The Infinite Zenith

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

Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection After Three

“I hate prejudice, discrimination, and snobbishness of any kind – it always reflects on the person judging and not the person being judged. Everyone should be treated equally.” –Gordon Brown

When war erupts between the Republic of San Magnolia and the Empire of Giad, San Magnolia begins folding under the Empire’s automated machines. San Magnolian engineers claim to have developed their own autonomous machines, leading the public to believe that this war is purely fought between automaton, but in reality, San Magnolia has the Colorata people, an ethnic minority in San Magnolia, pilot these machines, Juggernauts, while the Alba majority live their lives idly. Major Vladilena Mirizé is an Alba with the military, and at the age of sixteen, is a handler for Colorata squadrons. Unlike her compatriots, she treats her units kindly and possesses a fierce desire to end the discrimination the Colorata, informally, the 86, have received. She accepts an assignment to lead the Spearhead unit, which is infamous for having driven previous handlers insane. Vladilena quickly realises that Spearhead is worthy of their reputation, and desires to learn more about them, including unit leader Shinei. The Colorata soldiers, on the other hand, find Vladilena curious at best and untrustworthy at worst: a handful of Spearhead begin to speak more freely with Vladilena, Kaie among them, but Kurena refuses to open up because the Alba had executed her parents. WiShineig to help Spearhead improve their combat efficiency, Vladilena finds a new map with engineer and researcher, Henrietta Penrose, to better improve her awareness of the terrain, but during an operation, Kaie’s Juggernaut gets bogged down in a marsh, and she’s killed in action. Theoto, one of the surviving pilots, accuses Vladilena of putting on a front about caring for those she commands into combat, and claims that Vladilena hadn’t even bothered to learn everyone’s actual names. After three episodes, 86 EIGHTY-SIX has proven to be an intriguing anime, covering a range of intriguing topics through its world building: while there are moments that lighten the mood up considerably, 86 EIGHTY-SIX on the whole

Out of the gates, the dystopian world is rife with relevant social issues of segregation and discrimination, and the protagonists represent dramatically different viewpoints on the war. The treatment of the Colorata, the 86, as non-humans, is despicable, and 86 EIGHTY SIX makes this discrimination clear out of the gates with an Alba handler verbally abusing the Colorata soldiers as they enter combat. After Vladilena is introduced, she enters a military office filled with inebriated officers who seem completely disinterested in their duties. It becomes clear that the Alba are no saints, and that their world is a fabrication. Vladilena, however, is different: she regards the Colorata as humans to the bemusement to those around her, and while other Alba lecture her for her seemingly naïve perspectives, Vladilena’s beliefs make her easily sympathetic to the audience. What appears as electronic signals on her screen, are, after all, people, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX subsequently switches the perspectives out to show the Colorata as they fight in combat against an unfeeling enemy, as well as their lives outside of battle. The Colorata are human, experiencing joy, sorrow, mirth and melancholy as acutely as any Alba (if not more so). Meals are enjoyed together, jokes are shared, amongst the Spearhead soldiers, and Vladilena plainly understands this, even if she’s not on the battlefield herself. Hoping to lead her soldiers to survival and eventual return to San Magnolia, Vladilena immediately becomes a likeable character: three episodes in, viewers have reason to support Vladilena and hope that her sincerity reaches those who fight under her guidance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve always been fond of anime with an interesting world and mecha: 86 EIGHTY-SIX looks like an amalgamation of Sora no Woto and Warlords of Sigrdrifa at first glance, with Vladilena benig 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s counterpart to Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia. Both are devoted to their duties as soldiers, but have a more friendly side to them, as well. Upon reaching the military headquarters, Vladilena is disgusted to see her fellow officers lazing around after what must’ve been a wild party. In this moment, it became apparent that in San Magnolia, very few care about doing their duties properly.

  • Consequently, I developed an immediate sense of respect for Vladilena. Vladilena’s battle station is a dark room with large displays and an uplink to real-time data that allows her to spot enemies and direct her units to proper points on a map. While it makes sense that even automated systems have human controllers, that Vladilena is speaking with the machines hints at the fact that the Juggernauts aren’t, in fact, autonomous. Fighting from behind the safety of a screen, and the comfort of a good chair, Vladilena nonetheless feels connected to the names on a screen, whereas other mission controllers, dubbed Handlers, view their units as disposable.

  • When Vladilena is given command of an elite squad, she immediately accepts. Vladilena is an idealist, speaking to things like equality, fairness and nondiscrimination: these topics have never been more relevant, with current events constantly highlighting the mistreatment of minorities and need to contain racial discrimination. As a visible minority myself, I’ve experienced discrimination, but it also speaks to a bit of luck where I’ve opportunity to overcome whatever barriers this presents on virtue of effort and merit alone. In 86 EIGHTY-SIX, however, the Alba’s systemic discrimination against the Colorata is such that the Colorata don’t even have this chance. Vladilena therefore becomes a character viewers will rally behind, as she’s completely opposed to San Magnolia’s treatment of the Colorata, and does what she can to raise awareness of this issue.

  • I suppose that it is a hallmark of this decade’s anime, where cutesy mannerisms and facial expressions find their way even into anime with a more serious premise: Vladilena melts when Henrietta convinces the former to stick around for tea, as she’s made cream puffs and cakes with real eggs and cheese. The implication is that there’s a food crisis going on, and while San Magnolia’s citizens seem to be living in reasonable comfort, their world also seems artificially clean, manufactured. This stands in stark contrast with the Colorata, the 86’s, world, which is rundown, gritty, but also possessing a human touch to it.

  • Unlike the Alba, which all have silver hair and blue eyes, the Colorata are a very diverse group of individuals, sporting a range of complexions, hair and eye colours. Having grown up in a multi-cultural nation, I’m accustomed to seeing people of all sorts, and I fully embrace the idea that different cultures share one thing in common: everyone has noteworthy customs, traditions and above all, food. Despite their poor treatment at the hands of the Alba, Spearhead squad is a spirited and energetic group: ironically, they feel more human than the Alba do, even though the Alba claim that the Colorata are non-human.

  • Between the devastated world outside of the San Magnolia walls, military emphasis, spider-tanks and general aesthetic, 86 EIGHTY-SIX distinctly feels like Sora no Woto. It’s been ten years since I first watched Sora no Woto, and admittedly, since then, I’ve had a fondness for the sort of world-building that Sora no Woto presented. Here in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it is no small compliment when I say that this series is comparable to Sora no Woto as far as creating intrigue and excitement to see what happens next. However, unlike Sora no Woto, which I watched after its airing (and therefore, could watch the episodes at my own pace), watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX as it’s airing means that I’ll have to wait a week should any episode end on a cliffhanger.

  • Whereas the Alba eat artificial foods, with actual food being hard to come by, Spearhead appear to have access to fresh peaches and cherries, as well as real eggs and flour. Even though their lives are far tougher, and death is always a real threat, one could make the case that the Colorata are living more fully than their Alba counterparts. Here in this screenshot, I’ve just got Shinei, the male protagonist of 86 EIGHTY-SIX. Brutally efficient and skilled, Shinei is a taciturn, stoic individual, and in fact, reminds me greatly of Gundam 00‘s Setsuna F. Seiei.

  • Assuming this to be the case, I feel that 86 EIGHTY-SIX will likely have Shinei become more expressive and honest with his feelings as he gets to know Vladilena better. Shinei is voiced by Shōya Chiba (B Cell from Cells at Work! and Yuito Aoi of Iroduku: The World in Colours). Shinei is notable because of his devotion to duty and attendant combat efficiency. When one of his squad-mates is injured in combat and asks Shinei to put him out of his misery, Shinei does so without hesitation: in most situations, one would at least stop and hesitate a little, so such an action speaks volumes about Shinei’s mindset.

  • Despite not expressing his emotions often, Shinei is often seen reading books when off-duty. I read primarily to lose myself in other worlds, and I therefore imagine that books are probably Shinei’s way of coping with the things he’s seen and done on the battlefield. Further to this, while Shinei isn’t particularly vocal, I imagine that there could come a point in 86 EIGHTY-SIX where Shinei loses his cool: in Gundam 00, flashbacks to his past, brought on by Ali Al-Saachez and a return to the Krugis republic, causes Setsuna to fight with a wild abandon.

  • Spearhead and the other Colorata soldiers use the M1A4 Juggernaut, a manned spider tank armed with a single 57 mm smoothbore cannon and depending on the configuration, either a pair of oscillating cutters or 50-calibre machine guns. Juggernaut pilots are called Processors to create the illusion that the Juggernauts are autonomous, unmanned machines, whereas in practise, the Juggernauts resemble Star Wars‘ TIE Fighters, which were built to overwhelm enemies with numbers and lack any notable safety features.

  • By the second episode, viewers have a chance to see what sort of enemies San Magnolia are fighting, and it’s explained that Spearhead and other Colorata pilots are engaged in a battle with the Empire’s Legion, fully autonomous machines that overwhelm enemies with their numbers and ability to sustain casualties without concern. It is briefly mentioned that the Empire might not be in full control of their machines, which attack based on some failed algorithm, and as a result, San Magnolia’s war with the Empire is set to conclude in two year’s time, when Legion machines reach their operational limits and shut down.

  • With this in mind, the Colorata become human sacrifices, fighting to keep the Legion busy while the Alba wait things out. I’ve heard that this already precipitous setup will be further disrupted in the future as more of the world becomes presented to viewers, although having very little familiarity with the source material, I think I’ll stick to an anime-only perspective of 86 EIGHTY-SIX so that any new revelations can have a greater impact. While I’ve long been neutral or tolerant of spoilers, of late, I’ve had an increased inclination to avoid spoilers as to have a more thorough and complete experience.

  • Vladilena’s convictions become reinforced to viewers when she’s invited as a guest speaker for a lecture and promptly goes on to say that the Colorata, the 86, are fully human, and that it is only with San Magnolia’s mistreatment and misclassification of them that allow the country to claim a zero-casualty war against the Empire’s Legion. Ordinarily, characters with a predisposition towards supporting a cause can come across as being quite irritating because of indecisive writing, so it speaks volumes about Vladilena’s character that hearing her bring awareness to the Colorata’s situation serves to increase my respect for her: the series is able to get viewers to rally behind Vladilena because the other perspective (i.e. those of the Colorata’s) is clearly presented, leaving no ambiguity that with few exceptions, the Alba are being unreasonable.

  • To communicate with Spearhead, Vladilena uses what’s called a PARA-RAID, a VoIP system that Henrietta had a hand in developing. Spearhead finds her calls unusual, since most mission controllers regard the Processors as expendable. While initially reluctant to open up, a few of Spearhead do eventually warm up to Vladilena, who goes by the call-sign Handler One. Here, she asks Shinei to produce better combat reports so that she may better support them: while Processor teams are ostensibly supposed to write reports for this exact reason, unofficially, most mission controllers have no regard for the Processor’s well-being and thus, never read them, so Spearhead’s taken to submitting the same one every time to save effort.

  • There’s actually quite a bit of terminology in 86 EIGHTY-SIX that takes some getting used to, but fortunately, after three episodes, I believe I’m a little clearer now. A Handler is a mission controller, an Alba who sits behind a screen to direct the Processor, human pilots running the M1A4 Juggernaut spider tanks. To ensure a line of communications, the PARA-RAID system is used. The Legion refer to the autonomous war machines the Empire has created, and I think that’s everything.

