The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Japanese Animation

Reflections on the Ah! My Goddess: The Movie- An introspection into my ten years of anime at the 800th post milestone

“Even if the whole universe comes between us, even if you lost every single memory, I’ll still find you and we’ll start again and again.” -Keiichi Morisato

With this special feature on Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, this blog passes the eight hundred post milestone. It’s a nontrivial marker, coming as a consequence of nearly five-and-a-half years of writing about anime, games and other things. That I’m still here after all this time is a consequence of having a fantastic group of readers who’ve been kind enough to provide discussions and feedback, motivating me to continue writing despite the other things that occur in the real world. After looking through the post count and the timing, I decided that reviewing Ah! My Goddess: The Movie would be appropriate for this eight hundredth post, given that it’s been ten years since I developed an interest in anime, and that Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was the work that precipitated this interest. The story, recounted in brief elsewhere on this blog and only in a fragmented manner, is as follows: some of my friends during my secondary school days decided that I should join them for lunch hours at the school’s anime club. After managing to evade and decline for several weeks, I finally caved and attended a meeting. They were screening Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and while I was disinterested initially, by the time the movie finished, I was moved. That evening, I began hunting for the movie’s soundtrack, found the soundtracks for Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 anime, and decided to give that a whirl. While I never did finish, the episodes I did watch of Ah! My Goddess were modestly enjoyable, so when another friend wished for me to watch Gundam 00, I yielded and began watching the anime. In Gundam 00, I found something to look forwards to weekly, and while my interest in anime waned briefly during my first year of university, it returned in full force after I picked up Five Centimeters per Second. This brought my interests in anime back to life, leading me to watch Sora no Woto, and from there, my interests in anime are rather easier to follow, having been thoroughly chronicled here at this blog. Thus, for the remainder of this post, I turn my eyes towards looking at the movie that started it all.

Three years after her arrival on Earth, Belldandy and Keiichi Morisato begin their new term; recruiting for the different clubs is well under way, and the Motor Club, hopeful of gaining new members, showcase their vehicles. However, Toraichi Tamiya and Otaki Aoyama’s actions frighten off most prospective members, including the stern-looking Morgan. Later that evening, amidst the Motor Club’s celebrations, Belldandy encounters her old mentor, Celestin. Unbeknownst to her, Celestin had broken out of the lunar prison, and seeks to meet her. She collapses after Celestin kisses her, reawakening the next morning with no recollection of Keiichi. Meanwhile, Heaven’s supercomputer, Yggdrasil, has been compromised by a powerful virus: Peorth and her assistants are working around the clock to contain it, but in the meantime, much of their infrastructure is crippled. Skuld’s efforts to restore her memories are unsuccessful, and Keiichi agrees to make the most of things. He breaks news of her situation to the Motor Club; the members are disheartened, as there is an upcoming race. Morgan arrives and agrees – the trial’s results are solid, and watching the pair race leads Belldandy to recall some of her past memories with Keiichi. The next day, Belldandy comes across some old photographs of her and Keiichi: she decides to participate in the race in spite of her amnesia. Later, Belldandy overhears a conversation between Urd and Keiichi, revealing that Celestin was responsible. It turns out that he had rebelled against the Gods, destroyed the Gate of Judgement, and intends to continue his machinations to destroy the current world and create a new one, free of all suffering. Feeling she’s brought only suffering to Keiichi, Belldandy accepts a dangerous procedure that will eliminate the virus but also clear her memories. In order to deliver this program, Heaven directly links with Belldandy, allowing the virus to override Yggdrasil’s core functions, exposing the tree itself and a leviathan that attacks the trunks. Out of options, Peorth authorises a direct strike using Gungnir; refusing to allow Keiichi to die in the strike, Keiichi and Belldandy move to block the attack after they convince Celestin to assist. Transported to the Gate of Judgement in the aftermath, Belldandy and Keiichi pass Heaven’s test. Belldandy returns to Earth, and with both Urd and Skuld’s help, they restore Yggdrasil with their song and eliminate the virus. With the damage to Heaven records, Belldandy offers Keiichi a new wish, and Keiichi uses it to reignite their love for one another.

An off-shoot of the Ah! My Goddess series, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie adapts none of the elements from its source manga, and instead, focuses on the nature of love. This particular theme has been explored extensively in the 2005 TV series, whereas the prior OVAs’ short runtimes meant that the comedic situations and situations that Keiichi and Belldandy find themselves in dominated any sort of overarching theme. With this in mind, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie presents a much more tangible idea, in that the time Keiichi and Belldandy have spent together is precious, creating feelings that can survive even the most ardent tests that fate and the heavens have set against them. Despite losing her memories and subsequently made to stand before the Gate of Judgement, it turns out that (unsurprisingly) the love Keiichi and Belldandy have is genuine. While Morgan has seen loss before the Gate of Judgement and consequently despises the heavens for marking clearly what constitutes a relationship of value, she later learns that there can be love in the world, making it worth protecting. That love is very much a reality thus forms the main message for Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and the movie’s climax, featuring Belldandy, Urd and Skuld wielding their feelings to run a system restore on Yggdrasil, serves to emphasise this point further. Although this theme is an immensely familiar one by this point in time, it was my first exposure to such a portrayal (and anime in general), and in the movie, I found an exceptionally moving story.

Screenshot and Commentary

  • Being a combination movie discussion and serving as a bit of a milestone for this blog, I’m classifying this post both as a general discussion post (for the milestone) and as an anime reflections post (for the fact I’ll be running through Ah! My Goddess: The Movie). The occasion also means that I will be running with forty screenshots in this Ah! My Goddess: The Movie post. The movie was released in 2000 and runs for 100 minutes, making it perfect to be watched over the course of several lunch breaks, each lasting some forty minutes.

  • One of the initial limitations about the movie is that it is not particularly friendly for first-timers, who won’t know how Keiichi and Belldandy first met. Prior to 2000, it would have been necessary to either have some background with the manga or the OVAs, which show Keiichi making a phone call, only to connect to Belldandy, who arrives to grant any one wish of his. Certain it’s deception from his seniors, he decides to test things and asks her to stay with him. Here, it’s spring, a new semester, and the Motor Club is recruiting new members; Keiichi initially joined owing to his interests in mechanical engineering. He himself is capable as a mechanic and highly skilled as a racer, demonstrating a new vehicle here in the film’s opening.

  • The unusual dynamics between Belldandy and Keiichi drive the romance-comedy aspect of Ah! My Goddess, but these elements tend to be present in the manga and TV series – overall, the movie comes across as being more of a romance-drama, having a much greater focus on what love means to both Belldandy and Keiichi. The two share a moment under the cherry blossoms here, after a misunderstanding causes Belldandy to take off.

  • Celestin is Belldandy’s former mentor, and after a short introduction, incapacitates Belldandy. Bearing the appearance of ancient deities from Chinese folklore, his actions come from well-intentions, but his “means justify the end” outlook paints him as the films main antagonist. Only seen in the movie, Celestin does not return in the 2005 series, which is a re-telling of the entire story and places a much greater emphasis on comedy than drama.

  • When they return home that evening, mysterious crystals have formed on Holy Bell, Belldandy’s resident angel. The dynamic between Heaven and Earth is portrayed as one powerful computer system that manages reality; the system would suggest that all of existence is a simulation (akin to but rather more being than the one seen in The Matrix), and Heaven’s entities are caretakers to the system. With this in mind, I arrived on Ah! My Goddess much too late (2007-2008) to see much discussion on it, and so, any speculation on how their world actually works is likely to be lost to time.

  • When Celestin kissed Belldandy, he copies a virus into her that impacts her memories, completely eliminating her memories of Keiichi. The anomolies are noticed in heaven, where Yggdrasil’s technicians notice a virus moving through their systems. Fictional computer viruses are always portrayed as something that can be traced, moving through a system and methodically targeting systems, leaving a clear signature behind. Real-world viruses are rather more dull, with most writing themselves onto regions of a hard drive and duplicate themselves before executing their functions: doubtlessly, this is very difficult to visualise, hence the stylistic choices movies take.

  • Peorth stands before the highest members of Heaven’s leadership to report on the situation. The Peorth seen in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is serious, dedicated and focused on her duties, standing in stark contrast with her depiction in the other works – she is rather more flirtatious (thank goodness for spell-checking, I believe this is only the second time I’ve had to use this term) and does her utmost to win Keiichi over from Belldandy initially as revenge, only to do so for real when she realises that she harbours feelings for Keiichi, as well.

  • In the morning, Skuld exhausts her memory-enhancing devices that were intended to help her remember Keiichi; the most effective device only allows her to recall that she’d forgotten to give Keiichi her business cards (remark: that Goddesses have business cards is an interesting one). In the face of adversity, Keiichi and Urd settle on that it is probably best to try and live as normally as possible, a method that is often suggested by experts in order to survive challenging times.

  • A færie of sorts, Morgan was the one who had freed Celestin from his imprisonment on the lunar surface at the movie’s beginning with the goal of assisting him. With her hime-cut and narrow eyes, she possesses the characteristics of the stern ojou-sama archetype while in human form, and is seen communicating with Celestin while he is in a more mobile form.

  • The Motor Club grows disheartened to learn that Belldandy has become amnesiac, made especially difficult by the fact that they have an upcoming race. When I first watched the movie, I wondered if the race itself would be seen in-movie, but this turned out not to be the case, being a secondary element to the machinations that Celestin is planning. Morgan steps up and offers to race in Belldandy’s place.

  • The two seem to perform quite well, triggering some memories for Belldandy. This moment suggests that, however sophisticated the algorithm that Celestin used, some of her memories endure. This moment also begins to showcase the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra’s exceptional performance with the film’s soundtrack: the song playing as Keiichi and Morgan fly across the track is titled “Kizuna Motomete” (“Searching for a connection”) is a majestic piece with horns, strings and woodwinds that captures the rush of speed on a racetrack in a highly elegant manner. The entire soundtrack is an amazing listen that really brings out the emotional tenour of each moment in the film.

  • The different tracks convey different feelings, ranging from longing and hopefulness, to doubt and confusion in the film’s darker moments, masterfully using specific instruments to create a very unique sound that evokes a very particular feeling in every scene of the movie. It is the first anime soundtrack I’ve listened to, and stands even against the likes of Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer with respect to quality.

  • Despite lacking her memories of Keiichi, Belldandy nonetheless strives to fulfill her directive in the knowledge that her original goal was to help Keiichi find happiness, and here, prepares a fantastic evening meal for him. Back in high school, for my art class, one of the works I made for an art class was a playing card, the Queen of Spades, featuring Belldandy. It was here that I realised that Kōsuke Fujishima renders ears in a very distinct manner, with concentric rings visible in place of the structures of the Auricle.

  • Later, she finds a photo album detailing the time they’ve spent together. Realising the depth of their relationship, Belldandy resolves to restart anew and learn more about Keiichi. While Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is an older film, the artwork remains of a superb quality and can stand against modern titles with respect to detail and smoothness. However, the character designs in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie clearly are from an older age: the 2005 incarnation of Ah! My Goddess features a Belldandy and Keiichi with larger eyes.

  • My last lecture was eleven months ago, but I still recall the days when I attended classes in large lecture halls. While some of the newer lecture halls have spacious desks, other, older facilities were remarkably cramped: I did not field a laptop at all throughout my undergraduate, and even though I had access to MacBook Pro laptops during graduate school, I continued to take notes by hand, since material proved easier to recall if I had handwritten it. Keiichi is shown to study German, and here, is hauled out of lecture by Morgan. Ah! My Goddess is one of the anime I’m familiar with to feature university-level characters, compared to almost everything else I’ve got, which is set during the high school range.

