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Category Archives: Anime: Reflections

Promise- Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Washio Sumi Chapter Part Three Review and Reflection

“Finally, the truth. Lying with her face pressed into the wooden floor of the dōjō where she had once thought she was learning the secrets of victory, Sumi understood at last that she was not supposed to survive.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

A Vertex appears during the middle of Gin’s funeral procession, forcing Sumi and Sonoko to engage it. While they are successful in stopping it, Gin’s death weighs heavily on their minds, and longing to see Sonoko smile again, Sumi requests some time off from their instructor. She and Sonoko visit a summer festival together, vindicating their friendship with one another as well as with Gin, and later, are given upgrades intended to improve their combat effectiveness against the Vertex. In addition to familiars that negate their damage, Sonoko and Sumi are given access to the Mankai system, which bolsters their firepower. When three Vertex appear, Sonoko and Sumi activate their Mankai, destroying two of the three on short order but also learning of its consequences – Sonoko loses sight in her right eye, while Sumi is immobilised, unable to walk. Overwhelming numbers force the pair to use the Mankai a second time. Sonoko pushes the last of the Vertex out, she exits the barrier and sees a vast hellscape where the Vertex are regenerating. She learns that her heartbeat has stopped, and when she finds a Sumi without her memories, she comes to understand that Death will not visit them. In a desperate bid to defeat the Vertex and protect Sumi, Sonoko repeatedly engages her Mankai. When Sumi comes to, she reassumes her original name, Mimori Tōgō, moves into a new home and befriends her neighbour, Yūna Yūki. We have therefore come a full circle, returning to the events at the start of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, and with this, comes the close of Washio Sumi Chapter. Here, we learn the predecessor to the world that Yūna’s Hero Club knew, the tribulations that deprived Sonoko of her body functions, as well as how familiars and the Mankai system came into being.

Serving as the intermediate between the Washio Sumi Chapter‘s earlier instalments and Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Promise deals with Sonoko and Sumi as they struggle to come to terms with Gin’s death. During these difficult times, Sumi does her utmost to support Sonoko and also continue being an effective Hero, actions that lead her to become closer to Sonoko, as well. This forms the basis for the promise, that the two will continue protecting one another as well as their world against the Vertex, and even against their upgraded systems, the Vertex continue to be terrifyingly effective, forcing Sonoko and Sumi to make increasingly punishing sacrifices to drive them back. This is the battle that costs her totally: while still alive, she is completely immobilised as a result of her using the Mankai twenty times to defeat the Vertex on her own. Sacrifice to this level illustrates the sort of devotion she has to both her friends and duty – although she is healed by the closing of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, the fact that she was ready to give up her own wellness for her friends is indicative of her resolve as a Hero. In Washio Sumi Chapter, Gin and Sonoko come across as being the embodiment of what being a Hero entails; Gin makes the ultimate sacrifice and Sonoko demonstrates a preparedness to lose everything for the sake of what they hold dear to them. Their actions ultimately contribute to Sumi’s actions in the events of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, providing more insight as to why Mimori tries to turn against the Taisha when she learns the truth of the Shinju and Vertex, feeling it an unjust system that has brought them misery and suffering.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As Spirit and Friends before it, the discussion for Promise will be adjourned by thirty screenshots, a finely-wrought balance between having enough content for the discussion and being concise enough so I’m not sitting here well into the evening writing this post, which, after some Google-fu, I can definitely say will have the internet’s first screenshots of Washio Sumi Chapter‘s third act. Whereas the preceeding posts opened with cheerful images, the opening of Promise is very sombre as Gin’s passing leaves a melancholy in Sonoko and Sumi, as well as their classmates. Reflecting this, the weather is grey and overcast to further convey the subdued atmosphere in Washio Sumi Chapter‘s final act’s opening moments.

  • Before I continue further into the post, I explain the origin of the page quote, adapted from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, following Harry’s discovery that he must allow Voldemort to kill him in order to break the latter’s immortality. I had a bit of difficult deciding on a page quote and even considered something a bit more light-hearted from Rick and Morty, but in the end, watching this movie and considering Mimori’s actions later on in Yūki Yūna is a Hero result in my picking a passage from Deathly Hallows. Similar to how the Taisha conceal much from the Heroes, Harry learns the truth on his own, as Dumbledore had kept things from him ostensibly with his interests in mind.

  • While Harry ultimately accepts his destiny, Mimori took things a little harder. For the present, however, we will return to Washio Sumi Chapter; Sumi and Sonoko managed to recover Gin’s body following the second act’s events, and her funeral is a large procession, with friends and family, as well as what I can only guess to be folks working under the Taisha, paying their respects.

  • When Sumi has a bit of difficulty in laying down her flower for Gin, their instructor appears and gently guides her hand. After Sonoko and Sumi lay down their flowers, Gin’s brother breaks the silence, shouting out at the injustice of why a system asking its agents to lay down their lives could not protect them from death. His parents take him aside and allow him to collect himself, but the words pierce the hearts of all observers, likely mirroring what Sonoko and Sumi themselves are feeling at the moment.

  • The Vertex are relentless; mid-proceedings, time stops, and Sumi is goaded past endurance. Screaming at very nearly the top of her lungs, she transforms and begins engaging the Vertex with an unprecedented ferocity. It’s surprisingly chilling to behold, and one of the biggest strengths about Promise is watching all of the raw emotions come out – I’ve always marvelled at the talents voice actors possess, to be able to simulate emotions with the same depth as though they were genuine, and even though I know it is exceptional acting, the emotions can evoke a response from me nonetheless.

  • The only other individual I know of in a fictional context to shoot multiple arrows at once is Legolas, who downed an entire oliphaunt on his own during the events of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In this brief fight against the Vertex, Sumi and Sonoko demonstrate that even in their grief, they nonetheless understand one another well enough to be effective as a team, although here, they are likely driven by a desire for revenge rather than a calculated modicum of efficiency arising from training.

  • I cannot begin to imagine what Sumi and Sonoko’s situation must feel like in the aftermath of Gin’s funeral. Death is a topic often explored in fiction: Harry Potter deals with the concept of death in great detail, suggesting that it is a natural part of living, to be accepted rather than feared. Voldemort’s fear of death leads him to violate the laws of magic set into J.K. Rowling’s universe, precipitating his downfall. In Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien describes death as the “Gift of Men”, a blessing to move on into nothingness after life in a physical realm, and that temptation to resist it leads to suffering, as evidenced in the nine Nazgûl. Mary Shelly, author of Frankenstein, also suggests that immortality is a curse in her short story A Mortal Immortal, where the protagonist suffers declining physical and mental health in spite of his immortality.

  • The short of it is that life is finite, but our actions have value that can resonate long after we’re gone. Making the most of it is what counts, and Gin certainly did her best to make a difference during her time in Washio Sumi Chapter. Sensing that Sonoko is down, Sumi decides to spend some down time with her; Gin’s death would have been for naught had they succumbed to grief and neglected both their duties and living, so Sumi’s choice to help Sonoko has the twofold effect of keeping them busy while simultaneously honouring Gin’s sacrifice. For a few moments in Promise, hints of the more lighthearted aspects of Washio Sumi Chapter‘s earlier two acts return when Sonoko asks Sumi to spin around while wearing a Yukata.

  • Sonoko is certainly enjoying the summer festival to her fullest, ordering grilled squid while savouring candied applies and chocolate bananas. She later partakes in a shooting game and succeeds with guidance from Sumi. I’ve never been good at midway games, since they’re generally dependent on luck, but I am quite fond of carnival food despite its legendary reputation for being unhealthy: I attended this year’s Calgary Stampede last Sunday under the blazing summer sun and began my food challenge after getting my ass kicked by the midway games. The Tropical Bobster (a lobster poutine garnished with mango salsa and fresh coriander) ended up being quite enjoyable: the tangy flavours of the mango-salsa complement the savoury gravy and cheese curds, giving the lobster meat a fantastic flavour. Besides the lobster poutine, I also enjoyed a chocolate-dipped cheesecake, and tried out the fried chicken foot, which advertisers would only caption “We Dare You”, but being of Cantonese descent and therefore, quite familiar with the dim sum 鳯爪 (lit. “Phoenix Claw”), I had no trouble eating it – the trick is to know how to spit the bones out.

  • The girls’ instructor receives documents from the Taisha pertaining to their proposed upgrades on a MacBook Pro, learning that the improvements will hypothetically allow the Heroes to scale up their combat efficiency indefinitely, albeit at a cost. Foreshadowing of the upgrade’s limitations and implications begin surfacing here: power comes with a price tag, and unlike NVIDIA, who have improved GPU performance with each successive generation of chip architectures while simultaneously lowering power requirements, the Taisha‘s costs for power, in the words of the instructor, are limited by the strength of a Hero’s heart.

  • In a ceremony, Sumi and Sonoko are given updates to their phones’ operating systems, in turn granting them far more power than they had access to previously. I’ve opted not to show the ceremony: while some folks might be hoping that I would have captured the frame where Sumi’s assets are given a closeup, I contend that this would cross too many lines. Consequently, I have not done anything of that sort for this act, which is decidedly more serious in nature. This stands in comparison with my first Yūki Yūna is a Hero post, where I already had a large number of Mimori moments, which for reference, merely counts as toeing the line.

  • Upon returning to class, Sonoko and Sumi address their classmates, who’ve made a banner to celebrate and honour all that they’ve done as Heroes to keep their world safe. Although strictly against the rules, Sonoko and Sumi accept this gesture, happy that they’d made an appreciable impact together with Gin and promising to continue doing so. Their conversation suggests the Taisha are quite powerful and influential within their world, but beyond this, offers little insight as to what their precise roles and nature are.

  • Sumi might have a strong pride for all things Japan, even going so far as to claim that the presence of pumpkins for Halloween are because Japan made it so, but if one does a bit of looking around, it turns out that Halloween the way North Americans know it is not particularly popular in Japan, especially trick-or-treating, which would be seen as a bother to one’s neighbours. The custom of donning costumes and attending parties, on the other hand, has become more popular: since Halloween parties began taking off in 2001, they’ve gained momentum.

  • Admittedly, it does feel a little strange to be talking about Halloween in July when the day itself is still some four-and-a-half-months away. This year’s Hallow’s Eve will be noteworthy because the tenth and final volume of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan will be releasing in English. I’ve been looking forwards to the conclusion of this heartwarming and simple series: it is perhaps a stroke of luck that interest in my AO is limited, which should allow me to visit the bookstore on a weekend and purchase it without worrying too much about them running out of stock. Then again, the folks in my area seem to deviate greatly from myself with respect to tastes: I’ve yet to encounter any Girls und Panzer fans, for instance.

