The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: First Impressions

Mō Ippon! – Review and Reflection After Three

我係精武館最水皮嘅徒弟, 我想試吓日本拳頭嘅味道!” –陳真, 精武門

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

  • Misconceptions like these are why I continue to say that people shouldn’t place so much stock in Anime News Network’s opinions of things; Shinkai’s stories, while scaled up to be more fantastical and dramatic, ultimately speak to lessons applicable in everyday life, and for better or worse, Anime News Network’s writers don’t exactly have the best track record of picking up on these elements. Thus, when Anime News Network publishes their Suzume no Tojimari review in the next few days, it goes without saying that it should most definitely be not taken at face value because the reviewer is unlikely to be actively looking out for Shinkai’s intentions.

  • I concede that any work of fiction is open to interpretation, but at least for me, it’s always important to understand the author’s intentions behind their work. When a reviewer decides their interpretation of a work supersedes even that of the author’s, and they’re writing to a publication that’s considered as reputable, this can have the potential to negatively impact a work for a long time after its screening. Returning to the example with Five Centimetres per Second, Anime News Network’s interpretations were copy-pasted to Wikipedia, claiming the film was about how people are powerless to shape their circumstances and must endure loneliness and separation as a result. Since Wikipedia is widely read, this became the de facto interpretation people accept of the film.

  • The companion novel and side stories both clarify that the problem Takaki faced was because he felt like everything was always outside his control, from him being forced to separate with Akari, to how his first job had punishing deadlines and occasionally, how management made his tasks more difficult. After he quits his first software job and goes freelance, he’s at peace: he’s most certainly not pining for Akari, but rather, was frustrated by a lack of agency. So, when he does the walk and thinks he encounters Akari again, he’s happy because he was able to fulfil his old promise and he knows it’s his call to now turn around and keep moving on in his life.

  • Because Shinkai clarifies his position through the companion novel and side stories, one can easily work out that Five Centimetres per Second does have a happy ending; it’s not a “happily ever after”, but for viewers, knowing that Takaki has found the agency in his life to take charge is an encouraging thought. Shinkai’s later movies follow a similar pattern; his characters might experience loneliness, but the idea that Shinkai wants to say that loneliness is all-consuming and final is untrue. Indeed, Your Name and Weathering With You both have happy endings, and assuming this trend holds true, Suzume no Tojimari will likely end on a similarly positive note.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bocchi The Rock! – Review and Reflection After Three

“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” –Walter Anderson

Hitori Gotō has always been a shy introvert who had trouble socialising with her peers. When she reaches middle school, after seeing how a band can garner applause and adoration from their audience, Hitori decides to take up guitar and put on a performance before graduating. Her nerves end up preventing her from ever performing in front of classmates, but over her three years, Hitori practises alone and puts her performances up online, where other netizens find themselves impressed with Hotori’s playing. Upon reaching high school, Hitori continues to struggle until one day, she runs into Nijika Ijichi, who’s a member of the band, Kessoku, and in desperate need of a new guitarist ever since their previous guitarist unexpectedly left. Hitori’s social anxiety makes it difficult for her to turn Nijika down, and she ends up being introduced to the band Nijika’s a part of – Nijika is a drummer, and their other member, Ryō Yamada, is a guitarist. Although performing poorly in their show, Nijika is happy to have met Hitori, while Hitori is quite excited about thing despite being exhausted from the day’s events. Nijika and Ryō later recruit Hitori to work at their bar, STARRY, and despite her attempts to ditch, she ends up showing up anyways, learning that serving customers isn’t as daunting as she’d imagined. At school, Hitori encounters Ikuyo Kita, who’s enamoured with guitar and wants to play. Hitori has difficulty in relating to the energetic Ikuyo, and ends up bringing her to STARRY. The normally cheerful Ikuyo becomes worried, and it turns out that she’d been the guitarist who’d quit Kessoku; she had happily volunteered to play guitar for them because of her crush on Ryō, but quit after realising that guitar was more involved than she had imagined. Hitori and the others convince her to stay, with Hitori offering to teach her how to play properly. This is Bocchi The Rock! three episodes in – this season’s Manga Time Kirara anime is an amalgamation of 2009’s K-On!, and 2019’s Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, combining the former’s light music with themes of overcoming social anxiety from the latter. Although the premise is not particularly novel or innovative, Bocchi The Rock! sets the table for a story of how music and camaraderie creates a suitable environment for people to open up and incrementally become more confident in their ability to interact with others.

Bocchi The Rock! follows in the footsteps of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu with its lead character – both series are characterised by highly exaggerated traits in the protagonist. Hitori of Bocchi The Rock and Hitori of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, for instance, both suffer from crippling social anxiety to the point where neither can carry a conversation with others, second guess the intentions of others at every turn and withdraw at the first sign of trouble, becoming reduced into a squeaky mess. Such propensities are a caricature of introverted tendencies, and while at first glance, it can appear as though such anime are mocking folks who are less comfortable with social interactions, such characters actually are immensely valuable in the series they appear in. Exaggerations serve to emphasise the sort of thing that people uncomfortable with approaching others may experience in a way that’s clear to those who do not share their same situation. For instance, when Hitori attempts to turn down an invite to work at STARRY, she decides to catch a cold rather than approach Nijika and Ryō directly. In reality, being forward with Nijika and Ryō would yield the quickest results, and one can turn things down politely without burning any bridges. However, the roundabout approach that Hitori takes is a show of how difficult it can be do take this route. In this way, the exaggerated traits of characters like Hitori serve to emphasise that some people really do have a tough go at social interactions, and in turn, when viewers see Hitori improving throughout Bocchi The Rock!, the changes become more apparent and rewarding, similarly to how by the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Hitori had similarly amassed a group of friends; while taking a very unconventional route, Hitori is reaching out to more people and finding friendship anyways, showing how a desirable result can arise even if one’s methods aren’t the smoothest. In this way, Bocchi The Rock! is quite fun to watch, being a rather visceral depiction of the sorts of challenges that folks with social anxiety may experience, and even then, how the right people at the right time can help catalyse growth that helps one to gradually become more comfortable around other people and even embrace new experiences.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Hitori initially resembles Machikado Mazoku‘s Momo, and her beginnings with the guitar are humble; she practises on her own with the hope that one day, she’ll be able to join a band. I remember that, back in my time as a middle school student, prior to entering my final year, I decided I wanted to give jazz band a whirl and ended up teaching myself how to play the trumpet. I therefore rented a trumpet during the summer break and spent two hours a day practising. By the time September came around, I was able to play alongside my peers, although the instructor flat out refused to believe that I was self-taught and suggested I took lessons.

  • While some people learn better when they have someone walking them through things, I’ve found that being self-taught means that, since there’s no safety net, one must adapt to problems and sort out issues for themselves before continuing. There are merits to being instructed, and while I’ll probably say I’m more comfortable with an instructor, in practise, I am technically a self-taught iOS developer, and I learn best by experimenting. Hitori is likely similar, owing to her reservations about social interaction, and while she’s unable to perform at a concert for her classmates, her skill as a guitarist becomes passable owing to how dedicated she is.

  • Cloverworks’ visual work for Bocchi The Rock! is impressive, equivalent to the artwork and animation seen in their past works. Akebi’s Sailor UniformMy Dress-Up Darling and Spy × Family are all excellent titles both in terms of story and technical elements. With a solid repertoire, it is clear that wherever Bocchi The Rock! is headed, one can reasonably expect an enjoyable experience ahead. I acknowledge that this is akin to judging a book by its cover, but because Cloverworks’ track record is of a fine standard, my expectations for Bocchi The Rock! is that this is going to be something I have a good time with.

