The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

PuraOre! Pride of Orange: Review and Impressions After Three

Me work hard five days a week, sweeping garbage from the street
Come home not want book to read, not ’nuff pictures for me see
Sit right down in favourite chair, wearing only underwear
Favourite night is Saturday night, ’cause me can watch hockey fights
Me Like Hockey!

–Arrogant Worms, Me Like Hockey

When the Crochet Club’s members, Manaka, Ayaka, Mami and Kaoruko learn of ice hockey lessons being held at the local arena, they decide to check it out. They are surprised that their instructor, Yōko, seems to be tasking them with dance moves as well, but when they get onto the ice, they are impressed with how exciting the experience is. Along the way, Manaka, Ayaka, Mami and Kaoruko meet Riko and Naomi, two former ice hockey players who are getting back into things at Riko’s insistence. After a thrilling first class, Manaka and her friends decide to come back, and the next weekend, after helping with a filming session at the Mizusawa’s ryōkan, the TV crew swing by the arena, as well. However, Mami is a little disheartened after their second session: she’s transferring away during the next term. Once her friends learn of this, Manaka suggests that they give Mami one final parting gift, in the form of a hockey game against a local team. After training for this day, Manaka and her team are annihilated 9-1 (Manaka manages to score in the game’s final moments), but have a great time. On the day of Mami’s departure, everyone sees her off, and although Manaka is noticeably absent, she ends up riding out to bid Mami a farewell. This is PuraOre! Pride of Orange (PuraOre! from here on out for brevity): this anime comes as a bit of a pleasant surprise for hockey fans, presenting an introduction to the sport of ice hockey, which is a minor sport in Japan compared to baseball and soccer. PuraOre! is produced by CAAnimation and C2C; the latter had been involved with Hitori Bocchi and Harukana Receive, both of which were solid series from a technical standpoint. In particular, Harukana Receive had been particularly good with its art and animation throughout the series, and this sets a positive precedence for the hockey that viewers will see as PuraOre! continues. However, for the time being, despite being a hockey anime, PuraOre! has placed more emphasis on character growth as opposed to the sport itself.

The approach in PuraOre! is appropriate for viewers who are newer to hockey: much as series like K-On!, Yama no Susume, Yuru Camp△, Koisuru Asteroid and Houkago Teibou Nisshi had done before, PuraOre! has elected to set the table and establish the friendship between Manaka, Ayaka, Mami and Kaoruko, as well as the fact that Naomi and Riko had previously played ice hockey. This is a deliberate choice to allow viewers the chance to see how their stories began, and show how everyone is off the ice. For hockey fans familiar with things like the National Hockey League or Team Canada, PuraOre! is going to come across as being very slowly-paced, to the point of raising the question of whether or not this is an anime about ice hockey, or an anime with ice hockey as an aside: compared to the fast-paced plays of the NHL, or the unrivaled joy of watching Canadian teams take home gold on the world stage, PuraOre! portrays a group and their humble beginnings. Manaka and her friends can skate, but this is about the extent of their experience on the ice, and in their first game against another team, Manaka and her teammates barely even skate to create openings. Seeing things begin at the very beginning means accepting, and embracing the fact that Manaka and her friends aren’t going to have any special plays, will fan on shots and miscommunicate: this is actually a part of PuraOre!‘s charm, since it gives newcomers a chance to pick up ice hockey’s rules and terminology. While I’m somewhat familiar with ice hockey, having become a fan ever since Jerome Iginla and the Calgary Flames went on a spectacular Stanley Cup run during the 2003-2004 season, it is understandable that PuraOre! is progressing so slowly: Harukana Receive had done the same thing by introducing viewers to beach volleyball with Haruka and Kanata playing against Narumi and Ayasa, before introducing new characters to help them improve as players. PuraOre! is set on a similar trajectory, and with Yū Kiyose joining Manaka and the others, things are also looking to pick up.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Japan’s women’s national ice hockey team is the team that represents them at all international events, and in the IIHF, they are currently ranked sixth: ice hockey might be a minor sport in Japan, but their team still plays solid hockey. With this being said, the choice to show Manaka and the Dream Monkeys beating Team Canada is a bit of symbolism: Canada is known for ice hockey and for producing some of the greatest players around (e.g. Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid come to mind), so to see Japan overcoming Canada in a game was PuraOre!‘s way of showing how far Manaka and her team had come.

  • When PuraOre! began, I wondered if this would be a series that I could blog in an episodic fashion. After the first episode concluded, it felt more appropriate to write for this series in my usual manner: episodic posting is quite demanding when done correctly, and requires a blogger to continuously piece together where a series is going while keeping the big picture in mind. For me, unless a series is one I’m inherently familiar with or consistently offers new material to consider, I find it’s much better to write about things periodically.

  • A large portion of the first episode is spent in the crochet club’s room, but once Manaka and her friends hit the local arena, the hockey piece to PuraOre! begins. Manaka’s expression says it all here, and so far, her personality traits are an amalgamation of K-On!‘s Yui, GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and Koisuru Asteroid‘s Mira: she’s endlessly cheerful and optimistic. Conversely, her younger sister, Ayaka, is similar to Azusa and Chino. Familiar archetypes are often a problem for folks, but I’ve long held that this is to the anime’s advantage: rather than worrying about setting up individual characters, it frees up writers to focus on interpersonal dynamics and storytelling.

  • The Dream Monkey’s mascot greets Manaka and her friends upon their arrival, and Yōko also introduces herself. Yōko is a bit of a boisterous and dramatic individual, bringing to mind Wake Up, Girls‘ very own Junko Tange. However, whereas Junko is voiced by Noriko Hidaka, Yōko is voiced by Mikako Komatsu (Jan from Tari Tari, Miuna of Nagi no Asukara, The Aquatope on White Sand‘s Kaoru, Saki from Girls und Panzer and Momoko from Magia Record). The younger girls are all played by newer voice actresses that I’m not terribly familiar with. On the topic of mascots, if and when I’m asked, Harvey the Hound is my favourite NHL mascot bar none.

  • Once introductions are done, the girls get to their first session. Here, Yōko starts the class with stretching drills, which are almost immediately spotted as being dance moves in all but name, hinting at the fact that there is more to their version of ice hockey than putting pucks on net and teamwork. After stretching concludes, it’s time for the main event: Manaka and the others head off to get changed for their first experience on ice.

  • Unlike Manaka and her friends, Riko (left) and Naomi (right) have prior hockey experience, so being here is a return to the ice for them. The others marvel at the equipment, and Yōko’s assistant, Sō, remarks that while hockey is a very physical sport, body checking is prohibited under their rules. Generally speaking, a check is a technique for separating an opposing player from the puck, and while the NHL allows for body checks on players with the puck, under IIHF rules for women’s hockey, such a hit is illegal and would be punished by a minor penalty. Instead, there are other modes (e.g. poke checks and stick checks) which are used to interfere with the opponent’s possession.

  • For now, checking is above the girls’ skill levels: their initial exercise is to get a feel for skating around on the ice. Fortunately, PuraOre! establishes that everyone’s taken skating lessons previously and are therefore able to move around on the ice without problem. This takes away the need to train everyone from zero and allows the story to push forward a little more quickly. Harukana Receive had done something similar: while Haruka is a novice in beach volleyball, she is very athletic and is familiar with volleyball, allowing her to pick things up more smoothly.

  • Once the basics are in place, Yōko sets the girls up with their sticks so they can begin passing drills. The experience excites and impresses Manaka, who’s smitten with ice hockey and becomes enthusiastic to continue on with the lessons, which happen weekly. Back at the Crochet Club, Manaka can be seen perusing a book on ice hockey when the others are doing club activities. The sharp contrast between the two activities is likely a visual means of conveying to viewers how far Manaka and the others have to go before they’re ready to play at a more competitive level.

  • As it turns out, after Naomi lost interest and switched over to figure skating, Riko followed suit, feeling that she wouldn’t be able to continue on her own. This is probably a sign that despite her cheerful demenour, Riko is the sort of individual who isn’t very confident and worries about losing people around her. It’s certainly not a fair assessment to belittle Riko for it, as some have chosen to do: the characters of PuraOre! are middle school students, a time when social interactions are very important. I am of the mind that, especially as viewers with a bit more life experience, it would actually be quite immature to judge anime characters for the decisions that they make.

  • Instead, my approach towards a given anime is to make an honest attempt at understanding why characters make the decisions that they do, and determine how this fits into the overall themes. Complaining about minutiae, especially this early in the game, contributes nothing to discussions. Here, Manaka and her friends prepare to introduce the TV crew to the family ryōkan. The shoot goes very well, and the TV crew even agree to go check out the local arena when the girls head for practise. Yōko is thrilled with this, and despite her antics, she does offer some inspiring words on what makes ice hockey worthwhile.

  • However, things quickly go south when Mami reveals she’s set to transfer away, leaving Manaka devastated. Something similar had happened in Koisuru Asteroid, although there, Ao ended up managing to negotiate an alternate arrangement that allowed her to stay with Mira. Conversely, in PuraOre!, Mami’s departure is inevitable, and once the initial shock wears off, Manaka, Ayaka and Kaoruko decide that Mami should spend one more memorable moment with everyone: playing their first-ever match against another team.

  • Meanwhile, Riko manages to convince Naomi to pick up ice hockey anew by treating her to sweets at the local confectionary store. Insofar, while bits and pieces of her and Riko’s story have been presented, I imagine that there is more to things. Traditionally, anime present the idea that it is only be through being forward about one’s feelings that certain conflicts are resolved, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if those elements return later. For now, Riko’s managed to get Naomi back into things, enough to have

  • With Manaka, Ayaka, Kaoruko, Riko, Naomi and Mami, there’s enough people for Yōko to begin assigning positions. She’s just as excited about the match as the girls are, but for Yōko, being able to revive interest in ice hockey and promote the sport in her own manner seems to be her goal. In the end, Kaoruko becomes the goaltender, Mami and Manaka play as wingers (offensive players who score goals or make plays that lead to goals), and Ayaka and Naomi take defensive positions. With her experience, Riko is assigned the centre, who can cover more ice than the left or right wing and create plays by passing: in fact, a centre is more defense oriented than the wingers because of their flexibility.

  • While visiting the ryōkan with Naomi and Riko, Manaka remarks that making memories is what their main goal is now: while everyone’s been training for their first matchup, their main concern is to create something noteworthy for Mami before she leaves. Here, Naomi also reveals that despite her quiet disposition, she’s also got a fondness for manga, and immediately opens up when she spots that the ryōkan has her favourite series on hand. Naomi is rather similar to Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Mimori Tōgō in this regard; both are taciturn and serious, but when the topic of their interest is brought up, they light up like a Christmas tree.

