The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

Anima Yell!- Review and Impressions After Three

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” ―Babe Ruth

Kohane Hatoya becomes enamoured with cheer-leading after seeing a riverside performance and decides to take it up when she becomes a high school student. On her first day of high school, after learning that her school has no cheer-leading club, she decides to start her own and decides to recruit experienced cheerleader Hizume Arima. While her initial efforts are unsuccessful, her persistence moves Hizume, who relents and agrees to join. They begin training, although Kohane’s wavering motivation appears to be an impediment. With Uki Sawatari’s assistance, Hizume is able to convince Kohane to keep moving forwards. Kohane longs for Uki to join the cheer-leading club, as well – she sees Hizume’s performance and consents to participate. However, exam season is upon the girls, forcing them to put their club activities on hold while they study. Later, the girls’ cheer-leading club becomes approved as an association, and turn their efforts towards helping fellow classmate Kon Akitsune convey her feelings to her private tutor. This is where we are three episodes in to Anima Yell!, this season’s Manga Time Kirara series that follows Kohane’s journey to become a cheerleader.

Like beach volleyball in Harukana Receive, my knowledge of cheer-leading is very limited, although insofar, this does not appear to be an impediment. Anima Yell! is immediately familiar to folks who’ve seen Manga Time Kirara series previously, and here, the notion of putting a club together is a very well-worn one. Having seen clubs all manners, from light music, to yosakoi, resurrecting a club and embarking on a journey with friends, old and new alike, is a staple in Manga Time Kirara. Messages of discovery, camaraderie and overcoming challenges are universal, and as such, series such as Anima Yell! have well-known outcomes before even the first episode has aired. In Anima Yell!, cheer-leading is the topic of focus; protagonist Kohane has no trouble fitting the role of a cheerleader, possessing all of the energy and very little in the way of physical capabilities. By comparison, her friends are rather more disciplined and physically capable of the role – as their journey progresses, Kohane will learn more about herself and her friends as they build up a small cheer-leading unit. What will be motivation to watch Anima Yell!, then will be the nature of the journey that occurs.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kohane is Anima Yell!‘s protagonist, and the story proceeds primarily around her journey to focus on something of her own choosing after her longtime friend, Uki, urges her on. Kohane’s tendency to help and support those around her, even at a cost to herself, is her defining characteristic, and she also resembles Angel Beats!‘ Yui with her energy and enthusiasm. By comparison, Uki is more similar to Yuyushiki‘s Yui, who was serious and reserved.

  • Hizume is an experienced cheerleader, and whose performance is what led Kohane to seriously consider cheer-leading. Disappointed that their new high school has no cheer-leading club, Kohane decides to start her own, but invariably, without any talent or expertise, intially finds it difficult. When she encounters Hizume, Kohane goes on a mission of unbridled focus, determined to convince Hizume to join.

  • As it turns out, Hizume was ejected from her old cheer-leading group for excelling; others felt her to stand above them. It’s a situation one might compare to Hinata’s experiences in A Place Further Than The Universe, where Hinata’s performance in track and field spawned jealousy amongst her teammates. A part of Hinata’s struggle was coming to terms with things and making the most of her travels to Antarctica: seemingly an escape, she comes to learn what friendship is anew with Komari, Yuzuki and Shirase.

  • By comparison, Hizume’s experiences created a situation where she became quite worried about losing those near her. After rebuking Kohane’s efforts to recruit her, Hizume realises that she’s, in effect, driven Kohane off, and finds it awkward to speak with her the next day. However, par the course for a Manga Time Kirara series, protagonists rarely hold grudges, and the next day, Kohane continues her pursuit.

  • While enjoyable, and lacking the elements that make it a guilty pleasure, I find that Anima Yell! treads on extremely well-worn territory. As such, there is very little to discuss in the way of thematic elements and big-picture topics this early in the game, in turn corresponding to my difficulties in writing about series such as these consistently. However, simply because I find it difficult to write about a series does not mean the series was lacking, and there are many shows that I’ve enjoyed, that I don’t bother writing about.

  • Anima Yell! has average artwork: settings are very simplistic and flat. This design choice results in many open spaces; it presently results in expanses that the eye lingers upon, creating a sense of emptiness, but there is a reason why landscapes and interiors are simple. As Kohane and her friends get further into cheer-leading, their movement will fill that space, acting as a visual metaphor for how cheer-leading and its associated energy can bring a tangible change to the feel of an environment.

  • Kohane has acrophobia, and is usually unwilling to go anywhere elevated. While acrophobia is no laughing matter, Anima Yell! chooses to represent it as an obstacle that Kohane must overcome en route to becoming a cheerleader, showing her dedication to things. Her initial understanding of cheer-leading is likely equivalent to the average gamer’s understanding of the military, and as such, she makes many mistakes that Hizume is quick to point out.

  • Realising that Kohane is likely to stick it out and be with her, Hizume reluctantly accepts Kohane’s invitation to join the cheer-leading club, and promptly goes about setting up training for Kohane. Today was a bit of a quieter day, and I capitalised on slower things to enjoy a burger and fries from a nearby A&W: of the fast food chains that delivers reasonably good burgers and my favourite fries. I suppose that slice-of-life anime can be considered the fast food of shows: if made to a reasonable standard, they can be good in moderation.

  • A portion of the comedy in Anima Yell! comes from Kohane’s naïveté: she orders cheerleaders’ outfits, not knowing the implications of the source she orders from. The more rational Uki immediately declines to wear them. While she might be afraid of heights, Kohane strives to overcome this fear, and is also shown to be okay as long as she does not have a direct sight of how high up she is relative to the ground.

  • I empathise completely with Kohane’s situation in being inflexible: flexibility is an aspect of fitness that I am guilty of neglecting (I lift for strength and run for endurance), and a well-written article out there states that having the strength to lift things and the endurance to last long doesn’t mean much if one isn’t flexible enough to move their muscles. I stretch before lifting, and warming up before a run or bike ride has helped me to kick higher, but compared to most people, I’m still well-below the norm. It is not a mark of pride that I am more flexible than Kohane.

  • An aspect of Uki’s character that I’m particularly fond of is that, as level-headed as she is, she’s also got a bit of a mischievous side to her personality. Unexpected parts of a character enhance an anime by making the character more multi-dimensional.

  • The pom poms of cheer-leading are completely unrelated to the QF 1-pounder 37 mm autocannon seen in Battlefield 1: here, Hizume provides instruction to Uki and Kohane on making them, after learning that endlessly drilling Kohane with exercises might dissuade her from sticking to cheer-leading. In a way, Uki’s friendship with Kohane, and Hizume’s desire to never be alone results in a bit of an equilibrium that also will lead the two to become friends.

  • The sum of the forces keeping Kohane, Hizume and Uki together result in a dynamic that I don’t think I’ve seen in other slice-of-life series, making it a novel one. Once their friendship is established, Anima Yell! will invariable introduce new characters to disrupt the status quo and keep things fresh. However, before this can happen, Uki must become a part of the cheer-leading club, as well.

  • Old habits die hard, and while Hizume might not want to be a cheerleader any further, the combination of wanting to keep Kohane around and her training means that she has no trouble putting on a show for Uki’s benefit. The girl with long, dark hair is a staple in Manga Time Kirara series – from the protagonist to being support characters, such individuals are serious, proper but also have an unexpected vulnerability. I think Yuyushiki is one of the few exceptions in recent memory; my familiarity with Manga Time Kirara does not go that far back.

  • Uki is moved by the performance, feeling it to be simultaneously cute and cool, and at last, consents to join the cheer-leading club. Uki occasionally runs with her imagination and sees herself or those around her in somewhat embarrassing outfits, lending itself to the series’ comedy.

  • On what Anima Yell! actually means, the title’s representation in Katakana implies a word of foreign origin, and from there, Google-fu finds that anima is Latin for “animating principle”, itself a translation of the Greek term for “soul” or “spirit”. Then, Anima Yell! becomes “Soul Yell”, which is appropriate considering that cheer-leading is really about a sort of coordinated cheer for the soul to drive up motivation. Anima Yell! also lives up to its title in that there is indeed a great deal of yelling and high spirits.