  • A leading complaint about K-On! had been how Yui had a near-supernatural tendency to become remarkably skilled in the things that she put any effort towards, and that throughout K-On!, Houkago Teatime were never actually shown practising extensively or taking music as seriously as other bands would. However, the point of K-On! wasn’t the music, but rather, how shared experiences and camaraderie creates memories worth holding onto and worth giving thanks for. Anime bloggers and anime critics of the late 2000s and early 2010s missed this, leading K-On! to become a highly polarising series, even though the series itself had been sincere and authentic.

  • Bocchi The Rock! circumvents this possibility by establishing that Hitori is a decent guitar player as a result of having spent so much time practising, and although she’s never participated in any concerts, she does upload her playing to YouTube, where she’s built out a decently-sized following and developed a reputation for being an enjoyable guitarist to listen to. In real life, Hitori is so shy that she can hardly carry out a conversation; lacking the courage to initiate one, she also has no idea of how to respond when someone else starts a conversation.

  • I relate to Hitori more than I do the typical extrovert. Left to my own devices, I am perfectly content with doing my own thing and maintaining the silence. However, people have stated that I have an extrovert’s tendencies: after I warm up to people, I can carry out conversations about almost anything without too much trouble and have a propensity for lame puns and bad jokes that people find amusing. The truth is that extroversion and introversion exist along a spectrum; I lean towards introversion even though I’m comfortable with people, and while I prefer doing things on my own, I won’t experience any physical difficulty in attending events with more people.

  • Because Hitori has difficulties with social interactions, Bocchi The Rock! introduces Nijika in order to jump-start things and break the status quo. The younger sister of the STARRY live house’s manager, Nijika is friendly and outgoing, being quite involved with the family business. Nijika knows her way around bands and the industry, making her a valuable asset. In appearance, Nijika resembles Blend S‘ Kaho Hinata. Seeing familiar faces in Bocchi The Rock! shouldn’t be too surprising: character archetypes are commonplace in Manga Time Kirara series, and the joy of watching these adaptations comes not from individual characters and their traits, but rather, how everyone gets along once together, and how their interactions drive new developments.

  • Nijika’s request is to have Hitori act as their guitarist, since their previous one suddenly rage-quit. Although any other guitarist would’ve probably felt at home, Hitori struggles to summon the courage needed to play. Bocchi The Rock! does this for comedy’s sake, but I do relate to the situation of developing nerves when performing outside of one’s comfort zone. Having said this, I have found that, if I focus on the task at hand, I am able to relax more. For instance, when I left my first startup and joined my second startup, what allowed me to settle in within a month was the fact that my day-to-day was still to work with Swift.

  • Hitori hasn’t been around the block quite as long as I have, and after butchering things during practise, she throws herself in the trash (marked by the kanji 可燃, or “burnable”). This was especially piteous, since Hotori doesn’t even consider herself as being recyclable (the container on the right is for cans and bottles). Bocchi The Rock! is an example of what is colloquially referred to as “pity anime”, in which the characters are in situations that evoke a sense of pathos. My heart always melts when seeing these moments, and while such traits in reality are debilitating, anime choose to go with things like these to really emphasise a character’s traits. Kiniro Mosaic had done something similar; when Karen was feeling left out as the other girls discussed their future aspirations, she hid in a cardboard box and resembled an abandoned kitten as a result.

  • A quick look around finds that perhaps I’m unique in referring to anime like Bocchi The Rock! as a “pity anime”. I’m sure there’s a specific term referring to anime like Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru SeikatsuSansha San’yo, Anne Happy, Comic Girls and Bocchi The Rock!, but if there is, I’ve not learnt of it yet. These anime are characterised by mannerisms that would be outrageous in reality, but utilised effectively to drive character growth. To really show her as being socially inept, Bocchi The Rock! indicates that Hitori will go to great lengths to avoid interactions, even proposing that she perform in a box so she doesn’t have to see the audience.

  • In the end, although Kessoku performs quite poorly thanks to Hitori rushing ahead. A good band is in sync, and in K-On!, Mio, Yui and Tsumugi will often speed up their playing to match Ritsu’s pace during a concert. A skilled musician like Azusa will notice this; Azusa has commented that even though Houkago Teatime is rough around the edges, their synchronisation with one another is good, resulting in moving performances. At this point, it is still very early in Hitori’s time as a member of Kessoku, so gaffes like these are forgivable.

  • Although their first live performance is a bit of a let-down, and Hitori still has a long way to go before she’s able to play in front of an audience as herself, bring able to perform to any capacity for an in-person audience is a step up for Hitori. Of course, when Nijika offers Hitori a job at STARRY to help pay for upkeep costs. Nijika explains that live halls like STARRY use revenue to stay afloat, and often run a side business to bring in revenue because with many bands, agreeing to let them perform actually results in a net loss.

  • To keep in business, live halls are also licensed restaurants, and this conveniently suits Bocchi The Rock! – having Hitori work at STARRY pushes her in front of customers. I’ve long believed that the fastest way to learn is to metaphorically throw someone into the pool; this is achieved by putting someone into a situation where there is a clear objective, but where they must pick things as they go. This forces one to adapt and learn in response to whatever demands arise, fostering a stronger connection to the material. For instance, if one wanted to learn how to build an iOS app, reading algorithmic theory will only get one so far, and the best way to learn is to make an app in Xcode.

  • Applying this analogy in Bocchi The Rock! would probably end in disaster. Instead, Nijika and Ryō start with baby steps by trying to talk to Hitori and at the same time, introduce themselves to her. Although things start out well enough, Hitori’s lack of confidence causes her to lose composure with the questions. I’ve found that to overcome this, it’s helpful to do some introspection and have a set of basic answers about oneself. Then, depending on the context, one can fall back on an answer and tune it to address a question. It’s good practise, and coming up with answers and responses ahead of time could be a helpful means of aiding Hitori in communicating with others; if one knows roughly what to say in a given situation, then one can more readily adapt to the conversation and keep things flowing.

  • Seika, Nijika’s sister, runs STARRY, and she resembles New Game‘s Ko in appearance. Formerly a band member herself, Seika sports an aloof appearance and detached manner, but despite this, she cares very much about Nijika, and is more than happy to accept Hitori’s help, as it frees her to look after the reception desk. This is counted as being the easiest job, since on most days, there aren’t very many customers. In years past, some viewers would take this detail and use it to draw conclusions about Seika’s character, before using this as the basis for speculation that would invariably be incorrect.

  • However, in more recent years, anime discussions have trended away from attempting to psychoanalyse every detail in a given Manga Time Kirara series. I’ve always found this approach to be extraneous – knowing small details, like the fact that Hitori rocks a Gibson Les Paul guitar (the same model as K-On!‘s Yui, albeit in a different colour), might be cool, but it doesn’t generally contribute to overall enjoyment, or improved comprehension with respect to what a given work is trying to say. Because fewer people are taking this route in the present, I’ve found that it is far easier to enjoy whatever Manga Time Kirara anime is shown in a given season.

  • The reason I do not believe that it is meaningful to psychoanalyse characters, in an already-running slice-of-life anime, is because their actions and outcomes are already pre-determined – the writers have already laid down a path for what will happen in accordance with the themes that work was intended to convey, so speculating what will happen is unnecessary. Slice-of-life anime aren’t complicated, and once one figures out what messages are being shown to viewers, it becomes easy to work out the outcomes. As a result, I find it much more valuable to take in the journey, and see how pivotal moments contribute to a given character’s growth.

  • For instance, while Hitori initially struggles to present a drink to a customer after pouring it, support from Ryō and Nijika eventually leads her to succeed. Small victories like these are essential in a character’s growth; as Hitori acclimatises to interacting with customers, people she won’t usually know well,, she’ll slowly grow used to people in general. Understanding how slice-of-life anime operate is the key to enjoying them – anime like these are inevitably slow and seemingly incoherent, but over time, they speak to life lessons of at least some value.