  • Ahead of their inaugural game, Ayaka and Mami unveil a banner for the Dream Monkeys. This first match is strictly a practise round, and I am reminded of Girls und Panzer, where Miho and her team have a practise match against Darjeeling and the St. Gloriana Academy. However, whereas Girls und Panzer eventually gave Miho an ironclad reason to fight for her school, and Harukana Receive is about Kanata picking herself back up and facing off against her former partner at the nationals to show she found her way, it remains to be seen whether or not PuraOre! will do the same: Manaka and her friends aren’t playing for keeps right now, so it will be interesting to see whether the stakes increase later on.

  • For a training match, the usual rules of hockey are modified: periods are shortened to ten minutes, although since Manaka’s group only has six players in total, they must play for the whole of the period without stoppage. Normally, teams are composed of a minimum of twenty players and no more than twenty-three, with at least two goaltenders. This is to allow players to play in shifts: owing to the high intensity in hockey, players will play for an average of 47 seconds before returning to the bench. For this match, the lack of additional players mean that Manaka’s team was fated to lose.

  • After the opening faceoff, the other team immediately sets about burying Manaka’s team, scoring several goals in rapid succession. Whether it was a limitation in the animation or inexperience from Manaka’s team, it appears they’re standing still. Because hockey is a high-paced sport about positioning and movement, players must skate in order to continue tracking the puck and make plays. When players stand still, this creates no such opportunity. There are cases where one should hold a position (e.g. when playing defensively during a short-handed situation), but at this point, PuraOre! has not reached that point.

  • The end result of pitting a moderately experienced group against novices results in what is colloquially referred to as a a “blowout”. There is no standardised definition for what makes a blowout, but in the NHL, the largest such game occurred in 1944 when the Detroit Red Wings buried the New York Rangers 15-0. The Calgary Flames’ worst loss occurred against the Vancouver Canucks in 1992, where we were handed a 11-0 defeat. For Manaka and the others, the overwhelming difference is demoralising, but towards the end of the game, Manaka trips after scoring on the rebound, marking her first goal in any match of the season.

  • The other team remarks that seeing Manaka and others in fine spirits after playing their first game was a little surreal, and this gives Mami one final happy memory of everyone together before she moves. On the day of, everyone’s come to see her off, although Manaka is noticeably absent from the proceedings. Manaka and Mami’s departure is a dramatic one, with the former showing up right as the train pulls away from the station.

  • Given the nature of anime, I am guessing that Mami and Manaka will end up playing one another at some point in PuraOre!: playing against former teammates can be emotionally charged, and I am reminded of the time when then-captain Mark Giordano almost got into a fight with former Calgary Flame Jerome Iginla during one game back in 2017. Being an anime, hockey fights are decisively off the table, but having Mami and Manaka playing against one another could really fire the two up in ways they’d not imagined. For now, a new player, Yū, will join the team and take Mami’s place: it’ll take a little bit of time for her to acclimatise to Manaka, Ayaka and Kaoruko, but I expect that once she settles in, the team will really be able to begin exploring new directions. In the meantime, since the 2021-2022 NHL season is live, I look forwards to seeing how the Flames perform. While we had a rough start, after yesterday’s overtime win over the Capitals,

One other aspect of note is that PuraOre! plainly written for a Japanese market: during the game shown in the series’ very opening, Manaka and the Dream Monkeys manage to score a game-winning goal against a Canadian team with mere seconds on the clock, and then in their victory celebration, they give an idol-like performance on-ice. Firstly, Canadian teams consistently beaten Japan whenever they play. Secondly, while goals are possible in a game’s dying moments, in a tie game, players will often adopt a more defensive approach and allow the clock to wind down: a sudden-death overtime setup would’ve made the moment more exciting. Finally, I’ve certainly never seen anything like this in any NHL or international game before, and this aspect was, more than likely, meant to help PuraOre! sell image albums. The approach seems a little gratuitous, but previously, Uma Musume had employed a similar approach with the horse girls and also managed to engage me with the sport of horse racing. One can’t fault PuraOre! in taking this route: most Japanese viewers aren’t likely to be as familiar with ice hockey as viewers over here, and PuraOre! does feel like it is intended to accommodate folks who are new to hockey in its earlier episodes. However, as with Uma Musume and Harukana Receive before it, once the basics are done, PuraOre! has plenty of opportunity to engage and excite viewers with its story of Manaka and her friends’ journey through ice hockey, as well as increasingly sophisticated plays and deepening feelings of camaraderie as everyone gets to know one another better. As it stands, I’m rather excited to see where PuraOre! ends up, and I will note that as a Flames fan, I will be making references to my favourite team when I continue on with this series. For now, I intend to return once the whole of PuraOre! is in the books, but if the series continues to offer a great deal of hockey to talk about, I could see myself returning periodically to offer my thoughts on things.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and An Unexpected Road to Friendship

“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” –Thomas J. Watson

When Bocchi graduates from primary school and enters middle school, her best friend, Kai, determines that they shan’t be friends again until the shy and withdrawn Bocchi can befriend everyone in her new class. This seems an insurmountable mountain to climb for Bocchi, who cannot even speak to strangers without getting the dry heaves. On her first day of class at middle school, she manages to strike up a conversation with Nako, who comes to care for Bocchi. Over time, Bocchi ends up befriending the vice representative, Aru, and the foreign student, Sotoka. While Bocchi finds herself unable to convince Kako to hang out with her, she gradually becomes more familiar with her classmates, and so, enters her second year of middle school with a bit more confidence. This is Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu (alternatively, Hitori Bocchi no ○○ Seikatsu, or The Life of Being Alone), a Manga Time Kirara adaptation that aired during the spring 2019 season. While I did have plans to watch Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, procrastination caused me to sit on this for months, and then years. Fortunately, with a bit of open time now that my schedule’s settled down, I’ve decided it was time to give Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu a go, and for my time, I was met with an anime that is adorable, telling a whimsical and honest story about how friendship comes about. The premise and setup in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu appears trite at first glance. Bocchi brings to mind Azumanga Daioh‘s Osaka, while Nako is not dissimilar to Yuyushiki‘s Yui. Likewise, Sotoka is Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen. Familiar character archetypes in a purely school setting sets the stage for familiar antics and experiences. However, this is only what the premise conveys; in practise, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a fantastic job of having the characters bounce off one another with their eccentricities, and in the end, contrary to the initial impressions the anime might suggest, the final result is a very rewarding one.

The goal Kai sets for Bocchi is one that appears unbeatable; befriending every last person in class is something that most folks typically won’t consider, since it implies forming a larger social circle than is typical of people of that age group, and indeed, even the folks considered popular usually do not make aquaintances of everyone in their class. Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu chooses to show how this Herculean task has humble beginnings: Bocchi starts out by talking to Nako, and while Nako may appear to be harsh, she’s actually considerate, taking the time to look after Bocchi and patiently walks Bocchi through her troubles. Bocchi herself is friendly, despite being shy, and as Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu progresses, it is clear that Bocchi could succeed in her task; she’s pursuing interpersonal connections to those around her for the sake of getting to know others better, and this falls under the realm of likeability. It is generally stated that popularity is built around likeability and social status. The former refers to how well one gets along with others, and how well others trusts one. Someone who builds relationships around this aspect will be inclined to listen to others. Social status, on the other hand, refers to envy (or admiration) for others. While building relationships around status gives the impression of success, it also entails being controlling, dismissive and unkind: I recall the cliques in high school, during which the popular students were centred around a handful of likeable individuals for clout. While the people at the centre of these cliques were respectable and reasonably kind to those around them, the followers were considerably less so; people who build relationships around status tend to find it difficult to maintain meaningful connections to others, but fortunately, in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Bocchi is not doing anything for status: she genuinely wishes for solid connections to those around her, and while the anime has her definitively friends with Nako, Aru and Sotoka, by the season’s end, she’s beginning to get along with more people in her class, as well: Bocchi’s definitely acting in a likeable manner, and those whom she befriends will likely stick around.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Bocchi’s journey begins, she starts out with zero friends and only the vaguest idea of how to communicate with people: Bocchi figures it’s a good idea to employ some unorthodox strategies, but these all end up backfiring. Without any outs, Bocchi is forced to introduce herself to others, and while Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that she’s vomiting out of stress, the reactions of those around her suggest that Bocchi is dry heaving rather than vomiting; no shirts are ruined, and no custodians are called in to clean up the associated mess.

  • It is the case that stress and anxiety can induce dry heaves, so this aspect of Bocchi’s character is not particularly unrealistic or implausible, even if Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does exaggerate its characters’ traits. After summoning the courage to speak with Nako, Bocchi ends up befriending Aru, as well. One of the most pleasant side effects of Bocchi’s attempts to get to know everyone better means that those around Bocchi also end up becoming friends; Nako and Aru most certainly do not get along, but initially set aside their differences for Bocchi’s sake. Over time, the pair get a long better, although Nako remains fond of pressing Aru’s buttons late into the series (all in good fun, of course).

  • While Aru is occasionally busy with club activities, Nako has more time on her hands, and one weekend, decides to swing by Bocchi’s place. Bocchi’s idiosyncrasies are a little unusual, as evidenced when she wears a full bear costume while hosting Nako. Nako seems to take everything in stride, and while some of Bocchi’s antics are exasperating, Nako also comes to appreciate that at heart, Bocchi is kind and capable: she just needs a little push to be on her way: she’s voiced by Chisaki Morishita, whose roles in other anime are ones I’m not familiar with. Conversely, Minami Tanaka plays Nako, and I know her from Wake Up, Girls (Minami Katayama), Hanayamata (Hana N. Fountainstand) and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (Himeno Toyokawa).

  • Sotoka is the classic foreign student with a very curious understanding of Japanese culture: like Karen from Kiniro Mosaic, Sotoka makes certain assumptions, leading her to view Bocchi as a ninjutsu expert of sorts. This misunderstanding lingers throughout much of Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, but initially, the unusual dynamic between Bocchi and Sotoka also means that Bocchi also has the chance to hang out with one more person: Sotoka is fond of learning ninjutsu, and while Bocchi is no ninja, she does pass along some curious skills to Sotoka, including origami.

  • One cannot help but feel bad for Aru (Akari Kitō, Kaho Hinata from Blend S and Harukana Receive‘s Ai Tanahara): despite her attempts to maintain a confident and successful air about her, she’s also said to be “unfortunate”, which really gets on her nerves (to the point where she flies at Nako whenever Nako pokes fun at her). While 残念 (Hepburn zannen) corresponds to “unlucky”, Aru’s circumstance is probably better described as a “loser”: she somehow manages to kit herself out in a grade schooler’s uniform and resorts to increasingly desperate measures to conceal this. While it works on a few people, Nako sees right through things, forcing Aru to go home and change.

  • The characters’ names are all puns on their leading trait. Bocchi’s full name, Hitori Bocchi, means “alone”, Sunao Nako is a play on the phrase “honest child”, Honshō Aru is “true nature” and Rakita Sotoka is a pun on “outsider”. Some folks had a tough time working out why everyone’s names were puns and how this related to Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s main themes; this is, fortunately, a simple enough exercise. Everyone is named after their defining characteristics, and their name thus gives insight as to their circumstances. The variety of situations, when placed together, creates a rather colourful set of experiences for everyone, showing how friendships can form among the most disparate of individuals.

