“The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn, and shine with increasing clearness on your path.” —Jim Rohn
New Year’s Eve arrives, and Futaba receives an invitation to spend the evening with Hikari and her family. When she arrives, she is pleasantly surprised to find that Mato, Ai, Makoto and Kokoro are also in attendance. They share in some dinner prior to listening to Kino recount her stories about diving during her youth when Kodama wonders about what activity she ought to take up during high school. The excitement of the evening wears everyone out; Futaba falls asleep alongside the others, and they miss the countdown to the New Year. However, she wakes up ahead of the first sunset of the year and views it with Hikari and the others. In the New Year, Hikari catches a cold and is sick during her birthday; after Kokoro and Futaba run into one another and learn that both intended to visit Hikari, the set off for Hikari’s residence, where they celebrate her birthday. Futaba and Hikari later visit the Yamayaki Festival at Mount Omuro. Futaba meets Kotori for the first time, who feels that Futaba is familiar. They ascend to the top of the mountain, where Futaba becomes separated from the others when thick smokes obscures them. She runs into Kokoro, who is helping out because the historical society organising the Yamayaki Festival are short-handed. Futaba is surprised to learn that Kokoro is Kotori’s brother, and when reunited with the others, Kokoro pulls Hikari and Futaba from a dangerous situation. Spring rapidly descends on the world, and Futaba continues with completing all of the requirements for her Advanced diving certification. She surprises Mato and the others when she declares that she’d like to take night diving as an elective. Spurred on by Futaba’s energy, Hikari gathers everyone to visit that evening. When the time to dive has come, Futaba and Hikari descend into the pitch-black ocean, where she finds a world completely unlike the ocean that she is accustomed to diving in. Enthralled by the wonders that Hikari has shown her, Futaba writes a letter to express her gratitude for having met Hikari, with Hikari doing the same. Meanwhile, Kotori and Kodama study hard and are admitted to the same high school that Futaba and Hikari attend. They end up joining the diving club, and together with Futaba and Hikari, dive to the same location that Kino had discovered years previously. With this, Amanchu! Advance draws to a close, and while Advance might have diverged from Amanchu!‘s previous focus on diving to depict a much greater variety of elements in life, Advance nonetheless succeeds in capturing the viewers’ attention, totally immersing them in a world filled with miracles that makes Advance the strongest cathartic series of this past season.
Advance‘s name is aptly-chosen as the title for Amanchu!‘s sequel. As an action, “advance” is the process of moving forwards, of rising in rank and accelerating ahead. This theme is seen time and time again in Advance, where Futaba overcomes her fears of leaving behind Hikari when they inevitably have to part ways. Futaba has long viewed their friendship as a special one, characterising it as being very transient and dream-like in nature. As Advance progresses, Futaba’s notion of dreams and reality are never too far from the forefront of discussion. The series consistently present the idea that dreams might be fleeting, but to remain insistently stuck in the moment also has its hazards. As such, the only sensible thing to do is move forward, to advance: Kino insightfully shares her wisdom with Futaba, as do Mato. Both believe that life is about cycles, and that as one leaves one stage of their life behind, there will always be fun and exciting things to look forwards to and life for in the future. As such, as intimidating as advancing ahead might be, the journey is worth it. Futaba takes this advice to heart, deciding to focus on getting her advanced diving certification and opening her up to exploring more places with Hikari. Hikari similarly understands that Futaba’s being here and now is something she should enjoy, but that there will always be more new experiences to partake in even if she should separate from Futaba. These things are not always on our minds as audiences, when our daily lives are driven by schedules, goals and responsibilities; while seemingly obvious, it’s surprising as to how we occasionally forget these lessons. Advance gently reminded of these things, to be mindful of the future, but also to embrace both the good and difficult times ahead. These are powerful thematic aspects that Advance submits to its viewers, and while the series might have moved away from scuba diving as its primary focus, Advance does a different sort of diving to explore a very optimistic, and encouraging way of looking at the world.
Screenshots and Commentary
- As the finale post, I was tempted to feature forty screenshots in place of the usual thirty, but there is an argument to be made for brevity, so I will be sticking with the standard of thirty screenshots for this post. I’ve noticed that my posts are becoming increasingly lengthy as of late, so one of the things I will need to be mindful of is to keep my posts within a certain length. Here, Futaba rides towards the Amanchu beach house as evening sets in, having received an invitation to spend New Year’s Eve with her.
