic while struggling to deal with romances that appear. Despite a potential for the story to go in directions some may find uncomfortable, The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms is actually a pretty clever story that weaves the animals’ natural traits together with a rowdy romance that offers comedy and emotional weight in the right places. However, Alyssa feels that overall, The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms acts as more of a warm-up act: the fact there’s only one volume means that many character interactions are not fully fleshed out, and Alyssa leaves The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms feeling as though there could have been much more that could have been done with the manga to fully immerse readers more.

As a longtime fan of Harry Potter (believe it or not), my eye was caught when I saw that there was a proper manga that conveyed a similar feel: J.K. Rowling’s universe is a unique one, and most fan-fiction attempts at it fail to capture the same aesthetic and wonder present in the original, preferring to focus on romantic pairings that offer little in the way of novel stories and adventures. The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, on the other hand, possesses its own aesthetic and style. From Alyssa’s presentation of the manga’s strengths, it becomes clear that The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms is quite distinct, counting on character interactions to drive the series’ humour. I find that manga reviews are inherently more challenging to do than anime reviews for the simple fact that I tend to count on screenshots to provide visuals for my talks; manga panels are monochrome and more text heavy, so a manga review done in my style would be quite difficult to read. Alyssa, on the other hand, uses a simpler approach, picking pages of the manga lighter in text to show the artistic choices without overwhelming the reader and keeping the review concise. Her method provides a clean means of reviewing the manga, and after reading her assessment of The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, I can say that this does look to be an intriguing one to check out.

Week of Reviews

Shaegeeksout (@shaegeeksout)

Shaegeeksout submits a playlist of manga reviews, one for each day of the week in October that covers a variety of titles covering different genres and styles, with varying levels of enjoyment. Shaegeeksout discusses everything from manga that failed to impress, to titles that have unique merits that make them worth reading through. The strength in her videos is authenticity and conciseness: every review is presented in a direct fashion, and Shaegeeksout wastes no time in highlighting the strengths, weaknesses and final verdict on a given title or series, giving viewers a very quick idea of whether or not something is worth their while. Going into the story, characters and artwork for each review, Shaegeeksout offers viewers with consistent assessments on each manga to help them determine if something might be worth a purchase.

From her videos, the first impression I get is that Shaegeeksout has extensive familiarity with manga, given the bookshelves behind her that are dedicated to manga and to her other interests. This aspect is something that video reviewers must be mindful of: while seemingly a trivial choice, what one picks as their background can shift the framing of a video dramatically. For a manga reviewer to set a bookshelf as their backdrop suggests to me that I am watching someone who knows their materials, having the experience to back their opinion and give viewers a fair assessment of each work. The titles that Shaegeeksout reviews are those I’m not familiar with: my own manga collection is considerably more modest, occupying about half of a shelf on my bookcase. It should come as no surprise that I’ve got the complete K-On!, and I also have the complete The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, plus Madoka Magica and a few other series that proved enjoyable to me. I’m very much an anime-first fan, and usually buy manga based on how much a series impressed me; the most recent series to have done that is Harukana Receive. It is therefore refreshing and useful to see the process behind how manga readers go about assessing manga, as Shaegeeksout has done in her mini-series.

Manga Review: The Drifting Classroom (Perfect Edition) by Kazuo Umezz

DynamicDylan (@DynamicDylan26)

DynamicDylan reviews The Drifting Classroom‘s Perfect Edition, a survival horror manga anthology dating back to 1974 about a boy by the name of Sho Takamatsu, who ends up in an alternate dimension, locked in a battle for survival against overwhelming odds. DynamicDylan enjoys the psychological aspects of The Drifting Classroom the most, contemplating what must be running through the characters’ minds as they are made to confront situations that are far beyond what one typically encounters. The journey that the characters must go through is gripping, and DynamicDylan found the series immensely captivating. Besides the story itself, the Perfect Edition of The Drifting Classroom is a strong product on the whole, featuring a very solid construction in its hardcover form. While the story is engaging, it might not be for everyone owing to the violence and gore, making it less suitable for younger readers. In spite of this, The Drifting Classroom is something that Dynamic Dylan strongly recommends to readers who are looking for something that is quite novel.

What stands out most in DynamicDylan’s review of The Drifting Classroom Perfect Edition is the physical construction of the volume itself: most official English-translated manga volumes are typically soft-cover, and while featuring a heavier-grain paper than Japanese manga, which can be bought for low prices thanks to having newspaper-like paper, nonetheless can come across as being somewhat fragile, especially when compared to hardcover books with high-quality paper. That The Drifting Classroom is presented as a hard cover is quite unique, and DynamicDylan makes a strong case for how this manga stands out, in addition to a thrilling (if disturbing) story that deals with darker aspects of human nature, such as paranoia and the unknown. Unfortunately, I fall into the category of people that DynamicDylan counts as being less suited for the manga: despite my love for shooters and acceptance of carnage in video games, gore and violence in manga and anime are things that I don’t enjoy as much. With this being said, there are folks with stronger wills than my own and, for them, The Drifting Classroom Perfect Edition could be a fine addition to their manga collections, giving owners both something that is gripping and solidly crafted.

The Dark Knight Lives (Thirteen)

Annlyel James, Annlyel Online (@annlyeljames)

Annlyel James of Annlyel Online submits a chapter of her fan-fiction, The Dark Knight Lives. Opening with Robin getting knocked out by Harley Quinn while searching for the mayor’s murderer, the story shifts over to Lynx, a leftenant in the police department. Lynx is following Robin’s signal with the aim of providing backup, and when she arrives at the bar where Robin was last seen, she finds little little help from the bar’s staff and its patrons, an unsavoury bunch. While she makes to leave, a few of the patrons follow her into the night and open fire. Lynx is hit, but speeds off into the night before any significant harm can come to her. She immediately requests support, having concluded that Robin is in a bit of a predicament.

Annlyel’s submission is the second work of fiction in this Jon’s Creator Showcase, being part of a much larger work that covers multiple chapters. The submission is a well-chosen one, dropping me off right in the middle of things and concluding with escalation. I admit that unlike the Marvel universe, I have a much more limited knowledge of the DC universe. While I am a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, his emphasis on the mental and psychological aspects of being Batman means that elements of the traditional Batman universe are secondary. Annlyel’s fiction is thus a reminder that the Batman universe is rather larger than the one Nolan presented, and there are numerous aspects about it that could be explored.

Is Akane The Main Character of SSSS.Gridman? We Think So!

Galvanic Media (@GalvanicTeam)

The Galvanic Team presents a video making the case that antagonist Akane Shinjō should be counted as SSSS.Gridman‘s lead character. Because this is a bold claim, the video first defines the lead character to be the individual whose progression through a narrative allows the audience to understand the rationale for their initial actions and also provides a yard stick for the growth and development they experience as the story progresses. In SSSS.Gridman, screentime is dedicated towards Akane’s moments alone and establish that her goals stem from her background, which results in her desire to control and dominate a world where she does not suffer from the deficiencies that haunt her. Moreover, Akane herself undergoes a dramatic shift in mindset and growth compared to the other characters in SSSS.Gridman: with the other protagonists remaining relatively static by comparison, it becomes clear that SSSS.Gridman is really about how Akane changes in response to friendship over time.

