The Infinite Zenith

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Bofuri 2: Creative Gaming and A Whole-series Review and Recommendation

“Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought.” –Albert Einstein

When New World Online‘s developers release an update that allows players to begin taming monsters as companions ahead of a major in-game event, Maple Tree’s members set off with the goal of finding monsters. Since Maple and Sally already have companions, they help Iz to find ingredients for potion-making, and Maple winds up earning yet another skill after defeating a sea monster. Prior to the event, Maple and Sally encounter crystals, and after finding all of them, they discover a portal that takes them to a special area that allows Syrup and Oboro to evolve, and after a preliminary event, Maple Tree is finally ready – the event entails defeating powerful foes to earn medals that can be exchanged for in-game skills and items. Maple Tree, Order of the Holy Sword and Flame Emperor all perform well, but when the administrators modify the event parameters, the three guilds decide to band together and cooperate to survive to the end of the event, where they take down a leviathan of a monster through their combined efforts. Back at Maple Tree, Maple and Sally decide they’ll save their medals for use once the new content is released, and while enjoying a quieter time together in New World Online, some players express curiosity in seeing whether or not they’ve got what it takes to challenge Maple and her allies. Thus ends Bofuri 2, the second season of Itai no wa Iya nano de Bōgyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu (I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense); this anime gained a reputation as being a fun-filled series following Maple’s outlandish adventures, and upon the conclusion of the first season back during the winter of 2020, viewers were informed that a second season would be in the works. Three years later, this second season has materialised. Offering a significantly more team-based experience for Maple and her friends, Bofuri 2 also gives viewers a subtle sign that Bofuri won’t be ending just yet – with a mysterious new group of players seeking to disrupt the status quo and dislodge Maple Tree from their throne, the cliffhanger ending of Bofuri 2 is hinting at a new continuation that will continue to show Maple’s outlandish adventures, and if the existing storyline is anything to go by, any third season of Bofuri is sure to continue on in the manner of its predecessors and offer viewers with a highly engaging, fun experience where the only thing at stake is a good time and a chance to make new friends through their shared love of a game.

Bofuri 2 does not have any overarching themes, in the sense that Maple and her friends do not experience any lessons within New World Online, that substantially alter their world-views or beliefs. Maple and Sally were already well-adjusted individuals who play New World Online purely for fun, and their experience in the game reflects this. Between Maple’s unorthodox means of having fun (such as using her “Wooly” skill to goof off and completely ruin the tenour during a duel between Mii and Payne) and Sally’s generally relaxed manner even when she’s engaging others in PvP, there are no stakes in Bofuri, and this allows the series to simply show the spectacle of battle whenever the game’s top players set off to participate in an event, as well as how Maple’s open-mindedness and creativity allows her to play the game in ways that are unorthodox. In most modern games, players often strive for what’s known as a “meta” setup, the most optimal way of playing given the game’s parameters and properties. While this way of play optimises efficiency, it also locks players towards certain loadouts and play-styles, discouraging players from exploring all that a game has to offer, when in reality, exploring alternate loadouts and setups might confer a unique or notable experience. New World Online does not appear to have this constraint, and this is how Maple is able to perform outrageous feats during her time spent in game. In this way, Bofuri acts as a celebration of creativity: since Maple doesn’t appear to be someone who reads strats ahead of time, she adapts and improvises depending on the situation, using whatever tools she has available to her, and in the process, ends up having a fun time of things. Since the whole point of a video game is to give players a chance to have fun, New World Online has completely succeeded in its function, and Bofuri 2 wholly captures this. Further to this, New World Online‘s developers are quite aware that, despite the fact that more players are catching on and adapting Maple’s approach, of using skills in a creative way to defeat even the toughest foes, they’re having a wonderful time. Bofuri 2 thus suggests that what makes a game fun isn’t necessarily the difficulty level, but rather, giving players the freedom to play in their own manner of choosing. Because Japanese games have traditionally counted on difficulty to compel players to invest time into improving and feeling a sense of accomplishment, Bofuri does appear to be prompting an alternate way to play games, one that still challenges players, but without constraining them to the meta loadouts and setups.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Originally, Bofuri 2 was scheduled to finish back in mid-March, but production delays resulted in the seventh episode airing a week later than expected, and subsequently, the final two episodes were pushed into April. While this has meant a slightly longer wait to see where Bofuri 2 would end up, the episodes still aired in a reasonable timeframe, and without any compromise to quality: New World Online‘s game world still looks incredible, battle sequences remain superbly animated, and the adventures Maple partakes in are just as enjoyable as they’d been previously.

  • Much of Bofuri 2 follows the characters as they gear up and delve into New World Online further: PvE is the focus of this second season, and at least a handful of readers have expressed disappointment that there hadn’t been more PvP engagements for Maple Tree. This is a non-issue for me – I generally prefer PvE over PvP because the former provides a much more relaxed environment for exploration, and the competitive sweat-fests that is PvP makes it a decidedly unenjoyable mode of experiencing a game. In the former, I’ve found that being able to play at my own pace is what makes things fun, and more so than the first season, Bofuri 2 conveys this through a host of PvE events.

  • From what is seen in Bofuri 2, the PvE modes are about as challenging as Modern Warfare II‘s DMZ mode: this addition to Modern Warfare II has entertained players who were feeling disappointed by the poor support for Warzone 2, but one of the primary frustrations about DMZ was the fact that the AI is obscenely overpowered. The mode is balanced for pairs, trios and quads, but for solo players, it is very demanding. I imagine that as a solo player, New World Online would be remarkably unfriendly, but fortunately for Maple Tree’s members, there’s always someone on hand to help out.

  • In this way, when Yui and Mai set off to try and earn their companions, they receive some initial help from Maple and Iz (the latter provides a speed-boosting potion that gives the girls bunny ears), but otherwise, resolve to continue trying until they succeed. There’ve been moments in games where I’ve felt overwhelmed and wondered if that was as far as my journey went, and my solution’s always been the same as when I’m stalled by a roadblock at work – take a step back, regroup by doing something else and then reattempt the problem afterwards.

  • Kasumi experiences the same challenges in finding her companion, and so, when she meets up with Yui and Mai later, the three encourage one another to keep at things until they succeed. Having a companion in an MMORPG can be quite helpful, and in World of Warcraft, all players had access to mounts that made moving around a map significantly easier. Some classes also gain pets and summonable entities that can draw aggro or otherwise fulfil an offensive role. However, unlike Bofuri, where summonable companions fulfil multiple role and can greatly augment one’s combat performance, pets in most games are actually balanced well: a lone player and their companion will have no chance of soloing a raid meant for 40 players in World of Warcraft, for instance.