- Like Futaba, I prefer my solitude as a means of unwinding, but there are definitely occasions where it’s fantastic to hang with people. As the evening begins, glowing rings fill the air that add to the festivities. The New Year’s Eve events mark a return to the concrete; I was admittedly a bit weary after Advance had spent three consecutive episodes in the realm of the supernatural, and while it was likely to demonstrate the naïveté of wanting to be in the moment forever, the story had made its point very clear. One of Amanchu‘s strengths is being able to concisely describe an idea through events and characterisation, so the Peter arc dragged on for me.
- Ramen with tempura is on the evening menu: ebi furai was featured last in Amanchu! when I was going through the OVA where Akane and Chizuru visit Futaba. While subtle, the colouration of the shrimp here suggests it’s tempura rather than ebi furai. I immediately set about watching Advance‘s finale after it aired yesterday: normally, I am out lifting weights on Saturday mornings, but a fierce thunderstorm was raging in the early hours of the day, so I decided against going out. The storm persisted for the entire morning and began dissipating by the afternoon: I stepped out by evening to a local bistro and tried their brand-new BBQ Special, a half-rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs with Chinese-style BBQ sauce and a savoury fried half-chicken on a bed of fries that ended up being quite hearty, tasty and worth the wait.
- Hikari’s look of contentment mirrors mine after a most delicious dinner, and here, she dozes off while Futaba and Kokoro vie to be Hikari’s pillow. Discussions elsewhere have placed a great deal of emphasis on whether or not Hikari and Futaba’s relationship can be considered to be within the realm of the romantic. Strong friendships and expressing gratitude for such can be difficult, meaning that Futaba and Hikari often express their feelings in embarrassing ways. As such, I argue that a romance between Hikari and Futaba are unfounded, much like how Reina and Kumiko’s dynamic in Hibike! Euphonium is often misinterpreted.
- When Kodama becomes pensive about which extracurricular activity she ought to undertake, Kino decides to share a story from her youth, where she began scuba diving. Even when other fisherman ridiculed Kino for her unusual pastime, she continued; through these recollections, it seems that Kino was at least as energetic and optimistic as Hikari is. While exploring the seas, Kino wondered if she would find anything meaningful, and on one dive, decided to go further rather than turning back.
- If my memory has not failed me, Amanchu!‘s first season would have largely been set in the spring, accounting for why the colours would have been slightly less saturated than those seen in Advance. Kino’s journey (pun intended) into the ocean allows her to find a hitherto unexplored region of great beauty, and the experience must’ve been a moving one. Kino had already been familiar with the ocean as a pearl diver, but her discoveries would have been moving, sufficiently to inspire her to open the Amanchu beach house.
- Kino is rewarded with a discovery that, in her words, made the previous failures worthwhile. Her recollections motivate Kodoma to be more open-minded about new experiences and also brings to mind the path that rocket scientists Wernher von Braun walked when designing the rocket engines that would allow America to put their first man in space, after Sergei Korolev’s powerful R7 rockets allowed the Soviet Union to put the first satellite and man in space. The early American space program was riddled with failures, and pressure on von Braun mounted. However, by the time of the Gemini project, the Americans had vastly improved their rockets and space capsules, and von Braun would later design the Saturn V rocket that brought humanity to the moon.
- The public is familiar with von Braun’s successes, but history has also recorded the failures, as well; these are just as important as the successes. This is the message that Kino aimed to get to Kodama, and it is one that is also relevant to Futaba, as well. Here, Futaba and Hikari greet Akane and Chizuru for the New Year over phone. One aspect of Amanchu! that is unlikely to be shown, however welcome it is, would be a prologue of sorts featuring Futaba’s time in middle school with Akane and Chizuru; I’m sure viewers would enjoy it, but going back in time might also stand contrary to the notions of moving forward that Advance presents.
- I’ve always stayed up to see the countdown to the New Year, but I’ve never gotten up at the crack of dawn for the first sunrise of the year before. Back home, the sunrise is at 0839 MST, which isn’t particularly early, but after staying up, it’s a natural inclination to sleep until at least nine or ten. By comparison, in Itō, the sun rises at roughly 0653 JST on New Year’s Day: this is a time that one could wake up at with application of an alarm clock and judicious willpower, but sleep generally trumps everything else for most, so I’ve never bothered to check out the first sunrise of the year, as there’s no one awake to share it with.
