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Regardless, Adolescence Doesn’t End, and Youth Continues On: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru Kan OVA Review and Reflection

“It’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.” –Louisa May Alcott

Some time after the prom, Hachiman and the remainder of the Service Club are unwinding. Komachi has become a student at the same secondary school and hangs out with them, and while Iroha is irate that the prom has given the student council no shortage of trouble with their budget, Hachiman has a dinner appointment with Yukino’s mother and sister. Yukino reassures Hachiman that the venue is casual, so a school uniform will be acceptable, but Komachi has the foresight of bringing a necktie along, just in case. During the dinner, Hachiman’s candid and blunt answers to the questions that Yukino’s mother impresses her, but when he hesitates in answering Haruno’s question about whether he and Yukino are dating, he unintentionally hurts Yukino in the process. Quite separately, Yui, Iroha and Komachi go out, and it turns out that Yui’s still got lingering feelings for Hachiman. During their conversation, Yui decides to stick it out and see if any chances present themselves in the future. After the seemingly disastrous evening that leaves Hachiman and Yukino dejected, Yui ends up asking Hachiman for a date of sorts. The two visit an aquarium, and Yui later admits that she still loves Hachiman, flaws and all. The next day, Hachiman picks up some sweets at Komachi’s behest as an apology to Yukino; Yukino states that actions like these are necessary the next time he and her mother will meet, and after Yukino hands out the sweets, she’s surprised when Yui takes a bite of the one she’s holding. Yui explains that she’s not given up yet, and that Yukino had better be prepared to fight to keep what’s hers. When the new club advisor arrives, the Service Club members arise to greet them. This is the Oregairu Kan OVA that accompanies the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch game; being a sequel to the third season of Oregairu, it portrays life in the Service Club following the new status quo that was established after Yukino returns Hachiman’s feelings, and beyond representing a chance to simply see all of the characters again, the Oregairu Kan OVA also takes opportunity of this time to show how much of a positive influence Komachi’s been on her older brother: now a student at Sōbu High School, Komachi is able to directly offer advice to Hachiman and also pushes Yui along. From having the foresight of bringing a necktie for Hachiman, to compelling Hachiman into buying sweets as an apology for having being tactless during a meeting with Yukino’s mother, it’s clear that now that Hachiman has accepted youth and all that it entails, he is making missteps, but fortunately, still has someone in his corner to guide him along as he explores new directions as a result of his nascent relationship with Yukino. In this way, the Oregairu Kan OVA gives viewers additional reassurance that he will have support moving into the future.

Within the Oregairu Kan OVA, the question of how Yui handles Hachiman’s decision is also shown. Yui had spent much of Oregairu trying to win over Hachiman, but Hachiman had initially turned her down, believing that Yui had misunderstood her feelings of gratitude towards him for saving her dog to be romantic interest. Since then, Yui has continued to persist, only to slowly realise that Hachiman had fallen in love with Yukino, and by the end of Oregairu Kan, she reluctantly accepts this outcome. In the OVA, however, Yui continues to hang out with Hachiman as a result of her request for the Service Club, and she ultimately reveals her game plan: if Yukino should ever reach a point where she and Hachiman are no longer viable, Yui intends to swoop in. Although there is a certain romance in this mode of thinking, and it is something that seems to keep Yui’s spirits up, Oregairu Kan‘s OVA also indicates that Yui is likely doomed to failure and disappointment if she persists down this road; Yukino’s feelings for Hachiman are such that she can forgive him for his mistakes, and with Komachi guiding her older brother so he acts accordingly, Hachiman’s clearly in good hands. The relationships in Oregairu have been a point of contention since the series’ beginning, with some people feeling that Yui was suited for Hachiman, and other suggesting that Yui was a home-wrecker. From a narrative standpoint, Yukino and Hachiman are the ideal couple simply because it is Yukino that imparts positive change in Hachiman. Yui, in spite of her personality, never does the same for Hachiman. For Yui, it will doubtless be difficult to let go of Hachiman and cling onto the hope that she still has a chance yet: the writing has long been on the wall, and denying the truth will only make the outcome more difficult. However, it’s not all pessimism, either; with Komachi a regular member of the Service Club, and Iroha’s frequent visits, having two reliable individuals to communicate with on a regular basis may also help Yui to find her footing and eventually move on; I do not doubt that someone of Yui’s temperament will remain eternally unlucky in finding love, and with the right encouragement, Oregairu Kan hints at how, because she has legitimate friends now, there will probably come a point where she will be able to find her own happiness, as well: unlike the original clique Yui previously hung out with, she’s now in the company of people who genuinely care for her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before I delve further into my own thoughts of the Oregairu Kan OVA, I will remark briefly that of the discussions I’ve seen, I have the distinct impression that the negativity surrounding the OVA comes from taking things at face value and misunderstanding that Yui’s feelings are still fresh; it is unreasonable to expect her to have gotten over losing Hachiman so quickly. One does need to read between the lines in order to see what the OVA says about Yui, and while I concede this can be hard to spot, the OVA does do a clear job of explaining why Yui will eventually make peace with what’s happened.

  • When Oregairu Kan concluded back in September 2020, I found myself immensely satisfied with the series’ outcomes: for me, the central aim had never been about who Hachiman would end up with, but rather, how his interactions with classmates, catalysed by Yukino and Yui, would push him in a direction where he would come to enjoy his youth, in spite of himself. This change in his perspective is central to Oregairu, and since the series presented this change as a positive, the outcome for Hachiman winds up being a satisfying one.

  • By the Oregairu Kan OVA, Komachi’s become a student at Sōbu High School, and she’s settled into life as a member of the Service Club to the point where she gets along well with everyone. When Komachi brings up cats, Yukino suddenly becomes very interested to see the photo, and this somehow ends up with Yukino petting Komachi. Komachi’s friendliness with the other members of Hachiman’s social circle, coupled with her social sense and willingness to guide Hachiman, means she’s able to get along with the others well. The fact that the OVA establishes this so early on is meant to show that, between his sister’s presence and own experiences, Hachiman’s future is going to be a little less hectic than it’d been previously.

  • While Oregairu is ultimately a positive series that shows how social interaction can improve one’s outlook on life and help them to open up to other people around them, there is a longstanding misconception that Oregairu is a psychological and sociological study of Japanese youth. This misconception originates from one “KirtZJ”, who believed that Oregairu was “some type of social, psychological genre” because it shows “the ability of teens forming social groups as a means of protection and sense of worth”. I disagree with this assessment because social structures and identity are not unique to Oregairu – any time a story involves more than two persons, social interactions are present.

  • Because of KirtZJ’s misunderstanding, the Wikipedia episode summaries for the first two seasons gives the impression that Oregairu is an impenetrable fog to anyone outside of sociology. The reality is more friendly: there is nothing intrinsically academic or inaccessible about Oregairu. This is because Oregairu is intended to act as a commentary on sociological models, rather than a case study; Hachiman’s journey is characterised by his own internal assumptions slowly being proven wrong over time as he interacts with others. As his time with the Service Club continues, it becomes clear to him that there is decreasing merit in what he’d once thought, and this change leads him to turn around and accept youth more wholeheartedly.

  • Consequently, academic models of things as varied as shunning, group cohesion and social judgement theory cannot be used to reliably analyse Hachiman’s choice of actions; while Hachiman originally believes that he is able to observe people and make decisions accordingly, his decisions occasionally have unintended side effects, and club advisor Shizuka wished that he would also think of himself before actioning something. As Oregairu continued, the people around him eventually persuade Hachiman to solve problems in a more tactful way, and along the way, Hachiman would develop a stronger bond with his peers, one where he would try to consider the consequences of a choice before acting. When conveyed in this fashion, Oregairu isn’t overwhelmingly complex or challenging at all from a thematic perspective.

  • The appropriate course of action here would be to remove all of the internal links in Wikipedia’s Oregairu episode summaries to their corresponding sociological and psychological articles, rendering the episode summaries easier to understand. While this would doubtlessly benefit readers, I imagine that such an action would be met with fierce resistance – even today, some folks still believe that anime only has legitimacy when one can ascribe academic principles to its story or characters. I’ve long heard from readers who disagree with this as I do, and as such, I occasionally find myself curious to hear from folks who believe otherwise, that academia should necessarily be present in discussions about a given show. Back in Oregairu Kan‘s OVA, Komachi clings to Iroha, who’s trying to leave and get some work done: Komachi is worried that Hachiman might ditch his upcoming date with Yukino, which entails meeting her mother in a more formal setting.

  • Iroha, on the other hand, is concerned that, since Hachiman tends to be quite blunt, he may get into a verbal altercation, but Yui is confident that at worst, things will simply become awkward between the two. The fact that Yui knows Hachiman and Yukino so well impresses Iroha and Komachi, who remark that she’s practically a goddess in this regard. During this whole scene, it was quite nostalgic to see Nao Tōyama (Yui), Ayane Sakura (Iroha) and Aoi Yūki (Komachi) present: Oregairu has an all-star cast, and while I didn’t really appreciate this back when I first started, years of watching anime has meant that over time, I’ve picked up my own personal favourites.

  • Oregairu had marked the first time I saw Takuya Eguchi (Loid Forger) and Saori Hayami (Yor Forger) together in lead roles. Because of the choice of casting, I can imagine that for Eguchi and Hayami, it’d be just like old times when it comes to voicing Spy × Family‘s lead characters: Loid and Yor play the role of a married coupled with the intention of enrolling Anya into the Eden Academy for Operation Strix in Spy × Family, and the chemistry between Eguchi and Hayami was spot on. Both Hachiman and Loid are logical, capable people, and Eguchi performs both exceedingly well, conveying an air of cool detachment in these roles.

  • On the other hand, Hayami’s range is shown in how differently she plays Yukino and Yor: Yor is a badass assassin on the job, but otherwise is as adorable as GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain in her everyday role as Anya’s mother. The sharply contrasting roles allow Hayami to experiment with different character types, and she plays all of these roles with confidence, breathing life to her characters. Here, when Yukino helps Hachiman to tie his tie, my eyes see Hachiman and Yukino, but my ears hear Loid and Yor. Of course, being a master of disguise, I imagine that Loid wouldn’t need any help in getting his ties done correctly, and here, I remark that, although I’ve had little opportunity to tie ties in the past while, the half-Windsor knot that I learnt from my parents still comes quite readily to me.

  • The fact that Yui’s still a little dejected after Hachiman begins dating Yukino was only natural. Iroha and Komachi end up having a spirited conversation about what they’d do in Yui’s place, and while their suggestions are more whimsical than helpful, Yui does spot that she could still come in and take back Hachiman if Yukino’s heart ever wavers. This moment paints Yui in a poor light to her detractors, and for me, while it’s clear that Yui still doesn’t have a strong sense of identity (since she’s so easily influenced), recalling that Komachi and Iroha are in her corner, one can also suppose that the two could similarly influence Yui in a positive manner, encouraging her to find her own path anew.

  • I couldn’t help but smile after Yukino had remarked they were going to a “casual” restaurant, only to see Hachiman react in shock at all of the silverware on the table. This scene parallels a moment in James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, where Jack Dawson is being introduced to high society and finds himself surprised by the cutlery. I picked up the knowhow for handling formal dinners from my parents: one always starts from the outside and works their way inward. The knife above the plate is typically for butter, and depending on the meal, a spoon may also be present, being intended for dessert or a cheese course. In this way, one can quickly work out how many courses there are to a meal, as well.

  • During the course of the dinner conversation, Hachiman says a few things that irritate Yukino enough for her to kick him from underneath the table, but Yukino’s mother and Haruno seem to take things in stride. In these situations, I am more inclined to treat it like an interview and pick my words accordingly, as well as using pauses and breaks accordingly. Hachiman, on the other hand, walks in with a very casual attitude, and later, when asked about things, he replies it’s because Yukino’s mother feels so much alike that he can’t help but converse with her the same way he usually does with Yukino. While this is disrespectful to some extent, a bit of extrapolation also finds that this might be a form of flattery: Hachiman is suggesting that he is comfortable around Yukino.

  • While seeing the relationship between Yukino and Hachiman was quite amusing (Hachiman clearly has a long way to go before he can demonstrate himself as worthy partner for Yukino, but Yukino loves him enough to accept his flaws and give him the time to improve), the Oregairu Kan OVA was also a little more sobering where Yui was concerned. I hold that Yui’s way of managing her own feelings is quite normal; even after one realises their crush is unlikely to reciprocate their feelings and is seeing someone else, there is a natural inclination to hope that things could be different. Rather than pressuring Yui to drop it, Iroha and Komachi take on a more supportive approach – Yui’s feelings are still quite hurt right now, and while there will be a time to push her into finding something else, it is still too early for that at this point.

  • In the end, although Hachiman appears to have survived Yukino’s mother’s questions, he unintentionally embarrasses Yukino when he replies to Haruno’s question of whether or not they’re dating with a noncommittal and nervous “are we?”. Yukino’s mother defuses the situation, but Yukino is hurt since Hachiman has not shown any commitment to her. I am reminded of a tip I picked up for interviews: “always answer decisively”. In this case, by showing hesitancy, Hachiman indicates to Yukino that he might not be interested, whereas if he were more confident and answered with a decisive “yes, we are dating”, then he’d show Yukino that he was wholly committed to her. In this moment, I thought back to something my parents had strove to instil in me; I can’t fault Hachiman for answering in the way he does, since I would’ve probably done the same, and a part of me also knows that Hachiman is still green here.

  • In the aftermath, Yukino ends up being quite distant towards Hachiman, who feels like he’s blown his chance with Yukino. Yukino leaves to tend to a few things, and Hachiman decides to head home. Luckily for Hachiman, Komachi is remarkably perceptive, and she is able to give him the right advice: Hachiman clearly knows he must apologise to Yukino but doesn’t quite know how to go about doing so, so Komachi helps him reach a suitable answer. Moments like these are a callback to Hachiman’s old ways; he has a rough idea of what needs to be done, but his assumptions mean that his methods might not always be correct.

  • By leaning on others, Hachiman grows and matures. Of course, his growth isn’t going to be perfect, and the Oregairu Kan OVA shows that there are cases where he may still misstep. Mistakes are a natural part of learning, and it is with support and advice from others that one goes from misstepping often, to making fewer missteps. This is what I like about Oregairu: its honest portrayal of its characters mean that people who’ve experienced similar things as Hachiman and the others can relate to how they feel in a given moment. Hachiman decides to settle on getting Yukino some specialty cookies from a place in Chiba, the students’ equivalent of apology flowers, but before he and Komachi can head off, Yui appears.

