The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Japanese Animation

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions After Three

“You usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.” –Craig Bruce

Kukuru allows Fūka to help out around Gama Gama Aquarium, and suggests that Fūka stay with her and grandparents in the interim. However, on her first day, Fūka, unaccustomed to dealing with penguins, slips and falls into the pool. Kukuru ends up lecturing Fūka on the importance of their main duty to look after the animals and ensure their safety. It turns out that Kururu had taken up the post of acting director with the aim of saving Gama Gama Aquarium from being closed down – the aquarium is of special significance to her, and while its age, coupled with dwindling visitors makes it difficult to bring their implements up to code, Kukuru is intent on finding a way to make things work out. That evening, Fūka calls home to let her mother know of her rough whereabouts. The next day, a pair of shady-looking loan sharks appear, hoping to rope Kukuru into some sort of scheme. Having heard Kukuru’s story from Karin, Fūka ends up driving the loan sharks off after they destroy Gama Gama’s hand-made sign. Kukuru invites Fūka to meet Tsukimi and Kai at the Teruya’s diner. Kukuru apologises to Fūka for being short with her, and Fūka promises to do what she can for Kukuru. The two also begin to get to know the penguins a little better. However, upon spotting that one of the older penguins, Choko, has ulcerative pododermatitis, Kukuru decides to call an a veterinarian who is on maternity leave. While she consents to come in and have a look, she unexpectedly begins going into labour. Without any available transportation, Karin ends up driving her to the local maternity home, where she gives birth to a baby boy. The veterinarian reveals to Fūka that she had a pleasant dream while at the aquarium and is happy her child’s birth was so memorable. Later, Kukuru spots Fūka with the penguin keychains that she’d designed, and resolves to do something new. Here at the three episode mark to The Aquatope on White Sand, it is evident that this series is going to head down the same route that Sakura Quest once did, while simultaneously combining notions of self-discovery and growing up from The World in Colours and Tari Tari. However, The Aquatope on White Sand simultaneously betrays nothing about what milestones will be hit in this journey, and so, the anime ends up succeeding in creating intrigue within its episodes.

Fūka and Kukuru’s actions in The Aquatope on White Sand lie at the forefront of all present discussion; this is to be expected, given that personal growth and professional development is central to coming-of-age series such as these. However, discussions have been unjustly harsh – when Fūka panics from the penguin’s forward behaviour during feeding time and slips into the pool, Kukuru delivers a tongue-lashing about how any carelessness surrounding the animals is grounds for termination because their aquarium’s first and foremost objective is looking after the animals. Rather than making any sort of effort to understand why Kukuru is as tense as she is, discussions swiftly point fingers at Kururu for not providing proper instructions. However, The Aquatope on White Sand makes it a point to indicate that Gama Gama Aquarium is of personal importance to her, reminding her of the time she spent with her late parents. While it is true that Kukuru is headstrong and stubborn, her intentions are admirable, and being a high school girl, she’s impatient and unlearned in some ways. These are character flaws that exist within all of us at that age, and over time, our experiences allowed us to outgrow them such that we could approach problems more calmly and rationally. Similarly, Fūka herself is being criticised for quitting her idol position on a whim and wandering about without giving her future any second thought, taking on positions she has no background in. However, had Fūka chosen to tough things out and make her idol career work out, The Aquatope on White Sand wouldn’t exist. Instead, her journey is meant to be a story of what experiences, both good and bad, lay ahead on a path whose destination is not clear. Altogether, The Aquatope on White Sand is a story that asks of its viewers a modicum of patience – one does not grow up overnight, and it is precisely by stumbling, making mistakes, and above all else, learning, that one begins to mature. P.A. Works’ stories require that one understand where the characters are coming from, rather than judging them; to do the latter would be to close one’s mind to the possibility of growth, and it does one no credit to be overly critical of the characters’ actions this early on, especially in the knowledge that the characters will be their best selves as things continue.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kukuru is initially reluctant to bring Fūka on board and wonders if working at Gama Gama Aquarium will be Fūka’s jam, but decides to take her home anyways, where Kukuru’s grandparents welcome her. Somewhat uncomfortable with sitting still and letting the Misakinos do everything, Fūka decides to help out in the ways that she can. Small details like these give viewers insight into the characters’ nature, although it is disappointing to see how often viewers overlook these traits.

  • While helping Kukuru’s grandmother make sata andagi (a fried Okinawan confectionary similar to a Timbit, but with things like purple yams inside), Kukuru’s grandmother invites Fūka to try one out, fresh from the hot oil. Immediately, one self-proclaimed expert cried foul that the sata andagi should’ve been too hot to hold, and yet, Fūka was able to receive hers without even flinching from the heat. However, this individual (who spent last season sarcastically lambasting Super Cub down to the last pixel) simply demonstrates that he’d slept through science class and therefore, had never heard of the Leidenfrost Effect. This occurs where a thin layer of vapour will form when a liquid is in contact with a hot surface and provide a brief bit of insulation from the heat. Since Fūka is cooking, her hands likely are a little wet, which provides the liquid that can form the insulating layer of vapour.

  • Coupled with the fact that the sata andagi has a high surface area to volume ratio, by the time the Liedenfrost Effect wears off, the confectionary’s surface would have cooled down enough for Fūka to eat it. A little bit of science is therefore enough to debunk complaints: I’ve long disliked folks who believe that their capabilities are so far above that of the writers that they can nitpick at small details for internet points. As such, there is a certain satisfaction to be had when the same individuals fail to account for real-world phenomenon that can explain what’s being shown on screen. Now, I could go ahead and break out my old textbooks on thermodynamics and heat transfer to compute this holds true, but all this effort for an internet argument is quite unnecessary. As it stands, this moment is simply here to show that Fūka is enjoying a confectionary distinct to Okinawa: she’s blown away by the flavour, mirroring her exposure to the various aspects of Okinawan culture.

  • Having put off answering calls from her mother, Fūka finally decides to reply, and understandably, Fūka’s mother is worried sick about her, as she’d failed to check in. Fūka attempts to assuage her mother’s worries by stating she’s with a friend. While this is true in a manner of speaking, it’s clear that Fūka is still trying to gain her own bearings, and she’s not quite ready to let her mother know what’s happening. Because Fūka comes across as being kind and considerate of those around her, to the point of giving up the centre role of a performance for a coworker’s sake, it stands to reason that Fūka does not wish for her mother to worry excessively for her sake.

  • When Tsukimi sees the lofty goal that Kukuru has set for herself, she wonders if it’s even possible to raise that kind of money in two months: the total cost of equipment and upgrades totals some three million Yen (around 34118 CAD, the price of a fully-loaded sedan or an SUV with mid-range options selected). However, Tsukimi is more surprised to learn that she has Fūka staying with her. This scene also reveals that the fortune teller Fūka had met during the first episode is Tsukimi’s mother; I’ve previously remarked that anime do not introduce voiced characters without reason, and it can only be described as fate that the fortune teller knows Kukuru.

  • Back in the Shirobako and Sakura Quest days, a great deal of time had been spent inside offices filled with paperwork and other clutter. I imagine that The Aquatope on White Sand will feature this office prominently as Kukuru and Fūka work towards their objectives. However, it’s not all fun and games for Fūka: she’s thrown in the deep end from the start, and in her haste to get Fūka going, Kukuru neglects to mention detail or properly orient her. Again, this is something folks have vociferously complained about, and like the Leidenfrost Effect, people appear to have forgotten that Kukuru is a high school girl, rather than a full-fledged adult.

  • Assuming that the folks making such an aggressive response to The Aquatope on White Sand are a similar age to myself or older, I would find their commentary on Kukuru’s actions to be poor form. Kukuru is a high school student – adolescents possess an ability for reasoning on par with that of an adult, but their brain development means that they are also more prone to impulsive decisions and act on emotion rather than reason as a result of experience. Simply put, Kukuru is inwardly excited by the prospect of having help and is so focused on her own goals that she’s forgotten that Fūka is very much a novice, requiring training to properly perform her duties.

  • That Kukuru mentions nail polish as being harmful to the marine life at Gama Gama so late indicates she definitely knows her materials, but, having worked around folks at least as experienced as she is led her to take Fūka for granted. For this, Fūka slips and falls into the pool in the penguin enclosure after panicking and taking a beak to the ass while feeding a group of energetic penguins. It’s a dramatic introduction to the dangers of the job, and one would imagine that an experienced director would not allow new staff near live animals until they’ve had some training.

  • With this being said, I see no reason not to be understanding of how things got to be; having Kukuru acting in an impatient manner shows that her desire to save Gama Gama Aquarium notwithstanding, she’s not ready to be a director yet despite the title. This leaves The Aquatope on White Sand plenty of room for both her and Fūka to develop as people. A Kukuru with emotional maturity and experience to match wouldn’t need to learn these life lessons, resulting in an immensely dull anime: half the fun in coming-of-life stories is seeing characters develop over time and learn from their mistakes.

  • Similarly, Fūka’s decision appears completely irrational to adults, but had Fūka been mature enough to regroup and seek out a solution to her problems, then The Aquatope on White Sand would have no story to present. The insistent belief that anime characters necessarily must act like real people would is ludicrous; besides degrading or even eliminating a story, people in reality aren’t exactly the best measure of good decision making, and a major part of life is owning the decisions one makes. Conversely, The Aquatope on White Sand hints to viewers that, as bleak as the situation is for Kukuru, there is a way forward. Karin shares with Fūka the story behind Gama Gama Aquarium, helping Fūka to understand Kukuru better here.

  • Two unscrupulous-looking men barge into Gama Gama Aquarium one day, promising Kukuru the funds she needs to bring the place up to scratch. However, Kukuru kicks them out: while people were so fixated on Kukuru’s treatment of Fūka, they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture, and here, Kukuru demonstrates that she’s an honest, if stubborn individual with a strong sense of integrity. Refusing to take the easy way out means Kukuru’s avoided a potential source of trouble later down the line, allowing The Aquatope on White Sand to focus on what’s important without being swept off by problem that common sense would’ve averted.

  • I’m certain that Hitomi would’ve never doused anyone with the hose, but here, after Fūka watches as the two loan sharks “accidentally” destroy Gama Gama Aquarium’s hand-made welcome sign, she’s pushed past her endurance. The torrent of water is only an irritant, but it’s enough to get the two to leave. In the aftermath, Kukuru notes that soaking customers would almost certainly lead to a termination, but since those two weren’t customers and getting on Kukuru’s nerves, she ends up expressing gratitude instead.

  • While Karin is only seen to be popping in and out of Gama Gama Aquarium, she appears often enough so that it’s the case that she’ll have a larger role to play yet. Her role with the local tourism board, and the fact she’s a ways older than Kukuru and Fūka means that she brings the maturity and experience to the table I’ve been speaking of; Karin is someone who is young enough to be open to new ideas from Kukuru and Fūka, while at the same time, is old enough to know what’s possible and what could potentially work. Altogether, this means Karin will definitely become an asset along Fūka and Kukuru’s journey.

  • That evening, Fūka has a chance to meet Kukuru’s friends, including Tsukimi and Kai: because Kukuru also invited him, Kūya also shows up. He’s said to be uneasy around women, but upon spotting Kai, is immediately relieved. Seeing Tsukimi, Kai and Kukuru together gives viewers a better measure of what allies Fūka have in her corner, and I imagine that between Tsukimi’s family restaurant and Kai’s involvement in fishing, both fields will need to come together to give Gama Gama Aquarium a fighting chance. P.A. Works have always been fond of suggesting that multidisciplinary solutions and people from all walks of life are increasingly necessary in a world driven by constant change, so The Aquatope on White Sand isn’t expected to deviate from this particular message, either.

  • After the gathering, Fūka and Kukuru have a chance to speak one-on-one. Here, Kukuru apologises for having overstepped the previous day, while Fūka mentions she completely understands what Gama Gama Aquarium means to Kukuru. In this moment, it becomes clear that the good times and bad are to be rolled with in The Aquatope on White Sand; conflicts will be inevitable, and the question then becomes a matter of how the two sort out their troubles, both from within and without.

  • The third episode’s opening moments show Kukuru with her mother and father at Gama Gama Aquarium, where Kukuru takes on a particular fondness for one of the penguins, which she ends up naming Choko. It becomes clear that Gama Gama Aquarium, to Kukuru, is home because she’s associated it with memories of her parents, who passed away from an unspecified incident, leaving Kukuru to live with her grandparents. As such, Kukuru’s determination to save the aquarium stems from a wish to preserve the place that meant so much to her and her parents.

  • While Fūka’s beginning to settle in to her life with the Misakinos, she’s very much aware they’re doing her a large favour, and as such, Fūka is more than willing to help around the house as her way of saying thanks. Now, if memory serves, the ending song should release on the upcoming Wednesday, and once that’s done, I rather look forwards to hearing when the incidental music from Yoshiaki Dewa; because we are only three episodes in, there is zilch on when the soundtrack will release. I’ll naturally be keeping an eye on things, especially since Dewa’s composition for The World in Colour was superbly enjoyable.

  • Kukuru is presumably a fair student, but her love for all things aquatic means that she often turns in assignments that feature doodles of marine life. In a conversation with her instructor after class, Kukuru reveals that she has no interest in finishing secondary school and would run Gama Gama Aquarium for the rest of her life if she had a choice. While admirable, the real world can be tougher for people lacking a high school diploma: in rare cases, people have successfully run their own businesses and the like, but it takes the same amount of grit, tenacity and hard work to make this viable as what is required to make one’s way through a post-secondary degree or trades program.

  • While a high school diploma is almost mandatory, I hold that not everyone necessarily needs a degree be be successful, and having a degree alone does not guarantee success. There are people who are very successful in the trades and other occupations without ever having set foot in a Bachelor’s program; as long as Kukuru could finish high school, she’d at least have more options open to her. Of course, I’m not a career counselor, so what I say should absolutely not be taken at face value. Back at Gama Gama Aquarium, Kūya is overjoyed to have Kai on board: his inability to speak to women is something that might be addressed in future episodes.

  • While weighing the penguins to ensure they’re in good health, as well as determining which penguins should get a little more or less food to keep them at an optimal weight, Fūka spots one of the penguins as having a limp in his gait. It turns out Choko is afflicted with ulcerative pododermatitis (colloquially “bumblefoot” for birds and “sore hocks” for rabbits), a bacterial infection that results in inflammation. Left untreated, this infection can be fatal, and the proper mode of treatment is to administer antibiotics, as well as a dressing to give the wounds a chance to heal. Uncertain of their best course of action, Kukuru decides to call the aquarium’s veterinarian, who is on maternity leave.

  • A long time ago, I would’ve probably smiled at Fūka’s struggles to life a fish tank. However, a year-and-a-half of not regularly hitting the gym and pushing my bench press further means that Fūka is probably in better shape than I am. I’m actually a little nervous about going back and seeing just how weak I’ve become, although I suppose that with enough effort and patience, I could regain my old strength; the key is not to overdo things or rush my routine. At my peak, I was able to consistently lift a hundred and twenty percent of my body weight for five reps and three sets, which isn’t bad, considering I spend most of my time in front of a computer, digging through Swift code.

  • It’s therefore going to take a bit of training to get back to this level, and I’m looking forwards to the day when my preferred gym reopens; things have been a bit inconsistent, with some places choosing to remain closed for a bit longer for safety’s sake, and others re-opening earlier. Fortunately for Fūka, even though she struggles to lift the fish tank, Kai has been working as a fisherman and has no trouble picking it up. He recounts that Kukuru’s the sort of person who can drag anyone into anything aquarium-related, what with her boundless love of marine life, and upon hearing that Kukuru needed help, volunteered to do so.

  • Karin and Tsukimi share a conversation during lunch; Tsukimi is pleased enough with Karin’s kindness that she gives her a complimentary mango slice, although Karin insists that Gama Gama is a part of the community. There’s definitely a bit of foreshadowing going on here in The Aquatope on White Sand, and I’m curious to see where this journey is headed – the twenty-four episode runtime really allows the series to do what a twelve episode runtime cannot, and with the longer runway, there will likely be more space to really create a sense of community as the characters get to know one another in upcoming episodes.

