The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Live Action Films

Top Gun: Maverick – A Reflection and Review, Flying into the Danger Zone With A New Generation

“Fight’s on. Let’s turn and burn.” – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

Three decades after the events of Top Gun, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has become a test pilot, and after a test flight ends with the destruction of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky sends Maverick over to train TOPGUN graduates for an upcoming assignment to destroy an illegal uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. After meeting his students and defeating them in dogfighting exercises, including Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Maverick reunites with Penny Benjamin and reveals that Rooster’s mother had asked him to keep an eye on him and guide him away from being a pilot. Torn between allowing Rooster to fly and respecting his mother’s wishes, Maverick decides to speak with Iceman, who’s afflicted with terminal throat cancer. Iceman suggests that Maverick must let go of the past. When Iceman dies from his illness, and after a training accident, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson relieves Maverick of his role and resets the mission parameters, making the initial flight to the target longer. However, Maverick seizes an F/A-18 and demonstrates the flight is possible against orders. Cyclone determines that the assignment must be completed, and with the time constraints, decides to entrust Maverick with flying a part of the mission. Although the strike is successful, Maverick is shot down, forcing Rooster to save him, and in the process, Rooster himself is shot down, as well. The pair end up stealing an F-14 and destroy the pair of Su-57s intercepting them, but run out of ammunition and flares. At the last moment, pilot Jake “Hangman” Seresin saves the pair, and they return safely to their carrier. Later, Rooster helps Maverick work on his P-51 and, while looking at a photo of their mission’s success, watches as Penny and Maverick take a sunset flight in the latter’s P-51. Releasing over three decades after 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick (Maverick from here on out for brevity) is a phenomenal sequel that has earned its praises and accolades in full – in a rare occurrence, Maverick is an instance where the sequel surpasses the original. Maverick is a superior emotional and visual experience over its predecessor, fully capturing Maverick’s character growth as he learns to promote teamwork and entrust the future to youth. This sentiment is shared by professional critics and movie-goers alike; besides a tepid romance between Maverick and Penny, the remainder of the film hits consistent home runs, with a gripping story, solid thematic elements and authentic aviation sequences making the movie a masterpiece to behold.

Over the course of its runtime, Maverick is a film about the dynamic between older and younger generations. On one end, Maverick speaks to putting one’s faith in the next generation, and allowing younger minds to step into roles of responsibility. At the same time, Maverick also indicates that youth should not be so hasty in dismissing experience – it is to general surprise when Maverick schools the TOPGUN graduates in exercises, surprising even the cocky Hangman and defeating him in a dogfight. Even Natasha “Phoenix” Trace makes the remark, wondering who’s going to be teaching the best of the best. While youth often believe that they’re ready to handle anything and are eager to jump straight in, an experienced professional will hang back, assess a problem and then draw upon their prior knowledge to decide how to best approach a problem. Although the TOPGUN pilots have more vigour and faster reflexes than Maverick, Maverick makes up for this in being able to anticipate his student’s actions and plan accordingly. By impressing the TOPGUN graduates, Maverick shows them that learning is an ongoing process, and learning never really stops. On the flipside, because of his promise to Rooster’s mother, Maverick is afraid to let Rooster fly to his full potential, and even interfered in his application process. It is only upon hearing Iceman’s advice, “let go”, that Maverick is able to see Rooster as a full-fledged pilot and select him for the mission. In reality, veterans often can have a tough time entrusting tasks to youth: it’s natural to feel protective of the people one is asked to look after, but there comes a point where it’s important to let youth test their own strength, and have faith in their ability to get things done. Maverick demonstrates this best when Rooster, on an unexpectedly impulsive act, flies back and saves Maverick from being blasted by a Mi-28 Havoc. After he’s shot down, when Maverick demands to know why Rooster flew back, Rooster retorts that Maverick had taught him to “don’t think, just do”. In this moment, Maverick is completely taken aback, but recovers – evidently, Rooster is competent and capable. Maverick thus suggests that young and old minds, contrary to what internet articles suggest, can get along – young people should be open to learning something from old minds, and old minds should have more faith in young people, trusting them to get things done in a mix of old and new ways.

Maverick is also a visceral show of what leadership looks like. While Maverick himself has had a history of insubordination, which had prevented him from advancing to flag rank, viewers are shown that this insubordination occurs because, since Goose’s death, Maverick has become more mindful of the people around him. This is made clear to viewers right out of the gates during the Darkstar test: when Maverick learns the Darkstar program is about to be scrubbed, he decides to go on a test flight anyways and comments on how, if he doesn’t defy orders to stand down, the program will go under and take the team with it. Maverick is willing to put himself on the line to ensure everyone else is safe. A good leader is someone who puts others ahead of themselves, and while from a command perspective, Maverick is appropriately-named, those who work with him are willing to do so precisely because Maverick is not a glory-seeker; he just wants to make sure everyone succeeds. This is seen again when he designs the mission parameters for the canyon attack – Maverick’s insistent on the fact that the flight be short so that the attacking aircraft have the most opportunity to evade the enemy defenses and return home. Maverick’s experiences with Goose ended up shaping him into a leader, and while this makes him appear very unreasonable, to the point where Cyclone is all too happy to dismiss Maverick after an incident during training, Maverick has one other trait that makes him a valuable leader: he is able to walk the walk, on top of talking the talk. Maverick’s test run impresses all of the TOPGUN graduates, and even Cyclone begrudgingly admits that the mission, as Maverick defined it, is technically possible. A good leader always leads by example, and can do the things they expect of their subordinates, and by showing the TOPGUN graduates that this mission is achievable, the mood suddenly changes, as a formerly impossible mission suddenly becomes a challenge that the candidates are curious to see if they can overcome. Throughout Maverick, Maverick shows that Iceman was right; the other admirals and leadership may not see Maverick as an asset, but Maverick’s traits actually make him invaluable, and it is these leadership qualities that ultimately make the mission successful. In this way, Maverick is a highly inspiring film, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that leaders are people who can do the things they expect of their subordinates, put their subordinates first, and are able to inspire subordinates to better themselves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the 2000s, the top film experiences were the Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight trilogies. Avengers: Infinity War and EndgameFirst Man, Dunkirk and Interstellar were my top picks for the 2010s. Here in the 2020s, things start off strong with Top Gun: Maverick, and ahead of the film’s release, I watched the original Top Gun so I’d be familiar with things. The original film is a fair experience, but things do feel a little less cohesive. In spite of this, the film was still enjoyable, and the music was especially good. Maverick, on the other hand, is on a whole different level.

  • The film actually opens similarly to 2018’s First Man, which had Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) piloting an X-15 and struggling to get it back into the atmosphere during a test flight. From there, the remainder of the film was a powerful portrayal of Armstrong’s journey to being the first man on the moon. Maverick starts with Maverick (Tom Cruise) testing the experimental “Darkstar”, a hypersonic ramjet aircraft intended to reach speeds of up to Mach 10. Although Lockheed Martin representatives vehemently deny Darkstar is based on any real aircraft, it does resemble the SR-72 prototype.

  • Maverick features numerous callbacks to the original Top Gun: as Maverick reaches the stipulated speed of Mach 10, he whispers to himself, “Talk to me, Goose”: in Top Gun, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) had been Maverick’s WSO, but died during an accident when their F-14 suffered a flameout. Both Maverick and Goose had ejected, but Goose broke his neck on the canopy, and since then, Maverick regretted not being able to save his friend. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a military court, Maverick continues to be haunted by this failure.

  • As Darkstar reaches Mach 10, Admiral Cain arrives with the aim of shutting the programme down, disappointed by its failure and anticipating that unmanned drones would soon replace human pilots. This concept is not explored in greater depth in Maverick, but Ace Combat 7 delves into the topic in great detail and suggests that drones or no, human pilots continue to be relevant since they can make decisions automaton cannot. On the topic of Ace Combat 7, the Top Gun: Maverick DLC set was released to accompany the film, and I’ve been eying it precisely because it lets me to fly the Darkstar aircraft, along with Maverick’s custom F/A-18.

  • When Maverick pushes Darkstar past its operational boundaries, its airframe disintegrates. Viewers have been very critical of this scene: ejecting conventionally at Mach 10 would liquify the human body, and Tango-Victor-Tango’s John “Fighteer” Aldrich claims that, because this one scene isn’t survivable, the entire movie was undeserving of its praises. In the story, the Darkstar aircraft was likely equipped with an ejection capsule, similarly to the F-111 Aardvark; it’s always amusing to see people like Fighteer taking themselves so seriously, when they lack the ability to reason through things and properly walk others through their thoughts.

  • For someone who still moderates Tango-Victor-Tango to this day, while I appreciate Fighteer’s devotion to a meaningless pursuit (conversation at Tango-Victor-Tango has intellectual value the same way Spontaneous Generation is a valid scientific theory), it is a little surprising to see someone with a complete lack of literary knowledge take such an interest in fiction. I have previously argued that works of fiction like Maverick don’t need to be realistic, but rather, internally consistent: so long as the rules of the fictional world are not broken, and so long as a work can convey its message, it will be successful.

  • The only aspect of Maverick that didn’t work quite as well was the romance between Maverick and Penny: in the original film, Maverick’s attempts to impress instructor Charlotte Blackwood was a part of the story’s way of fleshing out Maverick’s character, but here in Maverick, Penny feels like she came out of the blue. Had the film omitted this piece, I feel that its themes and messages would not have been diminished in any way.

  • On the other hand, the rocky relationship Maverick has with Goose’s son, Rooster, is a central part of the film. On their first day, tensions already run high – Rooster holds Maverick accountable for Goose’s death, and Maverick wishes that Rooster would’ve chosen any other profession besides following his father’s footsteps, a wish his mother had made. The other pilots are shocked to see Maverick as their instructor, having watched him get thrown out of Penny’s bar the previous evening after he made a gaffe and wasn’t able to pay the tab, per house rules.

  • Owing to these initial impressions, the TOPGUN graduates are pretty confident that they can hold their own against Maverick, and during the first day of exercises, Payback suggests upping the stakes after hearing Maverick’s exercise conditions: the graduates must work together to shoot him down before he decides to shoot back. Two hundred pushups is a lot, and the young aviators are confident that they’ll have no trouble besting Maverick.

  • This scene was set the The Who’s iconic song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Like its predecessor, Maverick has excellent music, but unlike Top Gun, the film uses existing music – Top Gun had several pieces written specifically for the film, including Kenny Loggins’ iconic “Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys” and the Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. My favourite piece on the original soundtrack, however, is Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” because its iconic opening riff inspired the theme to Ken’s stage in Street Fighter II.

  • Were I in the TOPGUN graduate’s shoes, I’d be nervous to hear Maverick casually accept the terms of the wager: he quickly disappears off the radars and flies between the two F/A-18s from underneath, timed perfectly to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”‘s iconic YEAH moment. Maverick is all business, but the movie has moments of levity to remind viewers that while the TOPGUN graduates are all skilled aviators, and their assignment is deadly serious, they’re still human at the end of the day. It’s a clever way to lighten the film up in the early stages.

  • Maverick uses the F/A-18E Super Hornet, a twin-engine multi-role fighter that entered service in 1999, replacing the F-14 Tomcat, which featured in Top Gun. The Super Hornet was chosen in the film, over the F-35 Lightning, on the grounds that the newer aircraft and their high-tech suite of electronics wouldn’t be suited for the mission, but in reality, the F-35 is a single-seater, and this wouldn’t allow the film to have been filmed with real pilots. Further to this, the F-35 was designed to launch its ordnance from high altitudes at a distance, so using them would’ve simply meant hanging back and launching missiles, rather than going in for a high-octane low-altitude run.

  • Rooster’s “Not this time, old man!” is one of my favourite lines in the film: having just prevented Maverick from getting behind Payback and Fanboy, Rooster attempts to engage Maverick, but ends up being “shot down” in the exercise. Moments like these are a great way of showing why it isn’t a good idea to underestimate anyone: while Maverick’s reflexes and physicality aren’t what they were thirty years ago, he makes up for this by knowing his aircraft and knowing how other pilots react in certain situations, allowing him to act accordingly.

  • There are a large number of TOPGUN candidates in the beginning, but seeing which characters got more speaking roles hinted at who would be selected to participate in the mission. Among the characters is Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). I was very pleased with how her role was handled in the film – she’s presented as a confident and skilled pilot in the skies, and she’s also got a good sense of humour, even when under stress. Phoenix’s WSO is Bob (Lewis Pullman), a quiet fellow whose call-sign’s meaning is left open to interpretation, and whose name might be a clever callback to the Bob Hoover story.

  • As the story goes, after being shot down behind enemy lines, Hoover was taken as a prisoner of war, escaped during a prison riot and then managed to find a pistol. After reaching a German airfield, he held a mechanic at gunpoint and forced him to start up a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, then proceeded to fly it over to the Netherlands. This actually lines up with how the end of Maverick goes, so a part of me wonders if Bob was named after Bob Hoover. Here, watching the other TOPGUN graduates taking a selfie while Rooster is doing the pushups was an amusing sign of the times; smartphones didn’t exist back in 1986.

  • More amusing was what happened after Maverick bests all of the arrogant and brash airmen, prompting Bernie “Hondo” Coleman to remark that “it was all fun and games in that selfie”. A chief warrant officer who worked with Maverick on Darkstar, Hondo joins Maverick in the TOPGUN programme. The whole point of the dogfighting drills here is to test how pilots and WSOs work together as a team under pressure, and also to prepare them for the sort of flying they might be up against when in the air over hostile territory.

  • When it’s Phoenix and Bob’s turn to go up against Maverick, they’re paired with Hangman (Glen Powell). Hangman is easily the cockiest of the bunch, being the only pilot with a kill to his name, and his first act is to ditch Phoenix and Bob, leaving them to be shot down. Hangman’s remarks to Bob and Phoenix are mildly disrespectful, speaking to his character and reminding viewers of a younger Maverick. Again, speaking to Maverick’s experience, he comments on how “leaving your wingman” is something he’d not seen in some time.

  • While Hangman proves a formidable pilot capable of some skillful manoeuvres, without a wingman to help him spot, Hangman is surprised by Maverick, who ends up shooting him down. The importance of this moment is to show that individual skill only takes one so far – having been around the block for some time, I can speak to this. As a developer, my skills lie in mobile platforms, and while I am capable of doing a few things with backend and web client code, I count on other members of the team to ensure those aspects are working smoothly.

  • Once the initial exercises are done, the story in Maverick steps up when Rooster goes up against Maverick a second time. Maverick’s up to his old tricks, and decides to fly inverted, daring Rooster kick the party off. In the original Top Gun, Maverick and Goose had done this to an enemy combatant, taking their photo with a Polaroid camera before flying off. The scene really serves to show the sort of animosity between Maverick and Rooster: it turns out that Maverick had intervened and delayed Rooster’s application to the naval academy.

  • The resentment in the moment causes the normally-cautious Rooster to begin flying much more recklessly, and the pair are locked in a spiral down to the hard deck. The hard deck refers to a preset altitude in which aircraft during training are not permitted to go below, otherwise, it counts as an impact with the ground. This element had been a point of discussion during Top Gun, when Maverick had dipped below the hard deck to get the kill on Jester – strictly speaking, if Jester was below the hard deck, this would be counted as a ground collision, and the exercise would end. Thus, there was no need for Maverick to continue pursuing.

  • The tense exchange between Rooster and Maverick suggests that both are having trouble dealing with their respective pasts; Rooster is more open about things, whereas Maverick attempts to talk Rooster down from things even as he himself struggles to deal with what had happened to Goose. Conversations like these give a bit of insight into the characters and, when they’re set during a tense moment, such as a dogfight, it allows a film to show, rather than tell: the way Rooster and Maverick fly and move both reflect on their internal turmoil, with the small difference being that at this point, Maverick is experienced enough to identify things are going bad and is willing to pull out before anything can happen: he breaks from the dive moments before Rooster does. In the end, Rooster is unable to outmanoeuvre Maverick and is shot down yet again.

  • Maverick (and Top Gun) remain highly dramatised accounts of what being a naval aviator is like, but as a work of fiction, one must allow for the presence of creative liberties to be taken in order to facilitate the plot. I’ve previously discussed this before; as long as a work is internally consistent, then even if there are overt elements of fantasy one knows to be impossible in reality, they can still accept it because it remains within the bounds of what the writer has defined. However, even when a work is internally consistent, there remain some people who adamantly insist on analysing it for flaws.

  • As it turns out, if a work of fiction fails to engage with an individual at the emotional level, one will instinctively attempt to rationalise why. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence to do this, and where one cannot readily explain why they are unable to relate to a work, they will fall back on picking at the small details. This would explain why Fighteer immediately picks apart the Darkstar scene as “unrealistic”, and why Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review griped about K-On! The Movie: the respective films simply don’t appeal to them, but because it takes maturity to do introspection, neither Reckoner or Fighteer are able to articulate why a work didn’t click with them personally. Their displeasure thus manifests as gripes about trivial details that have no bearing on the story.

  • I have stated before that it’s perfectly normal not to like something, and this stance hasn’t changed. However, when people use realism as the reason for why, I now know that they’re probably having difficulty in expressing themselves. I concede this isn’t easy to do: for instance, Stella no Mahou didn’t work for me, and it took a few days for me to determine that the payoff at the end of the journey wasn’t consistent with what I’d previously experienced. At a personal level, the anime didn’t succeed, but I simultaneously note that some folks might like it anyways. Back in Maverick, Maverick spends a bit of time with Penny, and while I will hold the story could have worked without the romance piece, Maverick courting Penny does have a nontrivial impact on him by showing him there is a world outside of his career.

  • The Su-57s in Maverick are referred to as “fifth-generation fighters” exclusively. The ambiguity of the foreign power with the illegal uranium facility in Maverick was a brilliant way of avoiding any political controversy, and shows that writers can indeed keep politics out of their work without impacting its quality. Here, the enemy nation is irrelevant: what matters is the presence of an assignment that drives Maverick and Rooster’s growth. While some people insist that all fiction is political by definition, I disagree. At their core, works of fiction are about individuals within a given system, and depending on the story, politics may or may not be relevant.

  • One of Maverick‘s most moving moments was the return of Val Kilmer as Iceman; now an aging admiral with terminal cancer, Iceman is unable to speak, but still retains a very healthy amount of respect for Maverick. The pair had been rivals in Top Gun, but developed professional and mutual respect for one another following their first combat sortie together. Having seen what Maverick can be like at his best, Iceman had kept Maverick around, knowing he could do the things that needed to be done. Maverick treats Kilmer and Iceman respectfully: Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 and has found it difficult to speak since then, and this was woven into the film to create a very poignant meeting.

  • The fact that Maverick seeks out Iceman for advice shows how he’s changed: no longer cocky and self-assured, Maverick occasionally acknowledges that he needs help from others, and similarly, when his conversation with Iceman ends, and Iceman asks, “who’s the better pilot” in jest, Maverick simply smiles and embraces his old friend. Maverick is best known for its aviation sequences, but interpersonal moments act simultaneously as callbacks to the original film, as well as giving Maverick a way to acknowledge the older actors and their contributions.

  • Despite knowing the stakes, the training exercises aren’t going well: the mission entails flying through a narrow canyon to evade enemy surface-to-air missiles, popping up and delivering a pair of precision strikes with laser-guided munitions, and then escaping before enemy Su-57s can engage them. During one drill, Payback passes out from g-LOC and nearly crashes, while Phoenix and Bob both are forced to bail following a bird strike. No matter how many times the pilots try, they seem unable to fly the stipulated route in under two minutes and fifteen seconds.

  • The turning point in Maverick comes when Rooster confronts Maverick over the latter’s decision to impede his application into the naval aviation programme. Maverick had done so to honour his word to Rooster’s mother, but now finds himself at a crossroad; if he sidelines Rooster on this assignment, Rooster will resent him for the remainder of his days, but if he chooses to select Rooster as one of the pilots and Rooster is killed, then he’ll have to live with the guilt of having seen both his best friend and his son’s deaths.

  • According to interviews, when Val Kilmer was shown the sections of Maverick he appears in, he was moved by how things were done, and director Kosinski, upon seeing Kilmer’s reaction, felt that they’d gotten right such a critical moment in the film. After Iceman dies from his illness, Cyclone removes Maverick as the instructor and changes mission parameters in light of the incidents during training. If Maverick were to be entirely faithful to reality, this would be the end of Maverick’s time in the film: an instructor dismissed from an assignment won’t be returning.

