The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Masterpiece Anime Showcase

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Tamayura ~More Aggressive~, A Thank You For the Past Year and Welcoming the Brand New Year

“A year full of new encounters and wonderful experiences has come to a close. In its place, a new one has begun. I’m sure more encounters and wonderful experiences await.” –Fū Sawatari

It’s been a year since Fū returned to Takehara, and while Fū reminisces about all of the wonderful things that had happened in the past year, she is encouraged to try something new after Chihiro sends her a message. Fū ends up creating a new Photography Club at her high school and meets Kanae Mitani, who had taken a picture of Fū which ended up being featured in a magazine. Although Kanae is nervous about the club, Fū welcomes her with open arms, and seeing the photos leads Kanae to join. The Photography Club thus go on a range of experiences together. Fū and Kanae strive to find photos for a festival presentation, participate in a cherry blossom photography contest and even participate in a photography exhibit featuring Riho’s works, all the while retreading the scenery Fū’s father had once known. Chihiro and Tomo later visit Takehara, and Fū encounters one of her father’s old friends, Nozomu Natsumu, during the Path of Longing Festival; despite his cold manner, Fū is grateful to have met him and hear him speak of their time together as high school students. Kanae has come to greatly treasure her time spent with Fū and her frineds in the Photography Club, and suggests a trip over to Mitarai, where Maon had been planning on going to attend a concert. With the end of year fast approaching, Kaoru decides to host another We Exhibition: this time, everything will be organised based on the seasons, and although the event is a complete success, Kanae is saddened at the thought of having to part ways with everyone. During a New Year’s sunrise viewing with Fū and the others, Kanae finally allows her emotions out into the open, admitting she didn’t wish to graduate because Fū had done so much for her. In the new year, Fū’s celebrates her father’s birthday and goes to get her camera repaired, but begins thinking about how she’ll have to part ways with Kanae, Norie, Maon and Kaoru someday. To take her mind off things, Fū’s mother takes Fū out to the spot where her father had proposed to her and reminds Fū of how far she’d come. On graduation day, Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon attend to congratulate Kanae, who’s been accepted into her first post-secondary institution of choice. Looking back on the past year, Fū is immensely grateful to her parents, who’ve made all of these experiences possible. Having spent ~Hitotose~ rediscovering her passions, Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ lives up to its title by having Fū take a bold step forwards and leading her school’s photography club. The phrase is derived from Chihiro’s encouragement for Fū: to be more confident, assertive and decisive. Although she’s quite pensive about things initially, being able to start the photography club and make new memories with Kanae helps Fū to become more confident with herself, and in the process, the pair create irreplaceable memories.

Owing to the plethora of pleasant memories that Fū and Kanae share together during their time in the Photography Club, Kanae comes to realise that thanks to Fū’s determination, she was able to do the sorts of things that she’d only once dreamt of doing. Prior to meeting Fū, Kanae had primarily focused in landscape photography, and since she uses a digital camera, she deletes images that don’t turn out well. Conversely, Fū is fond of photographing the people around her, and a film camera means the mistakes are retained alongside the successful shots. While Fū is Kanae’s junior, her approach to photography is inspiring enough to lead Kanae to try new forms of photography, and she ends up gaining new perspective as a photographer. At the same time, Kanae is also able to spend time with Fū and her friends: the excursions that Kaori, Norie and Maon bring Fū and Kanae on become worthwhile photography outings, as well as a chance to learn more about the girl whose silhouette changed her world. These idyllic and enjoyable days feel as though they’ve come out of someone’s dream, and having not really lived quite so fully previously, Kanae comes to wish that such moments could last forever. Tamayura similarly creates a sentimental nostalgia during its run, creating a warming sense of comfort that one can find difficult to turn away from. However, as important as having these memories are, ~More Aggressive~ aims to convey to viewers that it is necessary to also turn one’s eyes to the future. While Kanae would’ve been happy living in the present, Fū’s outlook suggests that the only reason why new memories and moments can be made is because one takes the initiative of creating them. It is with an eye turned towards the future that the present can be enjoyed and shape the memories that one looks fondly back on, so for Kanae, a part of her time spent with Fū also entails finding the strength to part ways and take ahold of the future. In the end, as Fū had managed to take her first steps forward, Kanae is able to do the same: she’s got support from Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon, and so, is able to graduate with a smile on her face, ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. ~More Aggressive~ indicates plainly that so long as one has an open mind, the future will always hold the possibility of creating new experiences that one can add to their memories. Moreover, while people might part ways, the memories will always be a part of people who share time together: farewells aren’t always final, but it does take a bit of courage to take this step forwards. Fortunately, with great company in one’s corner, anything is possible: Kanae and Fū are able to do precisely this, and while they only spent a year together, the learnings and memories help both to look towards the future with optimism.

Because ~More Aggressive~ has Fū seizing the initiative to be a leader, it becomes clear that since ~Hitotose~, Fū is no longer just a passenger in life; during ~Hitotose~, Fū had maintained an open mind and accepted opportunities to learn more about Takehara and her friends. However, these events are instigated by those around her. Conversely, the decision to start a photography club signifies how Fū has both made peace with the past and found new joy in her life, enough now to want to share her feelings and expressions with others through photography. Although Fū remains nervous, she also gradually becomes more confident in communicating her thoughts to others: at ~More Aggressive~‘s beginning, she is unable to articulate the Photography Club’s functions to others and botches her introduction at the club president meetings, but as she accepts opportunities to perform at festivals, participate in contests and even submit work for a professional exhibition, Fū finds her footing and is able to guide Kanae, too. Fū is no longer a mere passenger at the end of ~More Aggressive~, becoming a driver possessing a better sense of where she’s interested in going. It is though a combination of support from friends and family, as well as Fū’s own resilience and open-mindedness that allow her to reach this point: as Fū’s mother tearfully notes, Fū was able to do all of this of her own accord, welcoming people into her life and embracing all aspects of life, both the good and bad, as they come. This is consistent with how Fū approaches photography: she keeps all shots whether or not they turned out well, and this symbolises both the enjoyment of happier moments, as well as being mindful of learning moments. The sum of these learnings are valuable to Fū, but they also have a tangible impact for those around her: Kanae’s entry into the Photography Club is a turning point in her own life. While she’d been worried about having no drive or direction for the future, Fū and her friends, plus all of the people in their networks, help Kanae to spot something that hadn’t been obvious: people live life at their own pace, find inspiration at their own pace and cast off towards their future at their own pace. There isn’t any need to worry about what others are doing; so long as one can find their own footing, they’ll be fine. Meeting a more confident, capable and aggressive Fū ends up changing Kanae’s world for the better, as well, and in this way, ~More Aggressive~ absolutely does live up to its title, bringing into Tamayura a dash of confidence, knowledge transfer and exciting new opportunities that only result from a combination of friendship, family and an open mind.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Unlike ~Hitotose~, I actively wrote about ~More Aggressive~ after its airing concluded. As the story goes, after I graduated from the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, I became melancholy as all of my friends were going their separate ways, and a one-in-a-hundred year flood ravaged my province, in turn removing my chance to hang out with friends and do a kokuhaku. I did receive an NSERC USRA and ended up building a peer-to-peer simulation, which allows different computers to focus on computing results for one area of the body, and then transmit this data to a peer on the network so that each machine could also see results from the other groups. However, this was punctuated by melancholy that seemed quite far removed from the beautiful weather we had following the flood, and I lost motivation to watch anime.

  • For no good reason other than for my amusement, I’ll showcase a moment with Kaoru and her shapely legs while she’s chatting on the phone with Chihiro: Kaoru, Norie and Maon had all noticed that Fū seemed off her game, even more so than usual. Having known Fū for so long, Chihiro reassures Kaoru it’s fine, and that this tends to happen when Fū is making a big decision. It speaks volumes to the support that Fū’s had from her friends over the past year, and that Fū is contemplating something big shows that she’s come very far since returning to Takehara.

  • Because my post on ~Hitotose~ didn’t once have a screenshot of Momoneko-sama, I’ve decided to include one here to compensate for that oversight. Fū’s tendency to get lost in the moment whilst search of a good photo creates comedy, although on this morning, her friends aren’t convinced that Fū’s her usual self. After some coaxing, Fū finally makes it known that she wanted to start a photography club at her high school, even though the path to kicking off such a club would require a bit of work. This decision shows that Fū’s now wanting to share her joys with others, the same way her father’s photos touched the hearts of many. In retrospect, I might’ve benefited from watching ~More Aggressive~ while it was airing: I finally started in September, when my open studies term began.

  • While ~More Aggressive~ did help me to relax, the melancholy I found myself amidst meant that I ended up missing the series’ main themes. The approach of winter, and thoughts of a wasted summer left me in a depression, and I found myself longing to be somewhere like Takehara whilst lamenting the shortening days and cold weather. I’ve always wished to revisit ~More Aggressive~ under happier circumstances, and as such, after I watched ~Hitotose~, I figured that, rather than waiting for September 2023 to do a ten-year anniversary reflection, I figured now would be a good time to go back through ~More Aggressive~. This time around, I feel that I got more out of ~More Aggressive~ than I did eight years earlier.

  • For Kaoru, Norie and Maon, concern turns to excitement as they cheer on Fū’s efforts to run her new club after Kazutarō pulls some strings and manages to secure approval for the Photography Club. However, it’s not easy-street just yet: besides needing to attend club president meetings and give an introduction in front of the entire school to explain her club’s functions, Fū must also recruit for new members. Things become more complicated after Mutsuko Shimokamiyama, a new instructor whom Kazutarō has asked to advise for the Photography Club, becomes excited about photography competitions and shows a magazine sporting a photo that Kanae Mitani, one of the seniors, had taken.

  • While Kaoru, Norie and Maon become worried that Kanae might show up to challenge Fū’s Photography Club, they decide to help Fū out in whatever way they can: during one club meeting, Kanae does show up, but promptly leaves. As it turns out, Kanae is very similar to Fū in disposition, and she’d simply been too nervous to ask about joining that day. These sorts of misunderstandings create the impression that Kanae is disapproving of the Photography Club where in reality, nothing of the sort holds true. I imagine that seeing Fū’s friends also would’ve left a lasting impression on Kanae: while they’re somewhat clumsy, they’re also well-meaning and kind.

  • Kazutarō had only a limited presence in ~Hitotose~ outside of the classroom, but his puns are supposed to be legendary in terms of how bad they are. While a bit hot-blooded, he also cares greatly for his students, and goes out of his way to assist them however he can. ~Hitotose~ had suggested that Kazutarō has a crush on Chimo, and he goes out of his way to impress her however he can. As a teacher, Kazutarō is also highly competent in spite of his bad puns. He ends up suggesting that she participate in a local festival to improve her confidence, and Fū accepts, feeling that it’s a fine chance to also get word out about the Photography Club.

  • Without Norie, Kaoru and Maon around, Kanae is able to share a one-on-one conversation with Fū, clearing up the confusion that had arisen during their first meeting. Kanae is voiced by Ai Kayano, whose resume includes GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hoto and Saori Takebe from Girls und Panzer. It turns out that Kanae had long wanted to meet the wistful-looking girl from her photo; Kanae normally prefers shooting landscapes, but had always hesitated when it came to human subjects. Under the Path of Longing that night, Kanae was filled with a desire to take this moment, and this single photograph would set her on a course to meet Fū, showing how certain moments can bring people together in unforeseeable, but ultimately meaningful ways.

  • With Kanae now a member of the Photography Club, activities entail shooting photos around their school. Kanae is impressed that Fū is able to simply walk up to people and ask them for permission before taking a picture. Fū herself has never realised it, but when she’s in her element, she’s very composed and confident. Kanae herself begins ~More Aggressive~ more timid than Fū had been. Spending time with Fū helps her to mature and become, in the series’ words, “more aggressive”. This phrase sounds a little unusual in English, and I imagine that it’s a bit of wasei-eigo: in the context of Tamayura, it simply means “more confident and assertive”.

  • On the day of the festival, Kazutarō burns his hands while serving customers, leaving him unable to play the guitar. Chimo was originally set to sing for the presentation, but since she’s busy tending to Kazutarō, this leaves Fū and Kanae to go ahead with the show themselves. While they’re initially embarrassed to sing a modified version of MomonekoOndō, they soon find their rhythm and begin performing more earnestly, impressing the crowd with both the show and photo display. This moment shows that when it comes down to it, both Fū and Kanae can do what they set their hearts to. During this time, Fū also becomes curious about a photo of a blossoming cherry tree that her father had taken years ago.

  • Fū’s mother explained that their father had planted one for her, and one for Kō, when each had been born, then left the location a mystery so that he could one day take them to find them. While this would never happen, on the day of the performance, Kō and Komachi had ended up following Momoneko-sama to the trees. Overjoyed, Fū takes a photo of the moment, and finds the tamayura phenomenon in the resulting photo. That Fū and her friends end up finding these cherry trees on their own is a superb metaphor for Fū’s learning to support herself in the aftermath of her father’s passing, and this moment is a particularly momentous one, since the coveted tamayura make an appearance.

  • From a technical perspective, tamayura are better known as backscatter: this normally occurs when camera flash picks up airborne particles like dust or pollen, or matter on the camera lens, creating artefacts in the resulting image. While such artefacts are typically seen as undesirable, Tamayura changes this and supposes that what would normally be counted as a defect is in fact, a blessing in disguise. This particular interpretation of backscattering speaks strongly to the themes in Tamayura and reminds viewers that what’s unexpected, or even unwanted, can actually be beneficial, creating memories and experiences far exceeding one’s original expectations.