  • When faced with exams, Kohane finds it difficult to study until Uki and Hizume motivate her; with the threat of being unable to pursue club activities, Kohane gives it her all, until Hizume fears that Kohane will drop the cheer-leading in favour of her studies and then asks Kohane to reign it back. The end result is that Kohane gets trampled by the exam and is made to take remedial exams. However, she manages a pass here.

  • Instructor Inukai (given name unknown at the present) is one of Kohane’s instructors, and while appearing strict at times, she eventually lets the cheer-leading club know that they’ve now got enough members to form an association. At least, this is what the translations give: Yuru Camp△‘s translations have been quite variable because of the Outdoors Activity Club’s informal status, and some have yielded “circle”. For me, as long as I can understand that there is a difference (e.g. when a group is operating with a different level of freedom and resources), then the precise translation is not so important.

  • When Kon Akitsune comes to the cheer-leading club with the aim of getting some support for a kokuhaku, the girls immediately set about helping her out, and are successful. Discussions on Anima Yell! are limited right now, although I think that this scene would be a topic of interest, for a remarkable moment where characters are very forward and direct with how they feel.

  • With the cheer-leading club having its core members now, I imagine that upcoming episodes will follow a conventional approach, adding more characters and sending them on familiar adventures, leading up to the big finish when the sum of everyone’s efforts is shown in a titanic final performance. Predictable that Anima Yell! might be, and likely being ill-suited for long discussions, it will still represent twenty minutes every week of light-hearted fun, and for me, this is what counts.

In a manner of speaking, Anima Yell! is initially similar to Yuyushiki in its initial setup, with three central characters whose personalities that share some overlaps. Yuyushiki‘s draw was its unstructured premise, with each of Yui, Yukari and Yuzuki bouncing off one another as they explore random topics and experience high school. The setup in Yuyushiki allowed for very unusual humour to be presented, and aside from its character design, Anima Yell!‘s premise is rather different – there is a focus on cheer-leading, which means that the anime will remain in the realm of the experiences that Kohane and her friends encounter as they build their club out and perform at sports events. Anima Yell! looks to offer a familiar experience on first glance, sticking with the tried-and-true rather than anything novel, although the character setup and cheer-leading elements could also create unique moments, as well. I am not expecting anything too fancy in Anima Yell!; this is a series to share a few laughs about, but beyond this, I imagine that writing about this one could prove quite challenging.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Human Lessons and Dragons in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

“Thor Odinson, you have betrayed the express command of your king. Through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war! You are unworthy of these realms! Unworthy of your title! You’re unworthy!…of the loved ones you have betrayed. I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!” –Odin, Thor

Kobayashi is a software developer who encounters a dragon in the mountains one night after becoming intoxicated, and when she removes a sword from the dragon, she earns the dragon’s gratitude. Introducing herself as Tohru, the dragon decides to become Kobayashi’s maid. While Tohru has the power of the dragons backing her, and she becomes highly efficient with housework, she struggles to understand human customs and values. Over time, other dragons Kanna, Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir and Elma show up: Kobayashi takes things in stride, doing her best to look after Kanna and Tohru while introducing them to human society and keep up with the dragons’ wild antics. Kobayashi moves to a new apartment to accommodate her new roommates, Tohru becomes familiar with the shopping district’s merchants, and Kanna goes to elementary school, befriending classmate Riko. The unlikely roommates celebrate human customs, and as they spend more time together, come to regard one another as a family. Tohru regards Kobayashi as a lover and clashes with her father, the Emperor of Demise; the devotion that Tohru shows Kobayashi also inspires Kobayashi to revisit her own family, after she accepts that she’s become quite distant from them. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon) ran during the winter 2017 season for thirteen episodes – with Kyoto Animation helming the series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was counted as a superb anime for its unique characters and their colourful interactions, striking a balance between the comedic and the introspective.

As it turns out, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid delivers more than superb character growth and interactions: during the course of its thirteen episode (and one OVA) run, the anime covers a wide range of themes. Seemingly unrelated moments in Kobayashi’s life and various experiences come together to create a powerful payout for viewers – as Koabayashi spends time with Tohru, she learns to look back on her own life and appreciate her blessings, while Kanna’s presence also brings out a more motherly side to her personality. The changes in Kobayashi’s life lead somewhere tangible and meaningful: slice-of-life comedies often present light-hearted misadventures with limited purpose, and while they can be quite successful, that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid goes a step further to show that these adventures can lead to a profound change in one’s life for the better. Kobayashi had settled into a status quo in not spending time with her family, focusing on her career, but the introduction of disruption gradually nudges her to think otherwise. Meanwhile, the destructively-inclined Tohru slowly comes to understand humanity to a much greater extent than she had previously, showing that immersion and exposure provides a perspective on things that cannot be acquired in any other way. Each of Kanna, Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir and Elma similarly find a part of human society worth appreciating, and the magic in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is thus – covering enough topics with the depth that it warrants, while at once dealing with a wide breadth of themes that viewers can relate to. The show is a mile wide and a mile deep, featuring something for everyone, and therefore, it is quite unsurprising that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was so well received amongst viewers.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tohru is presented as having romantic feelings for Kobayashi even early in the anime, as seen with her soppy expression here while handling one of Kobayashi’s shirts. While Kobayashi seems blissfully unaware of this, her treatment of Tohru goes from being that of someone to look after to an equal and a peer was one of the best transformations through Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Character development and growth is the central strength of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – things proceed at just the right pacing, with characters having a chance to bounce off one another and also take in quieter moments.

  • The title for this post is actually a bit of a misnomer: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is certainly not a terrible anime by any stretch, and under normal circumstances, would’ve earned a strong recommendation from me. The reason why it was made into a Terrible Anime Challenge post was because I accidentally watched the episodes in the wrong order and found myself buried. I decided to wait until the series ended before continuing, and my usual habits of procrastination kicked in. A year-and-a-half later, I realised I’d still not watched this yet, and so, decided to start from the beginning. With the series in the books, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is something that easily falls into the category of “it’s as every bit as good as the reception out there describes”.

  • Kobayashi has no given name, and I imagine that she is intended to represent the everyman. Described as lacking womanly features, Kobayashi is probably designed in this manner to represent an ordinary individual who finds herself with two cohabiting dragons taking human form. Her down-to-earth and hard working personality is offset by a few quirks, such as a love for maids – many viewers will relate to different aspects of Kobayashi’s character and find her a suitable perspective to observe Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid from.

  • Early on, Kobayashi is exasperated by Tohru and Kanna’s idiosyncrasies and lack of knowledge about the human world. However, she nonetheless does her best to look after them; after moving into a larger apartment, teaches Tohru the basics of human interactions to the point where she can go shopping without causing destruction, and enrols Kanna in a local elementary school to give her a chance to spend time and learn with children. As time goes on, things settle into a routine, and Kobayashi comes to regard both Kanna and Tohru as family.

  • Once Kobayashi begins acclimatising to her life with two dragons, a new status quo is reached, and to keep things dynamic, new dragons are introduced. Quetzalcoatl (Lucoa) is another dragon who was banished and friends with Tohru. She’s frequently presented as a bit of a tease and enjoys flaunting what she has, to the general embarrassment fo those around her – fanservice in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is noticeable, but for the most part, is not a serious distraction from the more interesting points of discussion.

  • Because of her origins, Kanna is exceptionally skilled with academics and athletics, earning the admiration of her peers. She initially antagonises classmate Riko Saikawa, but innocence leads her to view Riko’s hostility as a sign of friendship. After counting Riko a friend, Kanna spends a considerable amount of time with her and eventually, Riko comes to develop a crush on Kanna, becoming weak in the knees whenever Kanna touches her.

  • While Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is set in a seemingly-ordinary world, Shouta’s “summoning” Quetzalcoatl and his father’s mention of magic suggest that there’s a bit more to this universe than meets the eye. For the most part, however, the anime constrains this to the dragon’s abilities, and beyond this, their world is otherwise quite ordinary; things are focused on the daily comings and goings among the characters.

  • Yūki Kuwahara provides Tohru’s voice, and attesting to my narrow band of interests in anime, I’ve not heard of Kuwahara in her other performances besides Hai-Furi‘s Sumire Kishima. With this in mind, Kuwahara captures every aspect of Tohru nicely, from those moments where she entertains wiping the world out for fun, to doting on Kobayashi and attempting to sneak chunks of her tail into cooking by ways of expressing affection.