  • Here, in between operations, the women of the team decide to frolik in a nearby stream, and after hunting a boar, some of the guys figure it’s a good idea to cop a look. They get busted almost immediately, and in the chaos, Kurena accidentally lets slip that she has feelings for Shinei, which leads to all sorts of good natured teasing subsequently, causing Kurena to puff up her cheeks in indignation. The use of visual elements such as puffed-up cheeks is unusual for a series of this premise, and I recall that Warlords of Sigrdrifa did something similar, with exaggerated facial expressions. I come from a time where serious anime had serious, consistent facial artwork, so seeing these elements always suggest to me that a given series, whether it’s 86 EIGHTY-SIX or Warlords of Sigrdrifa, is reminding viewers not to take things so seriously all the time.

  • Of everyone in Spearhead squad, I immediate took a liking towards Kaie: friendly and outgoing, she’s very forward and direct, as well as possessing a greater understanding of the Alba and Colorata’s history. As with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Kyon, I’ve long had a thing for ponytails, and despite 86 EIGHTY-SIX being a new anime, I felt that Kaei looks very familiar, even though can’t quite put my finger on which anime character. Kaie is voiced by Haruka Shiraishi, whom I know as Himouto! Umaru-chan‘s Kirie Motoba, Ruri Hibarigaoka from Anne Happy! and Hanawa Ushiku from Anima Yell!.

  • By evening, Vladilena uses the PARA-RAID to contact Spearhead. One aspect I particularly liked about 86 EIGHTY-SIX was the fact that the same moments would be portrayed from Vladilena and Spearhead’s perspective as the two converse, which really accentuates the idea that there’s two sides to the coin here. Although the only thing connecting them is voice comms right now, 86 EIGHTY-SIX will almost certainly go down a route where Vladilena’s conviction in equal rights and fair treatment of the Colorata will have her show up on the frontlines, which would show Kurena and the others that Vladilena means business.

  • After retrieving a map from the archives with Henrietta’s help, Vladilena is confident that she’ll be of greater help to Spearhead. However, things quickly go pear-shaped when Spearhead is ambushed by the Legion, and in the chaos, Kaie’s Juggernaut becomes stuck in a marsh that the maps did not denote. She becomes a sitting duck for the Legion’s guns and is subsequently destroyed. Theoto subsequently lashes out at Vladilena, and while his words come from the heat of the moment, there’s truth in them. Vladilena doesn’t know the horrors of the battlefield. As accusation after accusation comes in, Vladelina loses composure.

  • Three episodes into 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and I’m sold on the premise; there’s a lot of moving parts in this anime, and correspondingly, much to consider. I could be here all day discussing various ideas, as 86 EIGHTY-SIX offers food for thought on many fronts. However, I also appreciate that there will be a smaller set of themes this series will likely wish to focus on as it progresses. To give 86 EIGHTY-SIX a fair chance to explore the themes its author had intended the work to convey, I’ll close things off here and note that with this post, I’ve now established all of the anime I’m actively watching and writing about this season. I’ll take a look at Yakunara Mug Cup mo in another week: because the series is broken up into an animated and live-action component, there’s only the equivalent of a half episode each week, so I figured I’d best wait to see more of the series before sitting down to write about it. In the meantime, it’s time to catch up with the fourth episode: I’d deliberately held off on watching it so this after-three talk was not impacted by knowledge of future events.

Beyond social matters, 86 EIGHTY-SIX also speaks to the disconnect between the Alba handlers and Colorata soldiers. Theoto’s grief-filled rant carries this message plainly; while Vladilena may care for those around her, all she sees on the screen is a series of pixels representing a soldier. She’s not present to know how losing a comrade feels, or see the battlefield painted with allied blood with each and every death. 86 EIGHTY-SIX thus indicates that there exists a gap between leadership and the foot soldiers in general: leaders often have sight of the bigger picture, but are blind to the experiences (and sufferings) of those with boots on the ground, and short of visiting the frontlines themselves, will have very little idea of what individual soldiers see and feel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, foot soldiers have their concentration focused on getting the next objective done, and without a connection to leadership, can find it easy to lose sight of what they’re fighting for. When one loses their best friend, or a squad mate, the overarching objectives of a war become secondary: someone dear to them is gone, and achieving victory won’t bring them back. As Vladilena and Shinei get to know one another better through both conflict and whenever Vladilena contacts the Spearhead, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is clearly set on reconciling these two differences, both closing the gap between leaders and soldiers, and also set in motion the events that will see the Colorata receive equal rights, and perhaps reconciliation to demonstrate that irrespective of one’s appearance, ethnicity, beliefs or creed, everyone is human, with rights to life and security. 86 EIGHTY-SIX has covered a considerable amount of territory thus far, and this series could prove to be immensely enjoyable if all of these elements are brought together to accentuate the idea that at the end of the day, even seemingly-disparate people are more similar than unlike.

Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou.: Review and Reflections After Three

“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” –Sam Keen

After his kokuhaku is shot down by supervisor and coworker Airi Gotō, Yoshida wanders off into the night after downing a few too many drinks, and encounters a high school girl under a lamp post. She introduces herself as Sayu Ogiwara and makes him a proposal: in exchange for letting her crash at his place, she’ll boff him. Shocked, Yoshida immediately declines, but allows her to stay anyways. The next morning, he learns that Sayu has made him miso soup, claiming that he’d been talking in his sleep. With the effects of the alcohol gone, Yoshida wonders what to do next, since Sayu is a runaway from Hokkaido who’d been going from place to place, trading her body for a place to stay. Worried about Sayu, he reluctantly lets her stay with him until she can go back home, on the condition that she help him with household tasks and not make any advances on him. Yoshida’s coworker, Hashimoto, hears about this situation and promises to keep quiet about it. At work, junior Yuzuha Mishima’s inexperience causes a project to go off schedule, and Yoshida sticks around to help her rectify her mistakes. She repeats a rumour floating around Yoshida, wonder if he’s got a girlfriend now that he’s looking well-kept. As a result of working overtime, Yoshida decides to pick up a mobile phone for Sayu, and explains that it’s to help them keep in touch should anything arise. Later, after spotting Yoshida with Yuzuha, Sayu becomes jealous and runs off. She coincidentally runs into Yuzuha, who offers her some advice before Yoshida arrives to bring her home. Sayu tries to seduce Yoshida again, wondering why he’s been so kind to her, and he explains that ever since she’s arrived, his life’s become more colourful, making him look forwards to coming home each day. Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou., or Higehiro for brevity, has been a very curious series insofar: its premise was certainly attention-grabbing, and as Yoshida is quick to comment, opens the floor for disaster if not handled properly.

While Higehiro appears to be walking a tightrope with its content, the series immediately sets about conveying a story of emotional closeness over physicality: Yoshida immediately spots this about Sayu, and openly states that he’s into older, well-endowed women. He rebuffs Sayu for even considering seducing him, and constantly warns her not to do so. At the same time, he treats Sayu kindly as a result of his own nature; at work, Yoshida always picks up after the messes his coworkers leave behind in addition to getting his own work done. Yoshida is someone who wants what’s best for those around him, even if there’s a cost to him, and as a result, his actions for Sayu are strictly that of a friend’s. Indeed, Yoshida is an admirable character, although his manner means that, similar to myself, he’s not attuned to what’s around him. Yoshida is someone who knows what he wants and is confident in stepping up to the challenge, but when things blindside him, he’s unable to regroup. This makes his character immediately relatable, and while he certainly doesn’t see Sayu as a love interest, he does come to greatly value the warmth and companionship that Sayu brings into his life. In this area, Higehiro excels; Sayu seems to represent what most anime would do given such a premise, and then in the opposite corner, Yoshida represents what any reasonable person would go when placed in such a scenario. Where the two opposing approaches clash is something that Higehiro presents as a part of the journey, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes poignant, and sometimes humourous. I am therefore pleased with how the series has chosen to handle a most unlikely meeting and its consequences, as the story is moving in a direction that creates a very pleasant sense amongst viewers: Sayu is in a better place and can take the first step towards her recovery, while Yoshida now has something in his life to look forwards to beyond his work, and as a result of Sayu entering his life, Yoshida will undergo change that will help him to move on from his failed kokuhaku.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Higehiro‘s opening begins in a manner I’ve bore witness to: Yoshida is a hardworking and successful individual, but lacks luck in his love live. After working up the courage to make a kokuhaku to his senior and supervisor, Airi, he is shot down in a most painful manner. Unlike Yoshida, however, I tend to drown my sorrows in a good book or game – my acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes are less effective than that of the average person’s, and since I glow in the dark after drinking a few, I choose not to drink at all if I can help it. I joke to my peers that my weak enzymes mean that my sorrows have learned to swim. Further to this, unlike Yoshida, who runs into Sayu after getting wasted, I’d previously slept things off and woke up the next day with the resolve of bettering myself.

  • If Yoshida’s life had run the same way as mine, however, there’d be no Higehiro, and as such, we’ll allow highly improbable events to run their course to accommodate the story. Almost immediately after Yoshida and Sayu return to his apartment, Sayu attempts to get the party started, only for Yoshida to fall asleep immediately and groggily mumble that he’d totally be down for some miso soup. The next morning, Yoshida is shocked to find a high school girl in his apartment: he’d been so drunk he’d had no recollection of anything, and Sayu takes the time to explain what had happened the previous night.

  • Things thus get to an awkward start, since Yoshida is at a loss for what to do next after hearing Sayu’s story. However, her miso soup proves to be excellent, and despite entering Higehiro with no a priori knowledge, that Yoshida takes a liking to Sayu’s soup foreshadows what will happen next. It sounds like despite his physical attraction to Airi, Yoshida had also desired a deeper connection to her. Thus, when Sayu whips up the same miso soup he’d expect Airi to make, Higehiro suggests that despite a rough start, Sayu and Yoshida will develop the sort of emotional connection that the latter had most wanted from a relationship. This is what I seek from a relationship – I wish most to be depended on, reliable and there for someone at all times.

  • In the absence of a partner, I work hard for those around me so I can pursue my one great love, of giving back. While Higehiro is very much about the emotional aspects of a relationship, Sayu has very little understanding of this and initially, believes that her only way of repaying Yoshida’s kindness is with her body. She comments that she’s got very nice figure for someone of her age and would have no objections to Yoshida seeing if she’s comparable to Airi. Naturally, Yoshida declines to comment and settles on a solution – as long as she doesn’t try anything funny with him, he’ll allow her to stay while they determine what Sayu’s next steps are.

  • At the office, Yoshida seeks counsel from Hashimoto, his coworker and friend: unlike the serious Yoshida, Hashimoto has a more laid-back personality, although he is every bit as competent and efficient as Yoshida is. Yoshida trusts Hashimoto a great deal – he’s the first person Yoshida gripes to after losing Airi, and he confides in Hashimoto about the whole Sayu situation. Hashimoto suggests keeping quiet for now and seeing what he can do to get Sayu back home to Hokkaido. Unfortunately for Yoshida, Sayu’s mere presence induces a slight change in him: he begins shaving regularly, and his female coworkers notice that his shirts are now ironed. They suggest that Yoshida must’ve found a girlfriend of sorts, which could become problematic if the truth got out.

