The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Masterpiece Anime Showcase

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Celebrating Ten Years of Hanasaku Iroha and Bonburi’ing a Path to the Future, How People Blossom from Self-Discovery, Adversity and Hard Work

“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” –Tōru Miyagishi

When high school student Ohana Matsumae’s mother, Satsuki, decides she wants to elope with a man, Ohana is sent to live at her grandmother’s inn, the Kissuisō. Although this change in circumstances leaves Ohana discouraged, working at the Kissuisō pushes her to better herself. As Ohana falls in love with her work and what she learns, she comes to know the Kissuisō’s staff better, as well. From serving customers, to learning about her coworkers, Minko, Nako, Tōru, Renji, Tomoe, Enishi and Denroku, Ohana stumbles and falls during her learnings, but always comes out with more resolve and spirit than before. In the process, Ohana influences those around her to be at their best, comes to terms with her old life, and determines that she wants to shine in whatever her endeavours are, the same as her grandmother had done. Thus, Ohana is able to take things in stride when her grandmother announces that Kissuisō is set to close. The staff part ways for new positions but promise to return the day Kissuisō can re-open, and Ohana returns to Tokyo with a new lease on life, with her world no longer unremarkable and drab. 2011’s Hanasaku Iroha was P.A. Works’ fourth production, and the first time they’d presented a series about coming-of-age through the workplace. Sincere, honest and gritty, Hanasaku Iroha pulls no punches; Ohana is thrown into the harsh realities of work, and despite losing her way, Ohana’s unquenchable sense of optimism allows her to pull through and become someone who takes pride in her work. This spirit was evidently infectious; the other staff at Kissuisō find it difficult not to get drawn into Ohana’s way of doing things; Minko, Nako, Tōru, Renji and Tomoe each come to appreciate what Ohana brings to the table, and with twenty-six episodes of runtime, there is plenty of space to flesh out each of the characters, who all have their own aspirations and desires. In time, the seemingly cold and hostile staff open up and become irreplaceable allies, all of whom support one another as they strive to follow Sui Shijima’s vision of running the best possible inn for their customers. This in turn opens Hanasaku Iroha up to explore its themes: while the series’ first half deals prominently with the reality of the workplace and depicts seemingly-disconnected stories, Hanasaku Iroha opens the throttle in its second half and boldy went where the studio had not previously gone. The end result is nothing short of touching, and for this reason, Hanasaku Iroha joins the ranks of series that changed my worldview after I’d finished with it.

There are two central elements to Hanasaku Iroha that unify the entire anime’s story together. The first of this is evident in how Sui receives Ohana during the first episode: Ohana’s first mistake earns her a triple-slap to the face, and Sui notes that as an innkeeper, the customers are first and foremost without exception. Ohana had arrived at Kissuisō expecting a færie tale of sorts, but this moment leaves her in tears, resigned to the fact that things will only get more difficult from here (her coworkers seem distant, as well). However, after Ohana and the Kissuisō’s staff save writer Tarō Jirōmaru from committing suicide, Ohana comes to realise that Tarō’s seemingly-dubious writings brought out something she never spotted in herself; having went through her life without direction, and always resenting her mother for being absent from important moments of her life, Ohana now wants to shine, to be the best that she can be. To this end, Ohana subsequently undergoes a dramatic change, improving greatly as a waitress, and in time, comes to fall in love with her job. The desire to reinvent herself manifests as Ohana’s catchphrase, to “bonbori” things up; to work hard with a clear purpose in mind and visibly benefit those around her. Seeing how her effort directly impacts those she serves gives Ohana something tangible to work towards, and waitressing at Kissuisō becomes more than a job to Ohana: it is a way of life, giving her purpose. However, Ohana isn’t merely just expending effort: having taken her grandmother’s words to heart, Ohana expends the right kind of effort. The sum of her experiences at Kissuisō makes Ohana more mindful of those around others, more empathetic, and more efficient. This accelerates Ohana’s growth, and time away from Tokyo allows her to gain new perspective on the problems she’d left behind in Tokyo. Ohana now understands her mother a little better, and realises that she’d been unfair to Kōichi Tanemura, a friend who’d confessed to Ohana but never got a straight answer. With the newfound outlook on honesty, Ohana ultimately resolves to return Kōichi’s feelings, too. Ohana’s efforts benefit her immensely, but also has a profound impact on those around her. Minko becomes more honest about her feelings, while Nako becomes more assertive. Meanwhile, Tōru develops a minor crush on Ohana and in spite of himself, finds himself looking forwards to seeing what crazy stunts Ohana brings to the table whenever a challenge falls upon Kissuisō. Being encouraged by hard work lies at the heart of Hanasaku Iroha, and here, P.A. Works is suggesting that all change begins with hard work. One must have that internal drive to better themselves above all else, and here in Hanasaku Iroha, it was because Ohana desired this change, that she ultimately ends up becoming more capable, dependable and mature.

Throughout Hanasaku Iroha, it is also shown that while change is prima facie an intimidating thought to entertain, once the events are in motion, it actually becomes easier to adapt and roll with the punches. The reason for this is that, while a circumstance may change, one will reliably enter with the skills and experience they’d previously accrued. For instance, it is the case that, once Ohana sets her heart on doing something, she goes to extraordinary lengths to get it done. In the beginning, Minko and Nako both irritate her, and she decides the best way to sort them out is to watch them eat their least favourite foods. This was something she’d done when her mother skipped out on a school activity, leaving her hanging. By applying past solutions to current problems, Ohana finds that skills become transferable in a variety of contexts, and that the determination to get things done, no matter what (equivalent to Takako’s “never give up!”), ends up being to Ohana’s favour. On several occasions, Ohana simply pushes into a situation with her typical stubbornness, and for her efforts, there is a result. When Kissuisō is swamped by visitors one weekend, Ohana manages to retrieve Tōru from a wedding. Later, she travels to Tokyo with fire in her heart after learning her mother had written a devastating review about Kissuisō, and despite her mother’s resistance to admitting any wrong-doing, Ohana ultimately does manage to convince Satsuki to show up and experience Kissuisō as a professional. Ohana’s tendency to stick her nose into business she has no business in always seems to leave a bad situation in a more manageable position: during a class trip, Ohana decides to help the inn her class is staying at. While the inn and their processes might be different, the things Ohana learnt from Kissuisō allow her to ensure the inn can keep up with the volume. Finally, it is Ohana who suggests that Enishi and Takako have their wedding at Kissuisō, and while this created more work for everyone, it also demonstrated that Kissuisō’s staff do have what it takes, allowing the newly-weds to save money and have a memorable wedding. Ultimately, the sum of their experiences is what allows the staff to accept Kissuisō’s closure: while everyone has grown fond of working at this inn, their skills are most definitely applicable elsewhere in life, as well. The accrued learnings and capabilities over time mean that oftentimes, the prospect of change can appear scarier than the change itself. However, one’s skill never leaves them, and so, by rising to the occasion, adversity simply becomes an instrument of helping one to advance themselves further. Hanasaku Iroha is speaking to viewers here and reminds them that while circumstances may appear insurmountable, help from both within and without mean that one is never truly alone.

Skill, hard work and the rewards these virtues give rise to are a central piece of Hanasaku Iroha, presented in sufficient detail as to make the anime a masterpiece already, Hanasaku Iroha goes above and beyond with its second theme, which concerns Sui’s personal belief about Kissuisō and her staff. Sui’s intention of closing down Kissuisō for the present stems from her desire to see everyone follow their own aspirations, and this initially created conflict amongst the staff, who’ve come to view Kissuisō as their home. As a result of Sui’s own devotion to her career, she created an environment where excellence was the standard, and appropriate effort was rewarded. This inspires Kissuisō’s staff to put in their best no matter the situation, all in the name for the customer. Ohana, Nako and Tomoe become better waitresses. Minko, Tōru and Renji thrive as chefs, and even writer-turned-staff Tarō becomes an integral part of the team. It is at Kissuisō everyone cut their teeth, and it is understandable to see everyone as being loyal to the inn. However, as Sui rightly puts it, staying put here would only serve to hold everyone back from unlocking their fullest potential. Familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency engenders stagnation. Hence, Sui indicates that each of Ohana, Minko, Nako, Tomoe, Tōru, Renji and Enishi would be giving up their dreams to fulfil her dreams. This is true in a manner of speaking: the original Kissuisō was, after all, built for Sui’s happiness. In order to truly develop their skills, everyone must embrace new challenges and explore new directions. There is an analog for me: when I began my career, I desired to stick with a company because above all else, I sought practical experience with software development. In my case, the combination of the companies running low on funds, and my skills reaching a ceiling of sorts, meant I was compelled to seek out new opportunities. While intimidating to step out of my comfort zone and put myself out there to see what new opportunities I could captialise upon, the end result was that over time, I would settle into my new role and therefore have a chance to continue improving myself. This is what Sui meant for Kissuisō’s staff to realise: granted, everyone works wonderfully as a team and are completely loyal to Kissuisō, but at the same time, a majority of the staff are still young and therefore have much to learn. Kissuisō’s closing therefore ends up being a blessing in disguise, and as Hanasaku Iroha entered its final phase, the anime clearly sought to convey to viewers that life is full of surprises. While it is tempting to follow the familiar, well-worn path, true growth and learning comes when one is pushed out of their comfort zone. Ohana had been dropped into a new environment at Kissuisō and rose to the occasion despite initial hiccoughs, but came to love her duties and her coworkers at the series’ beginning. Thus, when Kissuisō closes, armed with a better sense of who she is, Ohana is now better equipped to deal with her future, as are each of Minko, Nako, Tomoe, Tōru, Renji and Enishi.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I first watched Hanasaku Iroha, and what’s more, this anime hasn’t aged a day in terms of its themes and visuals. When I finished this series, I was just beginning the academic semester, having come out of one of my favourite summers of all time. I wrote that this anime had been about coming to terms with one’s identity and aspirations through hard work. The themes of Hanasaku Iroha aren’t deep and mysterious by any means, and the me of ten years earlier had readily identified what P.A. Works had sought to convey through this anime.

  • However, in the decade that has passed, my appreciation of Hanasaku Iroha has increased primarily because I’ve now lived through the things that Ohana experienced. Ten years earlier, I’d been a student, and my life had always been ordinary, allowing me to focus purely on my studies. I thus approached Hanasaku Iroha from a less learned perspective. Looking back now, and armed with a full decade’s worth of stories, it’s really hit me as to just how meaningful and well-done this anime is. For this reason, I’ve decided to go with a much larger post to articulate my thoughts on Hanasaku Iroha and its impact. On top of my usual themes and commentary, I am going to also reminisce a little about this past decade.

  • Out the gates, Ohana is pushed into a completely different world. While she’d come into the countryside and Kissuisō looking for change in her life, Ohana is by no means spoiled or lazy – she’s worked hard for herself back home in Tokyo, and had been hoping the change of scenery would lead her on a journey of self-discovery. However, her hard work at Kissuisō is not always met with praise, and Ohana earns herself three slaps to the face from her grandmother for degrading a customer’s experience. Immediately, Hanasaku Iroha sets the tone for what reality is like; there is precious little space to make mistakes, and errors are met with a firm reprimand.

  • Moreover, Ohana’s new coworkers aren’t exactly shining rays of sunshine: Minko is openly hostile towards Ohana, and Nako is too shy to be an effective mentor. Frustrated that no one at Kissuisō seems to be willing to show her the ropes, Ohana ends up confronting Minko and Nako directly, determining that she’ll only get to know them better by forcing them to eat something they dislike. While Ohana’s relationship with her coworkers starts out rough, one of the best parts about Hanasaku Iroha was that, once Ohana got to know everyone better, she came to see everyone as an integral part of Kissuisō and her own life.

  • After Ohana mistakenly clears out author Tarō Jirōmaru’s manuscripts, the entire Kissuisō’s staff hunt for them. Ohana ends up finding them, but gets “kidnapped” in the process. While Tarō appears a loser who overplays his ability, his attempts to get inspiration help Ohana find her footing: in a rather risqué draft, Ohana reads that her character should sparkle more. Tarō had meant it in a more questionable way, but Ohana interprets this to mean that she should do her best, too. When Tarō’s truth comes out, he attempts to run away, and he even attempts to commit suicide, but Nako ultimately saves him, and Ohana slaps sense into him, saying that his writing has at least inspired her to do better.

  • Ohana had already been a decent cook and possesses a range of skills as a consequence of her mother, Satsuki, working late and leaving Ohana to handle the household chores. As a result, Ohana is very hard working, and once she gets into her stride at Kissuisō, she is able to impart her personality on those around her. While Nako is able to accept Ohana and begins to change, Minko adamantly refuses to admit that Ohana has impacted her and remains angry wherever Ohana is concerned.

  • While Ohana’s mother may have never been much of a positive role model for her, this hasn’t stopped Ohana from being optimistic and cheerful. In this way, she is able to make the most of her time at Kissuisō, and when it comes time to transfer to Nako and Minko’s school, she takes in everything with energy, too. Hanasaku Iroha shows that Ohana has no trouble getting along with her new classmates, who initially find her Tokyo background fascinating. Over time, however, they come to respect Ohana for how much she’s capable of accomplishing.

  • The Bonbori Festival is mentioned early in Hanasaku Iroha – Nako explains that it was born as a festival to allow a local deity to return to the heavens, and in exchange for help, the deity grants people’s wishes. Ohana is fairly pragmatic, and approaches problems in her life head-on, but where her friend, Kō, is concerned, Ohana cannot help but wish for a bit of magic. Hearing about the Bonbori Festival also inspires Ohana to adapt a new catchphrase: to bonboru (a portmanteau of bonbori and suru, indicating a verb), or give one’s best efforts towards a goal. As memory serves, the variant of Hanasaku Iroha I watched back in 2011 translated bonboru as “fest it up”. Although perhaps capturing the spirit, I would give this only partial credit, since it doesn’t convey the effort Ohana is thinking of, to give it one’s all.

  • While Ohana initially is perplexed about her grandmother’s credos, of always putting the customer first, over time, she comes to understand what Sui had meant. There is a sense of pride in doing a proper job; I’d long believed in giving one’s best no matter what, and even prior to Hanasaku Iroha, I embodied this concept, knowing that no matter the outcome, trying my best meant there were no regrets after. Hard work and effort are closely related: putting an effort to do well lessens the mental schlepp, and increases the feeling of accomplishment when one’s finished their work.

  • Effort is something that I’ve always respected; this is something about me that hasn’t changed in the past decade, and my belief in effort impacts everything I do, from my work to how I run this blog. Like Sui states, effort isn’t just expenditure of time towards a task: it is about efficiency, succinctness and hitting one’s intended aims. I have heard people hold this against the blog: they argue that my posts’ length does nothing to impact validity because effort doesn’t equate to correctness. However, I counterargue that the effort I put into my post isn’t mirrored by post length, but rather, the accuracy and authenticity of what I say. The length comes about simply because I need the extra space to articulate the appropriate details.

  • Ohana is surprised to be getting paid alongside the other Kissuisō staff: twenty thousand Yen is a lot for Ohana, especially considering that her allowance back home is only eight thousand Yen. Ten years earlier, I’d never actually worked any summer jobs in the traditional sense; in my programme, I applied for scholarships and made bank during the summer by doing research for labs at the university. Looking back, I think it would’ve been a valuable life experience if, during my time in secondary school, I’d applied for a position at the local bookstore or similar; back then, I was a member of the local Chinese school’s staff and helped with various things instead.

  • The conflict between tradition and innovation is occasionally explored in Hanasaku Iroha, as Enishi and Takako attempt to bring new ideas to the table in an effort to increase customer count and customer retention. Sui’s intent is to do what works, while Takako believes that new visitors need incentive to show up. Having been on both sides of the fence, I’ve found that incremental innovation is usually the most successful: people desire a product that is familiar but does just enough differently to justify going with it. As a university student, I was all about the innovation, at least until I took a fourth-year course on iOS development and had the chance to appreciate why the expression “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” holds water: some traditions endure precisely because they work.

  • Yuina is the granddaughter of a rival innkeeper, but despite her position, she struggles to decide whether or not to inherit the family business or pursue a career of her own choosing. Her manner and personality comes across as a bit eccentric (she’s fond of switching accents at the drop of a hat), but this doesn’t stop her from gaining a large pool of prospective suitors among the male classmates. She getting along with Ohana, who also is the granddaughter of an innkeeper. Unlike Ohana, who has no qualms about getting her hands dirty and helping out, Yuina seems disinterested in the day-to-day aspects of running an inn.

  • When Ohana comes across the wa maid uniforms Sui herself had made decades earlier, she decides to give them a go. These uniforms show that Sui herself also once looked to the future and wondered if there were ways of livening things up a little. It’s certainly different enough to be noticed by the customers, who find the change refreshing. Subtle changes like these can often make a world of difference: as a software developer, I’m attuned to these sorts of things. This time of year, for instance, sees the release of Apple’s latest version of iOS, and I still vividly recall back in 2011, when iOS 5 came out. iOS 5 introduced the notification center and iCloud. Fast forward ten years, and we’re now rocking iOS 15.

  • I’m still getting used to iOS 15 so far, so I don’t really have much to say about it yet, so we’ll return to Hanasaku Iroha, where during one particularly hilarious segment, Tomoe attempts to drive off some rather troublesome customers who are into wargaming and airsoft after they begin frightening Nako and Ohana. At this point in time, Tomoe is looking for a change of scenery and imagines that she might as well get fired in the process. However, without really realising it, Tomoe’s “antics” are right up the wargamers’ alley, and they compliment Kissuisō for having improved their experience in an unexpectedly pleasant way. Sui praises Tomoe for going the extra mile to keep the customers happy, and Tomoe realises that there’s more to being a waitress than she’d previously seen.

  • When I watched Hanasaku Iroha for the first time, I was only a shade older than Ohana, Minko and Nako. On my revisit now, I’m older than Tomoe and Tōru: the struggles that Tomoe face (her mother can be heard bugging her about getting married and doing some matchmaking) are, incidentally, the same struggles I have. During this watch-through of Hanasaku Iroha, I came to appreciate Tomoe doubly so: while she’s a little sensitive about being single whenever the topic is brought up, these worries are professionally set aside whenever she’s waitressing at Kissuisō as she strives to make sure the customers are happy, and that her juniors are doing things properly.

