The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

Terrible Anime Challenge: The Absent Magic in Stella no Mahou

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

–Peter Parker vs. Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrible Anime Challenge: Hanayamata and Why We Fall

“Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” ―Tony Stark, The Avengers

A chance encounter with Hana Fountainstand introduces the average Naru Sekiya to the world of Yosakoi. Despite her clumsiness and lack of coordination, Naru is determined to commit to Yosakoi and decides to join Hana on her quest to found a Yosakoi club for their middle school. Their club struggles to gain members, but soon, Tami Nishimikado joins their number after Naru encourages her to be truthful about what she longs for. When Yaya Sasame, Naru’s best friend, suffers a setback after her band disbands, she also accompanies Naru. The club pushes towards their performance, takes on Sari Tokiwa as an advisor and while stumbling along the way, also picks up Machi Tokiwa as a member. Together, the girls pursue a common dream of performing Yosakoi together despite their disparate backgrounds: seeing Naru’s commitment to things encourages and inspires each of Hana, Yaya, Machi and Tami to do their best, as well. When the Hanairo Festival draws near, Hana leaves for America. Seeing her friends’ focus inspires Hana to convince her parents to turn around and grant her the wish of dancing with Naru, Yaya, Tami and Machi, culminating in a successful performance at Hanairo. Hanayamata dates back to the summer of 2014, and for this Terrible Anime Challenge, I find myself watching a show that, while with evident limitations, one that nonetheless managed to exceed expectations. Hanayamata is a visual treat and stands out with its beautifully-rendered settings: the colourful world creates a sense of wonder that is meant to accentuate the joys that Naru and the others feel while dancing, and enrich the emotional tenour of each fall, discovery and experience. Solid from a technical perspective, Hanayamata shines with its thematic elements; ostensibly an anime with little purpose beyond watching a group gather and work towards a shared goal as per the progression of many anime adapted from Manga Time Kirara manga have done, Hanayamata surprises with the message that it leaves viewers with.

Despite its propensity for comedy and funny faces, Hanayamata consciously chooses to give each of Naru, Hana, Yaya, Tami and Machi a unique set of challenges. Naru has never found something to do that defines her, being ever worried about failing after an incident in elementary school. Hana struggles to enthuse others as she pursues something to make the most of her time in Japan. Yaya becomes jealous of Naru’s friendship with Hana and loses a bit of her identity when her bandmates decide to call it quits. Tami has longed to find something meaningful for herself, having lived her entire life trying to earn her father’s praise, and Machi is determinedly trying to prove her sister wrong through hard work, disapproving of the Yosakoi club’s carefree nature. Each of the girls, in a sense, has fallen; it is through Yosakoi, a dancing style characterised by use of instruments known as Naruko but otherwise can be performed in various manners, with different music, props and numbers of people. Hana chooses Yosakoi because of the freedom that it offers, and it is this freedom that draws each of the girls in. Naru wants to be free of failure and find something where she can have fun in the moment. Yaya wants the freedom of setting aside a past commitment and finding a new place to belong. Tami wants the freedom to pursue her own interests, and Machi wants the freedom of making her own path, distinct from that of her sister’s. Regardless of what their initial reasons are, and their initial distance from one another, everyone converges on wanting to do something memorable for one another. In the process of dancing and working together, Naru, Hana, Yaya, Tami and Machi become closer to one another than they’d been previously, with the liberty in Yosakoi acting as the catalyst that inspires each of the Yosakoi club’s members to shine.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Naru Sekiya is Hanayamata‘s protagonist: voiced by Reina Ueda (Hane Sakura of Bakuon!!, which I’d written about in my previous Terrible Anime Challenge, and Infinite Stratos‘ Shizune Takatsuki), Naru reminds me a great deal of Brave Witches‘ Hikari Karibuchi in appearance. Initially, Naru’s one great love is fairy tales, of the sort that would be popular amongst grade schoolers, and she also does Iaidō, the art of sword control, but is otherwise quite unremarkable. Her world irrevocably changes when she meets one Hana Fountainstand at during her town’s Festival.

  • The rich colours of Hanayamata and the loving depictions of landscapes is actually why this Terrible Anime Challenge post has thirty screenshots rather than twenty. The high saturation means that from a visual perspective, Hanayamata leaves a very strong impact that compels viewers to continue watching. The animation in Hanayamata was handled by Madhouse, of A Place Further Than The UniverseChobits and Death Note fame – the visuals are a few years ahead of their time. Hanayamata is directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, who also would go on to work on A Place Futher Than The Universe. The inclusion of this title in her repertoire quickly puts to bed the claim that the use of light is a recurring theme in any of Ishizuka’s work.

  • An American, Hana’s surname “Fountainstand” is a bit unusual; I’ve never heard of that as a family name before, and Google-fu finds that this is perhaps unique to Hanayamata. Hana herself is an American interpretation of Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo, being energetic, friendly and optimistic. Her lack of understanding of some Japanese customs is why she’s so persistent about getting Naru to partake in Yosakoi with her, and while Naru is initially reluctant, she finds herself drawn to Hana’s positive spirit. This is a setup I’ve seen countless times in other shows, and Hanayamata begins very slowly.

  • However, once the party gets started, things really pick up. Here, Hana hauls Yaya to the school rooftop to show her the effort Naru’s been putting in to learning the basics of Yosakoi. A capable student, Yaya also is a member of the band “Need Cool Quality”. In contrast with the “smart and serious” archetype, I found it difficult to empathise with Yaya initially; her clinginess to Naru is a bit reminiscent of Megumi and Mari’s relationship in A Place Futher Than The Universe. One of the great strengths of Hanayamata, then, is being given exposition to Yaya’s story and watching how this influences her decision to take up Yosakoi.

