The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

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.

Comic Girls: Review and Reflection After Three

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” —Bill Watterson

Kaoruko Moeta is a four-panel manga artist whose work is met with a cold reception. Her producer suggests that she lodges at Bunhousha Women’s Dormitory to hone her craft. When she arrives, she meets the shōjo artist Koyume Koizuka, who is her roommate, as well as Ruki Irokawa (an ecchi manga artist) and Tsubasa Katsuki (a shōnen manga artist). Settling into life at Bunhousha Women’s Dormitory, Kaoruko learns that Ruki was once an aspiring artist for children’s work, and later that evening, with a deadline looming for Tsubasa, Koyume and Kaoruko decide to help her out. Although Kaoruko begins caving under pressure, she’s inspired by Tsubasa’s kindness and determination, helping the others kick out the pages that Tsubasa needs to meet her deadline. Later, Kaoruko goes shopping for supplies with the others and learn of their passion for their work, before attending school for the first time, and although Kaoruko is nervous, she ends up in the same class as Tsubasa and Ruki. Later, Kaoruko learns that her general inexperience in life and weak drawing are what leads her manga to be counted as implausible and difficult to connect with. Her friends suggest a drawing contest, and when Kaoruko over-exerts herself and fails to eat, Ririka Hanazono, the dormitory’s manager, gets in touch with Kaoruko’s parents to learn of her preferences to make Kaoruko feel more at home. In spite of her best efforts, however, Kaoruko’s editor rejects her latest submission. This is where we stand three episodes into Comic Girls, this season’s Manga Time Kirara adaptation.

Feeling distinctly like a cross between New Game! and Slow Start, the similarity that Comic Girls shares with some of its predecessors are quite apparent. This is the consequence of my having seen so many similar anime previously, rather than any direct shortcomings on Comic Girls‘ part – beyond the superficial similarities, Comic Girls‘ utilises a different backdrop to motivate its characters and as such, is able to create unique interactions despite the characters’ familiar personalities and mannerisms. Comic Girls‘ focus is a group of manga artists and their struggles with content creation, deadlines and the like. From choosing art supplies to working out how to become inspired for manga, Comic Girls presents a world that I am completely unfamiliar with. However, while manga creation in reality has its subtleties, Comic Girls strikes a balance between technical details and depicting common, everyday occurrences that Karuko experiences. The emphasis on gentle humour means that even for folks lacking any formal experience in authoring manga, Comic Girls remains very approachable, providing viewers with consistent scenes of heart-melting humour. The tradeoff of this approach is that Comic Girls fulfills a very similar role to last season’s Slow Start. However, whereas I related to Slow Start because I did a gap year following the completion of my Bachelor’s degree, in between my decision to go for a Master’s programme, the intricacies of drawing comics and manga are lost on me. The most knowledge I have of the process comes from Bill Watterson, and even then, this is only general knowledge. Consequently, because Comic Girls inherits many of the same narrative elements as seen in other anime of its genre, this isn’t really a series I can confidently write about consistently.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right out of the gates, Kaoruko brings to mind the likes of Slow Start‘s Hana Ichinose: one cannot help but pity the unfair, ironic situations she’s in. Comic Girls opens with her being shredded by critical reviews of her work. I’ve remarked elsewhere that derivative protagonists are often intentional: viewers are familiar with their traits out of the gates and so, have a grounded perspective on the unique worlds that they interact with. I note immediately that Comic Girls proved to be a bit more difficult to write for, and while there are certainly many adorable moments, there are fewer random remarks I could make, so this post will have twenty screenshots.

  • After arriving at Bunhousha Women’s Dormitory, Kaoruko meets fellow tenants Koyume, Tsubasa and Ruki. The manga presented the dormitory as having more residents and being of a slighty more modern design than what is seen in the anime, where the dormitory is of a rustic design. Moreover, it would appear that besides Koyume, Tsubasa and Ruki, there are no other residents in the anime incarnation.

  • Once Kaoruko and Koyume settle into life at Bunhousha (I wager that this is a deliberate choice, as “Bunhousha” is an anagram of “Houbunsha”, the publishing company that deals with the Manga Time Kirara line of magazines), things immediately take a turn for the wild side once Ruki’s role as an e-manga author is made known. She subsequently feels up Ruki and learns that Ruki isn’t as stacked as initially thought.

  • Later during the evening, while helping Tsubasa meet her deadline, Kaoruko makes a few mistakes, being unaccustomed to ink-and-paper. Understanding that Kaoruku is a novice with the medium, Tsubasa and Ruki reassure her, help her correct her mistakes and encourages her to push forwards. The first episode establishes that the characters are quite easily distinguished from one another, and while everyone has counterparts in other series (for instance, Ruki is a true level version of GochiUsa‘s Rize Tedeza), their manga genre specialisations keep them easy to tell apart from one another.

  • I’m no expert on the Japanese language, but I’ve been around the block long enough to pick out the patterns. Each of the girls’ family names carry a substring pertinent to their chosen genre. Kaoruko’s surname is Moeta, where moé (萌え) is referring to a sense of affection towards things that are adorable. Similarly, she enjoys doing four-panel manga depicting high school girls not unlike those that are serialised in Manga Time Kirara. Koyume’s surname is Koizuka. Koi (恋) is love in Japanese, mirroring the sort of love stories found in shoujo manga. Ruki’s family name is Irokawa, of which the substring “iro” is phonetically similar to ero, Japanese shorthand for erotic and which is also Ruki’s specialisation. Tsubasa’s family name is Katsuki: katsu (勝つ) is to win, and victory is very much a central topic of the shonen manga that Tsubasa writes.

  • Minute details such as these often make the anime a bit more fun to watch, similar to how a part of the joy of Yuru Camp△ was in hunting down Rin’s camping gear set and locating some of the spots that the girls camp in. Here, after a perilous train ride where Kaoruko nearly gets separated from the others, the girls stop to enjoy some crêpes, a commonly-depicted confectionery in anime that originates from France and is quite popular in Japan. Kaoruko is eating one for the first time and feels it’s too beautiful to eat.

  • After finishing their crêpes, Koyume, Ruki, Tsubasa and Kaoruko visit an art supplies shop to restock on provisions for manga. Koyume’s run short on funds after buying some of Tsubasa’s manga, and Tsubasa steps in to help pay for things. I couldn’t tell you the difference between all of the different brushes, inks, stencils and other tools required and what the significance of the differences are in manga: like every discipline, being a manga artists has its subtleties, and requires a considerable degree of skill to become proficient in.

  • Miharu Nijino is Kaoruko’s homeroom instuctor. Voiced by Ayaka Nanase (Sakura Quest‘s very own Yoshino Koharu), Miharu resembles Brave Witches‘ Takami Karibuchi but is otherwise very strict. Kaoruko’s defining characteristic is her shyness and quickness to tears when met with challenges. At school, she finds herself quickly overwhelmed by the number of students at school, when the begin asking her questions about her background. Being in the same class as Ruki and Tsubasa has its advantages, and they pull her from the situation, sharing a conversation with her on the school rooftops.

  • While I watch anime of Comic Girls‘ class with a nontrivial frequency, one topic that often depicted, and one that I never cover, is yuri – I count it as a topic that I cannot adequately discuss. A glance at the history suggests that use of the term to refer to romantic interactions amongst females stems from a magazine in the late seventies, although these female romances have been present in literature as early as the turn of the twentieth century, involving a shy individual developing interest in an older, more mature character. These elements are the forerunners of modern yuri works, and even in anime where they are not core to the narrative, can be quite visible.

