The Infinite Zenith

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

Category Archives: Japanese Animation

New Game!!- Review and Reflections At The Halfway Point

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” –Colin Powell

Hajime and Yun spend time together at a concert while Aoba, Nene and Hifumi do the same. Later, Hifumi accepts an assignment to be the lead character designer in place of Kō after their proposal is accepted by the publisher, and she sets about trying to keep the progress at a steady pace, although she finds Yun being dishonest about being able to make deadlines. This issue is resolved when Hifumi helps Yun design a more efficient workflow. Meanwhile, Aoba struggles to design the game’s main antagonist, but with some insights from Rin, manages to design a compelling backstory. She spends time at a hot springs with Nene and Hotaru Hoshikawa, an old friend from high school, discussing their visions of the future, and later, Nene demonstrates her completed game to Aoba, impressing her. However, Aoba is asked to turn over designing the artwork for their upcoming alpha to Kō, despite Kō’s objections. She nonetheless produces a finished product, resolving to see her assignment to completion even in the knowledge that Kō’s experience far outstrips her own. In the end, despite her drafts being declined in favour of Kō’s, Aoba feels that the learnings have been most valuable and allow her to improve for the future. This is the more serious direction that New Game!! has taken; dealing with internal struggles of interacting with fellow employees as well as handling decisions higher-ups make based on market forces.

The shift towards topics that are more sobering in nature is a direction well within the purview of what is reasonably expected of New Game!! – as remarked upon in my earlier discussion, the honeymoon that New Game!’s first season depicted is over, and Aoba is now gaining exposure to a reality driven by concrete decisions driven by the single most powerful actor: dollars. While it is saddening to see Aoba fall to tears when overwhelmed by the realisation of just how far the skill gap between herself and Kō is, even after holding back her disappointment at the higher-ups’ decisions, business decisions are often made with very specific reasons in mind that extend well beyond emotions. Consequently, to remarks that this makes Christina Yamato a villain, I counter that her message from the executives is a logical one; companies do what’s best for the bottom line, forcing folks like Aoba to take one for the team, because the alternative can mean the entire team fails. I myself am getting a first-hand education in these things, so I find that, while Aoba’s situation is unfortunate, it is also necessary for the company to successfully market the game. Consequently, Christina Yamato and the people she reports to are hardly villains: in fact, to add this into New Game!! is to introduce an impediment to Aoba, and seeing her overcoming this particular challenge will be rewarding, indicating Aoba’s own growth as she learns more about the game development process.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Hajime’s excitement about Moon Ranger concert tickets leads her to be reminded not to slack off during work hours. In spite of her efforts, Hajime is beaten to the punch and fails to buy her tickets, but turns down Hifumi’s offer. The rate at which tickets are bought by bots and scalped has reached ridiculous levels, and in a newspaper article I read a few weeks back, more stringent means of defeating measures are still needed to ensure that real fans can purchase their tickets. Yun invites Hajime later to join her siblings for the afternoon event.

  • Yun’s younger sister is a splitting image of her; both her sister and brother get along with Hajime without any difficulties. I’ve seen queries raised as to what difference there is between the children’s showing and adult showing, although the answer itself is quite apparent: the children’s show is rather more structured, being akin to a play, while the adult showing feels more like a concert, allowing attendees to dance along to the performance. The differences are geared to maximise enjoyment in both demographcis, although as Hajime finds out, the children’s concert is very enjoyable.

  • Nene and Aoba encounter Hifumi at the adult performance later, decked out in gear in preparation of supporting a group she’s fond of. I’ve never actually been to any concerts from performers in my area before, primarily because I’m not particularly keen on the sort of music that is popular (e.g. Katy Perry or Taylor Swift). Instead, my music tastes are considered fringe, as I prefer soundtracks, J-Pop, symphonic metal and older Cantonese songs (e.g. Sam Hui, Danny Chan, George Lam).

  • While New Game!! excels at illustrating the dynamics amongst the characters in and around work, the excursions into the staff’s time outside of work is also important, helping convey that each character is more than merely who they are at Eagle Jump. The differences are quite pronounced, from Hifumi’s enjoyment of shopping for clothes to Hajime’s tendency to binge-watch anime, leaving her tired and ill-prepared to deal with work the following day.

  • While New Game!! might appear to be a generally relaxed anime, I’ve seen my share of discussions where participants have been very serious with respect to details in the anime, from whether or not spoilers from the manga should influence discussion on what has already occurred in the anime, to speculation of industry standards where Eagle Jump’s staff run into difficulties. It is impressive that New Game!! is able to prompt such conversations, although I tend to stay out of things when they start getting too technical.

  • Despite her shyness, Kō and Shizuku decide that the time has come to transfer Kō’s role as lead character designer over to her. In spite of her doubts, Hifumi agrees, feeling it’s an opportunity for her to learn to speak up. While technically skilled, Hifumi initially runs into some difficulties in dealing with Yun when she begins slipping on her schedule as a consequence of challenges both in and out of the workplace.

  • In the end, Hifumi manages to set things straight with Yun and even helps her improve her workflow productivity by way of suggestions. However, this is done after Hifumi begins roleplaying, only for Aoba to walk in and observe the proceedings. It typifies New Game!!‘s ability to throw in the comedic with the serious, and this is one of the greatest strengths of the second season so far.

  • When Hajime encounters difficulty in designing underwater gameplay mechanics, she manages to gain insights from a shared conversation with Aoba and Yun. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and is also essential to the game development process: mechanics can shift gameplay in different directions and alter how the final product feels for the end users. This is why weapon balance patches are continuously being tested and deployed in games like Battlefield 1, and why some players suggest avoiding Far Cry 4‘s Buzzsaw.

  • Aoba develops an inspired antagonist for their proposed game, and later reports this to Rin. When she begins showing some photos of her and a friend to Rin, she comes across a picture of said friend kissing her, prompting this reaction. I have the opposite problem that Aoba faces: because I skimped on storage in my iPhone when I bought it back in 2015, I typically off-load images onto my desktop and back them up to an external hard drive for long-term storage. As such, when friends ask me about the things I did during my trip in Japan or the hike from last weekend, I cannot show them, since they’ve been moved.

  • The amount of groping and general antics is what gives the fifth episode of New Game!! its name. Hotaru is seen in the middle here: voiced by Manaka Iwami, she’s one of the new characters introduced in New Game!!, being Aoba and Nene’s friend from high school, who was part of their school’s Art Club. A capable artist, she is enrolled at a fine arts college in order to become a professional illustrator.

  • Such antics thankfully remain confined to the realm of fiction, and during my sojourn at a Japanese hot springs back in May, I’m doubly thankful that I had the entire place to myself. I recall mentioning this in the Amanchu! OVA post, about the different forms of blushing and noted that the black body radiation kind was my favourite. Hotaru’s reaction here to being inappropriately touched at Aoba’s hands, of all people, lead her to emit thermal energy energetic enough to become visible light. Things later become more serious when the conversation turns towards the future: Aoba states that dreams turn out to be a mere stepping stone, and she’s ready to continue improving in order to pursue her goals.

  • This brand of thinking eventually becomes her mantra for New Game!!, driving Aoba onwards even as things become increasingly tough. While the stakes are elevated as New Game!! progresses, one thing I can always count on are the interesting faces the characters make under stress; here, Aoba rests her head on her desk at the prospect of what work there is on the horizon.

  • Nene’s demonstration of her game, Nene Quest, to Aoba goes rather well, although Aoba finds herself requiring a school bus, as she is being schooled at the game by Nene’s friend from university; befitting of gamers, Aoba and Nene’s university friend begin shouting mid-match, prompting the café’s staff to request a little quiet. Seeing Aoba enjoy her game and offer feedback is what spurs Nene on, and if memory serves, she will join Eagle Jump as a programmer later on. Whether or not this will be seen during New Game!! has yet to be seen, but it is very likely to be a pleasant moment when it does happen.

  • While Hajime swings her fists around to gain some inspiration for her game, I will take a detour and mention something completely unrelated: tomorrow is the first total solar eclipse since 1971 to grace North America. A partial eclipse of magnitude 0.8 will be visible from my position, reaching its maximum at 1133 MDT. Local news sources state that eclipse glasses have been sold out across the city, although I’ve still got a pair of Eclipse Shades from the partial eclipse viewing party held on campus back during 2014, when I was just getting started with Sora no Method. It seems that I’ve been aware of this eclipse for quite some time, having been looking forwards to it since 2012 when a total eclipse graced China, Taiwan and Japan in May 2012, although contrary to my remarks, I’m still well aware of what K-On! means to me.

  • To the upper right-hand corner is Christina Wako Yamato, a producer with Eagle Jump’s publisher, Houbundo. Houbundo is to Eagle Jump what Bethesda is to iD Tech and Machine Games, and what EA is to DICE. Business decisions made by the publisher do not always align with the development company’s goals; this is partially one of the reasons why Battlefield‘s DLC model has been a point of contention, and in New Game!!, Aoba and Kō experience this first hand when Christina announces that Kō is to do the artwork, prompting Kō to bring out her Mio Akiyama voice. In the end, to lessen the damage on Aoba’s feelings, Rin agrees to allow a minor competition to give Aoba a “fighting chance” even though she knows that the results will be foregone.

  • Kō offers Aoba some black coffee here, which Aoba drinks in one go despite her aversion to bitter-tasting beverages. For coffee, I invariably will prefer the addition of cream and sugar, enough to take the edge of the bitterness, but for tea, I prefer tea without any additions, having drunk it on its own at dim sum and Chinese dinners. Aoba pushes inwards with her project, not knowing it will never see the light of day, and as she continues to build it, her vision for the game becomes very clear.

  • It turns out the game that Eagle Jump is working on is a sort of RPG-adventure in a world of plushies, where the player can absorb the powers of different enemies while on a quest to liberate said world and help the queen turn things around. I’ve jokingly remarked elsewhere that such a game could be considered more violent than even the likes of DOOM, but in execution, the game looks rather family-friendly. As Aoba’s vision takes shape, I find that, were such a game to be built in real life, it would likely be published for a Nintendo platform, and would score favourably for its novelty, plus entertainment value for families.

  • The end result is that Aoba creates a cityscape type drawing featuring the protagonist hidden amongst the plushies, which speak volumes about the game itself. Her coworkers root her on as she continues working towards her goal, and later, Aoba pays Kō a visit to see how she’s doing with her work. Kō’s drawing is more action-oriented, and while others have argued Kō’s is superior, I personally prefer Aoba’s because it captures the atmosphere of the game more succinctly. I will disagree with the folks at Tango-Victor-Tango, however: neither are suitable as box art for the game. Aoba’s concept, modified to feature just the main character and the setting, would be the best overall, being clean and concise to show the main character in conjunction with the world the game is set in – consider the box art designs for games like HaloBattlefield and Deus Ex.

  • Aoba’s tears begin flowing freely upon realisation that Kō’s technical superiority leaves her in the dust. Reactions to this moment in the preview led viewers to wonder what was going on, and while Kō attempts to reassure Aoba, Aoba picks herself up, promising to at least finish what she’s started. It is this admirable resolve that makes New Game!! worth watching, and personally, I am a little surprised that messages of resilience, determination and a steadfast willingness to learn are often forgotten amidst a scramble to dissect the often-irrelevant technical elements surrounding New Game!!