  • For me, I shave every morning, even on weekends, mainly because I hate the feeling of facial hair, and I iron my own shirts and pants. In Yoshida’s position, I imagine even the most eagle-eyed individual wouldn’t be able to notice the difference, since I tend to have a pretty good poker face about such things. After noticing that Sayu’s posture has worsened, he decides to get her a futon. Sayu is perplexed by Yoshida’s kindness: previously, to keep the men who’d taken her in happy, she put on a fake smile and offered her body as payment for lodging, but with Yoshida, she cannot see why he’s doing this for her without expecting something in return. Sayu’s reaction to Yoshida’s looking out for her is actually a saddening one, suggesting that despite her friendly personality and dazzling smile, she’s got a bit of emotional baggage coming in.

  • Consequently, Higehiro would do well to show how kindness and openness is a powerful tool on the path to healing. The ten-year gap between Sayu and Yoshida means that Yoshida sees Sayu as a child. He treats her as a teacher might a troublesome student, going the extra mile to keep an eye on her and as often as he can spare them so she can get back on her feet. He picks up moisturiser for her here and contemplates getting her a phone so he can reach her in event of emergencies, but she declines the phone, feeling it to be a burden and also fearing it will put her in further debt with Yoshida.

  • Because of Sayu’s beliefs about repaying debts and the fact that Yoshida can see through her fake smiles, I expect that Higehiro will eventually cover how Yoshida will begin helping Sayu to understand that debts incurred between individuals can and should be dealt with by way of returning favours, rather than through sex. This really speaks volumes to how rough Sayu’s had it, and even without her explaining what had led her to run away from home, it’s clear that she’s made a series of poor decisions. Yoshida, however, indicates that running away shows that she’s probably spoiled – someone with the resilience and faculties to deal with situations when things don’t go as one would hope wouldn’t run away, but seek to solve their problems. However, given what Sayu’s gone through, being with Yoshida is something I imagine will kick start her recovery: despite all she’s done and gone through, Sayu’s still kind at heart.

  • Yoshida’s junior, Yuzuna, is the typical ditz who barely manages to get by, but despite her comparatively poor work ethic, she respects Yoshida and is competent enough when the moment calls for it. After Yuzuna submits a build riddled with bugs before a release, Yoshida makes her stay after hours to iron out the issues. In exchange, he buys her dinner from a nearby convenience store. While Yoshida works for an IT company, and he and Yuzuna are seen working with an IDE, it’s hard to pin down whether they’re in IT or software – any software company using Agile will likely have a CD/CI system and QA teams, so that things are pushed and tested thoroughly before reaching customer hands. Fortunately, how software companies work do not figure in Higehiro, and I’ll accept that their work is similar enough to mine, but inconsistencies will not impact overall thematic elements for me.

  • After returning home late from work, Yoshida finds that Sayu’s prepared dinner for him. While Sayu feigns anger at his coming home late, she reveals that she’s not actually mad at him, and finds his reactions amusing. He promises to eat in the morning, and here, I note that Yoshida’s on the money when he notes that Sayu is more like a child than a peer, naïve in the ways of the world, and also cute in her own right.

  • Initially, I thought this moment, of Airi and Yoshida having dinner together, was a flashback, but it turns out that Airi is curious to know how Yoshida turned around so quickly. The truth would violate several laws, and Yoshida notes that nothing interesting had happened. In exchange for having answered her questions, Airi allows Yoshida to ask her any one question, and Yoshida immediately asks what Airi’s bust size is. Airi consents to answer, revealing that in this area, Sayu’s completely beat.

  • After Yoshida gives Sayu a phone, the two exchange contact information. For Sayu, this is a symbolic moment, indicating a fresh start and a chance to learn things anew (such as how to properly express gratitude). While Sayu can come across as a spoiled brat who is ignorant in the way of the world at times, Higehiro has done an excellent job with the characters insofar, and I find everyone likeable, respectable enough for me to hope that they make those critical discoveries that will help them along.

  • Sayu begins feeling uneasy with the arrangement she has with Yoshida: whereas previously, men had immediately jumped on the “benefits” piece of such an arrangement, Yoshida’s done nothing of the sort, and instead, simply has her keep busy around the house while he’s at work. Her insecurities kick in here, and she wonders if Yoshida will soon see her hit the bricks if nothing should happen. This is, of course, contrary to the sort of person Yoshida is, but it also says a great deal about how much Sayu’s gone through. At the third episode’s beginning, there’s a flashback (or perhaps a dream) in which an unknown individual is getting it on with Sayu, but Sayu’s eyes are completely lifeless.

  • While Yoshida’s other coworkers have no qualms about the unexpected changes in his style, Yuzuha is taking exception to all of the rumours, and it’s clear that she’s smitten with him. Of course, Yoshida sees Yuzuha as an unreliable but well-meaning junior who needs more supervision, seemingly oblivious to her feelings. Of course, this infuriates Yuzuha, who kicks Yoshida in frustration. Yuzuha is voiced by Kaori Ishihara, whom I know best as Rinne no Lagrange‘s Madoka Kyono and The World in Colours‘ Hitomi Tsukishiro.

  • As thanks for having bailed her out again, Yuzuha invites Yoshida out for a movie. However, while out and about, Sayu spots Yoshida with Yuzuha. Consumed with jealousy, she runs off – while Sayu had initially thought that Yoshida was at most, an acquaintance and therefore wouldn’t be attached to him, as she had with the previous men she’d stayed with before they’d evicted her, the sight of Yoshida with Yuzuha elicits a different response.

  • Yuzuha meeting Sayu is pure coincidence, and her words to Sayu suggest that she should step her game up. Yoshida catches up soon after, and it was a bit of a tense moment, as I wondered whether or not things could get out of hand here. However, I imagine that Yuzuha sees the relationship between Sayu and Yoshida as that of family: she doesn’t ask questions at all or even suspects anything, so I conclude that at least, for the time being, nothing crazy will happen. It is conceivable that the truth could get out towards the end of the season, but whether or not that happens will be a bridge to cross once we actually get there.

  • Sayu’s actions can therefore be thought of as a manifestation of her own lack of confidence and insecurities. She’s desperate to know why Yoshida seems resilient to her advances, but eventually stands down and explains that this is how she came to scratch a living after running away from home. There’s a desperation in her voice, and in this moment, Yoshida understands where Sayu’s coming from.

  • Yoshida’s hugging Sayu is more an act of compassion more than anything: with this embrace, he’s saying that he gets where Sayu is coming from. With this being said, he’s not in love with her, and that certain acts are reserved only for people he’s genuinely in love with. With this in mind, assuming that Higehiro will go with a route that resembles reality, I would think that the best possible end goal for this season would be to eventually see Sayu return home and make amends, then get her life in order. Once this is resolved, I’d be okay with whatever ending the author goes with, as emotional closure would’ve been achieved.

  • Because Yoshida is resolute and strong-willed, the same traits that allow him to succeed at his job allows him to convince Sayu that her advances are probably not coming from the right place. She subsequently realises that Yoshida is as truthful as can be about what he thinks of her: Yoshida’s life has become much more pleasant, as he’s able to look forwards to something beyond work. Yoshida’s remarks speak to the idea of appreciating the ordinary, and that in a world that is as hectic as we know it, knowing that one can come home to a quiet conversation and meal is very reassuring indeed.

  • Realising that she can be true to herself, Sayu notes that while she and Yoshida might be lonely and pathetic, they’re now lonely and pathetic together. Even in spite of himself, Yoshida concedes that Sayu’s real smiles are cute. With this, my talk on Higehiro after three draws to a close. Ever since I’d read about the premise, I’d been curious to see how this one turned out, and thus far, I am not disappointed. With this post in the books, I intend to write about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo at the halfway point and may do the same with 86 EIGHTY-SIX. In the meantime, it’s time to go file my taxes, hang out with some mates via ZOOM (or whichever tool of their choice is), and then kick off my Modern Warfare 2: Remastered experience.

As I am a complete novice where Higehiro is concerned, I have no idea as to what will happen next. However, what Higehiro has done in its first three episodes is establish that this is going to be a story about understanding one another, the idea that togetherness is more about the mental aspects than the physical, and that unexpected events in life oftentimes help people to contemplate their past stumbles and come out stronger for it. Together with an immensely likeable cast, Higehiro has proven to be remarkably entertaining and encouraging. Rather than go down a slippery slope, Higehiro instead chooses to explore the human side of relationships, of things like trust, conflict resolution and honesty: having established that Yoshida has integrity, viewers can be reasonably assured that Higehiro will not likely devolve into crude jokes, and instead, draw humour from the interactions between a man and high school girl as they strive to make their current arrangement work. In doing so, both Yoshida and Sayu are expected to learn more about one another, as well as themselves: this is about all I can say with reasonable confidence with what I’ve seen insofar, and I’ve got no idea of where Higehiro actually ends up going beyond my own guesses. With this being said, as long as Higehiro stays true to the route it’s already established, this could prove to be an entertaining series with interesting insight as to what romance and relationships entail, well beyond the physical components. As such, I’m looking forwards to what happens next in Higehiro; this setup is as every bit as outlandish as what was seen in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, but three episodes in, Yoshida has proven to be a much more reliable and relatable male lead than Kazuya Kinoshita, whose indecisiveness and weak will was to that series’ detriment. Of course, my thoughts on Kanojo, Okarishimasu will be a story for another time.

Super Cub: Review and Reflection After Three

“You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” –Dan Aykroyd

Koguma is a high school girl with no family, money or hobbies. Her life is a monotonous routine consisting of going to school and returning home. One day, having grown wearisome of struggling up the hill on her way to school, Koguma swings by a motorcycle shop and learns that the owner is selling a green Super Cub for a mere 10000 Yen. Despite the Super Cub’s checkered past, Koguma purchases the bike and secures her operator’s license. Eager to go for a ride, Koguma ends up stuck at the convenience store and learns that her bike’s run out of gas. She switches over to the reserve tank after consulting the manual and resolves to always keep an eye on her fuel levels. As Koguma begins riding more frequently, she encounters classmate Reiko, who rides a modified CT110. As Koguma gets to know Reiko better, she begins looking forwards to sharing lunch with her together, and learns that while Reiko is a model student and admired by all, Reiko’s yearning is to be out on the open road. One day, while discussing potential plans to tour the countryside on their bikes, Reiko realises that Koguma’s got no trunk-top case, and offers to help her get one, free of change. Koguma also learns that safety goggles from the local hardware store will do the trick for keeping the wind away from her eyes while riding. This is Super Cub, the season’s cathartic series that portrays a journey of discovery and exploration. Unsurprisingly, the premise of motorcycles and biking offers a chance to present the series’ themes in a highly visual manner: new horizons open up for Koguma when she purchases a Super Cub. Super Cub itself wastes no time making the change in her life felt. When viewers first meet Koguma, colours are washed out, and her world is as dead as a doorknob. The moment she boards the Super Cub, starts the engine and makes her way home for the first time, Hokuto, Yamanashi, suddenly takes on a newfound life, and the world comes to life.