  • It seems like that adversity continues appearing at the most unexpected of times; right when Kissuisō receives an influx of customers one weekend, Sui herself falls ill and is admitted to hospital. Even then, her main concern is for the customers’ well-being. At this point in time, Ohana still has a bit of trouble separating her personal and professional concerns. However, she does understand that her grandmother has a point, and heads back to Kissuisō with the goal of ensuring all of the customers are properly cared for.

  • When Takako and Enishi hear that a reviewer is scheduling a stay at Kissuisō, they attempt to make their visit as pleasant as possible with the hope of scoring a favourable review. This goes against how Sui runs things, and Ohana manages to push the other employees at Kissuisō to treat all of the guests equally, as her grandmother would do, so that the reviewer would have an experience that is most truthful to what guests can expect from Kissuisō. Ohana’s sense of integrity is wonderful; while she’s determined and driven, she never once considers using underhanded techniques to get ahead. Techniques or no, the surge of customers puts a massive strain on the staff.

  • Whenever the going gets too rough, Denroku Sukegawa is always on hand to offer advice for Ohana. Denroku is an elderly man who’s worked at Kissuisō since Sui and her husband took it over from the previous owner, and over the years, has steadily worked in the background to keep the inn’s HVAC and mechanical systems up and running. Previously, I’d not been too sure where Denroku’s nickname came from: I do hear various characters refer to him as 豆爺 (Hepburn mamejii, jyutping dau6 je4, literally “Bean Gramps”), but it turns out that his name was similar to the name of a well-known company that specialised in beans. Translations of his name vary from “Beanman” to “Mr. Beans”.

  • Spurred on, Ohana decides to request reinforcements from Nako, and to bring Tōru back herself. While she is unsuccessful, she receives a phone call from Kōichi: after she’d left Kōichi hanging when he’d attempted a kokuhaku, Ohana finds it difficult to speak with him, embarrassed about what she’d done. However, in spite of this, Kōichi continues to support Ohana as best as he can, and this support in turn leads her to do her best. While Tōru is taken aback, seeing that Ohana present shows him just how much he’s needed, and he hastens to get back to Kissuisō and help keep the kitchen going.

  • With the whole of Kissuisō firing on all cylinders, the staff are able to keep the ship upright. Hanasaku Iroha‘s first few episodes are a little chaotic and are only loosely connected, showcasing more critical moments as Ohana adjusts to life here and makes her presence felt. This approach is something that P.A. Works would carry forwards into their later workplace and coming-of-age series; Tari Tari, Nagi no Asukara, ShirobakoSakura Quest and The World in Colours all focus on unrelated but pivotal moments for the protagonists early in the game, before switching to a much more cohesive and driven story towards the end.

  • While Enishi and Takako were quite worried about pleasing the reviewer, it turns out that they had a wonderful time, impressed with the traditional but attenuative services that Kissuisō offers. Towards the end, Sui also returns from the hospital, impressed that her staff were able to keep things going despite how busy it’d gotten. By this point in time, Hanasaku Iroha had firmly established that Sui’s strict, no-nonsense attitude and methods in keeping Kissuisō ship-shape encourage her employees to do the same, and in turn, Sui also meets excellence with encouragement, creating a tightly-knit staff that are willing to give their utmost to their work.

  • Looking back, I’m not too sure how I got into Hanasaku Iroha, and I’m doubly uncertain as to when I actually started the series. What I do recall is that I began watching the series after some screenshots captured my interest, and it was a captivating ride for me. At the time, I would’ve just come out of what I feel to be one of my favourite summers of the 2010s; after a particularly rough semester that saw my GPU slide down to 3.29, just below the minimum for staying in the Health Sciences Honours programme, I resolved to relax and regroup that summer, spending my days building a renal model in Objective-C, and watching anime by evenings. In this way, I ended up building the foundations of my undergraduate thesis, and also had enough developed so that I could participate in the undergraduate research symposium.

  • By the time term started, I had my abstract and poster prepared for the symposium, and on the day of the event, I was fortunate in that my slot was scheduled in between classes. In university, missing even one lecture can be devastating, so I was lucky not to have missed anything. Here, Ohana develops a fever after overexerting herself: she collapses while attempting to shoo a bat from the rafters. The others immediately send Ohana to bed for some rest so that she may recover.

  • One interesting side-effect from Ohana’s fever is that Tōru begins to develop a minor crush on Ohana – Ohana is the only person who outright says that she needs his help, and was the one motivated enough to personally bring him back to Kissuisō. This creates all sorts of conflict later down the line with Minko, whose crush on Tōru is a badly-kept secret. Dynamics like these mean that Hanasaku Iroha never has a dull moment, but unlike soap opera drama, where characters are endlessly subject to suffering because they are never allowed to learn from their experiences, the characters in anime like Hanasaku Iroha do learn over time, making it far easier to root for Ohana et al.

  • When Ohana overhears that Kissuisō is running fine even though she’s down for the count, she becomes tearful at the prospect of having been sidelined. As it turns out, Nako’s particularly bad with words, and the way she puts things can be unintentionally hurtful; combined with Ohana’s tendency to take things at face value, misunderstandings can occur. I had mentioned this in an earlier post about the bus factor; for the most part, Kissuisō’s staff are capable enough to offset smaller inconveniences like losing a single member of their staff.

  • When Ohana recovers, Kissuisō finds itself facing another crisis: a scathing, blistering review of all the inns in their area threatens business, and Ohana sets off for Tokyo with fire in her heart. She is surprised to learn that her mother was responsible for the review, and stubbornly insists on forcing Satsuki back to Kissuisō so that she may properly experience things. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and the difficulty of the assignment is enough to make Ohana cry. I’d never really thought about this on my first run of Hanasaku Iroha, but despite her generally cheerful demeanour and optimistic outlook, Ohana is also prone to moments where even she feels overwhelmed.

  • As a bit of double damage, Ohana earns that one of Kōichi’s coworkers also has feelings for him, and her world begins unravelling after spotting the two being seemingly close at the bookstore. Fortunately for Ohana, Kōichi’s feelings for her never waver, and here, the other girl confronts Ohana, asking her to be forthcoming about how she feels out of fairness to Kōichi. This does become a bit of a sticking point throughout Hanasaku Iroha – originally, Ohana was not my favourite character, but with ten years of life experience, I now understand why many of the men in Hanasaku Iroha respect Ohana; despite being nosy and noisy, she’s hardworking, honest and determined, all of which are traits I respect in people.

  • Tears are the norm in Hanasaku Iroha for Ohana; they are present to show that Ohana is not without her weaknesses. A lifetime of counting on herself means that Ohana is reluctant to depend on others, but in Tokyo, this is ultimately what saves her from calamity, as Tōru and Minko end up stopping by and giving her a chance to regroup. In the aftermath, Ohana’s mother does end up coming with them to Kissuisō – Ohana’s raw stubbornness and determination is something that runs in the family. In reality, things turning in one’s favour through force of will alone is quite rare, but in an anime like Hanasaku Iroha, it is encouraging to see things work in Ohana’s favour, especially considering how she puts her heart into everything she does.

  • It turns out that Satsuki never particularly saw eye-to-eye with Sui; although Sui had intended Satsuki to inherit Kissuisō, Satsuki never really saw the in as a career path for herself, leading to a rift in the family. It turns out that Satsuki is a journalist who writes what higher-ups ask of her, and there had been indeed a plan to drive interest in a new inn in the area. This revelation might’ve only been a small part of Hanasaku Iroha, but it does underline a longstanding problem with mass media and journalism in general, specifically, can be manipulated to suit the interests of a few. In this case, Satsuki is a cog in a machine; she’s not responsible for the article’s tone per se and would likely face reprimand if she were to write something that didn’t suit the higher ups’ objectives.

  • I have a feeling that the host of negative anime movie reviews at Anime News Network are likely the result of something similar, which accounts for many slice-of-life movies are harshly, but flimsily, critiqued: the reviewers themselves are simply told what verdict should be reached at the film’s end, similarly to how Satsuki is asked to write a scathing tear-down about Kissuisō. Although Sui is reluctant to have Satsuki back, she determines that Satsuki is another customer and suggests to the Kissuisō team that there’s nothing special or challenging if they proceed as they normally do. This particular event helps Ohana bond with Sui more closely; while both are approaching this from a professional perspective, being able to iron out how to optimise Satsuki’s experience helps the pair to learn about Satsuki, and one another, better.

  • Sui reluctantly accepts Satsuki’s invitation to share a drink, viewing it as a part of her duty as Kissuisō’s landlady, and things quickly become a family reunion of sorts. Here, it turns out that despite their dramatically different outlooks on life, daughter and mother alike share the same inextinguishable spirit and determination to make something of themselves. This helps to close the distance between the three: Ohana had spent the whole of Hanasaku Iroha viewing her mother as inconsiderate and self-centred, unable to make time for her own daughter, while Sui has similarly felt her daughter to be irresponsible and unpredictable. However, despite Satsuki’s shortcomings, she doesn’t strike out a hundred percent of the time: this is something both Ohana and Sui are able to pick up now that Satsuki’s actually here.

  • Hanasaku Iroha marked the first time P.A. Works utilised what I would come to know later as “funny faces”: highly comical and exaggerated facial expressions that spoke volumes about how a given character was feeling. Their usage in P.A. Works’ other anime would come and go: they were largely absent from Tari Tari and Nagi no Asukara, made a big return in Shirobako, but were otherwise absent in Sakura Quest and The World in Colours. There’s a time and place for funny faces, but I’ve always enjoyed them, since it emphasises that no matter how serious a given anime gets, the characters are still human. In Hanasaku Iroha, Ohana is the only character seen with funny faces, similarly to how Aoi Miyamori was the only person in Shirobako to be rendered with features indicative of anger, frustration, stress and sorrow.

  • The end of Satsuki’s stay at Kissuisō marks the halfway point to Hanasaku Iroha: Satsuki remarks that it’s been a fun excursion from her daily routine and leaves Ohana with a review properly articulating how she really feels about the place as a professional, citing the attentiveness of the staff as being the biggest strength, and how the inn’s preservation of tradition allows visitors to appreciate things from an older time. Once half of Hanasaku Iroha‘s episodes are in the books, the series had clearly delineated that Ohana has not only settled in to life at Kissuisō, but has wholly embraced things in her pursuit to excel.

  • On its own, this would already be a satisfactory story; P.A. Works thus sets about pushing things to the limit and really showing what’s possible during Hanasaku Iroha‘s second half. I believe this marked the first time P.A. Works had done a two-cour anime; True TearsCannan and Angel Beats! each ran for thirteen episodes. Armed with a new opening and ending song in its second half, Hanasaku Iroha no longer focused on adapting to new environments; instead, the series was now about taking advantage of what one has learnt and applying it to their life’s challenges.

  • When it comes to things like backgrounds and lighting, the art style seen in Hanasaku Iroha is reminiscent of what was seen in Angel Beats!: lighting is extremely vivid, and reflections are very noticeable. Sharp contrasts in the palette help to make elements in an environment pop, and altogether, brings the world to life. This same visual style would return in Tari Tari, although over the years, P.A. Works would also utilise a wide range of different styles in their background art to better fit the story at hand: shiny surfaces and slick-looking buildings may not always line up with the aesthetic a series requires.

  • While on vacation with her class, Ohana stays at another ryōkan-style hotel. It turns out Yuina knows the assistant manager, Yosuke, and he’s about as harsh as Tōru on his subordinates, eventually causing them to quit right as things get busy. Ohana again intervenes, telling them off, but decides that she should help out. Although the assistant director and the hotel’s management state it would be unfair to Ohana, since she’s a customer on a school trip, Ohana’s determination eventually wins out: the staff allow her to help upon learning that she’s Sui Shijima’s granddaughter. Even when the automated cart breaks down, Ohana, Nako and Minko continue to pitch in as temporary waitresses and do what they can.

  • This aspect of Ohana’s character is something I’ve come to greatly respect, and it was for this reason that it becomes easy to see why people take an interest in Ohana: she brightens up the setting no matter where she goes, gets things done and isn’t afraid to go the extra mile once she sets her heart on something. In the end, Ohana even suggests changing up the schedule so that her classmates bathe first before settling down for dinner, buying them time to get everything set up: this was something she’d picked up while looking after Satsuki, and moments like these exemplify why I appreciate Ohana’s character considerably more than I did the first time I watched Hanasaku Iroha.

  • Yuina actually winds up a little jealous of Ohana after Yosuke figures it’d be nice to get someone like Ohana into the family and continue running the inn together that way. Truth be told, aside from Ohana’s tendency to be rather noisy (excellent voice acting on Kanae Itō’s part; she’s also voiced Ika Musume!‘s Sanae, Ayasa from Harukana Receive and Sword Art Online‘s Yui), she’s the sort of person I’d fall in love with; there aren’t many people around who can endure difficult times and face adversity with a smile. I’ve refrained from dating precisely because the times I’ve gone through have been very rough owing to my involvement with start-ups and the associated financial realities of being with a start-up.

  • I imagine that it’d be one-to-a-trillion where I would’ve found someone willing to put up with that sort of thing. These days, things are more stable now, so I suppose it is time to keep two eyes open and see if I can turn this part of my life around, although I wouldn’t consider it a loss if I continue to strike out because I can always better myself in the process. Ten years earlier, I would’ve begun the Japanese class where I’d met someone I ended up developing a crush on and had hoped to ask out. Folks who’ve read my stuff consistently know how that story turned out (elevator version: it didn’t work out so well for me). At the end of the school trip in Hanasaku Iroha, Yuina and Yosuke leave on better terms; they’ve known one another since childhood, and were originally set to marry one another. Yosuke promises to better how he trains staff, and Yuina determines that she should make a more sincere effort at determining what she wants to get out of her life.

  • This does lead to the inevitably question of whether or not I regret taking the route that I did. The answer remains a resounding “no”: when I left graduate school, I was half the developer my peers were (in a literal sense, since I only took half of the computer science courses that computer science majors would as a result of being in the health sciences programme), and I needed a chance to get some industry experience. Working with startups meant I became a self-taught iOS developer, and this has provided me the background needed to solve problems (or at least, know how to begin approaching problems). As it is, I’m probably a little behind in life, but I feel that I have, at the very least, found my footing, and that means what happens from here on out is up to me, which is an encouraging thing. Here, Enishi speaks to a director who’s looking to film a movie at Kissuisō.

  • Even a decade later, watching Nako become so distracted by the prospect of being in a film, subsequently mangling one of Kissuisō’s bonsai trees as a result and her resulting look of shock remains hilarious, a moment that has earned a spot here in this discussion. Filming subsequently begins in earnest at Kissuisō, with camera crews and actresses hustling about for principal photography. The director even brings in an editor so that footage can be put together on-site, and the project’s progress gives Kissuisō’s staff something to look forwards to.

  • Because the director had intended to use the pool for a scene, Enishi asks the staff to clean the pool up and make it screen-worthy. This assignment gives Minko, Nako and Ohana a chance to see a part of Kissuisō that had hitherto remain unused, and also gives viewers a chance to see Minko smile for the first time. While Minko is presented as being all-business and frowns more than she smiles throughout Hanasaku Iroha, it turns out that she has a dazzling smile where the moment allows for it. Minko’s cold personality was later revisited in Tari Tari: Wakana is her equivalent, and like Minko, is quite and devoted. Unlike Minko, Wakana is a bit more empathetic, and once she opens up to Konatsu, Sawa and the others, she becomes a reliable source of support for her friends.

  • While the film itself looks like an exciting opportunity for Kissuisō, it turns out that the director had used it as a scam, with the goal of taking the funds and paying off his debts. This element was meant to show how Hanasaku Iroha is willing to explore the ugly side of business, and how in reality, there are unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of anyone they can. In this case, Enishi is still a beginner, and as such, might not be fully equipped to handle such situations. Learning in this way is harsh, although in my case, I prefer listening to people before pulling any triggers: wisdom from my seniors and elders exists for a reason, and trusting their experience can save me a lot of trouble in the long run.

  • In the end, after a confrontation that sees Enishi and Takako fall into the pool, the pair reconcile, and Sui comes to respect Enishi for standing up for Takako and doing what he felt was right. The question of what happens to the money lost lingers, but for the time being, the learnings are apparent. Throughout these segments, Enishi recalls during his childhood, he felt that his older sister had always overshadowed him, and felt that she was someone who he might only attempt to catch up to. I imagine this is what the aircraft are meant to symbolise: Enishi will always trail because he’s the younger sibling.

  • From here on out, however, Eishi has his own life to life out, and isn’t bound to his sister’s fate. Folks wondering what aircraft are in the skies will be pleased to know that they aren’t difficult to identify: the aircraft from Enishi’s flashbacks are the F4 Phantom (based on its engine profile), while the fighters Ohana spots are the F-15J (based on the twin engines and shape of the real horizontal stablisers). The JASDF have a smaller collection of aircraft, making them easy to identify, and here yes another moment where P.A. Works is able to show off their craft: the afternoon sun glints off Kissuisō’s roof and creates a sense of warmth, accentuated by the afternoon sky’s deep blue hues and billowing clouds.

  • When I went through Hanasaku Iroha back in 2011, Nako was my favourite of the characters: I’d always had a penchant for sky, soft-spoken characters. Nako’s figure, and the fact that she’s voiced by Aki Toyosaki, makes her a very interesting character to behold. As it turns out, Nako is actually quite assertive while at home, since she manages her younger siblings and even keeps an eye on her parents so they eat properly. Conversely, while at work, Nako is quiet and reluctant to speak; for the longest time, Nako had longed to be more assertive and open with her coworkers at Kissuisō.

  • When Nako receives a bonus, she begins to grow worried that Sui might be expecting more of her. However, it turns out that the extra level of effort Nako had went for a visiting couple had been exemplary: Nako had been too nervous to convey to them that there’d been a beautiful meadow a short hike away, but feeling that it was worth the effort, draws the couple a map. The couple would take her up on this and found themselves with an adventure of a lifetime and mention this to Sui, who was impressed with Nako taking the initiative.

