The Infinite Zenith

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

Category Archives: General Discussion

Captain America: Civil War, On Striking A Balance Between Focus and Comedy, and Parallels In Harukana Receive

“If we sign these, we surrender our right to choose. What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go, and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.”
“If we don’t do this now, it’s gonna be done to us later. That’s a fact. That won’t be pretty.”

–Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, Captain America: Civil War

2016’s Captain America: Civil War (Civil War for brevity) is the thirteenth movie and the first part of phase three, dealing with Steve Rogers and Tony Stark as they become divided after the Avenger’s actions at Sokovia and the events of Age of Ultron. Collateral destruction prompts the United Nations to pass the Sokovia Accords, which places the Avengers under UN management. After seeing the destruction that he feels responsible for, Stark agrees to the Accords, feeling that it would be useful to have government oversight, while Steve Rogers believes in his own judgement, having grown disillusioned with authority after his experiences with SHIELD and a mission that sees Natasha Romanov sneak off to accomplish a secondary mission. Prior to the conference to ratify the Accords, Helmut Zemo activates Bucky Barnes, who appears and bombs the conference, killing T’Challa’s father, the King of Wakanda. Barnes is brought in, along with Rogers, T’Challa and Sam Wilson, but Barnes manages to escape. They prepare to apprehend Zemo, but are declared Rogue; Stark assembles a team to take Rogers in, although Rogers manages to escape with Barnes. Arriving at a remote Hydra facility in Siberia, Barnes and Rogers learns that Stark followed them, seeking a truce, but when he learns that Barnes had killed his parents and Rogers withheld this from him, he engages them in combat. T’Challa also appears, confronting Zemo, who lost his family in Sokovia and sought revenge against the Avengers: stopping Zemo from committing suicide, T’Challa captures him. Civil War was one of the biggest movies of 2016, and in keeping with films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a highly engaging film that packages thrilling combat sequences, top-notch humour and a meaningful theme into one experience. Marvel Cinematic Universe films typically manage to strike a balance between the serious and humourous: there are plenty of moments worth reflecting on, but frequent jokes remind audiences that the films are intended to be fun, first and foremost.

The balance is something that Manga Time Kirara anime similarly capture to showcase that life is a very dynamic, varied experience: the latest manga to be adapted into an anime is Harukana Receive, and similar to its ilk, Harukana Receive has strong messages of sportsmanship, friendship and personal growth. Comedy is present to create a light-hearted, easygoing atmosphere, reminding viewers that the anime is not meant to be taken entirely seriously. Similar to Civil War, jokes are placed in Harukana Receive to break up serious moments – besides creating breaks in emotionally tense moments, humour also humanises all of the characters, making them more relatable. In Civil War, the crux of the conflict is a simple but effective one, presenting a juxtaposition between regulation and doing what one feels to be right. Both Stark and Rogers’ perspective have their merits, and which perspective is more appropriate will largely depend on one’s experiences and beliefs: some people gravitate towards having other bodies creating rules one can be held accountable to, while others will put faith in their own judgement. Neither extreme is viable, and this is the point that Civil War aims to make. However, in spite of these serious matters, however, Civil War also has its share of comedy, and nowhere is this more apparent than the airport scene – beside’s Scott Lang’s hilarious transformation and Peter Parker’s quips during battle, various moments break the emotional intensity of this battle and turns it into a competitive bout between teammates. However, just because Civil War has humour does not mean it cannot be serious: the final battle between Stark, Rogers and Barnes is an emotionally charged one, with Stark trying to avenge his parents while Rogers strives to defend his best friend. All parties have their reasons for fighting, and it’s a suspenseful fight, far removed from the hilarious and competition-like airport fight. In being able to balance both the serious moments, Civil War demonstrates that films can succeed in saying something interesting even if comedy is visibly present, and need not be all-serious in order to entertain viewers.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before readers tear me a new one, I note that this post was really born of a positive response from my Twitter readers to see if I could take two prima facie completely unrelated matters and see if I can say something about how they might relate. In other words, this exercise is to see how well I can bullshit, and whether or not I’ve succeeded, I leave it to the reader to decide. It’s been a while since I’ve done a talk with screenshots from a live-action movie, and immediately, I recall why this is the case: motion blur makes it tricky to capture the best moments in stills, unlike anime, which are easier to write for. I’ve been itching to do a talk on Civil War for quite some time, having first heard that it was a fun film. This talk, however, is not a review for Civil War: I deal primarily with how humour in Civil War increases the strength of the narrative, rather than detracts from it.

  • The same holds true for Harukana Receive: I’ve long felt that people are taking the show far too seriously. Yes, there is a major character growth component, but when people, ostensibly adults with a nontrivial amount of life experience, being talking down on fictional characters, I invariably wonder what about shows like Harukana Receive (or most anything to do with Manga Time Kirara) merit rigourous analysis. I am open to hearing reasons advocating this position in the comments below.

  • My first experience with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was in 2012, with The Avengers. My first impressions were that it was a fun film, although at the time, having not seen Thor, I felt Loki’s motivations to be a little lacking. I’ve since gone back and watched all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and my appreciation for The Avengers has increased, now that I understand both Loki’s reasons for leading the Chitarui to Earth and how this sets in motion the events leading up to Infinity War.

  • 2012 also saw The Dark Knight Rises screened in theatres: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is far removed from the comedic, colourful nature of the MCU, being much more grounded, focused on psychology and fundamental conflicts of the mind. Themes of recovery are central in the film, and while having the most outlandish narrative of the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises still remains faithful to the atmosphere and setting of Nolan’s earlier Batman films.

  • After watching the Dark Knight trilogy and The Avengers, I decided to give Iron Man 3 a whirl and was immediately disappointed: the villians were weakly motivated, and the extremis seemed quite unrealistic. However, on my run through the MCU, which I started after watching Infinity War, my second impressions of Iron Man 3 were much more positive.