  • This post on New Game!! comes out of the blue, simply to emphasise that I’m still enjoying what I see in the anime so far. As we hurtle towards the end of August, there are a few more things on the table left to write about, most notably, the Brave Witches OVA and Łupków Pass for Battlefield 1. For now, however, there’s the total solar eclipse to look forwards to. I’ll see if I can get a few photographs of it ahead of whatever my next post is: tomorrow also happens to be the date that DICE is rolling out a major Battlefield 1 update, which brings Łupków Pass to premium players ahead of the In The Name of the Tsar DLC in September.

I’ve heard that New Game!!‘s shift in tone can potentially divide the audiences into two factions, with one being appreciative of the changes, and the other feeling that treatment of Aoba comes across as being unfair, a deliberate attempt to set her career back. I contend that this is not the case; challenges are introduced precisely because they offer writers an opportunity to illustrate how people might reasonably handle them as they come up, and New Game!!‘s execution so far has been successful in showing Aoba as being determined and persevering. She may be overwhelmed by her emotions at times, but this is hardly unusual: what matters in the end is that she’s always willing to learn and improve. As such, I find that this new direction in showing hurdles that Eagle Jump’s employees face with the new project give audiences incentive to root for them as they call upon all of their resources and skills in order to deliver their assignments. Demonstrating that endearing elements can co-exist with more serious, real-world situations that have no easy solutions, these elements certainly have made New Game!! more enjoyable to watch, and I will be following New Game!!‘s second half with a keen interest.

Koe No Katachi (A Silent Voice): Movie Review and Full Recommendation

“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” —Tennessee Williams

As an elementary student, Shōya Ishida and his classmates relentlessly bullied Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who had transferred into his class. When she transferred out of their school shortly after, his friends made him a scapegoat, leading to his isolation throughout middle school and high school. By this point, Shōya has learned sign language and seeks to make amends, seeking to return her notebook that he’d retained, but when it falls into the river and Shōya jumps in to retrieve it, he is suspended from school following Shōko’s sister, Yuzuru’s posting it online. His heart set on rectifying his past transgressions, Shōya helps Shōko reconnect with Sahara and brings everyone back together for a day at the amusement park, but Miki later reveals Shōya’s past, prompting him to come forwards with how he’d felt about the whole situation. Shōko grows distressed, feeling she is personally responsible for what had happened to Shōya and attempts to commit suicide by jumping off her apartment’s balcony, but Shōya saves her, falling from the balcony and lapsing into a coma. During this time, Shōya and Shōko’s mothers reconcile, and when Shōya reawakens, he finds Shōko, explaining to her that the consequences of his actions during elementary are his responsibility to bear. When their school’s cultural festival begins, Shōya attends with his friends, feeling he’s finally found redemption and solace. At least, this is the simple summary of Koe no Katachi‘s film adaptation of the manga of the same name. Released in September 2016 with a runtime of 130 minutes, this film’s home release came out ahead of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name back during May, and having watched it, this is a movie with an exceptionally strong story, following the ins and outs surrounding Shōya’s path to absolution from his transgressions.

Being at the heart of Koe no Katachi, Shōya’s redemption is the single theme in the movie: Koe no Katachi is meant to illustrate that past mistakes are not so easily forgiven or forgotten, but through Shōya, also demonstrate that individuals are not static entities. Clearly remorseful of his cruelty to Shōko, Shōya persists in setting things right even as circumstances continue to transpire against him, setting him back. This stands in stark contrast with his persistence in bullying Shōko during his childhood; as a child, Shōya is evidently a highly unpleasant individual, but his own suffering drives him in a different direction, bringing about a profound change. These changes are presented through his actions, rather than his appearance, and his determination to right wrongs with Shōko is particularly encouraging to watch, showing how even the most hideous of actions can be forgiven with sufficient persistence towards what is right. By the film’s end, he manages to overcome a long-standing challenge in addressing other people, and the changes in his character are noted by some of his peers, who can once again count him as a friend. Shōya’s change is further accentuated by his juxtaposition with Naoka Ueno; in their childhood, they bullied Shōko together primarily because Naoka held feelings for Shōya, longing to earn his attention. While Shōya’s definitely seen the error of his ways and have changed, enduring and doing his utmost to make amends even as his classmates and adults attempt to tear him down, Naoka continues to resent Shōko, going to the lengths of insulting her, refusing to understand her situation and even beating her down physically following Shōya’s hospitalisation. If Shōya is meant to epitomise understanding and change, then Naoka represents a stubborn refusal to improve: she’s intended to evoke hostility in audiences to further emphasise just how far Shōya has come. The sum of his actions in the present and understanding of his actions as a child culminate to form an individual who’s plainly a better person, allowing Koe no Katachi to craft a direct and brilliant tale of redemption.

Following Koe no Katachi‘s release, Makoto Shinkai himself remarked that this film is “fantastic piece of work” and a “polished and grand production” that possessed finess surpassing his own films. While perhaps speaking to Shinkai’s humility and ever-present drive to improve, his remarks also mirror the element that allows Koe no Katachi to be such an effective film: Koe no Katachi is polished precisely because it focused on a single element in Shōya’s redemption. This allows the film to explore in an in-depth fashion the intricate emotions that arise when an individual sets out on such a journey. All of the characters in Koe no Katachi feel authentic, reacting to situations with the same fluidity and naturalness as humans to create a world whose characters come to life. From the tears that are shed to smiles shared, emotions in Koe no Katachi are finely crafted to showcase the spectrum of feelings that Shōya, Shōko, their parents and their classmates come about as a consequence of Shōya’s choices. Shinkai, when speaking of this polish, is referring to this strength of execution in Koe no Katachi: the movie’s greatest strength is being able to follow Shōya in such detail and granularity to really present emotions as we know them. Consequently, if Your Name‘s strength was the scale of the narrative, then Koe no Katachi is equally as impressive for being able to bring so many elements from its story to life owing to its concentration on a single, yet powerful idea.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I have a bit of a confession to make: one of the reasons why this review was so long in the making was primarily because I had a bit of a writer’s block in trying to come up with things to discuss for the figure captions, despite there being a paltry thirty – thirty screenshots is the standard for movie reviews, but the unique nature of Koe no Katachi meant it was quite difficult to decide what I would say for the moments that are included in this discussion. It makes sense, though, to introduce Shōko, in the foreground, and Shōya. Their given names are remarkably similar, meant to emphasise their connection in the context of Koe no Katachi.

  • In Koe no Katachi‘s opening flashback, Shōya relentlessly bullies Shōko. His character’s design and appearance, coupled with the actions, immediately paint him as a troublemaker, someone unfavourable and unlikeable. He’s sitting beside Naoka Ueno, a classmate with a minor crush on him and so, participates in the bullying. Despite looking like Hibike Euphonium‘s Reina Kōsaka  and even K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, Naoka is definitely not a sympathetic character and in fact, can be seen as the catalyst for Shōya’s actions, egging him on. The bullying reaches a climax when Shōya forcibly removes Shōko’s hearing aids, causing her to bleed from the ears.

  • The incident eventually leads Shōko to transfer away, and Shōya is made scapegoat for the incident. A despicable character by all counts, Shōya’s character as a child brings to mind my bullies of old, who would pull similar tricks. The bullying would dissipate with time, as I became more social from a growing command of English: I suspect that my weak English skills, in making it difficult to communicate with others, resulting in misunderstandings not unlike Shōya’s frustration at being unable to communicate with Shōko properly. This realisation comes out of the blue, and I think that I can forgive my old bullies now, having determined what the likely cause was.

  • After her hearing aids are damaged, Shōya’s mother steps up to compensate Shōko’s mother. The two are polar opposites despite their similar backgrounds; Shōya’s mother is loving and caring, supporting Shōya even when the world turns him away, while Shōko’s mother is cold and bitter, a result of her marriage failing when her husband’s family influenced him into leaving.

  • Raw emotions are at the forefront of all things in Koe no Katachi: the movie is open and honest in how the characters feel about one another, as well as themselves. In this manner, Koe no Katachi, who presented Shōya in a very unfavourable light, sets itself up to show audiences just how much he’s changed and persuades viewers to give him a chance. His subsequent actions stand in stark contrast with his appearance, and in time, audiences will come to empathise with Shōya, rooting for him as he tries to right things with Shōko.

  • In the present, resolute on setting things right, Shōya attempts to befriend Shōko and make an honest attempt to understand her, even learning sign language in the process. One of the unique aspects about Koe no Katachi from a visual perspective is that the movie makes extensive use of depth-of-field and chromatic aberration effects in an image’s peripheries to give the sense that it is being captured from an older camera. The visuals bestow upon Koe no Katachi a very distinct feeling that is overt in some places, and subtle in others, mirroring Shōya’s perspective on the world.

  • After saving Tomohiro Nagatsuka’s bike from would-be thieves, Shōya finds in Tomohiro an admiring companion willing to come to his aid despite knowing very little about him; in a manner of speaking, Tomohiro is similar to Shrek‘s Donkey in that both respect the protagonist for having done them a good deed and following them around after. In my books, the definition of friendship is a relationship between two individuals built around unconditional trust and support: friends are there for the people they care for in tough times and share in their happiness during good times.

  • Initially masqurading as Shōko’s boyfriend, Yuzuru is revealed to be Shōko’s younger sister, fiercely protective of her sister and doing her utmost to will Shōko to keep living in her own manner, even despite a lack of care from their mother. With a deep-seated hatred of those who bullied Shōko, Yuzuru and Shōya initially do not get along well despite Shōya’s efforts, but over time, she comes to accept Shōya. Watching all of the relationships change over time in Koe no Katachi was remarkably rewarding; the changes are a sign that in some cases, even the most rockiest of starts and wretched of people can reconcile and cooperate once they understand one another.

  • The turning tide in Yuzuru and Shōya’s interactions follows after she captures an image of him jumping into the river to retrieve Shōko’s journal, which leads to his suspension from school. In spite of this action, Yuzuru is surprised that he is not even mad about the turn of events. He reveals that he does not feel himself to have suffered in full for his past actions against Shōko, and learning of his sincerity, Yuzuru begins to regard Shōya with reduced hostility. One of the pastimes that Shōko has is feeding birds, and Shōya, longing to befriend Shōko, takes this activity up as well; he occasionally buys bread and visits Shōko.

  • Yuzuru plays with Maria, daughter of Shōya’s older sister and a Brazilian fellow. The cast of Koe no Katachi‘s manga is quite large, and the plot is more intricate, with a movie being at its core, but the animated film of Koe no Katachi is much more concise, dropping the film narrative entirely and focusing on Shōya’s changing relationship with Shōko. Despite these omissions, the film is a powerhouse whose main strength is being able to so thoroughly explore a youth’s journey towards reconciliation and redemption. Such stories typically are more epic in nature, but in Koe no Katachi, the journey is set in the realm of reality – the dæmons that Shōya face are ultimately his own.

