“Hey chief, you screwed up. There’s nothing in here.”
“Oh, it might appear empty, but the message is clear. Play Santa again, and I’ll kill you next year!”
— Bender and Robot Santa, “A Tale of Two Santas”, Futurama
Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days released back in November 12, 2016; it was only a week ago that it finally became available, and if this is the trend for OVAs, I imagine that the wait for the upcoming Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? OVA could be a non-trivial one, as well. With preparations for the culture festival ongoing, Shinobu finds herself completely immersed in her class project, contributing both the script and her considerable talents as a seamstress to making costumes for everyone. Amidst the busy activities, Aya finds herself feeling distant from Shinobu, wondering if Shinobu is closer to Yoko, Alice and Karen for their own attributes. When Shinobu steps out with Isami, Aya begins to reminisce about the time she’d spent with Shinobu in middle school, where Yoko and Shinobu were struggling with examinations for high school. While on break one day, they take a walk and visit Moegi High SChool, where they run into Sakura and get a tour of the grounds. After guidance from Aya and much effort on Yoko and Shinobu’s part, the girls manage to make it into the same school; Aya herself had her sights set on a more prestiguous all-girls school, but decides to join Shinobu and Yoko at Moegi high when they are all accepted. Back in the present, the play itself hits a hitch when the student playing the princess is afflicted with the flu, forcing Aya to step in. Despite the play starting off on the wrong foot, the girls pull together and manage to improvise something with Shinobu’s help, turning the play into a success. In the aftermath, Aya is grateful to have chosen the same high school as Yoko and Shinobu. A touching story with the light-hearted, warming feel that Kiniro Mosaic excels at presenting, Pretty Days is a welcome return to a series characterised by a colourful group of characters whose life in high school is filled with hope, wonder and a never-ceasing sense of cheerfulness.
In its premise, Pretty Days is centered around Aya and her memories of middle school with Yoko and Shinobu. While she’s initially doubtful that her friendship with Shinobu is a strong one, Yoko recounts their pivotal moment in middle school when it was Aya who motivated the two to buckle down and study for their entrance examinations such that they could be admitted to the same school. Even when Aya receives an admissions offer from a more prestigious academy, she ultimately turns down their offer, suggesting the strength of their friendship with one another. Although such an action might be seen as a poor decision from a certain perspective, Pretty Days presents this as a heart-warming choice that underlines just how strongly Aya cares about her friends, if she’s willing to pick being with them over a high school that might help her with post-secondary admissions. In addition to a well-executed central narrative, Pretty Days also brings back all of the elements that made Kiniro Mosaic so entertaining, whether it be Shinobu’s gifting of “heart” to her friends, or her determination to ensure the success of their class play, exhibited when she goes to the length of improvising lines for Karen and Aya when their original play disintegrates after Karen completely forgets her lines. The end result is fifty minutes of comedy that captures the spirit of Kiniro Mosaic, being an indispensable watch for all audiences who’ve enjoyed Kiniro Mosaic. While folks entering sans familiarity with Kiniro Mosaic may find some elements in the OVA a bit unusual, the overall pacing and structure means that this OVA can still be quite enjoyable.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Owing to Shinobu’s tendency to not wake up on time in the mornings, the girls are forced to sprint the distance to their school, leaving Aya short of breath. It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything about Kiniro Mosaic: the last time the likes of Aya, Yoko, Shinobu, Alice and Karen graced this blog, it was the middle of summer 2015, when I had turned my focus entirely towards building visualisations of biological spaces in the Unreal Engine. This OVA is a fifty-minute feature and as such, features thirty screenshots rather than the usual twenty.
- After Yoko expresses a wish to see Aya on stage when everyone is discussing their roles in their classes’ respective activities, Aya grows a bit sulky and is seen here with the classic anime pouty face. Conversation drifts towards reminiscence, where Yoko recounts how Shinobu’s been excited about performances and events for as long as she can remember. This is the conversation that gets Aya thinking; she becomes a little envious of Yoko and Shinobu.
- With the culture festival arriving rapidly, everyone heads over to Shinobu’s house to continue working on the costumes for their play. Alice and Karen have already arrived, modelling Shinobu’s old middle school uniform and Isami’s high school uniforms, respectively. One common criticism I often hear for anime such as Kiniro Mosaic are the fact that the characters’ voices are too squeaky, having the acoustic properties of ultrasound, taking the form of noise complaints. As it turns out, higher frequency sounds are easier to discern because our ears are not quite so effective at picking up lower frequency sounds.