  • While Gin might have enjoyed this type of gelato, Sumi finds it less appealing. Sumi and Sonoko’s familiars are visible here: they can be a bit unruly, but during combat, they negate any damage to the Heroes. It’s the last time in Washio Sumi Chapter that the two visit this particular ice cream shoppe: with the final act’s middle sections calm and relaxed, the audiences’ expectations of a major combat sequence will shortly be fulfilled, and anticipation builds to see what difference the upgrades will make for Sonoko and Sumi.

  • Prior to entering the act’s final fight, Sonoko gives Sumi a ribbon. It still surprises me to know that Sonoko is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (The Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino and Charlotte Dunois of Infinite Stratos, to name a few), and while we are on the topic of Yukari, Your Name‘s home release date rapidly draws closer. I’m not sure how quickly I will be able to get the post out owing to variables far beyond my ability to control, but I am certain I will enjoy writing about this film. For the present, however, we return to Washio Sumi Chapter, where the final fight of this act begins.

  • A quick count shows that a little more than a third of this post’s images deal with the final fight: here, Sonoko and Sumi transform for the first time since their upgrades were installed, gaining access to new combat skins and weapons. Sumi now utilises a long-range beam rifle, allowing her to reliably hit distant targets without fear of projectile drop, while Sonoko is given an upgraded spear. A red flower flashes into being during their transformation to signify that Gin is still with them in spirit, and emboldened with their new equipments, as well as fire in their hearts, Sonoko and Sumi set out to take on the Vertices.

  • The soundtrack to the different acts in Washio Sumi Chapter were released on July 5, consolidating all of the incidental pieces heard here. Similar to Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s soundtrack, there is a mystic, ethereal sense to the music. With its arrangement of orchestral and choral elements, Keiichi Okabe’s take on the music is at once similar to and different than Yuki Kajiura’s stylistic approaches to the Madoka Magica soundtrack, capturing the abstracted nature of the Vertex. There are unique ending songs for each of the movies, as well – folks have remarked that the ending song to Spirit is particularly moving.

  • The NT-D Mankai system functions similarly to the revenge and super gauges of Street Fighter IV: usage of magical power and absorbing damage will cause the gauge to fill up, after which the Hero can either consciously activate their Mankai or else allow it to engage automatically. When activated, the Mankai confers powers directly from the Shinju: Sonoko and Sumi engage theirs for the first time after being confronted with three Vertices, unaware of the system’s implications.

  • Both Sonoko and Sumi are amazed at their familiar’s functions; they are able to directly absorb attacks seemingly without consequence, but audiences are shown instances of a gauge filling on their uniforms. In her Mankai state, Sumi gains access to eight heavy beam cannons suitable for heavy bombardment in all directions. She engages and destroys one of the Vertices with ease engaging it.

  • Sonoko’s Mankai state confers powerful new melee weapons that function similarly to the 00 Qan[T]’s Sword Bits, being able to remotely slash and pierce enemies. She confidently activates her system here and eliminates one of the Vertices on her own, bringing the total down to one. However, with two Vertices down, Sonoko notices Sumi falling after her powers are spent, and she too falls.

  • It turns out that the Mankai system’s cost, the Sange, is a sacrifice in exchange for directly wielding what amounts to the power of the Gods. Sonoko loses vision in her right eye, and Sumi’s rendered incapable of walking. Their uniforms promptly respond to the changes: a sensor provides visual input for Sonoko, while Sumi’s uniform develops ribbons that help her walk around while on the battlefield. Taken aback at this, both girls are surprised when additional Vertex units, not unlike Halo‘s infection forms, begin punching through the barrier.

  • Overwhelmed by their numbers, Sumi and Sonoko are forced to activate their Mankai systems a second time in order to defeat the incoming threats. A harrowing battle, Washio Sumi Chapter‘s final fight is also a thrill to watch from an audio-visual perspective, with particle effects and intricate lighting techniques giving the combat a supernatural, fantastical appearance that is quite distinct from the fights seen in Madoka Magica to help reinforce the idea that Yūki Yūna is a Hero is not merely a Madoka Magica derivative.

  • In fact, I would argue that Yūki Yūna is a Hero and Madoka Magica complement one another: fans of one will enjoy one another. This is not an Xbox vs. Playstation or AMD vs NVIDIA type deal – there are merits to both anime series and their universes that make them worth watching, as both offer unique, differing perspectives on what heroics and sacrifices entail. Here, Sonoko destroys numerous of the “infection form” Vertices before annihilating the larger one. When her Mankai disengages, she finds that her heart has stopped.

  • This moment shows the new additions to Sonoko and Sumi’s uniforms. Closer inspection finds that the watery reflection in Sonoko’s right eye has faded, leaving a dull iris. Yūki Yūna is a Hero and other anime render blindness by way of changing the characters’ eye colouration, usually using simpler, dull colours to indicate thus. This technique is also seen in Rogue One: Chirrut Îmwe, being a blind monk, has faded eyes, although his connection to the force makes him a formidable warrior despite his limitation. Shortly after destroying the last of the Vertices, Sonoko exits the barrier and learns that the world outside is a veritable Armageddon, with new Vertices being constructed for a renewed assault on the Shinju.

  • When she activated her Mankai a second time, Sumi’s memories were modified: she’s forgotten about Sonoko and the time they’ve spent together as friends following Gin’s death. Unable to do anything about this, and faced with the impending threat presented by new Vertices, Sonoko decides that she must destroy them regardless of the cost. It is here that she activates her Mankai on nineteen separate instances, allowing her victory but also resulting in her total immobilisation.

  • The difficult battle Sonoko faces leads to calamity in the real world (or at least, the world where there is a semblence of normalacy); the Great Bridge is destroyed, reaching its current state as it appears in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, and devastation occurs in the form of accidents. Thus, by the end of Washio Sumi Chapter, Gin is dead and Sonoko is no longer able to live a normal life, suffering a fate worse than death, leaving the Taisha to reassign Sumi to her original family. She reverts to her old name of Mimori Tōgō and moves beside Yūna. For the remainder of this post, I will refer to Sumi as Mimori once more.

  • Whereas Promise opened up grey and overcast, its conclusion is sunny and clear, if somewhat subdued in tone: Yūna’s meeting with Mimori is one characterised by a cautious hope, as audiences will likely be aware of the events that take place in Yūki Yūna is a Hero. It marks a new beginning for Mimori, whose memory loss is something of a mixed bag – on one hand, she’s lost memories of her previous friends, but she’s also spared the knowledge of their suffering, as well.

  • Yūna is voiced by Haruka Terui, who also performed as Brave Witches‘ Georgette Lemare. I’m not particularly familiar with her other roles, but I do enjoy her performance as Yūna, who presents an ever-cheerful, optimistic outlook on the world that stands in sharp contrast with Mimori’s more pessimistic beliefs. The two complement one another’s personalities quite well, and by the events of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Mimori’s developed romantic feelings for Yūna. Mimori is voiced by Suzuko Mimori, whom I know best as YuruYuri‘s Himawari Furutani.

  • A new friendship is forged, and to quote Darth Vader in A New Hope, the circle is now completed. Washio Sumi Chapter ended up being an instructive series to watch, explaining Mimori’s backstory and adding a bit more detail into the world of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, even if it does come short on explaining the Vertex. It’s an essential for fans of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, and folks interested in this franchise could gain some insights starting with Washio Sumi Chapter. A bit of trivia about this post is that I was originally intending to write about Koe no Katachi first, but the opportunity to finish Promise came sooner. I still have plans to write about Koe no Katachi, and will hopefully get to that in the very near future. In the meantime, with Battlefield 1‘s “Prise de Tahure” update coming out soon, along with Your Name, the remainder of July appears quite busy from a blogging perspective.

While serving as a bridge, filling in the events that take place between Washio Sumi Chapter and Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Promise continues on as its predecessors had; themes of sacrifice and determination abound in Yūki Yūna is a Hero, and the consequences of the Heroes’ actions, alongside the emotional impact it places on them, are evidently a substantial component of Yūki Yūna is a Hero. The tears of sorrow, regret and helplessness seen whenever defecation hits the oscillation are heart-rending to behold, and audiences cannot help but sympathise with the situation that the Heroes find themselves in. It is plain that being a Hero is a non-trivial task, as thankless and dangerous as being a Magical Girl in Madoka Magica. However, whereas Madoka Magica clearly explains the origins of Witches, we have not seen such exposition in Yūki Yūna is a Hero as of yet; this is one of the present shortcomings in the series as a whole. Not knowing why the girls are made to fight the Vertex diminishes their experiences to some capacity, especially considering the seriousness the Vertex are regarded with. With this in mind, there remains the upcoming Hero Chapter that will act as a sequel to Yūki Yūna is a Hero; one remains moderately optimistic that audiences will be allowed to learn what precisely the Heroes are fighting for, and the nature of their enemy that makes such a fight worthwhile. Overall, despite failing to close the mystery behind the Vertices, Promise ended up being a fitting closing act to Washio Sumi Chapter, setting the stage for the events that are to come and answering the question of what prompted Mimori’s actions in the anime. Hero Chapter is set to release in the Fall season, and with the first six episodes being the movies presented in a televised format, the actual sequel itself will thus begin six weeks into the season – it might be here, under the cold, snowy skies of November, that my long-standing theory about Yūki Yūna is a Hero being set in a simulated reality meets its doom.

New Game!!- A preview of season two

“Let’s optimise for player experience rather than what we think will make more money.” —Ron Carmel

A year has passed since Aoba began working for Eagle Jump, and she wonders if there will be any new hires this year. While there are none, Kō and the others plan a hanami. Nene later meets up with Umiko to gain some insights into programming, confiding in her that Aoba’s inspired her to take up development of a simple game. Rin and Shizuku later interview each of their employees to gain their insights over their past year, and at their hanami, Shizuki announces a character design contest for their next project. A year has also elapsed in the real world – I was just starting out last year, and a year later, while I can’t quite say I’m a Swift 3 wizard, I am becoming at least a little more familiar with app development and project management. It’s most welcome to see New Game!! continue with its depiction of a highly fictionalised game studio; being a Manga Time Kirara adaptation, New Game!! is characterised by its light-hearted, humourous portrayal of an industry that is brutal and unforgiving in reality. Like its predecessors, the first episode to New Game!! is unsurprisingly easy-going, driven by comedy. Old characters are brought back to the forefront as the episode acts to give audiences a refresher on who everyone is, and with the old crew back in full force, New Game!! opens the stage for introducing new characters.