  • Midway through her look at Choko, the veterinarian’s begins to go into labour. She mentions that her water’s broken, a phrase which means that the sac containing the amniotic fluid has ruptured as the body begins undergoing contractions. A quick glance at the documentation indicates that it’s actually hard to access whether or not a woman’s water has broken without medical expertise (and a quick test to determine if the fluid is amniotic) and women often mistake other phenomenon for their water breaking, so one cannot be sure if the veterinarian’s water broke. However, this turn of events prompts Kukuru and Fūka to give her some space, and while resting she suddenly finds herself swept into an ocean.

  • The kijimuna is spotted again in the ocean, and this time, it’s a peaceful scene where a child’s laughter can be heard. A young boy can be seen swimming alongside the kijimuna, but upon spotting the veterinarian, he swims towards her and embraces her. Upon awaking, the veterinarian finds herself at peace, excited to meet her child, and while the others have had a little trouble in getting a taxi on station, Karin arrives just in time to give the veterinarian a ride.

  • WIth the unerring skill of someone who’s lived in Okinawa all her life, Karin safely delivers the veterinarian to the local maternity hospital, taking a little-known shortcut to bypass the traffic jam. Fūka takes the initiative and chooses to accompany the veterinarian, since this is something she can do (whereas Kukuru is better equipped to look after Choko, and indeed, she does dress his infection to help him along). Karin’s knowledge allows her to get the veterinarian to the hospital, and once she’s arrived, her husband is notified, as well.

  • Later in the evening, in the middle of a lecture from her grandfather about not taking on everything herself, Kukuru gets a call from the veterinarian: her baby boy was safely delivered, and both are doing well. While it is conceivable that the veterinarian might’ve gotten to the maternity hospital earlier without the detour Kukuru’s request brought about, the moment shows that there are some things that occur serendipitously. The Aquatope on White Sand will need to reconcile the things happening as a result of fate, and the characters’ own learnings, as well. As it stands, Kukuru will certainly need to learn to lean on others and have faith in those around her to realise her dreams.

  • Seeing the veterinarian with her child leads both Kukuru and Fūka to recall their families. Kukuru is shown as finding her mother’s maternity books (in plural), and since the veterinarian remarks that all mothers-to-be receive such a handbook, this led to an explosion of speculation. At this point in time, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the speculation will hold true – even though there is a supernatural piece to The Aquatope on White Sand, this series is aiming to combine elements from The World in Colour and the career-oriented anime like Sakura QuestShirobako and Hanasaku Iroha. Consequently, unless there is a good reason to introduce dramatic and cliché twists (e.g. that Fūka and Kukuru are related), I anticipate that The Aquatope on White Sand will not be going in such a direction unless it contributes to the theme in a meaningful manner.

  • If the speculation turns out correct, I’ll surrender my blogging license at first convenience – when it comes to being right about an anime speculation, I’m a wet blanket :p Jokes aside, I do hope P.A. Works will put up a better showing than this in The Aquatope on White Sand, and here, after hearing the veterinarian’s words, she decides to get in touch with her mother and presumably, let her know of what’s going on. As the episode draw to a close, it turns out that Fūka had taken a liking to the penguin keychains Gama Gama sells and picked up one for herself. Matching keychains in anime have long been a sign of friendship, and while the path forwards will be a difficult one, it’s not hard to see Fūka and Kukuru learning more about themselves as they learn about one another in the episodes upcoming.

  • The Aquatope on White Sand is probably more similar to Hanaksaku Iroha in terms of pacing at this point in time, albeit with a trace of magic. To be sure, it’s an entertaining series, and if we are able to see that balance between personal growth and coming together to do something bigger than oneself, this anime will succeed in its goals. We’re now entering the last little bit of July, and I only have one more post planned out for Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru Churuto! – as August and the Heritage Day Long Weekend approaches, I have a number of large posts I aim to share with readers. As such, it’ll be one more post on a light-hearted series to round off the month before heading on to the fun stuff.

The slower pacing of The Aquatope on White Sand means that additional time can be spent on really allowing the characters to make discoveries – like Sakura Quest, Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha, The Aquatope on White Sand will utilise this space to have the characters make mistakes, properly learn from them and enjoy the results of their effort to better themselves. As such, I anticipate that the road ahead is going to be a bumpy one, but also one where the prize for overcoming adversity is well worth it. Three episodes into The Aquatope on White Sand, Fūka and Kukuru’s personalities have also been better established; cursory comparisons to The World in Colours‘ Hitomi and Kohaku are no superficial, and it becomes clear that The Aquatope on White Sand is going to present something new to viewers. While Fūka and Kukuru begin the first steps of realising a dream to save Gama Gama Aquarium alone, it is fortunate that they have some friends in their corner. Tsukimi and Kai will almost certainly be steadfast allies in helping the pair to save the aquarium, and where opinion from an adult is required, the group can count on help from Karin, the town’s tourism association manager, whose knowledge of the area and experience will serve as a guiding light for the youth as they seize the initiative. While Fūka herself might be a complete novice in zoology, viewers must recall that she also brings a very distinct skill-set to the table as a former idol. The Aquatope on White Sand reintroduces the idea that applying one’s skills from a new perspective can have large benefits, and I look forwards to seeing Fūka become more confident as she gets to know Kukuru and the others better. At this point in time, I’m still weighing the matter of how frequently I should write about The Aquatope on White Sand; on one hand, publishing my thoughts every three episodes would allow me to adequately cover both big-picture elements and smaller details, but the flipside is that I could grow stale very quickly if I write often for the series. For now, as we are still early in the series, I will likely make a decision after the sixth episode – if there’s enough to consider every three episodes, then readers can reasonably expect to enjoy more talks The Aquatope on White Sand in the future!

The Human and Material Costs of Ambition, Dispelling Controversy in a Collaborative Discussion with Dewbond on Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

“If you don’t do something because you think you can’t do it, you’ll never be able to do anything in the future.” –Kira Yamato

Gundam SEED first crossed my path when I was a student. Back then, the local television station ran English-dubbed episodes on Friday evenings, and I caught a glimpse of the series late in the game. One of my best friends had taken an immense liking to the series and picked up all four volumes of the soundtrack some time later, sharing two iconic songs, Strike Shutsugeki and Seigi to Jiyuu, with me over MSN messenger. I subsequently longed to hear more of the soundtrack, and stumbled across Rie Tanaka’s Token of Water. With her singing voice, I was captivated. However, back then, it would’ve been very tricky to get ahold of Gundam SEED, and for the next sixteen years, what sort of series Gundam SEED was would remained unanswered. Recently, at my best friend, and Dewbond of Shallow Dives in Anime‘s recommendation, I would finally begin Gundam SEED. What followed was a fantastic journey; going in, the only knowledge I had was that internet opinions of the show were not entirely trustworthy, and so, I entered with an open mind. The road from the first episode to finish took ten months altogether; I actually started back in September of last year, but only really accelerated my experience in the past six months. With the whole of Gundam SEED now in the books, I am finally in a position to say I’m ready for a collaborative talk about Gundam SEED. I welcome back Dewbond for this discussion; with my best friend, Gundam discussions never stray far from mobile suit mechanics, their analogues in real life and video games, and how politics in Gundam always seem to predict or speak to current events with a chilling accuracy. Such topics form the bulk of discussions I am most familiar with, but this approach comes at the expense of things like characterisation and other topics. Gundam is, after all, a franchise whose largest successes come from a balance of character growth and development, exploration of a plethora of themes as varied as current events to bioethics, and thrilling, well-animated combat sequences. Having Dewbond for this collaboration thus represents a fantastic opportunity to talk about the sorts of things that I might otherwise miss while conversing with more familiar faces, and this in turn will confer, as my best friend puts it, a “most” experience.

  • The HD remaster brought new life into a series, bringing the visuals upwards to improve the experience. It’s not a complete overhaul, but having seen the side-by-side comparisons, the changes are noticeable: to put things in perspective, it’s the difference between 2007’s Halo 3 and Halo 3 from The Master Chief Collection. I’ve heard that subtle changes were also made to the order of events compared to the original, but I’ve not seen the original, and Dewbond similarly enters with the HD remaster, so for our conversation, we’ll be sticking with the HD remaster.


Firstly, Dewbond, I’d like to welcome you back to our latest collaborative project. Before we delve further into the heart and soul of things, I will note that I enjoyed every step of this journey. I’ve always been intimidated by long-running anime; at first, the prospect of watching all of Gundam SEED‘s episodes seemed daunting, and watching the series in a Netflix-style marathon was off the table. However, as I delved into the series, I did find myself watching episodes in twos and wishing I had the time to polish off one more before lunch break ended, or before I turned in for the night. The experience ended up reminding me of YU-NO, which similarly led me to watch multiple episodes in one sitting the further I got, speaking volumes to how much fun I had with Gundam SEED. In fact, I’m now wishing I bought an MG Aile Strike back in the day; that’s how enjoyable Gundam SEED is. However, that’s enough from me: Dewbond, I’d like to hear a little more from you and how you came upon Gundam SEED!


I actually have MGs of each of the Gundams in SEED, at least the first few!

Gundam SEED is a show that I watched in the tail end of the 4kids/Toonami Era, and the start of the Fansub Era. It was a show on late nights on Friday, and having been one of the people who watched Gundam Wing, I was for sure going to watch anything else with Gundam on it. To that end, SEED has been a show that’s been with me for a long time, and a personal favorite of mine. As I’ve gotten older and other Gundam series have come and gone, I’ve always retained the belief that SEED isn’t just good Gundam, it’s good anime period. Which is a surprisingly contrary opinion as most fans look down heavily on the series.

But for me, I love the characters, the story, the mechs, the themes, the music and the ease of which it brings new viewers into a classic Gundam story. Not a perfect show by any means, just look at the animation recycling, but something that I think is unfairly judged, and helped in no small part by the it’s own sequel.


That is something I didn’t know, and it’s great to meet a fellow Gunpla builder! We should swap photos and stories some time. Unfortunately for me, SEED always aired a little too late for me, so I always ended up seeing the first five minutes of episodes before turning in; my first Gundam was Gundam 00, which I’ve heard is similar to Gundam Wing in some ways. Having now seen SEED, I am aligned with the idea that it’s a fantastic series for beginners. The protagonists’ goals are clearly defined, and the scope of the ZAFT-Earth Alliance conflict is slowly expanded upon as not to overwhelm viewers, the mobile suits are similarly smaller in number early on so viewers can get accustomed to what the G-project’s implications are before more variety is introduced, and Kira himself represents a viewer who is similarly thrown into the story.

In many ways, Gundam SEED succeeds in bringing the best aspects of the Universal Century into a fresh environment – it would’ve been a bold new project during its time, and I can’t help but feel that perhaps the animation shortcuts were a result of having spent more time writing out the story; if this is the case, then the story in Gundam SEED more than offsets the fact that the Freedom’s full burst mode is identical in no fewer than six scenes. In the heat of the moment, these can be hard to notice, so in that department, I’ll also give it a pass. Finally, I’ve not seen Gundam SEED Destiny in full (save a few iconic scenes like the Strike Freedom’s launch, which is awesome no matter how the rest of Destiny is perceived), so I entered Gundam SEED with more or less a blank canvas, and will reserve all judgement for Destiny once I’ve gone through it. Further to this, I have heard the unjust hate Kira Yamato himself gets, and SEED demonstrates that almost none of these assertions hold true.


Gundam SEED was the first time a Gundam series was done on the computer instead of traditional hand-drawn animation. I’ve also heard that most of the budget went towards booking top-tier voice actors and music, though I can’t confirm that. What I can say is that the animation recycling is very noticeable, especially after a re-watch. It gets only worse in Destiny, but again we are keeping things to SEED here.

Now on to the series proper. I’ve said before in my own posts that I have little love for the UC timeline of Gundam. I’ve watched quite a bit, enjoyed some parts, but it has never pulled me in as much as the Alternate Universes have. Simply put, the UC’s vaguely defined space politics (and also telepathy) never gripped me as much as say SEED‘s story of science, or Wing‘s “philosophical” nature, or 00‘s peace through violence. I think it is important, for me at least, to point out that SEED has at least two central themes running through it. One for the overall Coordinator-Natural conflict, and one for the characters themselves. Both of these intertwine throughout the show, but I do think they are quite separate.

For the characters and most notably the lead, Kira Yamato, his story is about stepping up to the plate. By using your gifts and powers to do something, and not just run away. This is very present in the first half of the series where Kira, like Amuro Ray before him, struggles with becoming involved in a war he has no interest in. He is a kind and gentle soul who doesn’t want to kill, which is made even worse when his friend Athrun is on the other side. But things are out of his control and to protect his friends and later, the world, Kira comes to terms with realizing what he can do and what he should do.

And this theme is present in all of the characters. From Mu and Murrue on the Archangel, to Miriallia, Tolle, Sai and Kuzzy, to Cagalli and Lacus, and even to Flay. Everyone in the cast has to reckon with whether they will try to do something, or let the world go the way it is suppose to. But I’m getting ahead of myself, Zen, let’s talk about the central two characters of the story, Kira and Athrun, what do you make of them?


A long-standing question that people are asked about anime is, if the visuals weren’t exceptional but the story was, would said anime still be okay? I’ve never given my thoughts on that until now, but Gundam SEED is the perfect example of a series whose visuals might not swing with say, the likes of Gundam 00 (the mobile suit fights and combat scenes have aged very gracefully and look amazing to this day), but as far as story, emotional investment, character growth and world-building, Gundam SEED is remarkably well done: Gundam 00 was my first Gundam, and looking back, if I’d seen Gundam SEED first, I probably would’ve found it to be every bit as enjoyable then as I do now (although the “me” of a decade earlier is unlikely to have articulated his thoughts quite as coherently!).

Once we step away from the internet memes and forum discussions surrounding Kira Yamato, I found a very relatable individual who rises up to the challenge. While his Coordinator abilities certainly would’ve been an asset, it is his heart that makes all the difference. He simultaneously detests war and wishes that other options were available to sort out disagreements, but at the same time, knows that since he’s the only one capable of stepping into the cockpit and defend those around him, he does so whenever needed (however reluctantly). His first few battles open his eyes to the reality of warfare – sometimes, there really is no other way, and hesitating to pull the trigger means watching one’s friends or allies die. Indeed, the worst of it is when he is made to confront Athrun, his best friend.

Athrun might be on the other side of the war, but his convictions and beliefs are equally as strong as Kira’s. Whereas most Gundam series delineate things very clearly, having one’s best friend on the other side immediately changes things by humanising one’s opponents. It was easy to vilify Zeon, but seeing Athrun with ZAFT meant understanding him and his team, too. They’re soldiers, whose sense of duty is no less than Kira’s, and who genuinely believes that swiftly beating his foe is a route to peace. Athrun is not one of the bad guys, and in fact, one sympathises with him for the fact that he is conflicted between his duty and what and what he feels is right. Amidst the horrors and losses accrued in war, Gundam SEED brings these two to the brink, and Athrun’s fight with Kira was a milestone in the series, representing how war and its brutality strips us of what makes us human. It is a tragedy in the making, but fortunately, we have Lacus and Cagalli speak with Kira and Athrun, respectively helping them to mentally recover. By the time the two meet again, they are able to reconcile, and this moment put a particular smile on my face.

Once Kira and Athrun understand one another, as well as what they desire, Gundam SEED symbolically grants them superior mobile suits, armed with a nuclear reactor and possessing the power to finally affect positive change on the world. Had the two been given the Freedom and Justice early on, their brash impulses would’ve taken over and inevitably result in tragedy. This was a brilliant move on Gundam SEED‘s part, in using the mobile suits themselves to visually denote the characters’ state of being. The early Gundams are limited by their batteries, and constrain the pilots, who must be mindful of how they fight. The natural progression of the technology and pilot skill is synchronous with character growth – seeing Kira and Athrun improve and overcome their trials was a rewarding part of Gundam SEED. However, the two do not do this alone. Kira has the crew of the Archangel and his friends to support him early on, and eventually meets Lacus, who changes his life. Similarly, a chance encounter with Cagalli also pushes Athrun in a direction that forces him to choose what matters more to him, and her presence eventually pushes him to follow his heart. Lacus and Cagalli are similarly integral players in Gundam SEED – while they are formidable and capable individuals in their own right, their power lies in being able to inspire and support those around them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Cagalli and Lacus!


