The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

Terrible Anime Challenge: On Poor Decisions and Pushing the Limits of Viewer Endurance in School Days

有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒 –Cantonese Idiom

Makoto Ito grows enamoured with Kotonoha Katsura after running into her every morning on the train, and shares with Sekai Saionji, a spirited classmate who agrees to help him get closer to Kotonoha. However, as Sekai provides tips and creates situations that push Makoto and Kotonoha (who returns Makoto’s feelings) together, Sekai begins to develop feelings for Makoto. After a few dates where his advances are deemed hasty, Sekai offers to provide “lessons” to Makoto. After a group outing to the local water park, Makoto begins to grow listless and begins pursing a relationship with Sekai. The two manage to keep this secret until Kotonoha overhears Sekai declaring her love to Makoto. She refuses to believe it, even in spite of having caught the two kissing earlier. However, with Sekai spending more time with Makoto, Setsuna, Sekai’s best friend, begins to believe that Makoto is dating Sekai. She wants Kotonoha out of the picture, but Makoto, feeling remorse at having left Kotonoha alone, promises to dance with her at the school’s culture festival. When the culture festival comes, Makoto learns that Setsuna never really forgot about how’d they met, and after a day’s work, Setsuna kisses an exhausted Makoto while Kotonoha sees this go down. On the second day of the culture festival, Otome, a classmate of Makoto who’d known him since middle school, takes him to a special “break room” where she forks Makoto’s branch. As the culture festival, Makoto regenes on his promise to Kotonoha and dances with Sekai instead. However, Setsuna is not convinced that Makoto is separated from Kotonoha and aggressively kisses him in front of her. When Sekai sees the secretly-captured footage, she demands to see Makoto, but runs into a depressed Kotonoha. Sinking into a depression herself, Sekai begins skipping school, while Makoto boffs Hikari. Soon after, Otome’s friends begin taking Makoto on a twelve-city all-percussion concert. When Sekai develops nausea and vomits, she assumes she’s pregnant with Makoto’s child and announces it to the class. Makoto’s so-called friends-with-benefits distance themselves from him, and while out looking for someone to shag, runs into Kotonoha. Realising the hurt he’s caused her, he apologises and tearfully embraces her. Kotonoha and Makoto go out for dinner, and upon returning to his apartment, he encounters Sekai. They fight, and Kotonoha forcefully kisses Makoto, prompting Sekai to leave. Pressured by Kotonoha and Makoto to abort the unborn foetus, Sekai seeks to talk with Makoto, but recalling the pain he’s caused, she stabs him to death instead. When Kotonoha arrives, she’s driven over the edge by Makoto’s corpse. Kotonoha calls Sekai out to the school rooftop, where she executes Sekai and disembowels her, learning Sekai had lied about being pregnant. Taking Makoto’s remains with her, Kotonoha rides into the sunrise on a sailboat and proclaims she can spend eternity with Makoto. This is School Days, an anime whose reputation preceded it, and a series I had adamantly refused to watch until the Twitter anime community compelled me to do so. For my troubles, I was rewarded with a series whose thematic elements is about as subtle as a brick through a window.

“All hail the conquering hero. Let us remember him as our protector and not the one who gave us…this. As our saviour, and not our betrayer! Let us see him forever as you, and not as you. All hail the conquering hero, the one who was supposed to save us all! But now, I must save us…from you.” -Kotonoha Katsura, #TeamKotonoha

“This…is this what you wanted? Is this what you were looking for? Was everything you’ve compromised, everything you’ve done, worth it? Was it? Your relationship is over, Makoto. Mine is just beginning.” –Sekai Saionji, #TeamSekai

Despite its rather nasty and brutish reputation owing to its ending, through its rather vivid and overt imagery, School Days‘ core theme ultimately speaks to the price of indecision, infidelity and a lack of faith. Makoto begins his journey as being infatuated with Kotonoha, but Sekai’s interference causes his heart to waver, and throughout School Days, he devolves from a caring and kind individual into someone who cares little for those around him beyond the pleasures of the flesh. In its original form as a visual novel, School Days allowed players to take Makoto on a moving story where he chooses someone and cultivates a meaningful and honest relationship, or make enough mistakes that would cost him everything. However, mirroring the knife’s edge that life sometimes is, mistakes hit and hit hard: the anime adaptation of School Days shows just how perilous of a dance relationships are: the possibility for error lies around every corner, and when one ill turn deserves another, Makoto ends up paying the ultimate price for building multiple, simultaneous relationships around lust and lies. The visceral conclusion of School Days therefore acts as a grim warning to those who lack the commitment and ability to take responsibility for their actions. Throughout School Days, Makoto is shown as making the decisions that consistently worsen his situation, and while his actions might be seen as being so poorly placed that one might have to consciously be aware of them to make them willingly, this aspect of School Days is one that is forgiven on the virtue that Makoto, Kotonoha and Sekai, whose age means that their frontal lobes have not yet been fully developed, are being driven by their hormones and irrational desire rather than a mediated course of action rooted in reason. As such, School Days covers off this particular aspect that may come across as jarring; younger characters with a propensity towards decisions that adults will find irrational means that there is little benefit to attempt an analysis on why Makoto chooses to act in the way that he does. The answer to this lies with the narrative: in order to convey the costs of unfaithfulness and lies, Makoto necessarily must act in a way that allows the story to both highlight the consequences, as well as showcase what kind of outcomes can exist in the visual novel. At the expense of portraying Makoto as a degenerate piece of scum, School Days succeeds in its original function.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • What starts out as a basic romance-drama very quickly devolves into a tragedy brought on by hubris and a complete disregard of the consequences: one episode into School Days, the viewer with no familiarity would not be aware that the anime would venture into territory that would evoke a strong sense of revulsion in viewers. At the story’s beginning, Makoto is spurred on by Sekai to pursue a relationship with Kotonoha, and things start out with a sort of innocence and excitement that brings to mind the atmosphere seen something like Da Capo.

  • As a Terrible Anime Challenge, School Days falls into the camp of “it lived up to existing expectations set by the community”: the anime is infamous, and this reputation is well-earned. However, having now seen the entire series, the outcome where Makoto pays the ultimate price for his lack of commitment does not seem so outrageous, and in fact, the challenge I faced in watching this series ended up coming from how Kotonoha was treated, and the generally flippant attitude Makoto was portrayed as having as the series wore on. Encouragement from the Twitter community was ultimately what led me to keep going.

  • I never would have watched School Days of my own volition, but a challenge from the anime Twitter community led me to join a group of anime bloggers in watching this series. Over the course of the discussion, I’ve seen attempts to rationalise Makoto’s behaviour, but I never really found them satisfactory, since Makoto’s actions seem to be guided by baser instinct rather than anything resembling logic. Freud is similarly irrelevant here since, even if we take his theories to hold true, there is no conflict between the id, ego and super-ego as Freud would have envisioned – Makoto is all about plowing as many people as he can get his grubby mitts on, even in the knowledge he is going to hurt Kotonoha in the process.

  • The page quote I’ve chosen for this talk, comes from a Cantonese idiom “有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒” (jyutping jau5 ging3 zau2 m4 jam2 jam2 fat6 zau2, literally “refusing to drink wine offered to you, and drinking the cursed wine instead”) that roughly approximates to “refusing a favourable offer only to take punishment”. In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase is rendered as “敬酒不吃吃罚酒” (pinyin jìng jiǔ bù chī chī fá jiǔ, where one “eats” the wine rather than drinks it): I’ve using colloquial Cantonese in mine simply because it’s more amusing that way.

  • How does the page quote fit in with the themes of School Days, one asks? The answer is simple enough: Makoto is given a perfectly good setup and the path forwards seems clear, but he ends up picking the set of decisions that end up being the worst for him. Hence, instead of taking something favourable, he takes the cursed route instead. With that cleared up, I offer a screenshot in lieu of a lengthier explanation as to why I’m on #TeamKotonoha, in the knowledge that this is probably not an adequate reason. From this moment alone, I knew that I was watching the uncensored version of School Days and would be getting the full experience later down the line.

  • While Freud is useless throughout School Days, Makoto’s actions are probably best described as a very visual and tangible description of the shortcomings of greedy algorithms. These algorithms work by trying to do what’s best at the current step with the aim of finding some global optima. Further to this, greedy algorithms are designed make whatever choice seems best in the moment, and then solve any problems that arise later. However, in practise, greedy algorithms typically fail to find the global optima, usually get stuck on some local optimum instead, and may even find what’s known as a “unique worst possible solution”, which is the worst possible outcome (e.g. in a travelling salesman problem, the longest path that can be taken to hit all of the vertices in a graph).

  • Makoto’s behaviour mirrors that of a greedy algorithm in that at some point in School Days, he acts in a way that satisfies his biological urges in that instant, which is a local optima. Whenever the situation changes, Makoto acts in such a way as to ensure that he can continue sating his desires in the moment, without considering the consequences of his actions. This is evident in how Makoto jumps between Sekai and Kotonoha early in the series, falling on Sekai to fix any problems that arise with Kotonoha, and then eventually growing “bored” of Kotonoha enough to openly mess around with Sekai.

  • In practise, greedy algorithms are usually frowned upon because they don’t provide a global optima as a result of not knowing all of the data available. However, there are some scenarios where they are utilised. In particular, networking solutions often have made use of greedy algorithms to reasonable success, and greedy algorithms are generally faster from a time complexity perspective, making them acceptable for approximating solutions. I’ve now given readers the elevator pitch equivalent to greedy algorithms: School Days captures what the risks of using greedy algorithms are in an anime format spaced out over twelve episodes, and while one might not recall all of the terms, this is how I’d describe a greedy algorithms to folks who don’t have a computer science background.

  • Of course, for folks looking to learn more, there’s plenty of materials out there, and I won’t bore readers any further with what belongs in a university, rather than an anime blog. Makoto’s infidelity initially has limited fallout: he’s struggling to choose between Kotonoha and Sekai. The problem is compounded by the fact that Sekai’s friends, Setsuna and Hikari among them, seem to think that Makoto is dating Sekai. Sekai’s initial desire to help Makoto does not have any altruistic motives: she hopes that over time, Makoto will break up with Kotonoha and then be with her.