  • Despite having no memories of Keiichi, Belldandy recovers more of her memories when she agrees to a challenge that Morgan presents: in a mock race, Keiichi and Belldandy handily best Morgan and her partner, Megumi (Keiichi’s younger sister). Unlike the song played during Keiichi and Morgan’s first run, the competition has a much more urgent sense to it. While most of the songs in the soundtrack are orchestral, there are a few songs that make use of electronic and synthesiser elements, giving them an other-worldly vibe.

  • Bothered by her memories, and the realisation that Celestin was responsible for her memory loss, Belldandy is drawn by a moving light crystal and follows it to a coastal installation, where Celestin reveals himself and tells her the story of why he’s returned. Unwilling to accept Heaven’s mandate, he sought to destroy the Gate of Judgement (showing Morgan and her lover crossing it, only to be separated forever). His actions also led to the destruction of other entities, causing Heaven to issue an arrest warrant for him.

  • When Heaven sends out beings to arrest Celestin, Belldandy slaughters them. She is taken in, and in the aftermath of the incident, is deemed too valuable an asset to lose. Hence, Heaven suppresses her memories of the incident and allows her to continue as a Goddess, while Celestin is tried and imprisoned on the lunar surface for all time. Had SATO explored the moon, however, they would be unlikely to locate Celestin’s prison: the film’s opening shows Morgan as passing through a portal to reach him.

  • One of the best-known anime review sites out there notes that there’s a “scene in which Urd kisses Belldandy might startle Westerners…unaccustomed to that”, but she’s actually transferring a special potion to Belldandy via mouth-to-mouth. Upon seeing that for the first time, I assumed that Urd was taking the potion for herself, so trying was their situation, but it seems to make little sense on closer inspection, hence the newer conclusion. The same site gives this movie a perfect rating, counting it as a masterpiece

  • Urd and Skuld arrive on station, but Belldandy, still under Celestin’s influence, begins to engage Urd in a direct confrontation. Urd is plainly holding back, aware that Belldandy is not fully in control of her powers. In the aftermath, Skuld lashes out at Celestin, releasing a large amount of water. Keiichi manages to protect Belldandy from this torrent but is knocked unconscious, later reawakening back home.

  • Back in high school, this scene did not particularly make much sense, but it appears to be a visual representation of the present Belldandy accepting the past Belldandy’s mistakes, reassuring her past-self that things are going to be alright. The rationale for “past and present self” is based on visual elements within this moment that should become apparent merely by staring at this screenshot. This scene is accompanied by a synthesiser-like instrument that brings to mind the instrumentals from Miyazaki’s Totoro, giving it a very surreal, yet comforting feeling, and coming to an acceptance about herself, Belldandy manages to prevent her powers from running amok.

  • While Belldandy’s character remains largely unchanged in Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 incarnation, Urd, Skuld and Peorth are markedly different with respect to their personalities. One of the biggest strengths in the movie that is lacking in the TV series are the implications of higher-order beings interacting within a world of mortals: comedy reigns supreme in the 2005 television series, with the antagonists motivated by weaker elements than Celestin, who shows that there can be dissent amongst the Gods with respect to how Heaven runs. Consequently, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie ends up having a very well-defined narrative compared to the looser feel that Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 series (and its second season) conveys

  • Belldandy’s jealousy is an aspect of her character that has been exploited on numerous occasions in the TV series, and is never too far from the forefront of discussion in the movie – subtly hinted at when she inadvertently causes glass bottles to shatter during the Motor Club’s party earlier in the movie as a result of seeing Sora and Megumi clinging to Keiichi. Celestin exploits this, and here, Morgan forces a kiss unto Keiichi that Belldandy witnesses. She takes off, her feelings tumultuous as she struggles to comprehend what she saw.

  • Keiichi and Belldandy share a moment together after Belldandy decides to accept a dangerous procedure that might wipe her memories entirely. Keiichi resolves that, whether or not Belldandy’s memories are restored, they can start again as many times as they need. This lends itself to the page quote, a rarity in that it was taken directly from the movie rather than being a generic quote or a mutated one. Throughout these moments, the song “Hoping For Happiness” can be heard playing in the background. A truly wistful song, the single element that stands out is a flute that materialises when Belldandy walks into the temple hall; the short motif captures Belldandy’s gentle yet determined spirits.

  • I listened to the whole of Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s soundtrack during the summer of 2007, having only previously heard individual songs. I subsequently loaded up the tunes onto my iPod and took the album, amongst others, with me during my vacation in Yellowstone National Park. The hills in the backdrop here bring to mind the hills of Yellowstone’s western end, which has gentler slopes than the eastern end. At this point in the film, it’s the deep breath before the plunge. Progressing at a steady rate up until now, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s pacing quickens as the movie enters its final stage.

  • The delivery of a “Vaccine”, really the execution of an anti-virus program, serves to only exacerbate the situation further by offering a direct connection between Belldandy and Yggdrasil’s mainframe systems. As it turns out, anti-virus programs are becoming increasingly ineffective in the face of new techniques of introducing viruses and malware into a system: while the programs themselves can remain effective, it is social engineering employed by criminals that allow these programs to enter and compromise a system. Like how Belldandy’s memories of Celestin allow him to damage Yggdrasil, most viruses out there arise as a consequence of inadequate caution.

  • Belldandy comes to recall Celestin more fully in a flashback; he resurrects a dead bird and takes her under his wing, eventually raising a capable goddess who graduates with top honours but is also a little naïve about the nature of reality. This moment here brings to mind the dynamics between children and adults: the problems that children face, from their perspective, are world-breakers, but having been around for a considerably longer time, adults can quickly locate solutions. It’s similar to how children would approach me with broken crafts during my time as a TA for children, and I would fix said craft, restoring their cheerfulness in the process.

  • Celestin presumably has root access into Yggdrasil (technical jargon referring to the ability to completely modify and access all parts of an operating system, including critical system files), allowing him to summon a physical manifestation of the World Tree, along with a vast being that begins hacking at the tree (likely deleting data that runs the universe and allowing Celestin to rewrite the world in his image). Belldandy’s initial efforts to stop them are futile: Morgan uses Force lightning to slow her down before taking off.

  • Transforming into their combat attire, Skuld and Urd attempt to stop the being from dealing any more damage to the system. Despite summoning an exceptionally powerful blast of lightning, the being is protected by an energy shield that repels all attack. Morgan subsequently engages in battle with Urd to buy Celestin more time to complete is machinations.

  • Possessing Keiichi’s body, Celestin explains to Belldandy the rationale for his plans. I’ve typically found that misguided idealists often make the most intriguing villians, since their cause and initial reasoning for executing a particular plan is prompted by a desire to do what they feel is correct. However, their methods wind up being inappropriate, either causing unnecessary death or destruction. Such villains are not above seeing the error of their ways, either accepting the protagonists’ perspectives or else gracefully yielding when bested (Gundam Unicorn‘s Full Frontal and Raʾs al-Ġūl of Batman Begins come to mind).

  • Belldandy’s facial design in the movie allows her to properly be depicted with a serious expression as she counters Celestin, explaining that happiness and sorrow can only exist in the other’s presence. She arms herself and prepares to stop Celestin, donning a combat suit of her own. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen Ah! My Goddess, and I think that last I checked, there were some OVAs bundled with home releases back in 2011.

  • Higher up in the branches, Skuld drops a pair of explosives resembling the Model 24 Stielhandgranate. Essentially a cluster of grenades taped together to yield a larger explosion, they could deal damage to armour of the WWI era and are equipped by Battlefield 1‘s assault class for anti-armour combat. However effective they might have been historically against armour, the modernised versions Skuld uses deals no damage against the leviathan hacking away at Yggdrasil.

  • It stands to reason that this behemoth of an entity is a program tailored by Celestin to destroy Yggdrasil. Since I no real remarks about this entity, except maybe to re-dub it “Walrus Face”, I will take a look at the inconsistencies between Ah! My Goddess and Oh! My Goddess. In Japanese, ああっ女神さまっ is romanised as “Aa! Megami-sama“, so phonetically, “Ah!” makes sense, but the authors meant for it to convey a similar meaning as “Oh my God”, hence, Oh! My Goddess is technically correct. However, I’ve typed it out as Ah! My Goddess for the past ten years, and all sources seem to give the title as “Ah!”, as well, so this is what I will stick with.

  • In response to their desperate situation, Heaven authorises the use of Gungnir, which manifests in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie as an energy sphere whose effects on organics are unknown as Belldandy moves to stop the sphere from impacting Celestin. Realising her devotion to Keiichi, Celestin concedes and helps her stop the weapon. Like almost everything else in Ah! My Goddess, Gungnir is inspired by Odin’s spear of Norse mythology, being so well-crafted that it could strike any target with perfect accuracy.

  • There should be no doubt as to Keiichi and Belldandy make it through the Gate of Judgement. The song that plays, “Testimony Between Us”, when they pass through together, is a triumphant song brimming with optimism and faith.

  • Their faith stands against the Gods’ exams – Belldandy and Keiichi find themselves staring at a verdant alpine forest that would not look too out of place in either the Canadian Rockies or parts of Yellowstone National Park. Realising that the system is not rigged to pull people apart, Morgan resolves to stay behind and pass on the two’s story. Their love for one another reaffirmed, Belldandy finds a renewed spirit in her to set things right: she and Keiichi return back to Earth.

  • While the damage done is immense, Belldandy is confident that by putting their true feelings into song, they can yet save Yggdrasil. Together with Urd and Skuld, Belldandy reverts her gear back into her default Goddess state, and they begin singing Coro Di Dea, a song written in Latin that, despite its sort length, brought a single tear to my eye, followed by several more individual tears. It’s the first time I cried when watching an anime, so moving was the song – this is the magic moment, that turning point that triggered my interest in anime.

  • Coro Di Dea is probably the equivalent of a combination of a powerful virus quarentine and Windows’ System Restore tool; the latter allows users to restore their operating system back to a functional state without altering the file, but is ill-advised for removing viruses, which can hide themselves in temporary files. The Goddess’ song prompts Peorth and the others to begin singing, as well, rapidly repairing Yggdrasil. With the crisis over, some of the other Goddesses remark that they’d love to take a break, but Peorth orders them back to work to ensure the system is stable.

  • Dawn settles over the world; with the restore and all that has happened to Yggdrasil over the past several days, Belldandy notes that all records have been removed of past wishes, leaving Keiichi free to make his wish to be with Belldandy forever once more. Skuld and Urd share a humorous exchange in the film’s final moments. The question then becomes: what is my verdict for this movie? With its standalone and cohesive narrative, fantastic artwork and top-tier soundtrack, it’s easy to give this movie a strong recommendation to existing anime fans. New viewers might not find this an appropriate gateway into anime, but will nonetheless enjoy the film.

  • Quantitatively, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie earns an A+, a 10 of 10 – clear and precise in its message, and delivering a song that can make someone as stoic as myself to shed several tears, this here’s a fantastic film that left a very profound impact on me. So ends Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and with it, my first-ever proper Ah! My Goddess discussion here, along with the 800th post. Regular discussion resumes with the upcoming posts, where I will be taking a look at Gabriel Dropout and Titanfall 2, alongside my thoughts of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare at the halfway point.

