The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Japanese Animation

Koisuru Asteroid: Review and Reflections At The Halfway Point

“That’s the key to new and good ideas; they come from having a very broad and multidisciplinary range of interests.” –Robin Chaseen

With summer break in full swing, instructor Yuki takes the girls to her grandparents’ place. While Mira and the others are initially surprised, it turns out that Yuki’s grandparents live near both Tsukuba Geological Museum and the JAXA Space Centre. While Mikage takes in the sights of the geological museum on day one, Mira takes a rock to be appraised by a palaeontologist, who finds that Mira’s “fossil” is a pseudo-fossil, formed by minerals crystallising into organic-looking dendrites. The girls visit JAXA the next day. Here, Mari takes in everything with an ardent fervour, while Mira and Ao inquire about programmes for discovering asteroids. Back at Yuki’s grandparent’s place, the girls stargaze, and Yuki reveals the existence of a contest where the winners could join an asteroid discovery program. The girls visit the Science Museum of Map and Survey for Mai, and Yuki recalls her own interests in astronomy. After the girls return home, Ao and Mira visit the beach with Suzu, who becomes jealous at Mira’s increasing closeness to Ao. Mira also spends a day with Mikage, attending a minerals exhibition. Mikage, being a third-year, is worried about her future. When term resumes, the Earth Sciences club encounters the newspaper club’s Sayuri Ibe and Ayano Usami, who’d come to take a look after the Earth Sciences club’s success with their newsletter. They end up determining what the Earth Sciences club should do for their culture festival exhibit: a themed-café showcasing various facets of astronomy and geology. While Mai and Mikage focus on obtaining a bore sample from their school grounds, Mira, Ao and Mari create a model solar system. Their café ends up being successful, and once the festival draws to a close, Mari and Mikage announce their intent to step down from a leadership role, handing the baton to a surprised Mai. At Koisuru Asteroid‘s halfway point, Mira and Ao have definitely closed the distance between one another since their reunion, and all of the Earth Science club’s members have begun to appreciate the merits and curiosities of both astronomy and geology. The series is, in short, very enjoyable after six episodes, although for the present, there does appear to be a delay, as the episode scheduled next is a recap episode.

Six episodes into Koisuru Asteroid, the series’ themes are beginning to materialise, being pushed to the forefront of what Mira and the others are doing during their time together as members of the Earth Sciences club. While the merger of the two clubs have indeed created a bit of a divide in the sense that Mira, Ao, Mari, Mikage and Mai must all balance one another’s interests, the union of the two seemingly unrelated fields has a very tangible benefit for everyone: while technical details and methodologies differ greatly between astronomy and geology, both fields offer unique approaches towards solving their problems. From a low-granularity perspective, the approaches that Mikage and Mai take towards geology can help Mira, Ao and Mari with their challenges, while the methods each of Mira, Ao and Mari use in astronomy can similarly be inspiring for Mai and Mikage. The synergy between different fields is commonly referred to as the multidisciplinary approach, and this method is particularly valuable because it combines the knowledge and skill-set from a variety of areas to approach problems that are multi-faceted and complex in nature. From an industry and academic perspective, this affords a team with the diverse array of perspectives and experience to tackle different aspects of a problem, while in Koisuru Asteroid, it means that the Earth Sciences club’s members can each appreciate what the other side has to offer. The culture festival in Koisuru Asteroid, then, is a culmination of the club’s multidisciplinary nature: this year’s showing is clearly a result of both the geology and astronomy students putting their heads together to put on their café, and it therefore stands to reason that, if the Earth Sciences club can pull together and make a successful event, as a club and a team, they are ready for whatever their next aspirations are.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right out of the gates, I will note that Koisuru Asteroid has very quickly proven itself to be an excellent series; while not particularly novel with its setting, writing or execution, the anime succeeds in creating a very imaginative and enjoyable portrayal of two disciplines that are not always represented in anime. The girls open their travels to a part of Japan near Yuki’s grandparents’ place; Yuki’s chosen it because of the location’s proximity to several research institutes: Tsukuba is home to several scientific installations as a result of the Japanese government’s desire to create a dedicated space for research and development in 1963, both to relieve overcrowding in Tokyo facilities and to provide Japan the means of keeping up with Western scientific innovations and development.

  • The closest equivalent of the geology museum I have in my area is the Royal Tyrell Museum, and if I may, it is a superb museum for folks interested in geology and palaeontology. My most recent visit was a few years ago, after they’d discovered the “Hellboy” fossil, so-named for its distinct-looking plates. Even as an adult, there’s nothing quite like the joys of visiting a museum, and taking in all of the exhibits. It’s one thing to read about various things in books, but quite another to actually see them in person: Mikage certainly seems to think so and is just barely able to contain her excitement.

  • The girls subsequently speak with a palaeontologist regarding a rock Mira’s found. To Mira’s initial disappointment, this is merely a pseudofossil, which form from chemical processes creating distinct patterns, as opposed to true fossils, which form when minerals crystallise in cavities left behind by decayed organic matter or seep into hardier organic matter, such as bones, shells and teeth. Closer inspection, however, yields the fragment of a true fossil: while far too small to be resolved by the naked eye, it is visible in a microscope. Folks at Tango-Victor-Tango argue this is an instance of “reality ensues”, but I hardly see how this applies to Mira’s decision to bring in a curious-looking rock for appraisal.

  • The next day, the girls visit Mira, Ao and Mari’s destination of interest: JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center. This installation is located in Tsukuba Science City in Ibaraki Prefecture, about 50 kilometres northeast of Tokyo as the mole digs and 20 kilometres away from Ooarai. The facility opened in 1972 and is involved with research on space exploration; Japanese astronauts train here, as well as at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. The closest I’ve ever been to a proper Space Centre was the NASA Ames Research Centre, but there’s not a visitor centre per se, only a small gift shop on its edges. I visited last year, while down in Southern California for F8, the Facebook Developer Conference.

  • Faithful to its real-world counterpart, there’s a H-II Rocket at the facility’s front gates, and the girls attempt to touch it, feeling it’s their first step towards space travel. The laws of gravity prevent them from reaching the rocket’s main body. Early on in their time as members of the Earth Sciences club, the girls do not yet have a sense of camaraderie and don’t really consider lifting each other up to reach the rocket, but one of the core aspects of Koisuru Asteroids is watching the club grow closer together: this is a common theme in Manga Time Kirara works, and I anticipate that the club’s achievements will come precisely from this.

  • I’ve never been to a dedicated space museum of the same calibre as that of the Tsukuba Space Centre or NASA’s facilities, but I definitely understand the girls’ excitement to visit. Ao and Mira are moved to tears by an introductory video of space travel, and while this may seem far-fetched, the enormous achievements in space travel are awe-inspiring; fictional films like First Man and Apollo 13 instil a sense of vigour and amazement, and even the drier documentary style films at museums are always fun to watch. During the tour, Mari grows quiet, absorbed in her own thoughts about what it will take to join a space program.

  • Mira and Ao’s minds are on asteroid-searching, and a space centre is probably no place to ask it: the staff are more familiar with space travel and the feats of engineering involved, rather than astronomy and the tools astronomers use to study the heavens. However, in spite of this, the girls nonetheless get inspired to inquire about, and visiting the Tsukuba Space Centre reinforces the girls’ excitement and desire to fulfill their promise to one another. As the girls look around at the various exhibits, I find myself curious to visit a proper Space Centre and its museums, to see for myself the implements of space travel, as well as the Saturn V rockets, Apollo CM and LEM.

  • Unlike Mira, I’ve always been a bit more conservative at museum gift shops: while it is fun to browse around and see all of the cool stuff they have, I always derived the biggest joy from reading about space travel, astronomy and geology through books, rather than through building a model rocket or splitting my own geodes open. As such, when I was a child, I only ever got small items from gift shops, where things are overpriced anyways. Instead, I would save my funds for books relevant to the topic of interest: unlike the various souvenirs, books held their value, and I could always go back to them as reference.

  • After a barbeque, the girls enjoy the night sky: a full moon might be blotting out the stars, but with a good telescope, the lunar surface is thrown into sharp relief. Being the closest celestial body to Earth, the moon appears amazing in a telescope, and even with a good pair of binoculars, looking at the full moon can yield a surprising amount of detail. One commonly-asked question is whether or not one can see where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed. The Sea of Tranquility is visible during the full moon, being on the “mid-right hand side”, although it should be obvious that no Earth-based telescope can resolve the actual LEM.

  • Up until now, Mira had only used an alt-azimuth mounted telescope, which affords a telescope with two degrees of freedom with respect to rotation. The equatorial mount also offers two degrees of freedom in rotation, but unlike the alt-azimuth mount, the equatorial mount uses a declination axis that moves the telescope north and south. A right ascension (polar) axis then points the telescope east or west. By pointing the polar axis at the north celestial pole, the telescope becomes parallel with the earth’s rotational axis, and so, adjusting the polar axis will allow one to track objects much more easily: equatorial mounts are well-suited for astronomy. The concept of an equatorial mount can be a bit tricky (I know I had a bit of trouble visualising it when I first read about it), so I’ve linked to an animation that illustrates how an equatorial mount works.

  • Koisuru Asteroid presents the girls as being afforded a realistic night sky to look at: in most anime, the cast are afforded with a beautiful night sky with an SQM (Sky Quality Meter) of 22.00 mag./arc sec² (corresponding to a Class 1 on the Bortle Dark Sky Index, perfect conditions where magnitude 7.5 stars are visible). With this level of darkness, the sky is vividly filled with stars, and the Milky Way is brightly visible. Where Mira and her friends go, I imagine that the SQM is between 21.78 mag./arc sec² and 21.61 mag./arc sec² (between a Class 3 and 4): in a rural to rural-suburban transition, the naked eye limit is about magnitude 6.0 to 7.0, which is pretty good. With the moon out, however, this goes down, and fainter stars become harder to spot.

  • On the topic of realism, I’ve heard complaints coming from one “Kotomikun” that, with the revelation that it takes special equipment and techniques to do so, Mira and Ao’s desire to find an asteroid is highly “unrealistic”. This is unfounded, since Koisuru Asteroid also introduces a special contest that could give Ao and Mira such a chance: the narrative would accommodate this journey, and so, there is nothing remotely “unrealistic” about the two’s aspirations. The fact that Ao and Mira have such a clear goal is something to be envious for Mikage, whose biggest worry at present is wondering what she would do for her future.

  • Aside from more obvious reasons, I have a fondness for what are colloquially referred to as “beach episodes” in slice-of-life anime: placing the cast of a given show on a beach of white sand, azure-turquoise waters and a deep blue sky gives a series a chance to really show us what they’ve got with respect to visuals. For me, nothing is more relaxing than infinite skies of deep blue, and one can really feel the warmth and tranquility in these moments.

  • While the beautiful weather in Koisuru Asteroid is a far cry from the weather in southern Alberta, I have no complaints about the weather this year: after a bitterly cold week in January, this winter has been rather more mild, and so, when I went to a raclette party last night, it was only a little chilly, compared to last year, where it was -40°C. In this year’s raclette party, I had a chance to meet up with some old friends from high school and university that’d I’d not seen in over two years. Conversations and reminiscence dominated the evening as we enjoyed tortilla chips on home-made salsa, French bread cheese fondue, three different kinds of sausage, scallops, mushrooms and peppers grilled alongside brie and raclette cheese.

  • It strikes me that we’ve now been doing raclette for nearly a decade, and one joke we realised was that it took us ten years to figure out how to get the cheese for the fondue just right, but because we do them so infrequently, we’ll probably forget the next time. Back in Koisuru Asteroid, owing to the geology of the beach Mai and the others visit, the area is susceptible to rip tides. The diagram explains that the flow of currents into the bay creates an area where the water has nowhere to go but out, which creates these strong currents: because water is incompressible, the water pushed in has to go somewhere, and so, for their latest challenge, the girls risk losing Mira if they’re not careful.