  • The topic of altruism is a challenging one, and this was one of the papers that I wrote for my second university course on research methods and the fundamentals of logic in persuasive writing. One of the biggest strikes against evolutionary altruism was the idea that altruistic acts, seemingly selfless, actually help the individual committing it to begin with, and the individuals knows this, hence their decision to do something that may lower their fitness in the short term. This may take the form of reciprocal altruism (i.e. “if I help you, you’ll help me”). From Sekai’s perspective, School Days supposes that true altruism does not exist, and she’s clearly expecting some form of payoff in the long term.

  • After the culture festival, School Days takes a nose dive and sends Makoto on what would be known as a “non-recoverable” path: once Setsuna kisses him and reveals her desire to have him be with Sekai, as well as recalling that she did have feelings for him to some extent, Makoto’s moral compass takes a total leave of absence, and Makoto’s decisions become increasingly poor, making it impossible to sympathise with him: while he’d been agonising over whether Sekai or Kotonoha was a better partner and was subject to difficult choices early in School Days, after this point, any sympathy a viewer may have had for him disappears entirely.

  • The other two quotes on this page are from Halo 5‘s #HuntTheTruth marketing campaign. Both quotes are chosen to mirror the different factions’ thoughts on Makoto: Sekai seems less literate and would talk in blunt terms, while Kotonoha is well-read and would therefore be more poetic. There are some who believe Sekai is the better choice for Makoto, and others (like myself) who hold that Kotonoha is the winner. The latter would vote #TeamKotonoha, and the former would back #TeamSekai. My reasons for being on #TeamKotonoha are simple enough: Kotonoha’s loyalty and unwavering feelings mean that she embodies commitment, a trait I admire and respect in people. In the end, Sekai comes across as being an interfering busybody who created her own demise.

  • As School Days wears on, Kotonoha begins to be neglected and mistreated, both by those around her and the circumstance that Makoto’s put her in. Feeling bad for Kotonoha becomes an inevitability, doubly so owing to the fact that viewers have seen Kotonoha’s younger sister, Kokoro, and the joy that she expresses at the thought of Makoto becoming Kotonoha’s partner. Thus, even without actively knowing, Makoto will end up hurting Kokoro, as well, with his decisions. Having not played School Days myself, I cannot say for sure whether or not it’s possible to save Makoto with good decisions if we’ve already gone down this path: perhaps one would need to mod the Infinity Stones into School Days in order to save Makoto from himself.

  • Of course, if we consider things from a more rooted perspective, Makoto is quite beyond salvation. Seeing Kotonoha in this state was particularly difficult, and it was ultimately this piece, coupled with Makoto’s blinding arrogance and stupidity that made School Days a difficult series to watch: School Days never got to a point where I felt an inclination to stop watching, but I’ve never done well with seeing good people made to experience terrible things. Kotonoha’s suffering only really began after she met Makoto, and when Otome learns of this, she does everything in her power to make life difficult for Kotonoha, as well.

  • Towards the end of School Days, Makoto begins getting it on with everyone within arms’ reach: during the culture festival, he and Otome end up screwing one another in the secret “relaxation lounge”, which was subsequently filmed and broadcast for the whole world to check out. It’s a crippling blow to Sekai, and coupled with Setsuna’s sudden departure for France, proves too much to handle: she begins skipping school wholesale after.

  • Before we enter the final stages of this School Days discussion, I’ll provide a brief overview of the community initiative that sent me down this path: it’s called AniTwitWatches, and involves watching older anime in real time to discuss them. The criteria for inclusion is that the anime must be available by legal means, and each Monday, participants will offer snippets of their thoughts on that week’s episode. The programme is a relatively new one, having started in July 2019, and I joined the School Days party later on the game, motivated by a friendly group of participants and a desire to see what would happen if I pushed myself through a show I had adamantly refused to watch.

  • The outcome of this was a host of bad jokes and wisecracks that I’m sure alienated the community. In spite of this, I am still invited to participate on the next one, so I’ll have to reassure the others that I’ll play a little nicer. Girls’ Last Tour appears to be the anime of choice, which is an excellent one. This series, I remember best for its surprisingly deep and meaningful messages despite a seemingly simple setup. I will have much more to share with AniTwitWatches on this one than just bad jokes.

  • Once Kotonoha is spurned, her eyes take on a dull character that became iconic of all yanderes in later works; she spends several episodes in a right state, exhibiting signs of delusion as she acts as though she’s still with Makoto. When Makoto realises the extent of the damage his actions have caused, he takes her back. Life returns to Kotonoha’s eyes. Entering the final episode, whose outcome is so infamous that it is no longer counts as a spoiler, I admit that I was glad to watch this one reach its conclusion.

  • While I’ve no qualms showing blood, guts and gore on this blog (see my DOOM and Wolfenstein posts), intuition tells me that, were I to show Sekai killing Makoto and leaving him to bleed out, or Kotonoha disemboweling Sekai, the search engines would not take to that too kindly. I’ve stated this before, but I’ve never had any trouble with over-the-top violence in video games, whereas in anime, gore nauseates me. I’m not sure why this is the case, but primarily for my own sanity (and a lack of desire to see this blog scrubbed from search engines), I’ve therefore left the most explicit moment of School Days out and leave the curious reader to check the series out for themselves.

  • Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge post, I’ll need to provide a scoring summary of School Days. I think it would be fair to assess this series a B- (7 of 10, or 2.7 on a 4-point scale): having a very clear story and message works in School Days‘ favour, and Kotonoha is hawt. However, between all of the characters who come across as little more than assholes, I saw no incentive to follow anyone to see them improve over time: I believe School Days marks the first series I’ve seen where characters regress as time passes. There’s no reason to root for anyone save Kotonoha, and viewers feel a perverse sense of satisfaction when the characters suffer (again, save Kotonoha). I’m not about this life, and I’m much happier seeing people make discoveries that make them better for their troubles.

Prior to the Twitter community’s decision to watch School Days, this anime had admittedly been on my list of shows to never watch during my lifetime by reputation alone. Besides the ending that became infamous owing to the finale’s coincidental timing with a murder in Japan, and a protagonist that was impossible to get behind, School Days‘ theme and goals are the polar opposite to those of the shows that I do choose to watch. With School Days in the books now, my opinion of the show remains quite unchanged: it excels at its intended objective, but remains quite difficult to watch. In particular, the anime’s treatment of Kotonoha is disturbing. Despite being a sweet and kind girl who’s into books and exhibits loyalty to a fault, she’s cheated on by Makoto, bullied by Otome and her circle of friends and betrayed by Sekai. Suffering misfortune after misfortune following her decision to date Makoto, her reactions to the events of School Days were an inevitability with a terrifying implication, that in people, there is a potential for great evil if one is pushed far enough. Supposing this to be the case, School Days has one more additional message for viewers: that there is nothing to be gained through acts of bullying. Despite having now sat through an anime that remains quite notorious even a full thirteen years after its airing, I find that School Days and other similar series remain quite outside the realm of shows I would willingly watch. Makoto’s stupidity and the suffering that Kotonoha endured, coupled with Sekai’s interference, means that going through the episodes proved to be even more of a test of patience than Glasslip, which is saying something. While I was able to discern School Days‘ theme and objectives, this series nonetheless remains one that is remarkably difficult to stomach, and in the end, I only endured thanks to a combination of the support of a friendly segment of the anime Twitter community and a limitless pool of bad jokes.

One More Wish: Sora no Method OVA Review and Reflections

“The Force is with me, And I am one with the Force; And I fear nothing, Because all is as the Force wills it.” –Chirrut Îmwe, Star Wars: Rogue One

A mysterious girl named Carol arrives in Lake Kiriya City and begins tailing Noel, who’s settled in to life with Nonoka and her friends. She now works at the Nozomi with Yuzuki: Nonoka pays them a visit and shares lunch with Noel. Koharu arrives and is the first to notice Carol, wondering if she’s lost, but Carol dismisses her. Nonoka and the others share a conversation about their friends: Sōta’s gone abroad to study and has left to prepare, and Shione is also away. Shione’s birthday is coming soon, and the girls decide to get her some sweets. Noel begins to wonder what a birthday is, and when Nonoka explains her the details, she realises that she doesn’t have one. Later that evening, Nonoka looks through old family photos and recalls the day her friends made the wish to bring the saucer into town. She realises that this is when things started for Noel, so this could be her birthday. Meanwhile, Carol confronts Noel, stating that Noel’s original directives were to grant wishes and implores Noel to accompany her back. Noel declines, and the next day, Carol attempts to make a wish of her own, to bring Noel back with her. She’s unsuccessful, and decides to petition for the removal of Noel’s saucer from the area. After running into Nonoka and the others, who are returning from school, Carol becomes frustrated and runs off, only to crash into the monster billboard in front of Koharu’s shop. Saddened at the billboard’s destruction, Carol bursts into tears, but the girls work together to fix the billboard. Later, Noel takes Carol on a trip around town, and they spend their time together before Noel invites Carol to her birthday party. On the day of the party, Sōta arrives in town, Carol runs into Shione, who’s returned for the party and suggests that Carol be up front with her feelings, as she was needed to be in front of Nonoka. Carol returns to the observatory and encounters Noel here: at this moment, her powers are restored, and her original wish was realised. Noel is pulled into the skies per Carol’s original wish, seemingly disappearing. However, by a miracle, Noel and Carol are reunited and show up fashionably late at their birthday party: the others decide that since Carol’s arrival was on the same date as that of Noel’s, they also share the same birthday.