Because Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was my first-ever anime, there existed almost no baselines for which to compare it against at the time. However, the artwork, narrative, character dynamics and world-building that I did see in the movie came together to create a standalone story that was well-worth watching. I thoroughly enjoyed Ah! My Goddess: The Movie following watching it ten years ago, and even now, the movie remains reasonably enjoyable on its merits. This movie set in motion my interests in anime, and by the time Gundam 00 had begun airing, anime-watching became one of my hobbies. While seemingly a frivolous one, watching anime and discussing it with friends motivated me to start a website to write about my thoughts. The practise of writing bolstered my writing skills: prior to anime, my written English was of a low standard, leading one of my high school instructors to wonder if English was a second language for me (for the record, it is: Cantonese Chinese is my first language). By the time I was through Gundam 00, writing to clearly express an idea became second nature for me, and in my final year of high school, the same English instructor had wondered what precipitated such a profound change in my writing. My enjoyment of anime and the attendant enjoyment of writing would carry over to university; I was more fond of writing papers than my peers. Maintaining my website and writing in university created a sort of positive feedback loop, and eventually resulted in the creation of this blog, as well as affording me the practise to write a graduate thesis paper. It’s surprising as to how much of an impact a single anime movie had, and ultimately, the learnings from having watched (and reflected upon) Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is that an open mind can create paths that are unexpected, but also highly fulfilling. This is certainly not a bad legacy for a movie that’s now seventeen years old, to say the least.

Urara Meirocho: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Take ahold of this moment. The Force is strong.” —Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

En route to their first Urara examination, Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono study different forms of divination. Over time, Koume begins to specialise in pendulum divination, while Kon becomes more proficient in kokkuri (equivalent to Ouija) following her being possessed by a fox spirit. Nono, on the other hand, channels her powers through her doll, Matsuko. Their days in Labyrinth City vary between training, studying for their exams, and exploring the different areas of the sections of the town they are permitted to travel through: some of their misadventures include being caught out in the rain and learning that misfortune can sometimes be a matter of perspective, are dressed up as brides during the Wedding Kimono Festival, listen to Koume’s story about having met a witch during her childhood, and perform a spring séance that gives Kon and Chiya some unusual visions. Their journey culminates in passing the qualifiers for the ninth-rank Urara exam, which sees prospective Urara enter a subterranean labyrinth in search of arrows to recover. This exam begins nominally, with everyone except calling on their own specialisations to navigate the maze on the way to their key. While they find the key, Chiya is captured by an unknown entity, only escaping when she unlocks Kurou, a being that manifests as a black spirit and helps Chiya with divination. She is able to reunite with her friends and helps them exit the labyrinth, in the process passing their examination and successfully move on to rank nine. With its solid world-building and depiction of Urara, Urara Meirocho turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining watch that manages to contribute yet another entertaining slice-of-life anime, featuring familiar characters in a well-explored new setting.

It should not come as a surprise that the main theme in Urara Meirocho involves the significance of teamwork; in particular, Urara Meirocho takes the time to have each of Kon, Koume and Nono build up their strengths, while at the same time, presenting Chiya as somewhat of an anomaly whose very existence is a bit of a mystery. Despite seemingly lacking any outward talent, Chiya’s unusual and unknown background confers upon her an exceptionally powerful means of divination. However, it is not Chiya’s abilities alone that carry the day: each and every member of Natsume-ya contribute to their success in the examination, illustrating that it is a team effort that allows them to be successful even in spite of the notion that Urara are often competing against one another in their quest to improve. Along the way, their adventures together have made their friendship an unshakable one, conveying the strength of everyone’s faith and trust in one another. Beyond cooperation and strength in a diverse range of talents, there is a secondary theme in Urara Meirocho; while divination is used to determine elements of the future, the actual occurrence of events and the interpretation of their meaning is ultimately given to be dependent on how one looks at it. Things that count as misfortune can also be seen as good fortune: as Kon discovers, being rained in gives her a chance to bond with her friends, and subsequently, the experiences the girls have are positive because they aim to make the most of their hand.

Aside from its depiction of Chiya and company’s journey towards improving as Urara, Urara Meirocho excels with its world-building, taking care to explain (often for the viewers’ benefit) the mechanics behind how the different divination modes function and the laws surrounding Labyrinth Town to ensure that audiences can keep up. There’s sufficient detail to give the sense that this is a living, breathing world where things are well-thought out as to remain compelling, but not so much that audiences are overwhelmed. As such, even though I do not possess anything resembling familiarity with fortune-telling and the different mythological elements of Urara Meirocho, I nonetheless am provided with enough information to keep up with what’s occurring. This is a core element in my enjoyment of the anime: unlike RDG: Red Data Girl, where I found myself getting lost amongst the different factions and their vague objectives, Urara Meirocho ensures its viewers are up to speed on the details. This leaves audiences free to enjoy the adventures and humour that arise in Urara Meirocho, as well as wonder what mysteries are in play surrounding Chiya’s background and the aspects of Labyrinth Town that elude even the higher-level Urara. The world-building contributes substantially to making Urara Meirocho an accessible and enjoyable anime, placing it alongside Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? in terms of creating a noteworthy world for its characters to explore.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If one can accept bad luck as being a matter of perspective, they might find that many of their misfortunes cease to be: getting trapped together during a rainstorm offers the girls a chance to become closer to one another. A curious note is that black cats, although considered to be an omen of misfortune in North America owing to their association with witches, the British and Japanese count black cats as a sign of good luck. There’s actually quite a bit to discuss in Urara Meirocho, so this whole-season post will feature thirty, rather than twenty images.

  • Kon is generally a hard worker and no stranger to exam revision, while Nono is limited only by her confidence. Conversely, Koume and Chiya do not possess the same drive to study: here, they learn to divine one’s fortunes based on the placement of moles on their bodies. These moles have nothing to do with Avagadro’s Number (6.022140857×10²³) or the family Talpidae, but rather, refer to nevus, lesions on the skin. I know nothing about how moles affect one’s fortunes, but I do know that moles are an umbrella term to any darker points on one’s skin: the most common form result from increased melanin concentrations and are largely benign.

  • When asked to expose herself, Kon’s entire body turns a shade of pink out of embarrassment. If and when I’m asked, Kon’s easily my favourite character of Urara Meirocho: I’ve always taken a liking to the serious, proper characters who try their best to make their way in a world dominated by their friends’ whack antics. These characters might be subject to humiliation, and Kon’s situation brings to mind Mio Akiyama of K-On!, who mooned an entire audience during a performance following an accident on stage and subsequently, her popularity skyrocketed.

  • Aside from studying Urara fundamentals, the girls also partake in town festivities. Here, they are dressed up as brides to appease the town’s resident gods. For a day, they enjoy themselves, but things quickly turn south when Chiya imbibes some alcohol, gets hammered and subsequently creates a ruckus when she releases a pheromone that attracts animals to her position, as well as resulting in general chaos.

  • Escaping the town, Chiya finds herself in the meadows and encounters a strange fox-like entity before fainting. Coming to, her friends wonder if Chiya is gifted with the Sight, the power to see the Gods themselves. A law unifying all Urara is that their powers are not to be used to divine what the Gods look like; it’s a gesture of respect to wield their powers with an honest intent, since the Gods grant Urara the ability to foresee the future.

  • I’ve often mentioned that I steer clear of alcohol owing to the adverse effects it has on me. Elsewhere, it is noted that Chiya is the last to experience something supernatural despite being implied to be possessing a sort of power that even the other lack, but from a storytelling perspective, this is nothing out of the ordinary: when one reaches a milestone is less significant than what they do with their ability and skill once they have mastery of it. This holds true in reality and therefore also applies to the things seen in Urara Meirocho.

  • After wondering about Nina’s suitor and where her heart lies, the girls decide to attempt divining who’s on her mind. Koume takes the lead, using a pendulum as a sort of dowsing tool and later learns that Saku is likely this suitor. In order to dissuade individuals such as myself from pulling the “dowsing is a pseudo-science” card, Koume uses of a pendulum, a weighted apparatus that cannot be made to defy gravity easily by sleight-of-hand. She creates a persona for the pendulum: it manifests as a young girl but later, is given “upgrades”.

  • Unlike the wizards and witches of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, incantations are not wielded for anything beyond opening the floor for divination in Urara Meirocho. Nono struggles with them until she realises that incantations, beyond their basic forms, are subject to variation. She decides to sing them, which has an immensely powerful effect on those within earshot.

  • When questioned about the origins of her Witches’ hat and broom, Koume explains that in her childhood, she was friends with a Witch called Marie Quispilquette, and after learning Marie was capable of performing magic, aspired to be a Witch herself. However, Marie left suddenly when a plague befell the nearby town to avoid persecution, leaving Koume with these items. Witch hunts were very much a part of history, stemming from vestiges of human culture where a combination of calamity and groupthink triggers a hysteria. Presently, even with the scientific method, members of an educated society may partake in witch hunts (albeit directed at different perceived threats) in response to difficult times.

  • Koume is likely unaware of how to actually operate a broom: since brooms in Urara Meirocho are inanimate until a user wields it, it stands to reason that these brooms are most similar to the ones of Flying Witch rather than Harry Potter, where brooms are bewitched using charms in order to fly. With this being said, Harry Potter mentions family-class brooms that can seat multiple individuals, so I imagine that Marie’s broom would be of this class, serving a similar function as would a sedan for us Muggles.

  • Koume seems to have associated Kon as being maid-like in appearance, even providing a swimsuit that has a design of a maid outfit for their outing to a nearby river. Similar to how Koume takes to dowsing, and Nono begins to adopt singing out her incantations, Kon decides to try kokkuri and becomes possessed by a fox spirit. Despite the spirit’s lofty mannerisms, it is tamed by Chiya, and later on, Kon reveals that she can now summon the fox spirit at will to assist her in divination.

  • I haven’t gone swimming in quite some time: the last time I donned a swimsuit was in Cancún last July, when I strolled along the white sand beaches by morning. While I waded into the warm waters of the Yucatán, I did not actually go more than five meters away from the shores into deeper water, since I did not bring a towel with me. Here, Chiya joyfully pushes the others into the river. On this trip, they are accompanied by Nina, Saku and her leftenants (whose names I never bothered to learn).

  • During the course of their day, Kon attempts to perform a “spring séance” where two Urara combine their powers to perform divination. They begin seeing visions of mysterious entities, and Kon wonders if she’s committed the taboo of divining about the Gods. There have been remarks out there that the original kanji of the manga is written similarly to Taoist “spiritual” practises to mirror that notion of “becoming one” to attain enlightenment. Urara Meirocho might be hinting at Kon’s own thoughts, which betray her: her feelings for her friends are strong.

  • With that being said, whether or not this is intended to insinuate that Kon and Chiya are headed in that direction is completely irrelevant, and this is reflected by a general lack of interest in what the kanji‘s original meanings are – what matters is how Kon feels in the aftermath of their actions. In general, my discussions do not place an emphasis on minor details surrounding words and their meanings; I’ve never been a fan of deconstruction, which asserts that meaning is lost because of the sum of a work is dependent on quantifiers that are arbitrary. This approach is an ineffective one, because the constituents of system lose their meaning when studied independently of other constituents in a system.