  • I therefore gain the sense that Bofuri‘s author, Yūmikan, believes that games should be fun, first and foremost. New World Online‘s dynamic skill system is, to any seasoned RPG player, fundamentally broken and impossible to balance because skills have no restrictions and appear to be fully effective from the moment they are earned. In most games, skills are limited to certain classes and players must rank them up to fully realise their potential. Skyrim was unique in that it does allow players to level up any skill, allowing them to play the game to their liking and rewarding them for emphasising certain skills. For me, I ended up running a ranged character with access to a range of spells and archery. In this way, Skyrim is an example of what New World Online would probably look like if developed by a competent studio – the game offers the same level of openness as New World Online without creating a scenario where characters can become as broken as Maple.

  • Yui and Mai are given a bit more of a presence in Bofuri 2 and despite their adorable appearance, their emphasis on strength means they become the damage-dealers for Maple Tree. I am rather fond of the pair: their mannerisms mean they evoke the same aesthetic as the pair of stuffed bears I have. Befitting Yui and Mai, their efforts to win over a pair of bears are successful, and in this moment, I am reminded greatly of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear‘s Kumakyū and Kumayuru. It suddenly hits me that this marks the first time that Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear and Bofuri had aired in the same month, and while both stories share in common a fantasy RPG world, the two series are completely different in their focus. Bofuri is explicitly a game, and this allows the story to be a little more laid-back than if things had been an isekai.

  • By the end of their companion hunt, Kanade gains access to a slime that can shapeshift, Kuromu secures a haunted, sentient suit of armour, Iz finds a færie, and Kasumi gets a snake. Everyone’s excited to try their new companions out in a live combat scenario, and I recall the same excitement that accompanies unlocking something new in a game, or buying a new piece of hardware in reality. What makes an item worthwhile is the utility it can provide, and with everyone receiving something suited for their playstyle, Maple Tree is able to keep up with things: other guilds have similarly earned companions that bolster their capabilities further.

  • It suddenly hits me that, aside from Maple and Sally, who know one another in reality, none of the members in Maple Tree know one another in person, and further to this, New World Online looks like it gives players some options for customisation – Mii looks quite different in her guild master appearance. As a result, it’s safe to suppose that, save Maple and Sally, who look like their real-world selves, the other members of Maple Tree could be rocking modified appearances.

  • Sally’s fear of ghosts is adorable, and she shrinks away in horror when Frederica offers to show Maple and Sally her companion, fearing it’s a ghost of some sort. It turns out Frederica’s companion is a bird. I had been hoping that New World Online might’ve had a positive impact on some of the characters, but because Bofuri is largely set in the game world and deals in the game experience, versus the social implications of games, this aspect remains unexplored and likely will remain the topic for other series. This isn’t necessarily a strike against Bofuri, since the series excels at what it does cover.

  • In my original discussion of Bofuri, which I’d written three years earlier amidst the early stages of the global health crisis, I drew upon my experiences with max-min optimisations and machine learning to discuss how seemingly unorthodox systems might result in the best results for a given problem. In the case of some agent-based systems, application of machine learning and evolutionary algorithms may find that sometimes, it makes sense to go all-in on a solution. In other cases, however, algorithms may end up settling on a more balanced solution. Whether a balanced or max-min solution works is dependent on the situation, and my talk of the first season was more of a discussion of how Bofuri acted as a rather visceral show of one of the concepts I learnt in graduate school.

  • By focusing on max-min optimisations, my first talk on Bofuri ended up being a rather unorthodox commentary on Bofuri. Compared to that post, this whole-series discussion of Bofuri 2 is rather more conventional – I imagine most readers aren’t interested in principles of multi-agent systems. Bofuri never really had a central theme resulting from the characters’ growth as they played the game, and instead, the series sought to convey the worth of creative problem solving and adaptivity. In this way, Bofuri 2 and Bofuri‘s themes are identical, and since I didn’t cover these elements three years earlier, now was a good time as any to take a look at the series through my usual perspectives.

  • Because Bofuri is significantly more relaxed than other anime of its setting, I imagine that writing for this series in an episodic fashion would’ve been quite difficult – it takes several episodes to showcase an event, and even smaller activities, like finding companions, take a few episodes. Coupled with the absence of events that drive character growth in individual episodes, I ultimately found it easier to write about Bofuri from a big-picture perspective. To the best of my knowledge, there are no substantial episodic reviews on Bofuri 2  – reaction posts cheering the characters on do not qualify.

  • For me, “wooly” is my favorite skill to see in use, as it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Bofuri. With a bit of creativity, Maple uses it in unusual ways, and the results are always hilarious, standing in stark contrast with how her fellow players wield their skills. Moments like these allow Bofuri to give viewers a chance to check out more of New World Online‘s environment, and after the visually distinct levels Bofuri 2 had opened with, later levels are a bit more familiar in design. Here, Maple and Sally pursue a side quest after coming upon crystals, and for kicks, Maple calls in “wooly” to help her and Sally get around more quickly.

  • I have heard that for many viewers, Bofuri 2 was a disappointment compared to its predecessor on the grounds that this second season focuses on PvE over PvP, arguing that fighting other players is what had made the first season enjoyable. A lot of gamers out there believe that PvP is a true test of skill; their rationale is that, since human opponents can think, form strategies and act in an unpredictable manner, victory is all the more rewarding. However, I’ve found that PvP modes are a chore because more often than not, rather than using legitimate methods, most players will adopt a “win at all costs” mentality and resort to everything from poor teamwork tactics (like camping), to outright using cheats to preserve their all-important KDR.

  • Conversely, when it comes to PvE, any sort of game where there’s also cooperation among multiple players means that game developers are able to create scenarios where working together to overcome a given challenge creates a truly rewarding outcome. Because the need to compete is removed, and everyone shares a common goal, this sort of environment is more conducive towards understanding and teamwork. This is precisely why extraction modes are starting to become popular: they emphasise squads of players working together to complete tasks and escape. While games like Modern Warfare II‘s DMZ still allow for PvP, players did initially observe a gentlemen’s agreement not to go after other players unless they came under fire first.

  • The extreme aggression and competitiveness that comes with PvP is why even well-known streamers are known to use cheats of some sort. For instance, despite countless claims otherwise, the streamer “nadia” is certainly known to be using cheats in order to keep their viewers. Conversely, in PvE modes, players have no incentive to cheat because the goal is to cooperate and complete goals together. Players, whether or not they stream, simply need to have fun in order to create an engaging session with their viewers. As a result, I find the arguments favouring Maple and her friends going up against different guilds unconvincing – if anything, Bofuri 2 shows that the concepts in this series are viable regardless of whether the objectives are PvE or PvP driven.