I typically don’t watch anime reviews on YouTube – analysis is difficult to follow if the presenter rambles on, and I can’t readily reference earlier points. The Galvanic Team’s video, on the other hand, is simple enough to follow, stepping through the things that make Akane worthy of being considered a lead character. It helps considerably that the video itself is done with solid voice-work: I am reminded of the videos that my local anime convention puts out to advertise their events, and those are of a very high standard. The video itself accompanying the discussion is relevant, giving scenes from the anime that match what the speakers mention, and so, leaving this video, I am more convinced that Akane could be seen as SSSS.Gridman‘s lead than when I first entered. Building effective video reviews and analysis for anime is an immensely difficult task: folks like DigiBro or Mother’s Basement fail in their efforts at more serious analysis because they do not follow a logical structure in their videos, nor do they take the effort to improve the quality of their spoken piece. Finally, staring at a talking head is not something I consider engaging when the discussion is focused on anime: with manga reviews, the reviewer holds the product in their hands and it becomes an integral part of the discussion, but reviewing themes in an anime is more intangible. The Galvanic Team’s submission is the opposite of this, being clear, informative and fun to watch, as well. There are plenty of excellent video reviewers out there beyond the well-known ones; the number of subscribers one has clearly is not indicative of the quality of their work, and Jon’s Creator Showcase is a fine opportunity for lesser-known but excellent video reviewers to be featured.

From depression to anxiety: water as metaphor in anime

Elisabeth, Little Anime Blog (@littleanimeblog) 

To a scientist, the polar inorganic compound known as water is a solvent of great interest, with untold importance in biology, economics, engineering and virtually all aspects of life. Earth’s distance from the sun allows water to naturally exist in liquid form, and this in turn means that a majority of the world’s surface is covered by oceans. Being an island nation, the ocean is an ubiquitous part of life in Japan and unsurprisingly, features in many anime, acting as a metaphor of sorts. With its vastness and unexplored depths, the ocean becomes representative of depression, doubts and fear: Free!, Tsuritama and Amanchu! are series that cast water as a source of unease, visually presenting the feeling of being trapped in a vast, empty space by means of water. However, the very same oceans which possess an untold amount of mystery also acts as a source of solace and great beauty. By embracing the mystery and shifting one’s perspective to that of curiosity, people come to discover an important dichotomy: there is a joy that can be found in the ocean, and in the right company, this new perspective can turn a source of depression and doubt into a source of hope and optimism.

The impact of the ocean on Japanese culture cannot be understated, and this aspect is prominently featured in anime: from Amanchu! to Azur Lane, the enigma formed by the ocean forms the bulk of the story in their respective series, and most series deal with conquering them. Until now, I regarded the oceans in anime as being a part of the scenery, rather like how the Rocky Mountains an hour west of my city are a common part of the scenery that, while beautiful, is also quite unremarkable. Reading Elisabeth’s post on water as a metaphor for depression provided me with a newfound outlook on things – while anime might use it as a part of their story to present a certain idea, it also lends credence to the idea that the sea is very important to the Japanese. Island nations like Japan and the United Kingdom have traditionally held great respect for the ocean’s might and beauty, and many aspects of their culture involve paying deference to the oceans both for the resources that may be reaped, as well as destruction wrought by the ceaseless waves and unexplored corners of one of the least characterised realms on Earth. Strong blog posts help readers to gain new perspective on things, and Elisabeth’s submission to this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase is a strong example of what makes blogging so rewarding from the writer’s perspective – one’s own thoughts can help others approach and appreciate the world from a new light.

[OWLS October Blog Tour] Changing Seasons

Megan Peoples, Nerd Rambles (@Nerdramblesmeg)

Megan Peoples presents a talk on Dungeons and Dragons, and the importance of being able to indulge in flights of fancy and fantasy in moderation. With a group of friends, Megan is able to craft characters with detailed back-stories, and one character in particular is modelled after herself; the freedom that fantasy confers allows her to explore a variety of directions for her. This character inherits Megan’s own limitations, such as worrying about responsibilities and being able to grow into a role. However, having a character to build a journey around also helps Megan with her own confidence, and ultimately, by offering an escape, as well as a second look at things, Dungeons and Dragons contributes to Megan’s well-being. Of course, the expenditure on dice is a nontrivial one, but Megan’s post shows that the benefits of this pursuit clearly outweigh the drawbacks.

Megan’s participation in Dungeons and Dragons is the same reason I partake in a variety of video games and consume fiction: it offers a momentary escape from reality that helps me gain a new perspective on things. By sharing her story with Dungeons and Dragons, Megan provides insight into why fantasy games are so prevalent; most folks take to the golf course or local bar to unwind, but there are others who find themselves more at home in stretching their minds and enjoying a fantastical world in place of more traditional hobbies. Megan is not alone in drawing on fiction to relax: my interest and enjoyment in video games provides a similar catharsis, as well as serving as a constant reminder that persistence is key to success.

#TheAnimangaFestival: So You Wanna Play Otome Games? – Five Otome Game Recommendations for Total Newbies

BeckNaja, Blerdy Otome (@BeckNaja)

For her submission, BeckNaja of Blerdy Otome presents five otome games for first-timers. Otome (literally “Maiden”) games are a genre for female players, placing them in the shoes of a female protagonist and having them pursue romance with other characters. These can be male characters, although some games may feature female partners as candidates, as well. The list opens with Amnesia Memories, which BeckNaja counts as being accessible for beginners owing to the fact it was one of the first titles to be localised and therefore, the dialogue is translated to a high standard. With five routes and running for low prices, plus a straightforwards plot, Amnesia Memories serves as an introduction to the mechanics of an otome game. Ikémen Vampire comes next, being a mobile title and therefore, possesses the advantage of being able to be played anywhere. While Ikémen Vampire restricts players to a certain number of chapters per day, players can complete mini-games to unlock currency units to advance the story further. Hatoful Boyfriend is another recommendation that initially starts off irreverent, but quickly ups the ante as the story progresses. Hakuoki follows, being a title that has been ported to many platforms and something that BeckNaja counts as having appeal for many players. Rounding off the list is Cinderella Phenomenon, an independently published game whose strength lies in the fact that the story was written specifically for English audiences in mind. BeckNinja notes that otome games are ultimately visual novels, and the story is at the core. While each of the recommendations has something unique to offer, all of them are story-driven and will offer players something engaging.

For my part, I’ve never experienced an otome game, and my choice of visual novels tend to be more conventional, featuring a male player perspective and various heroines in its story. Of course, with my own interests, I’m more likely to be found with my nose in a first person shooter. BeckNaja’s post is therefore suited for folks like myself, with limited prior experience with such titles. Recommendation lists are a fantastic way to introduce beginners to a genre, since they serve to highlight each work’s strengths and notable features. A first-timer is then offered a highlight of what each title brings to the table and can make an informed decisions as to which recommendation is worth exploring further. Posts like BeckNaja’s are ideally suited for folks who are seeking new experiences, and in general, I’m always fond of reading top anything lists because they offer succinct explanations for why something is worth checking out. They’re rather concise and provide a quick overview of positive things in a work: the world does seem to trend towards negativity, so seeing top anything lists and their positive vibes always ends up being a fun read.