  • Depending on the world, dragon meat is either regarded as a delicacy or poisonous, and because Kobayashi expresses surprise at the things that Tohru might find edible, the nature of dragon meat in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid will remain a mystery. Tohru is a lovable character whose taste for wanton destruction is tempered by her devotion towards Kobayashi; that Kobayashi can talk her out of rampages is a sign of the two’s closeness.

  • Later down the line, Elma appears on earth and becomes stranded. In order to support herself, she takes up a job with the same company that Kobayashi works with. Ordinarily quite dedicated to her duties and standing directly against Tohru, she’s hampered by a fondness for sweets and often has trouble exercising restraint where they are involved. Elma is voiced by Yūki Takada, who had previously played as New Game!‘s Aoba Suzukaze.

  • Kanna comes to regard Kobayashi as a mother of sorts over time: having looked after Kanna, providing her with handmade lunches for school and taking her shopping, Kobayashi also occasionally teaches Kanna about the human world and encourages her. The joy of this interaction is that despite having had no experience previously, circumstance naturally brings out this side of Kobayashi. Nothing in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid ever comes across as being forced, and this further augments the experience the anime provides.

  • Maria Naganawa’s performance as Kanna is one that she’s become well-known for: Naganawa was cast as Slow Start‘s Kamuri later on, a petite, soft-spoken girl who greatly resembles Kanna in mannerism and appearance and later plays the platelets of Cells at Work. In general, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is more of a heart-warming experience, but Kanna also adds a degree of adorableness to things.

  • While Kobayashi originally had not planned on attending Kanna’s sports festival, she later changes her mind and makes an appearance. Kobayashi is said to have little interest in visiting her family, presumably owing to some difficulties, but as the events of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid progress, she begins to regard Tohru and Kanna as family. This gradually begins reshaping her own perspectives on what family is.

  • How Kobayashi met Tohru is told in flashback: after removing a sword from Tohru, Kobayashi spends a drunken evening with Tohru and piques Tohru’s curiosity about humanity.

  • The last anime to reference The Little Match Girl was GochiUsa, when Sharo imagined herself as the little girl of the story, who was made to sell matches and succumbed to the cold. However, in death, she is relieved of her suffering. Curiously enough, it was through anime that I heard about The Little Match Girl: this story was something I’d never heard of during my days as a primary and secondary student, and from the looks of it, the story has been referenced in anime. Shirobako and Yuru Yuri both have callbacks to this story.

  • While Riko was initially quite hostile towards Kanna, the transformation is nothing short of hilarious once the two become friends – Riko’s reaction to physical contact with Kanna is a recurring joke that is always entertaining to watch. One aspect about the dragons is that for their incredible power and distain for humanity, they can dial it back and doing meaningful things for people. During Christmas, the dragons put on an entertaining play for the shopping district; despite being fraught with tension, the play itself is successful and well-received.

  • Mochi is eaten during the Japanese New Year for luck, and in Japanese folklore, rabbits live on the moon, eternally pounding mochi. This is derived from Chinese folklore, where the Jade Rabbit aids the goddess Chang’e in pounding ingridients for the elixir of life. It so happens that today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, and while a combination of a busy schedule and inclement weather precluded enjoying moon cakes under a full moon, I nonetheless celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with roast chicken and char siu. It was a relaxing evening, which was much welcomed.

  • Admittedly, it is refreshing to write a shorter post not for Harukana Receive – time makes fools of everyone, and with the summer season drawing to a close, I look into the autumn anime season now to see what shows I am watching. The two shows that catch my eye are P.A. Works’ Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, and Anima Yell!, which I’ve tentatively decided to do talks for after three episodes and overall reviews for. Beyond this, there’s Sword Art Online: Alicization (pronounced “Ali-sa-zation”, rather than “ali-kai-tion” as I originally figured it would be) – this is a big anime, spanning four cours, and I’ll be watching this, but not reviewing it with regular frequency.

  • Tohru’s father is the Emperor of Demise and strictly believes that dragons should not interfere on Earth. In some ways, he is similar to Odin Allfather: he has little desire for dragons to ravage Earth with their war and cares for Tohru’s well-being. Seeing Tohru living on Earth with Kobayashi would be to him what Thor’s actions on Jotunheim resumed a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, lending itself to the page quote. When a one-on-one confrontation between Tohru and her father breaks out, Kobayashi intervenes, managing to convince the Emperor of Demise to relent and allow Tohru to stay. Both Thor and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid similarly involve a higher being become changed by their experiences on and becoming close to someone on Earth, as well; coming out of their time on Earth a stronger individual for it.

  • After Kobayashi stands up to Tohru’s father and succeeds in persuading him to trust Tohru, she comes to the realisation that families of all sorts will have their differences and must work out these differences. This leads Kobayashi to finally visit her parents and, showing the impact that Tohru’s had in her life, Kobayashi invites Tohru along. This brings my Terrible Anime Challenge post to an end: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is certainly not terrible, earning an A grade (4 points on the 4-point scale and a nine of ten): it’s an anime that has deservedly earned its praise, and is also a reminder to me that my usual tendencies of procrastination means that I often put off watching excellent shows for far too long. There isn’t anything I can do about this per se, but the fact is that there are many good shows out there worth watching; Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of them.

Consequently, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an anime that I can easily relate to and recommend to viewers: simultaneously hilarious and introspective, making use of both the extraordinary and the mundane, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid shows that the boundary between the normal and incredible is blurred from a certain perspective because the ordinary can be just as important, not to be taken for granted. The culmination of these messages, with the smooth and consistently high-quality animations that Kyoto Animation is known for, strong voice acting and a generally engaging story, means that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is well-deserving of the praises the anime have earned. With the manga still ongoing, this is a series I would have no trouble in following should a continuation be made, and it is only now that I will remark that the reason I had not watched Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid sooner was because I began watching the series out of order, fell behind in watching the series and then decided to shelve the series until it finished. However, I am glad that the series did not fall to the back of my mind; sufficient excitement in the community led me to pick Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid back up, to see if the series was indeed worthy of the acclaim it has garnered, and now that I’ve finished, I think that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes”.

Terrible Anime Challenge: The Absent Magic in Stella no Mahou

“Magic! More Magic! Magic with a Kick! Mag…”
“Insect!”

–Peter Parker vs. Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

Tamaki Honda is a first-year high school student who longs to join a club and make the most of her time as a high school student. Her best friend, Yumine, joins the illustration club, and Tamaki chooses to join the unusually-named SNS (“Some dead fish eyes Not enough sun Shuttle run”) Club, which makes indie games and becomes its illustrator. Although she initially struggles to fit her art into the game that her club’s members seek, support and encouragement from programmer Shiina Murakami, writer Ayame Seki and composer Kayo Fujikawa, Tamaki acclimatises into life with the SNS Club and their eccentricities, eventually helping them release a game in time for an event, having missed the Summer Comiket. Later, Minaha Iino challenges Tamaki to a face off and reluctantly spends more time with the SNS Club. Tamaki struggles from a slump, and the girls work hard to keep Minaha in the club; they publish another title for the next Summer Comiket, and Tamaki reflects on why she’d joined the SNS Club. This is the gist of Stella no Mahou (The Magic of Stella), a series that ran during the autumn 2016 season and deals with game creation and self-discovery in a slower-paced environment than the likes of New Game!, which followed game development as a career in an industry setting. On a cursory glance, Stella no Mahou is the cross between New Game! and Comic Girls, although the differences are quite apparent. While Stella no Mahou seemed to be something that is consistent with the type of series I could get behind, the end result is rather disappointing – this is a series where my own opinion is opposite to that of the community’s, and while reception to Stella no Mahou elsewhere is warm, I do not find the series to be quite as enjoyable.