  • Hitori is aware of these changes, and although she had spent a better part of a day trying to get out of things, once she realises working at STARRY isn’t anywhere as bad as she’d imagined, she suddenly finds herself looking forwards to returning STARRY the next day and do things at her own pace, one step at a time. In typical Manga Time Kirara fashion, however, Hitori does end up catching a cold, creating a bit of situational irony.

  • Par the course for a Manga Time Kirara series, characters are gradually introduced to avoid overwhelming viewers, and by the third episode, Ikuyo joins the cast. Hitori had initially tied to approach Ikuyo after Nijika and Ryō remarked they still need an additional guitarist. However, nerves gets the better of her, and Hitori is unable to act, at least until Ikuyo notices her. An outgoing and excitable girl who’s a people person, Ikuyo becomes interested in Hitori after hearing about her guitar playing, and attempts to convince Hitori to teach her.

  • Hitori tries to paint her band members as being exceptionally cool and talented in an attempt to dissuade Ikuyo from meeting Nijika and Ryō. However, when all efforts fail, Hitori reluctantly brings Ikuyo over to STARRY. The situation quickly changes as Ikuyo recognises the street, and tries to turn Hitori around. The pair soon run into Nijika; Ikuyo’s reactions hinted at her own past relationship with Kessoku and STARRY, and here, her reaction is adorable; although Ikuyo might have a happy-go-lucky attitude about approaching people, she’s not above feelings of shame and embarassment, either. In this way, Ikuyo might be seen as being Bocchi The Rock!‘s equivalent of Aru Honshō.

  • As it turns out, Ikuyo had joined Kessoku so she could be with Ryō, whom she’s got a crush on. However, once she realised playing the guitar was much more difficult than she had anticipated, shame resulted in her quitting suddenly. This is where Hitori came in to fill the void, and now that the truth is in the open, Nijika and Ryō both accept what’s happened and make it clear to Ikuyo that there are no hard feelings. To make up for the trouble caused, Ikuyo decides to work at STARRY, and right out of the gates, her outgoing nature means she’s a great fit for the role, as she handles customers with grace, even while wearing a maid’s outfit.

  • The trope of maids in a music anime is not a new one: K-On! previously had Sawako creating handmaid Victorian maid outfits for Houkago Teatime, and during the second season, to help Mio’s confidence prior to a stage play for the school festival, Tsumugi brings everyone to a café her family owns, where the girls spend the day waiting on customers as maids. Having been around anime for a shade over a decade, Victorian maids are a common part of the scenery, but the reason why they’re so prevalent is because maids are supposed to embody the concept of moé, being adorable and friendly.

  • Because consumers of anime and Japenese video games tend to be of a specific demographic, anime include maids to create a sense of familiarity and comfort. In my case, since I have no particular penchant for Victorian maids, maids simply become a part of the scenery, as unremarkable as watching people parade around in cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats for ten days of the year here at home. However, while I do not personally see the appeal of Victorian maids as anime portray them, their frequent presence does offer insight into contemporary Japanese popular culture, and specifically, the otaku subculture.

  • Seeing Ikuyo fit in so well with Ryō and Nijika causes Hitori’s confidence to deflate, and she chucks herself in the burnable trash container again. Moment such as these evoke pathos mixed with humour, and one could say that the pity in a given scene creates situational irony, which in turn drives comedy. The scene composition here is a familiar one; I’ve seen this particular setup in World Witches Take Off! previously, but I’ve never been able to identify what this visual gag is called. Such scenes are characterised by a character lying in the ground next to a pile of words depicting their final words or similar, and while it’s a long shot, if readers would be able to help me in identifying this, it would be most appreciated.

  • Once Ikuyo realise that there wasn’t really any bad blood following her departure, for both Hitori and the viewer’s benefit, she explains her story more fully, and decides that it’s probably for the better that she doesn’t rejoin Kessoku, even though she’s got a crush on Ryō. Moments like these reinforce the idea that despite their exaggerated characteristics, characters in Manga Time Kirara series also tend to be sincere, genuine and compassionate. This makes it easier to get behind and root for the characters as they learn and grow with one another.

  • Once STARRY closes for the day, it’s Hitori who takes the initiative and reaches out to Ikuyo. Although the manner of delivery is still piteous, the fact that she’s made the effort to keep Ikuyo around is admirable. She’s spotted that even though Ikuyo is inexperienced with the guitar, she’s still been practising on her own, and this is encouraging enough to move Hitori. Moments like these are why Manga Time Kirara series tend to be heartwarming: smaller details relevant to the story remind viewers of moments in their own lives where others extended them kindness, and in some cases, these simple actions have had a far-reaching impact on people. Ryō and Nijika have no problem with Ikuyo returning, especially now that Hitori’s offered to teach her, even if she is worried about

  • Of course, it wouldn’t be Manga Time Kirara if a touching moment wasn’t offset by comedy seconds later; it turns out that Ikuyo had bought a bass rather than a guitar, at great personal expense. Ryō would later buy the bass off Ikuyo and give her a loaner guitar to practise.

  • Viewers familiar with K-On! will probably be glad that Hitori is a ways more experienced with guitar than Yui was, which eliminates the concern that Ikuyo is learning under someone inexperienced. While Hitori’s weakness is her ability to communicate and open up to people, once she does, it does feel that she’s able to carry out conversations without trouble, and even teach with some degree of confidence. Of course, looking ahead, Bocchi The Rock! does appear to be one of those “two steps forward, one step back” stories in that, if the characters were allowed to advance too quickly, the story’s initial charms would be lost.

  • As such, as Bocchi The Rock! hits its stride, I expect Hitori to incrementally improve, but still suffer from nerves and lack of confidence from time to time. Bocchi The Rock! is off to a solid start, and while Hitori’s got a ways to go yet, I am hoping that throughout the course of this series, viewers will have the chance to hear Kessoku perform, too: the musical style here in Bocchi The Rock! is similar to that of K-On!‘s, and with Kessoku’s current composition, it does appear that they’re only short one keyboardist of having the same setup as Houkago Teatime.

While Bocchi The Rock! is thematically strong, and the anime is off to an excellent start, I am finding that Hitori’s runaway imagination and thought process to be a bit disruptive. The shorter scenes offer a modicum of insight into what Hitori is going through, and accentuate the tenour of a moment. However, lengthier scenes are presented as being in a separate context removed from a given moment, and as a result, have a tendency to break a scene’s flow. For instance, while imagining what would happen if she were to be a clerk at a convenience store, Hitori’s thoughts lead her to imagine her inadequacies going viral, leading her to be tried for frightening customers and being handed a death sentence. While speaking to how pessimism and doubt can result in a runaway cascade of negative thoughts, seeing this repeatedly occupies time that could otherwise be spent advancing the story. A few moments like these spaced sporadically throughout Bocchi The Rock! is unlikely to be an issue, but my hope is that such moments are used strategically: Family Guy is a series infamous for its use of cutaway gags, and while some people hold that they are essential to Family Guy‘s humour, I personally find them vapid and uninspired because the show has shown it can deliver excellent humour without them. In the episode “To Love and Die in Dixie”, after the Griffins move into the Deep South as a part of the Witness Protection Programme, they find their new home decrepit, and for the next two minutes, it’s nonstop jokes using their situation. This shows how jokes can be woven into the story without disrupting flow. Similarly, in Bocchi The Rock!, shorter moments of Hitori panicking are effective, reminding viewers that many situations still give her trouble, but excessively long fantasies can take away from things. However, aside from this minor grievance, Bocchi The Rock! is a very charming anime, and Cloverworks’ handling of the anime means that the series has excellent animation and art styles. Ordinary scenes are detailed and vivid, while Hitori’s own world is shown with a very cartoon-like aesthetic to accentuate the differences between reality and the inner machinations of her mind. The dramatic gaps in art style are reconciled elegantly, and as a result, one can surmise that over time, Hitori will similarly begin to feel less separated from the world around her as she gains confidence in her ability to perform in front of others and express how she feels to others more effectively.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Extreme Hearts and Rising to The Top, Plus A Faceoff With Luminous Witches and Remarks on Invalid Comparisons