  • Student council president Machi is quick to shoot down Hana and Naru’s plans to bring Yosakoi to their high school. She’s seen as a bit of a stubborn figure opposed to Yosakoi, being a highly rigid, structured individual, and like Yaya, is initially not particularly likeable. Once her story is known, viewers will similarly empathise with her and accept her as a part of the Yosakoi club as Naru and the others do. I note that at some point in Hanayamata, a list of clubs is seen that includes a tank club and a romance club: these are references to Girls und Panzer and Love Lab, respectively, although the reason why this remains little more than a curiosity is because their inclusion is of little relevance to the main theme.

  • Tami is more enthusiastic about joining the Yosakoi club, but has her own challenges to deal with in that she’s denied herself of fun things to become a proper Japanese woman for her father’s sake, having grown to long for his approval. Parental expectations form a minor sub-theme in Hanayamata, which is an especially relevant topic in contemporary society. I understand Tami’s drive to make her father proud, although in conversations with my parents, I was always told to pursue the path that best suits me with an honest effort. This approach removes pressure from the children to do well and allows them to focus on being the best they can be.

  • In the end, it takes a bit of a speech from Naru to convince Tami to stick to her guns. Hanayamata suggests that individualism is important in one’s growth, and it is important to remember the context delivering this message. While in North America, individualism is at the forefront of all things, Japan expects conformity. This approach has placed a great deal of strain on youth, who struggle to express themselves: Hanayamata is therefore suggesting that some individualism and creativity is needed to build well-rounded individuals equipped to handle an ever-changing world. Of course, in North America, nearly unrestricted freedom has resulted in the phenomenon of “special snowflake syndrome”, and the best cure for this is an increased emphasis on teamwork and team play in the curriculum. By making one feel their best while part of a team, people can learn to appreciate that while everyone brings something unique to the table, progress can only be made when all of these things come together.

  • While this post on Hanayamata has thirty images, I did not have a chance to include Masaru Ofuna, the owner of a Yosakoi supply shop. While resembling a yakuza, Masaru is actually friendly and inviting, helping the girls pick out their gear. He eventually develops a bit of a crush on Sari after meeting her at a Yosakoi performance, and occasionally will go out of his way to help the Yosakoi Club along whenever she asks. Sari doesn’t seem to mind him, and while the anime ended where it ended, I am curious to see if anything interesting happens between the two: the manga is still ongoing, after all.

  • Looking back, Hanayamata is something that I would have enjoyed watching as it aired back in 2014: it ran during the height of the development work for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, during which I was fine-tuning some of the most sophisticated spline tools the Unity app needed for the performance. I think my reasons for not watching Hanayamata at the time was a lack of familiarity with Manga Time Kirara works; I’ve known about K-On! for a while, but remained quite unaware of the magazine it ran in. Anime of K-On!‘s style are up my alley because of their inherent simplicity and usually meaningful messages on the simpler things in life.

  • In a manner of speaking, Sari is similar to K-On!‘s Sawako Yamanaka, enjoying the positive influence she has on her students and also can be lazy at times. However, when the chips are down, she’s motivated, caring and determined. Here, she outfits the others with animal ears and tails while trying to work out a Yosakoi costume for the club, leaving Tami and Naru with X-shaped mouths. This particular characteristic is reminiscent of Miffy, a Dutch series of picture books that first appeared in 1955. Because of Miffy’s similarity to Hello Kitty, it is a common misconception that Miffy is also Japanese in origin. The X-shaped mouths seem to represent befuddlement in Hanayamata.

  • Once Tami becomes a full-fledged member of the Yosakoi club, focus turns to Yaya. After the band she’s a part of fails an audition and dissociates, Yaya falls into a depression, turning away Naru and the others. I’m not too sure what the progression in the manga was, but throughout Hanayamata‘s run, Yaya continued to invest time into her friends’ band, and so, with this coming to an abrupt end, Yaya is stuck trying to find a new place in the sun. Jealous of Naru and her belonging, Yaya lashes out at her. Yaya’s long viewed Naru as someone to look after, and so, she becomes insecure when Naru begins trying to make her own way about.

  • Hanayamata has its characters cry to a nontrivial extent, and here, Naru reacts to Yaya’s tongue-lashing. Naru and Hana later reciprocate and kick Yaya’s ass in a metaphoric sense. Recalling that Naru and Hana have been trying to recruit her into Yosakoi, Yaya realises that she’s always had a place with Naru and the others. From this moment on, Yaya becomes a more dedicated member of the Yosakoi club and contributes to composing its music. The piano piece that she creates acts as a starting point for the song that the girls sing together, and for me, this was the magic moment of Hanayamata.

  • I’ve heard some folks say that Hanayamata is Shakespearean in nature, and while it’s been quite some time since I’ve read any Shakespeare, I do not believe that this story can fully be considered a Shakespearean comedy. Hanayamata does deal with youth struggling (often against the problems their elders create), has elements of separation and reunification, a resolution of family problems by the end and there’s a clever servant (Masaru). However, the plot is by no means complex, there’s no frequent puns or romantic love story, nor is disguise an integral part of the plot. In spite of this, I’ve decided to go with a bit of a light-hearted quote from The Avengers to remind audiences of the fact that, despite the dramatic in Hanayamata, the series is ultimately a comedy at the end of the day, and because the Yosakoi costumes do seem to fit Tony Stark’s remarks nicely.