The main reason why Stella no Mahou did not have a strong positive impact in my case is because of a lack of an end-goal for Tamaki’s investment in the SNS Club. Tamaki is motivated by her friendship with Yumine: having created a game that precipitate a lifelong friend, Tamaki feels that games can be instrumental in bringing people together and so, chooses to contribute to this goal with her existing skill set. However, Tamaki ultimately does not see the results of her efforts. She participates in two sales events and the impact of the games that she’s helped make is left ambiguous: the first summer sale saw a rather small sale, and while Comiket was more successful, Tamaki’s beliefs in bringing people together through games is never vindicated. By comparison, New Game! sees Aoba gradually take on increasing responsibilities at Eagle Jump as her experiences accumulate, and Comic Girls has Kaoruku draw on the sum of her experiences with her friends to create a relatable manga that is accepted for publication. Comic Girls has a colourful, eccentric cast of static, but consistent support characters similar to Stella no Mahou that contribute to their respective protagonists’ developments. However, Stella no Mahou sees Tamaki struggle more on her own as everyone is engrossed in their own goals and assignments, in comparison with Comic Girls, where the others go out of their way to help Kaoruko even when they themselves have impending deadlines. The more distant support characters and inconsistent teamwork amongst the SNS Club, coupled the fact that Tamaki’s never able to see for herself that the games she’s creating is having the impact she’s longed to achieve through creation, means that Stella no Mahou is ultimately unsatisfactory, leaving Tamaki with the short end of the stick.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The short of it is that I did not feel that Stella no Mahou lived up to the expectations that other viewers have established because the journey that Tamaki goes on through the series does not result in a satisfying endpoint for her given her motivations. Instead, the series’ outcome would have been more satisfying had she been motivated by working together with others to make something memorable, having befriended Yumine by making a game together or similar.

  • While superficial and rudimentary in themes, Stella no Mahou does not fully strike out – its strengths lie in its strong voice acting and good animation quality. While perhaps uninspired from a narrative perspective, this series is visually appealing, and the artwork is appropriate for the atmosphere that Stella no Mahou aimed to convey.

  • Tamaki’s skill in drawing mature male characters and a particular fondness for her father are suggested to be significant to the story, but beyond acting as a source of comedy in affecting her ability to create more kawaii characters suited for their game, there seems little to suggest that the notion of Stella no Mahou being a case study for Sigmund Freud’s theories as some have posited.

  • Stella no Mahou is at its strongest when the characters are either working on their game or else hanging out together, and at its weakest when conflicts are introduced that seem to leave the characters in an undue amount of trouble. Early in Stella no Mahou, episodes remained quite focused and enjoyable as Tamaki strove to create something workable for their first project. Their time spent in the club room working on their game is both rewarding and amusing to watch.

  • Outside of the clubroom, the SNS Club do occasionally have excursions, such as when they visit Tamaki’s home in the countryside. When Stella no Mahou was airing, there apparently was a bit of a commotion over translations that were said to have taken away from the inherent meaning of the characters’ dialogue.

  • To give an idea of how backwater Tamaki is, Stella no Mahou depicts Tamaki as using an older computer running Windows XP, an OS that was released in October 2001. To help her with digital art, Shiina installs PaintTool SAI, an ultralight Japanese painting software that is compatible with everything from Windows 98 to Windows 10. One individual with a chip on their shoulder, and the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic” in fiction, asked if it were possible for a Windows XP computer to run SAI. SAI’s requirements are at least a 450 MHz processor, 256 MB of RAM and 512 MB of disk space, can run SAI.

  • Another individual erroneously stated that any Windows XP-configured machine would need a serious upgrade to run SAI, but the reality is that the average PC from 2003-2004 would have had a 2.0-2.4 GHz single-core processor, 1-2 GB of RAM and 50 GB of disk space, meaning that while outdated, Tamaki’s computer should not have any issues running SAI. This is why I advise readers to take caution when reading from Tango-Victor-Tango, where folks often make like they are more knowledgable than they are. Here, Tamaki runs into Teru, a graduate who was once the illustrator for the SNS Club. An unusual character, she shows up from time to time to encourage and motivate Tamaki, although her transience means that her presence was not strictly necessary in Stella no Mahou, much less with her cat-like getup.

  • For the summer fair, Tamaki spends time with Ayame to sell their title, and while their sales are low, it’s a good experience for Tamaki, who gets her first request to do some artwork. The same folks attempting to boost their stock with the query about SAI turn their talents for questioning to asking whether or not high school students are permitted to participate, and get the response that it should be fine provided all of the proper documentation is provided. One wonders, then, why people spend so much time on the internet to learn these things, if they themselves are not directly involved in doujin publishing or similar.

  • Shiina’s pessimistic outlook on the world apparently stems from her mother, who works in software and mentions PHP and Objective-C by name in Stella no Mahou. Folks from Victor-Tango-Victor immediately claim that they know the horrors of commercial software development (where their actual experience is limited to a handful of scripts they wrote in their undergrad), and wonder if it’s possible to put an entire game together over two weeks as the girls have done. I’ve put a functional app together, with API endpoints and serialisation components, in the space of two days, so it’s definitely possible provided that the infrastructure and experience are present. Simple tools, such as the scripting engines for Visual Novels, are similarly trivially straightforwards to use, and as the SNS Club discover, having good illustrations, stories and music is more critical to a visual novel than software development skills.

  • Minaha Iino’s precise role in Stella no Mahou is not well-defined, and I found her presence to detract from the experience. From being fiercely competitive against Tamaki, and collapsing like a house of cards when bested, to treating Tamaki with hostility in one moment and concern the next, she’s the fifth character who, while certainly mixing up the dynamics among the SNS Club, also plays the most minimal of roles in helping Tamaki mature as an illustrator.

  • Minaha later storms the SNS Club’s room, with fire in her heart after playing through their game and watching as it crashes. She meets the remainder of the SNS Club here, and complains to Shiina, who makes to fix the game. Tango-Victor-Tango’s discussions continue to impress with the breadth and depth of their knowledge – here, our questioner wonders what the point of hotfixes are if games are packaged on CDs. However, it is common knowledge that CD-ROMs are merely installation media, and once the executables are loaded onto a computer, they can be patched. Maxis’ 2003 title, Sim City 4, for instance, was offered as a CD and saw several patches over its lifetime.

  • While one could argue that I’m no different than the folks at Tango-Victor-Tango with my approaches, this is a difficult case to uphold, since I typically address interesting bits of trivia by directly answering them, rather than placing the burden on others to address. My goal in writing about anime, especially for series where it might be difficult for me to say something meaningful, is to leave readers somewhat entertained. Even if it is for a post like this one, where I say that I did not enjoy something, I am going to nonetheless try and keep things fresh by drawing on assorted details in the show (or existing conversations that can be fun to disprove) to drive the discussions.

  • Moving into the second half of Stella no Mahou, focus turns towards Minaha’s attempts to constantly outdo Tamaki and inability to recognise Ayame as the author whose works moved her greatly. Minaha’s addition to the SNS club provides another illustrator, and while her conflicts with Tamaki may have been used to help bolster Tamaki’s confidence, Stella no Mahou ends up showing that the conflict only throws Tamaki into disarray. Similarly, resistance from Minaha’s sister to her participation in the SNS Club was illogical and seemed present only to introduce urgency into a series where urgency is very much a foreign concept.

  • One curiosity about Stella no Mahou discussion at Tango-Victor-Tango is that, in spite of all the questions surrounding trivialities unrelated to the narrative, no one there was able to reach a verdict on whether this series was enjoyable or not. By comparison, folks who’ve focussed on the series’ story and characters from a higher-level perspective ended up with the conclusion that Stella no Mahou was worth watching, which is what ended up leading me to give this a go, to see if the series met expectations and also, if it warranted the serious discussion some evidently felt it necessary to give the series.

  • Sentiment surrounding Stella no Mahou is positive, and more reasonable folks than myself hold that Tamaki’s growth, however minute, is present – she comes some distance from being a novice, to having helped to work on a title that sold at Comiket. This is counted a strength of the series, and while quite different than my own assessment, is a fair assessment nonetheless. However, I would not agree to claims that Stella no Mahou is superior to New Game!, which tried something different and managed to rivet me with a compelling tale of growth. By comparison, Stella no Mahou pales.

