The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Anime: Reflections

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions After Three

“You usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.” –Craig Bruce

Kukuru allows Fūka to help out around Gama Gama Aquarium, and suggests that Fūka stay with her and grandparents in the interim. However, on her first day, Fūka, unaccustomed to dealing with penguins, slips and falls into the pool. Kukuru ends up lecturing Fūka on the importance of their main duty to look after the animals and ensure their safety. It turns out that Kururu had taken up the post of acting director with the aim of saving Gama Gama Aquarium from being closed down – the aquarium is of special significance to her, and while its age, coupled with dwindling visitors makes it difficult to bring their implements up to code, Kukuru is intent on finding a way to make things work out. That evening, Fūka calls home to let her mother know of her rough whereabouts. The next day, a pair of shady-looking loan sharks appear, hoping to rope Kukuru into some sort of scheme. Having heard Kukuru’s story from Karin, Fūka ends up driving the loan sharks off after they destroy Gama Gama’s hand-made sign. Kukuru invites Fūka to meet Tsukimi and Kai at the Teruya’s diner. Kukuru apologises to Fūka for being short with her, and Fūka promises to do what she can for Kukuru. The two also begin to get to know the penguins a little better. However, upon spotting that one of the older penguins, Choko, has ulcerative pododermatitis, Kukuru decides to call an a veterinarian who is on maternity leave. While she consents to come in and have a look, she unexpectedly begins going into labour. Without any available transportation, Karin ends up driving her to the local maternity home, where she gives birth to a baby boy. The veterinarian reveals to Fūka that she had a pleasant dream while at the aquarium and is happy her child’s birth was so memorable. Later, Kukuru spots Fūka with the penguin keychains that she’d designed, and resolves to do something new. Here at the three episode mark to The Aquatope on White Sand, it is evident that this series is going to head down the same route that Sakura Quest once did, while simultaneously combining notions of self-discovery and growing up from The World in Colours and Tari Tari. However, The Aquatope on White Sand simultaneously betrays nothing about what milestones will be hit in this journey, and so, the anime ends up succeeding in creating intrigue within its episodes.

Fūka and Kukuru’s actions in The Aquatope on White Sand lie at the forefront of all present discussion; this is to be expected, given that personal growth and professional development is central to coming-of-age series such as these. However, discussions have been unjustly harsh – when Fūka panics from the penguin’s forward behaviour during feeding time and slips into the pool, Kukuru delivers a tongue-lashing about how any carelessness surrounding the animals is grounds for termination because their aquarium’s first and foremost objective is looking after the animals. Rather than making any sort of effort to understand why Kukuru is as tense as she is, discussions swiftly point fingers at Kururu for not providing proper instructions. However, The Aquatope on White Sand makes it a point to indicate that Gama Gama Aquarium is of personal importance to her, reminding her of the time she spent with her late parents. While it is true that Kukuru is headstrong and stubborn, her intentions are admirable, and being a high school girl, she’s impatient and unlearned in some ways. These are character flaws that exist within all of us at that age, and over time, our experiences allowed us to outgrow them such that we could approach problems more calmly and rationally. Similarly, Fūka herself is being criticised for quitting her idol position on a whim and wandering about without giving her future any second thought, taking on positions she has no background in. However, had Fūka chosen to tough things out and make her idol career work out, The Aquatope on White Sand wouldn’t exist. Instead, her journey is meant to be a story of what experiences, both good and bad, lay ahead on a path whose destination is not clear. Altogether, The Aquatope on White Sand is a story that asks of its viewers a modicum of patience – one does not grow up overnight, and it is precisely by stumbling, making mistakes, and above all else, learning, that one begins to mature. P.A. Works’ stories require that one understand where the characters are coming from, rather than judging them; to do the latter would be to close one’s mind to the possibility of growth, and it does one no credit to be overly critical of the characters’ actions this early on, especially in the knowledge that the characters will be their best selves as things continue.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kukuru is initially reluctant to bring Fūka on board and wonders if working at Gama Gama Aquarium will be Fūka’s jam, but decides to take her home anyways, where Kukuru’s grandparents welcome her. Somewhat uncomfortable with sitting still and letting the Misakinos do everything, Fūka decides to help out in the ways that she can. Small details like these give viewers insight into the characters’ nature, although it is disappointing to see how often viewers overlook these traits.

  • While helping Kukuru’s grandmother make sata andagi (a fried Okinawan confectionary similar to a Timbit, but with things like purple yams inside), Kukuru’s grandmother invites Fūka to try one out, fresh from the hot oil. Immediately, one self-proclaimed expert cried foul that the sata andagi should’ve been too hot to hold, and yet, Fūka was able to receive hers without even flinching from the heat. However, this individual (who spent last season sarcastically lambasting Super Cub down to the last pixel) simply demonstrates that he’d slept through science class and therefore, had never heard of the Leidenfrost Effect. This occurs where a thin layer of vapour will form when a liquid is in contact with a hot surface and provide a brief bit of insulation from the heat. Since Fūka is cooking, her hands likely are a little wet, which provides the liquid that can form the insulating layer of vapour.

  • Coupled with the fact that the sata andagi has a high surface area to volume ratio, by the time the Liedenfrost Effect wears off, the confectionary’s surface would have cooled down enough for Fūka to eat it. A little bit of science is therefore enough to debunk complaints: I’ve long disliked folks who believe that their capabilities are so far above that of the writers that they can nitpick at small details for internet points. As such, there is a certain satisfaction to be had when the same individuals fail to account for real-world phenomenon that can explain what’s being shown on screen. Now, I could go ahead and break out my old textbooks on thermodynamics and heat transfer to compute this holds true, but all this effort for an internet argument is quite unnecessary. As it stands, this moment is simply here to show that Fūka is enjoying a confectionary distinct to Okinawa: she’s blown away by the flavour, mirroring her exposure to the various aspects of Okinawan culture.

  • Having put off answering calls from her mother, Fūka finally decides to reply, and understandably, Fūka’s mother is worried sick about her, as she’d failed to check in. Fūka attempts to assuage her mother’s worries by stating she’s with a friend. While this is true in a manner of speaking, it’s clear that Fūka is still trying to gain her own bearings, and she’s not quite ready to let her mother know what’s happening. Because Fūka comes across as being kind and considerate of those around her, to the point of giving up the centre role of a performance for a coworker’s sake, it stands to reason that Fūka does not wish for her mother to worry excessively for her sake.

  • When Tsukimi sees the lofty goal that Kukuru has set for herself, she wonders if it’s even possible to raise that kind of money in two months: the total cost of equipment and upgrades totals some three million Yen (around 34118 CAD, the price of a fully-loaded sedan or an SUV with mid-range options selected). However, Tsukimi is more surprised to learn that she has Fūka staying with her. This scene also reveals that the fortune teller Fūka had met during the first episode is Tsukimi’s mother; I’ve previously remarked that anime do not introduce voiced characters without reason, and it can only be described as fate that the fortune teller knows Kukuru.

  • Back in the Shirobako and Sakura Quest days, a great deal of time had been spent inside offices filled with paperwork and other clutter. I imagine that The Aquatope on White Sand will feature this office prominently as Kukuru and Fūka work towards their objectives. However, it’s not all fun and games for Fūka: she’s thrown in the deep end from the start, and in her haste to get Fūka going, Kukuru neglects to mention detail or properly orient her. Again, this is something folks have vociferously complained about, and like the Leidenfrost Effect, people appear to have forgotten that Kukuru is a high school girl, rather than a full-fledged adult.

  • Assuming that the folks making such an aggressive response to The Aquatope on White Sand are a similar age to myself or older, I would find their commentary on Kukuru’s actions to be poor form. Kukuru is a high school student – adolescents possess an ability for reasoning on par with that of an adult, but their brain development means that they are also more prone to impulsive decisions and act on emotion rather than reason as a result of experience. Simply put, Kukuru is inwardly excited by the prospect of having help and is so focused on her own goals that she’s forgotten that Fūka is very much a novice, requiring training to properly perform her duties.

  • That Kukuru mentions nail polish as being harmful to the marine life at Gama Gama so late indicates she definitely knows her materials, but, having worked around folks at least as experienced as she is led her to take Fūka for granted. For this, Fūka slips and falls into the pool in the penguin enclosure after panicking and taking a beak to the ass while feeding a group of energetic penguins. It’s a dramatic introduction to the dangers of the job, and one would imagine that an experienced director would not allow new staff near live animals until they’ve had some training.

  • With this being said, I see no reason not to be understanding of how things got to be; having Kukuru acting in an impatient manner shows that her desire to save Gama Gama Aquarium notwithstanding, she’s not ready to be a director yet despite the title. This leaves The Aquatope on White Sand plenty of room for both her and Fūka to develop as people. A Kukuru with emotional maturity and experience to match wouldn’t need to learn these life lessons, resulting in an immensely dull anime: half the fun in coming-of-life stories is seeing characters develop over time and learn from their mistakes.

  • Similarly, Fūka’s decision appears completely irrational to adults, but had Fūka been mature enough to regroup and seek out a solution to her problems, then The Aquatope on White Sand would have no story to present. The insistent belief that anime characters necessarily must act like real people would is ludicrous; besides degrading or even eliminating a story, people in reality aren’t exactly the best measure of good decision making, and a major part of life is owning the decisions one makes. Conversely, The Aquatope on White Sand hints to viewers that, as bleak as the situation is for Kukuru, there is a way forward. Karin shares with Fūka the story behind Gama Gama Aquarium, helping Fūka to understand Kukuru better here.

  • Two unscrupulous-looking men barge into Gama Gama Aquarium one day, promising Kukuru the funds she needs to bring the place up to scratch. However, Kukuru kicks them out: while people were so fixated on Kukuru’s treatment of Fūka, they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture, and here, Kukuru demonstrates that she’s an honest, if stubborn individual with a strong sense of integrity. Refusing to take the easy way out means Kukuru’s avoided a potential source of trouble later down the line, allowing The Aquatope on White Sand to focus on what’s important without being swept off by problem that common sense would’ve averted.

  • I’m certain that Hitomi would’ve never doused anyone with the hose, but here, after Fūka watches as the two loan sharks “accidentally” destroy Gama Gama Aquarium’s hand-made welcome sign, she’s pushed past her endurance. The torrent of water is only an irritant, but it’s enough to get the two to leave. In the aftermath, Kukuru notes that soaking customers would almost certainly lead to a termination, but since those two weren’t customers and getting on Kukuru’s nerves, she ends up expressing gratitude instead.

  • While Karin is only seen to be popping in and out of Gama Gama Aquarium, she appears often enough so that it’s the case that she’ll have a larger role to play yet. Her role with the local tourism board, and the fact she’s a ways older than Kukuru and Fūka means that she brings the maturity and experience to the table I’ve been speaking of; Karin is someone who is young enough to be open to new ideas from Kukuru and Fūka, while at the same time, is old enough to know what’s possible and what could potentially work. Altogether, this means Karin will definitely become an asset along Fūka and Kukuru’s journey.

  • That evening, Fūka has a chance to meet Kukuru’s friends, including Tsukimi and Kai: because Kukuru also invited him, Kūya also shows up. He’s said to be uneasy around women, but upon spotting Kai, is immediately relieved. Seeing Tsukimi, Kai and Kukuru together gives viewers a better measure of what allies Fūka have in her corner, and I imagine that between Tsukimi’s family restaurant and Kai’s involvement in fishing, both fields will need to come together to give Gama Gama Aquarium a fighting chance. P.A. Works have always been fond of suggesting that multidisciplinary solutions and people from all walks of life are increasingly necessary in a world driven by constant change, so The Aquatope on White Sand isn’t expected to deviate from this particular message, either.

  • After the gathering, Fūka and Kukuru have a chance to speak one-on-one. Here, Kukuru apologises for having overstepped the previous day, while Fūka mentions she completely understands what Gama Gama Aquarium means to Kukuru. In this moment, it becomes clear that the good times and bad are to be rolled with in The Aquatope on White Sand; conflicts will be inevitable, and the question then becomes a matter of how the two sort out their troubles, both from within and without.

  • The third episode’s opening moments show Kukuru with her mother and father at Gama Gama Aquarium, where Kukuru takes on a particular fondness for one of the penguins, which she ends up naming Choko. It becomes clear that Gama Gama Aquarium, to Kukuru, is home because she’s associated it with memories of her parents, who passed away from an unspecified incident, leaving Kukuru to live with her grandparents. As such, Kukuru’s determination to save the aquarium stems from a wish to preserve the place that meant so much to her and her parents.

  • While Fūka’s beginning to settle in to her life with the Misakinos, she’s very much aware they’re doing her a large favour, and as such, Fūka is more than willing to help around the house as her way of saying thanks. Now, if memory serves, the ending song should release on the upcoming Wednesday, and once that’s done, I rather look forwards to hearing when the incidental music from Yoshiaki Dewa; because we are only three episodes in, there is zilch on when the soundtrack will release. I’ll naturally be keeping an eye on things, especially since Dewa’s composition for The World in Colour was superbly enjoyable.