  • When Mutsuko asks if Fū and Kanae are interested in participating in a cherry blossom photography contest, both accept with enthusiasm, but are troubled by the fact that since it’s so late in the year, most of the cherry blossoms have fallen off the tree. Kanae is understandably disappointed, but Fū manages to turn the day into a chance for exploration. After the two swing by Café Tamayura, they run into Sayomi, who damaged her Mazda 5 and is working to earn enough to pay for the repairs. She agrees to take them to a special spot where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

  • On the day of the excursion, while Sayomi’s banner causes Kaoru and Norie no small amount of embarrassment, the spot she brings everyone to is nothing short of breathtaking. Fū and Kanae take many wonderful photos here, and although Mutsuko is shocked to learn that the deadline for the competition had long passed, both Fū and Kanae ended up having a wonderful time anyways. A longstanding lesson from Tamayura that I still find myself in need of mastering is precisely this: things don’t always go according to plan, but sometimes, surprises end up creating something that far exceeds expectations.

  • During the summer vacation, Fū hits the beaches alongside Kanae, Kaoru, Norie and Maon. A quick look around finds that, while there aren’t any beaches within walking distance of Takehara, islands within the Seto Inland Sea host some pleasant beaches. During the summer, the Seto Inland Sea can become quite warm and reach temperatures of above 20°C, making it perfect for swimming. Fū is more interested in photographing the sights of the beach. If I had to guess, they’re at Ōkushi Beach on the western edge of Osaki-Kamizima Island owing to the presence of mountains.

  • Riho unexpectedly appears with one Harumi Kawai, who knows of Fū’s father through their work together. From what ~More Aggressive~ shows, Harumi was Fū’s father’s junior at work, and this reveals that Fū’s father was a travel agent. Much about Fū’s father remains unknown in Tamayura, and a part of the series’ joys was watching Fū slowly learn more about him through all of the people whose lives he’d touched in some way. It turns out that Harumi and Riho have a surprise planned out for Fū: back in Takehara, they invite her to join them on a trip to Onomichi, a town about 30 kilometres east of Takehara, where Harumi plans on looking around for spots that could be worth including on a tour of the area. While Harumi suggests that she wants Fū’s perspectives to help guide things, she and Riho actually do have another reason for suggesting this trip.

  • Par the course for any outing in Tamayura, ~More Aggressive~ shows how the smaller moments and the unexpected can prove more enjoyable than what was originally planned. Harumi conveys this to Fū: back when they’d worked together, Harumi had been quite the stickler for plans and during their first assignment together, Harumi had promptly shot down Fū’s father and his plans to wander off the beaten track. This part of Fū’s father is imparted in Fū: both share a love of wandering and exploring, and here, I note that I’m quite similar to Harumi in that I prefer following a plan, but if something crops up that causes me to go off-mission, I’m able to roll with it. This happens frequently when I go for strolls nearby, but I’ve also done something quite similar during a trip to Kelowna and Penticton with the family two years earlier.

  • We hadn’t planned on half of downtown Penticton being closed on the day we visited, and I only was able to find one restaurant that was open, Bellevue Café. We thus spent the morning exploring the SS Sicamous before enjoying a brunch here, where I ordered their huevos rancheros. On the same day, after I had planned out a trip to a honey farm in Kelowna, I was surprised to find the big farm had closed for the day. A bit of quick thinking allowed me to find another place to visit, and that particular vacation ended up being super relaxing. I still could improve on my adaptability to changing situations, but I do think that compared to the me of eight years earlier, I’m a ways better now. Tamayura is a love song to the Setouchi region and its immense beauty: the Seto Inland Sea’s regulating effect on temperatures means the whole area has a moderate climate and consistent temperatures year-round.

  • The climate of the area is, in short, perfectly suited for providing Fū with an unending stream of opportunities to discover and explore, although looking back, I would imagine that no matter where Fū had been in Japan, with the right people beside her, Tamayura would’ve conveyed its messages all the same. Between Harumi’s knowledge of destinations and Riho’s professional photography skills, the work gets finished on short order, and this in turn allows for Harumi to focus on what they’d come to Onomichi for beyond her work obligations. The day had been quite special, as Fū was able to learn a little more about the work her father had done, as well as check out some of Onomichi’s sights. However, there’s actually quite a pleasant surprise around the corner for Fū, as well.

  • Riho and Harumi bring Fū to a local bakery with some superbly fresh and delicious looking breads: while such breads are usually associated with breakfasts or lunch, I have picked up a few meat buns and pizza buns and calling it dinner during times where I couldn’t sit down to a standard dinner. In Tamayura, food plays a significant role – whether it be the okonomiyaki at Hoboro’s, or the sweets Norie creates, food adds another dimension to a memory; Fū will forever recall the bread she enjoys before heading over to their last destination for the day. For me, ~More Aggressive~ reminds me most of the poutines I had on campus while the food trucks were over during my time as a student. I still remember watching ~More Aggressive~‘s finale in 2013 with Waffle & Chix’s legendary Fried Chicken Poutine in hand, and since then, I’ve become somewhat of a poutine connoisseur.

  • It turns out that the big surprise that Harumi and Riho had planned for Fū was to take her to a Bed and Breakfast run by an older couple who’d known Fū’s father. Long ago, the couple’s children had moved out, and they’d wanted to start a Bed and Breakfast, but things had seemed quite difficult. While Fū’s father and Harumi were in Onomichi, they ended up visiting, and during a conversation, Fū’s father made was once a seemingly outlandish idea feel more and more like a reality. This moment is particularly touching, in showing the positive impact Fū’s father had on those around him – for Fū, it’s the surest sign that even though her father is gone from this world, the wonderful things he contributed to endure.

  • More so than even ~Hitotose~~More Aggressive~ is a celebration of Fū’s father’s life, and bringing Fū to this particular Bed and Breakfast was meant to show the owners Fū is doing well. It’s a bit of an emotional moment, and for Fū, the day ends up being memorable both because it shows how things like a positive spirit and photography can bring dreams to life in unforeseeable ways, as well as how kindness connects people together. Through Harumi, Fū also learns about what her father had done for a living, and in retrospect, being a travel agent is something that someone with a keen eye for creating memories would be suited for. In turn, Fū provides feedback to Harumi and suggests that the best tour experiences seem to come from allowing people to connect with one another through open-ended events: this outcome helps Harumi structure a more enjoyable tour, and ~More Aggressive~ indicates that one act of kindness always deserves another.

  • Once Fū’s back in Takehara, their next major adventure comes when Sayomi offers to drive Fū and her friends all the way over to Shioiri so that they can meet up with Chihiro and Tomo. This drive is not a joke: a quick glance finds that the fastest possible route has a road distance of 775 kilometres and requires around ten hours and eighteen minutes to complete. To put things in perspective, this would be equivalent of driving from my hometown to Regina, Saskatchewan, one province over. The main difference is that our highways have a much higher speed limit, and a distance that would take over ten hours in Japan is something we can cover in three quarters of the time.

  • This speaks to Sayomi’s incredible endurance, although folks wondering about whether or not her Mazda 5 can handle this shouldn’t worry: the Mazda 5 is a brilliant vehicle. Conversely, when Sayomi does arrive in Shioiri near Chihiro’s place, inattentiveness causes her to nearly hit a brick wall, and she manages to stop only just in time. Having driven now for over a decade, I appreciate that ~More Aggressive~ is exaggerating Sayomi’s poor driving habits for comedy’s sake, but this is the sort of thing I complain about vociferously whenever I encounter it. Fortunately for her, Kaoru and the others are on hand to, similarly vociferously, make it clear that they’re not happy about Sayomi’s driving. These funny faces are particularly funny, and Maon’s expression here actually brings to mind the likes of ARIA‘s Akari Mizunashi.

  • For Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon, it’s great to see Chihiro again. This time around, Chihiro brings Tomo, and while Tomo had been similarly shy, once she opened up to Chihiro, she chatted away like a tree full of birds. Like Norie, Tomo has a very boisterous personality, although both express themselves differently: Norie tends to squeal in joy, while Tomo asks a seemingly endless stream of questions. Although Tomo seems conscious of this, everyone around her is quite understanding of this and do their best to answer her questions where they can. It becomes clear that everyone gets along as well as peas in a pod might, and once the introductions are done, Tomo and Chihiro take everyone on a tour of Shioiri’s best spots that only locals might know about, including a burger joint that serves burgers worthy of Big Jud’s in Boise, Idaho.

  • That Fū is able to share her thoughts so candidly is another not-so-subtle sign that she’s recovered much of her original spirits. When Tomo asks Fū, Fū is able to be truthful about things, and in this way, Fū is able to help Tomo connect better to her, as well. This sort of sincerity is one of the details that made ~More Aggressive~ so enjoyable to watch. During my first experience of the series some eight years earlier, I commented on how I found the atmospherics to be highly relaxing, but otherwise, didn’t really touch on the themes and small details that really added to Tamayura. I’ll take a bit of time to reflect on my younger self and note that this was because back then, I was a ways more immature and less attuned for these details.

  • According to those older posts, I was in the middle of applying for medical school at the time (I didn’t outright say so, but back then, I held aspirations for a career in medicine). In these posts, my younger self gives every impression that having Tamayura around was simultaneously helpful in allowing me to unwind and, for the duration of an episode, not worry about what the applications’ outcomes would be, but at the same time, it also reminded me of how much I had missed out on during the summer after I graduated. I write at length lamenting how I wasn’t able to travel. Looking back, I was being very ungrateful. That summer, I did end up heading out over to Jasper and Edmonton during late August for a short, but still relaxing and enjoyable trip, during which I picked up the fourth volume of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan while waiting for a table to open up at The Keg.

  • The me of today knows better, and this is one of the reasons why during the past two years, the inability to go places hasn’t really affected me anywhere as strongly: rather than lament what I can’t do, I’ve focused all of my efforts towards bettering my own situation. This time around, I’m happy to say that my efforts are purely for myself, and in this way, I feel that I was able to apply the lessons from Tamayura to my life more wholly than I had eight years earlier. As it was, being able to go back and rewatch ~Hitotose~~More Aggressive~ has given me the chance to enjoy both series anew: especially in the case of ~More Aggressive~, I feel that I’ve gotten a great deal more out of Tamayura this time around. Going through ~More Aggressive~ again also means that at present, I feel like I’m really able to say I made peace with some of the things I regretted in the past.

  • I suppose this is appropriate: this is, after all, a New Year’s post, and entering 2022, there is much to be grateful for, and much to look forwards to. Back in ~More Aggressive~, during a sparkler competition during the summer festival, Fū is able to experience anew the feelings she had when her father had photographed her during said competition. This side of Fū was one I never expected to see, and as such, knowing that Fū also has a talent for remaining so perfectly still that her movement is imperceptible, adds new dimensionality to her character. In the end, Fū only reaches the quarter finals, but she still has a wonderful time and shows her friends that past memories are a source of inspiration for her now, rather than a cause for grief.

  • Chihiro accompanies Fū back home to Takehara, where she meets Kanae and Mitsuko for the first time. The fireworks photos that Fū had taken turned out quite blurry, and while both Kanae and Fū are discouraged, Fū ultimately picks up a few tips from Riho (use a low ISO, a small to mid-range focal length and turn the flash off), and Riho invites Fū to participate in a photography exhibit she’s presenting in. Fū feels that she has to earn her place at something of this calibre and promises that, if she can shoot good fireworks photos, then she would submit something for the exhibit.

  • When she and Chihiro recall a promise they’d made as children, where they’d try to find a secret spot Fū’s father once brought them to, they express an interest in taking another stab at finding it. However, Kanae had accepted one of Sayomi’s invitations for a random adventure, and Sayomi ends up pulling everyone aside to a spot far from the festival, from which to watch the fireworks. Despite the show being much smaller, Chihiro feels that this is the spot Fū’s father had been thinking of. The two shed tears at the thought of having been fortunate enough to fulfil a long-standing promise, and ultimately, both Fū and Kanae end up with good fireworks photos.

  • Ever since Fū started the Photography Club, her second year back in Takehara has progressed at a breakneck pace, and even in a series as laid-back as Tamayura, time is flying. Autumn soon arrives, bringing with it the Path of Longing festival, and as yet another reminder of how Fū is more proactive now, she and her friends are active participants now, helping to set the event up so that others may enjoy it. Here, Fū and Kanae make one of the bamboo shoots festival ready by drilling their patterns into it, and the choice of art they provide mirror on their being thankful about all of the people in their lives.

  • At Hinomaru’s shop, Fū gets her latest batch of developed photos back. The focus on showing how Fū and her friends spend appreciating ordinary moments like these exemplify how Tamayura places a great deal of worth on everyday occurrences that we take for granted, acting as a reminder to treasure them because nothing can last forever. Even the act of going to a shop in order to get film developed is now something from a bygone era: I vividly remember that in the early 2000s, digital cameras were just coming onto the scene, and in their excitement, my parents bought one, but never bought a proper memory card for it, so said digital camera could only hold around 32 photos in its internal memory. The image quality was also eclipsed by regular film, so the digital camera became more of a novelty. A few years later, digital cameras with an acceptable 4 MP resolution began appearing, and that was when we finally switched over.

  • Nowadays, the average smartphone sports a 12-16 MP back camera, and using onboard algorithms, can take stunning photos. The world has changed dramatically, and the act of sharing photos has now gone from going to a print shop and ordering prints to mail to friends, to throwing them up onto WhatsApp or FaceTime. In this way, the world shown in Tamayura is also a bit of a love letter to an older time, when things were slower and people could really enjoy being in the moment. Upon returning to Café Tamayura, Fū and her friends run into Nozomu Natsume, a severe-looking man who was friends with Fū’s father and Hinomaru back when they were high school students. He’d come to Tamayura to meet Fū, but his blunt manner swiftly angers Kanae: when he critiques the composition of Fū’s photos, Kanae can no longer hold back and counters that there’s a joy in Fū’s photos.