Like GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic before it, New Game!! opens its second season by re-introducing the characters that made their first seasons so enjoyable: even if the characters are memorable, a year’s passage means that some of their best moments may not be so readily recalled. As such, by placing familiar characters in novel scenarios that allow them to bounce off one another, audiences are immediately reminded of what had made the first season so enjoyable while simultaneously increasing their anticipation for what is upcoming. In New Game!!, it is welcoming to see Aoba and Kō set out on their next journey as game artists, and similarly, the seeds are sown for Nene’s interest in game development, as evidenced in her meeting up with Umiko to learn more about C++. Character interactions, being the core of Manga Time Kirara works, drive virtually everything in such anime, and one of the strongest aspects about second seasons are that they allow different characters, whom have had limited interactions insofar, to interact with one another. The end result is the creation of a much more dynamic cast: different personalities can draw out different responses and facets to the characters to really bring them to life. This is something that both GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic excelled at, and it will be exciting to see how New Game!! will bring new characters into the fold while further developing the existing cast.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Aoba owns New Game!!, so it is fitting to open with a screenshot of her all fired up and ready to receive Eagle Jump’s new employees. Not shown is her wilting when she finds out there are no new hires. A cross between Azusa Nanako and Chino Kafū, Aoba is innocent, hard-working and the sort of character audiences can rally around – she provides a grounding perspective for viewers, allowing them to take in the other characters’ eccentricities in stride, especially those of Kō’s, whose habits would almost certainly get her tossed from any company out there.

  • Aoba nonchalantly greets Kō when she arrives, only to become shocked that she’s grown accustomed to Kō’s propensity to go Strike Witches-style while working late nights at the office. It’s a clever call-back to the first season to show that things have changed for Aoba, while at the same time, things have also remained the same. I imagine that by this point in time, there should be no misconceptions about what New Game!! is and isn’t. This is certainly an anime for relaxing to, rather than wondering how realistic everything is.

  • The correct answer is that New Game! is realistic like Battlefield 1 is realistic, but it’s also authentic the same way Battlefield 1 is authentic. A work can be authentic and fun without being realistic; authenticity is about maintaining an atmosphere and retaining enough elements that are accurate to their real-world counterparts, and New Game! had this down solid. A realistic depiction of New Game! would be much less fun to watch, if only for the fact that when people are in the zone while working, it is dead silent in the office.

  • Hence, when folks focus too much attention on the minutiae in New Game!, such as what kind of hardware they’re using or the nature of NDAs at Eagle Jump, I turn a blind eye to things and steer discussion away from the unimportant, irrelevant details – New Game! is about the characters and their experiences, not the hardware sitting on their desk. If one so desired a work of fiction where the hardware plays a role of similar importance to the characters, I would strongly recommend Tom Clancy’s novels; here, details are provided in abundance and will be sure to impress enthusiasts.

  • The layout of the art department at Eagle Jump is more similar to my old office space at the University of Calgary than it is at my current workplace, an older building converted from nurses’ quarters dating back to World War One. Despite the age and creepy basement, I’ve acclimatised to the environment. It’s quite comfortable during the summer, since we have an excellent air conditioning system, but by winter, it becomes most uncomfortable: the heaters only have one setting, “overkill”, and I’ve become sick on at least one occasion thanks to an over-zealous furnace.

  • When I say I am interested in character interactions, this strictly refers to how they deal with one another on a professional and inter-personal level. Said interest does not extent to the notion of pairings of characters, which are trite and contribute little to the overarching themes in the show. While Rin may possess feelings for Kō, overall, this does very little to affect how Eagle Jump delivers their next title, and instead, serves to alter how Rin acts around Kō for humour’s sake. The pairings, in short, are meant solely for laughs, and interpreting them is an exercise in futility.

  • Easing viewers back into things means that there’s very little in the way of work being done this episode. One can surmise that it is probably set a short ways after the vacation OVA that was released a few months ago. Things can get quiet in between projects, and it is during this time that I will usually do maintenance of the code base or work on frameworks and APIs to make it easier to build things in the future. A good set of frameworks can save hours of development, especially where code is reused.

  • Shizuku decides to take the staff out for hanami: the blossoming of Sakura trees in Japan is usually from late March to early May, which means that during my trip to Japan, I would have been at the tail end of flower-gazing season. While most trees were already devoid of the famous pink flowers by my arrival, we did see some sakura trees still in bloom at Oshino Village near Mount Fuji. Closer to home, there are a large number of sakura trees on campus grounds, and while I was a student there, I would spend May mornings and afternoon admiring the trees. By the time the local anime convention came around, the blossoms would have gone.

  • Nene’s fieldcraft is inadequate, as Umiko is quick to point out. She’s holding rifle optics here to keep an eye on Umiko, but promptly loses her. As noted in the Tom Clancy novels, the best defense against someone with exceptional fieldcraft is to blend in with the crowd and betray nothing. Adam Yao excelled at this: in Threat Vector, he notes that it is more productive to pretend to be an ordinary citizen and enjoy a bowl of noodles besides executives to learn about company secrets. Because countermeasures against tails are often done by determining which people do not belong, blending in can defeat the countermeasures, although as Nene is a post-secondary student not trained in spycraft, all is forgiven.

  • After a bit of light-natured humour involving Nene and Umiko sharing ice cream, Nene gets down to business and presents Umiko with a simple 2D game she’d developed in her spare time. It’s written in C++ and impressive considering the little experience Nene’s had with programming, but a ways into the demo, the game crashes with the “_Block_Type_Is_Valid (pHead->nBlockUse)” error. Umiko is plainly a skillful programmer, knowing that as a beginner, Nene should not have the answers given to her. Umiko instead decides to point Nene out in the right direction to figure things out, helping her learn as a programmer, and Nene even documents her methods appropriately, showing her commitment to learning and improving, and in the next bullet, I present an explanation for what the error is about, as well as how to fix it. 

  • The technical worked solution is uninteresting – the following answer is, in plain terms: “_Block_Type_Is_Valid (pHead->nBlockUse)” is thrown when attempting to deallocate something in a block of memory that has already been removed. Examining the code more closely finds that Nene calls the function “DestroyMe()” without checking to see if her character object exists. Thus, her function could be called even after her object’s health attribute has dropped below zero and the initial deallocation occurs. This is where the deletion of a non-existent object occurs. The fix is simple: do a check to see if the object exists before deleting it (as a failsafe to prevent the crash), and add another guard elsewhere to prevent characters’ health from dropping below zero (which is good practise for enforcing game logic).

  • At an interview with the high-ups, audiences are given a hint that Shizuku is the reason why the entire art department and one of the developer teams are entirely female. She managed to strike a deal with one of the male lead developers, promising that he can have all male developers provided that all female employees are under her watch. While this seems contrived, I note that I work in an all-male development environment despite our higher-up’s openness to hiring males and females. It does become a little dull without female developers, since female developers can often provide insights that males do not. Either way, it sets the stage for why there are only girls in New Game!, and some explanation, however improbable, is much preferred to no explanation at all.

  • While Hifumi remains quite shy and is quite flustered when asked to speak her mind, Hajime wastes no time in outlining her own proposal for a game. A quick glance at the cast finds that Kō is voiced by Youko Hisaka of K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, while Rin is voiced by Ai Kayano (Mocha of GochiUsa and Saori Takebe of Girls und Panzer): it always is a bit surprising but amusing to learn of the folks behind each role, and with time, one becomes more familiar with who’s who. Having said this, I never base my decisions to watch something based on who is in it.

  • Umiko reacts to Shizuku’s remarks about changing requirements here in her usual manner. Her requests for the requirements to remain stable is a pipe dream that most software developers will be familiar with: changing specifications are a pain in the backside to deal with and may add additional development and testing time to a project. Furthermore, scope creep is an ever-present threat to a project’s schedule. Because shifting expectations from clients are the reality, I place great value on modular architectures and code reuse; having a solid code base makes it faster to implement and test new components on a moment’s notice.

  • If GochiUsa were an indicator, we will likely see new characters introduced a short ways into New Game!!‘s run. The whole idea of there being no new hires is plainly a feint, since news sources have revealed four new characters. The concept of introducing them later allows viewers to settle back into things before the status quo is disrupted; GochiUsa was able to create a completely new atmosphere with a single new character in Mocha Hoto, although her presence also meant she took the spotlight during the episodes she were present in. In New Game!!, the four new characters will likely be a little more distinct and crafted with the intent of integrating them with the main cast.

  • At the flower gazing, it’s a potluck of sorts, with everyone bringing a little something to share. Hanami is a custom in Japan, being a big deal, as people often do picnics and dates under the fluttering of the pink-white petals. This stands in contrast with the cherry blossoms of campus, which often go unnoticed because they typically blossomed during that sweet spot following exams and before spring courses start, folks in Japan appreciate the transience of cherry blossoms. Because my research programmes start in May, I was around campus to enjoy them back when I was a student.

  • A nervous Rin waits for Kō to sample her cooking, and when Kō praises her, Rin steps up her demands, only to be unintentionally turned away when Kō decides to try sashimi. It’s time to share on a little secret: while New Game!! was originally to start airing on July 11, a pre-airing has available for a week and some now. While I have no current plans to do episodic reviews for New Game!!, I’d figure that I’d set the table with some opening remarks before really delving into the series, given that the episode has not shown New Game!! any new territory just yet.

  • Aoba reacts to wasabi in her sashimi: it is a bit of an unpleasant trick to play, and back when I was in high school, I participated in a game of sorts with sushi where ten percent of the rolls were loaded with wasabi in a food variation of Russian Roulette. The only kicker is that I’m quite fond of spicy foods, so when I landed on one, no one noticed I’d taken it until I said so. At this year’s Calgary Stampede, there’s a legendary pizza loaded with the Carolina Reaper, a pepper scoring 1.569 million Scoville Units on average (rounded to four significant figures). It is so intense, I’ve heard that emergency services are on station in case people brave enough to try it react poorly to the pizza. I’m not quite so adventurous, and have my eye on the Lobster Poutine.

  • Despite Kō’s prank earlier, after Shizuku announces the internal character design competition, Aoba lightens up and expresses her looking forwards to working on another project. The improbability of Aoba securing a position as a 3D modeller despite lacking a profound knowledge of Autodesk Maya, is explained as Shizuku running into Aoba prior to her interview, and after a more casual conversation, found Aoba’s personal attributes to be a much greater asset than her technical skills. Their decision has been a good one: hardworking and motivated to improve, Aoba is a fine fit with the team and gets along with the others as well as she completes her tasks.

  • In Kō, Aoba sees a role model and leader. The two definitely make a fine student-mentor pair, and a part of New Game!! will be seeing how the two continue to help one another grow even as new staff are hired into Eagle Jump. As an aside, it looks like Unity3D is featured in the credits: I wonder what role they’ve played in New Game!!. This brings my post to an end, and the next talk on New Game!! will be done after three episodes have elapsed. Owing to the non-trivial number of posts on New Game!, I’ve created a new category, and also note that the second season is merely denoted with an additional exclamation point, rather than being titled “New Game Plus!“. Upcoming posts will include the third movie in Washio Sumi Chapter, as well as Battlefield 1‘s “Praise de Tahure” update whenever that is released.