  • With all of the efforts that Shōya has made towards befriending Shōko, Shōko attempts kokuhaku, but because of her speech impendiment, Shōya believes she is talking about the moon (suki vs tsuki). People who are deaf can acquire spoken language to varying extents depending on their education and when their deafness occurred. Voiced by Saori Hayami (Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita, and Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa), Shōko speaks in broken Japanese, struggling with pronunciations; her command linguistics are consistent with being born deaf, yet another indication of the sort of effort that went into creating Koe no Katachi.

  • In her teens, Naoka’s resemblance to Reina is reinforced ever more strongly. As Koe no Katachi was helmed by Kyoto Animation, the film’s characters derive traits from Hibike Euphonium. However, Naoka, despite her similarities in appearance, is quite unlike Reina: the former is a stern, hard-working trumpeter who expresses concern for her friends in her own manner, while Naoka is a self-centred and conceited individual, refusing to understand Shōko. Of all of the people that Shōya reconnects with, she is the only person to continue bullying Shōko even after all this time, wondering why Shōko never fights back against her bullies.

  • When Shōya and the others visit an amusement park, he realises that it is a joy to be doing things that friends are normally able to do before things start going south once Naoka meets up with Shōko. I remark here that I’ve been referring to every character by their given name, even though in the film, everyone refers to one another by their family names. As much of a disconnect as there is in writing my reviews, I am following North American conventions for naming people in a casual setting and as my reviews are more casual in nature, I will use given names even though I’d gone through the film hearing everyone’s family names instead.

  • Naoka’s actions cause Shōya to begin ignoring her; throughout Koe no Katachi, blue x’s are used to illustrate the fact that Shōya cannot look others in the eye and ignores them. Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of these x’s are artistically done, as the pulsate and move around slightly to give them a hand-drawn feel. Popping out from the scenes, they do much to convey to audiences how Shōya feels about those around him, giving viewers a very clear sense of who Shōya is able to make eye contact with throughout the film. It is later revealed that Naoka continues to physically and verbally abuse Shōko.

  • When Miki Kawai exposes Shōya’s past to the others, it creates a rift amongst the friends that Shōya had gained while trying to help Shōko. The class representative back when they were elementary students, Miki is solely driven by her own aspirations and does not hesitate to throw people under the bus for her own gain, believing in her superiority over others. She as feelings for Satoshi Mashiba, a fellow classmate who is generally kind to Shōya but grows disapproving upon learning of Shōya’s action in the past, having been bullied himself.

  • Shōya eventually confronts the others about their actions and how no one present is really guilt-free for what happened to Shōko during their elementary school days, acknowledging that he too shoulders the burdens of his past actions. His words hit the others hard, although Koe no Katachi shows that words alone don’t really mean much against actions. By this point in the movie, the changes beginning to manifest in Shōya are becoming apparent, although Naoka herself remains quite unchanged from her past self. Immensely unlikable and unpleasant despite her appearance, Naoka is intended to represent individuals who remain trapped in the past, and while it is true that people can change over time, there are others who persistently cling to their memories.

  • As Koe no Katachi progresses, Shōya spends an increasing amount of time with Shōko, travelling to the countryside and exploring together. He is able to help Shōko experience a quantum of happiness during this time, although his actions also drive Shōko to become, ironically, unhappy – she blames herself for everything that’s happened to Shōya and his friends.

  • Because of his actions previously, Shōko’s mother despises Shōya, but consents to allow him to stay when he helps Shōko bake a cake on her birthday. One of the joys about Kyoto Animation’s strongest works has always been how they can make audiences to empathise with cold and unfriendly characters – by presenting their changes over time in response to the different events around them, it shows the characters as being willing to learn, giving them a human sense. Of course, not every Kyoto Animation anime does this: characters remain quite flat in things like Lucky Star and K-On!, but other of their works, such as CLANNAD and Hibike! Euphonium, excel at creating characters audiences come to care for.

  • Koe no Katachi‘s rising action comes full throttle at a summer festival; while deeply enjoying the moment and the fact she’s able to spend time with her family after everything that’s occurred, it is here that Shōko is overwhelmed by her guilt. Under the pretense of returning home to retrieve something while a fireworks display is in progress, it is here that Shōko decides to commit suicide, drawing parallels with Shōya, who considered suicide but ultimately backed down. Unlike Shōya, Shōko had every intention of following through.

  • It is only through Shōya’s timely intervention that Shōko is saved, and in this moment, Shōko realises that people do care for her, promising to do better for Shōya’s sake. However, the cost of this effort in saving Shōko is that Shōya himself falls into the river: unlike Bruce Wayne, who managed to save Raʾs al-Ġūl (masquerading as Henry Ducard), Shōya’s in a bit more of a difficult position and only just manages to pull Shōko up from the balcony.

  • The fall Shōya sustains causes him to lapse into a coma. Naoka later reveals that Kazuki Shimada and Keisuke Hirose, Shōya’s former best friends, were the ones who pulled him from the river, despite their presently less-than-cordial relationship. I remark here that Koe no Katachi is a film whose review could have easily been the same size as that of my Your Name review, as there is so much to discuss regarding the rationale behind each character’s actions, and whether or not some actions can be justified.

  • In the aftermath of Shōya’s admission to a hospital for his injuries, Shōko’s mother and Yuzuru express their apologies at what’s happened out of guilt despite reassurances from Shōya’s mother that things will be alright. The part of the movie that does not sit well with me, attesting again to excellence in the movie’s execution, is the fist fight that breaks out between Shōko’s mother and Naoka. Even at this point in time, Naoka continues to be, for the lack of a better phrase, an irredeemable piece of shit. In the manga, she later takes on a modelling job with Miyoko Sahara, a tall girl. Nothing befalls Naoka in either the film or the manga, and while this leaves loose ends, it’s also a part of reality: the number of instances where assholes can get away with atrocious behaviour is mind-boggling.

  • When Shōya finally reawakens, the first person he encounters is Shōko. Openly apologising to her for his actions in their childhood, Shōya reminds Shōko that he bears responsibility for his own suffering, and that Shōko had nothing to do with his isolation after she transferred out. He also expresses that he understands her situation, hence his longing to be with her, helping Shōko to live normally. In finally doing what he had set out to do, this moment between Shōya and Shōko marks the film’s climax.

  • Shōya returns to school in time for the cultural festival. Koe no Katachi and Your Name, two powerhouse films from summer 2016, have been compared against one another to a nontrivial extent on the ‘net owing to both films’ superb execution, moving story and exceptional artwork. From a purely box office gross perspective, Your Name comes out on top, but when one delves into the narrative, there are enough differences for me to say that both films have their own merits, and from my own subjective perspective, both films are worth watching for their own strengths.

  • If and when I’m asked, I would say that Koe no Katachi and Your Name share the relationship between Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Interstellar. While this initially comes across as being a very unusual comparison, the reasoning for this is mainly because, like Koe no Katachi and Your Name, both of Dunkirk and Interstellar have unique points that make them enjoyable. In particular, like DunkirkKoe no Katachi is focused on a very specific idea (the former deals with three unique perspectives during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, while the latter is entirely about Shōya’s journey of redemption). Both movies excel in their use of emotions and cues in the environment to convey how the characters are feeling to audiences, from the visceral fear and uncertainty in Dunkirk to the regret and determination of Koe no Katachi.

  • Shōko finally lets loose an insult directed at Naoka, doing so with a smile on her face, before they part ways. With the comparison done for Dunkirk and Koe no Katachi, the parallels between Interstellar and Your Name are easier to draw: for one, I’ve already remarked on the similarities of one of the thematic elements in both films earlier. Both films are set on a large scale, covering a variety of topics during their narrative, and are unparalleled in terms of their visual fidelity: Your Name is immediately recognisable for its distinct rendition of Comet Tiamat, as well as Makoto Shinkai’s masterful artwork. Similarly, the super-massive black hole, Gargantia, in Interstellar remains one of the film’s most iconic components. Much like how Your Name attempts to strike a balance between the science and the body-switching phenomenon, Interstellar was written within terms outlined by Kip Thorne: the realm of physical laws must not be departed from.

  • Ultimately, I cannot say that I enjoyed Interstellar or Dunkirk over the other, so in that vein, I did not enjoy Koe no Katachi over Your Name and vice versa: both films are exceptional to watch and highly entertaining with powerful merits backing each. My end recommendation is to watch both. Of course, these are merely my own thoughts: many folks enjoyed Your Name for its riveting performance and vivid colours, while others still find Koe no Katachi to be more touching for its strong focus on characterisation.

  • The dénouement in Koe no Katachi is bright and cheerful: Shōya finally comes to feel that he has found redemption, and the x’s peel away from the people surrounding him en masse, bringing the film to a close. The manga continues in illustrating the dramatic changes: his and Shōko’s mother become friends, accepting Shōya and expressing her thanks that he and Shōko have become friends.

  • After high school, Shōya has become more sociable, and when they visit their elementary reunion, is shown hand-in-hand with Shōko, implying that he’s come to understand how she feels about him. The events of the manga are more protracted and intricate, but in film form, Koe no Katachi has done a fantastic job of capturing the theme of redemption with its visuals. Taken together with the manga, Koe no Katachi shows just how dramatic this change can be: Shōya’s rough start with Shōko transition into an awkward friendship from which love blossoms.

  • As it turns out, while it was quite tough to get the Koe no Katachi review rolling, once I actually started, things began to become a little easier as I warmed up. It helps that I’ve seen Dunkirk, which provided a bit of inspiration for diving into the themes and execution when I began considering Christopher Nolan’s two most recent feature-length films. I finished Koe no Katachi early in July, and a bit more than a month after I drafted out the review, this post is finally finished. As a bit of amusement for readers: compare and contrast my description of Naoka in the figure captions against those of the actual paragraphs. Thanks for reading!

Koe no Katachi is something that merits a strong recommendation for anime fans and folks unfamiliar with anime alike. The powerful story, in covering a full spectrum of emotions, is well worthwhile simply because it shows that people can and will change, and that this effort is met with reward. In conjunction with Kyoto Animation’s typical mastery of visual and aural elements, the film is a remarkable experience for the senses. Granted, as an adaptation of the manga, liberties were taken with the narrative (the film omits Shōya’s attempts to make a film, and also the aftermath of Shōya’s redemption, when he becomes more sociable and counts Shōko as a dear friend), but Koe no Katachi nonetheless manages to smoothly craft a succinct film from the manga. With director Naoko Yamada at the film’s helm, Koe no Katachi showcases the sort of mastery that can be borne out of a film whose narrative is concise but well-executed: movies need not always feature dramatic moments, complex narratives and obscure symbols to provoke discussion amongst viewers. Even the simplest of things in life, the seemingly unassuming journey of a high school student, can be immensely intricate and merit exploration; at this, Koe no Katachi simply excels, weaving superior artwork, sound and narrative together into an entity that keeps its audiences engaged for the film’s entire duration.