  • After one practise, Sari comments on Naru and Tami’s thighs, leading the two to try and lose weight. Sari shares in common with some other instructors an uncommon (and perhaps, unhealthy) interest in students of that age range, and this is primarily intended for comedic purposes. The girls continue to push towards their first performance, and while Sari was initially opposed to it, seeing everyone’s determination causes her to have a change of heart: she even waives Hana’s unsatisfactory test scores. I’m not sure if I’m watching the same anime as some folk, who’ve felt it pertinent to remind other viewers that Japanese exams are different than exams from the west. This has no bearing on how successful Hanayamata is at presenting its story, and I reiterate here that while my talks may be academic-sounding, I’m here to share ideas, not lecture readers on obscure, useless trivia.

  • I’ve chosen to stick to calling Sari by her given name rather than her nickname “Sally-sensei” – I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not particularly keen on calling people by their nicknames because that can lead to inconsistencies and confusion in my writing. Fortunately, phonetic similarity means that there shouldn’t be too much confusion, and here, Sari wilts after discovering she was responsible for forgetting the music the girls perform to. Machi retrieves the music just in time for the performance, and while Naru trips during their routine, Hana, Yaya and Tami reassure her that it’ll be alright.

  • This is why Naru’s falling was not protracted: with her friends’ support, she recovers very quickly and moves ahead to seize the future. On the other hand, Machi’s decidedly hostile relationship with Sari is a result of her dismissing Machi’s efforts. Long ago, Machi looked up to Sari as an elder sibling, but when Sari wanted to pursue her own interests, she abandoned Machi and her dreams, as well. Machi has since viewed Sari as a selfish individual, and worries that Tami and the others will be hurt. This is why she’s so opposed to the Yosakoi club. However, when Sari demonstrates her commitment to her career choice by passing the certifications to become a full time instructor, Machi has a change of heart and joins the club in full.

  • In becoming a fully-qualified teacher, Sari can continue to advise the Yosakoi club, and the girls set their sights on the Hanairo Festival. Tami proposes that they go on a club trip to practise, which one might expect the usual antics from. However, Hanayamata breaks this tradition and shows the girls practising together. Of note is Machi, who’s determined to catch up to the others and puts in a very strong effort to learn everything.

  • I’ve primarily focused on the Yosakoi club and their characters in this post, but the artwork and animation are worthy of praise: each moment is vividly rendered. Nights are magical, reminiscent of the romp seen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and by day, the bright colours immediately indicate to viewers that they are in the middle of summer. The mind associates intensity with heat, so in anime, brightly-coloured landscapes indicate heat, while dull, washed-out colours similarly convey a sense of coldness. Colours mean a great deal to me: in a good anime, they are used to create a very specific atmosphere and can speak volumes about a scene.

  • In the likes of Hanayamata, the use of colour to convey a summer day’s heat is intended to give audiences the impression that youth is a passionate time. Madhouse has evidently not spared any expense in creating beautiful settings, and this is one of the reasons that compelled me to stick around despite my initial inclinations to rage-quit. The series really picks up after Tami’s story is told, and continues at a moderate pace to strike a balance between comedy and drama. The series thus ended up being an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

  • A glance at the shadows show the girls’ dedication: the sun is directly overhead, and the girls have been practising since the morning. When a staff member asks the girls to be mindful of the other guests, they take their Yosakoi session outside, and practise until the heat defeats Yaya. The girls agree to take five, but are seen again practising. This subtle detail shows that everyone is dead serious about Yosakoi: improvements are especially noticeable, and even the clumsy, dead-footed Naru is much more coordinated and confident in her ability as the hour grows late.

  • As the day draws to a close in the late afternoon (recall that sunsets in Japan are quite early, even during the summer), Hana notices an umbrella. Feeling it would be a fine addition to their routine, the others wonder if it is wise to change their routine so late in the game. The evening lighting creates a wistful feeling, and while the girls decide to leave umbrellas out for the present, they will come back in a big way. This scene, in presenting a visual distance between Hana and the others, also foreshadows the conflict that Hana has to sort out: while easily the most carefree of the girls, and insofar a beacon of joy, Hana’s story will become the topic of a much greater importance towards Hanayamata‘s climax.

  • One might ask: if I found Hanayamata solid enough to give it a recommendation, then why would I class this under the Terrible Anime Challenge series? After all, Hanayamata is not a series that has overwhelmingly negative reception, is not something that I stopped watching halfway in and did not have a particularly poor premise to begin with. The answer is simple enough: while received warmly for the most part, I heard that Hanayamata was very serious and at the time, more serious than most Manga Time Kirara works were. I thus set out to see whether or not the drama was meritorious of the individual analysis that some felt inclined to give it.

  • When I finished my journey through Hanayamata, my conclusion was that, once again, many have missed the forest for the trees. In being so focused on the minutiae in the drama and struggles each girl face, why the girls can grow and mature in doing Yosakoi is completely missed. The specifics behind Naru’s self-doubt, Yaya’s search for a purpose, Tami’s want for doing something for herself and Machi’s desire to excel are not as relevant as how each girl finds the answer to their challenges through Yosakoi. So no, it is not necessary and certainly not sufficient to analyse each of the girls’ internal conflicts to understand Hanayamata: the entire series is at its finest when considered from a big-picture perspective.

  • Hanayamata presents viewers with many a vivid azure sky to enjoy, and at this point in the game, the days of Naru tripping over herself are long past as the girls gear up to perform. My personal insistence on the big picture rather than the small details put me at odds with the old guard part of the anime community that prefers blow-by-blow analysis of things. However, my counterargument is simple enough: as a software developer, I write unit tests to ensure that my modules individually work as expected. However, just because all of my unit tests pass do not mean that my code will pass integration testing. In order for code to be useful, it must also work together. It is here that new bugs might be found. In my analogy, the old guard believe it is sufficient to have all passing unit tests, whereas I know that it is necessary to consider how parts of a system work together.