- At the start of a new year, Hikari falls ill from a cold, and her absence is noticeable. With her birthday at around this time of year, both Futaba and Kokoro have the idea of gifting something for Hikari’s birthday. Futaba also buys a star-shaped cake to take to Hikari, who’s saddened at not being able to enjoy herself to the fullest extent. The interactions between Futaba and Kokoro are quite amusing: Futaba is endearingly immature, and Kokoro acts as any boy might in the presence of an older girl, displaying a combination of bravado and bashfulness.
- In Aria, characters display different characteristics when they revert to their chibi states as a result of embarrassment, surprise or shock. The same trend generally holds true in Amanchu!, although here, it is shown that Futaba’s chibi face is similar to Kokoro’s. Here, Kino reacts to the collision of ideas – everyone’s brought Hikari a cake, resulting in a grand total of five cakes for her to enjoy. A second glance at this screenshot shows that the colours of winter are less saturated and more faded: Amanchu! makes extensive use of saturation to denote temperature, further enhancing the sense of immersion this anime conveys.
- At the risk of exposing my age to the world, not that it’s too difficult to guess, my sixteenth birthday is but a memory now. Birthdays spell excitement among youth, and for good reason: it represents another year’s worth of experiences and maturity. I’m not fond of aging at this speed, but because these thoughts stray close to the realm of things that make me nervous, I’m going to regroup, steer my thoughts away from these waters and note that I’m now old enough so that my birthdays mean a well-placed excuse to treat my family to cheesecake, rather than the other way around. I think that counts for something.
- Besides sporting the same chibi expressions, both Futaba and Kokoro gift to Hikari something star-shaped, mirroring how they see Hikari as a source of light in their life. At the risk of overthinking things, Futaba’s choice of a photo frame mirrors her cherishing of memories that are brilliant, while Kokoro’s gift, a hat, is a representation of how he views Hikari: as an energetic, carefree individual who shines as brightly as any star. The similarities in each scene are meant to accentuate the fact that Hikari gives a very similar impression to everyone she encounters. Open, honest and true to themselves, these are the sort of people I would get along with without any trouble.
- At the Yamayake Festival, Futaba meets Kotori in person for the first time. We’ve seen Kotori previously at a café with no speaking role, and Futaba dreams of taking her on a journey through the skies on a broomstick. In this dream, Futaba is confident and in control, a far cry from her usual self, one who is prone to doubt and worry over failure. I’ve noted previously that Kotori is voiced by Ai Kakuma (of Brave Witches‘ Hikari Karibuchi fame): like Kodoma, she’s a middle school student in her final year, going into high school.
- Kotori feels that Futaba is familiar, and while it might be tempting to explain this as having a supernatural origin, we recall that Kotori and Futaba were sitting right beside one another in the café earlier in Advance. While under the influence of the warm sun and relaxed café atmosphere, Futaba fell asleep and dreamed about her surroundings, which were on her mind. Kotori, of course, recognises Futaba from the café as the mature-looking onee-sama. It’s nice to see the two finally meet in person and speak with one another: having a kouhai to look after will also help occupy Futaba’s mind.
- The Yamayake Festival (literally “mountain burning”) of Mount Omuro is quite real: with at least seven centuries of history, the burning process was introduced to destroy old grass and encourage the growth of new grass and takes place in two stages. The first is the torching of the crater, and the second stage involves burning the sides of the mountain – the second stage creates a considerable spectacle and takes roughly ten to fifteen minutes to complete. As seen in Advance, visitors can participate in the burning process: registration opens at 0900 and is limited to the first seventy in line, costing 500 yen per person. Usually scheduled on the second Sunday of February, the event’s date may vary depending on weather conditions.
- This is the scene that is said to have caused a controversy of gargantuan proportion elsewhere on the ‘net, when Futaba (somewhat naïvely) remarks that her feelings for Hikari differ than those of Kokoro’s after she learns that he’s in fact a guy. I’m personally not sure what the commotion is: the moment serves to highlight that in some matters, Futaba still has spots. However, Futaba is quite right in that her admiration and respect for Hikari is different than Kokoro, who may have a nascent crush on Hikari for her positive energy. By establishing this difference, Advance bluntly reminds audiences that yuri is not up for discussion in Amanchu! – enthusiastic fandoms sometimes overreact to details in a series they were not expecting, and forget that the works they enjoy ultimately do not belong to them. So, I have only respect for authors who step in to re-establish what their works are and are not about within their narrative.