  • However, Fū’s mother points out (likely for out benefit) that Nozomu’s always found it tricky to properly express how he feels about things. To take their mind off things, Fū and Kanae spend the day photographing the Path of Longing, and here, they run into Riho, who’s attempting to capture an image of Momoneko-sama. However, even with her professional experience, a DSLR camera and remote shutter release, Momoneko-sama eludes her best efforts at a photograph. It’s something that further ties Fū together with Riho, being a reminder that there are some subjects that can elude one’s desire to capture, regardless of their skill level, and but this isn’t something to lament.

  • Fū and Kanae head back over to Hoboro with Riho, where they run into Nozomu. When Chimo overhears Nozomu commenting he’ll probably go somewhere else for dinner because the taste of the okonomiyaki he once knew might have changed, she storms out and dares him to at least try the classic okonomiyaki before commenting. In the end, Nozomu finds himself eating his words; Chimo’s creation perfectly matches the okonomiyaki he once remembered. With dinner over, Nozomu offers to cover everyone’s bills, before everyone heads out to take in the gently-lit streets of Takehara’s old town during the Path of Longing festival.

  • As it turns out, Nozomu still fondly recalls his time as a student, indicating that back in those days, he, Hinomaru and Fū’s father had done some pretty bone-headed things together. He apologises to Fū for not being able to offer anything more substantial, but for her, being able to hear about how her father had always been free-spirited and lived his love to the fullest extent possible. It turns out that Nozomu had been glad to finally meet Fū in person, and he asks that she keep on photographing the way she does now. Although people count me as being quite personable, I sometimes do find it hard to express myself, as Nozomu does, and while this does appear to be a shortcoming, Fū’s mother comments on how the harsher Nozomu sounds, the more he’s struggling to put his feelings into words.

  • From what we’ve seen, then, it’s easy to spot that Nozomu greatly misses Fū’s father, and likely refers to him in a distant manner to avoid recalling the grief from his passing, as well. Seeing that his spirit lives on in Fū gives Nozomu something to smile about. Nozomu is yet another example of how patience is vital towards understanding someone: whereas Kanae and Norie struggle owing to outward appearances, Fū’s gentle and patient disposition means that she is able to speak openly with Nozomu, allowing him to open up, as well. Admittedly, this is a skill that I am always in the middle of learning; it’s all too easy to make assumptions about others without making an effort to understand their own circumstance and thoughts, but as I am shown, both in reality and through works like Tamayura, there is always a story behind people worth listening to, and that, upon listening, one may find that people can be more similar, than different, to oneself.

  • When Kanae realises that there is a finite amount of time between the present and her graduation, she is seized with a desire to do a photography trip. Towards ~More Aggressive~‘s final acts, the focus shifts over to Kanae, who has come to cherish the time she’d spent with Fū and the others. Having seen the level of passion and sincerity that each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon pursue their interests, Kanae begins to feel a little left behind, as well. The photography trip ultimately becomes a larger experience when Kaoru determines they’ll be hosting another We Exhibition, and Maon’s parents invite everyone to Mitarai for a concert.

  • Kanae’s feelings are something that I’m sure everyone has experienced at some point in their lives; there are days where it can seem like everyone around one has a concrete, well-defined game plan for their future, where as one does not, and for Kanae, she’s also envious of the fact that everyone had a pivotal moment that encouraged them to start on things. However, ~Hitotose~ did indicate that while people pursue their own goals, they may also lose sight of the progress they’ve made, especially if they’ve not reached that goal yet. A major part of things as the New Year approaches is Kanae coming to terms with the fact that graduation is inevitable.

  • I certainly felt as lost as Kanae did eight years earlier; being in open studies was my gap year, and in the moment, it did feel as though I was spinning my tires. In retrospect, that particular gap year ended up setting the stage for my graduate studies work. During the winter term, I enrolled in an iOS class after speaking to my supervisor about my unsuccessful medical school applications, and in that class, I worked on creating a navigation system for a mobile version of the lab’s game engine. This project was quite unrelated to what I would work on in graduate school, but my supervisor ended up using it as a demo for Jay Ingram to show how we could do 3D fly-throughs of anatomical structures. Jay subsequently asked, could the same be done for the brain using a newer, more efficient game engine?

  • I was tasked with finding the answer using Unity, and within a week, I had not only found the answer was “yes”, but I’d also put a prototype together. This laid the groundwork for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, which itself would form the basis for my thesis work. From a career standpoint, this was the turning point, the milestone that Kanae had been seeking out. She ends up speaking with Kaoru and Norie, as well as Maon’s parents, and from the latter, she gets an answer chock-full of wisdom: people hit their milestones when they hit them, and there’s no need to rush things, because everyone’s different. Maon’s father compares it to waiting for the tides; everyone will set sail eventually, but different people set sail at different times. Kanae is encouraged, and comes to realise her magic moment was when she decided to take the plunge and join Fū’s Photography Club.

  • While out and about with Fū earlier, Kanae had encountered a beautiful girl with raven hair singing a song. When this girl spots Kanae, she greets her with a smile before continuing on with her song. Later at the concert, Kanae is surprised to learn that the girl she encountered is actually the performer. As far as I can tell, she’s never named in Tamayura, but the credits lists her as being voiced as Micco, a member of the two-person band Marble. Micco provides the vocals, and on stage, Tatsuya Kikuchi provides the acoustic guitar. I would imagine that the singer’s likeness is to Micco.

  • Maon is overcome with emotion: it turns out this singer is who had inspired her to one day perform at Otome-za, and it can only be described as fate that she’s able to see this singer perform again. To be able to see such a show in the presence of those most important to her is greatly inspiring for Maon, and in this moment, I couldn’t help but feel the warmth, too, attesting to how well Tamayura is able to convey emotions to viewers. Curiously enough, the song she sings here, 希望のカタチ (Hepburn Kibō no katachi, literally “The Shape of Hope”), is Kaoru’s image song. The Tamayura OST is filled to the brim with warm, sentimental and nostalgic songs that have brightened up my day.

  • Having taken several photographs they’re both proud of, Fū and Kanae end up submitting several to Riho’s exhibition. It is clear that Fū and Kanae’s craft have both improved enough so that they feel confident enough to accept an invitation to showcase their work alongside that of a professional. Towards the end of ~More Aggressive~, the pacing accelerates greatly, and afterwards, the We Exhibition is hosted. Something I failed to notice previously was the fact that Kaoru had done a theming this time around: the showcases are all designed around the seasons of Takehara, with sights, scents and tastes surrounding each of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Kaoru has evidently upped her game with this second We Exhibition; it’s more organised and bolder than the first.

  • This time around, Kanae and Komachi are both present to help out, and even Chihiro sends over a special tapestry that she’d made with Tomo, depicting each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon in their element. Reflecting the girls’ confidence, this second We Exhibition sees a full house from the very moment it opens, and ~More Aggressive~ spends less time on things, showing how once everyone’s gotten things down, the event proceeds very smoothly. Fū and Kanae are both able to speak of their photographs, Kaoru feels more at home in talking about her potpourri techniques, Norie’s more confident in showcasing her sweets, and Maon’s story is something attendees look forward to.

  • The second We Exhibition feels almost like a side note, secondary to the growth each of Fū, Kanae, Kaoru, Norie and Maon have had: whereas the path to the first We Exhibition had its share of challenges, this time around, things proceed more smoothly, and Fū is able to even include Komachi and Kō’s participation right from the start to create a more cohesive experience for attendees. The second We Exhibition thus feels bigger, more polished and reflect a year’s worth of progress, but at the same time, viewers see a little less of things, too, to show that at this point in time, everyone’s grown enough so putting on an event like this is straightforward.

  • For me, the We Exhibitions have always represented the act of seizing the initiative to do something memorable, and in doing so, came to serve as the culmination of a year’s worth of experiences for Fū and her friends. However, by definition, the nature of the We Exhibition means that Fū has not only made these personal discoveries, but on top of this, is sharing her experiences with the community. By giving back to Takehara, the We Exhibition is the ultimate way of saying thank you to Takehara and its residents for having been an essential part of their journey.

  • This year, Kanae joins Fū and her friends on their New Year’s Eve Shrine visit while Fū’s mother and grandmother speak with Maon’s parents about how far everyone’s come, and how in supporting one another, everyone’s been able to elevate one another to new heights. After praying for another wonderful new year, the girls return to Café Tamayura for some rest. Fū and Kanae spend some time reflecting on the past year, bringing tears to Kaoru, Norie and Maon’s eyes: that Fū was able to shape someone else’s life so profoundly was the surest sign that she’s able to fully stand on her own, and her friends are filled with indescribable joy at this. However, the moment’s calm is shattered when Sayomi shows up with another adventure in mind.

  • Unlike the previous year, where her lethal driving sent her Mazda 5 over a ditch, this time around, Sayomi’s decided to go for an ocean sunrise instead. Compared to the screenshot I had in my original discussion for ~More Aggressive~, this sunrise is far sharper, far richer in colour. My old screenshots look positively drab and faded by comparison. This comes as a result of my using the BDs as a source for my images, but the improved image quality can also be a metaphor for the fact that I return to ~More Aggressive~ with a much different outlook on life, and for this, my resulting experience was far more colourful.

  • The prospect of a new year fills everyone with joy, but it is here that Kanae realises that now that the We Exhibition is in the books, she must turn her eyes towards her own future. Not wanting the year to arrive, Kanae bursts into tears and admits that she’d wanted these joy-filled days with Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon to last forever. Tamayura had held the viewers’ hands throughout its run and made it feel as though we were there alongside everyone, every step of the way. The tears Kanae shed here feel correspondingly tangible, and I was gripped with a wish that Tamayura wouldn’t end, either. Such a moment is befitting of a finale, but ~More Aggressive~ chose to show this as yet another moment to remember: the finale is set during the spring, around Kanae’s graduation.

  • Three months later, Fū and her friends celebrate Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Day), a religious festival in which ornate dolls are laid out to celebrate marriage and family. Fū’s camera has malfunctioned, and she’s taken it in for repairs, so on this Hinamatsuri, there’s no chance to capture photos. This leaves Fū to enjoy the day through her own eyes, a befitting message for ~More Aggressive~‘s finale. Here, Kō and Komachi show up, much to Norie’s chagrin. Kanae appears shortly after with her trademark Pentax Q, intent on photographing everything in sight.

  • As it turns out, Kanae’s made it into her first choice of post secondary and is now awaiting graduation. She’s all smiles now, and the others are happy to hear that Kanae is doing well. The girls subsequently swing by Hoboro, where they learn that Chimo and Riho are going on an all-Japan tour to find the best okonomiyaki places around and gain the inspiration to help Chimo up her okonomiyaki game. This does sound like a wonderful idea, and looking back, okonomiyaki does feel like poutine in the sense that once the basics are present (a wheat-flour pancake with a special sauce and mayonnaise for okonomiyaki, and fries, gravey and cheese curds for poutine), the sky’s the limit. It might be fair to say that besides lighting my desire to visit Japan and eat okonomiyakiTamayura ~More Aggressive~ also made me into a poutine connoisseur.

  • It therefore should not be too surprising that when I hear ~More Aggressive~‘s opening song, Maaya Sakamoto’s Hajimari no Umi, my mind immediately goes to thoughts of enjoying a good poutine and watching a lone motorbike travel along a highway along the Seto Inland Sea. The imagery from the latter comes from Fū’s mother taking her on a short day trip as a means of giving Fū some time to enjoy the world even without camera in hand. They end up visiting Ōkunoshima (more commonly, Bunny Island), a place that was once a chemical weapons development site, but in the present day, it’s become a tourist attraction, famous for its large rabbit population. Even without her camera, Fū greatly enjoys the moment, and it suddenly strikes me that I’d completely forgotten that Fū and her mother visited Ōkunoshima together.

  • The final stop for the day is a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the Seto Inland Sea: Fū’s mother explains this is where her father had proposed to her, and remarks that Fū had done something momentous, of not only being able to pick her self up after his passing, but also move forward. and seize the future. ~More Aggressive~ ultimately presents the idea that recovery is an ongoing process, and in some cases, being given the right encouragement will allow people to pick themselves back up. Going through Tamayura again has renewed my interests in visiting Japan, and now, on top of an onsen trip, I’d be interested in planning a trip to Takehara and its surroundings, too.

  • This is something I’ll look at in the future; for the present, all eyes are on getting my new place up and running. Back in ~More Aggressive~, Fū’s camera is brought back to an operational state just in time for Kanae’s graduation, and Kanae is now in fine spirits; no matter what happens, they’ll always have their memories of one another. Kanae will always think of Fū as President Potte, and several classmates, upon overhearing this, applaud appreciatively. Fū later returns to the Photography Club’s room and promises that she’ll do her best for the club in the new year, before expressing thanks to everyone who’d made the past year such a memorable one.

  • With this, my time in ~More Aggressive~ draws to a close. I will note that I have previously written about all four parts of ~Graduation Photo~, and reading through my old posts for each of Signs, Echoes, Longing and Tomorrow, I am happy to say that in graduate school, I found my path anew, and moreover, it was through ~Graduation Photo~ that I determined on the career that I would work towards. Altogether, Tamayura is a series that accompanied me through some tougher, uncertain times, and for having been a constant source of encouragement, positivity and inspiration, I count Tamayura a masterpiece for having tangibly improved my life and shaping my world views.

  • With 2021 in the rear-view mirror, I can say that the past year had been unexpected, full of surprises. There were some low points, but there were also highs, as well. I believe that I have succeeded in meeting the resolutions that I had set for myself, and exiting 2021, I take with me several new memories and experiences I am immensely grateful for. The only reason that I was able to accomplish my goals was because of consistent support from family and friends, as well as my peers in the anime community. For this, I’d like to thank my readers for accompanying me through the previous year.