  • Further to this, PvP players aren’t necessarily more skillful than PvE players. While PvP can be a show of skill and game knowledge, PvE demands similar knowledge and adaptability, since some foes can be significantly tougher than any human opponent. I do not doubt that Bofuri is an anime that can successfully do this for viewers, I find that the gripes about a lack of PvP in Bofuri 2 to be unconvincing. The series’ biggest strengths lie with how it shows the formation of friendships, how cooperation can create novel experiences and how the thrill of a game lies in working together, rather than rubbing one’s skins the the faces of everyone that one meets.

  • Whether it be PvP or PvE, Bofuri manages to highlight how New World Online accommodates for both, and this strengthens my enjoyment of the series. Maple and Sally’s pursuit of crystals for a side-quest end up taking them to a hidden sanctuary of sorts, and here, Syrup and Oboro immediately display restlessness. As it turns out, this area is a special place that levels up one’s companions. The splendour of settings in New World Online is most apparent in Bofuri 2, and when there is no need to worry about other players, Bofuri‘s second season is able to give viewers a chance to really appreciate just how intricate and majestic the scenery of this game world is.

  • Silver Link has done a fantastic job of bringing New World Online to life, and this has meant that, outside of a single scene earlier in the season, Bofuri 2 is consistently solid from an animation and artwork perspective. Following their latest adventure, Syrup and Oboro are more powerful than before, and this leaves Maple Tree ready to handle whatever follows in the season’s capstone, the eighth event. The fact that Maple and Sally could upgrade their companions through a quest, and gain access to cosmetics on top of upgrades suggests that New World Online lacks any sort of pay-to-win or loot box elements: everything worth earning can be done purely through in-game means.

  • Loot boxes containing abilities impacting gameplay have always been controversial, and following the debacle that Star Wars: Battlefront II created with its Star Card system, all gaming studios of note have universally agreed to ensure that only cosmetics should be unlocked via micro-transactions, lest they run afoul of legislation that categorises loot boxes as being equivalent to gambling. Here, Maple leads her guild into the event’s first day: the object of this event is simply to hunt monsters, and defeating tougher foes will earn medals that can be exchanged for skills and cosmetics. I wish The Division 2 would implement such a system: when I stopped playing, I had found all of the exotics that could be found without playing raids.

  • To this day, I still don’t have the Eagle Bearer, Bighorn and The Ravenous, and with Ubisoft planning on releasing The Division: Heartland at some point in the future, The Division 2 will likely be sunsetted. I am hoping that they add these three exotic weapons to the pool so that all players have a chance at unlocking them. Back in Bofuri 2, after Maple and her friends hit their quota, Maple decides to go exploring, winds up inside an alligator and uses her wooly skill to explore. She interrupts Payne and Mii, who decide to engage in some PvP just for fun, but Maple’s appearance completely spoils the mood, causing them to suspend their duel.

  • As the first day draws to a close, Maple’s guildmates whip up a comfortable base so the team can rest and await events of the next day. In trying to ramp up difficulty, the developers end up introducing several twists into the game, including separating the guild members and shrinking the map in a similar manner that battle royales might, but Maple and the others end up working around this to continue earning medals. PvE really allows Maple to cooperate with others, and this is where Bofuri 2 excels: I find that those who were lamenting the lack of PvP may have fundamentally missed the season’s goals. The first season had shown what an unorthodox play-style and creativity could do, so here, the second season acts as more of a breather that lets Maple and the others interact in an environment that isn’t quite so competitive.

  • Seeing different combinations of characters working together was fun; ordinarily, everyone operates together in their own guilds, and separating the characters gave the series a chance to mix things up. The cast is quite large in Bofuri, which allows for all sorts of combinations, and most viewers report that this was an enjoyable watch, some fans of the light novels were quite vociferous in voicing their disapproval of how separating the characters, was suppose to be a very severe moment in the light novels that forces character growth. However, Silver Link’s handling of things is in keeping with presenting Bofuri as a light-hearted and fluffy series – people take games too seriously as it is, and it is refreshing to see a series step away from this mindset.

  • Unlike the smaller variants that were encountered earlier, the final boss is comparable in size to the Zillo Monster, and it was only through a protracted battle, with the combined might of Maple Tree, Order of the Holy Sword and Flame Emperor that everyone is able to prevail. The final battle is titanic, worthy of a season finisher, and Maple ends up using her signature “devour” skill to carve a hole through the leviathan after the others have whittled its health pool down. Once this monster is downed, the skies suddenly clear, and New World Online announces that this latest event has drawn to a close.

  • Triumph in a particularly difficult PvE event is significantly more rewarding than coming out on top in a PvP, and this trend is slowly starting to make its way through the games industry as extraction royale games (such as DMZ and Escape From Tarkov) become increasingly popular because they allow players to do more than hunting foes: the thrill of finding in-game items and evading both AI and other human players to get one’s stuff out gives it an additional thrill, and moreover, because the aim is more than just eliminating enemies, players have even more freedom to play in their own manner of choosing. New World Online‘s eighth event does have extraction royale elements, and the idea that guilds must survive in order to collect their rewards created an emergent behaviour in which guild would actually work with one another to ensure everyone succeeded.

  • This aspect is ultimately what makes Bofuri 2 so enjoyable, as it also shows how versatile New World Online is. While Maple and the other guilds celebrate their triumph, earlier today, I stepped out to help adjudicate the city-wide science fair. Owing to a minor hiccough with the registration system, I wasn’t receiving updates, but a few nights earlier, I was able to get in touch with the organisers and get things sorted out. Earlier today, I stepped out to the event venue and participated in my first in-person judging since 2019. It was a joy to be able to speak with the students and do a face-to-face conversation with participants, both students and fellow judges. The projects I were assigned this year were at the primary level, but I found myself thoroughly impressed with how detailed and thoughtful the projects were. Similarly, it was clear that the students did know their stuff, and I had no qualms issuing high scores for the teams I evaluated (of note was a very well-done project on leaves and their properties).