  • While early yuri manga have academic value for drawing influence from earlier literature and influencing modern shows, yuri elements are now prevalent enough so that they become unremarkable. These dynamics do not seem to have much of an impact on the narrative overall in general: Slow Start is a fine example of where the yuri elements had minimal bearing on where Hana’s directions ended up going, and so, while perhaps amusing, I don’t really have much more to offer on yuri in my posts. Back in Comic Girls, like Ren of Anne Happy and to a lesser extent, Hinako from Hinako Note, Kaoruko has the power to draw small animals to her. She encounters a small kitten after class who is as shy as she is and struggles to pet it.

  • Like Eiko in Slow Start did for Hana and Hiroe, Koyume decides to help Kaoruko improve her style when discussion leads to a point where Kaoruko’s manga might be uninspired because of her fashion style, specifically, her lack thereof. It turns out that Kaoruko’s choice is motivated by personal reasons: she sticks with homemade clothing and has long hair to remind her that she’s grown. It’s rather touching, but comes at a cost, so Kaoruko’s friends decide to help her out and by means of a makeover, see how she looks in different hairstyles and outfits.

  • Kaoruko’s mannerisms are considered to be a bit unusual, even against the standards of the people within Comic Girls. It certainly sets her apart from even Anne and Hinako, and while some viewers count Kaoruko as a bit irritating, I don’t for the fact that her archetype and all of its variations are simply fictional portrayals of people. I’ve never encountered anyone like the characters seen in four panel manga in reality, and I would hope that this trend continues. In fact, I liken four-panel manga characters to watching small pets playing around.

  • Apparently, present discussion has developed a fixation on Kaoruko’s interest in collecting female figurines, and some have asserted that “[Kaoruko is] interested in girls. The thing is, we can’t refute either theory, and they can overlap”. There’s nothing quite like a bit of pseudo-intellectualism to get the neurons firing, and I immediately present the counterargument to refute this individual’s load of bollocks. Simply, there are many males who collect NHL or superhero figurines of Captain America, Batman, etc. If we accepted this individual’s logic, that one has attraction towards the sex of their figures, to be true, then the implications on the population as a whole would be quite interesting. This is naturally not the case – even if Kaoruko has yuri tendencies, her interest in kawaii figurines certainly is not an indicator of thus. The end result: “theory” busted, there are no purported overlaps, and that this conversation is over.

  • On a grey, rainy day reminiscent of the weather I encountered in Narita a little less than a year ago and the weather seen in Adventure Time‘s “The Hard Easy”, Kaoruko comes across Koyume and Ruki seemingly doing something quite intimate. Her subsequent embarrassment is strong enough for her to emit photons, giving her face a glow visible on this rainy day. However, as it turns out, Ruki is simply trying to get inspiration for her artwork; using a real-world figure makes it easier for her to conceptualise poses that are possible within the constraints of how humans can move.

  • When she tries to get Kaoruko to help out, Ruki finds that Kaoruko is quite unsuited for things. It is quite clear that Comic Girls will have the occasional moment for mammaries and pantsu, which adds to the humour somewhat. Koyume’s physique is described as being billowy – she is rather more defined than the others in some places, and while Ruki is envious, Koyume would rather have a more petite figure similar to Ruki’s. The consequence is a minor fight that Kaoruko is content to watch.

  • While Koyume has no problem interacting with Kaoruko or Ruki, the thought of Tsubasa seeing her in this state embarrasses her, and Ruki takes the moment to capture Koyume’s expression. It would seem that Tsubasa’s resemblance to a guy causes this embarrassment, which further complicates the way things roll in Comic Girls. While I could spend sleepless nights wringing my hands about how things work in a fictional world, this isn’t the best use of my time.

  • In the laundry room, Koyume, Kaoruko and Ruki run into Tsubasa, who is changing. They feel that her figure strikes the ideal balance between Koyume and Ruki’s, but Tsubasa hilariously desires a shredded physique. One element I’ve not mentioned about Comic Girls so far is that the anime cleverly makes use of manga panel elements to transition between scenes, really giving the sense that the anime adaptation has brought the manga to life with moving visuals and sound.

  • Kaoruko pushes forwards with her project to the point of exhaustion, spurred on by a desire to produce something worth reading. Ever since meeting Koyume, Ruki and Tsubasa, Kaoruko’s definitely seen more, enough to motivate her to continue working on a manga that readers enjoy – this forms the basis for the page quote, from legendary comic artist Bill Watterson. The line is sourced from Calvin and Hobbes, and it certainly holds true in Comic Girls. Now that Kaoruko is interacting with peers, she expands her experiences, which will help her create more enjoyable works.

  • Kaoruko is not fond of vegetables and natto, struggling to eat. It is when her parents call Miharu and give her insight into what Kaoruko is fond of that she begins eating better. I understand her aversion to natto – it kicked my ass when I tried it in Japan last year, and I’m otherwise pretty open-minded about new experiences. Kaoruko’s dislike for tomatoes and broccoli, on the other hand, requires a bit of genetics to explain. The hTAS2R38 gene plays a role in governing how bitter we perceive foods to be, and folks with two copies of this allele will taste bitter agents more strongly, hence their dislike for vegetables, and interestingly enough, will also have an increased consumption of sweet foods.

  • If Kaoruko could produce a decent manga after three episodes, then Comic Girls would end right here, right now, and I would go on my merry way, watching other shows and returning to Battlefield 1. Of course, this isn’t the case, and her editor rejects Kaoruko’s latest work, showing that three episodes in, Kaoruko still has a ways to go yet. I won’t be writing about Comic Girls with the same frequency that I did for Slow Start – even with a mere twenty screenshots, I struggled to write for Comic Girls. I will, however, be returning at the end of the season to do a full-season reflection and see whether or not the anime succeeded in telling an engaging story. In the meantime, Shock Operations (single-map operations) and new weapons, including the Thompson Annihilator, will be introduced in June for Battlefield 1. May might see the inclusion of new weapon variants, including a suppressed Enfield rifle. On top of this, The Division‘s next global event, “Blackout”, begins on Monday, and this one looks fun – I might even complete my exotic weapons collection with the Urban MDR if luck is favourable.

Overall, I will continue to keep watching Comic Girls; after three episodes, the anime has proven to be quite enjoyable, especially for the situations that Kaoruko finds herself in. Like Hana from Slow Start, one cannot help but feel a degree of warmth whenever misfortune falls upon her. Similarly, it is quite entertaining to watch her newfound friends do their best to support her. This is likely what Comic Girls will deal with: Kaoruko does not get what high school girls might be like despite being one herself, so it is logical to imagine that Comic Girls will place her in a variety of ordinary situations and experiences that Japanese high school girls go through, and as she becomes closer to each of Ruki, Tsubasa and Koyume, create precious memories that will help her understand high school life to an extent that she can adequately create fiction about it. A skilful writer can write about most anything even without having experienced it personally, but sometimes, it is useful to draw from one’s experiences in order to write. This is one of the reasons why I was able to write my thesis and conference papers so quickly, and why gaming posts take me no effort to write (in turn, being the reason why there are gaming posts on this blog at all), and knowing how to approach writing, using familiar topics, in turn allow one to develop a process. For my blog, these are the anime posts, and for Kaoruko, as she learns to write her experiences more effectively, it is not inconceivable to see her begin exploring other genres and topics as she improves to produce more engaging, compelling manga as a result of her experiences.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Eromanga Sensei and A Simplified Journey of Discovering Happiness Anew

“Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been.” —Alan Alda

Written by Tsukasa Fushimi of OreImo notoriety, Eromanga Sensei has nothing to do with the Eromanga Basin or Eromanga in Queensland, Australia. Rather than referring to a windy plain, Eromanga Sensei follows high school student Masamune Izumi, a light novel writer whose publications are illustrated by one Eromanga Sensei. When Masamune discovers that his younger sister, Sagiri, is Eromanga Sensei, he attempts to get her to open up to the world after she became a recluse. In the process, he meets fellow light novel authors Emily Granger (better known as Elf Yamada) and Hana Umezono (referred to by her pen name, Muramasa Senju), both of which are highly successful authors who also develop feelings for Masamune. Because of its origins, Eromanga Sensei is prima facie a front for the sort of relationship story that characterised OreImo; during the course of its run, it retains a tried-and-true approach in its narrative, but as the series progressed, watching the dynamics between all of the characters made it clear that Eromanga Sensei is rather lower-key, more restrained than OreImo. Masamune himself proved to be more likeable than his counterparts in OreImo and SaeKano, primarily because his motivations for writing, however tacky they might be, touches on a rather more interesting topic that is worth discussion. Had Eromanga Sensei done away with Fushimi’s signature approach, this particular theme would’ve resulted in a story that is far more moving and meaningful than Eromanga Sensei provides – this is not to say that Eromanga Sensei was completely unenjoyable, but I would have liked to see this particular topic explored in greater detail, since Eromanga Sensei does end up being a story of recovery and rediscovery at its core.

