The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Live Action Films

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.

Greyhound: A Movie Reflection, and Some Remarks on Expectation Management in the Military-Moé Genre with a Case Study in Hai-Furi

“This is the captain. We are running down the target. Let us attend our duties well. This is what we’ve trained for.” –Commander Krause

Commander Ernest Krause is assigned to the Atlantic convoy as the captain of the USS Keeling, call-sign “Greyhound”, with the goal of escorting cargo ships carrying vital supplies bound for Liverpool. When the convoy enters the Mid-Atlantic Gap, a treacherous stretch of ocean out of the range of Allied air cover, the Keeling and other Fletcher-class destroyers begin picking up German U-boat signals. They manage to defeat a U-boat before moving to assist the convoy rear on their first day in the Mid-Atlantic Gap. Krause orders his sailors to rescue the crew from a sinking tanker. On the second day, the U-boats resume their attacks, and with their depth charges running out, the Keeling and Dodge manage to sink a U-boat using a broadside from their main guns. In the attack, Krause’s mess attendant is killed. Entering their third day, Krause comes under attack from the remaining U-boats, and manages to evade them long enough for a shore-based Catalina bomber to sink a boat pursuing the Keeling. Relief has arrived, and the convoy cheers on the Keeling’s crew. Exhausted, Krause heads below deck for some much-needed rest. This is Greyhound, a World War Two film starring Tom Hanks as Ernest Krause that was originally intended to be screened in June. However. owing to the global health crisis, the film was never screened theatrically, and instead, the distribution rights were sold to Apple TV+. At its core, Greyhound is a tale of valour and commitment to duty during the Battle of the Atlantic: the whole of Greyhound‘s run is characterised by a sense of unease and dread at the unseen enemy, as well as admiration for Krause’s ability to effectively lead and command his ships despite this being his first-ever wartime command. The result is a gripping and compelling film that accentuates the sort of leadership and teamwork that naval combat demands; to overcome a merciless, invisible foe, every single member of a ship’s crew must do their duties well. I certainly had fun watching Greyhound, and during its ninety minute runtime, I was riveted by the film. The emphasis on anti-submarine warfare in a World War Two setting, however, also brought back memories of Hai-Furi: this 2016 anime dealt with an alternate world where high school students learn to operate World War Two era naval vessels and train to be effective members of a naval patrol to keep the world’s oceans safe.

Hai-Furi: The Movie‘s home release will be coming out later today, making it appropriate to consider how differences between war films and the military-moé genre require an accordingly different approach: one of the leading challenges I’ve seen in finding any good discourse on the latter stems from a consequence of mismanaged expectations. In particular, regardless of which military-moé series I follow, it seems inevitable that I will always run into a certain kind of viewer who deems it necessary to gripe about some minor detail in said work, ranging from the fact that Darjeeling besting Miho in each of their engagements was an insult to her, or how the Long Lance torpedoes carried by the Harekaze should’ve done more damage to the Musashi than was portrayed. The reason why viewers fixate on these details stem from the fact that they approach military-moé as a “military work with high school girls in it”, rather than “high school girls doing military activities”. The former presupposes that the military story is given greater emphasis, akin to a work such as Greyhound, Saving Private Ryan or The Hunt For Red October, where the focus is on an event and its people. In a war film, the characters might be drawn from history, and the plot is dedicated to telling how something unfolded, as well as how people responded to the aftermath. Such works feature trained personnel and professional soldiers with background, so the characters’ competence is never a major point of contention. Viewers then watch the work with the expectation that these characters put their knowledge to use in exceptional circumstances: for instance, in The Hunt For Red October, sonar technician Ronald Jones is able to use an innovative manner in order to track the Red October because, in addition to possessing the background as a sonar operator, Jones was also characterised to be very bright, with an eye for small details. Conversely, in the latter, seeing high school girls as ordinary people operating extraordinary gear means accepting that they are going to make rookie mistakes, commit to decisions on the basis of emotion rather than experience and even forget the fundamentals. A major component of this story is learning skill to be effective with their tools, and the discipline to work cohesively as a team; with time, these mistakes go away, and this journey is an essential part of the journey.

These two different approaches in mind are the difference between night and day; a viewer who enters military-moé on the assumption that they are watching students learn, discover and make mistakes along the way will interpret an event very differently than someone who watches that same work with the expectation that high school girls will have the same degree of competence, professionalism and experience as soldiers would. The disconnect between this can be disappointing if one’s expectations are not appropriate. Two particularly vivid examples come to mind here. In Girls und Panzer, protagonist Miho Nishizumi had left her old school after making a decision to save her classmates, who’d fallen into a river during the championship round. Her call costs her school the match. From a military perspective, Miho’s decision was unsound: the correct call would’ve been to communicate and have a higher-up make the final decision. Had Miho been leading a retreat, she may have led to the death of her entire armoured column, rather than lose her school the championship. However, the same decision, seen from the viewpoint of someone who sees Girls und Panzer as a high school anime with an uncommon activity, Miho’s decision makes sense: she cares about her teammates, and values those around her over victory. This paints Miho as a kind-hearted individual, a positive outlook on the same decision. Whereas those who view military-moé from the armoured warfare perspective would’ve found reason to disagree with Miho, those who saw Panzerfahren as a high school sport will find positivity in what Miho did. There is no question that the latter would be more accepting of Miho than the former. Similarly, in Hai-Furi, when Akeno left her ship in a bid to save Moeka, the all-serious perspective would be that Akeno’s decisions are rash, and that delegation would have been the correct answer here, which would have allowed her to retain command and keep abreast of a situation while her subordinates carried out her orders. However, at the same time, this moment had occurred very early in the series, and from the perspective that Hai-Furi was about learning, this moment simply shows that Akeno was not mature yet. Indeed, Akeno does learn to trust her subordinates and delegates leadership of a rescue operation to Mashiro later on. Seeing this was rewarding, and similarly to Girls und Panzer, it becomes evident that military-moé confers viewers with the most enjoyment when treated as a story about high school girls, doing activities that are military in nature, rather than a military setting that happens to have high-school aged girls in it.

Commentary and Other Remarks

  • Krause commands a Fletcher-class, a venerable line of destroyers that was designed in 1939 and was involved extensively in every aspect of naval warfare during World War Two. Besides the original specifications to carry at least five 5 inch guns, a pair of depth charge racks at the stern, six smaller launchers and ten deck-mounted torpedo tubes, the Flecher’s large size allowed it to carry a pair of 40 mm Bofors cannons in a quadruple mount, as well as six 20 mm dual anti-air guns. The Flecher class could reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h, and altogether, was a formidable vessel that would’ve been more than a match for Japan’s equivalent, the Fubuki-class.

  • If and when I’m asked, Tom Hanks has become one of my favourite actors for his ability to wear a variety of hats well. In Greyhound, he presents Commander Krause as a dedicated leader who leads by example. Out of combat, he is a polite, devout individual, who says Grace before taking a meal and breaks up fisticuffs amongst his crew. During combat, Krause is concise, focused and calm: he congratulates his crew where credit is due, looks out for them by doing the best he can despite limited resources and wastes no time in making the call to help ships in distress.

  • With Hanks’ skill as an actor, Krause really comes to life. Previous films saw Hanks play similarly capable characters, whether it was John H. Miller in Saving Private Ryan, Sully‘s Chesley Sullenberger or Bridge of Spies‘ James B. Donovan. Hanks has a very matter-of-fact, down-to-earth style about his performances. Where he is cast as a professional, he wears the role exceedingly well, giving viewers a reassuring sense that no matter the challenge ahead, Hanks’ character will lead the others towards their goals.