  • With all this being said, the discussions I refer to do date back nearly four years, and four years is a great deal of time, especially for folks to change their modus operandi and outlook. The individual who’d mentioned the Japanese-style tests above, for instance, has since admitted that they’d “…put [their] foot in [their] mouth a lot, especially when [they’d] gush about stuff [they were] not really an expert on. Been called a hack as a result. Can’t blame people for that”. It takes guts to own one’s mistakes, and personally, this means one fewer case where I need to remind readers to always think for themselves as to whether or not a statement on the internet is true or not, which is a win in my books. Back in Hanayamata, the girls decide to practise by the pool when the summer heat makes the rooftop difficult. The age of the girls means that fanservice type moments in the series are very rare, and Hanayamata is very disciplined in this department, which is one more plus.

  • With the performance drawing nearer, Naru’s come up with flowers to represent each member of the Yosakoi club. I’ve heard some reviews conclude that Hanayamata is about changing, blooming and presenting one’s best side for the world to see as flowers are wont to do. However, there’s no credit for partial answers; symbols themselves are not the themes in a show, but rather, are physical or abstract representations of an idea that is a part of the theme. The girls’ growth, liberating themselves from their internal conflict, is evident in the series, but the true message is that they find themselves precisely through doing something that is quite open and free. While perhaps speaking of Yosakoi, this activity could be anything that invites exploration: the girls of Hanayamata are largely self-motivated, receiving a quantum of assistance only when required.

  • Hana’s conflicts come into the open as Hanayamata heads into its final act. Her parents are divorced but wish to reunite, and Hana, longing for a family, is forced to choose between her friends and family. This is why it was so difficult for Hana to come forward with her challenges, and after spending an evening with Naru, makes her decision to be with her mother and father. She’s seen how much they love her, and so, decides to leave Naru with her naruko before taking off.

  • It’s a tearful parting of ways at the airport, and while Hana might’ve been off-putting at the series’ start, it is very clear that Hana’s energy brought everyone together and made everything possible. Naru subsequently picks up the torch, resolving to fulfil her promise of performing with the others to Hana. Even with Hana absent, the Yosakoi club continue to practise, continuing on from the song that they’d recorded with Hana. Preparations are in full force by the time of the finale, and one subtle touch I greatly enjoyed was Masaru enjoying Sari riding on his shoulders. In series such as these, the instructor is depicted as not being unattractive but nonetheless struggling to find a partner, so it was a nice change of pace to see signs of a romance beginning between Masaru and Sari.

  • After Hana gives her father a copy of the CD they’d recorded, he realises just how much Yosakoi and by extension, Naru, Yaya, Tami and Machi mean to her. Hana thus returns to Japan, and against the odds, manages to make it in time to perform alongside the others, fulfilling the promise they’d made to one another. This journey was thrilling, at least as suspenseful and tense as when Captain Price leads his squad down the hill in Modern Warfare‘s Heat mission; the stakes are different but just as meaningful. Fortunately, Hana does make it, and as the girls become immersed in their performance, the camera cuts away to their parents proudly watching amongst the audience. Everyone’s come a great ways in overcoming their own internal challenges through the freedom that Yosakoi brings.

  • For exceeding expectations, having a surprisingly relatable plot and striking a balance between the comedy and drama, Hanayamata earns a solid A (a 9.0 of 10). I’ve not mentioned thus so far, but the title is merely an amalgamation of the first kana to each of the girls’ names (Hana, Naru, Yaya, Machi and Tami). I am very glad to have given Hanayamata a fair chance, and note that discussions out there do not paint a complete picture of this series. With this post in the books, I remark that May’s flown by, and that we’re very nearly on the eve of Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka??: Dear My Sister‘s release. As well, with the Battlefield V reveal, the latest Road to Battlefield V event has begun, and we’re a few days out from the conclusion of The Division‘s Onslaught global event, where I got my first-ever Urban MDR through an exotic cache earned after finishing Warrengate Power Plant on legendary difficulty.

Like Sansha San’yō, Hanayamata ended up being an unexpectedly enjoyable watch. My experiences of Hanayamata differ considerable from existing discussions, which have largely focused on the individual struggles without their context (such as why Naru’s falling during their first public performance was so quickly resolved), or else have focused on the minutiae surrounding Hana’s characterisation. There is little surprise that discussions of Hanayamata have been as limited as they were, considering that thematic elements have not been considered. If I were to merely go from these discussions alone, I would have learned that Hanayamata is a cliché, generic anime that is “like K-On! done wrong”. A cursory glance at sales figures seems to reinforce this: people were not optimistic that Hanayamata would sell well, but beyond these superficial snippets lies an anime that is rather more meaningful than the community otherwise conveys. Quite simply, those who hold that Hanayamata is K-On! done wrong are evidently in the wrong. The drama aspects of Hanayamata, seemingly extraneous, ultimately serve to underline the fact that everyone has their own challenges, but their common interest in Yosakoi and the intrinsic freedoms in this dance style eventually allow the girls to overcome their own problems together while their sights are set on the prize of being able to dance together. Consequently, Hanayamata earns a recommendation from me: while its aesthetic might give the impression that Hanayamata is nothing substantial, and the direction might seem fraught with more tears and internal conflict than necessary, watching the series in whole affords audiences with a much broader perspective on the journey that Naru has undertaken since agreeing to join Hana’s journey of starting a Yosakoi club; as Yaya, Tami and Machi each note, Naru’s come to take on a brilliance of her own by the end of Hanayamata, illustrating the impact that a single fateful meeting can have in one’s life: why does each of Naru, Hana, Yaya, Tami and Machi fall? So they can pick themselves up again.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Bakuon!! and Addressing Uninformed Responses to a K-On! Parody