  • Under most circumstances, the choice would be clear to take off and tend to Yukino, but Komachi’s spotted something here. She knows that Yui would, if given the chance, still try to steal Hachiman from Yukino, and so, rather than allowing these thoughts to linger, letting Yui hash things out with Hachiman seemed more appropriate. Thinking on one’s feet like this is what makes Komachi such an asset, and even though she’s a fellow junior classmates only in the Oregairu Kan OVA, her impact on the Service Club is so strongly felt that it feels as though, were she present earlier, Hachiman’s growth would be accelerated to the point where everything could’ve been resolved in as few as six episodes. At the same time, this also gave me the impression that having Komachi present means that Hachiman and the others will always have a reliable source of support in their presence.

  • Thus, while Komachi takes off to buy the apology gift for Yukino, Yui and Hachiman go on a date of sorts, allowing Yui to share some time with Hachiman and work up the courage to speak her mind. In Oregairu Kan, I believe that, after the signs became apparent, Yui had simply given up and never gave voice to her feelings, so it was logical for this OVA to deal with things in a more conclusive manner. Here, I remark that, although Yui is all smiles, the pain she feels at losing Hachiman is still quite noticeable, creating a sort of juxtaposition between Yui’s outward appearance and the situation at hand.

  • The choice of date Yui picks out, an aquarium, stands in stark contrast with the formal dinner that Yukino had taken Hachiman to, speaking to the differences between Yukino and Yui’s backgrounds. Although this afternoon does have the same feeling as a date, the choice of exhibits the two check out were also carefully chosen to act as a metaphor for how Yui feels; at one point, the pair head out to check out the touch pools, and upon feeling the course skin of a shark, Hachiman comments on how he agrees with the sentiment that sometimes, words alone don’t adequately describe something.

  • While this “date” proceeds nominally, there are moments where it’s clear that Yui knows that things won’t last – Yui and Hachiman eventually wind up at the penguin enclosure, and here, Yui reads a sign that indicates how Cape Penguins remain together until their deaths. Seeing this sign fills Yui with a feeling of longing, and this is something that Hachiman notices. As the afternoon turns to evening, Yui chooses this moment to lay how she feels about the current status quo out in the open: she’s still very much in love with Hachiman, flaws and all, and is frustrated at the way he and Yukino have done things. Although Hachiman tries to find the right words to console her, they won’t come, and Yui remarks it’s fine, that she’s not going to stand down until it’s clear that her race is run.

  • Traditional love stories would indicate that there is romanticism in Yui’s approach, but from a practical standpoint, holding onto lost love also prevents one from being open to new opportunity around them. This is what motivates the page quote: the size of the world means that, even if Yui can’t be with Hachiman, there are numerous others out there who might be able to help Yui find happiness anew. By constantly thinking about Hachiman, Yui is not only denying herself this possibility, but she could also be shutting out people who are suited for her. This is merely one outcome, and I am hard-pressed to believe that this would be how things unfold: Oregairu Kan‘s OVA shows that one way or another, Yui will eventually be spurred on in a new direction.

  • This ultimately got me thinking: given Yui’s disposition and background, what kind of individual would be suited for her? Yui is someone who tends to be cheerful and spirited, but also tends to try and fit into a situation. As a result, she doesn’t speak her mind often, and this means that she would clash with Hachiman from a personality perspective – Hachiman also struggles to be upfront about how he feels. Conversely, Yukino has no problem being direct when appropriate, and this is ultimately why Yukino is able to force Hachiman to grow. On the other hand, Yui would be unable to drive this same change in Hachiman owing to her more agreeable manner. Oregairu had shot down any possibility of Yui ending up with Hachiman, and despite her own efforts, it should be quite plain that she never had a fighting chance.

  • For Yui, her ideal partner is someone with a very firm sense of identity and is secure in who they are. Such an individual might not always be the most communicative and prefer shouldering problems on their own, but they would be sensitive, kind and caring. The reason why these traits suit Yui is because she’s unsure of herself, and someone who is simultaneously compassionate and confident would create a sense of comfort, encouraging Yui to be herself and setting her best foot forward. Knowing that this individual wouldn’t judge her, and would always be solidly, reliably present to support her, Yui would grow in new ways. Hachiman meets most of these criteria, but his weakness is an unwillingness to confront his true feelings because he’s not secure in himself, and since Yui is similar, she would benefit from someone who is more comfortable with who they are, so that she can be comfortable in opening up to them.

  • Someone like Yui would be able to bring much joy and spirit into the life of someone who’s accustomed to routine – Yui is quite spontaneous and fun-loving, and she could help to bring her partner out of their shell, in time allowing them to enjoy living in the moment a little more. This is ultimately the reason why I favour Yui even though from a narrative standpoint, Yukino was better suited for Hachiman; someone with Yui’s traits would be the sort of person I could see myself falling love with. I’m very strict, disciplined and value reliability above all else, but at the same time, this also means that I don’t actively seek out spontaneity. I also tend to solve problems on my own because I have reasonable faith in my ability to get things done, and since I prefer not troubling others.

  • Although I am aware of my shortcomings and strive to improve, having someone like Yui in my corner would probably accelerate that process. I am drawing conclusions based on what is seen in Oregairu, and I appreciate that in reality, relationships have enough moving parts so that it’s easy to consider what would could do on paper, but then when the chips are down, it boils down to a matter of experience and social know-how. With this being said, such exercises are always fun, as they allow me to explore different territories from a more personal, subjective standpoint.

  • Although I do not know the precise English word for it (despite English being my working language), in Cantonese, Komachi’s social know-how is informally called “識 do” (jyutping sik1 do), literally “knowing (how to) do (something)”. It is characterised by a knowledge of how to respond to a social situation and act in a manner that is respectful and tactful. For having hurt Yukino, Komachi knows that an apology must be on order, and that this apology must be reinforced by a gift, rather than just the use of words. Despite being younger than Hachiman, Komachi has excellent emotional intelligence.

  • “識 do” isn’t a skill that can be acquired overnight, but rather, it comes as the result of experience and making mistakes, then knowing how to do better next time. When I reflect on my own actions in the past, there are a multitude of things that I certainly could’ve done better. The irony, of course, is that now that I know how to handle things appropriately, there is no opportunity for doing so. Once tensions between Yukino and Hachiman defuse, things in the Service Club liven up again as Yukino passes out the sweets. This is where Yui shows that she’s not quite ready to give up on Hachiman yet.

  • Stealing a bite of the biscuit that Yukino is holding shows that Yui is, at least for now, not admitting defeat. While seemingly immature, I continue to maintain that it does take a bit of maturity and life experience to see why it was important to show this – Yui’s actions here will likely spur Yukino to put in a fuller effort in keeping Hachiman, and thanks to support from Komachi and Iroha, Yui will gradually accept things and move on. Accentuating this is the fact that, after Yui gives her thoughts to Yukino, Iroha and Komachi immediately step in and break up the mood with their banter. Although subtle, it is sufficient to show how they’re ready to ensure that Yui doesn’t wander down a difficult path, and this allows the OVA to conclude on a good note.

  • Once the club instructor returns, the OVA draws to a close, and with this, I’ve once again completed my journey Oregairu. It is surprising that almost three years have elapsed since Oregairu Kan finished airing, and the series originally began running in 2015. Over the past eight years, Oregairu has walked viewers through a touching story about how a change in perspective can help people to learn and mature, and along the way, perhaps even discover love. I expect that, barring another surprise, the Oregairu Kan OVA will be the last time I write about Oregairu, unless either readers express an interest in my revisiting Oregairu Zoku and its OVAs, or if the anime receives a surprise continuation.

An epilogue OVA for Oregairu was quite unexpected – when the third season concluded back in September 2020, it had done so in a decisive manner. Hachiman and Yukino begin going out after an awkward but sincere kokuhaku, and Yui accepts that she’s lost, even though her feelings for Hachiman continue to linger. Hachiman himself has changed wholly, believing youth is enjoyable after all. In this way, the Oregairu Kan OVA was not strictly necessary to fill in any holes within the story. However, I will not begrudge the existence of a continuation that reaffirms a few more things that the original series had left implicit, and with the Oregairu Kan OVA in the books, one can definitively say that Oregairu‘s events leaves each of Hachiman, Yukino and Yui in a better place than they’d been when the series started – in particular, while Yui is not explicitly shown as having made peace with what’s happened, seeing her conversations with Komachi and Iroha clarify that, unlike the superficial connections she had while she’d been in Yumiko’s clique, she now has genuine friendship with people who will be there for her when thing get tricky. While Yui’s lingering feelings prima facie appear unhealthy, it’s only been a short amount of time since the events of Oregairu Kan, and therefore, it is unreasonable to expect Yui to have gotten over her old feelings so quickly. The process requires more time than the few weeks that have passed, and so, the Oregairu Kan OVA instead chooses to portray how Komachi and Iroha have both settled into life with the Service Club. In this short time, Yui’s still hurt by the knowledge she likely won’t be with Hachiman as she would’ve liked, but at the same time, Yui’s own growth therefore becomes more implicit, a possibility that becomes more likely when one considers how the two are willing to talk things over with her. In particular, Komachi, as supportive as she is of her brother’s relationship with Yukino, also cares about Yui and knows how to help her out, as well. With this, I expect Oregairu to be completely finished at this point: short of the decision to adapt anything from the original light novels that was condensed out or omitted, Oregairu‘s animated adaptation has told a satisfactory story of Hachiman’s journey towards gaining a new outlook on youth and performed well enough to promote interest in the light novels, so from a functional standpoint, the anime has fulfilled its objectives in whole.

Worst Anime Challenge? Gaining New Insight In A Revisit To The World Heritage Girl At RDG: Red Data Girl’s Decennial

“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.” –Steve Berry

When Izumiko Suzuhara, a reclusive girl with the power to channel the ancient Himegami, expresses a desire to live in the city, her parents arrange for her transfer to Hōjō Academy. Izumiko is shy and struggles to interact with others, but because of her lineage, her guardian, Yukimasa Sagura, assigns his son and yamaboshi apprentice, Miyuki, to look after her. Miyuki initially regards Izumiko coldly and only does the minimum required of him. After an incident where Izumiko’s Familiar, Wamiya, runs amok, Miyuki has a chance to see how Izumiko does indeed have talents of her own, and he subsequently agrees to transfer to Hōjō Academy with her. Here, Izumiko and Miyuki learn that amongst the student body, a complex battle is being waged as different factions covet Izumiko’s powers for their own ends. Izumiko makes fast friends with Mayura Sōda and her brother, Manatsu, but also becomes weary of the smooth-talking Ichijō Takayanagi, a top student who employs shadowy operatives in a bid to control Hōjō Academy. Along the way, Izumiko also learns more about her glasses and relationship with the Himegami, a goddess with the power to eliminate humanity. While trying to navigate life at school and her own place in the world, Izumiko becomes more confident in herself and in the process, finds enjoyment in things like school trips and culture festivals even as she becomes more aware of the Himegami and her significance. Produced by P.A. Works and airing during the 2013 Spring season, RDG: Red Data Girl is named after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species, known as the Red Data Book for brevity, and during its twelve episode run, a broad spectrum of topics are covered – RDG: Red Data Girl is a coming-of-age story that speaks to a range of topics surrounding youth and their discoveries as they are given a chance to learn their own strengths. However, despite a premise and setup that had seemed promising, RDG: Red Data Girl is also counted as one of P.A. Works’ worst productions: the series’ short run and complex world had meant that twelve episodes was too little of a time-frame to adequately explore everything, and the series had made the assumption that viewers would be familiar with elements of Japanese mythology and Shintoism. With many elements only being given a minimal explanation, the flow of events in RDG: Red Data Girl is not always clear, leaving viewers without a clear picture of what the series had intended to convey.

After the Shinto and mythological piece of RDG: Red Data Girl are abstracted away, the anime ends up being a story of growth as a result of peer support. Izumiko begins her journey extremely shy and soft-spoken; she’s quite easy to push around and lacks any sort of drive. At her original middle school, Izumiko does have a few friends in her corner, and while they do treat her kindly, Izumiko never stands up for herself. This infuriates Miyuki, but despite Izumiko’s numerous shortcomings, it is revealed that even she has a few redeeming traits: she’s an excellent dancer who feels that traditional dance is the best way to clear her mind and express herself. This aspect of her character is what drives Miyuki to stick with Izumiko, and in turn, by remaining at her side, Izumiko always has someone to count upon even as she begins exploring the web of social interactions at Hōjō Academy. As things spiral out of control during Hōjō Academy’s culture festival, Izumiko realises that Miyuki’s support is what had allowed her to get through difficult moments earlier, and that there was no need to shoulder things on her own. Similarly, despite his aloof and often callous manner, Miyuki eventually comes to understand that there is value in helping out and being wanted. Hearing Izumiko asking for his help specifically is what allows him to reunite with her during the climax of the culture festival, after she’d unconsciously tapped into the Himegami’s power and banished herself into another plane out of anger at Ichijō’s actions. Without a means of getting back, Izumiko would come to learn the importance of being able to count on one another, and it is this that helps her to push forwards in life with more conviction: it is okay to try one’s strengths and explore the unknown, as well as making mistakes along the way, so long as one can fall back on support and advice from friends. At an individual level, this is what RDG: Red Data Girl deals with – messages of support and companionship are by no means new to coming-of-age stories, and while RDG: Red Data Girl initially does appear to be about anything but, a bit of patience for the characters finds that at the end of the day, whether one is dealing with Himegami and yamaboshi or ordinary students, no individual is an island.