  • When the girls see a jet ski ride, they decide to participate. By this point, the competition for Mira’s attention is all but gone, and the girls simply spend their time having fun to the best of their abilities. After everyone falls off the jet ski, they catch a breather by some strata: these rock layers are immeasurably valuable for geologists, giving insight into things like atmospheric composition and climate.

  • Whereas Mira immediately accepts an invitation to hang out and check out a mineral exhibition, the others are busy, leaving Mira alone with Mikage. At the exhibition, a variety of terrestrial minerals are showcased, and there is a geode demonstration. As well, they also sell small pieces of meteorites: Mira is shocked to learn that even a millimetre-wide fragment can go for ninety CAD. When she speaks with one of the vendors, her weak English leaves her lost, but fortunately, Mikage is able to step in and pick things up.

  • Mikage and Mira don’t particularly see eye-to-eye by Manga Time Kirara standards owing to their different interests, and the two tend to subtly undermine the other at times. However, by having the two spend a day together, this helps the two to understand one another better. One of the biggest joys of slice-of-life series is precisely this: being able to see combinations of characters spend time together helps to bring out a different side in them, and overall, strengthens the friendship within a group. Different character combinations also lend themselves to different jokes, which is precisely how series like GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic are able to keep things entertaining despite their simple premise.

  • When classes resume, Mira and Ao find the newspaper club’s president, Sayuri, and her friend, Ayano at their building. The two are in a bit of an awkward situation, and it’s clear that Sayuri is attempting to gain clandestine access to the Earth Science’s club’s club room by means of rappelling down in a strange fashion that is sure to be irksome for any special forces teams who are trained for such entries. As it turns out, Sayuri is jealous of the attention the Earth Sciences Club is getting and plans to extort them, but this backfires when Mari captures everything Sayuri’s said and turns the tables on her.

  • With the school culture festival coming up, the Earth Sciences club decides to cook up something special, an amalgamation of both the former geology and astronomy club’s exhibitions held together by baking Earth Science-themed items. Mikage and Mai decide to obtain a core sample to show the composition of the earth surrounding their school, while Mira, Ao and Mari do a model solar system. Initially, Mikage objects to this idea, arguing that the diverse array of exhibits will appear disorganised, but recalling her desire to find a path, consents to the plan, knowing that she should still do her best towards something meaningful.

  • Mikage and Mai use a home-made pile-driver as their gravity corer to obtain their sample, although it’s slow going. When Sayuri and Ayano recruit some friends from the baseball team, the coring goes much more quickly. The softer composition of the land surrounding their school makes this possible, and with some teamwork, the girls finally have their sample ready. Mikage becomes a little embarrassed that others were willing to help out, but she thanks the baseball team, Sayuri and Ayano all the same; despite her tough and confident exterior, Mikage is also a little unsure of herself at times, as well.

  • Yuki explains that it takes a bit of a good impulse to get the core out: some damage to the core is inevitable during the extraction process, so professional coring methods often entail cutting the core along with the tube it came in to preserve the integrity of the specimen, or else using a non-destructive technique to scan the sample without exposing its contents to the atmosphere (which would contaminate the sample and preclude an accurate assessment of its composition). In the absence of more sophisticated methods, Yuki decides to extract it the old fashioned way but ends up destroying the top layer, causing Mikage to burst into laughter.

  • Mari, Ao and Mira have a grand ol’ time painting the planets, placing a great deal of detail into the terrestrial planets and the moon. Ao begins to fear they’re running out of time, but as it turns out, the gas giants are easily painted owing to their cloud layers being relatively low in detail, and in no time at all, they’re done. Here, the translations put Mari as calling the moon a planet: the moon was only regarded as a planet in classical and medieval astronomy, and this is meant to show that Mari has a very romantic view of astronomy, being inspired by her grandmother to pursue a space-related career. But under modern definitions, because the moon does not orbit a stellar mass capable of thermonuclear reactions (i.e. a star), it is not a planet. I’ve heard a case made that a draft of the IAU 2006 definition of a planet could allow the moon to be classified as a planet, but this was on a technicality owing to the proposed definition of a double-planet system.

  • In the drafted IAU 2006 definition, a double-planet system is where both planets have similar mass and where the barycentre is roughly equidistant between the two bodies of that system. While it should be obvious that, because of the significant mass disparity between the earth and moon means the barycentre is not equidistant, the Earth and moon cannot be a double planet system, owing to tidal forces interacting between the Earth and moon, the moon’s distance to Earth changes (four billion years ago, the moon would’ve been massive, looming in the night skies), and there would come a point where the moon’s distance would push the barycentre of the Earth-moon system to an equidistant point, thereby allowing the moon to be counted a planet. This is a rough edge case arising from a technicality, and so, it is understandable that the definition was rejected. Back in Koisuru Asteroid, after the girls finish, they fail to notice Moe, who comes bearing baked goods. They promptly finish the food before Moe can ask them to help her fine-tune the recipes, and Moe scoops up Ao in a princess carry in exuberance afterwards when Ao hugs her for having read about the lunar cycle, while Mari photographs everything.

  • On the day of the event, it turns out that everyone’s decked out in maid outfits, as well. Koisuru Asteroid is very forward with its yuri elements, but this never interferes with the story at any point. Watching the girls get creative with their culture festival exhibit brings to mind both my fascination with science, and my own desire to see youth be more engaged in science; I participate in volunteering for science fairs precisely to encourage youth to continue pursuing science if it is something they enjoy, and the first of the science fairs are coming in just a shade over a week.

  • Like every instructor in earlier Manga Time Kirara works, Yuki has a freeloading, perverted side to her character, as well. Prior to the culture festival opening to the public, she swings by, samples all of Moe’s baked goods and inspects the maid uniforms to ensure they are of the “appropriate length”, before declaring that everything checks out and leaving the girls to run things. This teacher archetype is something I’ve come to accept as a part of anime, although I am curious to know where this particular set of traits originated. While strictly relegated to anime on account of it being illegal in almost all places, such a character type is present in anime primarily to drive humour.

  • When Ao’s attempt to explain their solar system model to a small child fails (the child wonders what the cloud-like ring around the solar system is, and Ao’s explanation ends up being too technical), Mira steps in to regain the child’s interest by giving her a piggyback ride. Science communication and engagement is a skill: Mira’s explanation fits perfectly with what a child should hear, and for readers, this cloud represents Kuiper Belt, composed of small icy bodies left over from the solar system’s formation. The choice to represent it as a cloud is an appropriate one, since the Kuiper Belt would, from a distance, could be counted a cloud of these planetesimals.

  • When Mira’s sister, Misa, shows up, Moe becomes bashful and flustered: she offers Misa the best item on their café’s menu, a moon-themed pancake with whipped cream to simulate the current moon phase. Misa is implied to be a rather technical individual, finding it difficult to describe things in non-quantitative terms. However, it should be clear that she greatly enjoys Moe’s pancakes. Besides Misa, Mira’s parents also visit, along with Moe’s younger sister, and even Ao’s mother.

  • When Ao’s mother decides to grab a photo of Ao in maid attire, Ao lets out an adorable cry of terror that surprises everyone – no one had expected Ao to ever sound like this. On the whole, the Earth Science Club’s culture festival café was a great success, having drawn in and engaged a sizeable crowd without resorting to the cheap tricks Mari had been forced to employ the previous year for the astronomy club. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the geology club also got more exposure than they had the previous year. However, not everyone is fully happy with the café, a few of Mikage’s visitors seemed disappointed, and this could form the basis for a future story that will need to see resolution for.

  • Koisuru Asteroid conclude its first half with the surprise announcement that the seniors are stepping down from their position, transitioning things over to Mai. It is a bit of a shock for her, and I foresee that Mai will grow into the role with some help. Between this and Mikage’s own challenges in finding her future, we are positioned to see the third quarter sort out lingering questions before turning focus towards Ao and Mira’s promise. With this post in the books, I will turn my attention towards The Division 2, now that I’ve cleared all of the strongholds, and once I unlock the Type 11 in Battlefield V, I will also do a talk on where things currently stand with what has been a rather turbulent experience.

What we’ve seen in Koisuru Asteroid insofar has been very relaxing and uplifting to watch: if I were to be entirely truthful, this is the sort of series that I could see myself writing for in an episodic fashion, as there is no shortage of material to discuss. The girls’ excursions to a variety of museums brings back memories of my own trips to museums and the joys of viewing exhibits. My first memory of visiting a museum would be the local planetarium, but my favourite memory from my childhood was when my parents took me to the Royal Tyrell Museum some 140 kilometres east of Calgary: this is one of the best and most comprehensive palaeontology and geology museums in the area, located in the heart of the Alberta Badlands. Even in the obligatory beach episode, Koisuru Asteroid sneaks in a bit of information on riptides and how their occurrence can create strong currents that sweep people far from the shore. There is no shortage of material to consider and talk about: while nothing novel is presented in Koisuru Asteroid, the anime has done a phenomenal job of presenting my geology and astronomy reference books in an anime form. Therefore, there is no higher praise when I say that Koisuru Asteroid has the same magic as The Magic School Bus. Koisuru Asteroid differs considerably in that it has a very substantial yuri component (which is especially evident with Moe’s actions), but this is seamlessly integrated into the science communication aspects of the anime. With this combination, Koisuru Asteroid has been superbly enjoyable, and as we move into the third quarter, I imagine that some time will be spent on helping Mai acclimatise and become comfortable with her role as the Earth Science club’s president, before the series ventures into seeing how Ao and Mira begin their journey towards accomplishing their childhood promise.

Azur Lane – An unexpected intermission and future directions

“If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” –General George S. Patton

The two vessels, Ping Hai and Ning Hai, report encountering a high-ranking Siren during a patrol assignment. The Azur Lane deploy Sheffield and Edinburg to the Sakura Empire to investigate. They learn that Akagi is collaborating with the Observer to build Project Orochi, but are compromised, escaping to a remote island. In the ensuring conflict, Javelin and Laffey encounter Ayanami again but refuses to engage her. Sheffield and Edinburg return to the others with a black Mental Cube. Meanwhile, Belfast steadily pushes Enterprise to spend more time with the others, reminding her that the Ship Girls are human. Acquisition of the Mental Cube prompts the Azur Lane to intervene in a naval battle to prevent the Sakura Empire’s plans from reaching fruition. During the engagement, Enterprise single-handedly destroys Akagi and cripples Kaga. She realises her fears of the ocean here and disappears shortly after. The Observer reveals that Project Orochi is ready, leading others in the Sakura Empire to wonder what Akagi and Kaga had concealed. When Enterprise reappears, she wipes Zuikaku and Shoukaku, but is stopped when Ayanami intervenes. Laffey and Javelin manage to save Ayanami, who is subsequently taken prisoner. The two look after Ayanami, who begins to realise that her enemy is not so different than her friends in the Sakura Empire. With the higher-ups in the Sakura Empire doubting the necessity of Project Oricihi, the Observer compels Kaga to continue. In a flashback, Akagi’s interest in the program had been motivated by a desire to resurrect Amagi. Kaga realises that while she will never be by Akagi’s side, and makes off with the Oricihi. Enterprise’s visions are worsening, and she begins to understand that Orochi was born from an instinctive desire for conflict. Things worsen when another Siren, Purifier, arrives at the Azur Lane’s base and makes off with the Mental Cube. This is where Azur Lane closes off: after the tenth episode, production issues caused the remaining Azur Lane episodes to be deferred until March, and viewers are decidedly left with more questions than answers after ten episodes have elapsed.

