The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Masterpiece Anime Showcase

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Similarly, I’ve never been fond of Nihon Review for their low-effort reviews: their K-On! reviews for each of the seasons and movie appear to have been copy-pasted from a template where the only requirement was to use the words “banal” and “mediocre” a set number of times. The domain expiring would simply mean that some of the internet’s worst K-On! reviews will finally be lost to time. Back in Azumanga Daioh, the stoic and taciturn Sakaki really gets her chance to make up for all of those times when the grey cat bit her: here on Okinawa, she decides to visit Iriomote, the second largest island in the Okinawa chain famous for the Iriomote Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensii), a subspecies of the leopard cat that is critically endangered, and whose population is roughly 200 individuals. Iriomote cats have been unsuccessfully kept in captivity for the most part, and human activity continues to threaten their habitat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Girls und Panzer, Understanding Success On the Intersection Between Friendship, Sportsmanship, Self-Discovery and Technical Excellence

“Cheer up, and let’s do this. We’ve all decided we were going to do this together, that we were going to fight until the end, and never surrender.” –Miho Nishizumi

After a disastrous outcome at the previous year’s Panzerfahren tournament, Miho Nishizumi transfers to Ooarai Girls’ Academy, where she hopes for a fresh start. She befriends Saori Takebe and Hana Isuzu, but inevitably finds herself being recruited to the newly-restarted Panzerfahren team. While Miho is initially hesitant, her previous experience and innate qualities as a leader inspires her fellow team-mates. Saori later manages to convince Mako Reizei to join, as well. After a mock battle with St. Glorianna’s Academy, their leader, Darjeeling, wishes Miho the best, and Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team begin their journey in the current Panzerfahren tournament. They topple Saunders University in the first round and become friends with Kay, Saunder’s commander. Between training and securing new parts for their tanks, Miho also comes to know her classmates better, seeing each of their interests and unique traits. She reveals to her friends that she’d quit Panzerfahren because of her failure to secure a victory the previous year, as a result of her decision to leave her tank and rescue a classmate, whose tank had fallen into a river during the final match. This led to a rift between Miho and her mother, Shiho, who felt Miho had not lived up to the family name. Ooarai later defeats Anzio in battle and faces off against Pravda. While the cold conditions initially work against Ooarai, and Pravda surrounds them, Miho accepts a temporary ceasefire so she can send Erwin and Yukari out for recon. They come back with a report on Pravda’s positions and exploit this to earn a victory, along with Katyusha’s respect. Here, Momo and Anzu reveal that there was a reason for Ooarai’s participation in Panzerfahren: from a lack of funds, their school was to be shut down, and they needed a game-changer to convince the school board to let their school remain open. Thus, victory became all-important, and going into the final round, Miho is fighting not just for herself or her friends, but the fate of the school she’s come to call home. It is a difficult battle: against her old school, Black Forest, Miho finds that her tanks are outmatched by Black Forest’s sheer power, but with a few novel approaches, Ooarai begins levelling things out, leaving Miho and her older sister, Maho, to duel it out. Miho comes out victorious, and Maho expresses relief that Miho’s found her own way again, while Shiho looks on, pleased with Miho’s tenacity. This is Girls und Panzer, one of the most iconic anime of the 2010s: despite being plagued by production issues and possessing what initially appeared to be a weak premise suited for little more than fanservice, Girls und Panzer‘s historic run in 2012 and 2013 led the series to unexpected success that defied all expectations.

At its core, Girls und Panzer speaks to the importance of friendship and support in helping individuals overcome their own doubts and fears. Miho begins her journey uncertain, having lost her way from a defeat that, in the Nishizumi Creed, was untenable. She transferred to Ooarai with the hope of escaping Panzerfahren and living an ordinary life. However, when circumstance pushes Miho to take up the duty of a Panzerfahren commander, it is with the support of her friends that allow her to make this transition. Initially, it is warmth from Saori and Hana that gives Miho the courage to step back into a tank. Over time, as Miho leads Ooarai to victory time and time again with her kindness, compassion and empathy, she earns the admiration, respect and trust from those who fight alongside her: Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team rallies behind Miho, placing their faith in her to create opportunity and pursue success even where hope is slim. This support is what pushes Miho to fight for them; as a result of this mutualistic dynamic, Ooarai ultimately is able to save their school, and Miho rediscovers what Panzerfahren is about. The key distinction in Miho’s newfound approach to Panzerfahren over her original techniques stems from her own genteel character, in addition to concern for the well-being of those around her. Miho embodies Sun Tzu’s terms of a great leader from Art of War, being a commander who is tough but fair, compassionate yet resolute. By caring for those under her command, and setting them straight without being impatient, Miho creates a team who is willing to fight to the ends of the earth with her. This kindness is a component of the friendship themes in Girls und Panzer; Miho’s personal style, in integrating adaptivity, sportsmanship and compassion, not only helps unite Ooarai, but also inspires the rival teams that she ends up meeting in battle. Darjeeling, Kay, Katyusha and even Maho come to appreciate Miho’s choices, in time, supporting Ooarai in their journey to victory.

While the themes in Girls und Panzer are nothing novel, the success story Girls und Panzer found comes from the consequence of the series excelling with the integration of feel-good themes together with a compelling level of technical excellence in Panzerfahren itself. Girls und Panzer meticulously researched World War Two-era armour to a level of accuracy that is comparable to Tom Clancy’s, and as such, allows the series to define very specific rules and constraints for Panzerfahren. Armour and projectile properties, tank movement characteristics and operational procedures are all explored in detail, faithful to their real-world counterparts. The sum of this level of technical detail allows Girls und Panzer to create highly-nuanced discussions on armour doctrine and tactics. For instance, knowing the attributes of the Panzer IV Ausf. H’s 7.5 cm Pak 40 and the significance of the armoured skirt allows one to comment on Miho’s odds in squaring off against Maho’s Tiger I: there is both fact and historical precedence to guide discussion and speculation on what could happen in a battle. However, while Girls und Panzer draws heavily on real-world details, the anime does not make them mandatory for enjoyment; in the total absence of any knowledge about World War Two armour, one could still have a complete, satisfying experience with Girls und Panzer. This is what sets Girls und Panzer apart from similar series of its time: the anime stands solidly on its own with the virtue of a strong cast, a simple but well-presented theme and a superb audio-visual presentation, but also invests enough into the details to really captivate viewers with existing knowledge of armoured warfare. There is something in Girls und Panzer for everyone, and regardless of one’s background, there is something to enjoy in this series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If Girls und Panzer is nearly seven years old, and I’ve written about the series to death before, what would drive me to revisit the series, one asks? The answer is actually two-fold: the first is that in the seven years between now and when Girls und Panzer finished airing, my writing style has shifted somewhat, and I feel that now, it is a bit easier for me to articulate what makes the series so enjoyable for me, as well as why the series has not lost any of its charm since its original run in 2012-2013. The second reason is a bit more insidious – I’ve deliberately timed this post to coincide with Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s second movie’s home release.

  • I will be writing about Das Finale‘s second film very soon and strive to have the ‘net’s first and most comprehensive discussion. Until then, this revisitation of Girls und Panzer will provide readers with a rough idea of why after all this time, I’m still writing about Girls und Panzer. The anime begins with Miho transferring to Ooarai, and quickly befriending the warm Saori Takebe and composed Hana Isuzu. Out of the gates, they help her get used to life in school; although Miho still has difficulty in participating in Panzerfahren, Saori and Hana’s friendship steels Miho’s resolve.

  • Even this early on, Girls und Panzer did a phenomenal job of foreshadowing. Girls und Panzer had originally been expected to be a joke, a fanservice-laden series with no meaningful message, and so, when its run was underway, viewers were shocked as to just how well-written and detailed things were. From things like characterisation, to details behind each tank, everything in the series was of a quality that far exceeded initial expectations, although Girls und Panzer made it clear that knowledge of armoured warfare notwithstanding, anyone could go in and have a good time.

  • Initially, once Miho decides to take up Panzerfahren again, Ooarai forms a Panzerfahren team and go on a hunt for tanks to use. A long time ago, Ooarai had been a school known for its Panzerfahren, but the program eventually was shut down, and tanks were left around the school ship. In Japanese, the girls refer to the art of operating tanks as 戦車道 (Hepburn sensha-dō, literally “way of the tank”), and Panzerfahren is a compound word derived off the German Panzer (tank) and fahren (“to go”). In my context, Panzerfahren is approximated as “tank riding”, and English translations peg sensha-dō as “tankery”, which is admittedly strange-sounding, so Panzerfahren stuck with me.

  • After a day’s efforts, the girls find a 38 (t), StuG III, M3 Lee and a Type 98B in addition to the Panzer IV Ausf. D. Thus, five teams are formed: Miho joins Anglerfish with the Panzer IV, while the student council take the 38(t). The history fanatics take the StuG III, the first years take the M3, and the Type 98B are given to the volleyball club. Of these tanks, Battlefield V has the Panzer IV and 38(t): the former is an excellent all-around tank that plays well with Miho’s adaptability, while the student council’s decision to 38(t) suggests at their faith in Miho even this early in the game – the 38(t) is a light tank with a weak gun, and in Battlefield V, it is completely ill-suited for anything other than anti-infantry combat. Even then, a few well-placed Panzerfaust rounds will melt the 38(t).

  • During their first practise match, Miho operates the radio, Saori takes on the role of the commander, while Yukari acts as the gunner, and Hana drives. Mid-match, Hana is knocked out from an impact, and the girls look to be demolished until a chance encounter with Mako Reizei, who promptly picks up on driving the Panzer IV. With Miho’s instructions keeping them focused, the Panzer IV manages to knock out the other Ooarai tanks despite being stuck on a rickety bridge, and the first years fall into a panic, de-tracking their tank in a desperate bid to escape. This early match is a far cry from the scope and scale of later matches, but was critical to show viewers that a proper team must similarly have a proper leader, and at the smaller scale, every tank must also be properly operated.

  • After the practise match, the girls begin to deck out their tanks to fit their own personalities. It is assumed that at this point, each team has begun learning the essentials of their own tanks, while at once training to master the basics, such as compensating for gravity when firing, how to move so as to minimise the tank’s profile and maximise the amount of armour pointed at the enemy to reduce damage. While Miho ends up leaving the Panzer IV in its default colours (to Saori’s disappointment), the first-years paint their tank bright pink, and the history buffs make their tank a walking war museum. The student council’s customisation is the most ostentatious: they opt to go for a brilliant gold finish.