I like your view that when Kira and Athrun are given the Freedom and Justice, they are in a sense given power on par with their new resolve. I never really thought of it that way, though in hindsight, Lacus kinda does spell it out.

Kira and Athrun’s relationship is of course, the backbone of the series and it is interesting in how similar and different they are. There are both gentle souls and would avoid killing if they have too, yet while Kira fights for his friends, Athrun fights, at least the start, for a sense of duty. He feels like he has too, that it is expected of him, and that because he lost his mother in the Bloody Valentine, he should be a solider who seeks vengeance. But he isn’t really that kind of person. Even after Nicol’s death (which is changed in the HD version to make it more of a mistake, then intentional by Kira), Athrun’s rage against his friend is only for a few fleeting, but crucial days.

When he learns Kira is alive, he isn’t bent on furthering his revenge, or killing his friend. Through Lacus, he realizes he needs to figure out what he is fighting for. As she puts it to him. “Is it the medal you received, or your father’s orders?” This conversation I think helps pull Athrun out of a rage-filled revenge fest that might have driven him otherwise (as it does Yzak), and allows him and Kira to sit down and talk it out. That is a great conversation and they both reach a sense of peace that is rare both in Gundam and Anime in general.

As for Lacus and Cagalli, they are both interesting characters, and I want to talk about them both. I’ll put Cagalli aside for the moment and focus instead on Lacus. I’ll admit, that when it comes to Lacus Clyne, this is where the anime comes up short in terms of character work. There is too much “tell” and not enough “show” for Lacus, and there feels like we are just supposed to accept parts of her character with it really being shown the A to B road.

Zen, what did you think of the Pink Pop Princess?


It is probably no joke when I say that Lacus Clyne fuelled much of my interest in the series prior to my knowledge of what Gundam even was. I’d been long itching to see what role such a character would play in a series where warfare was a core concept, and where space battles were the norm. One evening, when I’d just started high school, while trying to find more music from Gundam SEED, I inadvertently downloaded Rie Tanaka’s Token of Water. At that point, I wasn’t a fan of any sort of vocal music newer than the 80s, let alone contemporary J-Pop, and Rie Tanaka’s stunning performance in that song blew me away. This one song, with Tanaka’s clear singing voice and emotional delivery, single-handedly changed my mind about songs with vocals. I would similarly fall in love with Tanaka’s other songs as Lacus Clyne (Quiet Night, and Fields of Hope come to mind), and that led me to watch Chobits. But, that’s going off topic: on Lacus herself, I entered Gundam SEED knowing she was an excellent singer and an idol of sorts with a profound dedication to peace as a result of having listened to her songs so extensively.

Gundam SEED‘s portrayal of Lacus is indeed limited – upon meeting her, viewers get the sense that her ditzy, easygoing manner is a veneer, and underneath, she has a strong sense of justice and stands strongly behind her ideals. Beyond speeches and the Clyne name, Lacus doesn’t have quite as direct a role as her popularity amongst viewers suggest. However, I believe that this element is deliberate – despite not stepping into the cockpit herself, Lacus does venture onto the battlefield and rally those around her to see what’s going on around her. Moreover, she’s the one who convinces Kira to forgive himself for what’s happened, and upon seeing Kira’s devotion to what he believes in, boldly steals the Freedom from ZAFT for him. Lacus’ actions in Gundam SEED are indirect, but they nonetheless have a large impact on how the war turns out. Princess-like figures in Gundam hold an unusual power in the series, driving pilots to do things they otherwise won’t do without a bit of encouragement, and in the most recent instalment, Hathaway’s Flash, Federation Commander Kenneth Sleg, remarks that the right women in the right place can tame even the fiercest man’s heart, suggesting that for all of their weapons and power, at the end of the day, those feelings within the heart remain more powerful still.

In Gundam SEED, Lacus is able to impact both Kira and Athrun in this way, though hearts and minds, by gently guiding them along rather than more openly propelling the to open their eyes. This is where Lacus can seem a little less prominent, especially where compared to her counterpart, Cagalli Athha, who is very much a woman of action. Where Lacus is composed and graceful, Cagalli is direct and action-oriented. She speaks her mind and is an untamed spirit, preferring to meet injustice with force compared to Lacus, who would rather sit the sides down and have them talk out their problems. With the rambunctious and daring Cagalli, whose devotion to Orb compels her to even pilot the Strike Rogue, Lacus does seem to have a lesser presence. However, I feel that Lacus is no less important, affecting the story in her own way, and before we delve deeper into Lacus’ counterpart, I would also be curious to hear more about how Lacus would’ve been able to play a larger role in SEED (and be credited accordingly).


As always Zen, you are more abstract, while I look at things like they are on the page, but it is a good counterbalance when we have conversations like this.

Like I said before, Lacus in my view, is the weakest of the four main characters, and the least developed. While Kira and Athrun both go on journeys to find their place in the war and Cagalli learns that you can’t shoot your way through everything, Lacus really doesn’t have any kind of journey. The switch from idol pop princess to the philosophical and measured leader of the Clyne Faction feels very much out of left field. There is just no connective tissue that links the two together. Was Lacus a follower of her father? We know that a little, but did she make her own speeches, did she study the issues? What is her stake in all of this? Hell the only time we see Lacus show a sliver of actual human emotion is when she runs to Kira after her father’s dead. It’s a good moment, and shows you there is a human underneath, but to be honest, we never got to see the ‘icon’ side of her that much either.

It’s not that it isn’t believable, Lacus’s role in the story is to be the guiding force for the other characters. She is in a sense, the figurehead to counter balance Rau Le Crueset and Patrick Zala. There is just no legwork done to try and connect what feels like two different version of the character. Maybe that was due to scripting reasons, critics of the series have said that the show’s tone takes a marked shift after the Kira and Athrun fight, but I can’t say for sure.

What do you think Zen, did you see any of this?


Now that you mention it, following the Kira and Athrun fight, Gundam SEED sets aside the idea of being forced to do extraordinary and difficult things (like shooting to kill even though it’s one’s best friend on the receiving end) in warfare, to the greater conflict between the Coordinators and Naturals. In retrospect, this does come across as a bit jarring, coinciding with the arrival of Muruta Azrael and the Biological CPUs. Gundam SEED suddenly feels bigger – the smaller scale and focused battles suddenly give way to a much larger war, with the racism and hatred between the Coordinators and Naturals really coming to bear. Before, we’d seen it briefly with how Naturals regard coordinators, such as through Flay and her initial treatment of Kira, but Muruta really came to embody the worst excesses of the Earth Alliance.

I would say that the shift is noticeable: even though the arrival at JOSH-A and the beginning of Operation Spit Break showed that the Earth Alliance and ZAFT both sought escalation, the series’ main conflict only comes to the table after Kira and Athrun have sorted out their own differences. The timing is quite convenient, and it does feel like ZAFT and the Earth Alliance were politely waiting for the two to reconcile before unveiling their own hostilities. If memory serves, Gundam SEED did have some directorial challenges (not as severe as Destiny’s, however!), so the tonal change might also be related to why Lacus received less development than she could’ve otherwise.

With this in mind, Gundam SEED still manages to apply the lessons learnt from earlier conflicts to guide Kira and Athrun along, so that when the world descends to extremism and madness, the pair remain resolute in their convictions. This gives a constant beacon for the two that allow them to convey Gundam SEED‘s themes. While SEED might be rough about transitioning from its character-vs-character and character-vs-self conflicts to a character-vs-society conflict in its final third, SEED continues to intrigue because of its messages. As you’ve mentioned earlier, the larger conflict in Gundam SEED deals in the ramifications of genetic engineering and pushing science faster than ethics can keep up. This has always been a fascinating topic for me (and I’m not just saying this because a part of my undergraduate education dealt with research ethics); science fiction is fond of demonstrating the risks of uncontrolled progress (“just because we can, doesn’t mean we should”), and I’d love to hear your thoughts on where Gundam SEED excels in its portrayal of dangerous knowledge.


Gundam SEED, and its outer theme (the inner theme being the characters stepping up to heroism and the right thing), has been to me, after so many re-watches: the good and bad of human ambition, which is represented in many ways by both Kira Yamato and Rau Le Creuset

For Kira, the ultimate coordinator. He represents the strive for humanity to do better. To reach for the stars, to, as Rau says “to be the strongest, to go the farthest, to climb the highest.” Man always tries to go above and beyond their limits, to break them and do them again. It’s for the greater good of humanity. Coordinators were created for that purpose, to help guide humanity into the stars and help create a more perfect earth. Kira’s abilities are the best they possibly can be, but it is only through other people, coordinators and naturals, that he is able to fully become who he is. Kira ends the story as a mature and understanding young man, aware of the evil of humanity, but always willing to see the goodness that is there.

The problem is that while humans are capable of great compassion, they are also capable of great cruelty. And that’s Rau Le Crueset.

If Kira represents the goodness of science, the Rau is the bad. He is a product of greed, ego, ruthless ambition and doing whatever it takes to get ahead. Instead of accepting your limits, that you only have one life. we see Mu La Flaga’s father try to cheat death with his money, to create a clone to replace his ‘inferior son.” Rau only sees the worst in humanity, a greedy war obsessed people who will destroy the planet as long as they can remain on top. And unlike Kira, who has friends and loved ones to guide him, Rau only has himself and he only sees what created him and the misguided hatred of the Patrick Zala and the rest of the hardliners in the PLANTs.

It is a great contrast to me brings the ‘outer theme’ of the series into focus, especially during the Mendel episodes, which remain my favorite part of the series.


This is definitely where Gundam SEED particularly excels: in order to address the larger challenge of forbidden technology, Kira must first understand what he himself is fighting for before gaining the conviction to deal with the embodiment of evil that is Rau le Creuset. Gundam villains have greatly varied, from Char Aznable himself, who initially fought for revenge against the system that wronged his family, to Ribbons Almarc, who was created to guide humanity but deviated from his aims and Full Frontal, who believed that there was a more elegant way to force human migration into space. Rau le Creuset is unique in that Gundam SEED starts him as a masked character who appears immensely devoted to ZAFT and the PLANTs. However, at Mendel, when the cards are finally laid on the table, Rau le Creuset takes on a new menace to Kira and the protagonists. The beauty in Gundam SEED comes from Kira now having the maturity to remain true to his convictions despite hearing everything Rau le Creuset had thrown at him and Mu.

The timing of this confrontation was appropriate: having now come to terms with the idea that he should do what he feels is right, Kira is able to focus even though his world has been rocked with Rau le Creuset’s revelation (and in fact, during their final fight, Kira demonstrates that Rau had been unsuccessful in changing his mind). SEED’s portrayal of how humanity deals with possibility is an optimistic one, and at the same time, suggests that, armed with the sort of compassion and empathy Kira possesses, even the fouler consequences of progress can be overcome. We see this time and time again in Gundam, where protagonists and antagonists, when possessing or given equal power, choose to wield that power differently. When that decision is to wield it selfishly, the very power they sought to control ends up consuming them. Rau le Creuset’s existence was ultimately self-destructive, and no matter how strong his desire to annihilate humanity was, his hubris would be his undoing: he is so focused on the idea that he is unequivocally right that he cannot comprehend that there could be others with a will exceeding his, to protect and defend. While Rau le Creuset might’ve had a smaller role during Gundam SEED‘s first half, his prominent role in the second makes him the perfect foil for Kira.

With this in mind, wars are fought not as single combat between titans, but a result of politicians and people in power giving orders to their subordinates as though they were pushing pawns on a chessboard. On one end of the extreme, we have Patrick Zala and his utter hatred of Naturals, believing their inferior abilities as the singular cause of his wife’s death. In the other corner is Muruta Azrael of the Blue Cosmos, who believes that the Coordinator’s enviable abilities are unfair and personally have wronged him. Where leaders convince their followers that there is an inhuman foe to be exterminated, tragedy can only result: both Patrick Zala and Muruta Azrael are completely consumed with hate, so when someone like Rau le Creuset guides them down a path of destruction, the pair are so blinded by their ideology that they would choose to fight without question. In this sense, I also see Rau le Creuset as a natural force that merely is: immensely powerful to be sure, but one that is only as potent as people allow. Dewbond, where do you stand on the PLANTs’ Patrick Zala and Earth Alliance’s Muruta Azrael?


I’ll be honest, I found both of them to be rather one-note characters to the story. Not bad, but just doing what was advertised on the box. They serve a purpose showing the two sides of the coordinator vs natural debate. Azrael representing the fear, resentment and jealously of the naturals and Zala the arrogance and superiority of the Coordinators. They more plot devices than characters, and I honestly really didn’t think much about them. Though I will say Azrael getting his comeuppance by Natarle’s sacrifice is one of the series best moments.

One of the most interesting things in the story however, is that despite the hatred shared between the naturals and coordinators. Had they let things take their course, the Naturals would have ended up winning. The show makes references to the fact that Coordinator’s are becoming increasingly sterile, and that they actually need naturals to make more of their children coordinators to help stablize the population.

I was always surprised this plot point never really got fully addressed in the story. It gives the entire world of the PLANTs a ticking clock, that despite their supposed superiority, they are a doomed race regardless. It’s almost as if they want to be ‘king of the ashes’ as Game of Thrones put it. Did you pick up any that?


There is no question about that particular moment, although Muruta’s death comes at a cost to Natarle. It’s true that Patrick Zala and Muruta Azrael were the products of decades of resentment and mistrust, which in turn speaks to the writing in Gundam SEED; enough world-building was done to create a compelling and plausible backdrop for the events which lead up to the Alliance-PLANT conflict.

Regarding the reproductive challenges Coordinators face, this is another detail that I enjoyed. Had the Coordinators been created as flawless, the Naturals would have no edge to speak of. Instead, this seemingly small flaw in their genetics ends up being how the Gordian Knot could’ve been cut were it not for resentment and contempt. It’s a very clever way of showing how the simplest solutions (here, the idea of cooperating to better the world, per George Glenn’s original ideals) are often forgotten. Further to this, the genetic limitations in Coordinators also suggest that extremism and patience don’t usually go hand-in-hand. The Earth Alliance very nearly pay the price for this at Jachin Due: had GENESIS fired a third time at Earth, it would’ve probably eliminated the whole of humanity.

These small details really speak to what makes the Cosmic Era so enjoyable: we have the central theme that guides the story’s events, but then the tangents can each lead to a rabbit hole in their own right, giving viewers something further to think about. It is therefore unsurprising that even now, nineteen years after Gundam SEED aired, there can still be meaningful and engaged discussion about the series’ messages, and what it had contributed to the Gundam franchise. (If we go down the characters route:) Of course, no theme can exist in a vacuum, and Gundam SEED‘s characters are very much at the heart of what happens. One of the advantages about Gundam SEED was that with its runtime, it was able to satisfactorily explore a lot of character dynamics. Where do we begin?


I think Gundam SEED has a good run-time. There is enough time to tell the story and I honestly don’t feel that anything was left out. Everything felt wrapped up and explored to an adequate level.

I mean, we could Monday morning quarterback the series to death. There would be somethings I would do differently, I would try to tie the second half closer to the first, I would make the sterilization of the coordinators a bigger issue. I would absolutely give Lacus more backstory and quite frankly, I’d add more boobage. But what we have ranges from good to really great.

Most Gundam Series often fall apart in the back half, as they run into ‘third disc syndrome’ where they need to tie their ending up with some philosophy, but SEED, with it’s coordinator vs natural fight, gets most of it done without it feeling shoved in.