  • However, assuming that viewers accept Maverick as a work of fiction, they’d be treated to one of the most thrilling moments in cinema this side of the 2020s: after Cyclone explains the updated mission parameters, the TOPGUN graduates suddenly hear a transmission from Maverick, who’s taken a Super Hornet and is now flying the course. When the range controller informs Maverick he’s not scheduled for a run, Maverick’s reply, “I’m going in anyways”, earns him a “nice” from Phoenix. As Maverick pushes his F/A-18E to the limits, the students, along with Cyclone and Warlock, suddenly find themselves cheering Maverick on internally.

  • I’ve heard that Maverick’s breathing during the whole sequence is actually deliberate, a means of forcing air into the lungs and stave off hypoxia. From a cinematography point of view, these moments really emphasise how taxing flying is on the body. To put things in perspective, we feel our heads spin when a commercial aircraft banks more than ten degrees, and in science fiction works, technologies like G-force dampeners are supposed to nullify the extreme forces that occur as a result of the demanding manoeuvres pilots engage in.

  • As Maverick nears the simulated target, the entire room waits with bated breath, hoping that Maverick will successfully hit the target. For this exercise, Maverick is using the laser module on his F/A-18E to designate the target, making a successful bulls-eye strike all the more impressive. For the actual run, the aircraft will fly in pairs: a front aircraft will drop the bombs, and a supporting aircraft will provide the laser. When the training bombs, characterised by their blue colouration, strike their target, the entire candidate group is impressed.

  • Warlock’s silent fist pump says it all, and in the aftermath, Maverick’s demonstration the mission could be done changes the tenour of the film. Of course, Maverick’s actions are not without consequence; his career’s been dotted with reckless acts of insubordination, and this latest stunt earns him yet another reprimand from Cyclone, who comments on how Maverick’s choices have left him in a difficult position. On one hand, following protocol means discharging Maverick dishonourably, but on the other, Maverick’s actions here show that the mission is doable.

  • In the end, because the consequences of allowing a rogue nation to achieve nuclear capabilities far outweighs the need to discipline Maverick, Cyclone’s decision ends up being a relatively simple one. He assigns Maverick to fly the lead aircraft and asks him to pick his pilots. Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy are selected for the mission. With the mission now set, the fun and games in Maverick ends as the film becomes deadly serious. For the viewers’ benefit, the mission outline is given to viewers again: the supporting fleet will launch Tomahawk cruise missiles at the enemy airfield to cripple their aircraft, and Maverick’s team will fly in and destroy the target before the patrolling Su-57s can intercept them.

  • Maverick and Rooster share one more personal conversation before taking off from the carrier: Maverick promises they can chat after everyone comes back in one piece. Throughout Maverick, Maverick had emphasised the importance of coming back alive, and this mindset had stemmed from his own experiences. While this meant making the mission requirements seemingly unreasonably demanding, it’s Maverick’s way of expressing how he values life following Goose’s death. With these personal thoughts set aside, it’s time to get all of the aircraft in the air.

  • Upon seeing the mission for myself, I was immediately reminded of Ace Combat 7‘s Cape Rainy mission, which required players to fly through an extremely narrow canyon to evade enemy radar, while at the same time, avoiding searchlights placed throughout the canyon. Viewers familiar with Ace Combat immediately saw the similarities, and after watching Maverick, immediately went about recreating the film’s most iconic moments in-game. Project Aces saw these similarities and released the Top Gun: Maverick expansion for Ace Combat 7, adding six new aircraft, ten Maverick-themed emblems and twelve call-signs.

  • The DLC ordinarily retails for 26 CAD, but past sales have seen prices drop as low as 13 CAD. At this price point, I feel that it would be worthwhile, and I am now waiting for the Steam Winter Sale before I add the Maverick set to my library; during the Winter Sale, purchases also give players event cards, and since I do enjoy jazzing up my Steam profile, I feel that I can wait a few more weeks before I fly Darkstar or Maverick’s custom F/A-18E for myself. Having said this, I am quite excited to do so: Darkstar equips pulse lasers and can reach a maximum speed of 5000 kilometres per hour.

  • Mach 4 is only 40 percent of what Darkstar in Maverick is capable of reaching, but even this renders the aircraft brazenly overpowered: the AIM-9 Sidewinder has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, so in theory, if an enemy aircraft fires on Ace Combact 7‘s Darkstar, evading the missile would simply be a matter of opening the throttle and accelerating. In fact, this is how SR-71 Blackbird pilots were taught to deal with missiles: after surface batteries detected the aircraft, it’d be too far away to hit by the time the missiles were ready.

  • Back in Maverick, the Tomahawk missiles impact the airfield, and this causes the patrolling fifth-generation fighters to immediately divert and head back to defend the uranium site. Although Maverick and Phoenix are on track, Rooster begins falling behind after spotting the surface-to-air batteries. The unnamed enemies in Maverick use S-125 Neva/Pechora missiles, which are Soviet-era weapons that were designed to hit smaller, more mobile targets. I imagine that the missiles seen in Maverick are the V600 variant, which have a fifteen kilometre range and carries a sixty kilogram warhead. V600s have a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, so F/A-18E/Fs are not outrunning them.

  • Maverick’s experience allows him to reassure his fellow pilots: when the fifth-generation fighters begin diverting, Maverick remarks they’re headed to defend the uranium plant, and the S-125 batteries remain on guard. After taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Rooster opens his aircraft’s throttle, allowing him to make up lost time. According to the air speed indicator, Rooster begins reaching 800 knots. This corresponds to roughly 1400 kilometres per hour, an impressive speed considering how narrow the valley is.

  • The computer imagery used to brief the pilots had made the canyon seem narrower, and the mountains look steeper, than they did in reality. This doesn’t mean that the flight was a walk in the park, but for me, seeing the actual terrain itself helped to put things in perspective. While Rooster, Payback and Fanboy follow from the rear, Maverick, Phoenix and Bob prepare for the first strike. They pop up over the ridge, invert their aircraft and bring their planes into a dive. Having dug around, there’s more to this manoeuvre than the cool factor; it’s done to maintain positive loading and prevent the airframe from failing, as well as allowing the pilot to maintain consciousness.

  • Here, the GBU-24 Paveway IIIs can be seen on Maverick’s pylons: these laser-guided munitions carry a two ton warhead and require a beam from a designator to lock onto their target. In reality, the Paveway III is indeed accurate enough to be guided down a ventilation shaft so long as the laser is not lost. Military tacticians comment on how a single B2 Spirit carrying the BLU-109/B bunker buster would’ve completed the mission more readily, and while this is true (I would’ve probably recommended a Tomahawk strike), it is akin to wondering why the Eagles didn’t just carry Frodo and Sam to Mordor.

  • Common sense causes fiction to break down, and while this is important in reality (I favour simple solutions over complex ones), it also takes the fun out of a story and diminishes its ability to convey a specific message. Taking a more convoluted route allows for characters to grow, and this is one area where Maverick did unexpectedly impress in. Being the most soft-spoken and low-key of the TOPGUN graduates means that Bob has my respect: although he’s a skilled WSO, he lacks the same bravado and swagger as the other pilots, preferring to do his work in the background. By having Maverick select him as a part of the strike team, Maverick acknowledges that the quiet folks can walk the walk even if they choose not to talk the talk.

  • The more subtle lessons about teamwork, trust and humility are present in Maverick, even if they can occasionally be buried by the more bombastic, thrilling moments, and having now taken the time to give thought to both Maverick and the Yuru Camp△ Movie, I can see why there might be a case where the two films might be compared against one another, especially since both were quite successful. Both movies deal with people coming together to achieve something against the odds, persevering and overcoming both external and internal challenges.

  • Such themes are hardly unique to either Maverick or the Yuru Camp△ Movie, but the films do share quite a bit in common despite being in totally different genres. This has led Hinataka, a writer for the blog Netorabo, to claim that when compared side-by-side, the latter is a movie that “surpasses” the former as being the best film of 2022 without any additional explanation or context. Since Hirakata never elaborates, I conclude that this remark was probably an off-hand comment; Hirakata is free to enjoy movies however he wishes.

  • Film opinions can and will vary from individual to individual, but things become trickier when Centcom08 repeated this statement at Wikipedia. To the casual reader, it would set the expectation that the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a technically superior film or possesses a message that’s more cohesive and meaningful than what Maverick presents. In reality, neither film is better than the other; the Yuru Camp△ Movie excels in presenting an incremental tale of perseverance and making the most of the hand one is dealt, while Maverick is a story of trust, teamwork and learning to let go of the past.

  • Between this and the radically different premises (Maverick never goes camping with Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy, and Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena aren’t about to take on fifth generation fighters), I don’t feel that such a statement should be taken as anything more than a personal opinion. While a valid opinion, it should be common sense that this is by no means the end-all. While I am tempted to sign up for a Wikipedia account and strike that particular line from their Yuru Camp△ Movie article with due haste, I am aware that users like Centcom08 spend every waking moment monitoring the page – any changes I make will be reverted within minutes. I have better things to do than drop to Centcom08’s level, but I will remark that the Wikipedia article on the Yuru Camp△ Movie is unreliable and filled with factual errors.

  • Back in Maverick, after Bob provides the laser that allows Maverick to hit his target, Rooster follows up so he can drop his Paveway IIIs down the hatch. When Fanboy reports that his laser is malfunctioning, Rooster decides to drop the bombs blind. As luck would have it, both bombs find their mark, and seconds later, the entire uranium enrichment facility collapses. The moment this happens, the enemy forces are now aware of their presence, and all of the S-125 sites come to life, filling the air with missiles. In the chaos, it’s all the pilots can do to evade the missiles, dropping flares in a bid to throw them off.

  • When Rooster runs out of flares, Maverick sacrifices himself to keep Rooster alive. In the process, one of the V-600 missiles hits him. The moment brought to mind the likes of the 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines (starring Owen Wilson) as Chris Burnett, although flares and missiles behave a little more plausibly here in Maverick: the missiles in Behind Enemy Lines switch between heat-seekers and radar guided modes at times, allowing them to turn around and ignore flares, and they appear to fire buckshot, whereas real missiles carry an explosive warhead.

  • However, viewers generally agree that despite the lack of realism in Behind Enemy Lines, the scene where Burnett and his pilot, Jeremy Stackhouse, evade the surface-to-air missile does capture the intensity and terror that accompanies air combat. Since Behind Enemy Lines captured this well, it can be said to be authentic, even if it isn’t realistic. I have found that a lot of folks who demand realism in their fiction oftentimes are conflating lack of realism with a story they can’t relate to or connect with at an emotional level.

  • Despite being a solid story from a narrative perspective, Maverick cannot be said to be realistic by any stretch. After Maverick is shot down, he survives and finds himself face to face with a Mi-28 Havoc. He manages to somehow evade 30 mm rounds from its Shipunov 2A42 autocannon and survives long enough for Rooster to show up and shoot it down. In the process, Rooster himself is shot down, and he manages to eject. In another situation, the odds of survival would be quite slim, but viewers must set this aside and accept that, if Maverick were realistic, the film would’ve probably ended an hour earlier.

  • It is necessary that some aspects of a story be contrived such that one can be granted a satisfyingly experience. Here, Maverick manages to catch up to Rooster, and after their initial shock wears off, Maverick devises a plan for getting them back home. The lighting and tone surrounding the moment is evocative of how Behind Enemy Lines had felt after Burnett and Stackhouse were shot down, but in that film, the story had been about how Burnett evades capture in the Balkans, and here, both Rooster and Maverick are only shot down late in the game. Maverick’s plan is as bold as it is daring: see if there’s any airworthy planes left at the airfield their forces just took out and use one of them to get back into the skies.

  • At this point in the film, the reasonable viewer accepts that this is the only route Maverick and Rooster have for getting back home, and spots that, given how an earlier briefing had mentioned that F-14s might be present, opens the floor up to an exciting possibility: seeing Maverick and Rooster fly an F-14 as a clever, well-written homage to the original Top Gun. Indeed, this is exactly what Maverick has in mind, and after sneaking up to a hangar unseen, he and Rooster get one of the F-14s online. For Maverick, it’s the return of an old friend, but for Rooster, who’s accustomed to the F/A-18 and its glass cockpit, the F-14 feels ancient.

  • This scene in Maverick was reminiscent of the Yuru Camp△ Movie‘s finale, which had similarly seen the return of an old piece of hardware from the originals; when Rin’s motorcycle develops a fault, her father suggests that she fall back on her original ride, the Yamaha Vino, and it ends up playing a big role in the film’s climax. Having seen Maverick first, it was nice to see echoes of Top Gun in Yuru Camp△ Movie, although here, I note that an appreciation of the similarities between the two movies despite their drastically different premises is about the extent of my wish to compare the two films.

  • In typical Maverick fashion, both aviators are airborne after a harrowing takeoff: Maverick has used the F-14’s variable sweep wings to generate more lift and accommodate for a very short takeoff, surprising Rooster. To emphasise this, the F-14’s front landing gear is knocked off, but for the present, Maverick and Rooster are aloft, to the surprise of the command staff back on the carrier. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Top Gun movie without dogfighting in a live environment, and now that they’re in the skies, the patrolling fifth-generation fighters intercept the pair.

  • Any experts or fans of military aviation will immediately recognise the Su-57, a Russian multi-role fighter that began development back in 2010 and entered service in 2020. Although widely considered to be inferior to the American fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the Su-57 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the F-14 owing to superior avionics. In an engagement, what would likely happen would be that the Su-57 would simply fire a missile from outside visual range and score a kill before the F-14 could even flinch. Moreover, even though the Su-57 lacks the same the same thrust vectoring that the F-22 possesses, it still has an impressive turn rate and would easily overcome the F-14 in a dogfight.

  • The idea of an F-14 going toe-to-toe against an Su-57 is the sort of exercise that military fans love thinking about (experts are more concerned about how their hardware stacks up against hardware that’s presently in service, versus against older hardware), and in fact, reminds me of the thought experiments I did regarding hypothetical matchups like pitting a single M1A2 against twenty Tiger Is, or a head-to-head battle against the Panzer VIII Maus. For the most part, comparing technology from different periods is akin to comparing video cards more than two generations apart: the newer technology comes out on top every time.

  • When the Su-57s show up, Maverick reasons that at least for the moment, the pilots don’t really know what’s going on and attempt to hand signal to them. While pilots do know hand signals so that they can continue to communicate in the event of a radio loss, or during an exercise, it is possible that the Su-57 pilots operate on a different set of standards, ones that Maverick and Goose are unfamiliar with. Some folks with a background in aviation translate the pilots’ signals as requesting them to “divert to heading 3-3-0”, suggesting that they’re to defend the facility from further attack.

  • Thus, when Maverick signals he’s not understanding the message, the other Su-57 prepares to engage the F-14, which they now interpret as being under hostile control. The setup here is a bit of writing that allows Maverick to shoot down one of the Su-57s and take it out of the fight: in a prolonged dogfight, the F-14’s odds are extremely slim, even with a good pilot at the stick, but since the F-14’s M61 Vulcan is simply an older version of the M61A2 that newer generation aircraft carry, it’s not inconvincible for an F-14 to disable an Su-57 with a well-placed shot, the same way a Tiger I could score a mobility kill against an M1A2 that was standing still.

  • Much as Top Gun had previously done, the hostile pilots wear helmets with tinted visors. Protagonists wear clear visors simply so we can see their expressions: in reality, all helmets have tinted visors, but this is another instance of how being realistic would diminish the film’s impact, similarly to how portraying the combat performance differences between an F-14 and an Su-57 would prevent the film from telling its story. Once Maverick and Rooster realise their ruse isn’t going to work, Rooster persuades Maverick to give this fight everything he’s got.

  • Spurred on, Maverick uses the element of surprise to disable one of the Su-57’s engines, and immediately breaks off. In a moment of pure savagery, Maverick manoeuvres his F-14 so that the damaged Su-57 shields him from the other fighter’s missiles, and this results in the first of the Su-57s being taken out of the fight. With the second pilot dead-set on taking the rogue F-14 out, it’s an all-out fight. The entire scene is set to some of the tensest music I’ve heard throughout the whole of Maverick: with Hans Zimmer listed as a composer, there is no surprise that the incidental cues in the film are well-suited for the moments they accompany.

  • While motion blur means that it’s difficult for me to get good screenshots in a live-action movie, some of the stills for this post turned out quite well. This is the biggest challenge I face whenever writing about live-action; in anime, this isn’t a problem since everything is smooth. I don’t mind admitting I had a bit of difficulty in writing this post; cutting down the screenshots to a manageable number was probably the biggest challenge, and originally, while I have had the pool of screenshots and an idea of the post’s contest ready since late October, it’s taken some effort to distill everything into a post that isn’t the size of a graduate thesis.

  • One of the most thrilling moments during this dogfight happens when the Su-57 suddenly executes what appears to be a flat corkscrew. Immediately, viewers are reminded that Maverick and Rooster are dealing with a highly skilled pilot who isn’t just depending on his aircraft’s technology to get by. Maverick spots this and decides that it’s time to go for a lower altitude, claiming that the terrain will confuse their adversary’s targetting system. Assuming that the Su-57s in Maverick is carrying the R-77, this holds some truth: the R-77 is a radar-guided missile, but some versions are outfitted with infrared seekers that use radar to acquire an initial lock. By flying closer to the ground, the Su-57’s radar system is prevented from quickly acquiring its target.

  • Maverick ends up getting behind the Su-57 and uses his guns to damage its engine, causing it to crash. Only in a film could such an old aircraft stand any chance against a current-generation fighter, but it is a thrilling show of skill. In fact, the mindset of going up against a fifth generation fighter with an F-14 is equivalent to watching Graham Aker fighting the Exia to a standstill with a Flag, or seeing Char Aznable giving Amuro Ray’s RX-78 II trouble. The idea of skill being able to overcome technological disparity is a staple in fiction, offering a satisfying experience.

  • Rooster cheers after seeing the second Su-57 crash into the canyon’s ledges. Moments later, he’s able to get the radio on. Having Rooster act as Maverick’s WSO is a direct callback to the original Top Gun and shows how Maverick and Rooster have both overcome their pasts to be able to work together as a team, much as how Maverick and Goose originally had. For Maverick, Rooster has become a full-fledged pilot in his own right, while Rooster now sees why his father was able to work well with Maverick. However, even after getting in touch with the carrier, the fight’s not over yet.

  • A third Su-57 appears on their nose, and with their F-14 out of missiles, guns and countermeasures, it’s all Maverick can do to keep the fighter off them. During the dogfight, the F-14 takes a few hits. The portrayal of aircraft guns in Maverick is one of the few gripes I do have about the portrayal of things: the M61 Vulcan fires with a distinct buzzing noise rather than the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, while the Su-57 is armed with the 30 mm GSh-30-1, which is a slower-firing autocannon that can destroy enemy aircraft in as few as three shots. The fifth generation fighters appear to fire the same guns as the F-14, and moreover, despite taking three hits, the F-14 continues to fly.

  • This is yet another moment created to maximise dramatic effect, and it is actually quite rare for movies to correctly depict aircraft guns, so I will clarify that the guns have no bearing on my overall enjoyment of the movie. Realising that there’s no other way, Maverick orders Rooster to eject, but the ejection handles are damaged and fail to fire. Having come so far, Maverick is filled with regret at not being able to protect Rooster. However, moments after the Su-57 fires one of its missiles, it’s blown out of the sky. Hangman has come to the rescue, and while he was chosen to be a reserve pilot, he ends up being given permission to sortie and cover Maverick and Rooster.

  • Although Hangman is portrayed as being arrogant and self-assured, at the end of the day, all of the TOPGUN graduates are on the same side and work towards the same goal. The rivalries between the candidates is secondary to the fact that everyone is fighting on the same team, and this is a piece of Top Gun I’ve always loved seeing: a healthy rivalry encourages growth, but when the chips are down, everyone has one another’s backs. On the topic of Hangman, Glen Powell had previously appeared as a trader in Dark Knight, and he will be starring in Devotion, which portrays naval aviators in the Korean War.