- While Shinobu may not be particularly studious, her talents as a seamstress are ridiculously high, and from an objective perspective, she’s much more likely to be at home in an occupation involving sewing and adjustments, as opposed to linguistics and diplomacy. With this in mind, my perspectives have changed dramatically since my time as a high school student: during this time, dreaming big is an asset, allowing youth to explore their options. However, as time wears on, reality also kicks in, and people gradually choose paths that strike a balance between what they enjoy doing and what they’re good at doing.
- In this moment, the characters’ personalities are captured succinctly in what they’re doing: Shinobu is plainly very focused and into her tasks, while Alice and Aya help out as best they can. Karen and Yoko, by comparison, are totally slacking off. However, Shinobu is whisked off with Isami on an errand of sorts, and when Alice wonder about how everyone knows one another, it is Yoko who steps up to the plate and recounts the story of their time as middle school students.
- After Shinobu and Yoko receive their latest test scores following an in-class exam, their spirits plummet when Aya lectures them about the importance of performance in helping them get into their high school of choice. The girls decide to take a walk, and it is here that they visit Moegi High School for the first time, running into instructor Sakura Karasuma (Satomi Satō, best known for being K-On!‘s Ritsu Tainaka, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?‘s Chiya Ujimatsu and Hyouka‘s Eru Chitanda). After some introductions, Sakura gives them a short tour of campus.
- Despite their prospects appearing low, Sakura encourages the girls to work their hardest and even gives them a cheer that Aya finds embarrassing. One of Sakura’s strongest traits is that she can go to great lengths to help the students even if her actions can come across as embarrassing; her students find this endearing and consequently, place a great deal of faith in her, accounting for why she’s held in high regard by the student population.
- In the Canadian education system, there are no entrance exams, and students moving from middle school to high school are placed based on their geographical location relative to the school. There are provincial standardised exams that students must take, which influence the courses they can take once in high school. With this in mind, while the education systems here are less competitive, once folks finish their education, things become much more difficult when it comes time to find an occupation (whereas in Japan and other parts of Asia, the education system is gruelling, but finding work becomes a little more straightforwards based on which institution one graduates from).
- For the time being, I’m done my education – I’ve stared down countless exams throughout my post-secondary career. Of my conventional exams, the most difficult exam I’ve ever written was for my Organic Chemistry II and Data Structures II course during my second year, while the worst performance was for Introductory Biochemistry (which I only just passed). The best exam was my Physics II (Electricity and Magnetism), written when I was in fourth year, during which I was still considering medicine as a career path, and the fastest I’ve ever finished a final was ten minutes (where I ended up missing exactly one question).
- These exams pale in comparison to the MCAT (2012), my undergraduate honours defense (2013) and my Master’s defense (2016): these exams took a considerable amount of time to prepare for, and of the three, the MCAT was probably the most challenging. I have vivid recollections of spending the summer of 2012 studying for the exam even though it’s been nearly five years since I wrote the MCAT. Back in Kiniro Mosaic, Aya steps into the summer sun to visit Yoko’s house, where they may continue studying for their own exams.
- Friends are often depicted studying together in things like Kiniro Mosaic: I’m predominantly a lone wolf who prepares independently for exams, but for several courses during my undergraduate degree (most notably, organic chemistry) and the MCAT, I was fortunate to be in similar company. The advantage about studying together is that help is available; this might offer a different perspective towards a problem that makes it easier to solve, and if there are people in the group who are unsure about a concept, teaching them can also help one reinforce their own knowledge.
- With that being said, I’ve never studied with friends at my place (or theirs) before: the environment of a library or quiet room is rather more conducive towards work – Yoko, Shinobu and Aya captialise on such a space to shore up their own knowledge. Clean and minimalistic, the artwork in Kiniro Mosaic is intended to keep the viewers’ focus on the characters; this is quite similar to the approach taken in Yuyushiki, and drives home the notion that Kiniro Mosaic is more about the characters than their setting.
- During the New Year, Yoko, Aya and Shinobu pray for their success in examinations at a local Shrine, as well as for one another’s success. The Chinese have an equivalent saying as a form of New Years’ wish: “學業進步” (Mandarin pronunciation xué yè jìn bù, literally “improvement in [your] studies”), but no such equivalent prayer. Some elements in anime, such as praying at a Shrine for success in studies or love, bring to mind some of the pre-game rituals people, especially athletes, have prior to a major event or trial. Mine is to halt all revisions twenty four hours before an examination and do something completely unrelated, whether it be study something else or outright stop studying altogether.