One of the elements that I found surprising about New Game! was not the anime itself, but the severity that some fans regarded the series with, whether it be the nature of the computer hardware used at Eagle Jump, how realistic the depiction of AutoDesk Maya is or whether or not New Game! was an effort to glamourise overwork and unreasonable hours in light of deadlines. While undoubtedly relatable for some viewers, who are similarly working in technology or innovation-related fields, the fact is that New Game! is a Manga Time Kirara adaptation and consequently, intended to entertain rather than be an accurate depiction of reality. It is a rose-coloured view of the industry intended to evoke a few laughs, with numerous creative liberties taken so characters can bounce off one another. In this role, New Game! is immensely successful – the things that made season one so entertaining make a return in the second season’s first episode, and looking ahead, it will be exciting to see what directions New Game!! will take. The first episode is set for broadcast on July 11, and I will be following this one quite closely, as I did a year ago when New Game! first aired.

Hinako Note: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” —Claire Danes

Crippled with anxiety whenever speaking with folks she’s unfamiliar with, fifteen-year-old Hinako Sakuragi moves to Tokyo and resolves to join a theatre club with the aim of overcoming her shyness. When her high school’s theature club is found to be inactive, she forms a theatre troupe with the other tenants of the Hitotose Bookstore and gradually develops more confidence as she learns more about the theatres. After the school’s theatre club is reinstated, Kuina, Mayuki and Chiaki do their best to help Hinako, who earns the ire of Yua. Despite her doubts, Hinako’s resolute effort in improving catches the eye of advisor Ruriko, who makes her the lead in the school’s play. Hinako’s determination in improving earns her Yua’s respect and friendship, and the play is a success. Later, the Hitotose troupe put in separate plays for Hinako’s mother and for Christmas, before visiting the Suzuran venue to watch a play there. Simultaneously unremarkable and heartwarming, Hinako Note is the latest anime I’ve seen that serves little purpose beyond warming the heart with its character dynamics: at its core is a girl who freezes out of anxiety when faced with social interaction, on a journey to rectify this. While lacking the same magic and coherent themes as GochiUsa and Urara Meirocho, which featured exceptionally detailed worlds awaiting exploration, Hinako Note nonetheless holds a certain charm for its brand of comedy: the unusual situations characters find themselves are amusing and adorable.

The events and presentation of Hinako Note correspond with a subset of the slice-of-life genre – anime and manga of this sub-genre share several commonalities. Anime of this category feature an all-female cast with a very limited number or total absence of male characters, and are completely devoid of any semblance of a narrative. In its place is a loving, detailed depiction of all of the most ordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life. Such anime are designed with a very specific purpose in mind: it is pure escapism for viewers whose realities are stressful, offering a respite from a difficult day, and some interpretations go further, stating that an all-female cast is appealing for viewers whose fortunes in courtship are sub-optimal. Such anime are informally known as Kirara-kei (Kirara-style) after Manga Time Kirara, a manga publisher, and while usually referring to the style of manga published in this magazine, the term can be generalised outwards: Hinako Note is published by Kadokawa but features all of the elements described in the Kirara-kei genre. It’s the first one I’ve seen outside of a Kirara adaptation, and despite not being quite as compelling as the best works from Manga Time Kirara, it’s certainly not the worst, either (I never did manage to finish Sansha Sanyou, Anne Happy and Stella no Mahou, for instance). Kirara-kei anime and manga are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, especially for individuals who long for tasteful, thought-provoking entertainment, but it is well-suited for acting as a means of stress relief and escapism.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Initially, I did not have plans to watch Hinako Note, as the core concept sounded unremarkable, and the idea of Kuina eating books was a bit of an off-putting element. A friend recommended Hinako Note to me on the merit of the catchy opening song, so I relented and gave it the three-episode rule. Once it became clear that Kuina’s book eating was not a substantial focus (she enjoys food in general, as well), and I became more drawn to Hinako’s story, I decided that I would continue with Hinako Note.

  • The flashbacks to Hinako’s childhood in the inaka act as the magic moment that motivated me to check Hinako Note out, presenting her past and how her tendency to adopt a scarecrow-like stance whenever frightened. Her neighbours use this to their advantage: she becomes a human scarecrow that helps the farmers fend off animals and bolster agricultural production, and in thanks, she receives fresh vegetables. Longing to thank them, her timid nature prevents this from happening.

  • At the Hitotose Coffee Shop (which has nothing to do with Tamayura), Hinako finds friends in Mayuki, Chiaki and Kuina, whom she can speak with normally. Their friendship is what helps Hinako slowly progress throughout Hinako Note, and even though her progress is slow, it’s also naturally depicted: for some, the pacing counts against Hinako Note, and in my case, I did not find there to be a standout message in Hinako Note beyond the importance of friendship in imparting change amongst individuals, a familiar, well-worn theme in anime of this class.

  • Anime of the Kirara-kei category vary with respect to how brazen their attempts to excite the audiences are, from Kiniro Mosaic and GochiUsa‘s non-existent or subtle instances to the more visible depictions in New Game! or Urara MeirochoHinako Note goes the whole nine yards in its portrayal, with wide-angle shots of the different characters in more revealing clothing and focus on their figures being presented much more prominently.

  • Yua is a girl in Hinako’s class who greatly admires Chiaki and competes with Hinako every chance she gets. Serious-minded and unpleasant, she warms up to Hinako later, but is shown here with obvious envy at Hinako’s figure. With her personality, Hinako reminds me greatly of GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto: both are kind-hearted and friendly, unable to tell when someone is treating them coldly and generally willing to look past this.

  • During a rehearsal, Miyuki appears and performs a dance, but reveals that she’s never been fond of being the centre of attention. It is also revealed that Hinako is a fantastic singer, hence Ruriko’s decision to make her the play’s lead. She’s visible in this image here: the theatre club’s advisor, Ruriko is a child actress of prodigious talent, although certain facets of her character fall into the realm of implausible.

  • Despite the typical hiccoughs, involving Hinako forgetting her lines the day before the play and Yua failing to bring a mission-critical prop, the theatre club’s first play is a success. While ostensibly about theatre, Hinako Note takes after K-On! in that there is very little in the way of technical elements, focussing on the characters bouncing off one another to an even greater extent than K-On!.

  • By the first play’s conclusion, Yua’s become a regular part of the Hitotose troupe, and she’s mellowed out somewhat towards Hinako. Of all the characters, she and Hinako see the most development over the course of Hinako Note – Hinako gradually gains more confidence in performing and interacting with strangers, while Yua is more respectful of Hinako. Watching characters change over the course of time is the most rewarding part of slice-of-life anime, but it is usually the case where only a small number of characters change, with other characters remaining static.

  • The landlady of the Hitotose tenements, Chiaki is a soft-spoken sixteen-year-old with experience in acting. Despite outwardly resembling Maho Nishizumi, while their physiques might be similar, Maho and Chiaki’s personalities are a world apart – she’s gentle and friendly to those around her, drawing Mayuki and Yua’s feelings. Chiaki is voiced by Hisako Tōjō, a voice actress whose roles are not those I’m familiar with. Here, she discusses the additional applications of her swimsuit beyond being suitable attire for the beach with the others.

  • While it would have been quite appropriate to have Ayane Sakura provide Hinako’s voice, the casting decision to have Mao Ichimichi play Hinako is a wiser one – to have Ayane in the role would reinforce the notion that Hinako is merely a more visually stimulating but shyer version of Cocoa. I know Mao best as And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?‘s Kyō Goshoin. I rolled through that one earlier this year, finding it to be a fun critique of online gaming and for excelling in providing a plausible depiction of the hazards associated with being online for both freshmen and seasoned gamers.

  • Hinako’s ability to draw animals to her is absolutely adorable, and when such moments arise, Hinako Note reverts to a chibi-style artwork, something that was absent in GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic. By this point in time, I decided to continue watching Hinako Note for moments such as these – while lacking the same strength of world-building and character growth as something like GochiUsaHinako Note nonetheless presents enough heart-warming moments that make it a solid means of kicking back and relaxing.

  • The crux of the beach episode’s narrative revolves around Mayuki getting lost, with Hinako very nearly becoming lost herself to find Miyuki. Sensitive about the fact that she’s continually regarded as a primary school student, Mayuki is older than Hinako. After running into Ruriko, Mayuki and Hinako reunite tearfully. Having the chibis on-screen is meant to clearly express to viewers what they should be feeling; while no doubt effective, well-written Kirara-kei anime can elicit a similar response even without any changes in the artwork, counting on visual and audio cues to convey the moment.

  • Kuina, Hinako, Mayuki, Chiaki and Yua’s day at the beach turns out to be a blast, and they return home by evening utterly exhausted. Hinako Note is an anime that offers very little in the way of discussion, and correspondingly, it’s been quite tricky to find any discussion elsewhere for the anime; most folks are content to react to various moments in the anime and leave the talk there. If and when they are asked, they will remark that the anime’s been enjoyable – it is sometimes the case where audiences can enjoy something even if it is not the most intellectually-stimulating or thought-provoking work around, and this is perfectly fine.

  • After the beach episode, depictions of Hinako Note‘s characters in more interesting situations increases in frequency, and I’ve done my best to ensure that not more than twenty percent of the screenshots in this post is of such moments. It ended up being a bit trickier than expected: 23.3 percent of the screenshots wound up being thus. Here, Hinako’s collapsed from exhaustion as a result of a fever manifesting while serving a customer.

  • Common knowledge states that bed rest and plenty of fluids are usually sufficient for besting a cold. Chiaki does her best to make sure Hinako is not disturbed, but after everyone expresses concern and remain by Hinako’s side, everyone winds up contracting her cold. This stands in contrast with Frame Arms Girl, where the FA Girls only end up making Ao more sick with their methods. I’ve not reviewed Frame Arms Girl this season because, as fun as it was (it’s essentially a combination of Toy StoryGundam Build Fighters and Sky Girls), there’s not much in the way of discussion. The two-and-a-half hours I save by not writing about Frame Arms Girl will go towards Far Cry 4 and enjoying the summer weather.

  • Hinako proposes a play hosted at the Hitotose Café during a stamp rally event here. While their conversation is happening topside, the camera momentarily relocates itself conveniently beneath the table, providing audiences with an unexpected and unnecessary glimpse of Chiaki’s pantsu as she crosses her legs. Even though I’ve long become accustomed to moments such as these in slice-of-life anime, there are occasions where it feels a little out of place, especially in Kirara-kei anime.

  • The training camp that the girls wind up organising draws Ruriko’s interest and they prepare for a night at the school. Here, they discuss what they’ve bought to spend the night, and Yua remarks that all they really need are the basics, standing in contrast with the others, who’ve brought quite a bit of extra gear. This brings to mind my one-night stay in Kelowna during the UBC Giant Walkthrough Brain performance early in 2016, where I boarded the aircraft with a gym bag and backpack worth of equipment and clothing. Unlike Yua and the others, in that case, I had a legitimate reason for additional gear: my laptop was required to assist with the presentation.