  • Battlefield V‘s tank customisation is practically non-existent, but in Battlefield 1, it was indeed possible to deck one’s tank out with a gold finish, exactly as the student council had done. Upon seeing the results, Yukari is scandalised – being an expert in all things armour, Yukari loves tanks and became saddened to see armoured vehicles being desecrated. Miho finds things hilarious, and although she’s accustomed to properly camouflaged tanks, she allows her classmates this customisation so that they feel at home with her. There is one other unspoken reason: Miho is the sort of person who prefers experience to speak for itself, and letting the volleyball team, history buffs and first years to learn of the consequences of bling on a tank on the battlefield would be far more effective than if she’d lectured them herself.

  • Giving people the freedom to explore and learn is oftentimes a more effective teacher: sometimes, it takes making mistakes in a risk-free environment to really drive a lesson home, and sweating out in training beats bleeding out in war. During training, Miho drills the others on basics like manoeuvre and firing techniques, and I’m particularly fond of interior shots of the tanks themselves. Besides showing the claustrophobic space inside (and Miho’s thighs when we’re talking about the Panzer IV’s interior), interior shots really go to illustrate how sophisticated the art and animation in Girls und Panzer is; the reflection from the optics Hana is looking through is reflected on her shoulder.

  • Once Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team is assembled, Anzu, student council president, arranges for a training match against St. Glorianna. At this point, Miho is asked to be the commander for the whole of Ooarai, which she accepts, and the roles for the Panzer IV are also determined: Mako is to be the driver, Saori takes on the radio operator role, Yukari becomes the loader, Hana is the gunner, and Miho is the commander. Miho’s crew becomes considerably more effectual once everyone settles into a role suited for their personalities, and the first friendly bout between two schools takes place.

  • Against St. Glorianna, Miho fields her variety of tanks against Darjeeling’s Churchill Mk. VII and the Matilda A12 Mk. II. The Matilda’s the predecessor to the Valentine Mk. VIII that I’ve operated in Battlefield V: the Valentine has slightly lighter armour and a slightly reduced top speed compared to the Matilda, but could be produced more inexpensively and quickly. I favour the Valentine for its balance in gameplay and never had much success with the Churchill.

  • The first match with Darjeeling’s crew is set in the streets of Ooarai, a coastal town in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture. The town is counted as one of the dullest, most unremarkable places in Japan to be, but this was before Girls und Panzer changed that. Here, Miho drives past the Ooarai Marine Tower, and during their first battle, many familiar locations around Ooarai are depicted. I’ve covered this in great detail in an earlier post, and note that since Girls und Panzer, the town has seen an increase in tourism.

  • While Miho effectively solos the whole of St. Glorianna’s team and disables all of their Matildas, the Panzer IV Ausf. D’s 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 is completely inadequate to punch through the Churchill’s armour. At ranges of under 100 metres, the main gun on the Ausf. D could only penetrate the equivalent of 41 mm of armour, and the Churchill Mk. VII has a minimum armour thickness of 51 mm in its rear, with the turret front and hull having a maximum of 152 mm of armour, while the sides possess 95 mm of armour.  Simply put, Miho would have had no way to defeat Darjeeling on her own: the StuG III that the history team fielded had already been knocked out of the fight by this point.

  • In order to defeat the Churchill at this point in Ooarai’s career, Miho would’ve needed to keep the StuG III and its Kwk 40 L/48 alive for longer: at under 100 metres, this 75 mm gun would have penetrated a maximum of 143 mm of armour, so attacking from the sides or rear would’ve been sufficient. Miho does indeed end up losing, and it shows that this early on, Ooarai still needs to improve as a team. As a consequence for losing, Miho and the others must do the dreaded “Anglerfish Dance”, and I’ll feature Miho doing the dance for no discernible reason beyond the aesthetic properties of this moment.

  • Miho, Yukari, Saori, Hana and Mako end up visiting a tank-themed sweets cafe that serves cakes in the shape of tanks, and here, they run into Miho’s older sister, Maho, and her best lieutenant, Erika Itsumi. While Maho is presented as being cold and reserved, this belies a friendly and warm personality; she cares greatly for Miho and worries about her. Erika, on the other hand, is more disparaging towards Miho, holding a grudge that Miho’s actions the previous year had cost them a victory. The choice to introduce Erika here was probably meant to show that Miho and Maho are very similar. Rather like how Erika greatly respects Maho, Yukari will go to the ends of the earth for Miho and stands up to defend her. Early on in Girls und Panzer, the similarity between the two siblings are not immediately apparent, but even here, care was taken to subtly indicate that Miho and Maho are definitely sisters despite outward differences.

  • In preparation for their first round against Saunders, besides training to improve their teamwork and coordination, the girls also repaint their tanks to standard camouflage to avoid sticking out on the battlefield. Because Miho’s been out of her game for a little while, Yukari decides to assist and sets off on a reconnaissance mission to Saunders to learn more about her opponents. Yukari’s first time is marked with inadequate fieldcraft, and she’s quickly discovered. Reconnaissance is a legal part of Panzerfahren, and despite being compromised, Yukari learns of the loadout and disposition of their first opponent.

  • To Yukari, befriending Miho, Saori, Hana and Mako marks a major point in her life: she explains that until now, she’d never really met anyone that shared her love for armoured warfare and all of the accompanying elements. With a profound interest and knowledge in tanks, Yukari is aware of survival tactics and equipment in addition to the properties of different armoured vehicles. While she may be a loader in Panzerfahren, Yukari offers Miho suggestions and in time, also becomes a capable reconnaissance unit able to gather intelligence and get out without being compromised.

  • If there were a single screenshot that could capture the magic of Girls und Panzer, this would be it: I remark that in retrospect, Girls und Panzer is a series that I could’ve easily written episodic reviews for. Each episode advances the story in a meaningful way, and each episode features plenty of material to walk about from a hardware and physics perspective. However, in the interest of keeping things as concise as I can for a Masterpiece Anime Showcase, I’ve elected to stick to forty screenshots, and as such, will not fully represent all of the moments within this series.

  • The match against Saunders allows Ooarai to experience both sides of Panzerfahren: Saunders, reflecting on the American way, has an incredible access to resources, and during the match, Alisa uses a special balloon to intercept Ooarai’s radio communications, giving them a seemingly-supernatural edge. Miho realises this and switches her team over to SMS, while providing false information to send Saunders’ tanks into traps. When Kay discovers this, she stands down her tanks to match Ooarai’s number in the name of fairness.

  • With the equipment gap closed, the battle between Ooarai and Saunders becomes one of pure skill. After locating the Saunders flag tank in pursuit of Ooarai’s flag tank, Mako parks the Panzer IV so Hana can make the shot. Saunders’ top sniper, Naomi, prepares to fire and interrupt Hana, but a steady aim allows Hana to fire moments before they re disabled. The resulting shot disables Saunders’ flag tank, bringing the match to an end. Panzerfahren matches in Girls und Panzer come in two varieties so far: elimination is decided based on who runs out of tanks first, while the VIP game type involves protecting the flag tank, wherein losing the flag tank causes a team to lose the match regardless of their remaining numbers.

  • While Darjeeling had the composure and grace to thank Miho for a match well-played, it isn’t until Ooarai’s victory over Saunders where themes of sportsmanship really come into play in Girls und Panzer. Kay personally thanks Miho for a great match and notes that victory is only meaningful if achieved in a fair, honest manner. Sportsmanship is one of my favourite aspects of Girls und Panzer, creating a very warm and inviting environment that contributes to the anime’s universal appeal, and for this, Kay very quickly became one of my favourite characters outside of Ooarai for embodying the boisterous, hard-working and bold spirit that represents the best traits of the United States.

  • At Girls und Panzer‘s halfway point, Miho opens up as to why she was initially against taking Panzerfahren, and at AnimeSuki, an anime forum I occasionally peruse, this led to a flame war on whether or not Miho’s actions were justified. While most people (myself included) agree that Miho made the right decision in saving her classmate even at the cost of the match, one Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi and willx argued that Miho was better served leaving her classmate to certain danger for the sake of winning. This resulted in a week-long festival of ad hominem attacks, self-aggrandisement and mudslinging between the two parties.

  • Sumeragi was eventually banned from AnimeSuki, and since then, discussions there on Girls und Panzer have been more reasoned and peaceable: thou shall not be missed. Sumeragi was wrong about pretty much everything related to Girls und Panzer‘s themes despite being a so-called “expert” on all things related to armoured warfare, and in retrospect, my decision not take Sumeragi and willx to school proved a good one. This allowed me to finish my undergraduate thesis on time and enjoy the final two episodes without worrying about remaining edits or other work. Back in Girls und Panzer, viewers are introduced to Pravda, a Soviet-themed school whose commander diminutive stature is matched by a big and confident personality: having never heard of Ooarai before, Katyusha  is confident she’ll be able to mop floor with Miho and then take a shot at beating Black Forest.

  • If and when I’m asked, Miho is my favourite anime character of the 2010s: she possesses all of the traits that I respect in people, being fiercely loyal and optimistic even in the face of overwhelming odds. Polite, soft-spoken and shy, Miho is a very human character whose growth comes as a result of the time she spends at Ooarai; her doubts are slowly displaced by confidence as she continues to fight for those important to her. As an side, the fact that Miho’s specs are 82-56-84 increases her appeal, although given the nature of this post, that is neither here nor there.

  • During the match against Pravda, overconfidence causes Ooarai’s tanks to step into Katyusha’s trap, and they find themselves encircled at the church. Katyusha, doubtful Ooarai will put up much of a fight, decides to offer them a surrender instead. The girls quickly become demoralised from the cold and the situation, and it is here, in the darkest hour, that Anzu, Momo and Yuzu explain the truth: that Ooarai will shut down unless they can win the Panzerfahren tournament to prove the school is still relevant. Spurred on, Miho uses the lull to send Yukari, Erwin, Mako and Midoriko out on reconnaissance, before doing the Anglerfish dance herself to raise everyone’s spirits.

  • For a Girls und Panzer post, the observant reader will note that I’ve got very little in the way of actual screenshots from the combat sequences: this post was written with the characters and themes in mind, rather than the tanks, but I’ve also included a few pivotal moments, such as Miho making use of the StuG III’s low profile to do what I personally would count as the height of dishonesty in Battlefield V: camping is despicable, and in Katyusha’s place, since I don’t underestimate opponents, I would’ve opted to slag Ooarai instead. However, in Girls und Panzer, we are cheering for Ooarai, so I’ll concede that camping with a StuG III is technically not the worst thing one could do in Panzerfahren.