The main challenge in Azur Lane lies with the fact that the anime has elected to run with three concurrent themes simultaneously within the space of a twelve-episode series. Enterprise’s weariness of the unending nature of warfare, and her own internal conflict between wanting to lead a normal life and serving her duty is the first of these themes. Concurrently, Laffey and Javelin’s insistence in befriending Ayanami shows that the factions of a war notwithstanding, at the end of the day, everyone on both sides of a conflict shares more commonalities that lead to understanding and peace, than they do the differences that prompt warfare. Finally, Akagi and Kaga’s interest in a proverbial deal with the Devil in Project Orochi speaks to the intrinsic dangers of forbidden knowledge, and the price that an obsession with personal desires can command when one uses these as the guideposts for their actions without understanding the consequences of their actions. Any one of these themes alone would have stood alone in a twelve episode series, and in integrating all three into Azur Lane, the anime comes across as being incredibly turbulent, tricky to follow and inconsistent: one moment, we have Laffey and Javelin sharing a lighthearted moment with Ayanami, and in the next, Enterprise is brooding over her state of being and doing her utmost to distance herself from the others owing to her fearing what could be. This creates a dissonance in atmosphere and gives the sense that Azur Lane is aiming to condense an entire game’s worth of ideas into a single anime, with the inevitable end result being that none of the three themes are adequately explored.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Presented as being stoic and reserved, Enterprise represents the silent soldier archetype, akin to DOOM‘s Doom Slayer and Halo‘s Master Chief. Belfast, having seen that Enterprise is capable of more human traits, attempts to draw out this side of Enterprise by personally seeing to it that Enterprise is sleeping and waking up at a decent hour, eating well, and spending time with the other Ship Girls.

  • The two Taiwanese ships Enterprise had rescued during the third episode have sobering information: the Sirens have begun moving their more powerful vessels about, and an upcoming conflict seems inevitable. The fighting between the Azur Land and Crimson Axis seems in part motivated by the want to show that when the players are not fighting the Siren, they have the choice to square off against other Ship Girls, as well.

  • Ayanami returns home to the Sakura Empire, a small island with architecture and atmospherics looking like it came straight out of a Japanese high-fantasy setting. The setting is beautiful, and like the Azur Lane’s main base, is home to sakura trees perceptually in blossom. The anime’s decision to show what life is like for Ayanami back home is meant to be a deliberate show that despite their differences, both the Azur Lane and Crimson Axis’s Ship Girls are people at the end of the day.

  • As such, while Ayanami might be able to separate her duties from her personal feelings and can be seen as striving to be a good soldier, her portrayal is also intended to illustrate that this mindset, at least in the context of Azur Lane, is one where the sight of the bigger picture is lost. Javelin and Laffey act as the foils to Ayanami, refusing to fight because they see what lies beyond the war, and while this makes them lesser soldiers, it makes them more plausible as people.

  • Nowhere in Azur Lane is the inconsistent animation quality more apparent than in late in the fourth episode, when the Edinburgh and Sheffield attempt to evade pursuing Sakura Empire forces: while the backgrounds retain the quality of its artwork, the Ship Girls are rendered much more poorly, feeling distinctly flatter, possessing unnatural facial expressions and are generally clunkier in their movements.

  • The fifth episode was probably the dullest for me: most of the episode is spent with Sheffield and Edinburgh hiding in the ruins of an abandoned town while the Crimson Axis forces recon the area, looking for them. After acquiring the Black Mental Cube, Sheffield and Edinburgh take Akashi with the; Akashi had inadverdently caught wind of what Akagi’s plans were and found herself in mortal peril, and after making an escape, she would come to join the Azur Lane.

  • The beleaguered Sheffield, Edinburgh and Akashi are rescued when the Azur Lane arrive to reinforce. In the aftermath of the battle, the Azur Lane wonder what the Black Mental Cube is about. Mental Cubes are supposedly constructs that give the Ship Girls the power to wield control over their ships, although the Black Mental Cube’s behaviour is erratic, similar to the One Ring that Sauron had forged in the hands of anyone other than Sauron himself.

  • Whereas Enterprise needs a bit of a push to eat properly, I definitely appreciate the worth of good food, and make it a point to enjoy everything I eat. While this seems to be a superfluous thing to do, enjoying sitting down to a proper meal has numerous psychological and physiological benefits, especially with regard to being able to help one create breaks to their schedule and create a routine that increases one’s sense of security and contentment. This is why I am particular about eating at set times of day, and whenever I have a chance to eat out, I greatly enjoy it. Yesterday I enjoyed taco salad, fried chicken with Southwestern gravy and fries for dinner even as a blizzard blew into the area, and dinner tonight was Steelhead trout with a homemade tomato-cucumber salsa.

  • While there are similarities between Azur Lane‘s intermission and that of Girls und Panzer‘s, unlike Girls und PanzerAzur Lane‘s delay is speculated to have been the result of some conspiracy where owing to the series’ success over Kantai Collection for having easier accessibility (Kantai Collection actively controls who gets to register for the game by using an antiquated and obsolete lottery system, while anyone can sign up for Azur Lane, and Kantai Collection has a premium setup, while everything in Azur Lane can be unlocked with enough time and patience), the animation studios deliberately reduced the number of staff who were working on the project, hence the delays.

  • This is, of course, entirely speculation and should be taken with a grain of salt. My own thoughts are that owing to the fact that the final episodes are going to be more intensive from an animation standpoint, the staff required more time to ensure that each and every moment is of a high standard, leading me to believe that the two remaining episodes will be focused on combat. This was the case in Girls und Panzer, and imagine that, rather than any fanciful notions of a conspiracy to bring down Azur Lane, it is probably something much simpler.

  • From what I have seen in Azur Lane, the animation has been of a consistent quality as far as combat sequences go: fight scenes are dynamic and engaging to watch. Unlike Kantai Collection, where the kan-musume had loadouts consistent with their original ship, the Ship Girls of Azur Lane have some uncommon weapons in their arsenals for their fight against the Crimson Axis and Siren. Between this and the fact that Azur Lane makes no mention of any real-world locations (much less real world battles), I’ve decided to approach Azur Lane purely from a fiction perspective, focusing on the story and what the series is attempting to say through the characters’ experiences.

  • This is why I’ve held it to be inappropriate, and foolish, to attempt hauling major battles of World War Two’s Pacific Theatre into discussions of Azur Lane: the world that Enterprise and the others live in is completely distinct from our own reality, and so, parallels cannot be made simply because the causes and consequences of major events in World War Two have no reliable equivalences to events happening within Azur Lane.

  • Azur Lane portrays the deep breath before the plunge, those quiet moments on the edge of a battle, as a contemplative time. Some of the Ship Girls are understandably nervous about seeing enemy combatants, while others are merely resolved to accomplish their goals. Here, Takao stands on the deck of her ship, resolute in completing her assignment. Azur Lane‘s portrayal of Takao and Atago differ greatly from their Kantai Collection counterparts, and having now seen both sides of the coin, I conclude that there are some characters who are more likeable in Kantai Collection, and some whose Azur Lane incarnation are more appealing.

  • The soundtrack in Azur Lane has proven to be one of its most enjoyable components. Like Kantai Collection, the music is of an excellent quality, capturing everything from the urgency and terror of battle, to calm, everyday moments in life. Of note are Enterprise’s motifs and the music surrounding the Sakura Empire; the latter are particularly well done, creating a distinct atmosphere that feels authentic and paints a very vivid image of the Sakura Empire, which is presented as a highly romanticised vision of what ancient Japan might have looked like within Azur Lane.

  • The combat pieces in Azur Lane possess a similar emotional tenour to those of Kantai Collection: both anime make use of incredibly well-done music in its battle sequences. At present, while Kantai Collection‘s anime adaptation has fallen to the annals of anime I’ve watched and cannot recall well, the music remains highly memorable and remains one of the best anime soundtracks I’ve listened to. Azur Lane appears to be headed down the same path, with a series that might not be easily remembered, but a soundtrack that stands out.

  • Akagi summons to her an array of anti-air cannons through portals in a scene reminiscent of Avengers: Endgame, with the goal of eliminating Enterprise once and for all. While Akagi is portrayed as being powerful, even she cannot stand against the might of Enterprise. Mid-battle, Enterprise begins emitting an unholy glow, and falls into something of a trance as she begins attacking the enemy forces with an unprecedented ferocity.

  • I cannot particularly say that Azur Lane‘s anime adaptation has given me the incentive to check out the game: while I am aware that the game is solid from a technical standpoint, from how easy it is to get started, to the fact that it runs on iOS and Android and has more involved gameplay, the anime would have me believe that the game is also mechanically complex and possesses a steeper learning curve.

  • From an unexplained mechanism, the entire area of operations is plunged into frigid cold as portals open throughout, impacting all of the combatants. Azur Lane has not yet explored what the scope and limitation of every Ship Girl’s powers are. Up until now, the Ship Girls are portrayed as similar to the kan-musume in performance, with some ships being able to summon familiars mid-combat. Area-denial powers and overcharging have not been brought to the table, leading to the question of where Enterprise’s power comes from.

  • Kaga herself was previously injured when Enterprise struck: having seen losses to their forces, the remainder of the Sakura Empire Ship Girls decide to retreat. Zuikaku and Shoukaku decide to stay and sacrifice themselves in order to ensure the others’ escape, but Enterprise effortlessly annihilates both in battle. As Enterprise prepares to deal the killing strike, Ayanami intervenes and destroys the plane that Enterprise had meant to take out the two. This shocks Enterprise back to her usual self, but the destroyed plane also sends Ayanami on a course for one of the portals.

  • I don’t expect that Enterprise would have the same capabilities in the game while under the player’s control: the ability to trivially defeat enemies would rather defeat the purpose of the game. In general, visually impressive and overpowered effects are either toned down or outright absent from games; the point of a game is to accomplish something, within the parameters specified by a system.

  • At the last second, Javelin and Laffey manage to save Ayanami before she falls into a portal. It is this act that convinces that Laffey and Javelin’s gesture of friendship is authentic, and that their feelings are genuine. With a longstanding conflict resolved, Azur Lane shows here that friendships born of extraordinary conditions can be quite strong, and this sets in motion the idea that Azur Lane or Crimson Axis notwithstanding, the Ship Girls can befriend one another irrespective of their faction.

  • Aynami is initially surprised to learn that the Azur Lane Ship Girls are not so different to her own friends back home, but finds that in spite of her technically being a prisoner of war, everyone at the Azur Lane base is treating her well, just as her allies do. Having now seen that the Azur Lane and Crimson Axis are not so different, Ayanami begins to understand why Javelin and Laffey were so persistent in trying to befriend her.

  • The page quote was taken from General Patton, one of the most well-known American figures of World War Two, and chosen to mirror the thoughts I have about Azur Lane: I’m not quite so immature as to say that the series’ main shortcoming is the lack of historical accuracy, but Azur Lane has not exactly delivered a gripping narrative that compels me to pick up the game, either. While moderately enjoyable, I admit that Azur Lane is rather difficult series to write for: since I am unable to directly compare and contrast real-world events and hardware, it becomes difficult to draw comparisons and speculate on hardware aspects.

  • If and when I’m asked, I’d say that my favourite storyline of Azur Lane would be the friendship between Laffey, Javelin and Ayanami: while also the most conventional with respect to how it plays out, it speaks volumes to the nature of warfare and directly contradicts what Enterprise believes in, showing that conflicts can be finite, and that new things can be born from them. The new friendship between two opposing sides of the conflict would therefore be indicative that warfare can change, that destruction is not always an inevitability.

  • As punishment for disobeying a direct order during combat, Laffey and Javelin are made to look after their prisoner of war, but in practise, this equates to the girls taking Ayanami to some of their favourite spots on the base. At one point, Laffey downs her pancake in one shot, then makes to steal Ayanami’s, leading the two into a spirited (but still friendly) duel. These antics suggest a fast friendship was reached, and I would be curious to see how the three play a role in the conflicts ahead.