  • Ultimately, Nako’s ability to be more true to herself while at Kissuisō is a consequence of Ohana’s influence: Nako has long admired Ohana’s ability to speak her mind with conviction, and spending time with Ohana imparts this change on Nako. In the end, after an episode spent exploring what her best self is, advice from Sui allows Nako to be comfortable with herself, and she resolves to do things in her own manner. Hanasaku Iroha generally gives the characters a chance to shine, and although the time each character gets isn’t even, everyone does get their time in the spotlight. P.A. Works would later rectify this and give characters focus based on their contribution to the main story, but as Hanasaku Iroha was a trailblazer in this area, I won’t hold it against P.A. Works or this anime.

  • With Nako’s growth in the books, eyes turn towards Minko and the challenge she faces during the school’s culture festival. Having long held feelings for Tōru, Minko spends the preparations at odds with the cooking team when they ask to make omurice – one of the girls on the team had hoped to impress her crush, while Minko is trying to impress hers and feels that preparing a proper dish is not feasible given their gear. While the conflict is a messy one, Ohana ends up stepping in, and helps the two parties to compromise: she knows of a recipe that can be prepared with a hot plate, and it turns out to be a delicious one. With this issue addressed, both parties end up happy enough to go forwards.

  • On the day of the culture festival, Tōru shows up as planned, and Minko decides to go all in with her decorations. One aspect of Tōru’s character I relate to, now more than ever, is the fact that he seems quite unaware that Minko has a crush on him. With the wisdom I have now, I have a feeling I’ve probably lost a handful of people because of this part of myself; back then, I wasn’t exactly ready for a relationship, between trying to keep abreast of my studies and then pouring my full efforts towards my work. I am confident that I now possess the maturity needed to build a healthy and happy relationship, although the tradeoff is that the set of people with the traits I value is practically nil.

  • I am fond of problem solving (my occupation speaks volumes to this), but the challenge of dating at my age isn’t something I can sit down, design a set of solution candidates on a whiteboard and then test in a systematic fashion. Further to this, there is a much smaller tolerance for failure (if I mess up a method, I can simply adjust it, recompile it and have another go at things). Hanasaku Iroha captures in full the challenges of relationships: Minko and Ohana struggle with their feelings, and Tomoe is outright single despite being rather attractive. Even Enishi, who fell in love with Takako, has problems of this own to deal with: he worries that Sui won’t accept Takako.

  • Hanasaku Iroha‘s infamous bathroom fight embodies the sorts of problems the road to a meaningful relationship presents; Minko all but admits defeat after a conversation with Tōru seems to suggest that he’s into Ohana, while Ohana believes that Minko hasn’t even made a serious effort yet. In this case, Ohana is absolutely in the right; relationships are a game of selfishness, although I will append that timing and a bit of luck is also necessary. Regarding the young lady I met in Japanese class, there was no happy end there, since she ended up heading over to Japan for an exchange programme and began seeing someone from her host family. While love stories often make heroics out of people who are willing to drop everything and fly across an ocean to persuade their crush, I’m not that sort of person: I don’t go to war and then seek to win later, and it seemed foolish to burn an excess of three thousand dollars to pursue someone who’d all but forgotten about me.

  • It turns out that Sui had approved of Takako: she’s pushing Enishi to follow his own judgement, which was something that he is shown as lacking early in Hanasaku Iroha. While Takako had fully expected Sui to say no, Sui instead hands her the same ring that her husband had given when proposing to her. Moments like these speak to the incalculable power of love, and as Hanasaku Iroha demonstrates, when things line up, a proper relationship is one where there is synergy amongst the two partners. This is something that I’ve come to look for before even considering a relationship; to me, a worthwhile relationship is where I simultaneously knowing I am loved, and have frequent chance to express love, where the pair of us to be more than the sum of our parts. This is something Sui likely spotted in Takako after seeing her with Enishi.

  • Sui reminisces about how Kissuisō came to be: her husband had intended the inn to be a place where she could be happy. The flashback shows the young couple at the Bonbori Festival, hinting at the festival’s significance in the story. While Hanasaku Iroha had begun all over the place and gradually worked towards a coherent, compelling story, the Bonbori Festival is a unifying element that connects all of the pieces together, acting as a tangible endpoint for the story. The events of Hanasaku Iroha are set in Yuwaku, a resort located in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, and while the festival was originally fictional, an inspired bit of lore to really motivate things, the hot spring resort did end up bringing the Bonbori Festival to life. P.A. Works initially spearheaded the festival, but since then, Bonbori has become an annual tradition in the Yuwaku resort area.

  • This speaks to the power that anime can have: while the Bonbori Festival was originally intended for fans, it eventually became a full-fledged local event in time, creating new traditions rooted in hard work, determination and optimism. In a way, the Bonbori Festival in Yuwaku is an embodiment of Ohana’s spirits. On closer inspection, this is an impressive achievement: while The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya might’ve had a wider reach, the outcome of Hanasaku Iroha is more tangible, rivalling the likes of Gundam and Studio Ghibli’s works in terms of impact on society.

  • As Enishi and Takako’s wedding draws nearer, Kissuisō’s staff put the petal to the metal for preparations. It was on Ohana’s suggestion that Kissuisō host the wedding as an economical solution, speaking again to Ohana’s ability to put practical but exciting ideas out for consideration. Kissuisō’s open area becomes the wedding pavilion, and the staff can tend to the reception and banquet. While the wedding dress might be expensive, Ohana and Yuina put their efforts together to make their own dress. The entire wedding between Enishi and Takako is the perfect embodiment of what frugality can accomplish: while attention is paid to detail, and the quality of everyone’s contribution is high, it’s not breaking the bank, either, allowing for a cost-efficient and memorable wedding to occur.

  • From a symbolic standpoint, being married at the inn they’re working at shows that Takako and Enishi are completely devoted to their work as much as they are one another. I’ve found that the things that the best works P.A. Works have delivered have their roots in Angel Beats! and Hanasaku Iroha: the former showed P.A. Works as being able to handle fantastical settings and stories to create emotionally moving stories, while the latter indicated P.A. Works could also excel in bringing the mundane and oft-overlooked life lessons to the forefront. At the time of writing, P.A. Works has produced twenty-four anime series, and of these series, the ones that stuck with me the longest are their workplace and coming of age stories.

  • When I first saw Hanasaku Iroha, I was closer to Ohana, Minko and Nako in age. A full decade later, I’m now just a few years younger than Enishi, and a few years older than Tomoe. Watching Hanasaku Iroha from this different perspective meant that I was able to empathise with and appreciate what Takako, Enishi and Tomoe were thinking. However, it also increased my fondness for Ohana: I don’t think I’ve met any youth quite as spirited and as determined as she is, and while Ohana might be labelled a disturber of the peace, there is no doubting the impact she’s had on Kissuisō ever since she arrived.

  • Throughout Hanasaku Iroha, there’s a large number of emotional moments, and P.A. Works ensures viewers are aware of this through Ohana. However, perhaps speaking to my age (and the accumulated experiences I’ve picked up over the past decade), watching Enishi and Takako getting married actually did bring a solitary tear to my eyes (followed by several more solitary tears): P.A. Works did a wonderful job of capturing the joys of a wedding, a time where the future feels like it could brings limitless joy and possibility.

  • The wedding provides Kissuisō’s staff a chance to really show what they’re made of, and one of the consequences surrounding Ohana’s suggestion is that the whole of the team end up putting their best into everything. From Ohana and Yuina helping make a custom dress for Takako, to Tōru and Renji outdoing themselves with the cooking, preparing for the wedding is simultaneously exciting and hard work, as well. Along the way, Minko grows a bit sensitive to the fact that Ohana seems to be stealing Tōru away from her without realising it, but ultimately, a more assertive Nako defuses this fight, and by wedding day, Kissuisō’s team moves as one cohesive unit.

  • By getting creative, Takako and Enishi’s wedding is one to remember without introducing sticker shock: this moment in Hanasaku Iroha shows how a bit of lateral thinking can make even the impossible possible. A quick glance around shows that the average Canadian wedding rolls for around 30000 CAD, which is, when one thinks about it, an eye-popping price. Wedding planners suggest that it is possible to have a superb wedding for around 9000 CAD by doing things like going with fewer guests, not having an open bar deferring the honeymoon, as well as picking which aspects of the wedding can be scaled back and which areas are higher priority.

  • In Hanasaku Iroha, Sui provides the engagement ring, Kissuisō provides the venue, and Ohana hand-crafts the wedding dress. Overall, assuming 1200 CAD for the ring, 20000 CAD for the venue and 2000 CAD for the wedding dress, Ohana’s suggestion has saved Takako and Enishi an impressive 23200 CAD (a decent starter vehicle like the Mazda CX-30 or Subaru Crosstrek). Altogether, aside from a rather unconventional bit of entertainment during the banquet, courtesy of Tarō and Denroku (in turn leading to looks of shock from Ohana and the others), the event proceeds very smoothly. However, as a bit of a shock to the staff, Sui announces that with Denroku retiring, Kissuisō will be shutting their doors.

  • Altogether, the wedding story in Hanasaku Iroha was very moving, more so than it had been ten years earlier when I’d first watched it. It is not lost on me that ten years is a great deal of time, and in that period, a lot has happened: I’d earned two degrees, became a nidan, and have accrued a shade over five years of industry experience. In this timeframe, I’ve also begun looking towards becoming a homeowner. The ongoing global health crisis has had a nontrivial impact on the housing market, and housing prices have dropped in my area. Moreover, interest rates for mortgages are relatively low: it’s a buyer’s market at the time of writing, and this means beginning to examine the options available.

  • House-hunting is, of course, a very time-intensive process: from browsing through listings, sending out requests to book property viewings and even daydreaming about what to do with a given space, I’ve had little time to do my usual blogging. This is why I’ve been a bit more scarce of late: like anything worth doing, house-hunting requires time, and the hours of a day are limited, so I’ve reprioritised what I’d like to do with my free time. Admittedly, there is a certain amount of fun in doing this stuff, and I do see myself rolling back on the blogging as I begin going through the steps of purchasing a property; it is important to make sure for the processes, I follow protocol and ensure that all i‘s are dotted, and t‘s are crossed.

  • While this inevitably means I’ll be quite busy, I won’t leave readers behind, either: I’ll still be writing, albeit at a reduced rate. Back in Hanasaku Iroha, Takako and Ohana head back to Tokyo. It turns out with Satsuki’s help, Takako was able to track down the director who’d scammed them, and Ohana has a chance to seek out Kōichi and make her feelings known to him. This proves to be a monumental task for Ohana: she’s concerned about Kissuisō’s future, but also wishes to make amends with Kōichi and be upfront about how she reciprocates his feelings for her.

  • As such, when Ohana actually ends up running into Kōichi, she’s no longer coy or hesitant, and openly puts her cards on the table with her inviting Kōichi to the Bonbori festival. It’s a bit of a tearful moment, and although Ohana doesn’t outright deliver her kokuhaku here, it’s clear enough as to what’s going down. Ohana’s monologue reveals that she’d never been appreciative of what she did have: Tokyo was never dull, but rather, she’d come to take the positive things in her life for granted and failed to count her blessings. At this point in Hanasaku Iroha, it is evident that working at Kissuisō helped Ohana to change her perspective and come out more mature.

  • Back at Kissuisō, it turns out that Tarō had been the author of a little-known cooking manga that had inspired both Tōru and Minko to become chefs. While Tarō had appeared an arrogant but incompetent author at Hanasaku Iroha‘s beginning, he’s also a hard worker who accepts responsibility for his mistakes and agrees to work off his debts to Kissuisō. The revelation that his works did indeed inspire people positively shows how unlikely circumstances and fate can really bring people together, and for viewers, it’s a sign that given the right inspiration and effort, Tarō can pick himself back up and continue on his career as a writer. Of course, Tōru and Minko are devastated with this revelation: Tarō did, after all, come across as a little lecherous (unintentionally so).

  • After returning to Tokyo, Satsuki had written a sincere and honest review about Kissuisō, leading to a large uptick in reservations ahead of Bonbori. Sui’s plans to close Kissuisō shortly after the festival leads her to ask that they not accept more reservations than they have space for, but desperate to keep Kissuisō open, Enishi goes against this and determinedly presses forwards with livening Kissuisō up. This creates friction between Sui and the staff: the latter have long regarded Kissuisō as the place where their dreams are being realised and see it as a second home, wishing to work with one another for as long as possible to pursue new heights.

  • When Sui becomes exhausted after a visit to the family’s graves, Ohana looks after her. Ohana and Sui have come a very long way since the beginning of Hanasaku Iroha, from employer and employee to grandmother and granddaughter. Sui reveals to Ohana that with Denroku planning to retire, she feels that Kissuisō has been taken as far as she can carry it, and that she’d been remarkably selfish in bringing others along in the pursuit of her dreams. Having come this far, Sui thus feels that the other staff should also pursue their own dreams and become their best self. Ohana immediately understands what Sui is getting at, but the other staff are adamant about staying.

  • Ohana ends up being caught in the middle again, and is completely unsuccessful in conveying what Sui had told her. As the number of guests increases with Bonbori’s imminent arrival, things get pushed to the breaking point after Tomoe falls and sprains her ankle. Because the whole of Kissuisō is committed to their guests, all differences are set aside. Sui steps in to fill in for Tomoe, noting that before she became Kissuisō’s landlady, she was a waitress, too. All leadership is passed over to Enishi, and he finds this an opportunity to direct the staff in a way that ensures all the customers are looked after.

  • Seeing three generations of the Shijima family fulfilling their waitress duties side-by-side was therefore quite touching in that it shows how challenges can bring people together: it had been clear that Sui and Satsuki do not get along, similarly to how Satsuki and Ohana do not get along, but unified by a common goal (in no small part, thanks to the sheer optimism and determination Ohana brings to the table), grandmother, mother and daughter work together, keeping things at Kissuisō ship-shape prior to the Bonbori festival. With the guests looked after, the staff can finally turn their attention towards the Bonbori festival.

  • Ohana sets off to place her wish on an ema before heading off to meet Kōichi. Under the gentle glow of lanterns lining the path up the mountain, Ohana finally gives Kōichi her kokuhaku while the pair purchase yakisoba at a street-side vendor during the series’ climax. The vendor tactfully draws a heart on their yakisoba, and it speaks volumes to excellence on Hanasaku Iroha‘s part that things were timed so well. The aesthetics and atmosphere surrounding the Bonbori Festival makes it the perfect place for a moment as monumental as a kokuhaku, and the lore behind it, that making wishes here will see them granted, belies the amount of effort that go towards every wish.

  • Through the Bonbori Festival, what Hanasaku Iroha suggests is that behind every wish is a lot of blood, sweat and tears: those who are utterly dedicated to pursuit of their goals doubtlessly encounter untold adversity along the way, and as such, one cannot help but wish that a little bit of luck and external help might be what it takes to push them along just far enough for said dream to become a reality. Ohana had longed to find her place in the sun, and this is her wish at Bonbori, but even without her wish here at the festival, she’s put in the effort to improve herself; viewers thus come to feel that Ohana does deserve to find her success and make her dreams a reality.

  • Throughout the Bonbori Festival, a song called “Night of Bonbori”, which was composed by Shiro Hamaguchi and performed by the Suginami Children’s Chorus. This was custom-written for Hanasaku Iroha using traditional Japanese style, bringing the festival to life. Hamaguchi’s resume is absolutely impressive: besides other of P.A. Works’ titles (Tari Tari and Shirobako), he’s also scored the musical pieces to Ah! My Goddess and Girls und Panzer, demonstrating competence in a variety of styles. Unsurprisingly, the whole of the Hanasaku Iroha soundtrack is an aural treat to listen to, consisting of sixty-three tracks that cover off the more introspective and slice-of-life moments, to chaos and tension that accompanies life at Kissuisō. Like Kenji Kawai, Hamaguchi has a distinct style, and some of the motifs and tone from Hanasaku Iroha‘s soundtrack can later be heard in Tari Tari and Girls und Panzer.

  • With the Bonbori Festival in the books, Hanasaku Iroha prepares to wind down with Denroku’s retirement. By this point in time, the staff have accepted that Kissuisō is closing, and have prepared themselves to part ways for the present. Everyone is leaving on excellent terms with one another; Renji is seen fighting back tears, and Tomoe is openly bawling her eyes out on the day of departure. However, this isn’t the end: Enishi promises to further hone his craft as an inn’s landlord and reopen Kissuisō some day, and upon hearing this, everyone remarks, with conviction, that they’d be happy to be a part of any inn Enishi is managing.

  • Kōichi had struggled to get in touch with Ohana during the course of Hanasaku Iroha and had come close to reaching Kissuisō on several occasions, but self-doubt had led him to turn back every time. At the end of things, Ohana is finally able to show Kōichi the Kissuisō that changed her. Hanasaku Iroha wrapped things up in a highly satisfying and definitive fashion, leaving no stone unturned. During its twenty-six episode run, Hanasaku Iroha had demonstrated what was possible within the space of two-cour anime: in the present day, production studios often go with seasons, deciding whether or not a given anime will get a continuation based on sales figures. Two decades earlier, two-cour anime were more common, and four-cour anime lasting an entire year also existed, speaking to changes in market trends.

  • The longer runtimes mean that anime are given a chance to properly explore the characters, but at the same time, if not properly done, they can also drag on. Back in Hanasaku Iroha, once the staff have headed off for their separate ways, Sui takes some time to walk through the now-silent halls at Kissuisō, with memories of both good and bad times returning to her. She subsequently runs into Ohana, who missed the train and is giving Kissuisō one final cleaning while waiting for the next one.  Sui and Ohana share a little bit of family time together, as grandmother and granddaughter, before Ohana heads off for the train station.