- The rationale for this is that, if I were to be in trouble for an exam, a day is likely not to make too much difference; in the typical case, I could also lose confidence as I encounter material that may or may not be outside the scope of the exam. By relaxing, I calm my mind and allow the material that already exists to be consolidated. This strategy is my own exam-writing technique and may not work for everyone. During the winter, Shinobu and Yoko run into Aya, who’d just passed the exam for her first choice. However, feeling that she might be giving up time with her friends, she also applies to Moegi High School.
- Although the exam turned out to be slightly more difficult than even Aya had imagined, Yoko and Shinobu put in their best efforts. The exam leaves the two slightly dejected, and this time, it’s Aya who picks up the slack and suggests that everyone relaxes with something delicious. Following my MCAT in 2012, contrary to the suggestions from a friend to have ice cream, I went for a hearty dinner at a Chinese Bistro and then proceeded to sleep like I hadn’t slept all summer. While my ability to recall things is quite powerful, I cannot recall what I did the day after the MCAT.
- When the results for Moegi High School are made known, Aya is offered admissions. Yoko and Shinobu are initially frightened to learn their results, but with Aya’s encouragement, the two find that they’ve also been accepted. While Aya is normally presented as a shy but disciplined, no-nonsense type of person who is quick to dismiss the others’ antics, Pretty Days makes it clear that she’s also got a more caring side to her, as well.
- Ultimately, Aya turns down her acceptance offer to the more prestigious high school in favour of Moegi High, much to Yoko and Shinobu’s surprise. This attests to the strength of their friendship, and the moment also presents an opportunity to see everyone wearing the Moegi High uniform properly: in Kiniro Mosaic, only Shinobu wears her uniform properly Yoko dispenses with the outer jacket, while Aya wears a sweater over hers. Karen wears her uniform in a very casual fashion, while Alice has a pink Cardigan over hers.
- Alice and Karen both find this to be a very moving story. Karen’s reaction is rather adorable, and Alice is outright crying at the journey. A cursory glance at the calendar on the wall suggests that it’s 2014: Kiniro Mosaic originally began its manga run in 2010, and the anime dates back to summer 2013, although I only picked up the anime one term into my graduate program in late 2014. Unlike most anime, which I procrastinate to an extent most folks would find ridiculous, I managed to finish Kiniro Mosaic just in time for the second season to start.
- It turns out that Shinobu and Isami went on a cake run; after Shinobu returns allegedly bearing gifts, Alice and Karen become rather excited, only to wilt in disappointment when it turns out the gift is Shinobu’s love. This forms the motivation for the page quote, where Bender receives a similar “gift” from Robot Santa in one of the Futurama holiday specials. The Futurama incarnation is rather darker with respect to its comedy, standing in contrast with the lighter atmosphere conveyed in Kiniro Mosaic.
- Shinobu plainly remembers all that Aya’s done for her, and even though she might spend more time with Alice and Karen, Shinobu has never forgotten just how important Aya is to her. Thus, while Alice and Karen might recoil at Shinobu’s “gift”, Aya is well aware that Shinobu is being serious and genuinely appreciates their friendship, leading to this moment here.
- Isami reveals that a cake is also on the table as a gift, turning Alice and Karen’s mood around instantly. Isami is voiced by Yukari Tamura, whom I also know for her roles as Sakura Yoshino (Da Capo), Mai Kawasumi (Kanon), Mei Suonohara (CLANNAD), Tabane Shinonono (Infinite Stratos) and Remon Yamano (Ano Natsu De Matteru). It’s actually a bit of a surprise to see just how much anime I’ve watched over the past ten years, and in the near future, I’ve got a special post reviewing the Ah! My Goddess The Movie, which was my entry into anime. It’s a thrilling story, and I wish to do it justice, so that story will be explored in full once I kick that post off.
- Looking back, I’ve never done anything quite with the atmosphere of a culture festival during my time as a secondary student, but in university, I’ve participated in many open house events, speaking with parents and prospective students about the health science program. During my final year of graduate studies, I also had the opportunity to participate in a special celebration for the university’s fifteenth anniversary, alongside a TEDx talk: while not quite as festive as a cultural festival, things were nonetheless quite enjoyable.
- Sakura enjoys a corndog and candied apple here prior to the play’s start, much to Yoko’s surprise. Today, besides marking the beginning for this year’s Daylight Savings, also saw an afternoon outing to watch the critically-acclaimed Logan. Prior to the movie, I stopped at Opa’s for lunch: I admit I’ve never eaten at the one on campus in all of my time there as a student, so at my friend’s recommendation, I went with the lamb wrap and fries, as well as sharing a plate of fried calamari. After lunch was over, with another friend inbound, and the movie set for a few hours later, I dropped by BestBuy to pick up a new USB hub.