Standing in stark contrast with most slice-of-life series I write about, which are characterised by rambunctious characters and humour at every turn, Super Cub is a very subdued, slow-paced anime. Koguma speaks infrequently, and her dialogue is characterised by a quiet, hesitant inflection. Indeed, Super Cub feels a great deal like Sketchbook, in which silence and distance are both utilised to encourage viewers to reflect on a moment. From lingering shots of the Super Cub’s engine and chassis, to Koguma’s smiles, Super Cub intends for viewers to really take in a moment and appreciate what’s going on. Further to this, the soundtrack is very minimal, and for the most part, Koguma’s world is quite faded when it comes to colour. The atmosphere is therefore perfect for introspection, and it becomes evident that after buying the Super Cub, Koguma’s world changes entirely. While she still lacks a family and money, the prospect of being able to come and go as she pleases opens her heart up, and she befriends a classmate who’s got a passion for bikes, extending her horizons even further. However, this journey will not be one of unbridled energy, of being pulled out of one’s comfort zone to push new boundaries. Instead, through its quiet aesthetic, Super Cub shows how people can, and will step past their boundaries at their own pace as they are comfortable. It therefore goes without saying that I am enjoying this series immensely, as it represents a departure from the noisier approach that other series take towards portraying tales of learning and living in the moment.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Koguma is Super Cub‘s protagonist, and in her own words, has nothing. Her life is remarkably austere, consisting of going to school and stopping by the grocery store for provisions. While her world is very drab, evidenced by the washed out colours, there is little to indicate that Koguma is necessarily unhappy: Koguma initially rides a bike to school, and she smiles along the way, showing that she enjoys things.

  • However, heading up the incline leading to her school always renders her exhausted, and one day, after one difficult uphill trip too many, Koguma decides it’s time to change things up. One of the biggest questions surrounding how things work for Koguma is finances: she leads a very frugal lifestyle and says that she has no money, but in spite of this, is able to consider buying a motorbike, which is shown to cost anywhere from 1800 to 12000 CAD at the local dealer. There is, fortunately, a simple answer: until official materials indicate otherwise, my guess is that Koguma lives apart from her other family, but they’ve agreed to give her a small stipend for necessities.

  • Because Koguma herself lives minimally, as seen with her choice of meals (rice with instant curry for lunch, and rice with egg for dinner), it is not inconceivable that she’s saved up quite a bit. As such, when the dealer offers her a Super Cub for 10000 Yen (about 115 CAD), she’s able to jump on the decision. The fact that this particular Super Cub seems cursed (having led its previous owners to fatal accidents) doesn’t dissuade Koguma in the least. The community was immediately up in arms over this, suggesting that Super Cub was going down a route inconsistent with its presentation.

  • I’ve opted not to enter the fray for myself: internet wars are always troublesome, and I’m a little too old to be dealing with that sort of thing. I will simply note that Koguma accepting the Super Cub anyways despite its checkered past shows that she’s ready to get into something new. She subsequently picks up her operator’s license and returns to the dealer ready to make her purchase. Koguma is shown as getting her license very quickly, but I am reminded of how quick it was to pick up the Class VII operator’s license back home: we only need to take a simple written exam and pass a basic vision screening.

  • Of course, owing to the way things work, we must wait for the provincial services to mail us our license card, and until then, use an interim license to operate a vehicle. Since takes no more than two weeks, but the intrim license, being a sheet of paper, is a pain to carry around. Koguma doesn’t appear to have that problem: after securing her license, she’s back at the shop, and ready to roll. The quiet nature of Super Cub and Koguma’s own personality always gave the impression that something unpleasant might befall her.

  • It ultimately took the full length of the first episode to dispel this sense in me. When Koguma ignites the Super Cub’s engine for the first time, her world is thrown into colour. That Koguma’s world was merely subdued, rather than monochrome, indicates that while she was never melancholy or depressed per se, her world was very monotonous, with little to look forwards to. The immediate splash of colour that livens up the scene speaks volumes to the idea of possibility, as Koguma’s world suddenly opens up to her. Haunted bike or not, this marks a turning point in her life, and suddenly, the girl who has nothing now has a Super Cub.

  • As though to reiterate and emphasise the idea that Koguma isn’t depressed in any way, she smiles often and warmly throughout Super Cub: whenever a moment catches her fancy, Koguma breaks out into a smile that is charming and infectious. I’ve come to greatly appreciate these moments, as they show that despite Koguma’s biting words about her situation, she’s still able to spot the joy in a moment, and has taken the very first step of finding happiness anew.

  • It should go without saying that the Honda Super Cub should not be confused with the Piper PA-18 Super Cub, a twin-seat, single-engine monoplane with forty years of history. Had Koguma picked up a Piper Super Cub instead of a Honda Super Cub, this anime would’ve likely been about a flying circus. For that, I still need to finish watching The Magnificent KotobukiSuper Cub is about bikes and open roads, so I imagine that this series is going to place an increased emphasis on the riding aspects of Rin’s adventures in Yuru Camp△.

  • The same night after she buys her Super Cub, Koguma is seized with a desire to suddenly go for a night ride, and decides to swing by the convenience store to explore her newfound freedom. However, she’s gripped with a terrifying situation when her Cub refuses to start. A customer leaving the store drops his change, and this reminds Koguma of the operator’s manual the dealer had placed in a box on her Super Cub. Upon consulting it, she learns that her Cub’s out of fuel, but has a reserve tank for such situations. Moments later, Koguma is back on the road, en route to the nearest gas station.

  • With a full tank, Koguma breathes a sigh of relief. I learned to fill a vehicle up long before I learnt to drive, and I recall that back then, fuel was less than a dollar a litre. Today, thanks to the federal carbon tax, it’s about 1.21 CAD/litre, and on average, I go through about 40 to 50 litres every two weeks. The carbon tax is one of the most maligned aspects of our current government, although I feel that a large part of it stems from poor communication about what the tax is intended to do. In practise, I’m largely neutral towards it – it’s had the effect of increasing the cost of gas, but on the flipside, the government issues all Canadians with a rebate. The idea is that those who use more carbon-emitting resources will pay for it, but those who are under a certain quota will get money back. Of course, I would prefer research be done on alternate energy sources on conjunction with policy, as policy alone doesn’t always address underlying causes of problems.

  • While Koguma’s world has expanded with her acquisition, things are about to become even more interesting. After arriving at school on her Super Cub for the first time, she contemplates announcing to the class that she’s got a bike. Koguma is voiced by Yuki Yomichi, a YouTuber and voice actress hailing from Hokkaido. With no other titles in her resume besides Super Cub, she’s completely new to the realm of voice acting, but as Koguma, she plays this shy, quiet character exceptionally well, capturing all of Koguma’s thoughts and feelings in a compelling manner.

  • During home economics class, Koguma begins working on a bag for her helmet and gloves. Quiet and reserved, Koguma’s classmates regard her as a bit unusual, and their words about her aren’t exactly kind, even if they’re not outright insults. Koguma typically ignores her classmates and pay them no mind, so their remarks don’t exactly bother her, but it did show what Koguma’s life at school is like. Her days of being alone, however, come to a close when her home economics project catches the attention of fellow classmate Reiko, who takes a keen interest in Koguma after learning that Koguma is a fellow biker.

  • Reiko is voiced by Ayaka Nanase, whom I know best as Sakura Quest‘s Yoshino Koharu and Hibike! Euphonium: Oath’s Finale‘s Mirei Suzuki. Reiko brings to mind Hibike! Euphonium‘s Asuka in manner and grace: both are vociferous and energetic. Studious, athletic and beautiful, Reiko comes from a well-off family. She’s the antithesis of Koguma in every way, being outgoing, friendly and cheerful, but despite the vast disparities in their personality, Koguma feels a connection to Reiko because of their shared interest in biking, rather similarly to how Rin and Nadeshiko came to be friends in spite of their opposite personalities.

  • Reiko rocks a modified CT110: the base motorcycle has a 105 cc engine, semi-automatic four-speed transmission and a 2:1 gear ratio, giving it impressive performance. However, since Reiko’s extensively modified her bike, its performance exceeds that of the stock model. As a dual-sport motorcycle, the CT110 is robust, being suitable for both urban and off-road usage. Besides an improved engine, Reiko’s also added a large metal box for carrying cargo to her bike, allowing her to bring gear for extended trips.

  • For Reiko, even just sitting on her bike gives her a sense of liberation, that the world is hers to explore, and this is why she begins to haul Koguma out to the bike shelter during lunch breaks; until now, Koguma had heated up her lunch and eaten in the classroom. Koguma’s choice of food mirrors her austere lifestyle, although I will note that I am similar to her in that most days, I have sandwiches and tea for lunch. I choose the sandwich for its ease of consumption, and the fact that I can have the major food groups in a convenient package without needing to microwave it. By comparison, Reiko’s eating a loaded ‘dog from the school’s canteen: I would hazard a guess that the colourful sandwich speaks to Reiko’s own outlook on life, being neatly packaged but full of excitement.

  • The events of Super Cub are set in Hokuto, Yamanashi: this town of forty-seven thousand was formed in 2004 from the merger of Hakushū, Nagasaka, Sutama, Takane and Mukawa. Mukawa is where Koguma lives and attends school: like Yuru Camp△, I imagine that a little bit of elbow grease with the Oculus Quest in the Mukawa area would allow me to find every spot seen in Super Cub with ease. With that being said, the locations seen now are quite unremarkable, and I imagine that as Super Cub progresses, there could be more exciting destinations to check out – for the time being, I have no plans to do location hunts for Super Cub just yet.

  • Since Super Cub makes it a point to portray Koguma preparing her meals, placing an emphasis on how aside from cooking the rice, her meals are usually heat-and-serve, I imagine that as Koguma presses on with her journey, she’ll also begin eating better, as well. One’s diet is often tied with their well-being, and folks who eat well (loosely defined as consuming the right variety, quality and quantity of foods) report better mental health on top of feeling better physically. Koguma’s meals give her just enough nutrients to get by, but I imagine that she’s not getting the most out of her food. Meeting Reiko likely will change this – while Reiko wonders if Koguma is actively enjoying her meals, the latter initially has no response.

  • I imagine that the choice of setting in Yamanashi was deliberate: the combination of decently-sized urban areas and remote mountain creates a sense of quiet that sets the tone for introspection. Here, Reiko stops at a viewpoint from which Mount Fuji is visible: the sight of Mount Fuji is what compelled Nadeshiko to bike all the way to Lake Motosu from Nambucho, and I imagine that this spot is probably Wada Mountain Path Miharashi Viewpoint, with Kofu being the town below. Assuming this to be true, Fuefuki Fruit Park is a mere nine kilometres to the east.

  • While there’s a homeliness about Koguma, her smiles are warm and sincere. Watching her light up like a Christmas tree was a large part of the appeal in Super Cub: small victories in her day serve to make an otherwise unremarkable day extraordinary, and it shows that, bit by bit, Koguma’s world is changing. What makes her journey especially noteworthy is that Koguma took the initiative to start something new herself – in most anime, it is usually at a friend’s urging or witnessing something special that the protagonist kicks off a new adventure. Meeting Rin leads Nadeshiko to camp, and watching the light music club play convinces Yui to join the light music club. However, there is no such catalyst here in Super Cub.

  • Because of this, Koguma is able to start her journey on her own terms, at her own pace. Everything that happens subsequently results from her taking these modest first steps forward, and as such, all of the learnings she makes will be the consequence of her own motivation. It’s a pleasant thought, to know that one can have such profound experiences whether they’re solo or with a group, and in Super Cub, Koguma’s becoming friends with Reiko is seen as the result of her willingly taking those first steps. When Reiko mentions the benefit of having a trunk-top case for her bike, she realises that she could probably get in touch with a contact who has a spare box lying around.