Top 5 Best Anime For Beginners You Need to Watch

YumDeku, MyAnime2Go (@YumDeku)

YumDeku’s submission was the final one I received and therefore rounds out this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, but fortunately, last is not synonymous with least: their submission is a start-pack of five recommendations for folks who are unfamiliar with anime and need a starting point. Kicking off this list is Kono Subarashii Sekai Ni Shukufuku Wo! (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!); this series is comedy driven and about fun, first and foremost. With a colourful cast of characters, its strengths lie entirely in being fun. Next up is Bokura Wa Minna Kawai-Sou, which is a romance-comedy set around the hapless, unlucky residents of the Kawai Complex as they strive to make the most of their situation. Cowboy Bebop, an old classic, follows: it’s about space bounty hunters and is renowned for its soundtrack, as well as its narrative. Sakurasou No Pet Na Kanojo is next, and this series deals with a group of misfits and their everyday lives. Like YumDeku’s submission, last place is certainly not least: Toradora! is the final recommendation. This series follows one Ryuji Takasu and his agreement to help Taiga Aisaka pursue her love interest, while at the same time, get closer with Minori Kushieda. However, despite this seemingly straightforward arrangement, the tribulations of love set the characters down a path that ends up being quite unexpected, and superbly enjoyable.

As far as starting anime go, YumDeku’s list consists of anime that possess a story and engagement factor that is quite compelling, while simultaneously lacking the tropes that make a series less suitable for general audiences: these are series that appeal to a wide range of audiences. My own story with anime starts with Ah! My Goddess The Movie, and like the entries YumDeku presents, struck that balance between comedy, drama and emotional investment with the characters that ultimately acted as my introduction into anime. There is a recurring theme here: while anime is often (and incorrectly) assumed to be something for those with a risque mind or similar, the reality is that anime is so diverse that there is invariably something for everyone. Individuals who pick up anime whose setup and themes are enjoyable, without unnecessarily shoving a bunch of unwelcome anatomy into their faces, will likely be more receptive to anime than those who end up watching series not to their liking. This is the key to introducing folks to anime: by introducing them to series where there is a substantial (but straightforward) story piece, characters whose journeys are worth following and stunning animation, it demonstrates that anime can be fun and engaging, just as other media have their own merits. Of the anime YumDeku recommends to newcomers, I’ve seen Bokura Wa Minna Kawai-Sou and Toradora!, while Kono Subarashii Sekai Ni Shukufuku Wo! is on my list of series to eventually check out.

Closing Remarks

With thirty-one submissions to review, this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase breaks a new record for my blog, being the single wordiest post I’ve ever written: there’s a grand total of 15125 words. This record was previously held by my review on Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no na wa. The sheer size and scale of this showcase meant most of my free time not storming the beaches of Iwo Jima or sneaking through Pacific Storm’s jungles was dedicated to writing the post, and to put things in perspective, my Master’s Thesis was about 35982 words, and that took me a year to write. The decision to do full-length showcases for every submission stemmed from a combination of November being a slower month for anime reviews, and also because I did wish to do every submission justice – everyone who submitted something put their best efforts into their content, so for the showcase, it made sense that I at least make an effort to show what went into each and every work that I had the honour to look through. Having highlighted the incredibly vast array of submissions for October, I hope that readers walk away with new experiences and ideas. For instance, thanks my to participation in this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, I leave now with the goal to watch SSSS.Gridman and Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo at some point in the future with the goal of enjoying these series and in the case of the former, seeing if the series lives up to the positive reception the community has given it. Anyone who’s still with me at this point should probably know that they’ve read the equivalent of two-and-a-half chapters to my Master’s Thesis – if you’ve managed to read this entire showcase in one go, I will note that is an incredible feat of endurance. I won’t protract it out any longer: the showcase for December will be hosted by Scott of Mech Anime Reviews, and I hope you, the readers, will look forwards to that. We finally enter the final month of the year, and the final month of the decade: the winter holidays are very nearly upon us, and I wish everyone the absolute best as we enter a season of togetherness before marching onwards into a new decade.

Jon’s Creator Showcase: Happy Halloween, and Entering 2019’s Penultimate Month

“Life is a bit hard sometimes, and sometimes you have to step up and fight fights that you never signed up for.” –Joel Spolsky

To my esteemed readers, Happy Halloween! After a year long wait, I go into details surrounding the latest instalment to GochiUsa, which follows Chino as she prepares for her solo performance in her school’s concert. In this post, I touch on a variety of themes and more subtle elements that contribute to the enjoyment factor. It’s a bit of a longer post, but GochiUsa has consistently impressed with being able presents so much depth, far beyond what one might expect from a show of its genre. Despite the OVA’s conventional ringtone, it ended up being a wonderful experience that brought back what has made the TV series so enjoyable, which in turn sets the tone for the upcoming season three. I’ve peered ahead into the manga to see the outcomes of the coming season and find myself immensely excited for what viewers can expect. At least, this is what one can reasonably expect from me if they choose to participate in the Jon’s Creator Showcase: I’ve (rather gratuitously) used my favourite post for October as an example of what is to happen for this blogging event. I accept the torch from Ayano of Kawaii PaperPandas, and to refresh readers briefly on Jon’s Creator Showcase, this is a programme that began with Jon Spencer Reviews nearly two years ago. The goal of this project is to allow bloggers to submit their favourite works and share them amongst the community. All submissions will be for the month of October, and I’ll be accepting submissions from folks on Twitter (please use #TheJCS or DM me), as well as through the comments section for this post. Once the month has concluded, I will return on the first of December with a full showcase of each and every submission, as well as handing the torch to the next host.

I encourage everyone to submit something: blog posts the usual format, although any submission that takes the form of a video, fan-art or software will also be accepted. That is to say, if you have an app in the App Store, that is a valid submission. While I am open to different kinds of submissions, the usual rules apply. Anything illegal, hateful or disturbing will be rejected, as will any submissions that are untruthful or harmful. With the formalities out of the way, I remark that this is the second time that I am hosting the Jon’s Creator Showcase: the original host for this month was unable to participate and as such, I opted to step in and help out where I can. Like last time, I will be looking forwards to seeing what submissions are put forth: the blogging community is one I am proud to be a part of; there is a defined sense of authenticity, sincerity and community amongst the folk that participate. I feel that the Jon’s Creator Showcase is an excellent means of showing off the very best of content people have created. While this admittedly comes quite suddenly, and amidst the release of Battlefield V‘s fifth Tides of War chapter, I’ll definitely be making an effort to give each and every submission proper attention even as I strive to balance time spent reviewing all of the excellent entries with unlocking the Tides of War content so that I can finally run a full Strike Witches loadout and see just how well the 501st’s equipment handles in the Frostbite Engine. On the flip-side, November is looking fairly quiet, since I’m only going to write about Kandagawa Jet Girls, so I should have adequate time to do more than a one-liner on what I make of submissions.