“There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world – a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die. But sometimes, a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes, the pit sends something back.” –Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight Rises

Hiyori Hayama is a student and solo idol whose career is quite unsuccessful. After her contract ends, she decides to hedge her bets on Extreme Hearts, a hyper-sports competition for idols. Although Hiyori is quite unskilled in sports, she is joined by Saki Kodaka, a soccer player, and Sumika Maehara, a basketball player. Saki had been a fan of Hiyori’s, and Sumika becomes intrigued to help Hiyori out. Over time, the three form RISE, an indie group, and begin making a splash in the realm of hyper-sports. Along the way, Yukino Tachibana, a kendōka, and Lise Kohinata, a martial artist, join RISE. Between competing in hyper-sports against other idol groups and training together, RISE ends up winning the Kanagawa tournament and make a name for themselves. At its core, Extreme Hearts is more of a sports anime than an idol anime, with competition, the will to win and overcoming one’s internal obstacles lying at the heart of the series’ aims. Although RISE is unified by their desire to help Hiyori reach her goals, and hyper-sports retains notions of sportsmanship amongst competitors, the very nature of hyper-sports results in an anime that comes across as extremely busy. Hiyori, Saki, Sumika, Yukino and Lise have different backgrounds, and while their unique experiences allow them to contribute to RISE in their own way, constantly switching the sports up and providing players with augmentation gear means that RISE is never able to commit to a sport for the sake of improvement. This helps to keep Extreme Hearts‘ focus on the characters and their path; while the stakes in Extreme Hearts are not especially compelling (everyone’s driven by a desire to see what their best can offer), and Hiyori’s aspirations aren’t particularly unique, this anime does have heart. In a vacuum, Extreme hearts represents a moderately entertaining watch as the summer season’s other anime with an idol piece.

While Extreme Hearts does attempt to meld futuristic athletics with musical performances, at least one individual has seen it fit to compare Extreme Hearts with Luminous Witches, with the rather outrageous claim that differences in animation (Luminous Witches did have moments where the performances distinctly used computer rendered elements) and a shift in paradigms away from Strike Witches‘ more crass aspects rendered Luminous Witches the inferior choice to Extreme Hearts. For this individual, animation and clinging to an outdated approach matters more than storytelling: such superficial views of anime are hardly worth consideration, but if we were to take this premise, that Extreme Hearts is superior to Luminous Witches, as having validity, then one must first start by considering what Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches‘ respective aims are. Both Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches portray a disparate group of individuals coming together and doing what they can as a team to accomplish things that wouldn’t be feasible alone. However, whereas Extreme Hearts is motivated by RISE’s efforts to try their best and see what the outcomes are, Luminous Witches shows the significance of using music to raise morale and give people in war-torn areas hope. Hiyori ends up inspiring her friends and is instrumental in bringing RISE to the championships, but this victory is ultimately for Saki, Sumika, Yukino and Lise. In Luminous Witches, the LNAF Band use their songs to encourage humanity to endure, to maintain their resolve, and to give their fellow Witches the strength to keep fighting. The stakes in Luminous Witches are much larger, and the reason for incorporating a musical element is far stronger than it is in Extreme Hearts: were the musical piece of Extreme Hearts to be removed entirely, and Hiyori were given another background, the anime still would have succeeded in conveying its theme. In Extreme Hearts, music is a secondary, dispensable element, whereas in Luminous Witches, music becomes essential to the story. On these grounds, Luminous Witches has the stronger thematical piece, and while it is the case that the performances in Extreme Hearts are superior, visuals alone do not make an anime.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge, I’ll open by stating that on its own, Extreme Hearts earns a B grade (3.0 of 4, or 7.5 of 10): “not quite as good as expectations resulting from community reception, but reasonable in its own right”. When graded on a curve against Luminous WitchesExtreme Hearts would score a C (2.0 of 4, or 6 of 10). The grading becomes significantly harsher because Luminous Witches had been thematically excellent, and the performances’ impact had a clear, tangible objective in boosting morale during a time when humanity needed  something to uplift their spirits. By comparison, the stakes in Extreme Hearts are much lower, being focused around Hiyori’s desire to continue performing despite her lack of success as a solo idol.

  • When Hiyori speaks with her most dedicated fan, Saki (left), she also ends up drawing the interest of Sumika (middle). The characters in Extreme Hearts are familiar archetypes: Saki reminds me of Haurkana Receive‘s Akari to some extent, while Sumika is High School Fleet‘s Moeka. On the other hand, Hiyori herself resembles Koisuru Asteroid‘s Mira. Archetypes aren’t a problem for me in anime, and what matters more is how everyone gathers. Once Hiyori’s initial team assembles, the series begins accelerating in its pacing.

  • I had originally intended to save Extreme Hearts for a rainy day: watching idol-like anime (series with a performing arts component added onto another premise) is something  I tend to save for quieter moments between seasons. However, after claims of Extreme Hearts being superior to Luminous Witches began appearing, I decided to push my way through Extreme Hearts to get a feel for the anime and see for myself whether or not such claims had any merit. These claims originate from one individual at AnimeSuki, someone whom I do not get along with to any capacity: we’ve clashed on Super Cub and The Aquatope on White Sand previously.

  • The individual making these claims has a history of being snide and patronising in their Twitter-length reactions to anime, oftentimes belittling the creators and suggesting they could do better than said creators, but in spite of these inadequate reactions, people still agree with them. When I disagreed with this individual, moderators removed my responses, calling my counterarguments “personal attacks”. This isn’t exactly a healthy environment for discussion; I expect people to always think for themselves and call out poor conduct where it is observed.

  • However, when this individual suggested that Extreme Hearts was superior to Luminous Witches after the latter finished airing, I was in no position to counteract them, having not seen Extreme Hearts for myself. I therefore steeled myself for one of the fastest I’ve ever gone through an anime. I found in Extreme Hearts an unremarkable series that employed familiar approaches and convention. Unexpected setbacks occur, but the lead characters, who form the group RISE, always find a way to prevail against all odds. Over time, their group grows, with members deciding to join after experiencing internal conflict in deciding whether or not they wish to join.

  • Despite being a paint-by-numbers series, Extreme Hearts does have heart, and one does find incentive to cheer for the lead characters as the show wears on. With this in mind, I found that the notion of hyper-sports diminishes the investment into the characters; use of specialised equipment to greatly enhance one’s abilities undermines the notion that sport is something people must invest time into such that they can improve. Here in Extreme Hearts, sports from soccer, to American flag football, baseball, futsal and volleyball, are all shown.

  • I appreciate that this was likely done to showcase as broad of a range of sports as possible to suggest that as idols, the characters must be familiar in a range of fields, but the idea of using equipment to boost one’s performance stands contrary to the idea that improvement must come from one’s own resolve. As an idol, Hiyori’s singing and performing come as a result of her efforts, and when Saki and Sumika join her, they put in the effort to improve, as well: on stage, there is nothing else to help them along besides what they bring to the table.

  • While RISE is shown practising extensively for their events, I found that ignoring the hyper aspect of hyper-sports and doing a mixed sports tournament without the gear would’ve still yielded a similar emotional impact. From a storytelling standpoint, adding this special equipment is two-fold: it helps separate Extreme Hearts from reality and accentuate the fact that this is a world somewhat unlike ours, as well as offering the animators a chance to show their stuff. Here, Yukino prepares to compose music for RISE: an excellent baseball player and kendo practitioner, Yukino felt obligated to pass on RISE’s offer to join them so she could tend to the family dōjō. Her grandfather convinces her there’s more than one way to uphold family tradition, and Yukino ends up contributing to RISE’s latest win.

