The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Masterpiece Anime Showcase

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!!, Appreciating Everyday Life at After School Teatime and The Road to Graduation At the Nine Year Anniversary

I would like to give you every ounce of my gratitude
And send it to you through this song
This is a feeling I will never, ever forget

–U & I

With third year in full swing for Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi, the light music club focus on getting new members so Asuza won’t be alone when they graduate. Their efforts come to naught, and the girls’ days in high school continue as they clean out the clubroom, go on a class trip while Azusa remains behind with Ui and Jun, struggle to deal with the rainy season and perform for the Mio Fan Club, which Nodoka had inherited when Megumi Sokabe graduated. Besides keeping up with their practise, the girls also must find time to study for their exams and decide on their career paths for the future. Yui is able to pass her exams and decides to become a teacher, being inspired by Sawako. Summer soon arrives, and the girls spend time together at a summer music festival with Sawako. While the girls turn their attention towards studying for their entrance exams, Azusa worries about the light music club’s future. The school’s cultural festival draws near: Mio and Ritsu manage to master their leading roles in the school play, Romeo and Juliet, and later put on a spectacular concert for their classmates. The concert also brings to light the fact that this is everyone’s last year together, and as graduation draws near for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, the girls work to bring Azusa a farewell gift in between their own preparations for graduation. On the day of graduation, after the ceremony ends, the girls perform one final time for Azusa with Tenshi no Fureta Yo!, a special song dedicated to her being with them throughout their time as members of After School Teatime. K-On!‘s second season, K-On!! comprises of twenty-four episodes that detail Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s final year of high school and their appreciation for Azusa’s membership with a much finer granularity than the first season: while both the first and second seasons cover two manga volumes, the extended runtime of K-On!! provides a much greater insight as to how close Azusa and Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi have become during their time together. During its run, K-On!! deals with two overlapping themes. The series’ length means that everyday moments are shown in great detail to denote an appreciation for the everyday, and this time creates memories that ultimately can make it difficult to part ways: as K-On!! continues, Azusa’s desire to spend one more year with Yui and the others becomes increasingly evident.

More so than even the first season, K-On!! accentuates the importance of everyday moments. Whereas the original manga had created humour from the brevity of its moments, the anime extends these moments, depicting every subtle detail and placing focus on elements that would otherwise be ignored. Ordinary things like drying off after the rain, or working to get a working air conditioning unit in the clubroom are presented as an integral part of K-On!!, no different than watching the girls discuss their future plans and concerts over cake and tea, or performing on stage. While some feel that the focus on the mundane detracts from K-On!!, especially in the form that the second season takes, the protracted and frequent focus on everyday life serves a critical purpose for the series – K-On!‘s first season saw Mio compose most of the music that After School Teatime performs, and so, most of the lyrics were sappy, sentimental. By K-On!!, Yui is also involved in writing some of the songs. While Mio’s songs are composed from her feelings, which are decidedly more abstract, Yui is more straightforwards, and so, K-On!! can be said to be giving viewers insight into the sorts of things that Yui and the others experience, which feed into the energy and optimism of their performances. Despite their songs speaking to ordinary things, whether it be the joys of curry rice, strawberry parfaits or how rice can be a main course on its own, After School Teatime presents their music with a carefree, happy-go-lucky approach that perfectly reflects their lives. This is an indicator that the music of K-On!! doesn’t come out of nowhere, and that almost anything, with the right mindset and composition, can be turned into music: After School Teatime’s music is definitely a testament to Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Asuza’s love for simple but treasured moments spent with one another, and in a chaotic, hectic world, there is most certainly meaning in stopping to smell the roses.

The culmination of these simple but heartwarming memories during their time as high school students creates a sense of belonging, of happy days spent together. However, nothing is truly infinite, and like all things, high school draws to a close; Azusa, being the junior member of After School Teatime, has grown very much accustomed to the eccentricities and antics that Yui and the others participate in, and while she may put on a tough, serious front to focus on music, the reality is that she’s come to greatly appreciate everything the others have done for her. As K-On!! wears on, Azusa begins to wonder about the hand-off in the light music club: once Yui and the seniors graduate, she’ll need to take over and run the club. Besides searching for new members and becoming familiar with the responsibilities of being the president, Azusa also will miss her friends greatly. This worry for the future slowly creeps into K-On!! – as she spends more time with each of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, Azusa realises that she doesn’t want any of them to leave. Following the culture festival, the entire band sheds tears as they realise this. For Azusa, these feelings come out in full during the finale: having long masked her doubts, Azusa finally comes into the open with respect to how she feels about Yui and the others, begging them to stay. While Azusa has definitely been grateful for seniors who looked after her, it turns out that Yui and the others feel precisely the same way, counting it a great blessing to have had Azusa accompany them on their journey. While it is goodbye for present, graduation is not really the end; each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi capture this in a song they perform for Azusa, and in its lyrics, they thank her from the bottom of their hearts. Just because they are due to separate for the present doesn’t mean that the memories will be lost, and so, K-On!! shows that the ending of one journey simply is the beginning of another one: while moments are transient and fleeting, memories have a much stronger endurance and will remain with one unto eternity. The second season definitely takes its time in presenting these messages, but the extended run-time really allows K-On!! to vividly portray the strength of friendship and then capture this anew in the form of music, showing how there is magic in the mundane.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Compared to K-On!K-On!! (differentiated with a second exclamation point) has twice the runtime and therefore, progresses at an even slower pace than its predecessor. This works to the series’ advantage: K-On!! is about an appreciation of things in life that we often take for granted, and showing seemingly unrelated events that Yui and the others experience encourages viewers to slow down and live in the moment, enjoying moments spent with people important in one’s life.

  • K-On!! also sports upgraded artwork and animation compared to that of K-On! – lighting is much more detailed, and the settings have more depth to them compared to the flatter, simpler designs of the first season. Character movement is also more fluid, and consistently animated. The techniques and style used in K-On!! would eventually be applied to Tamako Market and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid, giving their respective characters a beautiful world to interact in and explore.

  • While K-On! had been about Azusa’s entry into the light music club, K-On!! also begins to entertain the idea that with Yui and the others about to graduate, there also is a need for a successor. Azusa is well-suited for the role, and in the manga, she does eventually accept the mantle of responsibility that being the light music club’s president requires. To hint at this, Azusa is shown spending more time with Ui and Jun: such moments establish that outside of Mio, Mugi, Yui and Ritsu, Azusa does have friends with whom she is close to.

  • In a given day, After School Teatime lives up to their name and is rarely seen without tea and some sort of cake or pastry close at hand. The kind of tea the girls are seen drinking is never specified, since K-On!! isn’t about the tea, but I would guess that Mugi typically brings in an Earl Gray or even Rooibos: the former is paired with the deserts nicely, and Rooibos tea is a very healthy option, as well. I personally prefer Chamomile or peppermint tea in the midday, and Rooibos in the late afternoon.

  • Moments such as Mugi helping Yui dry off during the rainy season might add nothing of note to the overall story in K-On!!, but it shows that the series is very much committed to bringing the manga to life and bringing out the joy in each moment. The manga is actually a lot more concise than the anime: the first season adopted the first two volumes, and the second season is an adaptation of the second two volumes. The final two volumes of K-On! never received adaptations.

  • Animating Yui, Mio and Azusa playing their instruments was no easy feat, and lessons learnt from bringing bass and guitar to life in K-On! would feed into the techniques used in Hibike! EuphoniumK-On! might be seen as a lesser essay in the craft, a warm up act, since Hibike! Euphonium‘s instruments are animated and presented with an even greater level of detail. Their latest movie is set to release in November, and I’ve been able to keep my distance from the spoilers surprisingly well.

  • During the course of K-On!!, the light music club finds itself in a memorable trip to Kyoto, deals with cleaning up the clutter in the club room and even performing for the Mio Fan Club, which spawned as a result of Mio’s accident during their first-ever performance. Mio reluctantly participates, being prone to embarrassment whenever recalling the incident, but warms up to the Fan Club, who dedicate to Mio a slideshow of her best moments with After School Tea Time.

  • A part of K-On!! is the lingering and impending doom that is examinations. Exams in Japan are of a much greater importance than the exams I sat in Canada, as they determine which institutes one can apply for, and then one must also pass the entrance examinations to attain admittance into their school of choice. Conversely, my experiences were that I wrote standardised exams during my final year of high school and spanked those, scoring near-perfect scores on everything and then was admitted to the university’s Health Sciences honours programme.

  • I still remember the days I spent studying for those exams, and in university, found that my old approach of studying for exams alone began to feel ineffectual. When I watched K-On!!, I was going through the toughest term I’d experienced in my undergraduate programme, and ultimately overcame this particular hurdle by studying with others. Watching K-On!! helped me to accept my peers’ requests to study with them: here, Mio and the others prepare for an exam. It is actually quite fortunate that I found K-On! when I did: I had came across the series by pure chance when looking up parodies of Gundam 00, and then took a liking to the music in K-On!.

  • After hearing Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!, I knew I would need to complete the whole journey of K-On! to get a better context for what made the song so stand-out. Here, Azusa and Yui spend some time together in preparation for a talent show that an elderly lady suggests that Yui participate in. A few of the episodes in K-On!! are spent showing how Yui prepares for this show while simultaneously studying for her exams.

  • In the end, Yui passes her exams with a strong performance, and then proceeds to perform in the talent show. Although she and Azusa do not win, Yui offers their consolation prize to the elderly lady as thanks for always looking after her. Such gestures are what makes K-On! a strong series, and while Yui might not possess the characteristics of a focused, purposeful protagonist, her kindness more than offsets any shortcomings she may have.

  • When the girls overhear Sawako on the phone planning meeting an unknown individual, they imagine Sawako’s managed to find a significant other. Deciding to tail her with field-craft that would make John Clark proud, it turns out that Sawako was meeting with Norimi, an old friend from Sawako’s time as a student. It turns out that Norimi was asked to perform at a friend’s wedding but was unable to convince Sawako to play alongside them, so Yui is asked to step in. Watching Yui’s performance prompts Sawako to step back in.

  • The last summer for everyone soon arrives, and the club’s attention turns towards securing a new air conditioning unit when it turns out their club room actually lacked one. Once this is done, Sawako invites everyone to a music festival in the mountains. K-On!! made use of a diverse colour palette during its run: the choice of saturation, hues and lighting are far more sophisticated than those of the first season, giving backgrounds much more depth and life. However, the improved visuals do not detract from the characters themselves, and the visual aspects of K-On!! would continue to improve, culminating in the movie.

  • Despite a rough start to the summer music festival thanks to the crowds and heat, the girls manage to enjoy things nonetheless. They promise to perform together at the next summer festival in a touching moment; viewers will know that such a moment will never materialise since, besides Azusa, everyone is entering the endgame for their high school career. Subtle reminders such as these gently remind viewers that all things must come to an end. This year’s summer is similarly approaching its end, and yesterday was the Mid Autumn Festival, which I celebrated alone with homemade fried pork chops and moon cakes. Today, I went out into the badlands of Alberta to explore a ghost town and also took a short walk amongst the cliffs of the Red Deer River Valley.

  • The evening ended at the Last Chance Saloon in a semi-ghost town of Wayne, where I sat down to their Evolution Burger, a six-ounce prime rib burger with cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, and their special house sauce on toasted bun with a massive side of fries. This burger was well worth the hour-and-a-half drive it took to get to Wayne, being tender, juicy and flavourful: the inclusion of onion rings added a crunchy and rich flavour to the burger. I’d actually been interested in visiting the Last Chance Saloon since January, and it was only now that a weekend opened itself for this short excursion out into the badlands of Alberta, making an enjoyable end to this year’s summer. Back in K-On!!, a whole episode is dedicated towards Azusa spending time with Jun and Ui in a mixture of events and dream sequences to accentuate their friendship.

  • Focus on the girls who would later become Wakaba Girl (literally “fresh leaf girl”, after the leaf stickers given to newly-minted drivers in Japan) sets up the notion that after After School Teatime, the light music club is in excellent hands: Azusa is a skillful player, Jun has jazz background and Ui is able to excel in almost everything she puts her mind to. Even without an adaptation or knowledge of the manga, K-On!! did an excellent job of showing how the torch was passed on.

  • Unlike K-On!‘s first season, which was met with polarised reception, K-On!!‘s second season was not subjected towards the same treatment: no dissertations arguing the series’ perceived flaws from the internet’s more vocal critics were found, and it appeared that the original criticism pieces were (thankfully) not regarded as having any degree of value. My counterarguments remain simple enough: K-On!! was never meant to be about the music, but rather, a journey of discovery, appreciation of people one becomes close to and what farewell means. Claims that K-On!! was “wasted potential” or similar is akin to wondering why one cannot carry large volumes of cargo in an aircraft or ship designed for passengers.

  • As most second seasons are wont, K-On!! explores alternate dynamics amongst group members when other characters are absent. One episode has Ritsu spending time with Mugi, and Mugi becoming more intent on learning about the friendship that Ritsu shares with Mio. It’s rare that the characters are seen hanging out alone when they have been presented as being rather inseparable, and this particular pattern gives more insight into each of the characters, as well as provides for moments that would otherwise not occur when everyone is together. The approach is applied in series where few new characters are introduced as time wears on.

  • Another episode had Azusa spend time individually with each of Mugi, Ritsu, Mio and Yui: while she starts out with the goal of pushing everyone to practise harder, various circumstances preclude this, and so, Azusa is able to learn about her seniors in a much less turbulent setting. She ends up teaching Mugi the basics of guitar, learns that Ritsu has a younger brother and helps Yui read the sheet music to Mugi’s new song after cleaning Ton-chan, the soft-shell turtle’s, tank. Ton-chan was purchased using surplus funds from the club with the aim of keeping Azusa company after everyone had graduated.

  • When the club room is closed for maintenance work, the light music club finds themselves without a place to practise. They spend an afternoon attempting to secure a new location, before renting out a studio and slacking off during their slot. The lyrics for Mugi’s new composition remains unfinished, and it typifies how After School Teatime always seems to struggle with completing a task when time is sufficient to do so because of their tendency to wander and live in the moment. In exchange for scrambling towards a deadline, the girls’ are able to really feed their experiences into whatever they do, whether it be composing lyrics or putting on performances for their classmates.

  • I’ve mentioned that I credit K-On! with helping me weather a difficult term during my second year of university, and was part-way into the second season when exams finished. When I finished K-On!! fully, the summer was already well under way. I had been offered a scholarship for summer research, and I was a month into my new project, to build an agent-based model of fluid flow in convoluted passageways. As I learnt more about the Bullet Physics engine and built increasingly powerful agents that could navigate any closed mesh, I also enjoyed lunches at the then-new Korean BBQ joint on campus, attended several LAN parties and travelled into the mountains, all while listening to the vocal songs and incidental pieces in the series: one of my favourite memories of that summer was visiting my supervisor in Canmore and having lunch at the Crazyweed Kitchen with the lab, having driven in while listening to Mio’s Seishun Vibration and Mugi’s Diary Wa Fortissimo!.

  • Thanks to all of the commotion about their club room, Yui makes very little progress in crafting the lyrics for their latest song and turns to Ui for help. While near-infallible, Ui ends up catching a cold, prompting Yui to look after her in a reversal of roles. Throughout K-On! and K-On!!, Ui has been shown to be a dependable younger sister who dotes on Yui in every way. It turns out that Yui is well aware of this and having seen just how much she’s come to rely on Ui, Yui crafts the lyrics into what would be known as U & I, one of my favourite songs from the series for its honest and heartfelt lyrics. It forms the page quote, since the lyrics also apply to a general sense of gratitude that the second season conveys.

  • When Mio and Ritsu are assigned the leading roles in the school play, they initially find themselves ill-suited to perform their parts until during one practise, they begin to mock one another in frustration, only to learn that they can indeed embrace their roles. Mio and Ritsu subsequently put their fullest efforts into making the play a success, while Mugi and Yui continue to help support the play in their own capacity. The play is a success, and even when Juliet’s tombstone goes missing prior to the play’s climax, the girls improvise by borrowing a replica Rosetta Stone from the occult club.

  • K-On!!‘s moments are numerous, but each of them remain highly memorable, showing how After School Teatime operates outside of their club activities. While they prima facie appear disorganised, unfocused and undisciplined, this raggedy-ass bunch has plenty of heart and sincerity. The girls’ greatest strengths are being able to make the most of a moment and putting their best into something when it matters, resulting in something that’s genuine. Here, they gear up for the school concert, spending a night at school and taking in the unusual atmosphere that accompanies a culture festival. For their performance, Sawako’s managed to make custom T-shirts that work well for the club, as well as giving one to each of the students in a surprise move.