The core theme of Sora no Method was ultimately about the return of friendship to a group of once-close friends who drifted apart when Nonoka moved away, and how Noel’s innocent, naive manner was instrumental in bringing everyone back together. However, when the series’ original run ended, a considerable number of viewers found themselves quite dissatisfied with the series outcome; Sora no Method has therefore become a bit of an under-rated series and was forgotten. For me, this was a quaint series with its own merits, and I enjoyed Sora no Method greatly during its run. With nearly five years having elapsed since I wrote my final impressions post, returning to the world of Sora no Method through a new OVA, One More Wish (Mou Hitosu no Negai), was therefore an especially pleasant and warming experience. Within the OVA, Carol’s arrival and her desire to have Noel come back with her helped me to see a new theme in Sora no Woto; Carol’s arrival and goals parallel those of Yuzuki’s and Shione’s early on, but as she gets to understand Noel better, she appreciates why Noel desired to stay with Nonoka and the others. Sora no Method‘s theme is therefore elegantly and succinctly contained within this new OVA: even among individuals with conflicting goals, there are more commonalities than most would care to admit, and it is through realising that the sum of what people share more in common is greater than their differences, that allow people to reconcile their differences and overcome distance separating them. This was something that Nonoka and Shione had to resolve after the former’s unexpected departure, and similarly, Nonoka had to work hard to convince the others that Noel’s presence was meant to bring them back together after their sudden separation. The outcome of this from the original series is evident within the OVA: each of Nonoka, Shione, Yuzuki, Koharu and Sōta are on much better terms with one another, and Shione’s become more open and kind, sharing advice with Carol. Shione’s words are ultimately what prompts Carol to realise her feelings about Noel, reflecting on her own learnings from the original series and reminding audiences of how much Noel’s presence ended up helping Nonoka and her friends.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last I wrote about Sora no Method, it was for the OVA where Nonoka, Koharu and Yuzuki tail Shione to figure out why she was continuously renting out a certain monster film. That post was published during the summer of 2015. During this point in time, my graduate thesis was in full swing, and I had been about three months into doing a full conversion of my biological visualisation software from Unity into Unreal. It suddenly strikes me that I had much more time as a graduate student than I do now, but this comes with the territory.

  • Carol is the latest addition to Sora no Method; at the episode’s beginning, she’s tailing Noel, and her origins are shown to be similar to Noel: a small saucer follows her around, and she’s prone to accidents whenever this saucer hits something. While she’s been tailing Noel and Nonoka with the subtly of a thrown brick, she’s not yet burned – Koharu wonders if she’s lost and becomes the first person to speak directly with Carol, who’s voiced by Marika Kōno (Yua Nakajima from Hinako Note, and Slow Start‘s Sachi Tsubakimori).

  • While Noel is a staff member at the restaurant that Yuzuki and Sōta’s family runs, she’s occasionally prone to wanting to join the customers. With a lull in things, Nonoka invites Noel to help her enjoy the omelette rice together with her, and Yuzuki joins in shortly. The weather in my area stands in stark contrast with the rainy and mild weather of Sora no Method: the cold weather’s finally arrived, and the average temperature during the past weekend was -25ºC. However, a 打邊爐 (jyutping daa2 bin1 lou4, or hot pot) yesterday was the perfect way to warm up: with prawns, oyster, beef, lamb, pork shoulder, fish balls, cabbage, lettuce and yi mein on our menu, I spent the better part of an evening warming up with good food, good conversation and a generous helping of the house special chili sauce from the best Chinese restaurant in town.

  • Like Noel, Carol uses large leaves as an umbrella whenever the rain appears, and while I had trouble identifying them in my last round of talks for Sora no Method, I would now hazard a guess that these are the leaves of the Alocasia macrorrhizos, or Giant Taro, a plant who is thought to have originated from Taiwan and then domesticated in the Philippines. With heart-shaped leaves reaching up to 90 centimetres in length, A. macrorrhizos‘ leaves are indeed used by tropical islanders as makeshift umbrellas. This would explain why while in Taiwan, my thoughts strayed to Noel.

  • Sōta’s been busy preparing to study abroad, and Shione is similarly doing well. Since reconciling with Nonoka, she smiles much more frequently now, and gets along well with everyone.  Seeing this Shione is a far cry from how the series started, and I still remember finishing off the series only after I returned from my travels to Taiwan the year that Sora no Woto was airing. It marked the first time I’d travelled during the winter holidays, and so, did not watch the finale until after I’d returned a ways into the new year.

  • My favourite memories of the Taiwan trip was probably visiting the Monster Village, going to the observation deck of Taipei 101, walking amongst Kaohsuing’s night market and the trip up Taiwan’s eastern coast. After the Taiwan leg of the trip concluded, we went to Hong Kong and spent a week with family before heading back to the bitter cold of the Canadian winter. I wrapped up Sora no Method and put out my finale post shortly after, before turning my attention towards Kantai Collection and the last graduate course I would take for my Master’s degree: Multi-Agent Systems and their properties. I took this course to gain a more formal understanding of agent-based modelling approaches, a core component of my old research.

  • Noel is voiced by Inori Minase, a highly talented and renowned voice actress known as GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, Hestia from DanMachi, Mari Tamaki of A Place Further Than The Universe and numerous other roles. As Noel, Minase does not sound like Chino quite to the extent as she did in Girls’ Last Tour as Chito, or Endro‘s Mei. Nonoka notices that something is bothering Noel, and learns that Noel was hoping to experience the joys of birthdays.

  • In the years following my trip to Taiwan, I’ve often found myself considering what might be on my itinerary should I make more concrete plans to return. The Eastern Rift Valley and its hot springs are high on my list of places to visit: it’s beautiful here, and there are a host of Bed and Breakfast style lodges that look like they’d offer comfortable, homely accommodations. As well, I’d also like to properly experience the night markets and try their grilled squid out – in 2014, I got a little overexcited upon arrival and ate too much on the first night, giving me stomach troubles that encouraged me to eat more conservatively for the remainder of my travels: I elected not to take any chances for the remainder of my time in Taiwan.

  • Upon hearing Noel voice a desire to have a birthday party, Nonoka decides to look back through her old albums and see if she can find any inspiration. Nonoka comes across a bunch of old family photos she can’t ever recall experiencing, and while this might be seen as a sign that Nonoka’s selective amnesia might still be at play here, I note that this is unlikely to be the case – people aren’t typically able to perfectly remember all of their previous experiences, and the mind also has a way of distorting some memories where they appear as the truth to us. We can chalk this up to a scientifically-motivated explanation, and return to the importance of this scene: Nonoka is able to figure out a way to celebrate Noel’s birthday, marking the day her friends made the wish as the day they’d met Noel properly.

  • Carol finally has a chance to speak with Noel: it turns out that she and Noel are part of an organisation that works to grant wishes, travelling about to strong-willed individuals to realise their desires. While she has trouble expressing so, it’s clear that Carol misses Noel and wants the latter to return to her duties, rather than spending time with Nonoka and the others, so that they might be together again.

  • Like Noel, Carol is adorable in her own right, and does things that bring to mind the sort of things that Noel would do on her own while Nonoka and the others were in classes. Here, she’s trying to use her own saucer’s powers to fulfil her wish of bringing Noel back with her – besides bouncing the pocket-sized saucer on a A. macrorrhizos leaf and trying to do a bit of a summoning ceremony with it, nothing appears effectual.

  • Shione’s birthday arrives, and the gift that Nonoka and her friends send her ends up being a year’s supply of sweet buns. Shione smiles warmly and notes that she’ll go through the buns in a heartbeat, indicating that Nonoka and the others were right on the money about Shione’s love for sweets. Her portrayal in the original series saw her return to a friendly personality as Nonoka and Noel did their best to get through to her. In the first OVA, released during the summer of 2015, Shione was shown to be quite cold and distant: this was set during the middle of the series, although even here, it shows that Shione did have a delicate side to her, as well.

  • Sora no Method is set in a small town modelled after Tōya: the series takes place around the hot springs district located on the shores of Lake Tōya, and Mount Usu Eruption Memorial Park, with its distinct sculptures, are featured frequently in the anime. Here, Nonoka and the others cross Tōya Bridge. On the left of the image is the Tōyako Onsen Bus Terminal: like most other anime, Sora no Method did a phenomenal job with reproducing the locations of its setting, giving it a life-like feeling.

  • When the girls see Carol out protesting the saucer’s existence, Yuzuki is reminded of back in the day when she had done the same thing herself, and immediately approaches Carol with the aim of coaching her to be more effectual. This backfires, however, and Carol is scared off. She runs off and collides with the monster billboard – Noel had previously destroyed this one in Sora no Method‘s original run, and her desire to help the others repair it helped her to bond with the others.

  • The very same thing happens in the OVA: after colliding with and shredding the billboard, Carol dissolves into the most adorable (and pitiful) tears I’ve seen in an anime in quite some time. I’m not sure why it is the case, but the crying of small children melts my heart, and I am overcome with the want to offer comfort, to say that things will be alright. Noel takes this on and reassures Carol: the girls set about rebuilding the monster billboard anew.

  • After spending a better half of the day, the girls’ efforts are met with a restored monster billboard. Carol shares manjū and tea with Koharu and Noel: she’s thrilled that the sweetness of the buns and the bitterness of the tea balance out so well in spite of herself. Carol can be seen as a combination of Noel’s naïveté and Shione’s perceived coldness at being unable to express how she genuinely feels about herself. The next day, she decides to follow Noel around, and Noel figures that here is an opportunity to really help Carol to have fun.

  • In spite of herself, Carol does end up having fun with Noel; the two take a pedal-boat ride over Lake Kiriya, manage to land some tickets to an onsen after running into Yuzuki, who’d won the tickets from a prize draw. This Sora no Method OVA, technically an ONA (as it was uploaded to YouTube), has a rather curious designation: it is labelled as the seventeenth episode, and the explanation is that in production, the “fourteenth” and “fifteenth” episodes were the opening and ending sequences, respectively. The first OVA was then marked as the sixteenth episode in production, and so, this OVA winds up being tagged as episode seventeen.

  • While Noel is quick to enjoy the onsen, Carol is a little more reserved about swimming about, but later related and actually out-swims Noel. This OVA was released on October 11, 2019, and admittedly, was not something I was aware of. It was serendipitous that I was able to find it at all, and with a lull in my posting (Rifle is Beautiful‘s finale won’t be airing for another week), I decided to take a look through a series that I rather enjoyed upon finishing it. While reception to the series was mixed, and Sora no Method was eventually forgotten, I still remember the series.