  • A system’s worth is governed by its value as a whole, rather than its parts, so I prefer looking at things from the systems level. Back in Urara Meirocho, after spending the evening worried about whether or not she’d lose her divining powers, she passes this fear to Chiya, who resolves to remain with her under any circumstance. When Nono and Koume catch wind of this, they help her perform a kokkurthat reveals Kon has not lost her power. Chiya’s feral tendencies kick in, and she begins licking Kon like a dog would. It is with the sum of her friends’ help that Kon overcomes this particular hurdle, a recurring theme in Urara Meirocho.

  • Chiya runs into Tokie, a level-two Urara who saves her from a swindler. After a walk around town, Tokie uses a crystal ball to learn about Chiya, but it shatters when she tries to determine the identity of Chiya’s mother. Because of the one rule about divining, it stands to reason that Chiya’s mother has a very high rank or else is a God herself: thinking back to Anakin Skywalker and his conception, Chiya might very well be the one to bring balance to the Force have a supernatural origin. Some of Tokie’s feats, however, are diminished when she reveals that she is Kon’s mother: her descriptions and knowledge of Chiya come from a priori knowledge.

  • Nina faints when Tokie reveals that calamity will befall Nono later in the evening unless Team Natsume works together to avert this. Ironically, knowing about a disaster beforehand can trigger behavioural changes in the affected individuals, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply, a false prediction induces actions in the affected that lead them to act in ways that can enable the prediction’s terms, leading them to conclude the prophecy was true. The Greek myth of Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s MacBeth are classic examples.

  • In order to prevent disaster, Nono and the others wander into the forests by nightfall, in search of a herb not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s Athelas (better known as Kingsfoil), which was a potent healing agent that could even counteract the effects of a wound inflicted by a Morgul-blade, or the life-draining powers from Black Breath. Frantic, the girls eventually opt to stick with one another and begin holding out in the manner they’re most familiar with.

  • As it turns out, this entire “calamity” was an exercise to determine if Team Natsume is eligible for the Urara exam, and Nina was in on the fact the whole time. The actual exam is a treasure hunt: punch through obstacles in a labyrinth even the top Urara do not fully understand and retrieve an arrow. Success is determined by the strength of teamwork, and Nina will be amongst one of the instructors “invigilating” (present a credible obstruction to the examinees). In describing and outlining the exam’s criteria, as well as reacting to the mishaps that befall the students, Tokie derives an uncommonly strong sense of pleasure from the thought of the Urara hopefuls suffering.

  • Chiya feels left out when the others mention what tools they will be bringing into the exam with them. In spite of this, everyone manages to reach the arrow (after Kon is taken in by several fake arrows). When they make to leave the chamber, Chiya is absorbed by an unknown entity that claims her mother is a TR8R before attempting to asphyxiate her. It is here that Chiya’s mother’s name is revealed to be Yami.

  • Being sourced from a Manga Time Kirara work, there was never any doubt that Chiya would make it out of her situation alive: it was the unexpectedness of this turn of events that allowed the tenth episode to have a compelling cliffhanger that motivated me to watch Urara Meirocho‘s eleventh episode as soon as it appeared. Before anything too serious can happen, Kurou appears and lends its powers to help Chiya escape. Chiya subsequently uses this newfound power to locate her friends, who’ve fallen prey to various traps in the labyrinth.

  • While I am fond of things like cheesecake and fudge, if given the choice, I will prefer meat and potatoes every time. Consequently, I am not as likely to fall victim to Koume’s fate: she’s stuck in a small opening, with her flab keeping her from being extricated. Strictly speaking, it’s actually a combination of a good diet and exercise that allows one to remain in shape; this is why I’m fond of lifting weights, and also why I do martial arts in conjunction with hiking where the weather permits. So, I’m curious to know this of my readers: how do you keep in shape?

  • I’m sure the manga will delve into much more details than the anime can with respect to the relationship that Chiya shares with Kurou; Urara Meirocho only depicts Kurou’s powers as being exceptionally precise, allowing Chiya and her friends to navigate out of the labyrinth without much difficulty. As the clock counts down, Team Natsume double-times their way back to the exit, resolutely trying to finish their exam within the time limits stipulated.

  • The sum of Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono’s divination skills, coupled with the strength of their friendship, is what inspires the page quote, sourced from Rogue One. Like Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), whose faith in the Force allows him to perform incredible feats despite being blind, the girls are able to use their experiences in order to complete difficult tasks in spite of facing the unknown, seizing the moment when the opportunity arrives and making the most of things.

  • While I’ve praised almost all of the aspects of Urara Meirocho to a high extent, one element that has gone unmentioned is the soundtrack. Released back on March 8 and retailing for 2700 Yen (32.44 CAD at the time of writing), the music in the soundtrack is quite ordinary in nature, blending in seamlessly with the events of the anime. There are some tracks that convey a more appropriate sense than others, which sound more conventional (these songs are typically used whenever comedy dominates a moment).

  • To celebrate their successful examination, Saku and Nina bring Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono to a top-tier hot springs whose design is somewhat reminiscent of Taipei’s Grand Hotel: the main building was completed in 1973 and remains one of the largest traditional Chinese buildings around. Prior to entering the hot springs, Chiya and the others try out one another’s outfits when Nono wonders what wearing a corset is like; Chiya and Kon find themselves unaccustomed to the other’s clothes, while Koume grows jealous when Nono turns out to wear her Witch’s outfit nicely.

  • What begins as a relaxing soak in a hot springs mutates into a talent show when Saku and Nina get wasted on alcohol that brings to the forefront comedy that is befitting of Urara Meirocho. In the aftermath, Saku and Nina lie down, while Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono find that their rank nine emblems, plus all of their divining implements, have gone missing. However, even without these tools, the girls work together to deduce location, eventually making use of swarm intelligence to determine where all of their gear has gone. While it would be amusing to try and fit this occurrence to an ant colony optimisation problem, it does not seem appropriate, since the ants converge on a point behind the waterfall quickly.

  • As it turns out, Nina’s moved their gear behind the waterfall to purify it and protect the Urara as they move up: they will be transferring to an institute for ninth-rank Urara to futher their studies, moving out of the Natsume teahouse in doing so. Far from a tearful separation, the girls are excited to continue, leaving Nina in tears.

  • Chiya notes that, while she’s now faced with more mysteries than before, the prospect of improving and learning more is a powerful motivation. She and Kon overlook Labyrinth town here – I’ve been impressed with the details in the town’s depiction throughout Urara Meirocho, and seeing the town alit by nightfall is a fantastic opportunity to provide such a screenshot. The artwork in this anime is fabulous and contributes solidly to the atmospherics.

  • Claims that “the story wasn’t helped by its format” is lunacy; Urara Meirocho strove to portray Chiya’s journey to becoming a higher-ranked Urara with her friends, and succeed in this, Urara Meirocho does. The journey to the top ultimately means that there is a vast opportunity for a continuation, and any sort of sequel to Urara Meirocho would mean being able to see Chiya and the others attend a Urara academy. Taken together, I would probably give Urara Meirocho an A-, 8.5 on a ten-point scale, and note that like other anime derived from Manga Time Kirara works, Urara Meirocho represents an immensely entertaining series that excels at bringing a smile to its viewers. It’s certainly not an anime to scrutinise, being best enjoyed for the journey that it depicts.

The sum of its world-building and character dynamics, coupled with an interesting art style means that Urara Meirocho ends up as a pleasant surprise for the Winter 2017 season, being best-suited for fans of the slice-of-life genre. However, like GochiUsa, Urara Meirocho is set in a location that is not yet another Japanese suburban area during high school: the location, paired with an honest and effective means of exploring this new world gives the setting in Urara Meirocho credence. For fans of the genre, Urara Meirocho earns a recommendation, easily being quite entertaining and refreshing. However, as some of the jokes can come across as jarring (especially Captain Saku and her uncommonly impure thoughts): Urara Meirocho might not be suitable for fans of other genres. Consequently, for folks unaccustomed or unfamiliar with moé slice-of-life anime, this anime earns neither recommendation or rejection, as the enjoyment factor varies from person to person. The final aspect that is worth considering is whether or not Urara Meirocho will receive a continuation: with the manga on-going, it is likely that we could see a future season, provided that there is enough source material and that sales are good. An OVA in-between seasons is also a possibility, but for the present, in the absence of additional information, it’s reasonable to conclude that Urara Meirocho comes to a solid conclusion.

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

 “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

Yune is a small Japanese girl who accompanies traveler Oscar Claudel to Paris France, living and working at the Enseignes du Roy. The shop’s current owner, and Oscar’s grandson, Claude Claudel, reluctantly accepts her presence, learning more about Japanese customs and concurrently caring for Yune. Despite the dramatic differences of culture and beliefs between the two, Yune and Claude come to understand one another, sharing more about their backgrounds and interests with one another in a Paris of the late nineteenth century, where the West begins to take an increasing interest Japanese culture. Their everyday lives are joined by Alice and Camille Blanche, who are upper-class members of society; the younger of the two, Alice takes an immediate liking to Yune and attempts to impress her at every turn, while Camille reflects on her own feelings for Claude and regrets that class differences keep them apart. The collection of stories about Yune and Claude’s everyday lives in Paris form the basis for the loosely-structured narrative in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth (Crossroads in a Foreign Labyrinth), providing glimpses into the lives of a Parisian family in the late 1800s and a Japanese girl’s immersion in a culture completely unlike her own, finding interest in the French way of things. Recommended for me from a friend, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ends up being a reasonably interesting anime that seeks to capture the more mundane, everyday comings-and-goings in a shopping district of Paris. Beautifully animated and with a gentle soundtrack, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth also brings to mind my own travels through Paris a year ago en route to my first-ever conference: when a terrorist attack on Brussels disrupted transportation across France, my own flight from Paris to Rennes was cancelled. After rearranging my flight bookings to ensure I could return home at the conference’s end, I hopped on a shuttle bus from the Charles de Gaulle International Airport through the streets of Paris to Gare Saint-Lazare, managing to purchase tickets and boarding the train to Laval with only four minutes to spare.

Despite having spent such a short time in Paris and having not explored any of the major attractions (the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Louvre come to mind), travelling through the streets of Paris led me to wonder: what would life in a major European city be like? Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth answers this query, albeit from a new perspective — the Paris depicted is that of the late nineteenth century. Owing to the peaceful period that is depicted when Yune visits, it is safe to assume that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is set well after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, likely in the 1890s. During this time, Yune grows accustomed to Parisian culture and even tries to eat cheese, a major element in French cuisine, despite her own unfamiliarity with it. All the while, she surprises Claude and the others with her actions: distinctly Japanese, they would seem out of place in France. These interactions are amusing and heartwarming, presenting one facet of the culture shock that both Yune and Claude experience when they meet. It’s a world away from the multiculturalism that is a very strong part of the Canadian identity: cultures and values coexisting is how I’ve always known the world, and from my perspective, it is unusual to be in a homogeneous culture. Spending most of its time depicting the journeys that Yune and Claude share in reconciling their different backgrounds and learning more about one another, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth combines the humorous with the dramatic to illustrate the ups and downs of life. This creates a very abrupt but also natural-feeling atmosphere, showing that events in life occupy the whole spectrum of tragic and serendipitous events: the adventures (and misadventures) that both Claude and Yune experience end up changing them subtly, and while Claude’s stubborn, blunt nature remains very much unchanged throughout Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the dramatically different perspectives Yune brings with her have a nontrivial impact on his own outlooks and actions. Hence, while Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth might deal with a series of seemingly disjoint stories about Yune’s life in Paris, the thematic elements points towards the notion that awareness of different cultures and values invariably affect one’s own perspectives.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a full series-type discussion on a long-finished anime in this format. Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth originally aired during the summer of 2011, running from July to September. During this time, I had just finished Sora no Woto, returned from my trip to the Eastern Seaboard and began was watching Shinryaku! Ika Musume!. This is Yune, a Japanese girl whose surname is never given, and who accompanies Oscar back to Paris to help out around their shop.