  • The sort of leadership that Krause has in Greyhound is exemplary, and leaves no doubt in the viewers’ mind that the Keeling’s crew are in capable hands and therefore, able to do their duties well. In most war movies, it can be safely assumed that the characters will be generally competent. Conversely, in Hai-Furi, when viewers were first introduced to Akeno and her crew, they seemed quite incapable of surviving even a training exercise. This was deliberate; the point of Hai-Furi and other military-moé anime is typically to place emphasis on the experiences characters have en route to becoming a proper team.

  • Consequently, I have no issue with story choices presenting characters as being incompetent or making rookie mistakes in anime: we are dealing with youth in situations that are either completely out of their depth (Strike WitchesIzetta: The Last WitchHai-Furi, Warlords of Sigrdrifa) or are in a setting where mistakes are forgivable (Girls und Panzer). In the context of anime, the story typically has a theme surrounding teamwork, friendship and hard work, all of which require the occasional mistake-making to accommodate the lessons being learnt. Conversely, in movies like Greyhound1917Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, the objective is to tell a specific story about a group of people and their experiences.

  • There is a very large gap in what war films aim to do, and what anime in a military setting aim to do; this accounts for the discrepancy between something like Greyhound and Hai-Furi. As a result, when I watch an anime, I’m going to enter the same way I’d approach judging a youth science fair. Because I am adjudicating projects made by youth, who may not have the same depth of knowledge an adult might, I am much more forgiving of their mistakes, and care more about how well they understand what they’re doing, as well as whether they gave any thought to the implications of their results and applications of their findings.

  • Conversely, when I’m sitting in on seminars and presentations made by peers, I am able to look at their projects more critically and really probe to see whether or not the project is sound, as well as how the presenter handle any constraints in their process. Because a peer is going to be knowledgeable in the field, I can poke further and try to enrich my own learning by asking trickier questions. The same holds true in films: in war movie like Greyhound, it is okay for me to expect characters to act professionally and with competence because that is the background the movie has established.

  • Indeed, Krause’s leadership was probably one of my favourite aspects of the film: one subtle detail I particularly enjoyed was how courteous Krause was to his mess officer, and how despite being offered his meals on the bridge, Krause would always politely refuse meals mid-combat, preferring to take a coffee and eat once he was reasonably certain there were no more sonar contacts. Seeing this doubtlessly would’ve inspired his men to keep at it: if fighting under a leader who was willing to give it their all, this would be highly motivating.

  • Greyhound was a very suspenseful movie: even though the film’s outcome is a foregone conclusion, how the film reaches said conclusion always leaves much to the imagination. A good film is really able to make viewers feel as though they were right there with the characters, and in Greyhound, the tension felt when the sonar officer begins seeing blips on their screen, signaling the presence of U-boats, was palatable.

  • As the Keeling engages U-boats and begins to run low on depth charges, Krause is forced to improvise, eventually using a surface broadside to sink one of the pursing U-boats. U-boats were equipped with either the SK C/35 or SK C/32 deck guns, allowing them to engage surface targets. These guns were nowhere near as powerful as a surface vessel’s main guns, and indeed, began to be phased out as surface vessels became increasingly powerful: submarines would turn to stealth as their ultimate defense. However, the weapons are still lethal, and during this engagement, Krause’s mess officer is killed.

  • After a short ceremony to pay respects to the fallen, Krause returns his focus onto the task at hand: it may seem callous, but grief can be a distraction from the remaining danger, and it speaks volumes to Krause’s resolve as he shifts attention back to his duties. In a manner of speaking, the dead would have truly died in vain had Krause allowed grief to consume him, costing him the mission and the lives of those serving under him. The ability to compartmentalise emotions from duty makes a leader, who recognises that carrying out their responsibilities is also a way to respect the fallen.

  • Of course, in an anime, I wouldn’t expect the same of high school students. Besides a gap in emotional maturity as a result of life experiences, the differences in brain chemistry between a teen and an adult are dramatic. In teens, the frontal lobe is not fully developed, and this leads to decisions that may come across as rash to an adult. Conversely, adults, with their fully-developed frontal lobes, are able to slow down, regroup and reason out a solution even during more challenging, stressful situations. As such, when anime characters overreact during times of crisis (such as Rin Shiretoko’s tendency to dissolve into tears whenever the Harekaze comes under fire), I do not count this against them.

  • Having firmly established how I watch military-moé anime and war movies with a different mindset, backed with both literary and scientific reasoning, I am curious to know why some folks expect high school girls in military-moé settings to behave as trained professional adults would: it is one thing to take real life seriously and do a satisfactory job of one’s occupation, but people turn to entertainment to relax, not shout themselves hoarse trying to convince others of a particular perspective regarding said works of entertainment. As such, the severity that some approach military-moé with is a bit confusing for me.

  • At the height of its run, Hai-Furi discussions were focused purely around the improbability of its premise, and discussions ran on everything from how no known pathogen could cause the phenomenon observed in Hai-Furi, to how Akeno’s behaviours should have landed her a court-martial. Very few people chose to focus on the actual developments between Akeno and Mashiro. Hai-Furi was never meant to be a speculative fiction portraying the survival of humanity in a world with higher sea levels, and so, the lack of realism was never a problem – at the end of Hai-Furi, Akeno learnt to be an effective leader without thoughtlessly wading into a problem, while Mashiro accepts Akeno as her commander. As such, while the series was far from perfect, it remained quite enjoyable.

  • During the course of Greyhound, the German U-boat commanders occasionally will open up the radio and taunt Krause. He simply ignores them and continues on in his duties, placing his faith in his crew to do their jobs better than the U-boat crews will do theirs. In the climatic final moments before the convoy exits the Mid-Atlantic gap, Krause and the Keeling are pursued by a dogged U-boat, and having exhausted their depth charges, all Krause can do is attempt to out-manoeuvre their foe. Just when it seems the Keeling’s luck has reached its end, a PBY Catalina arrives and drops its payload of depth charges into the water, sinking the U-boat.

  • The idea that Hai-Furi is an anime form of The Hunt For Red October is a mistaken one, and one that has its origins on Reddit, after a user found an interview where scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida, in response to a question about whether or not external sources had been used for Hai-Furi as references, replied:

吉田 鈴木さんから参考資料を貸していただいたり、映画はいくつか観ました。『レッドオクトーバーを追え』などですね。船内の生活の参考にしています。

Besides the reference materials that director Suzuki lent me, I also watched some films. For instance, I referenced The Hunt For Red October as a source for life on board (a ship).

  • This particular Reddit post received very little attention (amassing a grand total of eleven up-votes and seven comments altogether), and the suggestion that The Hunt For Red October was related to Hai-Furi was only of tangential interest to viewers, at least until one Myssa Rei found it and decided to rephrase the interview as “the entire staff watched The Hunt For Red October as a reference. Let that sink in”.

  • With Myssa Rei’s claims, suddenly, the community felt it necessary to analyse every nut and bolt in Hai-Furi to ensure the series was accurate. Many viewers began to assume that Hai-Furi was an anime counterpart to The Hunt For Red October, which naturally resulted in the series failing to meet expectations. Hai-Furi‘s story is completely different, and submarines only figure in one episode, whereas in The Hunt For Red October, the focus had been on proving the captain of a cutting-edge Soviet submarine was defecting. Conversely, I would argue that Greyhound is more similar to Hai-Furi than The Hunt For Red October ever was: both Greyhound and Hai-Furi have a destroyer as its focus and focus on World War Two-era hardware.