A Review and Reflection on HBO’s Chernobyl: Remarks on The Cost of Lies

“To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for truth, we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there, whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. It doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: “What is the cost of lies?'” –Valeri Legasov, Chernobyl

On the morning of April 27, 1986, reactor 4 at Chernobyl suffered a catastrophic explosion and fire. In the immediate aftermath, fire-fighter Vasily Ignatenko is sent in as part of the response unit to put the blaze out. Meanwhile, Plant Director Bryukhanov, Chief Engineer Fomin reach an agreement to downplay the disaster as a hydrogen explosion. Valery Legasov is sent to Chernobyl to provide technical expertise on managing the disaster after briefing the Soviet leadership, and scientist Ulana Khomyuk travels to Chernobyl to investigate the cause of an unusual radiation spike she recorded. Legasov confirms that the reactor core had indeed been exposed, and after suggesting the use of a sand-boron mixture to suppress the fire, learns of the risk of a steam explosion that could further spread radioactive material. Three divers are sent in to drain the flooded basement, and a group of coal miners are tasked with tunnelling under the power plant to install a heat exchanger and migitate the risk that the melt-down could seep into the ground water. Khomyuk begins investigating the plant technicians present during the night of the disaster, learning that the reactor only exploded after the emergency shutdown was initiated. Ignatenko’s wife travels to Moscow to visit him, and learns that he is dying from radiation exposure. Liquidators begin to clean up the areas affected by the disaster and stop the spread of radioactive material, while Pripyat, a town a few kilometers from Chernobyl, is evacuated as a part of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. A team of liquidators is sent to clear the power plant’s roof of the graphite, while Khomyuk implores Legasov to tell the truth about Chernobyl. At the IAEA in Vienna, Legasov goes with the official government version of what happened and Chernobyl, but during the trial for Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin, Legasov reveals that the KGB had suppressed information about the RBMK reactor’s flaws. He is stripped of his duties for his efforts, and committed suicide two years after the disaster. HBO’s Chernobyl very quickly became an acclaimed series after its release, and despite liberties taken with the accuracy, remains a highly gripping and compelling drama portraying the Chernobyl disaster, which is the most devastating nuclear accident in history.

Chernobyl is categorised as a historical drama, and while the series does merit praise for its authenticity and ability to capture the human aspect of the Chernobyl disaster, one of the series greatest strengths is that it also exudes elements of a horror. The horror genre is characterised by the protagonist’s powerlessness to change their situation and plays on the audience’s fear of what will happen next. In order to accommodate this, homicidal maniacs, supernatural phenomenon or cryptids are present. The fear in a horror movie often lies in suspense, counting on a foe remaining unseen in order to inflict maximum terror when it does arrive. While Chernobyl may not involve murderers, ghosts or monsters, the series nonetheless features all of the elements of a horror. The full scope of the disaster is left unknown in the first episode – after the explosion occurs, parts of the plant’s interior goes dark as wiring is severed, and walls begin crumbling. Injured technicians begin vomiting and suffer from nausea, while those who can stand desperately try to save their coworkers. Firemen sent to the scene remain unaware of the disaster’s true nature and are exposed to radiation from graphite channels that housed the fuel rods. The radiation emitting from exposed reactor becomes this invisible foe haunting the Ukraine landscape, indiscriminately damaging the cells of those in the area. Through the use of darkness and chaos, the interior of the power plant is transformed into a setting of horror and suspense. In this manner, Chernobyl effectively utilises horror elements to capture the idea that mankind’s worst enemy lies not with chainsaw-swinging madmen, disaster harbingers like the Mothman or vengeful spirits, but come from our own hubris and the costs of lies. These man-made monsters can be every bit as terrifying as those that are fashioned from folklore and fiction: radiation creeps up on its victims, who are powerless to evade and overcome it. The suspense and horror are lessened as Chernobyl progresses as Legasov and Shcherbina work out a containment and cleanup plan, although the ever-present threat of radiation hangs over the heads of those who venture into the affected areas.

“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.” –Valeri Legasov, Chernobyl

While Shcherbina directs the cleanup and containment efforts, Legasov and Khomyuk’s pursuit of the cause of the disaster leads them to the understanding that the RBMK type eactor used the Chernobyl plant had several intrinsic flaws. These flaws were redacted, and in conjunction with the arrogance of deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, resulted in the willful decision to bypass normal safety procedures. The reactor core, suffering from xenon poisoning as a result of having been run at a lower power level, began stalling, and Dyatlov ordered the power raised. However, when the power suddenly spiked, technician Akimov initiated an emergency shut-down. The graphite-tipped control rods would actually increase power, overwhelming the reactor and blowing the lid off, allowing oxygen to come into contact with the super-heated fuel rods, triggering a fire and explosion. Legasov recounts these discoveries to a Soviet court with a bitter finality, remarking that the sum of the design flaws, and Dyatlov’s disregard for protocol for the sake of his personal gain resulted in the disaster. In short, lies created the RMBK reactor’s flaws, and lies resulted in the disaster. Legasov’s biting remarks about the cost of lies at Chernobyl are vividly portrayed as the aftermath of the disaster: the rupture of a reactor and release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere, contamination of thousands of square kilometres of land, and necessitated the mobilisation of a large amount of resources, both human and material, to contain it. The liquidators, miners, fire-fighters and others who worked tireless to prevent the catastrophe from expanding were only met with health issues or even death, despite their efforts. Vast tracts of land remain uninhabitable to this day. Through its imagery, Chernobyl shows the human cost of the disaster, the results that occur when individuals allow complacency and their own egos to drive their decisions. It is therefore especially poignant when one considers Legasov’s suicide at Chernobyl‘s beginning: despite all of the good he did, all of the expertise he had and the chance to work with Shcherbina, a party official who came to respect Legasov for his actions, none of it would amount to anything in the end, as society would prefer to live with its lies rather than address the truth.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Chernobyl‘s opening is as brutal as it is chilling; after Legasov records his thoughts on the situation onto cassette tapes, he hangs himself. Legasov is shown as committing suicide precisely two years after the explosion, whereas in reality, Legasov committed suicide a few days after the fact. The introduction sets the tone for the remainder of the series, a grim portrayal of the odds that Legasov, Shcherbina and Khomyuk were up against in trying to contain the disaster and prevent another occurrence.

  • Long, narrow, dimly-lit corridors are a staple of horror movies. Koji Suzuki’s Dark Water and Ju-On use dark hallways to juxtapose the idea that despite the long sight-lines, darkness obscures an unknown and unseen terror. In Chernobyl, in the minutes after the reactor explodes, it is complete chaos as technicians find themselves in a damaged facility and Dyatlov openly denying that the RBMK reactor could explode. There are no onyrō here, but the terror of radiation and a facility whose structure has been compromised by the explosion.

  • The first episode creates a sense of dread and suspense that matches any horror movie, although the enemy here is radiation and lies, so there are no jump scares. The atmosphere was so heavy that it was tangible to me when I first watched the scene: from staff trying to rescue one another, to firefighters, the sense of unease and doubt comes from the fact that no one’s really sure what just went down.

  • By morning, a radioactive plume is hanging over the power plant, a result of the fires now burning thanks to the high temperatures generated by the fuel rods. The strikingly calm morning is contrasted with the disaster, and after one episode, I found myself hooked. The series released while I was attending F8, and I ended up watching it on Saturday evenings, one episode at a time, during May and June, until I finished the series.

  • While the radioactive smoke reaches ominously towards Pripyat, the forests below begin dying off. This is a reference to the Red Forest, a ten square kilometre area of pine trees that absorbed much radiation in the aftermath of the disaster and turned a ginger colour before dying. The forest has since been bulldozed and buried, but the soil above remains one of the most contaminated areas in the exclusion zone.

  • In Minsk, Belarus, scientist Ulana Khomyuk observes an unusually high amount of radiation and initially assumes it to be a nearby leak, but upon hearing it could be Chernobyl and realising communications have been lost, she resolves to get into the field herself. Khomyuk was not a real person, but instead, represents the scientists who were involved in the investigation surrounding the disaster.