  • As such, it was not a particularly large surprise that there are no full discussions of the OVA out there on the internet: having looked around, I can say with confidence that this is probably the only talk on the second Sora no Method OVA out there with screenshots. Besides hanging out at an onsen, Noel takes Carol to visit Nonoka’s school for a culture festival, where they enjoy the food and also have a chance to check out the planetarium exhibit that was showcased in Sora no Method‘s original run: the planetarium was something Nonoka had built for their culture festival, a time when Shione and Nonoka were on rocky terms.

  • Noel invites Carol to her birthday party, but Carol declines, feeling left out after seeing just how close Noel is to the others. The page quote is sourced from Rogue One, being Chirrut Îmwe’s most well-known line from the film, referring to his faith in the Force throughout the film. Sora no Method‘s theme initially seemed incoherent, but as I progressed further into the anime, it struck me that the outcomes were always going to be a positive one, and with this in mind, I placed my faith into the writing and therefore was able to enjoy the journey it took to reach the end.

  • On the day of the party, Sōta arrives in town ahead of the party but hesitates to join the others until Koharu notices his presence and hauls him inside. Having long held feelings for Koharu, Sōta remained quite disinterested in the events surrounding Noel and Nonoka in Sora no Method but appeared owing to his interests towards Koharu. Koharu does not appear to be aware of these feelings as far as I can tell, but by the time of the second OVA, she’s become rather more playful and “encourages” him to come on in and join the others, who are amidst preparing for the party.

  • En route to the party, Shione runs into Carol, who is at a bit of a crossroads about what to do. Shione shares some wisdom with Carol, suggesting that she simply be forward and open about her feelings rather than trying to suppress them. As it turns out, this had been precisely what Shione had done during Sora no Method‘s original run. After she’d been hurt by Nonoka’s sudden departure, she rejected Nonoka’s return and refused to speak with her out of fear that should the two become friends again, she may experience the same hurt again. This barrier was resolved, and having seen it for herself, Shione now knows when something is happening to someone else.

  • Shione’s smile is really a pleasant one, and while Sora no Method may have had those in short supply, the second OVA more than offsets that. The biggest joy about the second OVA is that all of the characters are likeable: one of the leading gripes about the original run was that most of the characters had not been easy to sympathise with owing to their decisions and actions. In retrospect, this was because each of Nonoka, Shione, Yuzuki and Sōta had to make certain discoveries in order to begin reconciliation with one another; as their journey continues, it became easier to empathise with everyone, and the path towards resolution of everyone’s conflicts was a rewarding one.

  • Noel reappears to Carol, and the latter admits that she’s only wanted to be together with her. The strength of her emotions, and truthfulness in her statement activates her saucer, which promptly takes its original form and begins fulfilling Carol’s wish of bringing Noel back to her old assignments. However, Carol realises now how much Noel means to Nonoka and the others, and begins to second guess her wish.

  • One thing about Sora no Method that I didn’t mention in much detail during my original discussion of the series was the soundtrack. The incidental music in the series is by Tatsuya Kato and Kazuya Takase, featuring a variety of pieces that capture the emotional tenour of every moment, all of the highs and all of the lows from humourous moments and reunions, doubt and even resentment, within Sora no Method. I greatly enjoyed the music, and to hear familiar pieces make a return was most reassuring and welcoming. My favourite song on the soundtrack is はっぱの傘、溢れる笑顔 (Hepburn happa no kasa, Afureru Egao, or “Leaf Umbrella, Overflowing Smile”), a joyful and happy piece that reminds me of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”.

  • Having Carol’s wish granted, despite her protests that her desires have changed, creates quite a poignant scene that mirrors Noel’s departure once her original purpose was fulfilled. However, Sora no Method is rather known for driving things towards a happy ending, and so, I was never under impressions other than the fact that despite Carol’s wish, Noel would return. The OVA draws many elements from the original TV run, and in many ways, I see the OVA as simultaneously clarifying a few things that were unanswered from the TV series, as well as condensing the TV series’ core messages into a twenty-eight minute long run.

  • Thus, when Noel and Carol appear in time for their birthday party as the first snowfall of the year kicks in, I saw such an outcome to be inevitable rather than surprising. The rules of Sora no Method favour happy endings, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way things turned out. Here, since Carol’s evidently learned why Noel is so insistent on staying with Nonoka and the others, she’s earned her happy ending with them. My yardstick for whether or not a happy ending is deserved is a relatively simple and fair one: if the characters have gained something meaningful from their journey that betters them, or expands their perspective, then a happy ending is justified.

  • If I had to guess, I’d say that the restaurant that the Mizusakas work at is the Boyotei: this restaurant is known for its quaint atmosphere, attentive staff and solid food that combines Western with Japanese elements. Their beer and omelette rice are supposed to be excellent, although some feel that the restaurant’s prices are a bit expensive. Working out the location from looking through satellite data wasn’t tricky: knowing that the girls were close to the bus terminal earlier meant it was relatively simple to swing by the area and look at areas within walking distance. In a few short moments, I found the distinct ceremony arch at the restaurant’s front, and the rest is history.

  • The atmosphere inside the restaurant is pure joy as everyone celebrates Noel and Carol’s birthday: since Carol arrived on the anniversary as Noel, they also share the same birthday, and the others have gone ahead and prepared the cake with this in mind. It is a satisfying conclusion to the OVA, and also wraps things up in a definitive manner. The folks who did end up enjoying Sora no Method wondered if a second season could ever be a possibility, although given both the finality of the OVA and the fact that it’s been five years since any sort of Sora no Method project was announced, it’s safe to say that this series is probably in the books.

  • When everything is said and done, the second of the Sora no Method OVAs is well worth watching, being a valuable addition to the series that answers some lingering questions and acts as a satisfying epilogue. I admit that writing about Sora no Method‘s OVA was not something I expected to have on my schedule, but I am returning to the scheduled post for Rifle is Beautiful, and as time allows, a short talk on Azur Lane. In addition, Koisuru Asteroid and Magia Record are fast approaching their third episodes, so I’m looking to get talks for those done at the appropriate time. Finally, I have a surprise post in the works: folks following my Twitter will have a good idea of what this is, but my remaining readers will get to find out once the post is out!

The last time I wrote about Sora no Method, I was still in graduate school; time’s definitely flown by, and so, I was quite surprised to learn that there was another instalment in Sora no Method five years after the series’ original run. Despite the gap separating Sora no Method‘s original run from the latest OVA, it is clear that the series has not lost any of its magic, and the OVA ultimately ended up being a very succinct and enjoyable retreading of themes from the TV series, using Carol’s development as the basis to reiterate what Sora no Woto had originally been about. At the same time, the OVA also shows how far Nonoka and the others have come since Noel was able to grant their wishes: the rifts amongst this group of friends have healed, and Noel’s become a welcome part of this group. In addition, the OVA also reminds viewers as to what the significance of the saucer was. Viewers have criticised the series for using the saucer as a MacGauffin originally, missing the idea that the saucer was meant to represent the group of friend’s wishes. Hanging over the city like the weight of an unfulfilled promise, its arrival in Lake Kiriya was meant to show what Nonoka had left in the wake of her unexpected departure, and that in this world of miracles, the saucers are meant to help people grant wishes that mean something dear to them. The OVA thus provides a new perspective on the saucers and also summarises the original series’ messages neatly, making it a valuable addition to the Sora no Method series that can be helpful in wrapping up loose ends. With the freshly-gained insights from the second of the Sora no Method OVAs, it might even be worthwhile to go back and give Sora no Method a re-watch: the anime may have been somewhat of a challenge to follow, but Sora no Method portrays a very moving and heartfelt journey at its core.

Have You Heard? That Rumor About the Magical Girls: Magia Record First Episode Impressions and Review

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.” –Albert Einstein

Iroha Tamaki is a magical girl who made a wish for her sister to be cured of an unknown illness, but lost her memories of her wish in the process. Together with Kuroe, she fights Witches in her area and lives an ordinary life otherwise. Shortly after Iroha’s parents go on a business trip, Iroha begins to hear of a rumour specifying that magical girls can find salvation in Kamihara. On her way back from school, she and Kuroe find themselves in a Witch’s labyrinth, which pushes them to Kamihara. This Witch proves resilient against their attack, and Iroha briefly encounters a younger Kyubey mid-battle. Outmatched, Nanami Yachiyo arrives and destroys the Witch, saving Iroha and Kuroe. She warns the two that there is nothing for them in Kamihara, and the next morning, Iroha suddenly recalls her original wish. Magia Record marks the first time we’ve returned to the world of Madoka Magica since the Rebellion movie: Magia Record is based off the mobile game and sets viewers in a familiar, yet different setting. Witches, contracts and the cost of sacrifices return in force alongside a brand-new cast whose beliefs, intents and desires are completely unlike those seen in the original series. Even only after one episode in, Magia Record has done a phenomenal job of both establishing Iroha and her goals of finding her sister, as well as reminding viewers that this is Madoka Magica. The original series became a smash hit for completely defying expectations of what a magical girl was: rather than a saccharine, optimistic presentation on the merits of heroism and bravery, Madoka Magica suggested that the power and responsibility associated with being a magical girl came at a heavy cost, and that the duty itself was one that was a thankless one. This resulted in an emotionally-gripping series that left an incredible impact amongst viewers, whose perspectives of magical girls would be changed forever.