At a larger scale, RDG: Red Data Girl speaks to the idea that modern Japan is becoming increasingly disconnected from older values. Izumiko is said to be the last vessel for the Himegami, and when she does manifest, the Himegami indicates that the world hurtles down a path that is difficult to watch, increasing her own desire to unleash her full power and punish humanity. Shinto beliefs, in animal gods and spirits that exude every part of nature, are an integral part of Japanese culture, and for much of their history, the Japanese belief of striving to maintain harmony and balance with nature has made their existence a sustainable one. In the present, industrialisation and urbanisation erodes at the beauty of nature, as well as compelling people to move away from the countryside and into the cities as they search for opportunity. As traditions and values are forgotten, the very fabric of Japanese culture, rooted in the harmony between man and nature, slowly diminishes. By the time of RDG: Red Data Girl, Izumiko is suggested to be an endangered species because she is a representation of humanity’s connection with the older gods, and here in the context of RDG: Red Data Girl, Miyuki comes to represent the average member of society: he starts out his journey with an adamant refusal to act as Izumiko’s guard, reflecting on how people today do not demonstrate a willingness to familiarise themselves with older values and traditions. However, as Miyuki sees more of the Shinto world and events that unfold surrounding Izumiko, he comes to understand that there are things that shouldn’t be lost or forgotten. His developing feelings for Izumiko therefore acts as a metaphor for how even with all the changes in society, traditions and older values still have their merits. In this way, RDG: Red Data Girl doubles as a story about how there is value for people to learn about their own culture and heritage, allowing these elements to be preserved even as society hurtles along. As a result, even though RDG: Red Data Girl‘s limited episode count was ultimately to the story’s detriment, leaving many elements feeling quite rushed, unexplored and ambiguous, the series should still be commended for making a brave stab at conveying much more than just the elements of a coming-of-age story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • RDG: Red Data Girl piqued my interest purely because P.A. Works had produced it, and with Sayori Hanami voicing Izumiko, I had been quite curious to see what directions the anime would take. Previously, Hanami had voiced Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita, and there were some similarities between Izumiko, Sawa and Hanasaku Iroha‘s Nako Oshimizu. P.A. Works does have a tendency give their lead characters similar traits, and this commonality, although seen as a detriment by some, does serve the purpose of providing some grounding.

  • In RDG: Red Data Girl‘s case, Izumiko is an ever shier and more reserved version of Nako, with a much more hesitant inflection in her voice. However, there is no doubting that it’s Hanami voicing Izumiko, since Hanami’s portrayal here gives the smallest hint of her style when she performed as GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain, and Yor Forger of Spy × Family. I began my journey into RDG: Red Data Girl ten years ago to this day: although the anime had begun running back in April 2013 as a part of the spring lineup, April was the month for my undergraduate defense.

  • As much as I would’ve liked to have go into vacation mode the second my defense ended, following this was three more exams (databases, software engineering and statistics), so there was no time to unwind and take it easy. By that point in time, I hadn’t been terribly worried, since I had a reasonable grasp of the material, and in this way, when exams arrived, I sat down and wrote them with a confidence that had come partly from knowing the concepts, and partly from how to take on exams as a result of having gone through the MCAT. As memory serves, databases and statistics had traditional, registrar-scheduled written exams, while software engineering was an oral exam.

  • On paper, oral exams are always tricky, especially for folks like myself, who have difficulty with public speaking. However, preparing for an oral exam is no different than preparing for the questions to a defense, and having practised the methods extensively for my thesis, I was able to pass my software engineering exam by preparing in a similar method. By that point, four years of practise with presentations meant I developed a way to prepare, and in this way, I became more proficient with public speaking. The me of a decade earlier, however, had not been sufficiently learned as to spot this, and this is one of the reasons why RDG: Red Data Girl had not initially been enjoyable for me.

  • Once my exams ended, I found myself with what had felt like unlimited leisure time. Convocation was still more than a month away, and as a bit of a celebration, my classmates in the health sciences programme wanted to put a yearbook of sorts together. I volunteered to help out with layouts: in secondary school, I was part of the Yearbook Committee and in my final year, had more or less single-handedly put the yearbook together with one more committee member after the remainder of the members dropped off. In the quiet days after exams, I turned my powerful new PC to use, and in no time at all, I assembled a yearbook that impressed my health science classmates.

  • Ten years earlier, as a gift from my parents for having reached the milestone of convocation, I got a new desktop. Armed with the i5 3570k and a GTX 660, this machine was originally designed as a budget gaming machine with enough longevity to get me through whatever lay ahead, whether it had been medical school or graduate school. Indeed, when I ended up enrolling in graduate school, that computer served me extremely well: it had enough graphics horsepower to run both Unity and Unreal Engine, which powered the biological visualisation models that I worked on. After I finished graduate school, I upgraded to a GTX 1060, and this desktop went on to serve for another seven years.

  • The story of this custom desktop will be left as an exercise for a later date, but at this point a decade earlier, I was thoroughly enjoying my new machine and, in between using it to work on the health science yearbook for the Class of 2013, I also began my journey in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and started watching RDG: Red Data Girl. I would have only been a few episodes behind at this point, and found myself catching up in no time at all. Right out of the gates, I had found the story quite confusing, especially since there were numerous references to elements from Japanese folklore and Shitoism. This negatively impacted my impressions of RDG: Red Data Girl early on, and the further addition of a student council that seemingly took itself too seriously only served to complicate things.

  • On this revisit, however, it turns out I was mistaken on both counts – once I stopped worrying about the factions as though this were a Tom Clancy novel, and decided that the Shinto elements weren’t as significant to Izumiko’s growth as her interactions with those around her, RDG: Red Data Girl ended up being more enjoyable than I remember. In particular, I became very fond of Mayura – when she wears her hair in a ponytail, she resembles Tari Tari‘s Wakana Sekai (and readers may have noticed that I have a fondness for ponytails). Even though she covets Izumiko’s power and ends up luring Izumiko and Miyuki into a trap to test the extent of the pair’s capabilities, she’s also shown to be kind and caring. As a result, it became easy to spot that RDG: Red Data Girl is plainly trying to sell viewers on the idea that Mayura is genuinely trying to be friends with Izumiko.

  • Manatsu feels like a cross between Atsuhiro and Nagi no Asakura‘s Hikari, sporting a cheerful demenour. When the moment calls for it, he can be serious, but he’s otherwise quite easygoing. On the other hand, Miyuki feels like a more foul-mouthed and mean-spirited version of Taichi. Initially, Miyuki’s unpleasant manner had made RDG: Red Data Girl difficult to watch, but revisiting the series now, I’ve come to understand that P.A. Works, especially in their coming-of-age stories, tend to use the story as a means of showing how characters change over time. In every P.A. Works series I’ve seen, once unpleasant characters have a chance to grow, viewers understand their circumstances better and no longer view them unfavourably.

  • In retrospect, I had treated RDG: Red Data Girl quite unfairly, stating that “there was no discernible theme that I could pick out”, and that “all of the factions at Hōjō High School had ulterior motives that were inadequately explored and interfered with what would otherwise be ordinary high school events”. This conclusion was made based on my recollection of RDG: Red Data Girl and had been written two years after I finished. Without a fresh set of eyes on things, I went off my memories. The end result was a highly biased perspective of things, one in which I was being being quite unfair to P.A. Works and the staff that had worked on producing RDG: Red Data Girl.

  • Occurrences like these are why I made the decision to return and give shows like RDG: Red Data Girl a proper second chance: over time, my opinions of a given show may shift as I approach them differently, and additional life experience allows me to see things that I had previously missed, allowing me to draw a conclusion that is more comprehensive and fair. Revisiting anime therefore becomes an exercise I’m fond of – the only “opponent” is myself, and looking at what I’ve said previously, versus what I’m about to say, becomes an exercise that allows me to see how things change over time.

  • In the present day, the single most important metric I typically use to gauge my enjoyment of a given coming-of-age or slice-of-life work is whether or not the story has a cohesive and clear message that results from the characters’ journey as a result of disruption. Generally speaking, if the characters gain something tangible as a result of this, then I will have found the experience to be a worthwhile one. The main exception to this rule are comedies: in things like Joshiraku or Lucky☆Star, the intention isn’t to see the characters grow or mature, and instead, the interplay between everyone creates a self-contained experience every episode. Different genres demand different approaches, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for reviewing fiction.

  • It takes a measure of patience to get through an anime like RDG: Red Data Girl, and looking back on this particular revisit, I’m certainly glad to have done so because this time around, because armed with ten more years of life experience, I was able to notice details I missed originally. Seeing Izumiko becoming more comfortable with Mayura was probably the element that I came to appreciate the most – Mayura is quite knowledgable on the lore and possesses powers of her own, and despite her own vested interest in turning Izumiko, she genuinely treats Izumiko well and looks out for her. As a result of this, even though Mayura does arrange for people in her corner to test Izumiko and Miyuki, it’s hard to hold this against them.

  • During the first evening, the Sagura family hosts a barbeque; this is a Japanese summer tradition that typically features yakitori skewers. Barbeque is a form of cooking that’s practised all over the world – regardless of culture, all cooking originates from the art of cooking meat over a fire or smoking it, and as a result of its evolutionary origins, there is something inherently appealing about eating something that was grilled over direct heat. Japanese barbeque is characterised by the presence of more vegetables and the use of soy sauce, whereas over here in North America, dry rubs and sweet sauces are preferred.

  • Izumiko finds herself inexplicably drawn to a fruit punch, and when she begins acting out of character, the others quickly spot that she’s become intoxicated, since there’d been some alcohol in the punch. Izumiko subsequently passes out and awakens some time later. Moments like these are seemingly inconsequential, but they do hint at the changes Izumiko is undergoing: freed from her usual inhibitions, Izumiko is a little more expressive. After I got further into RDG: Red Data Girl, it became clear that Saori Hanayami does a wonderful job of voicing Izumiko’s different facets – although Izumiko might be Nako in appearance and share the same voice as Sawa, she lacks Sawa’s confident and forward manner.

  • Over time, more to Izumiko’s character is shown; and whether it be her over-indulging on the fruit punch, or expressing fear regarding the Himegami, Izumiko is a complex individual who’s defined by more than her typical timid nature. I remember Izumiko best for how RDG: Red Data Girl had initially presented her, and owing to the fact that it has been ten years since I originally watched RDG: Red Data Girl, I find myself wondering if I’d actually watched RDG: Red Data Girl all the way through back then, or if I’d rage-quit along the way. Viewers have my assurance that for this revisit, I have indeed finished RDG: Red Data Girl completely; it wouldn’t be fair to form a conclusion about anything based on incomplete evidence, after all.

  • My favourite surprise comes with Izumiko’s pouty attitude: in the presence of people she’s comfortable with, Izumiko is more expressive, and here, she speaks with Masumi. The third of the Sōda siblings, Masumi had died as a child, but his spirit endures. He occasionally is able to manifest and lends his power to Mayura and Manatsu, but on his own, Masumi admits that he’s fallen in love with Izumiko. It speaks to Izumiko’s comfort around her friends that she’s able to sass Masumi a little, revealing an unexpected side to her character and reminding viewers that even the shy Izumiko can change.

  • In the aftermath of RDG: Red Data Girl, I recall reading a heated discussion regarding whether or not anime series are obligated to have a clear, coherent narrative and themes. When one individual argued that anime must necessarily have easy-to-follow storylines, other participants in that discussion immediately jumped in and claimed that anime with seemingly-confusing storylines have often have intellectual merit and demand that viewers make an effort to figure things out for themselves, whereupon the worth of said work will become self-evident. This is, strictly speaking, untrue – if a given story is unclear, it is not because the work was especially insightful or brilliant, but rather, because critical elements were omitted or not explored in depth. I am reminded of a remark from Richard Feynman, who believed that if one could not explain a complex idea in simple terms, that individual likely did not have a deep knowledge of a given topic.

  • An author can present intellectually-stimulating ideas without obfuscating a work’s plot, and as such, it is appropriate to say that being confusing is not a necessary or sufficient condition for a work to be thought provoking. Intellectual content (e.g. philosophy, psychology and sociology) can be integrated into a work, but its presence is usually secondary – if a work doesn’t deal with things like Freud or Kant, but manages to captivate the viewer, it’s still succeeded. Conversely, if a work is confusing, the presence of more advanced concepts is irrelevant. In the case of RDG: Red Data Girl, there is no doubt that the story was confusing, and this came about as a result of the fact that viewer were dropped right into a story heavy with Shinto elements and very little in the way of explanation.

  • Throughout RDG: Red Data Girl, Izumiko is shown as being quite sheltered and lacking in knowledge. In a manner of speaking, RDG: Red Data Girl could be said to be overwhelming viewers with Shinto elements so we empathise with how Izumiko must’ve felt. From a certain point of view, this is an effective storytelling technique, since viewers are made to experience what Izumiko experiences, but at the same time, RDG: Red Data Girl also fails to provide a more intuitive explanation of the concepts. This problem could be remedied simply by giving RDG: Red Data Girl more episodes of runtime to work with, and now, looking back at things, I believe this was ultimately RDG: Red Data Girl‘s biggest shortcoming – if the series had more time to explore and explain things, the Shinto elements would’ve become easier to follow, since the story could cover precisely as much as was necessary to bring Izumiko up to speed.

  • For my part, I went about RDG: Red Data Girl this time around by abstracting out all of the Shinto elements and treating them as events the characters can respond to. By not concerning myself with specifics about how the Himegami work, or the different kinds of spells and magic available to yamaboshi, I was able to instead look at how Miyuki nad Izumiko handle the various challenges that they encounter. With this being said, some background would have been helpful: a given work cannot assume that viewers already have innate familiarity with something or expect that the viewers will look things up for themselves. In Tom Clancy’s novels, for instance, Clancy makes numerous references to government structure and details in how the hardware works, but on top of this, also goes into detail in explaining how the pieces fit together so viewers can plainly spot why something is important to his stories.

  • RDG: Red Data Girl doesn’t quite need to go to Clancy levels of detail, but it would have benefited from at least some explanation of how the magic and folklore come together. Here, Izumiko sports a look of surprise after she and Miyuki share a conversation that begins to suggest that the latter might be developing feelings for the former – Miyuki raises a valid point about how Wamiya outwardly resembles Ichijō and wonders if this is because Izumiko is drawn to guys similar to Ichijō. Even with the full serious behind me, I’m not too sure if this is significant beyond showing that Miyuki might be a little jealous, and that things between Miyuki and Izumiko have reached a point where they can talk candidly about this sort of topic.

  • By the time of Hōjō Academy’s culture festival, Izumiko and Mayura’s become integral parts of the planning committee. Knowing what I was walking into made it easier to pick things out, and this time, by paying a little more attention to the dialogue, I discerned that Mayura ended up earning the covetted seat as the Student Council President, infuriating competitor Ichijō Takayanagi. Ichijō had approached Izumiko early on with the hope of swaying her, but Izumiko gravitated towards Sayura, and in conjunction with Sayura taking the seat, Ichijō has since sought revenge. The factions within RDG: Red Data Girl only appear complex at first, but taking a step back and setting aside the Shinto elements, it’s easy to see a simple rivalry between students, albeit students with uncommon powers.