  • To all of my readers, old and new, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year! 2022 is a brand-new slate, just waiting to be explored, and while there are circumstances now that can make some things challenging, readers should be familiar with the fact that I am an optimist and a pragmatist through and through. Irrespective of what challenges lie ahead, it is my responsibility to handle things in a professional and measured manner. As such, I welcome 2022 warmly: no one will know what 2022 will entail, but the constant is that I whatever I get out of this new year is going to be determined how much I put in, and I look forwards to yet another year with both the people around me, and you, the reader.

Here I now stand, at the beginning of a new year. When I began 2021, I made the resolution to be “open to whatever opportunities arise that require my skills” from a professional growth standpoint, while my personal goal had been “maintain strong relationships with those who matter to me, such as keeping in touch with old friends”. I believe I’ve succeeded on both counts: I’ve become somewhat familiar with Java server and Android development as a result of having taken up a new developer position back in April, and spent some time catching up with friends as able while forging new connections. 2021 was also surprising in that I became a homeowner; between a new job and a new home, the past year has definitely been full of surprises, surprises that I certainly hadn’t foreseen coming into 2021. It is hard to say for sure what the future entails, but as Tamayura suggests, the future is friendly to those with the resolve to take those first steps forward, and a willingness to let others into their lives. As such, my 2022 resolutions are simply to be my best self. That is to say, I will strive to work hard and do right by those around me to build the best possible future, all the while enjoying the most of the present. The themes and learnings from Tamayura have had a nontrivial impact on my life, having found relevance from the time I was a student, right through to the present. ~More Aggressive~ had helped me to take a step back and count my blessings at a time when my future seemed uncertain. At the time, I had graduated from the Health Sciences programme with an Honours Degree, but at the time, I was not sure whether or not I’d be pursuing a career in medicine or software development. Between this, all of my friends parting ways and a failed kokuhaku resulting from a flood that ravaged the province, I’d been feeling very down to the point of sitting out all anime that summer. I ended up learning about ~More Aggressive~ once my gap year started (during which I was taking courses to satisfy medical school requirements and for an eventual entry into computer science), and while watching the anime, I found myself appreciating the sort of experience that Fū went through whilst leading the Photography Club. The cathartic, gentle atmosphere helped to take my mind off the fact that I’d just lost an entire summer, and although things wouldn’t truly recover until the next spring, when I was offered admissions to graduate school and accepted an invitation to work on the Giant Walkthrough Brain, the relaxing and moving story within ~More Aggressive~ did help to get me through a difficult winter. Having the chance to rewatch ~More Aggressive~ under dramatically different circumstances has only resulted in increasing my appreciation of this second season, and this time around, I was able to pick up on nuances that I missed out on eight years earlier: while things were quite tough back then, accepting an opportunity to better my situation via graduate studies set me on a course to where I presently am, similarly to how Fū was able to create new joys and memories with Kanae as a result of her decision to start up a Photography Club.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Tamayura ~Hitotose~, On Rediscovering Newfound Happiness in the Ordinary and A Ten Year Anniversary Reflection

“As you pursue your dreams, your worries and cares may prevent you from realising it, but others can see how brilliantly you are shining.” –Sayomi Hanawa

Towards the end of her time in middle school, Fū is surprised when her younger brother finds old albums of their late father. Seeing the joy in these old photographs prompts Fū to take up photography again, and she ends up sending photographs to the professional photographer, Riho. Riho’s reply eventually prompts Fū, her brother and mother to move back to Takehara, her father’s hometown. Here, Fū is reunited with her childhood friend, Kaoru Hanawa, and during their peaceful days together with Norie and Maon, Fū comes to rediscover the beauty in the town that her father grew up in, reconnecting with him and rediscovering the joys that photography had brought them, from visiting Maon’s family over in Mitarai, to watching Norie have a cook-off with Komachi, and going along with Sayomi’s adventures. Kaoru also manages to fulfil Fū’s wish of attending the Path of Longing festival together, and as the year draws to a close, she also organises the We Exhibition to celebrate everyone’s own unique talents before celebrating the arrival of a new year together with everyone. Tamayura ~Hitotose~ (~Hitotose~ from here on out for brevity) is the first full-length Tamayura presentation that aired a year after the OVAs were released, detailing Fū’s return to Takehara and the wonderful adventures she has here while retreading the paths her father once did, and in doing so, Fū is able to connect with her father through photography, a hobby that he’d been fond of precisely because every photograph provides a permanent and visceral means of recalling of emotions and feelings in a given moment. During its run, ~Hitotose~ conveyed the idea that even in death, people are not truly gone from one’s life; by taking up photography again, Fū demonstrates the sort of courage needed to take that difficult step forwards with her life. In doing so, Fū finds that embracing her father’s old hobby means a part of him will live in on her, and at the same time, Fū is also able to create new memories that her father would’ve been proud of – as she explores Takehara and its surroundings, Fū is able to take the sort of photos that bring people together, much as her father had with his photographs, and moreover, for this particular adventure, Fū isn’t alone; she’s surrounded by people who love her dearly and are always happy to share time with her.

Taking that first step forwards to bring oneself, and others joy, is a recurring theme in ~Hitotose~; each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie, Maon and Chihiro undergo this process during the series run. For Fū, it’s photographing memorable moments. Norie takes up baking sweets because she’d seen how it can brighten up someone’s day, and ends up befriending Maon after the latter hears her out about sweets after Norie had suffered a rejection from someone she had a crush on. Maon herself is very fond of starting new hobbies, but is also an introvert who finds it tricky to express herself until meeting Norie. Chihiro had befriended Fū back when they were classmates, but like Fū, she struggles to make friends. After Fū leaves, Chihiro resolves to be more forward, and ends up coming to know another classmate, Tomo, better. Kaoru has a fondness for scents and enjoys experimenting with potpourri, but otherwise wonders what her future will entail. In the end, her desire to do something special for those around her leads to the creation of the We Exhibition, a culmination of the journey in ~Hitotose~: by taking the time to explore their interests, at their own pace, each of Fū, Norie and Maon further their craft to the point where they are confident in presenting at the We Exhibition. For Kaoru, the We Exhibition is also a glimpse into her own future. While she greatly enjoys making pleasant-smelling scents, Kaoru wonders if her interests could yield a career, and seeing how devoted each of Norie, Fū and Maon are initially leaves Kaoru feeling left behind. These feelings actually form the basis for Kaoru’s own career progression, and so, in planning out the We Exhibition, from securing the venue, to determining how the space should be used and scheduling things out, hints of Kaoru’s future career are shown here: much as how preparing potpourri requires precision and an eye for detail, organising events requires a similar level of finesse. Thus, while Kaoru herself might feel down that she has no passion equivalent to Maon’s interest in the fine arts Fū’s photography or Norie’s love for making sweets, the skills and mindset she has cultivated from making scents, as well as a lifetime of being subject to Sayomi’s out-of-the-blue adventures leave her with a distinct skillset of her own, and although she has yet to be aware of this, Kaoru’s decision to put the We Exhibition together is a showcase of where her talents lie: making the arrangements for the sort of events that help others to celebrate their own successes.

As one progresses, the progress they’re making might not be immediately visible to oneself. Kaoru’s planning of the We Exhibition was a success, although she counts it a success in that it was a fantastic way to showcase Fū’s photographs, Norie’s sweets, Maon’s recital and her own potpourri, rather than her ability to organise and set up events of this scale. For Fū, her photographs in the moment are things she’s doing to capture joy in a moment for the sake of being in that moment. Norie’s only concern is making the best possible sweets so she can see the smiles on the faces of those who enjoy them. However, from another perspective, by pursuing their goals so earnestly, and with such passion, each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon grow from their experiences. No one else puts this better than Sayomi: Kaoru’s older sister might be viewed as a disturber-of-the-peace with her frequent unexpected adventures that somehow always are more strenuous than they should be, but being older than the others, Sayomi also has more life experience, and correspondingly, wisdom. After her attempts at taking everyone to see New Year’s sunrise from the mountaintop fails when she backs her vehicle into a ditch, Sayomi mentions that down here in the valley, the mountains must remain unaware of how majestic it is when those first rays of light illuminate it. In a similar way, while Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon have grown over the year since Fū returns, they are so focused on their goals and one another that they don’t spot how far they’ve come, as well. This is a beautiful thing in and of itself, but Sayomi’s observation is also is contingent on one important thing – being together with people one cares most about. The mountain cannot see its own majesty, but observers in the valley below can, and in this way, ~Hitotose~ suggests that it is ultimately companionship that allows people to put their best foot forward: having others around to celebrate successes together, offer feedback when one is stuck, or provide support to get past more difficult times is what allows individuals to ultimately grow. While Fū’s journey was always going to be a challenging one, being together with Kaoru, Norie and Maon allows everyone to share in their adventures: each individual offers a unique perspective on things that end up helping to encourage then others on their own journeys.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Back in August, I wrote about the Tamayura OVAs after realising that despite greatly enjoying ~Hitotose~ and all of the subsequent works, I’d never actually gotten around to actually viewing the original OVAs, where everything began. In retrospect, the OVAs were surprisingly well-written, featuring many of the details that would become central plot elements to the remainder of Tamayura. With this in mind, Tamayura is slowly-paced enough such that folks who didn’t watch the OVAs will still have a good idea of what’s going on in ~Hitotose~: in 2011, I started ~Hitotose~ without having first watched the OVAs, and I had no trouble following along.

  • The first episode opens back in Shioiri, Fū’s old town, when she was still a middle school student. Back then, Fū wore her hair a bit longer, but after Kō manages to find their father’s old Rollei 35S, Fū suddenly takes up photography anew, feeling that her father would’ve wanted her to continue to find new happiness in life. Here, Fū hangs out with her best friend, Chihiro – while resembling The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Tsuruya, Chihiro is actually quite sensitive and is quick to tears. It is Chihiro who comes up with Fū’s motto, to be more “aggressive”, and before Fū is set to return to Takehara, Chihiro gifts Fū a special hand-made holder for the ticket with no destination that Riho had given her.

  • Thus begins Fū’s journey to Takehara from Shioiri: to symbolise a new chapter in her life, Fū cuts her hair short, and prepares to set off. This scene of Fū was prominently featured as key art prior to ~Hitotose~‘s release, and the moment is meant to accentuate that while her journey may be a bit of a lonely one, the destination will be anything but lonely. Before we delve further into ~Hitotose~, it is worth mentioning the meaning of hitotose (ひととせ): for the longest time, I’d never given any thought as to what it meant. However, in this context, hitotose simply means “a year” (一年); there’s nothing particularly deep or meaningful about the title, which simply refers to the fact that this is Fū’s first year back in Takehara.

  • Once Fū returns to Takehara, Kaoru greets her, starting the year off. The events of the Tamayura OVAs are set after Fū’s return, and presumably, before the first episode; by ~Hitotose~‘s first episode, Kaoru, Norie and Maon are all familiar with Fū. here, the girls greet Fū on their way to classes; the warehouse district can plainly be seen, and this historic section of town is prominently featured throughout Tamayaura in general, being the home of Café Tamayura, Hoboro and Maestro’s Sunrise Photography store. Amidst these gentle streets, Fū gradually comes to rediscover the joys of this town, and because every day brings something new to the table, Fū rarely is seen without her father’s Rollei 35S.

  • Maestro is an old friend of the Sawataris, having known Fū’s father since their time as high school students. While he’s a bit of a womaniser, Maestro is also an expert with cameras and is the first person Fū counts on to get it repaired. On more ordinary days, Fū takes her film here to be developed. One of the big joys about Tamayura was an appreciation of the mundane; even something as simple as receiving prints for the photos one has developed can become exciting, since with a film camera, one can never be too sure how a picture turned out until it is developed. For Fū and her friends, this anticipation becomes something to look forwards to: successful photos bring joy, and even the botched photos can create memories.

  • When I first watched ~Hitotose~, I remembered Norie best for being rambunctious and noisy to an excessive degree, while Maon was always quiet and preferred to communicate through whistling. All of the characters in Tamayura are adorable and admirable in their own way; while Norie might be overly energetic, she’s got a talent for making sweets and is always enthusiastic about learning from those more experienced than herself. On the other hand, while Maon might be taciturn and shy, she does open up around her friends and demonstrates a plethora of interests. Here, the girls are trying Fū’s grandmother’s latest creation at the Café Tamayura; after moving back to Takehara, Fū’s mother began working at the family’s café, citing it to be a lifelong dream.

  • In the warehouse district, Chimo “Hoboro” Yakusa’s okonomiyaki shop is the definitive pig-out spot: Chimo serves the best okonomiyaki anywhere in Takehara, and the girls often swing by for a bite if they’re looking for something hearty: Chimo is always experimenting with new recipes, and one of the most enticing okonomiyaki on the menu features prawns. Moreover, the portions here are enormous, worthy of Adam Richman’s Man v. Food. It suddenly hits me that when I watched ~Hitotose~ ten years earlier, I’d not even seen Man v. Food yet; I’m not able to remember how the show caught my attention, but I would come to enjoy it greatly, since the food challenges always acted as a hilarious metaphors for what I was going through at the time, from assignments and projects, right up to the MCAT. I still remember thinking to myself when watching ~Hitotose~ back then, that I’d like to try out okonomiyaki; that particular dream was realised a few summers ago while I’d been in Osaka.

  • When I was watching ~Hitotose~ ten years ago, I would’ve been enrolled in Data Structures III, Japanese, scientific inquiry, a special topics course for research and for kicks, a course on primates. Back then, my days consisted of going through my classes, keeping up with assignments, and in any extra time I had, working on the agent-based model of a sodium-potassium pump using game engines. Life was pretty routine, and the main thing I looked forwards to each month was grabbing lunch at a Korean BBQ joint on campus. Armed with the life experience I had up to that point, I concluded that ~Hitotose~ was about pursuit of one’s dreams even if the future was not fully certain. The me of a decade earlier would earn partial credit for this, and I remark that the only thing that’s really changed is that I articulate my thoughts a little differently now than I did ten years earlier.