  • Before going to grab the trunk-top case, Reiko asks that they swing by the grocery store first and pick up some sweets: by habit, Koguma’s inclined to go without the bag, but Reiko steps in and states that Koguma will be taking the bag, too. I initially felt that this could introduce a bit of a challenge for Koguma, who doesn’t spend more than she has to, as well as suggesting that Reiko could be a bit pushy when the moment calls for it. Such a combination could be the setup for conflict, but I am quite happy to report that on this count, I was wrong.

  • As it turns out, the candies are a gift for the fellow who’s trying to get rid of an old bike, and as thanks for allowing them to take the trunk-top case, Koguma gifts him the candies. The moral of this is that judgement shouldn’t be passed on a character’s actions until after there is sufficient context. While I aim to write my blog posts with this in mind, when I’m watching a series for the first time, I am still susceptible to reacting to things in the moment. This is why I never live-Tweet my reactions to things – a reaction to a moment may prove inappropriate moments later, once the context is given, and the advantage of having a blog means being able to fairly assess everything that I see, without being unfair to the writers and characters.

  • There’s a certain satisfaction from doing things for oneself, and here, Reiko walks Koguma through removing the truck-top case from an old bike that’s being sold for scrap. Reiko contemplates salvaging the windshield, but this windshield has clearly seen better days; it’s become brittle from exposure and cracks when touched. However, the trunk-top case is in excellent condition, and in no time at all, Koguma manages to unscrew the screws holding it in. She and Reiko thank the fellow, return to school and installs the case on Koguma’s Super Cub.

  • As it turns out, one of the teachers had caught wind of the fact that Koguma had a Super Cub, and he happened to have a spare front basket for her. Koguma thus leaves school in possession of two new storage additions – Reiko notes that things can have a habit of just turning up in the moment and help people when they least expect it, and she’d personally had experiences where, tired of looking for a part, ended up buying it, only for someone to appear and say that they’ve got a lead or the part in hand. This speaks to life’s unpredictability and is Reiko’s way of suggesting that Koguma keep an open mind.

  • While riding home, Koguma decides to push her Cub up to an exhilarating 30 km/h (the speed for most playground zones), only to find that things become a lot colder. She discovers that her own helmet has mounts for a face shield after finding a QA inspection slip, and the next day, she asks Reiko about helmets. Reiko’s helmet is a more sophisticated one, and when Koguma inquires about the price, Reiko states that the price of a helmet is whatever price one places on their own safety. With this in mind, the fact that Koguma’s helmet passed QA is meant to be reassuring to viewers, that Koguma’s going to be fine, and is simply looking for a solution to keep the wind from her face.

  • Reiko decides to help Koguma look for face shields she can mount onto her existing helmet, but gets a little carried away in looking at various other helmets, which are outside of Koguma’s price range. Serendipitously, a contractor working on the library is wearing a pair of safety goggles, and when Koguma asks him whether or not those are rated for riding a motorcycle, the man replies that he’s seen people do so all the time. A good pair of bike goggles goes for anywhere from 40-80 CAD in my area, but with a bit of ingenuity and open-mindedness, Koguma works out an alternate solution that works for her price range.

  • She thus sets off for the local hardware store and picks up safety googles for a comparatively inexpensive 12 CAD, along with a bike chain to assure her bike’s safety while unattended. With this, Koguma is able to now visit a wider range of places without worrying about the wind getting in her eyes, or her bike being stolen. The stage is therefore set for adventure, which I imagine that Super Cub will focus on in the coming episodes. I have plans to write about this series: since I’m now back to a regular work schedule, I can’t guarantee I’ll be anywhere as efficient as I had been with Yuru Camp△ last season, but I will try to be consistent and see about offering unique insights.

  • With the goggles, 30 km/h suddenly doesn’t seem too fast anymore, and this moment signifies how Koguma’s slowly learning to run after mastering the art of walking. Able to travel faster now, Koguma hits the accelerator with a grin on her face. Being able to travel faster changes everything, and although Koguma still isn’t hitting the same speeds as a car, she’ll at least be able to keep up on a longer road trip with those she travel with.

  • The third episode concludes with Reiko giving Koguma her phone number, allowing the two to stay in touch more easily. This single act sets Koguma thinking, that in this moment, she’s made more than just a friend; she’s now become closer to someone who shares her interests and has a contact in her, someone she can ask for help from and share concerns with. This is a watershed moment in Super Cub, as Koguma now has someone to really share in her hobby with. Her path is no longer one of loneliness, and the stage is set for increasingly exciting experiences now.

  • With the first three episodes in the books, I’m definitely enjoying Super Cub – I’ve made it a point to, each and every anime season, watch at least one series that is a slice-of-life about self-discovery and open-mindedness. This season, I’ve also got Yakunara Mug Cup mo on my plate as well, although because this series has half-length episodes, I’ve opted to go with a similar setup as I did with World Witches: Take Off! – one talk at the halfway point, and the one more talk when the series is done. I’m also watching Higehiro and 86 EIGHTY SIX for this season, and on the manga front, my copies of Harukana Receive‘s sixth and seventh volumes have arrived, so I will be starting that party shortly. Finally, on account of an unprecedented sale, I decided to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Modern Warfare 2: Remastered. Both games have been on my radar for some time, and I rather look forwards to starting those, as well. With the latter, it means I’ll finally have played all three of the original Modern Warfare titles.

Three episodes in, Koguma’s journey begins slowly but steadily; Super Cub‘s made clear its objectives, and as the series continues, viewers will see what lies ahead for Koguma as she reaches further as a result of a fateful choice to take a step forward and do something different. Unlike most series, where fateful encounters spur characters out of their routine, Super Cub is unique in that Koguma takes the lead in trying a new activity, and for it, opens up her world of her own accord. This is a valuable and legitimate message, since there certainly are folks who are self-starters and end up instigating their own journeys. Regardless of whether one’s own curiosity sets them down this path, or if others catalyse this, the outcomes are inevitably the same: an open mind for hitherto untried experiences is how meaningful memories are created. The gentle pacing and style in Super Cub precludes any sort of conflict or drama, so I anticipate that the anime will incrementally build up Koguma’s riding skill, the knowledge she has surrounding bikes, and the scope of her adventures. Koguma’s experiences do remind me of when I’d first learnt to drive a decade earlier. Back then, 40 km/h was too fast for me, and I’d be exhausted just from covering the distance between home and campus. Today, driving is as intuitive and natural as whipping up a ham and cheese omelette or setting up a single-view iOS app from scratch. It therefore stands to reason that as Koguma learns more about her Super Cub and becomes more confident, her world will continue to become increasingly colourful, joyful and meaningful.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point

“A family is the purest form of love and acceptance.” –Gabrielle Applebury

Yuna is an ardent fan of VMMORPGs, and has played World Fantasy Online religiously for the past three years. Upon signing in one day, she is given a random item to pick, and is awarded a bear gear set. After being returned to the game world, Yuna realises that she’s been reset to level one and is told to enjoy her life in this new environment. Over time, Yuna begins gearing up her new bear gear set and meets Fina, a little girl who is uncommonly mature for her age. As Yuna completes quests, acquires new skills and develops a reputation as a highly powerful adventurer, she also starts learning more about the world she now inhabits, becoming friendly with Lord Foschurose and coming to discover what family is like by spending more time with Fina, her younger sister Shuri, their mother Telmina and Gentz. This is Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear (くまクマ熊ベアー, literally “Bear Bear Bear Bear”, with “Bear” rendered once in Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and English), which has its origins as a light novel and began airing as a part of the fall anime season. Unconventional in all regards, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear blurs the boundaries between being a slice-of-life anime about gaming, akin to Bofuri, and a full-on isekai series; its gentle pacing and amusing adventures have been captivating, but until the halfway point, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear had not given any indication of where precisely the series had intended to go: is the anime about discovery and the inherent dangers of jumping to conclusions, or is it more similar to Bofuri where the goal simply had been to have fun and make friends along the way? After three episodes, I remained uncertain as to where Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear was headed; while I have enjoyed anime that do not have an obvious direction or end goal, I decided to continue watching before I wrote about it, since I could still be pleasantly surprised. Here at the halfway point of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, the series has settled into a pattern, yielding insights into what viewers can take away from the series.

Yuna’s remarks about preferring the game world to the real world speaks volumes to her mindset entering Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear: having long preferred her games to real life, Yuna has become very isolated and withdrawn, to the point of seeing no value in real-world activities. Yuna lives away from her parents, and plays the stock market to keep the lights on, but beyond this, does not appear to have friends or family to spend time with. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear thus starts out as the antithesis to the anime that I typically watch, where camaraderie and family are priceless and things to be treasured. Yuna’s fateful meeting with Fina thus marks the starting point of the journey proper; since Yuna is unable to break down slain monsters for materials, she befriends Fina, who cannot fight but is skilled with materials. A functional relationship soon turns into a personal one; as Yuna spends more time with Fina, she sees how Fina’s family is structured, and how they interact with one another. From terror to joy, families share experiences together, and this is something that Yuna had been lacking up until now. She therefore finds herself drawn to Fina and her family’s well-being, doing whatever she can to help them. After healing Telmina from an illness, Fina and Shuri view Yuna as a member of the family, as well: during a sleepover the three share at the conclusion of the sixth episode, Yuna wonders if this is what it must be like to have younger siblings. At Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear‘s halfway point, then, it would appear that Yuna’s transfer into this world was a deliberate choice, a decision from some higher power to have her learn and appreciate what family is about. The changes that being with Fina and Shuri creates a visible change in Yuna: while she starts her journey content to simply blast monsters for experience points, as Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear continues, the series begins to place a greater emphasis on how Yuna interacts with others.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear opens with Yuna taking on a black viper, a massive venomous snake that has terrorised a town and so far, has not been dealt with because of a lack of high-level adventurers. Using her unusual abilities, Yuna manages to defeat it. Every single character in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear that isn’t Yuna is very life-like, leading to the question of what sort of world Yuna is in, precisely. The first episode yields very little answers, dropping viewers into the middle of things, and simply sets the tone for the sorts of adventures Yuna can embark on without trouble.

  • In real life, Yuna is a prodigy of sorts whose knowledge of the stock market is sufficient for her to make ends meet and spend her time exclusively in a VR game, which is shown as a very sedentary activity. At present, some VR games are very active, requiring a great deal of movement – Superhot VR for Oculus Quest, for instance, requires players throw, duck, weave and strafe in order to be successful, and playing them is actually a nice form of light exercise. Conversely, the full-dive technology in fiction requires one rest on a bed, and playing for extended periods of time is extremely detrimental to one’s health: I spend eight hours a day staring at Swift code, and a fair bit of time blowing stuff up or blogging, so to offset this, I exercise regularly. In light of current events, I’ve had to get creative, and while I doubt I can bench what I used to, I’m still keeping active as best as I can.

  • The second episode shows where things begin for Yuna: after reaching the level cap in World Fantasy Online, her favourite VRMMORPG, the admins contact her with a special reward. When Yuna opens it, she is shocked to find a complete classified gear set that takes the form of a fluffy bear suit. She finds herself being forcibly made to equip the suit, and what’s more, she’s been sent back to level one. This reminds me somewhat of Ragnarok Online‘s transcendence system, where players who hit the level cap are sent back to the beginning to level up again, but this time, gain access to powerful new bonuses and perks. Yuna is initially shocked, but after wondering if she should lodge a complaint, decides to try her gear set out.