  • In this way, my old claims about multiple conflicting factions turned out to be completely incorrect – at Hōjō Academy, it’s ultimately Ichijō vs Sayura, and while both students do have access to some external resources, the pair end up fighting most of their battles on their own. I do remember being infuriated by Ichijō, whose calm demeanour contrasts the underhanded methods he resorts to. For the culture festival, Ichijō summons ancient spirits, places curses and wires up an observation balloon with the aim of disrupting things for Sayura. At first glance, Ichijō is a contemptible individual, but in the present, a shift of perspective meant the gravity of the situation isn’t quite as serious as it’d felt a decade earlier: secondary students do take their social circles seriously, as they are at the age where their identity is tied to their status, and so, one can interpret Ichijō’s actions as being motivated by insecurity, rather than anything truly malicious.

  • During the course of the culture festival, Izumiko gets roped into various events, and against Miyuki’s protests, she finds herself helping out. It is during the festival that Izumiko learns the truth about the Himegami: Izumiko is the last individual the Himegami can manifest as and is implied to be the one and the same. From what RDG: Red Data Girl communicates to viewers, the Himegami is the manifestation of an ancient force with incredible power, enough to wreck destruction at a scale that surpasses all knowledge. Such a revelation shakes Miyuki to his core, and when the Himegami appears mid-festival, she ends up sharing a bit of a private conversation with Miyuki. Again, it is important not to worry too much about the actual scope of the Himegami’s powers here.

  • The main outcome of the Himegami’s interactions with Mikyuki serves to draw out the fact that, whether he cares to admit it or not, Miyuki has come to care for Izumiko more, and further to this, the Himegami’s existence and the resulting conflict this creates for Izumiko speaks to the question of what one’s identity is defined by. Identity has always been a hotly-contested topic, since it shapes one’s perceived place in their society. Some people mistakenly define themselves based on their traits (e.g. labels) and other people’s expectations for them: I’ve heard that it’s because it helps one to feel less alone in a given society and simplifies the fact that people different to oneself can exist. I will receive flak for this, but I do not believe labels have any merit in defining an individual’s identity – one’s actions define them far more strongly than any expectations labels might create.

  • After learning the truth, Izumiko becomes doubtful about who she really is, but RDG: Red Data Girl smoothly handles this – Izumiko herself certainly doesn’t desire for the world to end, and has frequently expressed the want for a normal life. With support from Mayura and Miyuki, Izumiko does end up finding a renewed faith in what she wants. Moments like these make it clear that Ichijō never really stood a chance in converting Izumiko and served to reaffirm that viewers should place their faith in the Sōda siblings. Having a constant source of support outside of Miyuki was one of the biggest agents of growth for Izumiko, and since the Sōda siblings don’t share the same deity-protector relationship that Izumiko and Miyuki have, they are able to be a little more forward about how they feel.

  • Izumiko does end up being more confident as a result of her friendships, and for the culture festival, she has no trouble in helping out. Here, a classmate flips some of the yakisoba noodles for their class’ stall – said classmate resembles Glasslip‘s Yanagi Takayama, a girl who aspires to be a model and, of everyone in Glasslip, was given the short end of the stick as far as relationships went, even though she was the most open and friendly of the group. P.A. Works’ use of familiar characters is a recurring trend in most of their coming-of-age anime, and here, I remark that P.A. Works has produced both my most favourite anime, as well as the anime I’ve regarded the most poorly. In the case of RDG: Red Data Girl, having now gone back through and making a more serious attempt to see what this was about, I answer the post’s question: RDG: Red Data Girl is no longer the worst anime I’ve watched.

  • This leaves Glasslip as the worst anime I’ve watched. These extremes from a studio that tends to produce more hits than misses got me thinking: RDG: Red Data Girl and Glasslip could very well be P.A. Works’ way of experimenting with different ideas, and while both series were definitive misses in their execution, learnings from Glasslip and RDG: Red Data Girl would influence the execution of later successes like in The World in Colours and The Aquatope on White Sand. With this revisit of RDG: Red Data GirlGlasslip becomes the most poorly-regarded anime in my books, and with the ten-year anniversary to the latter approaching, it might not be a bad idea to see if my methods here, which render RDG: Red Data Girl a little clearer than I’d previously found it, may also help me to see Glasslip in a new light.

  • Giving Miyuki and Izumiko that second chance means that I presently understand them to a much better extent than I had ten years earlier, and so, when Miyuki breaks out laughing at how Izumiko has stuffed her signature braids into the odango style. Such a moment of levity speaks to the fact that both Izumiko and Miyuki have become quite comfortable in one another’s presence, enough to share something that is commonplace among ordinary classmates. While it’s easy to dismiss the me of a decade earlier as being unlearned and lacking the requisite life experience to discern what RDG: Red Data Girl had been aiming to convey, one of the reasons why RDG: Red Data Girl was not something I made an effort to understand was also a consequence of everything that had been going on at the time.

  • At this point in May, when RDG: Red Data Girl first began airing, I was busy both with the health science yearbook and laying down the groundwork for my summer project. Against all odds, I managed to land an offer for an NSERC USRA, which is counted as the single most prestigious undergraduate-level award a student can win: I had put forward a proposal to build a distributed biological model using my renal system and a cardiovascular system one of the developers at the lab had constructed, and now that the summer was here, it was time to realise this proposal and bring it to life. May had therefore become quite busy, and I wound up watching RDG: Red Data Girl on the side. Convocation followed in June, and by the time the finale aired, I only had the vaguest idea of what I’d finished watching – the Great Flood of 2013 had swept through the area and threw everything off.

  • With everything that went on, I didn’t have much of an inclination to watch anime, and so, RDG: Red Data Girl fell to the back of my mind. I remember leaving the series disappointed and never returned to write about it in full. Back in RDG: Red Data Girl, on the final day of the culture festival, Izumiko and Miyuki keep in touch by means of cell phones. Izumiko’s aversion to electronics had hinted at her supernatural background, and so, when she is able to use a phone, it speaks to her growth. After learning of how Miyuki had spent the previous evening with the Himegami, Izumiko becomes pouty again and shows that even she can be jealous of other women monopolising Miyuki’s time. Pouty Izumiko is surprisingly adorable, and Hanami does a very convincing job of showing this side of Izumiko.

  • Things come to a head when Ichijō pulls Izumiko aside and places her under a spell of sorts in order to compel her to join his side, but when Izumiko remembers her promise to Miyuki, she sees right through Ichijō and goes ballistic. In the chaos, she unconsciously transforms Ichijō into a dog and disappears within another plane, hoping that if she vanishes from the world, then no harm will come to it. The last act of RDG: Red Data Girl has Miyuki pushing into this barrier with the goal of bringing Izumiko back. A decade earlier, it was quite tricky to find anything insightful on RDG: Red Data Girlviewers were deeply polarised as to whether or not RDG: Red Data Girl was an incoherent mess that failed in telling a meaningful story, and proponents unconvincingly tried to argue that the show was actually simple, given that “[their] daughter, who just turned 13, watched the show when it came out and she didn’t have ANY trouble following the plot or figuring out what was going on”.

  • Between those who hated RDG: Red Data Girl, and those who enjoyed the series but struggled to articulate themselves convincingly, a more balanced outlook on things was difficult to find. Random Curiosity’s Cherrie came the closest to providing a fair assessment of this anime, stating that RDG: Red Data Girl “gears more towards a story about adolescence in a supernatural setting and dealing with your own identity”. I award this answer partial credit, since RDG: Red Data Girl is significantly more than just “dealing with your own identity” – it’s about learning to accept oneself by opening up to others. Cherrie’s conclusion is typical of blogs of the late 2000s/early 2010s. Back then, bloggers were able to identify elements in a theme, but at the same time, consistently missed the “so what” aspect: being able to point out a basic idea isn’t the same as firmly ascertaining what an author intended to say about that idea.

  • Here in RDG: Red Data Girl, the story was meant to show the importance of having people in one’s corner as one works out their identity, since the presence of different perspectives can guide people down a path of their choosing. This is how Miyuki is able to determine his path forwards regarding Izumiko, and how Izumiko herself comes to terms with her ties to the Himegami. Similarly, although only touched on, the complex dynamics amongst the Sōda siblings also becomes clarified as each sibling realises that they won’t always be there for one another, but in spite of this, they can still support one another as best as they can. This is ultimately what RDG: Red Data Girl had sought to convey, and having now revisited the series, I am glad to have done so, since I feel that I got considerably more this time around.

  • With this being said, I still won’t recommend RDG: Red Data Girl to most readers: it takes a bit of manoeuvring and patience to see what the anime was getting at, and the short runtime, coupled with frequent references to Shintoism and Japanese mythology, results in inconsistent pacing that can frustrate viewers. However, folks who do give the series a shot may yet find a story that still says something, and all of this is wrapped up in a technically superior production – the artwork, animation and soundtrack are all top-shelf, typical of something produced by P.A. Works. When everything is said and done, RDG: Red Data Girl earns a C- grade (1.7 of 4.0 on the four point scale, or 5.5 of ten points), up substantially from the F grade that I assessed the anime ten years earlier.

  • One of the factors that had tilted RDG: Red Data Girl from a curiosity into a wholly unfavourable experience can be chalked up to how the anime had coincided with a more eventful period of the summer – between convocation and the Great Flood of 2013, I was quite preoccupied and therefore, did not have as much time to sit down and focus on the anime as I was able to for this revisit. Between this and reduced life experience, I can understand why so much of RDG: Red Data Girl seemed like a fog to me at the time. Looking back, both convocation and the flood were both milestone moments of the summer a decade earlier, and while I’ve alluded to both periodically in my posts, I do believe the time has come for me to tell those stories in full here and consolidate my thoughts on those events.

  • I appreciate that these sorts of posts aren’t what readers enjoy reading, but the reason why I’m going to go ahead with these topics is because it’s helpful for me to revisit these memories in a journal format. Journaling is, incidentally, something that experts count as being an effective means of helping one to manage their mental health because it allows one to organise one’s thoughts and vent in a secure environment, free of judgement. Looking back, I never allowed myself to be honest with what had run through my mind and express how I felt during the Great Flood of 2013. One could say that, in spite of all of the things I’ve gone on to do, a part of me remains trapped in the summer of a decade ago, and with journaling being a proven way of helping one to gather their thoughts, I figured the time has come for me to do a little bit of reflection.

  • By the end of RDG: Red Data Girl, after seeing that Miyuki is going to be in her corner for better or worse, Izumiko comes to terms with her relationship with the Himegami and performs a dance that lifts the spell she’d placed on Ichijō. In the process, the barrier she raised is dispelled. Izumiko is not particularly confident in herself, but one thing she does well is dance; in understanding this about herself, Izumiko is able to move ahead and embrace the future with greater conviction. Izumiko’s mother and Yukimasa fly overhead in a helicopter, observing what goes down, and Izumiko’s mother notes, with a hint of pride in her voice, that Izumiko has passed her test.

  • With this, a journey that was ten years in the making comes to an end. I’ve long wished to give RDG: Red Data Girl a proper rewatch, and this desire only increased when, during my revisits of other anime, I found that I ended up with a more complete experience than I had previously. Having now watched RDG: Red Data Girl with an open mind, I add one more anime to the list of shows that I was wrong about: it goes without saying that my old remarks on RDG: Red Data Girl aren’t correct, and this does lead me to wonder if a revisit of Glasslip would result in something similar. This is an exercise I’ll leave for next summer – Glasslip released in 2014, and next year will mark the ten year anniversary to its release. In the meantime, I’ve finished watching Kimi wo Aishita Hitori no Boku e, and will be looking to share some thoughts on this film in the near future, as well as watching the companion film Boku ga Aishita Subete no Kimi e.

RDG: Red Data Girl‘s rushed and inconsistent pacing, coupled with numerous references to Shintoism and Japanese mythology, meant that the series had, at first glance, appeared to be significantly more complex and nuanced than it is. For instance, the factional conflict between Mayura and Ichijō’s camp at Hōjō Academy gave the impression of being deep enough to involve adults and external organisations. When RDG: Red Data Girl did not cover this, viewers would be left with impression that the world building had not been sufficiently thorough. However, the seemingly all-consuming factional conflict in RDG: Red Data Girl can be interpreted in a different manner – the series is deliberately presenting it as being a serious situation because to Mayura and Ichijō, maintaining their status is important as a part of the social hierarchy that form amongst secondary students. The shadows and uncertainty that Izumiko faces can similarly be thought of as social anxiety. By viewing a given story from a character’s perspective, one can abstract out the more complex elements to reveal a narrative that is straightforward and unambiguous. Here in RDG: Red Data Girl, the Shinto elements and seemingly-complex factions are simply metaphors. By focusing on how these metaphors impact Izumiko and Miyuki, it becomes much easier to work out what RDG: Red Data Girl had sought to convey. There is no need to have a formal background in Shintoism or ecology because Izumiko and Miyuki’s journey can stand even if the context were changed (e.g., Izumiko learning to depend on others, and Miyuki becoming more respectful of tradition could still work with a different premise). The same approach can be applied towards almost any anime: while a given work may deal with highly complex matters, such as politics, sociology, morality and philosophy, all of these elements are, at the end of the day, intended to frame a given character’s experiences. If one can empathise with the characters and identify what they are supposed to learn as a result of their experiences, then more nuanced topics end up being a supplement, rather than necessity, to the conclusions. Complex-looking anime oftentimes appear more intimidating and dense than they are, and generally speaking, fiction is meant to convey what a given author has to say about an idea through the characters’ experiences. Once a work’s themes are known, things like philosophy and psychology end up either supplementing (or detracting from) the author’s messages.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Lycoris Recoil and Remarks on Parfaits With A Side of Politics

“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” – Bruce Wayne to Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman Begins

The Lycoris are a secret group of assassins tasked with maintaining peace in Japan by taking out targets of note and concealing the fact. After Takina Inoue is relived from active duty following her actions during an operation to secure a shipment of illegal firearms, she’s transferred over to the café LycoReco and works with Chisato Nishikigi, a Lycoris with a seemingly supernatural disposition for evading bullets. Chisato’s easy-go-lucky attitude is grating on Takina, who initially desires to return to active service with the Lycoris, but as she and Chisato learn more about the terrorists behind the illegal firearms, the pair also become closer together. The terrorists are led by one Majima, who shares similar origins as Chisato as Alan Institute test subjects, and as the pair close in on Majima, they also learn about how Shinji Yoshimatsu had saved Chisato with the intention of turning her into the perfect weapon. While Chisato rejects Shinji’s expectations for her, she and Takina are instrumental in stopping Majima’s plan to destroy, Enkobou, a new tower in Tokyo to replace the Tokyo Skytree, which was damaged in a previous terrorist attack. Although Lycoris Recoil is widely regarded as the top anime during the summer season last year owing to the touching dynamic between Chisato and Takina, critics expressed disappointment at the anime’s moral ambiguity and inappropriate use of slice-of-life elements in dealing with what are typically counted as more serious topics. In typical fashion, the reality is that Lycoris Recoil exists somewhere in the middle. Chisato and Takina’s interactions are not especially revolutionary, and the idea of a cheerful, bubbly individual balancing out someone who’s more stoic and reserved has been seen in countless series (Cocoa and Chino of GochiUsa, and Rin and Nadeshiko of Yuru Camp△ are two examples that come to mind). Similarly, the question of morality is actually clearly presented, but it is not done from a political standpoint. Instead, Chisato’s individual remarks and actions throughout Lycoris Recoil speak to her worldviews, and by extension, the messages that Lycoris Recoil seeks to convey. In an anime where morals are deliberately ambiguous and vague, Chisato’s unwavering stance on leaving her opponents alive provides consistency, the anime together as it touches on a range of topics, binding things together in a way that keeps viewers engaged with her experiences.