  • I’m glad that Bofuri ended up with a continuation, and admittedly, I was quite surprised to see time pass by so quickly: Bofuri originally began running three years earlier, and one of my readers had recommended the series to me on the basis that I was a bit of a gamer, myself. When my schedule opened up after the global health crisis shut things down, I sat down to watch the series, and I was left with a decidedly positive experience. The lack of drama, and emphasis on fun meant that Bofuri is ultimately an ode to what gaming should be: bringing people together through fun experiences. Bofuri 2 continues on in the same manner as its predecessor and gives different characters a chance to shine, expanding out Maple and her guildmates’ friendships, both with one another, and members of other guilds.

  • Towards the end of Bofuri 2, as Maple and Sally explore the starting regions of New World Online for old time’s sake, several other players express an interest in squaring off against Maple Tree and demonstrate the confidence that they’ll prevail. Some folks speculate that they’ll employ psychological warfare to achieve this aim, but I disagree, as this contradicts the themes of Bofuri. Rather, I imagine these other players will do as I do: Maple’s tough, but she isn’t invincible, and Bofuri 2 makes it clear she’s weak against attacks with armour piercing properties. On top of Maple’s low mobility, a skilled player similar to Sally would be able to contend with Maple. Maple Tree’s a competent guild, but they are not unbeatable, and as such, I expect that, should there be a continuation of Bofuri, viewers will be treated to other guilds and players employing creative strats to give Maple Tree a hard time. Such an outcome will likely be superbly fun to watch, and as such, I would certainly like to see a continuation of Bofuri.

Despite being remarkably entertaining, bombastic and fully capturing the fun that Maple and her friends experience, Bofuri 2 raises a curious issue that arises whenever a story features overpowered characters and over-the-top antics: throughout Bofuri 2, the developers are shown as being engaged in an arms race with Maple. As Maple levels up further and burns through boss fights, the developers must continue to alter the game and prevent Maple from using similar tricks to beat future bosses. This creates a situation where bosses become increasingly powerful, in turn forcing Maple to resort to increasingly wild techniques to eke out a win. The difficulty scaling, from a gaming perspective, results in situations where casual players wouldn’t stand a chance, and from a storytelling perspective, it causes the need to constantly write increasingly exciting scenarios. The constant arms race is not especially sustainable, as there is a limit to how far things can be taken. In reality, this is why there are level caps and limits (in The Division 2, for instance, I cannot just stack explosive damage bonuses to the point where I can one-shot everything on any difficulty), but as this does not appear to be a part of New World Online, there is no real cap on what’s possible. Fortunately, it does look like Bofuri‘s author has accounted for this – a hitherto unseen group making a declaration to beat down Maple Tree, and if they’re confident they have what it takes, this suggests they’re not worried about Maple’s power. This is likely the case because these unknown players likely have strats on their side. Girls und Panzer had taken a similar route: after the fight against the University All-Stars Team and their overwhelming firepower in Der Film, Das Finale sent the story in a different direction as teams employ improved strategy to pull off unorthodox wins. This could be the case in Bofuri, and it could be the case that ordinary skills, when applied in clever and novel combinations, might be enough to give even Maple trouble. A third season of Bofuri could therefore be entertaining to watch, and regardless of how this confrontation actually turns out, one thing is inevitable: Maple will likely exit any encounter with a bunch of new friends in tow, much as how she had befriended Mii and Payne, and gained the respect of the members in Order of the Holy Sword and Flame Emperor.

Planetarian: Snow Globe – Reflections and A Professional’s Remarks on The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

“If we succeed in building human equivalent AI and if that AI acquires a full understanding of how it works, and if it then succeeds in improving itself to produce super-intelligent AI, and if that super-AI, accidentally or maliciously, starts to consume resources, and if we fail to pull the plug, then, yes, we may well have a problem.” –Alan Winfield

When Yumemi Hoshino is unveiled at Flowercrest Department Store’s planetarium to assist with presentation, attendant Satomi Kurehashi wonders what point there is in having her provide instruction to a robot. Ten years later, Yumemi has become an integral part of daily operations at the planetarium, but Satomi becomes worried when she finds Yumemi leaving the premises on a daily basis. Diagnostics finds nothing wrong with Yumemi’s hardware, and Yumemi herself states she’s performing normally. The IT specialist, Gorō, promises to investigate and determines there’s no abnormalities in Yumemi’s hardware or software, and one evening, while discussing Yumemi’s programming, the staff at the planetarium share a laugh after Yumemi misinterprets one of Satomi’s coworker’s remarks. Over time, the attendance at the planetarium begins to decline. The staff consider ways of driving up visitor count and consider selling snow globes, news of anti-robot riots begins to appear. On a snowy day, Yumemi wanders out to a nearby park, and Satomi decides to follow her after picking up a snow globe. While at a park, Satomi spots a young girl hitting Yumemi before her mother shows up; the girl tearfully remarks on how robots have resulted in her father to lose his job. Yumemi subsequently enters a power-saving mode but comes back online to share a conversation with Satomi, revealing that her coworkers had asked her to listen to Satomi’s concerns. Satomi later realises that Yumemi’s wandering out everyday was in response to a promise she’d made to a boy shortly after she joined the planetarium’s staff. The boy, now a young man, returns to the planetarium and remarks that he’s unable to keep his promise to Yumemi, having fallen in love with someone else. He ends up sticking around for the show, a tenth anniversary special. Satomi promises that she will continue to work with Yumemi at the planetarium unto eternity, and later, the staff provides Yumemi with an upgrade. Some three decades later, the world has fallen into ruin, but unaware of the changed world, Yumemi reactivates and begins to set about her original directive, of looking after the planetarium and its guests. This prequel story to Planetarian was originally part of a special edition of the game that tells of how Yumemi and the planetarium’s staff worked together prior to the war that decimated humanity. While it’s a touching story that shows how Yumemi came to become a beloved part of the planetarium she worked at, Planetarian: Snow Globe also touches upon issues that impact contemporary society. In the past year, the topic of machine learning and artificial intelligence was thrust into the forefront of discussion as Stable Diffusion and OpenAI’s ChatGPT reached increasing levels of sophistication. The former is a deep learning model that converts text prompts into images. Having been trained on a massive learning set, the tool is capable on running modest hardware and produces images of a high quality. ChatGPT, on the other hand, is a chatbot capable of producing life-like responses. Using a combination of supervised and reinforcement learning, ChatGPT can be utilised to generate stories and essays, identify bugs in computer software and even compose music.