  • At the opposite end of the spectrum is Enterprise: despite Belfast’s best efforts to restructure her life, Enterprise remains distant and cold. This isn’t a consequence of an aloof attitude stemming from her combat prowess, but rather, because she’s not particularly good with sharing her honest feelings with others. Dark have been her dreams of late: Enterprise encounters a shadowy version of herself which leads her to doubt her place in the world. While Enterprise and the others state that she has a fear of the ocean, it seems more appropriate to say that Enterprise fears herself, and fears that she possesses an unquenchable thirst for conquest and destruction.

  • With Akagi presumed dead and Kaga still despondent, the mood in the Sakura Empire has shifted considerably, with the other Ship Girls wondering if this war is worth pursuing given their current situation. Ten episodes in, I would say that my favourite Ship Girl of the Sakura Empire would probably be Shoukaku, and I have no equivalent in the Iron Blood, since they’ve made limited appearances throughout the series. As Takao and Shoukaku continue their discussion, they pass by some buildings typical of the architecture in the Sakura Empire: I absolutely love the way the Sakura Empire island is structured, and it is here that some of Azur Lane‘s best artwork is seen.

  • Whereas the Ship Girls all field World War Two era equipment, the Sirens run with contemporary and futuristic arms: their aircraft resemble the YF-23, an experimental next-generation fighter that began tests in the 1990s but was eventually counted as inferior to the aircraft that would become the F-22 Raptor. The Siren also field beam weaponry. However, the gap in technology does not appear to extend to defense; the Ship Girls are capable of damaging the Siren all the same. I believe that in the game, Sirens only appear in event missions, and Purifier, a Siren that attacks the Azur Lane base, is a battleship-type.

  • The Azur Lane forces make pursuit but find themselves face-to-face with a Siren armada. It’s a bit of a cliffhanger to end Azur Lane on; with the eleventh and twelfth episodes coming on March 20 and 27, respectively, there is a bit of a wait, even now, for the story to wrap up. When the time comes, I’ll end up doing a single post to wrap up my thoughts on Azur Lane – in retrospect, I felt it to be a good decision not to make this the series I was going to blog about in greater detail. Between the amount of territory Azur Lane covers, and the delays it’s encountered, writing about this one would’ve proven very tricky.

  • Azur Lane‘s tenth episode, leading into the intermission, ends with Kaga seizing the Orochi and sailing for unknown waters. We are now into February, and as I am hosting this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, it will be a balancing act to ensure I keep on that: I am intending to have four more scheduled posts for this month (two for Koisuru Asteroid, one special post for Girls und Panzer, and a talk on The Division 2 now that I’ve hit World Tier One). Depending on my availability and scheduling, I might have other posts written out, but these posts will be the ones I aim to put out for sure, besides the Jon’s Creator Showcase for the end of this month.

While Azur Lane does have discernible messages that are superficially explored owing to the constraints of the twelve-episode format, Azur Lane primarily succeeds in conveying to viewers the complexity in its universe. This may not necessarily be to the franchise’s advantage: an anime adaptation of a game universe is typically intended to drive viewers to pick up the game and presumably, buy in-app purchases. This is accomplished by creating a coherent story and create a sense of familiarity so that the viewer is inspired to pick up the game itself and delve further to learn more about the characters the anime adaptation portrayed. Azur Lane‘s anime adaptation, then, can be seen as promoting Enterprise and Belfast, Akagi and Kaga, Ayanami, Javelin and Laffey. However, owing to how the series has chosen to present its themes, each group’s stories are only presented at a basic level, creating none of the connection needed here. Azur Lane‘s anime, in short, does not compel me to play the game, much less go for any of its in-app purchases. The delay in productions, then, is doubly disappointing: with a story that is loosely held together, I had at least looked forwards to seeing how the fight with Kaga and Oricihi would close things up, but the series also suffers from a technical perspective, with inconsistent animations and artwork being quite evident. The net result is that there is now a wait to see how Azur Lane concludes, and the lingering sense that this wait might not have been worthwhile. Whether this is the case remains to be seen, and it will be in March when the final two episodes of Azur Lane will be released.

Magia Record: Review and Reflections After Three

“Kamihama…you fear to go into those streets. The Magical Girls delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Satomi…shadow and flame.”

In a dream, Iroha learns that Ui might be in Kamihama City’s Satomi Medical Centre and sets off to investigate, against Nanami’s warning. She finds herself amidst a Witch’s labyrinth; the Witch itself is locked in combat with a team of magical girls. These girls are successful in destroying the Witch, but Iroha is knocked out. When she comes to, she finds herself in a sanctuary for magical girls: this team introduces themselves to her as Momoko Togame, Kaede Akino and Rena Minami. It turns out they’re searching for the elusive “Chain Witch”, but in spite of their objectives, agree to help Iroha look for Ui (although Rena is reluctant). Iroha enters the Satomi Medical Centre and learns that there was never a patient by Ui’s name in the records, and after the girls go out to discuss options, a verbal argument breaks out, culminating in Rena leaving. Kaede attempts to reconcile with Rena, but is captured by the Chain Witch. Iroha meets Yakumo Mitama, a Coordinator who operates the sanctuary, and learns that Yachiyo is also a member of their group. They agree to an operation to lure out the Chain Witch; it turns out that feigning a fight won’t draw the Witch out, but Rena’s feelings get the better of her. The Chain Witch materialises, and Kaede turns out to be okay. The girls subsequently engage and destroy the Chain Witch, aided by the smaller Kyubey, who points out a weak spot. When the battle ends, the lack of a Grief Seed leads Yachiyo to conclude the Chain Witch is not a conventional Witch. Rena later learns that the two other girls beside Ui in Iroha’s dream, Toka and Nemu, were indeed patients at Satomi, and elsewhere, Kyubey reveals that he’s unable to enter Kamihama: he sends one Mami Tomoe to investigate. With the third episode and the appearance of Mami, it is established the series’ events are being set prior to the events in Madoka Magica. The third episode of Madoka Magica became infamous for its brutal killing of Mami, who was consumed by a Witch during combat, and the marked contrast between Magia Record‘s third episode indicates that the themes here are unlikely to be as grave and sobering as those of Madoka Magica.

Indeed, Magia Record‘s premise of having Iroha investigate a mystery surrounding someone dear to her is already dramatically different than Madoka Magica: whereas the former was really about the toll that wishes extract, Magia Record‘s themes and goals seem much more consistent with that of a game, favouring exploration and discovery. The episodes to Magia Record have insofar focused on presenting how limited and inconsistent Iroha’s recollections are, which compels one to follow the story with the goal of watching this mystery unravel. Along the way, Iroha meets a group of Magical Girls who will, in time, act as resources and allies to fall back on in her adventures, and Iroha learns that Soul Gems can be boosted to increase the Magical Girls’ power and ability in battle. Drawing elements from a game, Magia Record‘s progression feels more purposeful, leaving no doubt that Iroha will be finding something during and towards the end of her journey. However, Magia Record also lacks the same grim and uncertain atmosphere of its predecessor: with no major deaths early on, Magia Record feels much more laid-back and conventional. As such, Magia Record must strike a balance between creating novel new events to keep viewers engaged, while at the same time, avoid venturing into the melodramatic territory that Madoka Magica ended up in. It goes without saying that Magia Record has some large shoes to fill, and in the shadows its predecessor left behind, Magia Record is seen as being something that faithfully captures the atmosphere and feel of Madoka Magica while simultaneously exploring new directions that add to the franchise. Fortunately, three episodes into Magia Record, the anime has proven engaging and enjoyable in its own right.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Inconsistencies in Iroha’s memories and the memories of those around her will immediately lead viewers to wonder whose version of reality is the right one. Until more is explored, viewers will be kept guessing, which is the main draw of Magia Record. Conversely, Madoka Magica kicked off the party in a much more unassuming manner and surprised them with Mami’s sudden death, only to have the series spiral out of control after it was revealed that Magical Girls became Witches.

  • Witches and Labyrinths were a central feature in Madoka Magica, and viewers spent countless hours studying every detail in a Labyrinth to guess at what that particular Witch’s origins were: the revelation that Witches were born of Magical Girls and Sayaka’s transformation into Oktavia von Seckendorff marked the first time that the connection could be drawn between a Magical Girl’s past and current form as a Witch: Oktavia von Seckendorff’s Labyrinth was a demented concert hall and perilous train wheels, mirroring Sayaka’s connection to music. From this, attributes in other Labyrinths were thought to offer some insight into the Witches’ pasts.

  • When Iroha enters a Labyrinth, she finds herself in a vast field under a starry sky. She quickly finds herself in the middle of a fierce battle: Kaede, Rena and Momoko exchange blows with the Witch. Kamihama’s Witches are said to be stronger than standard Witches, and even with more powerful Magical Girls on station, it still takes a team of them to consistently overcome Witches. Right out of the gates, however, the team that Iroha encounters is only barely holding together.

  • It ultimately takes a combined attack from Rena and Momoko to wrap up the combat: Momoko and Rena use this attack on the core of the Witch to take it out. In Madoka Magica, viewers had few moments to watch Magical Girls fighting together during the TV series proper, but in Rebellion, it was fun to see each of Madoka, Homura, Mami, Sayaka and Kyouko taking on a Nightmare using the combined scope of their abilities as a team, and with teams being a larger part in Magia Record, seeing groups of Magical Girls engaging a Witch together will likely yield more exciting combat sequences.

  • While the Magical Girls and their Coordinator headquarters are no Sanctum Sanctorum, Momoko notes that it does act as a place for Magical Girls to regroup and recover from their duties. This place is the one portrayed on promotional materials for the series; the use of blue lighting and geometric shapes gives a the headquarters a classical, holy feeling, but despite the cold, impersonal feeling such a space emanates, having good people present changes things dramatically.

  • In the space of about thirty seconds, Momoko has quickly become my favourite character in Magia Record: with the air of a responsible older sibling, Momoko takes on the role of supporting the younger Magical Girls. She’s said to be the middle sibling, which gives her both the perspective of a younger sibling and that of and older sibling. To this end, Momoko is easy-going and always has her eyes on her younger team members.

  • Right out of the gates, viewers get the sense that Momoko and Kaede are friendly, willing to help, whereas Rena is more hostile and distant: it is here that the “Chain Witch”, an unknown entity that’s said to whisk away the careless. Momoko and the others have been attempting to hunt it down for some time, with limited success, and so, when Iroha arrives, she and Kaede see an opportunity to help out.

  • Upon arriving at the Satomi Medical Centre and making inquiries, Iroha is shocked to learn that there’d never been a patient by the name of Ui Tamaki at their facility. The disconnect between Iroha’s memories and what’s being told to her builds up the suspense in Magia Record in a much more traditional sense than how Madoka Magica handled the progression: here, things seem much more gradual, while in Madoka Magica, once the defecation hit the oscillation, the story accelerated wildly and gripped its viewers.

  • Iroha (and the viewer) initially gains the impression that a pretty serious disagreement between Kaede and Rena has broken out, this time, over Rena’s casual use of her illusion magic to take on Momoka’s appearance. Behind Rena’s tough exterior lies someone who lacks confidence and is insecure; her original wish was to be anyone besides herself, having come from a family who moved a lot owing to her father’s job. Despite her difficult personality, she would open up to Momoko over time, although she still finds it difficult to accept Kaede.

  • The fast food restaurant the girls stop at after their unsuccessful attempt to learn of Ui’s whereabouts possesses an ultra-modern design and features a sophisticated set of windows that display various imagery. I’m certain that these are purely ornamental, although they do add an interesting visual break in things. After Kaede storms off, Momoko teasingly warns Rena that such actions may cause the Chain Witch to appear, and Rena runs off, feeling the joke to be in poor taste.