  • Kukuru is presumably a fair student, but her love for all things aquatic means that she often turns in assignments that feature doodles of marine life. In a conversation with her instructor after class, Kukuru reveals that she has no interest in finishing secondary school and would run Gama Gama Aquarium for the rest of her life if she had a choice. While admirable, the real world can be tougher for people lacking a high school diploma: in rare cases, people have successfully run their own businesses and the like, but it takes the same amount of grit, tenacity and hard work to make this viable as what is required to make one’s way through a post-secondary degree or trades program.

  • While a high school diploma is almost mandatory, I hold that not everyone necessarily needs a degree be be successful, and having a degree alone does not guarantee success. There are people who are very successful in the trades and other occupations without ever having set foot in a Bachelor’s program; as long as Kukuru could finish high school, she’d at least have more options open to her. Of course, I’m not a career counselor, so what I say should absolutely not be taken at face value. Back at Gama Gama Aquarium, Kūya is overjoyed to have Kai on board: his inability to speak to women is something that might be addressed in future episodes.

  • While weighing the penguins to ensure they’re in good health, as well as determining which penguins should get a little more or less food to keep them at an optimal weight, Fūka spots one of the penguins as having a limp in his gait. It turns out Choko is afflicted with ulcerative pododermatitis (colloquially “bumblefoot” for birds and “sore hocks” for rabbits), a bacterial infection that results in inflammation. Left untreated, this infection can be fatal, and the proper mode of treatment is to administer antibiotics, as well as a dressing to give the wounds a chance to heal. Uncertain of their best course of action, Kukuru decides to call the aquarium’s veterinarian, who is on maternity leave.

  • A long time ago, I would’ve probably smiled at Fūka’s struggles to life a fish tank. However, a year-and-a-half of not regularly hitting the gym and pushing my bench press further means that Fūka is probably in better shape than I am. I’m actually a little nervous about going back and seeing just how weak I’ve become, although I suppose that with enough effort and patience, I could regain my old strength; the key is not to overdo things or rush my routine. At my peak, I was able to consistently lift a hundred and twenty percent of my body weight for five reps and three sets, which isn’t bad, considering I spend most of my time in front of a computer, digging through Swift code.

  • It’s therefore going to take a bit of training to get back to this level, and I’m looking forwards to the day when my preferred gym reopens; things have been a bit inconsistent, with some places choosing to remain closed for a bit longer for safety’s sake, and others re-opening earlier. Fortunately for Fūka, even though she struggles to lift the fish tank, Kai has been working as a fisherman and has no trouble picking it up. He recounts that Kukuru’s the sort of person who can drag anyone into anything aquarium-related, what with her boundless love of marine life, and upon hearing that Kukuru needed help, volunteered to do so.

  • Karin and Tsukimi share a conversation during lunch; Tsukimi is pleased enough with Karin’s kindness that she gives her a complimentary mango slice, although Karin insists that Gama Gama is a part of the community. There’s definitely a bit of foreshadowing going on here in The Aquatope on White Sand, and I’m curious to see where this journey is headed – the twenty-four episode runtime really allows the series to do what a twelve episode runtime cannot, and with the longer runway, there will likely be more space to really create a sense of community as the characters get to know one another in upcoming episodes.

  • Midway through her look at Choko, the veterinarian’s begins to go into labour. She mentions that her water’s broken, a phrase which means that the sac containing the amniotic fluid has ruptured as the body begins undergoing contractions. A quick glance at the documentation indicates that it’s actually hard to access whether or not a woman’s water has broken without medical expertise (and a quick test to determine if the fluid is amniotic) and women often mistake other phenomenon for their water breaking, so one cannot be sure if the veterinarian’s water broke. However, this turn of events prompts Kukuru and Fūka to give her some space, and while resting she suddenly finds herself swept into an ocean.

  • The kijimuna is spotted again in the ocean, and this time, it’s a peaceful scene where a child’s laughter can be heard. A young boy can be seen swimming alongside the kijimuna, but upon spotting the veterinarian, he swims towards her and embraces her. Upon awaking, the veterinarian finds herself at peace, excited to meet her child, and while the others have had a little trouble in getting a taxi on station, Karin arrives just in time to give the veterinarian a ride.

  • WIth the unerring skill of someone who’s lived in Okinawa all her life, Karin safely delivers the veterinarian to the local maternity hospital, taking a little-known shortcut to bypass the traffic jam. Fūka takes the initiative and chooses to accompany the veterinarian, since this is something she can do (whereas Kukuru is better equipped to look after Choko, and indeed, she does dress his infection to help him along). Karin’s knowledge allows her to get the veterinarian to the hospital, and once she’s arrived, her husband is notified, as well.

  • Later in the evening, in the middle of a lecture from her grandfather about not taking on everything herself, Kukuru gets a call from the veterinarian: her baby boy was safely delivered, and both are doing well. While it is conceivable that the veterinarian might’ve gotten to the maternity hospital earlier without the detour Kukuru’s request brought about, the moment shows that there are some things that occur serendipitously. The Aquatope on White Sand will need to reconcile the things happening as a result of fate, and the characters’ own learnings, as well. As it stands, Kukuru will certainly need to learn to lean on others and have faith in those around her to realise her dreams.

  • Seeing the veterinarian with her child leads both Kukuru and Fūka to recall their families. Kukuru is shown as finding her mother’s maternity books (in plural), and since the veterinarian remarks that all mothers-to-be receive such a handbook, this led to an explosion of speculation. At this point in time, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the speculation will hold true – even though there is a supernatural piece to The Aquatope on White Sand, this series is aiming to combine elements from The World in Colour and the career-oriented anime like Sakura QuestShirobako and Hanasaku Iroha. Consequently, unless there is a good reason to introduce dramatic and cliché twists (e.g. that Fūka and Kukuru are related), I anticipate that The Aquatope on White Sand will not be going in such a direction unless it contributes to the theme in a meaningful manner.

  • If the speculation turns out correct, I’ll surrender my blogging license at first convenience – when it comes to being right about an anime speculation, I’m a wet blanket :p Jokes aside, I do hope P.A. Works will put up a better showing than this in The Aquatope on White Sand, and here, after hearing the veterinarian’s words, she decides to get in touch with her mother and presumably, let her know of what’s going on. As the episode draw to a close, it turns out that Fūka had taken a liking to the penguin keychains Gama Gama sells and picked up one for herself. Matching keychains in anime have long been a sign of friendship, and while the path forwards will be a difficult one, it’s not hard to see Fūka and Kukuru learning more about themselves as they learn about one another in the episodes upcoming.

  • The Aquatope on White Sand is probably more similar to Hanaksaku Iroha in terms of pacing at this point in time, albeit with a trace of magic. To be sure, it’s an entertaining series, and if we are able to see that balance between personal growth and coming together to do something bigger than oneself, this anime will succeed in its goals. We’re now entering the last little bit of July, and I only have one more post planned out for Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru Churuto! – as August and the Heritage Day Long Weekend approaches, I have a number of large posts I aim to share with readers. As such, it’ll be one more post on a light-hearted series to round off the month before heading on to the fun stuff.

The slower pacing of The Aquatope on White Sand means that additional time can be spent on really allowing the characters to make discoveries – like Sakura Quest, Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha, The Aquatope on White Sand will utilise this space to have the characters make mistakes, properly learn from them and enjoy the results of their effort to better themselves. As such, I anticipate that the road ahead is going to be a bumpy one, but also one where the prize for overcoming adversity is well worth it. Three episodes into The Aquatope on White Sand, Fūka and Kukuru’s personalities have also been better established; cursory comparisons to The World in Colours‘ Hitomi and Kohaku are no superficial, and it becomes clear that The Aquatope on White Sand is going to present something new to viewers. While Fūka and Kukuru begin the first steps of realising a dream to save Gama Gama Aquarium alone, it is fortunate that they have some friends in their corner. Tsukimi and Kai will almost certainly be steadfast allies in helping the pair to save the aquarium, and where opinion from an adult is required, the group can count on help from Karin, the town’s tourism association manager, whose knowledge of the area and experience will serve as a guiding light for the youth as they seize the initiative. While Fūka herself might be a complete novice in zoology, viewers must recall that she also brings a very distinct skill-set to the table as a former idol. The Aquatope on White Sand reintroduces the idea that applying one’s skills from a new perspective can have large benefits, and I look forwards to seeing Fūka become more confident as she gets to know Kukuru and the others better. At this point in time, I’m still weighing the matter of how frequently I should write about The Aquatope on White Sand; on one hand, publishing my thoughts every three episodes would allow me to adequately cover both big-picture elements and smaller details, but the flipside is that I could grow stale very quickly if I write often for the series. For now, as we are still early in the series, I will likely make a decision after the sixth episode – if there’s enough to consider every three episodes, then readers can reasonably expect to enjoy more talks The Aquatope on White Sand in the future!

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Gakkō Gurashi, Finding the Courage to Graduate and Reflections on an Understated Survival Series

“There are days when nothing goes right. There are days when you stumble and fall. There are days when you just want to cry. To cry a lot. To sleep a lot. Or even eat a lot. It’s alright, as long as you pick yourself up again.” –Yuki Takeya

After a biological weapon is accidentally released, Yokohama’s citizens succumb to an infection that renders them as the living dead. Yuki Takeya, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, Yūri Wakasa and Miki Naoki are a part of the School Living club, where they carry out normal, everyday activities to ensure their survival, whether it be going out to fetch supplies or cleaning the reserve water tank on the school rooftops. When Yuki begins making a scrapbook for graduation, Miki recalls how’d she had first met the School Living club, and the unusual condition Yuki is afflicted with. While securing provisions, Yūri and Miki encounter a manual that their former instructor, Megumi Sakura, had been holding onto; the manual detailed survival measures and protocol for dealing with localised infections. Kurumi later sustains a bite from the remains of Megumi while exploring their school’s basement, and while Miki searches for the vaccine in the school’s basement, she also becomes overrun. A thunderstorm disables their school’s power supplies, as well. Yuki manages to summon up the courage to save her friends, and after eluding hordes of the undead, manages to activate her school’s PA system. She encourages the students to head home, now that the day’s done. In the aftermath, Kurumi is saved, and following a graduation ceremony, Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki leave their school, headed for a point that Megumi had previously marked as a potential safe zone. During its original run in 2015, Gakkō Gurashi aired to general surprise, combining the undead apocalypse genre with moé aesthetic; I myself came upon the series a few months after its airing and was haunted by the efficacy of the first episode’s ability to betray very little about how extensive the undead infestation had become. In fact, after the unexpected turn of events at the first episode’s conclusions, I became convinced that I was seeing ghosts out of the corner of my eye. Upon finishing Gakkō Gurashi, my immediate impressions were that this anime had done a superb job of conveying how group survival conferred numerous advantages, specifically how despite Yuki believing herself to lack any skills for helping out, what she’d brought to the table had been raising everyone’s morale, and how her phantasmagorical view of the world actually helped to allow Kurumi and Yūri a sense of normalcy, giving them something to focus on in the short term so that they can maintain perspective on a longer term goal.

However, when one of my best friends crossed the finish line for Gakkō Gurashi a few weeks earlier, the series’ emotional impact had evidently been considerable. The anime had left numerous questions which needed answering, and in our discussion, I came to realise that during my first watch-through some six years earlier, I’d missed a key message in Gakkō Gurashi that my friend had spotted immediately. Gakkō Gurashi is about developing the bravery to move on, and graduation was the metaphor for this route. This was hinted at early in Gakkō Gurashi, when Miki and her best friend, Kei Shidō, became trapped at a mall the day the outbreak began. While they were able to evade the undead and barricaded themselves into a small room, Kei eventually became anxious to leave and see if she could get rescue herself, feeling it preferable to waste away in that room forever. Eventually, the School Living Club are forced into a similar scenario, too: supplies begin dwindling, and their school’s power generator fails. Gakkō Gurashi thus indicates that one cannot remain trapped at one location forever, and that for better or worse, one will eventually need to move on. Survival situations and life events are no different in this regard; while moving on will always entail a certain amount of risk, staying put at one location or milestone results in stagnation and death. Through the use of graduation as a metaphor, Gakkō Gurashi suggests that while moving on can be intimidating, it also opens up people to the possibility of new discoveries and better survival. For Yuki’s sake, Gakkō Gurashi puts on a small graduation ceremony for Yuki and her friends, reminding them of the time they’ve spent together but also congratulating them on having made it thus far, which is no trivial milestone. While perhaps a bit more dramatic in presentation, the underlying themes in Gakkō Gurashi are quite forward; undergoing any first steps on a new journey can be troublesome, especially since one won’t know where the path leads, but together, any challenges encountered can be faced down and overcome where everyone contributes their skill set and perspectives. Similarly, it is together when the excitement from each triumph is amplified. While graduation as a metaphor for possessing the resolve to take those next steps is at the heart of Gakkō Gurashi, I’d missed that in my original discussions despite the fact it was out in the open; this is a consequence of how much Gakkō Gurashi does during its twelve episode run.