  • One recurring element I’ve come to love about the MCU is its colourful cast of superheroes: the number of films shows that the MCU is serious about giving their heroes proper exposure, and so, while the films might be enjoyable on their own, watching all of them and seeing where the different pieces come together is where the real joys are. Here, T’Challa fights Barnes on the rooftops following a pursuit: T’Challa holds Barnes responsible for his father’s death, but since the events of The Winter Soldier, Barnes has been struggling to get past his programming.

  • Because every character in the MCU has a detailed background, watching some of the films out of order mean that references to earlier films might be missed. However, one strength about the MCU is that even standalone, the films are quite enjoyable in their own right; right up until Infinity War, I had watched only a handful of the MCU films. The question of whether or not I review the others will strictly be a matter of reader choice: I’ve heard that folks prefer my anime discussions over every other kind of talk I have.

  • If this were to be a conventional review of Civil War, I would have taken additional time to explore all of the different scenes, and perhaps make a few witty quips about them in my usual manner. I would further go on to give the film a strong recommendation, because the film deals with interesting topics, has many entertaining moments that vary from keeping one on the edge of their seat, to those that are downright hilarious.

  • For the record, the only thing that was CGI in this scene was the background. The rest of it is all real, including Chris Evan’s arms. I imagine that, for some of my readers, who have grown weary of me posting various screenshots of Haruka and Kanata doing various things, from a variety of angles, on a beach volleyball court, this moment comes as a bit of a respite. Those who watched this film could not stop marveling at this moment, which has become quite iconic in its own right, to an even greater extent than what Harukana Receive has.

  • I’ve heard that Natasha Romanoff will be getting a movie of her own in 2020: this is going to be a welcome one to see, and I’m betting it will occur prior to the events of Infinity War. In The Avengers, it was stated that she was an assassin prior to working under SHIELD, and made her share of mistakes. With an interesting background and Scarlett Johansson’s excellent portrayal of Romanoff , I am excited to see where this one goes.

  • Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker in Civil War‘s presentation is the best I’ve seen; this incarnation of Parker is an energetic, excitable and naïve one, whose lack of experienced is offset by his enthusiasm and propensity to make random various jokes even mid-battle. He is so wordy that Sam Wilson asks if Peter’s ever been in a real fight before, and at the airport, manages to fight both Barnes and Wilson to a standstill.

  • So, here we are at last, the infamous airport scene, featuring #TeamCap. Shortly after Girls und Panzer Der Film came out, I supposed that it must’ve been similar to Civil War for being a bombastic summer film that was big on scale and effects even if the plot was a little lighter. At the time, I’d not seen Civil War yet, and in retrospect, Civil War offers its characters a much more substantial reason for fighting compared to Girls und Panzer Der Film: highly enjoyable the film was, repeating the notion of Ooarai closing a second time was quite jejune.

  • In the other corner is #TeamIronMan. It’s quite impressive as to how much detailed is paid to the progression of the Iron Man suits throughout the MCU: slow to don and somewhat clumsy early on, each iteration has improved to the point that by Infinity War, Stark’s suit uses nanotechnology to pull off some extraordinary feats. One of the things I’ve come to coherently spell out, through watching MCU films, is that not everything has to be entirely logical or through-provoking to be good.

  • The airport fights has some of the best humour in the MCU outside of Thor Ragnarok and the Guardians of the Galaxy films: while fighting one another, Romanoff asks Barton if they’ll still be friends after all this, to which he responds that it depends on how hard she hits him. The dynamic between Romanoff and Barton has always been a good one to watch: while lacking the superhuman abilities of their peers, both are highly trained combatants whose fights with one another are as intense as their friendship is deep.

  • The point of this post, was really to spell out that just because a show has prominent comedic elements and then switches over to a serious mood, does not mean that the comedic parts were in any way unnecessary or pointless. I’ve never really understood why darker or serious is better, especially in the context of shows like Harukana Receive: the whole point of the lighthearted moments in anime are largely to show audiences that the everyday moments are as important to personal growth as the moments doing more focused things.

  • So, by drawing the comparison between Civil War and Harukana Receive, I aim to show how despite the vast differences in themes, narrative, setting and conflicts, that both works uses humour to remind audiences that their characters are human, not wholly focused on their objectives and goals at the expense of others. Because the work itself makes this clear, then I find that it is unwise to adopt an all-serious stance as far as discussing the work goes. This is why I’ve found discussion on Kanata’s use of pokies, or whether or not high-fives occur in beach volleyball after every point, to be an utter waste of time.

  • When Lang uses the Antman suit to grow to gargantuan proportions, an irate Stark asks if anyone on his side has any abilities they’d like to make use of now. Even during such moments, the MCU reminds viewers to just accept things as they happen: Stark’s first reaction when seeing the Chitauri army in The Avengers was “seeing, still working on believing”. The whole point of fiction is to create a compelling story, and I am more than willing to accept liberties taken provided that they advance the story. With this being said, everyone may approach fiction differently.

  • When I was watching the airport fight in Civil War, I was all smiles; more than a deadly-serious battle, the mood was that of a competition of sorts. The characters constantly make use of disabling, non-lethal moves during the fight, as their goal is to impede rather than harm: the whole airport fight occurs because Stark is trying to stop Rogers from taking off and pursuing a mission of his own.

  • During the course of the battle, it is mentioned that in order to win this fight, some will have to lose. Those on Rogers’ side are buying enough time for Rogers and Barnes to fly out, choosing to stay behind. The stakes are never far from the forefront of discussion even during the airport fight, but in spite of the comedy, or perhaps because of it, the scene has quickly become my favourite: in particular, Parker’s quips during battle, ranging from his conversation with Rogers, to suggesting using a move from The Empire Strikes Back to disable Lang, served to lighten the mood considerably.