After his mother’s death, Masamune fell into a depression. When he picked up writing, he found himself finding happiness in being able to craft worlds for others. The joy associated with making other readers smile formed a powerful motivation for him to continue, inspiring Sagiri to become more proficient in her drawing. With a nontrivial prevalence in the world, depression is a major mental health issue – an estimated 350 million people have depression, and contemporary awareness programs have aimed to push non-clinical approaches as means of helping people recover. Social support and rediscovery are amongst two of the solutions recommended; Eromanga Sensei presents a success story in Masamune’s case. Inspired by Sagiri’s enjoyment of his work, Masamune writes to continue making his readers happy, and in doing so, he was able to accept his mother’s passing. After Sagiri joins the Izumi family, her mother dies of an unknown cause, sending her into a depression that sees her withdrawing from the world. When Masamune realises Sagiri finds happiness in drawing, his own experiences lead him to try and help Sagiri recover and open up. This takes the form of a light novel project that ends up being quite successful, and by Eromanga Sensei‘s end, Sagiri begins to show signs of improvement. Eromanga Sensei thus illustrates that social support and the rediscovery of doing something that one loves can have a positive impact on those suffering from depression – this is naturally more complex in reality, and Eromanga Sensei is only a superficial abstraction of what recovery could look like.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Why I watched OreImo some years ago eludes me, and if I had to hazard a guess, I would suppose that I was curious to see what all of the commotion about the series was. I provided no definitive verdict on whether I would recommend the series. If I go off of my recollections alone, I would count it as a neutral series, just like Eromanga Sensei, in that it is entertaining enough, but offers no satisfactory outcome for viewers. In Eromanga Sensei, my favourite characters are, curiously enough, none of the leads: Tomoe Takasago is one of them.

  • At the start of Eromanga Sensei, Sagiri is withdrawn, shy and unable to hold a conversation face-to-face, resorting to alternate means of communication in order to speak with Masamune. It is when Masamune notices how joyful Sagiri is while drawing that he makes a serious effort to try and get her to open up to those around her, and slowly but surely, a change is observed as Eromanga Sensei progresses.

  • Without its other characters, Eromanga Sensei would not have enough content for twelve episodes, and so, the likes of Emily “Elf Yamada” Granger grace the show. The classical ojou-sama, Emily is a fellow light novel writer and is quite well-known. She clashes frequently with Masamune, but as they spend more time working on novels, Emily begins to develop feelings for Masamune.

  • One of Sagiri’s classmates, Megumi Jinno, brings her entire class out to the Izumi residence with the aim of bringing Sagiri back to school, but Masamune drives them off. A former model, Megumi’s a bit mischievous and enjoys messing with Masamune; it turns out that she’s big on being with others and creating a joyous atmosphere, and so, while she feigns interest in Masamune, her main goal is to bring Sagiri back to school.

  • Quiet, bashful and somewhat resembling GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu in nature, save a perverse interest in drawing cartoonised female anatomy and a tendency to beat Masamune with very specific objects, Sagiri is much more likeable as a character against the likes of Kirino Kousaka. To Sagiri, Masamune is the reliable older sibling who tirelessly looks after her, over time, longing to help her face the world once again. His determination to help her is what drives his motivation to write light novels, and while he expresses a romantic interest in Sagiri, he constantly strives to be a supportive older sibling first and foremost.

  • In order to help her know Sagiri better, Masamune suggests to Megumi that she read some light novels and better understand the sort of world that Sagiri illustrates. When arriving at the bookstore that Tomoe works at, Megumi inadverdently offends Tomoe, calling them “creepy otaku novels” and seeks revenge by giving her recommendations for series that are still in progress. By my admission, I am not big on light novels – their English counterparts, even when given professional translations, sometimes lose something in the process, and as a result, I feel as though I’m missing something.

  • While Megumi is not one of the female leads, I rather liked her inclusion in Eromanga Sensei. She’s present to support Sagiri, and also has a few interesting moments in the anime. Her reasons for wanting to befriend Sagiri are not shown in the anime, but one assumes that she’s going for a perfect run – having befriended everyone she’s run into, it seems that Megumi considers it a personal challenge to try and become familiar with everyone in her year. As such, she views Sagiri as a particularly worthwhile bit of conquest, hence her trying to understand Sagiri’s worldview better. The end result is that Tomoe gets her revenge: after finishing the novels, Megumi is left wanting more.

  • Sagiri agrees to meet with Megumi to use her as a model, in exchange for lending her some light novels, and in the events following, Sagiri pulls down Megumi’s pantsu. To show the moment would likely cause my blog to be de-indexed, so I’m not going to do that. Readers then pose the question: if I do not like light novels, then what do I read? I am big on J.R.R. Tolkein and Tom Clancy for fiction, and have since continued reading Mark Greany’s continuation of the Jack Ryan Jr. universe. Outside of fiction, I read books that deal with evolution, cosmology and the like – while I’m not a technical expert on those things, I do like exploring topics that are outside of my speciality.

  • Masamune runs into difficulty securing a publisher for his project with Sagiri, despite having worked tirelessly to complete the manuscript. Emily decides to help him out, and goes on a “date” with him that frustrates Sagiri. From an external perspective, Emily seems to be the best match for Masamune to a much greater extent than Sagiri.

  • Masamune learns that there will be a competition held, in which the winning entry will be published. This addresses the challenge that Masamune is facing, but when it turns out that his competition is none other than one Hana Umezono, a veritable juggernaut whose got more sales than Emily and Masamune combined. She vows to crush him in competition, but later loses on the basis that she was over the word count. Writing concisely was somewhat of a challenge for me during my time as a student, and I still recall struggling to get an eight page paper down to four pages for my first-ever conference publication.

  • As it turns out, Hana became a light novel writer, emulating Masamune’s style because she was greatly moved by one of his works and became disappointed that his genres changed. She thus hoped to destroy him in competition so that he might give up his own path and help her write novels she enjoyed, citing the rush of inspiring readers as the reason why she took to writing. However, Masamune is resolute on bringing happiness into Sagiri’s life and so, remains steadfast in his own goals.

  • I’ve chosen to refer to everyone by their real names rather than pen names for two reasons: the first is that this is simply how I do things, and second, “Masamune” and “Muramasa” are very similar that it took me a few episodes to get used to things.

  • In the aftermath of the competition, the authors celebrate together before setting out to watch the fireworks, leaving Masamune to watch the fireworks with Sagiri. The conflict in Eromanga Sensei is rudimentary at best and lacks the same divisiveness that OreImo brought to the table, and as a result, reception to Eromanga Sensei around the English-speaking community is mixed. More favourable reviews found the series a modestly engaging one, although not without its flaws, while folks who did not enjoy the series cite it as being predictable and a rehash of OreImo. In a rare case, I agree with both camps.