  • Even though Hinako Note might not have the most revolutionary artwork or visuals in the world, Kuina’s love for food means that food is brought to the forefront of discussion on more than one occasion. Here, she scarfs down curry rice while Mayuki prepares another plate for her. Curry rice is something that I’m fond of, with the exception that I add beef or chicken to mine. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I watch anime for the scenery and skies; I also watch it for its depiction of food, although I’ve yet to see any anime show off a home-made crab soup yi mein with large prawns and char siu, a dish of a custom origin that I’m sure will never be seen in any show.

  • Like Chiaki’s pantsu moment, there seems to be very little merit in including moments such as these in Hinako Note beyond drawing the viewer’s attention, and that, it completely does well. Having said this, it did come as a bit of a surprise to find out that Hinako Note is something that is better watched with a wall to one’s back for fear of being spotted: details in the play of light on Hinako and Chiaki’s bodies are gives the moment a more three dimensional feeling, and one cannot help but wonder whether or not any kind of play involving such outfits is suitable for human eyes.

  • The point of having a variety of costumes seems to be limited towards pulling in the audience’s attention, and characters often mention that this is why they are forcing another character into an immodest outfit. Hinako herself seems to be immune to the sort of embarrassment that typically accompanies wearing such outfits, and has no trouble walking around in a bunny girl costume.

  • Hinako’s mother pays her a visit, riding into town on a motorised unicycle. A doting parent, Hinako’s mother cares deeply for Hinako and is thrilled to learn that Hinako’s taken up acting. She departs here to explore town, asking Hinako to look after her belongings, and Hinako finds herself nervous as to whether or not she’ll put on a good performance.

  • Despite a rough start, some assistance from Mayuki puts their play on the right path, leading to yet another successful performance. While initially slow, Hinako’s persistence becomes increasingly apparent as Hinako Note progresses, even if viewers do not get to see the plays performed in full (likely a budgetary constraint). Overall, the animation and artwork in Hinako Note is of a reasonably good standard, while the soundtrack remains quite ordinary. While some find the opening song catchy, I enjoy the ending slightly more.

  • The innocent-seeming artwork of Hinako Note has not stopped the anime’s artists from rendering Chiaki and Hinako’s papilla mammaria visible through their clothing. Here, Chiaki has donned a costume that Yua has lent her, finding it ill-fitting in some spots. Such depictions are usually reserved for anime of the sort that I am unlikely to review or watch, so it was a bit unexpected to see that sort of thing in Hinako Note.

  • By Christmas, Hinako performs in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol despite challenges in drawing in an audience earlier on. While she and Mayuki are scared stiff by the large number of people walking by, the presence of a live reindeer manages to entice audience members into coming, and the play itself is quite successful.

  • While trying to figure out how to best strike up conversation with Chiaki, Hinako is asked to help out as a Shrine Maiden, and here, runs into a jealous Yua. Typical of most anime of the Kirara-kei genre, time flies in Hinako Note, and episodes cover things at a high rate: I’ve now lost track of how many shows I’ve seen during the summer that deal with Christmas.

  • After encountering Mayuki concocting something during the middle of the night, Hinako learns that she’d been preparing Valentine’s Day chocolate for Chiaki, whose popularity means that she receives a considerable amount of chocolate every year. Here, Hinako and the others welcome Yua into the Hitotose Café as they are handing out chocolates for the customers.

  • If and when I’m asked, I do not mind the special emphasis that is placed on Chiaki or Hinako — by this point in Hinako Note, I’ve become accustomed to such shots of Chiaki, and they can be quite pleasant to behold. I believe the phrase for moments such as these is “a vision of loveliness”; while Chiaki remains a static character without much development, her subtle encouragement of Hinako and the effects it has on Yua’s interactions with Hinako drive the latter’s change as a character.

  • When Chiaki reveals that she’d bought tickets for everyone to spend an afternoon at a play, Mayuki throws a minor temper tantrum by means of sulking in the corner: her desire to spend some time alone with Chiaki have been discarded. It’s utterly adorable to watch Chiaki try and coax Mayuki out of this state, bringing to mind what would happen when we’d accidentally bothered a relative’s rabbit, who would refuse to be petted for a while afterwards. Allowing her to cool off and giving her some space meant that a while later, the rabbit would be open to benig petted again.

  • Hinako Note‘s finale did not feel like a finale, so languid is the anime’s pacing. After watching their play at a well-known venue, Hinako and the others manage to run into Yua and Ruriko, after which they decide to return to Hitotose Café for dinner. Despite the absence of a clear narrative and an inordinate level of anatomy presented for everyone to check out, Hinako Note wound up being fairly entertaining to watch for me, although not everyone will share this perspective.

  • Overall, I would count Hinako Note as a B-. I’ve heard from readers that a B- is a relatively high score, and in this final figure caption, I will explain my scoring system: it is based off the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ grading, where B- is the lowest grade one can have before they go on probation. Similarly, I will not take time to write about an anime that scores a C+ or lower. With the Hinako Note post in the books, the next big discussion on my horizon will deal with the third and final part of Washio Sumi Chapter, set for release this weekend and presumed to become available for discussion in the near future.

Unlike the works of Manga Time Kirara, which emphasise adorable elements over everything else, the one aspect of Hinako Note that sets it apart is the liberal and brazen presence of anatomy. Such elements would be seen as blasphemous in something like GochiUsa, but here in Hinako Note, they seem to offset the more endearing moments in the anime. The unusual contrast between the heartwarming and less-than-modest moments is conveyed through the artwork: characters are rendered normally whenever anatomy comes to the forefront, but when the situation is intended to draw out fuzziness in audiences, chibi designs are used instead. These pieces come together to form an anime that is quite unusual, similar to the concept of a bacon cheesecake, in which the sweet and savoury elements are thrown into sharp contrast with one another. Neither fully sweet like a cheesecake (e.g. GochiUsa) or savoury as with a bacon cheese burger (e.g. Strike Witches), the end result will not likely resonate with everyone, although there are invariably people who might be either comfortable with the results, or are open-minded to see what things are about. My end verdict on Hinako Note is that I enjoyed watching it, similar to how I do not shy away from unconventional desserts, but I would not likely recommend it to other viewers unless they share a similar perspective on life as I do.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Théoden King.” —Gandalf, Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

After three episodes, I noted that it would be interesting to see where Saekano ♭ was headed, and what outcomes awaited Blessing Software. Pushing towards their deadline, Utaha and Eriri are pushed to their limits as they work in a new character route, as well as the attendant artwork. The endeavour leaves Utaha exhausted and pushes Eriri to illness, although the culmination of their efforts is a warm reception at the Winter Comiket. Despite being unable to properly package their game for distribution, folks who buy the game finds much of it a pleasant surprise. Prompted by Iori to continue, Tomoya plans to develop another title, but finds Megumi growing more distant from him, learning that she’s feeling shafted by the attention Tomoya and Eriri have received from him during their development cycle despite all they’ve been through. Even as he attempts to make amends, Utaha and Eriri receive offers from Akane Kousaka, a manga artist working for a major game developer. Torn between Tomoya and their own futures, Eriri and Utaha choose their careers, leading them to work on a triple-A title away from Tomoya. Meanwhile, Tomoya goes on a date with Megumi and later sees Utaha and Eriri off to wish them the best in their pursuits. When their third year starts, Tomoya is shocked to see Izumi as a student at Toyogasaki Academy. This brings Saekano ♭ to an end, and admittedly, it was quite surprising to see things wrap up so quickly. One of this season’s more interesting anime, Saekano ♭ has been met with positive reception overall for its wit and propensity towards a more natural direction, as well as for its self-referential humour in continuing from Saekano.

Saekano ♭ is consistently inconsistent, turbulent and even self-contradictory at times. The characters’ conversations suggest an understanding of the value of artwork and what drives fiction, and yet, the characters themselves occasionally succumb to the same clichés they disparage, acting in ways that would seem irrational considering their self-awareness. These elements, long considered to be detractors in an anime, serve a critical role in Saekano ♭: they are present not because of any inadequacies from author Fumiaki Maruto, but rather, to paint Saekano as a satire of the harem genre and its associated tropes. Irony and exaggerations of the situations Tomoya finds himself in, accompanying his seeming disinterest in a real-world relationship, serve to illustrate the ridiculousness of the genre’s features as a whole. Whether it be the lengths that Utaha goes to in an effort to seduce Tomoya, or her sparring with Eriri on what constitutes art, it is clear that Saekano is well aware of tired conventions in this genre, shaking them up and simultaneously critiquing them in an anime where romance is secondary to poking fun at the sort of antics that typically are found in other anime of this class. By all counts, Saekano and its successor, Saekano ♭ succeeds as a satire to the entire genre, framing it around Tomoya’s desire to create a love story despite having only rudimentary understanding of how love works from a fictional perspective: anime that take the genre seriously often come across as falling short or derivative, and as such, Saekano ♭ offers an uncommon and refreshing take on things to show what might happen if such stories integrated real-world variables into their progression.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This Saekano ♭ post comes out of left field, and I was originally intending on writing something a little later. However, the series ends at the eleventh episode, and while one could make the case that the second season’s zeroth episode drives the total episode count up to twelve, the anime proper only has eleven episodes. Par the course for a talk about the whole season, I will use thirty images to look back through the turf that Saekano ♭ has covered during its run.

  • It turns out that Tomoya’s actions, in choosing both scripts, is to subtly reject Utaha’s advances and make it clear that, while he respects here greatly as an author, he does not see her in a romantic light. Utaha spends the remainder of her arc in Saekano ♭ working with Tomoya to wrap up their story component, doing her most to both help their game reach its conclusion and also to maximise the most of their remaining time together as classmates before she leaves for post secondary education.

  • Except maybe Michiru, Utaha is the most forwards of everyone to Tomoya. Not quite as aggressive, Utaha is nonetheless quite physical, pressing herself against him in a bid to get closer. While she only succeeds in making Tomoya uncomfortable, it’s a very sure indicator that she’s rather fond of him in spite of their verbal sparring matches. The page quote, sourced from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, was chosen as a bit of a critique on how poorly folks think of Tomoya based on an incomplete anime: mid-season, it felt as through there were nothing but complaints leveled at his actions.

  • Elsewhere on the net, some discussions surrounding Saekano ♭ have reached unprecedented intensity: with due respect, I think that it is a little surprising that people have taken Saekano ♭ as seriously as they did, trying to apply their impressions of real-world project management techniques into predicting the outcome of Tomoya’s project or else acting as armchair relationship counsellors. In my Saekano ♭ talks, I will do neither because the light novel and anime are about none of these things.