  • Of course, had I attempted to correct Myssa Rei, I would’ve at best, been ignored, or at worst, been called out for being rude to an idol. Her impact on anime discussions remains an excellent example of how misinformation can spread – for reasons beyond my understanding, she was regarded as an expert on all things military-moé, and even where she made mistakes, people continued to consider her claims as fact. Compounding things, Myssa Rei would become very defensive when her mistakes were pointed out, resulting in flame wars. I can only imagine how exhausting it was to maintain such a confrontational, know-it-all attitude for over a decade. This was evidently not something that could be maintained – Myssa Rei eventually faded from prominence, leaving behind a legacy of negatively influencing how people would approach military-moé.

  • Hai-Furi: The Movie released mere hours ago to BD earlier today (October 28 in Japan, and October 27 for me): this post was deliberately timed to coincide with the release, and I remark that I have every intention of writing about the film once I’ve sat down and looked through it. Admittedly, with Myssa Rei absent, more rational, level-headed folks are free to continue their own discussions without needing to pay her deference in order to have their perspectives considered. I anticipate that conversations surrounding the recently-released Hai-Furi: The Movie will be rather more peaceable, and so, I look forwards to checking out this movie for myself.

  • While Hai-Furi: The Movie might’ve just come out today, I imagine it’ll be a few days before the BDs start making their way to folks who’ve purchased them. In the meantime, anyone looking for an engaging naval film will find Greyhound to be an excellent watch: despite being only ninety minutes long, Greyhound is a veritable experience that captures and conveys the dread of anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Because I subscribe to the idea that military-moé is “high school girls doing military activities”, I generally have a great deal of fun with these series, seeing how the hardware fits together with the slice-of-life pieces and discoveries made during battle. This is why I typically end up finding something positive to say about a given series, whether it be Strike Witches, Girls und Panzer, Kantai Collection, Hai-Furi and even Warlords of Sigrdrifa: I do not expect the characters to be professional soldiers with extensive experience in their area of expertise, nor do I expect the characters to carry out all of their missions with the focus of a soldier. My expectations therefore liberate me from having to worry about what’s realistic or reasonable, leaving me to freely enjoy the story that comes from the characters and their experiences. It is often disappointing that some folks often forget how to have fun whenever they partake in military-moé series: such stories, while making extensive use of real-world military equipment and tactics, still feature high school students as their protagonists, and consequently, it would be unfair to expect of students what we would of adults. To approach military-moé with such a negative mindset creates a diminished experience, and one must wonder if there is any point to taking anime this seriously to begin with, especially when considering that anime is intended to entertain, first and foremost. With Hai-Furi: The Movie on the horizon, I’ve been fortunate to avoid all spoilers for it during the past nine months, and I have every intention of writing about it once I finish. I have no idea what’s coming, but I am fairly confident that the approach I’ve taken towards watching such films will allow me to have a pleasant time. For like-minded folks, I’m positive that this film (and other military-moé works) will prove enjoyable, whereas those who find my methods to be unsavoury would do better to steer clear of military-moé and stick with other fiction dealing in war: movies like Greyhound or The Hunt For Red October should be more palatable for those who prioritise detail and realism, as well as competent characters who carry out their duties with utmost devotion.

Yuru Camp△: Review and Reflections on the Live Action Adaptation, or, Les Stroud’s Survivorman meets Adam Richman’s Man v. Food

“各位,而家唔係唔係冇電,又唔係真人登台,係打劫。” –九叔, 半斤八兩

2018’s Yuru Camp△ proved to be a fantastic hit, following the camping adventures of the stoic Rin Shima and energetic Nadeshiko Kagamihama as their mutual love for the scenery surrounding Mount Fuji gradually leads Rin to be more open to camping with others, as well as developing Nadeshiko’s own love for camping. After a fateful meeting at Koan Campground on the shores of Lake Motosu when Nadeshiko found herelf lost, Rin helps her to call home, and earns Nadeshiko’s gratitude. Nadeshiko falls in love with camping and joins her high school’s Outdoors Activity Club, befriending Chiaki Ōgaki and Aoi “Inuko” Inuyama and accompanies them on several adventures. Even though Rin is reluctant to camp with Nadeshiko at first, she begins to accept Nadeshiko and shares in her adventures with her, as well as the Outdoors Activity Club. After inviting Nadeshiko to try out her new portable grill at Lake Shibire and receiving help from Chiaki on her latest solo excursion, Rin agrees to join Nadeshiko and the Outdoors Activity Club on a Christmas camping trip, coming to appreciate that camping with others has its own merits. Originally adapted from Afro’s manga, Yuru Camp△‘s animated adaptation became a runaway success, and besides a second season that is to air in the winter of 2021, Yuru Camp△ also received a live-action adaptation, featuring Haruka Fukuhara as Rin, Yuno Ōhara as Nadeshiko, Momoko Tanabe as Chiaki, Yumena Yanai as Aoi and Sara Shida as Ena Saitō. Announced in November 2019, this television drama aired from January to April this year, and is a largely faithful retelling of the events in Yuru Camp△. It marks the first time I’ve watched a J-drama front to back: Yuru Camp△‘s short length and premise meant I had no difficulty in following the live-action drama’s events, and before long, I’d finished all twelve episodes. The drama acts as an enjoyable bridge between Heya Camp△ and the long-awaited second season, treading upon familiar ground with a fresh new perspective and the extra dimension that live actions offer.

The question of how effectively a live-action adaptation of Yuru Camp△ can capture the atmosphere of the anime is likely the first thing on all viewers’ minds, and the answer to this might be a disappointment for some. In general, the highly exaggerated mannerisms and expressions that characters of an anime exhibit are a deliberate choice, to accentuate a certain emotion or manner effectively to the viewer. This is done because in the two-dimensional medium, nuances in communication are lost. Without things like body language and subtle facial expressions to convey how someone is feeling, anime employs highly visceral means of capturing and conveying those same emotions. For instance, someone with an open posture and focused eye contact on a speaker indicates they are paying full attention, excited about the topic at hand, but this is trickier to capture with anime, so an anime must therefore use wild gestures to capture the same. However, translating the gestures and mannerisms of anime characters into a live-action comes across as being jarring: Yuru Camp△‘s live action adaptation chooses to have Rin, Nadeshiko et al. act similarly to their anime counterparts, and the result is that the girls come across as overacting. Nadeshiko feels even more excitable than her anime counterpart, and even the stoic Rin feels highly expressive. The end result is that anime mannerisms appear strange, exaggerated in real life; because real people have more subtle cues in body language that speak to how they are feeling, porting the anime’s manner into to the live action Yuru Camp△ creates a far more rambunctious environment than was present in Yuru Camp△. The other aspect that the live action drama does not capture from the anime is the incidental music: Yuru Camp△‘s anime adaptation, with a soundtrack from Akiyuki Tateyama, features a section of pieces with a distinct Celtic influence that universally captures the grandeur and wonder of the outdoors. By comparison, the drama’s music is much more mundane and does not illustrate the joys that Rin, Nadeshiko and the others experience in their adventures to the same extent. Consequently, the drama’s soundscape feels subdued by comparison; the anime’s soundtrack created an outdoors feel with its use of the Irish instruments and whistling, which figured in scenes ranging from the panoramas of a campsite to more ordinary moments at school.  Those same moments are not as majestic within the drama.