  • Practical, blunt and easy to exasperate, Claude comes across as being quite unfriendly and cold towards Yune, in contrast with Oscar, who is rather more open-minded. The owner of Enseignes du Roy (lit. “The King’s Signs”), a sign-making shop, Oscar is often travelling about seeking the companionship of a lady friend, leaving Claude to the day-to-day runnings of the shop.

  • Voiced by Nao Tōyama early in her career (the roles that I best know for her, as Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujō and Kongō of Kantai Collection, come later), Yune is considerate of her hosts’ thoughts. Taking quickly to aspects of French cuisine, she finds cheese to be somewhat disagreeable, but does her best to hide this and even works towards growing accustomed to its taste. I find that North American take on cheese is a bit more casual than that of the French, where there are at least four hundred varieties of cheese, and where consumption can reach fifteen kilograms per capita per annum.

  • A sign-smith by trade, Claude spends long hours in front of an anvil, hammering out metal into signs for his clients. While set in Paris, France, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is an anime and as such, it is up to the viewer’s imagination to suppose that Yune and the others are speaking French rather than Japanese. While French is one of two official languages in Canada and the education system had mandate that French be taught in schools, I never did pick up the language owing to how minimal the exposure to the language was. Now that I’ve travelled to Laval, France (having already visited Laval, Canada back in 2008), I find French to be an interesting language that I should have, in retrospect, made a more honest attempt at learning.

  • The dynamics between Claude and Yune fluctuate between hot and cold quite frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: the cold moments has me a touch irritated that Claude is not more aware of his surroundings, but he’s also considerate and caring, taking the time to introduce Yune to different elements of Paris, such as when he brings her to a Paris market to purchase some ingredients for the evening’s dinner. The Paris of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is lovingly depicted and looks beautiful, with the buildings being faithfully reproduced to be consistent with period French architecture.

  • While unmentioned in the anime, Yune is thirteen in age, although her physical stature suggests that she is only ten. Much as how Claude can be quite set in his ways, Yune is also quite stubborn: her interactions with Claude force the two to meet one another halfway on multiple occasions, setting in place growth for each character. However, rather than anything dramatic, these changes are much more subtle.

  • Yune’s Japanese background might differ dramatically from that of Claude’s, but Claude nonetheless grows to appreciate Yune – when she writes out kanji for her name, they act as inspiration for Claude to finish a sign. Here, the two take a walk around the streets of Paris by evening, as crepuscular rays punch through openings in the clouds to create a truly magical moment. In general, the atmosphere in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth never strays too far from neutral: moments can become a little tender or a little stressful, but do not otherwise evoke particularly strong emotions in audiences.

  • A member of the upper class, Alice Blanche grows enamoured with Yune after meeting her for the first time and promptly sets about trying to invite her to tea. Similar to Alice Cartelet of Kiniro Mosaic, she is fascinated with all things Japan, although the Alice of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is rather less versed with Japanese implements than her counterpart in Kiniro Mosaic. While Alice attempts to sway Yune into living with her, Yune’s sense of loyalty means that she declines each offer.

  • Some individuals regard Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth as the spiritual successor to ARIA, but I contend that there are more differences than similarities between the two anime such that the definition is not satisfied: themes and elements are different as night and day between the two anime, with the only commonality being that the anime are both slice-of-life. Other than that, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth utilises a difference in culture to drive Yune’s everyday life, while in ARIA, the inner mysteries of Neo Venezia are interwoven with Akari, Alice and Aika’s journeys to become Prima Undine.

  • Most of the scenes in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth are rendered with great detail, but there are moments where the artwork takes on a more deformed, stylised format, usually to signify irony or humour. Here, Yune pouts in the classic anime style when she overhears Claude describing to Alice her single-mindedness. She’s holding a pot of sukiyaki, a Japanese dish of thinly-sliced beef boiled in a special broth that is quite warming.

  • While of a generally cheerful disposition, Yune can sometimes grow disheartened on some occasions when either recalling her past or Claude’s restrictive mindset on things. Claude comes across as being overbearing and strict; his conversations with Oscar suggest that he has Yune’s interests at heart when he speaks, but the manner of his delivery is blunt.

  • On closer inspection, Yune’s reaction to cheese stems from the fact that cheese is not a part of the traditional Japanese diet – it was introduced during the Meiji Restoration but only became more widespread during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the joys in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was the fact that minor details are portrayed well to convey the location, and it is welcome whenever an anime or manga authentically illustrates locales overseas.

  • Claude’s conversations with Alice frequently degenerate into squabbling; Claude despises her attitude and lack of concern for her actions, while Alice finds his stubbornness an impediment to her goals. In spite of this, he reluctantly allows Yune to spend time with Alice; each and every time Alice comes through the storefront, some sort of disagreement will ensue.

  • After Yune attempts to look for a boy who’d stolen from Enseignes du Roy, Claude reprimands her. She later falls ill, leading Claude to remark that this boy, a vagrant, might have given her an illness, and looks after her. He turns to the Blanches to obtain a Japanese recipe for a congee-like dish to help Yune, and later runs into the boy, who sought to give Yune a flower.

  • One element in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth that is very much under-appreciated is the soundtrack. Consisting of gentle songs that capture life around Enseignes du Roy, as well as vocal pieces, the song that stood out most for me was A.m.u.’s “Tomorrow’s Smile”. This single song seems to convey the entire spectrum of emotions that Yune encounters while in Paris, and serves as the ending song for episode eight.

  • Alice is voiced by Aoi Yūki: I am most familiar with her roles as Sora no Woto‘s Noël Kannagi and Komachi Hikigaya of Oregairu. With the number of voice actors I’m now familiar with, one wonders if I have a favourite actor/actress from films originating from this side of the world. Surprisingly, I do have an answer for this: Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee are my favourite actors, having a distinct style that I can pick out from any movie they’re in.

  • When they were children, Camille and Claude were close friends who had spent much time with one another. Camille had fallen in love with Claude and had resolved that the two should spend time together even if she is married to someone else, understanding their socio-economic differences preclude their being together. Over time, a distance grows between the two, and they regard one another cooly by the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth.

  • It was a bit surprising to learn that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was produced by Satelight, the same folks who produced The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. Unlike the latter, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth has consistently high animation quality, and the visuals, both for the characters and cityscapes, are of an excellent standard. I get the sense that Satelight was trying to find their feet when working on The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan – earlier episodes were very light on details, but as the series wore on, backgrounds became more detailed, and animations more fluid.

  • I admit that I am not terribly fond of Claude’s personality, but in a bit of irony, I see a bit of my own bluntness and stubbornness in Claude. One of the shortcomings in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was that his manner changes very little overall through the anime’s run: while shifting over the course of an episode, he almost always reverts back to his old self come a new episode. Granted, personality traits take time in order to alter, and so, it is likely that a longer series would have been necessary to properly depict how Yune and Claude’s time together changes the two.

  • Prior to Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric incandescent light in 1879, gas lamps were the primary means of illuminating a city. By the 1860s, Paris had some 56000 fixtures, earning it the moniker “City of Light”. These gas lamps slowly began to be displaced by electric lights, which were much safer and more inexpensive; presently, gas lamps are nonetheless retained in some areas, such as Boston, for the sake of aesthetics.

  • The French countryside is beautiful, as I found out first-hand when I took the train from Paris to Laval. Evidently an inconvenience, taking the train from Paris also ended up being an adventure that gave me a slightly closer look at Paris and rural France. Here, Claude has traveled into the country to meet with a client, and the pastoral feelings conveyed in this image brings to mind the peaceful ambiance seen in the regions of Gallia in Strike Witches unaffected by the Neuroi; this stands in sharp contrast with the state of things during the First World War (examples of this are vividly brought to life in maps such as St. Quenin Scar of Battlefield 1).

  • From what I’ve heard, there’s a manga spin-off following Alice’s adventures with Yune, titled Ikoku Meiro no Alice-chan (Alice-chan’s Foreign Labyrinth). Aside from Alice’s squabbles with Claude, one element seen frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is the dramatic differences in cultural values that Yune brings to the table. Her actions can be quite subtle: she politely and subtly declines Alice in favour of Claude, rather than outright rejecting invitations. Japanese culture is very much driven by face, so in order to avoid embarrassing others, it is the norm to indirectly decline. A “maybe” in Japanese would correspond to a “no”, standing in contrast with other cultures, such as the Dutch, who are very direct.

  • So, after leaving the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, I spent around 40 minutes on a shuttle bus en route to the Saint-Lazare train station. On the way, my colleage and I received an email from my supervisor, who had received news of the attack in Brussels and was wondering if there was anything he could do to help. I was able to access wireless internet and replied to my supervisor, saying we were okay, then turned to my colleague and joked that, short of sending air support, help would be unlikely. We had grown a little pensive after learning of the difficulties in rearranging our transportation both to Laval and back home, but we managed to make things work.

  • The conference subsequently went off without a hitch, and I delivered my first ever presentation overseas. While in France, there was little time to properly sit down for a French-style meal, so one of my plans for the future will be to visit France for sightseeing: with this being said, I did have a chance to sight-see in Laval, taking a walk around the old town on the morning of the conference’s opening. I’m surprised that a year has elapsed so quickly, and it was a little more than a year ago that I skipped all of my classes, setting out to Amsterdam for the flight into Paris. Back in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, Yune enjoys a sandwich while on a picnic with Claude and Oscar.

  • During this picnic, Yune reveals a bit more about her past and her sister, Shione. Someone she greatly admired and had been very close to, Shione had eyes of vivid blue rather than the brown colours more predominant in people of an Asian ancestry. While our modern knowledge of genetics means that we’re aware of the genes affecting eye pigmentation (HERC2 and OCA2), as well as their hereditary patterns, the work of Gregor Johann Mendel and his beans were still revolutionary at the time of their publication in 1866; his discovery’s value was not realised until nearly three decades later. Hence, the locals dæmonised Shione, who pretended to be blind to escape scrutiny on Yune’s suggestion.

  • Over time, Shione’s vision decayed to the point where she became blind, and Yune has blamed herself for this turn of events, supposing that her wish was responsible for this. Oscar reassures Yune that far from being the cause of Shione’s suffering, Yune’s words and gestures would have given her sister strength. The notion of visual prosthesis has been in consideration since the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, but substantial advances in medical science means that technologies like these can now be fitted to aid blind individuals. Although the technology is still primitive, there will come a day where it can be used to restore sight in the blind.

  • The finale presents Claude’s story as one also filled with challenges: his father was a masterful sign-craftsman but had never really seen his son in a favourable light. Claude constantly strove to improve with the aim of someday earning his father’s praise, but one day, his father fell from scaffolding in an accident and perished. Since then, Claude has never spoken much about his father, until Yune arrives, causing him to open up in a way that was hitherto unseen. Despite perhaps despising his father, Claude seems to be quite strict in his own right, although moments show that he does care for those around him.