  • The culture festival is also a great success: like its predecessor, K-On!! dedicates an entire episode towards the musical performance. These shows never drag on, and with Yui emceeing the concert, it feels very organic and very much alive. I immediately fell in love with the songs that After School Teatime performed, and also greatly enjoyed the character songs: I am not alone in this assessment, and while bumptious music reviewers turn their noses up at the acoustical properties of K-On!!‘s music, the songs themselves are excellent from a technical standpoint and further to this, have an honesty in their lyrics that almost all modern pop music lack.

  • In the aftermath of the culture festival concert, everyone is exhausted from putting their hearts into performing. During the course of the performance, the girls also realise that this is the last time they’ll be performing together and dissolve into tears. It was here, at the sunset of a journey, that I realised K-On!! was much more than an ordinary slice-of-life anime: the emotions associated with the thought of having to part ways, that the days of enjoying tea and performing together are drawing to a close were superbly captured. The decision to set this moment at the end of a day accentuates this: things inevitably come to an end.

  • By the time Nodoka and Sawako reach the club room to congratulate Yui and the others on a successful concert, everyone’s fallen asleep from exhaustion. While K-On!! is often thought of as a pure moé series, the animated adaptation adds a considerable emotional piece to the story: the girls clearly are saddened by the prospect of having to part ways. In the original manga, the girls simply share a conversation and fall asleep. With Naoko Yamada directing K-On!!, the series presents a very relatable, very human story that extends the humour seen in Kakifly’s original manga. These were the aspects that all critics missed in their assessments.

  • With the concerts over, Yui and the others turn their fullest attention towards studying for their entrance exams. The remainder of K-On!! switches between Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s preparations for exams, and Azusa’s day-to-day experiences with Ui and Jun. Even though such moments are subtle, it is quite clear that a passing of the baton is occurring, and that even though Yui and the others are on the verge of graduation, Azusa still has great companionship in Ui and Jun.

  • The second season ultimately is very faithful to the original manga, differing chiefly in how it chooses to present different moments: what took only a few pages in the manga are covered over several episodes in K-On!!, examinations and the endgame, which took up three quarters of the last manga volume, make up a comparatively meagre four of the twenty-four episodes in season two. Another clever touch to K-On!! is gradually giving Ui and Jun more screentime: Jun and Ui both make more appearances to show Azusa’s friendships outside of the light music club. Indeed, Ui does end up joining the light music club once Yui graduates, and Jun, after being jealous of hearing about Azusa’s adventures, also decides to participate.

  • Towards the end of K-On!!, the warmer colours and more saturated scenes are displaced by cooler, more faded out colours, giving a sense of melancholy as the end of one journey approaches. While it has been nine years since K-On!!‘s original airing, seven years since I finished the series and three years since I last took an exam of any sort, the sense of unease prior to an exam remains a highly vivid experience for me. On the day of their exams, Yui worries about forgetting a critical fact or detail: while I stuck with a brute-force approach in high school and my early undergraduate career towards studying, after the MCAT, I took on a new method that saw unqualified success: I had not gotten any grade lower than a B+ since the MCAT.

  • While it’s a tense moment, there was never any doubt that Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Yui would get into their school of choice: everyone applies for the same women’s university that Mugi had initially chosen, and all are accepted. I personally don’t recommend applying for a university purely because one’s friends are doing so, since everyone ultimately has their own career paths and life choices, but ultimately, this decision is up to the individual, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who goes to a particular institution for this end.

  • Azusa has come to worry greatly for her friends: Mio and Mugi have always been reasonably hard-working students whose grades are solid, but Ritsu and Yui are more scatter-brained. Thus, when everyone is accepted, Azusa is elated. The ending of K-On!! captures a certain melancholy and bitter-sweetness that accompanies the closing of one journey, and it speaks volumes to the execution that such emotions can be presented so tactfully: this feeling is ever-present, but never displaces the everyday cheer that Yui and the others bring. With their exams over, the girls get their yearbook photos taken and spend their days in idle happiness while awaiting graduation.

  • Looking back, there’s a sort of nostalgia I get from watching K-On!!: besides helping me relax during a difficult term, after I finished, I decided to give The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a whirl out of a curiosity in checking out the remainder of Kyoto Animation’s works. This series is a predecessor of sorts to the light novel style adaptations that we’ve come to see in the present (convoluted universes and rules, cynical but sharp-witted male leads), and while the anime was a moderately enjoyable experience, the film proved itself a worthy masterpiece that I watched as my summer research progressed.

  • With K-On!! being similar to its first season in style and execution, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the incidental music in the second season. However, the vocal inset pieces are of an excellent standard: the second season introduces Gohan wa Okazu and Pure Pure Heart, which are representative of the two different styles that After School Teatime perform. Most of their songs are either sappy love songs with lyrics by Mio, or Yui’s down to earth and direct songs about food and life experiences. While the TV series only showcases a number of songs, some of the songs that would be featured on the inset albums would later be used in the movie (e.g. Samidare 20 Love and Curry Nochi Rice).

  • With their exams over, Yui and the others set about crafting a more enduring legacy of their time as members of After School Teatime by compiling a mix tape of their best hits. These songs would later be included in the Houkago Teatime album, which features both the sharper, more polished studio recordings of the girls’ performances and a special “cassette” edition that mimics the rougher, grittier quality of a cassette recording. The cassette recordings act as an extension of the girls’ experiences and add depth to their dynamics, even though many of the songs in that album (e.g. Honey Sweet Time, Tokimeki Sugar and Ichigo Parfait ga Tomara nai) were never performed at the girls’ concerts. The album therefore becomes an indispensable and highly enjoyable listen for any fan of K-On!.

  • On the day of graduation, it’s a bittersweet one as the girls look forwards to their future, while at the same time, wishing that the days of high school could last just a little longer. Looking back on my time as a high school student, I enjoyed the relatively straightforward flow that each day offered: go to school, learn things, chat with friends about various things, go back home, finish whatever assignments I had and the spend the rest of the evening in Ragnarok Online or World of Warcraft. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily miss high school, but I do concede that things were fun back then.

  • Yui decides to give Sawako a card signed by everyone in their class as a thank you gift, and spends much of the ceremony trying to conceal it so it’s a surprised. Sawako is worried about Yui, but is later happy to receive this gift from the class. When I watched K-On!! for the first time, I was quite a few years younger than Sawako and closer in age to Yui and the others. Now, I’m actually older than Sawako, and having served as a teaching assistant at the university during my graduate studies, I can say with confidence that as a teacher, I tend to remember the high-performing students and the rowdy students the best. As such, there is some weight to my supposition that Sawako will remember Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi for some time after they’ve graduated.

  • When the ceremonies conclude, and farewells are bade, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi turn their attention towards saying the most important goodbye of all: Azusa’s been holding back tears all day, and now that the moment has come to part ways, she finds herself unable to do so, tearfully begging the others to stay. Yui offers Azusa a flower and gives her a special thank you card and prepare to play a special song they’d written just for her. Titled Tenshi ni Fureta yo! (“Touched by an angel!”), this song represents the sum of everyone’s gratitude and appreciation for Azusa’s joining the club and for having made such a major contribution to their activities, whether it be through her technical skill with a guitar or for encouraging everyone to practise.

  • Easily the most emotional and personal song in all of K-On!!, it is no surprise that this is my favourite of all the songs that After School Teatime performs. The song comes out of the blue, and K-On!! suggests that it was hastily written with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s thanks feeding into the lyrics, but the truth is even more heartwarming: the melody and lyrics were actually composed while the girls were in London, having agreed to do a graduation trip to cover the fact that they were working on something for Azusa. Knowing this gives the song even more weight: in K-On! The Movie, London ended up being secondary to the film’s centrepiece about giving Azusa a suitable gift.

  • While nine years have passed since K-On!!‘s finale aired, the series itself is timeless and remains every bit as relevant and enjoyable now as it did nearly a decade previously. The second season may drag in places, but every second of the anime is carefully crafted to feed towards the series’ thematic elements, bringing the manga to life. The success of K-On! as a whole is very well deserved, given that the series excelled in delivering the idea that people gain much by cherishing the moment and making the most of the present, and for the folks who’ve not seen the series yet, it is definitely worth taking a look.

Like its predecessor, K-On!! aired to mixed reception surrounding its narrative and near-universal acclaim for its technical all-around excellence – perspectives vary from the series being very humourous, to being a protracted, derivative version of the first season. I’ve long held that K-On!! is successful in subtly showing character growth over time, and the second season’s length serves to fully build out Azusa’s relationship with Yui and the others. Over time, viewers appreciate the sorts of things that make the After School Teatime club so memorable, and viewers will similarly feel the sorrow of departure when graduation approaches. The immensely relaxing atmosphere of K-On!! is interspersed with moments of humour, and overall, serves to act as a reminder that for the hectic chaos in the world, it is worthwhile to take a step back and really stop to smell the roses. This is where K-On!! truly excels, and I’ve long held that detractors simply approached the series with a mindset that wasn’t what K-On!! was intended to be about: Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa’s experiences are about the joys of spending time together and appreciating everyday miracles, rather than purely setting up situations to elicit a laugh or provide insight on music. Those who remark that “nothing happened” did not look for events in the right places. The gentle outlook on life that K-On!! takes is cathartic, and for me, acted as a tonic that ultimately helped me get through a difficult time during my undergraduate programme. Together, K-On! and K-On!! changed my outlook on the world, and this is why the series as a whole merits being considered as a masterpiece. I have no trouble recommending the second season to anyone: the only real prerequisite for enjoying K-On!! is that one has already seen the first season, which establishes how the light music club came to be. Beyond this, with animation and artwork that stands up even today, plus a host of upbeat and fun songs, K-On!! remains as enjoyable as it did nine years ago. While a third season was never produced, folks looking to continue the K-On!! story further can look to the manga, which retain all of the spirit and charm as Azusa takes over as president of the light music club while Yui and the others acclimatise to life in university, as well as the film, which stands as a masterpiece amongst masterpieces for giving emotional weight behind Tenshi no Fureta Yo! and how this song came into being.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Your Lie in April, A Journey in Vanquishing Past Dæmons and Discovering the Colour of Love

“Maybe there’s only a dark road ahead. But you still have to believe and keep going. Believe that the stars will light your path, even a little bit. Come on, let’s go on a journey!” –Kaori Miyazono

After his mother died, child pianist Kōsei Arima withdrew from competition and consigned himself to an ordinary life with his best friends, Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. However, when he encounters Kaori Miyazono and her wild, free-spirited violin performance, his world is flipped outside down: despite claiming to have developed a crush on Ryōta, Kaori hauls Kōsei to be her accompanist. Kōsei’s skill at the piano had decayed, and he suffers from an inability to hear his playing, causing his performance to suffer, but the won’t-take-no Kaori continues to push and encourage him, even forcibly signing Kōsei up for a competition. Spurred by her boundless energy, Kōsei gradually realises that irrespective of what had happened in the past with his mother, her spirit endures within him, and that for all of the bad moments, there were an equivalent number of treasured moments, as well. Kōsei’s return to piano also inspires Takeshi Aiza and Emi Igawa to step their game up: after seeing Kōsei’s phenomenal performances years previously, both sought to surpass him and reach the standard that they believed Kōsei had set. While Kōsei continues to suffer, constant support from Kaori and Hiroko Seto (a renowned pianist and friend of Kōsei’s mother) allows Kōsei to rediscover his style and express his gratitude through his music. While he does not progress in the competition, Takeshi and Emi realise the extent that he’s matured. Kōsei later agrees to be Kaori’s accompanist again, but she falls ill, leaving Kōsei to perform on his own. Through an emotional performance, Kōsei comes to terms with his mother’s decisions and is able to cast off the spectre haunting him. However, Kaori’s illness begins taking its toll on her, and Kōsei struggles with his growing feelings for Kaori and fear for her well-being, while at once agreeing to mentor Takeshi’s younger sister in piano. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is forced to deal with her own feelings for Kōsei: she dates a senior to take her mind off things, but her mind never strays far from Kōsei. An ailing Kaori decides to accept a highly experimental surgical procedure, gambling her life with the hope of playing alongside Kōsei one last time, but the operation is unsuccessful. She dies on the same day that Kōsei is set to compete, and midway through the competition, Kaori’s spirit provides Kōsei with encouragement. He puts his fullest effort and feeling into this song as a farewell of sorts for Kaori, and in the aftermath, Kaori’s parents leave Kōsei with a letter that reflected on her heartfelt enjoyment of their time together, as well as how she had been in love after all this time. Tsubaki catches up to Kōsei and reminds him that he’s not alone, promising to be with him from here on out. This is Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Kimiuso for brevity), which was adapted from Naoshi Arakawa’s manga as an anime that ran from October 2014 to March 2015, and over the course of its twenty-two episode run, viewers found a series that was profoundly moving and meaningful.

Using music and Kōsei’s initial inability to perform with a piano, Your Lie in April integrates multiple themes into its story. There are two central elements that stand out: Your Lie in April‘s first half deals with the idea that the dæmons one faces are largely self-created. Moreover, these spectres can only be solved by oneself, but encouragement and support from others is absolutely critical in starting this particular journey. Time and time again, Your Lie in April presents Saki, Kōsei’s mother, as a cold and unforgiving parent determined to craft Kōsei into a flawless pianist in her own image, fulfilling her own wish of becoming a pianist where she suffered illness and being so focused on this objective that she is willing to physically punish Kōsei for any mistake. Kōsei subsequently grew to resent this and wished Saki to die; when Saki’s illness finally overtook her, Kōsei was devastated and held himself accountable, feeling that his ill-will ultimately cost Saki her life. The resulting trauma manifests as Kōsei’s inability to hear himself play. When Kaori appears and begins forcing Kōsei out of his comfort zone, Kōsei is made to confront his past dæmons. Your Lie in April portrays this as a gradual journey, one that is filled with pain: Kōsei initially succumbs to his guilt when playing the piano and loses his composure, but undeterred, Kaori pushes him forwards anyways. As he begins to appreciate Kaori’s actions and willingness to stay with him, Kōsei begins to play the piano with more conviction and resolve, putting his feelings for her into each keystroke. By taking up piano once more and rediscovering what music meant to him, Kōsei also comes to see his mother from a different perspective. It turns out that Saki was not as cold and unfeeling as viewers are originally led to believe: between learning more about “Love’s Sorrow” and speaking with Hiroko, Kōsei discovers that Saki had always intended for him to grow into being a pianist, demanding the best from him so his fundamentals were strong enough for him to develop his own style. Kōsei recalls that there were cherished memories, as well, and ultimately, is able to come to terms with both the good and bad. With his past no longer haunting him as a result of Kaori’s inspiration and his own decision to do something for her sake, Kōsei is able to overcome his dæmons and return as a pianist.

Entering Your Lie in April‘s second half, the leading theme switches over to how contrasting personalities play an integral role in changing one’s world views, to the extent that one cannot help but fall in love with the agent that catalyses this change. When Kōsei starts his journey to rediscover piano, his world is devoid of colour and joy. Kōsei is content to live life out without taking charge, but a fateful meeting with Kaori throws his world into disarray. The juxtapositions between Kōsei and Kaori’s manner are apparent: whereas he is quiet and low key, Kaori is brash and expressive. The fantastic energy that Kaori brings to the table, manifesting from her desire to live life as fully as possible, is infectious, and a reluctant Kōsei slowly comes to enjoy the joy she brings into his life, even when Kaori will happily thrash Kōsei for any slights, imagined or otherwise. Not a day goes by without some sort of excitement, and Kōsei begins realising that there are things in the world to live for and work towards. His improvement is mirrored in his ability as a pianist: the more time he spends with Kaori, the more he experiences happiness, which translates to playing the piano with more emotion and intensity. The right individual and the right level of persistence ultimately is what breaks Kōsei out of his rut, and ultimately causes Kōsei to fall in love with her. While most stories are content to end here, with the idea that opposites in personality are able to offer one with a different perspective and help them grow, Your Lie in April cruelly cuts things short with Kaori’s illness. This additional factor suggests that nothing is to be taken for granted: the time Kōsei spent with Kaori is priceless beyond measure. Despite being so fleeting, its impacts were very tangible and genuine, showing that true love can exist in all forms and durations. During the short time they spend together, Kaori is glad to have had met Kōsei, who similarly is grateful that someone with such wild abandon could remain in his company and help him into the next, more colourful chapter of his life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Your Lie in April was airing, I was busy with graduate studies and therefore did not have time to watch the series. While I’d heard nothing but praise for the series, a full schedule precluded any chance to watch it while it was airing. However, after I finished watching Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s second season, I noticed that many familiar names (Risa Taneda, Ayane Sakura, Inori Minase, Saori Hayami and Ai Kayano) were present in the cast. Between the positive reception and half of GochiUsa‘s cast, I entered Your Lie in April intending to enjoy seeing the characters in a different role than the happy-go-lucky world that is GochiUsa.