  • If and when I’m asked, Aru is my favourite character: her cheerful personality and efforts to overcome adversity, especially in light of her poor luck, is admirable. It suddenly strikes me that the misfortune that Aru experiences is relatively minor (usually, losing bets or similar); when it comes down to the wire, Aru is helpful and supportive of those around her. The traits surrounding each character’s namesake are not debilitating in any way, and a major part of the charm in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is the fact that none of the characters suffer unnecessarily.

  • I’ve never been fond of series where a given character is made the in-show punching bag, and Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu mitigates this by having the characters be supportive of one another. Here, Bocchi recoils at a karaoke session. What happens next shows the extent of Kai’s desire to see Bocchi reach her goal: the pair meet at the same karaoke bar, but Kai adamantly refuses to even acknowledge Bocchi, causing Bocchi no small amount of distress. It turns out this was just as hard on Kai as it was for Bocchi, and fortunately, Bocchi’s small circle of friends do end up supporting her.

  • In this way, it is clear that Bocchi’s journey forward is about how well she can overcome whatever setbacks she may face; with everyone in her corner, Bocchi’s journey is no longer one she must undertake herself. This moment, of Sotoka carrying Bocchi, demonstrates the sort of artwork present in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu – from a technical standpoint, the anime is middle-of-the-road, offering smooth animation and consistent artwork. Where the anime stands out is how the voice actresses play their part to bring their characters to life.

  • Kako is probably the toughest challenge for Bocchi: unlike Bocchi, who wishes to further herself by building up new connections, Kako is the polar opposite and believes that the best way ahead is to be independent, relying on no one. This is why Kako refuses to be friends with Bocchi: it’s got nothing to do with any shortcomings on Bocchi’s part, but rather, the personal code that Kako has set for herself. While this is unusual (no-one is an island, after all), it means that Kako is the perfect foil for Bocchi.

  • Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does an excellent job of showing how being likeable (exhibiting politeness, empathy and a willingness to listen) is more important in maintaining good interpersonal relationships than status alone. In popularity, likeability and status are the two leading factors; the latter entails traits that make one appear more respectable or impressive, requiring one keep up appearances all the time. While Aru is prone to doing precisely this, I like her character precisely because she shows her true self around Bocchi and the others.

  • However, Aru’s desire to be seen as doing alright often means she will go out of her way to help others. Altogether, being more honest about herself and doing good will likely result in Aru learning to accept herself while, at the same time, continuing to do right by those around her. When Bocchi messes up during a home economics class, Aru steps in to help Bocchi: this action is seen by others as a sign of how well-adjusted Aru is, but she’s primarily helping out because she wants Bocchi to be happy, as well. The sum of these actions help two of Bocchi’s teammates, Peko and Ito, become friends with her later on.

  • While Kako might refuse to count herself as a friend to Bocchi and her crew, this doesn’t stop her from agreeing to team up with Bocchi on a class trip. It’s clear that of the two facets of popularity, Bocchi (and Nako) are spurred on by likeability: they do the things that make them more approachable to others. Looking back, I always approached friendship from the likeability side, and I’ve always preferred maintaining a small group of close friends, with whom I could confide in about various matters, as opposed to having a much larger social circle.

  • When I entered university out of high school, I ended up following a very similar route that Bocchi took: I made friends with exactly one of my classmates during orientation, and as term wore on, and there was a chance to work with different people, our social circles grew. One of the topics we took, Christopher Boorse’s Health as a Theoretical Concept, galvinised the entire class into working together, and after my first year ended, while I couldn’t say I was friends with every one of my classmates, I could say that I became acquainted with everyone to the point where we could talk about both coursework and other matters. I’m not sure this satisfies Kai’s expectations for Bocchi, but being on good terms with my entire graduating class (around ninety students) was a fun experience.

  • Back in high school, assuming my memories are still accurate, while I wasn’t in popular clique or anything, I found that I got along fine with most people (save those with a profound interest in activism), and maintained friendships with a comparatively smaller group of people that I still am in contact with today. Ironically, I actually do have a few friends now that I’d met because I’d unintentionally antagonised them, although we made amends on short order and ended up with amusing stories to tell. I imagine that this will naturally happen with Nako and Aru, although since it is relatively early in the game, Aru instinctively jumps into Nako every time the latter mentions the word “unfortunate”, resulting in some visual humour.

  • As a general rule, I don’t like making enemies of people because antagonising others always requires twice as much effort. Conversely, being nice to people comes quite naturally and entails almost no effort beyond approaching someone and making their day brighter. Here, Sotoka, Aru, Bocchi and Nako make acquaintances of Mayo, who hails from a wealthy family; her parents are always working, and she’s somewhat lonely, but after encountering Bocchi, Mayo becomes curious about Bocchi and suggests that Bocchi take up a job of making paper cranes. Thanks to Sotoka’s skill, they manage to make a bunch.

  • In the end, Mayo joins Bocchi’s group of friends, sharing a day with them. She later writes to her parents, saying that she’s made new friends, but also would appreciate it if her parents could make some time for her. With this, Bocchi is one step closer to her goal of befriending every single person in her class: towards the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, the rate at which Bocchi befriends others increases: she manages to convince Sotoka that they’ve been friends the whole time, as well. This isn’t too surprising, since she’s gotten over the initial hurdle, and now, has a group of people in her corner to support her goals. Along the way, Bocchi has also brought others together.

  • As Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu sees Bocchi enter her second year, she acquires a smartphone, allowing her to better keep in touch with her friends. While smartphones are superior to feature phones in terms of functionality, feature phones (flip phones) remain relatively common in Japan owing to their durability and ability to hold a charge. In anime, smartphones are slowly displacing feature phones: everyone in Yuru Camp△, for instance, rock iPhones. In having Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu transition over to smartphones, then, the anime is suggesting that technology might be integral in helping Bocchi on her quest.

  • The finale has Bocchi successfully pin a corsage on a graduating third year student, and finding an uncommonly cheerful Kako who’s afflicted with a fever. Despite her stoic mannerisms, Kako is grateful that Bocchi goes to the lengths that she does to ensure everyone’s alright. If memory serves, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s manga began in 2013 and finished running this year – any continuation of the series in anime form would probably have Bocchi befriend Kako towards the end and reunite with Kai a changed person, better equipped with navigate the complex social networks of the world.

  • Where the anime ends remains satisfactory: overall, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu earns a B+ grade in my books (3.3 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten-point system, eight points). Despite being a seemingly unassuming anime set in a mundane setting, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a wonderful job of showing how chance meetings can precipitate something much bigger. The anime thus exceeds my expectations for this Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is not terrible by any stretch, although my propensity towards procrastination are, and I imagine that I’ll only get worse from here on out as I become busier.

Ultimately, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that the first step of the journey is always the hardest. It takes several episodes for Bocchi to open up to Nako, but once she does, she’s able to slowly get to know Aru better, as well. Similarly, Bocchi and Sotoka realise that they’re as close as friends are, and openly acknowledge one another as such. As Bocchi becomes more connected to the first group of friends she’s had outside of Kai, she is able to reach out to and interact with others in her class. While Kako is a special case (and reluctantly joins Bocchi’s group anyways), Bocchi manages to even strike up conversations with Mayo, a girl from a rich family, along with Peko and Ito, who were in Bocchi’s home economics group. The initial chat with Nako thus sets in motion a series of fortunate events for Bocchi, and while she still has a long way to go before she can speak in front of a crowd with confidence, at the very least, Bocchi is starting to mature and appreciate that her classmates are generally friendly and warm people who enjoy her company as much as she enjoys theirs. Things do speed up towards Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s final few episodes; the series suggests to viewers that having now taken her first steps, Bocchi’s future is a bit more exciting and bright than she’d imagined it to be. Leaving this anime, one can therefore be confident that whatever happens next, Bocchi has good company in her corner: her own increasing comfort around others, coupled with support from Nako, Aru, Sotoka, Mayo, Peko and Ito, will be a valuable asset in helping her to overcome her own limits and fulfil a promise to Kai, who, despite her cold reception towards Bocchi, very much gives the indicator that she wishes for Bocchi’s success, as well. It’s certainly an optimistic message, and consequently, I am happy to say that I had a great time with Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu: this is another one of those cases where, my tendencies to procrastinate notwithstanding, I should make an effort to check out the series in my backlog where possible, as there are many solid anime dating back many years that are quite worthwhile to watch.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Or, Every Breath I Take Without Your Permission Raises My Self-Esteem

“They’ll just send in some special ops douchebags with pussy-ass heartbeat monitors on their guns, instead of us.” –Terrence Sweetwater, Battlefield: Bad Company 2

After university student Kazuya Kinoshita is dumped by his girlfriend, Mami Nanami, he falls into a depression and signs up for a rental girlfriend programme via smartphone app. He is assigned Chizuru Mizuhara, a kindhearted and beautiful girl, but when he realises that the date felt hollow, rates her poorly. The next date they go on, Chizuru takes Kazuya to the woodshed, but things are cut short when Kazuya learns his grandmother was hospitalised. He brings Chiruzu with him and inadverdently creates a misunderstanding in which his grandmother, and Chizuru’s grandmother, assume the pair are dating. The pair try to break things off while at the same time, remain tactful to their grandmothers, who would be heartbroken to learn that their relationship was a scam. However, things become increasingly complex when other rental girlfriends appear and begin falling for Kazuya, who’s come to genuinely fall in love with Chizuru, who took up the rental girlfriend post to better prepare for her aspiration of being an actress. This is Kanojo, Okarishimasu (Rent-A-Girlfriend, literally “I’d like to rent a girlfriend”), an anime that aired during the summer of 2020, and whose very presence had been lambasted to Hel and back by irate viewers who found the premise outlandish, the progression implausible, and Kazuya himself was infuriatingly single-minded and dense. Based purely on the voice of internet critics, Kanojo, Okarishimasu is an anime that would, on first glance, seem consigned to failure: over the course of twelve episodes, Kazuya continues to grovel at Chiruzu’s feet, disregarding the fact that Ruka and and Sumi have fallen head over heels for him. These critics argue that Kazuya is blind to his realities, and for acting in a way they’d certainly never act in, Kanojo, Okarishimasu has therefore failed as an anime. After all, folks watch stories to get inspired, and to see how people overcome their setbacks to become stronger and better learned, but Kanojo, Okarishimasu seemingly offers none of this. Week after week, Kazuya pursues Chizuru, hoping that his persistence and sincerity might one day change her mind, all the while trying to keep the lie from breaking their grandparents’ hearts and fending off suitors who’ve become attracted to Kazuya following his acts of kindness.