While it appears that I’ve rattled off a large list of detractors about the live action adaptation of Yuru Camp△, the reality is that the live action has more positives than negatives, and typically, I prefer dealing with the negatives first. The live action drama, on virtue of being set in the real world, offers a new-found sense of realism that exceeds that of even the anime’s. By taking viewers to the real world locations the anime portrayed, Yuru Camp△‘s drama reinforces the feel that everything that happens in the series is something that viewers can experience and enjoy for themselves. The anime had done a spectacular job of portraying real world locations, but this portrayal is a highly idealised one: in a manner of speaking, the anime can be said to make each spot look more impressive than it appears in reality. However, the live action drama presents each location precisely as it appears in real life, and so, the true beauty and splendour of every site is captured without embellishment or modification. This serves to really bring out the sights and sounds that the girls see when visiting each location, bringing to mind the places Les Stroud visits throughout the course of Survivorman. For instance, at Lake Shibire, Yuru Camp△‘s anime presents it as an idyllic spot with autumn colours worthy of a painting, set under the blue sky of a fading autumn’s day. In the live action, however, it is a cloudy day, and the trees are more subdued in colour. However, the reflection of the surrounding forests and mountains in the lake itself is far more vivid: the beauty of Lake Shibire lies not in the autumn colours, but also the lake and its quiet surroundings, perfect for grilling meat under on a brisk day. Yuru Camp△‘s drama adheres to authenticity to an even greater extent than the anime did: whereas Nadeshiko, Chiaki and Aoi visit the fictional Caribou outdoors shop in the anime, visiting by train because that store was near Minobu’s old town, the real world equivalent, Swen, is actually located in Hamamatsu, Nadeshiko’s hometown, which is about 143 kilometres from Minobu Station. By comparison, the live action adaptation takes Chiaki, Aoi and Nadeshiko to Outings Products Elk; located in Kofu, Outings Products Elk is a more manageable 48.8 kilometres from Minobu Station. In reality, it takes around two and a half hours to arrive by train, so it was a very nice touch to have Sakura drive the girls here. Besides capturing the true aesthetics and beauty of the different locations the girls visit, Yuru Camp△‘s live action adaptation also holds one major edge over the anime in its portrayal of food. Owing to the lack of specularity in anime, the glisten of sauces and rich colours on food are not usually captured as effectively; food is a key part of Yuru Camp△, and while the anime had done a strong job with depicting food, the drama holds the clear advantage in presentation. Close-ups of the food in Yuru Camp△‘s drama show the details of every dish, and the girls, especially Rin, enjoy camping food with the same enthusiasm that Adam Richman digs into a dish in Man v. Food to capture their taste. From the spicy gyoza nabe Nadeshiko cooks for Rin at Fumotoppara, the grilled chicken skewers and jambalaya at Shibireko, to the hōtō that Chiaki cooks and the top-grade sukiyaki that Aoi prepares for everyone at the Christmas camp, seeing the girls eating in Yuru Camp△‘s live action adaptation succeeds in conveying the flavour of every dish, even more so than the anime. The live action adaptation evidently has its strengths, and showcases different aspects of Yuru Camp△ relative to the anime adaptation.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the live action Yuru Camp△ drama, Haruka Fukuhara plays Rin: an actress, Fukuhara has had roles in television shows and movies, but she also performs some voice work, playing secondary characters in After the Rain and Hello World. Yuru Camp△’s drama replicates the appearances of each character very similarly for the most part, and Fukuhara plays Rin well. I believe this post is the internet’s first and only complete English-language discussion of the drama. While there are a few YouTube videos here and there, as well as a few posts on Reddit, but these are packed with vociferous reactions and obscure memes, making them quite jarring to watch. I use science to take out the memes, leaving readers with what they come for. Before I continue, I’ll briefly explain how this post suddenly consumed the remainder of April.

  • The reason for this post requiring more time to write was two-fold. The first is that I felt it worthwhile to include an inset screenshot of the corresponding moment from Yuru Camp△‘s anime, and therefore, it took a bit of time to ensure that I got an appropriate moment to include, and then create these modified screenshots which showcase the moments side-by-side. Each screenshot thus shows the live action scene in conjunction with the equivalent moment within the anime as an inset. The job isn’t perfect, but I’ve done my best to ensure that the inset images are placed to maximise visibility: there is no pattern to their positioning whatsoever.

  • The second reason is that there’s a bit of material to cover, and I felt that sixty screenshots would be appropriate to ensure I could cover everything to a suitable extent. Even then, there are many moments that I won’t have the space to go over. Sleeping Nadeshiko by the faculties looked hilarious in the anime, and in the live action version, things look a little more ridiculous. With this in mind, it’s certainly not hygienic, and in real life, one would question seeing such a sight.

  • When Yuru Camp△ first aired, I likened the anime to Survivorman for how detailed the series was in explaining techniques for starting campfires, setting tents up and the like. The anime had Rin’s grandfather providing the narration, while in the live action drama, the cast would act out skits that portray how to do certain things. It’s certainly a novel way to keep viewers engaged, and since Rin’s grandfather only has a limited appearance in the drama, this approach also lessens the need for a narrator.

  • Upon seeing Yuru Camp△’s first episode in live action, I wondered how they would handle certain of things, like Nadeshiko tripping on the chain that cordons off the road down to the Koan Camping Grounds off Route 709. It turns out that the live action is a little more tactful, and doesn’t portray what happens next. The first episode had me impressed at just how faithful the series would be towards the original Yuru Camp△, and while there are some changes throughout, the overall thematic elements aren’t changed.

  • In reality, Motosu High School is located nine minutes from Kai-Tokiwa Station, but stands empty. Thanks to Yuru Camp△, the site has seen a surge in visits from fans of the series, and is now counted as a tourist attraction. The anime took some creative liberties with the school’s layout, but the narrow storeroom that the Outdoors Activity Club uses is indeed a part of the school. The anime had Chiaki encounter Nadeshiko looking through the clubroom, but in the live action, both Aoi and Chiaki are present.

  • After accidentally snapping one of the poles on their 900 Yen (11.72 CAD) tent, Ena appears to help the Outdoor Activities Club out, resulting in a similar moment of joy. However, in the drama, Nadeshiko does not run into the window as she did in the anime: such an action would speak poorly to her character. Instead of running into the window, Nadeshiko appears in the library moments later, surprising Rin. The drama makes minor changes to the characters’ actions, improving them in some cases.

  • Rin’s view of Mount Fuji from Fumotoppara in both the anime and drama is a million-yen one. During my trip to Japan three years earlier, I had been in the Yamanashi region, but Mount Fuji was largely obscured by cloud cover. On a clear day, the view really is spectacular, and it’s easy to see why Mount Fuji is the most iconic of all the mountains in Japan, with its distinct shape. There are no equivalents over on this side of the world, and I believe the only other mountain out there with an iconic appearance is the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps.

  • In an earlier post where I compared Yuru Camp△‘s campground and locations with some of their real-world equivalents, I exclusively used Google Maps and Street View to illustrate how faithful the anime had been to the real world. The live action drama has no trouble with its locations, and promptly returns to the same spots seen in the anime: here, Rin photographs a barn at Fumotoppara while out a walk. In the anime, the barn’s door cover is closed, while in the drama, it’s been rolled back.