  • While out and about, Saki encounters Lise, a former martial artist who quit after she accidentally injured a friend during competition. Saki manages to convince Lise that she’s amongst peers, and that in hyper-sports, there’s a chance for her to be herself and put in her best. Such elements are woven into Extreme Hearts in a satisfactory manner: unlike Luminous Witches, whose unique universe created opportunities to simultaneously advance character growth and world-building, things here are much more familiar.

  • The main element that Extreme Hearts has over Luminous Witches is in its performances: everything is still hand-drawn, but in spite of this, the dancing remains smooth and synchronised. However, visuals alone don’t make an anime: similarly to games, where graphics alone don’t make any one game superior to another. While life-like textures, real-time lighting effects and photorealistic details contribute to immersion, games are worth playing because of the experience they confer, and this means things like gameplay mechanics, design and narrative count more than the visuals.

  • Similarly, while Extreme Hearts has better performances than Luminous Witches, the visuals elsewhere in Luminous Witches aren’t egregiously poor. Coupled with the fact that the stakes were more compelling, I would argue that dismissing Luminous Witches on account of the performances being a little rougher around the edges is akin to dismissing a triple-A steak dinner simply because the butter than accompanied the complimentary bread was actually margarine. The individual from AnimeSuki also supposed that Luminous Witches “wasn’t Strike Witches” because of the lack of fanservice.

  • At this point, it became clear that this individual was complaining for the sake of complaining and totally lacked any understanding of what Luminous Witches was doing (or otherwise, was so convinced of their own correctness that they were forcing themselves to overlook certain truths): over the years, Strike Witches had stepped away from gratuitously crotch-shots in favour of world-building, and this has actually contributed to improving Strike Witches. Besides opening the universe to more compelling stories, it also showed that the Strike Witches universe could stand on the merits of its stories and character dynamics, rather than gimmicks.

  • As Extreme Hearts reached its finale, episodes put the pedal to the metal as things heated up. However, when RISE squares off against Snow Wolf, even though the competition was anticipated to be exceptionally challenging, Hiyori would strike up a friendship with Snow Wolf’s Michelle Jaeger and Ashley Vancroft, who were robotics engineers and mechanics first, and performers second. Despite their fearsome reputation, RISE ends up getting along with Michelle and Ashley on excellent terms. The idea of sportsmanship in Extreme Hearts is nothing new, but it does accentuate the idea that competitors can still cooperate and support one another when the moment calls for it.

  • During the championship match against May-Bee, Hiyori sprains her foot while exerting herself for everyone’s sake: May-Bee is the defending champion and puts up an impressive showing, building a massive lead that spectators comment as being demoralising. However, undeterred, RISE manages to catch up, thanks in part to Hiyori’s determination spurring her teammates on even despite her injury. Michelle ends up pulling Hiyori aside to get a better look at the latter’s injury, and reluctantly allows Hiyori to return to the match. In reality, injuries are taken seriously, and it was through the story’s requirements that Hiyori was able to pull through.

  • I am willing to overlook these aspects of an anime in the knowledge that they are deliberately chosen to advance the story, and consequently, have no trouble accepting RISE’s win over May-Bee. Having been around the anime community for almost a decade-and-a-half now, I still find it perplexing that people would fixate on small details and maintain the belief that one gaffe is sufficient to render an anime unwatchable. I’ve never managed to gain a proper understanding of the rationale behind this brand of thinking and therefore, continue to remain confused by such a mindset.

  • Following their victory, RISE is slated to conclude their performance. Hiyori is allowed some time to recuperate, and spends most of her time handling administrative details: RISE has become quite popular as a result of their successes, and there’s quite a bit to deal with. It is clear that thanks to the championships, RISE is experiencing a rise in popularity. The correlation behind how this happens is never really explored in Extreme Hearts, certainly not to the same extent that the stakes were shown in Luminous Witches, but this is a consequence of the dramatically different settings. The LNAF Band sing for those who are fighting and doing their best to survive, while RISE performs for one another initially and learns of how much of an impact they’re having as a result of their efforts.

  • The comparison between Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches is ultimately insincere, since both anime have different aims. While I’ve made an effort to compare elements that can be validly compared in this post and found that Luminous Witches had a better raison d’être overall, just because I found it to have superior execution in its character growth, world-building and settings doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching Extreme Hearts: watching anime isn’t some zero-sum game where one has a limited quota of shows they’re allowed to enjoy in a given season.

  • As it was, the ending concerts were quite entertaining to watch, and RISE stole the show with a spirited performance, intricate outfits, and a moment where Hiyori, whom the others had mentioned to have remained composed and professional up until now, suddenly stops and breaks down in tears mid-performance. This had been a dream of sorts for Hiyori, and Extreme Hearts joins a long list of anime in showing how teamwork makes the impossible achievable: for Hiyori, seeing the audience in front of her, and a team she’s come to love, respect and trust backing her, Hiyori allows herself to give in to the moment.

  • With this post, an impromptu detour of sorts, in the books, I return to my regular programming: I will be doing a set of thoughts on Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury; being my first full-length Gundam series that I’ve watched live since Gundam 00 back in 2007/2008, I’m quite excited to see where this one goes. Further to this, I had planned to write about Ace Combat 7‘s super-planes after watching Top Gun: Maverick and found myself seized with a desire to fly virtual aircraft in reckless, dangerous ways. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II open beta caused that post to be postponed, and I’ll aim to get that one done soon so that, when the Steam Winter Sale comes about, I can pick up the TOP GUN: Maverick Aircraft Set for Ace Combat 7.

While comparing one anime against another is an oft-utilised approach amongst reviewers, it’s a method that requires some finesse in order to be fair and useful. In order for comparisons to be valid, they must be made based on elements common to the two works being discussed. Here in Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches, it’s the thematic elements and how well both anime tie in their respective messages together with its premise. Luminous Witches and Extreme Hearts both speak to the importance of counting on one another and use music as a part of their story. However, music is incidental to Extreme hearts, and Luminous Witches uses music to really bring people together, whether it be the LNAF Band or their audience, during times of adversity. Because Luminous Witches is tighter from the thematic standpoint, it was the series I enjoyed more. Maintaining consistency in comparisons is important, and in the case of the individual claiming that Extreme Hearts has superior animation to Luminous Witches, this is an instance of a faulty comparison because it is incomplete. Ignoring the fact that the hand-drawn scenes in Luminous Witches and using this supposition to say that every scene is superior in Extreme Hearts is a fallacy. While it is true that Extreme Hearts‘ performance sequences are cleaner and more consistent with the aesthetic seen elsewhere in the anime compared to Luminous Witches, it is also the case that Extreme Hearts makes extensive use of stills during action sequences. The difficulty in comparing Luminous Witches to Extreme Hearts arises from the requisite need to do a very extensive breakdown, and at the end of the day, animation is one of several components in both anime. For these reasons, it is invalid to dismiss Luminous Witches merely because the performances sequences weren’t quite as polished as those in Extreme Hearts, especially when the animation is only one component of both series. Overall, I would suggest that while Extreme Hearts is worth watching for those who’ve got some availability and an interest in a variation of sports anime, if one’s time were limited, forcing them to choose between Luminous Witches and Extreme Hearts, Luminous Witches would be the superior choice on the grounds that its musical piece is better related to the series’ themes, and that there is a stronger reason for why music is to be celebrated and cherished.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Kanojo, Okarishimasu Season Two, Or, I’m Going To Need a Beer To Put These Flames Out

“You told me not to think!” –Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Top Gun: Maverick