  • On the whole, I did not find watching Eromanga Sensei to be a complete waste of time, partially because we get to see moments such as an embarrassed Hana in a swimsuit ill-suited for swimming and primarily because of the fact that Eromanga Sensei could’ve explored a completely new direction beyond the tired imouto setup. I did not watch this anime when it aired owing to a lack of interest, and it was a Battlefield 1 emblem that led me to wonder what this anime was like.

  • Emily’s confession to Masamune was an enjoyable one to watch: it speaks volumes to what she thinks of him when she brings him to the same spot where her father proposed to her mother. One of Fushimi’s most prominent approaches within his narratives is to drive things in such a way so that all of the central female leads develop feelings for the male lead, but the male lead only has eyes for the imouto archetype. This approach means that folks who would see Masamune ending up with anyone else will be disappointed. I’ve heard that some folks from Japan were sufficiently dissatisfied about OreImo‘s outcomes that they issued threats to Fushimi subsequently paid a high price for their overreaction.

  • If I did not enjoy Eromanga Sensei to the same extent as I did for shows I do enjoy, one wonders, what kept me continuing even when my ordinary modus operandi is to not write about shows I don’t like? The answer lies in the thematic elements that I managed to distill from my watch of the show, which is the point of the Terrible Anime Challenges – if I can find even a semblance of a coherent theme in a show that prima facie has little purpose, then I will write about it. Anne Happy was something that tried to tell a story and only succeeded partially, while Sansha San’yō ended up being quite enjoyable. Terrible Anime Challenge posts thus can end with one of three conclusions:
    1. The show exceeded my expectations and had a theme worth telling, or
    2. The show failed to distinguish itself and be worthwhile, but also had a theme that was at least serviceable, or
    3. The show was not enjoyable and did not attempt to have a coherent message

  • Eromanga Sensei joins the likes of Anne Happy in being in the second group. For my next Terrible Anime Challenge, I’ve got Bakuon!! lined up. As well, I will also go through Hanayamata and Stella no Mahou: all of these are shows that I watched one episode of, lost interest and did not continue watching with their respective series’ progression. The Terrible Anime Challenge series has given me incentive to go back and revisit these anime, and one of the more fun aspects about Terrible Anime Challenge is that I can take a look at other opinions out there for a given show, see how closely they align with mine and then, if they do not, I may proceed to shred them purely for entertainment value.

  • OreImo‘s Kyousuke, Kirino, Ruri and Saori make an appearance towards the end of Eromanga Sensei after Masamune’s novel comes out. This was a particularly fun moment, to watch the OreImo crew return to this blog after nearly five years – my old OreImo posts are somewhat maligned by folks who felt my stance on the conclusion was unwarranted. I was enjoying things throughout OreImo‘s first season and second season until the true end aired, after which things became a little difficult to accept. A few readers thought this was an “immature” response and proceeded to spam my comments section with long-winded arguments about my various and numerous shortcomings as a person, et cetera.

  • For its shortcomings, Eromanga Sensei is technically passable with respect to animation and sound quality. There’s a context behind this screenshot that will take a bit of explanation to reach, so I’ll leave readers to enjoy another moment of Hana in an interesting situation while I recount what happened to those errant commenters. I ended up wiping their comments, since they were contributing little to the discussion. I usually leave comments up regardless of whether or not they disagree with me, and there’ve only been one other instance where I deleted a comment for ad hominem attacks.

  • The final episode involves Sagiri’s attempts to draw real Eromanga (sorry, folks of Eromanga, Queensland!), and ends up with Sagiri totally botching male anatomy, leading her and Emily to try and use Masamune as a model to learn what a gizmo looks like in reality. Eromanga Sensei merits a C+ in my books, and with this done, my third Terrible Anime Challenge post to a close, and regular programming resumes soon: I will be looking at both Amanchu! Advance and Comic Girls after three episodes have passed. As well, for readers who’ve played Valkyria Chronicies, I’ve also got a talk on my experiences with the campaign-driven DLCs, now that I’ve gotten off my rear and finally went through them.

Overall, because Eromanga Sensei attempted to take a different approach than did OreImo while retaining some familiar elements, opportunity to explore its themes of recovery further is eschewed in favour of more conventional jokes, self-referential humour pertaining to the light novel industry and free anatomy lessons. These elements are to be expected: from the glass-half-full perspective, we can say that Eromanga Sensei provides a story that is a bit more meaningful than that of OreImo‘s – there’s a reason that Masamune enjoys writing and why he directs considerable effort towards helping Sagiri open up once more. Beyond this, I am largely neutral about Eromanga Sensei – folks who are looking for something more meaningful in their anime beyond what Eromanga Sensei intrinsically offers would do better to look elsewhere, and those who are looking for something similar to OreImo might find Eromanga Sensei worthwhile. In fact, I might go so far as to consider Eromanga Sensei and OreImo to be the difference between Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in that both are separated only by minute differences, with one having a slightly stronger theme than the other. While it does step in a different direction and features a protagonist whose existence does not irritate audiences, Eromanga Sensei continues to inherit the same traits as its predecessors. Beyond this, Eromanga Sensei offers little that make it particularly standout. Having said this, one thing is certain, though: folks who enjoyed the show will have enjoyed for their own reasons, and this is perfectly okay.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Sansha San’yō and The Making of Magic From The Ordinary

“Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” –Francis Bacon

Yōko Nishikawa hails from a once well-to-do family whose fortunes fell when her father’s businesses succumbed to bankruptcy, leading her to live a frugal lifestyle. While eating lunch on her own, she encounters Futaba Odagiri and Teru Hayama, two of her classmates: Futaba has become lost while trying a shortcut, and Teru was pursuing a cat. This happenstance meeting allow the three individuals, unrelated in all manners save their sharing the kanji for ‘leaf’ in their names, to become friends, and over the course of Sansha San’yō (Three Leaves, Three Colours, or Tripartide Trefoil), Yōko, Futaba and Teru share in many misadventures with one another. From the rivalry between Teru and Serina Nishiyama, to the various antics of Yōko’s former staff (such as Sonobe Shino and Mitsugu Yamaji), the main cast’s interactions with an array of secondary characters to give the Sansha San’yō world a more colourful, lively feel; as the seasons pass by, Yōko comes to deeply appreciate her friendship with Teru and Futaba, accepting their eccentricities as she shares with them everyday life at school, working at a confectionary shop that Sonobe owns, relaxing during the summer and taking in the festivities of the Christmas season. Conveying the notion that friendships transcend creed and socio-economic status, Sansha San’yō‘s unusual set of characters come together to create a surprisingly enjoyable and amusing story that entertains audiences by creating the ridiculous out of the ordinary.

When placed with the likes of Flying Witch, Hai-Furi and Kuromukuro, the Spring 2016 season proved to be a very busy one, compounded by the fact that I was gearing up to finish my graduate thesis and attend two conferences to present my research. Anime like Anne Happy and Sansha San’yō, which prima facie look to be shows that might capture my interest, were quickly placed on the backburner. While Anne Happy proved somewhat disappointing, Sansha San’yō ended up being unexpectedly fun to watch. What is more unexpected about Sansha San’yō is the fact that its original manga run began in February 2003 – while the anime adaptation modernises the look and feel for each of the characters, the fact that Sansha San’yō dates back some fifteen years means that its brand of humour and characterisation is different than what might be seen from more modern 4-koma series. Each of Yōko, Teru and Futaba have distinct attributes that make them memorable; none of the characters conform to the archetypes that anime such as K-On! have set the groundwork for, and consequently, watching highly unique characters bounce off one another creates comedy that is refreshing to watch. The age of Sansha San’yō‘s source material makes it stand out from other 4-koma series (especially Anne Happy, which it aired alongside), and more impressively, the conversations and jokes in Sansha San’yō have withstood the test of time. Whether it be Yōko’s fall from grace and yearning to return to her old life, Futaba’s insatiable love for food or Teru’s haraguroi personality, the elements seen in Sansha San’yō are quite timeless and remain entertaining even after fifteen years.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As a Terrible Anime Challenge post, this talk on Sansha San’yō features twenty images, and will not go into some scenes or elements in the same detail as a conventional post. Sansha San’yō‘s opening episodes are largely set in the quiet and inviting grounds of the school that Yōko attends, where her budget forces her to subsist on bread crusts as a lunch. A happenstance meeting allows Yōko to meet Futaba and Teru. While the source manga far predates the likes of Locodol, I cannot help but notice that Futaba and Teru are similar to Locodol‘s Nanako and Yukari in terms of appearance. Their personalities, however, are anything but. Yōko herself seems to have formed the basis for Anne Happy‘s Ruri, as well as GochiUsa‘s Rize and Sharo.