The Story of Memories Made During the Promised Summer: Amanchu! OVA Review and Reflections

“I turned myself into a pickle, Morty! Boom! Big reveal; I’m a pickle! What do you think about that? I turned myself into a pickle! What are you just staring at me for, bro? I just turned myself into a pickle, Morty…here’s something that’s never happened before; I’m…a…pickle! I’M PICKLE RICK!!” –Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

Futaba’s best friends from middle school, Akane and Chizuru, stop by Izu to visit her and Hikari. They enjoy a tour of Izu with Hikari and her grandmother. Akane and Chizuru notice a profound change in Futaba, who has become more confident and expressive since they’d last met. She cites Hikari’s influence as being what introduced this transformation, leading Chizuru to begin wondering if Hikari’s taken Futaba from them. Later, Futaba invites Akane and Chizuru on guided diving. Akane pairs up with Futaba, leaving Chizuru to go with Hikari. Midway into their dive, water pressure induces pain in Chizuru’s ears, but with instruction from Hikari, she manages to clear up and continue; after realising the wonders of the ocean, Chizuru reveals she was a little jealous of Hikari, but having seen Hikari’s helpful and friendly nature, finds that Futaba’s met the perfect friend. They promise to visit again in the future. Released back in March, the Amanchu! OVA represents a welcome return to the tranquil, cathartic world that Futaba encounters after moving from Tokyo; like its predecessor, the OVA continues with themes of friendship and growth as a result of complimenting personalities: the bold Hikari encourages Futaba to open up and enjoy the present, while the more reserved Futaba reigns in Hikari some to prevent misunderstandings. Thus, when Akane and Chizuru were introduced, the girls find they can get along as well as any friends, even in spite of Chizuru’s initial reservations. Simple, concise and enjoyable, the Amanchu! OVA encapsulates the very same elements that made the original anime so enjoyable. In this OVA, there is an additional element that proved to be a remarkably pleasant surprise.

This surprise took the form of Erino Hazuki and Chiwa Saitō taking on the voices for Akane and Chizuru, respectively. Best known as ARIA‘s Akari Mizunashi and Aika S. Granzchesta, respectively, Hazuki and Saitō bring into Amanchu! a piece of ARIA that is captured in both their voices, mannerisms and even their appearances: Akane is evidently influenced by Akari, and Chizuru draws heavily from Aika. Amanchu! is quite fond of the chibi artstyle, with Hikari and Futaba taking on very distinct traits whenever rendered in such a form. This convention applies to Akane and Chizuru, as well: each character is quite similar to their chibi counterparts in ARIA. When I originally finished Amanchu!, I had not finished ARIA‘s three seasons, but having done so now, I can conclusively say that beyond being immensely relaxing and enjoyable in their own rights, ARIA and Amanchu! cannot be compared to one another from a thematic perspective. Having said this, there are definitely numerous similarities that the two series share, a result of both manga being written by Kozue Amano. Elements from ARIA make their way into Amanchu!, whether it be the solid presence of cats, a focus on the subtleties in life or the gentle music accompanying scenes (in the anime): nowhere else in Amanchu! are these influences as evident as they are in the OVA. Altogether, the Amanchu! OVA, in depicting a memorable summer event for Futaba and her friends, also crafts a wonderful anime that is well-suited for watching during the dog days of summer, when the weather is a trifle too hot for being outside.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • An immensely relaxing and satisfying anime to watch, Amanchu! was, along with New Game!‘s first season, one of the two anime I followed a summer ago. Since then, it would appear that writing two anime per season appears to be the upper bound for what I am able to commit the time to writing for this blog. Conceptualising and writing blog posts is a rather time-consuming process, and consequently, I have nothing but respect and amazement for the folks who manage to write consistently, sometimes even putting out several posts in a day.

  • While I certainly won’t be able to have that sort of output, I can definitely focus on the quality of individual posts. This is why posts are becoming larger as of late: OVAs and longer discussions of anime I am actively following usually have thirty images compared to the standard twenty of discussions dealing with an anime after three episodes and my older posts. This post on the Amanchu! OVA will feature thirty screenshots. Here, Futaba’s friends, Akane and Chizuru, arrive in Izu under pleasant summer skies.

  • Hikari’s excitement is palatable in all of the moments she’s present in, and while Akane rolls with things as they occur, Chizuru seems a little more uptight. This is not surprising, mirroring Akari and Aika’s respective personalities in ARIA. An anime about miracles, I also happened to play DOOM during the time that I began watching ARIA, so this blog is probably the only place that will dare posit that ARIA‘s Aqua is the consequence of the events seen in DOOM.

  • After introductions, Hikari’s grandmother drives the girls to their first destination during a tour of Izu, a restaurant in the area known for their quality. The girls are all smiles, and I’ve seen some discussions surrounding Chizuru’s semi-transparent jacket. If I had to guess, it’s either made with an uncommonly light material of sorts, perfect for hot summer days, or else is a rain jacket. Given the climate of Izu, the former seems more logical.

  • In shows like Futurama and Rick and Morty, food is depicted in a very basic manner: anime, on the other hand, is known for its exceptionally detailed depictions of food. If and when I’m asked, the only shows that can top out anime in making me wish to eat something would be an actual food show. Here, the girls look at an ebi furai (蝦フライ, “fried shrimp) in detail: popular in Nagoya, ebi furai differ from tempura in its preparation, being made with bread crumbs rather than a batter. Futaba and the others marvel at the amount of meat within and impressed the batter is quite thin. This is a useful metric for determining whether one is getting their value: some places will give the impression of impressive fried items by adding more batter or bread crumbs, but quality restaurants usually have thinner fried layers.

  • Closer inspection of this moment finds each of Chizuru, Akane, Futaba and Hikari with their distinct chibi appearances. We’re well familiar with Futaba and Hikari’s chibi forms, while Chizuru and Akane take on Aika and Akari’s appearances, respectively – Aika’s mouth takes on a cat-like form, while Akari’s face flattens out to become simple geometric shapes. I personally love them, as they serve as visual cues for when something unusual or ridiculous has happened, although some people find them to be ” just ugly and detract from everything else”.

  • Such remarks can only come from folks who do not appreciate the impact of visually representing emotions, and for the most part, such individuals are exceedingly rare; the prevailing opinion is that ARIA‘s chibi-forms add more to a moment, and personally, I’m rather fond of whenever Akari deforms. Returning to Amanchu!, while Izu is no Aqua, the quiet surroundings, vivid colours and seemingly-infinite wonders allows the areas to nonetheless give a similar sense as Aqua did. Overlooking the ocean, the cliffs create a sense of majesty.

  • One of the joys about anime such as Amanchu! is that whenever friends visit and are given a tour, they are invariably taken to places off the beaten track away from the crowds. Some spots, although well-known, can also be a little more involved to reach, such as Lake Louise and the Beehives, which is a moderate trail that offers hikers with a stunning view of Lake Louise from five hundred metres up, even when the entire region’s been smoked out from wildfires in neighbouring British Columbia. There’s more on this hike later.

  • Hikari’s grandmother is voiced by Kikuko Inoue of CLANNAD‘s Sanae Furukawa, Ah! My Goddess‘ Belldandy and Megu’s mother in GochiUsa. While her voice is generally very easy to pick out, as Hikari’s grandmother, Inoue is able to present an older-sounding voice that attests to her voice acting capacities. In Amanchu!, Hikari’s grandmother, Kino, runs the scuba-gear shop named Amanchu, from which the manga and anime derives its name.

  • Close inspection of the images will find that Akane is very similar in appearance to Akari: she even has Akari’s distinct sideburns, although they are not quite as long. Similarly, Chizuru has Aika’s shorter hair: after an accident causes her hair to be burnt during ARIA: The Natural. Aika subsequently sports short hair in expression of her confidence to be herself, and this is the hairstyle that I know Aika best for. Other trademark characteristics of Akari and Aika make their way into Akane and Chizuru’s dialogue, whether it be Akari’s “わーい” (waii~, or “yay!”) or Aika’s “禁止” (“kinshi”, or “not allowed!”).

  • While Futaba gazes into the distance, Hikari tosses Aria into the air. Akane and Chizuru remark that this Futaba is more confident and forward than they had previously known her. Chizuru’s conflicting internal feelings about Hikari bring to mind the sort of uncertainty and doubt that Aika faces as the heiress to Himeya. Noticeably absent in Amanchu! is an equivalent of Alice Carroll, whose personality is surprisingly similar to GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu. Like Chino, who becomes more open as a consequence of Cocoa’s influence, Alice warms up to Aika and Akari as ARIA progresses.

  • While on a rope bridge, Futaba asks Akane and Chizuru if they’re interested in taking a guided diving tour to experience the world that has so profoundly changed hers. Both readily agree, and Hikari makes to contact Mato. Because both Hikari and Futaba are now certified, Futaba feels confident in showing her friends the wonders of the ocean. Like numerous anime set under beautiful summer skies, the Amanchu! OVA confers a sense of longing, although here, the feeling stems from a yearning for adventure and making memories.

  • A sensation vertigo, brought on by the heights, causes Chizuru to lose her balance momentarily. She falls backwards, but Hikari manages to prevent any harm from coming to her, swiftly diving and using her arm to break Chizuru’s fall. This feeling stems from actions of the vestibular system, which is responsible for maintaining balance – heights and perception of instability can cause the system to activate in an attempt to return to a more stable posture, and when one is already stable, will actually induce a sense of motion that can contribute to anxiety. This is likely what’s happening with Chizuru, and I do not blame her; my legs become numb at great heights when looking down, and even in video games, jumping from heights causes me to experience a falling sensation despite my knowing full well that I am not in any immediate danger.

  • Amanchu! is mentioned to be set in Izu, which presumably refers to the Izu Peninsula just west of Tokyo. Specifically, the location is the eastern side of Izu, since the western side is more rugged and lacks a train station. A mountainous region home to around 470 000 people, the area’s geological activity corresponds to a large number of onsen in the area, as well as places where ocean gives way to sheer cliff faces. With this in mind, while Amanchu! could have done a hot springs episode owing to the geology, that the OVA chooses not to is a strong sign of the direction this series intends to take.

  • While Hikari’s friendship with Futaba is something she treasures greatly, Futaba has not forgotten her old friendships, either. Chizuru feels a little left behind, even envious, after seeing photographs of Futaba with Hikari and the diving club. Her doubts are not missed by the others, but like Aika, Chizuru tries to tough it out. It is therefore unsurprising that it takes a bit of support from her friends, old and new, to help Chizuru overcome these feelings, rather similar to how Aika can be dishonest about her feelings in ARIA and likewise required some coaxing to bring her feelings into the open.

  • The next day, Chizuru and Akane gear up in preparation for their dive. They meet Mato for the first time and are briefed on the very basics of diving. Some patrons of a beach-side café are visible here, with beers in hand, and I am reminded of the fact that I am susceptible to the effects of alcohol more strongly than my peers because of an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase problem. This runs in the family: my cousins and uncles report a similar problem, and from a populations perspective, affects around a third of people with an East Asian descent.

  • I’m now at that age where I’m closer to the instructors in age than I am the students – it’s that sweet spot where one is old enough to have a bit of liberty to come and go as they please, while still young enough to enjoy things in a (somewhat) carefree manner. Mato certainly seems to embody this spirit: she’s a responsible individual who can be quite strict, but also encourages her students to have fun and will not hesitate to participate with her students in more lighthearted moments.