  • Thus, when Yune makes to find a cat upon hearing its bell and winds up on the roof of the Galerie, the district housing the Enseignes du Roy. It’s a perilous spot, and after searching the area for her, Claude finally manages to find her. He carefully makes his way to Yune and manages to catch her before she falls off a ledge. It is unsurprising that the tensest moment of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is found in the finale, and similarly, the outcome was quite straightforwards: there are no unnecessary or surprise deaths.

  • While the rooftops might be a dangerous place to be, Yune and Claude also gain a beautiful view of the Paris cityscape. It is a fitting way to conclude Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, and now that I’ve seen Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, I conclude that this is a modestly relaxing anime that offers a perspective into Paris of the late 19th century. Ultimately, it was quite enjoyable to watch this at work: I admit that my procrastination tendencies show up in full force here, since I finished Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth back in January, watching one episode a day while on lunch break at work.

  • Despite mentioning briefly that I would write about Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth early in February, I became sidetracked by the Wake Up, Girls! posts. I weighed my options about reviewing this anime, and considered shelving it, but then I looked at the calendar and realised that today marks a year since I presented my research at the Laval Virtual Conference. The paper is dated to one year ago today in the ACM Digital Library, and it costs 15 dollars to purchase. I won’t be sharing the paper, but I could probably provide an overview of that paper if one were to ask nicely. Jokes aside, that’s pretty much it for this post, and up next on the horizon will be a whole-series talk on Urara Meirocho.

In Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the interplay between Claude and Yune’s respective French and Japanese backgrounds confers change in both individuals for the better; diversity and respect are core tenants of multiculturalism, and it is through understanding that cooperation and trust are built. This is the reason why multiculturalism are desirable, unifying shared human values and bringing the best of all cultures together; acceptance and understanding is what it means to be Canadian, where enjoying Cantonese cuisine while watching the Calgary Flames defeat the Pittsburg Penguins to match the franchise record of ten consecutive victories in a shootout is a part of life rather than anything noteworthy. Although small in stature, similar to Yune herself, the theme of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth nonetheless has a large presence within the anime: Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is enjoyable for this reason, even if the juxtaposition of happiness and sadness can come across as jarring, and where Claude’s personality comes across as being irritating at times. Ultimately, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth earns a recommendation — the total sum of the anime’s message, sincerity in Yune’s character, authentic depiction of a late-nineteenth century Paris and a cathartic, beautifully-presented soundtrack makes the anime a worthwhile one, capturing the atmosphere surrounding the city. Paris might have been a stepping-stone on the way to my destination in Laval, but the short few hours I spent in Paris, coupled with Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth means that I am interested in visiting Paris again to sight-see somewhere in the future.

Resound Into the Azure Sky- Sora no Woto Twelfth Episode Review and Reflection

“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” –Ray Charles

After Aisha is captured, Hopkins experiences a reversal of fortunes when Filicia takes him hostage. He reveals his plans to precipitate a war between Helvetia and Rome, making use of the “Invisible Reaper” that Noël contributed to restoring. While Filicia secures him to a chair, Hopkin manages to escape and rejoin his forces with the intent of commencing hostilities despite a ceasefire signal. This leaves the 1121st no choice: the Takemikazuchi enters the fray, neutralising Hopkin’s armoured group before making for the main battlefield. A second signal for ceasefire from Kanata is ignored, but both the Roman and Helvetian armies stop their march in surprise when she begins to play Amazing Grace between the two opposing forces. Before the armies resume their march, a royal detachment from Rome arrives, with a Royal Edict from both nations’ leaders ordering the soldiers to stand down. Relieved that war is averted, the soldiers rejoice, and the Roman Emperor allows Rio to return to her old post at the Clocktower Fortress in the aftermath, reuniting with her friends. This brings Sora no Woto to a solid conclusion; contemporary comments asserted that the ending was “unnecessary” or “too happy”, but it is quite plain that these remarks can only result from a lack of understanding of the thematic elements in Sora no Woto: any other closing would have stood contrary to the message that Sora no Woto sought to convey.

This central theme, the keystone of Sora no Woto, lies in the idea that music is an element that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. This is unsurprising, given that early instruments have been discovered in archaeological sites once inhabited by prehistoric cultures, being used to convey specific ideas or emotions in conjunction with developing languages. Even at present, there are some moods and feelings that music can convey more effectively than any words that exist within a language, suggesting its significance in human culture. Consequently, Kanata marvels at how music seems to carry the same meaning in its aural properties regardless of what one’s background is, and is able to utilise this to great effect in the final battle to create a sense of forgiveness and mercy amongst the soldiers marching into battle, temporarily stopping their advances. While it is ultimately Rio’s decisions from the tenth episode to accept her responsibilities that end any possibility for hostilities, that Kanata is made the protagonist of Sora no Woto is meant to suggest that sound and music’s ability to convey a clear message cannot be understated (had Rio been the protagonist, then Sora no Woto would have strived to present ideas about accepting one’s responsibilities). When everything is said and done, however, in following Kanata’s journey to become an acceptable bugler for the 1121st, Sora no Woto presents an immensely detailed world, rich in lore and intricate in its depiction of the human spirit, demonstrating the sort of significance that music holds in human cultures as a whole.

The sum of the events, world-building, character development, artwork and sound in Sora no Woto come together to create a masterpiece. The term “masterpiece” is one whose definition is often contested, and amongst audiences, is typically used to refer to a work that is flawless, sublime. However, the proper definition is a little more lenient, being a work of outstanding quality. Sora no Woto certainly is not perfect; narrative elements come across as being under-explored as a consequence of the anime’s short length, and there are minor inconsistencies here and there with respect to the artwork. However, the anime nonetheless counts as a masterpiece, of exceptional quality because of the sum of what it does well – together, these aspects keeps its viewers engaged though much of the anime’s run. From the landscapes and world-building of the first episode, to the gentle depiction of everyday life of the 1121st of the middle episodes, and the dramatic shift in tensions as the threat of war arises, each episode of Sora no Woto offers something noteworthy and unique with respect to the overarching plot. Sora no Woto presents an immensely rich world for audiences, and in conjunction with a colourful cast of characters, gives viewers incentive to continue watching, all the while wondering both what will happen next, as well as what factors could construct such a world, making each episode an interesting one to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The previous episode left off with a shot being fired, ambiguous as to who would be hit. The finale opens, depicting Aisha as having suffered a wound to her left abdominal cavity. On hearing the gunshot, Filicia pulls her own sidearm and holds Colonel Hopkins at gunpoint, ordering him to send his soldiers outside of the Clocktower Fortress and presumably also has him bring Aisha back to their room.

  • Yumina tends to Aisha’s wounds while Noël bursts into tears, relieved that the shot was only a flesh wound. It is here that Hopkins reveals his master plan: to use Aisha as an excuse to start a war between Helvetia and Rome, believing that Helvetia’s leadership is displaying submissiveness by participating in the peace talks. It is quite plain that Hopkins harbours an immense dislike of the Roman Empire, and while it would have been nice to gain more backstory into the Roman-Helvetian relations, especially the battle of Vignt, the quiet shelving of the Anime no Chikara project means that any sort of spin-off would be unlikely.

  • The full nature of Noël’s past actions are revealed here: she bears the moniker “Witch of Helvetia” for contributions to making operational derelict installation for producing a biological agent that was used against the Romans. Noël was scarred by its effects on the victims and has never quite recovered, hence her immense fear whenever the topic is brought up. My memory has grown quite rusty, since I was under the impression that Noël was involved in weaponising an agent, when in fact, she was responsible for using her engineering expertise in restoring function to a productions system. That same engineering expertise is what allows her to restore the Takemikazuchi into a functional state.

  • Previously seen as the easy-going, caring leader for the 1121st, Filicia demonstrates a much more intimidating presence, akin to a mother bear protecting her cubs. She’s willing to openly defy orders in order to ensure those under her command are safe, and while generally quite tolerant compared to Rio, it is Hopkins who goads her past endurance. This is the most indignant we see of Filicia all season: she fires a warning shot that narrowly misses his cranium and asks Kureha to move him to the distillery. However, he has a few tricks up his sleeves, and the naïfs of Tango-Victor-Tango claim that it was a meaningless gesture when it was in fact used to help him escape.

  • As the setting sun casts the landscape in a cold golden hue, Kanata arrives to relieve Kureha. The air is eerily silent, and this the deep breath before the plunge. Kanata is equipped with a single-action rifle here, as well, underlining the dangerous nature of their situation. Kureha wonders if Kanata has the resolve to fire a shot in anger, to which she responds that if it was necessary, she would do so. Of the 1121st, Kanata has not seen any combat or its horrors; while it’s easy to say that one can shoot another man, when the chips are down, making the call and dealing with the consequences can be much tougher than one anticipates.

  • Kanata’s hearing acuity is capable of feats that verge on the supernatural, and after hearing a soldier issue the ceasefire, she immediately reports to Filicia. Hopkins has already escaped by this point and rejoins his forces, ordering his soldiers to begin combat operations. Noël fears that Hopkins will result in the elimination of all humanity, being a warmonger who lives only to inflict suffering. His introduction into Sora no Woto is late, but he is the closest equivalent to an antagonist within the anime.

  • Naomi leaves the castle walls to convey the ceasefire to Hopkin’s protests, and when it is noted that Kanata was the one bearing the message, the entire town stands by her side, attesting to the sort of impact that she’s had ever since arriving in Seize. The citizens refuse to budge, and when Naomi confronts him, he notes that warfare drives progress. There is irony in this statement: all of the technological advances we’ve experienced following the Industrial Revolution, from the internet itself and microprocessors to rockets and nuclear power, were derived from technologies originally intended for military applications and warfare. It’s not as black and white as some viewers make it out to be, although I tend to believe that progress can be made in the absence of total warfare, albeit at a much slower pace.

  • Despite learning the identity of the one who’d participated in the wholesale slaughter of Roman soldiers years previously, Aisha forgives Noël, as they both are human, and Noël plainly regrets her past actions. It’s a moving moment, and a message that Sora no Woto has conveyed time and time again: while war might be impersonal and indiscriminate, the soldiers fighting the war are largely still people, each with their own families, goals and desires. Thus, Sora no Woto paints war as last resort that will have unfavourable consequences if allowed to precipitate, hence the importance of bringing to bear the aspects of negotiation and discussion that make us human.

  • The gravity of their situation, and Kanata’s seeming obliviousness to it, leads Kureha to lose her composure: while Kureha feels it is impossible to take on Hopkins, Kanata remarks that theirs is a world worth defending. When the others agree to do their utmost to prevent Hopkins from igniting a war, Kureha finally backs down, admitting that she’s been worried about everyone else, doing her best in her own manner to keep things together.

  • Ultimately, Kureha is worried about losing everyone, and in doubting their ability to fight, is doing all she can to keep her friends safe. Understanding this, Filicial, Kanata and Noël give Kureha reassurance that things will be worked out. Thus, for the first time in all of Sora no Woto, the Clocktower Maidens ride for war with the aim of stopping the upcoming war. While seemingly a difficult task, the 1121st have an exceptional ace in the hole: fully repaired, the Takemikazuchi is at last ready to sortie.

  • The Clocktower Maidens’ actions here in staving off a war is a callback to their mythical counterpart’s actions. During the course of their following engagement with Hopkin’s forces, Servante de Feu plays in the background while a voice-over explains the legend of the Fire Maidens as Aisha knows it. In order to keep Aisha safe, the 1121st decide to take her with them inside the tank.