  • I’m suddenly finding myself excited to watch Devotion: the Korean War isn’t portrayed all that often in film, but it’s also a critical part of the Cold War. The film opened a week ago in North America, and I might just go catch a screening if time allows (I do have a fair amount of vacation time banked up). Failing this, I imagine that Devotion will be available for streaming in the new year. Back in Maverick, after ensuring Maverick and Rooster are okay, Hangman breaks off and heads back to the carrier for a landing. Since Maverick had broken the nose landing gear while taking off earlier, his landing will be a little trickier.

  • As a bit of a clever callback to Maverick’s tendency to buzz the tower after a successful flight, he ends up doing exactly this, causing Cyclone and Warlock to duck for cover. Previously, doing this has landed Maverick in hot water, but here in Maverick, the successful operation means that this is probably the last thing on Cyclone’s mind: all that matters is that their hit was successful, and everyone’s come back in one piece. I’ve heard that carrier landings are one of the hardest parts of being a naval aviator, and things only become more tricky if the carrier is bobbing up and down in rough waters.

  • Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector captures the details that are involved in touching down on a carrier, and through reading the novel, I became aware of the fact that aviators will prefer to increase power when touching down. This is because if the aircraft misses any of the arresting wires on deck (I think this is called a “bolter”), it has enough power to climb back into the air and try again. Of course, this beats coming in too low. Since Maverick’s experienced, and since the oceans seem quite calm, the technical aspects of a carrier landing aren’t shown; Maverick and Rooster’s return to the carrier has the same feel as returning home after a difficult drive.

  • Overall, I found myself immensely satisfied with Top Gun: Maverick, as it tells a solid, self-contained story, is respectful to its predecessor and is accessible to both old and new viewers alike. The story isn’t something that demands familiarity with the original Top Gun, but folks who’ve seen the original film will immediately appreciate all of the references made to the original movie. Moreover, despite being a film about the navy, Maverick manages to elegantly handle the matter of politics: for this movie, the biggest enemy is actually within oneself (fear and doubt), with the hostile nation and pilots acting merely as the driving force for Maverick and Rooster to overcome their inner dæmons.

  • While Maverick has been criticised for glorifying the American armed forces and acting as propaganda promoting the military’s actions, I’ve always felt that war films are simply just a highly visceral way of portraying a given theme, the same way that first person shooters are simply a game of resourcefulness and being observant. The healthy mind is able to make a distinction between fiction and reality, and here, I would argue that the themes of Maverick are actually not too different than the themes from 2015’s Creed, which saw Adonis Creed enter the ring and fight to create his own legacy with help from Rocky, who had similarly been reluctant to train Creed initially.

  • The ending of Maverick does prompt the question of whether or not Top Gun will continue in any way: Miles Teller has expressed interest in a follow-up film, and given the quality of Maverick, I am curious to see what such a film would entail. On the flipside, Maverick is successful mainly because it tells a self-contained story that respectfully wraps up elements from the original Top Gun, and a continuation is not strictly necessary simply because Maverick closes things off on such a decisive note.

  • Observant readers may have noticed that in my screenshots, letterboxes appear in some stills, but are absent in others. This is because the action scenes were filmed in IMAX, which allow more to be shown. For dialogue scenes, the aspect ratio is a standard 21:9. The hybrid approach allows a film’s most critical moments to completely immerse viewers, and admittedly, this can make for some inconsistencies in a screen-shot heavy review: when I wrote about Dark Knight Rises back during the summer, I elected to go purely with the IMAX stills.

  • However, this had also been because that particular post was an unconventional discussion. For Top Gun: Maverick, a more ordinary review, I utilise a mixture of stills so I have a chance to cover all of the thoughts on my mind. I admit that my talks can be on the long side, but this is primarily a consequence of a given work providing a lot to consider. For readers in a rush, reading the paragraphs will give a complete insight into what I make of something; the figure captions are meant to provide various thoughts, trivia and asides.

  • With this in mind, I’m not about to change the way I blog: I believe that celebrating fiction and what one enjoys is best achieved by being thorough. While lengthier posts can be discouraging to readers, I contend that this is a matter of UX. This is why my posts are structured the way they are. Everything important, I provide up top, and then I use the screenshots and figure captions to talk about details that are not relevant to the more important topics. The conclusion at the end then sums up my personal thoughts and allows me to speculate on what future directions look like, or otherwise address elements that aren’t quite as important to readers.

  • It goes without saying that Maverick was a superbly enjoyable film for me, and having now written about the film in full, I am filled with an inclination to go back and revisit both Project Wingman and Ace Combat 7. I am glad to have taken the time to lay down what made the movie so entertaining for me, and while Maverick does seem far removed from my typical predisposition for slice-of-life anime, it is always fun to branch out and explore different forms of media every so often.

  • Since Maverick opened with Maverick working on his vintage P-51, I’ll conclude this post with a screenshot of him taking it out for a flight with Penny. This just about brings this talk on Top Gun: Maverick to a close. This is going to be my last post of November; I was originally planning on writing about Itsuka Ano Umi de, but production issues shook things up somewhat. Entering December, readers can expect more posts on Yama no Susume: Next Summit, a few special topics posts, and my thoughts on Itsuka Ano Umi de once the fourth episode airs. Before any of that, however, I do have a talk on Battlefield 2042‘s third season lined up. The game’s come a very long way since last year, and the latest additions make the game feel like a proper Battlefield title.

There is a reason why Top Gun: Maverick is 2022’s top movie – the themes are inspiring, the flight sequences are phenomenal, and elements from the original Top Gun make a return. Unsurprisingly, it is 2022’s highest grossing film, and the film is nearly universally acclaimed. However, when Netorabo’s Hinataka suggests that the Yuru Camp△ Movie surpasses even Maverick in terms of enjoyment in their review of the former, eyebrows are raised – Hinataka doesn’t explain what specifically about the Yuru Camp△ Movie makes it the superior film. Both films, despite their radically different premises, actually share quite a bit in common. The Yuru Camp△ Movie and Top Gun: Maverick both are set some time after their original, deal with an ongoing assignment that requires Maverick, Chiaki and their respective teams to pull through and get things done in creative ways, and similarly see the return of an iconic piece from their original works (in the Yuru Camp△ Movie, Rin’s Yamaha Vino makes a comeback, and in Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick and Rooster steal an F-14). However, whereas the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a highly cathartic experience which gently reminds viewers of what it means to be an adult, Top Gun: Maverick is meant to be a thrilling and inspiring adventure that shows viewers what leadership and trust look like. The two films are quite different in this regard, and where the Yuru Camp△ Movie is meant to portray its story in a relatable context, Top Gun: Maverick uses a much more dramatic story to convey its themes in order to fire up viewers. As a result, Top Gun: Maverick is endlessly quotable, and scenes from the film are endlessly rewatchable. The Yuru Camp△ Movie reminds me of the fact that I’m probably conducting myself in a reasonable manner, but Top Gun: Maverick shows me one vivid example of what leadership looks like. In conjunction with the fact that I’m rewatching moments like Maverick flying the course in the two minutes and fifteen seconds, or managing to take on a pair of Su-57s in an F-14, on a daily basis, and making bad jokes about real life situations with lines from Top Gun: Maverick, it is clear that the two movies cannot be compared side-by-side as Hinataka does. Consequently, in response to Hinataka’s comment, I would counter that Top Gun: Maverick isn’t “surpassed” by the Yuru Camp△ Movie in any way, and in fact, I would suggest to readers that both movies are worth watching on the basis of their own distinct merits.

Ten Years After The Dark Knight Rises: Revisiting a Batman Masterpiece and The Last Weeks of Summer

I see a beautiful city. And a brilliant people, rising from this abyss. I see the lives, for which I lay down my life – peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

Eight years after Harvey Dent’s death, and the Batman’s vanishing, Bane kidnaps a nuclear physicist over Uzbekistan in preparations for his plans to finish Ra’s al Ghul’s work of destroying Gotham and avenging his death. Having been out of action for eight years, Bruce Wayne is unprepared for Bane’s arrival and is brutally beaten in a fistfight with Bane. Bane condemns Bruce to the same prison he was once held in, before setting in motion his plan to destroy Gotham using the fusion reactor Bruce Enterprises had been working on. Refusing to see his city die, Bruce trains relentlessly and eventually makes the jump, escaping the pit and returning to Gotham, where he forms an unlikely alliance with the cat burglar Selina Kyle, who ends up returning and killing Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. With help from Commissioner Jim Gordon, police officer Johnathan Blake and his longtime friend, Lucius Fox, Bruce manages to secure the weaponised reactor and uses the Bat to fly the core over the bay, where it detonates harmlessly. Batman is presumed dead in the aftermath, but Alfred spots Bruce and Selina while on vacation. Meanwhile, Blake resigns from the police force, receives a package from Bruce and discovers the Batcave. When The Dark Knight Rises premièred ten years earlier, it became the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight triology, which approached Batman and Bruce Wayne’s character with a then-novel position: Nolan strove to present a more realistic, human side to Batman and the duality that existed in Bruce. Although Nolan’s films are known for involving aspects of philosophy, such existential and ethical themes, into his works, he also has a talent for ensuring that his films are approachable. Here in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan uses Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as an allegory for messages of revolution and revival. Sydney Carton’s willingness to sacrifice himself at the guillotine is paralleled in Batman’s decision to fly the bomb out over the bay; Carton’s actions give hope that Paris will be restored, much as how restoring the Batman’s legacy through sacrifice gives Gotham new hope, especially after Dent’s accomplishments was revealed to be a sham. Similarly, in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens suggests that while revolution in and of itself is commendable, the violence surrounding it is deplorable; fighting fire with fire simply shows that the revolutionaries only perpetuate violence, and generally speaking, the mob’s actions are never justified. Nolan chooses to present this more directly: while Bane inspires a revolution in Gotham, the violence and spoils ultimately amount to nothing because Bane simply had planned to kill everyone anyways. Nolan thus adds to Dickens by suggesting that getting caught up in the pillaging and looting is counterproductive because the revolutionaries may use the mob to their own end, but otherwise never had any intentions of helping them.

While chock-full of references to A Tale of Two Cities, The Dark Knight Rises remains immensely accessible to viewers, even those who’ve never seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight: in previous films, Nolan’s villains are highly intelligent and calculating, preferring to match wits with Batman using wits rather than physical force. Ra’s al Ghul plays on patience to advance his plan, while the Joker’s chaos and machinations mean that conventional means have no impact on him. In this way, Batman had previously counted on being a superior martial artist and support from his allies to get him close enough to his foes in order to outsmart them and play on their weaknesses (e.g. Ra’s al Ghul’s incorrect belief in Batman’s compassion, and the Joker’s belief that people are monsters by default when the chips are down) to triumph. Bane represented a new kind of villian, being both clever and apt; while the most traditional of the villains seen in the Dark Knight trilogy, Bane’s plans and actions mean that he is remarkably easy to follow, and this in turn makes The Dark Knight Rises very straightforward: it’s a film that speaks to two central messages. The first of these messages is the idea that “evil rises where [one] buried it”. During a terse conversation between Jim and Batman following Jim’s hospitalisation after falling into the sewers and encountering Bane, Jim’s remarks reveal his guilt at having allowed himself to live with the lie that Harvey Dent had stayed uncorrupted to the end; this lie had allowed Gotham to nearly completely eliminate organised crime, but the lie also came with a price. However, things had been so dark in The Dark Knight that Jim was forced to take this route, a band-aid solution, and so, when Bane appears, he finds the perfect weapon to use against Gotham. There are numerous parallels with reality in that band-aid solutions never last long-term, and in some cases, may even cause more trouble than they solve. For instance, if an app is written such that a text label displays error codes that cuts off, a band-aid solution would be to truncate the string if it exceeds a certain length. However, this doesn’t address the underlying problem: the server might be returning bad data and could potentially suffer from an exception if this isn’t dealt with server-side. The Dark Knight Rises thus indicates that the consequences of trying to bury a problem won’t cut it: the truth always gets out, and the consequences can be devastating.

While evil can fester where it is buried, evil does not exist in a vacuum, and in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce finds the strength within himself to revive what he’d once lost. Speaking to themes of duality in A Tale of Two Cities, if evil can rise, so too can good. Trapped at the bottom of the pit, the other prisoners help Bruce to recall his old strength, and while Bruce believes that his body makes the jump, the elderly prisoner is right in that the mind drives the body. Bruce had largely acted without fear before, feeling that his aim was to overcome his fears by embracing it, but in time, he’d grown accustomed to embodying fear without understanding what it felt like. This is what Bane refers to when he remarks that “victory has defeated [Batman]”. Nolan had previously shown Bruce as striving to compartmentalise his fear and overcome it. However, operating in the absence of fear can be an impediment, as well. This is akin to stress management: in the absence of stress, one becomes complacent and lazy. Too much stress can immobilise an individual and render it impossible to act. In the middle, stress drives one to work harder and push past their doubts. Similarly, in the absence of fear, Batman fights with the expectation that his foes will fall, and so, when faced with an opponent like Bane, who is familiar with the League of Shadows’ methods, the same tricks fail, and Batman is defeated. When Bruce learns to rediscover fear again, he fights with a greater intensity, of knowing what the stakes are should he lose again. In this way, Batman and Bruce Wayne are both reborn after being thrown into the pit. Rediscovering fear acts as a form of resurrection, and the only way this was possible was because Batman and Bruce Wayne fell. Through The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan also suggests that one can improve, and be their best self, after being knocked down. This message had been alluded to in Batman Begins, but here in The Dark Knight Rises, it is explored fully. Between its accessible themes, deeper allegories and philosophical pieces, excellent choreography and a compelling soundtrack, The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Even though The Dark Knight Rises was my first Batman movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it acted as a fitting way of kicking off my post-MCAT summer a decade earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Dark Knight Rises opens with what has become the trilogy’s most-parodied moment: an unknown CIA agent takes custody of the masked man known as Bane, but in parodies, is ridiculed for his efforts to maintain control and keep cool. In the theatre, I had no idea of what to expect, but this scene was meant to establish that Bane is a sufficiently cunning foe that he can plan things out and maintain control of a situation flawlessly, as well as the fact that his henchmen are willing to sacrifice themselves for Bane’s cause.

  • Beyond establishing Bane’s character, the opening sequence also has Bane seize a Russian nuclear physicist, Leonid Pavel, foreshadowing Bane’s plans for the film. The use of nuclear weapons in film is an age-old plot device: their terrifying firepower and immense destructive potential have meant that fiction gravitates towards them because they immediately convey what’s at stake. In mere moments, Bane’s men takes control of the plane, kills off most of the soldiers on board and gives Bane the space he needs to secure Pavel.

  • For his role as Bane, Tom Hardy put on some 30 pounds of muscle, but what makes Hardy’s performance especially brilliant is the fact that as Bane, he’s wearing a special mask throughout the entire movie. Despite only acting with his body language, eyes and eyebrows, Hardy manages to convey emotion and intensity anyways. Unlike the Bane of the comics, this mask supplies Bane with a painkiller gas, and all of Bane’s physical feats in the film are otherwise under his own power, making him a plausible match for Batman, who, in Nolan’s trilogy, is similarly a highly experienced martial artist with prototype gear meant for the armed forces.

  • Without any of the over-the-top elements, such as Batman’s peak human conditioning, or Bane’s Venom (a sort of strength-enhancing substance), the Dark Knight trilogy is firmly grounded in reality, and Nolan uses this to explore the human side of each character that the previous films had not emphasised. Further to this, Nolan also chooses to shoot the Dark Knight trilogy in real world locations, rather than using a highly-stylised portrayal of Gotham: in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Chicago and Manhattan stand in, giving Gotham a much cleaner feeling compared to the rainy, grimy and gritty feel of the comic Gotham. 2022’s The Batman and Batman Begins are both more faithful to the originals in this regard.

  • After a congressman goes missing after Harvey Dent Day, Commissioner Jim Gordon heads off to search for him, while Bruce Wayne deals with the fact that they’d been robbed, and that his mother’s pearls have gone missing. The congressman is found, and Jim chases some of the culprits into the sewers, where he is knocked out and captured by some uncommonly well-equipped thugs. It is here that Jim runs into Bane for the first time, and viewers gain a modicum of insight into how extensive Bane’s plans must be.

  • While the internet’s parodies of the CIA plane scene abound, the YouTube channel and musical group, Auralnauts, took things one step further, using their incredibly sophisticated skill in sound engineering and video editing to create hilarious videos parodying virtually everything Bane does. In their Bane Outtakes video, they portray Bane as a heavy-savvy terrorist who’s more concerned with people’s dietary preferences and eating well, rather than blowing Gotham City to kingdom come. Seeing these parodies helped me to lighten up considerably.

  • It turns out that the fingerprints the cat burglar had lifted are used to help Bane and his men carry out a hit on the stock exchange, where they use Bruce’s fingerprints to purchase future options illegally, effectively rendering Bruce penniless. This segment of the film really got me into The Dark Knight Rises: besides the suspense conveyed throughout the entire sequence, watching Bane burst out of the stock exchange after commenting that the stock exchange is where people go to steal money from others proved to be an excellent juxtaposition that again emphasises how Bane has the brains to go with the brawn.

  • The resulting chase sequence marks Bruce’s first appearance as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, and while he’s been out of action for eight years, Batman still operates the Batpod expertly, using an EMP gun to stop one of Bane’s mercenaries before continuing on the chase. The entire way this vehicle pursuit was done is brilliant: use of the lighting from the sirens and city lights and Hans Zimmer’s crescendoing soundtrack acts to convey the intensity of things. However, this scene also acts as a stunning visual metaphor: in the dark, Batman’s weaknesses are concealed, and he’s able to take down the mercenaries and retrieve their tablet only because of a technological advantage.

  • Nolan is well known for how he uses symbolism in his films, but despite covering topics that can be highly complex and thought-provoking, Nolan does so in an approachable manner, presenting challenging questions and moral dilemmas in a way that people can readily understand. This is something I especially respect: as a university student, my supervisor constantly reiterated the importance of being able to communicate scientific concepts well, and in fact, his lab’s aims were to showcase swarm behaviours in a way that was visual.

  • My undergraduate thesis project was the task of taking the model of physical flow I’d built a year earlier and then scaling it up so that a mathematical model could be used to influence behaviours back at the agent level. In retrospect, I didn’t accomplish much with this project, since the mathematical model was doing almost all of the heavy lifting and simply fed parameters back into the agent-based model. At the undergraduate level, however, this project was deemed to be of a satisfactory difficulty, and I therefore spent the next six months building and tuning my model.

  • The thesis project was actually more about the research process, development of the project and presentation of the results, rather than the work itself, and looking back, this proved to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Batman asks to be taken to Bane for a confrontation. Having not trained for the past eight years, Batman’s lack of physicality is apparent. Upon encountering Bane for the first time, Batman launches into a frenzied attack, but his blows deal no appreciable damage. Bane then effortlessly kicks Batman over the railing.

  • It was actually quite terrifying to see Batman getting beat so easily: although I’d not seen the previous movies, the reputation surrounding Batman is legendary. I would later watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, when Batman was at his prime. His technique here lacks the same strength and precision, speaking to how out of shape he is. While perhaps at his peak, Batman may have traded with Bane, here, he is outmatched. For the viewer’s benefit, Bane even voices as such; nothing in Batman’s arsenal, whether it be his smoke grenades or martial arts, is doing anything of note.

  • The fight ends when Bane reveals a part of his plan, which entails stealing Bruce Enterprises’ hidden armoury, before he breaks Batman’s back on his knee in an iconic moment inspired from the comics. In the aftermath, Bane has Bruce delivered to a remote prison in an ancient part of the world, and Selina disappears, hoping to get out of country before Bane carries out his plans. However, the new cop, John Blake, happens to catch her after visiting Bruce Manor and finding no-one there: Alfred has already left at this point, and Bruce is nowhere to be found. The worst that Alfred had feared has come to pass; Alfred (Michael Caine) has a much smaller role in this movie, but his moments on screen are especially poignant.

  • Although Blake is seen as a liability because he’s meticulous and dedicated, Jim quickly promotes him to a detective and has him look into the unusual comings and goings around Gotham. With a sharp mind, Blake quickly works out that the construction companies around town have been pouring concrete laced with explosives, and moreover, since the disappearance of the entire Wayne Enterprises board, Gotham’s police force have decided to go underground in an attempt to flush out the mercenaries under the guise of a training exercise.