  • The differences in Futaba at the start of Amanchu! and as she is by the OVA’s events are quite profound. It is here, close to Kino’s scuba shop that Futaba first encounters Hikari, and things have come full-circle: whereas the Futaba of the first episode was very much fixated on missing her old home and friends, the Futaba we see in the OVA is very comfortable with open-ocean diving at this poin, feeling right at home near the ocean, having come to love the seas for having helped her view the world in a new light.

  • While Akane and Chizuru familiarise themselves with diving, I capitalised on the weather to hike Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive today. These are some of Banff’s most well-known hikes, and while the skies were flooded with smoke, the hike itself turned out to be quite enjoyable: up to Lake Agnes and their famous teahouse, things remain quite easy. The trail only really becomes a bit more involved en route to Big Beehive; numerous switchbacks dominate the trail once past the rockfall.

  • Amanchu!‘s original divers, Mato, Hikari and Futaba, gear up in preparations for taking Akane and Chizuru out into the ocean. On my end, there was no ocean, but rather, an enjoyable hike up five hundred metres total. We stopped briefly at Lake Agnes for a break, accosted by numerous Tamias minimus looking for free apples, before continuing on to the Big Beehive viewpoint. The hike from the Lake Agnes Teahouse starts out easy, but after clearing a rockfall, where Devil’s Thumb can be seen, there’s a series of switchbacks up the side of the mountain. It’s quite dusty and requires slow, methodical pacing, being moderately steep, but the climb is well worth it.

  • Once the top of the Big Beehive is reached, there’s a small trail there leading to an observation gazebo. This proved an immensely scenic locale for stopping for a quick bite (a ham and tomato sandwich), and afterwards, climbed towards the edge of the Big Beehive overlooking Lake Louise. From up here, the Chateau is tiny, with with Lake Louise Village and the Trans-Canada highway visible even on a smokey day. While the smoke may have prevented fantastic-looking photographs, it did keep the temperatures within a comfortable range. We would come back down to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for some tea (I bought a Chamomile; the cooler weather made the tea an appropriate choice), before taking on the hike back down to the Chateau for the drive home.

  • After making our way back into town, I sat down to a pleasant dinner at Shanghai Palace, which featured crispy chicken, salt-and-pepper calamari, vegetable dishes and a sweet and sour beef ribs dish I only know as sa lai gwut. Dinner is now over, the sun is setting, and it’s a time to relax for the evening: I’m totally exhausted. For the record, Shanghai Palace is one such restaurant with high quality fried meats. Back in Amanchu!, Hikari helps remind Chizuru about equalising the pressure accumulated in her ears when the latter panics. Here, Chiruzu learns that Hikari is genuinely caring for her friends, and when she subsequently makes to reach Futaba and Akane, who are further ahead, she begins spinning about.

  • With assistance from Hikari, Chizuru makes it to where the others are, and finally understands what about the ocean that lead to Futaba’s transformation, being surprised that light can penetrate the ocean and illuminate it to reveal a vast world normally hidden from sight. This is true to a certain extent: sunlight usually penetrates to around 200 meters in the water, and indeed, the deep reaches of the oceans below 1000 meters are pitch black.

  • Diving in the ocean was something that Futaba was slowly working towards in Amanchu! itself; some viewers felt that things were occurring a little too slowly, but I counter that the slow introduction towards diving has a two-fold purpose: the first is to emphasise that it takes time to coax Futaba out of her shell and become more adventurous, and the second is that by going over the basics at a slower pace also allows audiences to pick up on the details, which allows them to understand Futaba’s actions by the time she reaches a point where she’s ready for her certification exam.

  • Akane marvels at the sights underneath the ocean. Compared to Chizuru, she’s less uptight and more open-minded, mirroring the dynamics between Akari and Aika in ARIA. As the Amanchu! incarnation of Akari, Akane brings into Amanchu! a piece of ARIA; her personality’s largely remain unchanged accounting for why she has little development in the episode, and as mentioned earlier, having Erino Hazuki perform Akane’s voice is a particularly welcome decision. Similarly, Aika’s internal struggles in ARIA seem to have been ported over to Amanchu! in Chizuru.

  • Thanks to Hikari, what began on a rough footing for Chizuru turns into a magical moment for her as she takes in the sights and sounds of the ocean. The OVA perfectly captures the sum of everything that’s happened in Amanchu! and features almost as much diving as seen in the full run of original anime itself. Here, I remark that I am coming from the anime-only perspective and have not read the Amanchu! manga as of yet; this particular limitation is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I can approach the anime from a naïf perspective, which frees me from bias and previous beliefs about the anime, but it also holds me back from speculating as to what will happen next, as I know the manga is always a few steps ahead of what I’ve seen.

  • All good things must come to an end, and as the Amanchu! OVA draws to a close, Futaba and Hikari bid Akane and Chizuru farewell, hoping that they will come visit again. On average, a train journey from Tokyo to Izu takes a hair under three hours, costing around 5400 Yen (64 CAD with present exchange rates) – such a journey, while not one to be taken on a whim, is one that shows that Futaba and her friends are not separated by insurmountable barriers of distance and cost.

  • Because I did not otherwise feature an adaquately large pool of moments where Akane takes on Akari’s trademark chibi expressions, I will now do so right before this posts closes fully. I cannot quite put my finger on why, but there is a character to the deformed appearance of Akari and Akane’s that is so endearing to behold. By now, I’ve become well-accustomed to Kozue Amano’s distinct style, so the appearance of chibi form character expressions in both Amanchu! and ARIA are no longer as surprising as when I first began watching Amanchu!.

  • One of the things I particularly liked as a small detail in Amanchu! is that characters blushing have diagonal lines drawn across their faces in addition to the distinct pink colour associated with blushing. Different anime approach rendering blushing differently, whether its subtle patches of pink on one’s face, a full-body transformation, or my personal favourite, an emissive blush that gives the sense that the individual in question is producing black-body radiation.

  • Akane pets Chizuru at the Amanchu! OVA’s closing; with this thirteeth screenshot and accompanying figure caption, the Amanchu! OVA I’d been longing to write about since March is finally in the books. We’re rapidly closing on the halfway point of August by now, and I’m also nearing the halfway point for Far Cry 4, meaning there might be a post coming out on that in the near future in addition to a talk for Brave Witches OVA. Finally, the page quote is completely irrelevant to Amanchu!; sourced from the latest Rick and Morty episode, it should be clear that I had a great deal of fun watching the third episode. I figured I should use the quote in one of my reviews before the next episode comes out tomorrow: many apologies in advance for f–king with Google’s search algorithms in advance! Finally, last weekend, I also watched Dunkirk: it’s a highly visceral depiction of the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940 that I enjoyed most for the use of sound, non-linear storyline and suspense-building.

Looking ahead, Amanchu! is still presently running in manga form, and consequently, it would not be surprising if it were to receive a second season. I’ve heard from friends familiar with the manga that future volumes hold interesting events that are said to, and I quote: “[dovetail] back into the ARIA franchise in completely unexpected ways”. There is certainly quite a bit of content for a second season, and while I’ve heard very little about a continuation, any continuations of Amanchu! will be worth watching. For now, the Amanchu! OVA in the books, and I note that I’ve actually had plans to write about this for quite some time: the OVA itself was released back in March, although the opportunity to do so had not presented itself until now. With this being said, the OVA’s focus on the summer makes it a perfect accompaniment for the hottest days of the year: this year’s been much hotter than last year, with more days reaching above 30°C than last year’s comparatively paltry one day. While the sunshine and warmth have been a boon for folks seeking to make the most of the weather, it’s also meant wildfires and damaged crops; some rain would be nice in relieving the incredibly dry conditions all around. Returning to Amanchu!‘s OVA, I conclude by giving this OVA a strong recommendation for folks who enjoyed Amanchu!; it’s an essential addition to the series that was well worth viewers’ time.

Sakura Quest: Impressions and Review at the ¾ Mark

“They will break upon Warayiba like water on rock. Manoyama’s leaders will cut infrastructure and bureaucratise processes, we’ve seen it before. Bus routes can be reestablished. Traditions archived. Within these walls, we will outlast them.” –Théoden King, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

In the aftermath of the Founding Festival, Yoshino learns that their efforts have yielded very little by ways of generating interest in Manoyama, and despairing, she returns home for a vacation, meeting up with her family and friends. While attending the local festival, she realises that home is a place to return to, and revitalised, she returns to Manoyama with renewed spirit. Meanwhile, Sanae and Ririko have been working on a programme to bolster tourism numbers by turning unused residences into Bed and Breakfasts, enticing Spanish cryptid hunters to visit. Manoyama also begins draining Sakura pond to manage bass populations, attracting visitors. Ushimatsu grows troubled by the event and very nearly drowns after jumping in upon spotting something. He is hospitalised, and it turns out that five decades earlier, he, Chitose and Doku were friends in a band planning to go to Tokyo for post-secondary, but on the day of Manoyama’s Mizuchi festival, his actions led to the event being cancelled and eventually forgotten. Yoshino, recalling the effect of her hometown’s festival, feels that restoring the Mizuchi festival is a step in bringing people back to Manoyama, being a place they can return to. In order to formally do so, she and the tourism board must recover three sacred treasures. Consulting with a local anthropology professor living in Warayiba, Yoshino learns that at least one of the artefacts is in a warehouse. When it is revealed that the bus route will stop servicing the area, Sanae decides to teach the elderly how to use tablets and the internet, with the aim of connecting them and reduce their reliance on the bus routes, while simultaneously crowd-sourcing their efforts to find the treasure. Armed with their new-found knowledge of the internet, the elderly people of Warayiba cede from Manoyama in order to raise awareness of their challenges. Yoshino learns that the professor also took advantage of the situation to help digitise the way of life in Warayiba, preserving it, while Sanae helps develop a website for helping make shuttle bus reservations, helping the locals travel about more easily. Moved by the changes, the professor gives Yoshino the location of one of the treasures before passing away.

By this point in Sakura Quest, the development of the narrative has exceeded all expectations; from Yoshino’s understanding of what makes a place worth returning to, to the efforts that she and the others commit towards solving regional problems while in pursuit of a larger goal, Sakura Quest seamlessly weaves all of the events together in an insightful manner that provides a glimpse into the challenges that Japan faces with its aging rural population. Moreover, while the bigger picture is always in the back of the Yoshino and the others’ minds, they nonetheless demonstrate exemplary commitment in putting an effort into making a positive difference for people living in both Manoyama and Warayiba. This attention to detail without losing sight of the grand scheme is mirrored in Sakura Quest, which strikes a fine balance in illustrating subtleties and illuminating the story’s eventual goal. From the unique adaptations Warayiba’s folks have taken to survive in the mountains, to the consequences of anonymity on the internet, Sakura Quest portrays elements with an exceptional degree of realism to the extent that the anime is more than immersive – it is instructive, reminding audiences that people everywhere have developed very unique adaptations in their lifestyles that allow them to survive in a range of climates and geographies. Simply, Sakura Quest is a wonderful example of anthropology in a fictional setting that reminds audiences of how much culture and values stand to be forgotten if an honest effort is not made to respect these traditions and long-standing ideas, especially in a country such as Japan, where the countryside continues to depopulate as youth move into the cities in search of new opportunity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • No words will be minced in this post – I have not been this impressed with an anime since CLANNAD: After Story. Thus, at the half-way point between the half-way point and the ending, I return to provide some additional thoughts on what I feel about Sakura Quest. Discussion opens with a view from Yoshino’s bedroom window, overlooking her hometown. The harbour is visible, overlooking the endless expanse of ocean underneath a morning sky and it is a fantastic view, capturing flawlessly the image in my mind’s eye of a beautiful Japanese summer.