What made Gakkō Gurashi so captivating was the fact that the premise and world-building had opened the series up to a myriad of directions. Gakkō Gurashi shows how busying oneself and attempting to make life as normal as possible is integral to survival, whether it be camping in the clubroom or hosting a sports festival. Watching Megumi interact with her students prior to the outbreak shows her as being someone who was utterly devoted to her duties and central to Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri’s initial survival. Her final actions help the three to save Miki later, as well, by instilling in them the desire to survive and move on. Yuki’s hullicinations, a product of her mind attempting to cope with extraordinary conditions dull her sense of safety, but also give her friends a constant reminder that there’s still things in life to enjoy, even though the world has completely shifted from what would be considered normal. The entire catastrophe is unknown in origin, but mention of the shadowy Randall Corporation and their preparedness for such an outcome speaks to both the questionable ethics large corporations take, as well as how certain projects can backfire on those who would conduct them. Each of these directions in Gakkō Gurashi opens the floor up for considering humanity’s innate resilience and ability for survival, as well as how immoral intentions can create unintended, but unprecedented destruction. However, despite having so many elements incorporated into its story, Gakkō Gurashi never once falters; the central theme is as clear as day, and instead, the topics touched upon briefly become things for the viewer to consider as they watch each of Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki survive. There is, in short, something for everyone in Gakkō Gurashi: folks looking for a coherent life lesson will find it as easily as someone who is fond of considering corporate conspiracies, and psychology is just as integral to the story as disaster engineering. While the breadth of topics in Gakkō Gurashi is large, what is impressive is that each topic is given satisfactory depth, as well. Yuki’s hallucinations and mental state is a double-edged sword, while investigation of the school’s facilities shows that thought was given towards designing a plausible, yet low-profile installation for riding out a calamity. As such, it is therefore unsurprising that on my first run, I was swept up by the survival aspects in Gakkō Gurashi, which does a phenomenal job of covering all of its elements in such a short time while simultaneously leaving the door open for exploration.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime incarnation was predestined to be endlessly compared with the original manga from the first day that it aired, and those who picked up the anime with a priori knowledge of the manga were oftentimes disappointed by how the former completely altered the pacing and character focus. Since my experience in Gakkō Gurashi was with the anime first, I cannot speak to this experience, but what I can speak to is the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this series upon watching it for the first time, back when I was still a graduate student.

  • In those days, C# and C++ were my programming languages of choice, being the respective languages for Unity and Unreal Engine. I’m not sure how I came upon Gakkō Gurashi (my original post never covered that particular detail), but what I do remember was that the first episode proved to be much more than I expected. I had started Gakkō Gurashi a ways into December; when Gakkō Gurashi was airing during the summer, I’d focused all of my efforts into my research project and had just enough time to follow Non Non Biyori Repeat, so I’d not even glanced at Gakkō Gurashi.

  • While how I came to pick up Gakkō Gurashi is lost to time, I do vividly remember that the first episode had an impact on me quite unlike anything I’d seen before. Since I’d come in knowing nothing about the series besides the pre-airing synopsis, I was not prepared for the big reveal at the first episode’s conclusions, which sent a chill down my spine. Out my peripheral vision, I saw a filmy figure. I left my desk and headed out into the corridor, where I ran into my supervisor. It turns out he’d been interested in presenting a new inclusion into one of the conference papers I’d been working on, but was waiting for me to finish lunch first.

  • I promptly apologised, shook thoughts of Gakkō Gurashi out of my head, and focused my attention on the suggested additions to my paper, which would go on to win Best Paper at Laval Virtual 2016. However, that day, thoughts of Gakkō Gurashi lingered on my mind, and I immediately knew that this was no ordinary series. My enjoyment of this anime came precisely from having no prior knowledge of what was going to happen, and while episodes would subsequently swing between slice-of-life and survival, they remained very engaging despite progressing at a very slow pace.

  • Upon finishing, I found the survival piece to be the strongest component in Gakkō Gurashi: while having the right gear, fitness level and knowledge is important, per Survivorman‘s Les Stroud, the will to survive is the most vital piece of all. Gakkō Gurashi successfully delivered this message in spades: while Yuki is presented as lacking the physical strength that Kurumi has, or the leadership skills Yūri brings to the table, her upbeat and positive attitude forces Yūri and Kurumi to take a step back and accommodate her, which encompasses doing club activities like outings and sleepovers.

  • By creating this sense of normalcy for Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri also find comfort in doing the sorts of things they’d done prior to the outbreak. Here, Miki accompanies the School Living Club as they prepare for a short excursion to resupply and pick up textbooks from the library. Miki’s being around much earlier than she’d been in the manga threw manga-readers off completely; the original simply had Yūri, Kurumi and Yuki on this excursion, which is presented as a test of courage for Yuki. Having taken a look at the manga up to where the anime wraps up, I conclude that the manga’s story is much more focused and has a quicker pace than the anime.

  • However, the anime itself is successful with its messages, and by drawing out moments that otherwise took a few panels within the manga, Gakkō Gurashi is able to really emphasise the importance of being able to live in the moment. In this way, I count the anime as actually being more effective than the manga at telling a story about moving onwards in life by means of graduation. Of course, this isn’t to say that Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime is outright superior than the manga (or vice versa): both presentations of Gakkō Gurashi have their own merits, and it is only going through both where one can have a complete experience.

  • While the apocalypse is serious business, the charm in Gakkō Gurashi lies squarely with how the School Living Club do their best to live a normal and happy life. The anime especially excels at this: even munching on hardtack is something to be savoured. Thanks to their school’s solar powers and internal generators, plus water purification equipment, the School Living Club are assured of the minimum necessities, allowing their story to focus on the psychological aspect of survival. While Yuki laments that she brings nothing to the table, her naïveté is actually vital to keeping the others focused, and here, after their power supply suffers an interruption, Yuki figures it’s a good idea to pitch a tent and act as though they were camping.

  • The manga’s story is told in a linear fashion, but in the anime, Gakkō Gurashi has Miki already present at the series’ beginning. She originally was out shopping with Kei, her best friend, when the outbreak occurred, and while the two managed to escape the infected, they found themselves barricaded in at the mall. Although their necessities were taken care of, over time, Kei grows restless and desires to leave, believing that proactive survival would be better than being trapped in that small room for the rest of their days.

  • Gakkō Gurashi placed its characters under a great deal of stress, and this was conveyed in virtually every aspect of the characters’ actions. Something as simple as holding hands while falling asleep really drives home the idea that survivors from the outbreak had little more than one another early on. When Kei leaves Miki in search of rescue, Miki very nearly succumbs to despair. This was more apparent in the manga: while she tried to maintain a routine in her day, the combination of loneliness, worry about Miki’s well being and a future that was very much uncertain drove her to despair.

  • Kei’s words to Miki ultimately convinced me that Gakkō Gurashi was indeed a story about moving on; my revisitation of this series actually comes at the behest of my best friend, who similarly was moved by the series and wanted to hear my thoughts on it. Our conversations led me to realise that on my original run, I’d been so focused on the survival piece that I failed to consider the broader themes at play. To this end, I ended up rewatching Gakkō Gurashi front to back, and this time around, was able to gain a different perspective on what the series had aimed to accomplish. Kei is intended to represent the consequences of rushing out to face the future without consideration of the risks involved, as well as the limitations of what one person can do.

  • This was sharply contrasted with the School Living Club’s way of doing things: together, Yuki, Kurumi and Yūri keep one another going. When provisions dwindle, they decide to hit the local mall, and Kurumi figures she can take the wheel. Without any additional traffic on the road, Kurumi is able to arrive at their destination quite handily. During its airing, I’ve heard that Gakkō Gurashi generated quite the bit of speculation owing to the sheer amount of unknowns the series had presented, but unfortunately, in those days, almost all discourse around Manga Time Kirara series was dictated by a handful of individuals, leading discussions to suffer from tunnel vision.

  • One example that stood out was a question from Victor-Tango-Victor’s very own “local Kirara person”, which asserted that the broken windows should be impossible. The resulting speculation was wild, with each theory becoming more implausible than the last, but said “local Kirara person” didn’t even bother adding their thoughts to things. To answer this individual, per Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, after the power goes out, birds would begin colliding with windows on buildings, forming cracks. Since the buildings aren’t heated, extremities of weather would soon cause the cracks to expand and result in the windows shattering within the space of a few months. The shattered lower floor windows could be explained as a consequence of the infected walking into them, since they’re shown as possessing only limited awareness.

  • A little bit of rational thinking is enough to justify the aesthetics seen within Gakkō Gurashi: it certainly wasn’t the JASDF doing low-level bombing runs (presence of explosives damage is completely absent, and there’s no evidence of fire damage either). This sort of thing is why I’m glad to have watched Gakkō Gurashi at my own pace, and here, the School Living Club take a breather after their outing. Megumi “Megu-nee” Sakura can be seen here, and while she was once a well-liked instructor who did her utmost to look after her students, it turned out that she’d died sometime before the series started, after the School Living Club was created to keep Yuki happy. She lives in on Yuki’s memories and offers strength to her when all other lights go out, but her limited presence (a running joke in the series’ lighter moments) continues to confuse viewers until Miki joins the School Living Club.

  • After hearing Yuki and the others, Miki attempts to hail them but finds herself surrounded by the infected. A team effort allows for Miki to be rescued; this is how she’d come to be a part of the School Living Club. Initially, Miki had a hard time accepting that Yuki’s hallucinations were legitimate, and came to clash with Yūri, who believes that Yuki should be looked after rather than scorned. Miki had been completely taken aback when she finds Yuki chattering away to someone who wasn’t there in the music room, and the scene had been quite haunting for it.

  • A longstanding question that anime viewers and manga readers alike wondered about was why Yuki’s uniform colour was different from the others. One Japanese viewer, going by the Twitter handle @mikko367, claimed that the blue and green were perfect inversions of one another, meant to indicate the different mental states between Yuki and the others. Inverting a triple T(r, g, b) representing the colour produces the results I(255-r, 255-g, 255-b). Yuki’s uniform is originally T(133, 128, 184), whereas the green on the others’ uniform is T(121, 135, 70). Inverting Yuki’s uniform yields a green of I(121,135,70), and inverting the green uniforms give a blue of I(133, 128, 184): even without an algorithm doing the work, it should be plain that the inverted colours don’t match.

  • As such, @mikko367 had completely missed the mark in their theory: the colours may appear “close enough” to the naked eye, but it won’t fool a function that compares RGB values. With this being said, “close enough” means that I could go the route of colour symbolism and note that blue is a colour for peace, calm and depression, while green represents health and service. However, I won’t go this route because that’s not what the creators had intended. In an interview with illustrator Sadoru Chiba, it turns out the colours were simply chosen so Yuki would stand out visually from the others because her personality is not consistent with the chaotic and apocalyptic state of their world. The widespread popularity that @mikko367’s theory enjoyed despite being wrong, however, would not last: in a bit of comeuppance, @mikko367 was suspended from Twitter.

  • Conversely, the interview I refer to is factual because it is retrieved from the Gakkō Gurashi official TV guidebook, which offers unparalleled insight into the design elements and production choices behind the anime. Being able to see the concept art for the characters and setting, as well as cast and producer interviews makes it clear that, while Gakkō Gurashi had been intended to promote the manga, a great deal of effort went into making the series stand on its own merits. This accounts for why so many changes were made to the series: in order to maximise the voice roles that Ai Kayano (GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori from Girls und Panzer) and Rie Takahashi (KonoSuba‘s Megumin and Yuru Camp△‘s Ena) had within the series, both were written to have more prominent roles, which is why Gakkō Gurashi proceeds in a non-linear fashion.

  • In spite of the dramatic changes to the progression of events, Gakkō Gurashi nonetheless manages to smoothly tell its story in a manner distinct from the manga’s, and this contributed to my enjoyment of the series. The anime lacks the manga’s sense of urgency and proceeds more slowly, so in order to space things out, a greater emphasis is placed on everyday moments like sharing a meal together. This in turn really shows how a sense of normalcy is vital in surviving trying times, and how simple things like looking forwards to breakfast can provide a major boost in morale. The effect of emphasising everyday moments also provides juxtaposition for when things do hit the fan: when Yuki wonders how on earth they were able to fit everyone into Megumi’s car, which is a four-seater, the illusionary world she crafted begins falling apart. Whenever this happens, Yuki loses her happy-go-lucky demeanor and becomes panicked, requiring some time to regroup.

  • While seemingly frivolous, the act of sending letters serves an important purpose and represents hope: if someone else out there were to find the letters, it would be a sign that other groups of people had survived. While helium-filled latex balloons look fragile, the average party balloon can reach altitudes of around nine kilometres, and moreover, can be blown great distances by high-altitude currents. Assuming they don’t burst from the low air pressure, it is thought that helium balloons can travel upwards of two thousand kilometres from their point of origin, and so, it’s not inconceivable that somewhere else in Japan, survivors might be able to pick up the letters from Yuki and her friends.