  • Rin begins to wish she hadn’t been quite so cold to Nadeshiko, and begins to hear Nadeshiko calling her name out. When Rin opens her eyes, she sees Nadeshiko carrying a basket of ingredients and a blanket, set to prepare a camping meal of a calibre that Rin had never made before. Previously, on her solo outings, Rin carried simpler fare like cup noodles, preferring to spend most of her time in a quiet environment. Meeting with Nadeshiko changes her view of camping, and initially, this change manifests as a desire to try more sophisticated (but still manageable) dishes.

  • The spicy gyoza nabe that Nadeshiko prepares appears absolutely delicious, and the real-world version captures the spices readily: gyoza are Japanese dumplings that are, compared to the Chinese jiaozi (餃子), smaller and made with a thinner wrapper. Nadeshiko’s recipe calls for sesame oil, miso, Chili, chicken stock, cabbage, green onions, garlic chives, White Button mushrooms and tofu, as well as some bean sprouts.

  • Nadeshiko’s love for gyoza foreshadows her origins as a resident of Hamamatsu: Shizuoka vies with Tochigi prefecture as the leading consumers of gyoza in Japan, and in these prefectures, the dish is so popular that unconventional fillings, like shrimp, can also be found. Watching Nadeshiko and Rin enjoying their dinner as the evening wears on in the live action was particularly fun, bringing to mind Adam Richman’s early Man v. Food episodes where he would visit two restaurants in a city for some authentic local eats before squaring off against that city’s challenge.

  • I’ve long felt that Man v. Food could’ve been just as fun without the eating challenges, and while shows like You Gotta Eat Here! and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives showcase excellent foods all around (including Calgary’s very own Big T’s BBQ), there’s a magic about Adam Richman and the way he expresses his enjoyment of food that other food show hosts can’t replicate. It is therefore high praise when I say that Yuru Camp△‘s drama captures the taste of food as effectively as Richman does in Man v. Food.

  • I remember Man v. Food best for accompanying me nearly eight summers ago: when I was stating down the MCAT, to cope with the stresses, I would crack frequent jokes about the challenge the MCAT presented in the context of Adam Richman’s stylised portrayal of his food challenges. While this seems a childish practise, being able to make light of a difficult situation is a vital skill in keeping morale and focus up, and this is something Les Stroud supports, as well. With frequently allusions to Man v. Food and Survivorman, the comparisons I draw between these shows and Yuru Camp△ demonstrates the extent of my enjoyment of the series.

  • Yuru Camp△‘s live action uses the library at Motosu High School, but unlike the anime, where the lights are usually switched off, the drama’s library is more brightly lit and inviting. I imagine that for the live action, the producers obtained permission to use parts of the school during their filming. Previously, the old Motosu High School stood empty as a haikyo until Yuru Camp△ brought the site back to life as a tourist attraction.

  • One aspect that I was particularly impressed with was how closely the drama’s actresses matched their anime counterparts: Yuno Ōhara does capture the energy and warmth that Nadeshiko projects, and similarly, Momoko Tanabe does an excellent job with Chiaki in both manner and facial expressions. On the other hand, Aoi is a bit of an interesting character, and while Yumena Yanai does speak with a light Kansai accent as Aoi, her drama counterpart lacks Aki Toyosaki’s soft voice and a propensity towards bad jokes.

  • While viewers have long known that Yuru Camp△ had been modelled after the real world, seeing the drama take the Outdoor Activities Club to the actual locations themselves really drives home the idea that everything seen in Yuru Camp△ could be done in reality. During my trip to Japan three years ago, my itinerary actually took me very close to the locations of Yuru Camp△, and this was a particularly enjoyable visit precisely because so much of it was spent in the countryside. While I get that Tokyo is the home of pretty much everything that’s cool in Japan, there is much character in the smaller cities, towns and inaka.

  • After spending a full day in Yamanashi, I travelled up to Nagano down the same route that Rin took, although unlike Rin, my destination was actually Shirakabako, where there are several resort hotels. I’ve opted to draw a comparison here between what is essentially the corresponding moments between the anime and drama where Rin stops behind another vehicle at an intersection. Rin rides a Yamaha Vino Classic, a moped with an 49 cc engine and impressive theoretical range of 248 kilometres. Because of its engine size, the Vino Classic is classified as a moped, and in my jurisdiction, only requires a Class VII license to operate. Motorcycles, on the other hand, require a special Class VI, while most motor vehicles require a Class V.

  • While the climb up to Fuefukigawa Fruit Park leaves Chiaki and Aoi exhausted, Nadeshiko has energy to spare, and asks the others to take a self-portrait with her before she runs around the open plaza at the park’s entrance. One small detail I noticed in the anime, is that Aoi’s eyebrows are so prominent that they show up through any headgear she’s sporting. This naturally cannot be replicated in real life, but the drama does have Aoi wearing the same hat as she did in the anime, as a nice touch.

  • Even though Rin is fond of her solo camping trips, Yuru Camp△ portrays her as being fond of keeping in touch with others on her travels: Rin may have coldly rejected Nadeshiko’s invitation earlier, but in general, she’s never bothered whenever Nadeshiko exchanges messages with her. One touch about Yuru Camp△ that was subtle, but clever, is that Rin gets to know Nadeshiko (and later, Chiaki) better through exchanging messages on their phones. Rin’s messages with Ena serve as the baseline for how Rin interacts with people she’s familiar with; while her early messages with Nadeshiko are a bit more formal, over time, the exchanges become more spirited.

  • Despite being utterly wasted from the walk up to Fuefuki Fruits Garden, Chiaki and Aoi get a second wind when they learn of the ice cream shop inside the visitor centre. The drama has the girls leaving their stuff behind to indicate how excited they are, whereas in the anime, Chiaki and Aoi have the presence of mind to take their stuff with them. Since the drama does not have the same facial expressions the anime does, it falls to other visual methods of conveying the energy that the girls have.

  • At Korobokkuru Hutte, a small restaurant with rustic outdoors decor, Rin stops for a lunch of her own: a borscht combo that warms her right up. Korobokkuru Hutte’s borscht is 羅宋湯 (jyutping lo4 sung3 tong1, literally “Russian Soup”), or Chinese borscht, which is made from tomato, cabbage, onion and beef broth. This dish is so named because of its origins in Harbin, which is located close to the Russian border. It’s an excellent soup, being flavourful and warming, but unlike true Ukrainian borscht, Chinese borscht does not have any beets in it. Hong Kong restaurants serve this as an appetiser, where the sour and spicy soup helps to kick off the meal. At Korobokkuru Hutte, their borscht set costs 1300 yen and comes with bread, as well as a drink of choice – the borscht itself includes succulent chunks of beef, making it a hearty meal perfect for the cold of Nagano.

  • The last time I wrote about the Kirigamine webcam for Yuru Camp△, Flash was on the way out, and these days, most browsers will warn visitors that their Flash plugin is blocked. Nadeshiko and the others manage to catch Rin waving to them here in the drama, just like in the anime, although I note that attempting to do this in reality would very likely need an Android phone: Steve Jobs was very adamant about Flash never coming to iOS devices, citing bloat and security concerns, and the superior HTML5 has since superseded flash in most applications. I imagine that the prefectural government will need to update their site if fans of Yuru Camp△ are to be able to view their webcam on any smartphone, just as Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chiaki do.