- In Canada, there is certainly no such equivalent event to the Yamayake Festival: when I first saw the event, I was flabbergasted. Parks Canada employs prescribed burns to manage woodlands and stave off out-of-control wildfires – forests depend on natural fires for renewal, but large-scale fires can threaten human infrastructure, as well, so prescribed burns are a controlled means of achieving the same. However, as a dangerous process, only qualified specialists will carry out these burns, and civilians are not permitted to participate. Thus, it was a bit shocking to see civilians partake, but given the real-world Yamayake Festival’s seven-century-long history, it stands to reason that enough safety measures have been established to minimise the risk of injury or death arising from this event. Even so, Futaba and Hikari nearly find themselves cooked to medium-rare when they light their section of grass.
- It is here that Hikari learns that Kokoro is a guy. Kokoro is embarrassed, not insulted, that Futaba counts his interactions with Hikari consistent with that of a crush. After saving Hikari from being trapped in the conflagration, this revelation comes out. However, beyond mild surprise, no more comes out of things. We recall I am not an advocate of the “death of the author” approach, and so, with the scene choosing to leave things here, as the audience, we are to accept that this revelation does not an immediate impact on the dynamic between Kokoro and Hikari yet that is worthy of mention. I find that the author’s intents are very important in understanding a work, and so, it is insincere to disregard the author’s thoughts and inject one’s own, when looking at fiction. With this being said, this is my opinion – opinions differing than mine will certainly exist, and I am curious to hear the rationale for why yuri merits a greater presence and belongs in Amanchu! as a whole.
- While I should not have to say so, I expect that readers using the comments below, should they choose to, remain polite and respectful of others; I hold my readers in very high regard and do not expect any less than this, regardless of how controversial something is. Here, we move into the finale, which deals with Futaba’s journey to obtain her advanced license in April. That Futaba is not shown passing the other components of the certification illustrate that by this point in time, Futaba has gained enough confidence to move forwards and seize the day. The revelation that Kokoro is a guy has done very little to disrupt the status quo, and I take this to be an indicator that this revelation was intended to be taken at face value. After surfacing from a dive, Futaba laments that her photographs of underwater life did not turn out so well, and Mato suggests taking the underwater photography elective.
- Futaba, however, has another goal in mind: having witness the beauty of night diving, she longs to do it and so, sets her sights on diving at night for her elective. Mato is deeply moved that Futaba has taken her words to heart. While both Hikari and Futaba worry about the day where they will have to part ways, both also resolve on making the most of the present, as well. Advancing is the overarching theme in Advance, and despite its prevalence, it is subtly handled. The anime is never pushy with the theme, as some series are wont to doing when they really wish to emphasise a particular idea to its viewers.
- Ahead of Futaba’s night dive, Hikari gathers everyone to support her. Kotori wonders if Futaba is apprehensive about stepping out into the unknown, and Futaba replies that long ago, she would have been. However, this fear is now replaced with a thrill to explore; the beginnings of a senpai–kouhai dynamic are beginning to manifest between Futaba and Kotori; if Amanchu! were to continue into a third season or movie, I imagine that having to look out for and mentor a junior could be something that further helps Futaba to mature.
- Up until now, I’ve not even mentioned Advance‘s soundtrack: it’s got some of the same acoustic pieces from the first season which gave the series a relaxed, ARIA-like feeling, but there are some pieces accompanying scenes that are more airy, mystical in nature. The different incidental music serves to create a different mood than what was seen in the first season, bringing to mind the pieces of Flying Witch.
- It is appropriate that for Advance‘s finale, audiences are treated to visuals of a breathtaking scale: this is the magic about good anime adaptations. While the messages and ideas within a manga can be very powerful, to have the additional dimensions offered by motion and sound serve to accentuate scenes and bring them to life in ways that even the best manga cannot. This scene was absolutely stunning and fully captures just how far Futaba has come in her journey.
- Earlier in Advanced, audiences are made to experience things from Futaba and Hikari’s perspective, when Hikari stays behind above water to accompany Futaba: the exact nature of an ocean by night is left to the viewers’ imaginations. Good writing will put the participant in the characters’ shoes, and for Advanced, audiences members who’ve not dived by night before would be as curious as Futaba to see what such a world looks like. In giving viewers the same feelings as Futaba, Advanced has done a phenomenal job of conveying what characters are experiencing and feeling.