  • Ohana might’ve started Hanasaku Iroha with the vague dream of reinventing herself, but by the series’ end, she still retains all of the optimism and energy she did previously. The difference now is that, having channeled so much of her effort towards something bigger than herself, Ohana is better attuned to the feelings of those around her, and is able to direct her effort towards things that make it better for others. Before she departs, Sui hands her one of Denroku’s journal logs, and Ohana cherishes it, promising to one day pick up where they’d left off.

  • The new Ohana is still Ohana, but with a more mature outlook on life: she prepares to leave for school with a smile on her face, knowing her life has always been colourful, and that she has much to be grateful for. Hanasaku Iroha might’ve been P.A. Works’ first shot at the coming-of-age/workplace genre, but with an execution defined by finesse and care, Hanasaku Iroha set a very high bar for what sorts of stories are possible within the genre. Possessing relevant and critical themes for viewers, relatable characters, artwork and animation that withstood the test of time and stories that pull one in, Hanasaku Iroha got everything right. In fact, a decade later, I better appreciate all of the messages Hanasaku Iroha strove to convey as a consequence of my own experiences, and it is reassuring to know that, even if my path towards tomorrow isn’t so clear-cut, hard work and optimism will help me see what’s upcoming, one step at a time.

Hanasaku Iroha presents two immeasurably powerful themes during its runtime, wrapped up in a story of self-discovery and self-improvement; on these merits alone, the series is a masterpiece. In conjunction with still-gorgeous visuals and aural work, and the fact that emotions are so-well conveyed that I cried alongside Ohana on several occasions Hanasaku Iroha earns its “masterpiece” status several times over. Of course, Hanasaku Iroha does have one further contribution to anime that is meritorious of praise – the unique premise achieved by combining the workplace and coming-of-age stories in Hanasaku Iroha was unheard of for P.A. Works at the time. Striking a balance between two different settings cannot have been easy, but P.A. Works managed to achieve this. Ohana’s story is simultaneously a tale of pursuing one’s best self, acclimatising to and fitting in with her new workplace, as well as how her work contributes to personal growth. As a result of the success from achieving this, Hanasaku Iroha‘s left a lingering legacy on P.A. Works which impacted the sort of series they produce to this day. As the forerunner in combining seemingly-unrelated, and evidently multidisciplinary elements together, Hanasaku Iroha would set the precedence for what was possible. Tari Tari was about a choir-and-sometimes-badminton club’s journey to end high school with a bang, as well as reconcile the gap between dreams and reality with familiar characters (Konatsu is Ohana minus the love story, Wakana is a more honest version of Minko, and Sawa is a more assertive, determined Nako). Sakura Quest and Shirobako both told stories of how people adapt to and overcome challenges in their workplaces, with Sakura Quest similarly running Yoshino against a timeline, and Shirobako had Aoi grow into her responsibilities, much as how Ohana and Kissuisō do in Hanasaku Iroha. The World in Colours showcased another multidisciplinary club as Hitomi strove to learn the meaning of friendship and the worth of magic with her grandmother, Kohaku. Hanasaku Iroha sets the stage for what P.A. Works would explore for a decade after it finished airing, and indeed, some of P.A. Works’ strongest titles had arisen from the successes and learnings derived from Hanasaku Iroha. Today, The Aquatope on White Sands is continuing on in the legacy Hanasaku Iroha had created: in its first half, this series impresses with its story of self-discovery in the workplace. There is no denying the impact Hanasaku Iroha had on P.A. Works – this is on top of the series’ already extensive list of strengths. For this reason, Hanasaku Iroha is exceptional, a cornerstone anime that raised the bar for what’s possible and moving viewers, and as such, I am more than happy to count it a masterpiece for having changed the way I view the world, given me moments to become tearful about and for setting the groundwork for several more titles that similarly inspired and encouraged me to give my best in what I do, a credos that continues to impact how I conduct myself a full decade after Hanasaku Iroha finished airing.

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.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Slow Start, Remarks on Making the Most of Gap Years and the Beauty in Accepting Slow Blooming Flowers

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” –Alfred Pennyworth, Batman Begins

When I began my rewatch of Slow Start, I found that I’d skipped the ending sequence, Sangatsu no Phantasia’s While Listening to the Wind’s Voice, during my first viewing three years earlier. With its moving lyrics and an adorable animation of Hiroe pitifully wiggling on the ground like a newborn caterpillar, I swiftly realised that Slow Start had been trying to do something remarkable; although this was lost on me, and both Japanese and Western viewers three years earlier, I now found the answer I was looking for regarding why Slow Start always felt like it had been more than it appeared to be. It seems quite unnecessary to retread the events of Slow Start in the knowledge that I’d previously written about the series three years earlier, but as a bit of a refresher, Slow Start follows Hana Ichinose, who’d missed her high school entrance exams when she contracted the mumps and therefore began high school a year later than expected. While initially hesitant to start a year after her classmates, Hana comes to make new friends in the process and learns that both her neighbour and landlady were in similar situations. Despite its meaningful messages and gentle atmosphere, Slow Start was widely criticised from its onset: reviewers skated over the themes in this series and immediately criticised Slow Start as “the palest of several similar shows to debut thus far” possessing “uninteresting topics and the overly sweet art style encompassing the episode without a hint of realism to ground it”. Reception to Slow Start in Japan was similarly cool: BD sales averaged around 1661 disks per volume. All signs point to a series that prima facie appears unsuccessful with its messages, and I myself indicated that Slow Start dealt with the tried-and-true message of how friendship is integral in helping people overcome adversity in broad terms upon the series’ completion. However, having had a chance to recently revisit Slow Start, it becomes apparent that I missed several integral aspects in the series during my first watch. With this newfound appreciation for Slow Start, I therefore feel it appropriate to revisit the series and consider why I feel the series to have aged so gracefully over the past three years, to the point where I count it worthy of joining the ranks of my all-time favourites.

The answer to Slow Start‘s magic lies within two components. The first of these are support characters Hiroe Hannen and Shion Kyōzuka. While seemingly unrelated to Hana’s struggles to adapt to life in high school after a year’s hiatus, both Hiroe and Shion represent critical figures in Slow Start‘s themes about failure, and about picking oneself up. Shion had lost a job offer and is currently regrouping by acting as a landlady. Hiroe’s story was particularly pitiful: as a high school student, she’d been outgoing and academically capable, but when she succumbed to illness and missed her entrance exams to post secondary, unable to bear the thought of facing her friends honestly, she shut herself away from the world. By the events of Slow Start, she’s reduced to living along in her apartment, ordering everything online and refuses to go out. Hiroe is a hikikomori, an individual who has withdrawn from society as a result of unbearable pressure and failure to meet expectations creating a deep-seated sense of shame. The whole condition evokes a feeling of sadness in me: bright and driven individuals, overwhelmed by expectations and a feeling of never being able to stand up, retreat the only way they can and fall into a hole that becomes increasingly difficult to climb out of with each and every day that passes. I felt bad for Hiroe because I’d been where she was: when my first start-up failed, I found it difficult to get excited about meeting up with my friends, and spoke rarely about my work to those around me. At the beginning of Slow Start, Hiroe’s someone who’d lost so much confidence that even going to the convenience store is too much to bear, and she hardly dressed up for anything. Every setback sends her to the ground, grovelling for forgiveness. However, as Slow Start wore on, and Hana’s friends began entering Hiroe’s life, Hiroe begins regaining her old confidence. By helping Hana and her friends study, and allowing Eiko to help polish her appearance, Hiroe begins to recall her old strength. She takes the initiative of venturing outside again, and by Slow Start‘s end, is able to enjoy a summer festival with Shion, as well as summon the courage to take a summer course and set herself on a path towards post-secondary. Slow Start does seem to suggest that having the right encouragement and human contact in life is the single most important step of recovering from a great fall, and while for hikikomori, who’ve been out of the game for years or even decades, rather than months, some programmes have successfully helped some individuals back into society.

Slow Start, however, is not purely a story about Hiroe: its focus is on Hana and her concerns about how the gap-year might affect her. As Hana gets to know Kamuri, Eiko and Tamate better, the distance separating her and her classmates begins to lessen to the point where no one really knows that Hana is a year older than they are, and Hana begins having memorable experiences with her newfound friends that give the impression that her gap-year had never happened at all. Hana’s fear of the gap-year being a social impediment is a well-founded one, and especially among students, ages are a quick way of grouping people, to the point where there is a degree of awkwardness when inteacting with folks older or younger than oneself. Her fear here mirrors the idea that people have social expectations to meet at certain ages. Folks who enter high school seek to define their identity. As adults, people set great store in milestones like graduating from post-secondary, landing their first job, buying their first home and having their first serious relationship. Pressure to conform means that missing these deadlines can leave one feeling like a failure, and as things feel increasingly out-of-reach, it becomes more difficult to regroup: all one sees is what they could have and ended up losing. However, resilience is very much a central part of being human, as is the importance of never comparing oneself to others. Again, having the right people in one’s corner is pivotal in helping one to realise this. With Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate, Hana comes to realise that her friends greatly care for her, gap-year or no. In this way, Slow Start speaks to the idea that it’s perfectly okay to be a little behind in life. Finishing a degree a few years later than one’s peers, or being single when everyone else seems to be married is not the end of the world: it doesn’t leave one completely unprepared for real life, nor does it leave one a failure in any way. Not everyone will have a smooth path to a career, home or marriage as fæiry tales suggest, and this is understandable because of the constantly changing demands the world has on people. Instead, as Slow Start shows, one’s path forwards to a productive and fulfilling life is to progress at one’s own pace, and allow for good company in one’s life to act as encouragement towards the future one seeks out. Whereas society is breakneck and demands speed of most everything and everyone, it is held that arriving later to one’s destination is preferred to never arriving at all. Slow Start completely and totally succeeds with conveying this idea.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Slow Start joining the ranks of CLANNAD and Your Lie in April might raise a few eyebrows for some, but I’ve never been one to worry about what popular opinions are: my anime enjoyment largely exists in a vacuum, and at best, recommendations and suggestions from the community are merely thus. I find that making one’s own call for anime and demonstrating patience are two virtues that maximise one’s enjoyment of a given series, as well as one’s enjoyment of being in a community.

  • Because Slow Start aired during the same season as Yuru Camp△ and A Place Further Than The Universe did, it quickly fell by the wayside as Winter 2018’s other slice-of-life series. Lacking the same distinguished use of setting and masterful coverage of the respective topics in Yuru Camp△ and A Place Further Than The Universe, as well as a cast of distinct characters whose personalities were carefully crafted to speak to very specific life lessons, Slow Start‘s characters do prima facie feel more generic, and their adventures are much more mundane, unremarkable by comparison. However, Slow Start is not a bad show in and of itself: Hana, Tamate, Eiko and Kamuri are likeable and friendly characters whose traits serve to create humour.

  • The events of Slow Start are set in Karuizawa, a resort town located in Nagano. I identified the location a ways into the series, and even now, three years later, there’s been no equivalent of a location hunt anywhere surrounding the show. A cursory search turns out no relevant results, and this paves the way for me to try and change that: I would find it enjoyable to take up the Oculus Quest to do another location hunt of the spots that Hana and her new friends visit during the course of Slow Start. The deciding factor will be whether or not such a post will be written depends on whether or not there’s enough spots to showcase.

  • One of the details that people don’t mention about Slow Start is the fact that the music is amazing. Composed by Yoshiaki Fujisawa (YuruYuriA Place Further Than The Universe and Rail Wars!), the soundtrack features a variety of pieces, from the bossa nova vocals that Marie Kocho provides and gentle everyday pieces, to more wistful and melancholy tracks that capture Hana’s doubts about her everyday life with friends who don’t know she’s a year older than everyone else in her class.

  • As an anime, Slow Start is under-appreciated: looking beyond the fluffy cute-girls-doing-cute-things setup, the psychological elements of being a year behind forms a majority of the conflict within the anime. After she misses her exams, Hana initially worries that she’ll be an outcast and refuses to leave home, leading her parents to suggest moving out and living on her own to gain a new start on things. This change of scenery allows Hana to spend her days studying, and she thus enters her first year of high school well-prepared for the academic component.

  • Indeed, being able to do something like studying with Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate helps Hana to settle back into a routine. Her parents’ assistance prevents Hana from being a hikikomori, an individual who has withdrawn from society and spends an overwhelming majority of their time at home. Stories surrounding hikikomori are always sad: these individuals were once bright and energetic people with a passion and drive, but challenges of the real world, whether it be academic success or the job search, sap these people of their confidence. It’s a vicious cycle, and people feel as though there’s only the choice to run away and shut themselves away from the world.

  • One particularly heartbreaking story tells of a man who had a solid job and was on the path to marriage, but when the relationship fell apart, he lost his confidence. Initially declining invitations to hang out with his friends, he eventually changed his phone number and severed ties with his friends, retreating to his room and the internet. While he’d wanted to recover, days turned to weeks, and weeks to years. Slow Start‘s Hiroe follows this exact route: she fell ill prior to the university entrance exams, and because of her reputation, had lost the courage to face her friends and be truthful about what happened, eventually withdrawing into seclusion.

  • When Hana first meets Hiroe, the two get off to a rough start, and Hiroe’s state becomes apparent: she uses the internet to order most everything and doesn’t even swing by the local convenience store for food. The propagation and ubiquity of the internet has made it easier for hikikomori, and experts suggest that the increasing ease of use for ordering things, from fully-cooked, ready to eat meals to computer hardware, books, groceries and clothes, will mean that more people will trend towards a hikikomori lifestyle. The global health crisis has certainly accelerated this process: during the past year, as the virus forced people to spend more time at home.

  • Hana completely sympathises with Hiroe, and in fact, is the first person that she opens up to about being a year behind. Seeing how hard Hana is trying to make things work would eventually compel Hiroe to push herself a little harder. After introducing Hiroe to her friends, Eiko figures that what Hiroe needs is a new wardrobe, and with new clothes, Hiroe begins to consider making visits to the nearby convenience store her objective. What happens next is hilarious and adorable: Hiroe does manage to go out and eventually has the confidence to visit any convenience store within ten kilometres of home.

  • With time, Hiroe is able to turn that towards more ambitious goals. However, she still has moments where self-doubt and uncertainty kicks in, and it is with Hana’s friends that Hiroe is freed from her rut. When Slow Start first aired, I chose to focus on other elements of the show beyond the yuri that most of the community was concerned with. This left a fair number of readers dissatisfied: Slow Start undoubtedly has a nontrivial yuri component, whether it be Eiko’s propensity to flirt with everyone she meets or Tamate’s preference for female relationships, but I always got the impression that this was done for comedy rather than as something directly related to the series’ main themes.

  • Folks with a more extensive background on yuri would naturally be able to do a better job of explaining its relevance, and as such, I’ve chosen to focus on the themes that I have more confidence in writing about. The idea for revisiting Slow Start came a few months ago: I’d just wrapped up updating a series of view controllers to use a new aesthetic for my previous position, but a sense of hollowness filled me in place of my usual sense of accomplishment when this task was completed. Coincidentally, an article about hikikomori and the pandemic was trending on social media, and I decided to take a look out of curiosity.

  • After reading through the article, it hit me as to why I’d been feeling so empty: the pandemic had hit my last company hard, and funds were dwindling, since our customers were small businesses and e-commerce merchants, many of whom had been (understandably) less willing to spend money owing to their own circumstances. Working from home on a project whose future was uncertain had left me quite depressed. I completely empathise with the hikikomori, having spent a over a half year working in near-isolation on iOS projects, and it was ultimately this feeling that sent me in search of new opportunity. Working with a team now means more collaboration, and even though we’re working remotely, knowing there’s people to talk to is a massive psychological boost.

  • A large number of people have suggested that the global health crisis has exacerbated the hikikomori phenomenon, which likely increased in prevalence since the pandemic began, and it is not difficult to see why this holds true. Being made to not spend in-person time with friends and family has had a nontrivial impact on people, and while technology has bridged the gap somewhat, there is no substitute for the real deal. I therefore look forwards to the day when the proportion of vaccinated individual reaches a point where I can work out of the office again and go for poutine weekends.

  • Taking that first dose is merely the first step in returning to the world as we’d known it previously, and while a lot of folks are sharing their vaccination visit as a hero’s journey, I personally find that this first dose is a starting point; until the second doses are available, we’re not quite ready to open the throttle yet. It’s now been two days since my first dose, and while my arm ached mildly yesterday, I think the worst is behind me. I am a little nervous about the second dose, which is said to knock people out of their game if they’d gotten past their first dose without trouble, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

  • Before delving into the heart of Slow Start, namely, Hana’s journey and the anime’s assertion that it’s okay to be delayed, the elephant in the room that’s worth addressing is the yuri piece. With Eiko and instructor Kiyose Enami, Eiko finds her usual charms and tricks are completely ineffectual on her – in fact, Kiyose is wise to Eiko’s tricks and oftentimes, completely turns the table on her. The manga covers this more thoroughly, but what is known is that Eiko soon develops a crush on Kiyose.

  • Kamuri of Slow Start is an amalgamation of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid‘s Kanna and GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu in appearance and manner. Eiko dotes on Kamuri, who becomes shy in other people’s presence, and Kamuri’s thoughts never stray far from Eiko – she attended Hoshio Private Academy because she figured Eiko would be going, too. Despite her quiet personality, Kamuri opens up to Hana and Tamate, even making comebacks during their conversations.

  • When Kiyose gets hammered one evening, Eiko ends up taking her back home. While under the influence, she ties up Eiko to prevent anything weird from happening. The next morning, Kiyose’s completely forgotten what happened the previous night, and although Eiko teases her about what’d happened, she’s quite unexpected for what happens next, likening it to the opposing team scoring a pair of goals after pulling their goaltender with less than a minute left in regulation time. The surprise this imparts causes Eiko’s heart to flutter in ways that messing with her peers do not, and I expect that the pursuit of this novel experience is what leads Eiko to develop feelings for Kiyose.

  • That Eiko chooses Hana to share her secret hobby of accessory-making with is indicative of her trust in Hana: Hana is an unremarkable character, essentially Girls und Panzer‘s Miho Nishizumi in appearance and without a profound knowledge of panzerfahren. Kind, gentle and shy, Hana nonetheless finds her place amongst her new group of friends quickly. Despite her progression, Hana never finds the courage to tell her friends that she’d actually been delayed a year during the course of the anime. Instead, things get out when one of Hana’s classmates transfers to her school and wonders why Hana is a year below. Hana’s friends are not terribly surprised, feeling that there’d been something different and special about Hana from the start.