The very existence of an outfit like Lycoris, and their portrayal as heroic keepers of the peace, is something that is seemingly contradictory with the ideals in a liberal democracy – a sub rosa government agency that has authority to execute lawbreakers might keep the peace within a society (and indeed, for law-abiding citizens, such an agency is not nominally a threat), but at the same time, Lycoris is no different than secret police agencies that have been employed to suppress and silence citizens. From a certain point of view, Majima’s views are actually more in keeping with the belief that no one agency or group should have judicial and executive powers within a government. Lycoris Recoil‘s ending suggests that the collective good of preserving the peace matters more than individual liberty, and this creates an unusual clash. At first glance, these contradictions mean that Lycoris Recoil isn’t successful in conveying its messages. However, this is untrue, and Chisato is the reason why. Although she is counted as a top-tier operator, Chisato refuses to kill any of her targets. In operations, she prefers to incapacitate using rubber bullets, and even goes out of her way to treat any injuries she may have caused. Chisato’s compassion stems from her respect for life – having received an artificial heart to sustain her life, Chisato believes that no one should have the authority of deciding who lives, and who dies. In this way, Chisato’s beliefs mean she’s incompatible with the operational protocol with Lycoris’ Direct Action (DA) unit, and while the other characters undergo growth as a result of their time spent with Chisato, Chisato herself remains steadfast in her beliefs. In remaining a static character, Chisato provides grounding for Lycoris Recoil and suggests that there is merit to compassion, of cherishing life and finding value in the ordinary, whether it be messing around with the uptight Takina or serving Café LycoReco’s patrons with unique parfaits. No matter how chaotic the world gets, or what expectations on her become, Chisato’s consistency outlines the importance of regarding others well. In this way, even if Majima and Lycoris’ clashing ideologies seem to be at odds with real-world beliefs, Chisato’s belief in a life of moral simplicity, and her enjoyment of common, everyday moments mean that Lycoris Recoil speaks to the idea that in a world of ambiguity and conflict, there is merit in focusing on doing what one can for the people around oneself. Lycoris Recoil‘s focus on life at LycoReco clarifies the anime’s aims, and in doing so, the morals and themes here are neither ambiguous nor vague.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Lycoris Recoil is an anime I’ve been recommended on numerous occasions: whether it be the previous (and final) #TheJCS, comments here or on Twitter, folks have expressed an interest in seeing what I made of one of 2022’s most well-known anime. The main reason why I did not watch it during its airing was because Luminous Witches had been airing at the same time, and I did not wish to divide my attention between the two series. By the fall season, Yama no Susume: Next Summit had occupied the whole of my attention, so I didn’t find the time to watch Lycoris Recoil. In this way, we entered the new year by the time I’d gotten around to watching things.

  • The plus side about watching Lycoris Recoil at my own pace is that, by this point in time, all of the episodes are out, so I was spared of the need to ensure cliffhangers, and for the most part, avoiding spoilers isn’t too tricky an endeavour. Before delving further into Lycoris Recoil, the first thought that came to mind was that Takina resembles Hibike! Euphonium‘s Reina Kōsaka and SSSS.Gridman‘s Rikka Takarada, but curiously enough, Chisato’s voice actress, Chika Anzai, had actually played Reina. On the other hand, Shion Wakayama, Takina’s voice actress, is a relative newcomer whom I know best as Her Blue Sky‘s Aoi Aioi. This dynamic duo forms the core of all things in Lycoris Recoil, offering a grounding perspective for a world that is clearly detailed, but also one that is simultaneously messy.

  • Chisato’s happy-go-lucky mindset stands in stark contrast with the duties and expectations placed upon Lycoris operators, and to accentuate this, Lycoris Recoil renders Chisato with exaggerated facial expressions during moments of levity. Upon its conclusion, Lycoris Recoil was widely regarded as a highly satisfying anime: Jusuchin of Right Wing Otaku complements the series as “perfect as a one-cour anime series” which “left a lasting impression on people” owing to striking a balance between the political thriller and slice-of-life aspects, while Crow’s World of Anime paints the series as being a superb emotional experience, with the finale being “as satisfying and enjoyable an ending as [one] could have hoped for”, before characterising this series as one where it is not necessary to seek out “the flaws in this episode and the series as a whole”.

  • Similarly, Random Curiosity’s Choya concludes that Lycoris Recoil “operates best as a visually-impressive action anime with an engaging cast of characters” and comments that the more serious elements “might not stand up to scrutiny”, but in spite of this, the “should still prove to be a good time” for those who can get past the social and ethical implications of such a world. All three reviews share in common the sentiment that, while the world of Lycoris Recoil has inconsistencies and limitations, strong writing for the series’ lead characters meant that overall, things remained positive.

  • As it was, Lycoris Recoil is certainly at its best when focused on the gradual changes towards Takina’s attitudes: she starts her journey dedicated to finishing the mission at any cost, using any means necessary, whereas her superiors believe in following orders and remaining as a cohesive unit. Seeing Chisato allows her to see how there are alternative ways of getting things done, and moreover, that finishing a mission doesn’t always doing something by-the-book, in the most efficient manner possible. Character dynamics are more important in Lycoris Recoil than the political piece, and the anime wastes no time in establishing this.

  • The presence of Café LycoReco and its utility as a gathering place for everyone provides a reliable meeting spot for characters to bounce off one another, swiftly lightening up more serious moments and providing the backdrop for humour one might expect in GochiUsa. As a result of this, I was hard-pressed to see Lycoris Recoil as a Tom Clancy-esque story; a café and a lead character similar to Cocoa Hoto meant that it felt more appropriate to see Lycoris Recoil as a slice-of-life with action-thriller elements, rather than an action-thriller with a café in it.

  • The positive reaction to Lycoris Recoil was such that Crunchyroll determined this series was 2022’s best show. However, while I am in agreement with the strength of Takina and Chisato’s friendship as being the main draw behind Lycoris Recoil (in this post, I will not be speaking about equipment, weapons and tactics because one could switch things out entirely, and the anime’s themes would remain unchanged), it is a audacious claim to suppose that Lycoris Recoil is without peer. This is because 2022 saw the airing of several excellent series, with Spy × Family being what comes to mind as being the top of the class for telling a consistent story on top of world-building and character growth. This is ultimately why I’ve chosen to look at Lycoris Recoil from the “Terrible Anime Challenge” perspective: in terrible anime challenges, I watch a series to see if my impressions of a series is consistent with existing reception.

  • In this case, although the premise world-building is outlandish, enough for me to not be fully convinced by the setting or count this as worthy of being 2022’s best anime, Lycoris Recoil lives up to expectations as being an excellent tale of character development in a setting that otherwise would not, at first glance, appear suited for such a tale. For this reason, I found the anime enjoyable. At first glance, the dynamic between Chisato and Takina is similar to how GochiUsa had presented growth in Chino as a result of Cocoa’s arrival; while Chino had been taciturn and reserved previously, after Cocoa joins Rabbit House, Chino slowly becomes more adventurous and open-minded despite expressing frequent annoyance at Cocoa’s antics

  • Lycoris Recoil has the same occurring with Takina and Chisato: although Chisato’s mannerisms do initially rub Takina the wrong way, over time, Takina comes to see the reason behind why Chisato is always striving to make the most of every moment. Despite the dramatically differing settings, both GochiUsa and Lycoris Recoil actually end up with a similar message and intention, and this is the main reason why it’s so difficult to see the latter as a serious portrayal of sub rosa operators and their implications on society. To accentuate this, both protagonists and antagonists in Lycoris Recoil are portrayed with funny faces and dramatic overreactions. In a series where the intention had been to convey an idea about a more serious topic, the characters would be more stoic and reserved (such as Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins).

  • In an anime where Chisatao spends a bulk of an episode trying to help Takina find more appropriate undergarments, only to succumb to curiosity and see what Takina was going on about before getting busted, it’s evident that Lycoris Recoil is meant to be easygoing, first and foremost. This is what motivates my title: Lycoris Recoil is more about personal growth than it is about making a political statement owing to its design choices and aesthetic, and the choice to utilise a more serious topic against a backdrop more consistent with slice-of-life shows how, politics or not, individual development and decision-making is ultimately what matters most.

  • This is why I strongly disagree with Anime Feminist’s Caitlin Moore’s suggestion that Lycoris Recoil‘s weakness is a “tonal dissonance and continued lack of clarity as to its moral or political positions on the subject matter of state violence”. I understand that Moore’s statement was made four episodes into Lycoris Recoil, which means that at the time of writing, Moore would not have had the entire picture in mind when making this remark. However, the aesthetic of Lycoris Recoil meant that this is ultimately irrelevant: if the anime had intended to discuss the implications of an off-the-books wet team, it would not have spent so much time portraying Chisato and Takina at LycoReco.

  • The so-called “tonal dissonance” that Moore brings up comes about because Chisato’s cheerful mannerisms and optimism appear to stand in stark contrast with what being a Lycoris entail. On closer inspection, this actually is not an issue in any way: Lycoris Recoil establishes that Chisato lives life on her own terms because of what had happened in her past, and after disobeying orders during an assignment, Takina is reassigned. While Takina had desired to return to active duty, being with Chisato leads Takina to reevaluate what matters most for her, and over time, Takina comes to realise there are other priorities in her life.

  • For this reason, the messages throughout Lycoris Recoil are not inconsistent in any way, and in fact, the existence of the Lycoris, as well as how seriously they’re portrayed as taking their assignments, is meant to provide a juxtaposition with Chisato’s world views. Lycoris Recoil is poking fun at how seriously some organisations take themselves when they know full well that their duty entails contradiction and actions that can be seen as immoral. As such, while I concede that Moore’s reception applies only to the series after four episodes, I do not find that such remarks should be treated as valid criticisms of Lycoris Recoil as a whole.

  • Following a string of attacks on Lycoris operators, Takina decides to live with Chisato. In any other series, the mood would be grim, but speaking to this series’ commitment to the positive, Chisato relishes at the possibility of living with a friend. Her safehouse is shown here – it’s a comfortable and well appointed space located beneath an empty unit that Chisato enters to throw off any tails she may have picked up. A glance around shows that while Chisato keeps most of her place clean, she can be a bit of a slob, too, and this is something Takina means to fix.

  • Assigning a schedule initially fails, and Chisato ends up deciding it’d be more fun to use scissors-stone-cloth to see who does what. Owing to her style, Chisato dominates Takina, resulting in the latter being assigned every task. Takina’s look of horror is hilarious, as is Chisato’s smug little smile. Later down the line, Mika and Mizuki will inform Takina that there is a way to beat Chisato in scissors-stone-cloth because Chisato has a certain tell that she does. Moments like these serve to humanise the characters; it’s a common enough approach that anime use, and by showing viewers what everyone’s like in happier times, tragedies and drama only hit harder.

  • As memory serves, Cocoa sported a similar outfit during GochiUsa‘s first season – Chisato mentions at one point that Lycoris are only “on duty” when wearing their uniforms, but when they’re out of uniform, they’re technically not permitted to act. One evening, Chisato decides to head out, and amidst the chaos, Mika and Mizuki learn that Kurumi had been the one who compromised the Lycoris’ AI system, Radiata. After Kurumi came under fire from hostiles, she had sought the Lycoris’ protection and in the present, is more than happy to help Lycoris bring the perpetrators to justice. Widely thought of as being completely secure, Radiata is Lycoris Recoil‘s equivalent to The Division‘s SHD Network.

  • The usage of computers and AI in Lycoris Recoil is current with the times, with both Kurumi and her rival, Robota, using a combination of desktops, tablets, internet connections and AI to achieve their goals remotely. While such tools are doubtlessly powerful, they are also vulnerable – Lycoris Recoil joins a long list of fictional works, including Tom Clancy and Skyfall, in suggesting that the world’s dependence on computer networks has become society’s Achilles Heel. I say this with some degree of irony because I’m in the technology-related field of mobile development, and any sort of disruption to the complex network of systems that keep things running mean that, should anything fail, I’d be in trouble.

  • Despite Karumi’s actions, the others are quick to forgive her: after Takina saves Chisato from an ambush, upon reviewing the footage, Karumi learns that their foe is a shadow named Majima, and she promises to keep working with Chisato and the others until he’s brought to justice. In the meantime, after Chisato receives a checkup, Takina tries to play Chisato in another match of scissors-stone-cloth. Using the tricks she’s previously learnt, Takina manages to beat Chisato and earns the right to live with her for a bit longer, resulting in an adorable dance.

  • One thing I’ve noticed about anime like Lycoris Recoil is that, whenever cute girls and guns are involved, discussions tend to become very serious – people tend to analyse every word the characters speak, review their every action and offer a biting critique of what they should’ve done instead and delve deeply into the characters’ choice of equipment in an effort to see if they can correctly deduce the outcome of a given event. This approach has applicability in some series; if a work is committed to realism and the aim of said work is to offer a message about a political or social issue, then using real-world knowledge is helpful.