  • Because there is so much to discuss, I will feature thirty images in this post and provide thirty corresponding figure captions, opening with some scenery around Yoshino’s home. After a terrifying nightmare where she finds herself being tied to a pole and effectively “stoned” by manjū for her failures, Yoshino reawakens at home. The change of scenery, and opportunity to catch up with old friends provides Yoshino with a newfound perspective on things after she feels her efforts have amounted to nothing in bringing Manoyama back.

  • That Yoshino feels this way about Manoyama demonstrates that she has grown to care for the town, extending beyond her initial obligations to help out as a part of her original contract. It’s quite touching to see her developing a connection to a small town of the sort she was trying to escape while in Tokyo, and during times such as these, taking a step back is a reasonable course of action. She wheels her bike down a slope here, with the local scenery in her hometown visible.

  • Yesterday and today have conveyed a sense of déjà vu; just like the last time I wrote about Sakura Quest, I stepped out for dinner at a Hong Kong-style bistro nearby tonight, as well. This time, I ordered the “American style mixed grill”, which features grilled chicken, pork chop, beef and ham in addition to corn on the cob and fries with a side of fried rice: these sizzling steaks are cooked on a hot metal plate and gain their name from the sizzle resulting from pouring a sauce, usually black pepper, onto the meats. They are popular in Hong Kong, and are absolutely delicious: to have an authentic taste of this at home is such a treat.

  • Ririko and Sanae count Manoyama as home: while everyone else has departed for their vacations, they stay behind to continue brainstorming on how they can elevate interest in Manoyama. With her experiences following the torching of an abandoned residence, Sanae proposes converting other unoccupied buildings in Manoyama into Bed and Breakfast establishments. While viable, there are regulations and guidelines that must be followed: the process is an investment, as older buildings will need renovations and updates to ensure they fall within regulations. In my province, for instance, all potential Bed and Breakfast owners must apply for a business license and conform to the terms established in this document.

  • Sanae meets up with her friends in Tokyo over drinks and dinner at a ritzy restaurant – they note that since moving to Manoyama, she’s become much more confident and decisive during discussions of the challenges they each face at work. Of all the characters working with the tourism board, I relate most closely with Sanae, who similarly has a technology background and works in a highly-paced environment. Her other assets include possessing attributes that make her the butt of some jokes. I’ve previously mentioned that all of the characters are likeable and relatable in their own manner: this is one of the great strengths of Sakura Quest.

  • Moe and Maki spend time with one another at a local pub with beers and grilled foods in hand. Moe believes that Maki is a capable actress and, after inviting her to a play she’s performing in, suggests that Maki attend a workshop hosted by a famous director with the hope of re-lighting her passion in acting. Difficulties in a profession can lead individuals to outwardly lose their love for it, and as Moe understands, it sometimes just takes a little encouragement for people to re-discover a passion.

  • There aren’t any festivals in my area quite with the same atmosphere as a Japanese-style summer festival, but the closest we have is the Calgary Stampede. However, even with the Stampede over, there’s still GlobalFest Calgary, a cultural festival characterised by its fireworks. There’s no shortage of summer-y things to do – just yesterday, I decided to make the most of the summer weather and bought a slush at a nearby convenience store. Summer is the time for enjoying frozen desserts, and it was refreshing to savour a slush while running around in Battlefield 1‘s conquest, kicking ads and taking names. 

  • It turns out that Yoshino has a younger sister, Nagisa, who is in high school. Her parents share a story about how her father managed to convince her mother to stay in their home town, while Nagisa’s presence mirrors the carefree time that being a student entails, standing in contrast with Yoshino, who is working and therefore, subject to the attendent stresses. These conversations with the people closest to her have a considerable impact on her outlook, and emboldened by the prospect of her family visiting Manoyama, Yoshino regains her sense of determination to Make Manoyama Great Again℠.

  • The composition of this view overlooking their town, with the gentle orange light of the lanterns in the foreground and Yoshino preparing to try some Japanese-style grilled squid, is quite magical. This is why I’ve had quite a bit to say about the fourteenth episode alone; it marks the turning point in Sakura Quest where Yoshino has a solid motivation to improve Manoyama beyond satisfying her own ego. Of course, it’s not all fun and games when she returns: in the time that she’s been gone, a Mexican…armada shows up, with shirts made with in…incorrect kanji.

  • I may have lapsed into a bit of a Rick and Morty moment there, but I was not lying about the Spanish tourists who show up in Manoyama: cryptid hunters interested in the Chupacabra pay the town a visit, and despite the language barrier, they settle in quickly, befriending the locals and enjoying the atmosphere in the area. Ririko and one of the female travellers exchange contract information owing to their shared interests in cryptids, promising to meet again and perhaps even travel the world together.

  • Rural sunsets in anime are always depicted in stunning detail; for all of is more uncommon content, Yosuga no Sora is one such instance, making use of golds and oranges to create a sense of longing characters face by covering the landscape in a warm light. By summer, the longer-wavelength lights usually appear later in the day, leading to golden sunsets, but in winter, the lower elevation means that even afternoon light has an evening-like quality to it.

  • As Sakura Pond is being drained, Ushimatsu begins to behave contrary to his usual self, staring into the slowly-draining Sakura Pond with Doku, one of his long-time friends. I imagine that this is the locale that gives Sakura Quest its name. A question that is often posed is what separates a pond from a lake, and the answer is the depth: a lake is sufficiently deep so that sunlight does not reach all the way to the bottom, and also has distinct layers separated by temperature. Ponds are shallower; sunlight can reach the bottom and they lack the temperature stratification, so in some places, ponds can freeze solid.

  • By nightfall, something prompts Ushuimatsu to swim out into the pond, although he’s unable to swim effectively and ultimately, Sandal jumps into the water to rescue him. A transient character with an air of mystery about him, his combination of enigmatic words and somewhat broken Japanese makes him an entertaining character to have around, although there are also occasions where he lends his wisdom to Yoshino and the others.

  • After succumbing to fever, Ushimatsu is hospitalised, and the draining of Sakura Pond continues. It turns out that Chitose and Ushimatsu were close friends during high school. Disgusted with the lack of opportunity in Manoyama even fifty years previously, Chitose, Doku and Ushimatsu planned to leave Manoyama and pursue a career in Tokyo. However, at the last moment, Ushimatsu backed out, deciding that he would stay behind to try and make a difference. He ended up toppling a float that was a integral part of the Mizuchi Festival, leading to its cancellation, and the float ends up being a source of shame for Ushimatsu, explaining his actions.

  • During her youth, Chitose looks like a more energetic, outgoing Ririko. The smile on her face as she considers the prospect of ditching Manoyama is a world apart from her current scowl; she’s quite a different person as a result of the events that have happened in her life since, and Ushimatsu’s actions presumably led their friendship to decay, explaining why she and Ushimatsu do not get along so well.

  • My days as a student have not faded entirely into oblivion yet, and so, I vividly remember the sort of personality the anthropology professor brings to the table when Yoshino and the others visit to ask about one of the Sacred Treasure’s whereabouts, giving them a challenge in the process of figuring out how to find it and also asking of them what their definition of home is, explaining that while he did not intend to live in Manoyama, circumstances have led him to develop an interest and reason to stay despite the area’s declining population and services, such as the proposed cancellation of a bus route out to Warayiba.

  • The challenge of finding the treasure prompts Sanae to bring her own skills to bear: she sets the seniors up tablets and introduces them to the internet such that they can remain in touch with one another more easily. As the seniors learn this technology, some aspects of the internet, such as anonymity bringing out hostilities amongst individuals, are accurately captured. Fortunately, these misunderstandings are quickly reconciled. However, Yoshino and Sanae appear a bit embarrassed at what the seniors do, as they live stream seemingly mundane or trivial everyday components of their lives.

  • Takamizawa and Erika trade verbal blows when the latter suggests that self-driving vehicles could render bus drivers obsolete in a very short period of time. The incorporation of advances in technology and their effects on society are a major focus of Sakura Quest‘s seventeenth and eighteenth episode. Advancement of technology, automation and machine learning are inevitable, and ultimately, it’s up to people to keep in touch with the progress or risk being left behind: even though I’m a part of the group that grew up with advancing technology, things are moving so rapidly that even someone like myself feels it to be a bewilderingly fast progression.

  • My own quest to capture as many of Yoshino’s funny faces continues, although by this point in Sakura Quest, it is becoming apparent that such moments are both uncommon relative to the number of funny faces seen from Aoi Miyamori of Shirobako, and nowhere near as exaggerated as those seen in Shirobako. Here, Yoshino reacts to the prospect of being a hostage for the professor and Warayiba’s elderly, but she ends up helping them, feeling compelled to assist in their goals after Warayiba’s residents announce their intention to break off from the Manoyama jurisdiction. The page quote, then, is inspired by their actions, walling up and making a bit of a ruckus to draw attention from the world.

  • The seniors ultimately capitalise on their newfound knowledge of streaming and capture technologies to digitally archive subtleties about their learnings in Warayiba, whether it be preparing a particular dish or their work. Here, Yoshio, Shiori and Ririko follow some elderly ladies during a hunt for mushrooms: while they can’t tell poisonous mushrooms from edible ones, the seniors can, reflecting on how a lifetime of living in the area has imparted on them knowledge that best suits their survival.

  • Using the mechanised exoskeletons that Doku’s constructed, Warayiba residents prepare sidings to help deflect snow and prevent it from amassing on walls. It is such a nice touch that Doku’s exoskeletons are still being used at this point in the game; it’s a strong reminder that Sakura Quest pays attention to the details without losing sight of the bigger context. While Manoyama’s precise location is never disclosed, being similar to the location of Springfield of The Simpsons or where Calvin and Hobbes occurs, the mention of snow narrows down the locations by a small margin, as does knowledge of how long it’d take to get to Tokyo.

  • Inspection of annual snowfall maps narrows Manoyama’s location to Toyama, Nagano, Niigata, Yamagata and Akita. If memory serves, it takes around three hours to get to Tokyo by train from Manoyama, so Toyama or Niigata seem to be likely candidates for Manoyama’s setting. Of course, I imagine that once Sakura Quest finishes airing, supplementary materials will detail which parts of Japan inspired Manoyama; it will be interesting to see how close or how far off I was in my predictions.

  • One of the details that I really enjoyed in Sakura Quest‘s eighteenth episode was the explanation for the lanterns that Warayiba’s residence place in front of their homes by evening. A lit lantern indicates the occupant is safe, showing neighbours that things are normal at a particular household. It’s a sign that people of this area, then, are very closely knit: harsh climates and terrain typically motivate a region’s occupants to work together and survive, hence the strong sense of community.