  • The story behind my experience in Sansha San’yō is that I took a look at the first episode, was somewhat interested by the setup, and then proceeded to forget about the show because I had my hands tied with Hai-Furi‘s first episode: the unexpected turn of events, in conjunction with deliberate misinformation about this anime, made it difficult for viewers and readers to differentiate who was stating facts and who was fabricating information for brownie points. Hai-Furi‘s conclusion and two subsequent OVAs later, things have settled down considerably, leaving the way clear for me to return to Sansha San’yō.

  • A former maid of the Nishikawa family, Shino Sonobe is a bit of an amusing character whose matter-of-fact deliveries and penchance for doing outrageous things drive comedy, exasperating Yōko and her friends to no end. However, she does end up offering Yōko a part-time position at her bakery, and Yōko comes to enjoy both being able to have an income, as well as interact with others to better gain a sense of how ordinary people might live.

  • One aspect that Sansha San’yō nails in its delivery is the fact that the characters, while each with their own unique features, are never overshadowed by them. Yōko might be from a wealthy background and retains her mannerisms, but is approachable and friendly. Teru might have a heart blacker than coal, but she’s only really malevolent when pushed. Futaba enjoys eating challenges, but also has the cooking skills to back up her love for food: when she surprises Teru and Yōko with this revelation, she also explains that it’d be bad news bears if she only knew how to eat, and here, helps Yōko cook Kobe beef, creating with the others a fantastic memory.

  • Serina Nishimiya is Futaba and Teru’s classmates, and engages in fierce competition for supremacy in all things academic with Teru. In spite of her efforts, she ends up on the losing side.Despite the feelings of animosity between Serina and Teru being mutual, the two share a love of small animals. Her dislike for Teru is exploited by Shino, who coerces her into working at her bakery, and in time, she and her friend, Asako Kondō, spend more time with Yōko and the others, even if they do not necessarily count one another as friends.

  • Without the additional premise of “misfortune” or “bad luck” driving things, Sansha San’yō is the more enjoyable of the two Manga Time Kirara Adaptations of the Spring 2016 season. Produced and animated by Doga Kobo, which worked on Yuru Yuri‘s first two seasons, both seasons of New Game! and Himōto! Umaru-chan, it is not particularly surprising that Sansha San’yō has high quality with its art and animation: the summer beach here is inviting, and the vivid blue colours do much to capture a mid-summer feel, when the days are long and suited for doing things of one’s choosing.

  • Sakura (Futaba’s cousin) and Yū Takezono square off here: the latter is from a family close to the Nishikawas, while the former has a remarkably detailed plan for life and openly makes her feelings for Yū known. They appear occasionally, but the point of this screenshot is not to highlight their interactions, which are infrequent. Instead, the point of this screenshot is so I don’t have to spend a thousand words explaining why Yōko is my favourite of the characters in Sansha San’yō.

  • Because Sansha San’yō is an older manga, elements of yuri are non-existent – it’s one more element that made the anime considerably more enjoyable. Bill Watterson elaborated in an interview that Calvin and Susie were written to have mutual crushes on one another in Calvin and Hobbes, but found that this was difficult to work in, so he eventually wrote the characters to bounce off one another instead, leading to stories that were more dynamic and entertaining. Sansha San’yō benefited from this approach, illustrating that yuri is not an end-all for slice-of-life anime.

  • The straightforwards approach of Sansha San’yō meant that this anime would’ve been quite difficult to write for had I chosen to blog about it back while it was still airing. Most period discussion on the anime dealt primarily with the interactions – character drive anime are typically quite rudimentary in their thematic elements, and the main enjoyment in watching them stems from watching stuff happen. This is why things like why Mitsugu’s providing only yogurt and puddings to Yōko is skated over in my discussions: as as systems-level kind of guy, I don’t have much patience for folks who dreg up minutiae because they feel the constant need to validate their intellect (or possibly, lack thereof).

  • In answering the above, a perfectly rational individual would surmise that either Yōko is fond of those particular products, or they’re what Mitsugu has the easiest time accessing. I remark that I’ve a disproportionate number of screenshots from the beach episode, and this is a consequence of not doing a full on review of the series. Here, Yōko speaks with Sasame Tsuji, sister of  Hajime Tsuji; she’s dissatisfied that Futaba keeps kicking her brother’s ass in food challenges, and is conflicted when she learns that Yōko happens to be friends with Futaba. Her desire for friendship wins out, and she will later spend more time with Yōko and the others as Sansha San’yō continues.

  • Time makes fools of everyone – while Teru and Serina might not admit it any more than Sasame, Yōko, Futaba and Teru’s increasing presence in their lives, and their corresponding increase in time spent together means that for all intents and purposes, a friendship of sorts begins to form. Here, Futaba gives Serina a ticket to a pet zoo so she may attend with Teru, and despite their hostilities, the two manage to run into one another at every turn, reflecting on the fact their love for kittens is mutual. Were it not for Serina’s attempts in goading Teru past the point of endurance, things might’ve gone smoothly; both characters exhibit flaws that preclude a cordial relationship with one another.

  • It’s rare to see Adam Richman’s equal in anime: Futaba’s appetite and enjoyment of food challenges is second to none, and she’s never seen suffering from the food walls that Adam Richman hits in Man v. Food where quantity challenges are involved. However, excessively spicy food will best her, whereas Richman is actually quite strong in all of his showings against spicy foods: save one challenge in Saratosa against the “Fire-in-your-Hole” wings, Richman has conquered every other challenge. After Futaba gets burned by ultra-hot curry, she realises that dialed back, the curry would be perfect for a culture festival event.

  • As Sansha San’yō wears on, I became acclimatized to the antics of Teru and Futaba. Initially, it was a bit unusual to see Yukari and Nanako look-alikes in this anime, but in time, I grew to greatly enjoy Sansha San’yō – this is the motivation for the page quote. I was motivated to pick up the anime again on a recommendation from one of my readers, and I’m happy to say that the further I got into the anime, the more I liked what I was seeing. I’m all smiles when watching Sansha San’yō, so a warm thank you to DerekL of Apprentice Mages for getting me back into this one is on order.

  • Futaba is often referred to as the Human Black Hole, and it is her suggestion that her class does a curry café. On the topic of black holes, renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of seventy six, coinciding with the birth date of Albert Einstein. His work on black holes was revolutionary, and he was one of the first to suppose that general relativity and quantum theory were connected in some way. I have Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell; both are fantastic and informative works that explain immensely complex topics in an approachable manner.

  • Christmas in Japan is quite different than what folks from North America and Europe would be accustomed to. Rather than emphasis on family and generosity, Christmas in Japan emphasises couples. Anime typically depicts it as a time of year when friends gather to share a meal together: the bucket of fried chicken on the table, and Futaba’s insistence on having fried chicken at Christmas is a callout to the fact that fried chicken, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken, is an immensely popular Christmas dinner in Japan. With its origins in a 1974 marketing campaign, it codified a Christmas tradition for everyone that has endured into the present.