  • Of everyone in the School Living Club, Kurumi’s character was the most familiar: she’s a carbon copy of GochiUsa‘s Rize, from hair colour and a preference to wear her hair in twintails, to a boisterous personality, love of physical activity and being in above average condition compared to her peers. Unlike Rize, who was voiced by Risa Taneda, however, Kurumi is voiced by Ari Ozawa, who had played in Hai-Furi as Runa Suruga and YU-NO‘s Yuno. In spite of these differences, Ozawa captures Taneda’s style very well. One wonders if the choice of casting is intentional, since Gakkō Gurashi has an all-star cast: Inori Minase is Yuki, and MAO plays Yūri.

  • Of the girls, Yūri is the most mature and level-headed, acting as a big sister figure for those around her, even when the situation is grim. Despite not getting along with Miki initially, they quickly reconcile after Miki comes to understand what sort of role that Yuki has within the School Living Club. As Gakkō Gurashi continued, hints of a much larger mystery began unfolding after Miki finds a key that doesn’t go to anything Megumi was previously known to have. The thought that their teachers were concealing something from them weighs heavily on Yūri and Miki’s minds, and one evening, unable to sleep, they head off to do a thorough search of the staff office.

  • Yuki ends up joining the party, and while she initially seems to be an impediment rather than an asset, drawing Yūri and Miki’s attention to unrelated materials constantly, she’s ultimately the one who locates a hidden compartment in one of the wall cabinets, which contains a lockbox that holds a special manual detailing the school’s facilities and contingency protocols for the eventuality of an outbreak. This manual ends up being a game-changer in Gakkō Gurashi: had the outbreak remained unexplained, the series’ focus would’ve remained purely on the girls’ everyday adventures.

  • The revelation that the outbreak was the consequence of a freak accident (or carelessness) completely changed the stakes in Gakkō Gurashi, and it was here that, anime or manga, things became much more compelling. It is mentioned that the Randall Corporation was responsible for researching the pathogen that introduces undead-like traits in humans, and moreover, ahead of their research, they’d spent decades and hundreds of millions constructing designated shelters around Yokohama as a contingency against an unintended release of the pathogen. Gakkō Gurashi‘s authors had intended the Randall Corporation to be a reference to Steven King’s Randall Flagg, who appears after a deadly plague eliminates most of the world’s population and plunges the remnants of the world into further chaos.

  • Because Steven King is referenced elsewhere in Gakkō Gurashi, it stands to reason that the Randall Corporation are still very much up and running despite the outbreak; per Randall’s namesake, the Randall Corporation may reappear and cause future havoc at some point in the future. It’s a clever bit of foreshadowing, especially for Steven King fans, although for me, the first thing that came to mind was the RAND Corporation, which was founded in 1948 to drive scientific innovation for the armed forces and said to be a contributor to the rise of the military-industrial complex, which heavily impacts US policy-making in the present.

  • It is not inconceivable that, behind closed doors, there is a fervent desire to manufacture genetic bioweapons designed to only target specific groups of people; Gakkō Gurashi would therefore suggest that under-the-table agreements between governments and corporations may potentially escape and create catastrophe of unprecedented scale. I’ve always been drawn towards the idea that the Randall Corporation’s, dubbed “Omega” in Gakkō Gurashi, was the result of joint Western-Japanese research designed as an ace-in-the-hole for a potential Sino-Pacific war of sorts, but thanks to carelessness or other factors, was released into Japan before it was completed.

  • The serious adverse effects it has in Japan therefore becomes a cautionary tale about how malicious intent will always have consequences and backfire on those who intend. However, this is well outside the scope of what Gakkō Gurashi actually covers; the anime and manga don’t concern themselves with the political or techno-thriller elements of the genre because this isn’t the story’s theme, but the fact that it opens up the floor for discussions of this sort contributes strongly to why I’ve had such a good time with the series. Of course, period discussions were less interested in these elements, and by the time the infamous pool cleaning episode rolled around, all eyes were on how hot Yūri and Kurumi are.

  • The pool episode, for all of the fun times it allows Yuki and the others to share, serves a critical role in Gakkō Gurashi: it provides a distraction for Miki, Yūri and Kurumi. Having found the emergency manual the previous evening, thoughts of their next move occupy their every waking moment, so when Yuki and Taromaru become covered in green shit (algae) from the pond, Yūri figures it’d be a good idea to take a step back and do something else to clear their heads. This is a powerful problem-solving technique in reality, where particularly vexing problems are handled by giving them some time. This is where the expression “sleep on it” comes from; in practise, I’ve found that doing this allows me to return with a fresh set of eyes.

  • Kurumi and Yūri end up having an epic water fight, only to be interrupted by an irate Miki. I suppose now is a good time as any to mention that Gakkō Gurashi‘s soundtrack is an enjoyable one: the opening song is fun, the ending songs are heartfelt, and the incidental music captures both the tenour of everyday life along with the abject terror accompanying encounters with the infected. In particular, the slice-of-life tracks sound like they come out of a fantasy RPG game, and the best songs have a very wistful feel to them. 優しいめぐねえありがとう (Hepburn Yasashī megu nē arigatō, “Thank you for your kindness, Megu-nee”) and 言いたかった言葉 (Hepburn Iitakatta kotoba, “The Words I Want To Say”) are my two favourite songs on the soundtrack, which released as a part of the BDs in the autumn of 2015.

  • The last quarter in Gakkō Gurashi is all business: when Taromaru disappears one rainy day, Kurumi sets off to look for him. Rainy days present the School Living Club with problems, since the infected still retain enough of their neurological functions to evade the rain and take cover inside the school. Moreover, it was during a rainy day where Megumi was lost to the infected: she became infected trying to keep Yuki and the others safe, and after she was lost, Yuki’s mental state deteriorated to the point where she fabricated a reality where Megumi was still alive. This is why Megumi continued to show up early on in Gakkō Gurashi: she’s a part of Yuki’s imagination, although Kurumi and Yūri continue to play along for Yuki’s sake.

  • In the school’s bowels, Kurumi finds Taromaru, who is now infected and much more aggressive than he’d previously been. While she’s able to lock him in one of the storerooms, coming face-to-face with what’s left of Megumi causes Kurumi to hesitate for a second, resulting in her sustaining a bite. Gakkō Gurashi really amps things up, and as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. With Kurumi infected and locked down, Yūri begins losing her composure, as well. The School Living Club is down to two operational members now, and the infected are making their way to the school in hitherto unseen numbers.

  • From what supplementary materials have suggested, the Omega pathogen is a bloodborne disease and is transmitted by means of infected blood. Once contact is made, the afflicted individual has about twenty four hours before their body undergoes a complete and irreversible change. Knowing this, Miki heads off into the school’s basement to secure a vial of the theriac, which halts infection if administered early enough. Unlike Kurumi, Miki lacks the same combat prowess and instead, uses strategy instead. She’s the brains to Kurumi’s brawn, and of the School Living Club, is the most likely to count on solving problems through reasoning.

  • While Yūri might act as the team leader and keeps everyone in line on a good day, her endurance is tested after Kurumi is infected; Kurumi had asked her to finish her off in the event of an infection, and while Yūri does her best to oblige, her heart wins out over her promise. I hear discussions surrounding Yūri’s final choice to not kill Kurumi were particularly fierce: on one hand, killing Kurumi would’ve been necessary to stop the infection from spreading to the School Living Club and outright eliminating their chances of survival, but on the other, Miki had gone off to secure a counteragent which could still save her yet. In Yūri’s position, seeing Kurumi suffer leads her to prepare for the worst.

  • Folks with more years under their belt would exercise longer-term decision making and act based on the information available: if they were past a certain deadline, then euthanising Kurumi would be appropriate, but until then, one would wait. Of course, Miki runs into trouble of her own in the basement as hordes of infected approach her position. She’s backed into a corner and wonders if this is how her time comes. However, right as all hope appears to fade, a familiar voice comes over the PA system, asking the students to head home now that the day’s over. Miki is shocked to see the infected retreat and wastes no time returning to Yuki and the others.

  • Yuki had managed to overcome her fears to save her friends, and by capitalising on the fact that the infected still retain some of their memories, decides to make an announcement to send everyone home. The hordes thus begin receding, allowing Miki to return to Kurumi and administer the drugs she’d located. Yuki might possess the least practical skillset of the School Living Club’s members, but when the moment calls for it, she can come through in a big way. The idea that everyone in a group brings something unique and valuable to the table is a common theme in survival anime, especially if the anime’s themes are more optimistic. Yuki’s courage here is what gives this discussion its quote: as Yuki says, in the face of adversity, one’s worth is judged not by how often they fail, but by how often one picks themselves back up afterwards.

  • It is to general relief that Kurumi survived, but despite the girls’ efforts, Taromaru succumbs to exhaustion and dies shortly after. While Taromaru may not have directly helped in the girls’ survival, his presence similarly lightens up the atmosphere and provides joy in an otherwise challenging situation. Yuki and Miki look after Taromaru the most, and especially for Yuki, this responsibility helps to keep her mind busy. Thus, when Taromaru dies, Yuki offers to leave her old hat with him, symbolising a willingness to let go of the past and potentially, the illusionary world she’d created following Megumi’s death.

  • There’s a catharsis as the girls give Taromaru a burial and make peace with the fallen; once Kurumi has recovered, Gakkō Gurashi enters its denouement. The peaceful weather mirrors this and also brings to mind the weather we had yesterday. Since my vaccine’s now been given the two weeks it needed, I spent yesterday at a local mall to pick up some stuff ahead of returning to the office, before swinging by an A & W to enjoy their grass-fed beef burgers, Yukon potato fries and sugar-cane root beer. We ended up picking up roast duck and crispy roast pig for dinner, which we enjoyed under clearer skies than had been present for the past while – forest fires in the province over have filled our skies with smoke, and the extent of the devastation was such that I ended up donating to help with recovery efforts there.

  • Back in Gakkō Gurashi, after studying a map Megumi had left behind, Yūri decides that St. Isidore University is their next best bet for survival: during the storm, a lightning strike had damaged their school’s generators, and while the backup batteries are still online, their power won’t last forever. The manga presented this as a helicopter crash, but the outcomes are identical – the School Living Club’s runway is running out, and it’s time to move on to improve their survival. However, beyond this, Yuki had also wanted to see themselves off in style via a graduation ceremony. It was this act that led my best friend to request that I revisit Gakkō Gurashi – after finishing the series off, said friend noted that the series’ themes of graduation and resilience were particularly moving.

  • After learning that I’d previously seen this anime, our conversations indicated that there were numerous small details that would make it worthwhile to revisit. I also ended up picking up the Gakkō Gurashi TV Anime Official Guidebook: our conversations led me to realise that this anime had done a great deal more than people give it credit for. Upon finishing my revisit and looking through the guidebook, the amount of effort that went into making the anime a compelling experience became apparent. The reason why I count Gakkō Gurashi a masterpiece is because of how the series is because of how the series was able to tell a clear story while at the same time, open the floor to so much potential discussion. Further to this, the anime did succeed in giving viewers to root for the characters and their survival – my best friend and I ended up spending a few weeks exchanging thoughts on the series and its depths.

  • Coupled with the world-building, Gakkō Gurashi demonstrates that the moé genre can continue to be full of surprises. However, it was a little surprising to learn that Gakkō Gurashi‘s anime was designed to be a standalone experience from the start – the series had been intended to promote the manga and as such, the ending where a girl picks up the letters Yuki and the others had written was meant to be a hint to check out the manga, which continues the story. As of 2019, the manga is complete, so folks interested in seeing what happens next have an avenue to do so. It was disappointing to learn that there won’t be a continuation of Gakkō Gurashi in anime form, but in retrospect, given how the anime presented its themes, the ending was more than satisfactory; Gakkō Gurashi told a very coherent, meaningful story despite deviating so dramatically from the manga, allowing the adaptation to define its own identity and distinguish itself from the manga.

In addition to the breadth and depth of topics covered, Gakkō Gurashi ultimately became an anime of note because of its portrayal of the emotional components of survival; dealing with secondary school aged young women, Gakkō Gurashi portrays each of the characters faithfully. The characters have moments where fear and doubt set in completely; this is most noticeable when Kurumi is forced to kill her crush with a shovel, the psychological scarring this has on Yuki, and later, Yūri’s becoming backed into a corner when weighing whether or not to mercy-kill an infected Kurumi. However, these moments of abject terror and despair are offset by the fact that there remains something worth protecting, and at their best, the dynamics among the School Living Club’s members allow them to not only survive, but thrive in such a hostile environment. The act of collecting helium for balloons (or Kurumi’s successful attempt at capturing a pigeon) and cleaning the aquaponics tank in their swimsuits does much to lift the girls’ morale, keeping them from ruminating on their losses or becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of a difficult journey forwards. The sharp contrast between the happiness that everyone experiences together on good days, and the horrors they face at their lowest was very tangible, to the point where several moments had me thinking that, had I been present with a good rifle, I might’ve been able to help the School Living Club sort things out. For this, Gakkō Gurashi captures the full spectrum of emotions one might reasonably expect to see in such an apocalypse, bringing each of Yuki, Kurumi, Yūri and Miki to life. This in turn creates a powerful connection to the characters, and viewers thus become invested in their survival, hoping that everyone remains safe regardless of what their next steps are. As such, Gakkō Gurashi is a powerful milestone in the realm of moé anime, demonstrating that the genre is robust enough to cover stories beyond the usual CGDCT genre if the producers so desired. For breaking out of a mold that characterises the genre, Gakkō Gurashi was full of surprises, and while the series remains quite unknown today, it would be unfair to consign it to the set of forgotten anime: anime such as these really demonstrate what is possible within moé, and to dismiss anime on virtue that their aesthetics are not to one’s liking entails the risk of missing out on series that are much more than they outwardly appear to be. Gakkō Gurashi thus earns its place as a masterpiece in my books, being a significant (and oft-overlooked) anime by showing what is possible within a genre largely defined by comedy.