It’s a shame more anime don’t go the 4-cour approach nowadays, when everything is based off BD sales rather than telling a well-explored story, and Gundam SEED‘s first half was solid for this reason. Now that you mention it, the dwindling Coordinator question would’ve been perfect materials in a continuation: it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Naturals to exploit this and use this to start a new war. Of course, this never materialised, which is a shame, because Gundam SEED laid down the groundwork for what could’ve been exciting directions. I don’t believe Gundam SEED Destiny can be said to achieve this, but that’s going off-mission: I mention Gundam SEED Destiny only because, having only seen glimpses of Gundam SEED Destiny on TV back when children’s channels actually aired anime, I’d always gotten the sense that the Cosmic Era had a lot of moving parts.

Gundam SEED‘s first half shows that my misconceptions were untrue; the Cosmic Era is very accessible to newcomers, which is great. Beyond Kira, we have Sai, Flay, Tolle and Miriallia, whose friendship with Kira provides him with his initial desire to fight and protect the Archangel. They’re not soldiers, but ordinary people propelled into extraordinary circumstances. Sai, Tolle and Miriallia each rise to the occasion several times over, as do Marrue, Natarle and the Archangel’s crew. Their initial mission of reaching JOSH-A at Alaska was a very self-contained adventure, giving the characters plenty of time to grow, and despite the tragedies they suffer, continue to fight for the hope of a better world and for survival.

Of the initial group that Marrue encounters at Heliopolis, I am probably not mistaken in saying that Flay is probably the most nuanced, but also the most controversial. Whereas her friends willingly volunteer to keep one another safe and out of harm’s way, Flay herself is reluctant to fight and demonstrates a degree of prejudice towards Coordinators. However, if memory serves, Dewbond, you’ve previously noted that Flay’s portrayal often is not given proper credit: after all, Flay represents the average individual unaccustomed to war and its demands. Beyond the controversies and angry internet discussions, Flay is an integral part of Gundam SEED in many ways. I’d like to hear a little more on her and how her actions are central towards Gundam SEED‘s progression!


Ah yes Flay. If people have followed my look at the series from earlier this year, or my character dive on her. They’ll know that I came out of the series with a newfound appreciation for the character. Where once I sort of dismissed Flay as a ‘nothing character’, someone who was there to cause drama, going back to the series I found that Flay is both a damn compelling character, and a key aspect of the plot.

I won’t re-hash what I said in my blog post (pluggity, plug), but I will say that Flay Allster serves as a mirror to most of the character themes of the story. While Gundam SEED is about the crew of the Archangel, especially Kira and his friends, stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing, Flay is the opposite. She is weak, cowardly, and has absolutely no place in the situation she is. She is shunted from one ship to another, never having stability or purpose. She seeks comfort in Kira’s arms, but then runs right back to Sai when he vanishes. While Miriallia, in a moment of weakness, attempts to kill Dearka, she pulls back, while Flay goes for the gun. She is weak willed, cowardly and often bitterly racist person. Yet it all works in the series.

Because the truth is, not everyone is able to step up to the plate. Not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get it together. Just as their are strong people, there are weak people. Flay is one of those weak people. A woman in a situation she should never be in, and who doesn’t have the personality or mental fortitude to adjust. It is what makes her death at the end so tragic, because she is never able to find a true level of peace. And in a series where nukes end up flying, and a giant space laser is wiping out fleets. That one death seems to be the most tragic of them all.


In the end, all of the death and wanton destruction seen in Gundam SEED is a tragedy, a cost of politicians treating soldiers as little more than pawns on a chessboard. I’d heard of the controversy surrounding Flay, and the combination of your thoughts and being able to see everything for myself puts things in perspective. I could never hate her after all she’s gone through, and especially towards the end, being forced to accompany Rau le Creuset and hear his visions for the world might’ve changed her. Lives are cut short all the time by laser fire, both intended and unintended, in Gundam SEED; this is a series that handles death in a very mature, plausible manner.

Even among the soldiers, death isn’t something to take lightly; Gundam SEED took the time to develop characters on all sides of the conflict. In doing so, viewers come to care for Athrun and his team, as well. By giving the characters down time after their initial operations of the war, we’re reminded that each of Athrun, Dearka, Nicol and even Yzak are humans first, and soldiers second. Consequently, when Nicol dies in the fight with Kira, it mattered little that he was ZAFT and part of the team tasked with destroying the Archangel: we’d come to hope that he might get out of this war alive and survive to play the piano for those around him again. Even with the biological CPUs, once it became clear they were modified into weapons and made to suffer for some fanatical cause, it felt like for Shani, Orga and Clotho, death was a release from their suffering. This aspect was a masterful way to help remind viewers of the idea that behind every gunsight is a human being, and having explored it with you further, this part of Gundam SEED now stands out as being particularly noteworthy.


I have to agree, and while I don’t think SEED goes too deep into the ‘war is hell’ vibe that other shows, including Gundam series have done. It does a fine job when it wants to.

Before we wrap up, I do want speak about Cagalli, and I also think it would be remiss to not talk about the mobile suits of the series, as well as the music. Where do you want to start first Zen?


It makes the most sense to begin with Cagalli! She’s the second of the Gundam SEED princesses, and unlike the refined, elegant and philosophical Lacus, Cagalli is brash, impulsive and driven by a desire to do good on the front lines. She’s a fighter, and very much an interesting foil to Lacus for this reason. However, while her heart is always in the right place, her hot head often threatens what she stands for, too. Her first real meeting with Kira in the African desert sets her on a path of growth – Cagalli begins to realise that it is not prudent to rush in to everything with fists raised and guns blazing.

Things only continue to get more interesting from here after Cagalli meets Athrun after they shoot one another down, and as their paths become increasingly entwined, Cagalli, Athrun and Kira continue to have a considerable impact on one another. Having said all of this, I’d like to hear your impressions of Cagalli, as well, Dewbond!


Cagalli was the character I hated the most in SEED for a long time. For me, she was the worst example of the ‘rebel girl’ trope. The woman who has to be 110% more committed to the cause to make up for the perceived deficit of being a woman. She’s never been a character who stuck well with me, being abrasive, angry, confrontational and trying to prove something. Gundam has no shortage of these bratty characters, and Cagalli fit into that mold well.

However, with this re-watch, I paid a bit more attention to Cagalli this time, and I found that, while she’s my least favorite of the four leads, she isn’t as bad as I thought. Seeing the story with new eyes, I found Cagalli to be all those things, but also someone who has a drive and zeal that helps fill in the gaps of the other character. She may be blunt, but there is a layer of kindness and compassion that can only come from someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. Her relationship with Kira, her twin brother is a good back and forth. While Kira hesitates, Cagalli is a woman of action. Both of them have moments when they are right, and both when they are wrong.

Where Kira struggles to find his place in the war, Cagalli throws herself into it, often to the detriment of the bigger picture and her own safety. She has an emotional side to her that clashes with Athrun’s failed attempt to ‘go cold’ against Kira. It is only during the last half, after her father gave her a talking to, that Cagalli realizes that blindly throwing yourself into the fight doesn’t help anyone and that she’s only doing it for her own self-satisfaction.

So I think I liked Cagalli a bit more this time around. What did you think of her Zen?


Personally, I rather liked Cagalli precisely because she was so blunt and short-sighted early on – perhaps your dislike of her speaks to the fact that Gundam SEED did a solid job of presenting just how immature she’d been at the series’ beginning. In a way, her idealism and belief that being actively involved was the only way to change the world, was something that was exaggerated so we viewers could see how events later on, from meeting Kira and watching him fight, to that fateful encounter with Athrun, culminate in her finally realising that fighting without understanding and unnecessarily putting oneself in danger isn’t the way to go.

This character growth is what makes Cagalli an interesting character; like Kira and Athrun, being involved with the conflict itself teaches them the significance of patience and thinking things through before acting, in turn giving them the conviction needed to stand against large-scale horrors, extremism and foes wielding an inhumane amount of power. I’m always fond of watching characters grow, especially if unlikeable characters become at least those we can sympathise with later on, and signifying this, Cagalli ends up piloting the Strike Rogue, a Gundam – she’s become mature enough to handle the responsibility of operating the sort of power Kira and Athrun wielded when Gundam SEED first began.

This is a fantastic segue into the mobile suits of Gundam SEED. To be honest, this aspect could be an entire thesis on its own, because Gundam SEED‘s mobile suits are awesome, so Dewbond, I’ll make a sincere effort to not to overdo things when it comes to discussing the mobile suits and eponymous Gundams!


I’ve always been a fan of the ‘less is more’ type of design when it comes to Gundam, and SEED mostly does that. The Strike is probably one of my most favorite suits, because even with it’s striker packs it wasn’t overdone. That suit is just damn fucking cool. A great example of re-imagining the iconic RX-78 Gundam, but taking it in a new direction.

The Freedom and Justice I was also a big fan of. Again, the Freedom is a great example of a suit having a bunch of cool weapons, but not overwhelming in terms of design. It’s not dressed to the nines like the Unicorn ends up becoming, or with its weapons stuck on the shoulder like the 00 Quan-T or Nu-Gundam. It’s a damn good design, and the same can be said for the Justice. I love the backpack, and I wish they’d have shown more scene of Athrun riding it.

 


For me, the Strike acts as the perfect first Gundam for Kira – he begins Gundam SEED a civilian, and mirroring his inexperience and naïveté, the Strike by design holds him back and forces him to think tactically. The Strike’s battery is reduced wherever the Phase Shift armour sustains a blow, and similarly, every shot Kira fires consumes limited battery power. In order to protect his allies, Kira must learn to make the most of his mobile suit. The fact that the Strike can switch so readily between different configurations also shows that Gundams can be built for a range of roles.

Indeed, when one looks at the Strike, its design philosophy goes into how the Earth Alliance and ZAFT subsequently design their mass production and special purpose mobile suits. Prior to acquiring the Duel, Buster, Blitz and Aegis, ZAFT’s GINN mobile suits were inspired by the Zaku line, being basic but reliable units that was far more powerful than the Möbius fighter craft. Subsequently, the data the Earth Alliance acquires allows them to build the Strike Dagger, a cut-down Strike that mirrors real-world design philosophies that take place whenever a given product is marked for mass production. Seeing the natural progression of mobile suits among both ZAFT and the Earth Alliance in the aftermath of the information returned from the G-Weapon project was a superb detail that again, accentuates the attention to detail in the series.

By the time Freedom and Justice arrive, mobile suit design has really accelerated, and ZAFT again takes the lead in technology when they successfully incorporate the N-Jammer Cancellers into these machines. From a design perspective, both Freedom and Justice look amazing. The Freedom’s biggest strength is that it works out of the box, and in a word, is the complete package, capable of single-handedly turning the tide of a battle without being overpowered, unlike the 00 Gundam, which spent half the season hampered by the fact that it couldn’t operate at full power. While there is considerable talk of how the Freedom is plot armour, when one considers that the Freedom’s Full Burst mode only allows for Kira to hit five independent targets at a time, the Freedom is actually well-balanced and an extension of Kira’s preference to disarm rather than kill. Compared to the likes of the 00 Qan[T] or RX-0 line, the Freedom is a thoughtful machine (the 00 Qan[T] is capable of teleporting at will, and the psycho-frame on the RX-0 series allows these mobile suits to turn back time or accelerate faster than the speed of light, which is ludicrous).

The Justice itself has a little less notoriety compared to the Freedom, and its design is strikingly similar to the Aegis. In Gundam SEED, I was initially a little less awed by its performance in battle – while similarly has unlimited operational time like the Freedom, it appears the Justice’s greatest strength is its mobility, and its loadout is correspondingly smaller. However, in retrospect, this makes sense: the reduced firepower and Fatum-00 backpack means Athrun is well-suited to assist his allies. He’d been trained as combat pilot and follows orders even if it meant casualties against his liking, so giving Athrun a high-speed mobile suit meant to support those around him allows him to follow his heart and still make meaningful contributions without causing casualties. Indeed, the Justice’s final act in destroying GENESIS was an artfully-done decision.

Freedom and Justice, the two most iconic Gundams in Gundam SEED‘s second half, also form the name for one of my all-time favourite songs on the soundtrack. It’s a tense, urgent sounding piece of incidental music that transitions into a haunting choral performance and speaks to feelings of resolute determination to do what’s right. When my best friend introduced me to that song sixteen years earlier, he mentioned it was for times when I needed to stay focused and not allow setbacks to keep me from doing my best. At the time, I’d been vying for spot of best student in my middle school (I was a bit of a trophy hunter when I was a student, and liked doing well in classes to collect shiny awards for the purpose of having shiny stuff). Said best friend also sent me Strike Shutsugeki, a heroic sounding track that plays whenever a Gundam takes off, ready for battle – this song, I was told, was something I should save for my moment of triumph. The soundtrack in Gundam SEED is, bluntly, amazing, and Toshihiko Sahashi did an incredible job of capturing everything from combat scores, to more melancholy and reflective pieces that speak to the sorrows of warfare. What do you think of the soundtracks in Gundam SEED, Dewbond?


I always love how you go way too deep into the weeds with things like this, while my response is always “yeah, they look pretty cool, I like the one who shoots the lasers from its wings”

Anyway, I do really like how SEED was able to look at what was done before and adapt it for this new re-telling. Like you said the GINN and such are similar, but not a copy/paste job of the ZAKU (that’s for the sequel). It shows a respect for the series that came before, but enough creatively to take things in a new direction. I forgot to mention that I was a big fan of the Buster and Duel as well, as they continued that ‘less is more’ design. The Blitz and Aegis meanwhile never sat well with me. Too busy, too much shit going on, like they were trying to hard. The same for the EA Gundams, which the exception of the Calamity. That was a cool suit.

Going to your point about the music. The tunes of Gundam SEED is where even the most vocal hater of the series has to give it points. This is a top shelf soundtrack, and absolutely where the most money was put into. Each of the opening themes was solid, with great visuals (and boobs). ‘Moment’ remains a great duet that I have yet to see repeated in anime, Believe is a great action packed song, and Invoke by TM Revolution can sit beside Gundam greats like ‘Beyond the Time’ ‘Daybreak’s Bell’ and ‘Just Communication’. The OST was great as well, especially during the final fight between Kira and Rau, or when Cagalli escapes to space.

Lacus’s singing was great as well, and I know that production community worked hard to secure a top-tier singing voice for those moments. Lacus has a beautiful voice, and I like how they were able to incorporate it into the series when they could. I have no doubt that with the movie finally coming, we’ll be able to see more of that.


Gundam SEED (and just about any series with a large mechanical piece) causes me to go a little crazy! I’ll dial it back some, but that there’s so much to go for in Gundam SEED really speaks to my enjoyment of all the different parts. The opening and ending songs were fun, TM Revolution’s Meteor is an iconic piece, and Rie Tanaka’s performance of Lacus’ songs were sublime (Token of Water was the one song that got me into appreciating vocal music and J-Pop!). I think Gundam SEED did a nice balance with Lacus: while she’s a singer, her role doesn’t overshadow the pilots and soldiers. The two songs we do get to hear (Quiet Night and Token of Water) present a very wistful and contemplative mood amidst all of the fighting and chaos, a beacon of light in the darkness, as it were. It is fair to say that my original interest in Gundam SEED came from its soundtrack, from the incidental pieces and openings, to the insets and endings!

Similarly to you, Dewbond, I’m quite excited to see what the Gundam SEED Movie entails. If I’m not mistaken, fans have been waiting for fifteen years for this announcement. That’s quite a bit of anticipation, so I hope that what results from this production, fans will be given a phenomenal experience. I personally have no idea of what to expect, but I suppose that’s also a large part of the fun.


The Gundam SEED movie is going to be very interesting to see, part that it has been so long since it was first revealed, and also because the series is well into its second decade. I hope it is good, but I mean, we can only go up after SEED Destiny.

With that, I think we’ve covered the gambit when it comes to this series. This has been a very interesting conversation Zen, and probably the first where you and I both come to with vastly different ideas. We both looked at this series very differently, but those different views make for good conversation!

Overall though, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is a great mecha show and a great Gundam series. Full stop. I’ve always loved it each time I’ve watched it, and despite some fobiles, it remains a very well done and easy understand Gundam show that newbies can get into. Great characters, fantastic music and solid designs. Like Sword Art Online, it is an anime that people love to hate, but I think those haters have it wrong, and they are missing out on what is a damn fine show.