  • Hiroe manages to pick up a luxurious sashimi set from a store, but gladly trades it for the obentō that Shion had made for Hana. While Shion feels it to be a bit overkill, Hiroe’s joy comes from being able to relive an old memory, of eating a hand-made lunch, just like in high school. I admit that I am very nostalgic sort of person; this is why I reminisce a great deal on this blog. Looking at the calendar, today is precisely a full decade after Otafest 2011, the year Otafest captured my attention. A friend had gone in and captured video of the days he’d attended, and while I’d been curious to attend, that long weekend, my schedule was packed. On Friday night, as the opening ceremonies began, I swung by a friend’s place for a Halo: Reach LAN party.

  • The next day, while cosplayers roamed campus grounds amidst panels and events, I strolled along a chilly Lake Minewanka and the quiet of Bankhead under a spring sun an hour to the west in the mountains. Sunday would see me go out for dim sum with the family, before swinging downtown to pick up the HGUC Unicorn Gundam model with the 1/48 head display stand. However, in my downtime, after watching my friend’s videos, I decided it could be worth checking out the local anime convention. While the year after, the MCAT meant I was too busy to do so, I would have a chance to experience it fully in the years subsequently. Back in the present, Otafest is doing a virtual convention this year, and I’ll streaming it on the side if I’m not terribly busy. I do hope we’ll see a return next year – I plan on volunteering again as I am able.

  • Contrary to online articles that count it detrimental, recalling older times with a fondness only serves to increase my resolve to make the most of the present. Revisiting Slow Start brings back memories of when I first watched the series, and looking back, watching the show again has allowed me to see it from a different perspective than I did three years ago. I believe that’s enough of a tangent for the time being: we recall that Hana is the star of the show, and her experiences throughout Slow Start are integral to the series in telling its story. In conjunction with the manga’s outcomes (namely, that Eiko, Tamate and Kamuri do find out about her situation), Slow Start indicates to viewers that, while perhaps not optimal, it is okay to have a gap-year in life when things go sideways.

  • The notion that Slow Start tries to sell viewers, then, is that being delayed towards a milestone is not detrimental to the point of rendering one a failure or a lesser person in any way. Through Hana’s experiences, it becomes clear that while Hana did lose a year, when things resume for her, she gets to pick up right where she left off, making friends and making the most of her time in high school with Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate. On first glance, it is not apparent at all that Hana’s a year older than everyone. This is something that becomes increasingly prevalent as one grows older: age differences stop being such a big deal.

  • The gentle narrative of Slow Start thus serves to present a different perspective of life than what existing expectations are. As people mature, they are expected to hit milestones like finding a partner, get married and have children. However, trends in society are shifting away from getting married and starting a family early as people prioritise their careers and things like travel. There is no right way to live life per se, and Slow Start indicates that while Hana might be a year behind, she’s not necessarily missing out on anything.

  • Of course, the key here is moderation: the idea is that setbacks are fine so long as one actually has a plan for getting back on track. I appreciate that momentum can be hard to gain back: putting things off causes a positive feedback loop in which one continues to lose time and motivation the longer they hold off. This is something that Hiroe succumbed to after missing her entrance exams, but after meeting Hana and her friends, Hiroe slowly, and naturally, returns back to the real world, simultaneously determined to change things up for the better and inspired by the sincerity that Hana demonstrates despite her own shyness.

  • Seeing these sorts of themes in Slow Start seems a world away from the carefree, seemingly-frivolous experiences that are shown on screen. It is understandable to some viewers, Slow Start can appear to portray mundane, unremarkable occurrences in Hana’s life: the series is very subtle about its themes, and the non-sequitur jokes take centre stage in most episodes. This gives Slow Start the undeserved reputation that it is little more than trite, seemingly unrelated moments loosely held together by Hana and her desire to live out her life as normally as possible.

  • This time around, I won’t disparage Anime News Network’s writers for having thought poorly of Slow Start (even if I do disagree vehemently with their asinine choice of language in their reviews): upon finishing Slow Start, I similarly felt the anime to be quite overshadowed by the likes of A Place Further Than The Universe and Yuru Camp△, two excellent slice-of-life series that dominated all discussions during the winter 2018 season. Against these giants, Slow Start can feel positively underwhelming and dull by comparison.

  • However, like Hana, who trundles through life at her own pace, Slow Start‘s success is that it never tries to play the role it was not suited for. Rather than a manifesto, Slow Start strives simply to make a statement, and at present, having had the chance to sit down and go through things again, it becomes apparent that Slow Start had succeeded on its own merits. This revelation comes three years after the fact, showing how anime can oftentimes be more enjoyable when one revisits it: umpteenth re-watches can help one to see details they missed earlier, and a greater understanding of the contexts behind certain actions amongst the characters makes some moments more meaningful.

  • Unfortunately for Slow Start, while the series is technically excellent, featuring above-average artwork, animation and music, Japanese sales were very weak. With some exceptions, performance in the domestic market is the primary deciding factor behind whether or not most anime get a continuation, and since Slow Start sold poorly, it stands to reason that we won’t be seeing more of this series. This is unfortunate, since later manga chapters do have Hana come forward with the truth, only to learn that the status quo wasn’t disrupted to any way.

  • I had initially wondered whether not not Slow Start would actually see Hana overcome this particular barrier, and when the season ended, I had expressed hope that there might be a continuation. Yuru Camp△, which had aired alongside Slow Start, ended up getting its second season three years after its first, and this was with an overwhelmingly positive domestic response to the show. In the absence of a second season, to give this series some love, I ended up picking up Slow Start TV Anime Guide Book: Slow-blooming flower, the artbook for this series.

  • I had originally wished to buy this book alongside the official guidebook for Yuru Camp△ but relented at the last second. However, upon revisiting Slow Start, I realised that the series had been much more meaningful and enjoyable than I’d originally remembered it. On account of the ongoing health crisis, however, SAL shipping is offline, and I ended up paying an arm and a leg for the faster modes: the artbook arrived within a week of my ordering it, whereas with SAL, it normally takes two to three weeks. I’m not in any rush for my artbooks, so I typically go with SAL to conserve on funds.

  • Being able to read through the artbook gave me unparalleled insights into what the anime had intended to accomplish: between director’s commentaries, and interviews with the voice actresses, it became clear that Slow Start had always intended to be more than just a fluffy slice-of-life anime. Besides interviews, commentaries and episode summaries, the Slow Start artbook also comes with high-resolution artwork of the characters, even works that were not featured in the Megami and Newtype magazines, as well as storyboards and sketches of the locations in exceptional detail.

  • Seeing the effort that went into the anime increased my respect for the series, although at the same time, I am aware that the strongest shows of a given season will convey the staff and creators’ feelings to the viewer without the need for supplementary materials. I’d already found Slow Start a respectable series without the extended materials, and my conclusions drawn now were not derived from what was said in the commentaries or interviews: Slow Start had intrinsically did a satisfactory job of conveying this to me, and I admit that my initial impressions were more from having three years less life experience than I do at present.

  • Towards Slow Start‘s endgame, Hiroe becomes confident enough to attend a summer festival with Shion. After everything that happened in Slow Start, Hiroe quickly became my favourite character: Hana had found her strength to continue through her parents, Shion and then with Tamate, Kamuri and Eiko. However, with Hiroe, she starts her journey in isolation, fearful of even speaking with others. While Hana, Eiko and the others do support her, it’s not as though they spend anywhere nearly the same amount of time with them as Hana might. In spite of this, Hiroe is able to take her own steps forwards.

  • Slow Start might be treating the topic with more optimism than is likely plausible in reality, but it does seem to suggest that positive change comes from within. Once an individual receives the right push, it’s really up to them to make the most of things. As such, when Hiroe finds it in herself to slowly return to a world that once left her behind, I was all smiles. The same holds true for Hana: all the help in the world from Shion, Tamate, Kamuri and Eiko wouldn’t cut it if Hana had simply closed herself off, but Hana’s own desire to make friends and memories means she’s very open to others in spite of her shyness.

  • With her newfound confidence, Hiroe resolves to take the entrance exam for her post-secondary of choice even though this means facing off against this year’s cohort of starry-eyed high school graduates. Viewers are left with the assurance that from an academic standpoint, Hiroe’s lost none of her edge: she’s occasionally joined Hana and her friends to help them study. Hana herself is no slouch in the academic department; both she and Hiroe spent most of their spare time hitting the books, and although Hiroe had lacked direction in her last year, meeting Hana sets her on a course back to the path she previously desired to take. I imagine that in time, Hiroe would be able to tell her friends the truth without fear of judgement, similarly to how Hana’s secret turned out to be minor.

  • One thing that I’ve not made mention of until now, and is skipped over in virtually every conversation about Slow Start, is the fact that that Hoshio Private Academy has an ice cream vending machine that Tamate, Kamuri, Eiko and Hana make use of. While ice cream is usually a treat, that the girls have access to ice cream so readily while at school becomes something to transforms something special into something typical: Slow Start cleverly uses vending machine ice cream to show how what’s ordinary and extraordinary is purely a matter of perspective, and that with time, some things simply won’t stand out as much as people initially feel them to.

  • Towards the end of Slow Start, Hiroe gears up to take her exam, promising that starry-eyed high school graduates or no, she’s ready to continue on with her life. The new Hiroe more closely resembles her old self, lacking the lethargy and awkward disposition that she had when first meeting Hana. Hana herself, while still yet to be forward about herself, is now more outgoing and willing to connect with new people. Slow Start doesn’t have dramatic events or major discoveries quite to the same level as the likes of Yuru Camp△ and A Place Further Than The Universe, and as the final few episodes aired, the series maintained a very consistent, slow pacing.

  • It should be evident that I had fun while watching Slow Start back in 2018, and three years later, that enjoyment has only grown. With this in mind, I understand that this show isn’t going to be something for everyone. As with my other posts, my goals with such posts are not to change people’s minds about the series, but rather, the share the withertos and whyfores on why I find a series praiseworthy.

  • My love for slice-of-life series comes precisely from the fact that I choose my entertainment to help me unwind and relax, and whereas most people look for realism or comedy in theirs, my single metric for whether or not a given slice-of-life work was successful boils down to how effectively a series conveys its themes to users. If the characters gain something from their experiences such that there is a life lesson here, then I am satisfied with the work. I’m not looking for world-changing messages about the human condition or any of that sort of thing, but rather, learnings that can be applied in life to make one more empathetic and understanding of those around them.

  • As I see it, Slow Start brings two relevant messages to the table and conveys them gently, but clearly to viewers: it’s okay to fall behind sometimes, but with a bit of determination and the right people in one’s corner, one will be able to get back up again. Having experienced what Hiroe and Hana have, I applaud Slow Start for having the audacity to take on a topic that can be quite sensitive for some folks and indicating that there is a silver lining. For this, Slow Start joins my Masterpiece club alongside the likes of CLANNADSora no Woto and others, having shifted my world views for the better. With the Victoria Day long weekend here now, I think it’s time to wrap things up: it’s forecast to be a sunny day, and it means I should get to mowing the lawn and backyard before the grass becomes untamable.

Having now tread through the themes Slow Start had intended to convey (but were presumably lost to viewers amidst the overt displays of yuri within the series), I conclude that the reason why Slow Start left such an impact on me was precisely because I related to both Hana and Hiroe so strongly. My life has been one slow start after another: I had a gap-year of my own between finishing my undergraduate degree and starting graduate school, during which I had been making an attempt to apply to medical school. To complete the applications and secure the course requirements, I did a year of open studies. During this time, I ended up making the decision of going to graduate school instead, and after I finished, I ended up working for a startup, as my software development skills were lacking behind those coming from a pure computer science program. My decision in life are my own, and on first glance, appear to have left me at a considerable disadvantage in life. I am, at any given point, about five years behind any competent iOS developer my age because half my education was about Diels-Alder reactions and the p53 oncogene rather than algorithmic complexity and user experience. However, I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world: the year “off” I took ended up being time I spent working on a prototype of what would become my graduate thesis, and my background in health science allows me to approach software development from a different perspective. My own slow start had its costs, but it has its advantages, as well; I would’ve likely not discovered this had I gone down a more conventional route. My experiences now have allowed me to reach a point now where I’m minimally competent as an iOS developer, and at the end of the day, it matters little if I took a few more detours than necessary to reach this point – what matters is that I am able to be useful with the skills that I have picked up. I therefore count Slow Start a masterpiece in my books for being a reminder that it is okay to take detours and it is okay to lose direction – in good company, one will find their path once again. It was admittedly a little surprising that all of these thoughts came from a simple, but heart-melting animation of Hiroe in the ending sequence, perhaps acting as a reminder to me that I probably shouldn’t be so swift to skip the endings to anime and watch them at least once. It only took me three years to realise this, but there is a simple reality: flowers that bloom more slowly also tend to retain their beauty after the quicker flowers have lost their petals, and that counts for something.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Azumanga Daioh, Its Revolutionary Portrayal of Everyday Life, Enduring Legacies and Revisiting Attitudes to Slice-of-Life Comedy Anime

“Well, don’t worry. You’re already taking back something with you. That’s right, your precious memories of everyone!” –Yukari Tanizaki

Chiyo Mihama is a child prodigy who is enrolled into high school at the age of ten. Her exceptional academic performance and diminuitive stature makes her stand out in class, where she is quick to befriend a small group of fellow students: scatter-brained Ayumu “Osaka” Kasuga, energetic and boisterous Tomo Takino, serious and studious Koyomi Mizuhara, stoic and tall Sakaki, and competitive Kagura. Although Chiyo’s everyday life at high school is anything but ordinary, thanks to the antics of instructors Yukari Tanizaki, Minamo Kurosawa and Kimura, she comes to find her own place amongst a disparate group of classmates who become closer as a result of their time together. From track-and-field days to culture festivals, exams to vacations, and slow lessons to a class trip to Okinawa, Azumanga Daioh is an anime adaptation of Kiyohiko Azuma’s manga that follows the humourous consequences of admitting a ten-year-old into high school, depicting three years’ worth of events to also demonstrate how seemingly unlike individuals can nonetheless become friends over the course of their shared experiences together, and that everything, from the mundane, to the absurd and grandiose, all come together to form treasured memories of time spent together in the halycon days of youth that is high school. The anime began running in April 2002 and concluded in September. Unusually for its period, Azumanga Daioh is a series that focused purely on everyday life of high school students rather than more fanciful or action-driven series, such as Please Teacher! and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: while the series occasionally presents surreal flights of fancy, it is largely realistic. Typifying Azuma’s skillful use of comedy, Azumanga Daioh‘s anime adaptation breaks out segments of the manga into acts that serve to amuse, but taken together, the sum of these acts form a cohesive and powerful theme about the appreciation of individual’s in one life: Chiyo herself might be seen as unusual for entering high school at such an early age, but her classmates are all unique, even eccentric, in their own right, and it is amongst such a curious group of individuals where the extraordinary can be found in the mundane. Azumanga Daioh is therefore a series about appreciation of memories, living in the moment and all the while, keeping an eye towards the future – concealed behind clever gags and surrealist humour satirising life as a high school student, Azumanga Daioh is a story about living life to the fullest, and its anime adaptation brings the manga to life to completely immerse viewers in a world that reminds them of a simpler time.

My first exposure to Azumanga Daioh stemmed from the most unusual of places – when one of my friends was made the president of my high school’s anime club, he set aside a day where we ended up watching the infamous AMV Hell 3, a titanic project that sought to parody scenes in anime by combining out-of-context clips with humourous music. Azumanga Daioh was featured prominently, and I became curious to see the series for myself in its original context outside of the parody components. I was not disappointed: the standout aspect of Azumanga Daioh had been that, despite being a satire of high school life, had actually felt quite close to reality. My time as a high school student had featured some colourful characters, amusing instructors and memorable events; Azumanga Daioh thus served to remind me that reality was indeed stranger than fiction, and moreover, high school was a time to be enjoyed, as well: my focus had originally been to simply perform in my classes and determine what lay ahead for my future, and I took up a handful of extracurricular activities along the way, as well as spending time with friends where I had time. While the adventures I experienced were never on the same scale as in Azumanga Daioh, the series did remind me to slow down a little and appreciate what I did encounter. From things like helping my arts instructor bring in a shipment of yearbooks I helped to make, to enjoying German cuisine after placing second at a German poetry competition at the local university, high school had been rather enjoyable for me, and Azumanga Daioh ultimately served to remind me that there was much joy to be had in the moment. During my journey through Azumanga Daioh, I connected immediately with Koyomi the quickest: in manner and temperament, I am most similar to her, doing well enough in athletics but preferring to hit the books where I could, and despite being focused on studies, also enjoyed adventure and excitement. However, Koyomi alone doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is the sum of the characters’ interactions that make Azumanga Daioh so enjoyable. Chiyo’s adorable plights, Tomo’s wild antics, Ayumu’s spacey non-sequitur remarks and Sakaki’s pursuit of all things cute (which is misunderstood by her friends) come together to create memorable cast whose experiences are worth remembering as though they were one’s own, and so, viewers laugh alongside the characters and root for their successes. By graduation, then, it feels as though one has lived a full three years over the space of Azumanga Daioh: as the characters prepare to depart, one feels the emotional connection to everyone as though they were there themselves, and Chiyo’s tears convey what viewers felt, as well: it is quite sad to see everyone part ways, but Azumanga Daioh astutely concludes on a happy note, suggesting that graduation is not the end, but rather, the beginning of a new journey.