  • Unfortunately for Blake and Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley, Blake’s discovery comes way too late: during a football game, Bane sets off the explosive charges that trap the entire police force underground and isolates Gotham from the rest of the world. Without any cops, or National Guard to intervene, Bane’s plan is now able to go ahead unimpeded, and Bane himself reveals himself from the darkness. Much of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight take place at night, where darkness conceals things and make things look more intimidating than they are.

  • Still recovering from his sojourn in Gotham’s sewers, Jim continues to recover and can only watch as Bane takes control of the situation. Throughout The Dark Knight Rises, Jim is presented as being at war during peacetime, and his fellow police officers comment on how, since the events of The Dark Knight, Jim’s wife and children have left him. As a sort of coping measure, Jim immersed himself in his work and puts in strenuous hours even as other cops take it easy in the knowledge that Gotham’s organised crime engine is all but dismantled. When Bane reveals himself, his mercenaries head to the hospital to take out Jim, but Jim hasn’t lost his edge.

  • Bane and some of his mercenaries take to the football pitch and announce their plan to put the detonator of a now-primed nuclear device in the hand of, in Bane’s words, an “ordinary citizen”. He kills Pavel in full sight after the latter had converted Bruce’s fusion reactor into a neutron bomb with a ten kilometre blast radius. Although Nolan commits to realism, there are some oversights here in The Dark Knight Rises: fusion reactors are safe by definition because a fusion reaction requires very specific conditions in order to proceed, and if these conditions are removed, the reaction would fizzle out and stop. However, a fusion reaction does yield a large neutron burst, and when the right casing is picked, free neutrons from the reaction escape. Such a device should have a very low blast yield, below ten kilotons: Dr. Pavel suggests it is a four megaton device, but a blast of this size would have a fireball exceeding the irradiated area. While the weapon itself doesn’t work in concept, it prompts the existing story to a satisfactory extent.

  • Coming out into the open by day thus reminds viewers that Bane is unlike any foe that Batman has previously faced. Bane’s speeches and promises felt outlandish and ludicrous back in 2012, but it is ironic that some of the colour revolutions out there have people flocking to the cause and its leaders in the same way that Bane’s accrued a group of fanatical followers. The irony lies in the fact that Bane cares very little for those who support his cause: the very fact is that Bane doesn’t actually just hand the detonator to anyone. As Bruce quickly figures out, Bane’s likely got the detonator, and that his speech was purely metaphoric. Here, Bane announces the truth behind Harvey Dent and frees Blackgate’s prisoners, creating total chaos on Gotham as the underprivileged classes begin looting, and wealthier members of society are hunted down, beaten and killed.

  • Seeing the chaos unfold gives Bruce the motivation he needs to try and escape the pit. In his spare time, he trains to overcome his injuries and old limitations: Bane had knocked a vertebra from his spine, but one of the prison doctors replaces it, and over time, with his old discipline and will, Bruce recovers quickly. If memory serves, a half year passes, giving Bruce time to rebuild his strength. While he becomes physically strong enough to make the attempt, initially, he fails. One of the prisoners states that in order to succeed, Bruce must not mask his fear, but use it as a source of motivation.

  • I’d long seen fear as something to be overcome, set aside and compartmentalised. However, Nolan boldly shows, in The Dark Knight Rises, that fear is a powerful motivator. In order to save Gotham, Bruce must make the jump, and failing would permanently stop him from doing so. The realisation that failure is final is what gives Bruce the psychological boost he needs, to push himself further and harder than ever before. In the years after, I came to see this for myself: under the threat of failure and defeat, I found myself producing work of a standard higher than I could before.

  • The prisoners chant deshi basara, which composer Hans Zimmer has indicated to mean “rise up”. Folks fluent in Arabic state that it’s actually as تيجي بسرعة (Tījī basara’ah), which translates literally as “come quickly”. The scene with Bruce’s final jump, without the rope, was the most inspiring of the moment in the whole of The Dark Knight Rises, and when he succeeds, the music crescendos to a triumphant flourish as the prisoners cheer wildly, having witness what would’ve been a miracle. This is the turning point for Bruce Wayne: he’s found his will again, and as Ra’s al Ghul had stated, the will is everything.

  • As a gesture of compassion, Bruce throws a heavy rope into the pit, inviting the prisoners to free themselves, before making his way back to Gotham. Looking around the production notes, this particular part of the film was filmed in Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. However, the interior of the prison itself was constructed on a sound stage. With Bruce’s resolve back in full now, and the occupation of Gotham under way, the stage is set for the inevitable rematch between Batman and Bane.

  • In the six months or so that have passed, Gotham’s residents have kept their heads down while Bane’s mercenaries and Blackgate’s thugs roam the streets unchallenged. Although ordinary folks live in constant fear, and the presence of the neutron bomb prevents the remainder of America from intervening, common citizens appear to have gotten off easy, while society’s top echelon, the so-called one percent, have been harshly punished. Cillian Murphy makes a cameo here, reprising his role as Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), and here, he acts as the judge to a kangaroo court, clearing enjoying sending out the wealthy to their deaths.

  • While Bane and his mercenaries have more or less taken complete control of Gotham, they’ve not explored every nook and cranny. This is to Bruce and Fox’s advantage: after arriving home, the pair locate the old underground saferoom where Bruce had kept spares of his Batsuit, along with other equipment that he’d previously used. When Bruce Manor had burned down in Batman Begins, while it was undergoing reconstruction, Bruce built a second saferoom to store his gear. By the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce shuts the room down.

  • The Batsuit in the Dark Knight trilogy is one of my favourite portrayals of the Batsuit in general: Fox had previously outfitted Bruce with a heavily customised Nomex suit which provided protection from blunt tools and lighter bullets but restricted his mobility. By The Dark Knight, Bruce approaches Fox with a new design, consisting of hardened kevlar plates on a titanium-dipped fiber. This suit provided a significant improvement to mobility at a cost to defense, and could not withstand gunshots from even pistol calibres at close range. In Batman v. Superman, the Batsuit Ben Affleck’s Batman wears is heavily armoured, to the point where it could even repel a pistol to the cowl at contact distance. The vulnerabilities in Nolan’s Batsuit is another sign of this trilogy’s commitment to realism, and that as Batman, Bruce Wayne must find other ways to win.

  • Since Batman had left the Bat high on the rooftops of Gotham, Bane’s mercenaries never found it, and this vehicle, a curiosity at the film’s beginning, becomes instrumental in saving Gotham. There is a sense of reassurance in knowing the Bat had been allowed to stay here all this time – as far reaching as Bane’s impact is, even he has his limitations, and subtle cues reinforce this. Here, Lower Manhattan’s financial district can be seen: the shot is north-facing, and the One World Trade Center is seen under construction.

  • Bane personally kills a special forces leader sent in to Gotham to help, and out of options, Blake decides to try and help out. Bane’s mercenaries promptly stop him. Meanwhile, Jim’s also been captured, and after a brief show trial, Crane decides to exile him. However, on the cold river ice, the Batman makes a return; after the guards are taken out, he invites Jim to light a flare that ignites a fire on the bridge tower, making the shape of the Bat-logo.

  • Bane is shocked to see this, and in this moment, the assured calm he’s held begins vanishing. Knowing the Batman will likely go for Miranda Tate, he orders his men to keep her close. Bruce had fallen for Miranda earlier on, and in the novelisation, meeting her marks the first time he’d not thought about Rachel Dawes in eight years. A major part of Bruce’s depression here in The Dark Knight Rises comes from his guilt at failing to save her and the belief that she was the person he wanted to be with in the future. The letter she’d written for Bruce would’ve been to signify that she no longer would wait for him, and this would’ve presumably led Bruce to continue being the Batman. Alfred burns the letter to spare Bruce of the pain.

  • I’m very familiar with what Bruce had been feeling: after the friend I’d wished to ask out began seeing another fellow, I felt a combination of disappointment, dejection and anger – this individual had supported me throughout my MCAT and my undergraduate thesis project, and I became convinced I might’ve had a shot. However, I channeled this frustration into a different direction, and also forced myself to re-evaluate my own values, which impacted how I approach things today. I’ve heard faint rumours that said individual, who became an expatriate in Japan, isn’t doing so well at present. Although this friend and I no longer communicate on a regular basis, if we were to chat again, I’d do my best to help her talk through things.

  • I note here that while this friend has a sizeable social media presence, support from strangers on Twitter or Twitch end up being empty words – there is no substitute for a heart-to-heart conversation from family or friends. While I wish I could do more, I’ve moved on, and it feels unwise for me to re-enter her life unexpectedly. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Jim, Batman also ends up beating down the mercenaries about to shoot Bane. Once the last of the mercenaries are cleaned up, Batman offers a suggestion to Blake – this moment was especially touching, since Batman had not, until now, ever considered the idea of someone else taking on his role. During The Dark Knight, Batman had adamantly rejected any help, but now, he imparts advice for Blake, to operate in a way to protect those around him.

  • Once the cops are freed, Batman passes a special EMP jammer to Jim, who’s tasked with putting it on the truck carrying the nuclear bomb. While Jim and a small group of allies work to locate the truck, the other cops will march on Bane’s base of operations, and they will be joined by Batman. Foley had been trying to keep his head down throughout the crisis, but spurred on my Jim’s words, and the Batman’s return, he ends up donning his dress blues and leads the cops downtown to assault Bane’s headquarters.

  • Every person seen in this scene is an extra, and in a behind-the-scenes commentary, Nolan describes how this scene was controlled chaos. Off-camera, all of the extras playing both the cops and Bane’s mercenaries are shown as sharing friendly banter – I always love the special features that accompany a movie, as it serves to show how much effort went into making things.

  • Although she’d been reluctant to help, after Bruce returns to Gotham, she agrees to take the Batpod and clear a path. Despite being relatively new to the highly-customised motorcycle, Selina wields it well, and quickly blasts a hole in the barrier. However, something compels her to go back into the heart of the fight, showing that Bruce was right about her. I’ll admit that as Selina Kyle, Anne Hathaway appears to have a natural affinity for the Batpod in a way that even the Batman didn’t: it does feel as though this vehicle was designed for her style.

  • When Batman appears for his second showdown with Bane, it marks the first time viewers see Batman in broad daylight. By no longer hiding in the shadows and operating by night, Nolan emphasises the idea that Batman and Bruce Wayne are reborn to the extent where he is no longer bound by his old limitations. In this fight, Batman fights Bane in a much more measured fashion, striking at the mask and using blocks rather than attempting to absorb Bane’s blows, before creating openings and landing hits of his own.

  • Although Bane starts the fight confident and calm, as Batman deals more damage to his mask, the painkillers no longer are delivered to Bane, and pain begins creeping in. Bane abandons his more refined fighting style for something more animalistic. Eventually, Batman is able to overcome Bane and kicks him into the hall of a building, demanding that Bane reveal the location of the trigger in one of The Dark Knight Rises‘ most hilarious moments. While this aspect of Batman is virtually unheard of, it’s probably Nolan’s way of reminding viewers that here, Bruce isn’t the old Batman, and he’s basically fighting Bane as himself, albeit kitted out in a specialised suit of armour.

  • While the fighting is going down, Blake gathers the children from the orphanage and asks them to help spread the word to evacuate in the event that the Batman cannot succeed in stopping the bomb. The Dark Knight Rises‘ climax is gripping, and I found myself rivetted to the screen on the day that I’d watched this film, precisely a decade earlier. At this point in time, my summer had really begun: I’d finished the MCAT for two days, and after taking the previous day easy by sleeping in (I don’t actually recall what else I did that day), the next day, I went to the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises and stopped by the bookstore to pick up some new books.

  • I had about twenty days of summer left to me after the MCAT ended, and I resolved to make the most of this time. I ended up using most of that time to spearhead an effort to get a paper published to the provincial undergraduate journal, and in my spare time, I began conceptualising what my undergraduate thesis project looked like. This allowed me to occupy the remainder of my summer in a productive manner: I subsequently lost the inclination to game, as I’d lost all of my cosmetics in MicroVolts and began attributing the game with my pre-MCAT jitters.

  • Besides getting the journal publication done and rapidly catching up with my peers on laying down the groundwork for my undergraduate thesis project, I had enough time left over to build the MG 00 Gundam Seven Swords/G, and also spent a weekend with the family out in Cranbrook a province over. After visiting the Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass, the first day ended in Cranbrook, where we enjoyed a steak dinner. The second day saw us drive up the Banff–Windermere Highway, stopping in Invermere for lunch before passing through Radium for home.

  • Thus, even though I “only” had twenty days of summer vacation left to me, I entered my undergraduate thesis year fully rejuvenated and refreshed. This year proved to be my strongest: after the MCAT, I developed a much more relaxed attitude about challenges, and this newfound confidence allowed me to approach exams with a sense of purpose rather than worry. It is striking as to how much time has passed since then, and in that time, The Dark Knight Rises has aged very gracefully. I ended up making a habit of watching the film every New Year’s Eve, with a glass of champagne in hand, ever since rewatching the film during the New Year’s Eve leading to 2013.

  • Although Batman defeats Bane, Miranda Tate betrays him and reveals herself as Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s. Shocked, Batman is unable to respond, but he is saved at the last second when Selina appears and blasts Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. The pair subsequently work together in an attempt to stop Talia, with Batman taking to the skies in the Bat. Meanwhile, Blake’s now reached the bridge, and he implores the guards there to open the bridge and let them across, since the nuclear device is about to go off. This moment proved to showcase some of the finest acting in a film chock-full of excellent acting.

  • The cop is so utterly gripped with fear that this is tangible in his voice and body language. In a moment of panic, he orders the bridge blown, stranding Blake and the convoy behind him. Although Gotham’s citizens and Bruce’s allies have maintained a dignified composure about them, the fear that this cop conveys must’ve reflected on the sort of fear and concern Gotham’s citizens must’ve surely felt. With this bridge down, everything now falls on Batman and Selina’s efforts to secure and stop the reactor; the original plan had been to force Talia’s convoy back to the reactor coupling in an attempt to stablise it.

  • The scene of the cop setting off the charges and blowing the bridge shows that this was filmed at the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge facing north on the East River: Roosevelt Island can be seen below. However, the location has been digitally modified: Randall’s Island cannot be seen, and Astoria appears to be cut off, although the Ravenswood Generating Station and its distinct chimneys can still be seen. The Dark Knight Rises presents Manhattan as Gotham, and it did feel curious that The Avengers, which I’d watched with friends a few months earlier, was also set in New York. The dramatically different stakes and contexts illustrate the gaps between the MCU and Dark Knight trilogy, and I remember being about as lost in The Avengers as I was in The Dark Knight Rises.

  • That is to say, I wasn’t terribly lost with either films despite having only a minimal background in both; while there’s some prerequisite information one must be familiar with in order to appreciate all of the events and references, I found both movies were well-written enough so that even someone coming in new could enjoy things. In both cases, I would be compelled to watch all of the previous movies in full. For the Dark Knight trilogy, I ended up doing this in December 2012, after I’d finished all of my finals, while for the MCU, I ended up doing a full-scale watch-through after Thor: Ragnarok came out.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that this year’s summer is rapidly dwindling: this week, I began noticing that I now need my alarm clock to wake up again, since the sun no longer illuminates my room before 0600. Having now settled in, I’ve capitalised on the time I’ve got to make use of some of my vacation days, and earlier this week, I decided to take my parents out to Cochrane, a tranquil small town located half an hour northwest of the city. Here, we explored the Cochrane Ranche park under gorgeous skies. I’ve not been back since 2017, when the Kantai Collection movie became available, and because it’d been a Monday, we more or less had the entire park to ourselves.

  • Because I’d already gone out for fried chicken pancakes, and then a Swiss Mushroom grill burger with poutine over the weekend, and because my parents were longing for a full breakfast, we ended up swinging by the A&W on the quieter west side of town. I ended up enjoying an Bacon Cheddar Uncle Burger, a heartier burger that was delicious as always. The afternoon was spent visiting Glenbow Ranch, a stunning provincial park of rolling hills and grasslands overlooking the Bow River. From this park, an eagle-eyed visitor can even spot the city center: with more or less perfect weather, we walked along the pathway until reaching Vista Pointe, whereupon we turned back. This wound up being the perfect day to wrap up my own long weekend, and I returned to work refreshed.

  • Looking back at the summer thus far, I’ve begun making some progress on some of the things I had wished to do post-move, especially with regard to getting to know the community better. Besides swinging by the bookstore on quiet weekends and enjoying sushi from the place across the way, I’ve also gotten to know a handful of the people in the area better, too. This has made lifting weights in the mornings more spirited. I’ve also capitalised on the hot summer weather to try working out of the local Starbucks with a Mango-Dragonfruit beverage: it represents a livelier environment than the quiet of my home office, and it hits me that this wouldn’t be a bad way to work if I’ve got days where my assignments are less intense. I ended up helping another patron with connecting to the free Starbucks WiFi.

  • In making use of the Bat, the final effort to stop Talia’s convoy sees Batman use the Bat’s full arsenal to try and stop the extremely heavily-armoured truck. The upgraded Tumblers give the Bat some trouble, but fortunately, Selina’s on station to blow them away, and in the end, Batman manages to destroy a Tumbler by flying some of its own guided missiles back to the sender. With the Tumblers gone, Batman trains the Bat’s rockets on the truck, and while the truck is able to resist these lower-caliber rockets, the resulting explosions create enough of a visual obstruction such that Talia crashes into the underground freeway.

  • Talia dies shortly after, and Batman decides that, with time running out (as well as the fact that Talia activated the reactor’s emergency flood protocol), there’s only one way to get rid of a bomb. He hooks the reactor to the Bat and flies off with it, but not before revealing to Jim indirectly that he’s Bruce Wayne. The revelation is a shocker, but it also gives Jim a sense of closure regarding what had happened years earlier, and everything that had transpired since. In a way, becoming the Batman and helping Jim fight the mob became Bruce’s way of expressing thanks.

  • The scene of Batman flying the reactor core out over the bay reminds me of a much more comical and light-hearted moment in Adam West’s 1966 Batman, during which Batman has a similar struggle of disposing of an active bomb and removing it from a populated area. However, with Nolan’s interpretation, things become considerably more grim and heroic: the weight of the reactor alters the Bat’s handling characteristics, forcing Batman to use the remaining missiles to blast a hole in the buildings in front of him to gain more breathing space.

  • Before taking off, Batman explains that the Bat has no auto-pilot, which led to a bit of ambiguity in this scene surrounding whether or not Batman makes it out okay. I’ve heard that some eagle-eyed viewers would’ve noticed that shadows flicker around the Batman moments before the bomb explodes, but flying over an open ocean, there shouldn’t be any shadows (presumably cast by the buildings). On this reasoning, some viewers felt that The Dark Knight Rises did an excellent job of hinting at Bruce’s survival, and moreover, one shouldn’t need an auto-pilot to fly in a straight line.

  • With the nuclear device dealt with, and the cops gaining the upper hand over the remainder of Bane’s forces, The Dark Knight Rises draws to a close – I found the film’s message about violent revolution to be a well-written one, and in it, Nolan conveys the idea that the methods Bane utilises are deplorable and untenable. At the same time, The Dark Knight Rises also indicates that modern society is one that teeters on the brink of revolution, a consequence of widening inequality.

  • Although there isn’t a Batman equivalent in the real world, Nolan reiterates that anyone can be a hero – the reason why society hasn’t folded outright despite increasing inequality and unrest is because, at least for now, the number of people committed to doing good still exceeds the number of people who desire disorder. Here, I define “doing good” to be actions with tangible consequences: donating to the local food bank and giving blood qualifies as doing good, whereas retweeting activists or trying to get a political hashtag to trend on social media does not make the cut by a longshot.

  • While Bane’s mercenaries were originally so devoted they would be willing to die for him, after Bane’s death, the remainder of the mercenaries are shown as surrendering rather than fighting to the death. This could be seen as a sign that in the absence of a charismatic leader, people would not view their cause as being so important as to lay down their life for it. Seeing this in The Dark Knight Rises creates a sense of catharsis – viewers know that with the nuclear device no longer a threat, and Bane dead, Gotham now has a fresh start. The truth about Harvey Dent is out, but so is the reality that Batman has just saved a city of 12 million.

  • Seeing the injustices of the world, and how governments become shackles prompts Blake to throw his detective’s badge into the river. While order and systems ostensibly exist to protect the people, over time, systems can and do become corrupted. The absence of any order and system is similarly undesirable, and the fact that humanity operates best somewhere in the middle, a balance of individual freedom and social responsibility, is spoken to in The Dark Knight Rises – Nolan’s genius is that in his films, he never espouses one extreme as being better over the other. Instead, in implying that there is a happy medium that people thrive under, Nolan leaves viewers to decide for themselves what works best, only enforcing the idea that extremes are bad.