After Chizuru is unsuccessful in an audition, Kazuya vows to do everything he can to support her dreams and promptly arranges for another rental date. He learns from Chizuru’s grandmother that beneath her tough exterior is someone who’s trying to do everything on her own and despite her appearances, needs someone to lean on. Ruka ends up swinging by and cooks for Kazuya, but when a typhoon sweeps into their region and shuts down all mass transit, Ruka happily stays the night. She tries to seduce Kazuya and fails, but despite this, cheerfully announces they’d spent the night together the next morning. While Chizuru seems unperturbed, but Kazuya remains bothered and decides to rent out Sumi to see if he can gain some insight into what might make a suitable birthday gift – he ends up gifting to her some pickled plums. When Kazuya and Chizuru inadvertently end up being invited to the same drinking party, he ends up overdoing things to help Chizuru out. She and Kazuya end up going on another rental date, where Chizuru reveals she’s auditioning for another role. When Kazuya’s grandmother learns Chizuru’s birthday party has already passed, she decides to host a combined party. Ruka ends up accompanying Kazuya, and while she does her best to make a positive impression, after Chizuru arrives, she’s frustrated at being bested so quickly. She ends up ambushing Kazuya and kisses him passionately, saying she doesn’t want to have any regrets. However, Chizuru’s grandmother’s condition worsens, cutting the party short, and Chizuru decides it’ll be easier to leave their false relationship where it is so her grandmother won’t die with the knowledge that Chizuru has no one in her life. Later, Sumi has a request for Kazuya; she’s been wanting to try taking the lead in a rental date so she can be more effective in her role and to this end, has planned out an itinerary for Kazuya. In the process, Kazuya becomes inspired as to what he should do for Chizuru. Chizuru learns that her latest audition was unsuccessful and recalls why she’d gone into acting: she wanted to fulfil her late grandfather’s dream after he died in a vehicular accident when she was still in high school. When it feels as though despair is total, Kazuya knocks on her door with an ambitious goal in mind – he wants to crowd fund an independent film she’ll star in and complete it for Chizuru’s grandmother. This is Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season, continuing on from the story the first season had begun. In its execution, Kanojo, Okarishimasu has become a very busy anime – it simultaneously seeks to be a drama and comedy, only revealing the background for Chizuru’s singular drive for success in the second season’s finale. However, once this reason becomes established, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s thematic elements become significantly clearer.

While Chizuru’s attitude towards Kazuya suggests otherwise, and Kazuya’s lingering weak sense of self-esteem continues to be a constraint, Chizuru’s flashback ends up providing answers to the questions surrounding Kanojo, Okarishimasu. Kazuya continues to lack any sort of confidence in his decisions and keeps second-guessing himself. He is indecisive, fickle and short-sighted. However, in being optimistic to a fault, Kazuya actually conveys the same sort of dogged persistence and support that Chizuru’s grandfather had when she announced her desire to be an actress. Chizuru’s grandfather had provided a constant source of encouragement and praise, expressing his desire to one day see her on the silver screen. There are numerous parallels with Kazuya’s single-minded wish to see Chizuru achieve her goals, and seeing this may yield a modicum of insight into why Chizuru is so distant with Kazuya, insisting that they remain at arm’s length – Chizuru has been stated to be quite observant and astute, so it follows that she sees a bit of her grandfather in Kazuya. Despite his clumsy attempts to help her, Kazuya’s motivations are sincere (even if he does display some lust where Chizuru is concerned), and after losing her grandfather, it is probably the case that Chizuru wanted to avoid a repeat of things. However, towards the end of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Kazuya takes a hitherto unexpected step for Chizuru’s sake in suggesting a crowd-funded movie, and, moved to tears by the offer, decides to accept Kazuya’s help so that she can fulfil her dreams. In doing so, Chizuru has begun to do what her grandmother had wished for – having tried to do everything on her own until now, seeing Kazuya’s dogged persistence leads her to, however reluctantly, accept help from someone else. In this way, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season indicates that, despite all of the detours taken until now, Chizuru is the real star of the show. By opening up, acknowledging her vulnerability and realising that a little help from others can go a long way, Chizuru’s proven to be the most dynamic character of Kanojo, Okarishimasu. This aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is the series’ strongest, and although it firmly establishes the series direction, my main gripe is that this thematic piece is sufficiently well-written such that the other aspects, such as the love tesseract Kazuya’s entangled in, feels quite unnecessary – from a thematic standpoint, because Kazuya’s desire to support Chizuru is, in effect, a continuation of what her grandfather had done, despite objections from Chizuru, it follows that Kazuya and Chizuru remain the best match in Kanojo, Okarishimasu.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the site archives, the last time I wrote about Kanojo, Okarishimasu was back in May of last year because I had struggled to coherently discuss the series. Right after the first season had ended, the second season was announced, and here at the second season’s conclusion, a third season was immediately announced. Using the existing timeframe as precedence, I would estimate that season three will come out in July 2024. The first season began airing in July 2020, and there is a two-year gap between the two seasons, hence, two years from now appears to be a fair guess.

  • Typically, anime receive continuations based on sales, so Kanojo, Okarishimasu comes across as a bit of a surprise for me: while from a storytelling perspective, the anime is quite inconsistent and does some things better than others, I have heard that in Japan, this work is wildly popular, enough so that merchandise sales and other sources of revenue offset the poor BD sales. I am not one to deny that this series must be successful, since Kanojo, Okarishimasu ended up receiving a live-action drama adaptation, which is no mean feat, considering that Yuru Camp△ also received a live-action adaptation on account of how the overwhelmingly positive reaction for its anime counterpart.

  • The main reason why Kanojo, Okarishimasu was so tricky for me to write about is that the story is wildly inconsistent. One moment, viewers see Kazuya trying to persuade Chizuru to persist and fight on in a moment of emotional build-up, only for something to interrupt said moment. Kanojo, Okarishimasu swings constantly between comedy and drama, which takes away from both aspects; had the series been written to focus on either one, things would’ve ended up stronger for it. For instance, if Kanojo, Okarishimasu purely showed Kazuya’s ineptitude in romance through comedy, then the fun would come from seeing how misfortune slowly helps to improve his game.

  • Conversely, if Kanojo, Okarishimasu had been intended to be about a drama from the start, it would be able to accentuate Chizuru’s story and indicate how her perspectives of Kazuya change over time as she sees bits of her old family in him. This facet was easily the best part of the second season, and I felt that had the story been allowed to focus on this, it would be able to both show Chizuru’s growth as she learns that it’s okay to rely on others, as well as Kazuya’s growth by showing how relationships are more than just the physical piece, and the shared emotional journey with Chizuru would give him fulfilment in ways that his old relationship with Mami could not.

  • With this being said, it is not quite so easy to discard the other characters; Mami had set Kazuya on a course to meeting Chizuru by dumping him, and Ruka is able to help Kazuya see aspects of a relationship that are both good and bad. Sumi, on the other hand, is someone whose shyness requires Kazuya to take the lead. Everyone does help push Kazuya forward in their own way, although things happen at a glacial pace. Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a series that demands patience from the viewers to watch: the second season’s strongest moments and aims are only shown in the finale.

  • I imagine that this design choice was deliberate, meant to establish the dynamics amongst the characters and giving them a chance to bounce off one another before the series really hits its stride. However, this meant that many of the intermediate moments leading up to the finale lacked a good context and as a result, could be infuriating to watch. My favourite example of this in Kanojo, Okarishimasu is how Ruka’s role was portrayed. She’s head-over-heels for Kazuya and goes the extra mile to impress him, but these attempts are always doomed to failure because Kazuya has his heart set on being with Chizuru.