  • Teru is considered to be the keystone that gave the SNS Club the motivation and energy to out something memorable together when she was still a high school student. Coming and going as she pleases throughout Stella no Mahou, Teru feels more of a guardian spirit than a standard character, showing up to look out for the girls whenever they need the assistance. Beyond having a major impact on the SNS Club, Teru remains a bit of an enigma to both Tamaki and the viewers.

  • When it comes to slice-of-life anime, especially Manga Time Kirara adaptations, I am of the mind that one should approach these shows with a relaxed mindset, entering with the goal of enjoying what the characters do, taking in their interactions and ultimately, seeing what they get out of their experiences, rather than picking apart minute details pertaining to realism or working out thematic elements that are broader in nature (for instance, relating to social issues or human nature). Such series rarely disappoint – it is only the case when the character interactions and growth fall short that Manga Time Kirara series are unsuccessful.

  • The end of the Comiket marks a bit of a milestone for Tamaki, although it was not quite able to leave an impact on me. I’ve heard that there are a pair of OVAs that are set before Stella no Mahou proper, following life in the SNS Club while Teru was still a high school student, and these OVAs would minimally lessen the sense of mystery surrounding her, as well as providing insight into what the SNS Club was like prior to Tamaki’s arrival in Stella no Mahou.

  • The page quote is sourced from Infinity War, when Spiderman makes use of Dr. Strange’s portals to land hits on Thanos before Thanos swats him from the air, hilariously dubbing him an insect for being an irritation. It is strangely suitable for describing my reaction to Stella no Mahou, which strives to present to viewers its magic, and in my case, coming up short. The magic in Stella no Mahou was not there for me, and while I take no particular pleasure in writing about shows I do not fully appreciate, one plus about the Terrible Anime Challenge is that for some series, I am able to take titles for series and then make puns with them that are bad enough so that existing readers consider unfollowing my blog for all eternity.

  • On the whole, Stella no Mahou scores a C-, (5.5 of 10, or 1.7 on a 4-point scale), which is the lowest score that a show can score if I am to watch it all the way through (a show scoring a D or lower would be dropped). With a story that rapidly unravelled once Minaha shows up and ultimately costing Tamaki the journey to discover that her wish about game-making was true, I am not particularly pleased with how things wrapped up for Stella no Mahou. I normally don’t do negative reviews, but the Terrible Anime Challenge series has occasionally required that I step out of my comfort zone to figure out why something did not work for me. I reiterate that these are purely my opinions, and that other viewers who’ve enjoyed Stella no Mahou will certainly have their reasons for enjoying it.

The strength of Manga Time Kirara series lie in seeing the journey characters take towards a heartwarming outcome, but in the case of Stella no Mahou, the ending that Tamaki deserves is lost. Moreover, the journey feels to be a half-hearted one – depictions of Tamaki’s time in the SNS Club are interrupted by external events that seem to offer little towards her experiences, and the impediments that she faces are implausible, holding Tamaki back without providing her with a take-away message. Consequently, I found that Stella no Mahou did not meet the expectations set by existing reception. Others remark that the series is warm and relaxing, and while this alone can be reason alone to watch a series, I’ve now seen enough Manga Time Kirara series to note that every series does something slightly differently, sufficiently such that there’s a reason to keep watching it for all of the nuances (especially with respect to the characters), Stella no Mahou is missing the same magic that makes the other so interesting: it feels that the series is going through the motions of presenting the SNS Club’s journey towards making a pair of video games, and relies more so on eccentric characters than strong character development and growth, especially in its second half, which is to the series’ detriment. This is a series that I would not recommend for general viewers, although Manga Time Kirara fans and folks looking for slower-paced series featuring familiar elements will likely think better of Stella no Mahou than I did. The manga for Stella no Mahou is ongoing, but in the event that there is a continuation, I will not be continuing with this series.

On Accuracy in Cells at Work!, and a review and reflection after three

“The premise of the 1966 movie, Fantastic Voyage, involved shrinking individuals to the size of red blood cells to explore the human body, and if possible in reality, journeys of this sort would allow for the complex machinery driving life to be observed at unprecedented resolution and clarity.”

At least, so reads a heavily paraphrased version of my Master’s Thesis paper’s introduction. The Fantastic Voyage was indeed one of the motivations for my thesis project, which involved the recreation of an animal cell within game engine environments such that a user could interact with and explore the different machineries and processes underlying cellular function; this project was intended to visualise cell processes and structures in an immersive manner, and to this end, my visualisations supported both the Oculus Rift headset and the CAVE. Cells at Work! takes the same concept of using memorable visualisations to illustrate processes within the human body, making use of both the manga and anime format to illustrate essential processes within the human body, albeit at a slightly larger scale: to put things in perspective, my thesis would involve showing the cities inside the characters of Cells at Work!. Centered around the adventures of a erythrocyte and neutrophil, Cells at Work! personifies the internal workings of the body to show, step by step, how the body’s internal components operate together in order to facilitate life. So far, the series has covered the response of a body’s innate immune response when S. pneumoniae enter the body, resulting in the use of mucous to trap a remaining pathogen and expel it after the neutrophil-killers deal with the initial invasion. The coagulation response is also detailed: after a surface laceration occurs, the neutrophils appear to contain pathogens while platelets initiate the activation of fibrinogen to fibrin, creating an aggregate to plug the wound while the body delivers the materials needed to patch the damage. In the latest episode, an influenza B infection is presented, with the body activating its Killer T Cells to defeat the virus, which hijacks body machinery to propagate. The primary immune response is shown from the perspective of a naïve T cell, which undergoes activation to help the body defend against the infection. When influenza A appears, however, the body is unable to mount an immediate response. Cells at Work! presents the body as a vast city, and anthropomorphises the constituents to present various process visually, creating an easy-to-remember outline of the body’s processes.

I was given a request to take a look through Cells at Work! and provide commentary on its accuracy from one of my readers. Having looked through the first three episodes, I can say with confidence that Cells at Work! nails the fundamentals. This anime is perfect for showing to middle school students for being able to show complex, and sometimes difficult to visualise processes in a highly accessible and colourful manner. The basics of the biology are correct and give a good overview of how the body’s systems respond to various stimuli: details such as how neutrophils can migrate through narrow gaps between other cells, the fact that erythrocytes must travel single-file through the capillary, and that the immune response has several layers are proper representations of details within the body. However, Cells at Work! also takes a few creative liberties here and there in order to facilitate its story – processes are understandably abstracted out or occur out of order to ensure that the cells’ adventures can still flow from a storytelling standpoint. For example, mucous is one of the body’s first lines of defenses against pathogens, and would be involved ahead of the neutrophils in stopping pathogens. Similarly, the coagulation process is much more complex, involving a tightly-regulated pathway that only allows clotting to occur if the right factors are activated. The generalisation of processes means that Cells at Work! is not likely to be useful as a study guide for secondary biology and beyond. This is not a strike against Cells at Work! in any way, since a detailed anime dealing with protein pathways would also be incredibly dull to watch, and could also be quite tedious to write for (especially considering that not all biological pathways are well-characterised). Overall, the level of detail in Cells at Work! is appropriate for the series, and as it is, this anime is very enjoyable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The main erythrocyte is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, of Your Name‘s Yukari Yukino and Shirase Kobuchizawa of A Place Further Than The Universe‘s fame, and a cursory glance at the voices for Cells at Work! show an all-star cast, which is exciting. This post will feature a standard of twenty images, and my answer as to why there are comparatively fewer screenshots despite the biology discussions that I could do, is because the anime is properly enjoyed by watching it.

  • The only thing that readers need to, and should, take away from this post is that Cells at Work! is satisfactorily accurate so that it is a very enjoyable portrayal of what happens within the human body. To put things in perspective, if every protein, cofactor, coenzyme and regulator were to be shown, Cells at Work! would cease to be fun. Similarly, if the anthropomorphic elements were to be made more realistic by depriving them of any personality, there would be less incentive to watch Cells at Work!.

  • As a result, the erythrocyte’s tendency to get lost and the neutrophil’s dramatic combat with pathogens are completely acceptable even though the real body would not work like that: if red blood cells fail to reach their destination, body functions would rapidly decline. Some creative licenses are at play here, but because they’re intended to help facilitate the illustration of certain tasks, and the fact that Cells at Work! presents the interior of the human body as a city with dry air rather than being a water-rich space, some liberties naturally will need to be made.