The functionality in these new technologies is accentuated by the speed at which content can be generated; with a few prompts, tools like Stable Diffusion and ChatGPT can effortlessly output content at rates far outstripping what humans can generate, while at the same time, producing content that exists in a legal grey area regarding copyright and ethics. The existence of these technologies have created concern that they can eliminate occupations for humans and create a scenario where creativity is no longer something with any merit. Snow Globe presents hints of this – the little girl that confronts Yumemi, and the off-screen anti-robot riots are hints of how people are resistant to the idea of disruptive technologies that may potentially take away their livelihoods. At the same time, however, Snow Globe also suggests that AI and other technologies possess known limitations, and as such, while they might become increasingly powerful, they won’t fully displace people. Yumemi acts as support for the staff at the planetarium rather than replacing the other attendants, and limitations in her programming means that she has certain eccentricities that make it difficult for the management to decisively rely on Yumemi over her human counterparts. Similarly, in reality, machine learning still has its limitations. Stable Diffusion artwork lacks the same stylistic elements as human-created art and can create results that land in the uncanny valley, and ChatGPT lacks the ability to verify the factual value of content, producing answers that are obviously wrong to humans. Although there are concerns that increasing the training will eventually iron out these shortcomings, the AI itself is still a tool, one that cannot produce an output without a human hand guiding it. Clients and customers will similarly see a need for humans to ensure that a result is satisfactory. While concerns over AI replacing people in a range of creative occupations is a valid one, history finds that it is something that people might not need to worry about. When automation was introduced in manufacturing, people protested that their jobs were being taken away. However, automation also created new jobs requiring different skills, and over time, society adapted to the usage of automated production lines. With respect to AI, something similar will likely take place: although production of content might be automated, people are still required to provide inputs to these systems, and similarly, creative skill is still necessary, as the outputs from AI will not always match a client or customer’s requirements. When the technology reaches a point where it can supplant people, it will likely be the case that people will simply create other occupations and positions to utilise the technology. Snow Globe illustrates this as occurring: Yumemi is an asset at the planetarium that she works at, but she still has some limitations; these shortcomings are overcome when she’s working with human staff, and it is together that the planetarium finds the most success.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to blog archives, the last time I wrote about Planetarian was some six years ago. At that time, I’d completed my graduate thesis and had been working with my first start-up. My post about Planetarian indicates that I had spent some time on campus cleaning up my old office space and, in the comments, I had promised one of my readers that I would check out the movie once it became available. Unfortunately, this, never materialised: as memory serves, after seeing the film’s runtime, I decided to put it aside for a rainy day, and I subsequently never got around to watching the movie in full.

  • When I finished Planetarian‘s ONAs, I concluded that the series had exceled in showing how humanity retains its love of beauty even when our societies have crumbled, as seen with the Junker’s decision to collect Yumemi’s memory card. Here in Snow Globe, which is said to have been set three decades earlier, the world shown is a familiar one. Yumemi lacks her signature ribbon, and ten years into her service at the planetarium, Satomi’s grown accustomed to her presence despite initial reservations about working with a robot.

  • Satomi’s role in Snow Globe is to represent the individuals who are initially reluctant to accept a new technology, but over time, come to acclimatise and value what said technologies bring to the table. Her remarks about having spent ten years with Yumemi but still occasionally misunderstanding her speaks to the idea that the constructs and tools humanity has developed are of immense complexity. Even simpler iOS app has a large number of moving parts. For instance, while Twitter looks like a relatively easy app to implement, there’s a networking layer, infinite scrolling, AVPlayerViewControllers for video playback, a side menu and other elements that provide features users are accustomed to.

  • A system as complex as Yumemi’s, then, would be even more difficult to explain. Snow Globe has Yumemi serve as a capable presenter at the planetarium, but almost ten years since her inauguration, she begins to behave unexpectedly; Yumemi wanders off premises, and while acknowledging that this behaviour goes against planetarium protocol, she does not find that these actions conflict with her directives. Gorō indicates that Yumemi’s instruction stack seems normal, but here, I will note that strictly speaking, the terminology isn’t correct and moreover, using a stack isn’t appropriate for Yumemi. A stack is useful for solving problems that involve recursion (e.g. backtracking in pathfinding). A queue, on the other hand, is the better choice for sequential processing: it’s a data structure in which the first object put in is the first object to be used.

  • Since Yumemi works based on the instructions given to her, I’d expect that a priority queue underlies Yumemi’s functions: every instruction she’s been given is assigned a priority value, and then depending on parameters, Yumemi would pull the item with the highest priority to execute. Queues are a fundamental data structure, one that all aspiring developers must learn, and for me, queues are the easiest to explain since they’re modelled after examples like lines at a supermarket. Here, both Gorō and Yumemi are looking for abnormalities in her programming, suggesting a debug of the decision-making algorithm that assigns priority. Since nothing is found during their investigation, Gorō and Satomi are both baffled.

  • Unusual behaviours in software are not uncommon; a software developer deals with these sorts of issues on a daily basis, and there have been times where it is difficult to identify a problem because the reported issue is not sufficient to crash an app (and in turn, produce a stack trace). Instead, tracking down these behaviours requires an understanding of the underlying code. This is why any good software developer will insist on producing clean code: if the logic is too convoluted, this impedes clarity and precludes easy debugging.

  • To give an example of this, suppose that I wished to call a method if four conditions were met. Basic programming would call for an if-statement (e.g. “if A and B and C and D”). However, if the app grew in complexity, and now I had six conditions, one of which could always result in a method call if true, common sense would suggest adding these additional conditions to my predicate (e.g. “if A and B and C and D and E or F”). However, the verbosity of this statement would make it difficult to debug if it was found that the method was being called incorrectly: was it conditions A, B, C, D or E causing the problem, or is it the “or” operator with condition F?

  • In Swift, the response to this would be to use a guard clause after computing the variables. Suppose that the Boolean groupA is true if all of A, B, C, D and E are true. Then we could do something like “guard groupA || F else { return }” prior to calling our method. Because we know there is two distinct groups to look after now, debugging this becomes significantly easier. In this case, the solution Gorō proposes, to add tighter constraints on Yumemi’s behaviours, might not work given that at this point in Snow Globe, the cause of Yumemi’s actions is not precisely understood.

  • If what I’ve just said appears too verbose or dense, that’s completely understandable; this is the world of software development and clean code. I deal with these matters daily, and as such, have some familiarity with it, but it is unfair for me to expect the same of all readers. With this being said, having walked through what would be considered a simple example, one can swiftly see how when things like machine learning come into the picture, at least some background is required in order to understand how current systems work, and by extension, what the limitations of different methodologies are.