  • Without knowing Chizuru’s story and why she’s so cold towards Kazuya, the logical route would be to turn around and play things pragmatically: rather than pursue Chizuru, it would outwardly seem the better decision for Kazuya to focus on Ruka instead and allow things to progress. Romance and love can come unexpectedly, and while some stories give the impression that doggedly sticking to one’s guns is a measure of heroic resolve, in reality, things don’t always work out so neatly. Having said this, even in the knowledge of Chizuru’s story, I myself are more of a Ruka fan.

  • The reasoning behind why Ruka is my favourite among the main cast is because I empathise with her the most: because of how Kanojo, Okarishimasu is written, and what outcomes must occur in order to convey the story’s main themes, Ruka is predestined to lose Kazuya. Kanojo, Okarishimasu has already shown that she’s madly in love with him and was heartbroken during the first season after it was shown that Kazuya didn’t return her feelings. A sort of status quo is reached after Chizuru asks him to go out with Ruka, feeling that this experience may help him to get over Mami and also stop pining for Chizuru, as she doesn’t return his feelings.

  • While Ruka is my favourite character, in reality, I’m not sure how well I’d get along with someone like Ruka. On one hand, I’m fiercely loyal and commit to wholly to whatever I do, but Ruka also has a bit of a jealous streak about her, as well. Dealing with this might be tricky, but over time, a bit of communication and trust could sort that out, and from what’s shown in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Ruka’s someone I prefer: she’s quite forward about how she feels and despite being of a smaller stature, has a figure that rivals Chizuru’s. In any other story, anyone who decided to accept what’s in front of them and pick Ruka would not be “settling” by any stretch.

  • On the other hand, Sumi is a bundle of joy, and despite her shy disposition, has no qualms about Kazuya: Chizuru had introduced the two so Kazuya could act as a practise date for her of sorts. While Sumi is shy and struggles to speak at times, her intent with taking up a rental girlfriend position was to gain the confidence she needed to become an idol. At first glance, Sumi and Ruka are secondary to Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s main story, but looking more closely, their presence serves to drive Kazuya forward by giving him experiences in communicating with women.

  • One trap that Kanojo, Okarishimasu avoids is the indecisive protagonist: back when Infinite Stratos was running, viewers were livid about how Ichika always danced around the question of which of Houki, Cecilia, Charlotte, Lingyin, Laura or Tatenashi caught his fancy, and this created enough dissatisfaction amongst those who watched Infinite Stratos such that the series became quite reviled. Infinite Stratos is said to have become entangled in additional controversy after Izuru Yumizuru got into trouble with Media Factory, resulting in the light novels being expunged from all listings: if the rumours are to be believed, Yumizuru engaged in flame wars with Japanese readers on Twitter who’d been critiquing the series, and Media Factory decided to cut ties with him.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu doesn’t have quite as controversial of a story (at least, for the time being), and moreover, Kazuya has made it clear that he only has eyes for Chizuru, eliminating the problem of ambiguity. Kazuya’s tendency to second-guess himself is his largest shortcoming: although kind-hearted and acting in good faith, Kazuya always overthinks things. Being with Ruka and Sumi has dailed this back somewhat by Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season, and with the second season in the books, Kazuya’s single-minded determination in helping Chizuru to achieve her dreams leads Chiruzu to wonder why men are so fixated on doing what’s impossible.

  • Curiously enough, I do have an answer for this. There is an evolutionary piece at work here, to show a prospective partner of one’s qualities and traits, and this is why folks go to extraordinary lengths to impress the people they’re interested in. One of my favourite fictional examples is Top Gun‘s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who is a brilliant fighter pilot, but also cocky, immature and a non-team player. Mitchell outwardly is the opposite of Kazuya, being self-assured and smooth, but this actually is a façade: Mitchell flies as recklessly as he does because he lost his father in the Vietnam War, and when Mitchell’s wingman, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, is accidentally killed during a training exercise, Mitchell loses his confidence to fly for a stretch before regaining his game during a combat situation.

  • Despite their personalities being polar opposites, Kazuya and Mitchell both demonstrate what happens when one tries too hard to impress those around them, but both also have the requisite stubbornness and perseverance to do what they think is best to achieve their goals. Much as how Mitchell would demonstrate to his students in Top Gun: Maverick that it was possible to perform the mission within the tight parameters he’d specified, Kazuya’s grit opens Chizuru’s eyes to the fact that, even though her latest audition failed, and her grandmother’s time is short, they’re not out of options yet. Attitude issues notwithstanding, Mitchell and Kazuya both demonstrate that they are capable of showing, rather than being limited to telling.

  • Unbeknownst to Kazuya, this is why Ruka and Sumi both develop feelings for him. He might be clumsy and inept, but his actions show what’s in his heart. Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season ends up leaving Mami in the dust: a relic of a bygone era, Mami had dated Kazuya briefly before dumping him. The light novels indicate that Mami’s story is a bit of a tragic one, leading her to willfully manipulate those around her in a diabolical sort of game: she doesn’t get along with her family, who had arranged her marriage and forced her to break up with her first partner.

  • While Mami’s actions in Kanojo, Okarishimasu are unjustifiable, knowing her story helps one to understand why she’s keen on manipulating people and taking a wrecking ball to their relationships. These details aren’t shown in the anime, and instead, come later in the light novel. Because the light novel has a lot of moving parts in it, when adapted into the anime format, things do seem to drag on for viewers. I do find it amusing whenever Mami’s eyes dull and she takes on the traits of a yandere, although I also cannot help but wonder what sort of effort and process would be involved in helping people to heal from their past.

  • Between having the whole of Kanojo, Okarishimasu in the books and reading supplementary materials, I do feel as though I’ve got a better measure of what this series is trying to accomplish now. I had been quite ready to send this series an F grade and admit that those who hate Kanojo, Okarishimasu with every fibre of their being might have a point, but it is bad form to throw in the towel early and acquiesce to the opinions that more popular anime reviewers hold without making one’s own call on things. Had Kanojo, Okarishimasu actually failed in my books, I would not be writing about it.

  • I’ve been called out before for only writing positively of the things I experience, and there’s two simple reasons for this. Firstly, I’m not a professional anime critic and have no obligation to sit through series I dislike: if I drop something, I will do so without fanfare, and I won’t write about it. Secondly, at least according to readers, I’ve developed something of a reputation for finding positives even in series that ruffle my feathers. This is where the “Terrible Anime Challenge” series comes in, and in the case of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, while it was the case that I spent eleven episodes of the series in a state of either bemusement or annoyance, the finale suddenly led me to add two and two.

  • While the journey was a tumultuous one, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season did end in a manner I found satisfactory, and tied together all of the loose ends that had been bothering me. Scenes that prima facie appeared without purpose were now with meaning, and this meant that my irritation vanished on the spot. However, one aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season that didn’t sit so well with me was the prevalence of scenes like these, where a large amount of text is present on screen to denote asides the characters are having. I appreciate that these are here to give voice to the character’s thoughts, but they also create visual clutter and come across as being overly sarcastic. These were absent during the first season, which allowed the viewer’s attention to focus on the characters’ interactions and movements, but in the second season, they’re distractions.

  • Luckily, during the most pivotal moments of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, these asides are absent. For instance, there’s no text to distract from the scene where Ruka kisses Kazuya. The entire scene conveyed a sense of desperation and resignation in Ruka: she says so as much, and similarly to how Yui broke into tears during the events of Oregairu‘s third season, it is communicated to viewers here that Ruka doesn’t really stand any sort of chance. One must admire Ruka for how direct she is about how she feels about things, and this entire evening could not have been easy for her.

  • Kazuya’s grandmother is thoroughly convinced that she will be welcoming Chizuru into the family and gifts her a family heirloom as a result. Throughout Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Kazuya had entertained the idea of telling her grandmother and parents the truth about Chizuru, that they’re a phony couple, but over time, the lie endured because it became increasingly difficult to come forward, especially in the knowledge both Chizuru and Kazuya’s grandmothers were thrilled that their grandchildren would be family.