Gen Urobuchi’s Madoka Magica ultimately proved an enduring series, with themes and characters far more compelling than most anime of its genre and left an enduring legacy that Magia Record must pick up. However, Madoka Magica‘s success and audience reception means that, for better or worse, Magia Record has some large shoes to fill; during its airing and after the finale, droves of zealous fans spent countless hours analysing every frame in the original broadcast with the goal of deriving meaning from every symbol, motif and word in every sentence. Pixels were scoured by those looking to do a psychoanalysis on how Freud’s Id-Ego theory fit with the characters. Immanuel Kant’s works were referenced as the basis for rationalising Madoka’s choice and Kyubey’s motivations. The legend of Faust was seen as being required reading to understand what Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, Kyōko and Homura went through. Right up until the present, discussion on Madoka Magica never stopped: Rebellion saw Homura seize control of Madoka’s powers and rewrite reality on a scale that matches Thanos’ feats with the Infinity Stones for the sake of sharing a future with Madoka. The outcome of that, never satisfactorily resolved in an explicit manner, resulted in more speculation, drawing on antiquated and even flawed philosophical theories to rationalise why Homura chose this path. It has been seven years since Rebellion played in theatres, and irrespective of how factual or useful they might be, the amount of speculation, some of which ventured into the realm of tinfoil-hat theories, that have persisted is a testament to just how moved viewers were. Thus, with the high bar that Madoka Magica sets, Magia Record now exists in the shadows of a series whose very existence is often associated with philosophy, psychology and other facets of academia: the inherent danger in this is that of Magia Record does not involve those disciplines to the same extent, those fans of Madoka Magica might be more dismissive of what could still stand to be an inspired and enjoyable addition to the Madoka Magica universe.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • One episode is a bit early for one to gain a reasonable measure of what Magia Record aims to accomplish and much too early to assess whether or not the series was successful, but the rationale behind why I pushed a post out this early in the game was to establish my own expectations for the series – that Magia Record present an engaging and meaningful story for Iroha and what she discovers in Kamihara while she searches for Ui, and that even without an extensive background in philosophy or psychology, one can nonetheless enjoy this series in full.

  • Right out of the gates, Iroha is established as already being a magical girl equipped with a wrist-mounted crossbow. She’s seen fighting alongside Kuroe, who uses two batons as her primary weapon. The small scale of their weapons seem to hint at the fact that the two are still novices with the duties of being a magical girl – having seen the likes of Mami and Kyōko, who could summon limitless copies of their primary weapon for combat and engage Witches at an impressive scale, it becomes clear that these two are beginning their journey. In the game, Iroha is an excellent healer and is strong in a support role, lacking the weapons to deal effective damage.

  • Having Iroha and Kuroe save a child’s cat from a Witch’s labyrinth firmly establishes that in spite of their own doubts about the magical girl life, the two are still committed to good and conduct acts of kindness and compassion because they feel it to be the right thing to do. The first episode is set prominently on a train, and the first Witch that Iroha and Kuroe are shown fighting resides in a labyrinth of moving tracks, foreshadowing the idea that Magia Record is going to be about going to destinations that one might not expect.

  • Madoka Magica‘s architecture was very unique, bordering on the realm of the bizarre in some areas, but regardless of where Madoka and her friends went while they struggled to deal with the implications of being a magical girl, the one place in the series that always felt inviting and warm was the Kaname residence. Iroha similarly lives at home, and in Magia Record, I am inclined to say that the architectural style is actually much more normal than that of Madoka Magica; the unique cityscapes in Madoka Magica create an incredible sense of isolation amongst the characters, and as they became increasingly entangled in Kyubey’s machinations, the familiar cityscape gave way to intimidating industrial constructs.

  • It’s been some seven years since the last Madoka Magica work was shown, and the time difference between then and now is quite apparent: the artwork for the landscapes and cityscapes in Magia Record are more intricate and detailed than those of Madoka Magica‘s first run. The series received multiple retouches and remasters; the original televised run featured only minimalistic and rudimentary backgrounds, which were updated for the home release, and by the time the three films came out, the visuals had been masterfully updated.

  • The strong visual quality in Magia Record makes it a thrill to watch, and seeing all of the subtle details in Iroha’s world really gives the sense that this is someone’s home, inhabited by people, all of whom have their own stories to tell. Iroha’s home is quite unlike Mitakihara in its colour palette: Mitakihara was defined by shades of blue, but greens and browns are also present to give a more natural feel to the cityscape.

  • I’ve faced criticisms previously for suggesting that Madoka Magica could be enjoyed in the absence of philosophical and psychological principles. Many talks attempting to bring these elements in would resemble junior undergraduate essays in that, while they did demonstrate a case for the existence of a particular philosopher or psychologist’s principles within the anime, did not take things a step further and explain what its presentation in Madoka Magica meant with respect to what Urobuchi had intended to say. Literary analysis of significance aims to understand what the author was saying about a particular concept given their interpretation of a work, drawing the connection between a principle and how it was portrayed in a work of fiction.

  • Thus, in order for a talk to have academic merit, it is not sufficient to merely parrot the definition of a philosophical or psychological concept. One must sythesise things and explore why those concepts are present, and then explore what the series’ portrayal of said concepts say about them. The other aspect of Madoka Magica I’ve taken heat for was the dismissal of the application of thermodynamics Kyubey uses to justify creation of magical girls. Thermodynamics does not work as Kyubey suggests: in-show, Kyubey claims that the energy released from emotions produces a net gain of energy that can be harnessed to indefinitely stave off the heat death of the universe (itself a concept that physicists believe to be poorly-defined at best), but this implies the creation of energy. Since accepted models of thermodynamics trend towards an increase in entropy, and since emotions result from complex chemical reactions in the body, which result in a net loss of energy, from a scientific perspective, Kyubey’s explanation is, for the lack of a better word, bullshit, and therefore, not worthy of further consideration.

  • Having callously dismissed two of the topics that generate the most amount of intellectual discussion in Madoka Magica, I am considered to be anti-intellectual for my approaches. However, this labeling bears the hallmarks of an ineffectual argument: an intellectual is commonly accepted to be someone who uses reason and critical thinking to explore a concept, and to this, I append “for tangible applications beneficial to others”. Instead, I am strongly opposed to intellectual dishonesty, the act of using intellectual methods for things like deception, intimidation and personal gain (e.g. an increased social status).

  • This inevitably leads to the question of how to gauge intellectual honesty online, and fortunately, there is a simple test. If someone is honest, they will be open to discussion, have no objections to being wrong and maintain a very positive attitude. Someone who is intellectually dishonest will be adverse to being proven wrong, and be quick to point out flaws in the arguments that others present, or else insist that intellectual merit is a necessary feature in any work worth watching. Back in Magia Record, Iroha is shown to be kind and willing to lend a hand to her classmates where needed.

  • Having Iroha interact with her classmates creates a sense of ease: Homura, Sayaka and Homura were shown as being very distant from their classmates, and when the truth behind the Witches was made known, they had no one to turn to. Left to their own devices, Sayaka succumbed to despair and morphed into a Witch, Madoka gave her old life up to create a better world, and Homura would ultimately be driven insane by her desire to give Madoka happiness, creating a new world whose implications were never explored. By connecting Iroha with her classmates, it hints at the fact that she values those around her, in turn increasing her reasons for surviving and finding her sister.

  • Because of subtle differences between Madoka Magica and Magia Record, my inclination is to suppose that the overall themes in Magia Record will differ than those covered in the former. While some messages might make a return, the old themes of sacrifice are unlikely to take the forefront in Magia Record simply because that path has already been tread. A spin-off provides a fantastic chance to explore different ideas, and so, Magia Record has a strong opportunity to delve into facets of being a magical girl that Madoka Magica did not cover.

  • The Witch that Iroha and Kuroe square off against prove to far exceed their capacities to fight. Folks who’ve played the smartphone game will likely already be aware that Iroha was never geared for DPS, and Kuroe’s weapons seem similarly ineffectual. While Iroha and Kuroe seem the counterparts to Madoka and Homura, there are marked differences in their personalities and intentions, mirroring the idea that Magia Record is less likely to focus on sacrifice.

  • Mid-battle, Iroha is entranced by a smaller Kyubey and ceases her attacks on the Witch. Alone, Kuroe’s weapons have next to no impact on this monstrosity, and her fate seems to be sealed until a new Magical Girl enters the fray. This is Nanami Yachiyo, a veteran Magical Girl with well-rounded abilities. Having been fighting Witches for seven years, she’s reserved, mindful of the rules surrounding Magical Girls and in the anime, summons spears as her primary weapon. She was originally more friendly towards other Magical Girls until learning that becoming a Witch was what awaited them.

  • Nanami combines traits from Mami and Homura: at the age of nineteen, she’s BTDT and strikes a fine balance between Mami’s confidence during combat, as well as Homura’s caution and reluctance to depend on others. Despite only making a short appearance in Magia Record‘s first episode to briefly lecture Iroha and Kuroe, the fact that she’s introduced so early on, and that she’s been around the block means that her character will likely return in the future.

  • After one episode, discussions on Magia Record are prominently focused on the characters and the series’ callbacks to the original Madoka Magica, although I’ve caught wind of at least a handful of individuals on Tango-victor-tango asserting that Magia Record‘s cast of Magical Girls is a study in the dangers of Faustian bargains. Colloquially known as “a deal with the devil”, the Faustian bargain entails a trade where one receives their desired benefit at a high moral or personal cost, after the medieval legend of Faust, who exchanges his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and ultimately agrees to being enslaved by the devil.

  • Of course, this is not a sufficient case to make: name-dropping Faust into discussions doesn’t do anything useful for the reader, and so, I’d follow up by probing into what Magia Record makes of deals with the devil. Since some Magical Girls make wishes with a less severe consequence than others, the themes of Magia Record is plainly not a 1:1 study of Faust in anime form, and the extent that Faust is relevant to Magia Record, then, can only be determined as the series wears on. This is what motivates my page quote: in my experience, folks who are aware of how much they don’t know are considerably more knowledgable and useful than those who give the impression they know more than they do.

  • The first episode’s literary hook lies in the mysterious rumour surrounding Kamihara: Iroha’s begun hearing these unverified claims, and learns that other Magical Girls have also had strange dreams surrounding the phenomenon, that Magical Girls will find salvation in Kamihara. This stands in direct contradiction to Nanami’s word of warning, that Kamihara holds nothing for Magical Girls. The initial contradiction here is what will drive viewers back to check things out, along with Iroha’s own story, which is only starting its journey at this point.

  • Having come into contact with the young Incubator, Iroha suddenly recalls her original wish: she had wished to heal her sister, who then disappeared. While Magia Record is the sort of series where every episode could have something relevant to keep an eye on, I’m going with my usual format for discussions. Two more posts are lined up for Magia Record: one after three episodes to gauge where things are headed, and then a finale post to see if the series succeeds in delivering a satisfying and distinct story from Madoka Magica.