  • She immediately blows some wolves away and meets Fina, a little girl who was in a bit of a pinch. Yuna quickly realises that for some reason, she’s unable to loot from what she defeats, but serendipitously, Fina is able to break down the wolves for materials. Together, the two make a great team, and soon, Yuna has enough stuff collected to go into down, get her character set up and begin adventuring properly. A lot of folks count Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear as an isekai, and there certainly are many elements of this series that fit the definition. The only thing stopping me from saying this is the case is that we know Yuna is playing a VRMMORPG, and much of the current world’s mechanics are left ambiguous.

  • I imagine that what happened with Yuna was that she was invited to beta test an all-new game, and given the equivalent of World of Warcraft‘s heirloom items, whose attributes scale with the player’s level. This is a clever mechanic that allows players to retain gear pieces as they level up, although in loot-driven games, the whole enjoyment does come from collecting increasingly powerful gear. Yuna’s bear gear set is probably most similar to a classified gear set in The Division; in The Division, these were gear set items with even stronger rolls and set bonuses. My favourite was the Classified Striker’s Battlegear, which, when all six pieces were equipped, would allow me to deal more damage the more shots I hit, and also healed me as I dealt damage.

  • Yuna’s bear gear set is even more powerful than any classified gear set available in The Division, or the end-game item sets from World of Warcraft – by imagining it, Yuna is able to wield magic that rivals the sort of power conferred by the Infinity Gems. The reasoning for having overpowered characters is simple enough: this is to allow characters a chance to explore the game world without the PvE elements interfering with them, changing the focus to the characters instead. There are exceptions: when characters are powerful by default, such as Bofuri‘s Maple and here in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, having Yuna be overpowered from a game perspective is to leave her vulnerable in different areas.

  • In this case, it became apparent that Yuna’s journey in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear lies not with her coming to understand the mechanics of her new world, but rather, journeying inwards to understand herself. One of the longstanding problems I find in isekai series is when characters are ported over to a new world, but the other world’s setting is a high fantasy RPG. The most egregious examples come complete with experience points, skill trees and mechanics lifted out of a video game. I’m not sure why isekai necessarily must draw from a European fantasy setting where there are so many other different kinds of worlds to explore, from a science fiction type environment like Mass Effect, or alternate histories (e.g. Saga of Tanya the Evil).

  • In the space of a few short episodes, I became very fond of Yuna’s character: nothing seems to surprise her, and she deals with every challenge with a very blunt, matter-of-fact approach. Further to this, Yuna is described as being fairly attractive, with a slender build that is shown for the viewers’ benefit while Yuna changes out of her bear suit early on, that enhances her charm. It appears that Yuna can indeed change out of her bear suit, but otherwise, the gear is bound to her, preventing her from equipping anything else. On closer consideration, when Yuna discovers she can’t unequip it, and she’s been stripped of her ability to loot, this seems like an attempt to force Yuna to count on others for looting.

  • Because of her prior experiences, Yuna takes a very hostile attitude towards anyone who dares to challenge her: when a member from another guild, Deborane, picks a fight with her, she immediately mops the floor with him after delivering a verbal beat-down. Yuna is quick to assume the worst of everyone and doesn’t hesitate to badmouth them. In the aftermath of the fight, it turns out that Deborane had been a powerful member of their guild, and they’re now down a tank. Upon hearing the pickle she’s put them into, Yuna reluctantly accepts a quest to help them out.

  • Because Yuna is accustomed to playing games solo, she has the other guild’s magician, Lurina, sit back while she singlehandedly neutralises the entire goblin colony with a brutal bit of magic. Yuna even defeats a goblin king in the process, and in the aftermath, leaves a pile of corpses for Lurina to deal with while she sleeps. Yuna’s attitude is very carefree, and she often acts as though she’s quite separate from the world. However, Fina appears to begin instigating change in Yuna.

  • Yuna ends up with the ability to summon two mounts, Kumakyū and Kumayuru, which allows Yuna to travel around much more efficiently than on foot. These mounts have a bit of a magic behind them as to prevent riders from falling off, and are also kind, sensitive beings; whenever Yuna relies on one bear too much, the other will pout until being promised more opportunity to help out.

  • After spending more time with Fina, Yuna’s world-view slowly begins changing for the better: Fina’s innocence brings out the best in Yuna, and once this became apparent, the themes in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear became more palatable. Discussions on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear have not been particularly extensive: early on, the series’ objectives were not particularly clear, and consequently, it was very tricky for me to write about the series after three episodes. Typically, anime make their intentions clear within three episodes if they’re a one-cour series, and in longer series, this tolerance increases, as there is more time to explore.

  • As it stands, patience is a virtue, and having chosen to stick Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear out, I’m met with a much clearer idea of what the series aims to be doing. Anime such as Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are why I don’t write about all the series I watch in an episodic manner: I only do so if I am confident that a series has something unique for me to look at each and every episode, and some anime are simply better considered from a big picture perspective. After completing the latest quest and ensuring that the other guild isn’t screwed as a result of Yuna’s actions, Yuna herself receives a reward from the guild and is able to purchase a sizeable plot of land. She uses this space to build a bear-themed house, complete with onsen and a dedicated workroom for Fina.

  • When the guild gives Yuna her latest assignment, she vehemently declines, leading to a rather hilarious moment in which one of the guild’s staff tries clinging to Yuna’s bear suit in an attempt to get her to turn around. When the guild master shows up, Yuna is reduced to a blathering blob, griping about how in every other game she’s played, high ranking folk like lords are always causing trouble for players. Yuna’s assumption about this world are largely based on her experiences from previous games, and so, she can come across as a bit closed-minded in these situations.

  • The guild master, however, manages to convince Yuna to take the task by suggesting that should she decline, her reputation will fall to “hated” and she’ll need to move elsewhere. Her mind immediately goes to Fina, and she relents, agreeing to at least meet the lord. Yuna is surprised to learn that as the guild master describes, Lord Foschurose is actually an honest, honourable and kind lord. His daughter, Noire, takes an immediate liking to Yuna.

  • A key part of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is how Yuna’s expectations continue to be defied as she opens her mind and accepts new experiences, however reluctantly. Thus, after meeting Lord Foschurose and spending time with his youngest daughter, Yuna realises that this new world is probably just as intricate and complex as her old world. Game or not, Yuna begins to believe that there is little point in antagonising everyone, even with her bear suit’s powers.

  • Telmina, Fina and Shuri’s mother, is shown to be ill from an unknown disease. Fina had first met Yuna while out gathering plants to craft medicine for her mother, but Telmina’s condition has not improved since then. When Yuna returns home, she finds Fina at her door; Fina had run out of options and turned to Yuna for help. Initially, Yuna’s healing magic is ineffectual, but once she realises that the bear suit’s power works by her willing something into being, she is able to fully heal Telmina, to Fina, Shuri and Gentz’s joy.

  • Generally speaking, the visuals in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are of a consistent quality, being neither standout or poor. There is a deliberate flatness in the background art that pushes the viewer’s focus towards the characters, which pop more. In anime, art styles often reflect on the series’ messages, and I’ve always found that anime with simpler backgrounds place a greater emphasis on the characters’ interactions with one another (character-character), while anime with richer background work tend to also deal with character-environment matters.

  • After encountering an orphanage where funds had dried up, Yuna decides to take revenge on Lord Foschurose by organising a means for them to become self-funded, having them sell chicken eggs to everyone save him. However, when Lord Foschurose learns of this, the truth is discovered; one of his subordinates had been embezzling funds, and had he been aware of it sooner, he would’ve acted. In the aftermath, Foschurose personally apologises to the orphanage and promises to look after things, as well as reconciling with Yuna. This episode, surprisingly, was the subject of no small discussion: when some folks suggested that Yuna’s long term actions were justified, and that her initial efforts to help out were a only temporary measure, a minor flame war erupted.

  • The discussion hadn’t even been particularly heated: the other participants had been rational, reasonable and polite. As it was, I saw no reason for things to have gone in that direction: having just come from the Controversed programme, this is not a way to learn about different perspectives, although I’ve found that their usual contributions to anime discussions, in taking the form of bullet point summaries, are not particularly meaningful anyways. The point of the fifth episode in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear had been to demonstrate that Yuna’s kind intentions notwithstanding, she sees problems at a surface level, and her initial actions, while saving the orphanage, do not address the root issue of the problem, which Yuna only was able to learn of through discussion.

  • While the problem is adequately solved, Yuna finds herself embarrassed beyond words at the end of the episode, having learnt that charging headfirst into a problem may not always be effective. This is a vital life lesson that Yuna picks up here, and in general, I’ve found that this is how experts solve problems; when confronted with an issue, the first step is to make an assessment of the situation, before determining a set of potential solutions, evaluating which solution is the most appropriate and then implementing the solution. In Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, had Yuna simply asked Foschurose about what happened to the orphanage, she would’ve saved herself quite a bit of trouble. This tendency in Yuna is not necessarily a bad thing and serves to show that there are things that she must learn; the power conferred by her bear suit wouldn’t have offered any long term solutions here.

  • The first few episodes hinted at the fact that Gentz had feelings for Telmina, and so, when Gentz asks for Telmina’s hand in marriage, and Telmina accepts, Fina and Shuri are overjoyed; they’ve long seen Gentz as a father figure of sorts, and feel that it would be nice to have him in the family. However, one morning, after Telmina comments on Gentz’s eating habits, Fina and Shuri wonder if things will really work out. They set off to find Yuna, who suggests not interfering here. Despite a lack of social experience herself, Yuna’s choice here is a wise one; disagreements in a relationship are inevitable, and letting the couple talk it out is usually the best course of action.

  • Instead, Yuna agrees to entertain the solution that Shuri and Fina have: they imagine that finding a special flower will remind Telmina and Gentz of the happiness they’d once shared together as a party with Shuri and Fina’s father. By taking the two girls out on an adventure for the day, Yuna is able to spend more time with them and take their mind off things. Having spent an indeterminate amount of time in this world, Yuna is growing more perceptive to what those around her are feeling.

  • Whereas Fina is a bit more cautious, Shuri is a riot and fearlessly pushes forwards. Snakes, sour berries and rickety rope bridges do nothing to dissuade her. There is always a joy about these adventures and their discoveries – Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is plainly not a serious, grim-dark anime, and I imagine that the choice of Shuri and Fina’s characters, in conjunction with a family, is intended to give Yuna an idea of what she’s been missing ever since she’d decided that games beat the real world hands down.

  • Given what has been shown of Yuna’s life in reality, one can suppose that she’s never had a particularly strong connection to family or any friends; assuming this to hold true, then, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is certainly going to be about showing Yuna these merits, and there is always the possibility that Yuna’s forcible transfer into this world with the bear suit, more than being a beta test, was a deliberate action, putting her in touch with other players to give her a sense of family and friendship in an environment that she is comfortable with.

  • In the end, while Fina and Shuri are unable to find the flower their parents had, Shuri and Fina save a bird who was entangled in some vines. For their troubles, the bird leaves them with a beautiful feather of the exact sort that Fina and Shuri’s father once wore as a good luck charm. Seeing the children’s hopes for their futures prompt Telmina and Gentz to sit down and explain to them how relationships work, and I imagine that this was also for Yuna’s benefit as much as it was for Shuri and Fina.

  • The Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear soundtrack released just five days ago, and with this, all of the music to the series, including the opening and ending themes, are now in the books. The incidental music in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is fitting for the different moments of the anime, and I’m particularly fond of the ending song, which is sung by Maki Kawase, who plays Yuna: it’s got a very uplifting melody with a hint of melancholy that mirrors her feelings.