  • Anime often faithfully replicate real-world locations, and impressed viewers travel to these locations to walk the same paths as seen in their shows. The airport fight of Civil War was filmed at Germany’s Leipzig/Halle Airport, which is Germany’s thirteenth largest and handled 2.3 million passengers in 2017. Filming at the airport was a challenge; crews described going through security, getting a small section of tarmac to work with and was permitted to shut down one terminal during filming. In conjunction with solid directing and high-tech camera set ups, plus plenty of effort from actors and crews, there is no denying the results were worth it.

  • The airport fight is fun and games until Rhodes takes a hit and injures his legs in a fall, rendering him a paraplegic. The mood in Civil War shifts here to a darker one, rather similar to how Harukana Receive‘s mood becomes much more intense once Harukana face Éclair. It is actually a little surprising to be drawing parallels between Civil War and Harukana Receive, but given expectations that Harukana Receive faithfully depict beach volleyball, I feel it necessary to bring in one of the MCU’s strongest instalments as an example of why Harukana Receive should not be treated as requiring strict adherence to beach volleyball rules and mechanics of the real world.

  • Civil War was described by critics as being best suited for MCU fans, and the film’s success comes from not trying to be something it is not. This is an appropriate assessment: the motivations that drive the film might permit for interesting conversation, but at the end of the day, the film is intended to entertain, rather than instruct. This is also why Girls und Panzer Der Film ended up being so enjoyable: both Girls und Panzer Der Film and Civil War use a weak rationale to drive the conflict seen in the film, and the conflict itself ends up being captivating to watch.

  • This entire post has consisted of me saying one controversial thing after another, so I’ll add oil to the fire with the following remark: since my experiences with anime viewers who demand for intellectually stimulating series during the days of the K-On! Movie, I’ve felt that those who hold such expectations are likely those who feel a need to justify their interests to others.

  • The climatic battle of Civil War is a no-nonsense fight to the death after Stark learns of how his parents died. Furious that Rogers withheld this from him, he engages the two in a battle and abjectly refuses to stand down. Driven by pure emotion, he brawls on with the aim of avenging his parents. Against Rogers, however, he utilises a variety of non-lethal means to keep him out of the fight.

  • While somewhat disjointed if taken as a standalone film, Civil War‘s contributions in the MCU are much more substantial when considered in conjunction with the other films. By this point in time, Rogers has become much more disillusioned with regulatory systems and organisations, having seen the truth that SHIELD was really another iteration of HYDRA. No longer trusting organisations, he prefers to count on his own judgement. By comparison, Stark’s arrogant and independent mannerisms gradually give way to understanding that he is responsible for his actions and that the universe is much bigger than himself. His fear of the unknown led him to create Ultron, but when this backfired, Stark realises that it would be useful to have someone oversee them to prevent disaster.

  • Changing character traits over time is the great strength about the MCU, and over time, some of the antagonists fighting the protagonists turn around and join the Avengers. Character development is one of the main reasons why I partake in fiction: watching people learn and grow over time, and seeing the applicability towards reality is something I’ve long enjoyed.

  • Ever since The Avengers, folks have wondered what it would be like if Captain America went up against Iron Man following a buildup of tensions on board SHIELD’s heli-carrier. Civil War is the logical culmination of the conflict between the two: anger and his suits’ technological capabilities allow Stark to dictate the pace of the battle early on, but Rogers’ determination to save his friend proves stronger. As the battle wears on, Rogers gains the upper hand over Stark.

  • Helmut Zemo is the real antagonist of Civil War, seeking revenge against the Avengers for allowing his family to die during the Sokovia incident. With the Avengers in disarray, he prepares to commit suicide, but T’Challa stops him. Zemo’s motivations are quite weak and drive the events of Civil War about as well as Ooarai closing a second time, but the events of both Civil War and Girls und Panzer Der Film are well-executed and engaging. Looking back, I find that this comparison, between Civil War and Girls und Panzer, also holds true.

  • Robert Downey Jr. perfectly captures the fear going through Stark as Rogers pummels him; Rogers does not kill Stark, and Stark is fully aware of this, as well as what he’d come close to doing. With his arc reactor disabled, the fight comes to an end. Rogers and Barnes prepares to leave. The events of Civil War separate the Avengers, and by the time of Infinity War, Stark and Rogers have yet to reconcile in person, although Stark does understand the importance of Rogers and asks Bruce Banner to contact him, before going after one of Thanos’ Q-ships.

  • Barnes is later seen at a Wakandan facility undergoing de-programming. In Infinity War, he is firmly in the good guys’ camp again. Here, I apologise to readers looking for a full review of Civil War: this post cannot be considered to be a review of the movie, but rather, an exploratory piece on how the things that made Civil War enjoyable can also be applied to something like Harukana Receive. The timing of this post is deliberate, coming out ahead of the finale: there is a reason to why I’ve not expected, and will not be expecting, a more serious focus on beach volleyball and psychology from Harukana Receive.

In Harukana Receive, the stakes and environment are radically different than those of Civil War, but the presence of humour serves a similar purpose: breaking up the serious moments to humanise the characters. Harukana Receive may have beach volleyball in the foreground, but its goal is to portray matters of friendship, sportsmanship and self-discovery rather than specifics behind psychology and beach volleyball. Light-hearted moments are present in Harukana Receive because the series is about people, rather than sport, the same way that Civil War is about a disparate group of people and their conviction in opposite systems, rather than being a thriller akin to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. Dark Knight is a fine example of a film that is very serious and humanises Bruce Wayne by forcing him to struggle with difficult decisions in his pursuit of the Joker, and while Civil War takes a very different approach towards presenting conflict, it remains successful. Similarly, Harukana Receive can tell a strong story without a focus on drama and technical detail: the more ordinary experiences that slowly help the characters mature, and the current match between Éclaire and Harukana is meant to be viewed as less of a beach volleyball match, and more of a contest of the wills, one that would hold the same emotional weight if the mode of competition were to be different. Consequently, it is quite disappointing that there is an insistence that Harukana Receive must be treated as a sports series, and subsequent discussion focuses entirely on the plausibility, mechanics and adherence to rules behind what is seen in Harukana receive. Approaching Harukana Receive as a sports series is akin to entering Civil War with the expectation that it covers themes the same way Dark Knight did will invariably leads to disappointment: at its heart, Harukana Receive is ultimately about people, rather than the sport, and the presence of comedy serves to reinforce this notion strongly, akin to how light-hearted moments humanise the characters in Civil War and strengthens the weight of their conflict to enhance the film’s impact on audiences without strictly following the all-serious approach seen in the equally thought-provoking and thrilling Dark Knight.