Because my background is in health sciences and software development, disciplines driven by facts and reproducible, refutable results, I’ve never really had a taste for introducing obscure philosophical and psychological topics into my discussions of Madoka Magica where a great deal of interpretation and subjectivity is present. While Madoka Magica had been groundbreaking for painting the duty of a magical girl in a new light, it actually did not provide a revolutionary outlook on what heroics equated to. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had succeeded in doing the same thing years earlier, similarly prompting discussions on the philosophy and psychology of Batman; both The Dark Knight trilogy and Madoka Magica were excellent works not because they synthesised new ideas (which is the requirement for something to be worthy of academic consideration), but because they presented a very refreshing perspective of what being a hero meant. The philosophy and psychology, while perhaps somewhat enhancing one’s experience, was by no means a requirement to derive enjoyment from either works, and as such, I’ve not bothered writing thousands of words on how Faust, Kant or Freud is intimately tied to either Madoka Magica or The Dark Knight. Thus, for Magia Record, I enter the series with an open mind – Iroha’s quest to find her sister and get to the bottom of whatever lies in the depths of Kamihara City, in addition to what she learns along the way, and how Magia Record chooses to convey this, matters considerably more to me than how well the series incorporates principles from philosophers and psychologists, or references to literary works, both famed or obscure. Magia Record should stand of its merits, and whether or not it succeeds as an instalment to the Madoka Magica universe will depend on how compelling Iroha’s journey and learnings are.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Asking Questions of the Stars in Hensuki

“I hate to break it to you, but what people call ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, rise above, Focus on science.” –Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

When high school student Keiki Kiryū finds a love letter and a pair of pantsu accompanying it one day following his calligraphy club activities, he enlists the help of his best friend, Shōma Akiyama, to determine who this might be. As Keiki works through the clues based on the timing of who happened to be in the club room at the time, he deduces that the pool of candidates must be limited – senior Sayuki Tokihara, the assistant librarian Yuika Koga, Nao Manjō or student council vice president Ayano Fujimoto. Intending to find the girl behind the love letter, Keiki spends more time with each of Sayuki, Yuika, Nao and Ayano, only to learn that each possesses a unique perversion that makes them quite unappealing. When Keiki runs afoul of third year Koharu Ōtori, he decides to help her become closer to Shōma and ends up finding her to be helpful in seeking out the girl behind the unknown letter: with help from Shōma and Koharu, Keiki ultimately eliminates Ayano, Nao, Yuika and Sayuki as candidates. It turns out that Keiki’s younger sister, Mizuha, had sent the letter, having long been in love with him: she had been adopted after her own parents’ passing, and while Keiki’s regarded her as a sibling, she’d always seen him as something more. While Keiki struggles to accept Mizuha’s feelings, the two do reach a resolution at the series’ end. This is Kawaikereba Hentai demo Suki ni Natte Kuremasuka? (English title Are You Willing to Fall in Love with a Pervert, as Long as She’s Cute?) or Hensuki for brevity, an anime that had aired during the summer. Hensuki‘s outlandish and deviant premise means that one would be hard-pressed to find instructive discourse on the series: discussions elsewhere have drawn dubious references to Japanese law and psychology to make sense of the character’s actions, and end up yielding little in the way of a useful outcome relevant to Hensuki – while I suppose that some viewers go to great lengths to use intellectualism as a cover for some of the series that they watch, it should be evident that requisite knowledge of psychology and law are strictly not needed to figure out what Hensuki was aiming to accomplish with its raunchy story.

At its core, Hensuki draws upon hyperbole to present the idea that falling in love is unpredictable and commands its own price: Keiki is presented as being quite interested in pursuing a relationship with someone, and actively dreams of a romantic experience, so when he receives the initial love letter, he is ecstatic. However, as he delves into figuring out who’d sent the letter, he comes to understand more about Sayuki, Yuika and Nao: Keiki is also subject to each of the girls’ unique and terrifying whims. Sayuki desires nothing more than to be treated as a pet, while Yuika aims to dominate Keiki. Nao has no interest in a relationship and is head-over-heels about yaoi. Spending time with each exacts a toll on the hapless Keiki, who desires nothing more than a storybook romance with an ordinary girl. Hensuki thus acts as a bit of a cautionary tale about relationships, warning viewers to be mindful of what they wish for. In Keiki’s case, Saiyuki, Yuika and Nao are rather more than he’d initially expected, bringing with them their own unique perversions that they expect him to fulfil, and while each of their tendencies are greatly exaggerated, it does act as a rather colourful representation of the idea that entering a relationship extends beyond displays of affection and courtship: one must also be prepared to accept eccentricities about their partner. Keiki ultimately decides that the extremities that Nao, Sayuki and Yuika command simply isn’t worth it, and he laments having spent an entire summer single despite the female attention on him. Hensuki ultimately conveys these learnings through comedy: as viewers watch Keiki suffer, the message becomes quite apparent.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While Hensuki has its shock moments, the central premise of Keiki trying to work out who was responsible for the unknown love letter proved to be engaging enough for me to watch this series at a reasonably smart pace. Keiki’s initial attempts in figuring out this mysterious party’s identity gives Hensuki a bit of a thriller vibe, and the entire crux  of the series is focused on the sorts of discoveries and experience Keiki has after it is shown that members of the Calligraphy Club have feelings for him to varying extents.

  • Keiki’s reaction of shock and disgust whenever Sayuki and Yuika force themselves on him is perhaps more of a plausible reaction: reserving physical intimacy for a much closer relationship is a sacrosanct component of relationships, and how forward Sayuki and Yuika are with Keiki ends up creating him much discomfort. Sayuki is a masochist of sorts and longs to be treated as a pet. She knows that her ample bust is something that Keiki is partial to and constantly exploits this whenever competing with Yuika for Keiki’s attention.

  • In the Terrible Anime Challenge schema, Hensuki fits under the “it was enjoyable, contrary to expectations” category: this series certainly is not going to be for everyone, and there are some moments that certainly can be a bit over the top. With this in mind, simply because I got a few good laughs and a good message out of Hensuki does not mean others will share this experience. However, this is no reason to bring in an incomplete knowledge of the belief–desire–intention model to figure out the character’s end goals, as everyone’s objective is simple enough: get close enough to Keiki to satisfy their own goal functions.

  • Since Yuika might not have the same figure as Sayuki, she resorts to even more direct methods of forcing Keiki to have eyes for none other than herself: after Keiki takes her on a proper date to see if she’s the person behind the love letter, Yuika manages to corner him at school, and then forces him to eat pantsu, causing him to pass out. Sayuki is voiced by Ayana Taketatsu (K-On!‘s very own Azusa Nakano, Fū Sawatari of Tamayura, Oreimo‘s Kirino Kōsaka, Ayana Taketatsu from Kiss X Sis, and even Hotaru Shidare from Dagashi Kashi), while Yuika is voiced by Rina Hidaka (Rinon from Ano Natsu de MatteruKantai Collection‘s Kisaragi and Ako Tamaki from And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?).

  • While Nao seems the most normal of everyone in the calligraphy club, it turns out that she’s into yaoi and wants to get closer to Keiki purely so she can gain new story ideas for her work, which has Shōma and Keiki as the lead characters for a manga. Despite being disinterested in a relationship, she is quite attuned to pushing Keiki’s buttons and initially, in the absence of knowledge surrounding Nao’s interests, viewers do initially believe that Nao could be a viable candidate. Iori Nomizu plays Nao: besides her role as Upotte!‘s Funco, I’m not familiar with her other roles.

  • Sayuki and Yuika use Nao’s work to extort attention from Keiki, intending to show it to Mizuha and ruin her opinion of him should he fail to comply with their absurd requests. While Keiki appears to have average willpower and abstains from doing anything too questionable unless he’s cornered, he greatly cherishes his role as older brother for Mizuha and fears that she might be corrupted by the others’ actions.

  • While contemplating the order of events at the calligraphy club’s room, Keiki saves student council vice president Ayano Fujimoto from falling off the stairs, and she quickly takes an interest to him, luring him into the student council room and crafting an atmosphere that leads Keiki to fall asleep so she can collect his scent. The characters of Hensuki are intentionally exaggerated to make clear the point that relationships have their pluses and minuses.

  • One of the leading complaints about Hensuki outside of its setup was the suggestion that the art and animation here are substandard compared to other series. While Hensuki uses simpler artwork than other series, there are no moments that are so blatantly poor that they come to mind. While the quality of animation and artwork do impact my thoughts on a series, I am not going into each and every work expecting a Makoto Shinkai or Kyoto Animation level experience. As long as things are sufficiently smooth and consistent as not to distract from the characters and their experiences, this aspect earns a pass from me.

  • I find criticisms of Hensuki in the community unconvincing, with some folk enforcing their own perspectives on what a proper relationship should look like and then dismissed Hensuki as implausible or even as a form of wish fulfilment. While analysing the individual episodes yielded little more than “could have, should have” suggestions towards what Keiki should do in his situation and critiquing the story for being a “cop out”, my own approach means that I tend to look at the series from a wider perspective. Rather that studying Keiki and the others’ actions, it is the sum of all character interactions over the course of the series that matter: this lead me to a different conclusion about what message Hensuki aims to present.

  • Overall, I would say that of everyone in Hensuki that isn’t Mizuha, Sayuki is probably the individual who would be most easy to accept and tolerate as far as her preferences go. Nao’s focus on yaoi means that pursuit of anything there wouldn’t be particularly fruitful, and Yuika’s tendencies border on the realm of nightmarish. The post title comes from a line in Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King when Gandalf speaks of the decline of Gondor. Asking questions of the stars can be taken to mean astrology, a pseudoscience that supposes future outcomes can be foretold by astronomical patterns and is known for its wildly inaccurate outcomes.