  • It is here that Utaha and Eriri come to the realisation that Tomoya is unlikely to return their feelings. I make this claim based on the cinematics, lighting and pacing of the scene. Continuing from my earlier assertions, Saekano ♭ is also not a deconstruction by either the literary definition or the definition reached by mangled reasoning at Tango-Victor-Tango. I consider Saekano ♭ a satire of the romance-comedy genre featuring several female leads – the characters seem well aware of clichés and tropes of this genre, succumbing to them or breaking away from them where appropriate.

  • The satirical nature (unintentional or not) of Saekano ♭ is why I do not consider it a meaningful pursuit to attempt any sort of formal, serious analysis or discussion on things in comparison with other works of its class. Here, Tomoya’s heart very nearly stops when an unnamed male student declares his love to Megumi only for her to decline: she later notes that she’s turned the guy down because to accept would be to otherwise divert time from helping Tomoya with their release.

  • The implications of Megumi wanting to help Tomoya of her own volition suggest that she’s developing feelings for him, although she probably does not fully understand why she’s so drawn to the project. Her feeling dejected later down the line as a result of Tomoya shouldering responsibility himself and not consulting her shows that she’s expecting a little more trust from him, at least to the same extent that he’s appearing to give Utaha and Eriri. Someone completely disinterested in Tomoya would not sign onto the project or have stuck out for this long, so Megumi’s reactions are completely natural.

  • After understanding that Tomoya is not likely to see her as more than a capable artist and a longtime-friend, Eriri’s ability to produce artwork takes a hit, and she isolates herself with the goal of finishing on time. She’s inspired by the feelings she experiences while reminiscing and fantasising, coming to terms with what’s happened, and manages to make the artwork, but this comes at a cost to her health. Working oneself to illness is a very serious problem, which is why I and those around me are told to work hard only to the extent where working harder is not detrimental.

  • Knowing that Tomoya’s views of her are what they are, she longs to spend some time with him for old times’ sake. Later, at the Comiket, she buries the hatchet with Izumi, and her role in Saekano ♭ is reduced subsequently along with Utaha’s even as Tomoya tries to bring the team back for one more project. However, one of the things that is clear from Tomoya’s project is that he’s definitely not cut out to drive video game production because he cares for his teammates to a fault.

  • Being rushed out to production does not hinder their game’s reception: they sell out and receive strong reviews all around, minus the lukewarm response to Tomoya’s content. It’s not bad for a first-time entry, and that the challenges Blessing Software faced in its staff rather than any shortage of manpower were plausibly depicted. The following remark comes from a software developer by trade – working with a simple scripting language was the least of his concerns.

  • Given everything that has happened up until this point, in conjunction with Megumi’s reactions to Tomoya shafting her, pointed strongly in a direction that suggested that, if she were neglected in both the narrative and from Tomoya’s dealings with her, there would be a bit more time left in Saekano ♭ to will deal with her. This turned out to be the case, and as such, I consider it an incomplete element when folks claim that Megumi seems to “outshine” everyone else by virtue of the author’s will alone. I certainly don’t see it that way: the anime has presented her as being someone who manages to stand out in Tomoya’s eyes because she is unextraordinary.

  • This is why I don’t like making sweeping assertions before a series has concluded: folks who have been expressing distaste in Tomoya and wishing him ill now return to remark that Saekano ♭ was a modestly enjoyable anime in spite of the character development, citing Eriri and Utaha as driving the show’s strongest elements. While I enjoyed their vitriol-filled dynamics with one another, it became quite clear that as professionals, Utaha and Eriri can get along with one another. One of the themes in  Saekano ♭ that I had not mentioned is that romantic rivalry, while impeding how cordial interactions are between two people, need not also overcome their own goals.

  • Megumi’s look of horror when Tomoya locks the two of them in the recording room. Saekano ♭ tends to play with framing and execution to give the sense of something risqué happening, only to cut away and show the greater context; this was utilised to great effect during Saekano, but by this point in Saekano ♭, the surprise and humour is gone. Audiences merely wait for things to conclude so that things may progress.

  • It took my complete mastery of the Dark Side of the Force to keep from missing this frame, which would make next to no sense without some context. I could easily pass this off as an application of Force abilities, but what’s actually happening is the aftermath of Tomoya’s apologies to Megumi. Subsequently, he presses his advantage and attempts to rope her into his next project. Tomoya’s blind devotion to his hobbies and inability to comprehend the world around him, to mind his surroundings, is his greatest weakness as a character – while I embody the side of Tomoya who cares for those around him and works with a resolute goal in mind, I am not as lacking in other areas.

  • Thus, when Megumi openly expresses her displeasure as to how Tomoya’s soloed responsibility of the project and that it suggests his lack of trust, Tomoya is taken aback. Saekano ♭ shows a more detailed aspect of Megumi that Saekano alone did not owing to time constraints, and it is seeing the more human aspects of her character beyond being a mere basis for a fictional character that makes her shine. It is this, coupled with Tomoya’s rant about making a game with more natural characters rather than archetypes, that reminds audiences of Megumi’s presence in Saekano.

  • If I were to present this screenshot to anyone without familiarity with Saekano, I am almost certain that they would count Tomoya and Megumi as a couple. This is the pairing that works the most consistently with the satire in Saekano: stand-out characters, whether it be the kūdere in Utaha or tsundere childhood friend in Eriri, or the cousin in Michiru, may overshadow Megumi in terms of presence in Saekano ♭, but it is ultimately the most ordinary character who truly becomes closer to the male lead. One of the issues with anime of the harem genre is that male leads are often stricken with indecision or a willful refusal to pick anyone for fear of hurting the others’ feelings, resulting in storylines that meander.

  • Similar in some respects we may be, I am certain that Tomoya’s perspectives on games are completely misaligned with mine. He values characters whose interactions players can relate to above all else, while I assess a game based on its immersion and gameplay. A good game must handle smoothly and have a well-defined goal set in an environment that makes the player feel as though they are there for themselves. As such, I’ve greatly enjoyed games with minimally-defined protagonists (such as Doomguy and Chell) in addition to titles with well-characterised individuals (Adam Jensen, Welkin Gunther). Visual novels have never held much appeal for me, as I very much prefer the rush of finishing a goal or watching impressive set-pieces unfold.

  • While Megumi lectures Tomoya and explains outright why she’s indignant, an Aokana poster can be seen in the background. Aokana came out a year after Saekano‘s first season: Tomoya is plainly keeping up with the times, and one of the fun factors about Saekano is the presence of various anime memorabilia in Tomoya’s room that I can recognise.

  • I’ve been quite liberal in presenting eye-pleasing moments from Utaha and Michiru throughout my earlier posts, but there have been very few of Megumi. The time has come to rectify this, starting with a screenshot of Megumi while she’s taking a bath. Longtime readers will know that I’m on #TeamShower, since showers conserve more water and more hygienic. Of note in this particular scene is the fact that Megumi has her smart phone right beside the tub, which is a bad idea, and the fact that Saekano actually renders clear water and steam particle density in the bath is not excessive.

  • While a little dark (especially on the built-in displays of a MacBook Pro or iPad), here’s another moment of Megumi that fans will certainly have appreciated. She’s giving Tomoya “obligation” chocolates for Valentine’s Day here, suggesting that she does not see Tomoya in the same light that Eriri or Utaha see him. One of the longstanding questions I’ve got about Megumi is what compels her to stick it out with Tomoya’s visions even when there is little apparent benefit for her; her actions seem to indicate that she views him as a friend, but to be with Tomoya through many dangers is to show a lot of loyalty for a mere friend.

  • Sakura blossoms are in full bloom during Utaha’s graduation. Finished with her secondary education, she takes the time to explain to Tomoya her and Eriri’s situation; Tomoya lacks the mental stamina to be a proper director that drives his creator’s willingness to flourish. Despite their interest in working with him for their own reasons, Utaha reveals that she and Eriri have been offered positions to work on a triple-A title.

  • Tomoya is blown away that a major games developer has recruited both of Eriri and Utaha: since Eriri left to work on their game’s artwork in isolation, manga artist and professional Akane Kousaka had followed her, developing an interest in the pair after being impressed with their game. Although they both are filled with regret at having to leave Tomoya’s side, their judgement prevails. Tomoya is not particularly disappointed by the news and is genuinely happy for them: simply put, there is not any betrayal that some folks are claiming there to be. Tomoya’s project was a personal one, and despite his passion for it, he’s shown signs of not committing to it as fully as it seems: Iori is constantly trying to persuade him to continue.

  • Good leadership forces folks to push their limits, and while Maruto might limit this assertion to the world of creativity and fiction, the truth holds true universally. A certain amount of pressure drives progress: during their meeting, Akane lets loose on the criticisms and re-lights Eriri’s drive to draw. It is also revealed that Akane is more interested in Eriri’s art skill than Utaha’s ability as a writer, seeding doubt in Utaha that also compels her to better her writing.

  • Because of my beliefs on improvement and drive, Akane cannot be considered an antagonist in Saekano ♭: she evidently has experience in the industry and knows how people respond to pressure, as well as what slumps can be overcome with. Without Tomoya between them, it turns out that Eriri and Utaha can get along just fine, at both a professional and personal level. Through this, Maruto hints that feelings for others are detrimental if they cause individuals to remain attached to their emotions rather than letting go to pursue a better future; having Utaha and Eriri do just this is to show an exceptional degree of self-awareness, and it’s not often that characters in a harem anime actually can set things aside in such a manner.

  • Thus, Utaha and Eriri’s development wind up being the most enjoyable part of Saekano ♭; seeing two characters learn that they aren’t so different and setting aside their animosity because of competing feelings for Tomoya proved to be a remarkable change of pace from other anime of this sort. In its satire, Saekano ♭ brings in authentic forces from the real world that force characters to make a decision, ridiculing the idea that an impasse can be maintained indefinitely. This is Maruto’s approach, to show that “if things in a show started out as  they do in a typical harem romance-comedy, then this is the outcome that can be expected”.

  • While Utaha and Eriri make to pursue their futures, Tomoya remains in his own world, persisting on his own path. However, even his own world begins to change: Megumi takes the initiative to ask Tomoya on a date in order to raise his spirits. They return to the mall visited during Saekano‘s first season, and Megumi later remarks that she aims to show him that as long as he is willing to direct a project, there will be a project. It’s a far cry from the industry, where output and results come first.

  • That Saekano ♭ ends in eleven episodes was quite unexpected, and I had not intended on writing a discussion for this until July, after all of the dust had settled. However, ending earlier than anticipated, and the fact that metrics are showing readers interested in Saekano ♭, I figured that I should deliver. I make extensive use of my site’s analytics to determine what readers are looking for, and will try to prioritise content that aligns with these interests. Consequently, I will be moving my discussions of Hinako Note to early July, and also dropping my plans to write about Frame Arms Girl: the latter was surprisingly fun but not conducive towards a full-fledged blog post.