  • The final half of the sixth episode is simply a sleepover, where Yuna looks after Fina and Shuri after they spend the day making puddings together. During these peaceful moments, Yuna wonders if this is what it’d be like to have younger siblings: this one question helped me to ascertain that Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear had been going for, and so, at the halfway point, I have enough to form a more complete set of impressions of this admittedly unusual series. Insofar, these impressions are positive.

  • As a child, I was instructed not to eat anything with a high energy density within an hour before sleeping, since it messes with digestion; specifically, the increased metabolism from the body digesting food also increases brain activity, which corresponds with more vivid and intense dreams. The actual effects on weight gain and digestive efficiency are still a matter of debate, and most experts agree that a small snack prior to turning in, such as a small cup of pudding that Yuna treats Shuri and Fina to, are fine. For me, since I brush my teeth and shower upwards of an hour before turning in for the night, this has never been a problem for me.

  • I have deliberately put the brakes on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear so I could write about the series at the halfway point, and with this post in the books, it’s time to open the throttle and catch up fully with this series. I am two episodes behind at the time of writing, and had been holding back so I could do a proper set of impressions for this series without being influenced by knowledge from later episodes. Consequently, I had been a little behind on this series until now. This post also is my nineteenth of the month: thanks to Controversed and the episodic posting, I’ve not written this much in a month in over seven years.

Since we are halfway through Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, it stands to reason that there is a point behind this unusually-named and unconventionally-structured series, well beyond enjoyable adventures that Yuna and Fina go on in each episode. Anime has the power to surprise, and stories that unfold one way during their beginnings often conceal twists and turns that greatly augment the experience. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear does appear to be shaping up as such a story: while the idea of an overpowered bear gear set in the hands of a girl who prefers games over all else in life seems ludicrous, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear has proven to be surprisingly effective in telling its tales insofar, and like Bofuri, manages to be fun because it embraces its set-up to accommodate a very distinct type of storytelling. On top of this, Yuna is a very likeable character: having been there and done that in most gaming scenarios, very little fazes her, and it was fun to watch her casually handle whatever challenges thrown her way. Yuna’s deadpan, stoic attitude means that when things do get serious, viewers have a chance to see more of her personality, indicating that through Fina and Shuri in particular, Yuna is undergoing changes that impact how she views her current world, and likely, her previous world as well. The fifth episode also indicates that in this world, the greatest danger to Yuna lies not in monsters and quests, but dishonest and scheming individuals that can create misunderstandings, as well: as Yuna experiences more of the world with her bear gear set, it is likely that she will learn a great deal about the comings and goings of any society, and therefore, come to appreciate what the people in the real world mean to her, as well.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa: Review and Reflection After Three

“A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it.” ―Odin, Thor

After the appearance of the mysterious Pillars, which prove resistant to all of humanity’s weapons, the Norse God Odin appears and claims that Ragnarök is near. He offers humanity the Valkyries, as a means of defeating the Pillars. Valkyries pilot magic-powered aircraft into battle, and Claudia Braford leads the European campaign. However, she regrets joining operations where she is the sole survivor. When she is transfered to Japan as a member of the 909th at Tateyama Base, she finds herself joining a team of inexperienced, but friendly Valkyries: Miyako Muguruma, Azuzu Komagome and Sonoka Watari. After completing several successful operations with them, Claudia begins to feel as a part of the squadron as a teammate, spending equal time with Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka in their air as she does in their everyday lives, and over time, begins to appreciate that the world is more than just taking to the skies for humanity’s sake, and that things like friendship and camaraderie are also worth fighting for. This is Warlords of Sigrdrifa, an anime that was originally scheduled to air during the summer of 2020 but was delayed to the fall season as a result of the ongoing global health crisis. The anime adaptation has insofar proven to be fun, striking a balance between the grim realities of warfare and the more familiar daily lives of energetic and spirited youth; on its own Warlords of Sigrdrifa is an engaging series that, while utilising a very familiar premise of unknown, faceless invaders acting as a common enemy, differentiates itself from other series of its genre with a unique set of protagonists, all of whom have their own reasons for fighting.

Despite being a series that prima facie appears to be right up my wheelhouse, the greatest challenge that Warlords of Sigrdrifa faces at present is the fact that the delay in its airing means that the series is directly competing with Strike Witches: Road to Berlin this season – comparisons between the two are going to be inevitable, especially since both series are focused on aerial combat, the Pillars and Neuroi are counterparts to one another in their respective worlds, and the Valkyries share numerous similarities with the Witches, being talented young women with the power necessary to fight a foe that has otherwise proven unbeatable by conventional means. Strike Witches holds the edge in that it has had more time for world-building, and more time to really develop the characters out, whereas Warlords of Sigrdrifa is a newcomer and therefore must differentiate itself. This is accomplished by going with a much smaller group of central characters: the 909th only consist of Claudia, Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka, so with only four Valkyries available, the matter of maintenance, logistics and support fall upon the other staff at Tateyama base. Unlike Strike Witches, where the Witches’ were initially presented as being the single element capable of preventing the war from turning outright against humanity, Warlords of Sigrdrifa thus suggests that even with the Valkyries, conventional soldiers and staff still need to play their part, from the mechanics and commanders, to ordinary soldiers who are, fortunately, most willing to assist their Valkyries out. Notions of cooperation and teamwork at a much larger level is seen in Warlords of Sigrdrifa, offering a much more compelling argument for the series’ theme about the significance and value of both teamwork and friendship.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The notion of an extraterrestrial or supernatural invader so powerful, that it overwhelms the world’s militaries, is something that I’ve seen in virtually every work of fiction involving super-soldiers, magic and other wunderwaffe. This is done deliberately to indicate just how outmatched humanity is, and even in works like Halo, it is shown that the right individual in the right place can make all the difference: Spartan IIs were instrumental in turning the tides of the Human-Covenant war. In Warlords of Sigrdrifa, the Pillars fulfil the role of the faceless enemy, resembling Strike Witches Neuroi and Vividred Operation‘s Alone. Prior to the introduction of Valkyries, even nuclear weapons were ineffective against the Pillars.

  • At the start of Warlords of Sigrdrifa, Claudia returns from an assignment where the allied casualties were nearly a hundred percent: even though she’d destroyed yet another Pillar, Claudia feels survivor’s guilt. That she continues to come home from missions where the rest of her wing-mates are downed weighs heavily on her, and Warlords of Sigrdrifa opens with dark colours to indicate Claudia’s state of being. She reluctantly accepts the transfer because they’re her orders, but otherwise fears that casualties in Europe might be worse with her absence.

  • However, upon transferring, Warlords of Sigrdrifa immediately takes on a more colourful character: scenes are more brightly lit, and the arrival of the 909th is one filled with light-hearted antics. Even as her aircraft comes under fire from a weaker Pillar, the mood is light, and upon seeing the weak coordination between the pilots, Claudia decides to enter the battlefield for herself. Azuzu transfers control over to Claudia, who manages the squadron and successfully drive the Pillar away, allowing Claudia to land at Tateyama Base.

  • Sigrdrifa is a reference to Sigrdrífumál, the story of how Brynhildr (named Sigrdrífa) confers advice to Sigurðr in a meeting in Poetic Edda. I admit that upon hearing the title, my thoughts immediately returned to a certain “Knight Valfodr”. Unsurprisingly, a bit of Google-fu finds that Valfodr has its origins in Norse mythology, as well: it is properly rendered as Valföðr, being another name for Odin. One wonders if Knight Valfodr is currently watching Warlords of Sigrdrifa and Strike Witches this season – it is a shame that I did not have the opportunity to share in discussions with him. Our interests and hobbies are very similar, but his inability to accept other world-views (especially politics) made him a particularly difficult individual to get along with.

  • Right out of the gates, I immediately enjoyed Miyako’s character: she reminds me of The Magnificent Kotobuki‘s Kylie, sporting a cheerful, boisterous personality beloved by all. With her energy, it’s difficult even for the stoic Claudia to remain gloomy. I will note here that while I started watching The Magnificent Kotobuki almost two years ago, one thing led to another, and I ended up stopping at episode four. I might be inclined to pick this one back up along with Girly Air Force, which was also airing back then  – if memory serves, I only watched Endro! that season because I had been spending most of my time working in my CLANNAD posts, which took quite a bit of time to write out, and therefore, most other series did not catch my eye.

  • I’ll try not to drop Warlords of Sigrdrifa as I did The Magnificent Kotobuki – writing about it should help, and admittedly, this series does have quite a bit going for it. Upon finishing the initial tour of the base, Claudia is surprised at how lax everything is. This is a recurring theme in anime; where a character joins a group, only to learn that they’re not as disciplined or rigid as expected. While hardly realistic, the choice is deliberate because such anime are inevitably about themes of friendship, trust and teamwork. The military-moé genre is prominently about these themes, similar to standard series like Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Koisuru Asteroid, and as such, I regard series like Warlords of Sigrdrifa and Strike Witches as being in the same category.

  • While Claudia might be the lead character in Warlords of Sigrdrifa, Miyako takes the spotlight in all of her appearances. I imagine that a large part of the character development in Warlords of Sigrdrifa will involve Claudia opening up, over time, to those around her, and begin shedding her self-described moniker as a grim reaper. At this point, I will note that “Odin”, the Norse God who appears to bestow upon humanity the means of fighting the Pillars, has insofar lacked the same regal and kingly manner as Anthony Hopkins’ Odin: preferring to manifest as a child, Odin in Warlords of Sigrdrifa is an arrogant, smug individual, and one cannot help but wonder if this is really Loki in disguise (at least, if one were to assume a Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of things).

  • The tour of the base is cut short when the Pillars return, prompting the 909th to sortie for immediate combat. Claudia pilots a modified Gloster Gladiator into combat: despite being of an older design, the Gladiator fared reasonably well even against more formidable monoplanes, and served throughout World War Two. Earlier Gladiator models used a pair of .303 Vickers guns in the fuselage and .303 Lewis guns in the wings, and newer iterations would use the M1919 Browning Machine Gun instead. Capable of reaching up to 407 km/h, the Gladiator could stay airborne for about two hours and had a flight ceiling of ten kilometres.

  • In Warlords of Sigrdrifa, I do not expect Claudia’s Gladiator, or any of the 909th’s other aircraft, to conform with their real-world counterparts in terms of performance or armaments: they use a magical engine of some sort that allows the planes to pull off feats and use features their real-world equivalents certainly would not have access to. For instance, Miyako’s Nakajima Ki-44 swaps out the 40mm Ho-301 cannon for what Miyako refers to as the “Hero” cannon, firing shells specially designed to deal damage to the Pillars. The only thing viewers know about the Valkyries’ technology is that there’s a magical component

  • In practise, the Pillars can be thought of as being the most similar to Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Vertex: they’re abstract beings with a three-dimensional form whose objectives are completely unknown, providing a monster-of-the-week style setup for the protagonists to fight in each episode. Like Yūna, Miyako prefers charging head-first into things, and after she spots the Pillar’s core, she exits her aircraft and cuts it open with her blade. With such feats possible in Warlords of Sigrdrifa, I’ve concluded that there is no point in even attempting to approach the series as being “realistic” – attempts to fit anything from the real world into discussions about this series’ mechanics will be met with failure.