With its emphasis on characters, Azumanga Daioh possesses minimalistic artwork, and instead, counts on the combination of dialogue, facial expression and timing of jokes to bring the characters to life. Consequently, while Azumanga Daioh may lack the same animation and artwork compared to its contemporaries like Gundam SEED and Please Teacher!, the anime remains highly enjoyable to watch. On its own merits, as well as its legacy, Azumanga Daioh was an innovator in its time, setting precedence for what was possible in slice-of-life anime and coming to impact works for over a decade. However, Azumanga Daioh‘s success also had one curious side-effect; because it did so much, so well, it set the bar for slice-of-life that critics came to expect as standard-issue from other anime. The consequence of this was that humour was supposed to be the only meaningful criteria from which to objectively assess slice-of-life anime, leading critics to harshly, and unfairly, dismiss other slice-of-life anime adapted from 4-koma manga: Sorrow-kun of Behind the Nihon review popularised this mode of thinking, suggesting that all fiction alike could be objectively evaluated for quality, and that how funny a given work was, would be a fair universal metric. By Sorrow-kun’s logic, if a work possessed sharp wit, good timing, was self-referential and displayed self-awareness in its comedy, this was smart humour and therefore worth watching. However, Sorrow-kun is missing the point here: humour is only a part of Azumanga Daioh, and the methodology Sorrow-kun outlines as being appropriate for gauging personal enjoyment of slice-of-life anime is, in fact, incomplete. This attitude is why Sorrow-kun enjoyed Azumanga Daioh, which specialised in well-timed non-sequitur jokes, but Sorrow-kun fails to appreciate that there is a greater journey in Azumanga Daioh well beyond Osaka memes. The humour livens individual episodes up, but where Azumanga Daioh really shines is the overarching story and emotional connection viewers form with the characters over the series run. There is an inherent danger in judging slice-of-life purely on the basis of whether or not it is humourous or no: far from being objective, humour is also subjective. Conversely, I use a completely different methodology – in slice-of-life works, I’ve found that the fair and reasonable criterion for evaluating a given work lies within how well the series sells its story and immerses viewers into its world. A good work helps viewers to connect with characters and their journey, while an unsuccessful work gives viewers little incentive to support the characters or fails to indicate the significance of events. This is a more universal approach that is applicable even when a work is not intended to elicit laughs, and I’ve found it to consistently help me to determine how enjoyable a slice-of-life series is. Azumanga Daioh, with its clear themes about treasuring the mundane and embracing the future, a cast of memorable characters and exciting experiences, passes this test with ease, and the comedic elements thus end up being a highly engaging way of conveying the series’ themes, rather than encompassing the entire anime’s worth.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Azumanga Daioh simply means “Great King Azuma’s Manga”. While ostentatiously named, Azumanga Daioh is a great classic, a forerunner that in retrospect, does live up to its name as being the great king of slice-of-life anime. Classroom scenes dominate Azumanga Daioh, and here, Yukari expresses irritation at Ayumu’s lack of attentiveness in class. Ayumu hails from Osaka, and it was thanks to Tomo’s persistence that Ayumu also becomes referred to as “Osaka”. Of course, now that I’m here writing about Azumanga Daioh, I’ll call Ayumu by her given name rather than nickname, because that’s how this blog rolls.

  • Chiyo is the heart of Azumanga Daioh, and while she’s more mature than her classmates despite her age, her unusual presence in high school is actually one of the least remarkable things about the series. With such a colourful cast of characters, Azumanga Daioh excels with integrating Chiyo into the high school environment. Here, Yukari openly speaks about wanting to go hit up a beer place after work to Minamo in front of Chiyo; despite being older than the students by at least ten years, they seem only slightly more mature. This is supposed to be a caricature of youthful high school instructors, but I’ve found that unusually, Azumanga Daioh‘s portrayal of younger instructors was actually spot on.

  • While I started watching Azumanga Daioh on account of the out-of-context jokes, the precursors to today’s memes, a few episodes in, it became apparent that, like today’s memes, the out-of-context jokes do not make up a considerable portion of Azumanga Daioh, and I immediately found myself enjoying the series for what it did well. I eventually ended up buying the Azumanga Daioh omnibus manga, a gargantuan doorstopper of a volume that consists of all four volumes over some 650 pages, which in turn kicked off my modest manga collection.

  • One notable element in Azumanga Daioh was that it had a particular emphasis on moé elements, which is supposed to evoke a sense of warmth in viewers. This manifests in Chiyo’s helplessness in some situations, as well as Sakaki’s love for animals. A recurring joke throughout Azumanga Daioh was that Sakaki’s love for cats was not returned by the neighbourhood cat, which evades her attempts to get pats in, and on some occasions, said cat will even bite her. With Mr. Tadakichi, Chiyo’s Great Pyrenees, Sakaki finds better luck: Mr. Tadakichi is gentle and composed, even allowing Chiyo to ride him.

  • Throughout Azumanga Daioh, school events like culture festivals and track-and-field days are shown: they add excitement to the series, and while minimalistic compared to what current anime do (GochiUsa‘s culture festival, for instance, was might be considered what is colloquially “next level” on account of its scale), Azumanga Daioh does get the details right, giving insights into what life is like as a Japanese high school student, from the mundane right up to the exciting.

  • Because I watched Azumanga Daioh during my time as a high school student, the series didn’t exactly inspire a sense of nostalgia in me – instead of reminding me of what once was, it was showing me my present at the time. As a high school student, I possessed Koyomi’s studiousness and Kagura’s competitiveness: I wasn’t a member of the band, and I didn’t play any team sports, so I spent all of my free time hitting the books, so that I could get into whatever faculty I’d felt inclined to. Exams and the like were thus never a concern for me; even though I participated in a fair number of extracurricular activities, I always managed to find the time to keep up with coursework, give my all to the extracurricular activities and squeeze in a bit of World of Warcraft on the side.

  • Even now, I find that Yukari and Minamo were really just slightly exaggerated portrayals of the high school instructors I had: my favourite instructors were always lively and found engaging ways of teaching their materials. My old maths instructor made one joke after each day’s lesson before setting us loose with the coursework, my biology instructor found immensely amusing analogues for processes, and my physics instructor had a penchant to shout G O O D L U C K during quizzes, scaring the bejesus out of students. My fine arts instructors (also the advisor for the Yearbook Club) were around the same age as Yukari and Minamo and shared every bit as deep a friendship with one another. I was always welcome to hang out in the arts room during breaks if I felt so inclined.

  • While my high school days never saw any overnight trips anywhere with friends, they were still characterised by the occasional excursion to exhibitions, plays and competitions: taking German allowed me to experience authentic German cuisine at the Edelweiss, a specialty store near campus that my supervisor would buy German cookies from, and also compete in a poetry competition on campus. This, coupled with extracurricular activities with the Yearbook Club, the Chinese class I had, and LAN parties, dominated my time.

  • After AMV Hell, I knew that I had to watch Azumanga Daioh properly – even back then, I was never fond of memes and always sought to enjoy something to the fullest of my ability in its original context. I thus picked up Azumanga Daioh and set about converting episodes so they could be played on my 80 GB iPod Classic. In this manner, I shot through the series on a 320 x 240 screen in evenings before I slept. In retrospect, this was a pretty bone-headed decision, as such a tiny screen would induce eyestrain very quickly: when I went back to rewatch Azumanga Daioh, its 640 x 480 format already felt tiny. Fortunately, the series’ visual simplicity meant that when expanded out on a 1080p screen, the visual quality isn’t degraded to a considerable extent.

  • Kimura is probably the most objectionable character in the whole of Azumanga Daioh, openly acting lecherous towards all of the female students in the series. He is said to be a parody of bad instructors, and in spite of this, is supposed to be competent as a teacher. His wife, on the other hand, is as ordinary as people get, and how Kimura refers to her became a meme that persists to this day. Since I watched Azumanga Daioh in its English incarnation, I never heard this meme at all.

  • For me, Azumanga Daioh‘s English dub is exceptional: besides Gundam UnicornAzumanga Daioh is the only other anime that I feel more comfortable watching in English than in Japanese. The voice actresses playing Chiyo, Tomo, Koyomo, Ayumu, Sakaki, Kagura, Yukari and Minamo sound very natural and believable. By comparison, I actually found the Japanese dub to be a little stilted. This speaks volumes to the quality of the dubbing – on the prickly topic of subs or dubs, I generally prefer the Japanese audio paired with English subtitles, but there have been cases, like Azumanga Daioh, where the dubbing is exceptional, even surpassing the Japanese audio.

  • Cafés are a common culture festival theme, and with Sakaki’s suggestion, the class decides to go for another cat-themed café during their second year. This time around, with better preparation, the class is able to create more elaborate implements, such as nekokoneko hats, and for Chiyo, a full-scale penguin suit that captivates all those who gaze upon her. While Azumanga Daioh does not have the same moé aesthetic that would come to dominate slice-of-life anime by the time of K-On!, the anime manages to convey cuteness in a very effective manner, as well, counting on the combination of visual humour and situational irony to accentuate this.

  • On the other hand, by 2009, director Naoko Yamada created a very unique aesthetic in her interpretation of Kakifly’s K-On! – her character designs emphasise shorter limbs, stubby fingers and kindly-shaped eyes which resulted in Yui and the others being more child-like than their manga incarnations had suggested. Yamada specifically knew what appealed to viewers of all sorts, and crafted her characters accordingly, which explains K-On!‘s vast success. Both K-On! and Azumanga Daioh use dramatically different art styles and storytelling devices, succeeding in their own way.

  • Consequently, when I first read Sorrow-kun’s “Attitudes Towards Slice-of-life Comedy Anime” post at Behind the Nihon review, I was taken aback by how narrow-minded he’d been in the post: the post had aimed to demonstrate that his personal dislike of K-On! did not extend to other slice-of-life series, and that K-On! had specifically failed to appeal to him because it wasn’t funny. This, I understand – humour depends on the person, and what works for some may not work for others. However, Sorrow-kun’s post also strove to suggest that there was a single, objective way for evaluating slice-of-life anime. The implication was that some works can therefore be objectively better than others, and so, K-On! could be counted as an “objectively” bad anime.

  • I found that Sorrow-kun had simply taken a very roundabout way of trying to justify that K-On! was a poor series on the virtue that he didn’t enjoy it, and while it is completely okay to dislike a series, it is not okay to claim that there exists a method that can reliably determine whether or not an anime is worth watching. Sorrow-kun might’ve sounded impressive explaining his own stances, but this does not make his approaches towards slice-of-life more authoritative. As it was, I saw someone who was convinced that they were the authority on what shows were good or bad, and as such, used arcane verbiage in an attempt to create an academic tone to intimidate readers. Sorrow-kun was more eloquent than his contemporaries; others had simply stated they watched K-On! so we, the viewers, don’t have to.

  • These approaches are a textbook example of elitism; elitists believe that their penchant for esoteric academics, arcane vocabulary and obscure concepts serve to create a sense of authority surrounding them. As Bill Watterson so bluntly describes in Calvin and Hobbes, academic writing can become an intimidating, impenetrable fog which inflates weak ideas, masks poor reasoning and inhibits clarity. While Sorrow-kun asserted that Behind the Nihon Review was definitely not an elitist blog, and that their aim was to challenge viewers and promote the idea anime could always be something more, this wasn’t exactly true. What this was, however, was never established. Back in Azumanga Daioh, the group of friends go for kareoke together, where Sakaki shows a hitherto unseen talent for singing. Koyomi, on the other hand, despite being voiced by the legendary Rie Tanaka, cannot carry a tune to save her life.

  • After returning home from an enjoyable trip in Hokkaido, Koyomi incurs Tomo’s jealousy, resulting in a devastating, but hilarious cafeteria fight. Azumanga Daioh excels with over-the-top humour, and Tomo’s interactions with Koyomi were amongst the most hilarious in the series. The dynamic between the pair is similar to manzaishi routines, where the joker and the everyman exchange jokes at blistering speeds. The two have the rockiest relationship in the whole of Azumanga Daioh, but beneath their constant fighting, Tomo and Koyomi genuinely care about one another.

  • Episodes in Azumanga Daioh typically deal with a series of loosely-related bits of everyday life, but since the manga has events proceed in a sequential manner, the anime adapts these in a faithful manner, as well as taking certain liberties to ensure that events in Azumanga Daioh flow very well together. The end result is that each episode tells a set of stories that all share a common theme, resulting in the anime flowing very smoothly throughout the school year and various events that Chiyo and the others experience.

  • After returning from Hokkaido, the other girls plan a trip to a local amusement park, but Koyomi gets sick before she can go. The actual amusement park itself is not shown, and instead, most of the episode’s humour stems from the exchanges that follow once the girls return. While Chiyo and Osaka attempt to be nice, Tomo cannot help but rub it in Koyomi’s face. The manga actually had these events occur quite separately, but the anime chooses to merge them together, since the topic of travelling about and having fun forms the episode’s focus.

  • While Azumanga Daioh takes some creative liberties in its anime adaptation, these differences never negatively impact the flow of events or the humour, and so, the anime can be seen as a very successful porting of the manga over to the animated format, adding sound and motion to bring certain jokes to life. One thing that the anime doesn’t carry over from the manga are the characters’ appearances: in the earliest chapters, Azuma had been experimenting with the character designs, and so, Chiyo and Ayumu both look different than they did later on. In the anime, the series goes with the later character designs.

  • Slice-of-life anime are often assumed to have unremarkable soundtracks, but I’ve found that this doesn’t hold true; GochiUsa has a soundtrack inspired by French elements, while Yuru Camp△ has an Irish-influenced soundtrack. Houkago Teibou Nisshi uses woodwinds to create a warm, sunny feel in its music, and ARIA makes use of Spanish guitar to create a sense of calm. Azumanga Daioh‘s soundtrack covers a spectrum of emotions, from the main theme’s confident tones, calm pieces marking the start of a new term, music that augments moments of comedy and sentimental songs. Altogether, Azumanga Daioh has a memorable soundtrack that I found as enjoyable as the series itself, and listening to the music while reading the manga creates a superb experience.

  • Back in high school, I strove to always get my work done before eight at night, and slept promptly at ten-thirty most nights. On lax days, I would often finish enough of my work so that I could squeeze in an hour of World of Warcraft, and when thing got serious, I would always push forwards with my studies until eight, after which I could call it quits. Towards the end of my high school career, even though I had a spare period in my final term, calculus challenged me to my limits, and it took everything I had to keep up with the course. In the end, I did well enough to avoid falling below the admissions requirements for the health sciences programme.

  • I’ve biased this post in terms of screenshot distribution towards the end of the series: Azumanga Daioh‘s first half is really about setting things up and creating jokes to establish the characters’ personalities, so once that’s something viewers were familiar with, the series delves into smaller details about each of the characters, from Osaka’s vivid imagination, Chiyo’s everyday life and Sakaki’s attempts to pet cats, all the while oblivious to Kagura’s attempts to compete with her. There is no surprise that, while I enjoyed Azumanga Daioh‘s first half, the second half is really what I enjoyed about the series.

  • Graduating classes going on memorable trips is a staple in anime, a reflection of real-world practises: in K-On! and Lucky☆Star, the third year students visit Kyoto as their class trip. In Azumanga Daioh, the class trip is to Okinawa, the southern Japanese islands known for their warm climate and distinct cuisine. In the sunny skies, crystal-clear water and white sands of Okinawa, viewers get to see Chiyo and her friends bounce off one another in a setting outside of the classroom, giving everyone a chance to show their personalities when thoughts aren’t on keeping up with coursework.

  • During high school and my undergraduate degree, I never travelled with classmates, on account of having never signed up for programs that were heavier on the travel. However, by the time of my final year in graduate school, I traveled more than I cared to keep track of for conferences and presentations. The year opened up with an unexpected invitation to fly out to act as a reserve for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, followed by a long anticipated pair of conferences in Laval, France, and Cancún. It was a particularly fun and memorable end to graduate school for me, which left me with the same memories as high school and undergrad despite being a much more lonely experience (by the time of graduate school, all of my friends were largely out of university, pursuing their own futures).

  • I’ve never been a fan of Behind the Nihon Review, and my attempts to engage Sorrow-kun in conversation had ended up failure simply because I’d shown up to the party after he stopped blogging. I would have liked to have a discussion with Sorrow-kun to hear more justification behind why there was a need to direct so much vitriol towards K-On! when he had evidently enjoyed shows like Azumanga DaiohSketchbook and even Strike Witches, as I do. This wish to speak with Sorrow-kun will only become less probable: Behind the Nihon Review’s domain expired earlier this year and their site is now offline. Nihon Review, the site hosting their reviews, is set to expire today, and I’m hoping it’ll go offline, as well. Truth be told, I’m not sorry to see either site go: far from being a bastion of noteworthy discussion, Behind the Nihon Review existed solely as an ivory tower to tear down moé series like K-On!. The domain expiring would simply mean that some of the internet’s worst K-On! reviews will finally be lost to time.

  • On the topic of poor writing and bad-faith reviews, I have an update on MyAnimeList and the inordinately negative Koisuru Asteroid review: my bit of skullduggery was completely successful, and as of yesterday, that review has been stricken from their site. I ended up using a bit of social engineering, a throwaway WordPress blog and some plagiarism accusations to get that review removed permanently, and truth be told, I was worried I would fail, since I actually kicked things off back in October. Fortunately, this is not the case, and presently, I’ll be able to celebrate Christmas in the knowledge that this Koisuru Asteroid review will no longer trouble the world. Back in Azumanga Daioh, the stoic and taciturn Sakaki really gets her chance to make up for all of those times when the grey cat bit her: here on Okinawa, she decides to visit Iriomote, the second largest island in the Okinawa chain famous for the Iriomote Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensii), a subspecies of the leopard cat that is critically endangered, and whose population is roughly 200 individuals. Iriomote cats have been unsuccessfully kept in captivity for the most part, and human activity continues to threaten their habitat.

  • Sakaki being able to take in an Iriomote Cat is probably the most unrealistic part of Azumanga Daioh, which is saying something: aside from Ayumu’s flights of fancy, the series is very much grounded in reality, and rather than the extraordinary, focuses on finding joy in the ordinary. With this in mind, the Iriomote Cat that Sakaki met in Okinawa returning to Tokyo to meet her after its mother died in a vehicle accident was likely done because it helped to drive home the idea that some things in life can only be chalked up to fate. It was really fate that brings each of Chiyo, Ayumu, Tomo, Koyomi, Sakaki and Kagura together.