  • That Tamayura‘s themes have remained consistent over time speaks to the series’ strengths in being able to clearly convey its intended messages. One evening, the girls end up doing a sleepover, and Sayomi,  Kaoru’s older sister, drops in unannounced to disturb the peace. With her gentle aura, love for adventure and doting personality, I have previously stated that Sayomi greatly resembles GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hoto. Kaoru is utterly embarrassed by Sayomi’s antics, and everyone generally fears her adventures, which can be quite lengthy and exhausting because Sayomi has a tendency to underestimate how long they’d take. There’s something a bit old-fashioned about Sayomi that I’m particularly fond of: she reminds me of the girls that old, nostalgic love songs often mention for reasons that, despite my otherwise firm command of language would suggest, I cannot find the words to describe.

  • However, for the trouble Sayomi causes, she’s also quite wise and offers Fū advice, as well as encourages her. Here, Fū decides to snap a moment of her friends during their sleepover together. For Fū, no moment is too trivial to photograph – photographs in Tamayura represent a physical, tangible memory perfectly preserved on something permanent, and moreover, Fū’s use of a film camera means that moments can be captured precisely as they were. If Fū messes up a photo, the results remain with her, but these photos end up being cherished just as much as the ones that turn out well; each of Fū’s photos evoke the feelings that were in that moment when they were taken.

  • Throughout ~Hitotose~, Fū offers monologues that describe how she’s feeling in a given moment, and more importantly, what she got out of an experience. ~Hitotose~ shows how the unexpected should be taken in stride and embraced. Here, Norie, Maon and Kaoru swing by Café Tamayura for lunch. When Fū’s younger brother, Kō, shows up, Norie loses her shit and immediately begins fawning over him, while Fū begins to wonder how to best capture the taste of the food. While Fū struggles to find an angle that lets her to take a picture that describes how the food taste to a viewer, the animators clearly do not have any trouble. For me, a good photo of a given dish should capture the textures and colours. A good macro lens makes a massive difference, but lighting is also important.

  • Earlier on Friday, I swung by a newly-opened OEB Breakfast near home to enjoy their A-Lott A-Laks breakfast poutine, and a combination of good lighting, coupled with a good camera in the iPhone Xʀ, allowed me to take photos of this dish that will remind me of how tasty it was well into the future. Photos offer different challenges compared to anime scenes, but I find that, despite being flatter than reality, anime can nonetheless do an excellent job of conveying tastiness to viewers. This still captures the level of detail paid to closeups of the food in Tamayura: it’s a lunch set with fried fish, soup and rice, plus a light dessert perfect for a hot summer’s day. During such moments, ~Hitotose~ is fond of using chibi versions of the characters to express their emotions while admiring the food, and this was something that I ended up doing when writing about my trip to Japan back in 2017. I used this approach so I could watermark the images that I’d uploaded, and use of chibi characters allowed me to still leave enough of the food visible for readers to check out.

  • The Tamayura OVAs were produced by HAL Productions, but from ~Hitotose~ onward, TYO Animations would handle production: Yumeta absorbed HAL Productions in 2009 to become TYO Animation, but in 2017, Memory Tech Holdings acquired TYO Animation and renamed them back to Yumeta. Aside from Tamayura, the only other production I’m familiar with is YuruYuri: San Hai!. With this being said, if Tamayura is any indicator, Yumeta’s work should be of a solid quality: while Tamayura‘s visuals are comparatively simple, they are still rich with details that bring Fū’s world to life. The garden at Café Tamayura is one such example, and just from looking at this screenshot, one could almost feel the warmth of a summer’s day.

  • After lunch, Norie and Maon prepare to do some shopping, but along the way, they run into Komachi, a young girl who’s the same age as Kō and vyes for his attention. This frustrates Norie to no end, and it is actually quite hilarious to see Norie on the losing end of things in a battle of wits with someone much younger than herself (I’m also guilty of these tendencies from time to time). When I first watched ~Hitotose~, the Oculus Rift was still about a year from being introduced, and Google Street View wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it is today, precluding me from easily finding all of the locations seen in the series. Ten years later, things have changed considerably, so I am now able to trivially identify spots using the Oculus Quest, such as Tobacho street, which Norie and Maon walk along en route to the Café Tamayura.

  • When Norie brings ingredients to Café Tamayura with the hopes of learning a new peach recipe from Fū’s grandmother, Komachi also shows up. Tensions between Norie and Komachi over who’s more worthy of Kō’s heart is employed as a comedic device, and here, the two decide to duel over whose cooking is better. While Norie may be immature, her philosophy on cooking is inspiring, and she puts in every effort to ensure that her sweets taste good, so that the joy she derives from making sweets is shared by the recipient who is enjoying what she’s made. Komachi initially has no grasp of this, and burns her pancakes, but once Fū’s grandmother asks Komachi to slow down the process and be mindful of why she wants to make something, Komachi’s technique improves.

  • In the end, Kō judges both Komachi and Norie’s food to be the winner: indeed, everyone here is a winner for being able to savour something tasty, and Norie reveals her love of sweets comes from her brother trying to make her feel better after she’d missed a family trip when she’d fallen ill. Since then, Norie’s wanted to capture happiness through sweets, and in the moment, Fū determines that capturing the joy of someone enjoying the food seems to be the best way for her to convey taste. On my end, I’ve been photographing food at a very rudimentary level for the past seven years: my intention is to produce images that remind me of how tasty something was that day, and while I certainly don’t put in the same thought to my photos as Fū would, the photos I take do jog my memories well enough.

  • During a break, Fū, Kō, Kaoru and Norie swing by Mitarai, a nearby island where Maon’s family runs a ryōkan. After greeting their guests, Maon takes her friends on a tour of the island and plan to meet up with Fū and Kō’s grandfather. The group stop briefly at the Otome-za, a local theatre that Maon’s longed to perform in; she explains that after seeing a concert here long ago, she became inspired to take up the performing arts. ~Hitotose~ has the performers singing Enveloped by Tenderness (やさしさに包まれたなら, Hepburn Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta): I’d originally thought the song was performed for Kiki’s Delivery Service, but this song actually dates back to Yumi Arai’s 1974 single – it is through her performance in Kiki’s Delivery that the song became well known, and Maaya Sakamoto’s cover is downright beautiful, easily my favourite version of this timeless classic.

  • ~Hitotose~ makes a compelling case for why when visiting Japan, one should consider destinations beyond iconic locations like Tokyo’s Shinjuku or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine: some of the most beautiful locations are found well off the beaten track. Takehara and its surroundings alone are gorgeous; even more so than the Tamayura OVAs, ~Hitotose~ really showcases what’s available in Takehara and its surroundings. For instance, Mitarai Island is home to a small village and possesses a collection of well-preserved historical buildings called shotoen (松濤園).

  • Maon ends up leaving the others so she can help guide some visitors around, but the group reunite during the evening. After a scrumptious meal featuring fresh, local seafood, Fū and the others learn from Maon’s parents that she’s got a myriad of interests: besides the performing arts, Maon’s also expressed an interest in being a manga artist. Maon is utterly embarrassed by this revelation, and her expression is adorable. I will note that a part of the challenged I faced at their age was precisely this: many things were interesting to me, and I had trouble picking just one. Over time, however, I ended up narrowing down a path I would be happy walking, and this is something that Tamayura ~Gradutation Photo~ would show. For ~Hitotose~, Maon remains open to pursing whatever interests her.

  • A ways into ~Hitotose~, Chihiro shows up for a visit to check up on Fū, but a misstep causes Chihiro to get off one stop early. With the train schedules being quite sporadic, Fū’s mother borrows a friend’s motorcycle and heads off to pick Chihiro up herself. Until now, this particular aspect of Fū’s mother was not known; the moment is meant to highlight that everyone’s got their own stories, and admittedly, while I’d forgotten about it, this is actually similar to Rin’s mother in Yuru Camp△, who had been an avid biker in her youth. While Rin’s mother is a bit embarrassed by this, Fū’s mother is still quite fond of her old memories and has no trouble sharing these recollections with the others. Here, Chihiro sits down to dinner and greatly enjoys the moment, before sleeping over with Fū.

  • Fū introduces Chihiro to Kaoru, Norie and Maon, and they take Chihiro on a tour of Takehara’s best spots. ~Hitotose~ might be an anime about healing, self-discovery, picking one self up and finding the courage to walk a path to the future, but the faithfulness that the series demonstrates in its portrayal of Takehara means that the series is only a few steps from being a full-fledged travel show: besides bringing Chihiro over to the old town for okonomiyaki at Hoboro’s, they also stop by Saihoji Fumeikaku Temple, with its distinct red-framed construction and an unparalleled view of the Takehara skyline.

  • While Tamayura already excels at capturing emotions, facial expressions are used in order to really accentuate what individuals are feeling in the moment. Moments such as Chihiro being overjoyed by Takehara’s skyline do much to emphasise that there is never such a thing as a moment that is too mundane or unremarkable. This is something that I’ve come to look for in most everything I do; a lot of folks out there value spontaneity and living in the moment, but they choose to go about this by expending prodigious sums of money for travel or nights out. I argue that living in the moment isn’t about creating grandiose memories that are ‘grammable, but rather, about learning how to appreciate common, everyday miracles. For me, something as simple as a beautiful blue sky and calm days are as every bit as memorable as a full-scale trip to Japan.

  • Having said this, Tamayura is special to me because it is the anime that really initiated my desire to visit Japan; when I watched ~Hitotose~ ten years earlier, I was still a relative novice to anime. Series like Gundam 00 or Sora no Woto don’t exactly inspire a trip to Japan, but Tamayura and its highly faithful reproduction of Takehara and its surroundings changed that. While Fū stretches out on a path overlooking the Seto Inland Sea here, I’ll remark that my dream vacation in Takehara would consist of spending a week exploring the town and its surroundings. I’d probably visit in October and stay at the Nipponia Hotel, which is situated at the heart of Takehara’s old town. After spending the mornings and early afternoons visiting the spots Sayomi suggests to Fū and her friends, I’d spend the late afternoons and evenings exploring the old town itself.

  • Such a trip remains a hypothetical for the present, but I would definitely like to realise this trip someday and fulfil something I’ve always wanted to do since I first watched ~Hitotose~. While Chihiro had only befriended Fū because both had been introverted and shy, ever since Fū returned to Takehara and found friends in Kaoru, Norie and Maon, she’s become more outgoing and spirited. Unsurprisingly, Chihiro also gets along well with Fū’s friends in Takehara, even if she has a bit of trouble understanding what Maon is saying through her whistling.

  • In the end, Maon, Kaoru and Norie gratefully accept the phone charms Chihiro had made for them, and they agree that anyone who’s friends with Fū can easily be friends with them, too. These sorts of things are always so heartwarming to behold, and while Chihiro does have to head home, she now returns knowing that Fū’s doing very well, that she’s got people supporting her in Takehara, and that there’s now three more people she can chat with should the need arise. Indeed, Kaoru and the others do call upon Chihiro when something is bothering Fū during the second season, but I’ll cover that in full once I get to writing about ~More Aggressive~.

  • While I’m writing about ~Hitotose~ in full knowledge of what happens next in ~More Aggressive~ and ~Graduation Photo~, the fact is that I’ve not watched ~Hitotose~ for ten years. Similarly, it’s been seven years since ~More Aggressive~, and five years since ~Graduation Photo~. With this much time having passed since then and now, revisiting ~Hitotose~ means it does feel like I’m watching Tamayura fresh, and I’m finding myself falling in love with the series, its characters and events all over again.

  • ~Hitotose~ presents Takehara’s Shokei-no-michi Festival in vivid detail; this festival occurs in October, and for two nights, the streets of Takehara’s old town are alit with bamboo candles between 1700 and 2100. The event is free to attend, sets the old town under a magical, gentle light and Tamayura suggests that it’s a festival to guide people’s wishes to the deities in the skies above. On her last visit, Fū and her father had missed the festival, called the Path of Longing, and since then, Kaoru had longed to show Fū the festival’s beauty. However, this year, a rainfall has enveloped Takehara, frustrating Kaoru, who had really been looking forwards to having Fū see the Path of Longing.

  • The rain shows no sign of abating, but the girls do meet one of Kaoru’s old friends, Shōko Hirono, during the festival. She’d moved from Takehara long ago and swings by to greet the others before taking off. Here, Fū, Norie, Maon and Kaoru speak to Riho; it turns out that after learning about Fū’s return, she became interested in moving to Takehara, as well. Being a mentor figure for Fū, Riho’s always willing to share wisdom about photography with Fū, and surprises Fū with the suggestion that Fū’s approach to photography had inspired her own. After writing their wishes down, Fū and the others return to Café Tamayura, where she falls asleep.

  • In the end, the rain finally stops, and the Path of Longing kicks off, illuminating the streets of Takehara’s old town in the soft glow of candlelight. A year ago, I’d remarked that GochiUsa BLOOM‘s Halloween Episode employed very similar lighting on an evening that had been filled with reminiscence. It was there I realised that GochiUsa BLOOM had ventured into a topic that had prima facie seemed out of scope for a series of its genre, and not only this, but had done so exceedingly well. Like Tamayura‘s Path of Longing, which sees Fū fulfil a promise to her late father and connect closer with him, GochiUsa BLOOM saw Chino become closer to Cocoa as a result of the evening’s magic.