“He’s got a brand new car,
Looks like a Jaguar.
It’s got leather seats,
It’s got a CD player”

—Buck Rogers, Feeder

Hane Sakura becomes interested in motorcycles after seeing one effortlessly ascend a hill on her way to school, and she soon joins her high school’s motorcycle club, meeting Onsa Amano in the process. Hane subsequently obtains her motorcycle license, develops a liking for Honda motorbikes and also befriends the motorcycle club’s longstanding member, Raimu Kawasaki, as well as the wealthy but mischievous Hijiri Minowa. This merry band is occasionally accompanied by Rin Suzunoki, who has a strong love for all things Suzuki. The girls discover the joys of hitting the open road on bikes, various intricacies surrounding motorbike regulation and maintenance, and later, are joined by Chisame Nanako, a skilful racer who is very conscious about her short stature. Running concurrently with Hai-Furi, Bakuon!! (onomatopoeia for “roar”) was an anime that I originally intended to watch, but after being unimpressed with the first episode, I shelved plans to continue – I was wrapping up my thesis at the time and so, my time was not unlimited. However, with the introduction of the Terrible Anime Challenge, I decided to give Bakuon!! another shot. In doing so, I found a mildly entertaining anime whose execution is quite plainly a call-back to the styles and eccentricities of K-On!. I thoroughly enjoyed K-On! and count it a masterpiece: K-On! is the iconic forerunner to the current presence of slice-of-life genre in which there is a small cast whose member share gentle, heartwarming moments with one another with the aim of bringing catharsis to audiences. My reasons for counting K-On! as a masterpiece will be left as a story for another time. Bakuon!! is rather more outrageous – the dynamics amongst the cast and their unusual world means that rather than relax, Bakuon!! is more suited towards eliciting a few laughs from viewers who are familiar with the likes of K-On! and series following its approach.

Differing from K-On! in its niche and use of bikes in place of music, Bakuon!! is nonetheless conceptually similar to K-On!. The similarities are numerous. Hane’s familiarisation with the basics parallel those of Yui learning to play the guitar. Hijiri mirrors Mugi’s desire to experience the sorts of things that she would not otherwise as a result of her wealthy background. Onsa clashes with Rin, similarly to how Ritsu and Mio share a rocky but ultimately deep friendship, and finally, Chisame is outright a carbon copy of Azusa. The narrative begins with Hane’s introduction to bikes and participation in a tour of Hokkaido, school race and presentation for new students, while in K-On!, Yui similarly becomes learned in guitar and performs at a school concert, spends time with her friends at a training campo and with Houkago Tea Time, inspires Asuza to join the light music club. However, Bakuon!! is no mere K-On! knock-off – the characters and world of Bakuon!! are clearly intended to exaggerate what was seen in K-On!. The characters accentuate extremities from K-On!‘s cast for comedy: Hane is excessively optimistic and innocent, while Rin is a more shameless version of Mio. Hijiri is not hesitant to pull resources from her family to make certain things possible; these are even more outlandish than anything Mugi did in K-On!. Onsa is much more expressive than Ritsu, and her fights with Rin are more vocal. Chisame plays to Azusa’s small frame and proficiency, poking fun at Azusa’s serious nature in K-On!. In conjunction with its ridiculous setups, from talking motorcycles and puppet-like instructors, to a senior with no dialogue, it is apparent that Bakuon!! is intended to act as a parody of K-On! and illustrate the incredible, even ridiculous setups that are presented in the latter if they were taken to their logical conclusion.

Whether or not Bakuon!! succeeds as a parody is another aspect that this series shares with K-On!K-On! was a polarising anime when it aired. Its proponents enjoyed the easy-go-lucky environment that was presented; free from conflict, it was simply something that encouraged relaxation in viewers. Detractors cite K-On! as being detrimental to the industry for promoting entertainment with no academic worth. Bakuon!! has similarly created two camps of viewers. There are folks who found Bakuon!! to have taken the weakest aspects of K-On! and using these to define the series’ characters, and at the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who feel Bakuon!! could be compared to the classic Azumanga Daioh! for its subtle depiction of the passage of time. Both perspectives are ill-suited for describing Bakuon!!. The point of a parody is to accentuate features to the point of exaggeration for comedic reasons, and Bakuon!! succeeds in creating a whacky world where the lack of sense is a part of its charm. Once I got past the initial strangeness of Hane’s world and accepted it, I saw a series with a unique brand of humour that I’ve not seen anywhere else. On the flipside, the comparison of Bakuon!! to Azumanga Daioh is not a reasonable one: Azumanga Daioh illustrated how friendships form and mature over time as people move towards a goal of sorts. Bakuon!! has no equivalent path: it is most comparable to K-On!‘s first season, where the aim of the narrative was simply to establish the characters in their world. K-On!‘s second season began presenting the manga’s main message, but without a continuation to decisively illustrate (or disprove) this, Bakuon!! remains a spirited effort at poking gentle fun at the setup folks have seen in K-On!.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I first watched Bakuon!!, I had just wrapped up my graduate programme and was acclimatising to a post-school world. The transition was relatively smooth, but during this time, I found it difficult to get into anime, so that season, I ended up dropping a lot of shows. Bakuon!! was one of them, and I still remember watching the first episode, where Hane struggles to bike up a steep hill and marvels at the prospect of using a motorcycle.