  • While Momoka might be the ‘big sister’ archetype, she readily admits that she’s got her faults, and apologises to Iroha, having felt that this time, things might truly be the end for Kaede and Rena. It is here that she explains to Iroha the story about the Chain Witch and its association with a staircase that’s said to end friendships. As the story goes, the two individuals interested in ending their friendship write their names on certain steps, and then from there, the first individual to want to reconcile with the other and apologise will be taken by the Chain Witch.

  • Owing to the way this story is framed in Magia record, there is no clear indicator as to whether or not the story coincided with the appearance of the Chain Witch in Kamihama, or if it has its origins in area folklore and urban legends even before the actual Chain Witch itself made an appearance. Madoka Magica made extensive use of large-scale to convey the notion that the girls were in situations far larger than themselves, and this created a sense of isolation. While Magia Record uses similar imagery, at least for the present, Iroha does not feel quite as alone on the virtue that she’s with Momoka, Kaede and Rena.

  • This is the stairwell mentioned in the rumour: by a curious turn of events, there is a very similar stairwell at the University of Calgary’s Social Sciences building: this narrow, winding set of stairs leads from the main floor to the roof, fourteen floors up, and I’ve made use of it in my time. The Social Sciences stairwell is very similar to the one in Magia Record in that there is also a legend surrounding it, but unlike Magia Record, our stairs have a different legend: the story Leon the Frog was written on the steps in 1974, and became somewhat of an institution around campus. A year after my graduation, restoration efforts led to the removal of this work, although students have since restored it.

  • My favourite part of the story can be found on the eighth floor, and since the entire poem is a lengthy one, I’ll leave a link to it here. The architecture and locations around the University of Calgary does bring to mind some locations in Madoka Magica, and in particular, the rooftop of Mitakihara Middle School reminds me very much of the Arts Parkade rooftop. This formed the basis for a special topics post I wrote some years ago about the choice of architecture in Madoka Magica. Back in Magia Record, after their fight, Kaede and Rena become more distant than before, and despite Kaede’s efforts at reconciliation, nothing seems to work.

  • The negative feelings amassing in Rena and Kaede manifest in a physical form, and as chains begin slithering across the screen, it becomes clear that this is the Chain Witch that has been the subject of much discussion amongst the Magical Girls. These spectral beings engulf Kaede, who subsequently goes missing. Rumours persist that those taken by the Chain Witch are lost forever, but this presumably only applies to civilians.

  • Besides the interior of the Magical Girls’ sanctum, the other location in Magia Record that stands out is Iroha’s room. While unremarkable in most cases, its main distinguishing feature is that precisely half of the room is empty. Since Thanos never affected the Madoka Magica universe, it’s another (not-so-subtle) sign that something is off: Iroha’s side has a very lived-in, welcoming feel, and the empty side is deliberately sterile to visually represent the extent of Ui’s absence.

  • When Iroha arrives at the sanctum next, she meets Yakumo Mitama. Unlike the other Magical Girls, Yakumo is not actively involved in combat: the game has her serve as a shop-keeper of sorts, and so, while she is capable in her own right, her primary role is support. Yakumo is seen making adjustment to another Magical Girl’s Soul Gem, which is simply stated to improve the Magical Girl’s overall performance in some way. Because of her unique role, Yakumo is well-respected by other Magical Girls and provides her services in exchange for Grief Seeds.

  • If I were to take up Magia Record, having a knowledge of the anime means that I would find myself more familiar with the mechanics of the game. This is unlikely to occur for the present: mobile games have never really been my forte, and for my part, I’ve always preferred titles that involve a combination of über-micro and reflexes. This is why my entire library is composed of shooters, with a few simulators here and there. It is not lost on me that most of the community is much more familiar with visual novels, JRPGs and the like, but for me, those move a little too slowly.

  • While Iroha and Rena might be ill-equipped to deal with an unknown such as the Chain Witch on their own, they do have Momoko and Yachiyo in their corner. The plan is set: Yachiyo and Momoko will feign a disagreement to draw out the Chain Witch, and then engage the Witch in combat to retrieve Kaede. The plan is simple enough, and all that’s left is the execution itself. Having taken a look around at things, Magia Record discussions have been quite disciplined so far, focused primarily on the progression of the story, differences between it and its predecessors, and how game elements are subtly present.

  • Up until now, we’ve not yet seen any of the Magical Girls of Magia Record do a full transformation; Yachiyo is the first to kick things off, and her transformation sequence is filled with water-related motifs. Wielding water magic means that Yachiyo’s personality is calm and fluid, adaptive and patient: her weapons bring to mind those of the Greek God, Poseidon, who was the patron deity of seas and storms. Poseidon wielded a trident, and Yachiyo’s spear is a three-bladed weapon that mirrors her affinity with water.

  • Momoko’s transformation is a very fiery one, and her primary weapon is a sword-sized machete. With her wish being to gain the courage to go through with a kokuhaku, her magic lies in the ability to support and encourage those around her. This is befitting of Momoko, who has similar confidence to Mami Tomoe. Her transformation sequence admittedly brings to mind Gin Minowa’s, which was also quite spirited.

  • Rena’s original wish gave her control over illusionary magic, and this is mirrored by the presence of mirrors during her sequence. Similar to Yachiyo, Rena has an electric motif, and fights with a trident. Traditionally, transformation sequences have been counted an integral part of Magical Girl series: while fun to watch, they can become repetitive and dull with prolonged exposure, so many series choose to show these sequences early on, and then have the characters transform much more quickly as the series continues. Mecha series take a similar approach: both the Unicorn and 00 Raiser saw lengthy, detailed transformation sequences the first time those were introduced, but later on, would transform in a much more concise sequence that better represents what the transformation actually looks like.

  • Iroha has a very unique transformation of her own: she runs off the edge of a building and gradually picks up her signature cloak and crossbow as she descends, giving off the vibes of an angel in the process. Because her wish is rooted in health, Iroha has a considerable healing factor, similar to Sayaka Miki. Her offensive abilities are much weaker: she’s only armed with an automatic crossbow that, while possessing a high rate of fire, does not deal very much in the way of direct damage. In spite of this, her role remains an important one, and being able to keep the health of one’s team up is an important function.

  • Momoko and Yachiyo are initially unsuccessful in bringing out the Chain Witch with their feigned fight. However, while up on the school rooftop, Rena begins to get lost in her thoughts. As feelings of resentment and regret come out, these negative emotions draw the Chain Witch out. With Yachiyo, Momoko and Iroha present, the Chain Witch feels like less of a threat: as Rena and the others begin probing its defenses and fighting it, they come across Kaede, who’s okay.

  • Kaede’s outfit and primary weapon resembles those of a mage, or perhaps one of the Istari: she carries a staff into battle, and with her original wish being to halt a construction project that threatened her family garden, Kaede is able to shift objects out of phase temporarily, reflecting on her wish’s nature. When the others find Kaede, she appears to be in fine spirits, and is immediately ready to join her friends in squaring off against the Chain Witch.

  • Being the weaker of the Magical Girls, Kaede and Rena provide support while Yachiyo and Momoko deal the real damage: they begin targetting a large bell-like object in the Labyrinth while hiraganakanji endless stairs and chains dominate the scenery: if and when I’m asked, the sum of these visual elements are intended to show how the fracturing of friendships begins with words, which bind two parties to a destiny, and where recovery is equivalent to climbing an unending flight of steps.

  • Even with the latter’s power, however, it isn’t until Iroha learns of the Chain Witch’s weak point from the small Kyubey and passes it along, that the girls are able to vanquish the Chain Witch. The Chain Witch, however, does not drop a Grief Seed. These constructs could either be willed into existence by the familiars (essentially, lesser Witches), and they would give birth to a full-fledged Witch over time, or else come from a Soul Gem that had given in to despair. While some have wondered how Grief Seeds can be used to purify Soul Gems when they themselves exude negative energy, as opposed to the Soul Gem’s positive energy, we would suppose that negative emotions work similarly to the phenomenon of coalescence: bringing a Soul Gem with some negative energy into proximity of a Grief Seed would cause the Grief Seed to absorb said negative energy.

  • With the Chain Witch neutralised, Kaede and Rena reconcile properly. It is here I note that the soundtrack for Magia Record is excellent: even just three episodes in, the combination of classic pieces of incidental music from Madoka Magica (like Sis Puella Magia) and new songs gives Magia Record a nostalgic feeling while simultaneously driving new motifs forward. The soundtrack is expected to release in parts, and the first will accompany the first BD volume.

  • Once Rena and Kaede’s relationship is mended, Iroha is able to turn her attention back to her search for Ui, and she grows excited when she learns that there were two other patients with her, per her dream. We’re now nearing the end of this post, and I note now that the bitter cold in the area has now passed. For the past week, temperatures have been exceedingly mild for this time of year. A few nights ago, I had the chance to use an air fryer to make home-made sweet and sour pork: unlike restaurants, the home-made incarnation was far meatier and had much less fat, yielding a lean and delicious result. This is particularly exciting, as it implies I have a shot at making home-made tempura, as well.

  • Whereas Mami lost her head in Madoka Magica‘s third episode, Magia Record‘s third episode has Mami making an appearance, promising to investigate an unusual phenomenon in Kamihama. I am rather curious now to see if Mami and Momoko ever meet up, and moreover, to see if Sayaka and the others might make cameo appearances in Magia Record. I’ve speculated that Mami’s appearance puts Magia Record as occurring before Madoka Magica, but there is a chance that this could be wrong, and I’m looking forwards to seeing what unfolds. With this post in the books, the last post I have planned for January will be for Halo Reach: after watching Room Camp, I’ve concluded that the three-minute episodes don’t offer me with enough to write about, and I’m going to do a single post for Room Camp once the shorts have concluded, similarly to how I wrote about Yama no Susume.

More so than any other element, the characters in Magia Record (and their interactions) have been the show’s strongest aspect: all of the characters, even Rena, are likeable in their own regard. Iroha represents the newcomer with limited experience and skill, but a strong motivation and open-mind that allows her to open up to others very quickly. Kaede is a girl with a gentle disposition who is willing to hear out Iroha, and Rena, despite her blunt words, is revealed to genuinely care for those around her. Momoko is similarly a captivating character, combining the maturity and confidence that Mami had, with the leadership traits from Yūki Yūna is a Hero’s Fū Inubouzaki. Friendly and composed, Momoko is also shown as being flippant and laid-back almost to a fault: when her friends fight, she makes off-hand remarks that worsens the situation. All of the characters have their strong points and flaws that make them relatable, giving viewers incentive to root for them as they work together to solve Kamihama’s mysteries, some of which could be as terrifying as Durin’s Bane. Of course, because Madoka Magica set the precedence for unexpected (and often unpleasant) surprises, it would not be unexpected for any one of Iroha’s new-found friends to suffer an untimely exit from Magia Record. With all of these items on the table, Magia Record is looking to put on a fantastic showing this season, and I look forwards to seeing what Iroha and the others find as a result of their quest for answers, as well as what these Magical Girls learn during the course of their time together. I will be returning once the series has concluded to write more comprehensively about Magia Record, and until then, I leave readers with a brief explanation of the page quote: we still don’t have a clear picture of what exactly is in Kamihama, but whatever it is, it’s going to be something at least as troubling as a Balrog of Morgoth.