A Reflection on the Faraway Receiver and the Not-So-Distant 2018 Summer Solstice

“Smell the sea, and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly.” —Van Morrison

Gone are the times when the summer solstice meany two months of unparalleled tranquility, of a period when the campus hallways and lecture halls laid empty amidst the seemingly-endless blue skies of the hottest time of year; these days, without the ever-present challenge of exams, the calm of summer seems to extent well beyond the period when the days are at their longest and the weather conducive of exploration. Save winter, much of the year feels like one long summer now that I’m no longer a student, but while these times might be past, the magic of summer certainly has not left me. The weather is already summer-like, with today’s high being 26ºC. However, tomorrow is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. With the beginning of this year’s summer, we enter a season where beautiful days make adventures possible. From hiking in the trails of the mountains, to for resting in the cool of the shade with a cold drink in hand, summer invites these activities. It is also the time of year that blogging tends to slow down a little around these parts. Last year, I averaged 11.75 posts per month, totalling 141 posts. Of these, a 30 of them were written in July, August and September, for an average of 10 posts per month. In the year before, I totalled 115 posts (9.5833 posts per month), of which 21 were written during the summer months (7 posts per month). The combination of fantastic weather and adventure means that one would be forgiven if they saw a decline in motivation to write. In my previous years, I’ve spent the summers travelling abroad and locally: 2016 saw me attend the LIFE XV Conference in Cancún, and last year, with my nation celebrating its 150th Anniversary of Confederation, the complementary parks passes saw me visit the national parks with an increased frequency. This year, things have settled down a little: travelling will be much lighter, and with the summer ahead, it is a blank slate for me. Relaxing with a good book while the evening air cools, or a stroll in the vast hills nearby are but two of the numerous possibilities of this summer; I might be busy on weekdays, but in the time since I’ve graduated, I’ve learned the art of playing as hard as I work.

  • In my mind’s eye, a romantic summer would entail running into a soft-spoken girl on a train hurtling across the vast expanse of countryside under an endless blue sky. The countryside, especially that of rural Japan, has long captivated me, and my belief is that it is chosen as the setting for many a romance anime precisely because the open space, greenery and reduced population creates a sense of longing, acting as a visual metaphor for love and relationships. Of course, thoughts of romance blossoming while travelling into or through the countryside is a pipe dream where I’m from – while we have prairies and open spaces in abundance, the distances separating cities of the prairie provinces and West Coast are connected by highways and automobiles, rather than trains and rail lines.

  • Summer is a time of adventure, but it can also be a time of loneliness, as well: with everyone capitalising on the weather to travel, it can occasionally be challenging to get people together to hang out. It is in our inclination to be with people, but for folks who are introverts by nature, such as myself, being alone and embracing solitude is how we tend to revitalise ourselves. I would consider a summer afternoon, spent at a café with a chilled lemon tea and browsing through shelves of books to be one well-spent. As important as it is to build connections with others, it is equally as important to look after oneself, especially if one is not involved in any romantic relationships: taking yourself on a date is very cathartic and relaxing.

While it is tantalising to entertain a summer where I take a break from my writing and spend all of my time taking it easy, such a course of action would likely spell doom for this blog; fellow bloggers have noted that leaving for a while can make it difficult to resume, and as there are things I would like to continue sharing with you, the readers, I believe that it is a fair balance to slow my blogging down slightly for the summer months without fully stopping. I’ve mentioned previously that if I were to take any hiatus of any sort, there would be a dedicate post for such an announcement, and this is not it. However, this raises the question of what I could write about. In previous years, widely publicised movies featured during the summer, as did whatever my latest endeavours in gaming were. This year, the summer looks quiet on both fronts; Mirai no Mirai, Non Non Biyori: Vacation, Shikioriori and Penguin Highway will première, but if the trend from Your Voice continues, it will be quite some time before we see these films. For gaming, I admit that I’ve hit a saturation point: Metro: Exodus, DOOM Eternal and Battlefield V are a ways away yet, and there are not recent titles that catch my interest, so this summer, I may simply revisit some of my older titles again while I wait for these new titles to become available. We’re covered off on games, but what about anime? This is, after all, the meat-and-potatoes of this blog, and site metric show my readers as being quite uninterested in some of my whacky exploits in Battlefield 1 and The Division. The logical answer then, is that there must be something in the summer season that catches my eye, and there are: Violet Evergarden and Yuru Camp△ are both getting OVAs. I will also be writing about the Manga Time Kirara adaptation, Harukana Receive, in an episodic fashion.

  • Okinawa is considered the Hawaii of Japan, the site of vacations for many anime (including the upcoming Non Non Biyori movie), was the site of one of the Pacific Theatre’s fiercest battles that saw an Allied victory, and is also the birthplace of my martial arts. In Harukana Receive, Okinawa is going to be none of these things. Instead, I foresee featuring many landscape shots of Okinawa, which will be simply home in Harukana Receive. Because of the nature of this anime, I think that readers will have to grit their teeth and simply accept that I’m going to be showing off a lot of 455 and 7175 in the screenshots. However, readers familiar with this blog also know how I deal with figure captions for 455-and-7175-intensive posts: I tend to meander off and talk about other stuff, so there should be no danger of this blog veering into family-unfriendly turf while Harukana Receive is running.