  • The scene of the medical staff dumping the irradiated clothing of firefighters and first responders to the hospital basement depicts the chaos nurses had in treating those who were affected by radiation poisoning. While the official protocol was to wash down and dress the victims in new clothing, the affected were taken into the building, and their clothing was removed, discarded into rooms in the basement where they continue to lie today. Urban explorers usually dare not venture into the basement, since the clothes are still highly radioactive.

  • One aspect of Chernobyl that I greatly enjoyed was the changing dynamic between Legasov and Shcherbina. Shcherbina, a party official. Initially, Shcherbina starts out mistrustful of Legasov and regards him as expendable, even threatening to order him shot if the pilot does not fly over the exposed reactor, but Legasov’s commitment to the truth and knowledge impresses him. Over time, Shcherbina develops a professional respect for Legasov, vouching for him and offering him advice.

  • With my assignment in Denver and Winnipeg last year, I empathise with Legasov. Being sent with a unique skillset somewhere to manage a crisis, with few friends and numerous opponents, was not an enjoyable experience. Like Legasov remarks, for all the good that was done, people will continue to only focus on the damage and forget about the unsung heroes that preventing things from becoming much worse. In my case, the app that I deployed to the App Store is still there, although it has not been updated in more than a year.

  • Legasov lodges at the Polissya Hotel: it is one of the tallest buildings in Pripyat and was built to accommodate visitors to the power plant. I know the hotel best for being featured in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s most famous missions, where Price and MacMillan sneak through the fields surrounding Pripyat to use the hotel as a vantage point for assassinating Zakhaev. These missions remain two of the most memorable for me in any first person shooter, right alongside Halo: Combat Evolved‘s “Silent Cartographer”, “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm” of Half-Life 2 and the original DOOM‘s first mission.

  • Legasov’s plan begins moving into action as helicopters begin dropping a sand-boron mixture onto the fire. This mixture is deemed a temporary solution: boron absorbs neutrons and the sand acts as a fire retardant. While there was indeed a helicopter crash at Chernobyl, it was not from radioactive fumes overwhelming the helicopter pilots. Chernobyl is authentic, but not realistic in the series: the series takes creative liberties in order to tie some events together better to fit the story and theme, and so, cannot be said to be an entirely faithful account of all events. The sand and boron, for instance, actually never made it into the reactor and therefore had a negligible impact in impeding the fire.

  • While some may hold this as a fault against Chernobyl, I personally don’t have any qualms with deviation from reality. Here, a woman looks on as bus after bus (after bus) drives by, heading towards Pripyat with the aim of evacuating its residents. Pripyat was originally a town of around fifty thousand people, built to accommodate the Chernobyl plant’s workers, technicians and engineers, as well as support staff and their families. Compared to most Soviet cities, Pripyat was well-appointed, with restaurants, culture centres, and an aquatic centre, amongst other things.

  • A day after the disaster, Pripyat was completely evacuated as a precaution. Residents were told they would be returning home soon, and as such, they left most of their belongings behind. Today, Pripyat stands empty, a ghost town that nature has begun reclaiming. The deserted town is popular amongst tourists, and while the radiation here is largely not of concern, there are pockets that could pose health risks for visitors.

  • Legasov’s strongest trait in Chernobyl is an unwavering desire to do his job well and respect the truth: while the Soviet party members and Mikhail Gorbachev himself are shown as preferring false hope to the truth, Legasov plows forwards with his assessments and proposals of containment, as well as openly pointing out the risks of inaction. He and Khomyuk report on the potential for a massive steam explosion to occur should the molten reactor come into contact with the water that has seeped into the basement.

  • Thus begins one of the most terrifying moments in Chernobyl: three men volunteer to enter the flooded, highly-radioactive basement and open the sluice gate that will let the water drain outside and be pumped away. Wading into a pitch-black, partially-flooded corridor, the men’s dosimeters begin emitting an overwhelming amount of noise, signalling to viewers just how radioactive it is down there. As the push onwards, the intense radiation causes their flashlights to fail. There are no spectres or monsters down here, but it was nonetheless a terrifying moment. In the end, however, they do manage to get the gates opened, and return to the surface alive.

  • The pressures of the containment and investigation take their tolls on both Legasov and Shcherbina: Legasov in particular is under KGB surveillance, since his role in disaster management puts him in contact with secrets surrounding the RBMK reactor. While Chernobyl is a brilliant drama, the creative liberties the series takes are not representative of a late 1980s Soviet Union – Shcherbina did not have the authority to order Legasov shot, for instance.

  • Besides Legasov, Khomyuk and Shcherbina, the story of Ignatenko’s wife is also told. After Ignatenko is exposed to a high dose of radiation, he is hospitalised and sent to a facility in Moscow for care, but soon dies. His pregnant wife comes into contact with him and loses her child shortly after: while she felt that this might have been from exposure to Ignatenko, this could not have been the cause of the child’s death, since those exposed to radiation are not necessarily radioactive.

  • The soundtrack in Chernobyl adds much to the already-exceptional atmosphere: composed by Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir, the soundtrack makes use of actual sounds from a nuclear power plant to create an incredibly unsettling tenour, giving a tangible sense of what the radiation and uncertainty feels like. Guðnadóttir’s work is genius, and for her exceptional work, she was nominated for an Emmy. She also scored the incidental music to The Joker.

  • Khomyuk’s efforts to find the truth sees her interviewing Akimov, Toptunov and Dyatlov: the former two tell a consistent story as the other engineers who were in the control room on the night of the explosion, but Dyatlov is uncooperative and belligerent. The real Dyatlov was perhaps as unpleasant as the Chernobyl portrayal, and he allegedly did threaten subordinates with dismissal if they did not carry out his orders. Dyatlov was ultimately sentenced to ten years in prison and was released after three, dying of heart failure from exposure to radiation.

  • When rovers deployed to clear the roof of its radioactive debris fail, human cleaners are forced to hit the roof and manually remove the rubble. They are afforded only 90 seconds of work time before they are swapped out, and after an ardous effort, manage to clear the rooftops. A Sarcophagus was constructed to temporarily entomb the structure and prevent wind from dispersing the contaminants, but this structure was only intended to last three decades. In 1996, it was found the Sarcophagus was beyond repair, and two years later, the New Safe Confinement project was approved. This engineering marvel was not designed to just cover the site, but also has a pair of cranes that allow for the destroyed reactor to be dismantled. Construction on the project began in 2010 and finished last year, in 2018.

  • One of the conflicts in Chernobyl is Legasov’s loyalty to his discipline pitted against his loyalty to the party. When he is sent to Vienna, he initially lies about Chernobyl and gives the impression that the other RBMK reactors remain safe to operate. However, Khomyuk, having gone to great lengths to figure out what happened at Chernobyl, implores Legasov to be truthful during the Chernobyl trial.

  • Chernobyl makes extensive use of imagery to show the scope and scale of the disaster: while the radiation is invisible, its impact can still be tangibly felt. The fields of abandoned vehicles near Pripyat are a striking example: these were vehicles that were deployed to help with containment operations, and after the disaster was deemed under control, they were left in the fields owing to their high radioactivity. The derelict vehicles remain there to this day, where more intrepid visitors have since visited. Following the release of Chernobyl, foreign interest in the area increased, and with it, tourists who desired to walk through Pripyat and see the abandoned town for themselves.

  • Chernobyl is an excellent series, but despite its grim theme and horror-like presentation, the more irreverent folks have taken to discussing the series in terms of internet memes, a reductionist approach that strips the series of its weight and meaning. Chernobyl deals with a complex topic, and isolating the mini-series into individual quotes taken out of context means that the themes of truth are lost in the process. In general, I am not fond of internet memes for this reason, since it stands contrary to my synthesis-driven, big-picture approach towards things.