The Tropical Fish Ran Away: The Aquatope on White Sand First Episode Impressions

“When you wake up every day, you have two choices. You can either be positive or negative; an optimist or a pessimist. I choose to be an optimist. It’s all a matter of perspective.” –Harvey Mackay

After suffering from a series of setbacks as an idol, Fūka Miyazawa runs away from Tokyo and decides to visit Okinawa, the southernmost island prefecture in Japan. She runs into a fortune teller, who suggests that she head south. Fūka ends up falling asleep on the beaches and the next day, very nearly succumbs to heat stroke from the hot tropical sun. While walking along the road, Fūka encounters Karin Kudaka; she’s an office lady working with the area’s tourism board to drive up travel. Karin suggests that Fūka head on over to the Gama Gama Aquarium. While looking at the different exhibits, she spots a Yaeyama blenny, which prefers to keep to itself but also feeds in algae and weeds to keep aquariums clean. Moved by the fish’s thankless efforts, Fūka begins to cry in earnest after remembering how hard she’d worked to make her dream of becoming an idol come true, and finds herself swept away by the aquarium’s water, eventually encountering a whale shark and schools of tropical fish in the ocean’s depths. When she comes to, she finds herself face-to-face with Kukuru Misakino, a high school girl who is Gama Gama’s deputy director and works countless shifts to keep their aquarium afloat. Kukuru is pleased to meet Fūka and mentions that the aquarium is hiring, but had considerable difficulty with applicants. Fūka decides to seize this opportunity, surprising Kukuru. This is The Aquatope on White Sand (Shiroi Suna no Aquatope), the latest addition to P.A. Works’ venerable catalogue. In this production, director Toshiya Shinohara, writer Yūko Kakihara and composer Yoshiaki Dewa make a return: these three had previously collaborated on 2018’s Iroduku: The World in Colours.

Whereas P.A. Works appears to be setting The Aquatope on White Sand up as a coming-of-age story about discovering one’s calling through open-mindedness, The Aquatope on White Sand does have one abberent element – throughout the first episode, small wood spirits known locally as kijimuna (木の精) can be seen. These spirits are thought of as tricksters who love pranks, and while they appear receptive to humans, oftentimes cannot maintain long-term friendships with them. In reality, they are relegated to the realm of folklore, but in The Aquatope on White Sand, kijimuna are visible on several occasions and presumed to have pranked Fūka after she’d fallen asleep on the beaches. P.A. Works’ track record with magic has been dicey, but with The World in Colours, the studio’s writers appear to have finally found their footing: The World in Colours had successfully and wholly embraced magic as a part of its plot, making it a central element in driving Hitomi’s growth while at the same time, ensuring that any constraints surrounding magic were clearly defined such that it wasn’t the sole driving force behind Hitomi’s development. While the extent of magic in The Aquatope on White Sand remains unknown at this time, being limited to Fūka experiencing a life-like vision, the outcomes from The World in Colours suggests that if magic is to be an integral part of The Aquatope on White Sand, there is precedence from which to establish the extent and scope of magic as a driving force behind the experiences that Fūka and Kukuru will share throughout The Aquatope on White Sand.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Within the first few seconds of The Aquatope on White Sand kicking things off, it is immediately apparent that this is going to be a series with top-tier art and animation: like The World in Colours, P.A. Works is fond of showing what they got, and both series open with a stunning set of visuals that really draw the viewers in. One could say that The Aquatope on White Sand is the second coming of The World in Colours, with twice the runtime and a focus on the workplace this time around, so I am curious to see if this series will be able to weave in magic and supernatural elements together with the sort of thing that made Hanasaku Iroha and Sakura Quest work.

  • Fūka begins her journey after quitting her previous occupation as an idol: having watched the likes of Wake Up, Girls!, I’ve seen previous portrayals about how tough the entertainment industry is, and how being a centre is a big deal for idols (they’re equivalent to a project lead or squad leader). While Fūka put her all into her work, this effort never seemed to correspond with results, and her handlers think that Fūka is making a mistake in quitting. It’s clear that the agency Fūka is working for do not get along with her or have much faith in her talents.

  • One of the other idols who’d been assigned to replace Fūka is tearful about her departure: while her superiors may not view Fūka favourably, this scene does suggest that with her peers, she got along with them. Fūka’s decision to quit, however, is final; The Aquatope on White Sand is not a story about making it big as an idol unit, and the sort of melancholy that accompanies Fūka is reminiscent of how Hitomi had started The World in Colours sullen and downcast. Because there is precedence for what is to happen, I have a feeling that the events of The Aquatope on White Sand are cast in stone already. However, merely because a story’s direction is clear doesn’t make a work any less enjoyable: a work’s success comes from how an outcome is reached.

  • After Fūka ends a call with her parents, it is clear that they still love her very much and in fact, look forward to her return home. However, on the spur of the moment, Fūka longs for some space, to lose herself somewhere, and spotting an advertisement, she decides to head for Okinawa. A one-way ticket can be had for as little as 70 CAD, and within moments of landing at Naha Airport, Fūka takes an interest in a tank housing tropical fish, including what appear to be several Paracanthurus hepatus (Blue Tang, or colloquially “Dory”).

  • There is a sharp contrast between the warm, inviting atmosphere surrounding Naha and Fūka’s melancholy, but in spite of this, she’s still enjoying herself somewhat: she’s seen eating a Blue Seal ice cream while strolling along a shōtengai. Blue Seal has an interesting history: it was originally founded to provide Americans stationed in Okinawa flavours of home via ice cream, and later on, incorporated Okinawan elements into their ice creams. With temperatures today hitting a balmy 31°C, I’m glad to have spent the morning mowing the lawn and backyard, before cooking up pizza-style double cheese dogs for lunch, accompanied by a tall glass of lemonade to ward off the heat of the summer sun.

  • For the first time since arriving in Okinawa, Fūka smiles after speaking with a fortune teller who calls out to her. While Fūka is impressed with how much the fortune teller seemingly knows about her, clever use of camera angles and framing indicate to us viewers that fortune tellers are uncommonly observant people and can spin vivid stories from only a few prompts. After giving Fūka a general overview, she also spills her heart out and is grateful that Fūka had been around to listen to her. The fortune she gives Fūka is to head towards the direction of Sagittarius, a centaur.

  • This is a clever touch: because people under the Sagittarius sign are said to be particularly open-minded, free-spirited and fun, the fortune teller is hinting at how Fūka will meet someone precisely like this during her travels. After consulting an astronomy app on her phone, she begins heading off in search of this fated encounter. Fūka is seen rocking an iPhone 12 Pro, evidenced by its distinct triple-camera setup. I’ve actually been meaning to buy a new iPhone, but my previous company had loaned me an iPhone Xʀ, and this loaner has served me quite well. I do plan on returning it at some point, but since it remains a solid phone, it allows me to hold out until the iPhone 14 is announced; the iPhone 13 looks like it’s going to be a underwhelming device.

  • I only need a satisfactory device to test apps on, so I’m in no particular rush to upgrade. With this being said, if I were still rocking my iPhone 6, an upgrade would be mandatory, since the iPhone 6 only supports iOS 12. Returning the discussions to The Aquatope on White Sand, at least one kijimuna can be seen wandering the island at his own pace. This small detail makes it clear that there is going to be a magic piece in this anime, and while P.A. Works’ track record with magic had previously been questionable, its inclusion in The World in Colour was superb. I imagine that kijimuna will become more commonplace later on, along with the supernatural, so it will be curious to see how this plays out with the more conventional workplace story.

  • Yoshiaki Dewa’s composition in The Aquatope of White Sand bears the same style as the music that was composed for The World in Colours, although unsurprisingly, since this anime is set in Okinawa, sanshin are utilised for the soundtrack. However, the piano pieces bring back memories of watching fireworks over the Nagasaki harbour, and after Fūka falls asleep on the beach, she awakens the next morning with a start: someone (or something) has pranked her by placing what appears to be bleached coral in a circle around her.

  • Kukuru is the polar opposite of Fūka, being optimistic, friendly and energetic. She enjoys a breakfast of fried gurukun (double stripe fusilier, or Pterocaesio digramma) before rushing off to school on her bike. Whereas Fūka’s movements are slower, Kukuru is positively bouncing around the place: she brings joy into The Aquatope on White Sand, and anyone who’s been around the block long enough will immediately spot that she and Fūka are destined to meet precisely because, like Kohaku and Hitomi, their opposite personalities will create new adventure.

  • Predictability has never been an issue for me in entertainment: what matters most is the experience it takes to get a given destination. This is similarly why I never tire of first person shooters and burgers; while the central elements are common to all, it’s the small (or not-so-small) variations that make each stand out. However, this isn’t something that all anime fans share; well-known detractors of P.A. Works have finally come out of the woodwork and immediately set about critique every single aspect of The Aquatope on White Sand, down the to the last pixel, citing similarities to previous works and familiar character designs as rendering this series unwatchable.

  • I’d been hoping that The Aquatope on White Sands would launch in a low-profile manner, but in retrospect, this was a pipe dream at best. However, unlike Super Cub, this time around, I’ll steer clear of external discussions surrounding The Aquatope on White Sands so I can watch and enjoy this series at my own pace. Here, Kukuru speaks with her friends, Tsukimi (shown here) and Kai; Kukuru’s been fishing with Kai since forever, and Tsukimi wishes that Kukuru would be more focused on the human world; her latest assignment submission completely misses the project’s objectives, being about squid when she’d been tasked with mathematics.

  • Fūka quickly wears out as the morning sun beats down on her, and those favoured with a keen eye will see the air shimmering from the heat. Temperatures in Okinawa are no joke; during the summer, the average high is 32°C, and at night, it only drops down to 27°C. A few weeks ago, the heat in my area hit a record-breaking 36°C for several consecutive days in a row. The heat has dissipated now, and temperatures are more seasonal, but the blistering temperatures have sparked wildfires in the province over, and the instability created some of the largest thunderstorms I’ve seen in a while.

  • Every meeting in a given anime is important, and here, Fūka meets Karin, who works with the local tourism board. Karin quickly deduces that Fūka is a visitor, and after giving her a bottle of water to cool down, offers to drive her to the nearby aquarium. Knowing that P.A. Works is driving means that a part of me was inclined to go location hunting even this early in the game, and so, armed with the power of Google Maps, as well as the knowledge that The Aquatope on White Sand is set in Nanjō, I decided to have a look around to see if I could find the aquarium.

  • A single still in the anime, portraying a gazebo overlooking a beach, led me to do a search along the coasts near Nanjō. In moments, I had my location: this is Azuma Sun Sun Beach, located to the east of Nanjō. Visitors can expect to pay 500 Yen for parking, but beyond this, visiting is free, and it is here that Gama Gama Aquarium is located. A look around shows that there is no aquarium at the site, and more Google-fu finds that the largest aquarium in Okinawa is DMM Kariyushi Aquarium, located 25.8 kilometres away by car. Further to this, with this location as the starting point, I was able to trace back the path Fūka had been walking along prior to meeting Karin.

  • The choice of location was almost certainly done for convenience’s sake, so Kukuru could get there easily from home and school. With this knowledge, I’ll begin poking around and see if I can locate more spots seen in The Aquatope on White Sand as they are presented. Having Azyma Sun Sun Beach as a starting point is an incredible asset, and I imagine I’ll have more time to search for locations in the near future, so for the present, we’ll return to Fūka, who is absolutely enjoying the magical sights within the aquarium. When she reads about the Yaeyama blenny (Ecsenius yaeyamaensis), she learns the fish is low-profile but does an important job of eating moss and algae, keeping the tank clean.

  • Out of the blue, Fūka feels under-appreciated and dissolves into tears. The tanks suddenly seem to engulf the space, and Fūka finds herself in the middle of the ocean with schools of fish, even spotting a whale shark in the process. This is probably an illusion cast by the elusive kijimuna, although as it is early in the game, how much magic there is in The Aquatope on White Sand will remain to be seen. This scene, however, does show how sophisticated P.A. Works’ craft have come over the years; their anime consistently impress from a visual perspective.