  • Conversely, if a work is more light-hearted or makes use of supernatural abilities (e.g. Chisato can dodge bullets through intuition), then real-world knowledge becomes less helpful. In the case of Lycoris Recoil, knowing that Chisato rocks a modified Detonics CombatMaster, or that Takina’s preferred sidearm is the Smith & Wesson M&P outfitted with an Ospray 9 suppressor, won’t help viewers to predict what happens. The reason why knowing the weapons in Lycoris Recoil won’t aid one in figuring the story out is because the guns themselves perform only as well as the operator, and since ballistics isn’t an issue here, small differences in how a CombatMaster handles against something like Majima’s Makarov is irrelevant.

  • Things begin shifting when viewers learn that Chisato’s been living on borrowed time: it turns out as a child, she was afflicted with a heart condition of unknown nature, and the Alan Institute had provided her with an artificial heart in exchange for her becoming involved in wet work, courtesy of Shinji Yoshimatsu. Chisato’s refusal to kill her opponents means she’s not effective as an assassin. In retaliation, during a routine checkup, one of Shinji’s goons sabotages her heart, limiting her time to two months. Questions of talents are brought up in Lycoris Recoil, and while Shinji believes that people have an obligation to society to utilise whatever skills they’ve got, Chisato believes she should be free to choose the path she desires.

  • In doing so, Chisato answers the question of whether or not collectivism or individualism is the better choice, and by extension, whether or not a government-run shop should have the power to utilise lethal force in the name of maintaining social order. Since Chisato picks her own path over the path Shinji had prescribed for her, Lycoris Recoil is also suggesting that the Lycoris’ methods and existence is not wholly ethical, either. Although the events of Lycoris Recoil do eventually see Takina reinstated, her experiences with Chisato eventually lead her to question if this is what she’d desired.

  • Towards the end of Lycoris Recoil, things escalate wildly when Majima carries out his grand plot to draw out Chisato into a one-on-one with her to see who’s the superior combatant, as well as expose the Lycoris to the world. In these moments, Takina, Chisato and the remainder of the DA’s convictions are put to the test as Majima appears to be one step ahead of everyone, and Chisato must decide whether or not she can continue to uphold Shinji’s expectations for her even if it means failure to do so will result in her own death. While this is quite dramatic and a far cry from the emotional tenour of Lycoris Recoil‘s earlier episodes, as well as making the story a ways busier, the fact that Lycoris Recoil firmly establishes Chisato and Takina’s characters means that there is grounding: all of the action and conflict is present for a reason.

  • In the end, Chisato remains steadfast in her refusal to kill, and while Takina is desperate to save her, even if it means shooting Shinji in front of Chisato, Chisato eventually gets her to stand down: thanks to Majima’s machinations, the other Lycoris team is in mortal danger as another outfit, the all-male LillyBell, have been dispatched to neutralise Sakura and her team. I’m a little curious to know the reasoning behind this name – in reality, special forces have names that are synonyms with efficiency and professionalism, and LillyBell lacks the same intensity and focus that real-world special forces, such as SAS, Navy SEALS and Delta Force, convey. A name like Shadow Company or Spectre Team would’ve sufficed.

  • I realise that in this post, there are a host of topics I’ve not been able to cover – there’s a lot going on in Lycoris Recoil, and I remark here that just because something was not mentioned does not mean it is trivial or of lesser significance. I have noticed that during its run, some folks were able to review Lycoris Recoil in an episodic fashion, and this is one of those cases where it really would’ve been beneficial to look at each individual episode and see what it brings to the table. In my case, because I’m writing about the series after all episodes have aired, I’ve chosen to focus more on the big picture, with the obvious caveat that not every detail can be covered.

  • I’ve not introduced Sakura or Fuki in this post until now – while both are important players in that they’re full-fledged Lycoris operators, and Fuki has a bit of history with Takina, my aims here were to determine whether or not this series met expectations the community have set. The community had largely indicated that Chisato and Takina makes the story worth following, and after viewing this anime for myself, this is a sentiment I agree with. With this in mind, Lycoris Recoil has not done enough to displace Spy × Family simply on the virtue that the world the former is set in a world that isn’t quite as plausible or consistently written.

  • Further to this, one could make the case that Lycoris, Kusonoki and Shinji are the true villains of Lycoris Recoil, and Majima’s presence never gave off an aura of menace to the same extent as well-written antagonists would, whereas in Spy × Family, the story actually suggests that the real enemy in society is bias and misunderstanding, things that can be overcome with diplomacy and patience. The gap in character motivations and goals is why I hold that suggestions of Lycoris Recoil being the top anime of the year is a lofty one. However, I do not deny that Lycoris Recoil was fun: the fight scenes between Chisato and Majima never felt life-or-death, and instead, resembled a sparring match between old friends, even though Majiima was shooting to kill.

  • In the end, Majima is defeated, and Lycoris manages to regain control of the situation. Chisato is saved after Mika kills Shinji and recovers his artificial heart, but she escapes to another part of Japan. Takina is sent to recover her, and the pair get into an adorable scuffle before Chisato explains the rationale for her choices. A tearful reunion results, and Chisato expresses her desire to go to Hawaii in the aftermath, with the aim of starting fresh and seeing the world. With this, Lycoris Recoil comes to a close. Fans of the series, however, were pleasantly surprised to learn that a second season is set to air in the future.

  • Lycoris Recoil had ended on a positive note and didn’t necessarily need a second season, but at the same time, the series also turned out to be unexpectedly popular and from a financial standpoint, it is logical to capitalise on the series’ popularity and keep things going to pull in a profit. At present, I’ve got no idea what a second season of Lycoris Recoil could entail, but a prequel story or side story detailing Mika, Shinji, Kusonoki, Sakira or Fuki could be enjoyable, allowing for more insight to be provided on this universe without denying Takina and Chisato their chance at enjoying a more ordinary life. With this, I hope to have conveyed, in a reasonable fashion, my thoughts on one of 2022’s hottest anime. I certainly won’t claim to have covered all of the details, but from a big-picture standpoint, Lycoris Recoil does more well than it butchers – this was sufficient for me to have a good experience with the series.

The presence of slice-of-life elements in an anime that deals with politics and thriller elements should make it clear that Lycoris Recoil was always intended to present a more optimistic view of things, even in a world where guns, arms-trades and terrorism are routine problems. It is unrealistic to expect anything else from an anime predominantly set at a cheerful and well-respected café – Chisato’s own actions and beliefs indicate that it is counterproductive to become too involved in politics and the nitty-gritty behind why others continuously scheme and plot. This particular mindset is especially important in a world where it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. After Majima’s plan to bring down the Enkobou tower fails, Lycoris utilise their information control to pass things off as a publicity stunt, and while the implications are that the world won’t know the truth, Chisato and Takina are portrayed as caring little. In fact, Chisato has empathically stated that the politics in the world don’t concern her because all she wants to do is help the people she wishes to help, and make things better for the people around her. While some people hold that expressing their beliefs vocally and frequently make them appear more connected and concerned with the world, the reality is that idle talk is ineffectual. On the other hand, Chisato is concerned with the here and the now: she lives in accordance to her own values, and this manifests as helping run a café, as well as conducting her assignments with the absolute minimum of casualties. This is why Lycoris Recoil ends up being more about the unusual-looking parfaits Takina makes during a budget-saving crisis, than it is about politics, and why this anime, in being remarkably frank about where it stands on things, is respectable. The slice-of-life aspects allow Lycoris Recoil to constantly keep things between Chisato and Takina at the forefront of the story, and through Chisato, Takina also ends up loosening up a little. Regardless of the context or setting, it’s always nice to see two individuals of opposite dispositions helping to complement one another, and this is where Lycoris Recoil excels most: through Chisato, Lycoris Recoil suggests that individuals demonstrate moral fibre not in what they claim to believe in, but rather, in how they act.

Mō Ippon! – Review and Reflection After Three

我係精武館最水皮嘅徒弟, 我想試吓日本拳頭嘅味道!” –陳真, 精武門

After suffering a devastating defeat during the middle school judo competition, Michi Sonoda enters secondary school with her heart set on having a bittersweet romance. However, it turns out that her opponent, Towa Hiura, had longed to get to know Michi better and to this end, ended up enrolling at the same school as Michi and her best friend, Sanae Takigawa. In spite of herself, Michi ends up swinging by the judo club and, at Sanae’s behest, decides to pick up judo again: the judo club is in danger of being disbanded from lack of members, and Towa had been so excited to join. Seeing this, Michi decides to return; she reveals that she’d been disappointed that she hadn’t improved despite having practised judo since primary school, but seeing everyone’s spirits spurs her on. Meanwhile, Sanae struggles to convince her parents to sign her permission form, and Towa finds it difficult to approach Michi, worrying that she might still be upset with the manner of her defeat. As it turns out, Michi’s not concerned with things and looks forwards to training alongside Towa. Later, Sanae and Michi are shocked when they physical education instructor turns out to be a hulking, no-nonsense man. However, when his comments go too far, fellow instructor Shino Natsume steps in and subdues him. She reveals herself as the judo club’s advisor and, after flipping Towa during training, remarks that she trained alongside her students to reach her current level of skill. Encouraged, Michi and Sanae begin preparing for a competition, but after Towa runs into her previous club’s members, she reveals to Michi and Sanae that with her previous judo club, she’d become disliked after her skill allowed her to be selected for competition over a senior. On the day of the competition, with Michi’s encouragement, Towa decides that she’ll compete in the middle slot to face off against her senior. This is Mō Ippon! (Ippon Again!), an adaptation of Yu Muraoka’s manga which had begun running in 2018. Since then, twenty-one volumes have been released, and Mō Ippon!‘s anime opens with the tried-and-true idea of people returning to an activity despite their yearning for a fresh start.

The premise of being drawn back into an activity is not new, and stories have previously employed this as a means of motivating their characters to see things from a new perspective. It is difficult for people to make sweeping changes to their habits or traits, and the expression “a leopard cannot change its spots” mirrors this: Michi may desire to do something else with her time as a secondary student, but she inevitably finds herself pulled back to judo. In the process, she’s now able to meet Towa, who promises Michi that this time around, training won’t be as brutal as Michi had known it, and with this, a fateful encounter sets Michi back along the path of jacket wrestling. With Michi’s participation in judo assured, the remainder of Mō Ippon! can therefore be devoted towards giving Michi a chance to learn and grow, as well as experience the things she otherwise had not thought possible even though she’d been participating in judo. The smallest hint of this is seen in the second episode: when old habits return, Michi and Sanae begin practising while they’re tasked with returning the tatami mats to the storage room, and this ends up drawing a crowd of impressed onlookers, including several of the male students. While Michi’s path is just beginning here in Mō Ippon!, that she’s committed to judo again means the series is able to explore different aspects of the sport, things like sportsmanship and discipline, and the importance of maintaining an open mind. These are mainstays in anime, but what’s exciting is that there is no real limit or constraint to what messages can be portrayed within Mō Ippon!: so far, beyond returning to judo and competing to improve herself, Mō Ippon! has not defined a concrete goal yet, and this means that over the course of the anime, I rather look forwards to being pleasantly surprised.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’m not a judoka, I am a nidan practitioner of the Okinawa Gōjū-ryū (hard-soft style) school of martial arts, and I’ve been training since I was nine. If memory serves, my parents enrolled me in the class because the dōjōchō had been a combat instructor with the Hong Kong police force and knew one of my relatives. When I started, I remember being quite casual until reaching green belt, after which I began having fun with taking things more seriously. Although I have troubles with memorising everything, the things I do know, I know enough to help teach. However, since it has been some time since I’ve been to the dōjō (on account of the global health crisis), I’ve become very rusty, and now I understand how my senpai feel when they comment on having forgotten the shishochin kata.

  • Judo is the focus in Mō Ippon!, and unlike karate, which emphasises strikes, judo is all about grappling and throws. As a karateka, if I were facing off against someone like Michi or Towa, my first inclination would be to keep my distance, strike swiftly and retreat even more hastily before I can be grabbed. In the event I am grabbed, Gōjū-ryū does provides its practitioners with a variety of techniques for escaping and maintaining distance, but beyond this, I’d likely be in trouble if the judoka knew what they were doing, since they have access to a wider range of techniques for the ground. Of course, the whole point of martial arts and self-defense is recognising how to get out of a bad situation first – a martial artist knows when not to throw a punch.

  • In Mō Ippon!, things open with judoka Michi participating in her final competition of middle school. Having given up a great deal of her time to the sport of judo, Michi wants to explore other aspects of life, and so, she’s decided that after this competition, she’s hanging up her gi. Before then, however, she wanted to score an ippon (一本) – in judo, this is a full point, awarded for throws, holds and pins. However, her opponent is the skillful and powerful Towa. Unaware of her opponent’s prowess, Michi is defeated and humiliated.

  • Towa reminds me a great deal of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto and Love Hina‘s Matoko Aoyama – she’s a severe-looking girl and is voiced by Chiyuki Miura, a relatively new voice actress. On the other hand, Michi is voiced by Ayasa Itō, who had previously played GochiUsa BLOOM‘s Miki and Slow Start‘s Tamate Momochi. In the aftermath of her loss, Michi’s best friend, Sanae, is mortified to learn that Michi’s funny face during her loss was captured and uploaded onto the internet for the whole world to check out.

  • Despite the loss dampening Michi’s desire to end her time in judo with a bang, she’s still in fine spirits and expresses to her friends that she’s rather looking forwards to secondary school, where she’ll have more time to really experience youth in all of its glory. Her reaction surprises Anna, a classmate who’s in kendo: Anna’s constantly trying to pry Michi and Sanae away from judo into kendo, and a recurring joke in Mō Ippon! is that Michi and Sanae constantly leave Anna in the dust.

  • Anna resembles a slightly more haughty version of Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi and Blue Thermal‘s Tamaki Tsuru. Curiously enough, Blue Thermal had Tamaki looking to enjoy her youth in post-secondary. When one’s been around anime for a non-trivial amount of time, similarities begin to appear in the shows one watches, but I’ve never been too bothered by this because every story has its own distinctions that make them unique. Even though a premise or outcome might feel familiar, the most important part of any series is how the characters end up at a milestone or conclusion, and how their learnings along the way help them to be better people.

  • Sanae, being Michi’s best friend, had been there with her throughout middle school and judo. While she’s not quite as experienced as Michi and had previously sustained an injury, she remains a steadfast presence in Michi’s life. Sanae’s appearance suggests someone who is a bit bookish, and she’s voiced by Yukari Anzai, whose breakout role was as Cue!‘s Miharu Yomine. I still have yet to check Cue! out – an adaptation of a mobile game, Cue! began airing a year ago and is said to be a reasonably enjoyable watch.