  • While Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko enjoy the warm waters of the onsen at Hottarakashi, which is a little further up the hill, Rin struggles with the cold of Nagano’s Kirigamine Highlands. Yuru Camp△ shows Rin as being relatively new to the idea of ad hoc travel: whereas her solo camping excursions previously took her to a campsite, where she would set up and then take it easy for the remainder of a day, she begins to be more inquisitive and travel around more after securing her moped license. However, on multiple occasions, Rin fails to recall that many attractions, open during the summer, are now closed for the winter, and so, when things don’t turn out to be as expected, she lacks a backup plan of sorts. However, when Rin learns to improvise, she comes to appreciate the joys that accompany maintaining an open mind.

  • Because they plan on having a substantial cook-out later with the ingredients they’ve brought, the Outdoors Activity Club refrains from having a full lunch, but are still tempted by the onsen eggs: these are essentially fried soft-boiled eggs, but cooked within the waters of an onsen that give them a distinct, custard-like taste. They’re traditionally served with soy sauce, but Hottarakashi Onsen has a deep-fried version: fried soft-boiled eggs aren’t too tricky to make, but the unique combination of boiling them in onsen water ahead of time would impart a completely different taste.

  • Yuru Camp△ represents the sweet spot between watching Adam Richman struggle to finish some gigantic burger or burrito for a food challenge, and watching Les Stroud hunting for wild edibles while in the bush: unlike Survivorman, Rin and the others have access to delicious food for camping that is enjoyable to watch, and the show focuses on the enjoyment of just the right amount of food, unlike Man v. Food. Here, Rin enjoys a bacon-vegetable pasta with a white cream sauce: she notes its the first time she’s had something so fancy while camping, and savours every moment of it. In the anime, the narrator explains that the advantage of this recipe is that nothing goes to waste, and with a little bit of preparation ahead of time, yields a delicious pasta that leaves very little mess.

  • By comparison, the Outdoors Activity Club enjoy a full-on curry together. Even when camping, the recipes Nadeshiko uses is more sophisticated than what I typically cook: for me, a good curry involves either chicken or beef, potatoes, carrots and onions. This is the simplest curry to make: one only need to cook the meats, then separately, boil the potatoes, carrots and onions, and mix in everything with the curry. However, Nadeshiko’s recipe adds okra and eggplant as well: eggplant can work out of the box, but with okra, since it produces mucilage, has a slimy texture if not prepared properly. The trick here would be to soak it in vinegar for half an hour before cooking it, or else cook it separately at higher temperatures and then use the cooked okra in the dish of choice.

  • The point of showing a side-by-side comparison of Rin and Nadeshiko’s camping adventure was to accentuate that, despite their differences in camping preferences, the outcome is the same; both get to experience something wonderful, and for the viewer, it means that Rin eventually deciding to accept a group camping invitation isn’t too far off. It’s one of the best scenes in all of Yuru Camp△, and while the drama does a solid job of creating the scene, the superimposing of the two campers, side-by-side is not done. The impact of the scene, while still present in the drama, is not quite as profound as in the anime, though.

  • The differences between the anime and drama are noticeable, and it’s not a 1:1 adaptation, but overall, I would say that most of the gripes I have are to be knit-picking to an unfair extent. In case it was not clear, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the live-action version of Yuru Camp△ – once I got started into the series, I began looking forwards to it each week. The page quote, taken from Sam Hui’s 1976 movie, The Private Eyes, was prompted by my initial reaction to learning that there was a live action version of Yuru Camp△. In The Private Eyes, during the climactic robbery scene at the theatre, villain Uncle Nine (Shih Kien) declares that they’re stopping a movie the patrons are watching, not because there’s a power outage or because they’re switching to a live-action show, but because it’s going to be a robbery. Yuru Camp△‘s live action drama, on the other hand, can be considered to be the “真人登台” (jyutping zan1 jan4 dang1 toi4, “live acting on stage”) that Uncle Nine is referring to.

  • While denied a trip to the onsen in her way to Nagano, Rin manages to find one at a later time, and also buys a souvenir for Nadeshiko, who eats the souvenir buns with zeal once Rin gifts them to her. Here, Rin’s portable grill is visible: both Ena and Nadeshiko wonder if it’s an offertory box (colloquially, a “poor box”), which is a stab how Rin’s highly specialised gear is obscure enough so that its function is not immediately apparent to common folk. This other perspective of the library in the drama, when compared to the anime, shows the differences in lighting, and again, the library of the drama feels much more inviting than its counterpart in the anime.

  • Rin invites Nadeshiko to go camping and try out the new portable grill; this trip takes them to the shores of Lake Shibire, and it’s a bit of a distance, so Sakura will be driving the two. In using a real-world location for Rin’s house, the drama also shows that in Yuru Camp△‘s anime, the Shima residence has been fictionalised: the forest is thicker, and there are fewer other houses around. In the interest of not having droves of Yuru Camp△ fans show up at the real world location and potentially hassling the residents, I’ve elected not to disclose where Rin’s house was filmed in this discussion despite having found the location. I’ve seen discussions on Reddit where some folks from Japan have attempted to find Rin’s house and were unsuccessful in doing so: I note that location hunting is a bit of a talent, and that even residents can have trouble identifying things shot in their area. For instance, Pure Pwnage filmed the infamous FPS_Doug segment in a community in the south of my city, but because I don’t go to the south, I didn’t recognise the neighbourhood.

  • While shopping for meat to cook during their camping trip, Rin discovers that the Selva in Minobu does not have all the exotic cuts she was looking for on account of it being winter: of pork jowl, ribs, kalbi (Korean beef short-ribs), horumon (offal of pork and beef) and other specialty cuts, only the kalbi and ribs are available. In the anime, Rin breaks down, while in the drama, she retains a bit more composure but still looks on the verge of tears. Nadeshiko’s quick thinking sorts things out: the store still has chicken and pork skewers, which go great on a grill.

  • Upon arriving at Lake Shibire, the fellow managing the campsite provides instructions for reaching the actual campgrounds across the lake. Nadeshiko had picked the site out on recommendation from Chiaki, who wanted to check the site out on account of its mysteries. The anime has the narrator explaining the story of a phantom bull that sometimes appears on the lake shores, while in the drama, Rin takes the responsibility of recounting this legend.

  • After setting up camp, Nadeshiko goes exploring while Rin warms up her binchotan coals; these coals are named after Bicchuya Chozaemon, a charcoal (tan) maker who lived in Wakayama during the 1600s. Using Ubame oak in his area, which is tougher and having a smaller grain than other trees, the charcoal he produced burned much more cleanly and for longer than standard charcoal. However, it is also tougher to light because of the charcoal’s composition, and so, Rin finds herself lacking the materials to generate a heat long enough to light them. Fortunately, Nadeshiko’s just met some friendly people, and gets some help in lighting the charcoal from a fellow camper.

  • Binchotan requires at least 25 minutes to fully light, and after that, require around an hour to reach a maximum temperature of 370℃. Rin remarks that food cooked over binchotan tastes better, and there is a fact in this point: because binchotan burns with less smoke than regular charcoal, it leaves a very subtle flavour on food grilled over it that a learned palette can distinguish. This is why Rin was so excited about grilling over her new grill, and in the end, even conventional chicken and pork skewers taste amazing. She decides to share some, along with Nadeshiko’s nabe, with the campers who’d helped them, and receive jambalaya for their troubles.

  • Thus, by camping with Nadeshiko, Rin sees first-hand how rolling with the punches can result in an experience that is enjoyable. Every camping trip in Yuru Camp△ serves a purpose: Koan was where Rin and Nadeshiko first met, Fumotoppara gave Rin a chance to know the real Nadeshiko better, Fuefuki/Nagano was a chance for Rin to see how much the two had in common despite their different personalities through electronic messaging (which allows Rin a modicum of solitude while at once still discovering more about Nadeshiko), and Shibireko gives Rin a look at Nadeshiko’s “play-it-by-ear” style.