  • When she comes to, she finds herself face-to-face with Kukuru, whose remarks to Fūka suggest that the phenomenon she’d just witnessed might very well be real. Like Kohaku, Kukuru is comfortable with speaking with people she’d just met, and she offers to take Fūka on a tour of the aquarium, which is named after Chibichiri-Gama Cave, which is known for being the site of a horrific and tragic mass suicide. As Kukuru says, during the final days of the Second World War, a hundred and forty took shelter hear, but out of fear that the American Marines would subject them to torture upon capture, began killing one another to escape such a fate. In the end, eighty-four died in this cave.

  • It’s not often that anime mention the horrors of World War Two, and Okinawa did see some of the fiercest fighting as Allied forces prepared to use Okinawa as a staging area for invading the home islands themselves. The Aquatope on White Sand is not a World War Two anime, and as Kukuru takes Fūka deeper into the aquarium, the magic of such institutes becomes apparent. Because I live in a land-locked area, there are no aquariums, and the last time I went to one would’ve been Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. Perhaps in the future, I will consider a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium.

  • At the first episode’s end, Fūka suddenly takes an interest in working at the Gama Gama Aquarium and implores Kukuru to allow her a position on the team. While I’d considered Fūka to be quite like Hitomi, that Fūka seizes the initiative here suggests that while she might be saddened by turning away from her old job as an idol, a part of Fūka still wants to do something meaningful. Hitomi, on the other hand, needed a bit more guidance to begin seeing the world in a new light, so I imagine that, as The Aquatope on White Sand progresses, viewers will have a chance to see the real Fūka. It’s a strong start to P.A. Works’ latest title, and I’m definitely looking forwards to seeing where this one is going.

Immediately out of the gates, the aesthetics that Shinohara and Kakihara bring to the table are noticeable: The Aquatope on White Sand feels distinctly like The World in Colours, possessing a sense of gentle melancholy and subtle longing for something unknown. Fūka takes on the same role that Hitomi did – both had suffered setbacks in their lives and lost their direction. Similarly, Kukuru’s enthusiasm for aquatic life and her extensive knowledge of the local aquarium parallels Kohaku’s energy and proficiency with magic. Where these two different personalities meet, the end result is an inevitable journey of self-discovery. However, a retread of The World in Colours wouldn’t be particularly enthralling. Fortunately, The Aquatope on White Sand introduces one additional element into its story – Gama Gama Aquarium appears be undergoing challenges. Kukuru is working so many shifts there that it’s negatively impacting her studies, and her grandfather is always out and about speaking with people. Moreover, Kukuru’s remarks to Fūka suggest that the aquarium is having trouble finding new staff. This workplace component is reminiscent of Sakura Quest and Hanasaku Iroha, both of which involved newcomers making a fresh start at a workplace. While the job initially seems above what Yoshino and Ohana, their series’ respective protagonists, can handle, both mature into their roles and come to greatly enjoy what they do. The extended runtime in The Aquatope on White Sand thus suggests that this anime is going to be an amalgamation of The World in Colours and P.A. Works’ anime on the workplaces: this is a bold and ambitious melding of the two genres I’ve always felt P.A. Works to excel in. Consequently, between P.A. Work’s track record and the fact this first episode has been very strong, expectations for The Aquatope on White Sand are going to be correspondingly high.

Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou.: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Change happens by listening, and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.” –Jane Goodall

Sayu decides to take up a part time job at the local convenience store, and Yoshida brings Airi to meet Sayu. Later, Sayu runs into Yaguchi Kyouya, who Sayu had slept with previously. Yoshida manages to convince him to back down, and Sayu’s coworker, Asami, later shares her past with Sayu. Later, Asami notices a vehicle tailing Sayu; her older brother’s come to take her home. Sayu realises her time is probably up in Tokyo, but manages to attend a summer festival with Yoshida. The next morning, Yoshida meets Issa Ogiwara, Sayu’s older brother. After the two sit down to talk and ascertain Sayu’s situation, he agrees to give Sayu two more weeks to sort things out. Sayu later explains to Yoshida and Asami that she ran away from home after befriending a classmate who committed suicide from bullying. Because her mother accused Sayu of what had transpired, Sayu left home and attempted to make it on her own. While Yoshida is initially reluctant to help Sayu, believing that she should face her family problems on her own, in his heart, he also wants to go. Yoshida’s coworkers spot this and assure him that work will be fine, so he accompanies Sayu back to Hokkaido, where Sayu returns to her school and comes to terms with what happened. Upon returning home, Sayu’s mother remains as cold as ever, but after hearing Yoshida’s words about what a parent’s responsibility entails, she relents and allows Sayu to stay. Yoshida prepares to return home, and Sayu declares that she’s fallen in love with him, prompting Yoshida to reply that he’d be ancient by the time she were an adult. Upon reaching his apartment, Yoshida realises that Sayu had a much larger impact on his life than he could’ve imagined. Two years later, Yoshida remains as dedicated to his work as ever, while Sayu graduates and slowly makes reconciles with her mother. One evening, Yoshida turns down an invitation to hang out with his team after work, and encounters a girl under the same lamppost where he’d first met Sayu. She asks Yoshida if it’s cool for her to stay with him for the night, bringing Higehiro to a close. Despite its provoking premise, Higehiro ended up being continually full of surprises, with a strong message for viewers willing to overlook the fact that such a premise is outright illegal in reality.

At its heart, Higehiro is a story about listening. Yoshida embodies this concept particularly well throughout Higehiro – at work and in his personal life, he listens to what those around him say before making a decision, rather than speaking up all of the time. By listening rather than speaking, Yoshida is able to understand what those around him intend to do, and with this knowledge, he is better prepared to determine what his next move is. The advantages of listening are numerous, and letting other people lay their cards on the table first gives one the upper hand in a situation – knowing someone else’s viewpoints and intents corresponds to having more information with which to make a satisfactory decision. When Sayu enters his life, Yoshida hears her out and determines it’s safer for her to stay with him (even if it is contravening the law), and similarly, upon learning that Issa has shown up to pick Sayu up, Yoshida patiently listens to Issa’s explanation of what had happened, formulates a course of action in his mind and manages to convince Issa that two weeks will help Sayu to set things in order. During their tense conversation with Sayu’s mother, Yoshida is tempted to act, but instead, conducts himself with restraint. Hearing Sayu’s mother express the depth of her hatred for Sayu for the first time allows him to fully understand what Sayu had undergone, and in this moment, Yoshida realises that Sayu’s mother is someone to similarly hear out. By exercising patience, and then replying in kind, Yoshida is able to make a reply that deeply affects Sayu’s mother, enough to convince her to at least give Sayu a chance at a fresh start. Yoshida’s tendency to not speak his mind is initially one of his shortcomings, and while most situations allowed him to tough it out, his coworkers immediately spot how Yoshida oftentimes does not follow his heart, which has led him to regret some of his choices. By supporting him and encouraging him to speak up every now and then, Yoshida’s coworkers also play an instrumental role in getting Yoshida to Hokkaido, where he succinctly makes a case for why Sayu’s mother is the only person with the right and duty to ensure Sayu is looked after until she becomes an adult. The balance of listening and speaking is masterfully presented in Higehiro, and the series aims to suggest that by listening well, one can also speak better to affect positive change in those around them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After taking up a part time job at the nearby convenience store, Sayu befriends Asami, who provides her with a peer to speak with. The sum of Sayu’s meetings with people who are willing to listen to her play a large role in helping her to open up; Asami had come from a family of lawyers, and against their expectations, she desired to be an author above all else. When she takes Sayu to a spot special to her, it shows Sayu that people in the world do accept her for who she is.

  • I was initially surprised to see Airi and Sayu meet so early on, but in retrospect, it makes sense, given that Higehiro is about Sayu’s road to recover. By eliminating the possibility for external drama, Higehiro is able to focus on its core story; in other series, secondary plots can represent a rabbit hole of sorts, complicating things and potentially introducing challenges that may not always be satisfactorily resolved. In the case of Higehiro, Sayu continues to encounter mature and reasonable people after meeting Yoshida, and while they may not know her circumstances fully, they are more than willing to support however they can.

  • The whole of Higehiro is about how patience in extenuating circumstances is what leads to understanding, and subsequently, how this understanding corresponds to helping one to find their footing anew. The changes in Sayu are gradual: while she’s found Yoshida and his kindness, her previous experiences lead her to occasionally wonder if Yoshida will cast her out. This concern is what causes her to try running off again after learning Yoshida is bringing Airi to his place, but the reality was he’d wanted the two to meet.

  • I ultimately found that the dynamic between Sayu and Yoshida resembled how an older brother might regard a younger sister, or how an uncle would look after a niece. Yoshida and Sayu feel more like family than two strangers as Higehiro progresses; all thought of failed relationships are benched as the story focuses on how Yoshida begins to care enough about Sayu to want her to properly resolve whatever problems had led her to run away to begin with. This aspect of Higehiro particularly impressed: while the possibility to go off the rails was always present, the series was consistently heartwarming and disciplined.

  • The further into Higehiro I got, the more I felt bad for Yuzuha, who’s clearly head-over-heels for Yoshida and openly expresses it to him even in the knowledge that his heart is elsewhere. In spite of her own feelings, and her seeing Airi as a competitor, Yuzuha herself is not unkind, helping Sayu to lay low when she’s not quite ready to face her brother and head home. During my watch of Higehiro, I found Yuzuha to look quite familiar, and I finally recalled the rationale for these thoughts; she resembles a coworker from my previous position.

  • While Sayu’s time in Tokyo begins running out, she is able to spend a worry-free and memorable evening with Yoshida at the local summer festival. Being with Yoshida gave Sayu the strength to face her own problems, and she begins to consider a future where she does return home to get things sorted out. However, a part of her also worries about being unable to do so, and this is why Yoshida consents to let her stay; he wishes to give Sayu as much time as is appropriate to let her prepare herself, so long as she has a plan in mind.

  • After the bliss of attending the local summer festival together, Sayu comes face-to-face with her older brother, Issa. While Sayu’s reactions suggested that he cut a threatening figure, after Yoshida sits down and gets another perspective of the situation, he manages to buy Sayu two weeks in which to sort her affairs out. Contrary to appearances, Issa is reasonable, and after the situation is clarified, he and Yoshida share a cordial relationship, being able to speak openly to one another. This is something Higehiro does well: even the scummiest characters can be spoken with and understand where the lines are drawn.

  • I appreciate that this is to be quite unrealistic, since reality is nowhere nearly as kind, but from a narrative standpoint, it allows the story to focus purely on Sayu. After her brother’s arrival, the two weeks timeframe is shorter than Sayu had hoped, but traditionally, I’ve always found that giving people moderate stress oftentimes drives them to perform better and push themselves harder. Knowing she will have to go back pushes Sayu to finally open up fully to Yoshida; she shares her past in full with Yoshida and Asami.

  • It turns out that Sayu had always been a bit of a lone wolf at school and despite her appearances, never got along with the others. She befriends a classmate, Yūko, who was similarly introverted, but when the popular clique learns that one of the male students has a crush on Sayu, who always seems so aloof, they decide to go after Yūko instead, who is driven to suicide after the bullying takes an ugly turn. This is no trivial matter: I’d grown up dealing with bullies, and the resolution I found was that they’d been salty about my book smarts. Once I showed them the same book smarts could help them out, the bullies became people I could get along with. Of course, it helped that I also took up martial arts to bolster my confidence, but I appreciate that for some folks, bullying can seem like an insurmountable barrier.

  • In the aftermath of Yūko’s suicide, Sayu felt backed into a corner; her own mother refused to support her. Sayu felt like she had no other options beyond running away from home, and Issa found himself unable to help. This downward spiral is what led Sayu to Tokyo, where she exchanged her body for a place to stay during her lowest point. Devoid of any meaningful human relationships and connections, Sayu’s view of the world became distorted, and it was only through a chance meeting with Yoshida that she is able to recover.

  • In the end, Yoshida is able to do what Issa couldn’t, and in doing so, earns the latter’s respect. I imagine that Yoshida’s able to succeed here for a few reasons; firstly, as an outsider, he brings to the table a completely different perspective, and since he is so far removed from the challenges that Sayu and Issa had faced, he is able to approach problems in a naïve manner (that is to say, without knowing the nuances, he attempts to help Sayu without worrying about worrying about nuances in her scenario). Secondly, as a hard worker and honest person, Yoshida focuses purely on helping her to find her happiness in a way appropriate for a minor.

  • I understand that Higehiro isn’t for everyone: for one, the scenario is about as legal as discharging a firearm in city limits, and many variables are eliminated, essentially giving Sayu a straight shot back home without any serious external impediment. The real world is rather more complex, but for the sake of a story, it is acceptable to abstract out complexities so long as the flow of events lead to a clear message being conveyed. Consequently, gripes about the social and legal facets of the series as being implausible or unrealistic would run contrary to the theme in Higehiro: taking a step back and listening to what is being said. The equivalence of this in games would be complaining that it should be impossible to heal up bullet wounds by ducking for cover and waiting a few seconds.