  • Had Mō Ippon! allowed Michi to do her own thing, the series would end here and now. One thing I appreciated was how the anime wastes no time in pulling her back into the world of judo: had the series spent an inordinate amount of time portraying Michi being conflicted by things, there’d be less time for the highlight. Instead, circumstances nudge Michi back into judo swiftly, and she ends up recalling why she’d trained so hard – the thrill of a good throw or hold had captivated her, and nothing was more satisfying than hearing the judge yell out, ippon.

  • This is where Mō Ippon!‘s namesake comes from: Michi had always longed to score them in competition, but she became discouraged after realising she hadn’t improved despite spending all that time in judo, and seeing people out in the world excelling despite having trained for a shorter period than herself probably accelerated her wish to do other things. When exploring the clubs at their new school, Anna decides to make another attempt to recruit Michi and Sanae, but owing this school’s circumstances, the judo and kendo clubs share the same space.

  • To Michi’s surprise, Towa has also enrolled in the same school, and she’s quite adamant about breaking out the tatami so they can begin training immediately, even though the judo club is on the verge of being disbanded on account of a lack of members. Towa immediately tries to pull Michi over to join her, prompting a jealous Anna to tug Michi back and join the kendo club. Seeing what’s about to happen, Sanae gives Anna a gentle nudge, and Michi ends up flipping Towa. Sanae might have a quiet personality, but this moment shows that when the chips are down, she knows how to give her friends a nudge.

  • In this case, recalling the old thrill of a good throw reminds Michi that she was being dishonest to herself about quitting judo, and what’s more, with the right people in her corner, it is possible to push herself further and improve. Michi thus agrees to join the judo club, and with Sanae accompanying her, the judo club now has its requisite three members to become reinstated. I’ve noticed that in anime and manga, the minimum number of club members tends to vary, and while this can be explained away as a result of different schools having different regulations, I wonder if it’s also done for the author’s convenience – the character count can affect a story’s ability to help readers connect to the characters, and depending on the story and character backgrounds, having fewer characters initially allow their relationships to be fleshed out to a greater extent.

  • While Towa is brutal when participating in judo, off the tatami mat, she’s quite shy and finds it difficult to speak up. Her original motivation for attending the same school as Michi was because she’d been drawn in by Michi’s never-give-up attitude and spirit, and while she lacked the resolve to approach Michi back at the tournament, she has since wanted to befriend the boisterous judoka. Martial arts is often touted as an aid in confidence, but in fiction, it’s often portrayed as a silver bullet that can make an extrovert out of an introvert. To see Mō Ippon! depict characters as being shy despite martial artists was a refreshing nod to reality.

  • For the second episode, the focus is on Sanae as she tries to convince her parents to allow her to continue participating in judo; since Sanae had suffered several injuries previously, and since secondary school is a time of study, her parents believe that it is in Sanae’s interest to quit judo and wholly devote herself to securing a spot in her post-secondary of choice. I can see where Sanae’s parents are coming from: one must be focused in order to do their best, and I recall how in both my final year of secondary school, and in my final year of undergraduate studies, I sat out my extracurricular activities where appropriate.

  • The advantage of participating in extracurricular activities anyways actually outweighs the disadvantages, and with the right time management, balancing both allows the mind to regroup and rest from the other activities. If one tires of studying, extracurricular activities act as a break. Similarly, when extracurricular activities begin to become difficult, one could always resume their studies. As Michi and Sanae take the tatami mats back to the storehouse after Towa’s latest attempt to bring them back out, Michi becomes lost in memories of old.

  • Soon after, Michi and Sanae end up actually practising judo out in the open, drawing the interest of some onlookers. As it turns out, Sanae was actually quite keen on rejoining, but finds it difficult to convey to her parents this desire. Character traits like these normally take whole seasons to iron out, so when Mō Ippon! addresses this right out of the gates, it may foreshadow that the story’s going to continue advancing at a good pace. I am reminded of Tari Tari, which had done something similar: Konatsu manages to assemble a choir so she can perform after the second episode, but having achieved her goal so early, the story has this choir dissolve shortly after, leaving her to explore other avenues later.

  • The infamous “bread rush” in anime is something that some shows have portrayed vividly – K-On! and Azumanga Daioh have both shown how chaotic lunch hour is for students who wish to buy bread from the school store. As a freshmen, Towa is unprepared for things, but the attendant staffing the store was kind enough to let her buy something once the other students finish their orders. In K-On!, the “bread rush” was only mentioned briefly, when Jun mentions that the senior students’ being away on a class trip means it’s finally possible to buy a chocolate baguette.

  • It turns out Towa had been trying to get a chance to speak with Michi for the whole of the day and ends up treating her to the bread she’d managed to pick up earlier. She reveals that she’s only at her most confident when wearing her gi, and after donning it, she properly apologises to Michi, who’s simultaneously conversing with Sanae and Anna. Despite her haughty manner, Anna hangs out with Michi and Sanae quite a bit, and while she’s always always trying to sell the merits of kendo and being given the short end of the stick, I do get the feeling that the three are on fairly friendly terms despite their bickering.

  • Because Michi is not one to hold a grudge, she immediately welcomes Towa into things. Seeing Towa overcome her shyness compels Sanae to do the same. Once Sanae ends up convincing her father to sign the form, the judo club has enough members to become reinstated, and this allows for Mō Ippon! to really begin focusing on its area of specialisation. Early in the game, Mō Ippon! is all about getting the club back together, but through solid writing, Mō Ippon! simultaneously uses the beginning to give some insight into the series’ characters and their traits, as well as showing how each of Michi, Towa and Sanae already have an intrinsic drive for self improvement.

  • Here, I will explain the origin of the page quote: it’s sourced from Bruce Lee’s 1972 film, Fist of Fury. After Chen Zhen (Lee) swings by a Japanese dōjō to return a sign that reads “Sick men of the East”, he challenges the students and destroys them in a fight. Prior to the fight, Chen Zhen introduces himself as “the weakest student of the Jingwu School”, declaring that he wants to get a taste of Japanese martial arts. While the Japanese martial artists initially laugh at him, Chen Zhen ends up surprising them with his uncommonly brutal fighting techniques. This sort of thing makes for an excellent movie scene, and while Fist of Fury is not known for its deep plot or nuance, it has become treated as an iconic part of Hong Kong cinema.

  • Mō Ippon! isn’t a story of revenge and injustice – it’s a tale of self-improvement with a gentle dose of humour and slice-of-life. I’m not expecting any Yuen Wo Ping levels of choreography here in Mō Ippon!, but this isn’t going to stop me from drawing on my own martial arts experience to see how well this anime can deliver its story, and I did feel that Bruce Lee’s desire to see what Japanese martial arts was about is no different than Michi’s own desire to improve in judo, even if the circumstances vary dramatically. Shortly after the judo club is reinstated, Sanae and Michi end up having a spirited disagreement about whether or not they were revived or restored. Sanae asks Towa to hang onto her glasses so she and Michi can settle things out of doors.

  • After a harrowing few moments when Mō Ippon! leads viewers to the impression that the hulking instructor is the advisor for judo, Shino appears and flips him, before proceeding to warn Michi and Sanae about the importance of training under supervision. As it turns out, she’s the judo club advisor. Earlier, Sanae had been fantasising about what their advisor would be like, and the moment gives another bit of insight into Sanae; it appears that she likes otome games.

  • When the first session begins, Shino promptly flips Towa with such finesse and power that Michi and Sanae are blown away. Although a part of Michi had been disappointed by the fact that she hadn’t improved, her optimism is boundless, and now, she realises that being in the same club with someone as skilled as Towa, and an instructor who understands judo on top of what it takes to improve, means that there’s plenty of room for growth. The three thus begin training in earnest for the first competition of Mō Ippon!‘s run.

  • With a competition coming up so quickly, it becomes clear that Mō Ippon! is pulling no punches; although there’s been plenty of slice-of-life moments, the series also gives viewers a clear idea of where it’s intending to go. Hitting the ground running means there’s more time for sports, and along the way, viewers are given an overview of the different techniques and rules surrounding judo. These elements come together to make for a series that looks very promising.

  • After a training session, Towa, Sanae and Michi swing by a family restaurant that is modelled after Denny’s. Mid-meal, Towa runs into her old classmates and fellow judoka, who come about after a mistake leads a parfait to be delivered to Michi. The moment shows that Michi is an extrovert and more than capable of joining any conversation, but her biggest shortcoming, in Sanae’s words, is that she’s quite oblivious to the emotional tenour. The arrival of said former classmates creates a sense of seriousness that Michi misses, and she presses on even after being told to cool her jets.

  • The severity of the conversation brought to mind memories of Girls und Panzer, where Miho had similarly run into her older sister, Maho, at a café. As it turns out, Towa had been a skilled judoka, and in middle school, she’d been selected to compete over a senior. This created a rift between Towa and her old classmates, who felt that she’d waltzed and taken all of the glory. The situation here reminds me of Hibike! Euphonium, where considerable drama had occurred when Reina had dazzled the instructors with her trumpet skills and was chosen to play the solo, even though a senior was originally slated to do so. The idea of seniority is an integral part of Japanese culture, where juniors are expected to observe etiquette and defer to their seniors.

  • This stands in stark contrast with North American values, where people are encouraged to put their best forward and excel. The cultural differences are why, when Hibike! Euphonium aired, viewers found it perplexing that choosing Reina was such a big deal to the rest of Kitauji’s senior band members. The idea of individualism versus collectivism is one of the largest points of contention in anime – what may be trivial to Japanese viewers may cause a controversy for foreign viewers, and similarly, the Japanese may emphasise something that seems inconsequential to foreign viewers. At the end of the day, it is worth comparing and contrasting both viewpoints, although I will remark that attempting to say one is better than the other isn’t going to be too productive.

  • Back in Mō Ippon!, while one may see Michi as being unaware of the mood in a room, she does have a talent for bringing people back on their feet. Shino’s spotted this, and Sanae comments this is how Michi is – after seeing Towa down after she ran into old classmates, Michi ends up encouraging her during training in her own manner. The light-hearted moments in Mō Ippon! appear to be quite dominant, and the overall tone of this series suggests that, even if some moments do become more serious, the series will retain a more easygoing aesthetic about it.

  • From a visual standpoint, Mō Ippon! isn’t exceptional in artwork and background detail, but things are rendered in a consistent manner, and the animation during judo sequences is of a high standard. The technical aspects of Mō Ippon! are satisfactory, and I expect that the best choreography will be observed during judo-focused moments. Mō Ippon! is produced by Tatsunoko Production. This studio’s got a lengthy history, but a quick glance at their list of work finds that I’ve only watched one of their previous titles before: Wake Up, Girls!.

  • Discussions on Mō Ippon! elsewhere on the ‘net is very limited at the present: outside of brief reactions, I’ve not seen any further conversation on martial arts and the like. Series like Mō Ippon! admittedly tend to generate very little excitement and are more likely to interest folks who enjoy slice-of-life, or possess a particular knowledge in an area. In my case, while I don’t do judo, I am a martial artist, and I am a proponent of slice-of-life anime, so watching and writing about this one wasn’t a particularly tough decision.

  • We are therefore set to see what happens during the tournament. At present, my expectations for Michi and her friends aren’t high because this early in the game, it makes little sense to have them be powerhouses, even though everyone does have judo experience. Instead, what matters during this first competition will be seeing how each of Michi, Sanae and Towa handle things. Three episodes in, Mō Ippon! has my attention, and in a relatively quiet season, this anime represents one of the two series I will be actively following, with the other being Bofuri‘s second season.

Having practised martial arts for most of my life, I’ve found that the most valuable takeaways from learning martial arts isn’t the self-defense or improving one’s physical prowess. Instead, it is the cultivation of discipline and mental fortitude that make martial arts so valuable. The way I practise is quite different than what makes for an interesting story; I do not compete actively, and instead, partake in martial arts for self-improvement in both physical and spiritual terms. However, martial arts extends well beyond this, and works of fiction emphasis the combat aspect of martial arts for the sake of entertainment. So far in Mō Ippon!, judo acts as the metaphor and tangible activity that brings Towa, Sanae and Michi closer together, helping them to discover their best selves and in the process, overcome their individual shortcomings. However, in addition to the more visceral act of throwing people, Mō Ippon! has also begun exploring the mindset behind judo: once instructor Shino begins advising Michi and the others, Michi is surprised to learn that there is more to judo than being physically stronger than her opponents, and that there is also a mind-body connection. This is what allowed her to throw Towa without effort, and even take on the significantly larger male physical education instructor who’d been intimidating Michi and her friends. Because martial arts is traditionally seen as being very Japanese, I am curious to see how the physical aspects of judo are presented in Mō Ippon!, alongside the mental and spiritual aspects. This anime is off to a strong start, and with Michi, Towa and Sanae already at their first tournament of the year, I am left in anticipation of seeing where everyone’s efforts end up taking them.

Suzume no Tojimari: A Reflection on the Preview and Remarks on Expectation Management

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” –Kim Collins

Suzume Iwato is a high school girl who lives in a small town in Kyūshū. After a harrowing dream one morning, she sets off for school, only to encounter a young man along the way. He explains that he’s looking for ruins, and Suzume points him towards an abandoned hot springs town located over the next valley. Intrigued by the man’s presence, Suzume decides to cut class and explore the ruins. Here, she finds a mysterious door that seemingly leads to a vast field under a star-filled sky. After opening it and becoming frustrated by her inability to pass through, Suzume encounters a stone cat that unexpectedly comes to life, and decides that this is enough adventure for one day. She returns to class just in time for lunch, but after a minor earthquake hits, Suzume is shocked to see what appears to be smoke from a fire. Perturbed that none of her classmates seem to be able to see the smoke, she decides to head back to the ruins. Here, she finds the man attempting to close the door: a malevolent energy is pouring through it, resisting his attempts to shut it. Suzume lends the man her strength, and this gives him enough time to summon a key that locks the door. This is about the gist of what happens in the first twelve minutes of Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie, which follows Suzume and the traveller, Sōta Munakata, as they travel across Japan to seal off the doors that appear across the nation, setting off a string of disasters. Along the way, Suzume’s experiences drive her own growth, giving her the strength for her to be herself. Suzume no Tojimari‘s themes appear to lie in managing the aftermath of calamity and how a human connection is instrumental in this process, similarly to how Your Name and Weathering With You had both incorporated a natural disaster piece into its story. However, standing in stark contrast with its predecessors, which were set in Tokyo, Suzume no Tojimari‘s setting is in southern Japan.