Unfortunately, the picture that some of the anime community’s most well-known members paint, with their tweets and MyAnimeList reviews, would have individuals believe that, on the basis that Kazuya isn’t acting in a rational way (i.e. how’d they’d react), the series is therefore unrealistic and not meritorious of being watched. The criticism that characters act differently to how the individual might given a set of circumstances is one I’ve often seen thrown around, although this approach is one lacking validity. A work of fiction is intended to convey a particular theme, and consequently, if a given character were to respond to something in a way that was rational, or conforming with what might be considered common sense, there’d be no lesson to learn, and no theme to convey. Kazuya’s lengthy list of shortcomings and mistakes drive Kanojo, Okarishimasu, and supposing that he enters the story with a modicum of confidence and self-respect, there’d be nothing to present, and no journey to embark on. The fact that he lacks these is what gives the series a reason to present his story. It is common knowledge that giving credence to internet critics, is the quickest way towards developing an incorrect, cynical and bitter view of the world: these individuals conveniently forget that Kanojo, Okarishimasu portrays a Kazuya at the beginning of his journey, someone indecisive, weak-willed and utterly lacking in confidence, that we see. In the knowledge that this series is to continue, then, there is always the prospect of a pay-off from watching Kazuya navigate the world of relationship and slowly improve his own sense of self-worth as he chases after the sharp-tongued Chizuru: the internet critics are inevitably too hasty in their judgement, and a second season will likely show a Kazuya who is better prepared to impress Chizuru, having learnt from his earlier mistakes. While perhaps a gross exaggeration of an unwillingness to date, Kazuya’s choices after Mami dumps him is not implausible, and his confidence is shaken to the core. It therefore stands to reason that a series of (hilarious) misunderstandings to help Kazuya understand why he desires a relationship, well beyond the physical aspects.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ll preface the discussion with the suggestion that, were such a service to exist in reality, I would be torn between using it and doing things the old-fashioned way. On one hand, being able to basically buy a guided tutorial on how to properly date would be great practise for when the moment comes where said experience would be helpful, but on the other hand, it’s not as though people fall into a list of procedures, and what works in one scenario may utterly fail in another. Relationships and dating requires finesse on a case-by-case basis, although I suppose that periodically shelling out the cash for this experience isn’t too different than practising one’s interviews.

  • With this in mind, I imagine that were I ever to write a mobile app for the purpose of connecting people with rental girlfriends, I likely find myself rejected by Apple’s review team for violating section 1.1.1 of their App Store Review Guidelines under objectionable content: what happens to Kazuya and Chizuru in Kanojo, Okarishimasu might be amusing for viewers, but such misfortune in real life would be very unfortunate. Further to this, my job description as an iOS developer does not entail wrecking peoples’ lives or making them unnecessarily complicated, so such an app would be outside the boundaries of what I’d consider to be ethical.

  • For this Terrible Anime Challenge post, my verdict is “the negative reception to Kanojo, Okarishimasu anime is greatly exaggerated, and while I did not see enough merits in this anime to readily recommend it to my readers, I do not agree with the vitriol that was directed at the series was necessary, either”. In other words, while Kanojo, Okarishimasu isn’t going to be the next CLANNAD (or anything approaching thus), I see no need to belittle the authors or studio for having produced the anime. I had a moderate amount of fun watching this series and have an inkling of where it’s headed. It also helps that Chizuru is voiced by Sora Amamiya (KonoSub‘s very own Aqua and Akemi Sōryūin from Dumbbell Nan-Kilo Moteru?).

  • Kazuya reminds me of Rick and Morty‘s Jerry Smith, being excessively insecure and cowardly, while at the same time, being also kind-hearted and loyal to a fault. However, Jerry is only a secondary character, and his mistakes are typically contained to a given episode’s subplot. Conversely, Kazuya is the lead in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, and I’ve got my answer as to what would happen were Jerry to take a more active role in Rick and Morty. Having said this, much as I am optimistic that writers will have Kazuya undergo enough growth so Chiruzu no longer steps on him, I would hope that Rick and Morty‘s fifth season, at the very least, lessens the frequency where Jerry is made to act as the series’ punching bag: his misadventures are not funny.

  • Mami Nanami proved to be an interesting character: after chucking Kazuya for unknown reasons, she ends up developing a possessive streak a mile wide and forces her way back into his life, becoming genuinely frustrated that Kazuya seems genuinely infatuated with Chiruzu. I usually don’t take joy in watching characters suffer, but seeing Mami go yandere because of jealousy always puts a smile on my face.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu would disintigrate in the blink of an eye if Kazuya had any backbone: the reason why the series is able to create wild scenarios is because, out of concern for his and Chizuru’s grandmother, telling them the truth about their bogus relationship would be inconsolably disappointing for both, and he doesn’t have it in them to break their hearts in this fashion. Chizuru agrees to keep up with the façade for similar reasons, and while she plays her role as the girlfriend well when on duty, off-duty, she’s blunt, foul-mouthed and poor-tempered wherever Kazuya is concerned.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu certainly takes the pains of reminding viewers every so often how hot Chizuru is, to the point where Mami, herself sporting a good figure, becomes intimidated by Chizuru’s assets. With Kazuya’s personality, a part of me wonders if it would’ve been more effectual to have Kazuya fall in love with Chizuru on personality alone, since this could indicate that he was maturing past looking at a relationship as being purely for physical contact. Having different variables in play can serve to help a series make its point clear, but if too many variables exist, it becomes difficult to ascertain where a series intends to go.

  • One aspect about Kanojo, Okarishimasu that did strike me as a bit strange was the fact that the art quality would shift frequently, and inconsistently. While I understand the use of simplified, chalk-like background artwork for moments where Chizuru is kicking Kazuya’s ass, it becomes a bit more jarring when the lower-quality visuals are seen in more serious moments. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kanojo, Okarishimasu does demonstrate that it can have above-average artwork as well – this is most noticeable during the beach episodes, where the backgrounds and skies are of a much higher standard.

  • Like any drama, trouble is amplified when Ruka joins the party. Initially, Kazuya is surprised that his friend, Shun Kuribayashi, also seemingly has a girlfriend. Kanojo, Okarishimasu presents most of the males in Kazuya’s circle as being inexperienced with relationships but eager to pursue them for their own reasons, not fully understanding that a proper relationship is built on trust and stability over flashier things – I view a partner as someone whose presence makes me an even greater, more empathetic and understanding individual, someone who I can count on and be relied upon by, whom I listen to and offer suggestions for, and someone who would listen to me and offer me advice where needed.

  • Consequently, when Kanojo, Okarishimasu presents relationships in this shallow manner, it suggests that, at least at this point in time, Kazuya and his friends are not sufficiently mature to find someone who can offer that for them. I imagine that this is why Kazuya got burned by Mami prior to the series’ beginning – Mami had not been looking for the emotional parts of things and in fact, is suggested to mess around with men for kicks. Conversely, when Ruka is introduced, and she immediately deduces that Chizuru is a rental girlfriend, things get tricky for Kazuya real fast.

  • Kazuya is put into a bit of a bind when it turns out Ruka is in love with him: despite expressing open hostility towards him after their first meeting, after Kazuya saves her from a bad fall, Ruka begins to see the real Kazuya. I appreciate that the idea of anyone falling in love with someone as indecisive and cowardly as Kazuya can seem outlandish, but at the same time, the Kazuya we see just took a beating after Mami dumped him, so it is understandable that he would feel like he’s walking on eggshells around women.

  • My choice of page quote comes from Ruka and her unique heart condition: Kazuya’s been the only person able to elevate her heart rate, and for this, Ruka suspects that Kazuya’s special to her, worthy of pursuing. Of course, the joke here is that in a relationship, one doesn’t exactly need a heartbeat monitor to determine if they’re in love or no: it’s a very specific feeling that one would know when they’d experience it – if it were not apparent, I’d also spent the past long weekend playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2: it turns out that after reinstalling my OS, I’d lost my old save files, and so, I resolved to unlock everything again. I still occasionally revisit Bad Company 2‘s campaign for nostalgia’s sake, so I figured it be nice to have all the levels unlocked for that purpose.

  • While I’d love to share my Bad Company 2 adventures anew, this is a Kanojo, Okarishimasu post, and here, after Ruka demonstrates to Kazuya and Chizuru her feelings are authentic, Chiruzu suggests that he at least spend time with Ruka to see where things go. Despite her dislike for Kazuya, Chizuru does care for his well being and promises to keep an eye on him until he can get a proper girlfriend and finally be truthful to his grandmother. This scenario, however, imposes additional challenges for Kazuya: he’s fairly confident that he’s in love with Chizuru and feels it unfair to be leading Ruka on when he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings.

  • I imagine that Chizuru wants Kazuya to first regain his confidence around women, which is why she agrees to let Ruka spend time with him: for her, the best case is that Kazuya comes to appreciate Ruka and can stand on his own two feet. Of course, what this will really do is to help Kazuya rediscover his own confidence and face Chizuru better: Kanojo, Okarishimasu has made it quite clear that there’s a long and difficult road to Chizuru, and that every step of the way, Kazuya’s determination to set things right with her will lead her to come around.

  • With this in mind, there is a limit to what persistence can do, and in reality, if the magic isn’t there, it isn’t there. Fiction is fond of suggesting that enough grit can turn things around, but this is wishful thinking: relationships have an intangible component to them that isn’t readily quantified, and it can be difficult to put this in words. Consequently, I do feel bad for Ruka: she’s genuinely in love with Kazuya, but as the story dictates, heartbreak will likely await her. Ruka is voiced by none other than Nao Tōyama, whom my readers should know as Shimarin from Yuru Camp△ and Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujō, amongst other well-known roles.

  • Late in the series, Sumi Sakurasawa is introduced to Kanojo, Okarishimasu. Despite being uncommonly shy, she decides to take on the rental girlfriend job to prepare herself for a career as an idol and figures doing this would get her more comfortable with people. At Chizuru’s behest, Sumi goes on a few trial dates with Kazuya to better her skills. Their first date is fraught with challenges, including a couple of shady guys hassling her, and then Mami’s sudden arrival. In spite of Kazuya’s feeble efforts in fending them off, the sincerity of his actions convince Sumi that Kazuya’s the real deal.

  • Another familiar face from KonoSuba returns: Rie Takahashi (Megumin) voices Sumi. I also know her previous roles as Yuru Camp△‘s Ena Saitō. Altogether, while Kanojo, Okarishimasu does have a setup that could yield a worthwhile payoff later down the line, the challenge this series faced during its run is the fact that Kazuya’s growth happens very slowly: there’s no indicator that he’s more confident in himself by the series’ end, as he even ditches a date with Ruka to tail Chiruzu closer to Christmas when she hangs out with a coworker. A Kazyua coming to his own would have a little more faith in Chizuru and not do such things.