  • When I began my first summer as an undergraduate researcher at the university, my first project was building a simple model of erythrocyte oxygenation and deoxygenation. This project was to allow me to become familiar with the idea of colliders and trigger zones: my model needed to keep blood cells inside a capillary and oxygenate them at specific spots, then have their oxygen molecules unbind when the cells reached a certain spot to drop off their oxygen. This model was simple and successful, which led me to a more complex project involving flow within complex vessels.

  • The various pathogens of Cells at Work! are depicted as Xenomorph-like monsters that simultaneously resemble villains from series like Dragon Ball Z. Their grotesque appearance is deliberately intended to evoke a sense of disgust in viewers, and the fight scenes, which are bloody, are much more dramatic than how the immune system handles pathogens in reality: white cells will release chemicals to disrupt pathogens or else directly consume them.

  • The use of mucous to impede and expel pathogens is shown as a late-stage response in Cells at Work!‘s first episode, and while the body will actively employ all modes of defense against pathogens, the innate immune system and the physical barriers act as the first line of defense that stop most pathogens from entering the body. Pathogens that do evade these defenses are dealt with by an inflammatory response and white cells.

  • The platelets have rapidly become a fan favourite amongst viewers for their small size and adorable mannerisms, resembling elementary children in appearance. They are voiced by Maria Naganawa, known for her previous work as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid‘s Kanna and Slow Start‘s Kamuri Sengoku.

  • Strictly speaking, erythrocytes lack the ability to carry anything other than oxygen and carbon dioxide. Nutrient molecules dissolve directly into plasma and are ferried about the body by blood flow. However, since plasma is absent in Cells at Work!, I will ignore this oversight: it would have been quite strange had Cells at Work! chosen to show nutrients floating around on hover-pads or similar. After an abrasion opens a hole in the skin, the erythrocyte falls into the abyss but is saved when the neutrophil hauls her back up.

  • Regular incidents in the body are depicted as a battle of life and death for the various cells, and while some folks feel this to be done for dramatic effect that increases the entertainment factor in Cells at Work!, I add that Cells at Work! gets the scales of different events correct. What we brush off as small cuts or entry of pathogens as minor, but at the microscopic level, these are massive events. By comparison, consider the collision of a 100 meter-wide asteroid with the planet’s surface. The effects on the ground would be devastating to us, but from the planet’s scale, this is a very minor impact event.

  • Earlier, I mentioned that if Cells at Work! were to depict the molecular processes I show in my thesis work, then the scale differences would be equivalent to zooming in and presenting the erythrocyte’s body as a town of its own. Erythrocytes are 8 μm across, and the haemoglobin protein is 6.5 nm wide. With three orders of magnitude in the size difference, this comparison is not a particularly difficult stretch to imagine, and is one of the reasons why replicating the scales inside the human body using a game engine is so difficult. For my thesis, I ended up using sleights-of-hand to mimic the differences of scale.

  • I mention above that I’ve chosen to paraphrase the opening to my thesis paper: the reason for this is that if the first two sentences are entered into any search engine, the thesis paper itself will be the first thing that comes up. Access to this paper is only available on request, and speaking of requests, this post was done in response to a request from a reader, who had been wondering about how accurate the science driving Cells at Work! is. I hope that the contents here will provide a satisfactory answer for them.

  • After the abrasion is detected, the platelets spring into action and begin patching the hole up. The actual process behind coagulation is much more complex: there is a multi-step pathway where a wound causes platelets to aggregate at the site of an injury, which has exposed collagen. Platelets then bind to the injury site and release agents that recruit more platelets. The coagulation cascade occurs; prothrombin is activated and becomes thrombin, which activates fibrinogen to fibrin. This protein then covers the wound to form a clot. Cells at Work! skips over the involvement of the other factors, instead, showing the platelets as manoeuvring a large fibrin sheet into place.

  • My old cell and molecular biology instructors would probably recoil at the depiction of coagulation in Cells at Work!, as the level of detail shown is no substitute for a physiology textbook at the university level. Abstracting things out, however, makes things quite suited for a general audience, and so as long as one is not wondering about biological pathways, activation factors and regulation, they should have a reasonably easy time enjoying Cells at Work!, which shows the higher-level processes faithfully.

  • A naïve T cell nervously looks around in an area of an influenza infection, which is astutely represented as an undead infestation. This is a clever visualisation, since viruses operate by injecting their DNA or RNA (depending on the virus type) into a host cell and other agents to hijack cellular machinery, forcing the host cell to produce viral proteins. The cell eventually dies and releases nascent viruses which infect other healthy cells.

  • Macrophages in Cells at Work! are voiced by Kikoe Inoue (Belldandy of Ah! My GoddessPlease Teacher‘s Mizuho Kazami and CLANNAD‘s Sanae Furukawa, to name a few). They carry a large billhook into combat with them, which they use to cut down pathogens. This completely defies my expectation of seeing them eat foreign matter. Their name in English is literally “big eater”, derived from Greek (μακρός (makrós) for large, φαγείν (phageín) meaning to eat), and they can extend their cytoplasm to engulf pathogens, before digesting them with enzymes.

  • Killer T cells release cytotoxic compounds when exposed to specific antigens to destroy cells that have been damaged by pathogenic activity or cancer cells. Their interactions are much more complex than Cells at Work! suggest; the process is again, abstracted out. Reading through my old textbooks makes me realise the extent to which I am out of practise with the lower-level details of the immune system: when I saw the dendrictic cells, I began thinking about dendrites of the neurons, rather than the antigen-presenting, accessory cells that are found in tissues contacting the outside environment.

  • So far, all of the processes shown in Cells at Work! after three episodes have been those that my old lab has built in a game engine: my colleagues have constructed an immune response model and a coagulation model in an in-house game engine. As a part of my Master’s thesis, I built a very simple influenza infection visualisation, where viral particles could enter a normal cell and hijack its machinery to produce new virus particles. Because the game engines are very taxing, I set the system to only produce four new viruses. This exercise was intended to show that with generic components, I could adapt my cell visualisation model to illustrate a wide range of processes.

  • I am pleasantly surprised that the number of discussions surrounding the minor inconsistencies in details for Cells at Work! is minimal, with most people speaking of the enjoyment they get from watching this, as it gives them a sense of appreciation for how tirelessly biological processes work. Similarly, folks with a background or even careers in biology have stated that the details are passable and accessible, rather than trying to pick the show apart. By humanising the processes, Cells at Work! aims to convey the complexity of the worlds inside us and just how intricate the building blocks of life are.

  • I am almost certain that my supervisor, who had allowed me to reference The Magic School Bus, Futurama and Rick and Morty in my thesis paper would have no trouble with me including Cells at Work! in my thesis as a part of the motivators. With the sheer complexity and scope of things that go on inside the human body, there is no limit to what Cells at Work! could depict in its run, although I will note that some of the more terrifying or poorly-understood conditions would remain outside the realm of this series to present.

  • Cells at Work! is immensely entertaining, and earns an A grade. I expect it to be consistently enjoyable, with the only real downside being that the anime does not have the likes of Jay Ingram providing a narration. Beyond this, it’s a series that many will find enjoyable; the reason that I would think that this is a difficult series to write for is that I would need to frequently go back into my old textbooks or literature to make sure what I write is correct. This is a time-consuming process, and with the Road to Battlefield V in full swing, I personally feel that I’d rather spend my down time blowing stuff up, rather than reading textbooks well after the last paper, assignment and exams have ended.