  • As evening sets in, Rin and Nadeshiko prepare to turn in. Nadeshiko is still worried about the phantom bull, but ironically, it is Rin who ends up crashing in Nadeshiko’s tent after coming face-to-face with the “bull” (actually Minami Toba, one of the campers they’d encountered earlier). I stand by my old assertion that prior to meeting Nadeshiko, Rin is very much someone who doesn’t have a mind for handling the unexpected, and when problems look like they’re outside of her scope, she tends to panic. This is something that gradually dissipates as she spends more time with Nadeshiko.

  • Yuru Camp△ had Chiaki and Aoi spend a half-episode seasoning a cast-iron skillet and removing the varnish from a wooden bowl for use with hot foods, but the drama skips over this segment entirely: Chiaki and Aoi invite Ena to camp with them for Christmas after exams, and then with Nadeshiko, head straight to Outings Products Elk to check out sleeping pads. This was one of the best changes in Yuru Camp△‘s drama: there is no outdoors product store in Minobu, and Caribou is based off Sven in Hamamatsu. However, it is named after Outings Products Elk in Kofu, and the drama takes the care of having Sakura drive them here, rather than taking the train, because of how far away it is from Minobu and Nambu.

  • When Nadeshiko learns of the price of the gas lamp, she covers her eyes in shock and remarks she’s just looking for now. In one of those rare moments, Nadeshiko’s actions in the anime translate into real life rather elegantly, and the drama’s portrayal of the scene is just as adorable as it was in the anime. If memory serves, the prices are a bit different between the anime and drama: the anime gave the Coleman gas lamp as costing 4690 Yen (61.52 CAD), but in the drama, it’s 5980 Yen (78.44 CAD). This is a ways pricier than the Coleman models available at my local outdoors shop; an equivalent propane lamp from Coleman costs around 50 CAD.

  • Rin actually had another trip planned with Nadeshiko, a sign of the closing distance between the two, but when Nadeshiko catches a cold, Rin is left to travel on her own. She shifts up her itinerary completely, and right out of the gates, runs into problems when her planned route is closed. Fortunately, even though Nadeshiko might be sick, she’s on the mend, and Chiaki decides to visit her, both keeping her company and watching Nadeshiko message Rin, which gives her a better idea of what Shimarin is like. Their guidance and support of Rin helps her to have an amazing time, as well as making it feel as though they were there with her.

  • With her pride as a Yamanashi girl at stake, Chiaki ends up making enough hōtō for the entire Kagamihama family: she had brought some over as a get-well gift for Nadeshiko, but when the entire family shows up, she realises that she can’t just do some basic recipe. One thing that I found surprising about hōtō is that one needn’t quench the noodles with cold water after boiling it: in Chinese noodle soup, I do this to to immediately halt the cooking process and cool the noodles so they don’t cook any further and become a soggy mess. As it turns out, the starch on the hōtō is there to thicken the broth. The entire family enjoy Chiaki’s recipe, much to her relief, and Sakura asks her for the recipe. It’s a fun scene that captures the Kagamihama family’s atmosphere – everyone is easygoing except for Sakura, but even then, she’s still kind-hearted.

  • While Chiaki’s whipped up delicious hōtō for Nadeshiko and her family, Rin is settling in to a soak at Hayataro Onsen overlooking the Minami Alps in Komagane. This onsen is named after an area legend and is renowned for its seamless integration with nature. With odourless water, Hayataro Onsen is popular amongst those looking to refresh their skin, and the drama portrayal makes it doubly clear that these hot springs are beautiful: the lighting in the real onsen gives the baths an even warmer and more inviting feel than that of the anime.

  • After Rin leaves the baths, Nadeshiko and Chiaki have an adorable fight about what Rin should have for lunch: both agree that she should eat something specific to the area, but there are two specialties. As it turns out, there’s a sauce katsu and udon combo that lets Rin have best of both worlds for a mere 1000 yen. After a delicious meal, Rin falls asleep in the canteen and finds herself late for the next leg of her journey. Things rapidly look to go south when the fastest route to her campsite appears blocked, and ultimately, it is Chiaki who walks Rin through what to do next.

  • By having Chiaki provide assistance to Rin during this time, it gives Chiaki a chance to interact with Rin and bring Rin closer to the Outdoor Activities Club itself; until now, Rin had largely conversed and spent time with Nadeshiko, but is otherwise unfamiliar with Chiaki and Aoi. Chiaki’s help shows Rin that Nadeshiko is in a club with friendly and warm people – despite being very boisterous and fond of posturing, Chiaki does genuinely care for those around her and will do her best to help them. Rin is ultimately very grateful for the help: she makes it to the campsite on time, checks in and prepares a simple but delicious dinner of fried pork bun with the tea she’d gotten from some hikers earlier.

  • While Rin initially declines Chikai’s invitation to camp with the Outdoors Activity Club at Christmas, she comes around after giving it some thought: being with Nadeshiko has made her more aware of being mindful of others, and recalling Chiaki’s kindness earlier, she decides that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to hang out with the others. When things get tricky, Chiaki prefers to do voice calls over messaging: hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the line was much more reassuring for Rin when she was trying to traverse the road, and similarly, a voice inviting her to camp ends up being more effective.

  • While the Outdoors Activity Club had been sharing an advisor with the more involved Hiking Club, there was a limit on how much time that instructor could spend on both clubs. With Minami Toba formally arriving as a teacher, she’s made the advisor of the Outdoors Activity Club; Minami is initially reluctant to do anything that might cut away from her free time, but upon learning that Chiaki and the others are fairly independent, she relents. Both the anime and drama present her as being a graceful-looking individual with a not-so-secret love for drinking.

  • We’ve come to it at last: Yuru Camp△‘s anime and live-action adaptation open the girls’ Christmas camp at the Asagiri YMCA Global Eco Village, with a shot of Chiaki and Aoi running up and down the open plains in sheer joy as they marvel at how much space there is. Whereas the anime has Chiaki tripping on Aoi’s foot and then rolling a ways down the hillside, the drama has Chiaki falling on her own and coming to a stop immediately, saving her some face.

  • Since Chiaki and Aoi have arrived so early, they’ve already gone ahead and checked in. Thinking she’d been the first to arrive, Rin makes to check in but aren’t able to find the others anywhere, so she begins setting up her gear. Nadeshiko arrives shortly after, and Rin decides to make some s’mores, a camping confectionery with North American origins: these treats are a simple combination of graham crackers with chocolate and marshmallow melted in between, and the earliest recipe for the “Some More” was published in 1920. They’ve become quite popular for being very tasty despite their simple preparation, and over time, “Some More” eventually became contracted as s’more.

  • Since they’d arrived so early, Chiaki and Aoi walked to the Makaino Farm Resort café, which is located a mere 641 metres from the YMCA Global Eco Village building. After linking up with Chiaki and Aoi, Rin buys firewood as a thanks to Aoi for providing the bulk of dinner, and makes to carry them back on her moped, but leaves one bundle behind because she’s hit her capacity, leaving Chiaki to carry the remaining bundle an estimated 850 metres.