  • What happened next should not come as a surprise: I went through Your Lie in April, enjoyed it thoroughly and found that Kōsei’s experiences were superbly written, challenging my views on love and pushing me towards introspection. Your Lie in April is as much of a journey of self-discovery as it is about falling in love, and openly gives the impression that both events are interconnected, dependent on the other. In other words, Kōsei falls in love with Kaori because she helps him accept his past, and his return to piano leads him to fall in love with Kaori.

  • Kaori is voiced by Risa Taneda (Rize Tedeza of GochiUsa and Aya Komichi of Kiniro Mosaic, to name a few). Here, Taneda presents Kaori as being superbly energetic, bold and rowdy, contrasting the shy, reserved manner of Rize and Aya. Kōsei is voiced by Natsuki Hanae, whom I know best for his roles in Nagi no Asukara as Hikari Sakishima and Aldnoah.Zero‘s very own Inaho Kaizuka. An all-star voice cast convinced me to check out Your Lie in April, but even just a few episodes in, it became apparent that Your Lie in April‘s cast was but one of its many strengths.

  • While I’ve opted to focus on Kōsei and Kaori for my own reflections, the supporting characters play a much greater role in giving weight to Kōsei and Kaori’s stories, far more than I’ve gone into detail in this post. Even early in the game, Kaori’s insistence on hanging with Kōsei suggests that she’s been longing to spend time with him, and while they get off to a rough start (with Kaori making her best effort to paste him into the ground with naught more than a recorder), Kaori’s positive energy means that Kōsei has little choice but to go along with her.

  • The artwork of Your Lie in April is of an exceptional quality: the anime was done by A-1 Pictures, who are known for their incredible series. Colours in Your Lie in April are especially vivid and like series before it, they often serve to tell the true story of how the characters are feeling in a given moment even when their dialogue is unclear or in contradiction with their feelings. Having been in the anime game for a shade over a decade now, I’ve come to count on visual metaphors in helping me read a moment – colour and lighting usually speaks volumes about things, being a typically reliable way of ascertaining how everyone is feeling in a given scene.

  • Particular detail is paid to concerts, with every key and cable of the piano animated as Kōsei performs on stage. His early performances are marred by a sense that he’s drowning in an ocean, and occasionally, the spectre of Saki appears to haunt him. Saki comes to represent Kōsei’s own guilt and regret: while Your Lie in April is no horror series, these manifestations are nonetheless terrifying in their own right and convey to viewers the horror and desolation that Kōsei experiences.

  • Kaori’s diving off a bridge into the river below is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of her free-spirited manner. I was originally intending to write about Your Lie in April during April, but a busy schedule precluded that. I’ve encountered considerable difficulty in putting a proper discussion of Your Lie in April together because this series had a very strong emotional impact and it was challenging to coherently explain what appeals make Your Lie in April a masterpiece.

  • While Kaori is ostensibly in love with Ryōta, Kōsei ends up spending a great deal of time with her as the two gear up for concerts and competitions. Kaori’s approach borders on the insane, and one of her most outrageous acts was to scatter sheet music in impossible quantities throughout locations that Kōsei frequents. However, in spite of all the fighting the two engage in, they also share quieter moments together, such as when they return to the school by night.

  • I’ve not featured too many moments in this reflection, but one of the aspects in Your Lie in April that stood out was the over-the-top degradation of facial features and animation at certain moments. These are deliberately utilised to convey a particular emotion, whether it be shock, frustration or even joy in a comedic context: of note is whenever Kaori believes Kōsei to be acting inappropriately, as seen in their first meeting. Like CLANNAD, the juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy is used to great effect in Your Lie in April, bringing the characters to life.

  • Takeshi and Emi are two accomplished pianists whose remarkable skill and devotion to piano can be traced back to being inspired by Kōsei’s playing. Both view Kōsei as a role model, and are also absolutely determined to best him, having failed time and time again previously, but when they encounter him and learn that he’s in no shape to compete, find themselves disappointed. As Your Lie in April progresses, their view of Kōsei shifts: he goes from being an unbeatable competitor to a fellow human being.

  • At his best, Kōsei is a masterful pianist known for his precision. Despite still being plagued by an inability to play all the way through, Kōsei’s recovery is marked by his resolve to continue performing, even if it means starting again from the beginning of a piece. I am no pianist, and my musical ability is nonexistent despite my having played the trumpet and clarinet back in middle school. As a result, I’ve opted not to discuss any of the technical elements behind the music in Your Lie in April: besides the area being outside the realm of my knowledge, the main messages in Your Lie in April are thankfully not dependent on musical theory.

  • The changes in Kōsei, and the resulting shift in the interactions he has with Takeshi and Emi are one of my favourite secondary stories in Your Lie in April, as they reinforce sense that Kōsei is maturing because of his time spent with Kaori. I recently watched the live-action adaptation of Your Lie in April and found it an equally enjoyable experience. With only the core narrative present, the live-action film is much more focused and concise, succeeding in delivering its emotional impact. I count the film to be a conference publication: short and succinct, while the anime is a thesis paper, with the time and space to explore more.

  • Where I live, there are no fireflies, but their symbolism is evident enough, representing illumination and gentle support in most cultures. In Japan, fireflies also signify love. After a competition, while Kōsei did not make the cut for stopping play, he spends time with Kaori and remarks that she was why he was able to regroup and continue in spite of himself. It’s a tender moment that indicates Kōsei’s feelings for Kaori.

  • Love’s Sorrow (Liebesleid) is the second part of Alt Wiener Tanzweisen, a series of three pieces written by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano. While the exact date that Kreisler wrote them is not known, they were published in 1905. Saki enjoys Love’s Sorrow most of the three parts because of its transition from the minor to major key: I previously noted that I am no expert in music theory, but I do know enough to say that songs written in the minor key sound sad, while passages in the major key are happier. Thus, Love’s Sorrow can be seen as sorrow giving way to happiness.

  • Shown as an eyeless spectre up until now, it turns out that Saki had wanted the best for Kōsei and her resorting to physical punishment whenever Kōsei failed to play flawlessly stemmed from a desperation to see him realise the dreams that she could not. As time goes on, Saki’s illness worsens, and with it, comes the desire to see Kōsei play piano where she was unable to. However, when she was well, Saki genuinely loved Kōsei and the two have as many happy moments together as they did the more painful memories that Kōsei vividly recalls.

  • Understanding that he is drawn to Kaori, Kōsei agrees to be her accompanist for a performance. Even when Kaori falls ill, Kōsei takes to the stage and plays with his heart, delivering a moving performance that shows his acceptance of his past. His playing is sufficiently moving that he is asked to perform an encore despite the performance being centred around violins. With his past no longer an issue, the second half of Your Lie in April moves towards Kōsei and his growing feelings for Kaori, which are tempered by his fear of getting closer to her.

  • This fear comes from the fact that Kaori suffers from a terminal illness of unknown nature: she was unable to make the performance earlier because she’d collapsed, and the illness is likely fatal. Hence, Kōsei worries that if he allows himself to fall in love with her, the inevitability of Kaori’s death would leave him hurt. Kōsei thus occasionally fails to visit Kaori unless otherwise hauled in, drowning himself in piano once more.

  • Tsubaki is a central character in Your Lie in April, and while I’ve not mentioned her much, she is Kōsei’s neighbour and has known him since their childhood. Tsubaki is constantly feeling conflicted: Kōsei rediscovering his love for piano also means his falling in love with Kaori. While Tsubaki wants Kōsei to be happy, she’s been in love with him for a long time, and fears that he may forget about her in the process. Ayane Sakura voices Tsubaki, with the inevitable result that Tsubaki sounds identical to GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and VividRed Operation‘s Akane.

  • Nagi, Takeshi’s younger sister, also comes into focus during Your Lie in April‘s second half: after a chance encounter with Kōsei, she reveals some skill with the piano and attempts to get Hiroko to become her instructor so that she might keep an eye on Kōsei. Hiroko instead assigns Kōsei to instruct Nagi, wherein he begins picking apart her playing, and while Nagi is initially resentful towards Kōsei, she comes to see him as a proper mentor and develops a crush on him in time, as well.

  • Your Lie in April‘s use of colour is exceptional, but nowhere is the choice of palette more apparent than with Kaori’s hair – ever since her hospitalisation, her normally golden hair takes on a faded shade of yellow, indicating that she’s unwell. It’s a very visceral reminder that Kaori’s time is limited, but in spite of this, her spirits remain: she surprises him with a visit to their school. While Kōsei seems to be headed down the route of the oblivious protagonist, the carefully-tuned writing in Your Lie in April makes it clear that Kōsei’s heart lies only with Kaori, and ultimately, budding feelings elsewhere never take away from the central story in the series.

  • As it turns out, Nagi picked up the piano to impress Takeshi, and it is here that Kōsei openly admits that he is in love with Kaori. The progression of love in Your Lie in April is rather different than that seen in CLANNADAngel Beats! and Tora Dora!, series that I’ve found myself thoroughly impressed with for their genuine portrayal of how people come to fall in love. They’re a rather different beast than romantic comedies, which chronicle the mishaps and chaos that surround falling in love. Of course, I am open to both approaches, but the more natural-feeling love stories invariably have a much greater emotional payoff when I watch them.

  • The realisation that Kōsei is actually quite similar to her leads Nagi to develop nascent feelings for him, as well. This particular aspect was absent from the film, and I imagine that it’s meant to show audiences that Kōsei has a great deal of impact on those around him. Truthfully, Your Lie in April has enough moving parts so that writing about this series in an episodic manner would be warranted, as there’s a great deal going on; because of the complexity in Your Lie in April, this post has not covered every noteworthy matter that is relevant to the anime. Similarly, forty screenshots is actually an inadequate amount of space to cover every scene or moment that holds a high emotional impact.

  • While Kōsei is instructing Nagi and asks to perform with her in a school festival, Tsubaki struggles with her feelings for Kōsei. Having done her utmost to stem them, these feelings have only strengthened. The fellow she was dating notices this and decides to break up, feeling it unfair to himself, Tsubaki and Kōsei to continue what was essentially a sham. Tsubaki’s best friend, Nao, has been looking after her during this time and offers advice. While seemingly knowledgeable in the realm of relationships, like myself, Nao’s understanding of relationships is entirely theoretical.

  • The song that Nagi and Kōsei perform is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano arrange of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, a four-handed piece that requires two players simultaneously. During their performance, Nagi senses the emotional intensity of Kōsei’s playing and attempts to match his performance, resulting in a thoroughly impressed audience. Takeshi is moved, as well, and demands to face off against him one day in competition.

  • Towards the end of Your Lie in April, the buildup that resulted from the earlier arcs and episodes create a sense of connection between viewers and the characters: having taken the time to develop everyone’s stories gives every individual a raison d’être that gives audience members reason to root for and care about them. The moments of comedy and friendship come together to create individuals that are lifelike. Thus, entering Your Lie in April‘s endgame means that viewers must now confront the harsh reality that Kaori is not going to recover.

  • In spite of this, Kaori is in sufficient condition to compliment Kōsei’s playing and remarks that his actions have inspired her to take up music again. She reveals that she’s agreed to a highly experimental operation that may extend her life expectancy long enough for her to play alongside Kōsei once more. The framing provides a subtle hint as to how things will turn out: Kōsei and Kaori are in the distance, foreshadowing the reduced probability of a successful operation. The odds notwithstanding, Kaori feels that a chance of hope is better than no hope, and she elects to go forward with it.

  • It is not difficult to imagine that under different circumstances, Kōsei could have ended up friends with Emi and Takeshi much earlier: as he plays piano increasingly for those around him rather than purely for the sake of playing, his heart opens up, and both Emi and Takeshi would’ve seen a human being behind the stoic and seemingly-distant pianist. While late in the making, the three get along as friendly rivals and fellow pianists would late in Your Lie in April.

  • Throughout Your Lie in April, Hiroko’s child, Koharu, can be seen accompanying her. Voiced by Inori Minase (GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu), Koharu deeply enjoys Kōsei’s piano performances and is often seen clinging to Hiroko, being quite bewildered and amused by the events around her. Small children are rendered in a very distinct manner in Your Lie in April, and as CLANNAD had done so vividly with Ushio, Your Lie in April similarly captures the innocence and wonder that children have of the world. Minase does a spectacular job of playing Koharu, adding to her impressive repertoire as a voice actress.

  • Kaori is such a memorable and distinct character that when I saw the initial trailers for Violet Evergarden, I identified Violet as Kaori to one of my friends by mistake. Because Your Lie in April carries the distinction of creating such noteworthy characters and giving viewers reason to root for them, as well as for covering themes of love, recovery and discovery with a masterful balance of breadth and depth. Because of this, the series was able to appeal to a very wide range of audiences, and the only real criticism I have to level at Your Lie in April is that the first half proceeds a bit more slowly, before things accelerate wildly towards the end. This is a very minor complaint, as it does not diminish the impact that the series ultimately has.

  • As the day of the competition nears, Kōsei fears that with Kaori’s imminent operation, playing the piano will be bound to the loss of two people he greatly cared for and loses the will to play. Kaori insists that he proceed, and when Kōsei is set to compete, he wonders if he can continue. Hearing Tsubaki sneeze in the crowd, Kōsei is reminded that for his losses, there will always be people in his corner, and regrouping, Kōsei begins to perform. His world fades away, and he becomes enveloped in his music, deciding to give this performance everything he’s got for the girl who’d given him so much.

  • At the same time as Kaori’s performance, Kaori’s operation is unsuccessful, and she dies. However, her spirit endures for a few moments: she plays alongside Kōsei and is able to appreciate his music one last time. The visual impact of the final performance is beyond words, creating a feeling of longing, hope and finality that brings Kōsei’s music to life, as well as making tangible his feelings for Kaori that would otherwise have been remarkably difficult to put into words.

  • As a series that utilises music to drive its characters forward, the soundtrack in Your Lie in April is unsurprisingly of a solid quality. From highly emotional vocal inset songs, to a varied collection of incidental pieces that capture the light-hearted and emotional moments in the series, each song in Your Lie in April serves a purpose. Of note are are the main themes and original songs that project a melancholy sense of longing.

  • Besides the soundtrack and vocal pieces, Your Lie in April also makes extensive use of classical pieces. From Beethoven, to Chopin, Kreisler and Tchaikovsky, classical piano music is also provided in a dedicated album. Folks with a background in classical music and musical theory will doubtlessly be able to tie the meaning of each song and draw on symbolism inherent in the music itself to appreciate what Kōsei is experiencing at a given time. For me, while I appreciate classical music, my background is not extensive, and therefore, I’m not able to make these connections quite so readily.

  • After Kaori dies, her parents give Kōsei the letter Kaori’s written for him. Even at its dénouement, Your Lie in April manages to hit viewers with another poignant moment. Viewers are already aware that Kaori had been in love with Kōsei, but hearing the contents of the letter was particularly rending. While mere words on paper, each character carries a weight to it that really emphasises the extent that Kaori had reciprocated Kōsei’s feelings. I was forcibly reminded of the letters I’ve received over the years and recall with a striking clarity forgotten promises of old. This is why it was so tricky for me to write for Your Lie in April: I did not wish to impose upon readers irrelevant recollections as I explored what made Your Lie in April work.

  • I’m not sure if this post can be considered to be hopelessly sentimental to the point of foolishness, but I do hope that I’ve been able to capture what made Your Lie in April so enjoyable for me, and also what aspects led it to change my world views on love, namely, that falling in love can compel individuals to rise above their problems in a spectacular fashion. It was through Your Lie in April that I appreciated why falling in love was akin to jumping into a colourful world from one that was previously monochrome, and also reminded me that for everything else I’ve done so far, my world is still very much monochrome.

  • As a child, Kaori had been so moved by Kōsei’s performance that she immediately wanted to drop piano and take up violin with the sole objective of being able to play alongside him. This scene was adorable, and A-1 Pictures flawlessly captures the excitement of a small child whose world was unequivocally moved. For all of the sorrow in Your Lie in April, there is also great joy, and it makes it very plain that Kōsei has done many things for those around him, even if he does not know it.

  • Kaori was thus overjoyed when she learnt that she was going to the same middle school as Kōsei, but wondered how to best approach him. She decided to re-imagine herself and then make a single lie with the goal of getting closer to Kōsei. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is often compared to Your Lie in April, with the former being a streamlined version that does away with music in favour of purely focusing on the relationship between the two central characters. This is true to an extent, as the series even share a central theme, but Your Lie in April is much more comprehensive and utilises its secondary characters in a much greater capacity, as well as music itself to tell its story. At the end of the day, both series are enjoyable, and my verdict is that if an individual finds one enjoyable, the other will also be worthwhile.