I’ve previously stated that I do not like to wave credentials around when it comes to entertainment. This has not changed: in the case of Cells at Work!, the focus on biology means that I am merely applying my background in biology to drive discussion. Specifically, prior to doing a post-graduate degree in computer science, I graduated with a degree in Health Sciences and specialised in Bioinformatics. I spent my undergraduate career studying cell and molecular biology, genetics, proteomics and research methodologies, and my undergraduate thesis was a physiological model of the renal system, so I have a modest familiarity with biological systems at the higher levels. As such, when I read through my old textbooks and literature to gain a better idea of how the systems shown in Cells at Work! work, I can keep an eye on ensuring that what I return to readers is accurate to how things work, while simultaneously making sure that what I say is understandable. I think I’ve done a passable job of this for my first impressions talk on Cells at Work!, and so, when I say that Cells at Work! is accurate enough, readers can take my word for it that the anime will not do anything that is contrary to what is understood about the human body. Cells at Work! brings fun into a complex topic and, like my thesis work and the film Fantastic Voyage before it, makes the world within our bodies accessible to a general audience with a unique flair. I presently have no plans to write about Cells at Work! regularly, but I do recommend it to all viewers (I hardly ever recommend an anime after three episodes, which speaks to the fun factor in Cells at Work!), and I might return once the series has concluded to offer more insights into one of the few anime out there that, like the Giant Walkthrough Brain, is a well-written and enjoyable form of edutainment.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Koufuku Graffiti and How Diagnosing Fictional Characters Diminishes a Series’ Meaning

“There is no right way to go on an edible journey. You can never tell what is going to be great, so you have to try everything.” –Adam Richman

After her grandmother’s death, Ryou Machiko struggled to cook dishes that tasted well until meeting her cousin, Kirin Morino. Learning that the joy of cooking comes from being able to make things for others, Ryou redevelops her affinity in creating various dishes for Karin. The two also befriend Shiina, one of Ryou’s friends, and together, share various meals with one another, their families and peers. In its run, Koufuku Graffiti‘s main theme is a simple and familiar one: activities have more meaning to them when done with peers. However, unlike Yuru Camp△, whose story depicted individual and group activities as both having their merits, Koufuku Graffiti singularly suggests that cooking with others and cooking for others is where the magic comes from. This message is driven home very early in the game, and after this became established, Koufuku Graffiti maintains this status quo: there’s very little in the way of narrative beyond Ryou rediscovering her love of cooking once episode one has elapsed, and Koufuku Graffiti offers very little in the way of substance beyond uncommonly high detail depictions of the preparation and consumption of said foodstuffs. While I concur with the near-universal perspective that food superbly represented in Koufuku Graffiti, I find myself at odds with the sentiments that Koufuku Graffiti has a more substantial message beyond this – beyond its presentation of food and the positive impacts it has, the series is unremarkable from a thematic and execution perspective. There are some long-standing perspectives on Koufuku Graffiti that do not hold up on further inspection, and in this Terrible Anime Challenge, I will take a look at the egregious misconceptions that have developed around Ryou’s mental health prior to cooking for Kirin.

The most severe and misleading misinterpretation about Koufuku Graffiti is that Ryou is suffering from major depressive disorder following her grandmother’s death. The folks making this claim do so on the basis that Ryou has lost touch with her cooking at the very beginning of Koufuku Graffiti, finding her results tasteless and uninspired. Further to this, Ryou’s parents are largely absent, and because strong social connections are a key aspect in mental well-being, it would initially appear that Ryou’s situation could lead to problems in mental health. Similarly, studies have found that different moods can indeed affect one’s sense of taste, and a diminished sense of taste is a possible indicator of depression. However, even in the first episode, Ryou does not exhibit the symptoms indicative of major depressive disorder, which is characterised by a loss of interest in activities, fatigue, impaired decision making and weight change. Ryou continues to cook, and continues to look after herself: her life, while quite colourless, is not consistent with symptoms of major depressive disorder. No inner monologues make this obvious, and while major depression can be asymptomatic, Koufuku Graffiti does not explicitly illustrate that Ryou is affected. She warmly welcomes Kirin upon meeting her, and cooks in her usual manner for Kirin. Koufuku Graffiti depicts Ryou as immediately regaining her sense of taste, which metaphorically corresponds with her near-immediate change in perspective. Recovery from major depression is not something that occurs in an instant: this is a process that takes time, and one does not simply regain their sense of taste at that speed. These are some indicators that Ryou’s condition is more consistent with situational depression, as she’s largely functional and encounter sadness on some occasions. Further reading finds that situational depression and major depression require different treatments: the former can be dealt with by being with friends and family, routine exercise and eating well, while major depressive disorders may involve clinical interventions. The absence of obvious signs, in conjunction with the fact that Ryou recovers very quickly once Kirin and Shiina comes into her life might be indicative that she’s experiencing situational depression following from her grandmother’s death, although I note that as I’ve not the qualifications to decisively say so, this is only a very broad interpetation. However, what is clear is that, once Ryou begins cooking for others, she sees a marked improvement in her well-being in very short order. So, as the MythBusters might say, that Ryou has major depressive disorder is busted.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like Anne Happy before, this Terrible Anime Challenge post will have the standard of twenty screenshots, and the figure captions will only be tangentially relevant to the screenshots at hand: the goal of this discussion is to soundly disprove any of the misconceptions and misleading perspectives that have appeared about Koufuku Graffiti. I note that for the most part, audiences have been very good about keeping focused on the aspects of the series that the authors wanted audiences to focus on. This is, of course, the food; SHAFT series or not, psychological elements are the cause, not effect, of Koufuku Graffiti. However, for this post, food is not going to be at the forefront of discussion.

  • When I first watched Koufuku Graffiti, it was a month after it had finished airing, and I was in the middle of converting my thesis project from Unity to Unreal. At the time, my focus was on playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, and getting started with The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki. Having spent most of the winter semester keeping up with being a graduate student, I was barely managing to keep the blog updated and so, did not have time to spare towards watching Koufuku Graffiti, much less dispelling some of the various untruths about the series that had arisen.

  • Ryou Machiko is Koufuku Graffiti‘s central protagonist. Voiced by Rina Satō (Gundula Rall of Brave Witches), Ryou is a second-year middle school student, aspires to enroll in a high school with a strong art programme and is highly skilful at cooking. When Kirin, her cousin, arrives, Ryou begins to cook for her and in the process, rediscovers what cooking is about. Kirin is voiced by Asuka Ōgame, whose only role I know is that of Vividred Operation‘s Momo Isshiki. Overall, I found this a touching message, but from here on out, Koufuku Graffiti has Ryou and her friends explore different dishes to cook.

  • To help jog the reader’s memories, Terrible Anime Challenge posts have three possible outcomes. They either exceeded expectations, did not meet the expectations set by existing reception for it or else was as poor as existing reception described. Koufuku Graffiti falls squarely into the second category: while I’m not fond of throwing the word around, Koufuku Graffiti is a rare instance of a show that I consider overrated. It’s a good show in that it has some entertainment value, but I fail to see what makes this title a cut above the host of other slice-of-life anime I’ve seen.

  • Shiina is one of Ryou’s longtime friends and is portrayed as being elegant but also enigmatic. She’s voiced by Mikako Komatsu (Ayame Kagurazaka of Eromanga Sensei, Sanae Kōzuki from Sakura QuestAldnoah.Zero’s Amifumi Inko, Saki Maruyama of Girls und Panzer, Tari Tari‘s Jan and Nagi no Asakura‘s Miune Miuna Shiodome). As fragile as Kirin is fit, Shiina seems to fall ill from random various causes. I never did understand why anime required their characters to have these sorts of attributes, as they detract from the immersion that more ordinary characters confer.

  • Shiina, Ryou and Kirin’s cooking results in dishes that Adam Richman would have no trouble describing as heavenly in the multitude of colourful praises that he articulates whenever he tries a particularly creative and tasty new dish. In Koufuku Graffiti, various dishes, including omuricesomen, broiled eel, oden and pizza are among the dishes featured. Its preparation and consumption are rendered in vivid detail, although I am in the minority in that I find the highly detailed lips a little off-putting.

  • Ryou is presented as being very mature for her age; she is able to live alone and manages her day-to-day life without supervision. In spite of this, she’s still a second year of middle school, which puts her as being either thirteen or fourteen. A quick glance at this here screenshot and its subject will find the latter is probably the case. Unlike Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Mimori, who shares a similar figure with Ryou, Koufuku Graffiti is remarkably disciplined in its presentation of Ryou: she’s presented with rigid-body physics in a foot race. I suppose it’s only natural, given the theme in Koufuku Graffiti.

  • The artwork of Koufuku Graffiti is solid, with generally high quality in animation and artwork, but the high-fidelity eating moments, which some viewers will find to be true fanservice moments of the series.