  • In the eternal struggle between Serina and Teru, Teru always comes out on top. Their friends can only watch in amusement as things go down, and here, Serina is blown away by the fact that Teru’s birthday is on Christmas, feeling offended that celebrating Christmas is to implicitly celebrate Teru’s birthday, as well. As icing on the cake, Locodol‘s Yukari, whom I noted to share some similarities with Teru in appearance, also has a Christmas birthday, as well. I am positive that this bit of information did not cross my mind during my initial watching of Sansha San’yō.

  • While the snowfall is used purely for comedy’s sake in Sansha San’yō, there is nothing remotely amusing about the snow that has fallen in my area: with 43.3 cm of snow falling in the past month, we’ve broken a record of sorts, and after shovelling the snow, we’ve got piles of snow on the lawn deep enough for me to pull off what Shino’s got going here. One aspect of Sansha San’yō that I’ve got no screenshots of, but loved seeing, was Teru exploding in anger after Futaba visits her house and shouts out, inviting Teru out to chill, rather than using the doorbell.

  • A lot of sources translate the title 三者三葉 literally as “Three-person trefoil”, after the L. corniculatus, a flowering plant with a distinct three-leafed flower, but looking at the title more closely, “Three people, three leaves” is the better direct translation. In English, Sansha San’yō is known as “Three Leaves, Three Colours”, evidently after the fact that there are three main characters with the kanji 葉 in their name and that each of the girls has distinct personalities and traits, hence the colours. This is the best translation possible.

  • Discussions of Sansha San’yō have remained quite limited and concise: this is unsurprising, considering that from a big-picture perspective, the anime follows a tried and true convention presenting a story about friendship. Most of the anime’s joys come from, as Bill Watterson put it, watching the characters bounce off one another, and I personally find that it’s more than okay to enjoy shows such as these, even when not much conversation can be had about events within the aforementioned shows. To put things in perspective, discussions on Sansha San’yō at Tango-Victor-Tango, a place known for folks that count episode summaries as analysis and where people attempt to turn minor details into something of academic significance, stopped at episode eight.

  • The finale of Sansha San’yō has Shino recounting a vivid dream to Yōko and the others, before Yōko learns that her father has found new employment. While things begin turning around, Yōko laments that she has not changed too dramatically since meeting Teru and Futaba, but her friends disagree, feeling that the Yōko now is more sociable and connected with those around her, no longer encountering difficulties in conversing with people of a different background than herself. Because my upcoming posts for the second half of March should be well-known (or at least, easy to infer), I’ll wrap up this talk by noting that Sansha San’yō exceeded my expectations and earns a well-deserved A (9.0 of 10).

Unlike Anne Happy, which I would not recommend to viewers, my verdict on Sansha San’yō is quite different: this one is worth watching for the fact that the characters are distinct both within the context of Sansha San’yō, as well as when compared against newer 4-koma adaptations. While being quite conventional as far as thematic elements go, the main draw in Sansha San’yō are the characters and each of their unique personalities – unlike any modern archetypes, they are quite novel, setting Sansha San’yō apart from similar anime. From a technical perspective, Sansha San’yō is also respectable; with satisfactory animation, artwork and sound, it is nice to see an older manga given a modernised adaptation. While enjoyable for what it is, one lingering question is whether or not we could see more Sansha San’yō in the future: there is plenty of material to adapt, as the manga is still running, so a continuation’s viability will depend on sales of home releases and the studio’s interest. While nothing official has been announced yet, it appears that general interest in the series (Japanese viewers warmly received Sansha San’yō) and the animator’s response to this reception means that a sequel should not be ruled out. If such a continuation, either in the form of a second season or OVA, is to be reality, I would likely watch it, so in conjunction with everything else I’ve mentioned in this Terrible Anime Challenge, I would conclude that Sansha San’yō most certainly is not a terrible anime by any definition, only being granted this misnomer on account of the fact that I had a bit of difficulty getting into things when it first began airing back in the spring of 2016.

A Place Further Than The Universe: Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” –Drake

Mari Tamaki is an ordinary high school student in her second year. She constantly longs to do something exciting during her youth but has the propensity of backing down before embarking on any adventures. When she finds an envelope containing a million yen, she learns that it belongs to one Shirase Kobuchizawa, who intends to travel to Antarctica in search of her missing mother. Inspired by Shirase’s resolve, Mari resolves to support Shirase, and she takes up a part-time position at a convenience store to raise the funds required to travel. She befriends Hinata Miyake, who had overheard Shirase and Mari’s plans and yearns to accompany them. When they attempt to participate in a meeting for expedition members, Kanae Maekawa and Yumiko Samejima catch on. They learn of Shirase’s aspirations and decline her requests to join. Later, Shirase, Mari and Hinata encounter Yuzuki Shiraishi, a young actress who is trying to worm her way out of going to Antarctica. Yuzuki, having spent her life acting, never made any friends and so, longs for a normal life, but when Mari invites her to hang out, she realises that she’s found friends among Mari and the others. She decides to accept the Antarctica assignment on the condition that Mari, Shirase and Hinata accompany her. The girls attend a training camp, where they meet captain Gin Todo, who knew Shirase’s mother, and later, Mari and Shirase receive a proper send-off from their school. Megumi reveals that she’d grown jealous of Mari, who’d become more independent since the Anarctica trip materialised, and Mari promises that she’ll return. Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki travel to Singapore for the first leg of their journey, where Hinata seemingly loses her passport. When it turns out that Shirase had taken it for safe keeping, an irate Mari and Yuzuki force Shirase and Hinata to eat a whole durian as recompense.

A Place Further Than The Universe, or Sora Yorimo Tōi Basho, is perhaps this season’s most unexpected anime: earnest and forward in its portrayal of a journey motivated by multiple factors, precise in its presentation of detail and striking a balance between the comedic and dramatic, there’s been no shortage of discussion on A Place Further Than The Universe out there. From the minute details in geolocation using waypoints and flags, to the portrayal of Singapore, A Place Further Than The Universe is an anime that invites praise discussion and scrutinisation. However, par the course for anime discussions wherever real-world details and drama are involved, folks often forget about the overarching themes within the narrative, which is akin to understanding how an engine works but not know what an engine is used for. There is a much bigger picture in A Place Further Than The Universe than what is presented at the halfway point, but for the present, the simpler and more immediate theme A Place Further Than The Universe aims to present is that the journey matters as much as the destination. This accounts for why, despite being presented as an anime about high school girls visiting Antarctica, the entirety of the first half deals with the preparations Mari and the others undertake before this dream can become a reality. From Mari summoning the courage to carry out one of her long-standing wishes of doing something worthy of remembrance and Shirase’s determination pushing her to continue her initially-futile goal of visiting Antarctica, to the fateful turn of events that bring Yuzuki into their group, A Place Further Than The Universe makes every effort to show the human aspects that transpire to turn Shirase’s pipe dream into reality. How the girls’ dreams begin, and their efforts to realise this dream, matter more than the end goal: Shirase’s seemingly-unattainable and foolish dream has the effect of bringing people together, and unified, the girls set out to Antarctica, each with their own reasons for undertaking this journey.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Featuring a bawling Mari is probably a strange way to open up a post, but I think I understand how Mari feels about having not done anything in her youth. Now that I’m no longer a carefree youth, the opportunity to go out and do something is rarer, and in Mari’s case, the cure to what she feels is to summon the courage and resolve to do something, picking something that balances what is feasible with what is memorable, and then executing. This forms the basis for the whole of A Place Further Than The Universe, which sees Mari’s world turned upside down once she encounter Shirase.

  • Mari is voiced by Inori Minase, who by now, is a well-known voice actress with numerous leading roles. In A Place Further Than The Universe, her delivery of Mari’s lines is such that Mari bears very little resemblance to GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu or Girls’ Last Tour‘s Chito. She’s speaking animatedly to Megumi Takahashi, a friend she’s known for a considerable period. Of the two, Megumi is the more level-headed and usually offers Mari advice.