  • With everything in mind, Kanojo, Okarishimasu is very much an incomplete work, and the series would’ve likely worked better as a full-cour series spanning twenty four episodes, rather than be split into two seasons. This would’ve presented a much more complete picture than the current setup did, and while some words folks have thrown at Kanojo, Okarishimasu are unreasonably harsh, I appreciate that this series has been uncommonly frustrating owing to its pacing and Kazuya’s apparent lack of growth. However, it’s not all bad news bears for Kanojo, Okarishimasu: other viewers, likely those who empathise with Kazuya and his situation, found the series relatable.

  • As for where I sit on things, I would tend to believe that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a series where viewers would be better served if they waited for the second season before beginning their journey, although as I’ve noted earlier, I did find some enjoyment out of this chaotic, hectic series. While I concede that this series is not for a majority of viewers who are looking for a meaningful or moving romance, the series certainly doesn’t merit the insults directed at it, either. Concerning those who feel strongly about anime opinions enough to resort to such crude means, this post’s title is representative of my response to them, in addition to acting as a metaphor for Kazuya’s journey throughout Kanojo, Okarishimasu after Mami dumped him.

  • The line is inspired by a moment from Rick and Morty‘s fourth season, during which Rick begrudgingly attends a heist movie themed convention and publicly insults a figure known for heists in-universe during a panel. When the crowd boos him, Rick responds with this gem of a line: it is a clever and hilarious stab at certain fandoms, where some of the more vocal individuals vehemently object to any opinion not in alignment with their own. In this sense, my whole blog’s existence is an insult to them, and very much like Rick, every breath that I take without their permission raises my self-esteem. Moreover, said individuals’ criticisms of the anime that I find passable or enjoyable mean nothing, for I’ve seen what makes them cheer 😛

Unsurprisingly, twelve episodes is clearly not sufficient a timeframe to properly illustrate everything: at this point in time, it remains too early to determine whether or not Kanojo, Okarishimasu is worth watching. On one hand, watching Kazuya’s failures is fairly challenging: he acts in a way contrary to what one would expect, but on the flipside, the fact that there will be a second season somewhere in 2022 means that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is by no means complete, and to review the series at this point would be akin to discussing a hockey game when one team is leading 4-1 after two periods of play. Much as how anything can happen in the final period (most recently, the Edmonton Oilers were handed a devastating blow when they blew a 4-1 lead against the Winnipeg Jets and lost in overtime), anime can occasionally still find ways of surprising people. Kanojo, Okarishimasu is not an exception to this rule, and while at present, I would not give the series a glowing recommendation or suggest folks watch it out of curiosity (unless one is uncommonly tolerant, or looking for a good laugh), I’m also not going to stop them from checking the series out. In an anime dominated by Kazuya’s bad decisions, there are a handful of genuinely heartwarming moments, seeing Chizuru’s foul personality outside of her duties is always hilarious, and Mami’s yandere-like traits make seeing her recoil in jealousy in response to what Kazuya does is made all the more satisfying. Whether Kanojo, Okarishimasu manages to right itself by the second season and really focus on Kazuya’s pursuit of Chizuru remains to be seen, but at this point in time, it’s still early to be passing a verdict on whether or not Kanojo, Okarishimasu is, in the words of the internet critics, a train-wreck. In more civilised words, whether or not Kanojo, Okarishimasu paints a compelling picture with its theme is something that will require further exploration, and this, for better or worse, remains a ways off.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Kamisama ni Natta Hi and The Path To Pursuing What Counts

“History isn’t kind to men who play God.” –James Bond, No Time To Die

When a mysterious girl proclaiming herself God appears in front of high school student Yōta Narukami and declares that the world will end within a month, Yōta is skeptical. However, the girl, calling herself Hina Sato, manages to convince Yōta of her power by correctly deducing the outcome of a horse race, and she offers to help him pursue his feelings for Kyōko Izanami. While Yōta is initially irritated by Hina’s pompous and all-knowing attitude, he is shocked that his parents would allow Hina to stay with them. Over the course of the summer, Yōta comes to follow her suggestions as he tries to impress Kyōko and set in motion the events to help her accept her mother’s death, helps to revitalise a failing ramen shop, participate in Sora, his younger sister’s, film, attend a summer festival and even win a mahjong competition. Yōta learns that Hina had been abandoned as a child because of an untreatable neurodegenerative disorder, but her adoptive grandfather moved heaven and earth to create a quantum neural control interface that gave Hina a normal life, and moreover, his parents had agreed to look after Hina. Quite separately, Hiroto, a foreign computer systems prodigy, learns that Hina possesses a unique device far surpassing anything available to humanity, and when denied the opportunity to study it, realises he was being used and elects to help Hina. While Hina is captured towards the end of Sora’s filming project and taken away for surgery, Yōta is unable to move on and ends up pursuing a lead from Hiroto. Against all odds, he is able to find Hina, who is living at an assisted care facility. While he is initially unable to elicit a reaction from Hina, his unorthodox methods leads Hina to demonstrate that she still possesses memories of their time together during the previous summer. After Hina returns home, they watch Sora’s film together, and Yōta promises to be together with Hina no matter what challenges cross their path. This is Kamisama ni Natta Hi (The Day I Became a God), P.A. Works’ title for the fall season of 2020. With its intriguing premise and Ayane Sakura in the leading role, Kamisama ni Natta Hi drew my interest, only to drop off my radar as I became swamped with other matters and hit a roadblock with the introduction of mahjong. Kamisama ni Natta Hi thus fell to the back of my mind, and for the longest time, I simply lacked the motivation to carry on. However, the anime community I’m a part of wouldn’t hear of this and suggested that I continue. On their suggestion, I continued watching Kamisama ni Natta Hi, learning in the process that beyond the barrier of mahjong and Hiroto’s initially-disagreeable traits, Kamisama ni Natta Hi was in fact, right up my alley.

At its core, Kamisama ni Natta Hi is classic Jun Maeda, who is best known for his stories that deal with an appreciation for the ordinary, and treasuring the time that one spends with those important to them. While Maeda’s themes invariably focus on how having memories and moments to reflect fondly on give individuals the strength to overcome seemingly-insurmountable challenges, his stories differ in terms of background and context. Angel Beats! is probably the closest of Maeda’s previous works to Kamisama ni Natta Hi; both stories deal with the significance of being able to live a normal life and participate in the things that youth typically would. While these things are easy to take for granted, folks afflicted with medical conditions or live in difficult circumstances are denied these luxuries: Maeda’s works all share this theme, and it becomes clear that to Maeda, there is no greater treasure than normalcy. However, Angel Beats! had placed the characters in a new world to give them a second go at things, while here in Kamisama ni Natta Hi, Yōta is dropped into a situation where Hina’s origins and claims are initially unclear. However, like Angel Beats!‘ Yuzuru Otonashi, Yōta quickly learns of the significance of what Hina had intended to accomplish, and in the aftermath, is able to appreciate what lies beyond the deadline that Hina continued to mention. With this strength in him, Yōta is able to summon the strength to continue caring for Hina: in this way, Hina becomes Kamisama ni Natta Hi‘s Yui, and Yōta is an amalgamation of Yuzuru and Hideki Hinata’s characters. While the contexts might differ wildly, the end message is the same: as people spend time together and come to appreciate one another, the ensuing bonds that form are resilient. Yōta’s words parallel that of Hideki’s, with the two promising that no matter what the distance, they’d always find a way to be together. When it became apparent that Kamisama ni Natta Hi intended to take this path, my enjoyment of the series skyrocketed, and I found myself feeling foolish to have considered dropping the series. Kamisama ni Natta Hi initially opens with events that seem disjointed and unrelated, but as the series progresses, it becomes clear that there is a reason behind the choices made within the series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My initial decision to watch Kamisama ni Natta Hi was almost entirely motivated by the fact that Hina is voiced by Ayane Sakura, who I know best as GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto, and for the fact that I’d not seen something from P.A. Works since 2018’s Iroduku: The World in Colours. The series had been a little slow to start for me, with Hina’s energy and enigmatic presence being the primary driving force behind my interest in the series. Smug, conceited and possessing the powers to match her mouth, Hina is an interesting character, resembling Angel Beats!’ Yui.

  • Yōta, on the other hand, is an ordinary high school student. He’s reluctant to believe that the world could end in thirty days, and continues to study for his entrance exams after Hina’s arrival. I was quite intrigued to see what this entailed – Kamisama ni Natta Hi didn’t seem like a series to deal in large-scale cataclysms that could trigger an extinction-level event, and being set in the real-world, one wonders about Hina’s true origin.

  • All of Jun Maeda’s works follow a very well-defined pattern, utilising over-the-top, excessive humour in the beginning to give viewers the sense that we were dealing with distinct characters whose traits would bounce off one another. Of course, this would inevitably mean that the story will, at some point, take everything away from the protagonists. Maeda is famous for this approach, and while they were very successful with things like AIRKanon and CLANNAD, audiences have become very divided his works owing to how little variety there is: since the method was used originally, reusing it means that viewers inevitably know what to expect.

  • I happen to be in the camp of folks who enjoy Maeda’s approach – his exaggerated portrayals of mirth and sorrow speak to the spectrum of emotions people can experience in life, and the juxtaposition between melancholy and joy has always been something I found to bring his works to life. Early in Kamisama ni Natta Hi, almost everything is nonsensical as Hina settles in with the Narukami family. Sora doesn’t really get along with Hina all that well in the beginning, being nonplussed at Hina’s mannerisms.

  • I personally found Hina to be adorable, doubly so for the fact that Sakura voices Hina the same way she did Cocoa and Iroha. Here, Yōta and Hina share watermelon together – like Angel Beats!Kamisama ni Natta Hi places a large emphasis on the mundane, and something like enjoying watermelon is something to be celebrated. However, despite giving the impression that she’s here to make the most of the 30 days remaining, Hina also pushes Yōta forwards, determined to help him make his feelings known to childhood friend Kyōko.

  • Kyōko had known Yōta since they were children, but after her mother passed away, she became withdrawn. Yōta’s persistence is impressive, and with Hina’s predictions, he is able to set up scenarios to get closer to Kyōko, although more often than not, he feels like he’s cheating and backs down, frustrating Hina. While Kyōko continues to reject Yōta’s kokuhaku, he persists, and it turns out that she does have feelings for him. Here, as Yōta performs a song of Hina’s design, he does manage to impress Kyōko, who takes over. The incidental music in Kamisama ni Natta Hi is reminiscent of Angel Beats!, featuring a combination of more unremarkable pieces as well as the more poignant songs that are of an exceptional quality.

  • When Sora’s friend, Hikari, shows up at the Narukami residence and explains she’s in debt, Hina uses her powers to elevate a local ramen joint to prominence, blowing the loan shark troubling Hikari in the process. The first few episodes of Kamisama ni Natta Hi are all over the place, and when the fourth episode dealt with richi mahjong, as well as formally introducing Hiroto and his investigation into one Shuichiro Korogi, I was thrown off. I decided to take some time to regroup, but with both GochiUsa BLOOM and Road to Berlin demanding episodic reviews, I subsequently fell further and further behind.