  • It took some prodding for me to resume watching Bakuon!!, especially when Baita was introduced: the surrealism was a bit much. Once Hane gets her license with some visually-pleasing help from Hijiri, I had enough motivation to push forwards. Another motivating factor for my continuing is a consequence of my coming across some rather ill-informed statements about Bakuon!! while looking around for materials related to Hai-Furi and Girls und Panzer. Extremities in reactions to Bakuon!! range from some feeling it to be one of the best anime of Spring 2016, to being an atrocity against anime, is the reason why this Terrible Anime Challenge post is longer than usual.

  • Once Hane gets her license, her next target is buying a bike. She winds up purchasing a Honda CB400SF Hyper VTEC Spec III (known informally as a Super Four), the third revision of the Super Four that Hane rode in biking school. Like Yui’s Gitah, Hane is very much in love with her new wheels, and this is what motivates the page quote: I’ve been wanting to use lyrics from Feeder’s Buck Rogers for some time, and an anime about new wheels seemed an appropriate place for things. Of course, having watched Behind Enemy Lines previously, I also cannot help but think of a carrier-based F/A-18 launch when I hear Buck Rogers.

  • Being the central protagonist who fulfills a very similar role to K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa, Hane is the focus of Bakuon!!, and the story is told around her perspective. Both Hane and Yui share personality traits (kind-hearted and warm), are quite new to technical aspects surrounding their newfound hobby and optimistic despite being prone to moments of misfortune; here, Hane runs out of gas on her Super Four while taking it for a test run. Hane is voiced by Reina Ueda: I know Ueda best as Sakura Quest‘s Shiori Shinomiya and Sophie Noelle of Kuromukuro, as well as Naru Sekiya of Hanayamata (which, incidentally, might also be looked at for a future Terrible Anime Challenge).

  • Rin Suzunoki is supposed to be the equivalent of Mio Akiyama, but comes across being a more full-figured and aggressive incarnation of Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo. The similarities are accentuated by the fact that Rin is voiced by Nao Tōyama. Onsa Amano, on the other hand, feels like a cross between Ritsu Tainaka and Yukari Akiyama – she’s the foil to Rin and knowledgeable about motorbikes, being voiced by Yumi Uchiyama (Kiniro Mosaic‘s Yoko Inokuma). Hijiri Minowa is modelled after Tsumugi Kotobuki, being of a similarly wealthy background and desiring to experience youth as ordinary people would. Hijiri’s voice is provided by Rikako Yamaguchi, and I am not familiar with her other roles.

  • After Hane gets her license, she and the motocycle club begin doing their first motorcycle tour, setting their sights on Hokkaido. It’s a trip of firsts that parallels Yui’s first ever training camp, and the girls’ tour in Bakuon!! lead them to Ooarai, Home of Girls und Panzer. This particular detail has largely gone unnoticed: Bakuon!!‘s manga predates Girls und Panzer, so when Hane and the others arrive in Ooarai, it’s still the quiet seaside town that it was prior to the explosion in popularity the area received following Girls und Panzer‘s televised run.

  • Four episodes in, and according to period discussions, there were already complaints directed at Bakuon!!., stating it to be “…unbelievably stilted, and… progressively more irritating, too.” This comparison holds no weight, especially as it comes from someone claimed that K-On! was an “accidential [sic] masterpiece”: K-On!‘s strength lies in being able to encourage audiences to slow down and enjoy the mundane, subtle things in life. Bakuon!! is not a mere imitator of K-On!, but more appropriately, it takes a jab at the setup in K-On! with the aim of evoking some laughs from viewers, and Bakuon!! accomplishes exactly this.

  • The wide open spaces of Hokkaido are a world apart from reminiscent of the southern Alberta foothills: while still quite mountainous, Hokkaido’s plains mean that it is host to a fourth of Japan’s arable land, and as such, agriculture plays a major role in Hokkaido’s economy. Grassy plains allow for cattle farming, along with other products, and the farmland regions of Hokkaido are nowhere near as cramped as the rural areas of Japan built between the valleys, such as the valleys of Niigata.

  • Onsa and the others reach their destination in Cape Sōya, the northernmost point on Hokkaido, just in time for a swift sunset. While not mentioned in Bakuon!!, Cape Sōya has at least ten monuments here as memorials to incidents that historically occurred near the area, and just north of the area, some forty-three kilometres away, is Cape Crillon in Russia. Under fair conditions, the cape is visible.

  • Inspection of satellite imagery find that the monument here actually juts out into the sea a little to really give it the position of “northernmost anything” in Japan, but in this instant, Onsa and the others find something a bit further north: instructor Enko Saruyama attempts to bike into the ocean at this northernmost part of Japan after one of her relationships go south. Unlike Sawako Yamanaka of K-On!, who is merely single, Enko is rather more unlucky.

  • On the topic of relationships, I suppose now is a good time as any to mention Facebook’s latest endeavour – they’re attempting to challenge Tinder as a dating service. This was only a matter of time, since Facebook has had access to all sorts of data. While they allege that the process is going to be opt-in only, nothing’s stopping them from quietly crawling the data in the back and then use a variety of clustering algorithms and regression analysis, amongst other techniques, to match all people for fun. It would then only take a bad leak to expose to the world the dating preferences of a large percentage of its users.

  • I suppose that I chould add “anime” to my set of interests so that if the day comes where Facebook can suggest a suitable partner to me with reasonable accuracy, then at least I’ll be paired with someone who accepts my hobbies, especially when it’s begun to encompass something like Bakuon!! 😛 Jokes aside, we return to Bakuon!!, where a drunk Enko manages to mess with everyone in the room (even Hijiri) before passing out. Like Sawako, Enko is eventually strong-armed into becoming the advisor for the motorcycle club.