  • After stumbling across an envelope containing one million yen (about 11550 CAD), Mari manages to find the owner; she encounters her crying about it in the bathroom, and after returning the money, learns that the money belongs to Shirase, who is somewhat infamous for her persistent attempts to go to Antarctica. Long ridiculed by her classmates, Shirase longs to fulfil her dream in order to find her missing mother, as well as to stick it to all of the naysayers who dismissed her dreams as impossible. Shirase mentions to Mari that everyone who initially displayed interest in her endeavours eventually backed down, but Mari, having long wanted to break out of her perpetual habit of backing away, decides to commit to and support Shirase’s goal of reaching Antarctica.

  • A stern-looking girl, Shirase begins smiling more once she encounters Mari and finds that Mari is serious about helping her. One of Shirase’s strong and weak points is her single-mindedness; once her sights are set on a target, there’s no shaking her from seeing things through to the end, and she’ll endure ridicule because she understands that it’s what she believes, rather than those against her, that matters the most. However, it also alienates her from those around her – Shirase is quite unwilling to deviate from a plan or find alternative solutions when things don’t work out, leading to conflict.

  • Without any clear plan of how to join the civilian-crewed expedition, Mari initially decides to start small, and takes on a part time job at a convenience store to earn some money to fund her travels. She is employed at the same store as one Hinata, who has been listening to Mari and Shirase’s conversations with great interest. The two strike off a friendship while working together, and two become three. Hinata spends most of her time working and studying independently, having long felt herself to be uncomfortable in the high school environment.

  • While in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, trying to sneak into a meeting with the expedition members, Hinata suggests using their powers to “convince” male members of the team to allow them in. Hilarity and chaos results – it turns out that Shirase is the equivalent of K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama. Aloof, stoic and serious, she’s also the most stacked of everyone and is prone to fits of immaturity. Hinata, with her energy and spirits, resembles Ritsu Tainaka, while Mari is similar to Yui Hirasawa, being quite lacking in direction but is surprisingly reliable when the situation calls for it. Like Mio, Shirase seems to be humiliated quite a bit, and here, Hinata and Mari attempt to haul her into meeting up with the expedition members. Their endeavours backfire, but Shirase is afforded an audience with expedition members. Yumiko and Kanae, who decline Shirase’s assistance.

  • On a hot summer’s day, Yuzuki encounters Hinata kicking Shirase’s ass while Mari looks on. A child actress, Yuzuki was originally assigned as the high school student who would accompany the civilian expedition team to Antarctica as a part of her duties, but longing for nothing more than friendship and an ordinary high school experience, Yuzuki has no interest in going. Tamiko, her mother and manager, overrule this, but seeing Yuzuki’s resistance and the spirit amongst Shirase, Mari, and Hinata, she decides that if they can manage to convince Yuzuki to go, then they may accompany her.

  • Up until this point, I’ve been reasonably disciplined with “funny faces”, but the time has come to throw caution into the wind. Here, Hinata and Mari attempt to convince Tamiko that Shirase is a suitable replacement for Yuzuki. While Shirase may be styled after the Japanese hime, Tamiko asks if Shirase can sing, dance and act, essential skills in Yuzuki’s line of work, but Shirase evidently lacks experience here, hence her embarrassment.

  • Despite her strict mannerisms, Shirase will cave like a stack of dominos when pressured sufficiently. After finding Yuzuki, Mari and the others settle themselves down with her and begin speaking with her about Antarctica – Yuzuki deduces that they’re here because of her mother, and while Mari manages to betray little of the truth, Yuzuki manages to learn the truth from Shirase’s reaction. It is here that Yuzuki’s story is presented, and later, after a dream where she accepts Mari’s friendship, Yuzuki decides to hang out with Mari and her friends: their first time spending a day together sees the girls visit a museum with an Antarctica exhibit.

  • Seeing Mari, Shirase and Hinata’s warmth and companionship lead Yuzuki to reach a decision: she will accept her assignment provided that Shirase, Mari and Hinata can accompany her. Logically equivalent to her mother’s requirements, it’s a win-win for everyone. Accustomed to acting and performing, Yuzuki resembles Wake Up, Girls! Mayu Shimada in terms of background and appearance. She prefers practical, comfortable clothing over excessively ornate designs, and I cannot help but wonder if Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! would have benefitted from having a well-known studio work on its animation: Madhouse has legends such as Chobits, The Princess and The Pilot and Rideback in its repertoire.

  • After Mari forges her mother’s signature on a form, her parents somehow find out, and Mari gets her face kicked in. She notices something is off when her mother presents a variety of Antarctica-related items, and in the prelude for what awaits Mari is one of history’s most amusing funny faces. A large amount of the comedy in A Place Further Than The Universe are the exaggerated facial expressions, which give Shirobako a run for its money. As punishment for having forged a signature, Mari must pass all of her exams in order to be granted permission to ship out to Antarctica, and on top of this, she’s got a summer training camp to prepare her for her journey.

  • I’m concurrently watching and writing about Yuru Camp△, and while the latter has more emphasis on easy-going camping, A Place Further Than The Universe deals with a journey that might involve an actual survival situation. As a result, Mari and the others attend a training camp to familiarise themselves with the rules and regulations required for safety. Les Stroud has never done any Survivorman episodes in Antarctica because of the extreme dangers and remoteness of the southernmost continent: it’s the last continent that humanity has explored, and its population extends only to researchers studying the continuent’s biota.

  • The closest approximation of Antarctica in a Survivorman episode would be when Les Stroud visits the Arctic Tundra near Pond Inet. Back in A Place Further Than The Universe, the girls begin with a geolocation and waypoint setting exercise. In the absence of familiar terrestrial landmarks, researchers make use of flags and GPS to ensure they don’t get lost amongst the vast ice sheet covering the southernmost continent. The girls are subsequently tasked with camping out, and unlike the gourmet cooking of Yuru Camp△A Place Further Than The Universe is rather more focused – when Mari tries to get some conversation going, the others remind her to stay on-mission.

  • Gin later is seen speaking with Yumiko about Shirase, remarking that Shirase is strikingly similar to her mother in terms of personality. After Shirase makes her story known, the others give her some space and step out into the chilly night, seeing the Milky Way and what a true night sky might look like. Staff at headquarters radio in to check up on Mari and the others; Hinata reports that the situation is normal, and the girls turn in for the night.

  • The next morning, Mari awakens to find Gin nearby and asks her about Shirase’s mother, before gazing at a majestic sunrise. Animation in A Place Further Than The Universe is of a very high standard: the characters may look a little unusual, but their design is by choice, made to accommodate a unique brand of expressiveness that very few series can convey with just facial characteristics. The end result is that characters stand out amongst the exceptionally detailed landscapes and interiors.

  • During a publicity event for the Antarctica expedition, Shiease has trouble presenting her goals in front of an audience, and Mari inadvertently evokes Yuzuki’s displeasure by implying that Yuzuki is familiar with public speaking. As it turns out, Shirase might be able to speak with absolute resolve and clarity when it’s to disprove others who doubt her, but when this opposition is not present to motivate her, she falters and reverts to a shy, easily flustered manner. This is probably Shirase’s true self, with the tough, strict persona being more of a façade.

  • It stands to reason that Mari ended up passing all of her exams, since she’s preparing for her trip here. While a bit weak-resolved, Mari’s undergone a considerable change in the space of six episodes, and here, she wonders what she’s allowed to bring with her. Equipment from Les Stoud’s usual survival loadout, which include a multi-tool, hatchet or knife, and a harmonica, are noticeably absent from the girls’ inventories: his gear is designed to help him survive in most areas except for the Arctic and Antarctica.