  • Once the climax passes, The Dark Knight Rises enters its dénouement. Bruce Wayne is believed to be dead, and his estate is settled. The Batman becomes recognised as a symbol of hope and heroics, and Gotham begins picking itself back up. The entire scene is set to Hans Zimmer’s iconic incidental music: Zimmer creates a soundscape that constantly creates a sort of suspense and anticipation for Nolan’s movies, and because the sound is ever-present, silence becomes even more noticeable.

  • When one of Fox’s technicians tell him that the autopilot to the Bat had been fixed, he’s surprised – I imagine that Bruce was using some sort of version control, like Git, and since these repositories are reasonably secure (Git, for instance, accepts SSH keys as a means of authenticating a user prior to a commit), this was the biggest sign that Bruce is alive and well. In 2012, I was an undergraduate student, and my lab used SVN. The principals behind both are different when it comes to management, although from a user standpoint, there are similarities, and so, I transitioned over to Git from SVN without too much difficulty after entering industry.

  • At the end of The Dark Knight, Jim had smashed the Bat-Signal as a symbol of his reluctant disavowal of the Dark Knight for his “crimes”, but here, seeing the repaired Bat-Signal reminds him that even though Bruce Wayne is gone as the Batman, what the Batman stands for will now endure.

  • For me, the best part of The Dark Knight Rises was seeing Alfred enjoying his drink in Florence, and then spotting Bruce with Selina. He’d long expressed a wish for Bruce to move past Batman and live his life out. Years after my own experience with unrequited love, I’ve come to relate with the events of The Dark Knight Rises, and throughout the film, Alfred and Lucius Fox’s remarks about the women in Bruce’s life parallel remarks I’ve been given. The Dark Knight Rises suggests that Bruce was held back by the belief Rachel would wait for him, but it ultimately takes a rebirth of sorts for him to see what there had been out there, beyond the cowl and memories from eight years earlier.

  • The optimism The Dark Knight Rises demonstrates here made the film’s ending decidedly positive, a fitting and decisive conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy and shows how the combination of time and experience allows one to open back up – even it takes a great deal of time, the important thing is to allow this healing process to take place at once’s own pace. The sum of the messages in The Dark Knight Rises makes for an exceptional movie, and although the film might be ten years old, it has aged remarkably well, just like K-On! The Movie. The themes are still relevant, the action sequences hold up very well, and the execution makes the story timeless.

  • Because of the film’s ability to speak to so many topics so effectively, and because the film easily withstands the test of time, I count The Dark Knight Rises to be a masterpiece of a movie. I’m not alone in this stance, and I’d hazard a guess that the reason why so many enjoy The Dark Knight Rises is because Nolan is able to hit so many points in a way that works for different people; in fact, I’d expect readers to tell me that they’ll have enjoyed this movie for completely different reasons, and drew completely different conclusions than I did. This speaks to strength of the writing in this film, which ends with Blake taking up the mantle of the Dark Knight, and with both this film and my reflections at a close, it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a bit and finally begin looking at submissions for Jon’s Creative Showcase.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fantastic film, raising the bar for what a superhero film could convey well beyond providing thrilling action sequences: The Dark Knight Rises is thought-provoking, inspiring and emotional. In fact, after finishing The Dark Knight Rises, I later would watch Iron Man 3 and wonder why Aldrich Killian’s motivations felt so shallow compared to those of Bane – in fact, it did feel as though villains of other films suddenly became superficial, and for a time, I found myself with a decreased enjoyment for Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This subsequently dissipated after I watched Captain America: Civil War; the MCU’s films are fine, and speak to a different set of ideas than do Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The experience I had resulting from The Dark Knight Rises is a phase that some consumers of fiction go through: after watching something especially well-done, expectations are raised, and going into another film with a different director can often alter one’s enjoyment of things. Unlike the Dark Knight trilogy, the MCU is a long-running series whose greatest strength lies in how well-connected the stories are, and the masterful use of humour. It is therefore unsurprising that the aesthetic, tenour and end messages differ so dramatically, and failing to appreciate this is why the me of a decade earlier initially was more reluctant to watch MCU films. Fortunately, an open mind allowed me to turn around, and in the years subsequent, I would come to greatly enjoy the MCU for what it succeeded in presenting. However, not everyone follows this path: for instance, shortly after K-On! The Movie became available to international audiences, Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review was quick to dismiss K-On! The Movie as being “disingenuous” and “false advertising” for not delivering the same level of though-provoking content as his favourite work, Ergo Proxy. Such a mindset precludes one from broadening their perspectives; had I remained stuck on that path, I would’ve never been open to enjoying things like Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War and Endgame. However, I am ultimately glad to have seen The Dark Knight Rises because it represented a unique experience. My enjoyment of this movie led me to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and help me appreciate different interpretations of the Batman, whether it was Ben Affleck or Robert Pattinson’s portrayals (Pattinson proved a solid detective Batman, Affleck captures Batman’s physicality and resourcefulness, but for me, Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne hands down) – it goes without saying that an open mind allows one to have the most complete experience, and in taking such a method, also deepens one’s understanding and enjoyment of a work (or genre) by appreciating different interpretations and perspectives of things.

Yuru Camp△ 2 Live Action Adaptation: Review and Reflections on the Opening Special

“Celebrate endings, for they precede new beginnings.” –Jonathan Lockwood Huie

While the conclusion of Yuru Camp△ 2 doubtlessly left viewers with a bit of melancholy once it ended, the live action drama has thankfully filled in the void, revisiting the events of Yuru Camp△ 2 in the live-action setting. The second season for Yuru Camp△ 2‘s live action drama was announced in November 2020, and began airing back in April. Before the drama’s new season began airing, however, a special episode was released. This episode summarises events from the first season and portrays Rin’s solo camping adventures in Omaezaki and the coastal regions of Shizuoka, as well as Nadeshiko’s part-time job at the local post office and the Outdoor Activities Club’s New Year sunrise misadventures together. Yuru Camp△‘s drama had been well-received amongst both Japanese and foreign viewers: this series captures the spirit of the anime and brings it to life in a different medium, and speaking to how well both the manga and anime were made, the transition into the real world does not impede Yuru Camp△ in any way. The characters are faithful to their original counterparts in personality and appearance, the real-world settings look even more stunning, and the food is more enticing than what was seen in the anime. The positive reception to Yuru Camp△‘s live action drama is therefore unsurprising, and with the first season as the precedent, it became clear that the drama would be of a similar quality and aesthetic. The announcement of a special episode initially proved unexpected, and early in the live action drama of Yuru Camp△ 2‘s second season, I skipped over this special. I assumed it would be a recap of the first season and so, my journey started when the series proper began airing on Prime. I was therefore surprised to see Rin already in Hamamatsu waiting for Nadeshiko to show up. Evidently, I jumped the gun, and hastened to back up a little, starting the journey properly as Rin embarks on her last solo camping trip of the year while the Outdoor Activities Club have their own fun in trying to catch a pair of New Year sunrises.

Having already covered the themes, symbolism and motifs of Yuru Camp△ 2 ad nauseam in my episodic posts for the anime, there prima facie seems to be little incentive to go back and write about the live action drama again, especially given that the drama follows the anime and manga’s events very closely. However, the different formats mean that the aesthetics between Yuru Camp△ 2‘s anime and live action drama become apparent, altering the look-and-feel of every different scene. Yuru Camp△ 2‘s anime had crafted an infinitely peaceful and relaxing setting, using a gentle colour palette and reduced saturation to ease viewers into every moment, whether it be Rin’s introspective solo camping moments or the rowdy adventures that follow Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena. In the live action, colours and scenes are sharper, accentuating the mood of each scene. Rin’s calm experiences are ever more relaxing, while the Outdoor Activities Club’s travels become more rambunctious: together with the fact that the drama is presenting the actual scenery and food everyone enjoys, it creates an unparalleled sense of immersion. If the anime had been about conveying a sense of tranquility and a reminder to appreciate the smaller moments, the drama demonstrates to viewers that what Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena experience is very much a reality, awaiting the viewer’s decision to go and give things a go for themselves. The dramatically different aesthetic in the drama do not degrade themes and messages from the original anime or manga, and as such, for being able to show viewers what things might really look like were one to follow in Rin and the Outdoor Activities Club’s footsteps while simultaneously being respectful to the original, the Yuru Camp△ drama was very well received amongst viewers. Season two looks no different, and the beginning of a familiar journey from a fresh perspective is off to a solid start.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • A few days ago, a reader commented on Haruka Fukuhara’s excellent portrayal of Rin: Fukuhara does indeed capture Rin’s personality very well, right down to the facial expressions and mannerisms that Nao Tōyama brings to the table when voicing Rin. Altogether, I was very impressed with how closely Yuru Camp△‘s drama characters resembled their anime counterparts: minus the hair colours, and the fact that Nadeshiko usually wears hair in twin-tails, the character designs in the drama are solid.

  • The second season had been prefaced by a 40-minute special that covers moments from the second half of the second season’s first episode before segueing into events from the second episode. Here, Ena and Nadeshiko sit down to lunch together between their shifts at the Minobu Post Office. When Yuru Camp△ 2 aired, I immediately set about trying to locate Minobu Post Office for my location hunts. The Yuru Camp△ drama uses real-life locations precisely as they are, and where the anime and manga could fake locations, the drama must instead find a suitable counterpart.

  • I’d felt bad for Chiaki when she was faced with a heavy work schedule while her friends got some time to themselves, and in the live action, this feeling was amplified thanks to Momoko Tanabe’s spot-on acting. Chiaki lacks the fluffy and warm air that Rin and Nadeshiko convey, and instead, acts as the excitable, energetic club president similarly to Ritsu had been the club president in K-On!. Archetypes in anime are unavoidable, but I’ve never really held it against a series if their respective equivalents for Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Tsumugi and Azusa were obvious: character traits aren’t the sole determinant of whether or not a slice-of-life anime will succeed.

  • While Rin had intended to visit Izu, the prospect of New Year’s crowds leads her to stand down. Her mother suggests Omaezaki and Iwata in lieu of Izu: besides safer driving, Rin’s mother is also hoping that Rin might be able to swing by a special tea shop in the mountains just south of Kakegawa. With her destinations locked in, Rin prepares to head from home out to Shizuoka, a lengthy 126-kilometre long drive. The site of Rin’s house in the live-action drama was posted to Google Maps about a year ago by some enthusiastic fans of the series, although out of respect for the residents, I submitted a report about the inappropriate listing shortly after finding out.

  • Google only got around to processing my report a few weeks earlier, and the location of Rin’s house in the drama has now been stricken from Google Maps. I get that the Japanese fans who created the listing will probably be a trifle disappointed, but especially with current circumstance, hassling a private residence isn’t the best idea at this moment. Back in Yuru Camp△, Fukuhara’s joyous expression is breathtaking, even if it only happens within her mind’s eye: Yuru Camp△ 2 had Rin imagine expressing pure joy at seeing the ocean, but in the anime, Rin’s expression is a little more ambiguous. In the live action, subtle cues like the shape of Fukuhara’s eyes helps one to more readily ascertain that the ocean is positively making Rin happy.

  • Rin was shown as arriving in Cape Omaezaki to check out the lighthouse by mid-morning in the anime, but the lighting in the drama suggests that the scene was filmed early morning. I wonder when the principal photography for the second season was shot: while most of the scenes involve Rin and the Outdoor Activities Club, there are some scenes that feature crowds (most notably, when Rin is buying strawberry daifuku in Kanzanji and later, when Nadeshiko visits an okonomiyaki place in Fujinomiya).

  • Both the anime and drama has Rin swing by Kimikura Teahouse to pick up some tea for her mother. In my post for the anime and location hunt posts, I wasn’t able to actually go inside the teahouse for comparison. The live action drama allows me to remedy this, and it becomes clear that the anime did indeed take the pain of replicating Kimikura’s interior and uniforms accurately. Here, a member of the staff greets Rin, and she recognises Rin from a few months earlier, when they’d met at Yashajin Pass.

  • Like Rin, I’m a complete novice to Japanese tea: she ultimately ends up asking the clerk for a recommendation. On my end, I am better versed in Chinese and other teas: my favourite tea is probably Tieguanyin, an oolong tea that Cantonese restaurants commonly serve. It’s got a mild but distinct flavour that makes it particularly quenching (great for when eating at Guangdong restaurants whose fares are often explosively flavourful). By comparison, my family in Hong Kong prefers Pu’er tea, which has a much stronger taste. Typically, I prefer a good cup of Moroccan mint tea or ginger tea when Chinese teas are not available.

  • Whereas Rin only learns about her mother giving her an additional 1000 Yen to enjoy the café at Kimikura after having made her initial purchase in the anime, here in the drama, Rin finds out as soon as she phones home to inquire about the tea. Instead, Rin struggles to decide whether or not she should live in the moment or put the extra money towards her camping fee. In the end, Rin caves and ends up ordering the tea set. I imagine this was meant to also incorporate the moment in Yuru Camp△ 2‘s anime, where Rin ultimately gives in to temptation and orders a pizza slice from the food truck at Ryuyokaiyo Koen Campground.

  • After Kimikura, Rin heads for Mitsuke Tenjin Shrine in the hopes of meeting Shippeitaro III, a fox-like dog who defeats monkey spirits per Japanese færie tales. Upon arriving, she decides to make this her New Year’s Visit, as well, and prays for another peaceful year. Unfortunately, it turns out that Shippeitaro III had already passed on, and in a moment of contemplation, Rin phones Ena and asks about how Chikuwa is doing. One aspect of Yuru Camp△ that I never noticed during the first season was the fact that Chikuwa is a long-haired Chihuahua – his breed is not explicitly mentioned early on. However, there were hints that Chikuwa is a Chihuahua; he dislikes the cold and loves to burrow in blankets.

  • The founder of the company I’d previously worked for has a long-haired Chihuahua, and back before the pandemic hit, we’d spend a half hour of our day talking her out on a walk with the entire team: our office building had been dog friendly, and having a long-haired Chihuahua around every day was such a morale booster. If I were running into challenges with auto-layout or the Stripe SDK, I could always take a five minute breather, cuddle with the Chihuahua and then return to my desk fully refreshed. This Chihuahua was a mixed-breed and therefore larger than a purebred Chihuahua, but was still a small dog by all definitions. In spite of this, she was always energetic and loved getting petted, occasionally approaching my and my coworkers’ desks and pawing our chairs for pats.

  • Throughout Yuru Camp△, it is shown that dogs have a considerable presence, and despite not having a dog herself, Rin is very much a dog person (the drama shows her as having a shiba inu sticker on her phone case). Rin goes out of her way to pet the dogs she runs into and visit shrines with a dog deity, Nadeshiko waves to dogs on her way to school, and Aoi comments on how Nadeshiko’s enthusiasm is puppy-like.

  • While finding Ryuyokaiyo Koen Campground proved to be a straightforward task, Google Street View doesn’t have coverage down here, and so, during my location hunt, I wasn’t able to simply walk up to the campground and obtain images for the post through Street View alone. Having said this, the drama again demonstrates the original manga and anime’s faithfulness to reality. Everything from terminology to procedure and prices are properly captured – it is unsurprising that interest in camping has increased since Yuru Camp△ aired: with the series’ detailed instructions in camping and the availability of information on the internet, interested parties can purchase the basic gear and look up how to get set up, beginning their own adventure, without too much hassle.

  • Rin swiftly sets up camp and turns her attention to preparing her New Year’s Eve meal; here in the drama, she doesn’t take a brief walk around the campground and take in its sights with the same enthusiasm as the anime presents. Instead, she immediately begins setting up her campfire and evening meal. Previously, I’d commented on how the mannerisms seen in the anime did not necessarily translate so elegantly into real life, where exaggerated actions would feel out of place in a drama and perhaps be more appropriate for a stage play. It’s a bit early to tell, but with this special kicking off the second season, it does seem like the drama has decided to dial some things back a smidgen to make things fit with real life a little better.

  • Rin ends up striking a pose with her blade before beginning the process of creating a feather stick in a drama, as a clever callback to the first season. Shortly after Yuru Camp△‘s drama began airing last year, YouTubers immediately created videos comparing and contrasting the live-action series with the anime, and reception to the series was very positive on the whole. Were I to do video reviews, I would probably be inclined to do things like a Survivorman: Director’s Commentary, with me as an inset, and the events I’m talking about on the larger video. However, as a blog post, I’ll keep to my current format, which has worked rather well for me: the Survivorman: Director’s Commentary series from last year is what inspired me to take this approach for writing about the Yuru Camp△ live action series.

  • Rin’s New Year’s Eve meal looks even more delicious in real life: this simple soba recipe calls for nameko mushrooms, scallions, seaweed, a slice of fried fish and egg, topped with a sprig of shichimi pepper, which is a blend of seven spices that has a citrusy, nutty flavour accompanying the heat that chili peppers bring. Rin enjoys her meal immensely, wrapping up what was an exciting year in style. Yuru Camp△ excels in showing how even something like a bowl of soba can be livened up, and putting in the effort to prepare the food makes it all the more enjoyable. It therefore goes without saying that morale and good food go hand-in-hand: occasionally treating oneself with foods that aren’t commonly eaten is a fantastic way of breaking up the routine, and surprises can sometimes be quite nice.

  • This past weekend, we figured it would be nice to pick up some southern fried chicken for dinner, but since our usual place didn’t have any white meat, we ended up with all dark meat quarter chicken pieces. This wasn’t any sort of impediment: dark meat is tastier, and their gravy was as good as we remember. Today, we used the last of the chicken burgers with a side of yam fries for our afternoon meal and I’ll note here that, having had homemade burgers for the better part of a year, I’ve become a little spoiled by how fresh the ingredients are compared to conventional burgers. Yuru Camp△‘s emphasis on homemade food is therefore not without merit – the girls often shop for ingredients right before heading to their campsite, and even Rin, who usually prepares parts of her meal ahead of time so things can be put together easily at the campsite, uses fresh ingredients. The level of effort that went into preparing the food for Yuru Camp△‘s drama is respectable and shows how this effort contributes greatly to food enjoyment.

  • The surest sign that Rin’s accepted Nadeshiko as a friend occurs when the two are exchanging messages: Rin smiles as she considers how typically, she’d stop camping after January, but having met Nadeshiko and her boundless energy, Rin supposes that the new year is going to be action-packed. This moment set Yuru Camp△ 2 down a path towards the message it wished to convey: the first season had been about open-mindedness, and the second season was about how the act of saying “thank you” can manifest in different ways to really let people know what they feel about the memories they share together.

  • While Nadeshiko’s got work the next morning, Chiaki and Aoi meet with Minami in order to go check out the New Year’s sunrise ahead of Aoi taking off for Takayama. She drives a first-generation Suzuki Hustler, an SUV-crossover classified as an ultra-mini. Japan has a large market for these compact vehicles (ultra-minis command a third of the market share in Japan) owing to their dimensions and affordability, but these vehicles are much less successful overseas: North Americans are fond of larger cars for offering more leg room and more powerful engines, so these smaller vehicles are less popular, feeling comparatively cramped and under-powered for long road trips. Of course, for shorter drives of less than two hours, smaller vehicles are perfectly comfortable.

  • Observant readers familiar with my previous Yuru Camp△ drama post will have noticed that I’ve continued with the picture-in-picture this time around. Despite being a time-consuming process, it was very entertaining to compare and contrast equivalent moments between the anime and drama, allowing me to really highlight similarities and differences between the two. It becomes clear that the drama cannot always capture the moments in areas where the anime excels, such as when Akari jams a snowball up Chiaki’s shirt, although I will remark that Momoko Tanabe does an exceptional job of capturing Chiaki’s character: Chiaki is the most expressive and dramatic of anyone in Yuru Camp△, and I can’t imagine that this was an easy role.

  • While Aoi is played by Yumena Yanai, Akari is played by Aina Nishizawa. I was impressed how the producers cast someone who had looked similar enough to Yanai for the role; Yuru Camp△ has shown that Aoi and Akari are similar in appearance save their eye colours (Aoi’s eyes are green, and Akari’s are blue), to the point where Chiaki calls her chibi-Inuko. Yuru Camp△ doesn’t give Akari’s age, but her mannerisms are consistent with someone who’s eight or nine. Conversely, in the drama, Akari looks around ten or eleven: her actress is, after all, twelve. Mischievous and fond of pranks as Aoi is, Akari’s presence was greatly expanded in Yuru Camp△ 2.