- Logan, with its thematic elements and violence (though, not quite as violent as either Wolfenstein or DOOM), sits quite far removed from the likes of Kiniro Mosaic, being a direct and forward film that is to-the-point with the presentation of its narrative. I can say that Logan is worthy of the praise it has garnered, but as the movie is still a new one, and partially because this is a Kiniro Mosaic post, I won’t go into further details.
- With encouragement from Alice and Yoko, Aya begins her performance, masterfully delivering her lines despite being drafted at the last possible moment to perform. Despite her aversions to publicity, Aya can be quite capable, and here, she embraces her role, giving audiences a chance to see a side of her personality hitherto unexplored. It is in this play where most of the artwork comes from, then: in the aftermath of the OVA’s theatrical release, Japanese artists generated a non-trivial amount of artwork.
- In anime such as Kiniro Mosaic, unexpected setbacks are presented for the sake of comedy rather than for drama: Karen’s completely forgotten her lines and immediately falls back on her improvisational skills. Unsurprisingly, Aya is unable to keep up, and the entire play seems to be at jeopardy. This brings to mind the Giant Walkthrough Brain from several years back, where a thunderstorm knocked out the power mid-game during the show’s first performance at the Banff Centre. Jay Ingram and his band excel at improvisation, and the use of laptops meant that we didn’t skip a beat: the show transitioned smoothly back in once power were restored, and the first performance ended up being a great success.
- With the play in peril, Shinobu
activates her NT-D summons a blonde wig and begins writing new lines in response to Karen and Aya’s predicament. While typically air-headed and incapable as a student, Shinobu’s highly talented in other areas. Academics is not everything, and while education systems place a very strong emphasis on academic performance, I’ve found that, especially in graduate school, the learnings and take-away messages from a course far exceed one’s grade: the thing I value the most of my graduate school experiences isn’t the Unity or Unreal Engine, how to formally describe a multi-agent system or mine data, but rather, how to communicate effectively.
- Thus, what was supposed to be a structured play quickly turns into a free-for-all musical that winds up being a great success. Pretty Days grossed a total of 26 million yen (around 300000 CAD) on its first weekend. The original news article announcing Pretty Days is a deliberately misleading one, reading that Pretty Days would be predominantly about Shinobu’s situation when Yoko and Aya notice that she’s been overextending herself for the culture festival. Giving nothing away about the OVA’s contents, this blurb turned out to be a blessing and contributes to the OVA’s impact.
- The Pretty Days OVA reaches its conclusion, with Shinobu and her classmates receiving warm applause for their performance in spite of all of the setbacks they’ve encountered. With Pretty Days in the books, eyes now turn towards the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? special. Titled “Dear My Sister”, the OVA was announced back during the Rabbit House Tea Party in 2016 and originally set to receive a limited theatrical screening in May this year – it is speculated to involve more music than seen in the anime proper. At present, it’s been delayed by production issues, and the updated release date remains unknown.
- At present, even OVAs are receiving the anime movie release pattern, taking at upwards of a half-year to finally become available in the home release format now; the wait for these OVAs has become as long as those for movies, accounting for why Pretty Days, released in November 2016, is only being reviewed now. In spite of the waits, I will definitely be returning to do a talk on the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? special once that is available, and for the present, regular programming resumes as I push towards the end of Sora no Woto.
As is the modus operandi for OVA posts, one wonders if the OVA is the end-game, or merely a stepping stone for a continuation. Kiniro Mosaic performs reasonably well with respect to sales, and with the manga ongoing, it is possible that an animated adaptation depicting Shinobu and the others’ third year could come to fruition in the future, dealing with the girls as they finish their third year and move towards graduation. Nineteen months separated the first and second seasons, and by this trend, if Kiniro Mosaic is to receive a third season, it would likely be aired during the Winter 2018 anime season, just slightly less than a year from now. In comparison to my remarks that a second season of Yuyushiki, would be unlikely owing to how much time has elapsed since 2013, Kiniro Mosaic has already received its second season: the Pretty Days OVA comes at an intermediary point, so I am a bit more optimistic about the prospects of a third season. A continuation of Kiniro Mosaic would therefore be most welcome, acting as a conclusion of sorts to the series. Aside from graduation, a continuation could also open the possibility of Shinobu and her friends visiting England once more before they set off for whatever their futures have in store for them (with this being said, such an adventure might even be presented as a movie).