  • The image of Kaori walking into the distance is a striking one: her remarks on life being a journey and that one should trust to hope is an uplifting way to approach the world. The gentle optimism of her words remind me of CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa, and while Kaori is rather more animated than Nagisa, the two ultimately share a great deal of similarities in being able to motivate a brooding male lead and help them come to terms with who they are, as well as embrace their respective futures.

  • It may seem cruel to say so, but Tsubaki’s unwavering feelings for Kōsei also indicate that, while there is indeed loss in life, there will always be people willing to provide support. Tsubaki had been present throughout Your Lie in April to support Kōsei in her own way, even when it meant risking losing him to Kaori. As it turns out, Tsubaki does make another attempt to make her feelings known to Kōsei, and his original desire to learn the piano was actually to cheer up Tsubaki when her grandmother died. It can therefore be reasoned that Kōsei and Tsubaki could find happiness together.

  • The photograph here shows that Tsubaki and Kaori had known one another for a long time, and Kōsei’s decision to frame this picture shows that he is able appreciate everything Kaori and Tsubaki have done for him. This brings my talk on Your Lie in April to a close, and I hope that this talk was of a satisfactory standard. This Your Lie in April is now in the books, marking the first time I’ve written with a dual-monitor setup. With a pair of monitors, I’ve cut the time it takes to make a post down by a third, and with this, I am shifting my attention next to Metro Exodus and HBO’s Chernobyl. It is not often I write about live actions, but the themes and subjects explored in Chernobyl hit very close to home and merit consideration.

Your Lie in April has many moving parts beyond Kōsei and Kaori; his exceptional skills as a pianist means that Kōsei’s acted as inspiration for Takeshi, Emi and Nagi. His gentle nature and longtime friendship with Tsubaki means that she also loves him dearly. The complexities of each character in Your Lie in April shows that for what Kōsei sees his world as, he ultimately is in a place where there are many people who care for and respect him. Being able to accept Kaori’s friendship means Kōsei is able to mature and open his eyes to the world that he previously ignored, allowing him to rediscover joy anew. These elements together transform Your Lie in April into a masterpiece that touches viewers. Giving Your Lie in April this particular honour was a relatively easy call, but what was not easy was summoning up the resolve to write this post: I finished Your Lie in April three years earlier, but the series touched upon matters of the heart, and long have I lacked the maturity and strength to write about this series without my thoughts straying back to my own inexperience. I admit that even now, writing this post was a challenge, but for thoroughly exploring the role that each of the secondary characters play without compromising the focus on Kōsei and Kaori, breathing life into their world through stunning visual metaphors (such as Kōsei’s feeling of drowning in an ocean of silence when he attempts to play the piano earlier on), the exceptional audio engineering that went into the series, heartfelt voice performances from the cast and a top-tier, emotional soundtrack, Your Lie in April represents a milestone series that illustrates how love can manifest and what miracles might occur as a result, a series that is definitely worth sharing. Watching Your Lie in April was a very emotionally-charged experience, and with the series covering such a wide range of ideas, well beyond what’s been discussed here, it is evident that there is something in this series for everyone, whether it be love, persistence, perspectives or even just the complexity of animation that went into the performances. With this in mind, I can confidently recommend Your Lie in April for all viewers irrespective of their backgrounds.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!, A Portrayal of Discovery Through Exploration and a Ten-Year Anniversary Reflection

“To the me back then, you don’t need to worry. You’ll soon find something you can do, something you can set your heart on.” –Yui Hirasawa

When she enters high school, Yui Hirasawa struggles to decide on which club she ought to join. Meanwhile, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama strive to find members to save Sakuragaoka High School’s light music club from being disbanded. Managing to recruit keyboard player Tsumugi Kotobuki, the club also convinces Yui to join. From picking up a guitar for the first time to learning chords, Yui settles into life with the light music club, which becomes known as Houkago Tea Time after Ritsu extorts instructor Sawako Yamanaka into acting as the club’s advisors. From training camps at Mugi’s summer home to performing for Sakuragaoka High School’s cultural festival, Yui finds joy in spending her time practising and drinking tea with Mio, Ritsu and Mugi. A year later, Houkago Tea Time performs at the welcome celebrations, capturing the heart of a young freshman named Azusa Nakano. She decides to join the Light Music Club, but disappointed at how lax the girls are, considers quitting until she confides in Mio about how she feels. Mio says that while it’s true the girls are slackers who’d rather drink tea than practise, being with them is fun, and this is the feeling they convey whenever they perform. Convinced to stay, Azusa practises with the others for another school festival. While Yui falls ill and is forced to stay home, she manages to recover before the concert. Despite forgetting her guitar, she recovers it and makes it to school just in time to perform the band’s second song: their concert is a success, and the girls are asked to do an encore, as well. Originating from Kakifly’s manga, Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of K-On! began airing in the spring of 2009 and left a considerable mark on the industry, with proponents praising the series’ sincerity and genuine portrayal of what having fun entails. K-On!‘s animated adaptation propelled the manga to fame, received a sequel and a movie, and also resulted in a collection of albums that performed strongly, as well. Musicians have cited K-On! as inspiration for their own careers, and even ten years after its initial airing, anime continue to be inspired by elements from K-On!.

Covering the first two manga volumes, K-On!‘s first season is a casual romp in the world of music: the first half focuses on Yui’s gradual progression as a guitar player, and the second half introduces Azusa into the narrative to present the idea that what makes something worth doing isn’t the technical strength, but rather, the members’ synergy in one another’s presence. Immediately upon hearing their music for the first time, Azusa is deeply moved and inspired to join the light music club, but is surprised to learn that the talented musicians on stage are ultimately a raggedy-ass bunch. Being the most mature and focused of the bunch, Mio relates to Azusa and ultimately puts into words for her what makes Houkago Tea Time special: it’s the fact that the girls are boundlessly carefree and manage to find fun in what they do. As such, the sum of their experiences together, and all of the treasured memories they make, feed into each of the songs that they perform. K-On! chooses to highlight these moments rather than portray the girls practising, and while this creates the impression that no one ever practises, the reality is that the girls practise off screen, giving both the manga and anime more time to focus on exploring the moments that the girls come to treasure. Even with practise, Houkago Tea Time are not professionals, but while the girls may be technically inferior as musicians, playing out of sync or committing mistakes, the rawness of their music creates a sense of genuineness that creates emotional impact in each of their songs. The outcome of taking this approach in K-On! creates a very simple, but powerful theme: that in the company of the right people, if one genuinely loves what they do, the inclination to improve and push the envelope for what is possible will follow. One’s companions will drive them along to new heights; as Yui and Azusa find, one will always have the support and encouragement they need to have a good time and excel among the light music club.

The message in K-On! is concealed up underneath a layer of fluffiness that arises from the girls’ adorable mannerisms. Much comedy is derived from watching Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa bounce off one another: Yui is air-headed, Ritsu is energetic, Mio attempts to act mature but invariably fails, and Mugi simply goes along with things, while Azusa is doing her best to keep up with the eccentricities of each. Such a diverse and varied group results in hilarious moments of chaos, as well as equally heartwarming and endearing ones where the situation calls for it. Because their interactions drive the events (and misfortunes) that audiences see in K-On!, it is very easy for thematic elements to be lost as viewers laugh at, and with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa as they experience various events as members of the light music club. The total absence of a significant conflict, and the fact that goals are very loosely defined (Ritsu and Mio endeavour to perform at Budokan, a famous venue for martial arts that has also seen rock performances historically, but this goal quickly fades away over time) gives the impression that K-On! has not a clear direction. While this is true, it is not to K-On!‘s detriment; a focus on life in Houkago Tea Time reminds viewers that ordinary, mundane moments are worth enjoying, especially considering the rigid structure in one’s life. High school students study and focus on getting into their post-secondary institutions of choice, leaving very little time to smell the roses, and so, moments such as those that Yui spends with Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Asuza are incredibly valuable: viewers may take for granted the smaller things in life, and by placing a great deal of emphasis on things that may seem unremarkable, K-On! creates the sense that even the simplest things can be very enjoyable, and meaningful, to experience.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • K-On!‘s protagonist is Yui Hirasawa, a first-year high school student who initially has no idea as to what she wants out of high school. Despite her careless mannerisms, she is very capable when the moment calls for it, although she remains very prone to being lazy. Aki Toyosaki provides Yui’s voice, which has a very soft, fluffy character to it. Mio and Ritsu are the light music club’s initial members: Ritsu strong-arms Mio into joining, and after recruiting Mugi, the three perform for Yui, who decides to join after seeing what light music is about.

  • Light music (軽音楽, keiongaku) refers to the North American equivalent of pop music, and is ultimately what gives K-On! its name. While Yui is moved by the initial performance, she has no experience with music beyond the castanets. However, this isn’t really a problem – K-On! is about the journey, after all, and watching Yui learn enough to put on enjoyable performances despite her lazy attitudes made the series fun. Ritsu is voiced by Satomi Satō (GochiUsa’s Chiya Ujimatsu, Kiniro Mosaic‘s Sakura Karasuma and Eru Chitanda of Hyouka), while Yōko Hikasa (Infinite Stratos‘ Houki Shinonono, Yama no Susume‘s Kaede Saitō and Kō Yagami of New Game!), plays Mio.

  • The light music club is best known for its elaborate afternoon tea setups. With Mugi (Minako Kotobuki, Hibike! Euphonium‘s Asuka Tanaka and Chihiro Miyoshi from Tamayura: Hitotose) providing a range of sweets and tea, there is rarely a dull moment for this fledgling club: Mugi comes from a wealthy family and has access to tremendous resources, but despite this, longs for nothing more than an experience of everyday life. Both Mio and Ritsu have experience with music: Mio is a bassist, and Ritsu is a drummer. The two have known one another since grade school, and despite a turbulent and even violent dynamic, the two are close.

  • While it is a foregone conclusion that I greatly enjoyed K-On!, the story of how this came to be is something I don’t think I’ve ever fully shared. During the winter term in second year of my undergrad, an uncommonly difficult course-load had my GPA drop below the minimum needed to remain in satisfactory standing in my faculty. Between organic chemistry II and data structures II, I was unable to keep up – attempting to understand Diels-Alder reactions and how balancing a B-tree works was too much. Most of my peers only needed to focus on one or the other, and those who were in my stream ended up dropping data structures II, which I felt to be the wiser decision in retrospect.

  • I foolishly resolved to remain behind, and pushed forward. By March, my performance had dropped, and I finally had to withdraw from an option, having neglected this course to keep my program requirements in satisfactory condition. I had also been involved in a freak accident during an organic chemistry computer-based quiz, and the department of chemistry had intended on disciplining me despite clear indications that things resulted from a happenstance series of bad luck. The tumultuous situation was getting the better of me, and so, I decided to give K-On! a spin, having been curious to watch it ever since seeing various parodies of its music and becoming intrigued by the vocal pieces.

  • As I pushed through the first season, term began ending: the lighthearted comedy of K-On!, in conjunction with support from my friends and peers, allowed me to figure out a way. I ended up helping organise a study session for data structures II and spent as much time as I could asking the TA for help: in data structures II, I ended up with a B on the final and pulled my C+ to a B-. Similarly, in organic chemistry II, studying with my friends allowed me to earn a B+ on the final. The other incident was eventually sent over to my home faculty, who dismissed it on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to ever have suggested that this incident was anything other than an accident. One at a time, these problems were resolved.

  • I attribute watching K-On! to helping me relax, keep a cool head and systematically address each of my problems, one at a time. I ended up barely meeting the requirements for satisfactory standing and then entered the summer with a scholarship for research, which ended up being one of the best in memory – the work I did ended up acting as the basis for my undergraduate thesis. Back in K-On! itself, Yui has finally acquired a guitar: she ends up with a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar, which goes for north of 4500 CAD. Having chosen it purely for its aesthetic, Yui decides to take up part time work to fund it, and in the end, having fallen slightly short of the mark, Mugi pulls a few strings in order to allow Yui to buy it.

  • K-On! also had one unintended side effect: it led me to watch Sora no Woto, as well. I had been looking for series similar to K-On! and chanced upon Sora no Woto, which had been held to be similar. While Yui and Kanata outwardly resemble one another, and each character in Sora no Woto has a functional equivalent in K-On!, the themes are dramatically different. Here, Yui presents her test results to the light music club: she’s done so poorly that she’s prohibited from club activities unless she can pass her exams on a second attempt.

  • All of Yui’s friends, including Nodoka, show up to help her out: Nodoka’s known Yui the longest of everyone except for Ui, being someone that Yui came to depend upon. With their aid, Yui manages to pull through and gets excellent scores on each make-up exam, although this comes at the expense of her guitar-playing. As K-On! progresses, however, this aspect of Yui’s character fades away: K-On! does not recycle jokes to show that the characters subtly mature over time.

  • Summer training camps are an integral part of K-On!‘s first season, and while ostensibly for the girls to get away from distractions so they can practise, all training camps devolve into the girls having fun on the beach. These seemingly extraneous side trips actually serve an important purpose in K-On!, showing how the girls always move at their own pace regardless of wherever they are, and admittedly, also provides a bit of an opportunity to show off Mio in swimwear: of everyone, Mio has the best figure.

  • It was to my pleasure that the K-On! manga was sold at my local bookstore: I ended up buying all six volumes in the series, although the second volume was one I had considerable difficulty in finding. After picking up volumes one, three and four, plus the two volumes that were sent following K-On!!, I decided that for the sake of completion, I would order it online. Reading through the manga, I found that the anime to be a superbly faithful adaptation: some anime series take creative liberties with the source material, but K-On! successfully uses the space provided by the anime format to augment the story.

  • The summer camp episodes also show that, for their propensity to slack off, the girls put their heart into practise when they are properly motivated. Enough instances of the girls practising are shown to indicate that they don’t just enter a concert blind, but because the technical aspects of music are not the focus of K-On!, audiences are not treated to the same level of insight as series that are more focused on music. One common criticism of K-On! was that the emphasis on music was insufficient, but this criticism only arises when one ignores the fact that K-On! is not about music. Instead, music acts as the catalyst that drives the formation and maturation of a deep friendship amongst the light music club.

  • It was moments such as these that made Mio such an agreeable character for me: while she is mature, hard-working and focused, Mio can also be prone to moments of childishness, and in particular, is frightened by anything macabre. She recoils in fright whenever things like blood or ghosts are mentioned, and her over-the-top, yet adorable, reactions became widely known amongst the anime community. While amusing when sparingly seen, incessant reference to these moments at various forums and image boards may have also contributed to the dislike of K-On!.

  • While the light music club may get along well, the club still lacks an advisor. Instructor Sawako Yamanaka is eventually strong-armed into taking on this role: Sawako was once a member of Death Devil, the predecessor band that was known for its death metal-like lyrics over-the-top style. Sawako retains most of her skills from her high school days, and after she berate the girls, Ritsu decides to extort Sawako: it turns out that Sawako most desires to maintain the image of a professional and approachable instructor, but fears that her students might lose respect for her should word of her past get out.

  • Because Mio is intrinsically shy, she prefers playing the bass because it is more of a support role (mirroring one of my characteristics). If the circumstance calls for it, however, Mio will step up to the plate against her own reservations. While trying to prepare Yui to perform the vocals for their first-ever performance in front of their school, Yui becomes exhausted and loses her voice in the process, forcing Mio to take on the role.

  • Mio does an admirable job with the performance, and delivers Fuwa Fuwa Time with a mature, sexy voice. Yui’s version is cuter by comparison. The school festival sets the stage for one of K-On!‘s most infamous moments – post performance, she trips on a power cable and moons the entire audience. The manga is very clear as to what happened, showing everything in what is one of the most overt pantsu moments ever to make it into a Manga Time Kirara series, whereas the TV series is more implicit. In a hilarious coincidence, I happen to have a striped rice bowl of the exact design seen in K-On!, except that the stripes are yellow rather than blue.

  • Ui is Yui’s younger sister, and despite sharing Yui’s gentle and friendly manner, is the polar opposite to Yui: she is dependable, reliable and focused, being an excellent cook, good all-around student and capable of picking up almost anything without much difficulty. The two siblings are as close as siblings get, and while Ui is always looking out for Yui, Yui always does her best to find ways to make Ui happy, as well.