  • Between Miho dancing the Anglerfish Dance and Katyusha properly thanking Miho for a good match, expressing that she’s impressed with Miho, the Ooarai victory over Pravda was my magic moment to Girls und Panzer. Up until now, the series had been engaging in its own right, but after this episode, I was thoroughly convinced that I was watching a masterpiece unfolding before my eyes. It was therefore something of a shock to learn that Girls und Panzer would experience an intermission, as the series had run into difficulties in production.

  • I thus busied myself with mastering principles of software engineering and preparations of my undergraduate thesis while waiting for Girls und Panzer to catch up: the difficulties that Girls und Panzer experienced brought to mind the Project management triangle (if you do something quickly and cheaply, it’ll not be good; if you do something quickly and well, it’ll not be cheap; if you do something cheaply and well, it’ll not be quick), and in Girls und Panzer, I remarked that given the quality of the series, I was okay with ACTAS sacrificing “quick” to ensure the series was good. I would not be disappointed.

  • Towards the end of Girls und Panzer, lingering questions of family are addressed: Mako and her grandmother come to an understanding, as does Hana and her mother. Yukari and her parents are on excellent terms, and Miho is a bit envious of their relationship compared to the strained relationship between her and Shiho, her mother. On the final night before the final match against Black Forest, Miho and her friends share a tonkatsu dinner; all of the Ooarai Panzerfahren members have tonkatsu to some capacity to show their unity and resolve. With its origins in the 19th century, tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet and usually served with a special sauce, and it is an excellent dish that is very hearty.

  • On the day of the final match, Miho faces against the toughest opponents that she’ll encounter in the Panzerfahren tournament: Black Forest (Kuromorimine in Japanese, I’ve deliberately gone with the English spelling since it’s faster for me to type) is known for respect for discipline, order and structure, which are Prussian values. Driven purely by victory, Black Forest is not particularly on good terms with the other schools, and their doctrine is one of superior firepower and force, based on Shiho’s own interpretation of the Nishizumi Style. Entering the final battle, the outcome of the match was a foregone one for me; having studied Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the pure Nishizumi Style is stymied by rigidity and an inflexibility that, on paper, would prove vulnerable to a flexible, adaptive doctrine.

  • As it turns out, the classmate Miho ended up saving was grateful that she’d done so. This simple moment decisively cleared up the long-standing argument from AnimeSuki: Girls und Panzer had been so focused on themes of friendship and sportsman-like conduct that this response was the only one consistent with everything the series had built up. It is here that Girls und Panzer showed that despite the cold, impersonal interpretation of the Nishizumi style that Black Forest practises, their students are still human, able to accept and understand things like respect, integrity and compassion.

  • Besides Sun Tzu, the fact that I’ve been a practitioner of Gōjū-ryū (literally “hard-soft style”) for upwards of two decades also impacted my perspective of Miho’s Panzerfahren style. Our school’s original founder, Chōjun Miyagi, embraced the idea that the hard (linear strikes) and soft (circular, open-handed techniques) was not just applicable to martial arts, but to life itself. Arguing that switching between the two would allow one “to deal effectively with the fluctuations of life”; in other words, success comes from adaptability and flexibility. Black Forest, on the other hand, would be over-reliant on the hard, and therefore, lack the adaptability for success. As such, while Ooarai is understandably nervous about their final match with Black Forest owing to the latter’s fearsome reputation, Black Forest’s might is not as insurmountable as one might think.

  • In retrospect, the heavy tanks of Black Forest, suited for engaging equivalently armoured tanks or larger numbers of technically inferior tanks, were immediately at a disadvantage in their fight against Ooarai, whose motley-looking arsenal of light, medium and heavy tanks reflect on Miho’s ability to improvise and adapt. It speaks volumes to the quality of writing in Girls und Panzer that despite having a very clear outcome based purely on precedence set both in military strategy and life lessons, the anime would nonetheless keep viewers on the edge of the seats for every minute of every battle. There is only one other franchise that has successfully conveyed its themes and captured the viewers’ excitement despite having a protagonist that can do no wrong, and that is Ip Man.

  • In order to reinforce the idea that Miho’s “nobody gets left behind” mindset is both honourable and appropriate, after creating chaos amongst Black Forests’ armour, Miho leads her units across a river, and Rabbit Team’s M3 becomes stuck in the river even as Black Forest is in hot pursuit. While Rabbit Team implore Miho to leave them, Miho refuses and personally directs the efforts to free their tank. For her efforts, Miho is rewarded when Rabbit Team go on to knock out a Jagdpanther, whose powerful 128 mm main gun would’ve almost certainly caused trouble for Ooarai. Miho’s fierce and unyielding loyalty, for better or worse, is one of her defining traits, and in a broader interpretation of the Nishizumi Style, this unwavering dedication to what she believes in means that Miho has indeed made use of Shiho’s teachings, albeit in a very indirect fashion.

  • Despite the dramatic differences in setting and context, Ip Man‘s titular character shares a great deal in common with Miho. Both are proficient in their chosen martial art to a near-supernatural level, and believe that the style matters less than one’s on commitment to what they respectively believe in. Neither are invincible, but instead, Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and Miho both are polite, respectful, observant, finding victory from a combination of uncommon resilience and creativity. Consequently, when it comes to Girls und Panzer and Ip Man, excitement comes not from the outcome of a battle, but rather, how the respective series’ protagonist finds a way to win. I recently had a chance to watch Ip Man 4: The Finale, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie; it was no secret that Donnie Yen’s Ip Man would best Scott Adkins’ Barton Geddes, but against Geddes’ overwhelming power and technique, Ip Man ends up using pressure points to bring the tough-talking, hard hitting Gunnery Sergeant to his knees in Ip Man 4‘s riveting final fight.

  • There was never any doubt that Ip Man would win, but the fight gave both Yen and Adkins a chance to shine. Similarly, in the fight against Black Forest in Girls und Panzer, while Miho was certain to win, the final fight featured plenty of surprises, such as the super-heavy tank, Panzer VIII Maus. Only two prototype mockups were ever built, and for their extreme firepower and durability, such tanks would have proven impractical as the world began moving towards the main battle tank, a combination of powerful engines and main guns, as well as improved armour technology, that gave medium tanks the mobility of a lighter tank and the firepower and armour of a heavy tank. In Ooarai’s arsenal, nothing conventional would’ve been effective, so Miho decides to cook up a clever scheme for defeating the Maus: success rallies Ooarai and sets Miho on course for a one-on-one showdown with Maho.

  • In an evenly-matched one-on-one, Miho narrowly comes up on top: having upgraded to the Panzer IV Ausf. H with a Kwk 40/L43, Miho had more than enough firepower to deal with a Tiger I from under 100 metres. With the ability to penetrate up to 133 mm of armour at close range, and the fact that the Tiger I’s maximum armour thickness is120 mm, this upgrade proves instrumental in helping Miho secure the win for Ooarai. Even without knowing this, however, the outcome of Girls und Panzer nonetheless remained quite evident. This was in fact, the key strength in Girls und Panzer: having knowledge of the tanks’ properties is helpful but will not diminish enjoyment of the series – viewers can have a full experience of the series irrespective of whether or not they have any a priori knowledge about World War Two tanks.

  • Ooarai’s victory is well-deserved, and acts as a definitive ending to Girls und Panzer. Here, Girls und Panzer could have ended on a high note even if no movie and film series had ever been announced: the original TV series is a self-contained experience that got every detail correct. Seven years later, Girls und Panzer looks as sharp as any contemporary anime when it comes to visuals (a few areas do appear more simplistic, and watching Das Finale gives one a good idea of how the art has improved since 2012-2013), and the soundtrack is of a top tier, featuring a combination of tense battle music, classic marches and gentle slice-of-life pieces that capture Miho’s journey of rediscovery.

  • With the additional seven years of life experience since Girls und Panzer‘s conclusion, I find that Miho and Shiho’s portrayal in the original series to an incomplete and somewhat unfair one, as it does not adequately represent them as people. This is a consequence of the series’ short run-time of only twelve episodes, but at the end of the championship, Maho praises Miho for having found her own way, and even Erika remarks that she’s looking forwards to challenging Miho again. As icing on the cake, a proud Shiho looks on and applauds her youngest daughter for her achievement. As it turns out, Maho dotes on Miho and is similarly selfless, having set herself down a rigid path to uphold the family name, and despite her strict, no-nonsense demeanor, Shiho cares deeply for her daughters as well, going to respectable lengths to look after both Miho and Maho.

  • At its core, Girls und Panzer creates a very warm and optimistic story of growth, discovery, and friendship masterfully woven with armoured warfare. By approaching the anime with an optimistic and open mind, people found in Girls und Panzer a series that was enjoyable for a variety of reasons. Since Girls und Panzer, no other series has had quite the same magic as Girls und PanzerHai-Furi was one series that had a very similar premise and was superbly enjoyable, but Girls und Panzer continues to hold a special place in my heart even seven years later, attesting to just how well-done the series is.