- Advanced is by and large, met with positive reaction; despite exploring realms that are unrelated to diving, I’ve found that the continuation simply dives into different areas, often the abstract, to present Kozue Amane’s unique view and perspectives on the world. It is unlikely that Amanchu! will displaces ARIA as Amano’s opus magnum, but despite dramatic differences in setting and themes, Amanchu! nonetheless inherits ARIA‘s approach in presenting a particular theme. The themes explored in Amanchu! are much more tangible and applicable to the process of growing up.
- Having said this, the themes of Amanchu! are not limited to being relevant for students, and a part of the reason why this series works for viewers is because the lessons Futaba and Hikari learn, over the course of the series, is also relevant for adults who may not have sat in a classroom for quite some time. Back at the surface, Kokoro, Kotori, Kodama and Kino watch as the divers extinguish their torches. Kino remarks that everyone who’s watched from the surface eventually end up going to join the explorers underneath and take in a world that’s unlike any they’ve experienced previously.
- After turning their lights off, Futaba and the others are treated to a magical sight underneath the waves: bioluminescent phytoplankton that emit light when perturbed. The result of a chemical reaction between a class of compounds known as luciferin, and special enzymes, luciferase, which oxidise the luciferin, the photons emitted by the reaction are largely in the visible spectrum, creating the ethereal sight that the divers are treated to. I imagine that in some circles, I am counted as a hypocrite: I mention scientific processes and then step back and say that these are not relevant to the narrative. However, a key difference is that I only mention real-world details in the passing, underneath my figure captions, to give readers something unique to take away. Beyond this, I hold that realism and science should not be applied towards understanding thematic elements of a series where science or realism does not figure prominently, because there are cases where it is necessary to favour strength of a message over realism. Since I do not attempt to shoehorn science or realism into either my themes or verdict of a series, I have not contradicted myself in any way.
- Once the new term begins, Kodama and Kotori are accepted to the same high school as Futaba and Hikari. Underneath the cherry blossoms, Futaba and Hikari exchange letters to one another carrying their feelings towards one another. It’s strictly platonic friendship: in spite of having known one another for a year or so, it’s still a little difficult for the two to properly put into words the thanks that the other entered their life. Writing things down allows Futaba and Hikari to articulate how they feel. Following the exchange, both are moved and promise to make the most of their days together.
- On their latest diving adventure, Futaba and the others visit the spot that Kino had ventured to years previously. I score Amanchu! Advance an A grade (corresponding to a 9 of ten): relevant, clear and vivid in its presentation, the only strikes against Advance was the fact that the Peter arc was more protracted than strictly necessary to convey its point effectively, and that it did not change my worldview to any extent, but beyond this, Advance represents a well-executed anime that says something meaningful about happiness. In conjunction with exceptionally good art, animation and voice work, Advance succeeds in convincing viewers of its reality.
Seeing Futaba and Hikari advance, and watching Futaba earn her advanced certification means that Amanchu! Advance has definitely lived up to its title. It’s a series that earns a strong recommendation: between a meaningful message, superior artwork and animation, solid voice acting and top-tier aural impacts, Advance fully immerses viewers in the world of miracles that Futaba and Hikari find themselves in. Both Hikari and Futaba are shown with a much greater dimensionality as they deal with different emotions and conflicts, but their friendship with one another, as well as their peers and seniors, do much to help them learn and grow. Creating life-like characters has long been a strength that Kozue Amano imparts into her stories, and although Amanchu! might not have the same fantastical setting as ARIA, Amano nonetheless creates a world that is as wondrous as Aqua within Amanchu!, suggesting that it is the people that make events and places meaningful. In my previous review for Amanchu!‘s first season, I noted that the premise and setting was not as enchanting of ARIA‘s Aqua, but Advance shows that with its characters and presentation, Amanchu! is very effective at differentiating itself from ARIA, even if the magic of friendship and importance of open-mindedness are common themes to both series. With a strong conclusion to Advance, and the fact that the manga is ongoing, it is not difficult to suppose that a continuation could be within the realm of possibility. If a sequel were to be realised, I would watch it without question: Amanchu! has established itself as an immensely enjoyable and relaxing series. For now, however, we conclude Advance on a very high note. This was one series that I looked forwards to watching each and every week of its run, and admittedly, Saturdays are going to feel a little more empty without the likes of Amanchu! Advance gracing them.