  • After GochiUsa BLOOM and Yuru Camp△ 2 ended, however, I ended up developing Cocoa withdrawal. I thus hopped onto Discord and received feedback from the community I’m a part of: folks encouraged me to give Kamisama ni Natta Hi another go, and I resolved to finish the series. I therefore pushed through the fourth episode, doing my best not to worry about the arcane mahjong terminology, and at the end, was met with a hilarious reward: lawyer Kako Tengan had taken a liking to Yōta, who participated in the tournament at Hina’s behest so he could meet a role model, but ends up getting more than he bargained for when Kako tries to seduce him.

  • Once the fourth episode was past, Kamisama ni Natta Hi really began to hit its stride. When Yōta learns that Kyōko is more reserved than usual, he resolves to get her father out of the house to visit his wife’s grave. With Hina’s help, Yōta manages to show Kyōko’s father how much the world’s changed when he develops an interest in new restaurants, and he finally opens up. Armed with the knowledge that Kyōko’s mother had left video messages for the two of them, Hina arranges to mimic a call with Kyōko as her mother and does a profoundly good job, causing Kyōko to realise what needs to be done.

  • As father and daughter watches these videos, in which Kyōko’s mother implores them to push onwards with life and live as fully as they can, they come to understand that clinging to the past would be to disrespect her wishes. Both Kyōko and her father come to accept this, and for the first time in Kamisama ni Natta Hi, Kyōko smiles. This episode is classic Maeda, and it was here that I finally felt the motivation to continue watching to see what would happen next. This was the single turning point in Kamisama ni Natta Hi – from the fifth episode onwards, I realised that beyond the blocker that was mahjong, and Hiroto’s yet-to-be-determined significance, what the series required from me most was patience.

  • The magic moment in Kamisama ni Natta Hi lay past the three episode mark, and while three episodes is a widely-adopted practise, different people set store by different standards when it comes to anime. Being a hobby, I have no consistent rules for when I drop a series. I do, however, vehemently disagree with the idea that an anime necessarily needs to make its central theme clear within the first three episodes; themes are something that must be built out over time, and the payoff comes from seeing the whole journey and the context of the individual moments.

  • At Kamisama ni Natta Hi‘s halfway point, Yōta’s able to assemble an impressive group to bring Hina to the summer festival: even Kako attends, despite sparring with Hina almost immediately after meeting up. Here, Hina munches on a festival delicacy that impresses everyone in the group when they try it. Between her facial expressions and the fact that she sounds like a brattier (but still adorable) version of Cocoa, Hina’s been the life and soul of Kamisama ni Natta Hi thus far. Like Yui, who was noisy and annoying, but charming in her own right, Hina brings a great deal of life into the series.

  • What led to the inevitable comparisons between Kamisama ni Natta Hi and Angel Beats! was the sixth episode, during which Yōta manages to save Hina from being shipped off to Tokyo in a freezer truck after she grows jealous of Yōta and Kyōko seemingly grow closer. Hideki had died with regret in his hear about a baseball game, and wonders if he’d find peace in catching a pop fly. Asura has this part of Hideki in him: after sustaining an injury, he was never able to play basketball quite the same way again, and here, implores Yōta to make the jump that he couldn’t. In the end, the misunderstanding is cleared up, and Hina is moved that Yōta cares for her to this extent.

  • As Kamisama ni Natta Hi progressed, I became increasingly engaged with the series and found it to become more enjoyable, the further I went in. However, I’ve heard that reception to Kamisama ni Natta Hi in some segments of the community became increasingly cold with the passage of time to the point where Jun Maeda disappeared off social media from the sheer volume of hate mail and threats he received. Rather than Kamisama ni Natta Hi, this speaks poorly of the community and speaks to their misplaced sense of entitlement.

  • A respectable anime fan would never resort to detestable means such as vilifying a show or its creators incessantly on social media, and those who spent week after week doing so cannot count themselves as someone I would liaise with willingly, much less accept. I have no qualms with those who disliked Kamisama ni Natta Hi: everyone is permitted their own thoughts on the series, but I hold in contempt those who go out of their way to degrade a show with this level of fervor: this is the lowest of the low, beneath even those who’ve gone to lengths of creating hundreds of false accounts to give an anime a poor rating or downvote opinions contrary to their own. As it stands, I was pleasantly surprised by Kamisama ni Natta Hi, and the series hits its stride by the time Sora kicks off her film.

  • What I particularly liked about Sora’s project was that by this time, Kako and her bodyguard are active, willing participants, and even the loan shark who’d troubled Hikari earlier had reformed entirely, being an affable sort of character. Sora’s film gives everyone a chance to be their best, and these changes mirror Maeda’s thoughts that people can be redeemed with patience and understanding. Those who we are quick to judge are simply those we’ve not given fair chance to. With this in mind, I began to see even Hiroto in this light: despite having found him arrogant and disagreeable early on, Kamisama ni Natta Hi would help me to understand where he’s coming from, similarly to how Angel Beats! did the same for Ayato.

  • No longer burdened by her mother’s passing, Kyōko is positively radiant as she helps out with the film. It is not lost on me that Kamisama ni Natta Hi is set in Kofu, Yamanashi: Sora decides to capitalise on the spaces at Fuefuki Fruit Park as her filming location, and the stone patio overlooking Kofu, seen in Yuru Camp△ as the place where Aoi and Chiaki catch their breath after ascending the path up to their campsite, is also where Sora shoots her footage. Unlike Haruhi, Sora is actually a competent directory and script-writer: she has a clear vision for her film, and with Kako’s resources, filming proceeds very smoothly.

  • The change in Yōta’s attitudes towards Hina is apparent, and while he initially brushes her off in pursuit of his studies, he finds that this past summer has been very memorable thanks to Hina. As Kamisama ni Natta Hi steps into its penultimate act, the deadline Hina prophesises suddenly doesn’t seem so intimidating: were the world to end here and now, Yōta appears to have lived his summer very fully, achieving numerous things that certainly wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Hina.

  • The secondary story with Hiroto and the enigmatic CEO is that they’re pursing one Shuichiro Korogi’s research. This is related to Hina, and it turns out that Korogi had independently developed a quantum microprocessor in a bid to free Hina, who’d been born with a condition that left her immobile. The quantum microprocessor gave Hina a normal life in an unexplained mechanism, and the organisation Hiroto is drafted into intends to hold onto this discovery to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. In retrospect, this is a noble choice, as quantum computers could be used to trivially circumvent computer security if malicious actors got access to them.

  • On a hot summer’s day, Yōta decides to take Hina to visit her biological parents after learning from his parents that she’d been abandoned and Korogi had taken her in, as well as making the request that the Narukamis look after Hina after he was gone. The pair thus take a bus deep into the Japanese countryside. While the trip opens with enthusiasm, it is also surrounded by melancholy. There is a charm about the inaka that invites this set of emotions, and it is therefore fitting that the visit to Hina’s biological parents would send the pair out into the rural areas of Japan.

  • It turns out that, unable to bear the thought of having brought Hina into a world only to have her suffer, her father ultimately left Hina and wanted to restart, distancing himself from a problem he imagined was completely outside his power to save. While perhaps understandable, this only serves to demonstrate that Hina’s original father was also weak-willed. While Yōta might be more naïve in his decision, his heart’s in the right place, and the series ultimately vindicates his decision. With the truth in the open, Yōta becomes closer to Hina than before, and as the two overnight in a ryōkan, it does feel like a date of sorts.

  • As Hina’s deadline approaches, she reveals that she deemed the end of the world to be the point where she could not see beyond, and indicates that she never meant the entire world would blink out of existence. On a rainy day during filming, shadowy agents show up to take Hina in and retrieve the quantum computer embedded in her brain after a council decides that Korogi’s technology would threaten humanity at present. Despite Yōta’s efforts, the agents catch up to him and overpowers him easily, separating the two. In the aftermath, Hina is operated on and sent to live at a remote facility.

  • While Yōta does his best to move on with his life as term starts, he cannot help but remember Hina. When Hiroto transfers to his school and attempts to subtly befriend Yōta, the latter remains so distracted that he is unable to see that Hiroto’s interest in activities parallels those of Hina’s. It turns out that Hiroto, intending to atone for his past, wants Yōta to see Hina again. I was surprised at this turn of events, and it typifies Maeda’s characters to become allies once the time is right. However, like CharlotteKamisama ni Natta Hi suffers from the same problems: too much occurs towards the end, and Hiroto’s character is never given time to develop.

  • Seeing Hina lethargic and completely lacking the vigour she previously had was a sobering moment, but it speaks to the genuineness of Yōta’s feelings that he intends to bring her home anyways. Armed with a fabricated identification, Yōta has two weeks to accomplish his goals. The path is fraught with setbacks, and initially, Hina rejects Yōta. The paediatrician tending to Hina, Shiba, dismisses Yōta and explains that post-operation, Hina has developed a fear of men. In spite of this, Yōta pushes on. Much as how Charlotte saw Yū embark on a worldwide tour to save others with unique powers and lost his memory in the process in the final episodes, Kamisama ni Natta Hi only had two episodes depicting Yōta’s efforts to bring Hina back home.

  • Shiba is initially presented as cold and indifferent to Yōta: however, it is revealed that after losing her own daughter, she took up the posting to help other children and spare them her daughter’s fate. In spite of this, when she notices that Yōta’s reports do not align with what he’d been doing with Hina, she alerts security. Up until now, Yōta had actually made some progress with Hina, who vaguely recalls her love for JRPGs. Yōta is ultimately escorted off facility grounds, and as a final act of kindness, Shiba takes Hina out to watch Yōta leave.

  • Out here, Hina suddenly begins expressing a desire to be with Yōta. Shiba had argued earlier that Hina’s personality and traits were likely a product of the quantum computer’s processes, but the fact that Hina still remembers Yōta, enough to reject an image of him because she wants the real deal, indicates that the computer had simply been ampifying what was already there. Through Kamisama ni Natta Hi, then, it is suggested that regardless of their sophistication, computers will not be able to replicate something as sophisticated as emotions for the foreseeable future. In their haste to dismiss this series as a “dumpster fire” (a phrase that I regard as indicative of someone whose arguments have no merit), folks skate over some of the topics that Maeda wished to cover in his latest work.

  • As it becomes clear that Hina still remembers Yōta and her feeling for him, Yōta is overjoyed and rushes off to embrace her, leaving Shiba and the security staff in shock. This revelation convinces Shiba to authorise Yōta to take her back home, having proven that Hina had indeed responded positively to him. The symbolism here is clear enough: it’s a new start for Hina and Yōta, and what lies ahead for Yōta will be difficult. However, the moment also shows what Hideki would’ve done for Yui had they met earlier or realised their feelings for one another sooner. Maeda had always been fond of the idea that love can take many forms, and Kamisama ni Natta Hi is no different in this regard.