Girls und Panzer was initially a series I had decided to watch on the basis of its premise: entering, I had very low expectations and had purely intended to watch, and write about it, so that I could dispel complaints and criticisms that may have arisen. However, when the anime began airing during the autumn of 2012, I was up to my eyeballs in trying to keep up with my undergraduate thesis project, and the series fell to the back of my mind. However, news of production delays, and seeing a video of Miho motivating her classmates with the Anko Dance during the match against Pravda drive me to watch Girls und Panzer in earnest. I thus pushed through the series, reached the tenth episode, and found myself in anticipation of the remaining two episodes, whose release dates coincided with the wrapping-up of my undergraduate thesis. This was a stressful time, and while I had been very confident about the strength of my project (a multi-scale model of renal flow using a hybrid model), the work it took to get my project was substantial. Watching Girls und Panzer helped me to both relax and focus: seeing Miho’s resolve under stress was a bit of inspiration, and it hit me: if Girls und Panzer could stick its landing, then I would, as well. I thus finished Girls und Panzer, found a series that beat all expectations, and then went into my undergraduate defense with a similar mindset. I ended up finishing my undergraduate programme on a high note, and since then, Girls und Panzer had rekindled my interest in armoured warfare. For having accompanied me through my undergraduate thesis and then continuing to shape my expectations of what defines a good anime (accessibility in appealing to a diverse audience, and a meaningful story), I count the original run of Girls und Panzer a masterpiece that has aged remarkably well: seven years after its original run, the series still looks and feels amazing, and it is no joke when I say that anyone who’s not seen Girls und Panzer is missing out on what is perhaps one of the most outstanding and quintessential anime of the 2010s.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, The Implications of Choice and Messages of Appreciation for the Decade’s Final Christmas

“Of course it was fun, and I loved every minute of it! Don’t go asking me stupid questions that are so obvious! You’d have to be crazy to think it wasn’t fun! Only the biggest idiot in the world would say it wasn’t fun if they were asked! They’d be thirty times more dense than Haruhi! Aliens, time travellers, and ESP? One’s enough, but I got to hang out with all three! Then there’s Haruhi, who’s got the craziest power of them all! And then there’s all these other mysterious powers sprinkled all over the place! How could I not find all this stuff fun? Ask me as many times as you want and my answer won’t change! Of course I do…I guess that’s it. The other way is definitely better. Having a world like this just doesn’t feel right.” –Kyon

In week leading up to Christmas, Haruhi plans a hot pot party for the SOS Brigade. However, when Kyon wakes up on December 18, he finds that his reality has been altered: besides Haruhi and Itsuki’s noticeable absence, Ryōko’s reappearance and Mikuru failing to recognise him, there is no SOS Brigade in this world. Yuki is an ordinary girl who is in the literature club, and besides Kyon, no one appears to know anything about the sudden, unexpected transition. While weighing his options in the former SOS Brigade club room and spending time with the alternate Yuki, Kyon finds a clue in the form of a bookmark, which informs him that he is to gather keys, critical personnel to unlock a special program. During this time, Kyon comes to know the alternate Yuki better; she’s rather happy Kyon’s joined the literature club. When Taniguchi informs Kyon that Haruhi attends the prestigious high school, Kyon sets off to find her. The alternate Haruhi is less-than-pleased to see him, but he reveals that he is “John Smith”. Haruhi’s anger and confusion turns to excitement, and Itsuki postulates that Kyon’s timeline must have diverged on December 18. Haruhi, now convinced by Kyon’s explanation, decides to gather up the former members of the SOS Bridage, and with everyone present, Kyon executes the program Yuki had left him. Upon running this program, Kyon returns to the Tanabata three years previously, where he meets the older Mikuru and past Yuki, who informs him that he must find the individual who triggered the change in the world and inject them with a special program. Returning to the present, Kyon realises that the culprit is none other than Yuki herself: having grown to love Kyon in her own way, she used Haruhi’s abilities to create an alternate reality and give Kyon a fair choice: an ordinary world where he would spend his future with her, or a disruptive but interesting world with Haruhi. Kyon chooses his original world, feeling that the adventure and excitement far outweighs his annoyance with Haruhi and her boundless energy. He prepares to hit Yuki with the program, but ends up stabbed by Ryōko. Kyon is ultimately rescued by his future self, Yuki and Mikuru: his world fades to black, and he awakens in a hospital. Itsuki is present and states that he’d fallen down the steps at school. Later that evening, he meets Yuki on the hospital’s veranda, and reassures her that if the Data Integration Thought Entity should seek to punish her, he can influence Haruhi to blink them out of existence. Kyon is discharged from hospital, and despite knowing he will now have to return back in time to save himself, he will first enjoy and make the most of Haruhi’s hot pot party with her and the others.

The theatrical adaptation of the fourth volume of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya light novels ended up being a veritable masterpiece, an order of magnitude more engaging and meaningful than was present within the first two seasons. The reason for this is because The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s main narrative, contrasting the experimental, unorthodox execution of the regular series that emphasised fun and adventure over a central theme, possessed a clear and unexpectedly moving challenge for Kyon. Throughout the TV series, Kyon is presented as being exasperated, impatient with Haruhi and her antics, wishing nothing more than to live an ordinary life. However, when his world is suddenly wrested from him, the colourlessness of this new world forces him to re-evaluate what Haruhi means to him. By seeing a world without Haruhi, Kyon now has seen both sides of the coin, and with it, is able to make a choice: he ultimately chooses the bookmark (representing his old world) over the club application form (representing a world where he’d never met Haruhi early on), and in doing so, shows to viewers that in spite of all his complaints and gripes about being roped into some random adventure or misadventure with Haruhi, he’s also come to enjoy the attendant experiences that he spends with everyone. The decision, as Kyon puts it, is obvious: a world with Haruhi and the SOS Brigade is much more exciting to live in, and while the downs hit harder, the ups are more exhilarating and more rewarding, as well. The film therefore suggest that one’s choices are their own, to be made only when one is sufficiently informed of the different outcomes of a given decision, and in having Kyon electing to continue his adventures with Haruhi and the SOS Brigade, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya subtly suggests that it is preferable to live a life of excitement and seek adventure even if suffering or pain may accompany it, since the resultant experience leaves one all the stronger for it.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya could have been set any time of the year, but instead, the week leading up to Christmas is selected for the story’s timeframe. Christmas is traditionally a time of celebration and togetherness: a time when people would put the brakes on their everyday routines and gear up to spend time with those important to them. In Japan, Christmas is also celebrated similarly to Valentine’s Day. By dropping Kyon into an alternate reality close to Christmas, Kyon is now doubly stressed from his experiences: in a time where people begin to wind down, Kyon frantically searches for a solution to his predicament. By prompting Kyon to figure out his situation prior to Christmas and Haruhi’s hot pot party increases the urgency in the film, captivating audiences to follow Kyon. Besides compelling viewers to keep up, setting the film close to Christmas also has one other critical effect on its message. Kyon’s search for the answers, even as he spends time in this parallel universe, leads him to appreciate his old life. The contrast between the new world where Haruhi’s presence is diminished, versus the world where Haruhi dominates, makes evident the idea that individuals may not always appreciate what they have until it is gone. This is the theme in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya; despite the simplicity of the message, the film elegantly captures it into a very vivid portrayal that transforms into a story of self-discovery and appreciation of what one has. The choice to set this during Christmas, then, drives the notion that Christmas is also a time of gratitude, and of counting one’s blessings. Although Kyon may be reluctant to openly admit it, he very much enjoys Haruhi and the SOS Brigade’s company in spite of the wild adventures they’ve pushed him through. There are subtle parallels between The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in that both Scrooge and Kyon, through a series of supernatural encounters, are given a new perspective on life and thus, come out more appreciative and grateful for what they have.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya released, I was just finishing up my second year of my undergraduate program and had gone through the likes of K-On! and Lucky Star, having had my curiosity piqued by Kyoto Animation’s work, I decided to give The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a go despite my initial reservations: I normally don’t watch a series on the basis of community reception alone, but a classmate of mine had a keen interest in K-On!Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, so I decided to check it out and see what all of the commotion was about.

  • The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya opens with Haruhi planning the SOS Brigade’s Christmas party, which immediately re-establishes the tone: while Kyon is typically exasperated by Haruhi’s grandiose (and often unfeasible) plans, he does his best to accommodate a scaled-down version that satisfies Haruhi’s wishes while at once being somewhat plausible to put together. This dynamic between Kyon and Haruhi was the driving force throughout much of the TV series, and seeing it return in the film’s opening serves to remind viewers of what Kyon thinks of Haruhi and her antics on a typical day.

  • Thus, having made my way through the TV series, I finally reached the movie. At this point in the summer, I was a few weeks into building an agent-based flow model with the in-house game engine and had settled into my work, so in the late afternoons, after my hours had ended, I would watch anime on an iPad before heading home. This was back when the second generation iPad had released, and while said iPad would become my workhorse throughout my undergraduate programme, it started its journey as a tablet for anime.

  • I admit that I was not a fan of Haruhi when the series came out. Over ten years after The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi was released to the world, the countless internet memes remain stale and jejune, but Haruhi’s high-energy and bossy personality has grown on me quite a bit – she brings joy into the mundane, and while she may not always be aware of it, is the cause of many of the TV series’ supernatural phenomenon.

  • When Kyon returns to school the next day, he finds his would completely changed: the shock of it causes Kyon to act irrationally, in a panic. His reaction is quite understandable considering how dramatic the changes are, and his reaction is actually far more reserved than would be expected of someone who was dropped into an alternate dimension. Although Kyon is initially disoriented, his rational mind soon kicks in, and he decides to see if there are any constants in this new world that carried over from his old world. This decision sets in motion the events of Kyon’s return to his old world.

  • The highlight in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the human Yuki: unlike the incarnation of Yuki we’d seen so far, Yuki in the alternate world is simply a shy girl who loves books, and initially is rather overwhelmed by Kyon’s forcefulness. Once the initial shock of Kyon bursting into the club room wears off, she attempts to recruit him for the literature club. Kyon’s only intention is to search for any clues in the room about his current situation, and he eventually manages to find a bookmark that provides him with instructions on how to restore his old world.

  • The human Yuki ends up forming the basis for The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, a spin-off manga that supposes that this world was the world than Kyon desired. While not well-received by numerous fans of the Haruhi franchise, I personally found great value and enjoyment in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, as it shows Kyon as he would have been prior to meeting Haruhi. This story similarly sees Yuki try to keep the literature club alive, and with the combined efforts from Kyon and Ryōko, the club does end up doing quite well.

  • I would imagine that a part of the cold reception towards The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan was a consequence of die-hard fans wanting a continuation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and instead of the long-anticipated continuation, fans instead got a low-profile spin-off that did not add to the original series. Thus, these individuals were willing to overlook that Yuki and Kyon’s relationship developed in an entirely natural manner, and both individuals mature greatly as the manga progressed: the manga itself is excellent and is one of the few series I’ve bought in full. I normally don’t buy manga series unless they are exceptionally enjoyable, speaking to The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan‘s high quality.

  • In this alternate world, the lighting is subdued, with a grey-scale palette dominating all of the scenes while Kyon is at school. Far more than any other studio, Kyoto Animation masterfully makes use of colours and lighting to paint an incredibly vivid and detailed view of the characters’ emotions in a scene. Their technical excellence cannot be understated, and in an industry that is so demanding that corners are sometimes cut, Kyoto Animation’s commitment to excellence makes them stand out as a superior studio. The arson incident at Kyoto Animation earlier this year was a devastating one, an unfortunate event resulting from an individual whose mind was filled with malice and hate when he perpetuated his actions.