  • Originally, I hadn’t been planning on writing about the second Yuru Camp△ live action drama this early, but after I found myself ahead of schedule with my other posts, I figured that I might as well get the party started now while I’ve got the time, afforded by a long weekend. While the weather on Saturday had been pleasant, yesterday and today had been cold and rainy, perfect for staying in and taking it easy. As soon as this post is done, I’ll turn my attention to finalising the set of screenshots for my final Modern Warfare 2: Remastered post, as gear up for a Terrible Anime Challenge talk on last year’s Kanojo, Okarishimasu, which I’ve got some thoughts about, and kick off Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War: news of Higurashi: Sotsu has reached my ears, and that means I need to write about Higurashi: Gou, as well as the unusual connection that I’ve found Higurashi and Black Ops to share.

  • The yomogi that Aoi, Akari and Chiaki buy at the summit of Mount Minobu look even tastier than they did in the anime. The way the yomogi are grilled here reminds me of shioyaki, the practise of skewering a fish and then grilled over charcoals via indirect heat: hitting the fish with an open flame would cause the juices to evaporate, resulting in a very dry final product, and the same holds true of yomogi, where keeping them around a bed of charcoals on skewers would render them pleasantly warm, making them perfect for a chilly New Year’s morning.

  • While doing her morning rounds, Nadeshiko receives messages from Rin and Chiaki, sharing their sunrises. While she might not be there to see them for herself, it warms Nadeshiko’s heart that she’s still connected to her friends and their adventures. In this opening episode, Nadeshiko doesn’t have too much screen time: she’s played by Yuno Ohara, who captures Nadeshiko’s spirited personality very well.

  • The advantage about real life is that one can capture stunning shots with a drone: anime require highly-skilled animators to capture the same effect, and in Yuru Camp△ 2, the sunrise at Fukude Beach was presented by panning across a wide-angle shot of the scene at ground level. The drama, on the other hand, has the camera flying over the beach towards the ocean. While traditional gear is doubtlessly used in Yuru Camp△‘s filming, I imagine that drones are also used: even mid-range models can equip solid cameras now, allowing for shots that would otherwise require a helicopter to be obtained.

  • I would be quite curious to watch the behind-the-scenes for Yuru Camp△ 2‘s drama to see how things are shot and set up. It feels like that principal photography and edits would require a majority of the time for producing Yuru Camp△, since the series doesn’t require anything like special effects or elaborate costumes on account of its setting. I imagine that anything shot at the old Motosu High School would’ve required props to be assembled and the presence of extras to give the site a more realistic feeling, but beyond this, Yuru Camp△ doesn’t look like it’d require a massive budget to film, certainly not anything approaching what WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier needed.

  • After taking in the Mount Minobu sunrise, Chiaki offers the suggestion that it might be possible to get a second New Year’s sunrise out of the day: because of Mount Fuji’s elevation, the sun doesn’t rise up above the summit for a few minutes. Photographs do indicate that being able to see a Diamond Fuji would be breathtaking, although a quick glance at the topology and road maps of the area suggest that making the drive from Mount Minobu to a suitable observation point could be quite tricky.

  • Whereas Aoi and Akari are content to give Chiaki a dirty look for having gotten the Diamond Fuji time incorrect here in the drama, in the anime, they proceeded to immediately hammer Chiaki with snowballs, and I found Akari’s use of a bowling-ball sized snowball hilarious. Since there’s only a dusting of snow on the ground here, it would’ve felt out of place to have Aoi and Akari suddenly conjure snowballs out of nowhere. I’ve never really been a stickler for 1:1 faithfulness, and always will assess adaptations based on how well they work on their own, so minor details like these aren’t a concern for me.

  • After seeing the first sunrise of the year, Rin settles down for the morning and prepares to head home. Rin’s rush for kohaku manjū and subsequent enjoyment of a pizza slice is noticeably absent in the Yuru Camp△ drama: should the drama take a route that allows the characters to act a little more naturally, I’d be completely okay with this. In the first season, everyone behaved similarly to their anime counterparts, and while this worked in the anime, in real life, it feels a little more exaggerated. Dialing back a handful of these moments would work to Yuru Camp△ 2‘s favour.

  • Rin is shocked to learn that a snowfall in the Minobu Valley is preventing her from returning home, and the funds she had, originally intended to last two days, will now need to be extended somewhat. With the special done, I’ll return to look at the adventures covered at the series’ halfway point at some point in the future. The drama is every bit as enjoyable as the anime and offers a different perspective on familiar events, making it a worthwhile experience for me.

Entering Yuru Camp△ 2‘s live action drama, my only expectations for the series will be that it continues to portray camping eats as it did in the first season: Yuru Camp△ 2 gets everything right, but there are limitations to how effectively anime can render food. The contrast in colours and textures on well-crafted dish in real life are unparalleled, and this was where the live action adaptation stood out from the anime. Because Yuru Camp△ 2 had an emphasis on food, to an even greater extent than its predecessor, it would be most enjoyable (and perhaps hunger-inducing) to see all of these foods in the real world. Beyond the food, I am very much looking forwards to seeing how Yuru Camp△ 2‘s live action drama brings the events of the second season to life: the first drama had done a phenomenal job in mirroring the camping excursions at Lake Motosu, Koan, Lake Shibire and Fuefuki, to name a few, so I am definitely excited to see new locations (especially the geospots at Izu) brought to life. Finally, while Yuru Camp△‘s drama is typically faithful in reproducing the order of events from the anime and manga, the series has also previously made minor adjustments to fit things a little better, so I am interested to see how any changes to things like locations will be helpful for folks who wish to visit these same places in the future. At present, I do have plans to write about Yuru Camp△ 2‘s live action drama once I’ve hit the halfway point, as well as after the finale airs: while I’ve already covered everything from a thematic point of view, there’s a unique charm about the drama, and I’m certain that there will be enough things to say about it as to warrant a few extra posts.

K-On! Come With Me!!: A Review and Reflection of the 2011 Live Action Concert At the Ten Year Anniversary

Even if you fail, try to add it up
‘Cause a bigger answer will come to you
Whatever that happens to be
If we’re together, we’ve got nothing to fear!

–Come With Me

On a Sunday afternoon ten years earlier, Saitama Super Arena hosted the largest K-On! event the franchise had organised. Titled Come with Me!!, the event was a celebration of K-On!‘s successes, seeing live-action performances of the series’ most well-known works from members of Houkago Tea Time. Aki Toyosaki, Satomi Satō, Yōko Hisaka, Minako Kotobuki and Ayana Taketatsu stepped onto the stage to thunderous applause, welcoming the audience with GO! GO! Maniac before introducing themselves. Each of the cast then performed their lead character songs (Oh My Gitah!, Seishun Vibration, Drumming Shining My Life, Diary wa Fortessimo and Over the Starlight). After Taketatsu performed her song, director Naoko Yamada then made an appearance, announcing that K-On! The Movie would be premièring in theatres on December 3. Madoka Yonezawa (Ui), Chika Fujitō (Nodoka) and Yoriko Nagata (Jun) continued on with their performance before things transitioned over to a stage play, where Toyosaki, Satō, Hisaka and Kotobuki reprised their characters’ roles; because the clubroom at their school is undergoing maintenance work, the girls need a place to practise, and they find themselves in an unexplored area of school (Saitama Super Arena itself. After the initial shock wore off, Houkago Tea Time performed several new pieces (Ichigo Parfait ga Tomaranai, Tokimeki Sugar, Honey Sweet Tea Time), along with one of K-On!‘s most iconic songs (Gohan wa Okazu) on a central stage. As their performance draws to a close, members of Death Devil took to the stage and put on a different kind of show that mirrors the sort of music Sawako and her band would’ve played while they were in the light music club. When Houkago Tea Time return to the stage, they sat down to discuss differences in musicianship and how the different Japanese scripts can impact perceptions of whether or not something is cute: it turns out that the gentle curvature of Hiragana script gives the words a gentler feel, compared to the harsher, more angular appearance of Katanana script (for instance, “Keion” in Hiragana,けいおん, has a friendlier appearance than the Katakana ケイオン). The members of Death Devil suggested that Houkago Tea Time continue to work hard and do as they’ve always done – Houkago Tea Time returned to the stage and performed the centrepiece songs of K-On!‘s second season (Pure Pure Heart, U&I and Tenshi ni Furetta Yo!, along with an encore performance of Fuwa Fuwa Time). Come with Me!! entered its closing acts subsequently, with the cast reflecting on their incredible experiences as a part of the K-On! franchise. The audience is treated to a final performance of Come with Me!!, the song that lends itself to the concert’s name.

With a runtime of three hours and thirty-five minutes, Come with Me!! would hit the shelves on August 10, just shy of a half-year after the concert ended. Through this home release, the concert’s events would be immortalised. Even though there is no substitute for attending in-person, the home release edition captured the emotional tenour and vigour of the atmosphere at the concert. Throughout the concert, Toyosaki and her co-leads frequently allude to how much practise it took to prepare for the event: to ensure every song was memorable, the team would’ve rehearsed tirelessly to nail each and every song, step and line. The actresses even learned the fundamentals behind their respective characters’ chosen instruments so that they could put on a compelling performance (it is understandable that the actual instrumentation was done by professional guitarists, bassist, drummers and pianists). While Toyosaki, Hisaka et al. are no professional musicians, their efforts paid off: where they played with the instruments, it genuinely felt that Houkago Tea Time was on the stage. When they were purely singing, their songs absolutely conveyed the manner and style of their respective characters, bringing Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Azusa to life. The energy and spunk everyone had was a major factor in keeping the viewer’s attention throughout the entire concert, and despite the runtime length, Come with Me!! never felt for a second that it was dragging on: there were surprises around every corner, and the combination of live music, a miniature stage play and a chance to listen to the voice actresses and staff share their experiences contributed to a very heartfelt and sincere presentation that unequivocally demonstrated the sort of impact that K-On! had during the height of its popularity. This love for K-On! was apparent: besides the cast’s powerhouse performance, the sell-out crowd also indicated what K-On! meant to many. Nowhere was this more apparent than towards the concert’s end – Satō was fighting back tears while singing Tenshi ni Furetta Yo!, and both she, and (Azusa) teared up during their final speech to the audience. Ironically, despite promising not to cry, Hisaka wound out breaking into full tears. The audience, in turn, cheered enthusiastically and could be heard shouting encouragement to everyone before, during and after performances. Through Come with Me!!, the mutual respect and love that everyone shares for the K-On! franchise, the staff working on it, was plainly visible.

Come with Me!!! was a tour de force performance that served to emphasise the process behind K-On!.This concert served to highlight the sort of effort that went into the production of K-On!: the series’ incredible success during 2009 and 2010 had been the result of Kyoto Animation, Naoko Yamada and each of the voice actress’ diligence, persistence and skills, all of which came together to a polished and meaningful final product. Overseas viewers, however, are limited to what they see in the final product: we don’t see the people behind the work, and consequently, without having seen any of this, it would’ve been easy to dismiss K-On!‘s success as undeserved, warranting nothing more than a vitriol-filled blog post telling people not to watch this series. Come with Me!!, on the other hand, made it apparent as to what went into the creation of K-On! – when immersed in a crowd who shares the staff’s love of K-On!, it becomes impossible not to be appreciative of the effort each of Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu put into making the series compelling. Everyone’s speeches really drove home the sort of passion that led everyone to put in their best for K-On!, whether it was voicing the different characters, singing or stepping out onto a stage in front of thirty-five thousand fans. That Come with Me!! was performed to a sold-out crowd at Saitama Super Arena speaks to the sheer scope of the impact K-On! had on its viewers: it is no easy feat to draw out thirty-five thousand people, including families, each of whom has found sufficient emotional impact in a series such that they would attend a concert and cheer on the staff that made a tangible impact in their lives. This is a thought that definitely crossed each of Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu’s minds: looking out from the stage to a sea of applause and glow-sticks really would’ve it tangible as to how far-reaching K-On! had been.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Per the title card, Come With Me!! was held on February 20, 2011 at the Saitama Super Arena, a massive stadium and venue capable of housing 37 000 people. Doors to the event opened at 1400 JST, and the event formally began at 1600, running until 1900 on a Sunday. Tickets cost 7800 Yen (93.49 CAD in 2011) per person, and the event had been announced in October 2010, a month after K-On!‘s second season had finished airing. The BD released in August 2011, giving viewers a 1080i picture and Linear PCM 5.1 audio: while not possessing the same visual fidelity as progressive scanning (motion blur was a bit more noticeable), the final result is still more than watchable. Before K-On!‘s leads take to the stage, audiences would’ve seen a sakura tree adorning the projection screens.

  • I believe that this post marks the first time a full discussion of Come With Me!! has been had anywhere since the BD released: live action events aren’t usually in the realm of things that anime bloggers typically write about, and while Come With Me!! was probably one of the largest anime events of its time, it was not large enough to make waves amongst the English-speaking blogging community. As such, no posts about Come With Me!! exist. At the ten year anniversary, the time has come to rectify this, and here, Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu finally make an appearance to kick things off. The concert opened with a live performance of the opening song, Go! Go! Maniac, a high-intensity piece. The opening songs for K-On! have always been spirited pieces, energetic and at times, a little hard on the ears.

  • Conversely, Hisaka is the lead singer for the ending songs, which have a more mature, rock-like feel to them. I’ve always been fond of Hisaka’s performance as Mio – there’s a certain sexiness about her delivery of Mio’s lyrics and lines. After Go! Go! Maniac, Listen!! is the next song viewers would’ve been treated to. Altogether, Come With Me!! features a total of twenty seven songs. The first two songs act as a bit of a precedence for the remainder of the concert, and it speaks to the voice actress’ stamina that they were able to sustain such an energetic manner for the whole of the 185-minute performance: even concerts with stars like Sam Hui and Alan Tam only ran for two-and-a-half hours.

  • With the two opening songs in the books, Toyosaki and the others introduce themselves to the audience, marvelling at the size of Saitama Super Arena’s audience. With over double the capacity of Yokohama Arena, which hosted Let’s Go! (the first K-On! concert), Saitama Super Arena would’ve been an impressive sight. Let’s Go! took place on December 30, 2009 to an audience of around 15000, and tickets to the two-and-a-half hour event went for around 6825 Yen (81.97 CAD). The BDs became available precisely six months later, on June 30, 2010. The big anime bloggers of the day did write about this one, praising the event as a fantastic opportunity for the voice actresses of K-On! to really show their viewers what they’ve got, and the event was also where the announcement for K-On!! was made.

  • With the introductions done, Aki Toyosaki wastes no time in switching over to a red outfit for her live performance of Oh My Gitah!, Yui’s character song that acts as a love letter for her cherished Les Paul guitar. Throughout the whole of K-On!!, Yui treats her guitar as though it is sentient, and in Toyosaki’s performance of Yui’s song, it is clear as to how deep this love of music and her partner-in-arms is. I’m not an expert in music theory, style or history, so I can’t speak to the style of this song, but Yui’s character song uses a very similar instrumentation to the incidental pieces seen in Man v. Food, whenever Adam Richman is exploring the local eateries prior to his challenge. This creates a very personalised feeling, and I imagine that this is what the composers were going for when writing Oh my Gitah!.

  • Since Mio’s instrument is a bass, it is fitting that her character song, Seishun Vibration, makes extensive use of the low notes of a bass guitar. Of everyone in Houkago Tea Time, it is a badly-kept secret that I’m most fond of Mio and her voice – Seishun Vibration is then, unsurprisingly, my favourite of the character songs. The lyrics are bold, reflective of the two sides to Mio: while Mio normally presents a very shy and reserved face for the world, she also has a more aggressive and forward personality that shows up when she’s in the presence of those she’s comfortable around. Seishun Vibration is purposeful, and the perfect song for driving along a highway through the mountains. During her performance, Hisaka brings back Mio’s infamous moe moe kyun move, a callback to the first season.

  • Admittedly, while Satomi Satō is a highly skilled voice actress (evidenced by her numerous roles in a range of anime), her character song for Ritsu came across as being very bombastic and noisy. I’ve never really been a fan of her character song, Drumming Shining My Life. With this being said, of everyone, Satō definitely spent the most effort replicating Ritsu’s voice for Come With Me!!: of the characters in K-On!, she and Yui have the most unique voices. On her image album, Ritsu also has a second song, À la carte, Evening Sky, that is slower-paced and more relaxing in nature, speaking to another side of Ritsu’s character.

  • Minako Kotobuki’s Diary wa Fortessimo is a fun-filled song, being my second favourite of the character songs. There’s always been an earnestness about the song I’ve enjoyed, and coupled with Kotobuki’s singing voice, I found this character song brings to life Tsumugi’s view of things around Houkago Tea Time. Bouncy, cheerful and whimsical, I really liked Kotobuki’s performance, and of everyone, she seems the most at ease with performing, dancing happily during the song’s instrumental interlude (her movement feels crisper and more purposeful than the others).

  • Ayana Taketatsu’s performance of Azusa’s character song has a spunk to it, mirroring Azusa’s traits. Character songs are written to give insight into an individual’s defining attributes, and beyond the lyrics, the way a song sounds can speak volumes about a character well beyond what was seen in the anime. In K-On!, character songs allow listeners to peer into the minds of the characters and ascertain how they really feel about certain things: Azusa has always attempted to present herself as a beacon of reason and focus in a band whose senior members are prone to distraction, but despite the lax attitude Houkago Tea Time takes towards music, Azusa has come to appreciate them all the same and promises to support them as best as she can.

  • With Houkago Tea Time done their character songs, Asami Sanada steps onto the stage to address the audience. Sanada’s been a longtime voice actress before beginning K-On!, starting her career in 1999, and has played a variety of roles. As Sawako, Sanada presents her with a sweet, gentle voice befitting of a teacher. Of course, when the chips are down, her voice takes on a much rougher tone, attesting to her skills. K-On!, both in its anime and manga incarnation, has Sawako change appearance depending on whether she’s the teacher everyone knows and loves, or the punk rocker with a fondness for metal: Sanada is able to present both sides of Sawako’s personality without skipping a beat.

  • This was probably one of the major highlights of Come With Me!!: Naoko Yamada stepping onto the stage herself to greet the audience and drop the biggest bit of news since K-On!‘s second season. That a film had been in the works had been known for quite some time, but with director Yamada on stage to personally announce that the film was releasing on December 3, 2011, the audience went wild, especially with the revelation that this film would feature all-new content. The K-On! manga was still ongoing at the time, but the film had an original story set during the second season’s timeframe. Looking back, I would’ve liked to have seen K-On!‘s remaining manga volumes (College and High School) receive anime adaptations, but I imagine that Yamada had intended the second season to act as the decisive close on Houkago Tea Time’s journey.

  • Once the big announcement was made, Madoka Yonezawa stepped onto the stage to perform Ui’s character song. Ui’s songs have always been a joy to listen to, and Yonezawa does a fantastic job as K-On!‘s Ui: the ever-dependable and reliable younger sister, Ui is only seen doting on Yui the way a loving grandparent might. Her character song suggests that, despite her own prodigious skills, the one thing she longs for most is to follow in Yui’s example and find something that she can totally immerse herself in. Ui does end up inheriting Yui’s role as a guitarist in the manga, joining the light music club and performing alongside Azusa, Jun and several new members.

  • Jun’s character song falls into the same category as Ritsu’s and Azusa’s: of the character songs available, I never really got into her song quite to the same extent that I did for Mio, Tsumugi and Ui’s songs. As one of the secondary characters, Jun’s in Azusa’s year and is classmates with Ui, as well. Yoriko Nagata’s performance of Junjou Bomber is, in person, much livelier than it was as pure audio, and speaks to the fact that Jun admires Mio greatly. While joining the Jazz Band owing to poor first impressions of the light music club, Jun comes around and joins in their final year, longing to do the things that Azusa does.