  • With Saekano ♭ now over, my final conclusions on the second season are that it’s definitely stronger than the first if considered separately, but taken together, the first season drives the events of the second. Although Saekano as a whole featured Tomoya’s project, this is merely the stimulus that brought the cast together, and after establishing the setup typical to most harem anime, the second season introduces elements that drive the harem apart to show that setups featuring an indecisive protagonist are implausible and unsustainable for a good story.

  • Aside from its aims, Saekano ♭ manages to maintain humour much as the first season had: Utaha’s kiss (presumably, Tomoya’s first) comes out of the blue, and the facial expressions of all present parties are simply hilarious. Tomoya sees Eriri and Utaha off here before they take off for Osaka, but they inadvertently miss their train owing to a protracted farewell. Besides its narrative and character growth, which stand at Saekano‘s forefront, Saekano also has generally high production values: artwork remains of a consistently good quality, as is the voice acting. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is unremarkable.

  • A seemingly-decisive conclusion awaits viewers at Saekano ♭‘s ending with the presentation of a “The End” card: folks familiar with the light novels will note that the anime closes off at volume seven, and that there are a total of thirteen volumes in the entire series. If there is a third season, it will feel quite different than Saekano had thus far: Izumi joins Tomoya’s team, while Utaha and Eriri begin their work. I’m not too sure what’s in store for Saekano from the anime perspective, but a movie or OVA series might seem more plausible than a third season. However, one thing is certain: I will be checking a continuation out if it should exist.

Ultimately, Saekano ♭ earns a recommendation – entertaining to watch for its colourful cast of characters and their eccentricities,  the narrative feels as though it was carefully scripted to accommodate drama and satire to maximise its impact. Although the monologues and rants detract from the story and flow, they are fortunately rarer in Saekano ♭ – the author’s channeling of their own experiences and beliefs about art represents only a singular view on creativity, and one that might not be necessarily correct. Creativity can take many different forms and approaches, with no single algorithm or outline for defining what makes something great. As such, when Tomoya remarks that natural characters and their growth alone make a game worth playing, I look to that as being only one approach: in my books, the best games provide an experience that leads the players to pose questions about what they know or uncommonly good immersion. For instance, Deus Ex: Human Revolution challenges players to consider the role of technology in society, while Alien Isolation forces players to experience the same fear that Ripley does aboard Sevastopol Station. Certainly, my views and Tomoya’s (by extension, Maruto’s) differ quite substantially. Overall, with its satirical elements directed against genre-wide clichés and its clever inclusion of fanservice, Saekano ♭ proved to be an entertaining watch that consistently defies convention and provides the viewers with genre-defying twists to remind them that events of classical harem anime will be confined strictly to the realm of fiction.

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“Today, I’m going to outline a plan for Manoyama’s economic revival – it is a bold, ambitious, forward-looking plan to massively increase jobs, wages, incomes and opportunities for the people of our country. If we lower our taxes, remove destructive regulations, unleash the vast treasure of Manoyama’s energy, and negotiate trade deals that put Manoyama First, then there is no limit to the number of jobs we can create and the amount of prosperity we can unleash. Manoyama will truly be the greatest place in the world to invest, hire, grow and to create new jobs, new technologies, and entire new industries. Instead of driving jobs and wealth away, Manoyama will become the world’s great magnet for innovation and job creation.” –Excerpt from a speech delivered at the Manoyama Tourism Board

Resolved to improve Manoyama in whatever way she can in her role as the town’s “Queen”, Yoshino begins exploring the region’s specialities, including wood carving and sōmen. Her endeavours and visions are bold – even though the tourist board cannot fund Yoshino’s ideas, they begin making progress slowly: traditional wood carvings from native artisans are installed at the train station, impressing visitors, and a local cooking festival ends successfully. A film crew also scouts out Manoyama as a viable filming location, recruiting the tourism board and locals to assist. Their plans to burn down an abandoned home are met with resistance from Shiori, who reveals that the home is special to her, and the shoot also reveals that Maki had lost her passion in acting. Later, the tourism boards hosts a romance tour of Manoyama for the Community Club, taking them around Manoyama. Ruriko finds herself envious of Yoshino’s resolve and spirit. While Ruriko is embarrassed to participate in the Manoyama dance, Yoshino has taken the courage to learn it. Ruriko later falls ill, and comes across an alternative interpretation of Manoyama’s legend of the dragon while resting away from her duties. When she learns that Manoyama was originally about being open to outsiders, she performs her the dragon song on the final day of the tour. Though it all, Yoshino herself still resents normalcy, as well as her own role in things: when a reality show is filmed in Manoyama, Yoshino finds herself questioning her goals. Even so, she continues to do her utmost in making the tourism board’s initiatives successful, helping the television studio organise a major concert.

Sakura Quest has covered a substantial amount of territory at the halfway point. With twenty-five episodes, there remains another half to go – insofar, Sakura Quest has done a phenomenal job of bringing Manoyama and its characters to life. Whether it be the struggles and doubts each of the characters face, or the realities surrounding social trends in rural Japan, details are elaborated upon to give the town and its people dimensionality. Challenges surrounding Maki’s past with acting, Saenai’s doubts about whether or not Manoyama was her running away from her problems, or Ruriko’s isolation with the community are vividly detailed: flawed and very much human, each of the characters’ attributes come into play and slowly shift through Yoshino’s influence. Despite being an outsider herself, Yoshino also begins feeling more connected to the town of Manoyama, despite having only visited briefly during her childhood – being in this quiet and close-knit community brings about a change in her perspectives that is quite noticeable from her outlooks at Sakura Quest‘s onset, and by the halfway point, it becomes apparent that the synergy between Yoshino and the others have indeed had an impact on Manoyama. With the characters established, Sakura Quest is set to continue with detailing the tourism board’s quest to Make Manoyama Great Again℠, and I look forwards to seeing what Yoshino has in mind for the future.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sakura Quest covers a considerable amount of turf during its first half: story arcs are typically contained within the span of two episodes, depicting a combination of both the main cast’s internal struggles as well as the tourism board’s difficulties in engaging the town. One of the first challenges Yoshino faces in her role as Queen is to figure out how to raise awareness for Manoyama’s wood carving sector. While innovative, the town’s more conservative Board of Merchants and wood carvers immediately take a disliking to Yoshino’s ideas, feeling them disrespectful towards tradition.

  • Feeling that she’s been running away from problem after problem, Sanae no longer feels motivated to help Yoshino, distancing herself from their duties. However, Yoshino manages to motivate her: even if people can be replaced, individuals each apply their own unique touch to a challenge to create their solutions, so efforts are not for naught. Consequently, Sanae’s interest in Manoyama is re-kindled, and she suggests a scaled-back version of Yoshino’s plan to elevate the visibility of Manoyama’s artisans, decorating the train station with work that impresses visitors.

  • Now that we are fifty percent into Sakura Quest, it is quite apparent that Yoshino does not have anywhere nearly as many funny face moments as her opposite number in Shirobako: Aoi Miyamori is a character I remember well for her exaggerated facial expressions. By comparison, Yoshino is more dialled back, and while highly enthusiastic about her duties, is less prone to overexcitement or stress than Aoi, even if her goals put her directly in conflict with the Board of Merchants, the folks who coordinate the businesses in the area.

  • The inaka are beautifully portrayed in Sakura Quest: intricate and remarkably well-done, Sakura Quest captures the countryside. While the cities (Tokyo especially) are a hotbed for economic activity and opportunity, the countryside of Japan has fallen by the wayside, seeing a general decline in population as youth migrate to the cities for better education and employment prospects. However, during my travels to Japan, I found the inaka to be much more enjoyable than the cities, feeling a lot more expressive of Japanese culture than the cities. In some translations, the inaka is represented as “the sticks”, a British expression for rural in reference to living amongst the trees (i.e. sticks).

  • After Sanae’s doubts are resolved, it’s Maki’s turn to have her background explored. A former actress capable of handling a variety of tasks, she refuses to play the role of a stand-in, feeling that she lacks the proper determination to be a proper actress. She rebuffs Yoshino’s request, leaving her with more work, but after a conversation with Sanae and helping coach Ririko with a role, slowly begins to rediscover her passion. When she stumbles across an old class video her father took of her class play, she rediscovers her love for acting.

  • After the director decides to use an abandoned house for filming, Shiori puts up a surprising amount of resistance, concealing the fact that she’d acquired permission from the house’s owners to torch it. It turns out that the house has sentimental value for Shiori, who’d spent a great deal of time there during her childhood. It is also explained that abandonments, haikyo, result from the cost of demolitions making removal of older buildings unviable. Often, buildings are left to decay where they are, creating these modern ruins. When Yoshino steps up to the plate and confronts Shiori about the situation, Shiori comes to understand that the decision is not for her to make.

  • Sakura Quest is the first P.A. Works anime I’ve given a review to since Shirobako – while I’ve watched both Charlotte and Kuromukuro, and found enjoyment in both to some extent, they did not prove to be shows that I could easily write about: thematic elements were tricky to determine, and the plot progression for both anime were inconsistent, making it difficult for me to ascertain what the anime’s main messages were. Comedy and slice-of-life dramas are P.A. Works’ specialities: their down-to-earth stories about everyday people are usually much more compelling than their science fiction or fantasy offerings (Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara are the exceptions).

  • By the episode’s final moments, Maki’s love of acting is reignited, and she agrees to stand in for Moe. Here, she prepares for a scene where she will dive into the burning remains of the home, and the entire event proceeds without a hitch. Later, one of the film staff thanks Shiori, who’s come to understand that allowing the house to be destroyed does not mean that her memories of it will be lost forever; instead, in its final moments, this derelict house allows Shiori to gain yet another treasured moment.

  • Just because Yoshino might not make funny faces does not mean that other characters do not – Maki tries to tug a beer from Yoshino, only to find that Yoshino’s maintaining a death grip on said beer despite having fallen a sleep. One of the things that I found a bit unusual in Japan (and Hong Kong) is the fact that alcohol is sold in the open at supermarkets, right beside conventional drinks. Back home, we have liquor depots and dedicated stores for selling alcohol.

  • Food is lovingly illustrated in Sakura Quest to the point where other viewers have suggested that some episodes should be watched on a full stomach, lest one desire food mid-episode. Today marks the start of the last weekend in June: this month’s disappeared, and it’s now been more than a month since I returned from Japan. Things have been incredibly busy with work, especially with our project migration to a new framework that’s taken longer than I anticipated, so I’m immensely happy that it’s the weekend. While I spent a bit of today helping with adding some features ahead of Monday, things were also relaxing enough so that I could play enough Battlefield 1 to unlock the Lebel Model 1886 and go out to the Café 100 for dinner, where I ordered the Hong Kong-style chicken steak. Delicious and cooked just like they do in Hong Kong, it’s always nice to be able to experience a taste of Hong Kong right here at home.