  • Dialogue surrounding the idea that “what happens in Hokkaido stays in Hokkaido” is corny, cheesy and also surprisingly fitting: in its presentation, Bakuon!! is evidently aware of what it is parodying, and so, comes across in being deliberate in the characters’ choice of words and actions. Here, Hane releases her “memories” into the night sky; being a rambunctious romp through life, Bakuon!! indicates to viewers that this is not an anime to take seriously.

  • While some folks consider Bakuon!! a fanservice anime, only Rin is subject to unnecessarily oscillations for the most part, and personally, I’m actually not too big on Rin. After their tour of Hokkaido, the girls decide to give their bikes a good cleaning, and the approach that Hane take subsequently has Raimu Kawasaki take point on future washings to ensure that everyone’s bikes are carefully looked after. Raimu holds the distinction of being the only character to lack a voice actress and her origins are a mystery. She’s been around for quite some time to look after the students and depicted as an uncommonly skilful rider, but beyond her biking, I did not particularly find Raimu’s presence to contribute to my enjoyment of Bakuon!! to the same extetn that others have found.

  • Readers then pose the question, if Rin’s not doing it for me, then what about Bakuon!! did? The answer is Hane: a part of her appeal lies in her character. Friendly and warm, Hane’s the most ordinary of the motorcycle club’s characters and of everyone in the motorcycle club, also has the most appealing stats (82-58-87). During the bike wash, Hane takes a rather unconventional approach, citing it to be more effective and also indicative of her love for her Super Four. Jealous, Rin proceeds to attempt the same bit slips off her bike.

  • The last value is why Hane is able to wash her bike more effectively than Rin, whose specs are 91-56-81 (recall the relationship between surface area and the size of a boundary). Before I get an inordinate number of people flooding to explain to me what those numbers mean, I’ll stress that I’m aware of what the three measurements are, and that they’re quite unrelated to the three measurements of central tendency. The medium of text is one where I cannot count on intonation or body language to convey a joke, but it sure as heck hasn’t stopped me from cracking really bad jokes about fanservice where the moment arises.

  • For a series that’s supposedly dense on fanservice, Bakuon!!‘s actually more tame than expected, and in this Terrible Anime Challenge, only a sixth of the screenshots have anything interesting in them. The remainder of them are fairly mundane in nature. Here, the motorcycle club’s members wander around their school during their culture festival. In K-On!, Houkago Tea Time’s first performance was at the school festival, and the concert was by all definitions, a smash hit. Folks will best remember it for Mio’s tripping on stage and mooning half the audience: the anime was more implicit about what happened, whereas in the manga, Mio’s shimapan is made visible for the whole world to check out.

  • Hane’s customisations add an obscene about of turn signals and wing mirrors to her bike, while Onsa and Rin both tune their bikes and outfit them with modified parts to bolster their performance. The school race starts out slowly, but intensity ramps up, and Raimu participates. Despite an impressive comeback, Raimu suffers a catastrophic incapacitation that knocks her from the race, leaving Rin to win. The audience, fellow students, begin fighting one another over the race’s outcomes, moving Hane, Onsa and Rin to tears about how people ended up caring about their bikes.

  • Of everyone, only Hijiri lacks a motorcycle license, being shy of the age of sixteen: she rides in a sidecar with Hayakawa, her butler. Hijiri’s displays of wealth is perhaps even more outrageous than Tsumugi: Hayakawa consistently calls in airlifts to replace his destroyed bikes, and Hijiri managed to convince her father’s company to develop an apparatus that reduces engine temperatures by a means not yet discovered by science when one passes over it. Here, the girls gear up for Christmas, and while tea time is not an integral part of the motorcycle club like it was for K-On!‘s light music club, its presence is another indicator of Bakuon!!‘s roots.

  • If and when I’m asked, Hijiri comes in as my second favourite character in Bakuon!!. Although quite cheerful for the most part, Hijiri has a hitherto unseen side to her personality. On her way to a motorcycle license, she encounters considerable difficulty in riding one of the bikes and proceeds to demolish try and it in a fit of rage, only to learn that the bike was still operational. Conceding, Hijiri resolves to double down and eventually earns her license.

  • While never officially a member of the motorcycle club, Rin’s interactions with Onsa and the others means she’s a member in all but name. Here, Hane delivers a Christmas gift for Rin, who’s working on Christmas eve. I mention here that I’ve deliberately chosen not to focus on the Jebus*-like character: occasionally intervening to aid Hane, his presence is otherwise quite limited, being only for the audience’s benefit. I would imagine that biker-Jebus is probably a parody of Yui’s unexpected talent of having perfect pitch.
    • *- This is a reference to The Simpsons.

  • With the new year in full swing, the logical next step is to introduce some junior students and the possibility of new recruits joining the club. To inspire other students, the motorcycle club brings out Raimu, who performs some tricks with her bike here, although Hane’s actions dissade some of the prospective students from joining. The one and same blogger who compared Bakuon!! to Azumanga Daioh, insisted on referring to Raimu as “Lime”. While well-known amongst some circles and considered to be “brilliant, insightful, inspiring and always right”, I’ve found their content to be trite and pedestrian – one’s blog posts should never be carried by one’s reputation alone. This is why all of my posts are as lengthy as they are: opinions are only worth making known if they are properly expressed and a clear effort was made to rationalise them.