  • It’s been five months since the fire at their studios, and the losses are still being felt at present. However, the studio’s president has also resolved on recovery. I naturally will continue to support their works. Back in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Mikuru does not recognise Kyon, and Tsuruya, ordinarily friendly to Kyon, is openly hostile to him. This drives home the fact that Kyon’s world has changed considerably, and with the days counting down, Kyon must work to figure out what the original Yuki’s puzzle meant.

  • While determining what the “keys” that Yuki refer to are (they have nothing to do with unique identifiers that are used to quickly and efficiently retrieve data from storage), Kyon spends more time with the new Yuki, quickly discovering that she has a keen interest in books and therefore had a legitimate reason for being in the literature club. The literature club room stands in the exact same spot as the SOS Brigade’s club room, and is conveniently equipped with a computer that, while old, is still operational.

  • Yuki is pitifully shy in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, although with Kyon’s appearance, she does begin taking the initiative and brings him over to her apartment. Kyon is initially reluctant to stay, and this reluctance turns into a desire to leave when Ryōko shows up. In The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Ryōko is Yuki’s best friend and very protective of her; these traits carry over into The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, where Ryōko acts as a guardian of sorts for Yuki. This spin-off manga definitely had its own merits and while starting its journey carrying the same sense of gentle longing that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya had, the story ends up having Yuki become more confident and independent as she begins to get closer to and eventually, go out with Kyon.

  • Kyon makes to decline Ryōko’s invitation to dinner, but is surprised when Yuki pulls on his sleeve, signalling her want for him to stay over for dinner. I personally felt that The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan adds more value to The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as it gives insight into what sorts of things that Yuki herself would have wanted to experience with Kyon. By knowing the path that Yuki ended up taking, it makes the thought process that the Yuki seen here took towards creating a new world to give herself and Haruhi an even shot even more poignant, showing the extent of Yuki’s feelings for Kyon and the lengths she would go to seek an answer for herself.

  • While Nagato tugging on Kyon’s sleeve might’ve been the boldest she’s been all movie so far, viewers are further treated to a moment as rare as a blue moon: after dinner, Kyon asks Yuki to see if it’s alright for him to swing by the clubroom again the next day, and Yuki’s resulting smile is positively dazzling. This marks the first time that Yuki’s smiled at all anywhere in either The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya: I’m told that from fan reactions, this single moment alone made the movie worth watching. Such moments do not make or break movies for me, but I do admit that Yuki’s smile is pleasant and the movie’s setup allows us to see other sides of Yuki’s character.

  • When Kyon learns that Haruhi exists, he rushes off to the Kōyōen School, an elite academy that this Haruhi is attending. She is shocked and disgusted that Kyon appears to know so much about her and proceeds to give him a physical beating, but Kyon stops the melee by revealing his identity as the “John Smith” of several years previously. Haruhi is surprised that anyone could’ve known about the incident, and immediately faints.

  • In a world where Kyon and Haruhi had not met, Haruhi is a much more austere person, although her bold and forceful tendencies remain. The incidental piece that plays when Kyon rushes off to Kōyōen School, Suzumiya Haruhi no Tegakari (“A Sign of Haruhi Suzumiya”) begins playing. This piece remains one of my favourite songs on the soundtrack: with its use of woodwinds, the song greatly resembles Sim City 4‘s Wheels of Progress. The choice of instruments signifies that progress is happening, and for the first time in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon feels as though he’s got the faintest hint of what he needs to do. There are many incidental pieces in the film that would not sound out of place in Sim City 4: Kodoku Sekai no Hirogari (“Spread of a lonely world”) opens similarly with Sim City 4‘s Morning Commute.

  • When Haruhi comes to, she immediately takes interest in Kyon’s situation, listening attentively as Itsuki explains what may have happened with Kyon. Even in this alternative universe, where Itsuki has feelings for Haruhi, the fact that she’s immediately drawn into helping Kyon suggests to him that Haruhi has feelings for Kyon (regardless of how much the two try to deny it when asked). With the situation explained, Kyon begins to realise that his keys back to his old world were to gather the people who were in the SOS Brigade, and so, the group heads back to North High, so that Mikuru and Yuki can be assembled.

  • That Itsuki is quick to conclude that Haruhi loves Kyon shows that there doesn’t appear to be a timeline or reality that could keep them apart, further reinforcing the idea that Haruhi and Kyon complement one another extremely well. This was my favourite aspect about their dynamic: even though the two never enter a relationship in the animated adaptions, Haruhi’s boldness and energy pushes Kyon out of his comfort zone into experiences that he retrospectively enjoys, while Kyon’s down-to-earth, pragmatic approaches means that he’s always trying to reign back Haruhi’s outrageous plans, and in doing so, creates a slightly-scaled back but still-enjoyable experience for Haruhi.

  • After arriving at North High, Kyon lends Haruhi and Itsuki his gym clothes so the two blend in with the other North High students. Haruhi complies with Kyon’s request to wear a ponytail, and I admit that like Kyon, I’m fond of ponytails, as well. Haruhi’s aura changes noticeably, and she takes on many of the traits of her other self; within moments, she manages to find Mikuru and brings her to the literature club room.

  • Halo Reach released roughly seven months after The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya aired in theatres, and in a curious turn of fate, I experienced both the game and the film close to one another. There is definitely a nostalgia factor at play when I stop to contemplate things: on the day of the LAN party, after I’d arrived and wrapped up The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, one of my friends had arrived, and we now had enough people to play Halo Reach‘s co-op. Having spent most of the term attempting to survive organic chemistry and data structures, I didn’t pay attention to Halo Reach‘s campaign.

  • My friend, however, had known of the different missions and immediately requested that we play Long Night of Solace on co-op, which has Noble Team storm through Covenant forces attacking a Sabre facility and then help the UNSC fleet repel Covenant forces in orbit over Reach, before boarding a Covenant super-carrier. We made it on board the carrier before the remainder of my friends arrived, after which we threw burgers on a grill and then spent the rest of the evening blasting one another in MLG Team Slayer on Reflection. Halo Reach has now made it to PC, and my journey began on Chinese Winter Solstice.

  • Back in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, with all of the keys in one place, the old computer powers up, and the old Nagato Yuki’s program begins running, asking if Kyon is ready to go back. Without hesitation, Kyon hits enter to execute the program; he only stops briefly to apologise to this world’s Yuki for not being able to join the literature club with her. Nothing immediately happens, but in a few moments, Kyon’s world fades to black, and when he comes to, he finds himself in a hot, humid room.

  • It turns out that Kyon was sent back to the night of the Tanabata three years previously, which was in July. Unlike the washed-out, faded world without Haruhi, this hot summer night is portrayed using saturated shades of blue and other hues. This particular event is of great significance in The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, and in Japan, the festival is characterised by the writing of wishes on small pieces of paper and affixing them to a bamboo tree. The festival was presumably chosen to frame a time period where people make wishes, and so, when Kyon helps a younger Haruhi with her wishes, he inadvertently creates a future where he would meet her, and fulfill her desire for excitement.

  • Shortly after his arrival, Kyon encounters the older Mikuru, who knows of Kyon’s actions and sends him to Yuki’s apartment. With Yuki’s program, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s story shares similarities with Seishun Buta Yarō wa Yumemiru Shōjo no Yume o Minai, which similarly used time travel as a part of its core story: both films are highly enjoyable extensions of a light novel story that have a much greater emotional impact than even their anime, and both use a causal loop to prevent the development of any paradoxes. In addition, both films force their male lead to make a difficult decision.

  • As such, it is not entirely unfounded when I say that both movies feel quite similar in their atmosphere and execution – that both Seishun Buta Yarō wa Yumemiru Shōjo no Yume o Minai and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya manage to be so compelling is a testament to the strength in both movies’ narratives. Of course, both worlds also have their unique points: the former encapsulates the difficulties of youth with fanciful metaphors, while the latter is really about the joys of having fun and colourful people in one’s life.

  • Upon arriving in Nagato’s sparsely-furnished apartment, Kyon and the older Mikuru are given nanites to help them survive the next step of their operation. Yuki also provides Kyon with a dart gun that will immediately patch away the irregularities that will appear in her future self. These abnormalities, as Yuki considers them, are what would be known as emotions: these instinctive reactions to stimuli are a fundamental aspect of humanity, and while they can impediments, are also critically important towards the ability for people to work together

  • That Yuki’s begun developing this emergent property of having emotions, while humanising her character and making her more mature, also begins to affect her duties, hence her contingencies for this eventuality. When Kyon and the older Mikuru arrive in the world three years later, it is moments before Yuki changes the world. It’s a cold winter’s night, and Mikuru is completely unprepared for the brisk weather, so Kyon lends her his coat.

  • The sight of Yuki standing in the middle of the street on her own evokes a very melancholy, lonely feel that speaks volumes as to just how advanced her emotional intelligence had come since when Kyon first met her. Kyon readies his dart gun and chambers the round, but before he takes the shot, he considers the reasoning behind Yuki’s actions, as well as the justification for his own choices. Kyon quickly deduces that Yuki, having been exposed to the constantly exciting and fun environment that Haruhi and the SOS Brigade bring, as well as the changes that Kyon himself had wrought in Haruhi, began wondering what it would be like if she had gotten closer to him instead.

  • By providing viewers with a confirmation of their thoughts (or helping them to realign with what’s happening), Kyon’s monologues in the movie are immensely helpful. Whereas The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya had Kyon’s narration fill viewers in on what’s happening (similar to the TV series), Seishun Buta Yarō would delegate this particular task to Rio Futaba. In both cases, the narration starts out unreliable, but soon becomes more important as their respective stories advance. The attendant imagery in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya speaks volumes to just how extensive and intense Yuki’s emotions had become.

  • The golden glow flooding the empty clubroom creates a sense of wistfulness: a similar light illuminated the world the day that I had arrived at my friend’s place for the LAN party and busied myself with finishing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya after being informed that the others were a good half-hour away. For better or worse, the last light to afternoon of a late spring day is now something that irrevocably brings to mind the sort of loneliness and yearning that Yuki had: having been on her own this whole time, it was only natural that she began to entertain thoughts of getting closer to Kyon, who had been kind and understanding towards her despite discovering that she’d been of extraterrestrial origin.

  • For Kyon, the choice between his old world (the bookmark) and the alternative world (the club application) becomes tangibly represented towards the end of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. While the movie represents it as being a tough choice, Kyon’s actions throughout the film, and the fact that he immediately executes Yuki’s program without hesitation already foreshadows the choice that he would take.