  • Of course, if some folks do demand that level of realism in their anime, that’s their call: so long as no one is demanding I study up on Greek mythology to understand why a given review is the right way of approaching an anime, I won’t mind. Conversely, if someone does reference something only literature or philosophy students would study and suggest that it’s mandatory reading (rather than recommended reading) to understand why a work succeeds or fails, I would count the review as being . Back in Higehiro, on Sayu’s last day in Tokyo, Asami calls Yoshida to report that Sayu’s disappeared. It turns out she’d wanted to check out his office at least once, and got lost along the way, but is otherwise fine.

  • In the end, Yoshida follows his heart and accompanies Sayu back to Hokkaido, even taking her to a café of sorts. However, the true challenge lies ahead yet; besides heading home to have her first face-to-face with her mother in over a half-year, Sayu also wants to return to her school, where Yūko’s life was tragically cut short. Sayu had intended on making this visit alone, but upon reaching the school rooftop, finds herself overcome with emotion. With Yoshida’s presence comforting her, she is able to continue on.

  • Yoshida’s words to Sayu are similar to mine: he suggests that the best way to honour Yūko’s memory would be to live her life as fully as possible and take the step forwards where she couldn’t. While Sayu doesn’t notice this, the school’s replaced the old railing with a large fence to prevent future suicides; this simple change demonstrates that contrary to what Sayu believed after her mother’s words, Yūko was missed, and her death galvinised the school into taking more active measures to ensure bullying is addressed so it does not lead to another suicide in the future. There’s very little to go on, but I felt that the fence could be a visual metaphor to represent the changes that took place. Thus, to ensure Yūko did not die in vain, Sayu must find the courage to embrace her own future.

  • The most trying moments in Higehiro come with the long-awaited conversation with Sayu’s mother. Although Yoshida is tempted to douse her with his drink after hearing for himself how much Sayu’s mother hates her, the more rational, pragmatic side of Yoshida steps in, and he speaks his mind about how a parent has obligations to guide their children along. Yoshida’s speech is a very optimistic and naïve view of the world, but it is strong enough to make Sayu’s mother uncomfortable and forces her to re-evaluate what her next steps are. She subsequently consents to speak with both Yoshida and Sayu, reaching a détente of sorts with the two and agrees to give herself a second chance with Sayu.

  • Higehiro‘s denouement allows Yoshida to rest easy, knowing that Sayu now at least has a home to go to while she finishes off her education, and that she’s managed to overcome the challenges that sent her to Tokyo initially. In their last night together, Sayu coyly asks Yoshida if he’s still in for some horizontal refreshment to remember her; after everything they’ve gone through, such a moment comes across as purely comedic, and in typical Yoshida fashion, he declines, saying that he’ll remember Sayu always.

  • From a technical perspective, the voice acting and music in Higehiro are of a fine quality, while visually, the anime is more rudimentary: the artwork and animation are consistent, but nothing eye-popping. The appeal in Higehiro lies almost entirely with the conversations the characters share, and here, Issa thanks Yoshida again for everything he’s done. He surmises that, in spite of Yoshida’s protests otherwise, Yoshida surely has fallen in love with Sayu.

  • Sayu certainly has fallen in love with Yoshida and asks him to wait for her even after he turns her down. His reply suggests that she might’ve had a chance after all, although this is left ambiguous. One of the more heartbreaking moments in Higehiro comes after Yoshida returns home and finds it empty; he wonders if he’d been the one in need of saving after making some miso soup that tastes nothing like what Sayu had been able to make. Fate will bring the two back together in two years’ time, suggesting that the anime is done adapting all of the original light novels.

  • Altogether, I enjoyed Higehiro for its conversations and optimistic messages about recovery even when one hits rock bottom, and how unexpected encounters are able to transform one’s perspectives, as well as how people can help one another. This series is a B (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 of 10), being a consistent journey that managed to traverse a razor’s edge without devolving into a foxtrot-uniform-charlie-kilo par-tay or offer a social commentary well beyond what the story demanded. I will note that Higehiro was tricky to write for, which is why this post is shorter than usual, but with Higehiro in the books, I have a clean slate entering the summer season. The Aquatope on White Sand aired earlier today, so it’ll be time to catch up and then share my thoughts on the series.

Higehiro‘s initial premise existed at the edge of a slippery slope – anime of this sort have every opportunity to get things wrong and send the story down a trajectory of lust and accompanying suffering. However, every step of the way, Higehiro wound up being an immensely heartwarming story about how support for one another is mutual, and how people can help one another out whether or not they’re in love with one another. Meeting Yoshida shows Sayu that people do care for her, and that she should also care for herself. The chance encounter with Sayu shows Yoshida a side of relationships that he’d not previously understood – that falling in love with someone is much more than dating them and physicality. It is a matter of opening oneself to being vulnerable, to share problems and deal with them together. It speaks to the discipline in the writing that Higehiro never devolves into a story about giving in to temptation; Yoshida is driven by a desire to do right by Sayu and himself (as well as a healthy reminder to himself that, in his own words, he prefers older, buxom women like Airi). The end result of Yoshida’s discipline and preferences means that to Sayu, he acts as a caring older brother or father figure, guiding her down a path that she is comfortable pursing, and leaves her better equipped to pick herself back up after such a tragic incident in her past. For this reason, Higehiro proved quite unexpected and moving, showing that in this world, decency often manifests through listening to people and hearing them through wholly before making any decisions – the end result is quite touching, and seeing all of the characters for what they really are through this is a reminder that, given the patience to understand them, most people are reasonable and can be spoken with. While Higehiro does present things in a highly optimistic manner (reality isn’t always so kind, and not everyone can be reasoned with), it is the case that folks who prefer to listen have the upper hand, as those who prefer to talk tend leave their cards facing up.

86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point

“Life is not always easy to live, but the opportunity to do so is a blessing beyond comprehension. In the process of living, we will face struggles, many of which will cause us to suffer and to experience pain.” –L. Lionel Kendrick

After Kaie’s death, Vladilena makes an effort to learn Spearhead’s names, earning their respect and discovers that she’d met Shinei’s brother, Shourei, long ago. Spearhead’s next engagement with the Legion and Vladilena’s refusal to disconnect from the session results in her being exposed to the Legion’s “Black Sheep” units, whose microprocessors can assimilate neural processes from their victims in order to maintain their functionality. Despite the horror and further casualties, Vladilena persists in her support for Spearhead and begins to fall in love with Shinei. She arranges for a crate of fireworks to be delivered to Spearhead. However, she is unable to secure reinforcements, as Spearhead was designed as penal unit of sorts, whose soldiers were made to fight to the death. During one engagement, Shinei hears Shourei’s voice amongst the Legion’s new model and desires to confront him one final time in order to properly put him to rest. Vladilena’s persistence in helping Spearhead draws Henrietta’s ire: she reveals that she’d been friends with Shinei and her father’s work on the Para-RAID resulted in the deaths of countless Colorata. Remorseful of her actions towards Vladilena, she agrees to help her by commandeering San Magnolia’s artillery systems, and in their next engagement, this allows enough Legion to be destroyed such that Shinei can confront the Shepherd Legion possessing Shourei’s mind. He is able to destroy the Shepherd and finds peace in success, feeling his brother is finally liberated from suffering. With his goal finished, Shinei decides to desert and set course for territories beyond San Magnolia, to Vladilena’s chagrin. Shinei and the surviving Spearhead members, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena enter Imperial territory, where they encounter additional Legion. Vladilena travels out to Spearhead’s base to see the sights she’d only heard about, and discovers they’d intended for her to adopt a kitten they’d picked up. She promises to continue fighting and do what she believes is right. This is 86 EIGHTY-SIX at the halfway point; a second season was announced shortly after the finale aired, and will pick up in October 2021. Until then, 86 EIGHTY-SIX leaves in its wake a trail of questions after Shinei is able to face his inner dæmons and confront his brother one final time.

Because 86 EIGHTY-SIX is technically only halfway through, ascertaining the series’ overall objective is not a particularly meaningful task; whatever awaits in the second half will be required to provide a complete picture of what 86 EIGHTY-SIX strove to convey. With this being said, the first season’s portrayal of the war between San Magnolia and the Giadian Empire’s autonomous machines, specifically how San Magnolia handled the conflict, speaks to the idea that dehumanising a group of individuals perpetuates a cycle of suffering that will result in complete annihilation. This is most obvious with the Colorata, who are treated as non-humans, but among the Alba residing in San Magnolia, it is clear that their society has stagnated from a technological standpoint; as the war against the Legion raged, San Magnolia’s inability to defend their nation proved embarrassing, so the Colorata (conveniently living at San Magnolia’s edges) were made the scapegoats to shift blame away from a government unable to find a solution. In time, discrimination against the Colorata became commonplace, and the current status quo seemed viable, so San Magnolia has no incentive to advance their technology and properly face the Legion, which in turn results in continued death amongst the Colorata. As more Colorata die, the Alba leadership are forced to eventually await total casualties so the truth will never get out, but the outcome of this approach is that, without the Colorata to fight, the Legion will eventually overrun and destroy San Magnolia, too. The Alba of the present don’t seem too concerned because many remain unaware of the fact that the Legion are capable of replacing their processing cores and effectively giving them an unlimited operational life-span. Coupled with the fact that the Legion can appear to use nano-machinery, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is setting the stage for San Magnolia’s demise, and it appears that nothing less than uncommon perseverance from Vladilena and other like-minded Alba will save San Magnolia from complete annihilation.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s too early to tell if the world-building and outcomes in 86 EIGHTY-SIX will rival those of Sora no Woto, which is the vibes I had coming in to this series. Sora no Woto excelled in all areas, with a unique balance of character growth, comedy, urgency and a solid theme to unify everything, so it’s naturally a very tough bar to beat, and while I’m not expecting 86 EIGHTY-SIX to impress quite to the same level, I found this to be a modestly enjoyable ride, enough for me to have an interest in the second season.

  • A major part of 86 EIGHTY-SIX was Vladilena’s gradual coming to know Spearhead better. As viewers, we are well aware of the fact that Vladilena’s intentions are genuine, but Spearhead have no way of knowing, and as such, a part of the payoff comes from Vladilena succeeding in getting her feelings across through conversations with the group. While they still keep her at arms’ length, the hostility slowly begins dissipating. Compared to the antiquated and sterile environments within San Magnolia, Spearhead’s facilities feel a lot more natural.

  • It turns out that Vladilena’s perception of the Colorata as human, and her determination to save them, comes from an event in her childhood: her father had been a staunch proponent of the fact that the Colorata should be treated properly, and even travelled out into District Eighty Six to show Vladilena the reality of their war. However, during one such excursion, their helicopter was shot down by anti-air legion, and the young Vladilena herself would’ve perished had it not been for Shourei, who saves her.

  • While 86 EIGHTY-SIX does aim to present a more serious story, two aspects of the anime did diminish the atmospherics. The first of these was a whimsical piece of incidental music making use of a woodwind, and the second is the fact that Vladilena herself seems to glow in bliss whenever she has food made from real ingredients. I understand that this is placed to indicate that Vladilena has access to the full spectrum of emotions, although I would also suppose that it’s to demonstrate that despite her station and the associated responsibilities, she’s still young.

  • Against a foe like the Legion, the most effective weapon would’ve probably been electromagnetic pulses to scramble their electronics, followed by use of cluster munitions. If we’re allowed more exotic weapons, then plasma rounds as seen in Halo, or Star Wars‘ ion cannons would also feel like feasible choices. Instead, San Magnolia is left to field inferior, manned spider-tanks against the Legion, speaking volumes about their nations’ inadequacies. The general attitude surrounding the armed forces seems to be “better us than them”, and it appears that as long as the Alba leadership can live comfortably, they don’t really concern themselves with even developing better weapons.

  • The Colorata thus could’ve become a stopgap measure, but instead, a combination of discrimination, complacency and hubris stops them from researching more effective weapons. Granted, had this been the case, 86 EIGHTY-SIX wouldn’t allow Vladilena and Shinei to speak with one another, which is doubtlessly the disruption to the status quo that allows the story to happen. I’ve long joked that if common sense prevails too early, there is no story; in 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s case, I’ll forgive the lack of drive to develop better tools against the Legion mainly because giving the protagonists powerful weapons diminish the impact of death.

  • The sharp contrast between the world that Vladilena lives in, and Shinei’s world, is night and day. Through this, 86 EIGHTY-SIX conveys the idea that to live life fully is to accept that there is always going to be a risk, and that because of this risk, the experiences that we share become more meaningful and precious. By comparison, the sheltered, closed-off life within the walls of San Magnolia feels stilted, and here, Spearhead recalls a party they’d had as a group during the spring, under blooming cherry trees.

  • The biggest surprise early in 86 EIGHTY-SIX is the idea that the Legion’s machines possess enough sophistication to be aware of their own “death” and have determined that harvesting neural tissue from deceased humans is the best way to ensure their own survival. While this seems like malevolence in AI, one could actually devise a setup such that the Legion’s actions can be considered an emergent property: in graduate school, I took a course in biological computation and emergent computing to study how immensely complex behaviours can arise from devising agents that follow simple rules.