  • Sanae’s conversations with the professor eventually lead her to devise a solution for the bus route challenge: she builds a web app that allows users to book shuttle rides that pick them up right at their doorstep and drops them off at their destination. Takamizawa agrees this pilot project, remarking that the web has made it feasible to do a direct-to-door service, since the web server handles the role of a receptionist. Without another employee on the payroll, such a program becomes more feasible from a financial perspective, finally allowing it to come to fruition.

  • Although insecure and worried about this prospect sufficiently to pick a fight with a child, Takamizawa eventually does as reasonably expected and embraces technology, resolving to do his best until his time has come. Yoshino is quite excited about the prospects of a such a program, feeling that it’s the solution that the professor was seeking from the folks in Manoyama. It’s a pleasant outcome for the professor and area residents; the former admits that he had no intention of actually following through and intended the exercise to raise awareness of the challenges Warayiba faces.

  • Yoshino and the others, then, have exceeded expectations through their actions in helping out, showing that the Tourism Board’s efforts to help Manoyama have not been in vain. With this incredible surge of momentum, audiences exit the eighteenth episode feeling fantastic: it’s the ending that Yoshino and the others deserve, having worked so hard towards making reality the solutions that can beginning addressing some of Warayiba’s difficulties.

  • However, the professor passes away from old age as the episode draws to a close. Unexpected, and a bit saddening, it puts a bit of a dampener on the episode. Nonetheless, in his passing, the professor departs with the knowledge that he was able to learn enough and make a difference, raising awareness of the lifestyles and tribulations faced by residents living in rural areas.  His final act is fulfilling his promise: he lets Yoshino know of one of the Treasures’ locations, and after paying their respects, the Tourism Board make use of the new shuttle programme to bring this immense artefact back into Manoyama.

  • Yoshino wilts when she sees the first Treasure, a large spear. Sakura Quest is enjoyable for a different set of reasons than Shirobako, having an incredible diversity in artwork and also being a little more unconventional compared to the down-to-earth aspects of Shirobako. My earlier remarks on these work/drama productions on P.A. Works being their most enjoyable continues to stand as the eighteenth episode draws to a close, and I will be returning at the penultimate episode to offer some remarks on where Sakura Quest is in the future. For now, the next major posts on the horizon will deal with Łupków Pass of Battlefield 1, and the upcoming Brave Witches OVA.

As a consequence of the directions Sakura Quest has taken as of late, Sakura Quest has proven to be something that continues to exceed expectations each passing episodes. While seemingly about Yoshino’s experiences in Manoyama, Sakura Quest has developed into something far greater than any one individual. Eighteen episodes into Sakura Quest, it becomes clear that Yoshino and the others are banking on restoration of the Mizuchi Festival to help Manoyama stand out on the map. The journey towards accomplishing this goal will certainly take Yoshino and the Tourism Board on further adventures (and misadventures) in the manner that P.A. Works has become so adept at wielding: the masterful combination of the comedic and dramatic come together to really bring Manoyama and its residents to life. I find myself asking how Sakura Quest manages to impress, and I answer myself that the sum of its elements in conjunction create a highly complex world, bringing together the detail-oriented facets of Shirobako and the premise of revitalising a small town premise from Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita. Not quite as ordinary as Shirobako or light-hearted as Locodol, Sakura Quest incorporates the strongest elements of both to yield an anime that’s offered no shortage of entertainment and material for discussion. With all of these aspects in mind, I am greatly interested in seeing what journey awaits Yoshino and the Tourism Board as they strive to bring back the Mizuchi Festival and make a tangible difference for a small town.

Is The Order a Giant Walkthrough Brain?: On the use of setting to immerse users in virtual spaces

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.” ―Tony Hillerman

The construction of neurosurgeon Joseph Bogen’s “Modest Proposal” for a Giant Walkthrough Brain museum into a special performance that was one part musical and one part science lecture during 2014 represented a pivotal milestone for game engine environments: built for the Beakerhead 2014 performances, the Giant Walkthrough Brain utilised the Unity game engine to present a virtual space that augmented Jay Ingram and his band’s performance. By providing 3D visualisations of the locations within the brain, audiences immediately connected with the different areas of the brain and their attendant stories, following figures in brain history ranging from Phineas Gage to Auguste Deter. By all counts, the Giant Walkthrough Brain was an absolute success. From Jay Ingram’s first performance at the Banff Center in July, to the flagship showings at Beakerhead and several subsequent performances, The Giant Walkthrough Brain opened to a sold-out audience. The software infrastructure designed for The Giant Walkthrough Brain would be utilised extensively in one of my colleague’s Master’s project, and principles would later be adopted towards my own thesis work. There is no denying that The Giant Walkthrough Brain has had an impact on a great number of individuals: it is a powerful example of applying computer science in a community setting through presenting scientific talks in an approachable manner. What is perhaps surprising, then, is that some of the design elements of The Giant Walkthrough Brain parallel those found in 2014’s Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? (GochiUsa for brevity). While a seemingly far-fetched comparison, there remains the fact that I directed the design development of the application and navigation tools that would eventually become integral towards building a virtual world that helped to guide audiences on a journey of discovery.

The element from GochiUsa that made its way into the Giant Walkthrough Brain that these two unrelated works share is the attention paid to details. In GochiUsa, I noted that the first season’s charm was primarily in its exceptional setting: the town Cocoa finds lodging and friendship in is modelled after Colmar of France, and the animators had taken great pains to ensure that the cityscapes were authentic. From the design of timber-frame buildings to cobblestone streets and gas lamps, the town of GochiUsa presents an idyllic environment for Cocoa and the others to explore. It creates a sense of immersion and uniqueness that really draws in viewers; in fact, the first season proved quite distinct from any slice-of-life anime I’d previously watched, and in retrospect, it is not unreasonable to say that the town in GochiUsa‘s first season was a living, breathing entity as prominent as any of the characters. It is not until the second season that the characters begin coming into the spotlight to present a tangible narrative, and consequently, when I finished watching GochiUsa, I began looking at the architectural and design elements that made the first season such a pleasure to watch and applied the principals towards displaying 3D spaces of a virtual brain. GochiUsa succeeded because of its commitment to a consistently authentic environment, and so, I strove to ensure that the tools and logic implemented into the Giant Walkthrough Brain was similarly consistent in creating an authentic guided museum tour. The pre-set paths were carefully placed to give the sense of walking along a walkway or taking an elevator. Transitions between different scales were scripted, reducing the abruptness of moving from the brain into a synapse where neurotransmitters could be seen. A minimap provided audiences with constant context of where in the brain a story happened, and I used Unity Pro’s powerful functions to construct a system that allowed The Giant Walkthrough Brain to double as a slideshow for both images and video. Much like how GochiUsa creates a compelling European town’s historical district, the end result for The Giant Walkthrough Brain was a visualisation tool that really enabled audiences to feel as though they were moving through a vast brain museum that Joseph Bogen had envisioned fifty years previously: seven consecutive sell-out performances speaks volumes about as to whether or not the learnings from GochiUsa were successfully applied to The Giant Walkthrough Brain.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about GochiUsa, and three years now separates the present from when I started work on The Giant Walkthrough Brain. In my original post on GochiUsa, I did not discuss any major themes in the first season because quite frankly, there were no central messages or ideas the anime conveyed. This is not a bad thing by any stretch: what I found was a fantastic slice-of-life anime whose use of setting set it far apart from any shows in the genre that I’d previously seen. While conceptually similar to other anime of its type, the exquisite setting is ultimately what set GochiUsa apart.

  • One of the aspects about GochiUsa‘s first season is that unnecessary exposure is a lot more commonplace than the second season, and Cocoa’s first encounter with Rize is with the latter in her undergarments. She claims to be hiding from an unfamiliar individual, and the gun she’s wielding is a model Glock 17. Whether or not it was a real weapon was one of the biggest topics of discussion in the first season: if we go by French gun laws, Rize is wielding a model gun. While it is legal to own a weapon chambered for the 9 x 19mm Parabellum cartridge provided that the weapon’s magazine does not exceed 20 rounds, the wielder must be at least eighteen.

  • It may come as a surprise for folks that GochiUsa does have a few Hinako Note-like moments, such as when Rize images herself in a revealing outfit complete with mammary oscillation and subsequently is embarrassed by the thought. Revisiting GochiUsa means being able to look back on the different moments that characterised the first season, and finding more entertaining frames, such as this one. For the purposes of this post, I have thirty screenshots, each chosen to be different than those of my first discussion from three years ago.

  • Rize and Cocoa run into one another with increasing frequency when Cocoa tries to make her way to school, leading Rize to wonder if she’s entered the multiverse of Rick and Morty. During their respective commutes, the streets of the town are shown in loving detail, and it became quite obvious that the town itself was as much of a character as each of Cocoa, Rize and Chino.

  • The moment that Chiya and Cocoa meet for the first time is adorable, as Chiya is trying to entice some wild rabbits with chestnut Yōkan, and Cocoa is cuddling with the rabbits hanging about. A couple of lop-eared rabbits can be seen in the upper center part of the image, and after learning that classes don’t start for another day, Cocoa and Chiya strike up a fast friendship. of everyone, Cocoa grows closest with Chiya the quickest, since they share similar outlooks on life.

  • Cocoa describes herself as having very little talents to speak of, but is reasonably skillful as a baker and has an eye for mental mathematics. With her newfound friend, Chiya, Cocoa, Chino and Rize spend a day baking bread and enjoying the results. Bread is said to be the only thing Cocoa can prepare properly, and while we’ve not seen her prepare other food items, one can surmise that she’s not exactly incapable to the point of creating lethal dishes.

  • Although refined and seemingly of regal background, Sharo is actually quite poor, living in a small wooden shack beside Chiya. Her being honest to the others about her background forms her internal conflict for a portion of GochiUsa, and when she finally comes forwards with the truth, it turns out that Rize and the others don’t mind at all, showing that everyone is friends with one another because they choose to be.

  • Here, Cocoa watches as the herbal tea leaves are steeped at the Fleur Lupin, French for “Flower Rabbit”, on invitation from Sharo. All of the cafés the girls work at have some relation with rabbits: “Rabbit House” is rather plain to spot, while Chiya’s Ama Usa An (甘兎庵) approximates to “Sweet Rabbit Cabin”. Throughout the town, rabbits can be seen this way and that: in my town, there aren’t any rabbits, but plenty of snowshoe hares (L. Americanus) roaming the streets, and it takes great care to ensure I don’t hit any while driving about.

  • While the town’s idyllic setting and older architecture in GochiUsa seemingly suggests a world set in an earlier time before the rise of modern technology, but the characters’ use of phones plants their time period as being similar to ours. Cocoa uses the Fujitsu F-01C, a feature phone that dates back to 2010, while Chino uses the Sony Xperia SP, a mid-range smartphone. Chiya rolls with the  Sharp Aquos Phone SL, a phone in the same class as Cocoa’s, while Sharo rocks a Honey Bee 201K, a rudimentary Android Smartphone. Rize has an iPhone 5, the most expensive of the lot and a device that can still hold its own even five year after its release.