  • The Path of Longing is absolutely beautiful, and Fū is able to take some stunning pictures here. During the course of this evening, another girl manages to take a picture of Fū and submits it to a photography competition. This girl becomes important in ~More Aggressive~, but for now, I’ll keep the focus on ~Hitotose~: while the evening of the festival is filled with happy memories as people take in the sights, for some, it is also one of sadness. Shōko is seen openly crying her eyes out among the gentle glow of candles, and a lady named Shimako is seen giving a kokuhaku to a fellow she’s long had feelings for.

  • Halfway through ~Hitotose~, Riho surprises Fū with the announcement that she’s moved to Takehara full-time and moreover, has taken up lodgings with Chimo. This allows Riho to really mentor Fū and spend more time with her, and consequently, Riho becomes a regular as ~Hitotose~ continues. Having older characters meant Tamayura was really able to give Fū a full spectrum of people to interact with. Her friends help her live in the moment, but the adults in her life provide wisdom and gentle guidance that lets Fū to also begin considering the future, as well.

  • It turns out that Riho and Chimo hit it off when they’d met, so Chimo decided to let Riho live at her place. News of Riho’s move to Takehara surprises Fū’s friends, and during a quiet afternoon, the group spends some time discussing this turn of events. Maon’s mind begins to wander, and she starts speculating on what could’ve happened. This is, of course, untrue, and the reality is that Fū’s now got someone to talk to frequently. Thus, when Fū learns that Riho had stopped photographing the sky, she grows worried about Riho: sky photography had been her specialty.

  • After seeing the sort of impact Fū’s photographs have, Komachi begins to develop an interest in photography herself, and like Fū, regularly visits Hinomaru to get her photos developed. Upon meeting, Komachi and Norie clash almost immediately, and it is hilarious how Norie always allows Komachi to get the better of her. This conflict is all in good fun, and now that I think about it, Komachi resembles Arthur‘s D.W.: mischievous but also well-intentioned. That Fū’s love for photography has inspired someone else speaks to the power that a sincere interest in something can have on others, and now, Komachi is able to begin thinking about how to capture feelings, too.

  • After swinging by Hoboro, Riho and Chimo invite Fū to come with them to Kure so they can visit Chimo’s old senior, Misano Fuji. They learn that she’s now running a café of sorts; both she and Chimo been illustrators and excelled in their craft, but set it down to enter the restaurant business after desiring to lay down roots and enjoy the changing scenery in their towns. One of Misano’s regulars had inspired her; he’s more than happy to try her experimental menu out, and is mentioned as being fond of taking photos of the same spot to show how differently one place can look. This is something that I often do; while hiking the same trails and passing by familiar places, I always take a photo, as well. I’d completely forgotten about this moment in ~Hitotose~, but seeing the moment again reminded me of why I’m fond of doing this.

  • Speaking to how close Fū and Riho have become, they reach for their cameras to capture a moment of Chimo and Misano together. Upon returning to Takehara, Riho explains that she’d been concerned about Fū, but while some things may change, others will remain constant; it turns out Riho had simply wanted to explore different forms of photography. In a monologue, Fū feels that there is great beauty in being able to choose one’s path even when other things are held constant in life, because even then, the possibilities that await are endless.

  • When I’d watched the story of Shimako Tobita ten years earlier, I found her situation hilarious and quite difficult to relate to. In the present day, I completely empathise with her: one evening, she arrived at Hoboro and starts an eating contest with Kazutarō, the girls’ homeroom teacher. The next day, Shimako continues on with her eating spree at Café Tamayura until her best friend, Manami Hoshi, shows up. It turns out that Shimako’s kokuhaku at the Path of Longing festival had failed. While Maon speculates something wild’s happening, Sayomi shows up and decides to take Shimako for a ride. The drive up to a peaceful viewpoint is violent, but up here, Shimako is able to be truthful about how she feels.

  • In the end, with support from Minami, Shimako is able to cry her heart out over this unsuccessful kokuhaku and is able to take a step forward, too. The reason why I say I empathise with Shimako is because I’ve now been where she’s been, although I’ve never cried out my feelings before. Instead, I ended up channeling all of that anger and negativity towards The Giant Walkthrough Brain project; the reason why I reminisce so often and speak so fondly of this project is because my determination to plow forwards, away from heartbreak, led me to build something wonderful. However, in retrospect, my approach didn’t allow me to fully heal, either, and since then, I’ve busied myself with my work and hobbies to avoid the issue.

  • With this in mind, this isn’t exactly the smartest thing in the world to do, so one of my goals in the upcoming year will be to stop thinking so poorly of relationships in my context. I’m not going to say with confidence that additional years of life experience will help me in this area, but a part of me is now curious to know whether or not I am better equipped to deal with what follows now, versus the me of a decade earlier. Here, Fū, Norie and Maon wonder if something’s off about Kaoru; it turns out that Kaoru’s been wondering about her own future and feels a little left behind upon hearing about everyone’s plans for the weekend; of everyone, she feels like her future is the least certain, and is envious that everyone else can follow their pursuits with such passion.

  • Everyone in Tamayura is immensely likeable in their own regard, but for me, my favourite of the characters is Kaoru; sensible and caring, but also the most serious of everyone, Kaoru bears a great deal of similarity to myself in that both of us had been uncertain about our futures, and similarly attempt to tend to our problems independently rather than confide in those around us. Kaoru’s got a mildly tsundere personality in that she’s not always truthful about how she feels, and therefore bounces off Norie the most; Norie is fond of calling Kaoru Kao-tan, an adorable-sounding nickname that Kaoru isn’t too fond of, and as Norie note, the fastest way to see if Kaoru is alright or not, is to try calling her Kao-tan and seeing if she reacts in her usual manner.

  • Kaoru is generally pretty cold about Sayomi’s constant want for adventures, while Norie and Maon are outright terrified of them. However, I’ve found that despite their reputation and the impending dread that comes prior to Sayomi’s adventures, everyone’s always had a memorable time nonetheless, fitting right in with Fū’s mindset of enjoying things as they happen. This is something that I’ve come to accept about life: I’m very fond of peace and quiet, and while a part of me always dreads events, whether they be parties or panels, I typically come in with the intention to make the most of things and in the end, always find them much more enjoyable than expected. The me of a decade earlier probably would’ve missed this part of Tamayura. Here, Kaoru insists that things are fine and pushes Sayomi out of her room.

  • Things finally reach a limit of sorts when Kaoru lies to Norie and the others about having agreed to come with Sayomi on an adventure, only for Norie to have actually asked ahead of time and learning that Kaoru had actually declined. In the end, Norie decides to create a bit of a pick-me-up for Kaoru at Café Tamayura and asks Sayomi to take Kaoru there. Because Kaoru can be quite stubborn, Sayomi ends up filling a water pistol full of bamboo vinegar and threatens to drench Kaoru should she resist. Because the bamboo vinegar contains some 200 different organic compounds, many of which are volatile, it has a very distinct smell, hence Kaoru’s compliance. In more mundane applications, bamboo vinegar is primarily used in gardening and agriculture, where it is used to discourage insect infestations. It also has applications in footcare and odor removal.

  • In the end, after Norie takes Kaoru to the woodshed, Kaoru explains that she’d been feeling left behind after seeing how earnestly everyone had been pursuing their interests. However, she also was moved by the fact everyone had sent her messages wishing she could be there, and seeing how varied, but capable her friends are, Kaoru suddenly has a stroke of inspiration – she decides to organise an exhibition showcasing everyone’s talents before the year is out. While Kaoru’s interests lies in scents, she’s never really considered this to be a long-term career, and as such, wonders about what her future will entail.

  • After outlining the logistics for this event, which becomes known as the We Exhibition, Kaoru speaks to her father and manages to secure a location to host the We Exhibition: the former Kasai House (旧笠井邸, Hepburn Kyū Kasai-tei). Built in 1872 as a home, the former Kasai House has a distinct tiled roof and as ~Hitotose~ portrays, the second floor is beautiful and open. The building is indeed used as an event venue in reality, making it particularly suited for the We Exhibition: Norie immediately begins to imagine what the different areas can be used for, and excitement for the We Exhibition begins mounting as each of the girls have something tangible to strive for to cap off Fū’s first year back in Takehara.

  • The We Exhibition is a fantastic example of how people can seize the initiative to do something meaningful for others; for me, my equivalent would have been participating in the various research symposiums and hosting lab tours for the media, as well as when I organised a group of my fellow undergraduate researchers into finishing a publication for the province’s undergraduate journal during the summer after we’d started back during January but forgot about the project. Shows like Tamayura encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone at my own pace, and in ~Hitotose~, after Maon reveals she’s looking to do a live play recital for the We Exhibition, the others support her fully: she wants to put on a trial run at her family’s ryōkan.

  • For Maon, the biggest challenge is actually coming up with a story, and with anticipation mounting, it turns out that the Sakurada ryōkan won’t actually have enough space: Maon’s parents have rented out the Otome-za, the theatre that Maon had always dreamt of performing at. Pressure suddenly mounts, and Maon is unable to write her story out – this aspect of being a creative is probably the most challenging, and those involved will find that, on a good day, inspiration allows one to seemingly churn out masterpieces, but on bad days, no idea ever sticks. Even at the casual level, this holds true: as a blogger, there are some times where I’ll struggle to write even a few sentences for a post, and at other times, I have to willfully reign myself back lest a post become too lengthy.

  • In this post, I’m actually tending towards the latter because there are actually quite a few memories I have associated with ~Hitotose~, and re-watching the series was a nostalgic experience. The feeling of nostalgia is greatly augmented by the incidental music in the series, which has a gentle and warming feel to them. Tamaura‘s composition is such that the series is timeless despite being firmly set in the early 2010s: Fū and her friends still use feature phones to communicate, social media is absent, and the world’s pacing is much slower than what most viewers would be used to. In the decade that passed since ~Hitotose~ aired, technology and society has changed considerably, so seeing the laid-back pacing in Tamayura did indeed feel nostalgic.

  • As the day of the recital draws nearer, Maon’s nerves grow because she’s still unable to come up with an ending to her story. In the end, Maon does not actually complete the story in time for her stage play, but decides that she’d like to go ahead and continue with the performance anyways, especially after seeing how engaged everyone is. For Fū, Norie and Kaoru, they’re about as nervous as she is, but once Maon settles into her groove, things actually end up progressing quite smoothly; it turns out Maon’s story was based off her own experiences, and consequently, said story conveys sincerity with every word she reads out.

  • Maon’s story speaks of a bird who leaves her home island and explores the nearby islands, finding them to be inhabited by friendly neighbours, and in the end, she befriends them after recalling the courage her parents had imparted on her, mirroring how Maon had met Fū and the others. The recital is a success by all counts and shows that Maon does indeed have a range of talents, as well as how inspiration can come from the bottom of the heart at the most unexpected moments. In this way, Maon is able to put on a memorable performance at Otome-za and fulfil a longstanding childhood dream of hers.

  • In the aftermath, Maon, Norie, Kaoru and Fū visit a viewpoint to celebrate a successful showing. Years earlier, all four had met here as children; Fū had gone exploring and found Maon reading to herself, while Norie and Kaoru wound up in a minor fight of sorts and end up in tears. While Maon had become too embarrassed to continue when Fū showed up, she ends up taking inspiration from the book she’d been reading and whistles out a song, impressing Norie and Kaoru long enough for the pair to pull together and apologise to one another. That this happened at all is Tamayura‘s way of showing how some friendships were simply meant to be.

  • On the day of the We Exhibition, all of the displays are fully ready, and while everyone is excited to get started, there’s also a bit of nervousness surrounding everyone. Komachi soon arrives and wonders if it’s too late to participate, but Fū and the others welcome her, helping to get her set up besides Kō’s displays. While early on, the streets of Takehara are quiet, Momoneko-sama pops in, admires some of Kō’s drawings and then takes off, satisfied. In this recollection, I’ve not mentioned Momoneko-sama at all: he’s a fluffy pink cat who wanders Takehara as a guardian of sorts, and while he’s well-known around town, Momoneko-sama resists all of Fū’s attempts to photograph him. His actions suggest a level of sentience similar to the cats seen in ARIA.

  • However, if Fū and her friends were worried about a low turnout, things quickly turn around: it feels like the entire town has shown up, and every visitor is engaged by what they see. Some of Kaoru’s classmates find it adorable to see Kaoru presenting her work with such confidence, and here, both Sayomi and her father show up to check things out. It is with the We Exhibition that I found ~Hitotose~‘s themes to really come together: as a result of everyone’s learnings throughout ~Hitotose~, they are able to convey the joys they’ve experienced to others in a tangible way.

  • Much as how Kaoru’s potpourri presentation has drawn quite a crowd, Norie’s sweets corner acts as an oasis of refreshment for those looking to unwind in between checking out the different exhibits. Because Norie’s not served such a large number of people before, she sets up her sweets and then offers visitors a chance to tailor the experience just the way they’d like. Despite being infatuated with Kō to an unhealthy extent, sporting a very boisterous and energetic presence and talking more than she should, Norie is also quite mature when the moment calls for it.

  • To punctuate the day and give others a chance to rest up in between their presentations, the We Exhibition is structured so that Maon is able to perform her play in chapters. By now, Maon’s upped her game, and her latest story is highly captivating, leaving viewers to yearn to hear more. Subtle details in the We Exhibition show just how committed the girls are to doing a good job, and more so than I did ten years earlier, the We Exhibition is a particularly impressive show of what youth are capable of when given the right encouragement and opportunities.

  • This is why I’m so fond of volunteering with the local science fairs; seeing what young minds are up to out there is always so inspiring, reminding me that there are people out there with a genuine interest and passion for the sciences, and the drive to learn enough so they can apply that knowledge and make a tangible, positive contribution to the world. I imagine that Riho is at least as happy when she sees Fū presenting her photos to others with confidence; this shows her that someone new has taken an interest in photography and has something she can pursue whole-heartedly. For Riho and those around her, that Fū’s become so passionate about photography also means that she’s slowly beginning to embrace what her father had taught her, moving on from the pain of loss into recovering and making the most of things.