  • With Hina back, the old crew finish off their movie, and one evening, Yōta takes Hina to the viewpoint at Fuefuki Fruit Park overlooking Kofu. Nadeshiko had shared a photo with Rin here during their simultaneous camping trips, as a sign that their hearts were drawing closer, and to have Yōta and Hina up here suggests something similar. Yōta’s found his calling in life at this point, promising to go into medical research so that Hina may one day be fully cured and able to live freely again.

  • Sora’s movie is shown at the end of Kamisama ni Natta Hi, and unlike Haruhi’s movie, which barely worked in spite of the troubled production, Sora’s film is well-produced, well-written and well-made. It acts as a reminder of the time Yōta and Hina spent together, and how these memories will always be with him no matter what, giving him the strength to pursue the future in the knowledge that their happiness was very much real. This was the overarching theme I got out of Kamisama ni Natta Hi, and since at the heart of every Terrible Anime Challenge is whether or not there was a coherent theme, the fact that Kamisama ni Natta Hi has one (regardless of what more popular folks than myself assert) means that the series deserves a passing grade in my books.

  • Altogether, Kamisama ni Natta Hi exceeds my expectations for the series. In this terrible anime challenge, the yardstick were my own expectations coming in and the overwhelmingly negative impressions on anime Twitter. I am pleased to say that both were soundly proven wrong, and I had fun with Kamisama ni Natta Hi, more than I originally thought. While the series leaves a great deal unexplored and would’ve benefitted from a more extensive runtime, I nonetheless find that the series did succeed with its core messages. As a result, this one earns a B grade (3 of 4, or 7.5 of ten) in my books: the merits outweigh the shortcomings, and the presence of a unifying, cohesive message tied everything together in a satisfactory fashion. With this post in the books, it’s time to head out into a snowy May day and grab my Pfizer vaccine: booking’s been a nightmare in my side of the world, with my age group eligible, it’ll be nice to finally kick things off.

Consequently, Kamisama ni Natta Hi becomes yet another reminder that patience is oftentimes a virtue in anime: this series did not really hit its stride until its fifth episode, when Yōta manages to set in motion the events that help Kyōko and her father to reconcile. I note that while I found Kamisama ni Natta Hi to be an entertaining and worthwhile series, it is by no means perfect; the series possesses the same pacing as 2015’s Charlotte, starting out slowly and then accelerating wildly towards the end. Similarly, both Kamisama ni Natta Hi and Angel Beats! leave several elements unresolved in favour of ensuring that the central characters reach their resolution as a result of their short runtime. The existence of quantum neural control interfaces would typically result in all sorts of interesting discussion, and the CEO of the unnamed organisation curious in pursuing this research wind up being tangential to the discoveries that Yōta makes. In addition, while Hiroto is similar to Ayato Naoi and Takeyama, being a character viewers could come to sympathise with and playing a major role in setting Yōta with a shot at getting Hina back, his screen time and backstory is minimally explored. The series definitely would’ve benefited from an increased runtime, which would better flesh out the secondary elements that were relevant to the story. Despite these limitations, Kamisama ni Natta Hi matches my own expectations going in, beats the expectations I had of the series following the fourth episode and vastly exceeds the impressions I got of the series from reading the inevitable and unavoidable snippets from well-known but disreputable figures in the community, who were quick to dismiss the series as being forced drama. As the prize for listening to the community I’m a part of and not giving any credence to the unsavoury people on social media, I come out with another solid experience.

Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.” ―Kiran Desai

Himeno Toyokawa moves to Tajimi in Gifu with her father after he decides to quit his job and opens a café. Tajimi is where Himeno’s late mother, a legendary potter, is from, and Himeno is now attending her mother’s old high school. While Himeno is reluctant to take up pottery, she is spurred on by classmates Naoko Naruse and Mika Kukuri to join the Pottery Club, where she is convinced to see the joys of being able to craft something with her own hands that others will find useful. As Himeno picks up the basics, she also learns that different potters have different styles – when the energetic Mika and club president Toko Aoki spar over the former’s inability to focus, Toko recalls that Mika is at her best when given the space to be creative after she’s had a chance to cool down, and later reconciles with Mika. After Himeno accidentally breaks her father’s favourite Ochazuke cup, she sets about creating a new one upon learning that her mother had created that cup. However, in spite of her efforts, Himeno is heartbroken when her father doesn’t react to it as warmly, and begins to lose her interest in pottery. Naoko and Mika decide to take her on a day trip to help her regroup, but they end up tailing their instructor, Mami Koizumi, when they believe she’s going on a date. After they’re caught, and Himeno explains how she’s been feeling, Mami suggests that taking detours every now and then isn’t so bad. She shares in a spectacular summer sight with Himeno, Mika and Naoko – fireflies illuminating the gentle night sky. As the summer settles in, Himeno decides to participate in a pottery contest, but struggles to decide on what to make. When Mami asks Himeno to help out with the pottery museum’s setup over her day off, Himeno comes across a sculpture her mother made, and discovers her mother’s old notes in the museum’s archive. Realising the extent her mother could influence others with her work, Himeno decides to pursue her own brand of pottery and make something that she can be proud of.

Besides Super Cub, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (literally “If planning to fire (pottery), mug cup too”, English title Let’s Make a Mug Too) is this season’s other slice-of-life series about Mino-ware pottery, an industry that has over a millenia of history and originates from the Toki and Minokamo regions of Gifu prefecture. Archeologists have found evidence of kilns dating back to the seventh century, and during the seventeenth century, Katō Yosabei and his sons opened potteries in the area, cementing the region’s reputation for fine pottery. Part tourism promotion and part cute-girls-doing-cute-things, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a curious series that is split cleanly down the middle – the first half of each episode is an animated segment that follows Himeno as she picks up the basics surrounding pottery and in doing so, comes to appreciate the craft her mother had excelled at, while the second half is a live-action that presents specialities and features from the area. With the series hybridising animation and live-action, the story piece to Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is about the same length as the average Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! episode. However, the condensed runtime allows Yakunara Mug Cup Mo to be very focused in its presentation, and it becomes clear that Himeno’s journey into the world of pottery will consist of both honing her craft, pursuing her own approach towards pottery and presumably, coming to terms with her mother’s passing as she makes worthwhile discoveries and learnings with her new friends. To this end, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is simultaneously energetic and contemplative, portraying life at both ends of the spectrum to indicate to viewers that sorrow and joy necessarily co-exist, for without sadness, happiness cannot be understood.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Pottery and the creating of earthenwares is a discipline that is well outside the area of my expertise: unlike camping and recreational fishing, which I could pick up and enjoy at a hobby level with a bit of time commitment and the right instruction, or amateur astronomy, where having a solid pair of binoculars and a good guidebook will send one on their way to enjoyment, pottery is a skill that demands skill and attention to detail. Consequently, for Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, I won’t be commenting on the quality of Himeno’s works.

  • Right out of the gates, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo has Himeno headed to school with her friend, Naoko. Having moved to Tajimi in Gifu, Himeno’s father opens his own café after being laid off from his office job. Despite the cheerful atmosphere seen in the typical slice-of-life series, however, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo does seem to suggest at the melancholy and sadness that surrounds the Toyokawa family after Himeno’s mother passed away. This balance creates the lingering sense that pottery is going to act as the catalyst for something bigger,

  • On the first day of classes, Himeno and Naoko run into Mika, a spirited and energetic girl whose mannerisms can seem a little off-putting to some. Naoko and Himeno are certainly taken aback by how forward Mika is, and the pair secretly hope that their paths won’t cross again. Of course, anime create these chance encounters precisely because different personalities serve to help the protagonist grow in some way. Much as how Nadeshiko and Rin end up meeting despite Rin wishing otherwise early in Yuru Camp△, Himeno and Naoko do end up befriending into Mika owing to their interests in pottery.

  • As a part of her introductions, Himeno tries to advertise the fact that her father runs a café, but what really draws her classmates’ (and instructor’s) attention are the mugs that she brings in. Mika immediately falls in love and attempts to recruit Himeno to the pottery club, and while Himeno does not possess her mother’s innate talent for pottery, she does decide to give things a whirl after learning that her mother had been an alumni of this very school (and pottery club). In the end, Himeno feels that pottery might be something she could take up, although her father wonders if Himeno’s choice of activity might bring back memories of Himeno’s mother.

  • It does feel like there’s a subtle conflict here in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, but such moments seem to be dispersed by the fact that episodes generally possess a very upbeat feeling: it’s hard to be weighed down by past doubts when there’s so much to learn about pottery. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo spends a bit of time explaining to viewers the bit of background behind the different types of pottery, which helps viewers to appreciate the intricacies and nuances in pottery. It turns out that Tajimi’s pottery is known as Mino ware (美濃焼, Hepburn Mino-yaki), which is futher subdivided into four categories based on its colour.

  • Pottery is a big deal in Tajimi, a city with a population of 110000 in Gifu Prefecture. Weather here is generally pleasant, although it gets very hot and humid in the summers. The area has historically been critical in ceramic production, although more recently, with manufacturers located elsewhere, Tamiji’s ceramics industry is more focused on trade and wholesale. A few manufacturers do remain within city limits to continue on with the area’s traditions.

  • To bolster Himeno’s interest in pottery, MIka and Toko decide to bring her around town and show her some examples of local Mino ceramics: well beyond tableware and tiles, ceramics are also used in things as varied as insulators and public works of art. The reason why ceramics are chosen as electrical insulators is because of their mechanical strength, and other insulators, like glass, are comparatively brittle and difficult to cast. Their distinct disk shape, known as sheds, ensures that the leakage area stays dry. Ceramics in statues, on the other hand, are a bit easier to understand: treatment of nonmetallic minerals with heat causes them to assume a tough, corrosion resistant form, but before heat treatment, they’re malleable and can be readily shaped into whatever the user intends.

  • Mami is Himeno’s homeroom instructor and also happens to be the pottery club instructor. She’s fond of swinging by the Toyokawa café and here, checks up on Himeno, who notes that she’s got some large shoes to fill. The idea of the new generation working in the shadows of their forerunners is not new, and for the most part, those who start their journey quickly discover that while their predecessors might’ve accomplished some impressive achievements, their own work is nothing to sneeze at, either.

  • While conflicts are not terribly common in slice-of-life anime, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo does have Mika clashing with Toko after the former displays a very blasé, unconcerned attitude about pottery and creates a commotion with Naoko when goofing off. It turns out that Mika’s talent in pottery comes from the fact that she’s so carefree and spirited, and while it might take her a while to come up with the inspiration, once she’s got it, she’s more than capable of making unique, colourful works. Toko realises this after Himeno picks up a cup that Mika had made, and shortly after, Mika and Toko reconcile.