  • Here’s a bit of trivia as to why this post is titled “A Faraway Receiver”. Harukana is はるかな, which directly translates to “far away”, which is appropriate as an title for a series set in the distant beaches of Okinawa by summer, when the skies do seem further away. I remark that I was tempted to make a DragonForce joke, since half of their songs contain the phrase “so far away” or some variation of. The last time I did episodic reviews as a series aired, was for Brave Witches. This was a fun series to write for because of the combination of girls and guns, and while Harukana Receive may not have any guns, it does have many other elements that I am interested in taking a look at. I’m not sure how many of my readers are big on sports anime, and I’m similarly certain that many will be surprise that I will be writing about beach volleyball when my strengths lie elsewhere.

Readers would be forgiven in wondering what there is to write about in Harukana Receive, whose manga is centred around Haruka Ōzora, a tall girl who moves to Okinawa from Tokyo during her second year of high school. In Okinawa, she encounters her cousin, Kanata Higa, who is quite skilled in beach volleyball but also short in stature, making it difficult for her to continue playing. However, between Haruka’s height and Kanata’s skill, the two find partners in one another. A heartwarming and fun sports story thus awaits, but as I am a complete novice in volleyball, one could imagine that I would struggle with finding things to say on a weekly basis. Further to this, it’s been quite some time since I’ve done episodic reviews. With this being said, Harukana Receive looks to be a fine opportunity to write about an anime that is set during the summer; most of the slice-of-life show I’ve written about previously during the summer span a handful of seasons, but Harukana Receive is predominantly on the warm beaches of Okinawa, home of Gōjū-ryū, the branch of karate that I practise. As such, with the warm weather, endless beaches and stunning characters, Harukana Receive exudes the sense of summer. I greatly look forwards to seeing Haruka’s growth as a beach volleyball player as the series progresses, as well as seeing what other strengths that this anime has to offer. Because the manga is in a standard format, rather than the four-panel format, I am expecting that the series will resemble Yuru Camp△ in some areas, being friendly towards newcomers, like myself, who are unfamiliar with volleyball, but also tell a meaningful story about teamwork and talent in the process. Yuru Camp△ capitalised on the anime medium to really bring camping to life through the use of visuals and audio, so I also imagine that Harukana Receive will do the same. With the first episode airing on July 6, I will aim to finish the finale posts for each of Amanchu! Advance, Comic Girls and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online before then.

A Reflection on Winter Solstice 2017

“While I relish our warm months, winter forms our character and brings out our best.” –Tom Allen

Today is the shortest day of the year for folks in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the beginning of winter, the one season that Canada is best known for. A fresh snowfall has blanketed the area in a quiet covering of white, obscuring the landscape and giving the world a semblance to that of a blank canvas, ripe for exploration. Even though I’m not particularly fond of winter for its long hours of darkness and bitter cold, there is nonetheless a beauty to this season that makes it one that has its own merits. It’s a sign of my age that I’ve begun regarding winter in a new manner: I still vividly recall remarking that I had a deep-seated dislike of winter, but as I’ve collected the years, I’ve come to accept the positives there is in this season. For one, there is no other time of year better suited for making a hot chocolate and reading a good book while snow is falling outside. On Sunday, I celebrated the Dōngzhì Festival (冬至, jyutping dung1 zi3) with family: each of the chicken, crispy roast pork, shrimps and 東菇 have a symbolic meaning corresponding with good luck, so a traditional meal will feature these dishes. With winter now upon us, the days begin lengthening once again, although in Canada, the heart of winter only really begins in January, after the Christmas decorations are stowed away and folks begin returning to routine.

  • To give an idea of how long I’ve been around for, this is my nine hundredth post. This year, autumn’s been remarkably mild, and it’s actually felt like spring for much of the year. It’s only been in the past few days where the weather’s been more seasonal, and with the recent snowfall, it’s finally beginning to feel like Christmas outside. Christmas is fast approaching: work, however busy it has been, is winding down for the year, and I’m looking forwards to unwinding a little during the break upcoming. If the weather permits, I might close the year off with a trip into the mountains and soak in our equivalent of the onsen in Banff, but for now, on my horizons are a hockey game, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and a variety of other activities.

I’ve typically done blogging awards during the Winter Solstice, but this year, I’m mixing things up a little. For one, I’ve been relatively inactive in the anime blogging community. The reason for this is simple enough: after work, I’m now less inclined to write and prefer relaxing, so my blogging output this year has not been of the same quality as the content I’ve previously written. Site readership has correspondingly seen a decline, and unlike other bloggers out there, who’ve either superior dedication to their craft or multiple authors (or both), I’m finding it more difficult to keep up: after a day of implementing software, designing things, writing unit tests or sitting through meetings, it’s a challenge to summon the motivation to write when one would rather sit down and close one’s eyes, so I admit that the posts I’ve written this year certainly aren’t my best. There are days where I feel as though I’m reaching the upper limits for hard work can do. I am curious to hear what you, the reader, make of all this. How would you handle stress and motivate yourself when things get tough? Finally, I’d like to thank all of you, the readers, for sticking around and contributing to the discussions: it is quite certain that I would not be finding the motivation to write were it not for insightful remarks that you’ve provided. I am not quite ready to call it quits yet for the present, and folks who were doubtlessly hoping I pack it up will need to be a bit more patient – I am going to continue running this blog until Girls und Panzer: Das Finale comes to a close.