  • The fifth and final episode of Chernobyl reveals that owing to power requirements in Kiev, the Chernobyl plant was run at half-capacity to provide energy while at the same time, preparing the reactor for Dyatlov’s safety test, where he would attempt to power the backup systems using the reactor’s residual energy. However, running the reactor at reduced capacity introduced an excess of xenon, which is a neutron moderator. The technicians struggled to control the power for the test, causing an impatient Dyatlov to order the others to raise the power at any cost.

  • In the end, the sum of Dyatlov’s arrogance, and the fact that the technicians were not aware of the impact of graphite-tipped control rods, would bring about disaster. The latter was the consequence of lies, of the Soviet government suppressing the flaws inherent in the original RBMK designs. The debt that Legasov refers to is that the science behind the explosion is unyielding, irrespective of the operator’s emotions and personal opinions. Thus, to ignore it is to create a situation that becomes increasingly difficult to manage, until the point where, emotions and opinions or not, the events that science states to occur will in fact happen.

  • During a break in court proceedings, Shcherbina admits to Legasov that despite his position, he is no one important and expresses open respect for Legasov, while Legasov reciprocates this respect, stating that Shcherbina’s position allowed him to act and help prevent any more loss of life. While the two may have gotten off to a rocky start, their professional relationship grows steadily stronger – the two embody the idea that politics and science can not only co-exist, but also be capable of cooperation. This was rather touching aspect about Chernobyl, and while politics and science of the contemporary period seem at odds with one another, I think that in the end, trust will always be returned to those who deal in and seek facts.

  • One of my biggest dislikes are people who would go to the length of propagating a lie in order to avoid looking like a hypocrite: there is some ingrained belief in society that hypocrisy is the worst human fault of all, and that it is a sin to merely hold seemingly contradictory thoughts. In order to retain their social stock, it must therefore be acceptable to lie with the aim of appearing consistent. However, lying has worse consequences than being a hypocrite: Chernobyl shows that by allowing untruths to seep into a system, it becomes impossible to differentiate between fact and fiction.

  • At the end of the day, hypocrisy is judged by the gap between one’s actions and words, rather than different words held by an individual (as many on the internet appear to believe), and therefore, the act of calling someone a hypocrite is a logical fallacy. I have significantly more respect for those who adhere to the truth, drawing conclusions with a combination of facts and my own judgement. I won’t think poorly of someone who holds moderate, contradictory thoughts or those who change their mind on something, but to lie and distort the truth (especially with emotions) is something that is unacceptable.

  • Legasov’s explanations of what precisely went wrong in the control room and reactor on the morning of the accident ends with the reactor exploding: the first episode only shows the explosion in implicit terms, with Ignatenko seeing the explosion from the distance in his Pripyat apartment, and the aftermath shown in the reactor room. This created an incredibly powerful sense of unease that would have not been present had the explosion been shown close-up as it was in the finale. This was a solid choice, and on the whole, Chernobyl represents what is possible in terms of cinematography with respect to how changing the ordering and perspective of an event can have a clear impact on atmospherics.

  • I realise that this post on Chernobyl is probably one of the most pessimistic talks I’ve ever written, and stands in stark contrast with what I had espoused for my eighth anniversary post, no less. However, this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Chernobyl – the opposite of that is true, as I deeply enjoyed watching this series for its incredible atmospherics, solid performances and a theme that, while relevant to the disaster itself, also can be applicable to society. I strongly recommend this HBO mini-series to all of my readers: besides providing an account of the people who worked tirelessly to migitate the disaster’s effects and contain it, Chernobyl is also about as close to a horror movie as one can get without any jump scares or onryō.

Legasov’s words extend far beyond Chernobyl and speak about the bleakness of society’s current attitudes towards facts and truth. The spread of misinformation on social media means that the truth is the first casualty: from the Trump administration’s adverse reaction to facts, to the dissemination of skewed and incomplete information from the Hong Kong Anti-Extradition riots, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. Even in the workplace, lies and complacency can become a problem: I have experience with this first hand. A year ago, I was originally brought in to validate and verify the existing functionality, as well as bring a few remaining work items to completion, for a mobile application for a computational oncology company. This company had sourced its development work to a consultancy in Winnipeg, and my involvement required working with a senior application developer who was rather similar to Dyatlov in stature and style: unpleasant and arrogant, this developer would constantly inform management that the lack of progress was a problem on my end, in order to cover up his own inability to implement a functional series of endpoints for the mobile app to utilise, and justified the complex, six-step registration system as a requirement for HIPAA compliance even if it came at the expense of usability. Despite the constant delays this senior application developer created through their incompetence and blame-shifting, I managed to complete my assignment of ensuring the mobile app was functional, successfully deployed to the App Store. I went on my way, and this senior application developer was dismissed, although like Legasov’s thoughts about Dyatlov’s punishment, I feel that his penalty was far too light: said developer would later find secure employment at a large insurance firm across the way from the hotel I stayed at while working on the project. Chernobyl offers viewers a glimpse as to what lies can do, and it is terrifying to suppose that those who would spread falsehoods continue to do so for their own gain, even in the knowledge that the cost of lies renders a debt that must be paid for in blood. It is an unfortunate state of things that lies and misinformation are as rampant as they are in society, but ultimately, as Legasov states in Chernobyl‘s ending, the truth will always be around and resist all efforts to bury it. This is an encouraging thought, since it means that for all the damage lies have done, the truth will endure and have its day eventually. For my readers, then, I would therefore ask a modicum of scepticism when reading about things, as well as always exercising one’s own judgement before accepting a claim – while respect for the truth continues to erode, we nonetheless have a responsibility to observe and respect it.

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.

Apollo 11 Mission, 50th Anniversary: A Reflection on the 1969 Moon Landing

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” –Neil A. Armstrong, July 20, 1969

Fifty years ago, on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC (July 20, 20:56:15 MDT), Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and, after describing the powdery grains of the moon surface, stepped off the landing pad of the Eagle to become the first human ever to set foot on the moon. The Apollo 11 spaceflight marked the first time humanity had ever successfully set foot on another world, marking the fulfilment of President John F. Kennedy’s declaration that America would put a man on the moon eight years earlier. The Space Race had been in full swing when President Kennedy made his speech: the Soviet Union had beaten the United States to virtually every first, from launching Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, and then followed up with Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961 to become the first man in space. The perceived gap in technology between the USA and USSR prompted the Americans to divert an incredible amount of resources, both financial and human capital, into space exploration research. Drawing on scientist Wernher von Braun’s expertise, the Americans transformed their initial rockets, intended to carry a nuclear payload into space-faring vehicles. Thus, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded to develop peaceful exploration of space. While the Americans had seen success with the Mercury-Redstone 3 rockets, which led Alan Shepard to become the first American in space, a goal with the sheer scale and scope of anything approaching a moon landing demanded dedicated rockets, mastery of docking two vessels in space and extra-vehicular activity (EVA). NASA The Gemini program was borne as a result of this; running from 1961 to 1966, NASA thus devised the necessary techniques to ensure the success of the Apollo programme. With the techniques better characterised, NASA would turn its attention to development of better rockets. von Braun would become deeply involved with the Saturn project, and after several iterations, resulted in the Saturn V, which remains to this day, the single most powerful rocket to have ever been developed. Unmanned flights with different iterations saw issues ironed out, and on January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 was marked as as the first manned test of the spacecraft. Tragically, a fire broke out and killed Virgil I. Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee. The entire program was thrown into jeopardy, forcing the redesign of the Apollo command module and implementation of new safety features. After rigorous testing, and with several more unmanned flights, coupled with success from the Apollo 8 and 10 missions, NASA believed that they were ready to attempt a manned lunar landing.