  • The use of turnstiles in a train station shows that once Kyon’s made his decision, whatever that might be, his decision is to be final, and that Yuki would accept his choice (along with the ensuing consequences). Besides the use of colour and lighting, Kyoto Animation also excelled with strong use of symbolism within their anime films. Hibike! Euphonium similarly made extensive use of symbols, as do CLANNADKanon and other of their works. However, while some might take symbolism to mean that a film (or series) is necessarily intellectual, Kyoto Animation’s actual intent with symbols is to make tangible an idea that had only previously implied: in a Kyoto Animation work, once a symbol appears, an idea becomes explicitly clear.

  • The final hurdle Kyon faces internally lies within his own doubts: as much as he disliked Haruhi for forcing him into things he did not wish to participate in earlier on, her actions have also allowed him to make friends of everyone at the SOS Brigade. Thus, while he does indeed still think a peaceful life is something to enjoy, the more exciting world with Haruhi in it is the one he prefers, having seen what is possible when she’s around. The answer, then, is evident for Kyon, and he moves forwards without any hesitation. He readies his tool and remarks that he preferred Yuki without glasses, clearly indicating beyond any doubt that the other reality had no chance.

  • While the original world may have been a lot more exciting, one cannot help but feel bad for Yuki, whose feelings will be irrevocably denied. Nowhere in the soundtrack is this more evident than the piece Nagato Yuki no Kokoro ni Aru mono (“What’s In Yuki Nagato’s Heart”), an incredibly touching song whose use of strings captures the sense of yearning Yuki had for another life despite understanding that this was a path she could never take. If there was one song that could capture the entire essence of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya from Yuki’s perspective, this would be it.

  • Before Kyon can fire on Yuki, a serrated blade cuts into his side: the original Ryōko had been a rogue agent who was not above cutting the Gordian Knot to get results faster. The Ryōko in the alternate reality (and in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan) only retains the original’s ability to be intimidating, but otherwise lacks the same disregard for life: in the manga, Ryōko is seen to intimidate with a glance, and primarily does this to keep Yuki in line, but otherwise never even considers violence as an option.

  • Even as Kyon begins to bleed out, familiar figures appear and manage to complete his original objective of neutralising Yuki and preventing the world from being changed. From here, the timeline converges: Haruhi, Itsuki and the others saw Kyon to have fallen from a flight of steps after being pushed by an unknown entity. That everyone else believes Kyon to have fallen into a coma from falling from a stairwell makes The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya feel similar to Futurama‘s “The Sting”, where Leela fell into a coma after being stung by a space bee and believed Fry to be dead. While this same setup might have been a plausible explanation for things, the conversation that Kyon shares with Yuki indicates this is quite untrue.

  • Itsuki remarks that Haruhi never left his side, similar to how Fry remained by Leela until she’d reawakened. It’s a touching moment that further cements that Haruhi has feelings for Kyon in spite of herself, and Itsuki describes his thoughts on this devotion as being akin to jealousy. When Haruhi wakes up from her sleep, she immediately berates Kyon for having lost three days, although this is really just her way of expressing relief that Kyon is alright.

  • Ultimately, from Yuki’s perspective, the events of The Disappearance of Haruhi is a story of unrequited love: while Yuki may characterise it differently, her actions throughout the movie have been prompted by the most powerful and poorly-characterised human emotion of all. I have a separate post on the matter, but the presence of a meaningful secondary theme meant that this film had several layers of complexity which underlie just how well-crafted the characters and the story is.

  • The colour has returned to Kyon’s world, and he anticipates enjoying Haruhi’s cooking at the film’s end. I will note that it is an incredibly impressive feat for The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi, that even after eight years of additional life experience, my conclusions about the movie and its theme have remained largely unchanged. The film’s messages remain as solid and meaningful as they were when I first watched it, speaking to the narrative’s excellence, and even now, the film is something I can easily recommend. With this, I’d like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas: now that this post is in the books, it’s time for me to head off and take a quiet day off to go through my games backlog, read and perhaps take a walk under the winter sun.

Between its moving plot and technical excellence (typical of Kyoto Animation’s best works), The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is an excellent movie that masterfully brought the original light novel’s narrative to life. Through a combination of stunning visuals and a soundtrack composed of orchestral pieces that create an elegant feeling, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a film without peer. However, what elevates The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya to masterpiece status lies how the film’s message found relevance when I’d watched it: the film’s home release was a mere five months earlier, and upon hearing about the overwhelmingly positive reception, my curiosity was piqued. After hammering my way through the first two seasons, I ended up watching the film during the summer, spending those long summer afternoons, after research had ended, watching the movie. I finished the same day the local anime convention started, having chosen not to attend on account of a LAN party, and while the film was something I enjoyed deeply, thoughts of Yuki and the emergence of emotions in her character fell to the back of my mind. When one of my classmates posted a video of his convention experiences and made mention of Yuki, likening her sense of longing to his own post-convention blues, I’d realised that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s message was much more profound than I’d initially thought; having spent the movie focused on Kyon, I never really considered Yuki’s perspectives: as she spent more time with Kyon and the SOS Brigade, she begins to imbibe on decidedly human characteristics and wonders what it would be like if she could get closer to him. This silent sense of longing held a beautiful sort of melancholy, and also helped me to understand my classmate’s thoughts on anime conventions a little better, as well as make tangible my own understanding of what unrequited love entailed. While I would stare down and write the MCAT a year later, the year after, I had the time to attend the local anime convention for myself, and at last, I fully comprehended what my classmate meant when detailing the aftermath of an anime convention. For having eventually motivated me to visit and support the local anime convention, as well as providing a vivid and poignant story of what unrequited love can do, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya had a non-trivial impact on my life, which is why it is designated as a masterpiece. Personal reasons aside, the film is of a remarkable quality, and par the course for Kyoto Animation’s productions, has aged very gracefully. I have no qualms recommending this movie (and note that the TV series is essential to the experience), but because I imagine most would have seen The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya already, I imagine that suggesting folks to re-watch it is also appropriate.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Kanon, An Introit on Recollections and Healing On A Winter’s Solstice

“In that case, my first wish is…please don’t forget about me, even just a ‘I met a weird girl in the snow’. Even that would be okay, as long as you remember me” –Ayu Tsukimiya

High school student Yuichi Aizawa returns to a city he’d visited seven years ago, is preordained to lodge with his cousin, Nayuki Minase, and transfers to the local high school. Having limited recollections of the city, Yuichi finds himself quite detached from the area and its inhabitants. However, he runs into Ayu Tsukimiya in the shopping district, and also becomes friends with Shiori Misaka and Mai Kawasumi. While in the shopping district one day, Yuichi encounters Makoto Sawatari, who’d returned to settle a long-standing grudge with him. Nayuki’s mother, Akiko, decides to let Makoto stay with them, and while Yuichi desires nothing more to be rid of Makoto and her propensity for pranks, he comes to realise that Makoto is actually the spirit of a fox he’d once befriended given human form – so intense was her desire to spend time with him that she was granted a wish to become human and reunite with Yuichi, but as he recalls this, Makoto’s strength begins fading, and she vanishes after Yuichi helps her fulfil an old promise. Later, Yuichi decides to help Mai with her image problem: she is perceived as being a troublemaker and is accused of damaging school property. After a terrifying incident at the school dance and a freak accident that sees Mai’s best friend, Sayuri Kurata, injured. Mai possesses an innate talent for magic, and when Yuichi was set to leave town seven years previously, her desire to see him stay led her to craft a story about dæmons, which began manifesting in reality. Yuichi helps Mai to accept her abilities in the present, and begins to remember the time they’d spent together seven years previously. Having explored town with Shiori, who suffers from an unknown illness, Yuichi learns that Shiori was given permission to attend school, but her sister, Kaori, acts distant towards her, fearing that Shiori might not survive her illness. Yuichi decides to go on a date with Shiori and help her make the most of her time. After a track meet, Yuichi and Ayu begin searching for something of great value to her, and as the two grow closer, Nayuki begins feeling left out. Ayu eventually takes Yuichi to her school, which ends up being an open field, and upon arriving, Ayu vanishes. Yuichi continues to search for the article that Ayu was looking for and Nayuki begins making snow rabbits, which help him remember what this item is. Akiko is hit by a vehicle and sent into the ICU, causing Nayuki to fall into depression. Unable to help Nayuki, Yuichi decides to sleep and experiences a dream that fills in the remainder of his memories: seven years ago, he’d made a promise with Ayu, who said she could grant him three wishes. However, coldly brushed off Nayuki after learning that Ayu had fallen from a tree and fell into a coma. He heads out into the blizzard in search of Ayu’s missing item, but falls unconscious. The original Makoto Sawatari saves him, and Yuichi recovers strength enough to return to the promised spot from seven years previously, making one final wish to Ayu. Mai, Shiori and Sayuri become healed from their injuries, returning to class, and Akiko is allowed to return home. Akiko explains to Yuichi what happened to Ayu, and he decides to visit her in the hospital. One spring day, she awakens from her coma, and Yuichi takes her for a walk under the spring cherry blossoms, while a familiar-looking fox looks on.

According to Jun Maeda, memories are at the core of Kanon‘s theme – the motif of events seven years previously permeate the entire story, and Yuichi is constantly struggling to remember what precisely happened seven years ago. In this sense, he is given a new start, a do-over of sorts. As Yuichi spends more time with Nayuki, Makoto, Mai, Shiori and Ayu, he comes to learn of his presence in their lives. The blank slate becomes critical for Yuichi: quite unaware of what happened the last time in town, Yuichi brings into each story a unique sense of humour and sense of compassion that leads him to help everyone to the best of his ability. Through it all, Yuichi creates new, positive memories with everyone: with Makoto, he learns of her past and helps her reach a resolution. He fulfils his promise to return to Mai and helps her come to terms with her magical powers. With Shiori, Yuichi’s encouragement and support allow her to return to school. After Nayuki’s mother ends up in a vehicle accident and Nayuki falls into a depression, Yuichi must confront his own past and finally remembers that he had coldly dismissed her the last time he was in town. Realising his fault, Yuichi manages to reconcile with Nayuki and help her find the strength to continue. The sum of these events lead Yuichi to finally remember what had happened to Ayu: she’d fallen from a tree on his last day in town and was hospitalised. Had Yuichi entered Kanon with the pain of these memories, he would not have been able to approach each of Makoto, Mai, Nayuki and Ayu’s problems with his kindness, and fear of failing would have paralysed him. Kanon thus supposes that why forgetting painful and difficult moments enable one to start fresh with those around them, it is preferable to actively understand one’s mistakes and face them directly, as Yuichi comes to do with Kanon‘s major characters. For his troubles, Yuichi is successful in improving the situation of those around him, helping them to find their own futures.