  • Astrology does have one legitimate stake in history: interest in tracking stellar and planetary motions formed the basis for astronomy and led to developments such as Kepler’s Laws and Newton’s Theory of Gravitation, the outcomes of which can be found in the form of six lunar landers on the lunar surface. Because Mizuha and Keiki are often seen watching a television channel programme that does horoscopes, it seemed appropriate that, in conjunction with the task Keiki is presented with, the sense of uncertainty he encounters does seem like he’s relying on something as unreliable as astrology to figure out who the unknown sender of the love letter was.

  • Conversely, the page quote is sourced from Rick and Morty, and while it may not look it at first glance, it does appear that the theme in Hensuki, considering all of the trouble Keiki goes through for the want of spending his days together with someone ordinary, is that relationships aren’t always as they appear. When things work well, they work really well, but when things go south, they can get ugly very quickly. Rick certainly seems to believe this: despite having conquered every unknown and every challenge known to infinite realities and timelines, love is something that even Rick does not fully understand or have control over.

  • When Ayano receives a free day pass to the municipal pool, she is unable to go. Ayano thus gives the ticket to Keiki, who invites everyone and plans to unveil who had written the original love letter. He provides commentary on everyone’s swimsuits, and is particularly impressed with Mizuha, whose figure is surprisingly, only second to Sayuki’s. Mizuha’s been largely a background character up until the final segments of Hensuki, offering support to Keiki where needed, but otherwise had more of a quiet role. Mizuha is voiced by Kaede Hondo, whom I know best as Urara Meirocho‘s Kon Tatsumi, Koyume Koizuka from Comic Girls and Iroduku‘s Kohaku Tsukishiro.

  • After a day spent frolicking about at the municipal pool, the girls are enrolled into a kokuhaku competition that sees Sayuki, Yuika, Nao and Mizuha compete in. Each of the girls end up presenting a confession that mirrors their own reasons for being interested in Keiki, but ultimately, it is Mizuha who wins. This foreshadows who the love letter’s sender was, and as it turns out, Keiki already had an idea of who it is going into the penultimate episode.

  • Mizuha is revealed to be Keiki’s secret suitor: having spent most of the series watching from afar and offering him advice on how to best get along with Yuika, Sayuki and Nao, Mizuha herself had housed feelings for Keiki for most of her life. She and Keiki are not related; after her parents had died from unknown causes, she was adopted into Keiki’s family. Keiki had always viewed her as a sister, and even after recalling this fact, his view on Mizuha has not changed at all.

  • Hensuki‘s remaining episode is spent dealing with this revelation, and up until now, Hensuki had been proceeding at a smart pace. I admit that this took me by surprise: Mizuha being quite unrelated to Keiki came completely out of left field, and for me, is an instance of what is called cutting the Gordian Knot. Hensuki had created a love tesseract that immobilised Keiki: between Sayuki, Yuika, Nao and Ayano, Keiki is troubled by their perversions, but they each intend to seduce him and have him for themselves. By having Mizuha be the suitor, this defied all expectations.

  • Keiki’s reaction to Mizuha’s romantic feelings for him has him becoming lethargic and confused. He eventually gets caught in the rain and develops a cold after leaving home to gather his thoughts, and eventually succumbs to his cold, forcing him to return home. Sayuki and Yuika come to visit him and end up sparring with one another: while it is completely off-mission, it seems that Yuika’s desire to dominate others would actually mesh well with Sayuki’s desire to be dominated. Keiki eventually comes to terms with Mizuha and the two resume their lives as siblings, although Mizuha’s flirting becomes more brazen.

  • Overall, for having a surprisingly relevant theme wrapped with a seemingly frivolous premise, and for the amount of hilarity I got from watching Keiki suffer at the hands of Sayuki and Yuika, Hensuki earns a solid B-, a 7.0 of 10 or 2.7 of 4.0. I entered Hensuki with the singular aim of watching Sayuki mess with Keiki in the way that only she can, but ended up with a quasi-whodunit mystery that also had an unexpected message about relationships and a twist I didn’t see coming. I appreciate that everyone won’t see this series the same way, so it’s more than acceptable if there are folks who didn’t like Hensuki.

  • Of everyone, Mizuha looks the most normal, being soft-spoken and having skill with housework, but perhaps unsurprisingly, she has a”thing”: exhibitionism. Outwardly resembling a more voluptuous Miho Nishizumi and having a voice reminiscent of SaeKano‘s Megumi Katō, Mizuha was the last person I’d expect to be the letter’s sender, and Keiki refuses to see her as a romantic partner as Hensuki draws to a close. With this, my post on Hensuki draws to a close, and I hope that this will partially make up for my lack of content over the past few weeks. With the delay in Hibike! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale, I actually have no more conventional posts scheduled for this month beyond the halfway point impressions for Kandagawa Jet Girls, so one of my challenges will be to find stuff to write about and not spend all of my available free time in Battlefield V.

The question of who the unknown suitor is ends up being a lingering question throughout Hensuki, and after numerous red herrings and Chekov Guns that distract and foreshadow the suitor’s identity, after much comedy viewers share at Keiki’s expense, Hensuki reveals that this suitor is none other than Mizuha. This ramifications of this outcome are irrelevant, but its impact on the story simply serves to show that one does indeed miss the forest for the trees: this outcome was completely unexpected, and Keiki notes as much, having decided that the odds of Mizuha sending the letter were zero. Hensuki thus ended up being a bit of a surprise to watch, and while it might be a bit of a depraved series to watch, Hensuki manages to command a certain amount of curiosity that Keiki experiences as he works towards figuring out the love letter’s sender. In conjunction with some moments that are truly outrageous (Yuiki forcing her pantsu into Keiki’s mouth, to name one), Hensuki ends up being a romance-comedy-thriller that gives viewers reason to stick around. Underneath its perversions is a surprisingly relevant and straightforward theme, and ultimately, Hensuki did turn out to be modestly engaging: folks looking for a good laugh from Keiki’s misfortunes might find Hensuki to be a worthwhile title, although for most viewers, Hensuki isn’t going to be particularly meaningful to watch. Irrespective of whether one chooses to watch Hensuki or not, one thing should be abundantly clear: endlessly psychoanalysing the characters to predict their actions and intents is a Sisyphean task, clouding one’s perspective from the broader narrative. I’ve stated this before, but it is worth reiterating that the reductionist approach’s limitations are quite evident in the realm of anime: knowing how a character reacts to certain stimuli is completely insufficient towards working out what a story’s aims are. Hensuki is ultimately something simple that can elicit a few laughs with its straightforward theme, and folks looking to give this one a go should at least know they are not obligated to have a professional understanding of psychology to enjoy this one.

Terrible Anime Challenge: An Etymological Examination of Style in Blend S

“What’s your shtoyle?”
“My style? You could call it the art of fighting without fighting.”

–Parsons and Lee, Enter The Dragon

In order to provide funds for her desire of studying abroad, Maika Sakuranomiya decides to take on a part time job. She is turned away from several places owing to her sadistic-looking smile, but a chance encounter with Dino, an Italian fellow who runs Café Stile, results in her working at this unique café whose staff take on character archetypes from anime. Here, she meets Kaho Hinata, a bubbly and friendly waitress who is fond of video games and has a tsundere role, Mafuyu Hoshikawa, whose role as an energetic younger sister conceals a stoic personality, and chef Kōyō Akizuki. While Maika initially has trouble adjusting to customer service and consciously strives improves her smile, her unintentional lapses into sadism is a hit with customers. All the while, Dino deals with his crush on Maika, who is blissfully unaware of his feelings for her, and his attempts to get closer to Maika usually end up backfiring. Together, Blend S presents a wonderfully light-hearted, hilarious story of life at Café Stile and Maika’s becoming closer to the team there as she is joined by doujin writer and older sister figure Miu Amano, as well as the cross-dressing Hideri Kanzaki, who aspires to be an idol. Being outwardly an amalgamation of key moments in Maika’s time at Café Stile, Blend S shows that there is a place for everyone, and that in the right company, one can nonetheless find acceptance and worth. Maika might unintentionally be sadistic in appearance, but her heart is genuine and kind, so being able to show her true self at Café Stile helps her grow and, while working towards her dreams of studying abroad, also experience a different sort of journey that broadens her worldview.

While Blend S might be a Manga Time Kirara adaptation, its premise and employment of darker humour led some to folks to decide that a better understanding of Machiavellianism (a personality trait that gauges one’s willingness to manipulate others, be emotionally cold and indifferent to others) was mandatory towards understanding the series. Maika’s unique personality left some wondering whether or not her actions were deliberate or accidental. Maika’s treatment of Café Stile’s customers ventures into realm of torture: she verbally denigrates those who visit, and even waterboards a customer, and so, it seemed logical to delve into personality psychology to figure out how Maika fit into things. As it turns out, Maika’s actions, and those of Café Stile’s other staff, are simply optimised for humour. Maika is merely a naïveté in the ways of the world, and her well-meaning intentions to helping improve customer experience backfires in her eyes whenever she makes a mistake. While Maika may be disheartened, her customers appear to enjoy her service the point of returning to Café Stile for the experience. Consequently, because Maika is intrinsically kind and wants to be effective in her role, Maika would likely score low on the Mach IV survey (which gauges Machiavellianism) – her sadism traits are purely intended for humour rather than for harm, and as such, discussions on Machiavellianism do not particularly apply to Blend S, where the humour and setup is consistent with that of a Manga Time Kirara series, through and through; this allows one to enjoy Blend S as one would something like GochiUsa or Kiniro Mosaic.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As long as there are anime that I procrastinate in watching, there will be material for the Terrible Anime Challenge series: Blend S originally aired two years ago alongside Kino no Tabi and Girls’ Last TourYūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter and Wake Up Girls! Shin Shou. I was already flooded with shows at the time and while Blend S looked up my alley, I never got around to watching the series. When the fall season ended, Yuru Camp△ and Slow Start kicked in. It was only when I gave Yuri Kuma Arashi a whirl that I found the time to pick up Blend S, and here we are.

  • On the categorisation of Terrible Anime Challenge shows, Blend S is a series that meets expectations of being an enjoyable slice-of-life series. Neither great nor terrible, Blend S‘ strength lies in the contrasting personalities amongst the characters, both between one another and the differences between their role at Café Stile and their usual selves. It’s a series that I can recommend to Manga Time Kirara and comedy fans. Conversely, Blend S is not for folks who prefer clearly defined stories, and I further remark that anyone looking for an intellectual journey would be disappointed.