  • Rounding out the character song performances is Chika Fujitō’s Nodoka: Jump is an upbeat and optimistic-sounding song that mirrors Nodoka’s enjoyment of her time as a high school student, where, in the process of encouraging those around her to be their best (especially Ritsu and her propensity to forget important logistics, such as paperwork), she also found herself being pulled along by those around her into the future. Fujitō plays Nodoka with a calm sense of assuredness. Both mature and dependable, Nodoka handles most trouble by listening, although she can be stubborn in some cases, as well. Jump’s composition has a very warm, summer-like feel it it, with the instrumentation and tone conveying an image of a beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine.

  • Once the character songs are done, the lights go out, and a small skit is presented for the viewers’ benefit: when their clubroom undergoes maintenance work, akin to a similar situation in the second season, Houkago Tea Time go in search of a new place to practise, coming across a strange portal in their school’s basement that seemingly leads straight to Saitama Super Arena. Come With Me!! thus enters its next phase, and as Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu step onto a central stage in the arena, the lights come back on.

  • For the next performance, Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu pick up their instruments and, after spurring on their respective segments of the audience, step right into Houkago Tea Time’s new songs. Ichigo Parfait ga Tomaranai (Strawberry Parfaits are Unstoppable), Tokimeki Sugar (Heart-throbbing Sugar) and Honey Sweet time were released on a special album back in October 2010, having never been performed in K-On! proper. Each of these songs have a unique zeal to them, with Toyosaki, Hisaka and Kotobuki respectively leading the vocals.

  • While these three songs were never seen in K-On!, it becomes apparent that they still have the distinct Houkago Tea Time sound and correspondingly saccharine lyrics. Reading through the lyrics’ English translations, the lyrics would probably be quite tricky to get into a good-sounding song owing to the way syllables work, although I imagine that even if successful, the songs could sound quite unusual. Having said this, the songs sound fine in Japanese, and I’ve long held that compared to contemporary pop music, K-On!‘s miles ahead of anything we currently have.

  • Seeing the camera pulled back really gives a sense of scale at Saitama Super Arena: there is a sea of people surrounding the stage. Moments like these really accentuate the fact that K-On! was an incredibly popular series in Japan, and the fact is that the show was able to draw thirty thousand plus people to a live event. While K-On! also became popular amongst foreign viewers, who similarly appreciated the warm themes and atmosphere taken by K-On!, after its run in 2009, there was a great deal of discussion on whether or not the series was great for storytelling or other technical reasons.

  • K-On! excels not because of anything groundbreaking, but because of its sincerity about things like appreciation and friendship. The simple themes, coupled with Kyoto Animation’s technical excellence and amazing voice work from the cast meant that K-On! hit all of the right notes. Seeing something like Come With Me!! really makes tangible the amount of effort that went into making the series a success – behind every character is a human being, each with a story, and so, for viewers, a part of the enjoyment (both for K-On! and for Come With Me!!) comes from being able to see for myself the effort that goes into making something.

  • The final song that Houkago Tea Time plays on this centre stage is Gohan wa Okazu, an iconic K-On! song that, despite its hokey lyrics about how rice is a staple that is essential for all meals, is so well composed and catchy that it is immediately recognisable, the same way classics like Staying Alive, Go Your Own Way, The Hustle, Baker Street and countless other songs are immediately recognisable just by listening to their opening riffs. Gohan wa Okazu typifies the sort of music that Houkago Tea Time perform: between Mio’s flowery and soppy lyrics, or the simple, direct approach Yui takes in her songs, Houkago Tea Time’s music is by no means complicated, but expert composition renders each song immensely enjoyable.

  • Insofar, Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu have been miming the act of playing their instruments; singing and playing instruments simultaneously is remarkably challenging, and these Houkago Tea Time songs still have decently complex instrumentation. To allow the cast to focus on singing, a part of their concert uses pre-recorded instrumentals. This is completely understandable, and from an enjoyment perspective, it never diminishes from the experience – having the instrumental tracks pre-recorded also leaves the cast free to interact with the audience and drive up engagement, as each of Toyosaki et al. do when they ask their respective sections to cheer them on.

  • Once Houkago Tea Time wraps up their centre-stage presentation, Death Devil steps in to perform Maddy Candy and LOVE. Unlike Houkago Tea Time, Death Devil specialises in speed metal: Sawako is easily swayed by her heart, and took up an increasingly wild approach to music to impress a guy in her year. Their music is intense, sounding nothing like the kawaii style that Houkago Tea Time is known for. While I’ve never been quite as excited by their music as I am about Houkago Tea Time’s songs, Death Devil is technically more bold and creative: speed metal, after all, eventually gave rise to the power metal genre which I am fond of.

  • Come With Me!! has the cast do a minor stage play of sorts, where they discuss the nature of musicianship and how image can be impacted by the type of script used. This was one of the topics that we covered in my introductory Japanese class – I took this course in my third year, after I’d finished watching K-On!, and my instructor remarked that the Hiragana script is the first script that children learn, being at the core of the Japanese language. Between this and the fact that Hiragana uses gentle curves, it creates a very cute looking script compared to the angular Katakana and intimidating kanji scripts. Recalling this brings back a great deal of memories: I had just come from a summer of building a renal flow model using the Bullet Physics engine in Objective-C, and this work was interspersed by me really getting back into anime, including Sora no WotoBreak BladeIka Musume! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

  • Lucky☆Star had jump-started my interest in Kyoto Animation’s works, which led me to K-On!, and this was the anime that brought me back from the brink of destruction. When Come With Me!! was performing, my semester would’ve been really kicking into high gear: in organic chemistry, I would’ve been covering alkene and alkyne reactions (halogenation, epoxidation, dihydroxylation and others), while data structures II would’ve seen the introduction of Red-Black trees and AVL trees, which are self-balancing and mitigate the problem of where worse-case data insertion creates a linked list, which slows down searches. Better minds than mine might fare better in the unique combination that was data structures and organic chemistry: I came to a razor’s edge of failing both, and it was ultimately K-On! that helped me to regroup and survive.

  • It is for this reason that even a decade later, I still continue to watch anime of this sort: when times get difficult, losing myself in another world for 24 minutes helps me to regain perspective of things. Thus, when I watched Come With Me!!, I was immediately reminded of what K-On! meant to me personally. Towards the final act, Houkago Tea Time return to the main stage and pick up instruments, playing live in front of the audience. While perhaps without the same finesse as a professional musician, Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu nonetheless put on an admirable showing, and the songs they perform remain faithful to the originals.

  • Hisaka’s Pure Pure Heart first showed up in K-On!‘s second season in Tea Party. The band had no previous performance with this song, and a glance at the lyrics shows that it would’ve been Mio who wrote the lyrics. Mio’s lyrics are typically more wistful and poetic than Yui’s, more resembling those to a contemporary pop song, but there is a sincerity about them that most songs today lack. It is a little surprising that ten plus years have now elapsed since Houkago Tea Time’s songs were first written and performed – back then, I enjoyed them above the popular music of its time, and today, the music remains every bit as enjoyable as it was back then.

  • During the performance, the camera pulls back and gives a glimpse of the venue, along with the folks in attendance. The cameras show happy concert-goers of all walks of life, and their enthusiasm could be felt even from behind a monitor. Prior to the concert, local media interviewed some of the attendees, but an unscrupulous anime blog, which I will only identify by its orange triangle logo, took selected clips from this broadcast to make the assertion that the attendees were “creepy”. This site has long held a reputation for misrepresenting things and taking information out of context, and their “article” on Come With Me!! comes across as being a sour grapes response to the concert above all else.

  • Back in Come With Me!!, once Hisaka is done with Pure Pure Heart, the next song is U & I. This is probably one of my personal favourites in the series: Yui had written it after Ui had fallen ill while looking after her, and Yui quickly realised that appreciation became more pronounced when someone she’d taken for granted was (briefly) taken away. K-On! had, earlier that episode, also shown Houkago Tea Time realising how much their clubroom meant to them. When Yui sees the parallels, inspiration for her song comes almost immediately, and the result is a song that I found even more iconic than Fuwa Fuwa Time. U & I comes second only to Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. This song was a graduation gift to Azusa, and of all the songs in K-On!, brims with three years’ worth of emotion.

  • It is no joke when I remark that Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is the culmination of everything that K-On! represents. This one song contains all of the themes throughout the series, and it is therefore unsurprising that many regard it as the opus magnum for all of Houkago Tea Time’s songs. During Come With Me!!, Houkago Tea Time’s performance of the song evidently brought back a great many memories amongst the cast: Toyosaki and Hisaka are able to keep it together, but for Satō, emotion threatens to overwhelm her, and she very nearly breaks out crying when singing one of Ritsu’s lines during the song. Her voice audibly breaks for a moment, and this little detail alone made clear what Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! meant to not just Satō, but everyone on the cast, staff and the entire audience.

  • Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is what ended up leading me to watch K-On!: the combination of Lucky☆Star driving my reignited interest in anime, and my happenstance coming across a K-On! parody of Gundam 00, and out of curiosity, I picked up all of the vocal songs. While I was unsuccessful in finding the song used in the parody, one song stood out far above the rest: Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. After doing a search, I realised that it would be necessary to go through the whole of K-On! to see the proper context for this song, and so, in late March, after finishing Lucky☆Star, I began watching the series. I finished the series in early May, right as the summer research began, and during my days at the lab, I would build out my models while listening to K-On! music.

  • Towards the end of the concert, encore pieces are performed along with the second season’s opening and ending songs (Utauyo!! MIRACLE and No Thank You!): Fuwa Fuwa Time, Cagayake! GIRLS and Don’t Say Lazy make a return. Fuwa Fuwa Time is Houkago Tea Time’s first song, and for this, the cast play their instruments along with singing. For the remainder of the songs, it’s back to using a pre-recorded instrument track. The preparations that went into this would’ve been gruelling; while I’ve not touched an instrument for over a decade now, I still have memories of what it took to put on a performance as a member of the concert and jazz bands back in middle school. Come With Me!! is the culmination of Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki, Taketatsu, Sanada, Yonezawa, Nagata and Fujitō’s combined efforts, along with the musicians, choreographers and support staff.

  • For audiences, seeing iconic songs from their favourite show brought to life would’ve certainly been an incredible experience: for three hours and thirty-five minutes, it’s a full immersion into the world of K-On!, and while the home release is able to convey these feelings to viewers, there is no substitute for being there in person. For Japanese attendees, a drive, few train rides or perhaps accommodations at the hotels near Saitama Super Arena would’ve been all that was necessary to see this concert, but for overseas viewers, the only way to check this one out would’ve been to await the home release, which was six months later (in August 2011). I believe that by this time, I would’ve been well into my renal flow model and had begun investigating tricks for using collision masks to mimic semi-permeable membranes.

  • With all of the encore songs finished, everyone returns once more to sing the Sakura High School song – it does feel a bit like a graduation ceremony, even though the song was originally used to welcome new students during the opening of the second season. The way Come With Me!! is structured is logical and flows well, combining the different aspects of K-On! into a part concert, part stage play: it is a true-to-life K-On! experience, and fully brings the second season to a proper end. K-On! The Movie would not have gotten the same treatment, and despite overwhelmingly positive reception, would also mark the end of the animated series. The manga, on the other hand, continued running for an extra year as Yui and the others become university students, while Azusa inherits the light music club’s presidency and strives to make it as memorable for her juniors as Yui and the others had done for her.

  • Come With Me!! is the last song in the concert: everyone returns to the stage once more to sing together. While not exactly the strongest of the songs in K-On!, its lyrics do speak to the sort of carefree and inquisitive nature of everyone in K-On!. Once the final song comes to a close, everyone shares their final thoughts and thank yous with the thirty thousand plus viewers. It is an emotional close to the concert, and during the closing speeches, Taketatsu, Satō and Hisaka openly weep as they thank everyone for their continued support.

  • It is not lost on me that, three years after this concert took place, I would actually have the chance to participate in a similar event (albeit on a much smaller scale). This event was The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and my involvement here was leading the implementation of the Unity 3D visualisations that would accompany the project. In this way, my role in The Giant Walkthrough Brain would’ve been equivalent to the team that built the set and managed the audio-visual component of this performance. A part of The Giant Walkthrough Brain involved us developers walking out onto the stage as the credits rolled, and there was definitely a sense of pride to know that I helped to build something that hundreds of people would enjoy.

  • This is, at least for me, why I chose the path of iOS developer despite the fact that it’s fraught with difficulties and challenges (least of all, the fact that Swift itself changes every year, and things become deprecated all the time). To be able to work on products that hundreds to thousands of people use is a humbling thing, and in this sense, being able to gather all of my users into a one room and know that I helped make something easier for every single person I can see would be moving. Taketatsu begins crying during her speech: the cast had jokingly remarked that they’d do their best to keep it together, and while Toyosaki and Kotobuki are able to do keep smiling as they speak, Hisaka, Taketatsu and Satō’s emotions cause them to struggle in expressing how deep their gratitude is.

  • For me, seeing their tears was as effective of a thank you as any well-given speech, and I found myself feeling these same emotions. In a bit of irony, how each of Toyosaki, Hisaka, Satō, Kotobuki and Taketatsu ended up giving their thank yous mirrors their characters. Yui is someone who lives in the moment and is able to have fun without being distracted, while Tsumugi is ever composed and similarly lives in the moment, albeit with a sort of grace that Yui lacks. Ritsu would be more similar to Yui and Tsumugi in this regard, but she’s been known to have a more emotional side to her, as well. For Mio and Azusa, the most serious of the group, these two are always mindful of those around them.

  • How I came upon Come With Me!! is a bit of a simple story: shortly after finishing K-On!, I fell in love with the musical style and sincerity that the series’ music embodied, and took an interest to the character songs. Each album had the characters’ respective voice actress singing their songs, plus a version of Come With Me!!. While looking this up for Mio, I stumbled across the segment of Hisaka performing this song live in the Come With Me!! event, and ended up reading more about the concert. However, the three-hour-and-thirty-five-minute long runtime was admittedly daunting, and I never did get around to watching the concert in full until earlier this year. K-On! returned back into my life when I decided to revisit the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2,, which led me to fall in love with Houkago Tea Time’s music anew. Realising that the ten-year anniversary to Come With Me!! was near, I decided to bite the bullet, buckle down and watch the concert in full.

  • The end result was a rediscovery of why K-On! had been so enjoyable for me, as well as what the series had done for getting me through a very difficult segment of my life as an undergraduate student. K-On! might have finished for the present, but its impact on slice-of-life anime cannot be overstated – 2014’s Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? carries a very similar aesthetic and style, a love of sweets and life lessons, and similarly found immense popularity after its run. The series has hosted several concerts with music from the series, in the form of Tea Party Events. During the second season, the character song albums all featured the song Welcome!, which, similarly to Come With Me!!, features the characters singing a common song. In this way, GochiUsa is today’s K-On!, but unlike K-On!, whose popularity divided the community, GochiUsa is nearly universally acclaimed: once people acclimatised to the fact that K-On!-like shows were not here to dominate the market, but instead, complement it, reception to the genre and aesthetic thawed considerably.

  • Overall, Come With Me!! represents the apex of what is possible with K-On!, being an essential experience for anyone who counts themselves to be a fan of K-On!. Ten years after the live event at Saitama Super Arena, the memories continue to live on in the hearts of fans, and it is saying something that even now, K-On! still positively impacts fans and writers alike: messages of appreciation and gratitude make K-On! a particularly warm series, and Come With Me!! makes it abundantly clear that a considerable amount of effort went into making K-On! a success. This concert is something that I hope fans of the series will have a chance to check out, as it provides a different view of what this effort entails, and what the rewards for this effort are.

While Toyosaki and her K-On! co-stars were speaking about the impact K-On! had on each of their lives, I was sleeping and awaiting that day’s training at the karate club I’m a part of. At the time, I was deep into the winter term of my second undergraduate year: this term would prove to be the most difficult time I had faced in university, and I had been losing resolve. My peers fared little better, dropping out of data structures outright and resolving to take it again later. As organic chemistry and data structures became increasingly involved, I ended up dropping another course – because I had been intent on trying to maintain satisfactory performance in these programme requirements, I ended up neglecting one of my options entirely and wound up on the edge of failing. K-On! had been on my watch list for quite some time, and serendipitously, I had begun watching it right as April began, when it seemed that I would be suspended from my degree for unsatisfactory performance. The easygoing, heart-warming events of K-On! thus became something to look forwards to as each day drew to a close, and I ended up putting in my fullest efforts to stave off annihilation by day, watching K-On! every evening before turning in. Seeing the camaraderie in K-On! led me to accept a group-study invite from my friends in the health science programme, and I ended up helping to organise a study session for data structures so we could pass the exams together. By the time I finished K-On!, it was early May: thanks to the group study sessions, I ended up doing well enough on my exams to stay in satisfactory standing, and further learnt that I was offered an undergraduate scholarship to conduct summer research. I subsequently developed a keen enjoyment of the music in K-On!, and listened to the songs from all of their albums while implementing and testing my model of renal fluid flow in Objective-C. During Come with Me!!, the voice actresses spoke of people whose lives were transformed by their series. While Toyosaki and the others are highly unlikely to ever hear my own story of how K-On! changed my life, sharing this with readers is to demonstrate that K-On! did indeed have a tangible, positive impact on many people, including myself. The Come with Me!! concert served to reiterate this, and beyond being an indisputable success, also paved the way for K-On! The Movie, which acts as a sentimental, heart-warming and sincere finale to a series that would ultimately influence how slice-of-life shows of the present are adapted and presented to viewers.

Skyfall: A Reflection and Revisitation of Themes and Triumphs In The Twenty-Third James Bond Film

“Chairman, ministers: today, I’ve repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. Why do we need agents, the 00 section? Isn’t it all rather quaint? Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me. I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they aren’t nations. They are individuals. And look around you – who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No, our world is not more transparent now, it’s more opaque! It’s in the shadows – that’s where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves – how safe do you feel?” –M

MI6 Agent James Bond and trainee Eve are in pursuit of an agent who has made off with a hard drive containing the identities of British operatives embedded in terrorist cells around the world. When a pursuit ends in Bond being accidentally shot, the hard drive is lost, and Bond is presumed dead. Three months later, after a public inquiry, M is pushed to retire by Gareth Mallory, and MI6 is compromised. When Bond learns of this, he returns to London. Despite failing physical and aptitude tests, M authorises his return to the field with the aim of having Bond retrieve the hard drive and eliminate the assassin who’d originally taken it. Tailing the assassin to Shanghai, Bond kills him before learning the identity of his employer, but a poker chip sends him to a Macau casino, where he encounters Sévérine. She promises to help Bond out if he can eliminate her employer, bringing him to a derelict island. Here, Bond meets and captures Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who was captured by foreign actors and fell to counter-terrorism. Back in London, Q attempts to decryt Silva’s laptop, inadvertently introducing a virus into their system and allowing Silva to escape. It turns out that Silva was desiring revenge against M for having abandoned him on an assignment decades earlier, and he plans to attack a public inquiry. Bond deduces Silva’s intentions and thwarts the attack before taking M to Skyfall, his childhood home in Scotland. Q and Bill Tanner design an electronic trail to lure Silva out with Mallory’s tacit approval. After arriving in Scotland, with gamekeeper Kincaid’s help, Bond and M prepare the house for an attack. They fend off the first of Silva’s men, but Silva himself appears later and lays siege to the house with incendiary grenades. Kincaid leads M through a priest’s hole to a church, and Bond rigs explosives that destroys the house, along with the helicopter. Silva pursues them and reaches the church before Bond, begging M to kill them both, but Bond kills Silva with a knife. M succumbs to her wounds and dies. After M’s funeral, Eve introduces herself as Moneypenny, and Mallory is appointed as the new M, briefing a Bond who is ready to take up his next assignment. Skyfall is the twenty-third 007 movie in the franchise and released in 2012 to positive reception for reintroducing classic elements from James Bond films with a modernised spin.