The change in location represents a shift in atmosphere, and in conjunction with the character design and a more visceral portrayal of the supernatural, Suzume no Tojimari appears to lean more towards the aesthetic that Children Who Chase Lost Voices took; Shinkai’s 2011 film had portrayed Asuna’s journey to Agartha, where she had learnt more about accepting death in a fantastical world that, while majestic, was also quite empty and devoid of life. In this way, Children Who Chase Lost Voices spoke to the price that defying the natural order commanded in a ambitious and visually stunning tale. Subsequently, Shinkai returned his stories into the real world, and while supernatural elements are present to subtly move the needle, his films following Children Who Chase Lost Voices have been decidedly more grounded in reality, establishing this by using a familiar environment in Tokyo to convey that the characters’ experiences came first and foremost. While this was especially effective in The Garden of Words and Your Name, by Weathering With You, the approach felt comparatively derivative. The choice to set Suzume no Tojimari in a rural setting thus creates the exciting possibility that Shinkai is once again testing new waters in his latest film; Suzume no Tojimari is stated to portray a journey around Japan, and in this way, this allows the art team to really showcase a variety of places and utilise them to convey emotions and thoughts in ways that Tokyo alone cannot. Consequently, there is much excitement in Suzume no Tojimari: incorporating learnings and successful approaches (i.e. a fantastical setting) from Children Who Chase Lost Voices into a story that has aspects from Your Name (older characters with more agency and a wider range of settings, with a moving story of separation and reunion) could produce a film that stands out from its predecessors.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Suzume no Tojimari began production in early 2020, and while production remained relatively in impacted by the global health crisis, the pandemic’s effect on society was integrated into the movie, which begins with Suzume experiencing a very visceral nightmare. From what the opening shows, Suzume lost her mother and is living with her aunt. The sharp contrast between the dream world and Suzume’s everyday life is pronounced, bringing to mind the opening scenes of Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness. With Multiverse of Madness as precedence, it becomes clear that the post-apocalyptic world Suzume dreams about will feature prominently.

  • For the time being, this preview portrays the normalcy in Suzume’s world: it is remarkably difficult to gauge a character from just a few minutes on screen, but she feels like a more confident version of Mitsuha whose life is unremarkable. On this morning, she rides her bike down to school with a smile on her face, and the road leading down this path offers a stunning view of the ocean. Her usual routine is interrupted when she spots a fellow on the road, and when she stops to speak to him, he explains that he’s looking for some ruins. The preview never names him, but he’s Sōta Munakata and bears a resemblance to Children Who Chase Lost Voices‘ Shun.

  • I’ve always felt that, of Shinkai’s movies, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is one of his most underappreciated films. While this movie represents a major departure from his usual style, it was able to convey its messages in an effective manner. Two common misconceptions surrounding Shinkai’s movies are that they’re at their best when endings are ambiguous and open, and that his films all suggest that loneliness is an inevitable part of life, and one can, at most, only hope to cope with it. These misconceptions stems from Anime News Network declaring that Five Centimetres per Second was about unrequited love and loneliness being “realistically” portrayed, since it had coincidentally lined up with their own writers’ belief that no amount of effort led to happiness.

  • Misconceptions like these are why I continue to say that people shouldn’t place so much stock in Anime News Network’s opinions of things; Shinkai’s stories, while scaled up to be more fantastical and dramatic, ultimately speak to lessons applicable in everyday life, and for better or worse, Anime News Network’s Japan Correspondent, Kim Morrissey, didn’t have the best track record of picking up on these elements. However, when Anime News Network publishes their Suzume no Tojimari review in the next few days, it will not be Morrissey writing, since she moved back to Australia back in August. In a blog post, she citing difficulties from the global health crisis as the reason why, and also elaborates a little of her background: as a youth, she struggled to speak with others and even leave home as a result of her upbringing. Instead, she found refuge in the world of fiction, mainly fantasy and science fiction books and anime.

  • This accounts for Morrissey’s extremely harsh stance on slice-of-life and coming-of-age stories: a lack of real-world experience meant that her ability to relate to and write about these topics would’ve been extremely limited. Although moving to Japan should have been an eye-opener, Morrissey continued to treat slice-of-life and coming-of-age anime films poorly, driving down readers’ interest in these works. Films like Non Non Biyori VacationShirobako: The Movie and Saekano: Fine were all given negative reviews, and because people treat Anime News Network as a legitimate resource rather than one opinion amongst several, negative reception means reduced interest as people decide it’s “in” to not watch movies Anime News Network disapproves of. This translates to fewer people curious to read other thoughts on said films after finishing them, including my own.

  • It is quite discouraging to put in a significant effort in giving readers insights on a given anime film through my posts, only to be denied readership and engagement because a large publication like Anime News Network does not recommend said film. As such, news of Morrissey returning to Australia means in the future, any reviews I post for slice-of-life and coming-of-age films will hopefully be given a fairer chance. Unfortunately, the damage is already done for existing films, and even if Morrissey won’t be impacting future films (like Wataten! Precious Friends), I do not imagine my existing reviews will gain much renewed interest. However, while this sounds demoralising, my game plan is simply to keep writing: my goal as a blogger is to share and reflect, and being able to converse with even just one reader is a wonderful bonus.

  • With Morrissey away from the helm now, Anime News Network may yet write a helpful review of Suzume no Tojimari, provided their reviewer has a modicum of understanding regarding how Shinkai operates. Previously, Shinkai had clarified his position through the companion novel and side stories, which made it evident that Five Centimetres per Second does have a happy ending; it’s not a “happily ever after”, but for viewers, knowing that Takaki has found the agency in his life to take charge is an encouraging thought. Shinkai’s later movies follow a similar pattern; his characters might experience loneliness, but the idea that Shinkai wants to say that loneliness is all-consuming and final is untrue. Indeed, Your Name and Weathering With You both have happy endings, and assuming this trend holds true, Suzume no Tojimari will likely end on a similarly positive note.

  • Intrigued by the young man she’s met, Suzume ends up heading back up the hill for an abandoned onsen village. She runs into one of the buildings, and ends up calling out for the young man, only to wonder what on earth she’s doing. I don’t think Mitsuha ever wore such an expression on her face in Your Name; when Taki was inhabiting her body, Mitsuha became more expressive and bold, but as herself, Mitsuha was a bit more reserved. Strong, confident characters are a recent element in Shinkai’s movies, and I’ve found his works to be all the more enjoyable for it; his earliest works rendered female characters as sublime, abstract beings.

  • Until recently, the mysterious door in a derelict building was the only bit of imagery viewers had surrounding Suzume no Tojimari. Doors have been used extensively in literature to represent a transition, or a passage from one world to the next. More optimistic works have doors symbolising choice, while in a more restrictive scenario, doors also denote exclusion or boundaries. It’s still a little early to do an in-depth look at things, but the supernatural nature of these doors, coupled with the fact that they’re gateways to other worlds, and the fact that a malevolent energy originates from these worlds, I would hazard a guess that Shinkai is using doors to visually denote boundaries.

  • Owing to how they’re presented in Suzume no Tojimari, doors probably would suggest that Shinkai sees disaster as something that seems like it “only happens to someone else”, but once the boundaries are broken, and one finds themselves on the doorstep of calamity (pun intended), it can become remarkably difficult to prevent a bad situation from worsening. The first twelve minutes of Suzume no Tojimari speak to this process. When Suzume opens the door for the first time, she’s curious about the world the doorway seemingly leads to, for it is the same place she’d dreamt of earlier that day.

  • However, the door doesn’t allow her to pass through it, regardless of her efforts. When people read about disasters, it is similarly difficult to appreciate just how devastating and far-reaching the consequences are. Because these impacts can seem quite far removed from one’s everyday life, it’s easy to forget about them and go on with one’s life. Suzume ends up leaving the door open when she leaves the spot, confused both by the unusual phenomenon and a stone cat that unexpectedly appears and transmogrifies into a living form when Suzume picks it up.

  • As an experienced writer and producer, Shinkai doesn’t introduce elements unless they’re going to serve a purpose later down the line. After Suzume notices the stone statue at her feet and picks it up, she finds that it’s extremely cold to the touch, but it thaws in her hands shortly after and even comes to life. Cats and beings similar to cats are a common aspect of Shinkai’s works. Shinkai uses cats to act as guardians of sorts: She and Her Cat‘s Chobi falls in love with his owner and does his utmost to look after her, while in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Mimi guides Asuna through Agartha until his life expires.

  • It therefore stands to reason that the cat-like being Suzume finds here in Suzume no Tojimari will serve a similar role, although on their first meeting, Suzume is completely shocked and chucks it away in terror. As Shinkai’s films evolved, I’ve found that his female leads have become much more expressive and multi-dimensional. Mitsuha wore a far greater range of facial expressions and had more emotions than Five Centimetres per Second‘s Akari, and these characters become much more human as a result, making it easier to connect to their experiences.

  • When the scene pulls back to a wider shot of the door, the real-time lighting effects can be seen, and I find myself wondering if Shinkai’s team is using real-time ray-tracing in their animation to pull off some tricks, or if everything is done either by hand, or older rendering techniques; using ray-tracing would help in cutting down some work for 3D scenes, since things like shadows and light interactions with different surfaces would be handled by the computer in real time. For viewers, since everything ends up being a video, it is fortunate that all one needs is a decent video decoder to play back the result: I can only imagine the sort of discontent in the anime community if the requirements for watching a home release copy of Suzume no Tojimari was an RTX 3060 or 6600XT.

  • After an eventful morning, Suzume finally shows up at school. Seeing her interact with her friends shows that, like Taki and Mitsuha, Suzume has people in her corner, standing in contrast with Hodaka, who was a runaway and arrived in Tokyo alone. However, when Suzume spots something unusual outside, and her friends fail to see anything out of the ordinary, her friends begin to wonder if she’s alright. I imagine that interacting with the phenomenon may have made her aware of the impending disaster, and with the phenomenon becoming more prominent by the minute, Suzume runs off.

  • Suzume no Tojimari‘s soundtrack is jointly composed by RADWIMPS and Kazuma Jinnouchi: the latter had previously worked on the music in Ghost in the ShellRWBY and Star Wars: Visions. RADWIMPS’ compositions resemble the music they’d previously provided for Your Name and Weathering With You, whereas Jinnouchi’s pieces sound like they’d belong in a historical drama and at times, have aural elements that evoke memories of Yūki Yūna is a Hero. The contrast between the two styles creates a much richer collection of incidental music, capturing a wide range of emotions and feelings accompanying each scene.

  • The effects here in Suzume no Tojimari remind me a great deal of Agame from Misaki no Mayoiga; in that film there’d been a mythological component that was built out into the story, but it always did feel like a tangential piece until near the film’s climax. Here in Suzume no Tojimari, the idea of a supernatural force triggering calamities is introduced right out of the gates to emphasise that it has a much larger role here. However, without a bit more context, I would prefer to see how Suzume no Tojimari unfolds, rather than speculate on things made on assumptions drawn from this preview.

  • Upon returning to the abandoned structure at the heart of the old onsen village, Suzume finds Sōta there, doing his utmost to close the door that had opened. The moment is a perilous one and speaks to the stakes within this film; Your Name and Weathering With You had progressed more slowly, but Children Who Chase Lost Voices had Asuna experience danger early on in the film after she meets Shin and ends up coming face to face with a paramilitary force tasked with finding the entrance to Agartha. Because of how things have unfolded in Suzume no Tojimari‘s first twelve minutes, I am going to guess that Suzume no Tojimari will resemble Children Who Chase Lost Voices in some way.

  • Because I only have twelve minutes of insight, it’s hard to say whether or not Suzume no Tojimari will make extensive use of Japanese mythology. I’ve long felt that such aspects should only be present to enhance the viewer’s experience, and for folks who don’t have familiarity with these areas, a given work shouldn’t punish them. Not everyone agrees with this: AnimeSuki’s Verso Sciolto, for instance, believed that a deep knowledge of Japanese mythology, folklore and culture were needed to enjoy Shinkai’s movies, but ended up being wrong on all counts.

  • Owing to Shinkai’s past successes, I would imagine that publishers will want to keep Suzume no Tojimari in theatres for as long as possible. Both Your Name and Weathering With You saw their respective home releases come out a full eleven months after their theatrical première, so the next time I write about this film will be in October of next year. The twelve minute preview represents about ten percent of Suzume no Tojimari‘s full runtime, and while it, fortuitously, does not spoil any events late into the movie, acts as a fantastic way to give prospective viewers a glimpse of what’s upcoming and establish what’s about to go down. Readers have my word that I will, to the best of my ability, return to right about this movie once the home release becomes available.

While the strength of Suzume no Tojimari‘s thematic elements and character growth remains to be seen (a twelve minute trailer isn’t enough to gain a measure of how well-written and cohesive the narrative is), the preview also shows that Shinkai’s craft remains impressive. Water remains a central motif in Shinkai’s films, and right out of the gates, is used to create a sense of surrealism, as well as showcase the improvements in real-time reflections. Ruins and abandonments provide a chance to illustrate overgrowth and decay of human constructs in vivid detail, in addition to demonstrating illumination effects like volumetric lighting and dynamic shadows. Shinkai’s films have developed a reputation for being visual spectacles that stand among some of the finest in the industry, and as the technology improves with his studio’s craft, Shinkai will be able to do more. The visual fidelity in his films is one of the main reasons why I’m so keen on Shinkai exploring a greater range of settings: having already established that Tokyo looks amazing with The Garden of Words, Your Name and Weathering With You, I’ve long been curious to see how other regions of Japan (and potentially, the world) would look if given the Makoto Shinkai treatment. The ceiling remains limitless, and on this note, it would be fantastic for Shinkai to return to the science fiction and thriller genres in a future work, as well. In the meantime, with Suzume no Tojimari‘s theatrical première in Japan, I expect that the film will see an international release in the new year. I do not anticipate watching it in local theatres owing to the fact that nine out of ten times, the screenings will be scheduled in way that’s inconvenient for myself, but once the home releases become available, I will definitely make an effort to watch the film and share my thoughts on it. This is estimated to be eleven months away, so in the meantime, I will be turning my attention to another anime film that recently released.