  • Going back ten years and watching K-On! again has shown just how much the anime’s aged. Despite being a Kyoto Animation production, the artwork is somewhat inconsistent in places and minimalistic, while the animation is not smooth in some places. The first season was probably produced with the aim of being a 12-episode series aimed to promote the manga, and while overall, was of a passable quality from a visual perspective, its execution and delivery was strong enough so that reception to the series was overwhelmingly positive.

  • The K-On! Christmas party sees shenanigans of an unexpected variety when Sawako shows up at Yui’s place unexpectedly. When I began watching K-On!, I was closer in age to Yui and the others than I was to Sawako. At the time of writing, that has irreversibly and unequivocally changed – I’m now older than Sawako, and found that K-On!‘s portrayal of Sawako as being only somewhat more mature than Yui and the others plausible. At the Christmas party, all sorts of crazy stuff happens, and while Mio is again, made to bear the brunt of the humiliation, everyone ends up having a good time.

  • During the New Year’s, only Mio dons a kimono. The girls share with one another what they did over the winter break, and it turns out Yui spent the entire time under the kotatsu. As a high school student, I spent most of my winter breaks studying for exams: in university, I ended up spending time with friends (notably, I went skiing one winter break) and generally relaxing more, since my exams would have been done. Besides catching up, the girls also pray for the success of their light music club in the new year.

  • K-On!‘s first half was about introducing Yui and the others to viewers. The second act brings Azusa “Azu-nyan” Nakano to the party: as Yui and the others enter their second year, Azusa begins her journey into high school. Armed with prior experience in playing the guitar, she initially has the same trouble as Yui did and cannot decide on what club to join. The art style in the second half begins taking on a more consistent form, and animation begins improving slightly compared to the first half.

  • Yui attempts to recruit Ui and her friend, Jun, into the light music club, but Jun prefers to join the jazz club, being inspired by a senior. Ui does not join any clubs that I can remember. With the challenge posed by recruiting new members, the light music club decides to continue onwards anyways towards the welcoming reception for the first year students. When Yui and the others graduate, both Ui and Jun join the Light Music Club to keep Azusa company.

  • Besides Fuwa Fuwa Time, the light music club also prepares a pair of new songs for the reception performance: Curry Nochi Rice and My Love is a Stapler are part of the line-up. I’m very fond of the music in K-On!, and even a decade later, the pieces Yui and the others perform are as fresh and enjoyable as they were when I first watched K-On!: the lyrics to Mio’s songs are spectacularly sappy, but the musical composition of each song is wonderfully done.

  • The welcome performance moves Azusa to tears, and she decides to join the light music club, adding a second guitarist to their ranks. Unlike the others, Azusa has had previous experience with the guitar, and she comes in with the expectation that the light music club consists of dedicated members who can help her improve in music. The reality comes as a bit of a shock to Azusa when she learns that the club is about as frivolous as it gets, favouring cakes and cosplay over practise.

  • Armed with upwards of seven more years of life experience since I last watched K-On!, I find that Azusa’s experience is like joining an top-notch software team, only to learn that during work hours, they crack bad software jokes and spend more time talking about Philz Coffee than coordinating on builds. Azusa feels short-changed when she spends a day with everyone and begins to wonder why someone like Mio hasn’t peaced out already for another band. However, the reality that keeps Azusa going with the light music club is equivalent to the idea that, despite this gap, the team gets along with one another and when the chips are down, are responsible, active developers who take pride in their work and follow best practises.

  • The manga did not cover this aspect, but Azusa’s doubts about the viability of the light music club leads her to dissolve in tears one day when even Mio has trouble motivating Yui and Ritsu to practise. Mio ends up answering the question on Azusa’s mind: the light music club’s strength comes from a bond amongst the team members, and while it may not look it, this fun-loving team can definitely pull their weight and then some when the moment calls for it. It is probably naïve for me to say so, but this is actually what I value in a team – members who are easygoing and authentic people, but who are competent, determined and focused so that they can always rise to the occasion when things get serious.

  • It suddenly strikes me that many of my own experiences, both during university and after, parallel those of K-On!. This is likely a consequence of the fact that that of everyone, I most resemble Mio – ironically, I also have Mio’s fear of the macabre despite my love for things like DOOM, and refuse to watch horror or slasher movies. Every team and group I’ve worked with, I tend to be the quiet and focused one, although once I warm up to a group, I’m known for creating a sense of reliability and an endless supply of bad jokes.

  • Mugi’s family is always looking for ways to keep her happy, but they sometimes go overboard – during the light music club’s second training camp, they stock the summer house with expensive welcome gifts and have even prepared a yacht. Mugi immediately requests that they stand down here, so the girls can enjoy things as normally as possible. The girls subsequently enjoy another beautiful day together on the beaches, under skies of deepest blue. The finale to K-On! aired ten years previously, two days before the start of summer, and up here in Wildrose Country, the weather of late has been excellent, and the lengthening days are well suited for enjoying fresh home-made burgers under sunshine.

  • Having two summer camps in the space of twelve episodes does seem a bit excessive, and prima facie appears to be little more than a flimsy excuse to showcase Mio’s excellent figure in a swimsuit. The manga, after all, spaced the summer camps over two volumes. However, the summer camps also act as an opportunity for the characters to bond with one another. Seeing how someone is outside of a professional or organised setting offers insight into their character and traits, so by seeing Yui, Ritsu, Mugi and even Mio without their instruments, Azusa can gain a better sense of what the atmosphere of the light music club is like.

  • After preparing dinner in a most amusing way, the girls set about practising, and make it in a short ways before burning out and setting up a classic “test of courage”. They run into a disheveled Sawako, who resembles an onryō, and later soak in the onsen. K-On!‘s immense popularity drew the ire of narrow-minded viewers who adamantly refused to see any merits in the series. In particular, the folks of Behind The Nihon Review would write numerous posts arguing that K-On! was, amongst other perceived slights, “mediocrity at its quintessence”.

  • Only mediocre reviewers use the word mediocrity seriously – Behind The Nihon Review’s writers operated under a perpetual belief that K-On! was “harmful” to the industry because even though the show does not advance the medium in any way, it was successful. These thoughts stem from a very limited understanding of what K-On! was about. K-On!‘s success does not come from its sense of humour, nor does it come from watching the characters bounce off one another. The meaningful message the series shows is that having heart makes a major difference, and is why Houkago Tea Time is able to perform at the level that it does despite the technical shortcomings amongst each members.

  • The light music club ultimately takes its name “Houkago Tea Time” (“After School Teatime”) after an irate Sawako runs out of patience as the girls struggle to come up with a band name during registration of their club. Mio prefers something a lot sweeter-sounding, but Sawako’s choice is both appropriate and iconic, perfectly describing what the girls’ band is about. With Azusa now a full-on member of Houkago Tea Time, a few other side adventures, such as Yui learning to look after her guitar properly, are presented. It turns out that everyone’s named their guitars: Yui calls her guitar “Guitah”, while Mio calls her bass “Elizabeth”, and Azusa names her Mustang “Muttan”.

  • Yui has never done any sort of maintenance on her guitar, and invariably, its performance starts degrading. After taking it in to get it serviced, the shopkeeper, who is familiar with the Kotobuki family, offers it free of charge to Mugi’s friends. Yui’s inexperience with everything is meant to indicate that being a musician has numerous nuances that one must be mindful of, and even though any musician will likely find Yui’s attitudes towards music to be blasé, K-On! is intended for the average viewer who may not be familiar with music.

  • Jealous that Mio is becoming more friendly with Nodoka, Ritsu becomes more distant from the others. Azusa attempts to mediate things and even puts on the cat ears that she’s normally too embarrassed to wear, showing just how far Azusa has come with Houkago Tea Time. However, even this is ineffective, and it takes Mio visiting Ritsu when the latter develops a cold for the two to reconcile.

  • For the school festival, Sawako wonders what to best outfit Houkago Tea Time in, and decides to use Mugi as the model. Even Mio participates in the selection process, and ultimately, the girls decide to go with a short yukata that Azusa takes a liking to. The others agree, feeling that it has a nice aesthetic but unlike more elaborate costumes, would not restrict their movement as to interfere with their playing.

  • While I count K-On! to be a remarkable series for its execution and messages, ironically, for a series whose focus is on music, the incidental music to the TV series is ordinary in every respect. It does convey a light and fluffy mood, but beyond this, does not elevate the K-On! experience: when K-On! first began airing, the technical aspects were strictly average, improving in season two and by the time of the movie, both incidental music, artwork and animation reach a very high standard. Coming back from the K-On! The Movie really makes the first season feel primitive by comparison.

  • Yui eventually falls ill after catching a cold, and is made to stay home so she can recover. Ui decides to stand in for Yui and swiftly masters the guitar, but is busted when she addresses Azusa as Azusa-san rather than Azu-nyan. Yui recovers just in time for the concert, but forgets her guitar at home and rushes off to retrieve it. K-On!‘s finale shows that while Yui’s come a long way since joining Houkago Tea Time, she’s still her. This aspect is revisited during the second season and movie.

  • While K-On!‘s incidental music might be unremarkable, the vocal pieces are solid. For their final performance, the girls bring Fude pen, Boru pen to the table. The curiosity in the music of K-On! is what drew me to the series, and I was particularly drawn to the song Tenshi ni Fureta yo!. It’s not often that music can bring me into a series, but ultimately, I am glad to have followed my curiosity. I finished the first season just as winter term ended, and began the second season shortly after exams ended.

  • Because of the impact K-On! had on me personally, in helping me regroup and survive a difficult university term, I’ve since come to regard well-done slice-of-life series as a tonic of sorts for life, acting as a source of stress relief. This is why criticisms of K-On! end up being something I do not expend effort giving any consideration to: the series does something very well, and stays true to its form. Watching characters grow and learn in a slice-of-life is something that I look for, and how favourably I regard a particular slice-of-life (or whether I choose to watch it at all) is driven by whether or not this component is present.

  • Ten years later, while the original K-On! might not have aged quite so gracefully, the sum of its themes and what the series resulted in remain as powerful as they had back in 2009. Whether or not critics admit so, the reality is that K-On! left a tremendous impact on anime. I will be returning at some point to write about K-On!!, the second season, and remark that I’ve written about the movie on enough occasions so that another review is quite unnecessary. With this one in the books, I’ve done all of the larger posts for this month, and in the remaining days of June, I plan on covering Yama no Susume: Omoide Present, as well as the final thoughts I have for Valkyria Chronicles 4 and my experiences in Battlefield V now that a new map has been out.

The sum of a minimalistic, yet effective theme, fun characters and the presence of good music contributed to K-On!‘s runaway success during its initial airing in 2009, and even a decade later, the aspects that make K-On! particularly enjoyable remain effective, being seen in other series such as GochiUsa, Kiniro Mosaic and numerous others, speaking to the strengths of K-On!. Coming right after the likes of CLANNAD, K-On! does not hold a candle to its predecessor in emotional impact, animation and art quality: the technical aspects have not aged gracefully, and the first season looks very dated. However, the series did ultimately come to make its own presence felt in a very distinct and enjoyable fashion, capturing audiences with its endearing characters and excellent music. Even if K-On! has not aged well, it sets the stage for future developments that propel the series down a path where it is able to explore the more subtle and intimate aspects of friendship. K-On! will continue to present a genuine and heartfelt story surrounding how a group of people ultimately are brought together by music, become friends through their shared experiences and ultimately use music to convey how they feel about one another, and so, the first season’s contributions are that it sets the stage for the events that have yet to come, bringing Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Azusa together to start a journey that results in the creation of treasured memories that are irreplaceable. Hence, even if K-On! had been polarising during and after its run, indicating that it is not suitable for everyone, I find that K-On! is something I would recommend without hesitation because it marks the beginning of a remarkable adventure that is heartwarming, relaxing and amusing, irrespective of what critics may make of the franchise.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Nagi no Asukara, The Merits of Co-Existence, Tolerance and Adaptability Towards Change

“Having feelings for someone just brings sorrow to someone else. Someone always gets sacrificed and suffers. If this is what it means to fall in love, then falling in love is terrible.” –Hikari Sakishima

After their middle school from Shioshishio, a town under the seas, closes from a low student population, middle school friends Hikari Sakishima, Manaka Mukaido, Chisaki Hiradaira and Kaname Isaki are sent to a school on the surface. Despite friction with residents of the surface, the four begin adjusting to their lives and befriend Tsumugu Kihara. As the group learn more about their respective worlds, as well as seeing his sister’s life, Hikari come to care about the fates of those on the surface – with the gods’ powers waning, the world is cooling off, and that the only means of staving off global catastrophe is to perform the Ofunehiki, a rite that pays respects to the ocean gods. While Shioshishio’s residents have the capacity to hibernate and wait out the long winter, temperatures on the surface will result in a death toll, including Hikari’s sister. Preparations for the Ofunehiki take off in earnest from Shioshishio’s inhabitants, with the surface residents helping out. In the process, the mistrust between the two peoples begins fading away, but on the day of the ritual, calamity strikes when Manaka is knocked into the water, presumed lost. Five years later, Hikari, Manaka and Kaname reawaken amidst the frigid world, struggling to deal with the changes that have occurred in their absence. Miuna Shiodome and Sayu Hisanuma, who had initially attempted to sabotage Hikari and the others’ efforts in preparing for the Ofunehiki, have also matured. Miuna has developed feelings for Hikari, who remains in love with Manaka. Chisaki doubts her feelings towards Hikari, and Tsumugu develops feelings for Chisaki. Kaname remains fixated on Chisaki and is unaware of Sayu’s feelings for him. As they strive to resolve their conflicts and bring back Manaka’s ability to love, Tsumugu and Miuna realise they have ena, a substance that allows humans to freely breathe underwater. This had long been a source of tension between Shioshishio’s residents and people from the surface. Refusing to allow Manaka’s feelings to be sealed away, and with the fact that the winter is intensifying, prompts another attempt with the Ofunehiki in an effort to appeal to the sea god. During the ritual, he is knocked into the ocean and decides to sacrifice himself for Manaka, but at the last moment, a miracle occurs. The residents of Shioshishio awaken, and the cooling of the world is halted. With life returning to normal, Manaka and Hikari reaffirm their feelings for one another. This is Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, literally “From The Calm Tomorrow” and sometimes misspelled as Nagi no Asu Kara), an anime from P.A. Works that ran from October 2013 to April 2014. In its twenty-six episode run, Nagi no Asukara covers a wide range of topics and proved an enjoyable anime for many for creating an immensely vivid world whose characters were plausible, and whose struggles were relatable. Together with a moving soundtrack and exceptional artwork that brought this world to life, Nagi no Asukara‘s status as being one of P.A. Works’ strongest series is a well-deserved one.

Nagi no Asukara is sharply divided into two very distinct acts. In its first acts, the focus is largely on notions of tolerance and co-existence: Hikari, being the son of a priest, is very much prejudiced against people from the surface. However, when his older sister finds love on the surface, Hikari begrudgingly begins to learn more about how aside from their ena and customs, the surface people are not particularly different than Shioshishio’s people. Despite being a coming-of-age story, Nagi no Asukara‘s portrayal of prejudice and bias between peoples of two disparate societies does much to emphasise the depth of the world that Hikari lives in. Both societies’ perspectives are shown; this allows audiences to quickly empathise with both groups and understand where their beliefs originate from, and as such, when Nagi no Asukara pushes forwards with the impending freezing of the world, watching Shioshishio’s residents and the people from the surface collaborate becomes all the more rewarding to watch. Brought together by the shared desire to stave off calamity, the two separate groups discover, as Hikari does, that their mistrust for one another has been misplaced, and that the commonalities that both societies share outweigh their differences. Co-existence is a major part of Nagi no Asukara‘s first half, and while the anime might be six years old now, its theme has never been more relevant in an age where division and bipartisan beliefs have become prevalent. Fear, intolerance and hatred are an unfortunately accepted way of thinking, driving people to conduct heinous acts. However, all hatred stems from fear, and fear is countermanded with knowledge. Nagi no Asukara shows that the first step towards dispelling fear is to become acquainted with different people, and understand that aside from minor differences, people are ultimately more similar than they’d initially thought. This is admittedly an optimistic approach: Hikari learns to tolerate, and then accept surface residents through watching his sister’s interactions with people on the surface, but Nagi no Asukara does show that all progress must start from somewhere, no matter how trivial.