Kanon presents the importance of memories and their impact on one’s personal growth in conjunction with a supernatural flair; like CLANNAD and Air, Jun Maeda’s belief that the things that make us human (specifically, complex emotions, memories and the resulting behaviours) are complex to the point where our understanding of them are limited, and as such, applies the supernatural piece to motivate a better understanding of these ideas. The end result is that Kanon has a very romantic approach towards memories, showing both the positives and negatives. While Yuichi might have forgotten many of the events from the past, his inherently kind and gentle nature allows him to form new memories with Nayuki, Ayu, Makoto, Shiori and Mai. In time, he comes to learn that everyone has their own unique points, with each girl’s favourite food being chief amongst them. Knowing everyone’s favourite foods (Nayuki and strawberries, Ayu and taiyaki, Makoto and pork buns, Shiori and ice cream, Mai and gyūdon) gives each character a life-like feel to them, and as he spends time with each individual, their favourite foods serve to remind viewers that Yuichi, in taking the time to learn everyone’s favourite food, is genuinely committed to helping everyone out. By reinforcing the idea that Yuichi is a kind individual by default, his actions from seven year previously are to be taken as understandable, brought on by circumstance rather than ignorance or malice. When Yuichi’s past is shown, it also suggests to users that the present-day Yuichi is here to make things right. It gives his experiences credibility, and consequently, gives viewers reason to follow his story and support his efforts in helping each of Nayuki, Ayu, Makoto, Shiori and Mai to sort out the challenges that each of them face.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kanon opens with Yuichi riding a train into an unnamed town in Hokkaido amidst a fresh snowfall. Upon arrival, he is made to wait for two hours, since Nayuki, who was supposed to pick him up, is late. The entire opening scene is set to yume no ato, a song whose chimes create a sense of nostalgic and melancholy. One of Kanon‘s strongest points lie in its incidental music, and yume no ato plays, my memories of my own past experiences with romance are recalled in vivid detail.

  • The winter cold of Kanon evokes memories of the September that I entered my fourth undergraduate year. I had just spent the summer staring down the MCAT and had watched CLANNAD, which had been so moving that I was seeking more series similar to it. Kanon seemed to fit the bill, and as I prepared to define a topic for my undergraduate honours thesis, I set foot into the world of Kanon, watching a few episodes each week. I ended up reaching the end of Kanon as term ended, finishing a few days before the mid-year progress report.

  • After settling in to the Minase residence, Nayuki takes Yuichi on a tour of the city, a generic city located in Hokkaido that is only referred to as the City of Snow (yuki no machi), rather similar to how the city in CLANNAD was called the “hills of light”. While possessing Hokkaido’s climate, many of the areas seen in the anime are similarly based off Osaka’s cityscape. The train station Yuichi arrives at is actually modelled after Osaka’s Moriguchishi Station. However, the fictionalised setting of Kanon serves to enhance the series’ aura of mystery, and here, Nayuki shares a conversation with Yuichi while on a hill overlooking the city.

  • Ayu is the first of the heroines that Yuichi runs into while exploring the shopping district; she collides with him head-on while trying to escape from a taiyaki vendor, and Yuichi hauls her off to apologise to the vendor before paying for the taiyaki. In the first episode alone, Yuichi’s character is firmly established; while sardonic and fond of poking fun at those around him, he’s genuinely kind-hearted and cares greatly for those he encounters.

  • Her diminutive stature and winged backpack gives Ayu a very child-like appearance. Indeed, Ayu’s mannerisms are eccentric, and she’s fond of replying to any sort of challenge, adversity or retort with the nonsensical uguu, rather similar to how Misuzu of Air would say gao in response to anything that upset her. However, beyond this, Ayu is also friendly and warm. Ayu’s voice is provided by the legendary Yui Horie (Naru Narusegawa of Love Hina, Belfast of Azur Lane and Satomi of Dumbell wa nan kilo motteru, to name a few).

  • Kanon‘s initial episodes are about introducing the characters, and as such, the series progresses very slowly as Yuichi explores the town. HIs misadventures lead him to run into Shiori, a girl who he often sees hanging outside on the school grounds. She’s got an illness that prevents her from coming to school, but shows up on the grounds anyways. When they meet for the first time, Ayu’s attempting to escape from the taiyaki vendor and collides with her, spilling Shiori’s personal items onto the ground.

  • Makoto is introduced as a mischievous girl who only remembers that Yuichi’s wronged her in some way previously, and while Yuichi is put off by her troublemaking, Akiko and Nayuki consent to take her in. In contrast with Yuichi’s dislike for her, Akiko and Nayuki sense something about her and regard her with kindness. In exchange, Makoto only seems to trouble Yuichi with her pranks, although Yuichi is able to see through them for the most part, creating comedic moments early in Kanon.

  • Shiori’s illness is never specified, but it is severe enough as to be considered life-threatening. Because of the stresses this illness has on her and her family, her sister, Kaori, refuses to acknowledge that Shiori is her sister. The reasoning for this is that Kaori fears losing Shiori more than anything, and feels that the closer she is with Shiori, the more it will hurt when Shiori’s time runs out. Of the characters, Shiori is the only person Yuichi had not met in the past, but in spite of this, he still regards her with kindness.

  • Besides a favourite food, the different characters all have their own unique leitmotifs, as well: Ayu’s theme is titled Hidamari no Machi, or “Sunny Town”, a happy, easygoing piece that captures her energetic, cheerful character. Staff have commented that this is their favourite theme for the characters. Nayuki’s theme is Girl in the snow, Makoto’s is The Fox and the Grapes, Mai’s is The Maiden’s Cage and Shiori’s is Beyond the Smile. Each of the girls’ themes speak to their personalities and situation.

  • Ayu often describes a remote school in the area, but seems to have no apparent home. Her enigmatic origins leave viewers with many questions, but Akiko appears to be able to understand something unique about Ayu that Yuichi is not able to pick up on. She invites Ayu over, and over time, Ayu becomes an increasingly frequent guest of the Minases. Unlike Makoto, Yuichi has considerably fewer objections with Ayu being around.

  • Makoto’s pranks go one step too far one evening, when she lights a firecracker and tosses it into Yuichi’s room. He responds by removing the firecracker and returning it to its sender, sending Makoto into hysterics. Yuichi ultimately decides to send Makoto job-hunting, reasoning that doing something will help her learn some responsibility and also fund her own pork buns and manga, two things that Makoto are particularly fond of.

  • Yuichi’s expression here speaks volumes about what he thinks of Makoto; even after what could’ve been a rather deadly prank, Akiko and Nayuki don’t seem too concerned. Initially, audiences will tend to side with Yuichi – Makoto’s mischievous nature means that despite her unknown origins, she comes across as being little more than a nuisance.

  • When Makoto finds a small kitten, she’s thrilled to look after it, as the kitten seems quite drawn to her. She accidentally drops it off a footbridge, but the kitten ends up quite unharmed. The incident causes Yuichi to lose his patience with her, and Makoto runs off into the night, looking for the kitten. Yuichi later finds her and brings her back home.

  • Mishio Amano, one of Yuichi’s classmates, gives him the truth about Makoto’s origins and introduces viewers to the idea that there a supernatural play in Kanon. The winter landscapes and lighting in Kanon, similar to Air and CLANNAD, are deliberately and smartly used to set the mood. By framing Mishio and Yuichi’s conversation against the landscape, it shows the vastness of what supernatural forces they are dealing with: Mishio warns that Makoto’s presence is going to be limited as a result of her diminishing power and that she will begin forgetting over time.

  • Upon learning about this, Yuichi’s attitude and treatment of Makoto takes a complete turn: he begins to spend much more time with her, fulfilling his old promise to never leave her side. As a child, Yuichi had befriended a fox, who by a miracle, took human form. Because Yuichi had to leave town seven years ago, he technically broke his promise to Makoto, which accounts for why she seeks revenge. However, Makoto’s time is limited, and her memories do indeed begin to fade as she and Yuichi make amends.

  • Makoto’s story marked a turning point for me: having already seen CLANNAD, I found Makoto’s story to be surprisingly similar to Fuuko’s story. Both Fuuko and Makoto share a poignant background that is cleverly weaved into their arc, and in both cases, Tomoya and Yuichi both regard the other as being inconsequential, only to learn of their stories later and then begin doing their utmost to help the other out.

  • One touch about Kanon that I particularly liked was the design of the Minase residence: the large windows by the hallway allow natural light to flood into the house, giving it a very inviting feel that maximises the amount of illumination even in a place where it’s cold and snowy for a better half of the year. If I had to guess, I’d say that Kanon is probably set in Asahikawa, albeit a highly fictionalised version.

  • Makoto’s arc ends on a very tender and heartwarming note: her wish fulfilled in full, Makoto loses her human form and vanishes. The importance of Makoto’s story is two-fold: it shows how the supernatural have relevance in the events around Kanon, and also shows the process that Yuichi goes through in order to get to know someone better. With these two elements established, Kanon can begin pushing into the main storyline itself.

  • Mai is the next heroine that Yuichi helps out. Her stoic demeanour and eccentric mannerisms have landed her in trouble more than once, and she faces suspension from school on the suspicions that she’s responsible for damaging school property. However, her personality stands in contrast with her personality, and the earnest, sincere Mai never denies these allegations. Yuichi decides to help Mai become more popular amongst the other students and stave off her negative reputation.

  • During Mai’s arc, Yuichi spends numerous lunch breaks with Mai and Sayuri, the latter of which had been a quiet and unsmiling individual until she’d met Mai. She’d come from a difficult family situation and lost her brother to an illness, eventually losing her sense of self. By the events of Kanon proper, she’s become a warmer character who worries for Mai’s wellbeing and supports Yuichi’s attempts to help her out. When news of a school dance reaches Yuichi’s ears, he decides to take her to the dance.

  • Mai’s favourite retort to Yuichi’s remarks is to admonish him with a light chop to the head to express her displeasure. Sayuri, on the other hand, tends to append ahaha~ to the end of her laughter. In Kanon, Sayuri is a secondary character, but in the game, it is possible to explore the outcomes of spending more time with her, culminating with Yuichi asking her out. The visual novels typically provide a much richer and detailed account of each story, although I’ve found that anime adaptations can really bring some scenes to life, with the school ball being one of them.