  • In the end, it’s Chizuru, who makes the call to perpetuate the lie for a little longer; her grandmother is dying, and she feels that it would be unfair to spring this news on her. At this point in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, glimpses of the series’ real story began appearing, and I found myself wishing that this is the direction the series had taken from the start. I understand the comedic detours are meant to humanise the characters, but because Kanojo, Okarishimasu is limited to twelve episodes per season, the series simply doesn’t have the luxury of slowly fleshing things out. Love stories take time to explore, and this is why more time is almost always needed to tell a compelling, convincing tale.

  • As Kazuya agonises over things during a make-up date with Ruka, Ruka takes a photograph of her gourmet pancake before digging in. Smartphone technology has come quite a long way: although Japan had been a front-runner in feature phones, the industry was disrupted in far-reaching ways when Apple introduced their iPhone back in 2007. Fifteen years after its introduction, the iPhone line has advanced into an industry-leading standard, and I am excited to receive my iPhone 14 Pro because it’s going to be a substantial upgrade over my current iPhone Xʀ. The iPhone Xʀ already takes excellent food photographs, so I’m curious to see how five years’ worth of advancement impacts my food photography, which has become something of a hobby for me.

  • After Kazuya’s birthday passes, Sumi decides to create a customised date based on his interests. Knowing that Kazuya is a big fan of marine life and aquariums, she takes him to the local marine park on an eventful and fun day. Sumi is outfitted in a school uniform, thinking that Kazuya was into that sort of thing after spotting him and Chizuru on a date in their school uniforms earlier. As the day draws to a close, Sumi brings Kazuya to a beautiful lookout providing a view of the city skyline, and to Kazuya’s surprise, happy couples can be seen everywhere.

  • Kazuya’s imagination goes into overdrive, and while it does appear as though Sumi is struggling with a kokuhaku, it turns out she’d been working up the courage to give Kazuya his birthday gift. Subsequently, Kazuya tries his hand at explaining his situation with Chizuru to her (in an indirect manner), and the pair share tears before Sumi does her best to reassure him. The pair part ways on a good note, and in this moment, Kazuya determines what his next move regarding Chizuru is.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season ends the way it began by covering Chizuru’s latest ambitions to a career as an actress, and she’s unsuccessful in her most recent audition. Flashing back to her time as a middle school student and her decision to become an actress after watching a film starring her grandmother, the specifics behind Chizuru are finally shown to viewers. These moments are the most critical parts of Kanojo, Okarishimasu because they give Chizuru proper exposition, and once her story is known, every part of her character, and her general attitudes towards Kazuya, become logical.

  • With this story in the open, I felt that the reason why Chizuru has been keeping Kazuya at a distance was simply because his determination and optimistic spirit has similarities with her grandfather’s: he was always one to believe that anything is possible, and that specifics can be worked out later. Since her grandfather’s death, Chizuru felt compelled to succeed on her own merits, without any assistance, which leads her to turn down Kazuya’s help. Ordinarily, dusting oneself off and trying again is what’s required, but Chizuru’s on one hell of a deadline because her grandmother’s health is rapidly declining, and she feels duty-bound to succeed to show her grandparents that their wishes for her were also fulfilled. Because of the timelines involved in auditions, Chizuru begins to feel that it might not be possible.

  • This is where Kazuya comes in: typically, his timing and lack of tact earns him admonishment from Chizuru, but because things had reached this point, Chizuru realises that it’s either she cling to her pride and attempt to do things the old-fashioned way, which would certainly mean her grandmother will never see her act, or she accept Kazuya’s help. Chizuru is initially surprised and wonders if it’s even possible for him to pull things off, but Kazuya reminds her that he’s in business administration, and therefore possesses the skills needed to run such a project. Kanojo, Okarishimasu may have presented Kazuya as a loser of sorts up until now, but the series has never once mentioned that his pursuit of Chizuru’s heart (and the collateral damage that tends to accumulate) ever had an impact on his studies.

  • It therefore stands to reason that, where relationships and romance aren’t concerned, Kazuya can hold his own, but since Chizuru was so absorbed in her own world, she never saw this side of Kazuya. In fact, now that I’ve entertained the thought, it does feel as though Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s portrayal of Kazuya is entirely consistent with how Chizuru sees him, and in this way, it is fair to say that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is every bit as much Chizuru’s story, as it is Kazuya’s. For the first time, Chizuru is flustered, and one hopes that, as Kazuya puts his best forward for her, Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya will improve, as well.

  • In the event I weren’t being clear, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season proved a pleasant surprise. I had remained unimpressed with the series during its run, and was quite ready to mark it as a write-off, a series not worth saying anything about, but the finale tied up enough of the loose ends so that all of the lead-up to the finale now had a reasonable context. With Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s directions now clear, I can say that this series is therefore better than I had anticipated. It does have its moments, and I am glad to have had the patience to sit things through to completion. To be sure, Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a B- (2.7 of 4.0): this series isn’t going to displace any of my favourites, and it doesn’t alter how I see the world, but things cannot be considered to be waste of time, either. While the anime still leaves much to be desired in pacing, the story does appear to be hitting its stride now, enough for me to retain a modicum of interest in where things land. This is a win in my books.

I had been an episode away from pulling the plug on Kanojo, Okarishimasu: until the finale, the series had meandered, unnecessarily creating conflict by returning Mami into the fray even as Ruka tried to pry Kazuya’s eyes from Chizuru. However, in the eleventh hour, Kanojo, Okarishimasu suddenly turned around – this anime adaptation exemplifies why I tend to stick around until the very end, because anything can happen. In the absence of Chizuru’s background, her motivations remain unknown, and Kazuya’s determination to help her appears little more than an unwarranted and unhealthy fixation. Similarly, without knowing why Chizuru wanted to become an actress, Kazuya has no reason in trying to court Chizuru beyond maintaining a promise with his grandmother, and Chizuru’s grandmother. With this additional revelation, additional weight is given to both Chizuru and Kazuya’s reasons for being. The second season had certainly taken its time to reach this point, but now that this is known, it becomes clear that Ruka has no chance at all. This aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is written in stone, necessary for the story to progress, but one cannot help but feel poorly for her. Ruka’s feelings are legitimate, and while she’s clingy, her take-charge personality does seem to be a suitable fit, at least for the present, for Kazuya. His biggest weakness is indecision, and spending time with Ruka has also given Kazuya a glimpse as to what a relationship entails, both in good and bad. While seemingly relegated to heartbreak, Ruka’s role in Kanojo, Okarishimasu is an unfortunate, but necessary one – it provides Kazuya with the stepping stone he needs to press on ahead and show Chizuru that he’s committed to her. This appears to be something that could be covered in the upcoming third season as Kazuya strives to make the crowd-funding project a success for Chizuru. Overall, while Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season had not impressed during most of its run, seeing its conclusion provides a decisive answer as to why things are happening the way they did. This remains a difficult anime to recommend because seeing things unfold at such a pace is frustrating, but for folks with patience to weather this storm, the series does set the stage for what could be a touching story yet. Ultimately, I would probably suggest that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is still a series that should be watched once it’s hit completion – individually, episodes can be painfully slow and drag out longer than they should, but the overarching story winds up being touching enough in spite of the series’ shortcomings. Occurrences such as these are why I am reluctant to drop anime: much as how hockey teams can manage to tie a game after pulling the goaltender with only seconds left in third period and subsequently win in overtime, anime can sometimes find ways to surprise viewers. Similarly, I do hope readers have gone all the way through this post, rather than reading just the title and immediately drawing conclusions on what I made of things – for Kanojo, Okarishimasu, my beer can stay right where it belongs, since this series is not, in the terms  of internet reviewers more popular (but less eloquent and, if I may, more vulgar than myself), a “dumpster fire”.