Five years since the MCAT: A Personal Reflection

“You’ll do really good you know, I’ll pray for your success! But you got it. Tell me how it goes after, and go buy something sweet afterwards! You should reward yourself with something yummyy~” —Ab imo pectore

As the title states, five years have now elapsed since I took the MCAT, and in the time that has passed, quite a bit has changed. For one, the AAMC has revised their exam such that there are now five sections, taking a total of seven-and-a-half hours to complete, compared to the 1994-2014 version of the exam: the computerised variant in 2007 could be finished in around five hours. In this time, my old MCAT expired, meaning that if I were to still retain any aspirations for a Medical Doctor degree, I would need to face down the new MCAT. This is something I’m unlikely to do, but at this five-year mark, the impact of taking an MCAT and the associated preparation for the exam remains a very profound one for me. There are bits and pieces of these recollections in the blog, especially in the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare posts, and the short of it is that I spent three months of my summer in 2012 preparing for the exam, spending many a summer day poring over textbooks and review material, occasionally stopping by the medical campus to review with friends who had previously taken the exam and were gracious enough to offer assistance, or else whiled away short breaks in the library, watching anime on an iPad during mornings before my MCAT preparation courses. Through the combination of sheer willpower, unending support from my friends and a bit of luck, I left my exam feeling as though a large weight were lifted from me: under the golden light of an evening sun, I stepped out for dinner at a Chinese-style bistro and greatly enjoyed this despite it not being something sweet as one of my friends recommended. I then proceeded to sleep the best sleep I’d slept all summer. Now, the summer lay ahead, and I spent the remainder on it working on my first-ever publication, as well as shoring up my old renal model in preparation for my final year in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme.

  • Besides long days spent studying for exams, one of the most vivid memories I have of 2012 was the fact that, owing to a frayed cable coming into the house, my broadband internet connection intermittently disconnected that summer, making doing full-length practise exams at home impossible. I recall a memorable July morning that I spent doing a practise exam and finished, scoring a 30T on it, right before the internet cut out. After lunch, I watched Survivorman and took the day easy. The connection eventually became so problemmatic that I did my final full-length exam on campus, using my lab’s Mac Pro, during one afternoon, before heading out to dinner at Bobby Chao’s with family. Here, I scored the 33T, and entering the exam, I was feeling much more confident.

  • This is a screenshot of my exam results. With encouragement from a friend, I walked into the exam a little nervous, but striving to do my best. Said friend’s constant, upbeat encouragement and support gave me a huge sense of comfort, and when my exam results came out, I was pleasantly surprised. However, as my undergraduate thesis wore on, I wondered if medicine would really be the best career path for me, and so, I took another year to figure that out while my friend took an exchange program in Japan. Our paths diverged here – they were broadening their horizons and chasing their dreams in Japan while I busied myself with learning more about software and learning to appreciate my home town more.

  • While we have gone our separate ways, it is appropriate to thank this individual once more: looking back, these experiences have also been integral in shaping who I am. Perhaps in the future, there’ll be a chance to do things over again properly. For now, this brings my reminiscences very nearly to a close: I do not think I will mention the MCAT again as it fades into memories past. I assure readers that future posts will return to the realm of the subjects I am wont to dealing with; this unusual segue is the consequence of the five-year mark passing on my MCAT, the point where scores usually expire.

A month later, my results arrived; I have previously not mentioned my scores at this blog, but with my scores expired, there is no harm in revealing them now. On my MCAT, I scored a 35T (the true score is likely between 33 and 37, inclusive), having managed to squeak by in verbal reasoning with a 10. The AAMC conversion estimates that of the people taking the exam, only four percent scored above me, and in today’s standards, a 35T approximates to a 517. Five years after the MCAT, my score has largely become a number now, with limited applicability except perhaps acting as a conversation topic for dinner parties. While the exam score itself may not hold a particularly great deal of importance, the experiences leading up to the MCAT and the attendant learnings would forever change the way I approach challenges. The summer also led to a first for me: I liken it to a variant of Tsuki ga Kirei where things don’t work quite so nicely, but as that story’s already been recounted in full previously, I won’t detail it too much further. While undoubtedly painful, I do not regret that things happened; it was reassuring to have someone provide support and encouragement during the MCAT, and although our paths have separated, I’ve not forgotten what they’ve done to help me. While the MCAT may initially appear to have been quite unnecessary, considering my eventual directions and the costs associated with preparing for the exam, in retrospect, this was an exam where the experiences conferred were those that proved to be quite helpful, whether it be learning how to read and problem-solve efficiently or how to handle stress. These learnings would subsequently allow me to wrap up my undergraduate and graduate programmes on a high note, contributing to how I approach problem-solving even today.

One Year Since The Graduate Thesis Defense: A Short Reflection

‪”I went through withdrawal when I got out of graduate school. It’s what you learn, what you think. That’s all that counts.” —Maya Lin‬

One of the perks about the University of Calgary is that graduate students, following a successful defense examination, can lay claim to a complimentary bottle of champagne (or non-alcoholic equivalent) at the Last Defense Lounge on campus, sharing in the moment with my supervisor and some of lab’s current students. I realised that the one-year anniversary of my defense would be a fine of a time as any to cash in on this, lest I waited too long and the offer expires. In the year that has passed, I have acclimatised fully to my new schedule, heading to work every morning to do work things rather than to campus for campus things, and consequently, even the events of earlier this year feel as though they were distant memories. The dramatic change in time scales exemplifies the merciless march of the clocks, and following today’s visit, I look back on my time as a graduate student and wonder whether or not there is anything particularly noteworthy about my experiences that might merit sharing. These experiences have been intermittently mentioned throughout the blog’s history and act as an interesting sort of strata for recalling what I did when: in retrospect, there was a surprising number of accumulated memories and lessons I picked up during my time as a graduate student. How do my own experiences compare with those who have walked a similar path? I now look back on two years’ worth of accumulated events and pick twenty-five of the most noteworthy lessons or experiences to discuss. The screenshots in this post were taken from Girls und Panzer: Der Film, and the reasoning for that is a simple one — ChouCho’s “Piece of Youth” was the first song that iTunes returned to me after I had arrived home, after my defense ended and I’d spent lunch with my supervisor. My friends wondered whether or not I would do anything to celebrate passing my examination, and I remarked that I would sleep it off first, then celebrate later. The imagery seen in Girls und Panzer: Der Film‘s ending, coupled with the emotional tenour of “Piece of Youth”, feel particularly fitting for such a turn of events, so for each of the twenty-five points, given in order, there will be a screenshot.

  • It makes sense to begin at the beginning: the first thing I would say to a prospective graduate student is to begin the application early and to find their supervisor ahead of time. Graduate schools see an applicant as having initiative to carry out their research if they have demonstrated that they are willing to figure out which professors carry out research that interests them, and preparing the application early also allows one to make the deadlines.