  • The most famous example is Craig Reybolds’ BOIDS, which demonstrate flocking behaviours rivalling those of real-world bird flocks despite each agent only possessing three rules. It is therefore conceivable that that a slightly more complex set internal data and a sufficiently sophisticated decision function would eventually lead the Legion to realise that their internal hardware can be replaced with a readily available source of computational power, one that is easier to find than returning to the manufacturing plant and asking for replacement parts. What works for the machines, however, terrifies those who fight them: residual neurological patterns mean that the dying thoughts of the person can be heard, and Vladelina loses her composure outright when she’s exposed to this phenomenon.

  • One of the factual pieces of 86 EIGHTY-SIX that isn’t accounted for is the fact that organic tissue, while capable of immensely complex actions, is still very slow. Modern day processors cannot reason and spot patterns anywhere nearly as effectively as our minds, but instead, they compensate by being orders of magnitude faster. One supposes that the Legion have overcome this particular barrier or use the organic matter purely to augment their existing hardware in some way.

  • After one conversation with Shinei, Vladilena spots a heart shape in one of her chocolates and glows red in embarrassment. It’s easy to surmise that she’s fallen in love with Shinei;86 EIGHTY-SIX is set up in such a way so that the two’s paths will inevitably cross, and so far, the progression hasn’t felt unnatural in any way. The two exchange conversations to learn more about one another and support one another outside the scope of their ordinary duties to the point where they develop a minor connection of sorts.

  • I’d previously mentioned that Vladilena reminds me a great deal of Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia: both are dedicated to their duties, but possess a more human side to them, as well. Unlike 86 EIGHTY-SIXWarlords of Sigrdrifa flew under most viewers’ radars, and discussion of the series was quite limited. 86 EIGHTY-SIX, on the other hand, drew much more discussions; some folks counted this series as a game-changer in anime, while others found the hype and acclaim for the series to greatly exaggerate what the series did end up doing.

  • A recurring joke in 86 EIGHTY-SIX comes from Henrietta constantly fending off suitors that are well outside the realm of her interests. At a San Magnolia party celebrating their national holiday, Vladilena is disinterested in the proceedings and activates her para-RAID so that she may speak with Spearhead. While her determination is admirable, resistance to any idea of reinforcing Spearhead is fierce. In fact, San Magnolia’s leadership is acting the same way Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry of Magic did in response to the suggestion that Voldemort had returned.

  • Competent leadership and the drive to innovate would’ve easily dug San Magnolia from their current situation, but this would end the story before we viewers had a chance to check it out. For the same reasons that humanity doesn’t have Forerunner technology at the beginning of the Human-Covenant War, we’re dropped in to a point where things look grim, so that Vladilena and Spearhead may work out the challenges together. While it’s a small gesture, Vladilena’s sending fireworks to their base, disguised as special rounds, is done to show she still cares about them.

  • As it turns out, Henrietta had been friends with Shinei as a child, but as the country devolved into racism and segregation, she ended up selling them out to avoid trouble for her family. I’d initially figured it was a radio, but between the Legion’s ability to jam EMR and Henrietta’s father had been involved in the development of the para-RAID, which directly links minds together, this theory is quickly benched. The fact that Henrietta’s father had experimented on live Colorata test subjects resulted in his committing suicide from the guilt, despite succeeding. I’ll leave others to cover the ethical ramifications of this achievement, since the implications for me are that San Magnolia does have the capability of putting together technological feats that are impossible with contemporary technology if they put their minds to it.

  • Hence, the question of why effort would be expended towards a technology that only will prolong the Colorata’s suffering, rather than developing the munitions needed to mop the Legion up, lingers. I’m not too sure if the second season will go in this direction, although I will note that I will not hold this against 86 EIGHTY-SIX at all: the world is built this way to accommodate the story, and even in reality, companies are known for making illogical decisions (such as loot boxes and delaying BD releases while offering location and timed exclusives for certain anime films).

  • Shinei’s prowess as a Juggernaut pilot is consistently shown throughout 86 EIGHTY-SIX, manifesting in high-paced combat sequences that are fun to watch. Despite his power, Shinei’s main reason to fight is the fact that he wants to properly send his brother off, having been haunted by the fact that Shourei had tried to kill him in a fit of rage after their parents died in the Legion onslaught. Thanks to his ability to hear the voices of the deceased, Shinei determines his brother must still be suffering from regrets in his life and feels the only way he can attain redemption for failing to protect those around him is at least to help Shourei find peace.

  • In the end, Shinei is successful: fighting against a titanic Legion known as a Shepherd, which possesses near-human intelligence and is capable of coordinating Legion offensive with frightening accuracy. While Shinei is nearly wrecked thanks to the Shepherd’s nanomachines, Vladilena had managed to convince Henrietta to take control of San Magnolia’s artillery system and hammers the area in a danger-close fire mission. Clearing away enough Legion to buy Shinei space, he is able to finally destroy the Shepherd, liberating his brother’s spirit from suffering. Recognising what Shinei was trying to do, Shourei apologises to Shinei before dying.

  • In the end, only five members of Spearhead survive the battle; there is a sense of finality here, akin to how as Angel Beats! progressed, fewer characters were left as they moved on. This creates a sense of melancholy, and knowing their eventual fate is death, Spearhead decide to head out of San Magnolia’s borders for new territory. While Spearhead’s members had each been prepared for death, seeing what lay outside of their service to San Magnolia also helped them to appreciate the value of life.

  • The final moments of Spearhead setting course away from San Magnolia’s borders is set to an inset song, a collaboration between Hiroyuki Sawano and mizuki. 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s incidental music is, unsurprisingly, scored by Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto: I didn’t notice Sawano’s style until this inset song, whereupon motifs from Gundam Narrative immediately presented itself. Like Kenji Kawai, Sawano has a very distinct style, making use of percussion and strings extensively in his pieces to capture a sense of grandeur and scale. Indeed, Sawano’s contributions to 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s soundtrack greatly resembles the music in Hathaway’s Flash.

  • Because Sawano’s music (and the singers performing his songs) tend to have a strong emotional tenour, some folks indicated that 86 EIGHTY-SIX was trying a bit too hard to create a touching moment that showed the extent of how much Vladilena had come to care for Spearhead. As far as emotions go, I did not feel that this moment said anything substantial about Vladilena, but I did enjoy it for the music. The soundtrack released today, and aside from the track “TararaTaTa”, which was that woodwind song I’m not terribly fond of for being completely dissonant with the overall aesthetic in the series, the remainder of the soundtrack is solid.

  • Outside of San Magnolia’s borders, Shinei, Anju, Raiden, Theoto and Kurena are finally at ease: with the Legion a threat for another time, the five are able to unwind properly. After surviving their last battle, Spearhead’s remnants only have access to Shinei’s Juggernaut and one robot for carrying supplies, lovingly dubbed Fido. The vividly coloured landscapes Shinei and his allies see stand in stark contrast to the sterile environments the Alba live in, and it is here that 86 EIGHTY-SIX really shines. The combination of lighting and foliage colour here creates a very cool and comfortable feeling, paralleling the passing of last week’s heat wave.

  • We’re now a ways into July, and having gotten my second dose, I’m looking forwards to returning to the office in a shade under two weeks. I’ve been lucky in that after taking my shot, the only side effects I had was mild drowsiness, and by Friday, I was well enough to enjoy a surprise lunch of fried chicken three ways (quarter chicken, chicken tenders and popcorn chicken) with barbeque sauce and fries. While working from home’s been fun (I find that my productivity is roughly the same as it is from the office, ±10%), the biggest impediment is that I only have a single monitor setup at home for my Mac machines, and I lack the adaptors to run an HDMI cable to USB-C ports.

  • The drawback about returning to the office is that, since I tend to watch anime at lunch, my pacing might slow down somewhat. I’ll figure something out once I start at the office; for now, I’ll focus on 86 EIGHTY-SIX – here, Kurena melts in a hot bath, which is a rare luxary afforded to them by the large container they’re carrying. For the longest time, Kurena has had a crush on Shinei, but was always too embarrassed to say so. Shinei seems quite unaware of this, but in spite of this, Kurena always develops a spring in her step when Shinei praises her.

  • While exploring an abandoned town in the Giadian Empire, Shinei and the others come upon a damaged Legion unit possessing a human brain. Shinei is able to understand the machine’s desire to end its suffering and shoots it in his usual manner. During one engagement, the support robot Fido takes damage and needs to be decommissioned. The existence of robots like Fido would suggest that San Magnolia is capable of at least basic AI, even if what they build isn’t as advanced as what the Giadian Empire created prior to their destruction at its hands.

  • It suddenly strikes me that what makes the Colorata and Spearhead squadron special are the fact that they are human, whereas their foe is a machine. Since the Giadian Empire is no more, one direction 86 EIGHTY-SIX could impress with during the second season would be the idea that regardless of technological sophistication, the human spirit is more impressive still. I’m not sure if this is covered in the original novels, and I suppose I could go check the novels out, but for the time being, I would prefer to see the events from the anime surprise me.

  • After exploring a school, Shinei and the others encounter a field of Legion. Shinei decides to engage them on his own and orders the others to leave. While Kurena, Raiden, Theoto and Anju’s fates are unknown, one can suppose that Shinei survives, since this is essential to the story: one could say that he is cursed to live because the narrative demands it. Seeing everyone in a classroom was reminiscent of a scene in Sora no Woto when Kanata imagines her, Rio, Nöel, Kureha and Filicia in a music club together – there is a sense of longing for normalcy amongst the group, and this was a moment I found particularly moving.

  • Vladilena’s unauthorised use of artillery lands her a suspension from active duty, and she uses the time to head out to Spearhead’s base. Having shared so many conversations with them, Vladilena is reminded of how the facility once housed the people she’d come to develop an attachment to. For me, this was probably the more emotional moment in 86 EIGHT-SIX; as Vladilena explores the places Spearhead once occupied, memories linger in the corridors and rooms.

  • I would liken the feeling to wandering campus grounds during the summer, returning to lecture halls and libraries I once made extensive use of – while devoid of people, certain memories endure. Vladilena’s trip leads her to find a cat that Spearhead had been keeping, and, promising to take care of the kitten to honour the old team’s wishes, Vladilena resolves to do what she can, as well. This is where the first season ends: after the finale, another episode aired, but to my initial disappointment, this ended up being a recap. However, the recap episode proved to be a blessing in disguise; I will watch it prior to 86 EIGHTY-SIX resuming in October just to jolt my memories on a few things. With this, my talk on 86 EIGHTY-SIX draws to a close. I have no verdict for the series yet, since it feels unfair to provide an assessment of a story that’s really only halfway through.

  • Having said this, I did have fun watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and the first half is sufficiently interesting such that I am looking forwards to the second half. In the meantime, the only other anime left over from the previous season is Higehiro –  I’m not too sure when I’ll get around to writing about it, but I do intend to wrap things up. For the upcoming season, The Aquatope on White Sand and Magia Record are on my list of series to write about, and DOOM Eternal has exceeded expectations, so I’m looking forwards to penning my thoughts on the game once I’ve completed the first four missions. Finally, I was able to set up a basic Mists of Pandaria server a few days ago, and while it’s nowhere nearly as functional as my Wrath of the Lich King server as far as quests, spells and dungeons goes, it is sufficiently complete for me to explore Azeroth and Pandaria from the air without any crashes, so that could be worth writing about once I finish exploring Northrend and share my final thoughts on Skyrim, where I’ve finally beaten Alduin.

Beyond these aspects, 86 EIGHTY-SIX also touches on what working within a system that is resilient towards change is like through Vladilena, as well as how even in the face of a limited lifespan, people like Shinei can nonetheless find purpose in life and make the most of the time they have. The more human aspects of 86 EIGHTY-SIX, however, have felt more inconsistent. Vladilena’s connection to Spearhead is still being developed, and while she’s determined to know those whom she works with, she still has yet to actually meet anyone in person. However, knowing that there is a second season means that Vladilena’s story will have time to undergo further exploration. Conversely, Shinei’s desire to find closure with his brother, despite being portrayed as a pivotal moment for him, ended up being resolved on short order; folks looking for a bit more of an emotional connection to Shinei finally achieving what he’d set out to do felt shafted on account of how quickly it’d occurred. This naturally leaves the question of what lies ahead for Shinei: once Shourei’s Legion form is defeated, Shinei completely relaxes and even finds enjoyment in life. He appears content to watch the sun rise over the universe, but with the Legion still posing a substantial threat, it is difficult to imagine that Shinei would take this lying down, and as he continues to fight, I imagine that his course is set to converge with Vladilena’s come the second season. Because 86 EIGHTY-SIX is still in progress, it would be unfair to settle on a verdict at this point in time; I’ll determine whether or not the series meets expectations once everything is in the books, but insofar, I have enjoyed what I’ve seen so far; despite hiccoughs in the character development, the world-building in 86 EIGHTY-SIX has proven to be very compelling to the point where I’ve certainly looked forwards to the episodes each week this was airing.