  • Gundam SEED is indeed a damn fine show, and while Dewbond and I found different facets of Gundam SEED to be particularly noteworthy, the outcome is obvious: the reputation that the Cosmic Era has picked up is not at all deserved, contrary to what the most vocal internet discussions (circa 2003-2004) have said, Gundam SEED is well worth one’s while, and especially with the upcoming film, it could be a good idea to re-watch the series and recall where the Cosmic Era had started. In the meantime, this wraps up the latest collaboration between Dewbond and myself. Two thoughts remain from me: first, I wonder what series might make its way to our table next. Dewbond has suggested that Fate/ZERO (or perhaps Sword Art Online‘s Færie Dance arc) could be a possibility, so time will tell where we head next. The second is that folks interested in doing a collaboration can always get in touch; it’s always nice to get a different set of eyes on things, after all!

Gundam SEED has proven that internet reputation is by no means an accurate or fair assessment of a given anime: looking past the stock footage and whatever other criticisms this amassed back in the day, it becomes clear that Gundam SEED is indeed a fine addition to the franchise, well-suited for folks getting into things for the first time. With due respect, the inter-fandom rivalry has never particularly made much sense: each universe has its own strong points and charms, and speaking as someone who entered Gundam through the Anno Domini universe, I see the Universal Century and Cosmic Era as each possessing something that make them distinct and meaningful. With this in mind, there are precious few people around in the present day to talk about Gundam SEED, owing to the fact that Gundam SEED did begin airing back in 2002. Consequently, where an opportunity to speak with fellow Gundam SEED fans like Dewbond presents itelf, I am inclined to seize such a chance, and our conversation finds that despite its age and the fact it was likely discussed to death back in 2003, there are always new surprises around the corner. Gundam SEED received a remaster nine years after its original airing, dramatically improving the visual quality, and ten years after the HD remaster, it turns out there is going to be more to the Cosmic Era in the form a new model kit, manga and film. I am, of course, a little behind on the times, and while Gundam SEED is under my belt, I’ve yet to see Gundam SEED Destiny in full. I am aware that the controversy surrounding Gundam SEED is legendary, and even the Gundam fans around me indicate that Gundam SEED Destiny is a bit of a special case. However, it does feel appropriate to continue on with things, in the event that the film does reference events from Gundam SEED Destiny. My decision means I’ve got another fifty episodes ahead of me, but with the timelines anime films follow, I suppose that even if I do take another six to eight months to roll through Gundam SEED Destiny, I’ll finish it with time to spare. In the meantime, both Dewbond and myself have previously written about Gundam SEED, and folks looking for my mecha-and-politics focused threads or Dewbond’s big picture theme and character analysis will find them here for perusing.

Dewbond’s Gundam SEED Posts

Infinite Zenith’s Gundam SEED Posts

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Gakkō Gurashi, Finding the Courage to Graduate and Reflections on an Understated Survival Series

“There are days when nothing goes right. There are days when you stumble and fall. There are days when you just want to cry. To cry a lot. To sleep a lot. Or even eat a lot. It’s alright, as long as you pick yourself up again.” –Yuki Takeya

After a biological weapon is accidentally released, Yokohama’s citizens succumb to an infection that renders them as the living dead. Yuki Takeya, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa and Miki Naoki are a part of the School Living club, where they carry out normal, everyday activities to ensure their survival, whether it be going out to fetch supplies or cleaning the reserve water tank on the school rooftops. When Yuki begins making a scrapbook for graduation, Miki recalls how’d she had first met the School Living club, and the unusual condition Yuki is afflicted with. While securing provisions, Yūri and Miki encounter a manual that their former instructor, Megumi Sakura, had been holding onto; the manual detailed survival measures and protocol for dealing with localised infections. Kurumi later sustains a bite from the remains of Megumi while exploring their school’s basement, and while Miki searches for the vaccine in the school’s basement, she also becomes overrun. A thunderstorm disables their school’s power supplies, as well. Yuki manages to summon up the courage to save her friends, and after eluding hordes of the undead, manages to activate her school’s PA system. She encourages the students to head home, now that the day’s done. In the aftermath, Kurumi is saved, and following a graduation ceremony, Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki leave their school, headed for a point that Megumi had previously marked as a potential safe zone. During its original run in 2015, Gakkō Gurashi aired to general surprise, combining the undead apocalypse genre with moé aesthetic; I myself came upon the series a few months after its airing and was haunted by the efficacy of the first episode’s ability to betray very little about how extensive the undead infestation had become. In fact, after the unexpected turn of events at the first episode’s conclusions, I became convinced that I was seeing ghosts out of the corner of my eye. Upon finishing Gakkō Gurashi, my immediate impressions were that this anime had done a superb job of conveying how group survival conferred numerous advantages, specifically how despite Yuki believing herself to lack any skills for helping out, what she’d brought to the table had been raising everyone’s morale, and how her phantasmagorical view of the world actually helped to allow Kurumi and Yūri a sense of normalcy, giving them something to focus on in the short term so that they can maintain perspective on a longer term goal.

However, when one of my best friends crossed the finish line for Gakkō Gurashi a few weeks earlier, the series’ emotional impact had evidently been considerable. The anime had left numerous questions which needed answering, and in our discussion, I came to realise that during my first watch-through some six years earlier, I’d missed a key message in Gakkō Gurashi that my friend had spotted immediately. Gakkō Gurashi is about developing the bravery to move on, and graduation was the metaphor for this route. This was hinted at early in Gakkō Gurashi, when Miki and her best friend, Kei Shidō, became trapped at a mall the day the outbreak began. While they were able to evade the undead and barricaded themselves into a small room, Kei eventually became anxious to leave and see if she could get rescue herself, feeling it preferable to waste away in that room forever. Eventually, the School Living Club are forced into a similar scenario, too: supplies begin dwindling, and their school’s power generator fails. Gakkō Gurashi thus indicates that one cannot remain trapped at one location forever, and that for better or worse, one will eventually need to move on. Survival situations and life events are no different in this regard; while moving on will always entail a certain amount of risk, staying put at one location or milestone results in stagnation and death. Through the use of graduation as a metaphor, Gakkō Gurashi suggests that while moving on can be intimidating, it also opens up people to the possibility of new discoveries and better survival. For Yuki’s sake, Gakkō Gurashi puts on a small graduation ceremony for Yuki and her friends, reminding them of the time they’ve spent together but also congratulating them on having made it thus far, which is no trivial milestone. While perhaps a bit more dramatic in presentation, the underlying themes in Gakkō Gurashi are quite forward; undergoing any first steps on a new journey can be troublesome, especially since one won’t know where the path leads, but together, any challenges encountered can be faced down and overcome where everyone contributes their skill set and perspectives. Similarly, it is together when the excitement from each triumph is amplified. While graduation as a metaphor for possessing the resolve to take those next steps is at the heart of Gakkō Gurashi, I’d missed that in my original discussions despite the fact it was out in the open; this is a consequence of how much Gakkō Gurashi does during its twelve episode run.

What made Gakkō Gurashi so captivating was the fact that the premise and world-building had opened the series up to a myriad of directions. Gakkō Gurashi shows how busying oneself and attempting to make life as normal as possible is integral to survival, whether it be camping in the clubroom or hosting a sports festival. Watching Megumi interact with her students prior to the outbreak shows her as being someone who was utterly devoted to her duties and central to Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri’s initial survival. Her final actions help the three to save Miki later, as well, by instilling in them the desire to survive and move on. Yuki’s hullicinations, a product of her mind attempting to cope with extraordinary conditions dull her sense of safety, but also give her friends a constant reminder that there’s still things in life to enjoy, even though the world has completely shifted from what would be considered normal. The entire catastrophe is unknown in origin, but mention of the shadowy Randall Corporation and their preparedness for such an outcome speaks to both the questionable ethics large corporations take, as well as how certain projects can backfire on those who would conduct them. Each of these directions in Gakkō Gurashi opens the floor up for considering humanity’s innate resilience and ability for survival, as well as how immoral intentions can create unintended, but unprecedented destruction. However, despite having so many elements incorporated into its story, Gakkō Gurashi never once falters; the central theme is as clear as day, and instead, the topics touched upon briefly become things for the viewer to consider as they watch each of Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki survive. There is, in short, something for everyone in Gakkō Gurashi: folks looking for a coherent life lesson will find it as easily as someone who is fond of considering corporate conspiracies, and psychology is just as integral to the story as disaster engineering. While the breadth of topics in Gakkō Gurashi is large, what is impressive is that each topic is given satisfactory depth, as well. Yuki’s hallucinations and mental state is a double-edged sword, while investigation of the school’s facilities shows that thought was given towards designing a plausible, yet low-profile installation for riding out a calamity. As such, it is therefore unsurprising that on my first run, I was swept up by the survival aspects in Gakkō Gurashi, which does a phenomenal job of covering all of its elements in such a short time while simultaneously leaving the door open for exploration.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime incarnation was predestined to be endlessly compared with the original manga from the first day that it aired, and those who picked up the anime with a priori knowledge of the manga were oftentimes disappointed by how the former completely altered the pacing and character focus. Since my experience in Gakkō Gurashi was with the anime first, I cannot speak to this experience, but what I can speak to is the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this series upon watching it for the first time, back when I was still a graduate student.

  • In those days, C# and C++ were my programming languages of choice, being the respective languages for Unity and Unreal Engine. I’m not sure how I came upon Gakkō Gurashi (my original post never covered that particular detail), but what I do remember was that the first episode proved to be much more than I expected. I had started Gakkō Gurashi a ways into December; when Gakkō Gurashi was airing during the summer, I’d focused all of my efforts into my research project and had just enough time to follow Non Non Biyori Repeat, so I’d not even glanced at Gakkō Gurashi.

  • While how I came to pick up Gakkō Gurashi is lost to time, I do vividly remember that the first episode had an impact on me quite unlike anything I’d seen before. Since I’d come in knowing nothing about the series besides the pre-airing synopsis, I was not prepared for the big reveal at the first episode’s conclusions, which sent a chill down my spine. Out my peripheral vision, I saw a filmy figure. I left my desk and headed out into the corridor, where I ran into my supervisor. It turns out he’d been interested in presenting a new inclusion into one of the conference papers I’d been working on, but was waiting for me to finish lunch first.

  • I promptly apologised, shook thoughts of Gakkō Gurashi out of my head, and focused my attention on the suggested additions to my paper, which would go on to win Best Paper at Laval Virtual 2016. However, that day, thoughts of Gakkō Gurashi lingered on my mind, and I immediately knew that this was no ordinary series. My enjoyment of this anime came precisely from having no prior knowledge of what was going to happen, and while episodes would subsequently swing between slice-of-life and survival, they remained very engaging despite progressing at a very slow pace.

  • Upon finishing, I found the survival piece to be the strongest component in Gakkō Gurashi: while having the right gear, fitness level and knowledge is important, per Survivorman‘s Les Stroud, the will to survive is the most vital piece of all. Gakkō Gurashi successfully delivered this message in spades: while Yuki is presented as lacking the physical strength that Kurumi has, or the leadership skills Yūri brings to the table, her upbeat and positive attitude forces Yūri and Kurumi to take a step back and accommodate her, which encompasses doing club activities like outings and sleepovers.

  • By creating this sense of normalcy for Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri also find comfort in doing the sorts of things they’d done prior to the outbreak. Here, Miki accompanies the School Living Club as they prepare for a short excursion to resupply and pick up textbooks from the library. Miki’s being around much earlier than she’d been in the manga threw manga-readers off completely; the original simply had Yūri, Kurumi and Yuki on this excursion, which is presented as a test of courage for Yuki. Having taken a look at the manga up to where the anime wraps up, I conclude that the manga’s story is much more focused and has a quicker pace than the anime.

  • However, the anime itself is successful with its messages, and by drawing out moments that otherwise took a few panels within the manga, Gakkō Gurashi is able to really emphasise the importance of being able to live in the moment. In this way, I count the anime as actually being more effective than the manga at telling a story about moving onwards in life by means of graduation. Of course, this isn’t to say that Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime is outright superior than the manga (or vice versa): both presentations of Gakkō Gurashi have their own merits, and it is only going through both where one can have a complete experience.

  • While the apocalypse is serious business, the charm in Gakkō Gurashi lies squarely with how the School Living Club do their best to live a normal and happy life. The anime especially excels at this: even munching on hardtack is something to be savoured. Thanks to their school’s solar powers and internal generators, plus water purification equipment, the School Living Club are assured of the minimum necessities, allowing their story to focus on the psychological aspect of survival. While Yuki laments that she brings nothing to the table, her naïveté is actually vital to keeping the others focused, and here, after their power supply suffers an interruption, Yuki figures it’s a good idea to pitch a tent and act as though they were camping.

  • The manga’s story is told in a linear fashion, but in the anime, Gakkō Gurashi has Miki already present at the series’ beginning. She originally was out shopping with Kei, her best friend, when the outbreak occurred, and while the two managed to escape the infected, they found themselves barricaded in at the mall. Although their necessities were taken care of, over time, Kei grows restless and desires to leave, believing that proactive survival would be better than being trapped in that small room for the rest of their days.

  • Gakkō Gurashi placed its characters under a great deal of stress, and this was conveyed in virtually every aspect of the characters’ actions. Something as simple as holding hands while falling asleep really drives home the idea that survivors from the outbreak had little more than one another early on. When Kei leaves Miki in search of rescue, Miki very nearly succumbs to despair. This was more apparent in the manga: while she tried to maintain a routine in her day, the combination of loneliness, worry about Miki’s well being and a future that was very much uncertain drove her to despair.

  • Kei’s words to Miki ultimately convinced me that Gakkō Gurashi was indeed a story about moving on; my revisitation of this series actually comes at the behest of my best friend, who similarly was moved by the series and wanted to hear my thoughts on it. Our conversations led me to realise that on my original run, I’d been so focused on the survival piece that I failed to consider the broader themes at play. To this end, I ended up rewatching Gakkō Gurashi front to back, and this time around, was able to gain a different perspective on what the series had aimed to accomplish. Kei is intended to represent the consequences of rushing out to face the future without consideration of the risks involved, as well as the limitations of what one person can do.

  • This was sharply contrasted with the School Living Club’s way of doing things: together, Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri keep one another going. When provisions dwindle, they decide to hit the local mall, and Kurumi figures she can take the wheel. Without any additional traffic on the road, Kurumi is able to arrive at their destination quite handily. During its airing, I’ve heard that Gakkō Gurashi generated quite the bit of speculation owing to the sheer amount of unknowns the series had presented, but unfortunately, in those days, almost all discourse around Manga Time Kirara series was dictated by a handful of individuals, leading discussions to suffer from tunnel vision.

  • One example that stood out was a question from Victor-Tango-Victor’s very own “local Kirara person”, which asserted that the broken windows should be impossible. The resulting speculation was wild, with each theory becoming more implausible than the last, but said “local Kirara person” didn’t even bother adding their thoughts to things. To answer this individual, per Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, after the power goes out, birds would begin colliding with windows on buildings, forming cracks. Since the buildings aren’t heated, extremities of weather would soon cause the cracks to expand and result in the windows shattering within the space of a few months. The shattered lower floor windows could be explained as a consequence of the infected walking into them, since they’re shown as possessing only limited awareness.

  • A little bit of rational thinking is enough to justify the aesthetics seen within Gakkō Gurashi: it certainly wasn’t the JASDF doing low-level bombing runs (presence of explosives damage is completely absent, and there’s no evidence of fire damage either). This sort of thing is why I’m glad to have watched Gakkō Gurashi at my own pace, and here, the School Living Club take a breather after their outing. Megumi “Megu-nee” Sakura can be seen here, and while she was once a well-liked instructor who did her utmost to look after her students, it turned out that she’d died sometime before the series started, after the School Living Club was created to keep Yuki happy. She lives in on Yuki’s memories and offers strength to her when all other lights go out, but her limited presence (a running joke in the series’ lighter moments) continues to confuse viewers until Miki joins the School Living Club.