  • While Sora no Woto did not feature any combat up until this point, with the first gunshot fired being in the penultimate episode, the finale’s final half was an exceptional watch. All of the 1121st’s combat simulation exercises come to fruition here as they activate the Takemikazuchi. With an English-language user interface, it is presumed that either Noël knows the language, or else has experimented with the tank while repairing it, allowing the others to roughly know what the indicators and elements are referring to.

  • Kanata pops her head out of the hatch to signal that they are about to fire, and proceeds to blast a hole in the gymnasium’s walls. Emerging from the rubble, the tank immediately takes off for No-Man’s land. Spider tanks and their cousins, armoured walkers, are a staple of the science fiction genre: multiple legs give them added stability and a lower centre of gravity, as well as the capacity to navigate terrain that might give tracked vehicles trouble.

  • While legged vehicles still seem far-fetched in the present, highly advanced balancing and navigation algorithms are being developed: Boston Dynamic’s “Spot” is a robot capable of automatically determining how much force to apply in its strides based on the terrain smoothness and also balance itself in response to changes in the force. The technology is still in its infancy, but it is not difficult to see what would happen if it were made more sophisticated and scaled up for military applications.

  • One of the elements that is a bit more unusual is the Takemikazuchi’s gait: it scrambles across terrain as would a spider, a far cry from the quadrupedal tanks that the armed forces utilise. Spotting the Takemikazuchi scale a cliff sheer, Hopkins immediately orders his armoured column to begin their operations and take out the Takemikazuchi.

  • The angry townspeople block them, and even though they are armed, Hopkin’s detachment is outnumbered. The citizens wonder why Hopkins won’t place their trust in Kanata and the others, with Seiya even letting slip that he has a bit of a crush on Kanata. However, in spite of their occupying the way out, Hopkins merely has his forces go around, regrouping in a stretch of no-man’s land.

  • According to the Roman version of the legend, an angel descended upon the world to pass judgement, but was injured and healed by the Fire Maidens. But the local populace immediately torched the valley where the angel landed, killing the angel and all but one Fire Maiden. In response, other angels arrived and wrecked destruction until the remaining Fire Maiden sounded a golden horn that signalled for the angels to depart. Her version of the story suggests that humanity was responsible for their own demise, and if this is the version the Roman Empire follows, it might hint at their nation as being less prone to warfare than Helvetia.

  • With chassis similar to WWII-era M4 Sherman tanks and Panzer IVs, the quadrupedal tanks are presumably equipped with 75mm or 88mm cannons, plus .30 or .50 caliber machine guns. When Hopkins’ tanks encounter the Takemikazuchi, they open fire with everything they’ve got, but rounds glance off the Takemikazuchi, causing only superficial damage. I recall a discussion wondering if the Panzer VIII Maus could have done anything to a modern MBT, like the M1A2, and the general answer is no: the Chobham armour is equivalent to 0.7 meters of RHS against HEAT and 0.6 meters against APFSDS rounds at the maximum, meaning that unless the Maus hit sensitive components, the M1 would continue to operate and punch out the Maus. The Takemikazuchi would only be more advanced, making period weaponry next to useless against it.

  • Conversely, the Takemikazuchi’s main cannon, a coil-gun of some sort, effortlessly disables Hopkin’s tanks: they would have enough energy to punch cleanly through the older tanks, but the 1121st are shooting to disable, rather than kill, aiming for the legs to merely stop the tanks. This weapon has been conjectured to be a coil-gun on the virtue that there is an electrical discharge visible when the Takemikazuchi fires: the discharge could result from the electrical current required to power the magnets for accelerating the projectiles, which would exit the barrel at hypersonic velocities.

  • Hopkins congratulates himself when he is able to get behind the Takemikazuchi, sneaking up on it with the aim of disabling it, but his shots deal negligible damage. It then proceeds to stomp on the tank, displacing it from its legs without crushing the cabin, before moving on into No-Man’s land to stop the larger battle about to take place. Climbing onto a tower, Kanata signals for a cease-fire, drawing the combatant’s attention.

  • The sun is closely tied with Kanata’s playing: whenever she’s about to deliver a moving sound, the sun almost always breaks from the horizon, flooding the land in light. By this point in time, Kanata’s versed enough with a trumpet to deliver a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace”. Its sound pierces the hearts of those on the battlefield, but the forces continue advancing nonetheless. Seemingly a meaningless gesture, tanks from the Royal column soon arrive.

  • This moment is probably the single most famous in all of Sora no Woto, as Kanata stands on the Takemikazuchi’s hull overlooking the battlefield. When the anime reached its conclusion, reception was largely positive: praise was directed towards the anime’s original setting and balance of comedy with drama. However, there are some who felt that the anime failed to deliver, feeling that warfare was lacking. Depiction of warfare as a necessity, however, would contradict Sora no Woto‘s theme, and the halting of conflict as we’ve seen is consistent with the message that Sora no Woto aims to convey.

  • Thus, the folks who did not enjoy Sora no Woto are those who were looking for a war story, where the thematic elements would be about the atrocities of warfare. The environment in Sora no Woto clearly painted that this would be a series about the people, rather than the weapons or politics, and so, moved in a direction that meant to tell a story in which people communicate with one another through sounds and words, rather than bullets and explosives, to settle their differences.

  • I mentioned earlier that I am not a fan of post-modernism with respect to interpretation of media, and that I do not agree with the “Death of the Author”. This is because a work of fiction is intended by an author to paint their particular view of the world, which may be indicative of contemporary thought or else show a dissatisfaction with social circumstances of the time. In more casual works, such as Sora no Woto, the authors nonetheless have a goal (here, to show the strength of music as a medium for transcending cultural and linguistic boundaries) that cannot be ignored when discussing the anime.

  • Proponents of the “Death of the Author” hold their beliefs primarily because it is easier to oppose or mold an existing worldview than to create one anew or synthesise one from their own experiences – this is an issue surrounding period Sora no Woto discussions, where the participant’s views on military law and the resultant of the 1121st’s actions seem inconsistent. Realism is not the end-all for a good story, and Sora no Woto‘s ending come as a logical conclusion of Kanata’s belief that there are things that hold magic to them, binding all people together regardless of their ethnicity, religion or creed.

  • Riding amidst the two armies is none other than Rio herself, who has married the Roman Emperor and now holds the political power to bind the two nations together as allies. She has here a treaty that orders an immediate cessation of hostilities, and below, the soldiers express utmost joy that there will be no combat. They toss their helmets and service rifles into the air: while some folks from Tango-Victor-Tango claimed that the rifles would discharge on hitting the ground, these bolt action rifles would likely have a safety catch to prevent them from accidental discharge. With this being said, it’s still not the wisest of actions to toss a loaded weapon into the air.

  • I strongly disagree with the notion that Rio’s return to the Clocktower Fortress was “too happy” and “artificial”, but I contend that sacrifice need not always be a necessity for something to work out. Rio’s action in choosing to giving up her freedom in exchange for her nation’s, and the intent behind her actions is more than enough to demonstrate that a willingness to sacrifice oneself is in and of itself honourable. I grow tired of folks who believe that a sacrifice must be total in order for its effects to be tangible, and remark that reality is complex enough such that things can go both ways: sometimes, a total sacrifice can result and still fail, while other times, a serendipitous turn of events results in a win-win situation.

  • In the case of Sora no Woto, the ending serves to enhance the theme (and anything else would contradict it). With the peace now secured, Kureha and Kanata embrace, ecstatic that war has been averted. Speculation runs in infinitely many directions about who the angels and Fire Maidens really were, with the two most prominent fan theories being aliens or a powerful avian species responsible for the destruction. However, the Roman version of the legend in part suggests that the calamity has a human origin. Given thus, the actual reason, unless the folks running Anime no Chikara write me with a negative response, is that a space-faring faction of humanity succeeded in decimating the Earth’s biosphere in a war against the Earth-bound faction, leaving the planet once its destruction is complete (for instance, if the events of Char’s Counterattack had turned in Char’s favour, or if the SDF wins in Infinite Warfare). Over time, human remnants slowly reach the technological levels of WWII-era humanity. It makes more sense than aliens (who would have taken over the planet and eliminated humanity) or advanced avian lifeforms (who would have increased their distribution around the world).

  • Rio is immensely thankful that her actions have helped, and smiles as Klaus gives her a thumbs up. Owing to challenges in the screen capture and the absence of a clean cut of the finale’s ending, I’ve not included many screenshots from the ending, which depict a Seize under the spring as cherry blossoms kick in. With this finale finished, I’m done my weekly recollections of Sora no Woto, and will turn my attention to various odds and ends upcoming on this blog in the near future, including the Hai-Furi OVAs, Amanchu‘s single OVA, some posts about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2, amongst others.

  • I might (emphasis on “might”) come back and talk about the OVAs in the future, but for the time being, I’m going to take some time off and enjoy my evenings in the company of a good book now that I’m done. Writing about Sora no Woto on evenings between work and on weekends when I could be doing other things was no easy task, but I did wish to see through this project to the end. With this series of Sora no Woto posts concluded, then, it’s time to continue on with my misadventures in Battlefield 1Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition and Titanfall 2.

Sora no Woto holds a magic to it that very few other anime have achieved: with its distinct combination of familiar characters who wind up being unique in their own right, a fantastical world whose lore and everyday life are thoroughly explored to become immersive, fantastic artwork that captures the world’s attributes and a soundtrack that is at once friendly and melancholy, Sora no Woto is an anime that easily earns the strong recommendation, offering a novel and intriguing anime that proved to be highly engaging. As the flagship anime of the Anime no Chikara programme, Sora no Woto sets the precedence for what original anime can accomplish, and as it turns out, the lessons drawn from the one year long Anime no Chikara initiative ultimately led to the creation of powerhouse anime such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Itself a masterpiece amongst many of the viewers, it is quite interesting to learn that its success can be partially attributed to information derived from Sora no Woto. Resulting in no shortage of speculation when Sora no Woto originally aired, this anime might no longer be considered discussion-worthy, but Sora no Woto remains of a very high quality, easily withstanding the test of time and even today, holds up against the newer titles that have come out.

A Visitor: A Burning Field of Snow- Sora no Woto Eleventh Episode Review and Reflection

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” —Albert Einstein

While on patrol duty following a fresh snowfall, Kureha and Kanata discover an unconcious Roman soldier. They bring her to the Clocktower Fortress and treat her for frostbite. The next day, she awakens, but because she does not understand Helvetian, Kanata and the others only learn her name: Aisha. However, it turns out that Yumina is fluent in Roman, learning that Aisha arrived to check out the fossilised remains of the gargantuan creature that Kanata had seen when she’d fallen into the lake. Yumina also brings with her ill-news — the Helvetian armed forces have surrounded the Clocktower Fortress and are demanding that Aisha be surrendered to the Helvetian forces, lead by none other than Colonel Hopkins, the infamous “Demon of Vingt”. Noël is gripped with fear and Filicia conceal both Noël and Aisha from his detachment. Upon recognising Noël as the Witch of Helvetia and bringing up the Invisible Reaper weapons project, Noël succumbs to fear, exposing their position and allows Hopkins to capture them. Meanwhile, the situation deteriorates further when news reaches Filicia and the others learn that the Roman army has mobilised and has entered no-man’s land, driving both nations closer to war. When originally aired, the eleventh episode of Sora no Woto would have completely surprised viewers to the same capacity as did the seventh episode, marking a dramatic departure from the slower pacing of earlier episodes.