  • As the evening sun sets, the We Exhibition draws to a close, and the girls review feedback they’d gotten. While some of it is of questionable value (one fellow remarks he’d like to see more hot peppers all around), much of the feedback is encouraging and useful. The We Exhibition clearly touched the hearts of those who visited, and while its success is the result of each of Fū, Norie, Maon and Kaoru’s efforts, I feel that Kaoru’s decision to plan and organise such an event also speaks to the merit of her character. While Kaoru may not feel it, that she was able to manage the We Exhibition shows that she’s also grown greatly. The We Exhibition was set on the 31st of December, and after they clean up the venue, it’s time to go and welcome the new year.

  • Whereas hatsuhinode (viewing the first sunrise of the year) is a commonplace tradition and the one that is typically portrayed in anime, ~Hitotose~ chooses to have Fū and her friends attend a countdown at the local shrine. Everyone makes a wish prior to ringing a bell, and moments later, the new year is upon them. How each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon ring the bell speaks volumes to their own personalities, and once the new year arrives, everyone returns to Café Tamayura to catch some shut-eye. Looking back, 2011 was a bit of an interesting year for me: it saw some of my lowest of lows, but I also managed to recover and get my game back together.

  • As 2011 drew to a close for me, I steeled myself for the new year: I had wrapped up that term on a much better note, but the elephant in the room was the fact that I was set to write the MCAT in 2012. This loomed over my head, but entering the new year, I resolved to simply take things one step at a time. For Fū and her friends, their sleep is broken up when Sayomi shows up with plans to take everyone out to check out the first sunrise of the year, and here, she invites everyone to board her Mazda 5. The Mazda 5 model I drove dated back to 2006, and it appears Sayomi is rocking the 2008 model, characterised by the shift from circular brake lights to a vertical strip of brake lights.

  • While Sayomi’s driving sends them off-course and very nearly into a ditch, Fū and the others end up embracing this change of plans: instead of viewing the sunrise from a mountain top, they end up viewing it from the valley floor. It is here that Sayomi demonstrates her wisdom, by remarking that each and every one of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon have grown up without even realising it, much as how the mountain can never really be aware of how majestic it looks. This moment particularly stood out to me, hence my choice for the page quote. Thoughts like these are what make Tamayura particularly special, and while the sorts of life lessons in Tamayura may appear to be common sense, it is actually surprising as to how quickly they are forgotten amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

  • From ~Hitotose~ onwards, the idea of seeming inconveniences and unforeseen change of plans are presented as something to enjoy, and that they also bring something new to the table if one’s mind is open to it. Fū’s father was of the mindset that what happens, happens, and this is something that Fū herself discovers throughout the course of ~Hitotose~ as she spends more time in Takehara, treading the paths and photographing the things that her father had known so well. In this way, a full year passes in Takehara, and Fū exits the first season with a newfound perspective on life.

  • ~Hitotose~ ends with half the neighbourhood gathering to hang out while Sayomi and the others await the towing company to show up and extricate her Mazda 5, creating yet another warm memory as Fū gets to converse with the locals. The whole of Tamayura is a masterpiece: Graduation Photo was the series that set me on the path to becoming an iOS developer (and we recall that series I consider to be masterpieces must have impacted my life in a tangible, positive manner), but ~Hitotose~ welcomed me to the series and acted as a reminder to always keep an open mind about me. At present, I will note that I will be returning shortly to write about the second season, ~More Aggressive~: the announcement of a second season some three months after ~Hitotose~ ended came as a pleasant surprise for many, although ~More Aggressive~ itself would not broadcast until the summer of 2013.

At its heart, Tamayura ~Hitotose~ is a story of rediscovery at one’s own pace, of taking steps forwards in the presence of people precious to one, and of making the most of the present. It is meant to be a gentle, cathartic portrayal of how people come to understand themselves, make peace with the past and push themselves into the future. In keeping with the aesthetic such themes require, ~Hitotose~ possesses soothing visuals and music. The artwork and animation in ~Hitotose~ possesses the same gentle style seen in the Tamayura OVAs, using soft colours and lower saturation in conjunction with high visual detail in order to simultaneously bring Fū’s world to life without overwhelming viewers. Through the visual style, ~Hitotose~ shows Fū’s world as being a vivid one, filled with possibility and the potential for adventure around every corner. However, it never strives to displace the characters as the main star of the show, either. Similarly, Nobuyuki Nakajima and Yumi Matsutoya lend a nostalgic, wistful and occasionally, whimsical tone to ~Hitotose~‘s incidental music. The songs are slow, creating a feeling of warmth that surrounds Fū and her friends as they explore Takehara together. There are a few songs here and there that are used to set up more comedic moments or create tension, but even these remain faithful to the aesthetic in ~Hitotose~. In conjunction with one another, the visuals and music of ~Hitotose~ complement one another flawlessly such that, along with the characters and their experiences, ~Hitotose~ acts as a proper first season to Tamayura that greatly extends the messages the OVAs originally began exploring. By the end of Tamayura ~Hitotose~, viewers are left with the distinct impression that Fū’s father is no longer something that saddens her, but instead, acts as a source of inspiration for her, and moreover, by pursing photography, she’s experiencing the same joys that he once did (alongside making new memories of her own). Together with Kaoru, Norie and Maon, it is clear that Fū is no longer weighted down by her past, and instead, has found new joys in the present to look forward to. In a world where time passes by in the blink of an eye, and where there hardly seems to be a moment to take a step back to live in the moment, Tamayura ~Hitotose~ encourages viewers to be mindful of the smaller things in life, and that joys can come from most anywhere so long as one takes the time to savour them.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!), A Review, Recommendation and Remarks On Serendipity At The Film’s Ten Year Anniversary

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première ten years previously to this day, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels. Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow.

Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others. With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. However, while director Naoko Yamada fills K-On! The Movie with the series’ previous sense of joy and energy, the overall aesthetic of K-On! The Movie is unlike that of its predecessors. For the past ten years, I’ve wondered why the film felt different – the film is still K-On! at heart, but there was a feeling of melancholy and sadness about the film that was absent in the TV series. For the past decade, I’ve lacked the words to express this, but here at K-On! The Movie‘s ten year anniversary, it is worthwhile to look at why the film continues to endure – since the film became available, I’ve watched K-On! The Movie once a year, every year.

While K-On! The Movie opens with Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi playing one of Death Devil’s songs to see what things would be like if their band had a different aesthetic, and then segues to the cheerful, Christmas-like Ichiban Ippai!, Yui and the others head off to discard some rubbish from the club room. As they walk through a sun-filled corridor leading into the courtyard, a contemplative piano begins playing in the background. Yui gazes out into the courtyard. The entire scene is faded out, featuring very little colour compared to when they’d been in the clubroom, and Yui opens by saying that she’s feeling that they should do something befitting of a senior. The moment’s composition was quite unlike anything else seen in K-On!; even though colour and joy do return to K-On! The Movie moments later, one cannot help but feel a lingering sense of sadness in knowing that, this is the end for K-On!. Much as how Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi know their time with Azusa is drawing to a close, viewers know that for every smile and laugh the girls share throughout this film, there is a point where things will inevitably come to an end. Moments like these return after the girls come back home from London. Whereas their travels had been filled with colour, upon returning home, the world becomes faded out and desaturated again. The music becomes slower, gentler and carry with it a sort of finality. Those feelings had been set aside among the excitement in London, but back in Japan, they return in full force. This melancholy, however, is not overwhelming at all. Instead, it adds to K-On! The Movie, emphasising the beauty of the girls’ previous experiences together, and that despite its impermanence, the friendship between Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa is very real. While they might part ways for the present, that it existed at all counts for something. This respect for that which is transient and fleeting creates a very unusual feeling which the Japanese describe as Mono no Aware (物の哀れ, “the pathos of things”): something is beautiful because it isn’t going to last forever. This juxtaposition and seemingly contradictory set of feelings results in a bittersweetness surrounding a given moment, and much as how viewers are aware that after the movie, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi will part ways with Azusa, the fact is that they will hold onto and cherish the countless memories they have of one another, too. It is because of these memories that everyone is able to accept that they are moving onwards into the future. Yamada’s masterful inclusion of gently wistful musical pieces and choice of colour in K-On! The Movie speak to notions of Mono no Aware, and in this way, weaves a central piece of Japanese aesthetic into the film: nothing, not even friendships, last, but this is just a part of life. Seeing K-On! The Movie capture Mono no Aware speaks to the depth of in this film, and while K-On! might ostensibly be about a group of girls who would rather enjoy sweets and tea over practising, the series also indicates that like all things, friendships do not last forever. In spite of this, and perhaps because of this, such bonds are all the more meaningful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This post came about because I did wish to share something at the film’s ten year anniversary, and the observant reader will note that this year is the tenth anniversary to many things, coinciding with when I started this blog and really began writing in earnest. The film opens with Yui and the others acting like Death Devil for kicks (at least, Yui, Ritsu and Tsumugi are in on it, while Mio’s just playing as herself). Once the ruse is up, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (“Full of Number Ones”), begins playing. This song has a very Christmas-like feel to it, appropriate for the season.

  • Because this revisitation similarly comes a full ten years after K-On! The Movie first premièred, now that ten years’ worth of accumulated experience is in the books, I was hoping to share a renewed set of thoughts about this movie. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie on several occasions and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch, but reading through these older posts, it feels like back then, I’d only really scratched the surface for what I wished to discuss.

  • When Yui and the others leave the club room, the lighting is diffuse, and colours are faded. In conjunction with the music, this scene spoke volumes to me about what K-On! The Movie had been attempting to accomplish. Whereas Hajime Hyakkoku, the composer for the series’ background music, had previously written joyful, bubbly pieces, the second track on the soundtrack has a more contemplative, thoughtful tone to it as Yui considers doing something worthy of being a senior.

  • It was here that I began to realise that throughout the entirety of K-On! The Movie, a feeling of gentle sadness permeated everything that is shown, even when the characters are caught up in their own antics and creating adorable moments for viewers to laugh at. While Mono no Aware is a part of K-On! The Movie, however, it never overshadows the general aesthetic and mood; there are still plenty of jokes throughout the film, such as when Yui attempts to make a break for it after cheating in the lottery to determine where their graduation trip should end up.

  • On writing about K-On! The Movie in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • Mio gives in to her happiness and makes no attempt to hide it when it turns out London is their chosen destination. The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I still remember when this film became available to watch: it had been a gorgeous July day, and the high reached 26°C. At this point in my summer, I’d spent almost two and a half months studying for the MCAT. The course was under my belt, and I’d been going through practise exam after practise exam. When I did my first exam, I scored a 22 (equivalent to today’s 496). However, a summer of giving up research and hanging out had an appreciable impact on my performance, and by the time K-On! The Movie came out, I was consistently scoring 30s (510 in today’s scoring system).

  • For reference, a good MCAT score is 508 (29 in 2012). I had been worried if watching and reviewing K-On! The Movie would’ve had an impact on my MCAT scores, but in the end, the movie presented no trouble in that area, and I ended up watching the film after a day spent going through a practise exam. Back then, this blog was still relatively new, and I never wrote extensive articles here. Instead, I published my first review to my old Webs.com site: over the course of two days, I wrote out a review that was comparable to the average post here. This never did interfere with the MCAT, and indeed, having the chance to watch K-On! The Movie contributed to helping me relax.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London; here, Ui helps Yui to pack, and their mother can be seen in the background. Until now, Mister and Missus Hirasawa have never been shown on screen in the animated adaptation.

  • The manga would end up doing so in its fourth volume, but since K-On!! had no such equivalent (the events of the anime diverge somewhat from the events in the manga towards the end), Yamada decided to slot Yui and Ui’s parents in as Yui heads off to the airport. The manga suggests that the Hirawasas are a happy family, although the parents are very fond of travelling, accounting for why they were never seen in the TV series.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • In an interview with Yamada, she explains that the biggest challenge the movie format posed by K-On! The Movie was how to scale the series up to fit the silver screen. This challenge ended up being mentioned in film itself, when Yui wonders how they’d make a suitable gift for Azusa that captures all of their gratitude. In the end, much as how Yamada succeeds with K-On! The Movie by being true to the original series’ style, Yui and the others found that a gift for Azusa would mean the most so long as it had heart. The journey to London thus becomes a bit of a sideshow, demonstrating how regardless of where in the world Houkago Tea Time go, they’re still themselves.

  • K-On! The Movie is at its most energetic while the girls are on their travels. The London segment of K-On! The Movie only occupies a third of the movie, but it is here that some of the franchise’s most unique moments are shown. It is the first time anyone is seen heading to the airport and travelling on an aircraft –until now, K-On! had been set entirely in Japan, so having Houkago Tea Time set foot on a plane and becoming, as Yui puts it, a part of the international community, was a monumental occasion for K-On! in showing that the series had taken one giant leap forwards.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centred on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story. It is with satisfaction that I note the most vocal of these critics, Reckoner and Sorrow-kun of the elitist Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review blogs, are no longer around because both blogs’ domains have expired. Reckoner had been a particularly fierce critic of K-On!, but his assertions were unfounded and poorly argued, while Sorrow-kun had written numerous articles claiming K-On! was “objectively” a poor series.

  • As of now, both Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review have gone offline: after their owner finally stopped paying the hosting fees, their hosts suspended both sites, resulting in all of Sorrow-kun’s posts becoming removed. In particular, Sorrow-kun had believed Behind The Nihon Review’s goals were to “enlighten” fans on why anime was only worthwhile if it contained philosophical or academic merit, so seeing some of the internet’s most invalid opinions of K-On! become lost forever is something worth smiling about. The comparatively short amount of time spent in London is not a detriment to the film – K-On! The Movie is not a travel show, and London was only an aside, a consequence of a fib to keep Azusa’s gift hidden. With this in mind, it wasn’t particularly surprising that London would be secondary to figuring out what kind of song they should write for Azusa. Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised.