  • I argue that the undue focus on mental health in some discussions is highly detrimental to the overall enjoyment of Koufuku Graffiti, and the main reason for this is because of the way the series is structured. Had Koufuku Graffiti been about Ryou’s mental health, her backstory would have been presented in a much more structured fashion, and her recovery would have been presented over a longer period of time. This is evidently not the case: once Ryou discovers her raison d’être for cooking, her spirits improve considerably, and she spends her time explaining to Shina and Kirin how her recipes work. This is typical of a series that is intended to be about food.

  • The individual in question making the diagnosis (or more accurately, a misdiagnosis) is the same individual who has plagued previous discussions of the Manga Time Kirara adaptations I have watched. From assessing Rin Shima’s personality with Jungian archetypes, to deconstructing Eagle Jump’s industry practises, I’ve encountered this individual’s load of bollocks time and time again since I got into Manga Time Kirara adaptations. If they are to be believed, this individual is a polymath, an expert in fields as diverse as psychology, software engineering, statistics, economics and literary analysis.

  • Despite Ryou being well-developed for her age from what we’ve seen of her, Koufuku Graffiti has no episodes set in the hot springs or the beach as most anime of its genre are wont to doing to give the series a wanton and unnecessary justification of showing off her figure. As such, her enjoying a milk popsicle with Kirin here is about as close as it gets. The practise of drinking milk after taking a dip in the onsen is a well-known one, being both refreshing and important for rehydration. When I exited the onsen last I was in Japan, I only had water on hand, but it was refreshing all the same.

  • I’m not the only person out there who finds mild irritation with these approaches towards anime: apparently, this individual had run afoul of folks in other anime communities, and these folks stopped by here a ways back to share their grievances. In doing so, I learned that the individual in question is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a doctorate in genetics and has a bit of a checkered past. I don’t condone the practise of publishing personal information, so this is as much as I am willing to share, but I do note that this information is consistent with the behaviours I’ve seen from this individual within the anime community. I also remark that I’ve read through his thesis paper and found the research uninspired for the PhD level: my colleagues have worked on projects of similar complexity during our time as undergraduates in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme.

  • As icing on the cake, when it came to Ryou, this individual has asserted that he “[doesn’t] make disgnoses [sic] lightly, but [he] clearly [has] a hunch for it”. Having missed a diagnosis completely in their hubris, I think that this individual takes themselves too seriously, and it’s clear that they aren’t qualified to make such a call: after all, their background is in genetics, not mental health. The reason why I take exception to attempts to psychoanalyse fictional characters is that diagnosing characters with various conditions implies the intent to disregard the author’s intended reasons for writing a character in the manner that they do. “Death of the author” is a very self-centred and conceited approach towards looking at a work, since a work is written in a particular manner precisely because the author had something to say about the world they know. Thus, to disregard this is to ignore elements that resulted in a work being the way that it is and impose one’s own world-view on a work

  • The end result of this attitude is akin to playing with fire, as Karin finds out here when the girls are roasting saury over an open fire. Trying to play armchair physician does not meaningfully contribute to discussions about a story, and even if one had gotten the diagnosis for Ryou correct, this is ultimately irrelevant to the journey that they go on through the story and their subsequent development. In Koufuku Graffiti, the death of Ryou’s grandmother is the disruption that leads her to take up cooking for Kirin with the goal of rediscovering her love for cooking, but the specifics are not important in affecting how her journey unfolds.

  • Consequently, while I am of the mindset that there is no wrong way of enjoying media, seeing the misleading and outright fallacious claims have led me to make a single exception: the wrong way to enjoy fiction is to analyse it and hold the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic”. Back in Koufuku Graffiti, from a certain point of view, Ryou is reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Mocha: both characters have a warm and mature personality, enjoy looking after those around them.

  • Koufuku Graffiti‘s manga is written by Makoto Kawai, not to be confused with the neurophysiologist from Stanford of the same name. The manga concluded in November 2016, and and given the focus on cooking, I find it very difficult to believe that the manga was intended to be about mental health. It is quite convenient, then, that it is equally difficult to find any information on the author’s background, allowing folks to assert that “saying Makoto Kawai hasn’t experienced loneliness and grief is like saying Sakurasou’s Hajime Kamoshida hasn’t studied a word about autism” without additional sources to back these claims up.

  • My grievances about folks who parade their so-called intelligence in places like Tango-Victor-Tango are long-standing, and I’ve always held that in fiction, it is acceptable to break from reality when realism stands in the way of a coherent theme. This is why it is a fallacy to immediately assume that everything in fiction ought to be realistic and then use real-world observations to make a conclusion about a series.

  • I finished Koufuku Graffiti in late May three years ago, and upon finishing, I did not feel that I could write a standard post for the series without sleeping on it for a few days. Days turned to weeks, months and years; Koufuku Graffiti was modestly fun to watch, but I never got out of it the same experience that most of the viewers did. I make it a point to not write about series that I do not decisively enjoy, and I remained on the fence about this one. However, after watching Matimi0’s Terrible Weapon Challenge series, I felt that I could write about Koufuku Graffiti in a manner of speaking: I honestly feel the anime to be overrated, and the Terrible Anime Challenge would be suited for this approach.

  • This is probably my most controversial Terrible Anime Challenge to date, and I do not expect my readers to agree with me on my final verdict for Koufuku Graffiti, but that’s fine. Everyone experiences anime differently, and maybe I have a few screws loose or something, but I was not moved by this series half as much as most viewers were. I did mention that most of my figure captions would not be related to Koufuku Graffiti or food, but here, I will share with readers my favourite food item: char-broiled lobster tail with a healthy side of butter. Coming in a close second is Montréal Smoked Meat poutine and har gow. Having said this, I enjoy most everything; like Nadeshiko of Yuru Camp△, I’m a big fan of food in general.

  • Overall, I would give Koufuku Graffiti a C+ grade (2.4 on the four point scale, corresponding with a 6.5 of ten). The series is not poor by any stretch, and its presentations of food are top-tier, but there is not a substantial component on mental health, and assertions otherwise are downright wrong. With this being said, I feel that the series would’ve done better to make Shiina and Kirin more ordinary – their eccentricities make them a bit unrelatable compared to the down-to-earth Ryou and ended up being quite distracting. Having slightly older characters would have also been more logical, as well. While I do not expect my assessment to be an opinion that everyone shares, I am curious to know what about Koufuku Graffiti did work for those that did enjoy it, and similarly, if I have tread on a few toes with my arguments, I’d be quite happy to hear why I should think more clinically about anime.

Consequently, I am immensely grateful that the individual in question is not my mental health specialist – their argument amounts to a misdiagnosis, and being given antidepressants when one does not need them both would lead to some unpleasant side effects. In the realm of mental health, insistently treating all cases as though they require a clinical intervention has long proven to be ineffective. It typified some in the community to fancy themselves as professionals in a discipline that is evidently beyond their qualifications, and for my part, as a member of the audience, I feel that it is not our duty to diagnose fictional characters even if one did have the proper qualifications. The series only lightly touches on mental health – the presence of comedy means that this aspect was not meant to be a central part of the anime. Most praises around Koufuku Graffiti rightly lie with its rendition of various dishes that Ryou and her friends make. As such, if we step back from attempts to shoehorn a serious discussion of mental health into Koufuku Graffiti and return to a plane of discussion that is relevant, then Koufuku Graffiti is an average anime. The characters are bog-standard, quiet likeable and otherwise befitting of a relaxed setting. They mature and develop naturally, but in a very predicable fashion. The artwork varies from average to beautiful depending on what is being presented to audiences; in its intended purpose of showing off food, Koufuku Graffiti is successful. The only other television show I have watched where food is presented as being more than sustenance for us is Adam Richman’s Man v. Food: on his quest across the United States to find delicious pig-out spots, the preparation of various dishes are shown in loving detail and can elicit feelings of hunger among those watching, similar to how Koufuku Graffiti has managed to do the same for some viewers. As such, Koufuku Graffiti ends up being an anime that, while having a serviceable message, was also a show that was unremarkable: not the serious discourse on mental health some make it out to be, Koufuku Graffiti offers a run-of-the-mill slice-of-life with satisfactory character growth and food scenes very nearly worthy of Adam Richman.