  • Topics of computer vision, natural language processing and machine learning have been widely debated as tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion continue to mature. However, I’ve found that a lot of discussions about the social implications do not take into account the constraints of machine learning; although concern that these tools can destroy what gives artists and creatives value, the reality is that these technologies are still restricted by the size of their training sets. An AI could easily produce an image of Yumemi, for instance, but that interpretation would not have the subtle attention to detail a human artist could produce. In this case, if I wanted a commission of Yumemi, I would still favour asking a human artist over producing one through Stable Diffusion.

  • In graduate school, I briefly studied machine learning through my courses on Multi-Agent Systems and Swarm Modelling: while things like supervised learning and reinforcement learning are well-characterised, these courses also make it clear that machine learning has its limitations. One could ruin a model by overfitting it, for instance; a model can be made to perform flawlessly against training data, but the model would still prove useless for data it is unfamiliar with (the easiest analogy is the student who memorises exam questions rather than learning the principles and gets wrecked by an exam whose questions are slightly different). Because of constraints in the learning process, there is nuance in training a model, and while these processes are constantly evolving and improving, they’re not at a point where they can threaten human equivalents yet.

  • Having studied some machine learning in my time, and because of the fact I constantly deal with technology as a result of my occupation (I’ve written wrappers to work with natural language processors and have added sentiment analysis algorithms to some of the apps I’ve worked on previously), I believe that there is at least some weight to my remarks that we are not yet at the stage where AI-generated content can displace human-made content owing to constraints in learning models. A large number of creatives is concerned about where the technology is headed, but the reality is that we’re still many years out from possessing AI that can generate content with the same deliberateness as people do.

  • Snow Globe‘s portrayal of Yumemi and her relationship with the planetarium’s other coworkers speaks to this reality: although Yumemi was programmed to be kind and attentive, she lacks emotions as we know it. Had Yumemi been such a game changer, the planetarium could’ve simply hired Yumemi and then dismissed the remaining staff, save Gorō. This didn’t happen, and the reason is simple enough: despite Yumemi’s capabilities, there remain things only people can do. For instance, Yumemi isn’t designed to help with things like marketting and sales, so when attendance drops, the staff begin considering what else they can do; Satomi wonders if ordering custom snow globes might be of use.

  • While it is a worthwhile exercise to consider how things like copyrights and other legal aspects should be handled in the event that technology does reach a point where machine learning can produce works matching or surpassing what can be produced by human hands, I hold that such a discussion and any policy-related proposals should be conducted as a multidisciplinary effort amongst domain experts; conversations on social media, and as presented by journalists, do not always provide a complete or fair picture of what’s happening, especially given the nuances in the technology. Keeping a step ahead of the technology and implementing policy is meaningful: if social media had seen regulation before it became as ubiquitous as it was today, then it is less likely that bad-faith actors would have been able to use social media to undermine government, for instance.

  • Snow Globe never actually portrays the social unrest that arises as a result of the increasing use of robots within society, but news reports and comments the characters make suggest that it is a growing issue within the context of Planetarian. This is reminiscent of the human response to things within The Matrix: when a humanoid machine murders its owner, riots break out globally demanding that all machines be deactivated and destroyed. Since said machines were programmed with a basic survival instinct, they fled to their sanctuary, manufactured increasingly powerful machines and waged a terrible war on humanity.

  • Topics of this sort have long been popular in science fiction, but in the present day, events relating to technological singularity remain improbable because computing power, while impressive, is still limited. Computers are characterised by their speed, rather than their flexibility, and things like “desire” in a computer is presently measured by means of a function built on equations and input parameters. These functions strive to maximise some sort of goal, but beyond this, have no incentive to go above and beyond as humans might.

  • This is what motivates the choice of page quote: for any sort of AI-related disaster to happen, humanity would need to willfully and purposefully create the conditions necessary for its own destruction, similarly to how Chernobyl was the result of a series of deliberate, willful decisions. With this being said, an AI need not be intrinsically malevolent to wreck havoc with society. My favourite example is the Paperclip Problem: in 2003, Nick Bostrom proposed a simple thought experiment involving an AI whose sole purpose was to manufacture paperclips.

  • If this AI was given the means of producing said paperclips, it may come to realise people may one day impede its goals, or that at some level, atoms within humans could be repurposed for paperclip production, and to this end, annihilate humanity on its quest to produce paperclips. Less macabre variants of this thought experiment exist: if said AI could be instructed to not harm humans directly, it could still mine the planet to its core, resulting in an environment that is decidedly unsuited for human life. Intended purely as a thought experiment, Bostrom uses it to show how important it is to define constraints and rules so that they do not pose a threat to humanity.

  • In the present day, it is a joke amongst computer scientists that the average computer will often ask for a user’s permission, even several times, before it runs a program. Since computers are so subservient to their users (as a deliberate part of their design), an AI would produce a window, with an “okay” and “cancel” dialogue, asking a user if they would like for the AI to visit harm upon them. This attitude may come across as irreverent for some, but the reality is that machine learning and AI still have a long ways to go before they reach a point where they pose an existential threat to humanity.

  • Overall, Snow Globe does a touching job of showing Yumemi’s world prior to the apocalypse that sets her on path to meeting the unnamed Junker in Planetarian‘s storyline, suggesting that Yumemi had been surrounded by people who did care a great deal about her. After the planetarium staff’s time passes, one interesting observation is that Yumemi seems quite unaware of what’s happened, and she continues to try and carry out her original directives. For me, this was one of the biggest signs that Yumemi was what is colloquially referred to as a “dumb” AI in the Halo universe, named because they cannot synthesise information or produce creative solutions for problems.

  • In Halo, “smart” AI possess intuition and ingenuity, capable of mimicking the complex neurological pathways in an organic brain, but owing to their complexity and ability to form their own neurological networks, they place a strain on the hardware and have a short lifespan. “Dumb” AI, on the other hand, can be used for long periods of time. Because Yumemi does not appear to synthesise information or form new connections based on input from her environment, she’s not a true AI. I believe that one of the reasons behind why author Yūichi Suzumoto chose to present Yumemi as a “dumb” AI is because this renders her with a child-like naïveté then forces the reader to consider their own actions and beliefs, rather than having the story give readers a conclusion through a “smart” AI, and this in turn compels viewers to connect with the Junker, who feels a strange connection to a robot that dates back before his time.

  • After Satomi finds Yumemi, the latter enters a power-saving mode until Satomi’s remarks causes Yumemi to reawaken. Yumemi comments on how Satomi’s coworkers had asked her to listen to anything on Satomi’s mind, and in this moment, Satomi is able to add two and two. Here, Snow Globe reinforces the idea that even if one is simply voice their thoughts aloud, talking out one’s problems might be able to help one work out something. Yumemi is not able to directly help Satomi out, but giving Satomi the impression of being listened to gives the latter an understanding of things, enough to help her reason out what is behind Yumemi’s actions of late.