  • The “always right” aspect is laughable – Azumanga Daioh and Bakuon!! are about as different as apples and oranges.  Back in Bakuon!!, the sheer ludicrousness of the motorcycle club putting on a live performance in front of the entire school and the new students is a whole new level of entertaining. Their antics amuse their fellow students and the audience, but also embarrasses one Chisame Nanako enough for her to come onto the stage to set them straight. The end result is that Chisame humiliates herself further in the process.

  • Because Bakuon!!‘s story progresses as K-On!‘s did, it is not unexpected to see Chisame join the motorcycle club. Chisame fulfils the same role as Azusa did, and the two even share the same family name. Like Azusa, Chisame has prior experience in motorcycles, as Azusa did with music. Both are frustrated that their seniors are so eccentric and laid-back, and in particular, Chisame is very sensitive about her stature, which makes it difficult for her to ride a street-worthy motorbike. Instead, she is highly talented with racing bikes and regularly dominates in competitions.

  • In appearances, Chisame is more similar to Girls und Panzer‘s Alisa – Chisame’s defining trait is the ardent belief that bikes were meant purely for racing rather than as a mode of transport, but upon joining the club, learns that bikes can be accommodated to modify all kinds of riders. She decides to go for her license alongside Hijiri, but because her instructors imagine her to be proficient with everything, she learns very little and ends up failing. Like Azusa, Chisame has a tough exterior and a sensitive interior: she bursts into tears after crashing during a test.

  • At the opposite end of the spectrum are the folks who were personally offended by the very existence of Bakuon!! and after three episodes, announced their intention to drop a series. At this point, I think it is appropriate to discuss my approach towards reviewing anime: longtime readers will be well aware of the fact that I predominantly focus on writing about the things I enjoyed, and so, if an anime is being written about at the three episode mark, then I will likely continue to write about it in some capacity. At the beginning of a given season, I pick a few shows up and watch them. If the show has promise, then I will continue to watch it, while shows that are uninspiring or dull will quietly be dropped. I’ve never believed the need to announce to the world my intention to drop a show.

  • The only case where I might announce dropping a show is if I picked up an anime with high expectations, the series delivered past episode three and did something before the end-game that caused it to be dropped. Should that happen, I will probably do it subtly in another post or on Twitter, and I will do it to prevent readers from being disappointed. While changing, Chisame notices some markings on Hijiri’s body. It turns out she’s using what is known as a GP Training Harness to help her maintain posture and the like. Somewhat unnecessary, the moment nonetheless provides audiences a good look at Hijiri, whose stats are similar to that of Hane’s. This is the last fanservice-type image of this post, and readers have my word on this, primarily because we are nearing the end of said post.

  • With May’s first post kicked off in style, this month will be seeing the release of Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth and final instalment, GochiUsa: Dear My Sister and Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai (Your Voice). I have plans to write about all of these. Back in Bakuon!!, after contact with Rin’s saliva somehow turns Onsa into a Suzuki fan, it takes a bit of alchemy to bring Onsa back to her old self. Onsa and Rin constantly spar over their choice of brand, but despite their intense vitriol, exhibit a degree of concern for one another when the chips are down. Bakuon!!‘s brand loyalty is presented in a hilariously unrealistic manner, to the point where pathogens are suggested as the cause for Rin’s love for the Suzuki line of motorbikes.

  • Chisame eventually decides to go with a Honda PCX 150 Scooter once she gets her license, allowing her to join with the others in their travels while simultaneously conforming with her beliefs that full motorbikes are not suitable for roads. I realise that there are a large number of things in Bakuon!! that I’ve not covered, including the half of an episode dedicated to taking jabs at cyclists and another half-episode where Hane dreams about a world where motorcycles never existed, but owing to certain constraints (i.e. my being too lazy to do a longer talk), these topics have been left out.

  • Overall, Bakuon!! ends up scoring a B- grade in my books. It’s certainly not bad – despite lacking a message and being somewhat unorthodox in some places, the series does manage some humour with its characters. As a result, I find that both Bakuon!!‘s staunchest and most dissatisfied viewers did not contribute any useful thoughts to the discussion: Bakuon!! is strictly a middle-of-the road anime, and that’s about it. For my next Terrible Anime Challenge post, I’m thinking of writing for Hanayamata, which some of Tango-Victor-Tango’s finest consider “K-On! done wrong”. Let’s see if that comparison holds up, and if not, it’ll be hilarious for everyone (except the individual making that remark) when I go to town on them for being wrong.

As a clear K-On! parody, the remaining question is what I thought of Bakuon!!, and to this, I answer that I found a reasonably entertaining series that did succeed in eliciting a few laughs, with the ludicrous situations that Hane and her friends end up encountering at every turn of their adventures together. While Bakuon!! is not likely to revolutionise any genres any time soon with its execution, what it does bring to the table is a bit of comedy that is quite well-done. With reasonable animation quality and solid sound (especially for the motorbikes) in conjunction with being a parody, Bakuon!! is a clear reminder that there are merits to watching an anime for three episodes before deciding whether or not the series is worth continuing with – while the first episode did not work well with me, Bakuon!! managed to draw my interest after three episodes, in being able to parody different aspects on K-On! effectively. This is a series that I recommend to the more open-minded K-On! fans; folks with no keen interest in motorbikes or K-On! will certainly do better to spend their time watching other series. With Bakuon!!‘s manga ongoing, some of the anime’s proponents have wondered if a second season and movie are possible. While there are limits to what a parody can do to keep the viewer’s attention before the humour starts becoming derivative or ineffectual, I am not adverse to watching more Bakuon!!, especially if viewers would get to see Hane washing her bike again.