  • Asagiri’s YMCA Global Eco Village was the campsite whose location was most difficult ascertain, since there’s also another YMCA Global Eco Village some ten kilometres north of the one the girls camp at. Fortunately, Ena has no trouble finding the others: her arrival is preceded by Chikuwa’s arrival. Ena’s dog, Chikuwa, is a long-haired chihuahua. In the anime, Chikuwa has brown and white fur, but for the live-action drama, she’s got white fur. Chihuahuas are small dogs that have a large presence, and they’re excellent companions, being relatively easy to train and willing to accompany their owners. There is a bit of a deviation here between the anime and drama: the former has Chiaki breaking out a Frisbee once she and Aoi arrive, while the drama has Nadeshiko encounter Rin’s grandfather.

  • However, there are more similarities than differences, and in both the drama and anime for Yuru Camp△, the girls swing by to admire Ena’s winter-capable sleeping bag before heading off to check out Rin’s gear. Being kitted out for extremely cold conditions, Ena’s sleeping bag cost 45000 Yen (588.47 CAD): while pricey, to put things in perspective the average winter sleeping bag will cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 CAD.

  • The day draws to a close, and the sun begins setting over the Asagiri Plateau, blanketing Mount Fuji in a red light. This phenomenon is best seen during the autumn months, when a setting sun and cloudless sky creates the perfect conditions for scattering red light. Because of the colours in the drama, I feel that a reddish-orange filter was instead used to create the same effect, since the entire scene, and not just Mount Fuji, are cast in a reddish light.

  • The time has finally come for dinner preparations to begin, and Aoi begins to make dinner using the fancy meat she’d won from the raffle. The anime has Aoi and the others cooking after the sun has set, whereas in the drama, there is still a bit of light. Yuru Camp△‘s anime starts the dinner party a little earlier in the eleventh episode, while the drama has Aoi begin cooking in the finale. The difference is that in the anime, the girls spend a bit more time relaxing as well, whereas in the drama, they hit the hay shortly after enjoying the onsen.

  • The special that Aoi’s got in mind is a Kansai-style sukiyaki, where she adds a bit of beef fat to the pot and lightly heats the meat with soy sauce, sugar, and sake. Subsequently, shiitakeenoki, green onions, fried tofu, shiritaki noodles, and greens are thrown in. The resulting sukiyaki is then brought to a gentle boil and eaten with egg. Rin finds herself in food heaven: she describes food as well as Adam Richman does, and while she’s a lot quieter about enjoying her food, both anime and drama show that she’s greatly enjoying every bite. Nadeshiko and Chiaki, on the other hand, are as energetic as Adam Richman, but do not share is eloquence in conveying the quality of their food.

  • With the remaining meat, Aoi whips up a Western-style tomato pasta with fried onion and basil in the same pot that was used to make the sukiyaki, resulting in a flavour explosion that fuses together the richness of the sukiyaki with a kick from the tomatoes. Yuru Camp△ really emphasises that good food is a massive morale booster, bringing warmth to a cold night; the effects of food cannot be understated, and in Survivorman, Les Stroud notes that being able to eat something nice increases one’s will to survive. Of late, I’ve been watching Les Stroud do live commentary of his old episodes, and for me, the #QuarantineLife means getting to go a little fancier with home cooking, such as two recent dishes: an All-Canadian Spaghetti with bacon, white mushroom and an Alfredo sauce, and a savoury sticky rice with Chinese sausage and shiitake topped with fresh green onion.

  • The beef that Aoi brings to Christmas camping is the same sort of beef that I use with another home recipe: after frying the beef in a bit of olive oil, Korean BBQ sauce is added alongside shallots and enotake mushrooms. Back in Yuru Camp△, because it’s Christmas, everyone is decked out in Santa Claus outfits, as well, with the exception of Rin. Subsequently, everyone swings by the onsen to warm up before preparing to turn in for the night. The anime had an entertaining sequence where Nadeshiko images herself to have devised a rocket-propelled tent, but in the drama, this is noticeably absent.

  • As the night sets in and the air cools, Rin and the Outdoors Activity Club wrap themselves in blankets to keep warm. The characters of the drama are more disciplined than their anime counterparts, hitting the hay shortly after, while in the anime, Chiaki breaks out a tablet and introduces everyone to the joys of Netflix. What is consistant are the blankets and hot cocoa: Yuru Camp△ popularised Nadeshiko’s love of using blankets to keep warm whilst sitting around the fire and it’s become something that’s now synonymous with comfort.

  • As dawn breaks, Rin and Nadeshiko get up to help prepare an all-Japanese breakfast for the others to enjoy. Consisting of grilled salmon and natto on rice with a miso soup, it’s a nutritious and hearty start to the day. Of the items I’ve seen, natto remains the one food I’m reluctant to try: I’ve heard it’s a bit of an acquired taste, and while exposure to it could convince me to come around (for instance, I’ve become much more fond of oysters in recent years), for the time being, it’s the one Japanese food I’m not terribly accustomed to.

  • The Outdoors Activity Club, Rin and Ena enjoy breakfast under a swift sunrise, and then subsequently pack up their gear and head home for the remainder of their Christmas break. Yuru Camp△‘s anime had Nadeshiko meeting Rin at Lake Motosu by spring, whereas in the drama, Rin takes off for an unknown destination, and Nadeshiko is admiring her newly-bought, hard-earned camping gear, ready to make use of it on the Outdoors Activity Club’s next adventure. This is where the second season, set to begin in January 2021, will kick off, and I’m most excited to see what directions Yuru Camp△ will go in.

  • Whether it’s the drama or anime, Yuru Camp△ concludes in an immensely enjoyable and satisfying manner, definitely worth the watch. With the drama in the books, this brings one of the longest posts I’ve written in a while to its end (this post spans some eight thousand and fifty seven words). Because of the global health crisis and its impact on all aspects of everyday life, the spring anime season has essentially ground to a halt for me, so in the upcoming month, I will be focusing on the sizeable backlog of shows I’ve accumulated. Bofuri and Nekopara are two shows I plan on looking at, along with an older anime called Sketchbook. Besides catching up on older shows for the remainder of the spring season, KonoSuba‘s movie, and Hello World, are also on the horizon.

When everything is said and done, the live action adaptation of Yuru Camp△ acts as a wonderful companion to the anime and original manga. While the flow of events may differ slightly from the anime, and the characterisation is a little over-the-top, Yuru Camp△‘s drama retains all of the joys seen in the original series, bringing out a different side to the series in its portrayal of locations and the wonderful camping cuisine Nadeshiko and the others bring to the table. The drama also replicates the smaller details seen in the anime extremely well. The girls use the same camping implements that were seen in the anime, and the drama also goes through the pains of ensuring that the actresses playing Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Ena and instructor Toba resemble their anime counterparts (with the exception that Aoi’s actress only vaguely resembles her in manner and appearance). Ena does make “bear hair” out of Rin’s bun, and Sakura drives a Nissan Rasheen of the same make and colour as she did in the anime. The SMS conversations that Rin and the others exchange are faithful to the originals, as well. Altogether, while perhaps not possessing the same fluffiness as the anime, there is a magic in Yuru Camp△‘s drama that makes the series worth watching: the drama accentuates different aspects of the series and brings them to light, augmenting one’s appreciation of the work that went into making Yuru Camp△ as a whole. It’s relatively straightforward to recommend the Yuru Camp△ drama to anyone who enjoyed Yuru Camp△ and is suffering from withdrawal now that Heya Camp△ is done; until the second season airs in 2021, the Yuru Camp△ drama represents the latest addition to the franchise and provides a different, but superbly enjoyable experience for fans of the series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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