  • After hearing Yuki and the others, Miki attempts to hail them but finds herself surrounded by the infected. A team effort allows for Miki to be rescued; this is how she’d come to be a part of the School Living Club. Initially, Miki had a hard time accepting that Yuki’s hallucinations were legitimate, and came to clash with Yūri, who believes that Yuki should be looked after rather than scorned. Miki had been completely taken aback when she finds Yuki chattering away to someone who wasn’t there in the music room, and the scene had been quite haunting for it.

  • A longstanding question that anime viewers and manga readers alike wondered about was why Yuki’s uniform colour was different from the others. One Japanese viewer, going by the Twitter handle @mikko367, claimed that the blue and green were perfect inversions of one another, meant to indicate the different mental states between Yuki and the others. Inverting a triple T(r, g, b) representing the colour produces the results I(255-r, 255-g, 255-b). Yuki’s uniform is originally T(133, 128, 184), whereas the green on the others’ uniform is T(121, 135, 70). Inverting Yuki’s uniform yields a green of I(121,135,70), and inverting the green uniforms give a blue of I(133, 128, 184): even without an algorithm doing the work, it should be plain that the inverted colours don’t match.

  • As such, @mikko367 had completely missed the mark in their theory: the colours may appear “close enough” to the naked eye, but it won’t fool a function that compares RGB values. With this being said, “close enough” means that I could go the route of colour symbolism and note that blue is a colour for peace, calm and depression, while green represents health and service. However, I won’t go this route because that’s not what the creators had intended. In an interview with illustrator Sadoru Chiba, it turns out the colours were simply chosen so Yuki would stand out visually from the others because her personality is not consistent with the chaotic and apocalyptic state of their world. The widespread popularity that @mikko367’s theory enjoyed despite being wrong, however, would not last: in a bit of comeuppance, @mikko367 was suspended from Twitter.

  • Conversely, the interview I refer to is factual because it is retrieved from the Gakkō Gurashi official TV guidebook, which offers unparalleled insight into the design elements and production choices behind the anime. Being able to see the concept art for the characters and setting, as well as cast and producer interviews makes it clear that, while Gakkō Gurashi had been intended to promote the manga, a great deal of effort went into making the series stand on its own merits. This accounts for why so many changes were made to the series: in order to maximise the voice roles that Ai Kayano (GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori from Girls und Panzer) and Rie Takahashi (KonoSuba‘s Megumin and Yuru Camp△‘s Ena) had within the series, both were written to have more prominent roles, which is why Gakkō Gurashi proceeds in a non-linear fashion.

  • In spite of the dramatic changes to the progression of events, Gakkō Gurashi nonetheless manages to smoothly tell its story in a manner distinct from the manga’s, and this contributed to my enjoyment of the series. The anime lacks the manga’s sense of urgency and proceeds more slowly, so in order to space things out, a greater emphasis is placed on everyday moments like sharing a meal together. This in turn really shows how a sense of normalcy is vital in surviving trying times, and how simple things like looking forwards to breakfast can provide a major boost in morale. The effect of emphasising everyday moments also provides juxtaposition for when things do hit the fan: when Yuki wonders how on earth they were able to fit everyone into Megumi’s car, which is a four-seater, the illusionary world she crafted begins falling apart. Whenever this happens, Yuki loses her happy-go-lucky demeanor and becomes panicked, requiring some time to regroup.

  • While seemingly frivolous, the act of sending letters serves an important purpose and represents hope: if someone else out there were to find the letters, it would be a sign that other groups of people had survived. While helium-filled latex balloons look fragile, the average party balloon can reach altitudes of around nine kilometres, and moreover, can be blown great distances by high-altitude currents. Assuming they don’t burst from the low air pressure, it is thought that helium balloons can travel upwards of two thousand kilometres from their point of origin, and so, it’s not inconceivable that somewhere else in Japan, survivors might be able to pick up the letters from Yuki and her friends.

  • Of everyone in the School Living Club, Kurumi’s character was the most familiar: she’s a carbon copy of GochiUsa‘s Rize, from hair colour and a preference to wear her hair in twintails, to a boisterous personality, love of physical activity and being in above average condition compared to her peers. Unlike Rize, who was voiced by Risa Taneda, however, Kurumi is voiced by Ari Ozawa, who had played in Hai-Furi as Runa Suruga and YU-NO‘s Yuno. In spite of these differences, Ozawa captures Taneda’s style very well. One wonders if the choice of casting is intentional, since Gakkō Gurashi has an all-star cast: Inori Minase is Yuki, and MAO plays Yūri.

  • Of the girls, Yūri is the most mature and level-headed, acting as a big sister figure for those around her, even when the situation is grim. Despite not getting along with Miki initially, they quickly reconcile after Miki comes to understand what sort of role that Yuki has within the School Living Club. As Gakkō Gurashi continued, hints of a much larger mystery began unfolding after Miki finds a key that doesn’t go to anything Megumi was previously known to have. The thought that their teachers were concealing something from them weighs heavily on Yūri and Miki’s minds, and one evening, unable to sleep, they head off to do a thorough search of the staff office.

  • Yuki ends up joining the party, and while she initially seems to be an impediment rather than an asset, drawing Yūri and Miki’s attention to unrelated materials constantly, she’s ultimately the one who locates a hidden compartment in one of the wall cabinets, which contains a lockbox that holds a special manual detailing the school’s facilities and contingency protocols for the eventuality of an outbreak. This manual ends up being a game-changer in Gakkō Gurashi: had the outbreak remained unexplained, the series’ focus would’ve remained purely on the girls’ everyday adventures.

  • The revelation that the outbreak was the consequence of a freak accident (or carelessness) completely changed the stakes in Gakkō Gurashi, and it was here that, anime or manga, things became much more compelling. It is mentioned that the Randall Corporation was responsible for researching the pathogen that introduces undead-like traits in humans, and moreover, ahead of their research, they’d spent decades and hundreds of millions constructing designated shelters around Yokohama as a contingency against an unintended release of the pathogen. Gakkō Gurashi‘s authors had intended the Randall Corporation to be a reference to Steven King’s Randall Flagg, who appears after a deadly plague eliminates most of the world’s population and plunges the remnants of the world into further chaos.

  • Because Steven King is referenced elsewhere in Gakkō Gurashi, it stands to reason that the Randall Corporation are still very much up and running despite the outbreak; per Randall’s namesake, the Randall Corporation may reappear and cause future havoc at some point in the future. It’s a clever bit of foreshadowing, especially for Steven King fans, although for me, the first thing that came to mind was the RAND Corporation, which was founded in 1948 to drive scientific innovation for the armed forces and said to be a contributor to the rise of the military-industrial complex, which heavily impacts US policy-making in the present.

  • It is not inconceivable that, behind closed doors, there is a fervent desire to manufacture genetic bioweapons designed to only target specific groups of people; Gakkō Gurashi would therefore suggest that under-the-table agreements between governments and corporations may potentially escape and create catastrophe of unprecedented scale. I’ve always been drawn towards the idea that the Randall Corporation’s, dubbed “Omega” in Gakkō Gurashi, was the result of joint Western-Japanese research designed as an ace-in-the-hole for a potential Sino-Pacific war of sorts, but thanks to carelessness or other factors, was released into Japan before it was completed.

  • The serious adverse effects it has in Japan therefore becomes a cautionary tale about how malicious intent will always have consequences and backfire on those who intend. However, this is well outside the scope of what Gakkō Gurashi actually covers; the anime and manga don’t concern themselves with the political or techno-thriller elements of the genre because this isn’t the story’s theme, but the fact that it opens up the floor for discussions of this sort contributes strongly to why I’ve had such a good time with the series. Of course, period discussions were less interested in these elements, and by the time the infamous pool cleaning episode rolled around, all eyes were on how hot Yūri and Kurumi are.

  • The pool episode, for all of the fun times it allows Yuki and the others to share, serves a critical role in Gakkō Gurashi: it provides a distraction for Miki, Yūri and Kurumi. Having found the emergency manual the previous evening, thoughts of their next move occupy their every waking moment, so when Yuki and Taromaru become covered in green shit (algae) from the pond, Yūri figures it’d be a good idea to take a step back and do something else to clear their heads. This is a powerful problem-solving technique in reality, where particularly vexing problems are handled by giving them some time. This is where the expression “sleep on it” comes from; in practise, I’ve found that doing this allows me to return with a fresh set of eyes.

  • Kurumi and Yūri end up having an epic water fight, only to be interrupted by an irate Miki. I suppose now is a good time as any to mention that Gakkō Gurashi‘s soundtrack is an enjoyable one: the opening song is fun, the ending songs are heartfelt, and the incidental music captures both the tenour of everyday life along with the abject terror accompanying encounters with the infected. In particular, the slice-of-life tracks sound like they come out of a fantasy RPG game, and the best songs have a very wistful feel to them. 優しいめぐねえありがとう (Hepburn Yasashī megu nē arigatō, “Thank you for your kindness, Megu-nee”) and 言いたかった言葉 (Hepburn Iitakatta kotoba, “The Words I Want To Say”) are my two favourite songs on the soundtrack, which released as a part of the BDs in the autumn of 2015.

  • The last quarter in Gakkō Gurashi is all business: when Taromaru disappears one rainy day, Kurumi sets off to look for him. Rainy days present the School Living Club with problems, since the infected still retain enough of their neurological functions to evade the rain and take cover inside the school. Moreover, it was during a rainy day where Megumi was lost to the infected: she became infected trying to keep Yuki and the others safe, and after she was lost, Yuki’s mental state deteriorated to the point where she fabricated a reality where Megumi was still alive. This is why Megumi continued to show up early on in Gakkō Gurashi: she’s a part of Yuki’s imagination, although Kurumi and Yūri continue to play along for Yuki’s sake.

  • In the school’s bowels, Kurumi finds Taromaru, who is now infected and much more aggressive than he’d previously been. While she’s able to lock him in one of the storerooms, coming face-to-face with what’s left of Megumi causes Kurumi to hesitate for a second, resulting in her sustaining a bite. Gakkō Gurashi really amps things up, and as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. With Kurumi infected and locked down, Yūri begins losing her composure, as well. The School Living Club is down to two operational members now, and the infected are making their way to the school in hitherto unseen numbers.

  • From what supplementary materials have suggested, the Omega pathogen is a bloodborne disease and is transmitted by means of infected blood. Once contact is made, the afflicted individual has about twenty four hours before their body undergoes a complete and irreversible change. Knowing this, Miki heads off into the school’s basement to secure a vial of the theriac, which halts infection if administered early enough. Unlike Kurumi, Miki lacks the same combat prowess and instead, uses strategy instead. She’s the brains to Kurumi’s brawn, and of the School Living Club, is the most likely to count on solving problems through reasoning.

  • While Yūri might act as the team leader and keeps everyone in line on a good day, her endurance is tested after Kurumi is infected; Kurumi had asked her to finish her off in the event of an infection, and while Yūri does her best to oblige, her heart wins out over her promise. I hear discussions surrounding Yūri’s final choice to not kill Kurumi were particularly fierce: on one hand, killing Kurumi would’ve been necessary to stop the infection from spreading to the School Living Club and outright eliminating their chances of survival, but on the other, Miki had gone off to secure a counteragent which could still save her yet. In Yūri’s position, seeing Kurumi suffer leads her to prepare for the worst.

  • Folks with more years under their belt would exercise longer-term decision making and act based on the information available: if they were past a certain deadline, then euthanising Kurumi would be appropriate, but until then, one would wait. Of course, Miki runs into trouble of her own in the basement as hordes of infected approach her position. She’s backed into a corner and wonders if this is how her time comes. However, right as all hope appears to fade, a familiar voice comes over the PA system, asking the students to head home now that the day’s over. Miki is shocked to see the infected retreat and wastes no time returning to Yuki and the others.

  • Yuki had managed to overcome her fears to save her friends, and by capitalising on the fact that the infected still retain some of their memories, decides to make an announcement to send everyone home. The hordes thus begin receding, allowing Miki to return to Kurumi and administer the drugs she’d located. Yuki might possess the least practical skillset of the School Living Club’s members, but when the moment calls for it, she can come through in a big way. The idea that everyone in a group brings something unique and valuable to the table is a common theme in survival anime, especially if the anime’s themes are more optimistic. Yuki’s courage here is what gives this discussion its quote: as Yuki says, in the face of adversity, one’s worth is judged not by how often they fail, but by how often one picks themselves back up afterwards.

  • It is to general relief that Kurumi survived, but despite the girls’ efforts, Taromaru succumbs to exhaustion and dies shortly after. While Taromaru may not have directly helped in the girls’ survival, his presence similarly lightens up the atmosphere and provides joy in an otherwise challenging situation. Yuki and Miki look after Taromaru the most, and especially for Yuki, this responsibility helps to keep her mind busy. Thus, when Taromaru dies, Yuki offers to leave her old hat with him, symbolising a willingness to let go of the past and potentially, the illusionary world she’d created following Megumi’s death.

  • There’s a catharsis as the girls give Taromaru a burial and make peace with the fallen; once Kurumi has recovered, Gakkō Gurashi enters its denouement. The peaceful weather mirrors this and also brings to mind the weather we had yesterday. Since my vaccine’s now been given the two weeks it needed, I spent yesterday at a local mall to pick up some stuff ahead of returning to the office, before swinging by an A & W to enjoy their grass-fed beef burgers, Yukon potato fries and sugar-cane root beer. We ended up picking up roast duck and crispy roast pig for dinner, which we enjoyed under clearer skies than had been present for the past while – forest fires in the province over have filled our skies with smoke, and the extent of the devastation was such that I ended up donating to help with recovery efforts there.

  • Back in Gakkō Gurashi, after studying a map Megumi had left behind, Yūri decides that St. Isidore University is their next best bet for survival: during the storm, a lightning strike had damaged their school’s generators, and while the backup batteries are still online, their power won’t last forever. The manga presented this as a helicopter crash, but the outcomes are identical – the School Living Club’s runway is running out, and it’s time to move on to improve their survival. However, beyond this, Yuki had also wanted to see themselves off in style via a graduation ceremony. It was this act that led my best friend to request that I revisit Gakkō Gurashi – after finishing the series off, said friend noted that the series’ themes of graduation and resilience were particularly moving.

  • After learning that I’d previously seen this anime, our conversations indicated that there were numerous small details that would make it worthwhile to revisit. I also ended up picking up the Gakkō Gurashi TV Anime Official Guidebook: our conversations led me to realise that this anime had done a great deal more than people give it credit for. Upon finishing my revisit and looking through the guidebook, the amount of effort that went into making the anime a compelling experience became apparent. The reason why I count Gakkō Gurashi a masterpiece is because of how the series is because of how the series was able to tell a clear story while at the same time, open the floor to so much potential discussion. Further to this, the anime did succeed in giving viewers to root for the characters and their survival – my best friend and I ended up spending a few weeks exchanging thoughts on the series and its depths.

  • Coupled with the world-building, Gakkō Gurashi demonstrates that the moé genre can continue to be full of surprises. However, it was a little surprising to learn that Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime was designed to be a standalone experience from the start – the series had been intended to promote the manga and as such, the ending where a girl picks up the letters Yuki and the others had written was meant to be a hint to check out the manga, which continues the story. As of 2019, the manga is complete, so folks interested in seeing what happens next have an avenue to do so. It was disappointing to learn that there won’t be a continuation of Gakkō Gurashi in anime form, but in retrospect, given how the anime presented its themes, the ending was more than satisfactory; Gakkō Gurashi told a very coherent, meaningful story despite deviating so dramatically from the manga, allowing the adaptation to define its own identity and distinguish itself from the manga.