After Armstrong had touched down on the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin followed suit nineteen minutes later. Armstrong and Aldrin erected the American flag on the lunar surface, conversed with President Richard Nixon and then set up a range of experiments on the lunar surface. They also managed to collect six kilograms of lunar material for transport back to Earth. Twenty-one-and-a-half hours later, they boarded the lunar module and rejoined Michael Collins in orbit, before performing a burn to carry out trans-Earth injection that would send them back home. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins returned to Earth on July 24 at 16:50:35 UTC (09:50:35 MDT), splashing down in the South Pacific. They were picked up by the USS Hornet, and by the end of their eight-day mission, had their accomplishments watched by over a fifth of the world’s population. Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11’s historic achievement highlighted the strength of not just the American engineers, scientists and astronauts, but also reflected on the human spirit as a whole: when President Kennedy had announced the American intent to land on the moon in 1962, the technology did not exist. The fledgling American space program had been bested by the Soviets at each turn, and had been hampered by a lack of public interest, as well as limited funding. However, with his speech, President Kennedy emphasised that the lunar program was to be done to signify the freedom Americans had over their destiny and romanticised space. Despite initial opposition, interest in conquering space had been piqued, and the United States would ultimately direct 25 billion dollars (153 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation) towards the Apollo programme. At its height, Apollo employed 400000 people and had support from over 20000 academic institutions and industrial firms. The sheer scale and scope of the project propelled not just American, but the whole of humanity forwards: the technologies needed to put man on the moon resulted in creativity, ingenuity and innovation of the likes that our species had not seen before. To ensure the safety of the astronauts, radical developments were made to ensure the reliability of every nut and bolt that went into the program. The technology and science that resulted in Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic achievement have far flung effects even today: the very computers and smart-phones that have become so ubiquitous now owe their existence to advances in integrated circuitry from the Apollo programme.

The success of the Apollo programme is ultimately attributed to the gargantuan team effort and collaboration between each of the 400000 employees at NASA and countless others from the institutes and organisations that contributed. For the most part, humanity’s most recognisable inventions were prototyped, developed and tested by scientists of renown. Powered flight comes from the Wright Brothers, and Thomas Edison came about his inventions through perseverance, dedication and inspiration. However, during the Second World War, a desperation to keep atomic technology out of Nazi hands saw the formation of the Manhattan Project, which employed 130000 employees at a cost of 2 billion dollars (13 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation). As humanity moved forwards, innovation became the result of a coordinated team effort rather than through individual genius. Both the Manhattan Project and Apollo Programme are a constant reminder that exceptional achievement comes through people working together, lending their individual talents and skills towards a common goal: while von Braun was doubtlessly a remarkable rocket engineer, his contributions to the Saturn V and its unparalleled engines were only a part of the programme. Numerous engineers and scientists worked on everything from the computer guidance programs in the command module, to designing the shape of the lunar module, from calculating the optimal course for trans-lunar injection, to designing the space suits themselves and devising ways of keeping sufficient consumables onboard the flight. Apollo 11 thus acts as one of the most profound and unequivocal examples of what is possible when people are unified, working together in spite of their differences towards a shared goal. Great science is invariably the result of teamwork and collaboration, and so, fifty years after the first successful moon landing, Apollo is the reminder of why it is important to look past our differences and celebrate our commonalities as human beings.

Commentary and Personal Reflection

  • While the Apollo programme is considered an overwhelming success today, the programme did see its share of troubles: by 1963, opponents wondered if the program was a wise expenditure, and even NASA’s engineers felt President Kennedy’s expectations were unrealistic. The Apollo 1 fire further cast doubt on the safety on the program. However, progress in the programme continued, and on the morning of the launch, on June 16, Apollo 11 stood ready at the launch pad. The images in this post were sourced from the 2019 documentary Apollo 11, which featured original 70mm footage, as well as 60 and 35mm footage from period recordings.

  • The Saturn V is the most powerful rocket ever used, capable of lifting 140000 kilograms to low earth orbit. The first stage, S-IC, could produce 7891000 lbf (pounds-force) and had a burn time of 168 seconds. After the first stage was expended and discarded, the second stage (S-II) kicked in and accelerated the craft to orbital velocity. Finally, the third stage (S-IVB) ignited and burned for six minutes to push the craft to escape velocity, preparing it for trans-lunar injection. The command module and lunar module docked after the third stage was separated, forty minutes into trans-lunar injection.

  • Images captured from Apollo show how small and fragile the Earth looks from the void of space. A comparatively thin layer of atmosphere and our magnetic field protects us from the hazards of the cosmos, and acts as a constant reminder of how frail life on earth is. The Apollo 11 program as a whole was very humbling to learn about, and since I first read about it as a primary school student, the outstanding achievements of the astronauts, engineers and technicians inspired me. While I subsequently discovered that my ability for mathematics was inadequate for me to become an engineer, the tough and competent mindset NASA held to their staff stuck with me.

  • “Tough and competent” is a phrase coined by aerospace engineer Gene Kranz, who oversaw numerous operations and directed the Apollo 11 landings. In response to Apollo 1, Kranz’s doctrine was simple: tough meant that one must be accountable for what they do, or fail to do. One should not compromise their responsibilities in any way. Competent meant that one will not take anything for granted and always have the right knowledge and skill set to see something through. Kranz intended this to constantly remind his staff of the price of failure, although his principles are correct and apply to most anything. This forms the basis for how I conduct myself, and how I expect those around me to conduct themselves: because it’s an integral part of me, I’ve decided to change the blog’s banner to reflect on my credos.

  • After a smooth trans-lunar injection, Apollo 11 fired its main engines to enter lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin entered the lunar module, while Collins remained behind to control the command module. During their descent, the guidance computer returned alarm codes 1201 and 1202, indicating that it had overflowed and would delay other tasks while more urgent computations were carried out. Fuel was running out, and passing over a boulder-strewn field with rocks that Aldrin noted “were as big as cars”, Armstrong focused on landing. He touched down with around 50 seconds of burn time remaining, and informed mission control that they were on the ground.

  • As the first humans to gaze upon the moon with their own eyes, Armstrong and Aldrin would have seen a sight quite unlike any other: the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility, a flatter region of the moon composed of basaltic plains. The rest of the moon is dotted with craters, and thanks to the lack of an atmosphere, craters have remained relatively untouched since their original impacts. The Sea of Tranquility faces the Earth – thanks to tidal locking, the far side of the moon is not visible from the surface.

  • Three-and-a-half-hours after landing, both Aldrin and Armstrong had suited up and depressurised the lunar module. After struggling to get out of the lunar module, Armstrong began making his way down the ladder. The image quality of photos from the lunar surface are of a high quality, but video footage was shot with slow-scan cameras that produced a signal incompatible with television signals. The resulting broadcast was captured by recording it on a standard camera and played back on TV, producing a lower quality image.