By its second act, Nagi no Asukara transitions into a more personal narrative, dealing with the group dynamics and their shifts after a five year time-gap. While the passage of time and its attendant changes are inevitable, the characters struggle to deal with these changes. In particular, Chisaki is hit particularly hard; because she avoided hibernating, she’s now five years older than her friends. Missing the time she’d spent with them and feeling guilty at having moved ahead of them, and is unable to accept that her feelings for Hikari have wavered and clings onto them, viewing them as a way to bring back this lost time. The age disparities among the group create new conflicts: Tsumugu had matured alongside Chisaki and fell in love with her, while Kaname has not moved on from his old feelings. Miuna has now fallen in love with Hikari, who’s still in love with Manaka, and Sayu’s feelings for Kaname have only strengthened over time. While this love tesseract could have been immensely complex, Nagi no Asukara masterfully weaves everyone’s stories together, striking a balance between drama and character growth to create a more credible tale of how everyone eventually comes to find a solution for their situation. Relationships are immensely complex, and like reality, Nagi no Asukara shows that not everyone ends up with their first choice. In spite of this, second choices always exist: being able to recognise this and then possessing an open mind, to adapt and change, allows one to seize these opportunities to make the most of a new future. Chisaki manages to let go of her past and come to terms with her feelings for Tsumugu, while Kaname’s eyes are opened when Sayu gives him what I found to be one of the most genuine declarations of love that I’ve seen in fiction. Especially for Kaname, being made to see that there is someone who’s been chasing after him all this time forces him to stop and reconsider his own goals, and brings about a closure for him: he accepts Sayu’s feelings and with it, begins to finally move on with his life, as well. Romance and love are among the most poorly-characterised but also most engaging components of humanity. If love had been understood with the same precision and rigour as something like Newtonian mechanics, then love songs, romance fiction and endless self-help articles dealing with love would not exist, and the process would be reduced to a series of unexciting steps. Nagi no Asukara is a visceral reminder of both sides of love, and having spent its first act establishing the world for its story, allows the characters to explore new directions in a world whose unique points are now familiar sights.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Nagi no Asukara was one of the toughest anime for me to write for because of how numerous its strengths are, and for the longest time, I had no idea where to begin. It’s time to take a crack at things: while Nagi no Asukara certainly did not initially strike me as a masterpiece, after watching it a second time in full, I realised that the sincerity and honesty in its delivery made it a series worth remembering. The series has two distinct acts, each with its own distinct theme, and originally, I considered doing two separate posts for Nagi no Asukara.

  • While that could’ve been a good endeavour, my time simply does not accommodate for that anymore, so a single post will have to suffice for now. Right from the onset, Nagi no Asukara introduces viewers to a highly unique and nuanced world. Folks living under the sea have a special biological agent known as ena that protects them from oceanic pressure and allows them to breathe under water. While they can survive on the surface, they must consistently find a water source to soak in, otherwise the ena dries up and fails to function.

  • Chisaki, Manaka, Kaname and Hikari are the protagonists: this close group of friends are initially shocked about their school’s closure and of everyone, Hikari is the most resentful of the surface-dwellers. This change over time is noticeable in his character, and while he remains a hothead throughout Nagi no Asukara, he does exhibit concern for those around him in his own way. Manaka is an energetic and easygoing girl who is rather indecisive: she is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Shirase Kobuchizawa in A Place Further than the Universe, Yukari Yukino of The Garden of Words and Your Name), while Chisaki is voiced by Ai Kayano (Saori Takebe of Girls und Panzer and Mocha Hoto from Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?).

  • Because I only have a space of forty images to really discuss Nagi no Asukara, I won’t be able to cover every detail in the anime completely, and will massive leaps in the timeframe throughout the course of my discussion. Hikari’s initial goal was to bring Akari home after hearing that she was married to a surface-dweller, but after spending time with this new family and seeing his sister happy, he comes to understand the people on the surface might not be so bad after all. Hence, when it is revealed the world is freezing, he spearheads the effort in hosting the Ofunehiki festival, coming to learn how to work with his classmates and other people on the surface, as well.

  • The unique setting of sea and coast allows Nagi no Asukara to showcase highly unique and imaginative settings. P.A. Works pulled all the stops to create a visually compelling and detailed world, making use of light effects, colour and sound to immerse viewers into the coastal town and ocean that is Hikari’s world. While P.A. Works have always had consistently solid artwork and animation, most of their works are set in more ordinary locales: extensive use of water separates Nagi no Asukara‘s world from P.A. Works’ previous titles, and the quality has remained comparable even with more recent titles.

  • Like Angel Beats!Nagi no Asukara makes extensive use of comedic and everyday moments to familiarise viewers with the protagonists. Purely comedic or dramatic series tend to craft situations that characters must react with, and while these moments allow characters to show their best and worst, it does little to show how they are as individuals outside of more noteworthy moments. By comparison, giving a baseline of how a character is allows audiences to see how they normally act, in addition to seeing their best and worst sides; knowing someone better is how we come to empathise with people, and it is this reason that Key works like CLANNAD and Angel Beats! are so effective at moving their audience.

  • Strictly speaking, Glasslip‘s Tōko Fukami is a carbon copy of Manaka, featuring similar personalities and appearances. Similarly, Tsumugu and Kakeru Okikura resemble one another in appearances, as well as manner. The key differences are that Manaka and Tsumugu have more time during which their traits can be developed, and Glasslip feels as though it sought to reuse familiar characters while experimenting with a highly unstructured, atypical narrative.

  • While Hikari is initially quick to assume his classmates were responsible for vandalising the Ofunehiki doll they’d been working on, it turns out that the damages were caused by Akari’s daughter, Miuna, and her best friend, Sayu. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Miuna and Sayu are no longer nuisances and become an integral part of helping the others prepare for the festival. While Sayu can be seen as ill-mannered, her spirits quickly grew on me.

  • Chisaki and Manaka watch the tomoebi, a phenomenon similar to parhelion that is, incidentally, created by very similar conditions: whereas our sun dogs come from the refraction of light rays through suspended ice crystals in the air, tomoebi results from moonlight refracting off the sea salt-based snow crystals, which is subsequently refracted through cold water to create a false moon. While the friends had originally planned to watch this event together, but separate in the process.

  • Unified by the shared goal of the Ofunehiki, Hikari and his classmates now get along very nicely. While they remain committed to their heritage by wearing their school’s preferred uniforms, everyone is on cordial terms with one another. Working together for a common objective brings people together, and in the aftermath of Otafest, I attended a feedback session where one of the points I made was that it would be nice to get to know the other volunteers better, beyond the time spent working with them: knowing the team would reinforce the sense of community even further.

  • Admittedly, this stemmed from I’d experienced something I’d not expected during my volunteering for Otafest: during one of my shifts, a young lady, another one of the volunteers in my section who was helping looking after the panels, would look in my direction, and then break into a dazzling smile once my gaze returned from whatever I was doing previously. It seems that I could probably fall in love with a warm smile, and so, post-Otafest, I am left with mixed feelings despite the event’s overwhelming success and satisfaction from volunteering.

  • Watching the people of the sea and surface come together was immensely rewarding: there is a massive payoff in what Hikari and his friends have led, and while I might not remember every detail of Nagi no Asukara, the higher-level events stuck with me. One element in the setting that remains a bit of a mystery even now are the reinforced concrete pillars that dominate the landscape. While some have speculated they’re for supporting a sea-to-sky style freeway, or otherwise were meant to have symbolic value, they are never mentioned by the characters, nor do they seem to affect the narrative in any substantial manner, leading me to conclude they’re probably just a part of the scenery.

  • Sayu and Miuna head the support efforts: the entire community’s women have come forward to provide food. While perhaps not as intense as the scene in Avengers: Endgame where every female hero shows up to help deliver the Iron Gauntlet and its Infinity Stones to the time machine in Scott Lang’s van, it is a reminder that in any given project, effort or endeavour, things work at their very best when everyone is working together, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or beliefs. I greatly enjoyed seeing all of them women of the MCU come together in a titanic moment to help defeat Thanos, and Nagi no Asukara, pre-dating Avengers: Endgame by some five years, does a fine job of showing what cooperation looks like.

  • If memory serves, I believe this is the moment when Miuna falls in love with Hikari, seeing the sheer determination in his eyes as he hoists a flag in preparation for the Ofunehiki. Despite his brisque and rough mannerisms, Hikari is a respectable character who ultimately acts with the interests of those around him in mind. Watching him grow throughout Nagi no Asukara was one of the biggest draws about the series, and one of the things that I look forwards to most in a given anime is seeing how initially-unlikable characters mature into honourable people.

  • While the Ofunehiki is happening, Akari’s wedding to Itaru is also on the horizon. Seeing the union of two people prompts Hikari to attempt and confess his feelings to Manaka, who is unsure of how to react and seemingly rejects him. Meanwhile, Chisaki decides to do a kokuhaku to Hikari after Kaname did the same for her: I’ve heard that weddings can really drive up people’s desires to be together, and in the moment, the emotional tenour pushes everyone onward, although adolescence and the naïveté of youth means that misunderstandings occur.

  • The Ofunehiki itself is a glorious spectacle even though the outcome is suboptimal: the wrath of the seas kicks in midway through the ceremony, bringing things to a halt. Manaka, Hikari and Kaname fall into the ocean, while Chisaki manages to rescue Tsumugu. The freezing of the world sets in soon after, with Chisaki being left behind on the surface while the others enter hibernation. A five-year time skip occurs, and with this, we’ve reached the halfway point of Nagi no Asukara.

  • A time skip of five years happens to be exactly the same time skip that was in Avengers: Endgame, and I must say that Nagi no Asukara actually holds its own. In five years, Chisaki’s matured into a young woman whose style is noteworthy, while Akari has become accustomed to life on the surface and has raised a rambunctious son, Akira. Tsumugu’s become a university student pursuing a marine biology degree, and Miuna is now in middle school.

  • As middle school students, both Sayu and Miuna have become sufficiently mature as to be considered peers with Hikari, Manaka and Kaname. Now is a good as a time as any to note that Sayu is voiced by Kaori Ishihara (The World in Colour‘s very own Hitomi Tsukishiro), and Mikako Komatsu (Sanae Kōzuki of Sakura Quest) provides Miuna’s voice. Seeing these two grow from being impediments to integral parts of the cast was rewarding, and a part of the dynamics possible, because of the unique world building, is watching these two deal with Kaname and Hikari as fellow classmates.

  • Of everyone, Chisaki is the only individual to have avoided the hibernation and therefore, ages alongside Tsumugu on the surface. When she meets with her friends, who are now biologically five years her junior, she struggles to come to terms with the differences and desperately tells herself that nothing has changed, despite having spent five years of time with Tsumugu and his family. Here, she waits for a bus on the surface, and subtleties in the environment, such as the shape of the bus stop signs and bus designs, show a world that is meant to be simultaneously similar to and different than our own.

  • After the time skip, Hikari grows more distant from Tsumugu, feeling him a rival for Manaka’s feelings and that it is unfair for him to not return her feelings. The two clash on several occasions, until Tsumugu reveals that he is in love with Chisaki. The flow of relationships in Nagi no Asukara is very natural: a sort of closeness develops in the group as a result of time spent together. Because Tsumugu has spent so much time with Chisaki, the two know one another as well as themselves: Chisaki may believe that she’s still in love with Hikari, but these feelings manifest as a result of her wanting to hold onto the past.

  • While time stood still for Hikari during hibernation, once he returns to classes, he holds a degree of maturity and seniority over his classmates despite being biologically the same age. A testament to his learnings during Nagi no Asukara‘s first half, Hikari gets along with most everyone in his classmates. Much of the conflict in Nagi no Asukara‘s second act comes from everyone trying to sort out their relationships, although now, Miuna and Saya take center stage, as they are the same age as Hikari and Kaname. Meanwhile, Chisaki and Tsumugu are removed from this equation, being five years older than the others.

  • With Miuna now a middle school student, she enters the same world of relationship challenges that Hikari had been dealing with. When Sayu learns that one of Miuna’s classmates intends to confess his feelings for Miuna, she becomes jealous. It turns out that, now that she’s the same age as Hikari, Miuna feels that she has a fighting chance to win Hikari’s heart even in the knowledge that Hikari loves Manaka. Hikari’s concern for her only serves to amplify her feelings for him.

  • Sayu subsequently attempts to distance herself from her feelings for Kaname: distraction from romance is one of the most frequently recommended suggestions for dealing with a broken heart. I can vouch for this: The Giant Walkthrough Brain from five years ago ended up being my distraction that saw me create something constructive. As I pushed into learning the Unity Engine and build what would become the starting points for my graduate thesis, I found myself feeling a great deal more whole than I had following heartbreak. While there would be days where I felt miserable, I continue to remind myself that there is more to life than romantic relationships.

  • Kaname does eventually return to the cast, joining Hikari and the others. Of everyone, he feels the most left behind, having seen first-hand how close Chisaki and Tsumugu have become. At the age of nineteen, Tsumugu has enrolled at a local university and studies Nagi no Asukara‘s equivalent of marine biology, participating in research. While still young, Tsumugu’s involvement with a research lab is not implausible by any stretch: undergraduate students interested in research are encouraged to find a supervisor and lab to work in during summer. My faculty was particularly forward with this, and after learning of a biological visualisation lab on campus, I decided to spend my summer working with them. This is how I met my supervisor, who would go on to oversea and provide guidance on my undergraduate thesis, the Giant Walkthrough Brain and ultimately, my graduate thesis.

  • The tensions between Sayu and Miuna reach an all-time high after Sayu runs into Kaname, who fails to recognise her. Feeling that her emotions have given her naught but trouble, she renounces them, only for Miuna to declare that being truthful to how they feel is more important. Both Kaname and Sayu experience the misfortune of having the person they’re interested in seem unaware of or are otherwise unable to return their feelings: I’ve been down this road before, and this is why for me, Kaname and Sayu’s stories in Nagi no Asukara hit me the hardest: I know what unrequited love feels like, to feel so desperately sure that things could work out, and fail nonetheless.

  • Of course, it’s a disappointing thought, but it happens all the same. While Miuna may cling onto her feelings for Hikari, she’s also able remain mindful of her surroundings. When it turns out that Miuna has inherited ena, and with it, the ability to freely move about underwater, she is ecstatic and becomes a new contributor to the research Tsumugu is working on. By using acoustics, Tsumugu’s supervisor is able to work out where to best enter Shioshishio: since the events five years previously, intense currents have surrounded the town, making the area inaccessible. However, given a chance to visit, Kaname, Hikari and Miuna decide to undertake this assignment.

  • For the first time, Miuna visits the middle school that Hikari and the others would have attended. The location feels like a haikyo, and here, Miuna plays with an xylophone. Reflections from the windows and the bright lights coming from outside create a very melancholy impression: while Shioshishio is a very lively town, having all of the inhabitants in hibernation creates an eerily still locale, a far cry from the Shioshishio that we’d seen during Nagi no Asukara‘s first act.

  • Aural anomolies were the reason that Hikari and the others descend to Shioshishio. When they trace them to its source, they find a graveyard of old Ofunehiki effigies, and Manaka frozen at the center. The mystery of where Manaka went is solved, and Hikari decides to bring her back. This action results in a disturbance, and Manaka’s memories are seemingly lost when she is returned to the surface.

  • For Miuna, Manaka’s return is a mixed bag. On one hand, a friend has returned now, someone who she can talk to and support as thanks for having done so much for her previously. However, Manaka is also a rival for Hikari’s feelings; her return means that Miuna’s feelings for Hikari may never be realised if Manaka’s memories return. In the end, Miuna picks a selfless route, deciding that bringing Manaka back for Hikari’s sake is much more important than whatever her own wishes are. This is the truest sign of love, being able to let go and hope for another individual’s happiness even at one’s own expense.

  • One evening, Chisaki decides to try her old middle school uniform out again for kicks. It is impressive that after all this time, her uniform still fits to a reasonable extent: besides being tighter in the chest and hips, she’s still able to wear it. In what is Nagi no Asukara‘s only cliché moment, Tsumugu walks in, coming face-to-face with an embarassed Chisaki who proceeds to throw things at him until he beats a hasty exit.

  • While Manaka is still unconcious, Miuna seeks out Lord Uroko, a minor sea god born from a scale of the original sea god. He acts as a messenger to the gods, and despite his appearances, holds a great deal of knowledge about the lore of the ocean. While typically flippant and unsympathetic, he appears to help if the situation demands it. Lord Uroko explains that Manaka’s sacrifice was to appease the sea god, and taking her back means taking something in return: when she reawakens, Manaka appears to be as happy-go-lucky as she had been during the first act once she wakes up, but lost her ena and recollections of Hikari.

  • Nagi no Asukara builds its lore in an incremental manner, showing only as much as is needed to drive the narrative forwards, and integrates this seamlessly into the story. Audiences never feel left out when details surrounding their world are presented, and each bit of knowledge helps viewers understand what must be undertaken for Hikari and the others to help bring Manaka’s love back. It is therefore unsurprising that Nagi no Asukara features many tearful moments such as these – where the most fundamental of human emotions are involved, people can become overwhelmed.