  • After the school sees them off, Mari receives a bouquet from her classmates. Later, Megumi warns Mari that resentment is growing amongst the student population, leading Shirase to vehemently declare a desire to root them out. Hinata suggests that they visit a karaoke bar to decompress. Shirase ends up screaming into the mic; this brings to mind Reina’s actions back in Hibike! Euphonium, and it’s supposed to be a release for stress. Known formally as primal scream therapy, I find that kiai in karate is similar in function, so rather than acting like Reina, I destress while doing kata and other exercises.

  • On the eve of the expedition, Mari’s parents and sister make her favourite meal: omelette rice with an egg tart pudding. I suppose now is a good time as any to note that Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki are all voiced by voice actresses that I’m familiar with. Shirase is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino and Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Sonoko Nogi), Hinata is voiced by Yuka Iguchi (Mako Reizei of Girls und Panzer and Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki), and Yuzuki is voiced by Saori Hayami (Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa and Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita).

  • It turns out that all of the ills affecting Mari, from some students finding out about Shirase’s million Yen and her parents discovering the truth about her forged signature, to the alleged rumours, were a part of Megumi’s desperate bid to keep Mari at home. She reveals that in Mari’s absence, she will become lonely and has long depended on Mari being around so she could help her. Wanting to end their friendship here, Megumi is ultimately consoled by Mari, who declines Megumi’s request.

  • While I don’t hate flying per se, the pressure differentials does make me a bit uncomfortable on long-haul flights. On average, a flight from Tokyo to Singapore, the layover on the girl’s trip to Fremantle in Australia, lasts around seven hours and forty minutes. Mari’s excitement at being at the airport evokes memories of the K-On! Movie, and while A Place Further Than The Universe initially feels far removed from the easygoing adventure that Yui and the others take while trying to find a suitable graduation gift for Azusa, the travels that both groups experience end up sharing the commonality of enriching the girls’ world views and create unique memories that they will treasure long after they return home.

  • The reason why airline food is the subject of so many comedic jokes has its roots in science: the lower pressure and cool, dry environment inside the airplane cabin dries out our olfactory systems and also lessens the sensitivity of our taste buds. In conjunction with the food preparation methods, which reduces the freshness of the ingredients and dries them out, folks have long found airline food to be a cut below conventional food. With this being said, advances in food preparation and our understanding of what’s going on mean that airlines have begun experimenting with modifying the flavour profile of foods. By using savoury ingredients and creative preparation, more enjoyable airline meals can be made. Of course, on long flights, I’m too exhausted to give a crap, and I’ll eat to replenish my energy.

  • Paralleling Yui and Ritsu’s antics whenever they travel, Mari and Hinata immediately hit up an ice cream stand in Singapore and attempts to haggle with the operator. It strikes me as strange that Mari did not bother exchanging her Yen for local currency, reinforcing the idea that she’s green to travel. This had me a bit worried, since inexperience could get her into trouble. While I don’t travel with a high frequency, I count myself as being quite lucky in having travelled before. Besides ensuring my passport is in good shape, one of the first things I do when travelling is visit the currency exchange to have the proper money: as much as I love the Canadian money, it’s bloody useless outside of Canada.

  • One’s passport is the single most important document they have while travelling: it allows one to enter and exit a foreign nation, and return home to their own nation. As such, every traveller’s worst fear is losing their passport: Hinata finds herself in a bit of a bind when her passport goes missing. It’s a lingering question even as the episode progresses, and the girls correctly identify the solution as visiting the local embassy to get a new passport. To help with procedure in the event that such an incident occurs, it’s also recommended that one keep a backup image of their passport with them: as phones are now widespread, and good PDF (or photo) apps are commonplace, there’s really no excuse not to scan one’s passport ahead of one’s travels and load it onto the phone’s local storage (I say this because WiFi is not a sure thing).

  • The anime community in Singapore is large, and when viewers from Singapore saw their hometown being depicted, they immediately set about matching all of the locations seen in A Place Further Than The Universe to their real-world equivalents. What they found was an impressive degree of realism, and this sets the precedence for what is to come. If A Place Further Than The Universe is anything like Yuru Camp△, then the Antarctica sections will similarly be faithful to how things work out in the real world.

  • Ordering dinner at hotel restaurants is always a bit more pricey than eating out, primarily because of the fact that hotels have stricter regulations on the quality of their ingredients, and also as a consequence of service costs. As well, there’s also factors related to the table turnover in hotels, which are lower than that of other restaurants. While Yuzuki and Hinata look through the menu, Mari laments the lack of Japanese options at the restaurant; they end up ordering gargantuan fried rice dishes from misunderstanding how Chinese restaurants serve food, thinking it’s individual portions.

  • By nightfall, the girls visit the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck, and Mari wonders if they can access the pool. Admissions are around 19 CAD for adults, and the pool is open between 0930 and 2200 (2300 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday). As it’s a Saturday, they could have visited had they chosen, although they likely would not have swimwear, and so, they spend the evening looking over the Singapore skyline, with Mari commenting on how it’s amazing that there are so many people out there living their lives. It’s a thought that flits across my mind when I travel, and I’m certain that other folks travelling likely entertain similar thoughts, as well.

  • After Hinata’s missing passport comes out into the open, the girls struggle to decide on what the best course of action is. In a time of crisis, the characters’ attitudes are presented to the audience and also to one another. Hinata reveals that she hates folks who put others ahead of themselves, while Shirase refuses to leave anyone behind. She eventually uses her million yen to purchase the next set of tickets to Fremantle, so as to allow Hinata enough time to get a new passport from the embassy.

  • For better or for worse, the girls resolve to stick together, and Hinata is moved by her friends’ companionship. It’s a bit of a turning point for her, having been on her own previously, seeing what real friendship is like here moves her to tears. We’re nearly done with this post, and with this, I’m now completely caught up on A Place Further Than The Universe. It seems I’ve picked a good spot to do the half-way point impressions: the girls will continue their journey to Antarctica in upcoming episodes, and it’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen from here on out.

  • However, as it turns out, Hinata’s passport was with Shirase the entire time, having handed it to her for safekeeping after exiting customs. Yuzuki is able to get a refund for the tickets, and as a result for having caused this bit of skulduggery, Shirase and Hinata are made to eat durian. I’ll say this openly: forget XKCD‘s grapefruit,  fuck durians. I might be okay with eating blood tofu and chicken feet, but the overwhelming taste of durians means that this is one food I’m not ever trying. With my complaints about durians out of the way, posts after this one will include the halfway point talk for Slow Start and a post for CLANNAD, where Tomoyo and Kyou’s arc will draw to a close ten years ago as of Wednesday.

While I was late to the party in both starting and writing about A Place Further Than The Universe, I’ve caught up with the show, and I note that I’ll do two reviews on this anime in total. From a technical perspective, A Place Further Than The Universe is impressive: the artwork and animation are of a solid quality, as is the voice acting and aural components. Of note in A Place Further Than The Universe are the distinct character designs: each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki have facial expressions that definitely contributed to my enjoyment of A Place Further Than The Universe. I refer to these as “funny faces”, and in A Place Further Than The Universe, these are plentiful, conveying precisely to audiences what the characters are feeling. In conjunction with voice talents from some of the industry’s best, emotions in A Place Further Than The Universe are vividly conveyed to viewers, from the most hilarious of moments to those where things become more subdued and serious. As the anime pushes forward, it’s evident that reaching Antarctica will be A Place Further Than The Universe‘s end goal. At this point, it’s still early to be speculating as to whether or not Shirase will reunite with her mother or not (from what I gathered about the main theme in A Place Further Than The Universe, I’ve not been able to make a well-reasoned prediction yet), but what is clear is that the journey ahead of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki will put strain on their friendship and leave them with stronger bonds with one another than before. This journey will undoubtedly have a profound effect on each individual, and it will be interesting to see how the Antarctica expedition will help each of the girls mature through their mutual experiences.