  • Upon arriving in London, the girls enjoy the sights over Hounslow, a district in West London immediately east of Heathrow Airport. It’s been a while since I’ve boarded a plane: the last time I flew was back in 2019, when I attended F8 2019. The last time I was on a plane for leisure would’ve been back in 2017 on a particularly memorable trip to Japan. No matter where I go in the world, there is always a joy about flying over a city and wondering to myself, what are the folks down below doing in their day-to-day lives? Of course, when I’m on the ground and looking up at an aircraft, I find myself thinking of where people might be headed.

  • The flight leaves Yui excited to finally become part of the international community, and she begins bouncing while riding the moving walkway. In this frame, the girls’ hands look quite small; in a cast interview, Yamada mentioned that she wanted K-On! The Movie to appeal to as many people as possible, and to this end, modified the characters’ appearances slightly from the style seen in K-On!!. The end result leaves the characters more expressive than they’d been in K-On! and K-On!! – simple things like facial expressions are able to speak volumes here in the film, whereas in the TV series, such nuances were not conveyed through such a subtle manner. After exiting the plane and entering the terminal, Azusa remarks that they’re going to have to clear customs.

  • Yui and the others are able to get through without any issue, although Yui’s weaker English leads her to mispronounce “sight-seeing” as “side business”, leading to some confusion from the customs official: I’m not sure what the laws in the United Kingdom are, but here in Canada, doing something business-related requires a visa. Fortunately, this mispronunciation doesn’t result in any complications, and all five clear customs without any trouble. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for, or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • In the end, Mio’s luggage was placed off to the side, and she tearfully reunites with it, while developing a mistrust for revolving things in the process. Once outside in the brisk London air, the girls set off to find a taxi that will take them to their accommodations. Excitement sets in, and Mio begins taking photographs of everything Yui points at, including this Airline lounge sign for Air Canada patrons. I am Canadian, so seeing mention of Canada in the film put a smile on my face: Air Canada is the largest airline company in Canada and runs numerous flights to London. Even from my home town, there are five direct flight to Londons every week, and the average duration is around nine hours.

  • I am interested in checking out London for myself at some point in the future – aside from minor linguistic differences between Canadian and British English, I could readily do a free-for-all visit without a tour group and navigate on my own well enough. Aside from iconic spots like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, I would like to walk the River Thames and visit the same spots in Earl’s Court as the girls of K-On! do. Such a vacation could be done for within four thousand dollars, and in the past, I have considered the logistics of such a trip.

  • After spotting a taxi, the girls board with enthusiasm – the driver asks if they’re going to London City, to which Ritsu answers with a yes. While Azusa has done her reading to ensure the trip was a success, not everything can be planned for ahead of time, and for the girls, the fact that London is broken up into smaller districts is not something that crosses their mind. This bit of miscommunication leads to the girls ending up at the wrong Hotel Ibis, and here, even Tsumugi is unable to keep up with the English.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • K-On! The Movie has several moments where Kyoto Animation was able to showcase their craft at the movie level, and clever use of camera angles really brought the performances to life. Aside from the opening, inset and ending songs, there are no new Houkago Tea Time songs in the film: all of the performances in the movie are done with existing songs, and at the sushi restaurant, the girls perform Curry Nochi Rice after Yui spots an East Indian man in the crowd. Back in 2011, I wasn’t too big of a fan of raw fish, but I imagine that my openness to try it began after watching Survivorman‘s Arctic Tundra episode. A few weeks ago, when my office did a sushi lunch, I decided to participate and greatly enjoyed the nigiri: there’s a special flavour about raw fish that makes it delicious, and it goes especially well with a dash of soy sauce.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!. Here, Ritsu runs into Love Crisis, another Japanese band that was supposed to be performing at the sushi restaurant.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner. Throughout the trip, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others, who end up having a wonderful time.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Earlier this year, I did a special tour of London using the Oculus Quest to show how faithful the film had been to details; the real-world locations are portrayed faithfully in K-On! The Movie, although here, I will remark again that London’s skyline has changed quite a bit in the past decade. K-On! The Movie shows The Shard as being under construction, and it was opened in 2013. Some of the areas still remain as they once were. Earl’s Court, for instance, still looks much as it did in 2011, while downtown London is quite different; folks looking to visit K-On! locations in central London now will be hard-pressed to find some locations since they’ve changed so much – the Harper’s Coffee has since been replaced by a Costa Coffee, for instance.

  • After Yui gets her hand stuck in a receptacle for dog waste, the girls set off to find a bathroom and wind up at the British Museum. Here, they take the London Underground’s Central line from the Kensington Gardens: during the day, the Underground is nowhere near as busy as it was when Yui and the others first arrived, and certainly not as crowded as it had been in Skyfall, when 007 pursued Silva through the London Underground after the latter managed to escape MI6 custody.

  • While they’d intended to only stop by for a quick bathroom break, Mio, Tsumugi, Yui, Ritsu and Azusa end up checking out the British Museum’s exhibits, including the original Rosetta Stone. The girls recognise this as the replacement tombstone they’d borrowed from the Occult Club back during the events of K-On!!, when they found Juliet’s headstone was misplaced. The Rosetta Stone replica ended up being a suitable replacement, and the class play of Romeo and Juliet went off without a hitch. To see the Rosetta Stone again shows the kind of care that Yamada put into the film, giving Yui and the others a chance to see the world beyond Japan.

  • Here, Ritsu, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Azusa run down the stairs on the Westminster Bridge’s south banks: the location was not hard to find, since the girls end up at the London Eye moments later. There’s a doorway underneath the South Bank Lion sculpture on the left of this image, and this was used as a secret entrance to MI6’s new digs in Skyfall after Silva bombed the SIS Building. One of the joys about K-On! The Movie was that so many locations seen in this movie were also featured in Skyfall, and I myself wondered if the SIS Building would make an appearance. While this never occurred, it was a contrast to see Yui and the others have fun in the same places where Bond was on duty.

  • Mio’s fear of rotating things kicks in when the others suggest boarding the London Eye to gain a better vantage point over central London; she decides to stay on the ground and let the others have a good time. To this, Yui and Ritsu decide to haul Mio off anyways. A longstanding joke in K-On! stems from Mio’s various phobias, although it is typically the case that once Mio is pushed out of her comfort zone, she is able to live in the moment with the others.

  • As such, despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would allocate at least seven days for the entire trip London, which leaves five full days to explore.

  • One aspect in K-On! The Movie that I enjoyed was that smaller details about travel were presented; most travel shows only highlight attractions and the best eats of a given trip. Conversely, K-On! The Movie portrays the smaller, more awkward moments that result when people are far from home. After their day’s worth of adventure, the group return to Ibis Earl’s Court, and almost immediately, Yui and Azusa end up missing one another often enough to the point where they wonder where the other’s gone. Yui’s just scatter-brained, but Azusa is genuinely tired from having spent the day putting an itinerary together that allows everyone to see as much as they could.

  • In the end, the pair end up running into one another in Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi’s room. Such moments typify the sort of humour present in K-On! as a whole; it’s not over-the-top, and instead, acts to create gentler moments that elicit a smile. Some folks consider K-On! to be a comedy, but this is, strictly speaking, incorrect: K-On! might’ve had origins as a 4-koma manga driven by punchlines, but Yamada’s interpretation of the series allows for more meaningful learnings to be presented; themes like appreciation and mindfulness are more important in K-On! than making viewers laugh.

  • With this being said, comedy does crop up from time to time as a result of everyday occurrences; here, Yui slips after rushing to meet Azusa after wandering off to the Brompton Cemetery whilst considering what the song for Azusa should entail. One small visual aspect in K-On! The Movie that did stand out was the fact that all of the folks in London are uncommonly tall relative to Azusa and the others. While Azusa is stated as being only 4’11”, a quick glance at this image finds that the average Londoner would be around eight feet in height. I imagine this was a deliberate choice to show how small everyone is compared to the world.

  • After Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, they are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. Even now, whenever I see images and footage of London, K-On! The Movie is the first thing that comes to mind; the film had done a phenomenal job of bringing the city to life, and while melancholy gently permeates the whole of the film, the thirty minutes spent in London are K-On! The Movie‘s most cheerful, energetic moments.

  • After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart for Japan; owing to their timing, things are really close by the time Yui and the others have to return to the airport and board their flight back home. In general, it is recommended that one arrives at least three hours before their scheduled departure when flying internationally. This is so one can make it through customs and security checks, which can take a while, and because some airlines require one to check in an hour before their flight. Accepting a concert on the same day they were heading back would be cutting it close, especially in a city as large as London.

  • Fortunately, some elements can be abstracted away, and the girls’ ride over to Heathrow is uneventful, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close, and here, the soundtrack takes on a much slower, gentler tenour. The track that accompanies this scene has a very wistful, reflective mood about it and is appropriately titled “Winter night in a warm room”.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance. During this in-school concert, the song Sumidare Love is performed: the song had been on the vocal collections, but until now, had not been played in the series proper.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • Despite having drawn blanks while in London, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi manage to begin their song once they’re back home; it was Azusa’s actions throughout the trip that really led everyone to see anew how much they’d come to rely on their junior. While this should be a joyous moment, K-On! The Movie reminds viewers that this moment is also steeped in a sort of finality: once they finish their song and deliver it, they will have to part ways with Azusa.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about: K-On! had preferred to focus on the girls’ experience together, and things like songwriting were often set aside in favour of having everyone enjoy tea together. This did lead to the impression that Houkago Tea Time were unqualified. However, K-On! did show that Mio spent some of her free time writing lyrics to songs, and to reinforce the idea that Houkago Tea Time’s success is well-deserved, K-On! The Movie opts to show the song-writing process behind Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!.

  • This song had appeared to come out of the blue in K-On!!, but the film shows the process behind how the song the lyrics and heart that went into the song came from seeing how much of an impact Azusa had on the light music club. However, Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! was not written overnight, and because of the timeframes, I would estimate that the film is set over the course of three weeks – the first third of the movie would’ve taken place over the course of a few days as the girls figure out they’d like to do a song for Azusa, and then book a last-minute trip over to London as a graduation trip. The London trip itself is explicitly mentioned as taking five days, and then after returning, some time would’ve been needed to put the song together.

  • While this seems excessive, we recall that in K-On!!, there had been quite a gap between exams and graduation – when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi head off to write their entrance exams for the women’s college, it would’ve been shortly after Valentines’ day, and graduation itself was in March. This in-between period was never covered in K-On!!, and Yamada expertly used this time as when Yui and the othes came to write out Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! ahead of graduation for Azusa. Through K-On! The Movie, it is shown that the in-betweens in an anime can also have a story to tell. Non Non Biyori Repeat adapted this concept for the entire second season, showing that anime only shows the best moments that impact the narrative.

  • Consequently, while Yui and the others might appear to be pulling songs out of nowhere, and performing like experts without much apparent practise, the reality is that the anime and manga tend to show us viewers moments when Houkago Tea Time are slacking off, but once the chips are down, and the girls get their motivation, they’re quite determined and capable. As such, this is the one criticism of K-On! I can dismiss immediately – folks who hold this against the series have fundamentally misunderstood that anime only show milestone moments, and more mundane details are deliberately omitted for a reason.

  • Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is the song that got me into K-On!, and after I became curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and re-watch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style. Even a full decade later, the song remains every bit as enjoyable as it had been when I first went through K-On!.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was ten years ago, K-On! The Movie had a tangible, positive impact on me.

K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred a decade earlier; even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was ten years previously. Because of how Yamada conveys Mono no Aware, as it relates to friendship, it becomes clear that K-On! The Movie was intended to be the final act for Kyoto Animation’s adaptation – author Kakifly had written two sequels, K-On! College and K-On! High School, which respectively cover Yui’s life at university and Azusa’s efforts to keep the light music club going. K-On! College was published in September 2012, and a month later, K-On! High School became available. Precedence would have suggested that adapting both of these volumes into an anime could’ve produced a two-cour season with twenty-four full episodes, but this would stand contrary to the aesthetic in K-On! The Movie. At the time, K-On!‘s anime adaptation had exceeded expectations in promoting the manga – the anime had been intended to promote the manga, and in this role, it has certainly succeeded. The manga itself concludes in a fashion that is consistent with the Mono no Aware aesthetic. K-On! College has Yui settling in to life at university and even makes rivals out of Akira, a serious musician whose skill is enough to get her noticed by professional producers, while K-On! High School has Azusa wondering what fun things the future will bring. However, this diverges from the feeling that K-On! The Movie originally concluded with; to bring K-On! back in the present would undermine what the film had accomplished ten years earlier. Six years earlier, I did walk through whether or not a continuation was possible, and back then, I had concluded that such a project would have been welcomed. After all, there had been enough materials to do so, and K-On! would’ve still been relatively fresh in the viewers’ minds. This answer has changed since then – a full decade later, it is safe to say that it is unlikely that Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa’s stories will be expanded upon. While Kakifly’s spin-off series, K-On! Shuffle, is set in the same universe and built around a similar premise (protagonist Yukari Sakuma is inspired to take up drumming after watching Ritsu perform), K-On!‘s success had largely come from the fact that it had been so groundbreaking at the time. The concept is no longer novel, and as such, adapting K-On! Shuffle is similarly unlikely in the foreseeable future. With this in mind, I imagine that this is the last time I will be writing about K-On! The Movie – as enjoyable as the series is, I do feel that I’ve said everything that needs to be said for a film that has aged very gracefully and certainly stands of its own merits, during the past decade that I’ve been active as an anime blogger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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