  • Surprise faces in Azumanga Daioh are always hilarious, and while use of mouths stretching off-face and simple white eyes likely predate Azumanga Daioh, it was through Azumanga Daioh where I began appreciating the artistic choices that were used to convey comedy. Until then, I had only watched Gundam 00 and Ah! My Goddess, which were series that possessed a completely different aesthetic than Azumanga Daioh and therefore employed different character designs which were less conducive towards comedy.

  • Each of their summer vacations, Chiyo has brought her friends to her summer home. The archetype of having an incredibly rich classmate is a bit of a cliché at this point, but the merits of having such characters around means being able to experience adventures with friends in relative privacy. During such outings, Chiyo and her friends swim, frolic in the ocean waters, smash water melons and light fireworks. In this last year, the fun is punctuated by the girls using the time to study, and when Minamo realises she is unable to do high school math, she is embarrassed. However, Minamo’s finest moment in Azumanga Daioh occurs during one particularly rowdy evening in their second year, where she ends up drinking too much and giving the girls a functional lecture on the birds and the bees.

  • As Azumanga Daioh entered its final act, focus shifted purely towards entrance exams, which Japanese students must sit through in order to gain admission to their post secondary institution of choice. The exams are difficult and intended to filter out only the best and brightest students; students who fail their admissions to their preferred university typically will try again for other institutions. With so much riding on these exams, students are at their most stressed in their final year of high school, where entrance exams dominate their lives: Azumanga Daioh is no different, and studying becomes the main topic towards the series’ end.

  • Back home, post-secondary admissions are a cakewalk by comparison: as long as one has the requisite high school courses (or equivalents) and grades, they’ll make it into their institute and faculty of choice. In my time, the high school grade was a combination of in-class marks, worth fifty percent, and a province-wide standardised test that was also worth fifty percent. These exams were never stressful for me, since I had so much time to prepare for them, and in the end, I cleaned house with them, securing my place in the Health Sciences program.

  • For Koyomo, Ayumu, Kagura and Tomo, their futures are a bit more uncertain, since the exams are tricky: while everyone is shown studying diligently, other exam-related superstitions are shown, adding a bit of humour into the mix. While it seems laughable that snapping disposable chopsticks cleanly could result in a better exam performance, I imagine that every student has their own pre-exam ritual to optimise performance. My old practise in high school was to do as many practise exams as possible in an exam-like manner. In my undergraduate degree, things eventually became too difficult to solo: in my second year, I ended up studying with friends for my toughest exams.

  • Walking into an exam always felt like the Battle of the Pelennor Fields: the worst part was the march into battle, but once the battle started, instinct and skill kicked in. My old exam-taking style was to briefly leaf through the papers, decide if the exam as a whole was challenging or not, and then either do the problems sequentially (if the exam was straightforward), or take on the easiest problems first (if the exam looked difficult). During my university career, the MCAT probably comes out on top as being the trickiest exam, and while I continue to cite a score of 35T/517, I actually have no idea what my actual percentage of questions missed was: the only thing an MCAT score tells is my relative performance against a given cohort of students.

  • Chiyo plans to study abroad and therefore isn’t taking exams along with everyone else. She spends most of the remainder of Azumanga Daioh rooting the rest of the characters on, and one-by-one, Tomo, Kagura and Ayumu make it into their institutions of choice. Sakaki, being a skillful student, has no trouble earning her admissions, and ironically, it’s Koyomi, the most serious and studious of everyone, who looks like she might not make it. While done for humour, there is fact that Koyomi is very much results-driven, and so, might enter her exams more stressed than the others. Similarly, since she’s more ambitious, she might be gunning for institutes with tougher requirements. Of course, she does make it in in the end.

  • Azumanga Daioh‘s finale is set during graduation, marking an end of a twenty-six week long journey. Much as how Chiyo, Ayumu, Tomo, Koyomi, Sakaki and Kagura have gotten to know one another very well over the course of their three years together, viewers have similarly come to love and root for a cast of characters as they move through high school. Azumanga Daioh might be counted as a comedy, but the heartwarming life lessons the series cover should not be overlooked: my impressions of Azumanga Daioh were to show up for the comedy, and then stay for the discoveries and learnings the characters make during their journey.

  • Ayumu was seen carrying a box of tissues into the graduation ceremony, and while this initially seems extraneous, their utility soon becomes apparent, when Chiyo breaks into tears while singing the graduation song, Aogeba Tōtoshi. This song is of a debated origin, but work from Masato Sakurai in 2011 found that “Song for the Close of School” (written by T. H. Brosnan), published to The Song Echo in 1871, would’ve likely been the origin, since the melody is identical. This would make sense: at that time, Japan was in the midst of the Meiji Restoration, and foreign influence began prompting Japan to modernise. Elements of Western culture would’ve doubtlessly made their way into Japanese culture, and it is not inconceivable that Aogeba Tōtoshi came from this.

  • Yukari’s last appearance in Azumanga Daioh is to see her students off and assure them the future for them is bright: her parting words to Kagura are most befitting that of a teacher, and while Yukari may be sloppy and immature, she’s very much a competent instructor who knows her material and cares for her students. Azumanga Daioh‘s closing thus serves to reassure viewers that Yukari and Minamo’s future students will be in good hands. It is not lost on me that I’m actually nearing the end of this post: there’s quite a bit of Azumanga Daioh I’ve not touched on, including Kaori and Kimura’s unusual dynamics, the rivalry between Yukari and Minamo, and Ayumu’s daydreams. Azumanga Daioh is, in retrospect, a very busy work, but a part of its genius lay in weaving all of these disparate elements into a single, cohesive story.

  • Azumanga Daioh was my first-ever slice-of-life anime, establishing what I would come to expect from slice-of-life series that I would pick up later on. What makes a slice-of-life work enjoyable for me is purely the journey, and what is learnt along the way. As long as there is a meaningful journey portrayed, a slice-of-life work has succeeded in my books, and whether it be dealing with everyday life, learning how intricate a given activity, such as playing the guitar or fishing is, or rediscovering joy after suffering from a loss in life, slice-of-life anime can be enjoyable despite employing different methods of telling their story.

  • Incidentally, watching Chiyo cry during the graduation ceremony did have the same effect as cutting an onion, and since Azumanga Daioh ultimately did warm me up to the slice-of-life genre, and in turn, sent me towards K-On!, it has had a nontrivial impact on my life. These are the criteria for making the “masterpiece” category for me, and Azumanga Daioh succeeds in both realms, so I am happy to count this series a perfect ten, an A+.

Azumanga Daioh‘s legacy and impact on the slice-of-life genre cannot be understated: it demonstrated that 4-koma manga could be successfully brought to life in the anime format, and would pave the path for future works, such as Hidamarie Sketch and Sketchbook, to become adapted, as well. However, one of the recurring themes in contemporary reviews, is that Azumanga Daioh had been compared favourably with Seinfeld – both series had been about “nothing” and utilised humourous discussions to drive engagement. This is, strictly speaking incorrect – Seinfeld‘s characters had been deliberately unlikeable such that the show’s comedy arose from viewers laughing at the characters when situational irony was created, whereas in Azumanga Daioh, likeable characters meant that viewers would laugh with the characters in similar moments. Further to this, Azumanga Daioh was not about “nothing”: the themes in Azumanga Daioh, pertaining to appreciation of the ordinary, become apparent towards the series’ end, and there had been a clear progression, even if on a day-to-day basis, Azumanga Daioh‘s humour and strong comedic elements were front and centre. One can see where this mode of thinking came about: Gundam SEED had dealt with how atrocities in warfare only breeds further conflict, and Please Teacher! was about the challenges of relationships. Comparatively speaking, Azumanga Daioh‘s theme, which was much subtler, did not feel as present by comparison. However, the reality is simple enough: the suggestion that Azumanga Daioh can be comparable to Seinfeld is to do the former a great disservice. Azumanga Daioh‘s influence in the slice-of-life genre is indisputable, setting the precedence for how stories in a 4-koma manga can be weaved cohesively together in the animated format, and upon finding success, set the stage for other series to follow suit. By the late 2000s, Kyoto Animation successfully brought Lucky☆Star and K-On! to life. Their adaptations were a resounding success, as well, further demonstrating that slice-of-life was not only viable, but that there as a strong demand for it. The positive reception both Lucky☆Star and K-On! received would continue to shape anime for the next decade: GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic are examples of more recent 4-koma adaptations that found great success, building upon the lessons from K-On!, which had in turn drawn inspiration from Azumanga Daioh. Azumanga Daioh revolutionised portrayal of everyday life by placing a deliberate focus on the mundane, and its winning formula had been to strike a masterful balance between the surreal and the real to create a distinct world where the characters were likeable, and whose journeys were worth following. With a timeless feel and unexpected depth, Azumanga Daioh provides so much more meaning and enjoyment well beyond Tomo’s antics and Ayumu’s flights of fancy, telling a tale of appreciating the remarkable from the ordinary with people close to one.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Tari Tari, The Sound of Compassion, Supporting Aspirations Through Music and A Graduate’s Swan Song

“But for me, just having fun wasn’t enough. The support of my friends was equally important; they encouraged me through my struggles. They’re all so different from me, but they’re honest and determined. We fought, but we also worked together. I know you had a friend like that, too. Someone to have fun with, someone to share her worries. Mom, I have finished the song we promised to write. Sorry it took so long. I’m glad I could create this song with you and my friends. I’ll treasure it always for bringing us together.” –Wakana Sakai

Wakana Sakai once aspired to be a musician, as her mother Mahiru, once was, but after Mahiru died, Wakana began distancing herself from music to dull the pain of her loss. Konatsu Miyamoto is an optimistic and cheerful girl with a great love for music, and seeks to redeem herself after an incident in her previous year that led to her being removed from the lineup of active singers. Sawa Okita holds aspirations to become a jockey in the future, despite her father’s wishes. Taichi Tanaka strives to be a professional badminton player, and Atsuhiro Maeda is a transfer student with a love of the sentai genre. Five disparate students, each with their own goals and troubles, are united when Konatsu seeks to form her own choral club, with the aim of being able to sing again and do something big before graduation. Brought together by music to form the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club, these individuals come to learn about one another, their strengths and weaknesses, and come to support one another on their goals while working hard to put on a performance ahead of their school’s closure. This is Tari Tari, an anime from P.A. Works dating back to 2012 that portrays the life of five high school students who are on the edge of one milestone as they prepare to finish their final year of high school. Through its thirteen episode run, Tari Tari demonstrates the power of music to bring people together, to motivate and encourage one another; each of Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro each have their own aspirations, but unified by music, realise an opportunity to contribute back to their school and put on a performance that allows them to properly express thanks to those around them. When it is revealed their school is to close, Konatsu’s initial determination to sing again transforms into a performance that represent a swansong of gratitude and appreciation for the teachers and students, as well. The road to this performance also helps each of the club’s members in a tangible way: Wakana opens up to the others and comes to peace with her mother’s passing, Sawa places more trust in her friends and allow them to support her ambition to become a jockey, Taichi continues pushing forwards on his dream of playing badminton professionally, and Atsuhiro does his best to help everyone. With Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro’s support, as well as Wakana’s experience, the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club are able to send their graduating year off in style, creating a cherished memory that marks the end of one journey and the beginning of the next.

With its focus on music, Tari Tari‘s central theme speaks to the power of music, and how it is able to motivate, inspire and encourage people from different backgrounds, experiences and creed, bringing them together for a common purpose. At scale, Tari Tari‘s theme is a positive one: that music transcends cultural, linguistic and ethnographic boundaries, being able to convey emotions that are universally understood. Through music, a diverse group of individuals gather together, and working towards a shared goal of doing one final swan song before graduation, also come to find camaraderie and support in one another. Sawa comes to voice her worries about the road to being a jockey instead of keeping it to herself, and the girls encourage Taichi to do his best in badminton. Konatsu comes to understand why Wakana approaches music with a serious mindset, but Wakana herself opens up to the others, realising that her mother’s vision of music was something to be shared. Tari Tari‘s single greatest strength therefore lies in its ability to bring in people from different walks of life, set them with a common objective that unifies them, and create something compelling: the series could’ve easily been about any one of Wakana, Sawa, Konatsu, Taichi or Atsuhiro and comfortably occupied a full thirteen episodes for each arc had everyone faced down their problems independently, but together, with support from one another, solutions are reached more swiftly. Tari Tari excels at tying together so many different elements because it is able to show how music impacts everyone, and ultimately, how music is something that sets in motion the events that bring people together and set them on a trajectory towards their futures. The use of a simple, yet powerful theme allows Tari Tari to cover everyone’s stories in a compelling and satisfactory manner, resulting in an anime that is earnest and sincere in its messages.

Taken together with P.A. Works’ visually impressive presentation, a phenomenal soundtrack and strong voice acting, Tari Tari quickly became a favourite of mine: the sum of its meaningful themes and a technically excellent audio and visual component made it an anime I looked forwards to every week. Tari Tari seamlessly transitions between each of Konatsu, Wakana, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro’s stories, weaving them together in a concise and focused manner. While this could’ve ended up meandering, unfocused, Tari Tari ended up captivating me. During its run, I became invested in the characters and rooted for their success. Every episode left me in anticipation of what would happen next, and this ultimately ended up being an asset of immeasurable value: that summer, I had been studying for the MCAT, and it was an immensely stressful experience. By July, I had concluded CLANNAD and ~After Story~, and Tari Tari ended up being the show that filled in the void. By giving me something to look forwards to each week, Tari Tari helped me relax: the series had had just reached the halfway point, when Wakana becomes consumed with remorse at having okayed her father to dispose of their piano, which meant discarding the one remaining link she had with her mother. However, Wakana’s father explains that her mother had decided to keep quiet about her illness so their final memory of songwriting together would be a happy one. He reveals that he still has her old music, and never threw the piano away. Wakana realises an opportunity to finish something she had started with her mother, and her love of music is rekindled. She agrees to help Konatsu and the others, marking a turning point in Tari Tari when it is shown that support can come from anywhere. This was an encouraging course of events: I thus resolved to survive the MCAT so that I could see Wakana’s journey continue. When the MCAT concluded, Tari Tari delved into Sawa’s story, and by this point in my summer, I had the remainder of the month to myself. Watching Sawa overcome her problems, and Atsuhiro taking the lead in a local performance for the shopping district motivated me to pick up the journal publication that my lab had shelved amidst the academic term. I dusted the project off and coordinated with a few of my colleagues into helping us finish. My supervisor was pleasantly surprised the paper was revived, and agreed to proof-read it. By the end of the summer, we had a submission-ready publication, and the journal accepted it, leading this to be my first-ever journal article. For having helped give me the resolve and strength to stare down the MCAT in the days leading up to the exam and ultimately leading me to see a journal publication through to the end, Tari Tari had a nontrivial impact on me, that, in conjunction with everything that the series excels at doing, results in my counting Tari Tari to be a masterpiece.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tari Tari began airing early in July 2012, a time when I had just wrapped up my summer course on physics and could afford to focus my entire effort into reviewing for the MCAT. I had been curious to check out Tari Tari after watching one of the trailers, which played an instrumental version of Melody of the Heart, the series’ main theme. The song had a warm, inviting sound, and my curiosity was piqued. At the time, no one knew what Tari Tari would be about: the preamble only indicated that it would be about a group of students looking to do something big for their final year of high school.

  • After the first episode aired, I was thoroughly impressed: out of the gates, Tari Tari introduced all of its main characters and gave viewers a solid idea of their personalities entering the series. Because Tari Tari deals with transitions from one part of life into the next, viewers are dropped into a bit of a chaotic time in the story: Konatsu and Sawa’s homeroom instructor, Tomoko Takahashi, is set to go on maternity leave, and everyone is wishing her the best.

  • However, this also happens to be the day that Atsuhiro transfers into their class. Tomoko tasks Taichi to look after him and give him a tour of campus. Tari Tari covers a lot of ground during a very short time, and the first episode also establishes that Konatsu is intent on having a singing role in the choral club after an accident the previous year causes her to be removed from singing. For Konatsu, singing is a form of expression and represents liberty: her love of singing comes from a childhood admiration of the Condor Queens, a band known for their Spanish performances, and when her appeal to music instructor Naoko Takakura fails, she resolves to start her own club.

  • Wakana starts out her journey cold and detached, removed from the others. Serious and dedicated, she sports a no-nonsense personality; when Konatsu approaches her to start a new choral club, Wakana rebukes her, remarking that music isn’t a game. However, Konatsu’s opinion of music, that it’s more than just an art form to perfect, does cause Wakana to pause for a moment – Mahiru had a similarly optimistic and cheerful outlook on music, seeing it as something that could bring people together and otherwise convey intangible concepts.

  • Tari Tari is full of nuance: the first few episodes have both Wakana and Naoko as being unsympathetic to Konatsu’s desire to perform. While it is not immediately apparent, Wakana and Naoko have their own reasons for having such a rigid mindset on music: subtle details such as these really give life to the characters of Tari Tari, and as more about everyone is shown, viewers come to empathise with what they’re going through. When Wakana reluctantly agree to be the pianist for Sawa and Konatsu during their first concert, a hint of her true personality is shown – underneath her stoic personality is someone with the same warmth and kindness as Mahiru.

  • P.A. Works’ series are not known for their fanservice components, so it was a bit of a surprise to see Taichi’s older sister chilling in his room when Atsuhiro arrives at his place. My history with Tari Tari is a bit of an interesting one: I followed it weekly when it was airing, and then wrote a brief piece about it at my old website. Two years later, I returned to write about it again as I transitioned away from my old site to the current blog. Reading through my old review led me to rewatch Tari Tari, and on this third revisit, I found that Tari Tari, besides being excellent from a story and technical point of view, also did two important things: it contributed to me getting through a trickier time and also influenced some of P.A. Works’ later works to a nontrivial extent.