  • Second is the importance of scholarships, both with respect to being aware of which ones one is eligible for, as well as when their deadlines are. Major scholarships, coupled with a teaching assistant stipend and department funding, can allow one sufficient finances to pay for their tuition in some cases, and also make it easier to acquire equipment. I’ve applied for and accepted QEIIs in my graduate programme, as well as smaller ones, such as the Lockhart Memorial Scholarship for raising awareness for brain health using computer science in the Giant Walkthrough Brain.

  • My entry into the Master of Computer Science was actually motivated by an interest in using computers in health applications, but because my undergraduate background left me short on computer science knowledge, I saw the programme as also an opportunity to learn more about programming in general. I ended up with some skills, such as Unreal Engine and Autodesk Maya, that I’m not sure I’ll be using, but other skills, such as the capacity to learn new languages and APIs, will definitely be useful.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain was actually the Master’s Thesis for one of my colleagues, but my involvement in it resulted in my becoming familiar with the Unity game engine. Leading the development of core elements, I learnt the ins and outs of Unity in a week, proceeding a prototype that convinced both the lab and Jay Ingram that this tool could be used to bring another dimension to his presentation.

  • Once the summer of 2014 ended, I decided that I would do a 3D visualisation of an animal cell, using the Unity engine as the platform for visualisation. I proposed a cell model for educational purposes, built on modular components that could be organised in any number of ways to illustrate some of the cell’s internal processes in a visual, expressive manner and also allow for easier modification than some existing cell models. A graduate thesis should be reasonably well-thought out, but one should also keep their minds open to new ideas that they encounter: my original proposal when I wrote the application in 2013 was to build an interactive model of the renal system.

  • As a TA to an introductory computer science course, I conducted tutorial sections and provided supplementary exercises for students, as well as participated in the grading of assignments. Being a TA can be very time-consuming, especially if one is taking courses. I found it easier to break things down into a well-organised pattern: I would study for data mining and social network analysis on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, graded assignments on Fridays, and worked on my thesis on weekends, plus Monday. On Sundays, I would also prepare lesson plans for the tutorials.

  • Having been in the student’s shoes, the importance of having a good TA cannot be understated. For me, a good TA is someone who is willing to walk through the material with students in a manner they find comfortable, is fair about assignment grading and the students’ situations, and finally, is accessible via email. So, I strove to be the sort of TA that I would like to be taught by, and although it was hard work (on the night an assignment was due, I got emails from students outside of my section in addition to those inside), it was definitely worth it.

  • Graduate courses are often project, rather than exam driven. While I had a midterm exam in my data mining course, the final project was a term paper (I focused on motifs in the structures of nuclear proteins); every other course was driven by projects. To excel in a graduate course is to both understand and apply the material via exploration rather than memorisation: this is my favourite way to learn, but not everyone will see it in this manner. As an aside, getting a perfect GPA in graduate school is much less challenging than in undergraduate programs, but it also has much less meaning.

  • Between research, teaching, courses and applications for scholarships, plus writing journal and conference papers, graduate school is incredibly busy. I’m actually not too sure how I managed to keep this blog running, but I do know that time management, plus allocating deliberate openings on the week to relax, is immensely useful. I usually game on Friday evenings unless another event occurs, such as hanging out at a local pub or watching movies with friends, and since this is planned for, it does not impact my other schedules.

  • Apparently, blogging constitutes as a form of self-care for migitating the stresses of being a graduate student. So does lifting weights (or running). My routines most weeks was to pump iron three times a week in the mornings and then run, over the course of 90 minutes. I wake up early to do so, and a good lift leaves me awake and ready to seize the day. This routine persists well into the real world, and lifting weights continues to be a source of stress relief for me.

  • In the first year of graduate school, most students will focus on their courses and make some progress with their research. The combination of courses and TA work can make it tricky to find time for research, but picking courses related to one’s thesis project can ensure that one makes some progress even if they’re not directly working on their project. This is why I ended up taking Data Mining and Social Network Analysis (allowing me to mine for protein motifs), Multi-Agent Systems and Their Properties (formally define the entities in my models and express the rules governing their interactions more clearly) and Biological Computations (I built a microtubule visualisation using rule-based interactions in Unity). All of these courses were quite time consuming, but helped my project in some way.

  • Once courses are done, graduate students have around sixteen months to wholly work on their projects. While this seems to be a lot of time, but even in the absence of courses, sixteen months can go by in a flash. Starting the thesis paper early, such as during some days where work on the project is slower, can mitigate this: it is easiest to work on background, motivation and bibliographical aspects, since these aren’t dependent on one’s results. I started my thesis paper in July ten months before I was scheduled to defend.

  • In order to stay organised, it is immensely useful to know one’s supervisor’s schedule: besides meetings vetting ideas and providing inspiration or guidance, knowing the supervisor’s schedule and typical schedule means being able to plan around their presence efficiently and meet deadlines, especially where signatures or documentation requiring the supervisor’s input are necessary. This ultimately falls on the student to manage their time well: there is a limit to what supervisors can do in a given timeframe, and getting ahead of things means preventing undue stress.

  • While not every supervisor might be willing to do so, my supervisor also judiciously proof-read my papers and applications. I say it with pride that I count myself a capable writer, but even then, there are mistakes that I can (and will) miss: having an additional pair of eyes to look over things helped substantially. I admit that I was always nervous getting feedback, but they contributed substantially to my writing style and eliminated grammatical issues in my wording. Perhaps I should find a proofreader for this blog, too.

  • At a sufficiently advanced stage, graduate students might consider submitting their work to a conference or journal. While some venues have a page limit (sometimes, the upper limit is four pages), writing even short papers can be a highly time-consuming process. My first-ever publication for Laval took two months to complete, and it had a four page limit. The advantage about working on publications, even if they are rejected, is that one is able to gain additional material for their thesis, so working on publications at the Master’s level is not a total waste of time.