  • One of the comedic aspects of Blend S comes from Maika’s unintentional mistreatment of customers despite her efforts to give them a good experience. Far from dissuading them from returning, some customers have become fond of the sadism that Maika brings to the table. Over time, Maika becomes acclimatised to her role, and it turns out that the level of sadism from Maika we’ve normally seen can actually be ramped up several notches, resulting in server who’d likely be bad for business.

  • When a customer drops an R-rated doujin, the staff struggle to find its owner and learn that it belongs to Miu, an older patron who resembles GochiUsa‘s Blue Mountain in manner and style. Kaho becomes deeply embarrassed when reading it and reacts strongly to the ideas that Miu has. Kaho herself is an amalgamation of GochiUsa‘s Rize and Himouto‘s Umaru, being very fond of games while at once retaining a cheerful personality. Mafuyu reminds me of Sansha San’yō‘s Shino Sonobe. With its colourful cast, there are no dull moments in Blend S, a series that further has the distinction of two male leads.

  • The page quote comes from Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, when a man decides to bully the others on board a ship. When he faces off against Lee, Lee manages to win the fight without lifting a finger, citing his style as “fighting without fighting”. It is a play on Sun Tzu’s remark that the greatest victory is achieved without fighting – by outwitting the man, Lee shows that martial arts is about more than just fists, it is a matter of discipline and creative thinking. Café Stile certainly has no shortage of shtoyle, and while Stile itself refers to a small passage consisting of steps, I imagine that Café Stile itself is merely a deliberate misspelling of style for shtoyle points.

  • With respect to Blend S, I have definitely been fighting without fighting – while the folks who believe themselves to be more intellectual have pored hours into trying to figure out whether or not Blend S possesses the characteristics of a Manga Time Kirara series, I came in much later with the goal of merely enjoying the series as it was. Rather than arguing with individuals who intend to lecture rather than learn, I’d rather wait them out and then counter their points once a series has concluded, when I have the big picture. It should therefore be no surprise that after finishing the series, Jungian archetypes and Machiavellianism do not figure at all in my discussions beyond me doing a beat-down on why it shouldn’t figure in discussions.

  • I have stated this previously, but my main reason for not involving psychology and philosophy in anime is because most of the principles that fans gravitate towards have in fact, been discredited or else have not been properly applied to the series. A work that requires functional knowledge of these elements must have a good reason for incorporating them, and while a series with a particular theme or story may find these more complex elements useful, they invariably have little relevance in slice-of-life series, where the goal is simply to share a few laughs and watch characters develop.

  • Instead, more nuanced and enjoyable discussion on slice-of-life series stems from understanding what different characters get out of their experiences, and then relating these to one’s own experiences and values are. The successful slice-of-life anime will allow a viewer to reflect on their prior knowledge, and even add additional perspectives on how one may approach life. My thoughts are likely considered heretical by some: I find that those who attempt to inject philosophy, psychology or politics into something as simple and harmless as Blend S usually are those who reject life’s lessons.

  • While Blend S might deal with Maika’s life at Café Stile, the team is shown in settings commonly seen in other slice-of-life series set in a high school environment. When the summer rolls around, after Dino takes Maika shopping for a new swimsuit, the staff decide to host a river-side barbeque and then visit the beach. It is here that Kōichi’s embarrassment whenever gazing upon Kaho’s ample bust becomes apparent, and he later develops a pronounced overreaction whenever Kaho is around.

  • If I had to single out one moment in Blend S that made the series worthwhile, it would be when Dino decides to transform the entire café into a jungle setting. The foliage is so dense that Maika gets lost in here, and Mafuyu takes on the roll of an energetic imouto dressed as a monkey. The visual humour is top-notch and hilarious, but also remarkably well-balanced. When the staff begin experiencing challenges with the artificial jungle, Dino decides to restore the café to its former glory.

  • For some, the most controversial moment of Blend S involves Hideri, a new hire who fulfils the idol archetype. Despite dressing like a lady, Hideri is actually a guy, leading to endless, cyclic speculation on his orientation and whatnot. Because Blend S doesn’t focus on the other characters’ acceptance of him, this is shown to be a given, leaving the series to instead portray the humour that accompanies such a character. I’ve never gotten the whole fuss with such characters: if they are well-written into and contribute to a series as Hideri does, I have no issues. I similarly have no qualms about individuals of all sorts in real life: I judge and respect people based on not who they are, but what they do.

  • Maika has an older sister and older brother, both of whom dote on Maika and worry that she’s got no friends. When they learn that Maika’s working at Café Stile, Maika’s older sister decides to swing by for a visit. While her older siblings can be somewhat intimidating, Maika herself can frighten them into standing down. Such setups in reality would not be accepted as normal, but the realm of fiction allows for outrageous situations to be presented in a lighter fashion.

  • Once Maika’s settled into her position at Café Stile and becomes more comfortable with serving customers, Blend S takes time to explore the other characters’ interactions. Kaho and Mafuyu is one such combination: when Kaho fails an exam, Mafuyu agrees to tutor her, and over the course of an episode, Kaho manages to learn the ropes and succeeds on her replacement exam. All of the characters in Blend S are likeable, and while I had entered the series wondering if this was going to be untrue, this was, to my pleasure, not a problem at all.

  • One wonders what my beef with Jungian and Freudian principles are: I have no issue with studying derelict or discredited theories, since they are the stepping stones towards contemporary knowledge. The theory of spontaneous generation and a geocentric model of the universe are such examples, and I have no qualms with the origins of their theories. The problem lies in the application of such theories within trying to enjoy fiction, and when folks telling others that characters and their interactions should be interpreted a certain way using an outdated theory that sounds intimidating, I cannot say I am fond of this behaviour.

  • Towards the end of the series, the relationship between Dino and Maika are explored in more depth: having long been shown to be head-over-heels for Maika, Dino’s efforts to be closer to her inevitably end up in failure, partially a consequence of his own ineptitude and thanks to intervention from Mafuyu. When the two are permitted a moment to themselves, they get along swimmingly: when visiting a dog park with owner (a dog that Dino ends up adopting), others assume Maika and Dino to be a couple.

  • Because this is a Terrible Anime Challenge post, it means I get a bit of liberty with respect to choosing what screenshots I feature, and I think by this point in time, even though I’d not mentioned it explicitly, Kaho is my favourite character for many reasons. Readers who’ve seen my earlier Terrible Anime Challenge posts may have noticed that all posts in this series have rather long or unusual titles. For Blend S, the title comes from one individual who demanded an etymological examination of whether or not we should refer to Blend S (originally ブレンド・S in katakana) with a hyphen simply because Crunchyroll did so.

  • Focusing on these details is foolish to the point of hilarity, and talking about this sort of thing is unproductive: arguing about pointless semantics detracts from one’s enjoyment of a given show. Similarly, I don’t particularly care that Blend S is etymologically derived from the pun between a brand of coffee some shops blend and “Do-S” (which supposedly means DoSadism): knowing that adds nothing of value to one’s enjoyment of the show, and yields no insight about the themes of Blend S. Good discussion is about being inclusive, not about dropping random details to show the depth of one’s knowledge.

  • As such, when such serious discussions were conducted surrounding Blend S, I wondered if I would enjoy this series, since my own knowledge on Japanese products and colloquialisms are certainly not that extensive: I can tell the difference between genuine maple syrup and normal pancake syrup, as well as different varieties of TimBits, but I am not familiar with things in Japan to the same extent. Time and time again, the answer I get from simply watching a show is clear: the sciolists don’t possess more knowledge that are necessary to enjoying a show.

  • Towards the end of Blend S, the Café Stile crew go on a team vacation to the mountains for skiing. Here, Dino attempts a kokuhaku on Maika while teaching her to ski, but ends up failing in a hilarious manner. While anime is often filled with implausibility, challenging these elements results in disappointment: the whole point of fiction is to abstract out systems and removing some constraints of the real world so specific ideas can be explored. Blend S is no exception, and while not particularly noteworthy, good comedy carries the series through from a strong start to a satisfying finish.

  • Overall, Blend S scores a solid B+ from me (3.3 of 4.0, or 8 out of 10) for being able to consistently create humour with its unique setup. With Blend S now in the books, I’m just in time for the entry into November. While I am officially supposed to hold the announcement, the release of Battlefield V‘s Pacific Theatre content has prompted me to move my schedule up. My announcement is that I am going to be hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase for the month of November. I’ll have more details on this come the first, and in the meantime, I will be enjoying Iwo Jima and Pacific Storm thoroughly.

Having established that a working knowledge of personality psychology is not required to optimally enjoy Blend S, the next item to attend to is what makes Blend S so enjoyable. At the heart of Blend S lies a cast of characters whose job at a cosplay café requires they adapt a different personality than their usual selves, and this aspect is deployed in a spectacular manner to create humour. Maika might be sweet and kindhearted, but as a server, her sadistic tendencies rivals those of outlandish villains seen in other series. Kaho is excellent with the tsundere personality, but beyond this is a cheerful and approachable manner. Mafuyu’s imouto personality fits her appearance more so than her usual mien, that of a jaded and quiet college student. Hideri might be an idol concerned with all things cute, but when flustered, he reverts to a boyish mindset. Despite conveying the air of an older sister while working, Miu makes Blue Mountain look like a rank amateur when it comes to lewding characters for story ideas. The sum of these dynamics means that Blend S never has a dull moment, and all of this is in conjunction with Dino’s genuine, but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to court Maika. Blend S consistently maintains its comedy, resulting in a show that is sure to amuse. While Blend S may lack a single theme that drives its events, and is average from an audio-visual perspective, the setup at Café Stile means that the characters and their interactions are the series’ biggest draw. One only need to sit back while everyone bounces off one another to enjoy Blend S, and so, for the folks who figured that a more serious discussion involving psychology was needed to get the most out of things, I take a leaf from Bruce Lee’s playbook and suggest that that they don’t waste themselves.