  • Here is the moment that defined the 1960s – Neil Armstrong’s timeless first step and transmission from the surface has been immortalised. While Armstrong intended to say “…first step for a man”, static in the transmission resulted in the resulting quote being misrepresented as “first step for man”. Some of original tapes from Apollo 11 were lost, and existing footage was retouched instead: with current technologies, documentaries like Apollo 11 feature HD footage of content from the 1960s.

  • Armstrong reported no trouble moving about on the lunar surface, where the gravity is a sixth of that on Earth’s. Despite concerns about the backpack creating balance problems, movement was not a problem for Armstrong and Aldrin. With both men on the surface, the next task was to plant the American flag on the surface. This was the part that Aldrin was particularly worried about: millions were watching, and the soil properties made it difficult to plant the flag.

  • With some effort, the flag was planted, and here, Aldrin stands beside the flag. Many of the photographs from the lunar surface depict Aldrin – Armstrong had been operating the camera and therefore did not appear in many of them. While Armstrong may have been selected to be the first man on the moon based on the belief that Armstrong was better suited for this historic decision for his personality (Christopher Kraft and other members made the adjustment to the flight plan so the commander would leave the space craft first), Aldrin’s appearance in almost all of the photos means that he shared in the glory of this accomplishment in an equally timeless and memorable fashion.

  • President Richard Nixon phoned the astronauts to personally congratulate them, and while he originally planned a longer speech, he was convinced to keep it short. Here is one of the footprints on the surface: with no erosion, the footprint likely is still preserved exactly as it appeared fifty years previously unless an impact event erased it. On the other hand, the nylon flags planted on the moon were not designed to resist the conditions of space and will have degraded after five decades of exposure to space.

  • With the formalities done, Armstrong and Aldrin set about preparing the lunar experiments, including a laser reflector and seismic experiments. While limited in their time on the surface, and only wandering 60 meters from the lunar module at most, subsequent Apollo missions greatly extended the astronaut’s stay on the surface in duration and provided a lunar roving vehicle that allowed later astronauts to travel 35 kilometres.

  • My interest in the Apollo 11 mission and space travel as a whole began when I was a primary student. I had received Barbara Hehner’s First on The Moon. Featuring narration told from Jan Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin’s daughter, the book recounts her experiences and more details about the three astronaut’s flight to the moon, their experiments on the surface and their return home. The book was published in 1999 and combined technical details with a highly accessible tone, making it easy to read for young readers. Excitement about the moon turned to excitement about prior and later developments: in going to the library, I ended up learning a great deal about Sputnik to the beginnings of the International Space Station.

  • Curiosity about what led to the Space Race and my happenstance finding of Steven Rys’s US Military Power (published in 1983) is the origin of my interests in the Cold War, and the Second World War. Here, Buzz Aldrin sets about preparing the lunar experiments. These are critical aspects of the moon landing to provide the first set of instruments on the moon that were placed there by human hands: previously, lunar probes were landed successfully. Apollo 11 details these moments in much greater detail than First Man, which, while not exactly the most accurate portrayal of Neil Armstrong or some of his experiences, was a solid movie all around.

  • This is the laser reflector that was a part of the lunar laser ranging experiment, where an Earth-based laser is directed at the moon. Signal from the laser reflecting back is then recorded, and despite the laser beam being some six and a half kilometers wide, hitting the reflector is still incredibly difficult, and getting a photon back is a similar challenge. However, the time difference resulting provides an exceptionally precise measurement of how far away the moon is.

  • When I first watched First Man back in January, aside from the disappointment that Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong was not entirely accurate, I was utterly blown away by the film’s cinematography, composition, camera angles and soundtrack. The film was exceptionally enjoyable despite the minor hiccoughs in accuracy, and overall, I was thoroughly impressed to the point where it actually became a little difficult to resume watching anime again.

  • After their mission, Aldrin and Armstrong entered the lunar module and prepared to launch back into lunar orbit. They would dock with the command module, where Collins was waiting, and after discarding the lunar module, fired the command module’s main engine for a trans-Earth injection. This phase of the mission was much more relaxed, although one final challenge remained with re-entry. This was no problem in the end, and the command module’s cone splashed down in the south Pacific. The crew was picked up by helicopters from the USS Hornet.

  • The United States would go on to launch five more successful missions: Apollo 13 suffered an oxygen tank explosion that crippled the command module, and forced the astronauts to utilise the lunar module as a lifeboat. Beyond this, later Apollo missions spent several days on the lunar surface and even bought a lunar roving vehicle to extend the astronaut’s reach. Overall, the Apollo programme returned 382 kilograms of lunar material and paved the way for lunar research of an unprecedented scope. In addition, the Saturn rockets were also used to launch Skylab, America’s first space station. The Soviets had turned their attention towards space stations after losing the race to the moon, and in 1975, as a sign of détente, conducted a joint mission that would be known as the Apollo-Soyuz mission that marked the end of the Space Race.

  • Since then, the United States ran the Space Shuttle programme between 1981 and 2011, and today, space exploration has slowed in pacing, although privately-funded initiatives have rekindled interest. Although projects like SpaceX has a ways to go in matching the sheer amount of human and financial capital of NASA during the Apollo era, the freedoms that private firms have may allow for quicker progress once the technology becomes developed. While man has not reached the moon since 1972, the world has advanced quite a ways since then, especially in the realm of telecommunications, microprocessors, information technology, health and medicine.

  • Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins spent 21 days in quarantine to ensure that they did not bring back any pathogens from the moon, even though this was remote. In August, the astronauts participated in a massive ticker-tape parade, and the first successful mission set precedence for the next six missions, five of which succeeded. With this special post now in the books, I will be briefly returning to write about Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell wa nan kilo moteru? on short order, before closing off the month with a special topics post on The Giant Walkthrough Brain, a project that is an excellent example of what modern computing is capable of and why during this age, effective science communication becomes ever more important.

It is therefore no exaggeration when I consider the Apollo 11 to be the most outstanding representation of humanity at its absolute best. When the brightest minds came together to collaborate on a leviathan task, the results spoke for themselves, speaking to how humanity can, with the right effort and determination, the right toughness and competence, can accomplish incredible feats of ingenuity that really exemplify what it means to be human. Even though I come much later and never witnessed the Apollo 11 launch and landings for myself, the sheer scale of the Apollo program and its impact on the world are something that I appreciate each and every day. As an iOS developer, I owe my entire discipline to the developments that came out of research for reliable, powerful integrated circuits to ensure the safety and success of Apollo. These integrated circuits developed into microprocessors, which have advanced at a bewildering rate. As I develop software to better connect the world through our mobile devices, it is humbling to know that my aging iPhone 6 could have, with its 1.6 billion transistors and capability to carry out 3.36 billion instructions per second, is around 32600 times faster than the computers that carried out the Apollo missions. This roughly corresponds with a 120 million times increase in performance, with the implication that my iPhone 6 could simultaneously manage 120 million Apollo spacecraft to the moon. Fifty years represents a considerable amount of time, and I recall that when I was granted my Master’s of Science in Computer Science, alumni of the university from a half-century ago commented on the sophistication of my graduate thesis project, which was unimaginable at their time. Apollo had set the precedence for technology, and as we move ahead into the future, I expect that five decades from now, the kind of technology that will be available will far surpass what we can presently imagine. The legacy of the Apollo 11 programme is one that is to endure: besides the accomplishments from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, we also must thank the hundreds of thousands of engineers, scientists and support staff who contributed to what remains humanity’s greatest achievement as a species.