  • It turns out that Himeno’s father had been hard at work trying to bring new visitors to his café, and determining that offering curry might help bring in new customers, he decides to try out a range of recipes. The pottery club end up enjoying all of them, and even if they aren’t necessarily new recipes, still bring something to the café’s table. This subtle lesson is likely a bit of foreshadowing for Himeno: as she’s still a novice to pottery, she wants to make something worthy of those around her, and as a result, is often bogged down by details.

  • This comes to light when Himeno attempts to craft a replacement ochazuke bowl for her father after accidentally ruining the original, and she sets off to create a new one. I’ve not done any sort of pottery since my time as an elementary student: back in the day, instructors would give us clay to work with, and after we were finished, they would send them off to be baked. The pieces I’d made back then are still around, and compared to even Himeno’s first works, are crude.

  • Ochazuke is a dish of steeped tea and rice in a single bowl topped with salmon, seaweed and other savoury ingredients. It is most commonly enjoyed as an after-meal accompaniment or as a slightly heartier alternative to a snack. Himeno’s father has his ochazuke down to a science, attesting to his love for the dish (and likely, the associated memories with Himeno’s mother).

  • Himeno ends up running into the pottery club while out working on a design: they share with her some pickled plums, which Toko supposes could be an excellent accompaniment for ochazuke. Mika also ends up giving one of Toko’s bowls to Himeno to act as a stand-in for the one that her father hda lost: when her father tries the bowl out, he immediately takes a liking to it. Seeing the sort of bowl her father likes gives Himeno the inspiration to finally get started.

  • Himeno supposes that the ideal bowl would be able to hold onto the proper quantity of ochazuke and thus decides on a deeper, heavier bowl. With the design settled on, it’s time to start crafting them. Himeno ends up making no fewer than fifteen, and seeing the work-in-progress indicates to me that such bowls would be better suited for ramen.

  • While excited at the prospect of finalising the bowls and painting them, learning that her father’s original Ochazuke bowl has had some three decades immediately drives the pressure up: Toko had made the replacement bowl at around Himeno’s age, and Himeno’s grandmother notes that the original bowl had also been made when Himeno’s mother was of that age. The original bowl was skillfully made, and this suggests that Himeno’s mother had a talent for creating the right shape for a given function, as well as the fact that Toko probably has a similar style to Himeno’s mother.

  • For the first time, Himeno finds herself absolutely absorbed in her project and looks forwards to finishing it so that she can see her father’s reaction. However, a part of her also worries about the outcome, and she describes the feeling as being comparable to entering high school. This speaks volumes to Himeno’s personality: she doesn’t like to do things halfway and she cares very much about her father. This is reminiscent of Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi, who similarly becomes hooked on fishing because of her disposition for trying until she succeeds. As such, it stands to reason that setbacks won’t hold Himeno back for long.

  • While Himeno’s father says nothing negative per se about the ochazuki bowl Himeno had made for him, she immediately notices that he’s not enjoying things quite to the same extent that he had with Toko’s bowl, and immediately becomes disheartened. This moment was meant to indicate that Himeno, being a novice in pottery, has not yet learnt to eyeball a work’s intended purpose and instead, has gone for style over functionality. With this in mind, it is understandable that at this point in time, Himeno’s feeling nothing but disappointment and promises to improve her craft.

  • The episode’s contribution to Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is to give Himeno a tangible objective, and as such, was a necessary one given the series’ composition. In any other series, this decidedly more serious approach might be seen as overkill. In the words of lesser writers, I believe this is known as “forced drama”, a phrase whose usage is indicative of inadequate understanding, but Yakunara Mug Cup Mo had established that it’s not going purely for the light-and-fluffy route. One other thing that had irked me about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo discussions was that at least one viewer felt compelled to claim that Himeno was a novice for not following a more conventional design, and moreover, that her decoration was “pretty bad, not to mention unnecessary”. Viewers such as these, who try to stand above the characters have never made for good discussion, and I see little reason to place much stock in whatever they say.

  • I’ve never understood why people feel compelled to criticise and correct what the characters are doing in a given slice-of-life anime – the intent of having Himeno making these mistakes was precisely to show she’s still new to pottery. Had Himeno made the logical decision, it would show that she’s experienced, and there’d be no point in having the anime. In Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, Himeno’s disappointment and disillusionment with pottery leads her friends to take her on an outing that quickly turns into a classic tailing exercise. When the girls pass by a station with Hime in its name, Naoko and Mika are quick to tease Himeno about it. I found this adorable – I have similar tendencies, and make puns with people’s names often if I know said people well.

  • It turns out that Naoko and Mika become intrigued in what Mami is doing after they overhear her on the phone, speaking with a friend. The single teacher archetype in anime is one that people consider clichéd, but I’ve long asserted that this is a deliberate choice to maximise the adventures the characters can have with an adult’s assistance. Teachers who are married and home with the family in their personal time won’t be able to drive the students around or help them with various events. The prospect of Mami breaking up with her partner intrigues Naoko and Mika, who decide to tail her through the Gifu countryside.

  • The end result is a delightful day hike that sees Himeno live a little in the moment with her friends, and under the calm of a beautiful summer’s day, the girls eventually tail Mami to a shrine of sorts. They lose her here, and while taking a break, Himeno finally admits that after her father’s less-than-enthusiastic response to her bowl, she began losing her interest in pottery, feeling guilty that she was actually looking forwards to a break in club activities. However, what had weighed heavily on Himeno’s mind don’t bother Naoko and Mika at all.

  • While their heart-to-heart talk helps Himeno to gain some perspective, it also leaves the girls open to discovery – shortly after, Mami shows up, bringing the girls’ attempt to tail her to an end. The classic foot follow is a bit of tradecraft that involves tailing someone, and following someone undetected varies in difficulty. Against most people, keeping a moderate distance will do the trick, although folks familiar with countermeasures will make changes to their route or make unexpected stops and changes to their pacing, looking to see if their followers react in any way. In slice-of-life anime, foot follows always end up in failure for comedy’s sake.

  • Par the course, it is clear that they would’ve gotten a straight answer had they just asked. It turns out that Mami wasn’t talking about her partner, but instead, was talking to a friend about taking some downtime to check out something with her. She had planned going for herself even though her friend had been busy, but with her students now around, Mami figures she’d share with them what she had intended to see.

  • The surprise turns out to be two different species of fireflies chilling in a rural pond – one species emits a green light, while the other emits a yellow light. Here, Mami mentions that today’s adventure is why one should always keep moving forwards even if the way ahead isn’t clear, as something wonderful can await. For Himeno, even though she had been unsure about pottery, until she gives it her best effort, there’s no telling what new discoveries could await her. Under a gentle rural evening, the girls watch the fireflies, and Himeno is encouraged to enjoy pottery in her own way.

  • With the pottery competition coming up, I imagine that this competition will be the motivating factor behind Himeno really honing her craft, as she strives to put out a work that represents who she is. While a competition can still be stressful, the reduced emotional pressure means that Himeno has the space to create something of her own choosing, and so, preparations for the competition will help Himeno to discover her own approach towards pottery.

  • Since the Toyokawa café opened, Mami’s become a regular patron and is enjoying some fried chicken and a salad here. Earlier today, I sat down to a delicious grilled chicken burger and shoestring fries. Chicken, being leaner than beef, has a much lighter flavour, and it strikes me as to just how good a homemade chicken burger is: I typically go for fried chicken burgers when out and about because they tend to be juicier (grilled chicken is a little drier than I’d like). It turns out that Mami isn’t here just for the food – there’s something she needs a little help with over the weekend, and Himeno accepts, curious to check out the pottery museum behind their school.

  • It turns out that the way to the museum takes one along a hillside path that offers a spectacular view of Tajimi that Himeno had previously not known about. As she follows the kappa sculptures deeper into the woods, Himeno also discovers a sculpture of great beauty, one that conveys a sense of windiness. Having Himeno come up here on her own acts as a metaphor for how she’ll come to determine her style in pottery: it’s a combination of exploring and drawing inspiration from her predecessors.

  • The incidental music used in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo had been quite unremarkable, but upon hearing the song that plays when Himeno comes across this sculpture, I’ve suddenly become quite keen to check out the soundtrack for this series. The only thing I know about the soundtrack is that it  is composed by Tomoki Hasegawa and will release on July 28 as a part of the BD set. The opening song, Tobira o Aketara, is a spirited and sincere-sounding song performed by the voice actresses, Minami Tanaka, Yu Serizawa, Yūki Wakai, and Rina Honnizumi. The ending song is performed by Aya Uchida and will release on June 2.

  • The lady curating the pottery museum is surprised to learn that Himeno is the daughter of the artist who’d  created the sculpture on the way up to the museum, and reveals that Himena had been a very free spirit whose determination was actually what convinced the city to leave the museum running. In the museum’s archives, Himeno finds her mother’s notes on why she created things the way she did, and reading these notes proves inspirational to Himeno, who is ready to take her first step towards discovering her own style in pottery.

  • I’m sure that a lingering question on some viewers’ minds will be why the title is “Mug Cup”, when “mug” or “cup” on its own would’ve gotten the message across. As it turns out, マグカップ (magu kappu) is a wasei-eigo term, borrowed from English. The literal translation of the title refers to the act of firing up a kiln and making a mug, as well. The English title is a simplification of this and translates the intent clearly, but for visibility’s sake, I’ve chosen to go with the Japanese title. It goes without saying that I am finding Yakunara Mug Cup Mo to be quite enjoyable; while I don’t have any background in pottery, I am looking forwards to seeing what awaits Himeno in the series’ second half.

Slice-of-life series have always found ways to make unique topics memorable: from fishing, hiking and camping, to pop music and astronomy, series in this genre strike a balance between advancing the characters’ growth through their chosen field and presenting mundane moments to depict how this change occurs over time. While such series are charming, the progression ends up treading along familiar paths each and every time. Consequently, when Yakunara Mug Cup Mo chose to mix things up by having a more concise animated segment and then incorporating a live-action piece to make the series part story, part travel show, the series has now found a novel way of showcasing the extent of Mino ware pottery in Tajimi in full. Being able to see the real-world inspiration for what is seen in the anime reminds viewers of the level of attention paid to details within the manga, and this in turn accentuates the idea that Himeno’s journey is going to be a meaningful one. At the same time, the live-action component solidifies the idea that Tajimi is a place worth visiting, both for its extensive pottery industry, and for attractions that only the locals know about. While my posts have chosen to focus on the narrative and thematic aspects of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, I will note that the live action piece has also proven to be immensely enjoyable for highlighting things about Tajimi that might otherwise go unnoticed by foreign visitors. For the time being, in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s animated segment, it appears that Himeno has, in discovering an important piece of her past, come to accept what she can do for herself in the episodes upcoming: it would appear that the pottery competition is what will lead Himeno to better her craft and perhaps close the distance between her and what happened with her mother. As it stands, I look forwards to seeing what Himeno ends up making for the competition as she comes to terms with her past and uses this strength to embrace her future.