  • The school dance starts smoothly enough, with Mai and Yuichi’s dancing being impressive enough to turn heads, but when a dæmon appears and wrecks havoc, the student council president attempts to have Mai expelled. Yuichi manages to prevent this from happening and decides to help Mai fight the so-called dæmons. However, when Sayuri attempts to give Mai a gift on her birthday, and becomes injured in the process, Mai loses her cool and attempts to kill herself.

  • Mai’s story serves to further accentuate the presence of the supernatural: it turns out that her ability to control abilities some consider unnatural did indeed lead her to leave her old home, and she found it difficult to make any friends until she’d met Yuichi. By spending time with her, Mai eventually comes to accept her powers, and is hospitalised to treat her injuries, which had resulted from her killing off pieces of herself.

  • With Mai’s situation resolved, Shiori’s story comes next. While Kaori refuses to acknowledge Shiori as her sister, Yuichi decides to help her in the way he can, taking her to some of her favourite places around town and giving her a chance to sit in a desk at school. Kaori later explains that Shiori was never expected to survive past her birthday, but in spite of this, Yuichi decides to help her celebrate anyways. As the day comes to an end, Yuichi gives Shiori a birthday gift by a brilliantly-lit fountain.

  • Yuichi’s kindness is one of the reasons that Kanon was so easy to follow and somewhat formulaic in nature: aside from a sardonic manner and his love for playing jokes on those around him, Yuichi is genuine to everyone he meets. CLANNAD‘s Tomoya was similar in this regard but had more noticeable flaws which made his journey more meaningful. This was almost certainly one of the learnings that CLANNAD would take from Kanon, and the end results are very pronounced. This isn’t to say that Yuichi is a flawless character: his own shortcomings and mistakes are brought to light in Nayuki’s arc.

  • Nayuki is probably my favourite of the heroines in Kanon: her story is a gentle but sad one that is set concurrently with Ayu’s arc within the anime. After finding a red bead, Nayuki reminisces on how she used to make yuki usagi (“snow rabbits”). These are the equivalent of Western snowmen, and are usually crafted from the leaves (ears) and berries (eyes) of the Nandina domestica, a flowering plant. These sculptures are made by women and children, and there’s over two hundred years of history surrounding these sculptures.

  • By having Ayu and Nayuki’s story run side-by-side, Kanon means to tell viewers that Yuichi must make a choice between Nayuki, who’d loved him since they were children, and Ayu, whose origins and presence still remains a mystery, but of great significance. Yuichi ends up choosing to spent time with Ayu, helping her to search for something precious that she’d lost years previously. This brings the two closer together, but comes at Nayuki’s expense.

  • Owing to Kanon‘s more condensed structuring, Ayu and Yuichi’s relationship advances far more quickly than that of CLANNAD‘s, which portrays Nagisa and Tomoya as holding hands for the first time some months into their relationship, versus the few days for Ayu and Yuichi. While Kanon‘s anime adaptation might be quite short relative to how much content there was in the original visual novel, the anime itself never feels forced or rushed; things are adequately explained to viewers so that it’s easy to follow what’s going on.

  • The dramatic lighting, of vivid reds and deep purples, that accompany Ayu and Yuichi when she finally shows him her “school” hint at the unease and doubt that follows. Here at this spot in the woods, Ayu vanishes before Yuichi’s eyes. Yuichi is devastated and pushes forwards in his search, and Nayuki does her best to help keep his spirits up despite his troubles. Ayu’s disappearance hints at her origins, and I am reminded again of CLANNAD‘s Fuuko, who was hospitalised but managed to maintain a presence anyways, interacting with the principal actors to keep the story going.

  • In this revisitation, I’ve briefly mentioned that I began watching Kanon a short ways into my final undergraduate year, after my MCAT and during a time when I was supposed to be picking out a topic for my undergraduate thesis. I was enrolled in an honours programme that yielded a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree for my first degree, and in the final year, students must take a special projects course that sees them conduct research and write a thesis of sorts on their findings: in many ways, this course was similar to a miniature graduate degree. As I pushed through Kanon, my project materialised into a multi-scale renal model.

  • My fourth year of university was marked by a dramatic resurgence in my spirit, and I had found my old spirits again: having taken the MCAT, my studying for exams became much more effective. Striking a fine balance between working on my project, and the decidedly less exciting coursework, I managed to do very well in my final year, returning to the Dean’s List and bringing my GPA back up to a point where I could earn an honours degree. I would watch Kanon every three or so days during this time, and it took me a few months to go through the entire series.

  • That’s enough reminiscing about my undergraduate program’s final year; back in the present, we’re now closing in on the Christmas break very rapidly now, and this past week, I’ve attended a second Christmas party, which was a quiet get-together with the office. After a traditional dinner of turkey and Italian-sausage-stuffing, with maple-bacon topped vegetables and mashed potatoes, we settled in to conversation and watched Die Hard. On the day of the party, it had actually rained, and those around me remarked on the curiosity of this phenomenon: here in my city, precipitation takes the form of snow from November until around April.

  • When Akiko is involved in an accident and hospitalised, Nayuki falls into a depression. The combination of Yuichi’s rejection and her mother’s injury leaves the normally-cheerful and optimistic Nayuki inconsolable, refusing Yuichi’s efforts to talk to her. Yuichi decides to rest and reattempt, but while sleeping, the remainder of his memories return to him: seven years previously, on his last day in town, Yuichi and Ayu had been playing together near a large tree on the hill, but Ayu fell out of a tree and fell into a coma. In a panic, he ran off, and then rebuked Nayuki’s confession of love to him.

  • The dream gives Yuichi the last piece of the puzzle he needed, helping him to understand Nayuki’s feelings and also remember where he and Ayu had buried the angel amulet that Ayu had stated could grant three wishes. He heads off into a blizzard to locate the amulet, and while he manages to find it, succumbs to the elements. When Yuichi comes to, he finds himself in a warm bed: it turns out that the original Makoto Sawatari had found him.

  • The clean, white design of Makoto’s apartment is intended to create a very minimalist, clean environment that represents a rebirth of sorts, rather similar to how Gandalf awoke in a white void after his rebirth following his battle with the Balrog of Moria. This “reborn” Yuichi retains his kind personality but now gains his old memories back, allowing him to put two and two together and properly address those unanswered questions from his past.

  • Returning to the promised spot, Yuichi finds that Ayu has re-manifested, and makes her final wish to Yuichi: to forget about her. Yuichi refuses, and Ayu decides to make a different wish, disappearing shortly thereafter. While the precise nature of this wish is not specified, one can surmise what it was easily enough. Having taken on new memories from spending time with Yuichi and the others, Ayu makes a much more selfless wish, channeling what is Kanon‘s equivalent of the Infinity Gems to heal all those who have been hurting in the past seven years.

  • Nayuki has also recovered, and she heads out to the same spot where Yuichi had rejected her years previously. Yuichi takes his chance to properly apologise to her, and the two reconcile in full under a gentle snowfall, giving a romantic, if wistful feeling. At this point, Nayuki has not heard back from the hospital on Akiko’s condition, but the fact that Nayuki and Yuichi are able to be open about what they feel is a subtle sign of what Ayu had wished for.

  • As winter gives way to spring, Mai and return to school, preparing for their graduation, while Shiori is cured of her illness and accompanies everyone to class. Akiko, fully recovered, fills Yuichi in on the final pieces of what had happened to Ayu: after she fell out of the tree, she was brought to a hospital. Yuichi visits her frequently and holds the hope that Ayu would awaken. However, Yuichi’s friends soon move on with their futures, leaving Yuichi her only visitor. Another year passes, and Yuichi manages to figure out the last piece of the puzzle: the Ayu who had appeared to him was never seen without her red headband. Yuichi realises that this is the gift he had intended to give to her on the last day he had been in town years previously.

  • Locating the headband is the solution, and Ayu regains consciousness soon after, bringing Kanon to an end. Because I watched Kanon after I did CLANNADKanon did initially come across as a bit emptier and lonelier than CLANNAD. My impressions, however, remained quite positive, as I found the story to be about coming to terms with the past and facing one’s mistakes to rectify them. I praised the series for being very forward and clear with its mechanics, as well. In time, Kanon has come to stand out on its own merits apart from CLANNAD, and is definitely worth the journey.

As Jun Maeda’s first work with Key, Kanon represents an essay in the craft; Maeda would later come to use the learnings from Kanon to build the masterpiece that is CLANNAD. Numerous elements from Kanon were successfully applied to CLANNAD and honed; notions of family, the mother-daughter relationship, human emotions as having a near-supernatural presence, and numerous other features are shared between both series. CLANNAD‘s scenarios are more poignant, and written in greater detail, taking lessons from Kanon to craft an even more emotionally-powerful story. However, despite being the predecessor to CLANNAD, Kanon stands strongly on its own merits: the story itself is focused, establishes Yuichi’s story along with those of each heroine well, compelling viewers to stick around and follow the story as Yuichi learns more about everyone and himself. Coupled with Kyoto Animation’s top-tier animation, superior sound and superb voice acting, Kanon, like CLANNAD, looks timeless and aged exceptionally gracefully. The arc-based story is easy to follow, and despite the presence of the supernatural, Kanon succeeds in keeping the narrative and its messages clean and simple. The end result is that Kanon, like CLANNAD, withstands the test of time and is well worth watching. I have no trouble recommending this to folks who enjoy stories similar to CLANNAD, and those seeking a moving story about self-discovery will find Kanon a worthwhile series to watch. There is one final aspect to Kanon that I’ve not yet mentioned, and the main reason why the series ultimately is one I regard as a masterpiece: being set in winter, a season associated with death, suffering and stillness, Kanon creates the seeds of new hope amidst the snow and cold. Yuichi’s warmth and patience throughout the winter, then, is met with reward by the time spring comes: Mai’s graduated, Shiori’s formally enrolled as a student, and Ayu awakens from her coma, spending a warm day with Yuichi under the cherry blossoms. By enduring and working hard for those around him, Yuichi earns his happy ending as spring arrives, when life and colour is restored to the world. After watching Kanon a second, and a third time, my intense dislike for winter began dissipating, and in time, I came to accept winter as a season to not be endured, but one with its own merits and things to enjoy, having seen Kanon‘s presentation of winter as being a beautiful season in its own right.