  • While I’ll respond that Shiori is my favourite of the characters in Sakura Quest, with Yoshino coming in a close second, all of the main characters are likeable. Presenting realistic characters simply means giving them a range of traits, both positive and negative, and allowing these interactions to drive things – these elements mean the characters are believable, and consequently, audiences tend to care more for them, developing an interest to see what events will await them. By comparison, dull, jejune characters are blatantly overpowered, have little difficulty in accomplishing their objectives and constantly struggle from their own internal sense of inadequacy without any well-defined reason (this is the main reason I’m not particularly fond of Sword Art Online‘s Kazuto Kirigaya).

  • Celebrating Sayuri’s moving out to become a nurse, Shiori and her family encounter Kumano, an old friend of Sayuri’s from high school who trained in France as a chef and intends to inherit the family restaurant. He has long held feelings for Shiori’s older sister, Sayuri, but owing to a miscommunication, neither was able to make their feelings open to one another. In spite of this, his dedication is commendable: his original intent to study French cuisine was because Sayuri greatly enjoyed French toast.

  • Shiori’s response to Kumano’s French Toast speaks volumes as to its quality. Sakura Quest states that French Toast is not French in origin – P.A. Works has plainly done their homework, and the combination of soaking bread in egg before frying it with milk has been around since the fifth century, being of Roman origin. The French take on this dish is called pain perdue (lit. “lost bread”), after the idea of making tough or stale bread more palatable by frying it in egg, and both England and Germany have their own variations on this dish. The modern incarnation of French toast is actually a bit of a misnomer: similar to French Fries, they are a food item popularised by arrival of French immigrants in North America, hence the nomenclature.

  • While the Tourism board’s plan to host a cooking special event conflicted with the Merchant Board’s event, Shiori takes control of the situation and strikes a compromise that allows both events to proceed: the cooking competition will be to make the best sōmen dish, which is a Manoyama special. It typifies Shiori’s resourcefulness when the situation demands it, and she’s the first person that Yoshino turns to whenever questions about Manoyama and its background arise.

  • While Shiori works out the details to ensure the event’s success, Yoshino works behind the scenes to get a special display ready: a mechanised nagashi-sõmen game where the goal is to catch and eat noodles as quickly as possible to maximise score. It’s a little messy, as Yoshino finds out, but the exhibition turns out to be a success, drawing the children’s interest. Yoshino is open to making use of new technologies into reviving Manoyama traditions, and while this initially puts her at odds with the townspeople, this new perspective also offers Manoyama something new.

  • Shiori and Sayuri are both rather clumsy at times: when their mother remarks that Shiori’s fear over the festival date is a trait her sister shares, Shiori realises that Sayuri must’ve missed Kumano for the same reason. She sets in motion the events that allow Sayuri and Kumano to meet again at the Chubacabra Palace, bringing their story to a solid conclusion and also allowing the two to make their feelings open to one another. One wishes reality would allow for such neat resolution, but more often that not, this is not the case.

  • With the festivals over, Yoshino makes Shiori a “Minister of Mediation” for her role in talking things through to ensure that all parties are reasonably satisfied with arrangements.

  • The Manoyama romantic tour programme turns out to be yet another story arc filled with a fine balance of comedy and mystery: comedy arises with the community club’s members putting the moves on to impress the ladies who arrive for the tour, and despite their reduced numbers, Yoshino and the others do their best to ensure the events are successful. It is here that the Manoyama dance and its origins are revealed: like the Legend of the Fire Maidens in Sora no Woto, there are two different versions of the story behind Manoyama’s dragon.

  • The men and women participating in the tour are in their middle ages: travelling around to meet people is a rather interesting concept. One observation thrown around amongst folks of my generation, the millennials, is that it is more difficult to find meaningful courtship relative to previous generations – commitment and trust is weaker than it has been for numerous reasons, but I personally think that it’s a lack of maturity for the most part. Once folks become a bit older, they will have a more well-defined notion of what they want, and by extension, more realistic expectations of what a relationship entails.

  • The Manoyama dance is an area tradition that all Manoyama girls learn. Ririko’s shyness precludes her from participating, and as a child, she’s withdrawn, spending very little time with her peers during school. Her interests are in the occult and supernatural: things like extraterrestrials, spirits and cryptids are right up her alley. Despite this, she slowly opens up as she spends more time with Yoshino and the others. By comparison, Yoshino is very much willing to learn and experience new things, picking up the Manoyama dance well enough to perform it for their guests.

  • Noticably absent from the proceedings is Ririko: similar to how Sanae, Maki and Shiori have seen exploration with the wood carving, film-making and cuisine arcs, respectively, the romantic tour arc places emphasis on Ririko. Reserved, shy and stoic, she lives with her grandmother after her father left for work overseas following divorce with Ririko’s mother, an outsider. This explains her grandmother’s mistrust for Yoshino and also explains why she’s cold towards the Tourism Board’s activities. Walking home alone under a thunderstorm, she catches a cold and is resting for much of the subsequent episode.

  • Alexandre Cena Davis Celibidache, known by his metonymy as “Mr. Sandal”, is a wanderer with blonde hair and who speaks with a very laid-back manner, dropping by to offer deep and mysterious insights whenever Yoshino or the others are wondering what their next move is. Voiced by Vinay Murthy, Alexandre’s Japanese is slower, more broken and accented, hinting at his foreign background: he also speaks English quite well. His story is that his grandparents were Manoyama natives, and despite his wandering nature, he is a skillful artist familiar with Manoyama’s history.

  • The climbing wall and tower overlooking Manoyama offers a fantastic view of the area. This moment in Sakura Quest offers yet another reason why I continue to watch anime after all this time: the attraction of skies of deepest blue and vast landscapes of mountains, plains and forests have long held my attention. I have not seen any cartoons of Western animation that go to quite the same lengths to render these landscapes: in FuturamaRick and Morty and Adventure Time, skies are usually a solid blue colour on clear days.

  • Yoshino finds Ririko at a local temple after the latter sneaks out to the library while she’s supposed to be recovering from her cold. It is here that Yoshino learns the alternative interpretation of the myth, and in an emotional moment, Ririko and Yoshino shed tears as they open up to one another. This brings about a change in Ririko: while her grandmother is long-weary of Yoshino and the others for their perceived tendency to disturb the peace, Yoshino sees this as a chance to show that the Tourism Board is not selfishly absorbed in their own machinations. Thus, she invites Ririko’s grandmother to the finale of the romance tour.

  • The surprise is that Ririko performs the Dragon song; while she whiles away her days on the internet and is not employed owing to her withdrawn nature, Yoshino manages to bring out the best in her, allowing her to take the first step towards changing. Ririko is voiced by Chiemi Tanaka, a newcomer in voice acting whose only previous role was as Sansha Sanyou‘s Sasame Tsuji, but Sakura Quest shows that Tanaka has a beautiful singing voice. Her rendition of the Dragon song is incredibly moving, to the point where it would be an insult should it not be included in the soundtrack or one of the character albums. The anime’s opening and ending albums have been available since June 7.

  • I take a brief detour to note that in its current form, the slogan “Make Manoyama Great Again℠”, is attributable to a design that I alone have created. It’s an uncommon enough slogan so that a cursory search for it will not yield too many results – one may find other usages before my first post on Sakura Quest, but since that post, folks on image-boards have taken to using the slogan more widely. The page quote is an adaptation of the current POTUS’ economic speech at the New York Economy Club back during September 2016, modified to work with what is in effect, what the Tourism board is trying to do with Manoyama.

  • The pressure of a reality film crew filming the Tourism Board’s daily routine causes Yoshino and Shiori to speak strangely, with Yoshino finally cracking up under the pressure. It takes a certain degree of control to ignore the camera and proceed normally, and while I’ve done several appearances on local television for news segments featuring my old research lab, as well as being comfortable in speaking in front of audiences, I’m not entirely sure I am cut out for live-streaming my Battlefield 1 and other gaming endeavours on Twitch.

  • Yoshino’s personal peeve of being “normal” is mirrored in her appearance – she’s the only character to have a distinct hair colour, and her uncommon way of thinking is what’s precipitated all of the events in Sakura Quest insofar, to the point where even Ushimatsu praises her. The definition of “normal” is the point of contention in Christopher Boorse’ definition of health, which states that “health is the absence of disease defined by a statistical normality”. My classmates still repress a shudder when the name Boorse is brought up despite the six years that have elapsed since we read the original 1977 paper: we argue that health is an incredibly complex topic and extends well beyond the state of being free of disease. Further to this, health as a human construct is intrinsically value-laden: by Boorse’s definition, if a large portion of humanity were to be afflicted by a condition such as blindness, then being blind would still constitute as “healthy”, since it is typical that most folks cannot see in this hypothetical population. Conversely, a value-laden approach would tell us that this population has an endemic condition impairing their quality of life.

  • I’m not here to continue discussing the definition of health: I exited the course with a decent mark and we’ll leave it to the medical specialists to discuss what health is. Returning things to Sakura Quest, the reality show is compounded by the appearance of a famous band, which promises to bring in a large number of visitors into the Manoyama region. While exciting, the logistics prove to be a rogue element, since the producers continue to assure Yoshino and the others that everything is under control. The outcome of this will be left for the upcoming episode.

  • Yoshino, Maki and Sanae are surprised at the unexpectedly large turnout for their concert. The twelfth episode comes to an end here, and looking ahead, I imagine that Sakura Quest is building up towards Yoshino’s inevitable departure once her year-long contract expires. Regardless of what the outcome will be, Yoshino will have gained a considerable amount of experience working in Manoyama by this point: staying in Manoyama and calling it home, or else returning to Tokyo with a competitive set of skills are both possibilities, and I look forwards to seeing the journey that Yoshino will have in reaching this milestone in Sakura Quest‘s second half.

It should not be surprising that I am enjoying Sakura Quest the most out of any of the anime this season. With its character development, stunning artwork and a highly relatable narrative, Sakura Quest represents a triumphant return of P.A. Works – with the exception of Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara, I’ve long felt their work and slice-of-life anime to be the strongest. Incorporating genuine social issues into the narrative is also a fantastic touch that elevates the anime’s authenticity: whether it be the community dynamics of a smaller town overarching in the anime or something as simple as why haikyo come about, Sakura Quest is faithful towards occurrences in the real world. This is something that Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha excelled in depicting. Sakura Quest is following its predecessors in execution, and it’s difficult to find any strikes against this anime – even the more critical of viewers are enjoying Sakura Quest. Each episode has been enjoyable to watch thus far, and having passed the halfway point, Sakura Quest appears on track in its the quest to continue captivating its viewers. With its honest but colourful depiction, it might be more appropriate to consider not whether or not Yoshino and her colleagues can Make Manoyama Great Again℠, but rather, the route that they take to get there and what changes Yoshino’s time in Manoyama will have on her, those around her and the town as a whole.