At its core, Skyfall covers the idea surrounding the worth of human resources in an age where SIGINT has begun to vastly outperform HUMINT in terms of efficacy, accuracy and safety. These themes permeate the film: while M continues to run the 00-section and use field operatives, villain Raoul Silva specialises in electronic communications and cyberwarfare, exploiting lapses in MI6’s security to accomplish his revenge. Q remarks he can do more damage with a few well-placed lines of code than 007 could in a month. At the public inquiry, the minister questioning M wonders why there’s a need for human intelligence at all when almost all of it can seemingly be gathered with a keyboard and mouse. The vulnerability of MI6 to this novel form of intelligence, then, speaks to society’s shift away from more conventional means of getting things done. As M rightly puts, enemies no longer operate behind unified banners or a centralised organisation. They are becoming increasingly anonymous and decentralised. Even with the best technology in the world, good guys operate against an enemy that is cunning, ruthless and elusive. However, as formidable as they are with a keyboard, the cleverest villain still has weaknesses, and this is something that one cannot pick up from behind a screen – upon meeting Q for the first time, Bond remarks that what HUMINT offers that SIGINT cannot is the ability to make a crack decision, whether or not to metaphorically (or literally) pull a trigger. There are things that one can ascertain in person that would be much trickier to investigate remotely, and hence, there remains a need to strike a balance between the old and the new. This balance is demonstrated as Q and Bond work together during Silva’s escape, as well as when they lure Silva to Skyfall estate for the climactic conclusion: away from his keyboard and mouse, Silva and his thugs are mortal men vulnerable to bullets, blades and fire. In the end, Skyfall indicates that against foes that would hide behind a keyboard, it is a combination of the old and new ways that work best, although even then, sacrifices often need to be made if one means to secure victory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I watched Skyfall in theatres eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with what the film had brought to the table – it was a striking balance of tradition and modernisation, reintroducing familiar characters in new roles and new personalities. The film opens with a lengthy chase sequence: after a hard drive is stolen, Bond pursues an assassin through Istanbul in an attempt to retrieve it. Dispensing with the iconic gun barrel, Skyfall continues in the vein of Craig’s movies in being grittier. I realise that, even back in 2012, Skyfall was better remembered for Adele’s rendition of the opening theme (almost to memetic levels), and while her performance of Skyfall was solid, the film itself is phenomenal. This is one of those things where I find myself at odds with the online community, who praised the song and forgot about the movie, and one of the things I aim to address in this post are the merits of Skyfall, which I feel to be under-appreciated.

  • After Bond is accidentally shot when Eve misses the assassin, he is presumed dead, and Thomas Newman’s style begins to make itself heard in Skyfall‘s soundtrack: a contemplative, melancholy tone is found in the incidental music, which mirrors the film’s themes of old and new. The Bond motif can still be heard interspersed throughout the film, cleverly woven into Newman’s compositions, but some of the songs that truly shine are those that have a purposeful sense of modernity to them. Mallory is seen speaking with M here, and in Skyfall, Judi Dench shines – she plays a regal, composed M fully aware of what her department’s purpose is, handling criticisms with dignity and a raw determination to see the job through.

  • After an unknown enemy reroutes gas lines into M’s office, triggering an explosion, MI6 moves its operations underground. This prompts Bond, who had disappeared into the tropics as retirement, to return to London. Bond’s aging was apparent here: he struggles to keep up with the tests, fares poorly as a marksman and walks out of a psychiatric test. It is in Skyfall that the realities of being a field operative are shown – Connery, Moore and Brosnan’s Bonds had suggested that being a spy would be a classy, suave occupation defined by martinis, girls and guns, but with recent thrillers like The Borne Identity, the 007 franchise has begin stepping away from the glorified, idealised vision of espionage in favour of a more down-to-earth, dangerous occupation.

  • The Craig era of 007 movies had initially struggled to make this transition, but by Skyfall, the series has found its footing. I was rather fond of Mallory’s character: he is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, a well-known actor best remembered as Harry Potter‘s Lord Voldemort. In Skyfall, Mallory seems fairly intent on seeing M’s retirement, stating that she’s had a good run and feeling the 00 section to be obsolete. He questions Bond on why he’s bothered to return before leaving M to brief Bond on the next assignment, which sends him to Shanghai.

  • While London only is presented briefly in most 007 films, Skyfall features the city as a more prominent background to remind viewers of the series’ roots. To this end, key scenes surrounding M and MI6 are set in London, and here, Bond heads to meet Q in a museum. K-On! The Movie had its home release a few months prior to Skyfall, and at the time, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the two films’ portrayals of London – both take viewers to more mundane parts of London, including the Underground and museums, but because K-On! had been about exploration, its portrayal of London is much more colourful than Skyfall‘s.

  • Ben Washaw’s Q is quite unlike Desmond Llewelyn’s Q – the latter portrayed Q as an eccentric, uncommonly talented inventor whose genius lay in being able to conceal weapons in common, everyday objects. He enjoyed a light-hearted relationship with 007, briefing him on the gadgets that would come to save Bond’s skin in each movie, and constantly lamented that his gear never came back in pristine condition. Conversely, as a younger Q, Washaw’s talents in mechanical engineering, while still impressive, are secondary to his ability as a programmer and computer scientist. Q’s first exchange with Bond is a reminder of Skyfall‘s themes, challenging viewers to consider where the line between youthfulness and age, innovation and efficiency, is struck.

  • It is therefore unsurprising that Skyfall‘s Q equips Bond with a fingerprint-encoded Walther PPK and a radio transmitter before Bond leaves for Shanghai: this is a back to the basics loadout that evokes memories of Dr. No (when Bond switches over to the PPK), From Russia With Love (Q’s first introduction), Goldfinger (the radio transmitter), License to Kill (another fingerprint-encoded rifle) and GoldenEye (mention of an exploding pen). Once in Shanghai, Bond takes the time to do laps in a pool before setting off to tail his quarry, the assassin he had been pursuing in Istanbul.

  • In Shanghai, Bond’s old strength appears to begin returning to him: the assassin enters a building for another job, and Bond is forced to cling to an elevator to ensure he doesn’t lose the assassin. While Bond cannot stop the assassination, or prevent the assassin from falling to his death in the subsequent confrontation, he does manage to find a poker chip that points him to a casino in Macau. The fight here was a visual spectacle: as Bond and the assassin struggle to gain the upper hand over the other, the electronic signage of the building adjacent floods the floor in an unearthly light, giving the fight a surreal feeling.

  • Skyfall continues to subvert expectations for what a Bond movie is, but it also finds novel ways of playing the characters off one another: a recurring occurrence in Bond films was Moneypenny and Bond’s flirtations, which had a humourous tone to them. When Eve is sent to Macau to assist Bond, she helps him freshen up before they hit the casino. It creates a more human side to Bond’s character: previous series had presented Bond as a gentleman, but a stone-cold killer who brushed off death as an occupational hazard, and remorse as an impediment to his assignment. Craig’s Bond is more layered: he is someone who struggles with the balance between his duties and finding a meaningful human connection ever since the death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

  • While ostensibly set in Macau, Skyfall‘s portrayal of the colonial city is entirely fictional: there is no district of Macau hosting a sprawling casino, and in fact, Macau counts itself as the Chinese version of Las Vegas, with hotels and casinos rivalling those of Vegas’ Strip. I concede that Skyfall probably intended to create a more exotic portrayal of Macau to set the scene apart from Shanghai, which was correctly presented as a glittering metropolis. If memory serves, Bond also visits a floating casino in Macau during the events of The Man With the Golden Gun, lending additional credence to the idea that the choice to create a fictionalised Macau was deliberate.

  • At the casino, Bond meets Sévérine, a woman who was once a sex slave and currently works for a mysterious employer, whom she remarks to be fear incarnate. She agrees to help Bond out if he promises to take her employer out, and he agrees. Bond Girls figure in most 007 movies, although the precise definition of what makes a Bond Girl is not agreed on, ranging from “love interest” to any female character with a considerable role in the film. In this sense, Skyfall breaks the convention because the film’s romantic aspects are minimal. I’ve always found the romance in James Bond movies to be generally weak, a token aspect of the film compared to the spectacle of explosions and car chases. It is only in films like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale, where Bond considers retirement to be with someone important to him, where the romance becomes more meaningful.

  • Conversely, in Skyfall, besides Sévérine, the women (Eve and M) play a much larger role in the plot itself, setting in motion the events that leads Bond to the villain. This aspect of Skyfall shows that a Bond movie could hypothetically do without Bond Girls and still tell a compelling story. With this in mind, a Bond film without a Bond Girl probably would not be counted as a true James Bond movie: this is that balance between tradition and innovation that Skyfall itself speaks to, and I feel that Skyfall itself did a decent job of exploring these new realms. Here, after cashing in the poker chip that was meant as the assassin’s payment and taking a drink, Bond defeats Sévérine’s bodyguards, convincing her that he is up to the task. The palm-encoded gun comes in handy here when one of the henchmen grabs Bond’s PPK, but it refuses to fire, leaving him to be bitten by a Komodo Dragon.

  • Ultimately, Sévérine takes Bond to meet her employer, an unusual character who is physically unimposing, but also unstable. This is Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who turned to criminal activities after being abandoned. His hideout is on an island that resembles Hashima Island: the real Hashima Island was originally a coal-mining island, and had been home to mines since 1887. By 1916, the island’s first concrete apartment was constructed to accommodate miners and their families. These structures were intended to protect against typhoons and would soon dominate the island over the next five decades, but when the coal seams began running dry in the 1970s, the island was abandoned. Here, Silva’s setup can be seen: he’s running servers in a large room that resemble the crudely-assembled rigs that crypto-currency miners use.

  • For Sévérine’s betrayal, Silva decides to execute her, concealing it as a sporting game where the object is to knock a shot of Scotch from her head using an old Percussion Cap Ardesa 1871 Duelling Pistol. Aware that Bond’s marksmanship is poor, Silva anticipates that Bond might accidentally hit Sévérine in the process. Bond deliberately misses, and Silva shoots her himself, declaring himself the winner of that contest. However, Bond manages to turn the tables on Silva and kills all of his guards, just as a contingent of helicopters arrive to take Silva in.

  • In a way, Silva represents a proper modern villain, driven not by grandiose plans for changing the world, but rather, petty revenge. Given the prevalence of petty flame wars on social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, Silva’s motivations are in keeping with the times, and I’ve found the world’s blind faith in social media opinions to be a disturbing one. I imagine that many of the people behind popular hate memes and misinformation campaigns out there would resemble Silva: possessing some talent, but ultimately, unstable and motivated by trivial reasons. Just because Silva is petty, however, does not mean he is any less dangerous.

  • As Q quickly discovers, breaches in a computer network do not usually result just from an adversary having a superior algorithm for defeating security, but rather, as a result of being played. Social engineering, rather than an uncommon brilliance with writing algorithms that can crack encryption hashing, is how most hacks are carried out – while most films suggest that all one needs is a strong mathematics background, Linux or Ubuntu and fast fingers to be a hacker, the reality is that hackers are frighteningly good actors, counting on their ability to lie and deceive their way into a position where they can access sensitive data. Silva’s done precisely this, engineering his capture and counting on Q to be careless in order to break into MI6’s systems and create enough disorder to go after M.

  • During the inquiry, the minister questioning M goes on such a long-winded spiel about the usefulness of field agents coming to the end, that Mallory asks her to allow M to speak, as this was the purpose of the hearing. The minister is played by Helen Elizabeth McCrory, and while I initially thought she had played Dolores Umbridge, it turns out she’s actually the actress for Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter. Despite the claims against her approach, M remains calm and explains that she stands by her work because of the changing world: it is precisely because the world is changing that tried and true ways need to be retained and act as a measure of defending things the old fashioned way while newer techniques are refined.

  • Having eluded Bond in the London Underground, Silva arrives at the hearing and opens a firefight, hoping to kill M. Fortunately, Bond is not too far behind Silva and dispatches most of Silva’s henchmen. Mallory takes a bullet during the firefight while trying to protect M, and after Bond shoots a pair of fire extinguishers to create a smoke cover, Silva is forced to flee when he’s lost the initiative lost. With Silva gone for now and M safe, Bond decides it’s time to head elsewhere, on account of Silva’s considerable reach and resources, somewhere where they’d have the edge over Silva.

  • To ensure that Silva can locate M and himself, Bond asks Q to create a trail for Silva to follow, likely by mimicking the tracking signals used by MI6 company cars, with the aim of luring Silva into the open. The operation is not strictly by-the-book or legal, prompting Q to remark that his “promising career in espionage” might be over before it really began. While it took some getting used to, Washaw’s Q is actually a nice change of pace from Llewelyn and Cleese’s Q – while as brilliant as his predecessors, Washaw’s Q is still learning the ropes surrounding intelligence, and makes mistakes on the job, making him more relatable. I’ve long joked that Cillian Murphy might be suited for portraying Hibike! Euphonium‘s Noboru Taki, but now that I think about it, Washaw wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

  • A part of keeping M safe includes switching over to the Aston Martin DB5, which first made its debut in Goldfinger. Capable of reaching 100 km/h from zero in eight seconds and reaching a top speed of 233 km/h, the DB5 became famous as being the first Bond car to be equipped with an array of unusual features: an oil slick, tire spikes, front-facing .30 calibre machine guns and an ejector seat. In Skyfall, this appears to be the original DB5 from the Goldfinger days in-universe, as the car is equipped with the ejector seat. In a in a bit of a humourous moment, Bond idly fingers the button under the transmission column when M remarks the car isn’t very comfortable, and it seems she knows precisely what the ejector seat is about.

  • When Mallory notices Bill Tanner and Q writing a phoney tracking signal, rather than reprimand them, he instead suggests to set the Scotland segment of the signal down the A9, which is the longest road in Scotland and therefore, well covered by traffic cameras. Mallory begins the film as someone who questions M’s efficacy, but over the course of Skyfall, comes to see M’s standpoint on why having field agents and HUMINT is so important – the attempt on M’s life and his efforts to defend her show that Mallory is someone who does what he feels is best, and moreover, is someone who isn’t unwilling to admit when there are merits to the other side’s perspective.

  • The unique terrain in Scotland accounts for its world-famous gloomy weather, where it is rainy and overcast for a fair portion of the year. The weather is so prevalent that the Scots even have their own word to describe it: dreich. It seems appropriate to send Bond and M up here: there is a sort of melancholy about as they make their way to Bond’s childhood home. I am generally not fond of weather such as this, but I concede that there is a charm about the miserable, grey weather that is perfect when one feels the inclination to do some introspection and brood a little.

  • After arriving at Skyfall, M and Bond meet gamekeeper Kincaid, a gruff but warm individual not unlike Hagrid. One would be forgiven for thinking they could find Hogwarts nearby – the famous School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is also set in the Scottish Highlands, and up here, Bond’s comment about going back in time holds true. An ancient stone house in the middle of nowhere, far removed from the wireless connections of the world, feels like a place befitting of a “better man wins” face-off. With Kincaid’s help, Bond and M rig the old home with improvised traps and uses whatever’s available to prepare for the inevitable firefight against Silva and his henchmen. Bond initially asks Kincaid to sit this one out, but ever loyal to the Bond family, Kincaid declines and readies his Charles Parker 1878 double-barrelled shotgun for the fight.

  • As evening sets in, Silva’s first wave of men begin showing up. Bond uses the DB5’s machine guns to mow them down, and then picks off survivors with a double-barrelled Anderson Wheeler 500 NE. Inside the house, the various traps finish off any stragglers. A lull steals across the landscape, and in the distance, The Animal’s cover of Boom Boom begins playing, announcing Silva’s arrival. I know The Animals best for their classic, House of the Rising Sun, and listening to the lyrics in Boom Boom, it seems an appropriate choice of song for Silva, expressing his thoughts about wiping M and Bond out. This creates a jovial atmosphere that stands in complete contrast with the mood that surrounds Skyfall and its final firefight.

  • After disposing of the first wave of Silva’s henchmen, Bond picks up an HK-416 D10RS to provide himself with more firepower. Considered to be one of the best assault rifles around, handling very well and shooting accurately, the HK-416 uses a short-stroke piston system that was based on the G36 line of rifles but sports a frame similar to the AR-15 family of rifles. The D10RS has a barrel length of 264 mm and is one of the more compact variants of the HK-416. After Silva arrives, he orders the DB5 destroyed and begins tossing incendiary grenades into the house in an attempt to flush M and Bond out. Kincaid takes M through the priest tunnel, and Bond rigs some dynamite he’d retrieved from the quarry to blow a pair of large gas tanks.

  • Kincaid and M make it through the priest tunnel and find the home burning: when the gas tanks exploded, it killed most of Silva’s men, and stunned the helicopter pilots, causing them to crash into the house. The resulting explosion is even larger than the first and flattens the old stone house. Bond himself barely escapes in the priest tunnel and comes out the other end, but unlike Kincaid, who knows the area well, he is forced to traverse a frozen lake and defeats the remainder of Silva’s men after falling into the frozen water.

  • Climactic battles in James Bond movies are always my favourite part of the film, featuring some of the most impressive action scenes. Some of the best final fights include the raid on Fort Knox in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice‘s assault on Blofeld’s volcano hideout, the firefight on Stromberg’s Liparus in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker‘s space battle, which marks the only time a James Bond ever was in space. While Moonraker‘s fight can be seen as ludicrous, as my first 007 movie, I personally enjoyed it greatly. By comparison, Skyfall‘s final fight is nothing outrageous or of an impressive scale, but it works well enough for the story, being an old-fashioned gun fight in a field where skill with a keyboard and mouse has no bearing.

  • While Bond is distracted fighting the remaining henchman, Silva notices Kincaid’s flashlight and follows it to find M and Kincaid in an old chapel. He implores M to shoot them both so they die together for their sins, but fortunately, Bond arrives just in time to throw a knife into Silva’s chest, killing him. It’s a bit of an anti-climactic death for Silva to symbolise the futility of his actions, and that for all of his field experience and knowledge in cyber-warfare, he is still just an ordinary man.

  • In Skyfall‘s most poignant moment, M succumbs to her wounds and dies. However, rather than dying to someone who had a vendetta against her, she dies in the company of her best 00 Agent – while Bond might not be the most by the book 00 Agent she has, he’s the most resourceful and committed to doing his job, no matter the cost, and there is a symbolism about dying in a chapel, just as her current job of identifying and bringing the perpetrator Silva to justice comes to a close. With Judi Dench’s M deceased, her role as M draws to a close, and I admit that I was very fond of her portrayal as M – previous Ms were played by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, who portrayed a stern, serious intelligence head that embodies the English spirit. Dench, on the other hand, handles the post-Cold War MI6 with a matronly dignity.

  • After M’s death, Mallory is promoted to be the new M. Bond briefly contemplates the old M’s passing before returning to his duties. However, M’s death weighs on Bond heavily, and in Spectre, it is revealed that Bond is secretly investigating a lead M had been working on prior to her death, similarly to how Harry, Ron and Hermione continued to pursue Horcruxes after Dumbledore’s death. With this, my revisit of Skyfall draws to a close. For the themes that it covers and the fact that it weaves its themes into the very fabric of how the film was presented, Skyfall is probably my favourite James Bond movie from a story perspective. Despite eight years having passed since I first watched and wrote about the film, Skyfall‘s themes and messages remain relevant today. The film also evokes memories of my undergraduate thesis project, but I will be saving those thoughts when I write about Halo 4, which released in November 2012.

Overall, Skyfall was a superb James Bond experience, being my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film insofar, and while I’ve yet to see No Time To Die, which is supposed to be the last of the Craig Bond films, I imagine that Skyfall will continue to hold the crown of being the top Craig 007 film on account of its themes, presentation and balance between classic Bond experiences, as well as the grittier Craig-style 007. Skyfall cemented Daniel Craig’s suitability as performing James Bond during its run: Casino Royale had presented Bond as being inexperienced, a blunt instrument, and Quantum of Solace was a bit of a disappointment. By Skyfall, Craig plays an aging 007 who is past his prime, determined to continue serving his country even though he is declining both physically and mentally: the idea of returning to old places and older ideas is a recurring theme in the movie, as well, and indicate that while technology has advanced incredibly, the crutch that superior technology offers might not always out-compete raw experience. Skyfall is therefore compelling, telling a story that speaks to the realities of espionage and the world at large: fancy gadgets, fast cars and beautiful women are sidelined in favour of considering relevant social and political conditions in this 007 movie, and consequently, Skyfall does stand out as being one of the more thought-provoking James Bond films for striking a balance between old and new, the overt and the subtle, and respecting the series’ roots while presenting a contemporary, current theme at its core. Eight years ago, Skyfall was an immensely enjoyable film, and presently, topics that the movie covers remain relevant – even more of the world is connected now than it had been in 2012, and the dangers of an over-reliance on technology, as well as not fully understanding what bad-faith actors are utilising technology for, remain ever-present threats on the principles and values that form our institutions. As Skyfall suggests, it is only through a merger of the old and new, experience and innovation, that enemies of our system can be understood and if not overcome, held at bay.