Rifle is Beautiful, or The Chidori RSC: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“A sniper is like a genius – it’s not enough to be one, you have to be one at something.” –Steve Aylett

After training with Asaka High’s rifle shooting team, Hikari and the others seek out a club advisor; it turns out that the Rifle Shooting Club won’t be able to participate in any sort of competitions without a dedicated advisor, but manage to convince instructor Yūko Tsurumaki to advise for the club despite her lack of knowledge in competitive rifle shooting. The Chidori Rifle Shooting Club manage to make their way through the preliminary competitions and place for nationals, but before they can compete, Hikari and Yukio must pass their make-up exams. The club becomes excited to know that they will compete in Tsutsuga in Hiroshima, and while the team is nervous, they perform well during the group shooting match, placing second overall thanks to a strong performance from YuYūko kio and Hikari. Hikari, however, fails to perform during the individual competition and comes away disappointed, but recalls that her journey’s been filled with fun experiences and meetings with interesting, friendly folk. She resolves to continue training so she can shoot alongside the best in the future. This is Rifle is Beautiful: despite its title, the anime’s main premise proved to be unexpectedly muted in dealing with the sport of rifle shooting, and therefore, never garnered much discussions during its airing. Rifle is Beautiful was further hampered by an unexpected challenge during production. Besides an extra recap episode that pushed the series back a week, the finale aired a full three weeks after its originally-designated time. Thus, when Rifle is Beautiful was supposed to finish back during the final Sunday of 2019, the series ended up wrapping three weeks into 2020. However, with the finale in the books, Rifle is Beautiful certainly is beautiful in its own right, taking a rather unique spin on a sport that is, with due respect, quite dull to watch in reality and making it into something far more engaging.

The aspect that allows Rifle is Beautiful to keep viewers engaged during the decidedly unexciting sport of rifle shooting is the combined use of Hikari’s narration and the focus on a variety of perspectives during a match, in addition to the shooters themselves. By cycling through the thoughts and perspectives of active competitors, spectators and tying all of it together with Hikari’s thoughts, viewers are able to gain a modicum of insight into what everyone is competing for and what brought them into the sport, while simultaneously watching the competitors react to their performance during a match. Since rifle shooting is at the core of Rifle is Beautiful, this clever framing allows the viewer to appreciate that there is more to the sport than good stance, technique and preparation: a plethora of thoughts flit through the minds of shooters and audience members alike, all of which contribute to both their performance and attitudes towards shooting. In this manner, the competitors from other schools are humanised and become properly-developed individuals who have their own reasons for competing. This gives additional weight and urgency to Chidori’s performance: they are going up against other people, rather than faceless masses that represent a hurdle for Chidori to overcome, and as such, when the national competition comes to a close, despite having lost in the individual competition and coming in second, the learnings and discoveries that each of Hikari, Izumi, Yukio and Erika have are equally as important, giving them a proper experience of competition as a team and helping them to improve. The intrinsically slow pacing of Rifle is Beautiful means that the themes can quickly fall to the back of one’s mind had the anime focused purely on rifle shooting, but by capitalising on competition time to also explore the motivations and beliefs other competitors hold, Rifle is Beautiful manages to make the most of its core element to tell an engaging, if tried-and-true, story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Yūko’s addition to Rifle is Beautiful is a welcome one: she’s presented as a relatively new instructor whose inexperience is offset by her kindness, and finds herself roped into being the advisor for the Rifle Shooting Club. Despite not knowing anything about rifle shooting, the girls persuade her to learn the basics and soon after, Yūko is able to keep up with the others. This comes just in time for the prefecture qualifying rounds.

  • I’ve mentioned this previously in the talk on Koisuru Asteroid: high school instructors in anime are typically younger in age and single. This choice is deliberate to accommodate the idea that an instructor could readily accompany the students on their adventures, and while some anime will emphaise the fact that they’re single (and unhappy for it), other series create the impression that the instructors are still relatively new to their roles and in a manner of speaking, learn alongside the main cast. The latter holds true for Rifle is Beautiful, and while Yūko’s still green, she does her best to be there for her students.

  • Hikari is shown as the sort of person who performs her best when the moment calls for it, but otherwise does not otherwise do all that well in practise. This trait is the source of much consternation from her teammates, who can never be sure whether or not Hikari will choke during a competition. Throughout Rifle is Beautiful, however, Hikari’s appearances belie a strong sense of determination, and she wins where it counts.

  • Like Locodol‘s Saori, Yūko is rather fond of her students, and has a camera on hand to photograph the Rifle Shooting Club’s members. Of course, the ISSF 10 meter air rifle competition is not particularly conducive towards exciting photographs, and even when writing about Rifle is Beautiful, there was only so much I could do with the moments spent during competitions.

  • Rifle is Beautiful is up front about the nature of shooting competitions: matches consist of 24 warm-up shots that allow participants to calibrate their sights and get a feel for things, followed with 60 live shots that count towards their scores. The athletes have 50 minutes to place their shots, which equates to around 1.2 shots per second; there is no inherent advantage to being a quick shot, but taking too long either will be detrimental.

  • Rifle is Beautiful uses the same rule set as the Olympics, and so, the maximum score count the shooters can achieve in a given match is 654 (with 10.9 being a perfect shot). While shooters are only 10 metres away from their target, the target itself is 45.5 mm in diameter, and the ring for scoring a 10 is 0.5 mm across. In general, any individual shot scoring above a 10.5 is considered solid, and excellent shooters have a shot grouping of no more than 4.5 mm.

  • Chidori High does well during their preliminary rounds and secures a spot to the national competition. Looking back, the preliminary rounds also acted as a bit of a warmup for Rifle is Beautiful, allowing the series to show how it would go about keeping the competition portions engaging when the competitors themselves were shooting. Even at the preliminaries, the outgoing and friendly Hikari befriend students from competing schools without difficulty.

  • In the aftermath of the preliminaries, the girls have precious little time to celebrate, but their success has drawn the admiration of their classmates. Early on, Rifle is Beautiful predominantly focuses on Hikari, Izumi, Erika and Yukio as they get to know one another better, and so, the story does feel a little quieter in the absence of other characters. This changes as the series shifts gears towards the nationals, where more characters are introduced.

  • However, before Chidori can visit Hiroshima, Erika and Izumi must first deal with their wayward friends, whose academic standings are jeopardised when they fail their exams. While Hikari seems the sort of person who may occasionally fail from carelessness or a lack of inclination to study, Yukio failing was a bit of a surprise. With this being said, appearances can be deceiving, and a part of the comedy in anime comes from unexpected moments such as these.

  • It is not lost on me that I’ve now thrown around the phrase “make up exam” in the past several of my anime discussions. Rin from Kandagawa Jet Girls, and both Mira and Ao of Koisuru Asteroid ended up failing exams, as well. Back in Rifle is Beautiful, Yukio’s response to Erika for having gotten a pitiful five percent on her exam is priceless. Back when I was in high school, I was a rather competitive and serious student who scored consistently in the mid-90s. My primarily inclination was that I enjoyed the materials, wanted to see where effort led and also had a penchant for collecting souvenirs of this effort.

  • Of course, this led me to be a rather arrogant and narrow-minded individual, and by the time university came around, a sound beating during my second year, followed by my decision to attempt the MCAT, led me to view things from a different perspective – learning for the sake of improvement is alone a worthwhile and meaningful motivation, and grades alone do not always represent how much one has learnt. While Erika beats down Yukio during their study session, Izumi takes on a much friendlier approach in tutoring Hikari.

  • With Hikari and Yukio passing their make up exams, Rifle is Beautiful returns its focus to rifle shooting and the nationals. At this point in time, I’ve found all of Chidori’s characters to be endearing and likeable in their own right; Hikari takes the archetypes of the ditz who manages to be skilful where needed, Izumi is the reliable and dependable one, Erika is a tsundere, and Yukio is more or less a carbon copy of Yuki Nagato, albeit with a more developed sense of humour. All of the characters bear familiar archetypes, but it’s ultimately their interactions together, rather than their individual traits, that make Rifle is Beautiful fun.

  • Hikari prepares to head off for the national competition and waves her parents off. Overall, the technical components (animation, artwork and sound) in Rifle is Beautiful were of a good quality, and in particular, one aspect of Rifle is Beautiful that I enjoyed was the soundtrack: the incidental music in slice-of-life series are often overlooked as little more than a background element, but listening to the music on its own really gives a sense of how the composers have written the music to fit with different moods and settings within the series. Rifle is Beautiful has a combination of both optimistic pieces, uplifting tracks and even feel military march-like pieces.

  • From here on out, it’s the nationals, and familiar faces make a return as Hikari meets up with the other qualifying teams from their prefecture. Rifle is Beautiful did the characters from the other schools justice to the best capacity the series allowed, and the closeness to each school that viewers end up getting corresponds with their distance to Chidori. Hikari and the others are the characters viewers immediately feel at home with, while Asaka’s students and those who were at the preliminary rounds are familiar faces. Come the nationals, new characters are introduced, as well.

  • When I look back at my time as a student, I travelled the most extensively in middle school; I had been a part of a concert band and, besides going around town to compete, I also went to band camp. My final year of middle school was marked by a trip to the British Columbia coast as a part of a character-building programme. The criteria for admission into this journey was strict: only students with high grades and good character could go, but the benefits of going were numerous. I learnt team work skills while spending time on a converted mine sweeper and made memories that have endured to this day.

  • In high school, I stopped going on outings: my extracurricular activities became working on the yearbook and other activities that remained largely on school grounds while I geared up for admissions into, and during my undergraduate degree, it was taking all I had to stay in satisfactory standing. On the other hand, I travelled in graduate school and then on a few occasions for work. I definitely appreciate being able to go places, but like Chidori, my travels haven’t purely to satisfy wunderlust, and while there’s a sense of yearning on such trips, I feel that the sense of purpose I get in travelling, to do something for someone, is admittedly a good one.

  • While Yukio is often thought of as being very poetic despite her stoic mannerisms, the reality is that she’s just not good with words, and the impression of a mind suited for eloquence is ill-placed: Yukio’s Mind is actually like Freeman’s Mind in that she thinks about completely irrelevant or irreverent stuff during the moment. During her awe-inspiring run in nationals, her competitors wonder what could go on in the mind of this machine-like shooter, and as it turns out, Yukio’s thinking about how she’s loving every moment of how hot the room is, how while her name is wintery in nature, she prefers the summer.

  • When Hikari’s eye is drawn by a special under-jacket, all of Izumi’s strength is insufficient to get Hikari to move on, and even a coin toss to help Hikari whether or not to buy the jacket ends up inconclusive. A coin landing on its edge looks to be an incredibly uncommon event, but a short study by Daniel Murray and Scott Teare published to Physical Review E in 1993 found that the probability of the American nickle landing on an edge is roughly 1:6000 (i.e. one in six thousand tosses). While a 0.01677 percent probability is very small, it is by no means impossible, and the occurrence is purely meant as a visual metaphor that shows how undecided the two are.

  • Erika is Chidori’s next shooter, and while she paints herself as being highly focused, disciplined and not given to flights of fancy like Hikari might be, even she is not immune to the pressures of competition. Of Chidori’s Rifle Shooting Club, Erika most resembles Haruhi in mannerisms, being dishonest about her feelings, hot-tempered, competitive and quick to point out flaws in others. Beyond this tough exterior is someone who seeks to be a part of something and has a tender aspect to her personality, as well. She and Yukio are an interesting combination because of the vast differences in their personality.

  • In the end, Erika becomes the weakest link and scores poorly, causing Chidori to drop out of the race for the coveted first place. Unable to hold back her emotions, Erika cries at the outcome, but fortunately, Chidori still has one shooter in reserve. It’s all eyes on Hikari, whose performance will determine Chidori’s fate. The competition is fierce, and there are plenty of incredibly skilled and experienced shooters in the competition. During matches, the perspective switches several times to focus on different characters and explore their motives for doing well. While I continue to cheer for Chidori, it was nice to see what the other shooters were thinking, too.