  • As Nagi no Asukara reaches its final episodes, everyone’s emotions come to the forefront. Hikari learns that Tsumugu had never had his eyes on Manaka and loves Chisaki, while Chisaki did return his feelings, fearing only that if she accepted them, it would mean discarding old friendships. Chisaki overhears his kokuhaku and dives into the sea; when Tsumugu goes after her, he discovers that he possesses the ena, as well. Lord Uroko later agrees to help out, since everyone has worked out a possible solution for the situation at hand: having taken back Manaka, the sea god demands another sacrifice. Manaka’s pendant, a special stone that seemingly holds everyone’s feelings, is suggested as the substitute.

  • As preparations for another Ofunehiki begin, the only person who feels left behind is Kaname – everyone is busy working towards setting things right, and having heard that Tsumugu and Chisaki accept one another’s feelings for himself, Kaname becomes dejected, even wondering if he had done the right thing in saving Tsumugu years previously. Despite being level-headed and wise for his age, Kaname’s unrequited feelings for Chisaki leave him feeling left out; of the characters, I relate to him the most strongly.

  • It takes a tearful confession from Sayu to force Kaname to accept that things are what they are now – she implores him to see her as a girl rather than a child and that she’d only had eyes for him for the past five years. Realising that there had been someone in his corner all this time, Kaname is shocked and decides to start over with her. While such outcomes seem relegated to the realm of fiction, reality can work in strange ways; Kaname accepting this turn of events show that he is not so stubborn as to see alternative paths, and this open-mindedness is what sends him down another means towards finding what he sought.

  • Nagi no Asukara‘s soundtrack, hitherto unmentioned, was composed by Yoshiaki Dewa and Masayuki Watanabe. They make extensive use of Spanish guitar in more relaxed moments, and piano when emotion kicks in to create incidental music that adds another level of depth to the anime: the soundtrack has two volumes, released two months apart. Together, there is a total of sixty tracks, and these well-composed pieces do much to convey the atmospherics within Nagi no Asukara.

  • With all of the secondary characters’ stories largely resolved, preparations for the Ofunehiki wrap up, and the ceremony commences. This time, it is with Lord Uroko’s consent, and as they had done five years previously, prepare a sacrifice with the aim of appeasing the sea god. This second attempt similarly disrupts the sea, and Manaka falls overboard. Miuna rescues her, and Manaka’s memories return, but Miuna is drawn into the depths, standing in as the new sacrifice.

  • Realising that Miuna was lost because of her intense feelings for him, Hikari implores the sea god to take him instead. The seas react to this: it turns out that the original sea god was unable to let go of Ojoshi, his original lover, who had turned her back on the sea for a life on the surface with a mortal. Devastated, the sea god froze the world, but realised that Ojoshi’s original feelings for him and the sea never wavered. He consents to allow the world to return to its normal state, and the oceans begin flowing again. Shioshishio’s inhabitants begin awakening from their hibernation, as well, signifying that the world’s climate is returning to its normal state. Hikari’s father greets him and notes that he accepts Akari’s marriage, expressing that he looks forwards to meeting his grandson.

  • The finale to Nagi no Asukara is optimistic; with the natural order back in the balance, lives begin returning to normal. I also expect that at this point, readers who have stuck out would have a nontrivial inclination to never read this blog again: I’ve made no fewer than thirty mentions of the word “feelings” in this post alone. In the epilogue, Hikari, Manaka and Kaname don surface middle school uniforms before heading off to classes, signifying that they accept in full the people on the surface.

  • An exceptional anime in all regards, Nagi no Asukara represents one of P.A. Works’ very best work since Angel Beats, covering an exceptional amount of material during its twenty-six episode run. With life-like characters and a vivid world rich in lore, Nagi no Asukara tells a coming of age story that fully utilised every aspect of its environment to convey a moving story. Masterpiece Anime Showcase will return next time with K-On!‘s first season – this series is celebrating its tenth anniversary and is counted as a masterpiece in my books for a very special reason. Other series that will be covered include Kanon and Your Lie in April: I know that some readers have expressed an interest in hearing my thoughts on these, and I look forwards to seeing if I can meet those expectations.

Because of its raw and emotional portrayal of what coming-of-age means for a group of friends, in conjunction with the fact that I still have nothing by the way of experience in this particular discipline, writing for Nagi no Asukara proved much trickier than I originally anticipated. As such, I did not write about this series despite making numerous references to it in other talks. However, after taking a look back through the series, I figured that even if I cannot readily speak from experience, the fact that Nagi no Asukara was so moving for me meant that there was much more at play that I could properly write for. Looking through the anime a second time, I saw a series whose enjoyment factor increased with time: watching it again meant being able to appreciate the subtle details that present themselves on a second visitation. Between giving the characters a unique world to grow in, the time to develop and the opportunity to watch them overcome their challenges, Nagi no Asukara gives audiences reason appreciate the characters and their struggles. In conjunction with some of P.A. Works’ finest animation and artwork, Nagi no Asukara represents a maturation of the learnings from Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, inheriting highly relatable characters and exceptional visuals with a bold new direction in a fantastical setting. The incidental music further accentuates the atmospherics Nagi no Asukara intends to convey. All of these elements come together to create an anime that is timeless, recognisable and moving; Nagi no Asukara is something that I can readily recommend to all audiences because of its fantastic world-building, universally-relatable themes and strong execution. There are a lot of moving parts in Nagi no Asukara: its appeal stems from being able to cover such a diverse range of topics and explore them in satisfying depth; in conjunction with a world whose every facet is vividly-rendered, Nagi no Asukara stands out as one of P.A. Works’ more memorable titles that is well worth watching.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Angel Beats!, On accepting and making the most of the hand life has dealt

“Please let me believe in everything you believed in. Let me believe that life is great.” –Kanade Tachibana

Yuzuru Otonashi awakens to find himself in a strange world without recollections of his self, and encounters a girl aiming a bolt-action rifle at the student council president. After attempting to talk to the student council president and being impaled, Yuzuru comes to in the infirmary. He decides to join the Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS, Afterlife Battlefront) and learn more about the world he’s in. As he bonds with SSS members Yuri Nakamura and Hideki Hinata, he discovers that the afterlife is a world for individuals who’d died in the real world and were given a second chance to experience an ordinary high school life. Fearing disappearance, the SSS constantly strive to undermine student council president Kanade Tachibana. Along the way, Yuzuru begins to piece together his own past as he participates in the SSS’ operations, realising that he was once a medical student candidate who died on his way to the admissions exam in a train accident. Between the various antics of the SSS and helping his fellow students out, Yuzuru comes to realise that individuals disappear when they’ve found fulfilment, and that Kanade is acting with the aim of helping the others out but because of her poor communication skills, became misunderstood. Yuzuru eventually helps the others make peace with their pasts and “graduate”, falling in love with Kanade, who reveals that his final act in donating his organs helped save her life. Immensely grateful she found the individual who’d given her live, Kanade is also able to move on. Running during the spring 2010 anime season, Angel Beats! is counted as being a remarkably moving and well-written anime despite its short length, striking a masterful balance between comedy and tragedy that, in conjunction with a memorable cast and solid world-building, created a captivating, compelling story that drew viewers in.

At its core, Angel Beats! is about acceptance of one’s reality and making peace with the past, specifically, how the right people can help one see things from another perspective and how a new angle can help one come to terms with their past. Each of the characters in the afterlife had suffered a past grievance while they were alive, or else held onto emotions that were sufficiently important that they did not dispel in death. Yuri’s siblings were killed during a break-in, Masami Iwasawa died with the anger of being unable to sing, Hideki regrets his failure as a baseball player, and Ayato struggled to find his own way in life, having been forced to become a potter after his brother died. Yuzuru was dissatisfied with dying before he could make a new future for himself in a situation outside of his control. Their misfortunes make them resentful of life, and initially, the SSS is motivated by a desire to take revenge on a god that would allow them to suffer in this manner. However, when Yuzuru appears, his new perspective on things slowly leads the SSS to realise that Kanade is not an agent of whatever gods there might be, and that in their time with one another, they’ve come to accomplish those things in the afterlife that they’d yearned to accomplish in life. Friendship, and the perspective it brought, helps each of Yuzuru, Yuri, Hideki and Ayato face their pasts, come to terms with it and realise that while things had been bad, they’d also come to appreciate the second chance they were given. With the SSS, Yuri has become a dependable, reliable leader that she had regretted failing when she let her siblings down. Ayato finds new purpose in life when he meets Yuzuru, and Hideki develops a close friendship with Yuzuru that must’ve been absent from his life following that failed baseball game. Yuzuru himself learns that he once wanted to go to medical school to help others, and while his actions in the afterlife are not medical school, he has, in a manner of speaking, been given an opportunity to help others now. The friendship and camaraderie in the SSS allows Yuzuru to open up and begin exploring his environment; he begins to wonder why the SSS is so intent on fighting Kanade.

Because of his intrinsic kindness and concern for those around him, Yuzuru is a major catalyst in setting the SSS along a path of reconciliation with Kanade. Despite befriending the SSS’ members quickly, Yuzuru is quick to question on the worth of their various operations, and sense of empathy leads him to believe that Kanade is an individual, rather than an agent of the system. After seeing Kanade’s quiet look of sadness when one of their operations deprives her of her favourite meal, he begins seeing her as more of a human, and makes active efforts to speak with her. While the SSS are bewildered with this behaviour, they also begin agreeing Yuzuru’s speculation that disappearing simply means accepting one’s past. By helping Yui make peace with her past and her subsequent disappearance, the SSS slowly begin to realise that Yuzuru has a point, and each member considers their own fulfilment in the afterlife. Yuzuru brought to the SSS a new set of eyes and new ideas; under Yuri’s leadership, their goals had simply been to wreck havoc and avoid disappearing. The SSS had become set in these ways and would have remained in limbo for eternity, but with Yuzuru’s arrival, things begin changing. Sometimes, it takes disruption to shake a system from the status quo, and the right individual in the right place can have a profound affect on things. With his natural desire to help others, Yuzuru’s actions create a profound change amongst the SSS; he manages to convince the members that life is about moving on rather than dwelling on the past, and as the other members begin accepting their pasts, he, Yuri and Kanade also form a close friendship. During their graduation ceremony, Yuri accepts Kanade as a friend and wonders why they’d not been able to support one another sooner. By contributing to helping the whole of the SSS graduate, Yuzuru’s arrival is meant to show that individuals with a strong sense of empathy and willingness to help others, as well as a steadfast commitment to their convictions, can bring about positive change in a system that has otherwise been entrenched in its ways.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As the first entry in “Masterpiece Anime Showcase” series, I will establish the format posts of this style will take: they will be much larger than conventional posts, featuring a lengthier discussion and more screenshots. Even with this expanded format, it is difficult to concisely fit everything into such a space, and I’ve found that the screenshots I do end up picking will not fully convey everything there is about a series. “Masterpiece Anime Showcase” posts differ from Terrible Anime Challenge posts in that they deal with the series where, expectations going in notwithstanding, the end result was sufficient to change my world-views to some extent. Posts of this series will also feature more reminiscence.

  • The unusual setup in Angel Beats! works entirely in its favour, and after the first episode, where Yuzuru meets the SSS, I found myself immediately hooked. I still remember the days when I first picked Angel Beats! up: it was during the cold of the winter semester, and I was slowly pushing my way through a biochemistry, cell and molecular biology and fundamentals of bioinformatics course. Here, Yuzuru is formally introduced to the SSS – shorthand for Shinda Sekai Sensen, the SSS exist to wage war against the God for injustices they’d suffered in their lives.

  • Most of the SSS’ activities involve fighting one Tenshi (Angel), as the SSS’ leader, Yuri, believes her to be an emissary of God or similar. In their fight, they also hope to stave off disappearing, not understanding where vanished individuals go. Operation Tornado is one such activity: while various members of the SSS keep Tenshi busy with various firearms, the band Girls Dead Monster (Girl DeMo) perform a lively concert that distract the students. The acquisition of meal tickets is the end result, and it’s certainly a lively operation. The visuals of Angel Beats! are phenomenal, and the meal tickets resemble little more than glowing orbs of light, creating a surreal atmosphere.

  • While I have reviewed Angel Beats! previously, it was in a much shorter format at my old site. In this post, I will not be focusing on the various firearms the SSS use: their choice seems to be motivated largely by aesthetics rather than performance, and at any rate Tenshi’s own Guard Skills allow her to nullify the effects of firearms. During most confrontations, Tenshi prefers using her abilities in a defensive manner and never attacks unless actively provoked, hinting at her nature.

  • Yuri Nakamura is the leader of the SSS, coordinating operations and occasionally stepping onto the field herself, where she displays exceptional combat prowess with both melee weapons and firearms. Calculating, forward thinking but also sensitive and protective of those around her, Yuri is a natural leader whose charisma and care inspire others to fight for her. However, she is also prone to moments of immaturity, and in Angel Beats!, the colourful character dynamics do much in contributing to the viewer’s concern for the characters.

  • During an operation to visit the Guild and resupply on munitions, much of the SSS are wiped out by various anti-Tenshi traps that were engaged after her presence was detected in the tunnels. Yuzuru’s tenacity allows him to reach the Guild, and along the way, Yuri reveals that in life, she was the eldest sister amongst siblings who were killed during a break-and-enter. Regretting her inability to keep her siblings safe, she longs to rebel against God for having allowed such a cruel turn of events to occur.

  • Yuzuru’s first descent into the Guild with Yuri shows that despite his unfamiliarity with the world, he quickly comes to care about those around him, as well. While some characters immediately have a bone to pick with Yuzuru, such as Noda and Fujimaki, Yuzuru gets along with most of the SSS’ members, and in time, comes to befriend Hideki. Here, he fights Tenshi alongside Yuri, armed with a Glock 17 – this polymer-framed, short recoiled semi-automatic pistol is of German origin that has become quite popular for its light weight. The police services of my home city use the Glock 17 as their sidearm of choice.

  • Despite lacking any augmentation, Yuri is capable of going toe-to-toe with Tenshi, whose powers are conferred by a software known as the Angel Player system. Combat with superhuman entities, firearms, coordinated operations and a desire to rebel against God coexist in Angel Beats! with everyday life at school, concerts and time spent with friends. This setup is quite unusual by all standards, but it exemplifies P.A. Works’ ability to weave in multi-faceted narratives: Tari TariSakura Quest and The World in Colours later would go on to use a similar setup to great effect. Being able to weave in multiple hobbies and eccentricities keeps the worlds in anime fresh, and even though the later anime are more constrained within the laws of reality, remain very entertaining precisely because of this approach.

  • Masami is the first of the SSS to disappear: a talented musician, Masami is the lead singer of Girls DeMo and resembles Girls und Panzer‘s Maho Nishizumi to a limited extent. Known for her spirited, high-energy songs, Yuri wonders if a ballad might be appropriate for their operations, and later, while breaking from practise, Masami encounters Yuzuru. She explains to him that she came from a dysfunctional family and found music as an escape, but during an altercation, she was struck in the head and was no longer able to play music. After telling this story to Yuzuru and performing her final song, she appears to have found solace and disappears.

  • The balcony overlooking the school grounds is a quiet location: the photorealism of this moment belies the fact that Angel Beats! is nearly a decade old. Between the reflections on the granite floor, reflection of sunlight along the railing or the shadows from clouds covering the forest in the distance, this location vividly remains in my memory as an example of how well-rendered Angel Beats! is. I vaguely remember similar weather conditions at the train station the day I was leaving Shanghai after visiting the Expo 2010: I visited Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou in 2010 with an iPod filled with Lia’s music, including “My Soul, Your Beats”. As our tour group travelled along the highways cutting across the plains of the Yangtze River delta, these songs played in the background. Besides checking out the Canadian Pavilion, I also purchased limited edition commemorative medallions from the event. Other highlights of this trip to China included visiting the Forbidden City, walking the Great Wall of China, a delicious dinner at a Hangzhou hotel while a thunderstorm raged outside, and various boat rides on the West Lake, Grand Canal of Suzhou and the Yangtze River in Pudong by night.

  • After coming home from that vacation, I returned to summer research at my old lab and forgot about Angel Beats!, but was compelled to check it out two years later. The music of the series is solid and was a motivating factor in leading me to give the anime a go. Here, the SSS capitalise on a distraction Girls DeMo has created via their concert to search Tenshi’s room. They find nothing out of the ordinary, but Yuri’s enlisted Takeyama’s help, and he quickly breaks into Tenshi’s computer, learning that she’s using software to create superhuman abilities. Yuri wonders why God’s emissary would need to develop her own powers, one of the earlier signs that Yuri’s impression of the world may not be entirely correct.