  • Tari Tari‘s soundtrack is composed by Shirō Hamaguchi, who had previously worked on the music to Ah! My GoddessGirls und PanzerHanasaku IrohaHaruchika and The Magnificent Kotobuki. Of these, Ah! My Goddess stands out: while the 2004 TV series had more ordinary music, his work on the 2000 film resulted in a soundtrack of sublime quality, and in Girls und Panzer, the superb range of music, from militaristic combat themes to the everyday slice of life pieces and marching songs, really highlights how versatile Hamaguchi is. It is therefore unsurprising that the music of Tari Tari is of such a high standard.

  • Tari Tari marks the first time I’d seen a series breaking so many established conventions: in most anime, a club on the brink of dissolution would receive its members in the first few episodes, and then spend the remainder of the series exploring their chosen specialisation. In Tari Tari, Konatsu managed to assemble an entire choir and performs, but loses these members almost immediately, forcing her to seek creative means of keeping her club together. She eventually builds the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club in the aftermath, unfairly defeating Taichi and Atsuhiro in a three-on-two badminton match that certainly wouldn’t be regulation. Tari Tari also pioneered the idea of a club being able to have more than one focus to keep enough members to stay afloat, something that would be revisited in Iroduku and Koisuru Asteroid.

  • With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see why Naoko is so adamant that Konatsu not form the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club; after Konatsu finds Mahiru’s old song, Melody of the Heart, Naoko acts out of respect for Mahiru’s memory, feeling Konatsu to be desecrating things. However, as Wakana begins to open up, Naoko realises that Wakana desires to carry on in her mother’s footsteps. The principal is able to spot this earlier on, and when Konatsu appeals to him directly, he allows their club to carry on, knowing what it means to Wakana, as well.

  • A secondary theme in Tari Tari is that small groups of devoted, dedicated people are capable of achieving great things together. Despite having lost all of their previous members who had musical background, the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club’s remaining members are committed despite not possessing the same level of training and skill. That Sawa and Konatsu were able to perform earlier on hinted at this, and so, it is with five members that the club moves ahead with its activities, although at this point, Wakana is still only a member in name, being occupied with her own challenges.

  • Konatsu decides to sign the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club up for a local music festival, but when the Condor Queens show up, she begins wavering. This causes a rift between Sawa and Konatsu, but the two reconcile after Wakana helps the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club to secure a stage. In the end, despite performing only for three children and their parents, the club still manages to put on a decent showing that impresses their audience. It is from humble beginnings that the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club start from, but their tenacity and determination to be more is what drives Tari Tari. Along this journey, past hurts are healed and dreams are realised.

  • Tari Tari is one of those anime that I could have written about in an episodic fashion, since each and every episode has so much worth talking about, and I actually had considered revisiting the anime episode by episode, pointing out all of the bits of foreshadowing and each episode’s contributions to the series. In Tari Tari, each and every detail is relevant to the big picture. However, it became clear that, while Tari Tari deserved an episodic review, my schedule wouldn’t allow for it, so I’ve chosen to instead talk about it at a much higher level.

  • At the local badminton tournament, Taichi is unable to advance, but despite his disappointment, he vows to work harder. It is here that Taichi begins developing a crush on Sawa; she starts the party by trying to connect with him and shares more about her interest in being a jockey, which in turn drives Taichi’s desire to know more about her. A ways back, I wrote a post on why the feelings were mutual: besides the body language in the scene, it is Sawa, and not Konatsu, who decides to go back and see how Taichi is doing after his loss. Sawa’s also got a bit more of a playful side to her, buying Konatsu a hot drink on a hot day.

  • Wakana’s relationship with her mother had not been the best in recent years, and her biggest regret is not being more understanding prior to Mahiru’s death. Seeing the old piano brings back memories of this pain and guilt, which is why she initially wanted to get rid of it. The episode is characterised by an incoming typhoon, which casts the whole of Enoshima in a moody, grim light, mirroring Wakana’s feelings. However, the next morning, the storm has gone, and Wakana’s developed cold. Seeing a despondent Wakana leads Konatsu to believe the worst, and she falls into a tide pool when attempting to “save” Wakana.

  • For Wakana, talking it out is how she comes to terms with what had happened: hearing the impact Mahiru had on those around her, whether it be Shiho (Sawa’s mother) or the Condor Queens helps Wakana to appreciate the carefree and spirited attitude. Being able to listen to Shiho and the Condor Queens share their stories really makes Mahiru’s contributions tangible, far more than listening to old recordings and reading letters alone could accomplish. The sum of these memories, in conjunction with a conversation with her father, finally allows Wakana to accept what happened, and also turn over a new leaf, to fulfil her promise to Mahiru and write a song together.

  • In a few weeks, the leaves will start turning yellow as summer fully gives way to autumn. Throughout Tari Tari, Mahiru is presented as being warm, spirited and understanding. She touched countless people with her carefree and accepting beliefs on music, believing the first and foremost aspect was to have fun. This belied an incredible talent and skill in composition, and Wakana initially did not understand this about Mahiru. The flashbacks in Tari Tari, in conjunction with frequent mention of Mahiru’s impact, shows that she’s left a lasting legacy, and even though she might be gone, Wakana will always have the happy memories to guide and inspire her.

  • With the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club’s activities in full-swing now that Wakana is on board, Konatsu sets about trying to determine what their presentation for the culture festival will be. However, the other choral club members doubt Konatsu, and moreover, Naoko will need to okay any use of the main stage. In spite of this, Wakana decides to press forward, studying composition to see how to best finish her mother’s song, which she plans on using for the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club’s performance. Here, the reflection of the room’s windows can be seen on the whiteboard: Tari Tari makes extensive use of reflective surfaces to create a well-lit feeling in its environments.

  • Once Wakana’s story is concluded, Tari Tari switches over to Sawa: Konatsu and Taichi’s stories were a bit shorter, but Sawa’s story is a bit more fully-fleshed. It turns out that her aspiration to become a jockey is met with opposition: her father disapproves, and moreover, Sawa’s physique does not appear to be suited for the occupation. She begins an aggressive diet in a bid to lose weight and make the requirements, but this results in fatigue and lethargy. After falling off her horse during archery practise from fatigue and lack of food energy, Sawa is taken to the local hospital to be examined for any injuries, and her father implores her to stand down.

  • Like Wakana, Sawa feels that her problems are hers alone to bear, that no one else would understand what she’s going through, and for this, her mannerisms take a noticeable shift: Tari Tari had presented Sawa as outgoing and playful, so to see a dramatic change was to show how heavily the future weighs on her mind. Sawa and Wakana’s stories are the top of Tari Tari, and the fact that they were so clearly presented indicates that even with a time constraint, shorter anime can still succeed in telling a compelling, full-fledged story that viewers can connect with.

  • While practising at Atsuhiro’s place, Sawa finally comes forwards with her troubles to the others. However, when Wakana suggests taking a step back to regroup, Sawa goes ballistic. She lashes out, suggesting that Wakana’s already got a background in music and that for her, it’s different. Indeed, Wakana’s love for music and Sawa’s determination to become a jockey are rooted by different motivations, but it does bring about one important point: the future is always uncertain, and the things people end up falling in love with doing might not always be what they’s sought out. When I revisited Tari Tari two years after the MCAT, my desire to go into medicine had been displaced by a newfound love for software development, for instance.

  • It’s easy to get caught up in the gravity of the moment, but Wakana’s suggestion was never to give up being a jockey, and instead, look at the problem from a different perspective. Sawa subsequently spends the remainder of the episode in poor spirits and takes a sick day, even as the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club sets off to prove their worth to Naoko, who reluctantly allows them to perform if they can make the audition. In order for the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club to stand a chance, they need Sawa, and ultimately, it is Wakana who takes the initiative to call her. Realising that she’s still needed, Sawa understands what Wakana and the others are doing for her, and immediately sets off for school on her horse, barely making it ahead of their slot.

  • In the aftermath, Sawa’s father sees the scope of her determination, and while still reluctant to allow her to pursue a career, realises that her daughter is hardworking and determined. He is later seen yelling at the admissions staff, saying he’ll personally curse them if they don’t relax the admission’s requirements for physique. It’s a rather touching moment that shows how, despite his outward appearance, Sawa’s father does care greatly for her. With Sawa’s story in the books, and the audition securing them a spot, Konatsu decides to go big on their performance for the culture festival, adding a play on top of their singing.

  • When the local shōtengai reports a decline in revenue from the previous year, Shiho suggests a radical new event: a live-action performance featuring sentai, the equivalent of Marvel or DC’s superheroes. This interpretation of superheroes has become iconic in Japan, and the Power Ranges are a particularly famous series. While outwardly different from something like the MCU sentai heroes fight in teams and strive to uphold justice the same way the Avengers do. Atsuhiro is very keen about this genre, seeing it as representative of the idea that good can prevail over evil, and the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club take on the job to help raise money for their performance.

  • Despite her experience with music, Wakana struggles with the composition of the song that Mahiru had left her. Shiho ends up pointing her in the right direction: Naoko had once studied music as well, being Mahiru’s classmate, and as such, should have some suggestions up her sleeve. Like Wakana, she is very unsympathetic to Konatsu’s attempts to run her own choral club because Mahiru’s death hit her hard. While viewers may find it difficult to accept Naoko’s character, Tari Tari does an excellent job of giving credence to why individuals act the way they do.

  • In Atsuhiro’s arc, he becomes distracted upon learning that all of the letters he’d written to Jan, a friend back home in Austria, were never delivered because he’d changed addresses. When the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club discover this, Atsuhiro comes into the open and, having now voiced his concerns, remarks that he’s confident Jan is going to be fine, and that he can also focus on his goals. Like Sawa, Wakana and Taichi, expressing his worries helps him to see an out. Owing to his love for sentai, Atsuhiro is the most enthusiastic and coaches the others in their roles.

  • The end result is an impressive performance, and when Atsuhiro stops a would-be thief with Taichi, Sawa, Wakana and Konatsu despite being physically outmatched, it really demonstrates the strength of his character. This was a fun arc in Tari Tari that gives viewers a better measure of Atsihiro’s character, and I remark here that while Konatsu and the others affectionately refer to Atsuhiro as “Wein” (after Austria’s capital, Vienna), I prefer calling Atsuhiro by his given name because this is the way to properly address the characters and furthermore, avoids confusion.

  • Once the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club secure the funds for their costumes and props, it’s full steam ahead as they prepare for the culture festival. Tari Tari has one final curveball to throw at them: it turns out their school is closing down because the area has been zoned for new development. The timing is such that it would cause the cancellation of the cultural festival, but Wakana ends up finishing her song, and she pushes to have their own festival anyways, since this song represents not just her, but the sum of the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club’s efforts, a product of self-discovery that each of Konatsu, Taichi, Sawa and Atsuhiro have experienced since they met.

  • During the preparations, Taichi and Sawa spend more time together, and Taichi eventually develops a crush on Sawa. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising, since Tari Tari had foreshadowed this early on: the two have been through quite a bit together as members of the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club, and when he’d failed to make the competition, Sawa had been the first to check up on him to make sure he was alright. Indeed, Taichi does attempt a kokuhaku at the series’ end, but the outcome of this is left ambiguous, and for fans of Tari Tari, this has been a bit of a sore spot, since viewers believed that Taichi and Sawa deserved a happy ending of sorts.

  • Despite being unsuccessful in convincing the student council to permit the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club to press on, Konatsu’s efforts are admirable, and she manages to convince the choral club to help her. Owing to an accident, the props that Atsuhiro had worked on are discarded. The club manages to recover them at the local landfill, and with Taichi’s help, the props and costumes inch their way to completion better than before. Meanwhile, Sawa heads off to try and enlist the shōtengai association’s help in gathering an audience.

  • While visiting Mahiru’s grave, Wakana runs into Naoko. It is here that the extent of Naoko’s friendship with Mahiru becomes apparent, and seeing Wakana finish Mahiru’s final composition convinces Naoko that Wakana is a worthy musician, someone who has the skill to continue bringing joy into the world through music. This was incredibly touching, and with her effort, Wakana demonstrates that the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club is worthy of her respect. On the day of the festival, Naoko fetches the wind instrument club and choral club to help with the performance.

  • While the principal has always been somewhat of a pushover when it came to the school’s future, he ultimately decides that sending the students off in style and leaving a positive memory matters more than a comfortable retirement bonus. He discards the developer’s proposal and allows the festival to be held. There is no time to lose as the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club press forwards with the preparations for their performance. The rainy weather gives way to sunshine, and ultimately, the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club’s performance is an unqualified success, capturing everyone’s feelings and thoughts regarding their journey and time together.

  • After lectures ended, I had spent most of the afternoon of the day before at the Telus SPARK Science Centre helping to get things set up, and the Friday night of six years ago was the opening night. Looking back, The Giant Walkthrough Brain would have been my Radiant Melody: after being tasked with testing the viability of the Unity Game Engine to provide a virtual visualisation of Jay Ingram’s show in May, I ended up taking the lead on the development of the software side of things, and over four months, I implemented, tested and improved the Giant Walkthrough Brain. Following a successful showing at the Banff Centre, the true test would come as the Giant Walkthrough Brain was presented for Beakerhead, a local science programme: I worried that at Telus SPARK, I would need to implement a different type of projection to create a 3D view for the geodesic dome.

  • Fortunately, we only needed standard projection, and having built the Unity project in a way to be extensible, I had no trouble with configuring it for the Beakerhead presentation requirements. The two performances for the Beakerhead Giant Walkthrough Brain were to sold-out crowds on both evenings and was a complete a success by all definitions. Watching the Beakerhead performance was every bit as rewarding and thrilling as seeing the culmination of Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro’s final performance, a superb musical that combines drama with singing that acts as a swan song for both Tari Tari and the high school’s final graduating class. The weather transitions from a moody and rainy day shortly before the performance: the sunny breaks acts as a visual metaphor for the beginning of a new era, a well-lit one characterised by hope.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain came to represent what was possible with computer science, and set me down the path towards my graduate thesis project. Like the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club’s successful magnum opus, I count the Giant Walkthrough Brain to be one of the things I’m most proud of having done in my youth, and for my contributions, The Giant Walkthrough Brain project would earn me an city-wide award for “exceptional extra-curricular contribution of computer science skills to the community”. These are the sorts of contributions I hope that all youth have a chance to make: using their skills to tangibly and positively impact their community: there is a skill component (it takes a bit of patience to learn a system like Unity), but it should be clear that the results are well worth it.

  • Tari Tari‘s use of light is meant to evoke the idea that as light reaches even the darkest, out of the way spots, it casts these places in warmth and gives them hope. Wide windows allow light to permeate the buildings, and similarly an honest, open dynamic amongst the characters allow them to support one another and find hope where it appears all is lost. It is therefore appropriate that Wakana and Naoko share their thoughts with one another beside a window as sunlight streams into the room: while the empty classroom creates a sense of melancholy, the warmth in the scene comes from Wakana and Naoko coming to terms with Mahiru’s death together: both Naoko and Wakana can depend on one another to cherish their memories of Mahiru and continue advancing music in her memory, as well as for their own futures.

  • In the end, everyone reaches their graduation and prepares to step into their own futures. Sawa’s already taken off to attend an equestrian school overseas, having been accepted into their program, but is granted a diploma anyways for having completed all of the requirements. As Tari Tari drew to a close, I entered my honours thesis year: seeing the sort of determination spurred my intentions to complete a journal publication during the summer, after the project had fallen by the wayside during term. For our troubles, we were accepted into the publication, and this accomplishment also helped one of my colleagues make the honours thesis programme. Their GPA had just missed the minimum requirements by a small faction, but having a publication proved to the department they were qualified for the work. With this and my supervisor vouching for them, they were reinstated.

  • This final year stands as my favourite undergraduate year, as we each worked on our own projects, supported one another and ultimately, defended our work the following April. I don’t think anyone in our year failed our thesis projects. For me, Tari Tari has many moments that are memorable, being attached to pivotal moments during my time as a student; this contributes to a bit of my bias as to why I found the anime so moving and enjoyable. Viewers have longed for a continuation, and while no sequel anime ever materialised, a special OVA set during the winter was released with a commemorative BD collection, and in 2018, a novel, Tari Tari ~Mebaitari Terashitari Yappari Tokidoki Utattari~ (Tari Tari ~Budding, Shining, and Sometimes Singing~) was announced.

  • This novel is set ten years after the anime’s events, and sees the characters reunite to help Yukine, a high school student who is still searching for her way. Unfortunately, I’ve not heard much at all about this project: the first chapter was originally published on August 1, 2018, and new chapters were supposed to be published bimonthly, but I’ve found nothing of the project as of yet. However, while we may not have the full story from the sequel, Tari Tari portrays Wakana walking along the same path she normally walks, sporting a longer hairstyle similar to Mahiru’s. She smiles warmly, bringing Tari Tari to a close and assuring viewers that, with everything she’s experienced, she’s in a much better place now and ready to seize the future.

Tari Tari is often overlooked where discussions of P.A. Works’ anime are concerned: this is, after all, the studio that has brought viewers the likes of Angel Beats!, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara and Shirobako, each of which are veritable masterpieces in their own right for excellence in capturing the viewer’s interest with their characters, setting and premise. However, Tari Tari‘s contributions to P.A. Works’ repertoire of productions cannot be understated. As the production following Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari inherits many elements from its predecessor, especially a cast of characters of different backgrounds that each share a common goal. However, whereas Hanasaku Iroha required a full twenty-six episodes to tell its story, Tari Tari managed to condense that experience down into half the runtime. The success in Tari Tari, then, was demonstrating that even with a reduced episode count, it was still possible to draw upon the elements that made Hanasaku Iroha so successful, and moreover, P.A. Works now had two series that were successful following a busier, more multi-faceted set of characters in a coming-of-age setting. Tari Tari‘s legacy is therefore understated; in addition to being an exceptional anime, Tari Tari confirmed that P.A. Works had a winning combination that could fit into a thirteen or twenty six episode format. confident that series with a large number of characters each working towards the same objective can captivate audiences, P.A. Works would go on to create outstanding experiences through Shirobako, Sakura Quest and Irodoku. Each of these series have proven to be immensely enjoyable in their own right, taking the concepts from Tari Tari and successfully applying them to different settings, from the anime production workplace, to a remote town and even a world with magic to create captivating series well worth one’s while.