  • In the end, Hikari puts on her best performance yet, scoring so well she draws the attention of several of the competition’s most experienced shooters. This final push, however, falls slightly short, and Chidori ends up finishing second in the competition. While Hikari and the others are disappointed, a freshly-minted team of first years that was relatively unknown getting this far is no trivial feat.

  • The outcome of the team competition is actually is desirable from a narrative standpoint: staunch proponents of realism in slice-of-life anime will accept that a new team won’t be able to rise to the top that easily, and finishing second gives Rifle is Beautiful direction in the future should there be a continuation, as Chidori strives to improve and win the national competition. The page quote for this Rifle is Beautiful talk is speaks to the spirit of marksmanship but also applies to life in general: it isn’t sufficient to know something, but it’s also about being able to put one’s skills to use. This is something that the best shooters appreciate, and as Hikari and the others continue practising, this will become more apparent.

  • After their team competition, Chidori decide to hit the onsen and unwind after a tense day of shooting. Being in an onsen means Rifle is Beautiful has a chance to bring out a joke not seen since the earlier episodes: the size of Hikari’s bust is something that surprises and impresses all those who learn of the truth, and for my amusement, I’ve included one screenshot here. Hikari’s outward appearance is that of someone diminutive, so I’m guessing that this design choice was probably deliberate to introduce some cheap laughs.

  • While the girls might be disappointed in not winning, a part of life is also being able to take defeat, learn from them and come back stronger than before. This is one of Hikari’s best traits, and while she may feel downed by a setback, she’s quick to recover and make the most of things. After competition for teams draws to a close, she spends the evening with Asaka’s students enjoying fireworks.

  • While awaiting their turn in the individual shooting competition, Hikari and Yukio stop by a food truck for some lunch. It turns out that Yukio’s not good with spicy food and ends up ordering the mild curry, to Hikari’s surprise: Hikari believes that authentic curry must be enjoyed in the spiciest form possible. Japanese Curry is, incidentally, my favourite form of curry: in its base form, I enjoy it either chicken or beef, plus potatoes, carrots and onions on rice. I have cooked the dish before, and the key is to cook it for longer at a lower temperature to really allow the potatoes to soften.

  • Another trait in Hikari that is presented as a strength is her ability to seemingly dispel her nerves by being friendly and open to those around her, regardless of whether or not she knows them well. When another competitor is struggling to decide whether to pick up a souvenir, Hikari shows up, and her positivity prompts the other student to buy said souvenir.

  • However, mirroring the ups and downs of real life, Hikari performs poorly during the individual competition and is extremely disappointed, to the point of feeling as though she’d been dusted by Thanos’ Snap: this actually happens to her when Izumi finds her. I’m actually not sure if this is a callback to The Avengers: Infinity War, which saw characters literally become dust after Thanos acquired the Mind Stone and used the Infinity Gauntlet to harness their powers into realising his vision for the universe. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo decided on the effect because it was a plausible portrayal of accelerated decomposition and breakdown.

  • Had Hikari actually been dusted by Thanos, the anime community (or at least, the small subset of it actually watching Rifle is Beautiful) would’ve put a team together and done their utmost to bring Hikari back. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, and it’s simply the case that Hikari’s just suffered a setback: she begins to wonder if everything she’d accomplished up until now were chalked up to blind luck. After crying into Izumi’s arms, Hikari feels better and returns into the competition hall, wishing she’d stayed to watch and enjoy the performance of giants.

  • With the competition now over, Yūko rallies her students and tells them that summer break is upon them. This doesn’t help the other schools’ students’ image of her, but for me, it shows that Yūko does care for her students in her own way. I’m very nearly done a post that should’ve been written a few weeks back, and before I wrap up, I note that January’s been uncommonly active for posts because I’ve been playing catch-up with last season’s shows. I will need to come back and do a talk on Azur Lane at some point in the future: the final two episodes will roll in March, so I’ll likely take this one on in February. In the meantime, the only posts I have left for this month will be for Magia Record and Room Camp, as well as a lengthier talk on Halo: Reach now that I’ve finished the campaign.

  • Overall, Rifle is Beautiful earns a B grade (7.5 of 10, or 3.0 on a 4-point scale): I was impressed with how the anime was able to take something like rifle shooting and weave character growth into the sport to make an unexpectedly engaging series that has left me with a little more knowledge on how the ISSF 10 Metre Air Rifle sport works. With likeable characters and solid technical aspects (both audio and visual), I had fun watching this series. In the end, this is what matters, and since Rifle is Beautiful succeeds here, I count it as a series I enjoyed.

Admittedly, the pacing of Rifle is Beautiful is ultimately something that viewers will have to decide for themselves as to whether or not the anime is worth picking up and continuing with; while successful in conveying the atmospherics, technical aspects and tenor of rifle shooting, Rifle is Beautiful is a very slow anime, even more so than other slice-of-life series that I’ve gone through. In particular, the matches span multiple episodes, and it can be easy to forget who’s who. However, the slow, and often meandering flow in Rifle is Beautiful is very naturally presented, serving to remind viewers that Hikari’s opponents are not faceless machines, but ordinary people like herself, with intents and desires. Punctuating the more introspective moments with comedy help me to enjoy the presence of the other school’s characters. Seeing the human side of the competitors helps to also remind viewers that this story isn’t just about Hikari. As such, while I was rooting for Chidori, having Chidori perform admirably in the group competition and watching Hikari fail the individual matches was also a reminder that happy endings can come in different forms: the real win Hikari has in Rifle is Beautiful comes from being able to compete properly with a team and meet so many unique people. The slower pace thus serves to direct focus on these moments, and so, while Rifle is Beautiful may not be a rivetting anime about rifles, it certainly does have a charm of its own. With Rifle is Beautiful in the books, I do not imagine that a continuation is likely in the foreseeable future: the original manga’s been running since 2015, and there are a total of four volumes so far, the last of which releasing in October 2018. Sales figures and source material notwithstanding, Rifle is Beautiful‘s current animated adaptation has ended on a respectable and fairly conclusive note, so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if this is where Rifle is Beautiful‘s anime incarnation closed things off.

Terrible Anime Challenge: On Poor Decisions and Pushing the Limits of Viewer Endurance in School Days

有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒 –Cantonese Idiom

Makoto Ito grows enamoured with Kotonoha Katsura after running into her every morning on the train, and shares with Sekai Saionji, a spirited classmate who agrees to help him get closer to Kotonoha. However, as Sekai provides tips and creates situations that push Makoto and Kotonoha (who returns Makoto’s feelings) together, Sekai begins to develop feelings for Makoto. After a few dates where his advances are deemed hasty, Sekai offers to provide “lessons” to Makoto. After a group outing to the local water park, Makoto begins to grow listless and begins pursing a relationship with Sekai. The two manage to keep this secret until Kotonoha overhears Sekai declaring her love to Makoto. She refuses to believe it, even in spite of having caught the two kissing earlier. However, with Sekai spending more time with Makoto, Setsuna, Sekai’s best friend, begins to believe that Makoto is dating Sekai. She wants Kotonoha out of the picture, but Makoto, feeling remorse at having left Kotonoha alone, promises to dance with her at the school’s culture festival. When the culture festival comes, Makoto learns that Setsuna never really forgot about how’d they met, and after a day’s work, Setsuna kisses an exhausted Makoto while Kotonoha sees this go down. On the second day of the culture festival, Otome, a classmate of Makoto who’d known him since middle school, takes him to a special “break room” where she forks Makoto’s branch. As the culture festival, Makoto regenes on his promise to Kotonoha and dances with Sekai instead. However, Setsuna is not convinced that Makoto is separated from Kotonoha and aggressively kisses him in front of her. When Sekai sees the secretly-captured footage, she demands to see Makoto, but runs into a depressed Kotonoha. Sinking into a depression herself, Sekai begins skipping school, while Makoto boffs Hikari. Soon after, Otome’s friends begin taking Makoto on a twelve-city all-percussion concert. When Sekai develops nausea and vomits, she assumes she’s pregnant with Makoto’s child and announces it to the class. Makoto’s so-called friends-with-benefits distance themselves from him, and while out looking for someone to shag, runs into Kotonoha. Realising the hurt he’s caused her, he apologises and tearfully embraces her. Kotonoha and Makoto go out for dinner, and upon returning to his apartment, he encounters Sekai. They fight, and Kotonoha forcefully kisses Makoto, prompting Sekai to leave. Pressured by Kotonoha and Makoto to abort the unborn foetus, Sekai seeks to talk with Makoto, but recalling the pain he’s caused, she stabs him to death instead. When Kotonoha arrives, she’s driven over the edge by Makoto’s corpse. Kotonoha calls Sekai out to the school rooftop, where she executes Sekai and disembowels her, learning Sekai had lied about being pregnant. Taking Makoto’s remains with her, Kotonoha rides into the sunrise on a sailboat and proclaims she can spend eternity with Makoto. This is School Days, an anime whose reputation preceded it, and a series I had adamantly refused to watch until the Twitter anime community compelled me to do so. For my troubles, I was rewarded with a series whose thematic elements is about as subtle as a brick through a window.

“All hail the conquering hero. Let us remember him as our protector and not the one who gave us…this. As our saviour, and not our betrayer! Let us see him forever as you, and not as you. All hail the conquering hero, the one who was supposed to save us all! But now, I must save us…from you.” -Kotonoha Katsura, #TeamKotonoha

“This…is this what you wanted? Is this what you were looking for? Was everything you’ve compromised, everything you’ve done, worth it? Was it? Your relationship is over, Makoto. Mine is just beginning.” –Sekai Saionji, #TeamSekai

Despite its rather nasty and brutish reputation owing to its ending, through its rather vivid and overt imagery, School Days‘ core theme ultimately speaks to the price of indecision, infidelity and a lack of faith. Makoto begins his journey as being infatuated with Kotonoha, but Sekai’s interference causes his heart to waver, and throughout School Days, he devolves from a caring and kind individual into someone who cares little for those around him beyond the pleasures of the flesh. In its original form as a visual novel, School Days allowed players to take Makoto on a moving story where he chooses someone and cultivates a meaningful and honest relationship, or make enough mistakes that would cost him everything. However, mirroring the knife’s edge that life sometimes is, mistakes hit and hit hard: the anime adaptation of School Days shows just how perilous of a dance relationships are: the possibility for error lies around every corner, and when one ill turn deserves another, Makoto ends up paying the ultimate price for building multiple, simultaneous relationships around lust and lies. The visceral conclusion of School Days therefore acts as a grim warning to those who lack the commitment and ability to take responsibility for their actions. Throughout School Days, Makoto is shown as making the decisions that consistently worsen his situation, and while his actions might be seen as being so poorly placed that one might have to consciously be aware of them to make them willingly, this aspect of School Days is one that is forgiven on the virtue that Makoto, Kotonoha and Sekai, whose age means that their frontal lobes have not yet been fully developed, are being driven by their hormones and irrational desire rather than a mediated course of action rooted in reason. As such, School Days covers off this particular aspect that may come across as jarring; younger characters with a propensity towards decisions that adults will find irrational means that there is little benefit to attempt an analysis on why Makoto chooses to act in the way that he does. The answer to this lies with the narrative: in order to convey the costs of unfaithfulness and lies, Makoto necessarily must act in a way that allows the story to both highlight the consequences, as well as showcase what kind of outcomes can exist in the visual novel. At the expense of portraying Makoto as a degenerate piece of scum, School Days succeeds in its original function.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • What starts out as a basic romance-drama very quickly devolves into a tragedy brought on by hubris and a complete disregard of the consequences: one episode into School Days, the viewer with no familiarity would not be aware that the anime would venture into territory that would evoke a strong sense of revulsion in viewers. At the story’s beginning, Makoto is spurred on by Sekai to pursue a relationship with Kotonoha, and things start out with a sort of innocence and excitement that brings to mind the atmosphere seen something like Da Capo.