  • Seeing the change in Satomi’s attitude towards Yumemi was Snow Globe‘s highlight: as a junior attendant with the planetarium, Satomi had not seen any merit in training Yumemi, believing that the latter was already preprogrammed to be effective in her role. In the present day, Yumemi’s become an integral part of the staff, and Satomi even wishes she could marry Yumemi. Yumemi’s reply is similar to Siri’s, and she remarks that she’d made a similar promise in the past, leading Satomi to finally spot why Yumemi has been leaving planetarium grounds daily. With this being said, I imagine that this was something Yumemi’s manufacturer had added in as a default response, much as Apple threw this in to Siri as a bit of an easter egg of sorts.

  • As it turns out, the reason for Yumemi’s excursions come from a boy she’d met a decade earlier. He’d promised to marry her one day, and this instruction was processed. However, because there was a date value assigned to this instruction, Yumemi did not prioritise said instruction until the date of the promise drew nearer, whereupon it began impacting her actions. Since this was a valid instruction whose priority was influenced by a date value, diagnostics would not have caught this. One of my readers had suggested to me that this is an emergent property, but from a computer science standpoint, this is not correct.

  • Emergence is the manifestation of complex behaviours (e.g. swarming) from simple rule sets, with Craig Reynolds’ BOIDS and Conway’s Game of Life being two notable examples. Yumemi’s still acting within the realm of her programming at this point in time, and while she’s quite lifelike, there are numerous points in Planetarian where her the limitations of her behaviours are seen. As a result, I’m reluctant to say that Snow Globe illustrates emergence. Emergence in the context of Snow Globe would take the form of Yumemi display humanlike compassion and reassuring Satomi as another person would.

  • Celebrating a decade’s worth of service, Satomi’s coworkers give Yumemi a bouquet before preparing for Yumemi’s signature show. It’s a fitting conclusion to a glimpse into what the world had been like prior to the apocalypse, and I’m glad I was able to capitalise on this long weekend to watch Snow Globe: I had originally wondered if I’d have to wait for April or later to begin owing my schedule, but upon learning Snow Globe was only thirty-six minutes long, I found time enough to sit down for this experience. In Canada, the third Monday of February is a statuary holiday, a break in the month.

  • A massive snowstorm and cold front has swept into the area, and I spent much of today unwinding after enjoying a homemade burger with a side of potato wedges while snow fell. On Saturday, the weather was still quite pleasant, and I ended up taking the family to visit the local farmer’s market. Besides exploring the locally-sourced vegetables, I sat down to a delicious lamb wrap with Greek salad; it turns out that it is possible to taste the difference in having fresh ingredients, and after lunch, I swung by IKEA to buy a new reading lamp. For the past eleven months, I’ve been itching to have a reading corner in my bedroom, and the NYMÅNE fits the bill perfectly: I now have a cozy space to read books in during evenings.

  • Admittedly, the topic matter in Snow Globe has allowed me to express my thoughts on the recent media and online characterisation of a topic I’ve some familiarity with. I am aware of the fact that this is an issue some folks feel very strongly about, but at the same time, I am happy to discuss the ramifications of machine learning from a technological and social perspective, provided that folks are not importing the doomsday narrative the mainstream media is peddling: machine learning’s been around for quite some time, and while it is indeed improving at a dramatic pace, known limitations in its present form prevent AI becoming a plausible means of bringing about a dystopia as some have suggested.

  • In Snow Globe‘s post-credits sequence, the planetarium’s staff gift to Yumemi her trademark holographic ribbon, and later, she reawakens in the post-apocalyptic world. With Snow Globe in the books, time will tell if I actually manage to watch and write about Storyteller of the Stars in the future, but in the foreseeable future, I did promise readers I’d take a look at Do It Yourself! now that the hype surrounding the series has passed. For the remainder of February, however, quite a bit is going on, so I’d also like to knock out some lingering items on the backlog before beginning anything new: I recently finished Metro: ExodusSam’s Story, and have finally cleared Montuyoc in Ghost Recon: Wildlands ahead of a milestone, so I’d like to write about those before the month’s over.

The idea of machine learning and its applications in areas like computer vision or natural language processing is not new: while both ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion were released in 2022, the fields of AI and machine learning have been of interest since the 1990s, and principles like supervised or unsupervised learning are a core a part of courses at the post secondary level. The limitations of these approaches are well-characterised, and while the mass media tends to overplay advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as their implications, experts are aware of the fact that what makes computers so powerful is their speed. With a large enough dataset, computers can emulate humans in terms of problem solving, drawing upon incredible amounts of data and analysis of probabilities and past outcomes to draw a conclusion. In order to train a computer to recognise a square, for instance, thousands of images are required. However, a child will be able to identify what a square is after a few tries. Similarly, the concept of emotions is one area where humans continue to excel over machines. While emotions can be characterised as as fitness function, so far, no model exists for describing things like empathy or compassion – a fitness function will likely make decisions benefiting whatever task is at hand, while people are more likely to make choices that factor other individuals into the decision-making process. The complex interplay between man and machine, then, is a field that’s still ongoing, and while tools like Stable Diffusion or ChatGPT have definitely become powerful, some concerns about them are also exaggerated. Disruptive technologies have historically caused a change in society, rather than destroying it. The rise of phones reduced the need for letters, but letters remain a human and personal way of keeping in touch. Although virtual teleconferencing calls provide unparalleled convenience, people still make time for in-person meetings. Owing to historical trends, as well as known constraints on the learning models that power machine learning and artificial intelligence, then, it is fair to say that some concerns that are being shared regarding these tools are exaggerated. Similarly, it is worth noting that fears regarding the hypothetical possibility of computers displacing and plotting to eliminate humanity are a product of our own vivid imaginations. Although doubtlessly powerful, computers are not yet so creative that they entertain establishing dominion over our species yet: consider that our computers still ask users for permission before it runs an update or installs a new program.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Lycoris Recoil and Remarks on Parfaits With A Side of Politics

“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” – Bruce Wayne to Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman Begins