  • Here, Chino and Sharo are shopping at a local supermarket. While I did an episodic review for GochiUsa‘s second season, this exercise came out of the blue when I realised that there was quite a bit to discuss and talk about during the second season. The result was my first-ever attempt at episodic reviews, and while immensely fun, it was only possible because my thesis project was progressing at an acceptable pace. Looking back, I’m actually not too sure if I would have been able to do a talk on GochiUsa‘s first season back during 2014, if only for the fact that most of my time was spent working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain.

  • GochiUsa‘s first season features numerous locations in town that showcase the area’s unique architecture: this is the local library that Chino and the others visit to study, as well as to find a book Chino’s been seeking. The diversity of locations in GochiUsa is nothing short of impressive, as are the details taken to render all of the structures: close inspection of this image will find that reflections of the sky are seen.

  • Rize and Chino share a short conversation about the latter’s doubts about performing well during a badminton mini-tournament at her school. It would appear that Chino is not particularly athletic and skillful with arts, as seen in her reservations about performing and drawing, but given her character, it stands to reason she’s pretty studious.

  • This is another instance of the beautiful architecture seen in GochiUsa: Cocoa and Chino overlook a ramp, and Cocoa contemplates the joys of having a bike here, while Chino’s imagination is rather more gloomy in outlook. As far as content goes, GochiUsa‘s first season has enough to talk about so that I could probably have done an episodic review if asked to revisit it, but my schedule in the three years since the first season has only become busier.

  • There’s a right way to pick up rabbits: they are quite fragile and start easily, so most suggestions involve gently using both hands to reduce the risk of frightening and injuring the rabbit. The preferred method is to place a hand underneath their chest and then gently lift their hindquarters, while here, Cocoa’s method is used for moving a rabbit short distances – their heads should always be above their hindquarters. That the rabbits of GochiUsa do not mind being picked up suggest they are very much acclimatised to a human presence; in general, rabbits do not like being picked up.

  • When I was working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain, I would watch GochiUsa during lunch hour, and this scene of Rize making a heart stands out to me – I still vividly remember watching this in a windowless player in iTunes while Unity and Monodevelop were open underneath. By this point in the summer, I had become quite comfortable with the Unity Engine and C#, having created the prototypes of almost all of the systems that we would utilise for The Giant Walkthrough Brain. The project was progressing very smoothly until a request came in to incorporate a slideshow with movies: back then, Unity could only handle static images in its free incarnation.

  • I ultimately received permission to upgrade to Unity Pro, and promptly implemented the movie playback functionality. Returning back to GochiUsa, Sharo has leporiphobia, a fear of rabbits, and befriended Rize after she’d saved Sharo from feral rabbits. Here, the rabbit who would later become known as Chuck Norris Wild Geese is resting on Sharo’s café’s fliers, causing her to beg for mercy. Rize arrives to help shoo the rabbit away.

  • Cocoa presents Sharo with a baby bunny to see if Sharo can lessen her fears slightly. Rize’s dome is just visible in this image: she’s still recoiling after a bug lands on her. Strictly speaking, the rabbit in this image is probably three to four weeks old: they’re small enough to rest comfortably on one’s palm, attesting to how small young rabbits are. My friend had two rabbits once, and when I’d met the first, she was roughly this size, but grew to full size in no time at all.

  • While imagining herself under the effects of coffee, Rize fires a Barrett M82A3 anti-materiel rifle. A recoil-operated, semi-automatic rifle firing 50-calibre rounds, the weapon is immediately recognisable by its distinct muzzle brake. There are bullpup versions of the M82, but the magazine of the rifle here has a conventional placement. Rize’s firing rate and stance suggests a semi-automatic firing mode: the M95 looks quite similar but is a bolt-action rifle.

  • If memory serves, I do not think it ever rained in GochiUsa during the second season. Weather remains generally pleasant in all of the episodes. By comparison, season one has a bit more diversity in weather, ranging from snowfall to rain. One detail that is subtly present in GochiUsa is the fact that the ground becomes increasingly reflective as the showers continue – this was done previously in Tari Tari, and is a subtle but clever touch, indicating that more water has fallen during the course of the showers.

  • Besides a library and swimming pool, GochiUsa‘s first season also brings Cocoa et al. to a movie theatre, where they watch “The Barista who Turned into a Rabbit”, a film adaptation of Aoyama’s novel. The older architectural choices of the theatre fit in with the timber-framed buildings in town, and also brings to mind some of the LEGO models of modular town buildings.

  • Regardless of where one goes in GochiUsa, timber-framed buildings dominate the architectural scene. The styles seen in GochiUsa are derived off those seen in the Alsace region, which have a strong German influence. Such buildings can be constructed relatively quickly, and the framing itself accommodates flexibility of interior walls and doors. However, preserving timber-framed building can be tricky, as the buildings may undergo deformations that make them difficult to maintain, and the wood itself can become infested with fungi, moulds or other pests.

  • Chino runs into Aoyama here after the latter misplaced her fountain pen and loses the motivation to continue writing. She subsequently takes up a post at Rabbit House as an interim job and provides advice for customers. In the background here, the leaves are taking on yellow-gold hues as autumn sets in, giving the town a new feeling. While most of the season is set in spring and summer, the arrival of autumn and winter adds additional depth to the anime: the second season is set during spring and summer, with only the first episode really being winter.

  • While this image without any context would not make much sense, Cocoa is helping Chino look for Aoyama’s fountain pen by evening. The warm orange glow is indicative of an autumn’s evening, when the air is cool and the days slowly grow short. Cocoa grows distracted chasing rabbits, but Tippy locates the pen. Numerous sources state that Cocoa is implied to be the reason why Chino’s grandfather’s spirit inhabit Tippy’s body, suggesting a supernatural cause not unlike that of Your Name, but beyond this, everything else in GochiUsa is quite ordinary.

  • The customers at the Ama Usa An seem bewildered as Chiya and Coca dance about in delight, underlining their friendship. I certainly would have no objection to seeing this happen at a sweets shop, myself, but owing to the culture here, such a display, however adorable it may be, would be very unlikely to witness. While Rabbit House employees, Cocoa, Rize and Chino have worked at Ama Usa An and Fleur Lupin to some capacity: Rize did so to earn some extra money to purchase a Father’s Day gift, while Chino does so as a part of her school’s curriculum.

  • In a stroke of luck, the artbook for GochiUsa‘s first season was restocked, and I hastened to order it online before stocks depleted once more. As with the second season’s instalment, the artbook is beautiful, filled with artwork of the different locations and even photographs of Colmar itself. Both artbooks are perfect companions for the anime, essential for all fans of the anime. They cost 2500 Yen apiece before shipping, but provide insights into the anime that genuinely demonstrates how much effort went into creating the world that Cocoa and the others live in.

  • I’ve chosen to skip over the Christmas episode of GochiUsa, having done a whole post on it two Christmases ago, but in this talk, I’ve also included some winter screenshots of the town covered in a light dusting of snow. Rolling through episodes one per day, every lunch hour, I finished GochiUsa on very short order and found an anime whose world was simply magical. It was influences from GochiUsa and its immersion that led me to translate Jay Ingram’s script into a more fluid adventure through the virtual brain: I wished for The Giant Walkthrough Brain amaze and immerse audiences the same way GochiUsa had done for me. Thus, the incarnation that went into the Banff Center Show was a modification that I made after deciding to take audiences through a more interesting route, and during a demonstration to Jay, he and my supervisor approved of it, making a minor request to time the route with the script.

  • In the end, The Giant Walkthrough Brain ended up being a great success: during our first showing, the power had gone out. There was a thunderstorm in Banff that evening, which was surprising considering that it was clear skies when we had sat down to dinner in the Banff Center’s canteen, a modern area with large glass windows that provide a beautiful view of the Bow River valley. Fortunately, the fact that The Giant Walkthrough Brain had been optimised to run on a 2013 MacBook Pro laptop, paired with Jay Ingram’s exceptional improvisational skills, meant the show progressed very smoothly.

  • Back in GochiUsa, Cocoa, Maya and Megu walk into the sunset after Cocoa helps them learn more about local cafés (even as her wallet takes a few hits) during the finale episode. After the Banff Center performance, I spent the August of three years ago further refining The Giant Walkthrough Brain. One of the biggest concerns I had was the fact that our next venue, the Telus Spark Science Center and its dome theatre, could present problems for our projection, but after learning the requirements were to accommodate a flat projection, the month was dedicated towards tuning the model, as well as adding new features and visuals. The Beakerhead shows were a massive success, selling out fully both nights.

  • Unlike Hinako’s friends, who totally prank her while she’s sick, Cocoa’s friends genuinely care for her when she catches a cold. We’re nearing the end of this post, and I’ll take a moment to say that, for folks who are curious, I am following Rick and Morty, and the third season’s second episode is bloody phenomenal, being hilarious and dark, as per Rick’s promise in his opening rant about their adventures. The biggest joy about Rick and Morty is its unique combination of over-the-top black comedy with quasi-scientific concepts that invite discussion; it’s similar to Futurama in a sense, but with a bit looser feel to it, and much more gratuitous violence. Unlike GochiUsaRick and Morty is certainly not for everyone.

  • While some folks consider the ending a little unusual, having Chino step into a snowy night to find medicine for Cocoa shows that despite her cold attitude towards Cocoa, she does care for her. It’s a subtle character growth that is further explored in the second season, and with this, my revisitation of GochiUsa comes to a close. Some posts upcoming in August, which is looking to be a much quieter month after the excitement that was Your Name, will be a talk on the Amanchu! OVA, and the Brave Witches OVA. Because of the unexpected depth and enjoyment Sakura Quest has provided after eighteen episodes, I will also be visiting this very shortly. Finally, Battlefield 1‘s Łupków Pass map will be released later this month in advance of In The Name of The Tsar, and having tried the map in CTE, I’m looking forwards to seeing how it will play out.

I originally concluded GochiUsa‘s first season was enjoyable for its portrayal of a calm, cheerful life in a European-style town but otherwise had very little to say about the characters and their experiences. In GochiUsa‘s first season, the setting ended up being the star of the show – it was not until the second season where the characters really began to shine. However, as the star of the first season, GochiUsa‘s intricate, consistently high-quality and authentic setting contributes substantially to the immersion that the first season was able to confer. As a slice-of-life anime, this set GochiUsa far apart from other shows of this genre that I’d seen previously, and it continued to hold my interest long after I finished the final episode a month before The Giant Walkthrough Brain’s opening night at the Banff Centre. The reason why GochiUsa is so successful is because its first season was able to capture the feeling of an old town consistently to create a place that is inviting and friendly. The Giant Walkthrough Brain likewise makes use of visuals in order to create a very specific image of the brain to maintain the audience’s attention. By fully capitalising on the visual elements to evoke a particular feeling or impression, both The Giant Walkthrough Brain and GochiUsa make the most of their respective formats to immerse audiences into another world – it is this immersion that my old supervisor aims to capture in biological visualisations, although I would imagine that Jay Ingram, his band, my colleagues and supervisor would be a bit surprised to learn that some of the design choices I imparted into The Giant Walkthrough Brain come from an anime with bunnies. I say surprised, but not displeased; these are very open-minded people, and I was able to cite Rick and Morty in my thesis, after all.