  • Any useful discussion of Warlords of Sigrdrifa, then, focuses on the characters and their experiences. For Claudia, her first sortie proper with the 909th marks a milestone of sorts – whereas she’d previously lost entire squadrons during operations, with the 909th, everyone comes back alive and well. In the aftermath of a Pillar’s destruction, a vast tree will begin forming where the Pillar once stood: I’m not at all familiar with Norse mythology, so I can only hazard a guess that the trees themselves are a symbol of nature, a return to what’s pure and unblemished in the world on the ground that trees in Norse mythology are characterised as being of great splendour and beauty.

  • The first episode of Warlords of Sigrdrifa was a forty minute long special that capitalised on its extended runtime to properly set the universe up and introduce Claudia. Shortly after the first episode aired, I heard that the series could take on a Yūki Yūna is a Hero-like tone, with the Valkyries suffering horrifying fates as the war against the Pillars continues. This is admittedly, tough to take with anything more than a pinch of salt – while series have come out and surprised viewers previously (Puella Magi Madoka Magica comes to mind), such a direction would not be particularly conducive towards the sorts of message that Warlords of Sigrdrifa intend to communicate to viewers.

  • As Sonoka gives Claudia a tour of the Tateyama base, one cannot help but feel that the background artwork in Warlords of Sigrdrifa is strictly average, which is a bit of a surprise considering that A-1 Pictures is the studio producing this series. Having seen some of their previous works (Sword Art OnlineVividred OperationYour Lie in AprilBlend S and Anthem of the Heart, to name a few), this is a bit of a disappointment – Warlords of Sigrdrifa lacks the other series’ vividly-depicted worlds, which would have been to the anime’s favour. With this being said, character animation is smooth and consistent: the Valkyries of the 909th are especially well-presented.

  • After mustering the courage to properly introduce herself in the style that each of Miyako, Sonoka and Azuzu have, the base’s alarm goes off, signifying the presence of another Pillar. This one is unusual in that it’s negatively impacting civilians in the vicinity, and it’s all hands on deck to try and figure out how to best take it out, especially when the Pillar has employed a shield to protect its main body from all assault. This appearance comes unexpectedly, and the girls immediately head off to be briefed before sortieing, leaving Claudia embarrassed beyond all measure.

  • The question of how World War Two era planes can keep up with contemporary jet fighters such as the F-15J/DJ has arisen more than once, and to this, I can only say that given how magic is presented in this series, the precise mechanics behind how these older aircraft operate is secondary to the learnings Claudia discovers while flying alongside the 909th. In short, it matters very little as to how the aircraft work because the characters’ journey is at the series forefront. This is not lazy writing, and in fact, would be the opposite: instead of padding the series out with unnecessary technical details, Warlords of Sigrdrifa chooses to focus on what matters to Claudia and her experiences with Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka.

  • Conversely, if a series chooses to incorporate technical detail as a major component of its story, then those details must be relevant to the characters in some way. For instance, if a story explains the procedure by which a Predator drone is controlled, the expectation is that how the drone operators react to an extraordinary event is an indicator of how severe the event is for the main characters elsewhere (provided that the main characters are not themselves the drone operators). The scale of their enemy becomes visible as the 909th and their support heads towards the Pillar, which is untouchable behind the shield.

  • For me, the closest I’ll get to experience Warlords of Sigrdrifa in video game form would probably be Ace Combat 7: it’s not lost on me that this tunnel flight was reminiscent of the tunnel flight where I had to manoeuvre through a service tunnel to reach the orbital elevator’s opening and destroy the last of the ADF-11 drones. Flying in the tunnel itself was easy, but trying to get out was tricky, and I crashed a few times. Fortunately for us, the 909th are more skillful than I am, and their propeller aircraft also have tighter turning radii, so they manage to exit the tunnel no problem and can begin their attack runs on the Pillar.

  • Just as it seems the Pillar is able to render all of their attacks ineffectual, Sonoka deploys liquid nitrogen, freezing the Pillar long enough for Miyako to utilise her Hero Cannon and neutralise it, to their great relief. As a weapon, l do not believe liquid nitrogen is particularly feasible: for one, as soon as the nitrogen is deployed, it will immediately disperse, and without direct contact with the surface, it will not have the freezing effect fiction portrays. Of course, in a universe where there is magic, spectacle matters more than realism, and it is not particularly egregious that Sonoka has such a weapon in her arsenal.

  • Similar to Azur Lane‘s Enterprise, Claudia sees warfare as one would expect it: grim, desolate and a cause of suffering. Because of this, she is initially reluctant to open up to Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka. However, it is in the aftermath of their second successful sortie together that Claudia truly begins to see herself as a member of the 909th: despite being inexperienced, the 909th’s members are spirited, honest and sufficiently competent as to get their job done without sustaining casualties. Consequently, when Claudia comes back from this mission to see everyone alive and well, she begins to realise that the 909th have more going for them than luck alone.

  • Claudia’s closing remarks, that teamwork can overcome challenges that are near impossible individually, summarises the whole of Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s theme in an elegant, simple line. With the series being this forwards about what it intended to do, it becomes clear that at least for the time being, Warlords of Sigrdrifa is going to proceed in a more familiar manner and deal with themes of teamwork, friendship and how appreciation for the ordinary acts as a major morale booster during trying times.

  • While it’s probably not a particularly reliable indicator, my confidence in Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s themes and projected path are in part a consequence of moments such as these, when the serious Claudia is portrayed with the simplified eyes in response something Miyako said. Distinct facial traits such as these are typically done to accentuate comedy in a moment, and although serious works, such as Yūki Yūna is a Hero, have done this previously, but this did not stop the series from sending the characters on a downward spiral as the girls learnt of the Taisha‘s true intents. With this being said, Yūki Yūna is a Hero did give the characters a happy ending, whereas in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the outcomes were a bit more ambiguous, and in the latter, humour derived from facial expressions were absent.

  • While acclimatising life with the 909th, Claudia’s biggest misgiving is the fact that Miyako serves sashimi for breakfast. I appreciate that raw fish is a part of Japanese cuisine. This particular aspect stems from the Japanese respect for fresh ingredients, and the fact that traditional seasonings, like soy sauce and wasabi, have anti-septic properties. Getting past the risk of pathogens and parasites, raw fish is actually quite delicious: if the safety can be assured, I have no trouble eating sashimi. With that being said, I prefer my fish be cooked fully to ensure removal of all pathogens and parasites prior to consumption.

  • Cooking does little to change the intrinsic nutritional content of fish, and things like the omega-3 fatty acids are retained after cooking, so as far as food safety goes, cooked fish is the best route to take. Curiously enough, raw fish is a part of other cuisines, as well, and even in Cantonese cuisine, there is something called 魚生 (jyutping jyu4 saang1, literally “raw fish”). Of course, my prior biases mean that as far as Cantonese cooking goes, fish is best cooked, and my favourite fish is served steamed, with soy sauce, ginger and green onion. For now, despite Miyako’s effort to convince Claudia to try sashimi out, Claudia is reluctant.

  • She is saved at the last moment when the commander appears and gives the girls an assignment: to check in with Umihotaru and see how people are doing in the aftermath of the Pillar’s appearance. It turns out that the Pillars use ultrasound to communicate, and this has negative effects on people exposed to it for prolonged periods of time (headaches, hearing loss, fatigue and nausea, to name a few). Thus, a part of the military’s duty is to ensure the civilians are safe. Claudia is all business, expecting a structured assignment ahead.

  • Upon arrival, the girls find that everything’s quite normal: families are out and about, while vendors are open for business and offer the 909th free crepes for their efforts in keeping everyone safe. Claudia is surprised that this assignment is so lax that they’re able to treat this as an excursion of sorts, but finds herself enjoying the day in spite of herself. Being able to see the people her efforts helped to protect is a bit of a reminder to Claudia that even back in Europe, the successes she saw in the air would’ve had a tangible impact on civilians, even if she never had quite the same opportunity to see things for herself.

  • Despite her soft-spoken mannerisms, Sonoka is actually a bit of a dæmon when it comes to video games, and similarly, flies very aggressively in combat. It is shown that she’s able to out-perform her fellow soldiers in various arcade games: as far as arcade games go, I’m absolutely atrocious owing to a lack of practise, and I don’t really go to arcades at all, preferring to do my gaming on a PC.

  • One aspect of Warlords of Sigrdrifa I’ve not noticed is the soundtrack: in general, if a series has a standout collection of background music, I’ll catch on every early on and immediately begin looking forwards to the soundtrack’s release. In the case of Warlords of Sigrdrifa, the incidental music is unremarkable, and it turns out the soundtrack is to be released with the BD volumes: the first is set to come out in December, and the last will release in May 2021, which is quite a ways away. This time around, I’m in no particular rush to listen to Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s soundtrack: while it’s not bad per se, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the incidental music.

  • To put the release date for Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s final BD in perspective, May 2021 is two months after Non Non Biyori: Nonstop and Yuru Camp△‘s second season. By this time, Yuru Camp△‘s second live-action season will be airing, as well. As such, I’ll return focus back to Warlords of Sigrdrifa proper, and remark that after three episodes, I am convinced that this is a series I could enjoy watching: I’m fully warmed up to Sonoka, Claudia and Miyako at this point in time, and I’ll be writing about this series once more after the finale airs, to provide my thoughts on this series overall.

  • As the night sets in, Miyako comforts a dying soldier, offering him hope and reminding him that his actions were not in vain before he dies. This moment also helps Claudia to appreciate that the other soldiers she’d fought alongside back in Europe never once begrudged her for coming back alive: on each mission, the soldiers were prepared to give their lives up for humanity, and so, seeing this for herself helps Claudia to shake off the occasional thought that she’s a Grim Reaper.

  • The third episode ends with Claudia discovering that sashimi is delicious, earning herself a warm smile from Miyako. With the third episode of Warlords of Sigrdrifa in the books, it’s time to turn my attention towards catching up with the remainder of the series (at the time of writing, the fifth episode) so that I may expediently write about the entire series once it draws to a close. Admittedly, the fourth episode was a bit of an unusual one, and I have no need for that sort of thing, and I would hope that things return to to the 909th in the fifth episode, as they are the stars of this show.

At three episodes, it is still early to be deciding whether or not Warlords of Sigrdrifa will manage to distinguish itself from Road to Berlin of its own merits. Warlords of Sigrdrifa has established that beyond a common premise, the themes are likely to be different to what Strike Witches aimed to convey, and although it is still early in the season to be deciding whether or not the anime is a solid contender even when going up against something like Strike Witches, it is apparent that Warlords of Sigrdrifa does intend to be itself. Consequently, I will continue to follow this series with interest and see what lies ahead for the 909th, as well as how the combined efforts of Claudia, Miyako, Azuzu, Sonoka and the Tateyama base will play a pivotal role in staving off Ragnarök – I imagine that unlike Thor: Ragnarök, where Thor realised he had to allow Surtur to destroy Asgard in order to defeat Hela, the Valkyies will not allow for Midgard to be defeated by the Pillars. Furthermore, Warlords of Sigrdrifa does seem to swing between the serious and the light-hearted, more so than Strike Witches; whereas Strike Witches is familiar, Warlords of Sigrdrifa could represent a chance to explore directions that the former typically does not, and this could result in a thrilling ride for viewers, especially if the series elects to showcase the interplay between the horrors and desolation of warfare, as well as the meaning of friendship.