In addition to the breadth and depth of topics covered, Gakkō Gurashi ultimately became an anime of note because of its portrayal of the emotional components of survival; dealing with secondary school aged young women, Gakkō Gurashi portrays each of the characters faithfully. The characters have moments where fear and doubt set in completely; this is most noticeable when Kurumi is forced to kill her crush with a shovel, the psychological scarring this has on Yuki, and later, Yūri’s becoming backed into a corner when weighing whether or not to mercy-kill an infected Kurumi. However, these moments of abject terror and despair are offset by the fact that there remains something worth protecting, and at their best, the dynamics among the School Living Club’s members allow them to not only survive, but thrive in such a hostile environment. The act of collecting helium for balloons (or Kurumi’s successful attempt at capturing a pigeon) and cleaning the aquaponics tank in their swimsuits does much to lift the girls’ morale, keeping them from ruminating on their losses or becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of a difficult journey forwards. The sharp contrast between the happiness that everyone experiences together on good days, and the horrors they face at their lowest was very tangible, to the point where several moments had me thinking that, had I been present with a good rifle, I might’ve been able to help the School Living Club sort things out. For this, Gakkō Gurashi captures the full spectrum of emotions one might reasonably expect to see in such an apocalypse, bringing each of Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki to life. This in turn creates a powerful connection to the characters, and viewers thus become invested in their survival, hoping that everyone remains safe regardless of what their next steps are. As such, Gakkō Gurashi is a powerful milestone in the realm of moé anime, demonstrating that the genre is robust enough to cover stories beyond the usual CGDCT genre if the producers so desired. For breaking out of a mold that characterises the genre, Gakkō Gurashi was full of surprises, and while the series remains quite unknown today, it would be unfair to consign it to the set of forgotten anime: anime such as these really demonstrate what is possible within moé, and to dismiss anime on virtue that their aesthetics are not to one’s liking entails the risk of missing out on series that are much more than they outwardly appear to be. Gakkō Gurashi thus earns its place as a masterpiece in my books, being a significant (and oft-overlooked) anime by showing what is possible within a genre largely defined by comedy.

The Tropical Fish Ran Away: The Aquatope on White Sand First Episode Impressions

“When you wake up every day, you have two choices. You can either be positive or negative; an optimist or a pessimist. I choose to be an optimist. It’s all a matter of perspective.” –Harvey Mackay

After suffering from a series of setbacks as an idol, Fūka Miyazawa runs away from Tokyo and decides to visit Okinawa, the southernmost island prefecture in Japan. She runs into a fortune teller, who suggests that she head south. Fūka ends up falling asleep on the beaches and the next day, very nearly succumbs to heat stroke from the hot tropical sun. While walking along the road, Fūka encounters Karin Kudaka; she’s an office lady working with the area’s tourism board to drive up travel. Karin suggests that Fūka head on over to the Gama Gama Aquarium. While looking at the different exhibits, she spots a Yaeyama blenny, which prefers to keep to itself but also feeds in algae and weeds to keep aquariums clean. Moved by the fish’s thankless efforts, Fūka begins to cry in earnest after remembering how hard she’d worked to make her dream of becoming an idol come true, and finds herself swept away by the aquarium’s water, eventually encountering a whale shark and schools of tropical fish in the ocean’s depths. When she comes to, she finds herself face-to-face with Kukuru Misakino, a high school girl who is Gama Gama’s deputy director and works countless shifts to keep their aquarium afloat. Kukuru is pleased to meet Fūka and mentions that the aquarium is hiring, but had considerable difficulty with applicants. Fūka decides to seize this opportunity, surprising Kukuru. This is The Aquatope on White Sand (Shiroi Suna no Aquatope), the latest addition to P.A. Works’ venerable catalogue. In this production, director Toshiya Shinohara, writer Yūko Kakihara and composer Yoshiaki Dewa make a return: these three had previously collaborated on 2018’s Iroduku: The World in Colours.

Whereas P.A. Works appears to be setting The Aquatope on White Sand up as a coming-of-age story about discovering one’s calling through open-mindedness, The Aquatope on White Sand does have one abberent element – throughout the first episode, small wood spirits known locally as kijimuna (木の精) can be seen. These spirits are thought of as tricksters who love pranks, and while they appear receptive to humans, oftentimes cannot maintain long-term friendships with them. In reality, they are relegated to the realm of folklore, but in The Aquatope on White Sand, kijimuna are visible on several occasions and presumed to have pranked Fūka after she’d fallen asleep on the beaches. P.A. Works’ track record with magic has been dicey, but with The World in Colours, the studio’s writers appear to have finally found their footing: The World in Colours had successfully and wholly embraced magic as a part of its plot, making it a central element in driving Hitomi’s growth while at the same time, ensuring that any constraints surrounding magic were clearly defined such that it wasn’t the sole driving force behind Hitomi’s development. While the extent of magic in The Aquatope on White Sand remains unknown at this time, being limited to Fūka experiencing a life-like vision, the outcomes from The World in Colours suggests that if magic is to be an integral part of The Aquatope on White Sand, there is precedence from which to establish the extent and scope of magic as a driving force behind the experiences that Fūka and Kukuru will share throughout The Aquatope on White Sand.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Within the first few seconds of The Aquatope on White Sand kicking things off, it is immediately apparent that this is going to be a series with top-tier art and animation: like The World in Colours, P.A. Works is fond of showing what they got, and both series open with a stunning set of visuals that really draw the viewers in. One could say that The Aquatope on White Sand is the second coming of The World in Colours, with twice the runtime and a focus on the workplace this time around, so I am curious to see if this series will be able to weave in magic and supernatural elements together with the sort of thing that made Hanasaku Iroha and Sakura Quest work.

  • Fūka begins her journey after quitting her previous occupation as an idol: having watched the likes of Wake Up, Girls!, I’ve seen previous portrayals about how tough the entertainment industry is, and how being a centre is a big deal for idols (they’re equivalent to a project lead or squad leader). While Fūka put her all into her work, this effort never seemed to correspond with results, and her handlers think that Fūka is making a mistake in quitting. It’s clear that the agency Fūka is working for do not get along with her or have much faith in her talents.

  • One of the other idols who’d been assigned to replace Fūka is tearful about her departure: while her superiors may not view Fūka favourably, this scene does suggest that with her peers, she got along with them. Fūka’s decision to quit, however, is final; The Aquatope on White Sand is not a story about making it big as an idol unit, and the sort of melancholy that accompanies Fūka is reminiscent of how Hitomi had started The World in Colours sullen and downcast. Because there is precedence for what is to happen, I have a feeling that the events of The Aquatope on White Sand are cast in stone already. However, merely because a story’s direction is clear doesn’t make a work any less enjoyable: a work’s success comes from how an outcome is reached.

  • After Fūka ends a call with her parents, it is clear that they still love her very much and in fact, look forward to her return home. However, on the spur of the moment, Fūka longs for some space, to lose herself somewhere, and spotting an advertisement, she decides to head for Okinawa. A one-way ticket can be had for as little as 70 CAD, and within moments of landing at Naha Airport, Fūka takes an interest in a tank housing tropical fish, including what appear to be several Paracanthurus hepatus (Blue Tang, or colloquially “Dory”).

  • There is a sharp contrast between the warm, inviting atmosphere surrounding Naha and Fūka’s melancholy, but in spite of this, she’s still enjoying herself somewhat: she’s seen eating a Blue Seal ice cream while strolling along a shōtengai. Blue Seal has an interesting history: it was originally founded to provide Americans stationed in Okinawa flavours of home via ice cream, and later on, incorporated Okinawan elements into their ice creams. With temperatures today hitting a balmy 31°C, I’m glad to have spent the morning mowing the lawn and backyard, before cooking up pizza-style double cheese dogs for lunch, accompanied by a tall glass of lemonade to ward off the heat of the summer sun.

  • For the first time since arriving in Okinawa, Fūka smiles after speaking with a fortune teller who calls out to her. While Fūka is impressed with how much the fortune teller seemingly knows about her, clever use of camera angles and framing indicate to us viewers that fortune tellers are uncommonly observant people and can spin vivid stories from only a few prompts. After giving Fūka a general overview, she also spills her heart out and is grateful that Fūka had been around to listen to her. The fortune she gives Fūka is to head towards the direction of Sagittarius, a centaur.

  • This is a clever touch: because people under the Sagittarius sign are said to be particularly open-minded, free-spirited and fun, the fortune teller is hinting at how Fūka will meet someone precisely like this during her travels. After consulting an astronomy app on her phone, she begins heading off in search of this fated encounter. Fūka is seen rocking an iPhone 12 Pro, evidenced by its distinct triple-camera setup. I’ve actually been meaning to buy a new iPhone, but my previous company had loaned me an iPhone Xʀ, and this loaner has served me quite well. I do plan on returning it at some point, but since it remains a solid phone, it allows me to hold out until the iPhone 14 is announced; the iPhone 13 looks like it’s going to be a underwhelming device.

  • I only need a satisfactory device to test apps on, so I’m in no particular rush to upgrade. With this being said, if I were still rocking my iPhone 6, an upgrade would be mandatory, since the iPhone 6 only supports iOS 12. Returning the discussions to The Aquatope on White Sand, at least one kijimuna can be seen wandering the island at his own pace. This small detail makes it clear that there is going to be a magic piece in this anime, and while P.A. Works’ track record with magic had previously been questionable, its inclusion in The World in Colour was superb. I imagine that kijimuna will become more commonplace later on, along with the supernatural, so it will be curious to see how this plays out with the more conventional workplace story.

  • Yoshiaki Dewa’s composition in The Aquatope of White Sand bears the same style as the music that was composed for The World in Colours, although unsurprisingly, since this anime is set in Okinawa, sanshin are utilised for the soundtrack. However, the piano pieces bring back memories of watching fireworks over the Nagasaki harbour, and after Fūka falls asleep on the beach, she awakens the next morning with a start: someone (or something) has pranked her by placing what appears to be bleached coral in a circle around her.

  • Kukuru is the polar opposite of Fūka, being optimistic, friendly and energetic. She enjoys a breakfast of fried gurukun (double stripe fusilier, or Pterocaesio digramma) before rushing off to school on her bike. Whereas Fūka’s movements are slower, Kukuru is positively bouncing around the place: she brings joy into The Aquatope on White Sand, and anyone who’s been around the block long enough will immediately spot that she and Fūka are destined to meet precisely because, like Kohaku and Hitomi, their opposite personalities will create new adventure.

  • Predictability has never been an issue for me in entertainment: what matters most is the experience it takes to get a given destination. This is similarly why I never tire of first person shooters and burgers; while the central elements are common to all, it’s the small (or not-so-small) variations that make each stand out. However, this isn’t something that all anime fans share; well-known detractors of P.A. Works have finally come out of the woodwork and immediately set about critique every single aspect of The Aquatope on White Sand, down the to the last pixel, citing similarities to previous works and familiar character designs as rendering this series unwatchable.

  • I’d been hoping that The Aquatope on White Sands would launch in a low-profile manner, but in retrospect, this was a pipe dream at best. However, unlike Super Cub, this time around, I’ll steer clear of external discussions surrounding The Aquatope on White Sands so I can watch and enjoy this series at my own pace. Here, Kukuru speaks with her friends, Tsukimi (shown here) and Kai; Kukuru’s been fishing with Kai since forever, and Tsukimi wishes that Kukuru would be more focused on the human world; her latest assignment submission completely misses the project’s objectives, being about squid when she’d been tasked with mathematics.

  • Fūka quickly wears out as the morning sun beats down on her, and those favoured with a keen eye will see the air shimmering from the heat. Temperatures in Okinawa are no joke; during the summer, the average high is 32°C, and at night, it only drops down to 27°C. A few weeks ago, the heat in my area hit a record-breaking 36°C for several consecutive days in a row. The heat has dissipated now, and temperatures are more seasonal, but the blistering temperatures have sparked wildfires in the province over, and the instability created some of the largest thunderstorms I’ve seen in a while.

  • Every meeting in a given anime is important, and here, Fūka meets Karin, who works with the local tourism board. Karin quickly deduces that Fūka is a visitor, and after giving her a bottle of water to cool down, offers to drive her to the nearby aquarium. Knowing that P.A. Works is driving means that a part of me was inclined to go location hunting even this early in the game, and so, armed with the power of Google Maps, as well as the knowledge that The Aquatope on White Sand is set in Nanjō, I decided to have a look around to see if I could find the aquarium.

  • A single still in the anime, portraying a gazebo overlooking a beach, led me to do a search along the coasts near Nanjō. In moments, I had my location: this is Azuma Sun Sun Beach, located to the east of Nanjō. Visitors can expect to pay 500 Yen for parking, but beyond this, visiting is free, and it is here that Gama Gama Aquarium is located. A look around shows that there is no aquarium at the site, and more Google-fu finds that the largest aquarium in Okinawa is DMM Kariyushi Aquarium, located 25.8 kilometres away by car. Further to this, with this location as the starting point, I was able to trace back the path Fūka had been walking along prior to meeting Karin.

  • The choice of location was almost certainly done for convenience’s sake, so Kukuru could get there easily from home and school. With this knowledge, I’ll begin poking around and see if I can locate more spots seen in The Aquatope on White Sand as they are presented. Having Azyma Sun Sun Beach as a starting point is an incredible asset, and I imagine I’ll have more time to search for locations in the near future, so for the present, we’ll return to Fūka, who is absolutely enjoying the magical sights within the aquarium. When she reads about the Yaeyama blenny (Ecsenius yaeyamaensis), she learns the fish is low-profile but does an important job of eating moss and algae, keeping the tank clean.

  • Out of the blue, Fūka feels under-appreciated and dissolves into tears. The tanks suddenly seem to engulf the space, and Fūka finds herself in the middle of the ocean with schools of fish, even spotting a whale shark in the process. This is probably an illusion cast by the elusive kijimuna, although as it is early in the game, how much magic there is in The Aquatope on White Sand will remain to be seen. This scene, however, does show how sophisticated P.A. Works’ craft have come over the years; their anime consistently impress from a visual perspective.

  • When she comes to, she finds herself face-to-face with Kukuru, whose remarks to Fūka suggest that the phenomenon she’d just witnessed might very well be real. Like Kohaku, Kukuru is comfortable with speaking with people she’d just met, and she offers to take Fūka on a tour of the aquarium, which is named after Chibichiri-Gama Cave, which is known for being the site of a horrific and tragic mass suicide. As Kukuru says, during the final days of the Second World War, a hundred and forty took shelter hear, but out of fear that the American Marines would subject them to torture upon capture, began killing one another to escape such a fate. In the end, eighty-four died in this cave.

  • It’s not often that anime mention the horrors of World War Two, and Okinawa did see some of the fiercest fighting as Allied forces prepared to use Okinawa as a staging area for invading the home islands themselves. The Aquatope on White Sand is not a World War Two anime, and as Kukuru takes Fūka deeper into the aquarium, the magic of such institutes becomes apparent. Because I live in a land-locked area, there are no aquariums, and the last time I went to one would’ve been Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. Perhaps in the future, I will consider a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium.

  • At the first episode’s end, Fūka suddenly takes an interest in working at the Gama Gama Aquarium and implores Kukuru to allow her a position on the team. While I’d considered Fūka to be quite like Hitomi, that Fūka seizes the initiative here suggests that while she might be saddened by turning away from her old job as an idol, a part of Fūka still wants to do something meaningful. Hitomi, on the other hand, needed a bit more guidance to begin seeing the world in a new light, so I imagine that, as The Aquatope on White Sand progresses, viewers will have a chance to see the real Fūka. It’s a strong start to P.A. Works’ latest title, and I’m definitely looking forwards to seeing where this one is going.

Immediately out of the gates, the aesthetics that Shinohara and Kakihara bring to the table are noticeable: The Aquatope on White Sand feels distinctly like The World in Colours, possessing a sense of gentle melancholy and subtle longing for something unknown. Fūka takes on the same role that Hitomi did – both had suffered setbacks in their lives and lost their direction. Similarly, Kukuru’s enthusiasm for aquatic life and her extensive knowledge of the local aquarium parallels Kohaku’s energy and proficiency with magic. Where these two different personalities meet, the end result is an inevitable journey of self-discovery. However, a retread of The World in Colours wouldn’t be particularly enthralling. Fortunately, The Aquatope on White Sand introduces one additional element into its story – Gama Gama Aquarium appears be undergoing challenges. Kukuru is working so many shifts there that it’s negatively impacting her studies, and her grandfather is always out and about speaking with people. Moreover, Kukuru’s remarks to Fūka suggest that the aquarium is having trouble finding new staff. This workplace component is reminiscent of Sakura Quest and Hanasaku Iroha, both of which involved newcomers making a fresh start at a workplace. While the job initially seems above what Yoshino and Ohana, their series’ respective protagonists, can handle, both mature into their roles and come to greatly enjoy what they do. The extended runtime in The Aquatope on White Sand thus suggests that this anime is going to be an amalgamation of The World in Colours and P.A. Works’ anime on the workplaces: this is a bold and ambitious melding of the two genres I’ve always felt P.A. Works to excel in. Consequently, between P.A. Work’s track record and the fact this first episode has been very strong, expectations for The Aquatope on White Sand are going to be correspondingly high.

Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou.: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Change happens by listening, and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.” –Jane Goodall

Sayu decides to take up a part time job at the local convenience store, and Yoshida brings Airi to meet Sayu. Later, Sayu runs into Yaguchi Kyouya, who Sayu had slept with previously. Yoshida manages to convince him to back down, and Sayu’s coworker, Asami, later shares her past with Sayu. Later, Asami notices a vehicle tailing Sayu; her older brother’s come to take her home. Sayu realises her time is probably up in Tokyo, but manages to attend a summer festival with Yoshida. The next morning, Yoshida meets Issa Ogiwara, Sayu’s older brother. After the two sit down to talk and ascertain Sayu’s situation, he agrees to give Sayu two more weeks to sort things out. Sayu later explains to Yoshida and Asami that she ran away from home after befriending a classmate who committed suicide from bullying. Because her mother accused Sayu of what had transpired, Sayu left home and attempted to make it on her own. While Yoshida is initially reluctant to help Sayu, believing that she should face her family problems on her own, in his heart, he also wants to go. Yoshida’s coworkers spot this and assure him that work will be fine, so he accompanies Sayu back to Hokkaido, where Sayu returns to her school and comes to terms with what happened. Upon returning home, Sayu’s mother remains as cold as ever, but after hearing Yoshida’s words about what a parent’s responsibility entails, she relents and allows Sayu to stay. Yoshida prepares to return home, and Sayu declares that she’s fallen in love with him, prompting Yoshida to reply that he’d be ancient by the time she were an adult. Upon reaching his apartment, Yoshida realises that Sayu had a much larger impact on his life than he could’ve imagined. Two years later, Yoshida remains as dedicated to his work as ever, while Sayu graduates and slowly makes reconciles with her mother. One evening, Yoshida turns down an invitation to hang out with his team after work, and encounters a girl under the same lamppost where he’d first met Sayu. She asks Yoshida if it’s cool for her to stay with him for the night, bringing Higehiro to a close. Despite its provoking premise, Higehiro ended up being continually full of surprises, with a strong message for viewers willing to overlook the fact that such a premise is outright illegal in reality.

At its heart, Higehiro is a story about listening. Yoshida embodies this concept particularly well throughout Higehiro – at work and in his personal life, he listens to what those around him say before making a decision, rather than speaking up all of the time. By listening rather than speaking, Yoshida is able to understand what those around him intend to do, and with this knowledge, he is better prepared to determine what his next move is. The advantages of listening are numerous, and letting other people lay their cards on the table first gives one the upper hand in a situation – knowing someone else’s viewpoints and intents corresponds to having more information with which to make a satisfactory decision. When Sayu enters his life, Yoshida hears her out and determines it’s safer for her to stay with him (even if it is contravening the law), and similarly, upon learning that Issa has shown up to pick Sayu up, Yoshida patiently listens to Issa’s explanation of what had happened, formulates a course of action in his mind and manages to convince Issa that two weeks will help Sayu to set things in order. During their tense conversation with Sayu’s mother, Yoshida is tempted to act, but instead, conducts himself with restraint. Hearing Sayu’s mother express the depth of her hatred for Sayu for the first time allows him to fully understand what Sayu had undergone, and in this moment, Yoshida realises that Sayu’s mother is someone to similarly hear out. By exercising patience, and then replying in kind, Yoshida is able to make a reply that deeply affects Sayu’s mother, enough to convince her to at least give Sayu a chance at a fresh start. Yoshida’s tendency to not speak his mind is initially one of his shortcomings, and while most situations allowed him to tough it out, his coworkers immediately spot how Yoshida oftentimes does not follow his heart, which has led him to regret some of his choices. By supporting him and encouraging him to speak up every now and then, Yoshida’s coworkers also play an instrumental role in getting Yoshida to Hokkaido, where he succinctly makes a case for why Sayu’s mother is the only person with the right and duty to ensure Sayu is looked after until she becomes an adult. The balance of listening and speaking is masterfully presented in Higehiro, and the series aims to suggest that by listening well, one can also speak better to affect positive change in those around them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After taking up a part time job at the nearby convenience store, Sayu befriends Asami, who provides her with a peer to speak with. The sum of Sayu’s meetings with people who are willing to listen to her play a large role in helping her to open up; Asami had come from a family of lawyers, and against their expectations, she desired to be an author above all else. When she takes Sayu to a spot special to her, it shows Sayu that people in the world do accept her for who she is.

  • I was initially surprised to see Airi and Sayu meet so early on, but in retrospect, it makes sense, given that Higehiro is about Sayu’s road to recover. By eliminating the possibility for external drama, Higehiro is able to focus on its core story; in other series, secondary plots can represent a rabbit hole of sorts, complicating things and potentially introducing challenges that may not always be satisfactorily resolved. In the case of Higehiro, Sayu continues to encounter mature and reasonable people after meeting Yoshida, and while they may not know her circumstances fully, they are more than willing to support however they can.

  • The whole of Higehiro is about how patience in extenuating circumstances is what leads to understanding, and subsequently, how this understanding corresponds to helping one to find their footing anew. The changes in Sayu are gradual: while she’s found Yoshida and his kindness, her previous experiences lead her to occasionally wonder if Yoshida will cast her out. This concern is what causes her to try running off again after learning Yoshida is bringing Airi to his place, but the reality was he’d wanted the two to meet.

  • I ultimately found that the dynamic between Sayu and Yoshida resembled how an older brother might regard a younger sister, or how an uncle would look after a niece. Yoshida and Sayu feel more like family than two strangers as Higehiro progresses; all thought of failed relationships are benched as the story focuses on how Yoshida begins to care enough about Sayu to want her to properly resolve whatever problems had led her to run away to begin with. This aspect of Higehiro particularly impressed: while the possibility to go off the rails was always present, the series was consistently heartwarming and disciplined.

  • The further into Higehiro I got, the more I felt bad for Yuzuha, who’s clearly head-over-heels for Yoshida and openly expresses it to him even in the knowledge that his heart is elsewhere. In spite of her own feelings, and her seeing Airi as a competitor, Yuzuha herself is not unkind, helping Sayu to lay low when she’s not quite ready to face her brother and head home. During my watch of Higehiro, I found Yuzuha to look quite familiar, and I finally recalled the rationale for these thoughts; she resembles a coworker from my previous position.

  • While Sayu’s time in Tokyo begins running out, she is able to spend a worry-free and memorable evening with Yoshida at the local summer festival. Being with Yoshida gave Sayu the strength to face her own problems, and she begins to consider a future where she does return home to get things sorted out. However, a part of her also worries about being unable to do so, and this is why Yoshida consents to let her stay; he wishes to give Sayu as much time as is appropriate to let her prepare herself, so long as she has a plan in mind.

  • After the bliss of attending the local summer festival together, Sayu comes face-to-face with her older brother, Issa. While Sayu’s reactions suggested that he cut a threatening figure, after Yoshida sits down and gets another perspective of the situation, he manages to buy Sayu two weeks in which to sort her affairs out. Contrary to appearances, Issa is reasonable, and after the situation is clarified, he and Yoshida share a cordial relationship, being able to speak openly to one another. This is something Higehiro does well: even the scummiest characters can be spoken with and understand where the lines are drawn.

  • I appreciate that this is to be quite unrealistic, since reality is nowhere nearly as kind, but from a narrative standpoint, it allows the story to focus purely on Sayu. After her brother’s arrival, the two weeks timeframe is shorter than Sayu had hoped, but traditionally, I’ve always found that giving people moderate stress oftentimes drives them to perform better and push themselves harder. Knowing she will have to go back pushes Sayu to finally open up fully to Yoshida; she shares her past in full with Yoshida and Asami.

  • It turns out that Sayu had always been a bit of a lone wolf at school and despite her appearances, never got along with the others. She befriends a classmate, Yūko, who was similarly introverted, but when the popular clique learns that one of the male students has a crush on Sayu, who always seems so aloof, they decide to go after Yūko instead, who is driven to suicide after the bullying takes an ugly turn. This is no trivial matter: I’d grown up dealing with bullies, and the resolution I found was that they’d been salty about my book smarts. Once I showed them the same book smarts could help them out, the bullies became people I could get along with. Of course, it helped that I also took up martial arts to bolster my confidence, but I appreciate that for some folks, bullying can seem like an insurmountable barrier.

  • In the aftermath of Yūko’s suicide, Sayu felt backed into a corner; her own mother refused to support her. Sayu felt like she had no other options beyond running away from home, and Issa found himself unable to help. This downward spiral is what led Sayu to Tokyo, where she exchanged her body for a place to stay during her lowest point. Devoid of any meaningful human relationships and connections, Sayu’s view of the world became distorted, and it was only through a chance meeting with Yoshida that she is able to recover.

  • In the end, Yoshida is able to do what Issa couldn’t, and in doing so, earns the latter’s respect. I imagine that Yoshida’s able to succeed here for a few reasons; firstly, as an outsider, he brings to the table a completely different perspective, and since he is so far removed from the challenges that Sayu and Issa had faced, he is able to approach problems in a naïve manner (that is to say, without knowing the nuances, he attempts to help Sayu without worrying about worrying about nuances in her scenario). Secondly, as a hard worker and honest person, Yoshida focuses purely on helping her to find her happiness in a way appropriate for a minor.

  • I understand that Higehiro isn’t for everyone: for one, the scenario is about as legal as discharging a firearm in city limits, and many variables are eliminated, essentially giving Sayu a straight shot back home without any serious external impediment. The real world is rather more complex, but for the sake of a story, it is acceptable to abstract out complexities so long as the flow of events lead to a clear message being conveyed. Consequently, gripes about the social and legal facets of the series as being implausible or unrealistic would run contrary to the theme in Higehiro: taking a step back and listening to what is being said. The equivalence of this in games would be complaining that it should be impossible to heal up bullet wounds by ducking for cover and waiting a few seconds.

  • Of course, if some folks do demand that level of realism in their anime, that’s their call: so long as no one is demanding I study up on Greek mythology to understand why a given review is the right way of approaching an anime, I won’t mind. Conversely, if someone does reference something only literature or philosophy students would study and suggest that it’s mandatory reading (rather than recommended reading) to understand why a work succeeds or fails, I would count the review as being . Back in Higehiro, on Sayu’s last day in Tokyo, Asami calls Yoshida to report that Sayu’s disappeared. It turns out she’d wanted to check out his office at least once, and got lost along the way, but is otherwise fine.

  • In the end, Yoshida follows his heart and accompanies Sayu back to Hokkaido, even taking her to a café of sorts. However, the true challenge lies ahead yet; besides heading home to have her first face-to-face with her mother in over a half-year, Sayu also wants to return to her school, where Yūko’s life was tragically cut short. Sayu had intended on making this visit alone, but upon reaching the school rooftop, finds herself overcome with emotion. With Yoshida’s presence comforting her, she is able to continue on.

  • Yoshida’s words to Sayu are similar to mine: he suggests that the best way to honour Yūko’s memory would be to live her life as fully as possible and take the step forwards where she couldn’t. While Sayu doesn’t notice this, the school’s replaced the old railing with a large fence to prevent future suicides; this simple change demonstrates that contrary to what Sayu believed after her mother’s words, Yūko was missed, and her death galvinised the school into taking more active measures to ensure bullying is addressed so it does not lead to another suicide in the future. There’s very little to go on, but I felt that the fence could be a visual metaphor to represent the changes that took place. Thus, to ensure Yūko did not die in vain, Sayu must find the courage to embrace her own future.

  • The most trying moments in Higehiro come with the long-awaited conversation with Sayu’s mother. Although Yoshida is tempted to douse her with his drink after hearing for himself how much Sayu’s mother hates her, the more rational, pragmatic side of Yoshida steps in, and he speaks his mind about how a parent has obligations to guide their children along. Yoshida’s speech is a very optimistic and naïve view of the world, but it is strong enough to make Sayu’s mother uncomfortable and forces her to re-evaluate what her next steps are. She subsequently consents to speak with both Yoshida and Sayu, reaching a détente of sorts with the two and agrees to give herself a second chance with Sayu.

  • Higehiro‘s denouement allows Yoshida to rest easy, knowing that Sayu now at least has a home to go to while she finishes off her education, and that she’s managed to overcome the challenges that sent her to Tokyo initially. In their last night together, Sayu coyly asks Yoshida if he’s still in for some horizontal refreshment to remember her; after everything they’ve gone through, such a moment comes across as purely comedic, and in typical Yoshida fashion, he declines, saying that he’ll remember Sayu always.

  • From a technical perspective, the voice acting and music in Higehiro are of a fine quality, while visually, the anime is more rudimentary: the artwork and animation are consistent, but nothing eye-popping. The appeal in Higehiro lies almost entirely with the conversations the characters share, and here, Issa thanks Yoshida again for everything he’s done. He surmises that, in spite of Yoshida’s protests otherwise, Yoshida surely has fallen in love with Sayu.

  • Sayu certainly has fallen in love with Yoshida and asks him to wait for her even after he turns her down. His reply suggests that she might’ve had a chance after all, although this is left ambiguous. One of the more heartbreaking moments in Higehiro comes after Yoshida returns home and finds it empty; he wonders if he’d been the one in need of saving after making some miso soup that tastes nothing like what Sayu had been able to make. Fate will bring the two back together in two years’ time, suggesting that the anime is done adapting all of the original light novels.

  • Altogether, I enjoyed Higehiro for its conversations and optimistic messages about recovery even when one hits rock bottom, and how unexpected encounters are able to transform one’s perspectives, as well as how people can help one another. This series is a B (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 of 10), being a consistent journey that managed to traverse a razor’s edge without devolving into a foxtrot-uniform-charlie-kilo par-tay or offer a social commentary well beyond what the story demanded. I will note that Higehiro was tricky to write for, which is why this post is shorter than usual, but with Higehiro in the books, I have a clean slate entering the summer season. The Aquatope on White Sand aired earlier today, so it’ll be time to catch up and then share my thoughts on the series.

Higehiro‘s initial premise existed at the edge of a slippery slope – anime of this sort have every opportunity to get things wrong and send the story down a trajectory of lust and accompanying suffering. However, every step of the way, Higehiro wound up being an immensely heartwarming story about how support for one another is mutual, and how people can help one another out whether or not they’re in love with one another. Meeting Yoshida shows Sayu that people do care for her, and that she should also care for herself. The chance encounter with Sayu shows Yoshida a side of relationships that he’d not previously understood – that falling in love with someone is much more than dating them and physicality. It is a matter of opening oneself to being vulnerable, to share problems and deal with them together. It speaks to the discipline in the writing that Higehiro never devolves into a story about giving in to temptation; Yoshida is driven by a desire to do right by Sayu and himself (as well as a healthy reminder to himself that, in his own words, he prefers older, buxom women like Airi). The end result of Yoshida’s discipline and preferences means that to Sayu, he acts as a caring older brother or father figure, guiding her down a path that she is comfortable pursing, and leaves her better equipped to pick herself back up after such a tragic incident in her past. For this reason, Higehiro proved quite unexpected and moving, showing that in this world, decency often manifests through listening to people and hearing them through wholly before making any decisions – the end result is quite touching, and seeing all of the characters for what they really are through this is a reminder that, given the patience to understand them, most people are reasonable and can be spoken with. While Higehiro does present things in a highly optimistic manner (reality isn’t always so kind, and not everyone can be reasoned with), it is the case that folks who prefer to listen have the upper hand, as those who prefer to talk tend leave their cards facing up.