  • As a Terrible Anime Challenge, School Days falls into the camp of “it lived up to existing expectations set by the community”: the anime is infamous, and this reputation is well-earned. However, having now seen the entire series, the outcome where Makoto pays the ultimate price for his lack of commitment does not seem so outrageous, and in fact, the challenge I faced in watching this series ended up coming from how Kotonoha was treated, and the generally flippant attitude Makoto was portrayed as having as the series wore on. Encouragement from the Twitter community was ultimately what led me to keep going.

  • I never would have watched School Days of my own volition, but a challenge from the anime Twitter community led me to join a group of anime bloggers in watching this series. Over the course of the discussion, I’ve seen attempts to rationalise Makoto’s behaviour, but I never really found them satisfactory, since Makoto’s actions seem to be guided by baser instinct rather than anything resembling logic. Freud is similarly irrelevant here since, even if we take his theories to hold true, there is no conflict between the id, ego and super-ego as Freud would have envisioned – Makoto is all about plowing as many people as he can get his grubby mitts on, even in the knowledge he is going to hurt Kotonoha in the process.

  • The page quote I’ve chosen for this talk, comes from a Cantonese idiom “有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒” (jyutping jau5 ging3 zau2 m4 jam2 jam2 fat6 zau2, literally “refusing to drink wine offered to you, and drinking the cursed wine instead”) that roughly approximates to “refusing a favourable offer only to take punishment”. In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase is rendered as “敬酒不吃吃罚酒” (pinyin jìng jiǔ bù chī chī fá jiǔ, where one “eats” the wine rather than drinks it): I’ve using colloquial Cantonese in mine simply because it’s more amusing that way.

  • How does the page quote fit in with the themes of School Days, one asks? The answer is simple enough: Makoto is given a perfectly good setup and the path forwards seems clear, but he ends up picking the set of decisions that end up being the worst for him. Hence, instead of taking something favourable, he takes the cursed route instead. With that cleared up, I offer a screenshot in lieu of a lengthier explanation as to why I’m on #TeamKotonoha, in the knowledge that this is probably not an adequate reason. From this moment alone, I knew that I was watching the uncensored version of School Days and would be getting the full experience later down the line.

  • While Freud is useless throughout School Days, Makoto’s actions are probably best described as a very visual and tangible description of the shortcomings of greedy algorithms. These algorithms work by trying to do what’s best at the current step with the aim of finding some global optima. Further to this, greedy algorithms are designed make whatever choice seems best in the moment, and then solve any problems that arise later. However, in practise, greedy algorithms typically fail to find the global optima, usually get stuck on some local optimum instead, and may even find what’s known as a “unique worst possible solution”, which is the worst possible outcome (e.g. in a travelling salesman problem, the longest path that can be taken to hit all of the vertices in a graph).

  • Makoto’s behaviour mirrors that of a greedy algorithm in that at some point in School Days, he acts in a way that satisfies his biological urges in that instant, which is a local optima. Whenever the situation changes, Makoto acts in such a way as to ensure that he can continue sating his desires in the moment, without considering the consequences of his actions. This is evident in how Makoto jumps between Sekai and Kotonoha early in the series, falling on Sekai to fix any problems that arise with Kotonoha, and then eventually growing “bored” of Kotonoha enough to openly mess around with Sekai.

  • In practise, greedy algorithms are usually frowned upon because they don’t provide a global optima as a result of not knowing all of the data available. However, there are some scenarios where they are utilised. In particular, networking solutions often have made use of greedy algorithms to reasonable success, and greedy algorithms are generally faster from a time complexity perspective, making them acceptable for approximating solutions. I’ve now given readers the elevator pitch equivalent to greedy algorithms: School Days captures what the risks of using greedy algorithms are in an anime format spaced out over twelve episodes, and while one might not recall all of the terms, this is how I’d describe a greedy algorithms to folks who don’t have a computer science background.

  • Of course, for folks looking to learn more, there’s plenty of materials out there, and I won’t bore readers any further with what belongs in a university, rather than an anime blog. Makoto’s infidelity initially has limited fallout: he’s struggling to choose between Kotonoha and Sekai. The problem is compounded by the fact that Sekai’s friends, Setsuna and Hikari among them, seem to think that Makoto is dating Sekai. Sekai’s initial desire to help Makoto does not have any altruistic motives: she hopes that over time, Makoto will break up with Kotonoha and then be with her.

  • The topic of altruism is a challenging one, and this was one of the papers that I wrote for my second university course on research methods and the fundamentals of logic in persuasive writing. One of the biggest strikes against evolutionary altruism was the idea that altruistic acts, seemingly selfless, actually help the individual committing it to begin with, and the individuals knows this, hence their decision to do something that may lower their fitness in the short term. This may take the form of reciprocal altruism (i.e. “if I help you, you’ll help me”). From Sekai’s perspective, School Days supposes that true altruism does not exist, and she’s clearly expecting some form of payoff in the long term.

  • After the culture festival, School Days takes a nose dive and sends Makoto on what would be known as a “non-recoverable” path: once Setsuna kisses him and reveals her desire to have him be with Sekai, as well as recalling that she did have feelings for him to some extent, Makoto’s moral compass takes a total leave of absence, and Makoto’s decisions become increasingly poor, making it impossible to sympathise with him: while he’d been agonising over whether Sekai or Kotonoha was a better partner and was subject to difficult choices early in School Days, after this point, any sympathy a viewer may have had for him disappears entirely.

  • The other two quotes on this page are from Halo 5‘s #HuntTheTruth marketing campaign. Both quotes are chosen to mirror the different factions’ thoughts on Makoto: Sekai seems less literate and would talk in blunt terms, while Kotonoha is well-read and would therefore be more poetic. There are some who believe Sekai is the better choice for Makoto, and others (like myself) who hold that Kotonoha is the winner. The latter would vote #TeamKotonoha, and the former would back #TeamSekai. My reasons for being on #TeamKotonoha are simple enough: Kotonoha’s loyalty and unwavering feelings mean that she embodies commitment, a trait I admire and respect in people. In the end, Sekai comes across as being an interfering busybody who created her own demise.

  • As School Days wears on, Kotonoha begins to be neglected and mistreated, both by those around her and the circumstance that Makoto’s put her in. Feeling bad for Kotonoha becomes an inevitability, doubly so owing to the fact that viewers have seen Kotonoha’s younger sister, Kokoro, and the joy that she expresses at the thought of Makoto becoming Kotonoha’s partner. Thus, even without actively knowing, Makoto will end up hurting Kokoro, as well, with his decisions. Having not played School Days myself, I cannot say for sure whether or not it’s possible to save Makoto with good decisions if we’ve already gone down this path: perhaps one would need to mod the Infinity Stones into School Days in order to save Makoto from himself.

  • Of course, if we consider things from a more rooted perspective, Makoto is quite beyond salvation. Seeing Kotonoha in this state was particularly difficult, and it was ultimately this piece, coupled with Makoto’s blinding arrogance and stupidity that made School Days a difficult series to watch: School Days never got to a point where I felt an inclination to stop watching, but I’ve never done well with seeing good people made to experience terrible things. Kotonoha’s suffering only really began after she met Makoto, and when Otome learns of this, she does everything in her power to make life difficult for Kotonoha, as well.

  • Towards the end of School Days, Makoto begins getting it on with everyone within arms’ reach: during the culture festival, he and Otome end up screwing one another in the secret “relaxation lounge”, which was subsequently filmed and broadcast for the whole world to check out. It’s a crippling blow to Sekai, and coupled with Setsuna’s sudden departure for France, proves too much to handle: she begins skipping school wholesale after.

  • Before we enter the final stages of this School Days discussion, I’ll provide a brief overview of the community initiative that sent me down this path: it’s called AniTwitWatches, and involves watching older anime in real time to discuss them. The criteria for inclusion is that the anime must be available by legal means, and each Monday, participants will offer snippets of their thoughts on that week’s episode. The programme is a relatively new one, having started in July 2019, and I joined the School Days party later on the game, motivated by a friendly group of participants and a desire to see what would happen if I pushed myself through a show I had adamantly refused to watch.

  • The outcome of this was a host of bad jokes and wisecracks that I’m sure alienated the community. In spite of this, I am still invited to participate on the next one, so I’ll have to reassure the others that I’ll play a little nicer. Girls’ Last Tour appears to be the anime of choice, which is an excellent one. This series, I remember best for its surprisingly deep and meaningful messages despite a seemingly simple setup. I will have much more to share with AniTwitWatches on this one than just bad jokes.

  • Once Kotonoha is spurned, her eyes take on a dull character that became iconic of all yanderes in later works; she spends several episodes in a right state, exhibiting signs of delusion as she acts as though she’s still with Makoto. When Makoto realises the extent of the damage his actions have caused, he takes her back. Life returns to Kotonoha’s eyes. Entering the final episode, whose outcome is so infamous that it is no longer counts as a spoiler, I admit that I was glad to watch this one reach its conclusion.

  • While I’ve no qualms showing blood, guts and gore on this blog (see my DOOM and Wolfenstein posts), intuition tells me that, were I to show Sekai killing Makoto and leaving him to bleed out, or Kotonoha disemboweling Sekai, the search engines would not take to that too kindly. I’ve stated this before, but I’ve never had any trouble with over-the-top violence in video games, whereas in anime, gore nauseates me. I’m not sure why this is the case, but primarily for my own sanity (and a lack of desire to see this blog scrubbed from search engines), I’ve therefore left the most explicit moment of School Days out and leave the curious reader to check the series out for themselves.

  • Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge post, I’ll need to provide a scoring summary of School Days. I think it would be fair to assess this series a B- (7 of 10, or 2.7 on a 4-point scale): having a very clear story and message works in School Days‘ favour, and Kotonoha is hawt. However, between all of the characters who come across as little more than assholes, I saw no incentive to follow anyone to see them improve over time: I believe School Days marks the first series I’ve seen where characters regress as time passes. There’s no reason to root for anyone save Kotonoha, and viewers feel a perverse sense of satisfaction when the characters suffer (again, save Kotonoha). I’m not about this life, and I’m much happier seeing people make discoveries that make them better for their troubles.

Prior to the Twitter community’s decision to watch School Days, this anime had admittedly been on my list of shows to never watch during my lifetime by reputation alone. Besides the ending that became infamous owing to the finale’s coincidental timing with a murder in Japan, and a protagonist that was impossible to get behind, School Days‘ theme and goals are the polar opposite to those of the shows that I do choose to watch. With School Days in the books now, my opinion of the show remains quite unchanged: it excels at its intended objective, but remains quite difficult to watch. In particular, the anime’s treatment of Kotonoha is disturbing. Despite being a sweet and kind girl who’s into books and exhibits loyalty to a fault, she’s cheated on by Makoto, bullied by Otome and her circle of friends and betrayed by Sekai. Suffering misfortune after misfortune following her decision to date Makoto, her reactions to the events of School Days were an inevitability with a terrifying implication, that in people, there is a potential for great evil if one is pushed far enough. Supposing this to be the case, School Days has one more additional message for viewers: that there is nothing to be gained through acts of bullying. Despite having now sat through an anime that remains quite notorious even a full thirteen years after its airing, I find that School Days and other similar series remain quite outside the realm of shows I would willingly watch. Makoto’s stupidity and the suffering that Kotonoha endured, coupled with Sekai’s interference, means that going through the episodes proved to be even more of a test of patience than Glasslip, which is saying something. While I was able to discern School Days‘ theme and objectives, this series nonetheless remains one that is remarkably difficult to stomach, and in the end, I only endured thanks to a combination of the support of a friendly segment of the anime Twitter community and a limitless pool of bad jokes.