  • One of the most memorable things I experienced during my graduate program were the pair of conferences I was able to attend. It was my first time travelling overseas without family, and it was a thrilling experience, to be able to present outside of North America. Preparing for these presentations were an enjoyable and instructive process, and my old project drew interesting questions from attendees: unlike most folks, I tend to have next to no text on my slides, forcing the audience to follow me as I deliver my talk. I never read off my slides and memorise my lines ahead of the talk well enough so I can give a reasonably consistent presentation. Like Rick and Morty, I usually improv  my lines using my notes as guidance, so my rehearsal and actual presentations vary.

  • One of the challenges about presenting overseas is ensuring one has all of their audio-visual equipment in check: while the conference venue will have a projector and either an HDMI or VGA adaptor, individuals running their presentations of older MacBook Pros and iPads to bring their own adaptors to ensure that they can utilise their slides. I brought an assortment of Thunderbolt cables to Laval, and Lightning adapters for Cancún. In Cancún, folks were surprised that I walked up to the stage with an iPad and iPhone, but after hooking the adapters up, I gave my talk with the iPad as the main device, and my iPhone as the remote control (I have the Keynote app, so I used Bluetooth to remote in and control the presentation).

  • In Laval, I learned that even the relatively light weight of the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2015 model proved to be a hindered that reduced my mobility. I was travelling with a colleague, so we could look after our possessions without difficulty at train stations and airports. So, for Cancún, I decided to bring my presentation on an iPad and backed it up to my iPhone: my iPad is small enough to fit into a shoulder-carried bag, so I could take my stuff with me wherever I went.

  • For conferences, the biggest take-away message I would have is to book accommodations early: for Laval, hotels near the venue filled up quickly, leaving my colleague and I to lodge in a small hotel at the edge of town. Taking these lessons into Cancún, I was able to book a room right beside the venue. All in all, both of my conferences turned out to be incredible experiences. Being able to travel abroad in graduate school is easily one of the most memorable: after spending months preparing the paper and arranging for flights and accommodations, and a few weeks getting the presentation itself ready, there was an unparalleled sense of excitement in going somewhere else with a very clearly-defined goal in mind. My trip to Japan and Hong Kong this year felt quite different, as my aim in travelling was to unwind, rather than present on behalf of my lab and university.

  • The final suggestions I have pertain to the thesis defense itself: I can offer no tips or guidelines for what defines a good project, since that varies depending on the individual and their faculty. Here, I stress that time management is critical: my original intentions were to defend in April, but I underestimated the time-frames and required another month to finish working on my thesis, which at my university is submitted a month before the defense date. Working on just the thesis paper alone full-time is a surprisingly draining experience, and it gets especially tiring near the end, so having another project or goal to work on (e.g. job applications) becomes a very effective means of taking a break.

  • For the defense itself, the examiners will have read one’s thesis. The exam opens with a short, fifteen minute talk on one’s project. This time is to be used for hitting the highlights, results and implications; it is the easiest part of the exam, since it can be scripted. The examiners’ questions follow: while easily the trickiest part of the exam, one of my former colleagues suggested approaching it as a scientific discussion rather than an exam (it’s more relaxing this way), and I add that it’s okay to not know, but then offer an educated bit of speculation based on existing knowledge.

  • As with any other exam, arriving early, prepared is the way to go. Because the defense questions period can last for two hours, it is a good idea to bring plenty of water. Some questions invariably will surprise or immobilise examinees: in my exam, I forgot the definition of a role-based agent, for instance. Missing one or two questions is not sufficient to cause failure — I simply rolled with it, thanking the examiner for their insights, recovered and went on to pass my defence.

  • Despite having passed my defence, I was not out of the woods yet. Before one can truly finish and prepare for graduation, the final draft of the thesis paper must be submitted to the university pending revisions. This process took me a month to finish; after returning from Cancún, I spent the remainder of July finalising the paper. It took a few tries to get my submission accepted, since there remained persistent formatting issues, but once I had finished, the journey had finally come to an end. Ensuring that ones thesis has all of the proper formatting, bibliography and permissions is essential.

  • The penultimate suggestion I have for prospective graduate students is to enjoy their program; while furiously busy, it is nonetheless a highly enjoyable stage in life, offering numerous opportunities to begin exploring the limits of knowledge without the urgency that accompanies working in industry. Effective use of time means one can stay on top of their research and still have far more time than they ever did as undergraduates.

  • My final remark is that after graduate school at the Master’s level, the biggest takeaway experience is not the technical knowhow, but rather, the sum of all the skills to manage time and communicate effectively on both paper and verbally. Far more than knowing how to use Unity, Unreal and Maya, knowing how to be clear, precise and effective with time are skills that transfer into virtually all disciplines.

Beyond being an extensive reflection of my graduate studies program, the presence of Girls undo Panzer screenshots here also prompt a short discussion on Girls und Panzer: Final Chapter. This discussion is short quite simply because there has been no new information on what Final Chapter entails, beyond the fact that Ōarai Girls’ Academy closing will not be a concern, the first installment will be screened in theatres on December 9, and that there will be a total of six installments. The tagline for Final Chapter promises that this is the last of Girls und Panzer, which hopefully means that Final Chapter will provide satisfactory closure to any remaining loose ends surrounding what was unexpectedly an immensely enjoyable series. Beyond this, we venture into the realm of fan speculation, which is much less reliable. Similar to Tamayura: Graduation Photo, each chapter in this series is expected to run for around an hour each. While a remarkably entertaining series, Girls undo Panzer is also known for its protracted release schedule — Girls und Panzer: Der Film has been known since the series ended back in 2013, but my review of the film only came out thirteen months ago. In short, I started grad school and was very nearly finished by the time the movie released; if Final Chapter is intended to follow similar timelines as Graduation Photo, which released semi-annually, I will have likely bought a house before Miho and Ōarai Girls’ Academy’s ultimate fate is known.