  • When she is introduced, Yui is presented as an energetic and somewhat irritating girl who loves Masami’s performance. Despite Yui’s ditzy nature, she is a capable singer in her own right. Yui immediately grates on Hideki, who does not hesitate to kick her ass whenever she crosses a line. In spite of this rocky start, and their continued clashes throughout Angel Beats!, both Yui and Hideki mature as the series progresses.

  • Hideki’s story is that he was involved in a traffic accident that claimed his life, and his biggest regret is that his failure to catch a loose baseball cost his team a major game. During an operation involving baseball, Hideki wonders if he should make a catch, as finding fulfillment in the afterlife may lead to his disappearance. Before he can make his decision, Yui collides with him, and an irate Hideki wrestles with Yui subsequently.

  • Tenshi’s real name is Kanade Tachibana, and she’s shown as a quiet student who goes about her business unless otherwise interfered with. In order to test the limits of their world, Yuri proposes messing with Kanade’s examination results, and she is subsequently made to stand down as the Student Council President. Kanade is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, whom readers will best know as The Garden of Word‘s very own Yukari Yukino, Manaka Mukaido of Nagi no Asukara (which, incidentally, is also slated to be featured in Masterpiece Anime Showcase) and Shirase Kobuchizawa from A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • After Kanade’s complete lack of resistance to the SSS’ latest iteration of Operation Tornado, Yuzuru wonders if Kanade is really just an ordinary student unrelated to whatever gods Yuri imagine to be an integral part of the afterlife. He tries the mapo duofu (麻婆豆腐) a Sichuan dish legendary for its spiciness and whose name takes after its pockmarked appearance. Yuzuru is overwhelmed with its flavour the same way Adam Richman was stopped by some of the spicy challenges, but after the heat wears off, he finds the taste to be pleasant. In his mind’s eye, he sees a solitary Kanade eating this dish on her own and begins to feel that their operations have taken away this simple happiness from her after her removal from the student council.

  • The SSS’ members walk through one of the bridges connecting the school grounds to the surrounding areas. While often unmentioned on account of being overshadowed by the emotional aspects of Angel Beats!, the architecture of the high school’s facilities in the afterlife are stunning: unlike conventional high schools, this facility is a mixture of older classrooms, a spacious gym and an ultra-modern canteen/gathering space. The vastness of the complex facilitates the diversity of events that the SSS experience, and its size is likely deliberate, mirroring the scope of the SSS’ members’ backgrounds and their interests.

  • After Kanade is removed from the student council, Yuri decides to determine if there’s another agent that might be acting on behalf of God or equivalent. She asks the SSS’ members to be deliberately disruptive in class. Slaying Mahjong and generally being pains in the lower backside (per the approach Yui takes, when she asks to go to the bathroom every half-minute) seems to have little effect, but when Kanade and Yuzuru go to have a morning meal together, Ayato appears and orders the two locked up.

  • It turns out that Ayato has hypnotic powers that he abuses to harm the non-SSS students, and when the SSS confronts him, he utilises his powers to subjugate the non-SSS students. The end result is that the SSS are brought to their knees. After escaping their imprisonment, Yuzuru confronts Ayato, who is about to hypnotise Yuri, and learns of Ayato’s past: Ayato was born into a family of potters and was not as skilled as his brother, but when his brother died, Ayato was made to continue despite his ineptitude. With his main regret being unable to follow his own path, Yururu listens to his story and in the process of being the first to properly acknowledge him, earns his respect.

  • While aloof and arrogant, to the point of using his powers on any SSS member who displeases him, Ayato will stand down whenever Yuzuru forces him to. Angel Beats! succeeded in humanising its characters by giving them detailed stories, as well as a chance to bounce off the established cast, and audiences invariably will find Ayato’s dynamics with Hideki to be a riot. While the characters largely refer to one another by surname in Angel Beats!, I’ve taken to referring to all characters by their given names simply because that’s consistent with the approach I’ve taken for all of my other posts.

  • Spending more time in the afterlife and trying to make sense of everything, in conjunction with his own past allows Yuzuru to do what none of the other SSS could. His own story is one of tragedy: after his younger sister perishes from illness, he resolved to become a medical doctor with the aim of saving others from disease and injury. After the effort it took him to reach this point, the train he was riding en route to his examination was caught in a tunnel, and despite his best efforts to coordinate with the survivors, Yuzuru ended up dying moments before rescuers could reach him. His final act was to sign his organ donor card with the aim of saving at least one more life before his death.

  • Whereas Angel Beats! had been engaging up until now, after learning of Yuzuru’s own story and aspirations of becoming a medical doctor, which once paralleled my own ambitions, I immediately saw Angel Beats! in a new light: this was an anime that could capture genuine feelings and motivations to create life-like characters, and the lessons learnt were very relevant. That same summer, I was set to take the MCAT, and as such, drew a very personal connection with Angel Beats!. Here, Yuzuru and Kanade share a conversation in the school gardens: amidst the weather of a beautiful day, Yuzuru convinces Kanade to join him and the others for a cookout.

  • Seeing Kanade with the others reinforces that beyond her Guard Skills, she’s really just an ordinary girl who happens to be quite reserved and studious. However, another Kanade appears shortly after and attacks the original. By playing with the Angel Player system, the SSS have inadvertently introduced irregularities into the system. Here, I remark that because I am approaching Angel Beats! from a reminiscence perspective, there are some minute details I am unlikely to cover: this will apply to the other Masterpiece Anime Showcase titles I write for: it’s been many years since I’ve last watched these series, so I’m not likely to remember every nook and cranny there is to each show.

  • This is a sight that audiences are unlikely to have speculated about seeing early on into Angel Beats!’ run: the members of the SSS have gathered to see if Kanade is doing okay after her fight with a red-eyed clone. The gradually changing dynamics of Angel Beats! illustrate that the right person in the right place at the right time can set in motion events that have far reaching consequences – this brings to mind the events of Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Merry and Pippin might initially look to be Hobbits who’d gotten entangled in something of great complexity, but their actions ultimately play a major role during the War of the Ring: Merry helps Éowyn slay the Witch King of Angmar, while Pippin prevents the death of Faramir.

  • Kanade is taken deep into the Guild shortly after by other clones, and the SSS decide to rescue her, knowing that they need the original Kanade to limit the clones’ ability to replicate. Since the facility has been abandoned, all of the traps have been disabled, and like the first incursion in, the entire group, save Yuzuru and Yuri, make it. Incursions into the Guild are a source of humour: death in Angel Beats!‘ afterlife is only temporary, and watching characters melodramatically react to deaths is especially hilarious knowing everyone is going to return, alive and well, much later.

  • After Kanade is recovered from the ruins of the Guild, Yuzuru recalls the remainder of his memories in a dream. Once she makes a full recovery, she and Ayato return to their old positions in the student council. While the remainder of the SSS assume that they’ve returned to their old status quo, Yuzuru realises that the afterlife exists in order for people to be given a second chance and find fulfilment where they had previously been denied.

  • With Kanade in his corner now, Yuzuru decides to help Yui find her fulfilment first. Kanade’s mannerisms and demeanour strongly resemble  GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and attest to Kana Hanazawa’s skill as a voice actress: her delivery of Kanade’s voice with a quiet, polite quality is quite far removed from the mature, but hesitant manner of The Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino, or the spirited and easily-embarrassed Shirase of A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • Yui’s boundless energy turns out to have been a consequence of her original life: she was paralysed and thus, unable to move. Hence, in the afterlife, she bounces off the ceilings. Yui had also developed a longing to do the various things she’s seen on TV, Yui has Yuzuru help Yui do a German suplex, score a goal in soccer against five other players and hitting a home run. She manages to accomplish both the suplex and soccer goal, but is unsuccessful with the homerun. In spite of this, she is quite satisfied, and reveals one other wish – to become married.

  • While Yuzuru is unable to fulfil her request, Hideki steps in and decides to take up Yui’s proposal, arguing that no matter what separated them, they would be happy together even in spite of her paralysis. Fully happy that she’d found fulfilment again, and no longer bearing past regret, Yui disappears. While Hideki’s kokuhaku seemingly comes out of the blue, this turn of events is not too unexpected – Angel Beats! has shown Hideki as being the first to react to Yui’s antics, and she seems to make him her victim more frequently than anyone else. Despite the dramatic contrasts in their personalities, the two do get along fine, and hearing Yui’s story allows Hideki to understand her.

  • Having demonstrated that his hypothesis is true, Yuzuru prepares to pass this information to Yuri, but mysterious Shadows begin appearing and attacking the SSS. These shadows seemingly transform people into the non-player characters, and when Takamatsu (the healthy fellow who is often seen without his shirt) is taken, Yuri decides that the phenomenon must be dealt with swiftly. However, she also invites Yuzuru to present his discoveries to the SSS.

  • The other members of the SSS are initially hostile towards Yuzuru’s explanation, that the world was meant to be for making peace with their pasts and disappearing was a desirable goal. When Hideki and Ayato share their experiences as well, the other members begin to see Yuzuru’s perspective. There are a great many members in the SSS, as seen in this screenshot, and given the nature of Angel Beats!, it would stand to reason that every character here has their own stories to tell. The next morning, members of the SSS and the Guild decide that Yuzuru’s way of thinking is commendable, and realising that they’ve come to find the life they’d sought in the afterlife, peacefully pass on. Several members of Girl DeMo personally thank Yuzuru for having brought the change into their lives and helping them gain both closure and understanding.

  • Yuri decides that in order to combat the shadows manifesting in their world, she must strike at their source. In the hours before her operation, she prepares a KRISS Vector personal defense weapon. With its futuristic appearance, the Vector is often featured in video games and film: the weapon has a high firing rate and a rail for mounting optics: Yuri appears to use a reflex sight of some sort. I’ve utilised this weapon in The Division and Far Cry 4: it’s an entertaining weapon, but beyond its cool design, is outperformed by other weapons in their respective games.

  • When she runs out of ammunition for the Vector, Yuri picks up an M4A1 carbine modified with the Close Quarters Battle Receiver. Classified as the Mk 18 Mod 0, the M4A1 Yuri carries is set up with an EOTech holographic sight, foregrip and beta-C drum magazine. This assault rifle is intended to provide operators with a weapon rivalling a PDW for compactness while at the same time, firing intermediate rounds. However, the combined toll of exhaustion from fighting the shadows, coupled with her own dejection, leads her to wonder if this endeavour is worth it. She dozes off and dreams of life as an ordinary student, but before she can succumb, Yuzuru and the others arrive. They eliminate the rest of the shadows, and Yuri pushes on ahead, eventually learning that school computers are powering the Angel software.

  • A mysterious male student questions Yuri on her intentions and, like the Matrix’s Architect, the individual here explains that love has introduced an imbalance in the system, and the shadows are a result of this systematic anomaly. He eventually offers Yuri the option of becoming the new God of this world, but Yuri rejects this, feeling that in light of all of her experiences, becoming God would stand contrary to her own beliefs. Like Neo, who rejects the Architect’s terms,  Yuri destroys the computers, and the individual vanishes. She later slips into a dream and is reunited briefly with her siblings, who tell her that they’d never hated her for what happened and ask her to move on.

  • When Yuri comes to, she’s in the infirmary. The others inform her that the SSS have taken Yuzuru’s remarks to heart, and after understanding that this world gave them a chance to find their second chance and overcome the regrets they’d carried with them into the afterlife, have parted ways. Hideki, Ayato, Kanade and Yuzuru are the only remaining members now, and the others wonder what Yuri experienced earlier. I admit that Yuri is probably my favourite of the SSS’ members, and her hot-bloodedness adds to her appeal.

  • We’re now entering the twenty-fifth day of the deep-freeze over my province: it’s a far cry from the warm and inviting weather of Angel Beats!, and after a brief warm-up, the temperatures have plummeted back to a low of -30ºC. Last night, I stepped out to dinner with a long-time friend from university: over a flavourful and fresh Vietnamese short rib and spring roll vermicelli, we caught up on all sorts of things since we last hung out in December. It’s not lost on me that we’re into the end of February now: the flow of time is relentless, and on the horizon are the Captain Marvel and the long-awaited Avengers: Endgame movies.

  • It is certainly true that, were it not for their initial misunderstanding, Yuri and Kanade would’ve been friends. The two regret not sorting out their differences and coming to terms with one another sooner, but it is better late than never. The graduation ceremony of Angel Beats! is one of the most poignant moments in any anime I’ve seen – the joy of watching this cast come so far brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it, and the graduation represents the culmination of everyone’s learnings.

  • Graduation from the afterlife means having come to accept that, with the second chance given to them, each of Yuzuru, Hideki, Yuri, Ayato and Kanade have come to use the afterlife to find fulfilment. Regardless of how unfair the real world had been to each, the very existence of a world that gave them this opportunity to experience the things they were deprived of seems to indicate that on the whole, the universe is at least benevolent enough to recognise where individuals were wronged and give them a chance to approach it from a different perspective. In the end, the system can be seen as being more fair than initially expected, and Yuzuru’s arrival was precisely the catalyst that helped the SSS realise this.

  • P.A. Works’ phenomenal attention to detail is most apparent in the graduation ceremony, where the reflections of lighting and items are visible in the highly polished wooden floor of the gymnasium. It has been quite some time since I’ve attended any sort of graduation, with the last being my own some two years previously. Even though I’ve been out of school for some time, my memories of being a student remain fresh in my mind, and I remember that, after finishing Angel Beats!, I would go on to finish the winter semester of my third year in a satisfactory manner.

  • Kanade’s own reason for staying in the afterlife was so she could properly thank the person who’d given her life: when her heart failed, it turns out that Yuzuru ended up donating his heart to her. This forms the basis for Angel Beats!‘ title: it refers to the heartbeat of an angel, here, referring to Kanade. After all they’d been through, Yuzuru has fallen in love with Kanade, and the two share an embrace before Kanade disappears, having fulfilled her own desire to give thanks to Yuzuru for his selfless actions.

  • LiSA’s Ichiban no Takaramono is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard for an anime bar none, and I typically avoid listening to it, or the Yui version, because the song brings tears to my eyes. The original version speaks of falling in love and parting ways, and even though I’d not experienced that myself when I first heard it, the songs were very moving. These days, having gone through just this, the songs remain a powerful reminder of what good music can accomplish. With this, my reflection of Angel Beats! comes to an end. It’s been nearly seven years since I first watched Angel Beats!, and even now, the anime remains a veritable masterpiece in my books, bringing to memories so many things that happened in the spring some seven years previously. I intend to continue with the Masterpiece Anime Showcase this year: upcoming titles I will be writing about include Nagi no Asukara and Your Lie in April.

When I first watched Angel Beats!, I was closing up my third year of university and preparing for an MCAT. My original interest in Angel Beats! was motivated by an interest in seeing the series that had utilised Lia’s “My Heart, Your Beats”, which one of my friends had recommended to me two summer previously. I’d taken the music with me on a trip to the Shanghai-Suzhou-Hangzhou area during the Shanghai 2010 Expo, and subsequently, decided to give Angel Beats! a go. Upon watching it, found myself thoroughly impressed with the considerable depths the characters were presented in. In particular, seemingly antagonistic characters were humanised and came to cooperate with the protagonists, humanising the characters and improving how one relates to them. The large cast of unique, noteworthy characters creates an environment where a variety of scenarios can be explored: from the development of firearms, to performing live music, or even antics associated with exam season, the sheer number of people and their backgrounds in Angel Beats! allows the series to build a multi-faceted world that covers a great deal. This approach was used in Tari Tari, Sakura Quest and The World in Colours to great effect in P.A. Works’ subsequent productions. The joys of such diversity creates a very compelling group of individuals whose time together is marked by discovery and comedy: they become much more relatable for this. The strong characters of Angel Beats! also create the anime’s singular flaw: thirteen episodes is far too short of a time to adequately explore everyone’s stories. TK, to Shiina and Matsushita are just a handful of characters who could’ve had exceptional stories, but these remain untold. Beyond its short length, the characters, in conjunction with a phenomenal and emotional soundtrack, clean and crisp artwork and solid animation, result in an anime that is exceptional. Yuzuru’s journey in the afterlife and the revelation that was was a medical student hopeful also provided me with a source of motivation: I myself was gearing up for the MCAT, and the examination seemed overwhelming. Seeing Yuzuru’s commitment to doing what was right gave me the resolve to push through the summer and study for the exam; Angel Beats! ended up helping me approach the MCAT with a new perspective, and for having a tangible impact on how I approached things, I have no trouble in counting it a masterpiece. Even in the absence of such an impact on other viewers, Angel Beats! remains a standout anime in its execution, and it is something that all individuals interested in anime would find enjoyable.