In choosing to introduce Aisha ahead of the Roman Army, Sora no Woto reinforces the idea that even in times of war amongst humanity, the combatants remain people, rather than the monsters or dæmons that propaganda portray the enemy to be. The realisation that an enemy is human often drives participants’ appetites for war to dull, and it is for this reason that propaganda played such a major role during the World Wars, urging soldiers and civilians to view their opponents as being less than human, in turn causing savagery on an unprecedented scale. Sora no Woto does just the opposite: even if the Romans are enemies to the Helvetians, Aisha is human. While communicating with her might not be a particularly an easy task, Aisha proves to be accomplished with the trumpet, as well: it is here that Kanata realises that music is a means of conveying thoughts across even if one is separated by a language barrier, and the single act galvinises the notion that regardless of whether or not one is Helvetian or Roman, they are people. This particular conclusion is one that Hopkins’ forces refuse to address. In order to avert bloodshed, humanity must prevail over violence, although Sora no Woto masterfully presents a set of circumstances that threaten to transmute into a full-on conflict. Having presented the Romans as being people, audiences are riveted in anticipation of how Sora no Woto might turn out and would remain hopeful that, even in the darkest of times, a war can be prevented.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In contrast with the cooling but still-predominantly-green landscape around Seize in the previous episode, the snowfall has left the world gently blanketed in a layer of white, conveying a sense of coldness. Here, Kanata and Kureha continue their patrol into the mountains – only Kureha is equipped with a rifle, and she has optics mounted, suggesting that the two are acting as a sniper-spotter unit. However, patrols typically are intended to deal with close to medium range threats, and it would make more sense for Kanata to have a rifle, as well.

  • The dark blues of the sky in this screenshot really accentuate that the weather has shifted, far removed from the warmth seen in previous episodes. Kureha and Kanata returns to the observation outposts seen during the fifth episode: the snow-covered terrain is a far cry from the inviting,  verdant meadows, and here, Kanata spots a figure in the snow.

  • The figure turns out to be a Roman soldier who’s suffering from frostbite. Uncertain of what the best course of action is, Kureha and Kanata decide to do what’s right: bring this soldier back to the Clocktower Fortress and in the infirmary, treat her injuries. There is a sharp contrast between what is counted as morally right and what one’s orders are: these lines blur during warfare, and contrary to what the self-proclaimed experts claim, there is no easy means of making a good call during warfare. Actions that are in accordance with orders may contribute to an unacceptable number of casualties, while at the same time, contradict with the idea that a soldier must follow their responsibilities.

  • Typically expressionless and quiet, Noël is seen expressing a wide range of emotions in Sora no Woto‘s penultimate episode. The Roman soldier here brings back a startling memory in her past: a dying Roman soldier, and a military official praising Noël for her role in revitalising a WMD that resulted in an untold number of casualties. While the Roman Empire’s presence has always subtly suggested that they were the antagonists, but Helvetia’s use of WMD suddenly complicates the picture — in war, neither side can be seen as innocent or holding the moral high ground, explaining the oft-used phrase that history is written by the victors.

  • While looking through the Roman soldier’s loadout, besides a M1911, Kanata also finds a bugle. It comes across as strange that a soldier would be found without their service rifle, indicating that this particular individual may be moving independently of the Roman army. Beyond reaching the conclusion that this soldier is probably a scout, Filicia is uncertain about how to proceed next.

  • Under the dark of night, an armoured column advances amidst the snowfall. The mood and emotional tenour surrounding the soldiers of Sora no Woto are consistent with the depiction of warfare following the First World War: previously, to fight in war was considered an honour, and young men would enlist for a chance to prove their worth for the glory of the nation. The Industrial Revolution and sophisticated weapons turned war into death, radically altering society’s view of conflict. Machines now made the act of killing a streamlined, efficient process, and for the first time in history, a single man with a machine gun could kill hundreds of men. It is therefore unsurprising that World War I is considered to be the dawn of modern warfare.

  • Under a screenshot of the Clocktower Fortress under a brisk morning, I remark that, contrary to claims that it is “not Felicia’s job as a low ranking officer to decide if she does or doesn’t want war or whether to aid and abet an enemy agent” means that, taken to the logical conclusion, Filicia and the others would have done well to execute the Roman soldier. Such an action would certainly lead to the war that Sora no Woto is so persistently and plainly trying to illustrate as an immensely costly action whose benefits may not necessarily be worth said costs.

  • Ultimately, if the 1121st followed orders, the anime would fail to deliver its theme. This point is something that those criticising Filicia’s call do not understand, and consequently, they would be the naïveté, rather than those who support Filicia’s decision. In fiction, actions must be consistent with whatever message that a work is aiming to present: characters acting against military regulations in works of fiction is not uncommon, and they usually do so because their actions are intended by the author to represent an idea.

  • Back in Sora no Woto, Noël checks in on the Roman soldier to find that she’s awakened. The Roman promptly attacks her. Noël’s action, to grope her, diffuses things immediately: modesty kicks in and the Roman soldier stands down. It’s probably the only instance where materials of this type is not intended to be taken out of context, although it’s a gamble to execute these types of take downs, considering that not all individuals have the same standards. Moreover, Noël’s intentions are left ambiguous: while my assessment is that Noël is using a simple method to stop the attack, some folks believe that Noël knows she’s screwed and wishes to do one thing before she is fragged.

  • Learning that the Roman soldier’s name is Aisha, the others quickly find that their inability to understand Roman (presented as German in Sora no Woto) hinders their ability to communicate and learn more about her objectives. Voiced by Nami Miyahara, who took her middle school education in Austria, Aisha’s German is syntactically correct. However, her Austrian German differs from High German in minor choices of vocabulary and phrasing.

  • In order to assess Aisha’s familiarity of the Helvetian language, Filicia administers a simple test that leaves Kanata and Kureha flustered, causing even Noël to blush. Since Aisha doesn’t respond to the phrase, it’s quite plain that Aisha does not speak Helvetian, a language whose spoken form is that of Japanese, and where the written form is French. Such divergence in linguistics, though seemingly unlikely, can result from geographical separation and migration patterns. Owing to the extremities in Sora no Woto, it is conceivable that French and Japanese could merge, although more than likely, Japanese is used simply because Sora no Woto is an anime. To recall Filicia’s question for my amusement:

“You have really nice breasts, don’t you? I’m rather fond of them. I wonder if it would be alright I played with them for a bit? Would be it be alright if I played with your entire body? It seems she’s really unable to understand Helvetian.”

  • While initially cold to her captors, Aisha warms up to Noël and Kanata, who spends the most time with them despite their language barrier. The choice to depict a Roman soldier coming ahead of the advancing army is meant to demonstrate that the combatants in both Roman and Helvetian armies are human in the end, contrary to how the Roman army’s lack of portrayal thus far, coupled with the fact that audiences are only aware of the Helvetian perspective, means that audiences are more likely perceive them as antagonistic in nature.

  • An accomplished bugler and trumpeter, Aisha immediately begins playing Amazing Grace when Kanata gives her Rio’s trumpet. It is here that Kanata realises that music is a universal: despite their language barrier, the emotions and ideas a song carries can transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. This moves Kanata and ultimately shapes her actions in the finale, but in the present, the arrival of Yumina allows the 1121st to finally learn what Aisha’s mission and objectives are.

  • With translation from Yumina, it turns out that Aisha is here in Seize to check out a fossil ostensibly belonging to the dæmons of yore, and that Aisha’s grandmother was once a member of the Clocktower maidens. In the Roman mythology of Sora no Woto, the dæmons are a saviour passing judgement on humanity, saving the species from its own machinations, “cleansing” humanity of its sins. In this interpretation, the remnants of humanity are the ones who are blessed to rebuild the world. Yumina immediately rejects this, while Aisha similarly finds that Yumina’s beliefs are heretical in nature.

  • This small-scale disagreement occurs in parallel with the impending conflict between Roman and Helvetian forces. The heavy atmosphere stands in stark contrast with the weather: a cold but otherwise pleasant-looking day. Intentionally done to emphasise that warfare and conflict occur independently of human feelings, this is one of the instances in Sora no Woto where the skies do not mirror how the characters are feeling, reminding audiences that warfare is impersonal and indifferent to who lives or dies.

  • Colonel Hopkins, the Dæmon of Vingt, is one of the most feared commanders of the Helvetian forces, who had previously ordered the deployment of WMD, earning his moniker. Arriving at the Clocktower Fortress, he intends to take Aisha and execute her with the aim of starting an all-out war between Helvetia and the Roman Empire. While Helvetians have been shown to be a friendly, ordinary people thus far, Hopkins embodies a sort of evil that is meant to show how both sides have their own dæmons. In response to his arrival, Filicia orders that Noël and Aisha be hidden.

  • The placement of the table legs contribute the sense that Noël is caged, trapped within her own mind and memories as a consequence of the guilt resulting from her actions. This is why she fears Colonel Hopkins, and when Aisha learns of Noël’s role in releasing the WMD, known as the “invisible death reaper”, Noël finally caves, letting out a piteous scream that alerts Hopkins’ men to their position.

  • The expression, “when it rains, it pours” is used as a narrative device to deepen the gravity of a situation, and here, the phone rings, alerting Kanata and the others to a large contingent of Roman forces moving through No-Man’s land towards Helvetia. The episode left audiences surprised that war could be explored in what was otherwise a seemingly run-of-the-mill anime, and with all of the events in this episode, discussion erupted. Gone were the accusations that Sora no Woto was lapsing into familiar territory, and even the skeptics felt that the anime was exploring interesting directions.

  • So tangible was the anticipation that some discussions wondered if it would be possible to watch the episode in real time as it was airing in Japan. Coming to the party a year later, I would encounter no such difficulty, and simply watched the finale immediately after this penultimate episode concluded. While the Helvetians have amassed a sizeable force outside of Seize, the cut outside shows that the Roman Force is no slouch, either: if this conflict came to fruition, the casualties would be unacceptably high for both sides.

  • Even in spite of her role in eradicating the lives of countless people, Aisha’s concern for Noël is far greater than her response to having met the individual responsible. Before Aisha can pick Noël off the floor, Helvetian soldiers arrive and open fire, with the shot’s outcome left ambiguous. We’ve finally reached the penultimate episode of Sore no Woto and concluded its review: next week, I will be pushing out the last of the reviews on next Wednesday to conclude my revisitation of Sora no Woto. Being the finale, it will be larger than usual, featuring thirty images rather than the typical twenty.

Aside from the introduction of Aisha, Sora no Woto‘s eleventh episode also places Noël’s story into the spotlight. Her remarks from the fourth episode become clear by this point; she deeply regrets her involvement in the synthesis of a biological terror that decimated enemy forces, human lives, and consequently, closed her heart until Kanata slowly began bringing her optimism and hope. From what Sora no Woto presents in its characters, it is apparent that war has affected each and every member of the 1121st to an extent, but for better or worse, each character must come to understand and accept their own duties within the present in order to have a chance for a better future. Leaving viewers with the greatest cliffhanger of the season, Sora no Woto‘s penultimate episode proved to be a thrill to watch that stands in stark contrast from the tones conveyed by earlier episodes, and with the seventh episode, serves to demonstrate that Sora no Woto is not merely another K-On! knockoff in presenting complex themes that provoke further discussion and considerations.