The Lycoris are a secret group of assassins tasked with maintaining peace in Japan by taking out targets of note and concealing the fact. After Takina Inoue is relived from active duty following her actions during an operation to secure a shipment of illegal firearms, she’s transferred over to the café LycoReco and works with Chisato Nishikigi, a Lycoris with a seemingly supernatural disposition for evading bullets. Chisato’s easy-go-lucky attitude is grating on Takina, who initially desires to return to active service with the Lycoris, but as she and Chisato learn more about the terrorists behind the illegal firearms, the pair also become closer together. The terrorists are led by one Majima, who shares similar origins as Chisato as Alan Institute test subjects, and as the pair close in on Majima, they also learn about how Shinji Yoshimatsu had saved Chisato with the intention of turning her into the perfect weapon. While Chisato rejects Shinji’s expectations for her, she and Takina are instrumental in stopping Majima’s plan to destroy, Enkobou, a new tower in Tokyo to replace the Tokyo Skytree, which was damaged in a previous terrorist attack. Although Lycoris Recoil is widely regarded as the top anime during the summer season last year owing to the touching dynamic between Chisato and Takina, critics expressed disappointment at the anime’s moral ambiguity and inappropriate use of slice-of-life elements in dealing with what are typically counted as more serious topics. In typical fashion, the reality is that Lycoris Recoil exists somewhere in the middle. Chisato and Takina’s interactions are not especially revolutionary, and the idea of a cheerful, bubbly individual balancing out someone who’s more stoic and reserved has been seen in countless series (Cocoa and Chino of GochiUsa, and Rin and Nadeshiko of Yuru Camp△ are two examples that come to mind). Similarly, the question of morality is actually clearly presented, but it is not done from a political standpoint. Instead, Chisato’s individual remarks and actions throughout Lycoris Recoil speak to her worldviews, and by extension, the messages that Lycoris Recoil seeks to convey. In an anime where morals are deliberately ambiguous and vague, Chisato’s unwavering stance on leaving her opponents alive provides consistency, the anime together as it touches on a range of topics, binding things together in a way that keeps viewers engaged with her experiences.

The very existence of an outfit like Lycoris, and their portrayal as heroic keepers of the peace, is something that is seemingly contradictory with the ideals in a liberal democracy – a sub rosa government agency that has authority to execute lawbreakers might keep the peace within a society (and indeed, for law-abiding citizens, such an agency is not nominally a threat), but at the same time, Lycoris is no different than secret police agencies that have been employed to suppress and silence citizens. From a certain point of view, Majima’s views are actually more in keeping with the belief that no one agency or group should have judicial and executive powers within a government. Lycoris Recoil‘s ending suggests that the collective good of preserving the peace matters more than individual liberty, and this creates an unusual clash. At first glance, these contradictions mean that Lycoris Recoil isn’t successful in conveying its messages. However, this is untrue, and Chisato is the reason why. Although she is counted as a top-tier operator, Chisato refuses to kill any of her targets. In operations, she prefers to incapacitate using rubber bullets, and even goes out of her way to treat any injuries she may have caused. Chisato’s compassion stems from her respect for life – having received an artificial heart to sustain her life, Chisato believes that no one should have the authority of deciding who lives, and who dies. In this way, Chisato’s beliefs mean she’s incompatible with the operational protocol with Lycoris’ Direct Action (DA) unit, and while the other characters undergo growth as a result of their time spent with Chisato, Chisato herself remains steadfast in her beliefs. In remaining a static character, Chisato provides grounding for Lycoris Recoil and suggests that there is merit to compassion, of cherishing life and finding value in the ordinary, whether it be messing around with the uptight Takina or serving Café LycoReco’s patrons with unique parfaits. No matter how chaotic the world gets, or what expectations on her become, Chisato’s consistency outlines the importance of regarding others well. In this way, even if Majima and Lycoris’ clashing ideologies seem to be at odds with real-world beliefs, Chisato’s belief in a life of moral simplicity, and her enjoyment of common, everyday moments mean that Lycoris Recoil speaks to the idea that in a world of ambiguity and conflict, there is merit in focusing on doing what one can for the people around oneself. Lycoris Recoil‘s focus on life at LycoReco clarifies the anime’s aims, and in doing so, the morals and themes here are neither ambiguous nor vague.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Lycoris Recoil is an anime I’ve been recommended on numerous occasions: whether it be the previous (and final) #TheJCS, comments here or on Twitter, folks have expressed an interest in seeing what I made of one of 2022’s most well-known anime. The main reason why I did not watch it during its airing was because Luminous Witches had been airing at the same time, and I did not wish to divide my attention between the two series. By the fall season, Yama no Susume: Next Summit had occupied the whole of my attention, so I didn’t find the time to watch Lycoris Recoil. In this way, we entered the new year by the time I’d gotten around to watching things.

  • The plus side about watching Lycoris Recoil at my own pace is that, by this point in time, all of the episodes are out, so I was spared of the need to ensure cliffhangers, and for the most part, avoiding spoilers isn’t too tricky an endeavour. Before delving further into Lycoris Recoil, the first thought that came to mind was that Takina resembles Hibike! Euphonium‘s Reina Kōsaka and SSSS.Gridman‘s Rikka Takarada, but curiously enough, Chisato’s voice actress, Chika Anzai, had actually played Reina. On the other hand, Shion Wakayama, Takina’s voice actress, is a relative newcomer whom I know best as Her Blue Sky‘s Aoi Aioi. This dynamic duo forms the core of all things in Lycoris Recoil, offering a grounding perspective for a world that is clearly detailed, but also one that is simultaneously messy.

  • Chisato’s happy-go-lucky mindset stands in stark contrast with the duties and expectations placed upon Lycoris operators, and to accentuate this, Lycoris Recoil renders Chisato with exaggerated facial expressions during moments of levity. Upon its conclusion, Lycoris Recoil was widely regarded as a highly satisfying anime: Jusuchin of Right Wing Otaku complements the series as “perfect as a one-cour anime series” which “left a lasting impression on people” owing to striking a balance between the political thriller and slice-of-life aspects, while Crow’s World of Anime paints the series as being a superb emotional experience, with the finale being “as satisfying and enjoyable an ending as [one] could have hoped for”, before characterising this series as one where it is not necessary to seek out “the flaws in this episode and the series as a whole”.

  • Similarly, Random Curiosity’s Choya concludes that Lycoris Recoil “operates best as a visually-impressive action anime with an engaging cast of characters” and comments that the more serious elements “might not stand up to scrutiny”, but in spite of this, the “should still prove to be a good time” for those who can get past the social and ethical implications of such a world. All three reviews share in common the sentiment that, while the world of Lycoris Recoil has inconsistencies and limitations, strong writing for the series’ lead characters meant that overall, things remained positive.

  • As it was, Lycoris Recoil is certainly at its best when focused on the gradual changes towards Takina’s attitudes: she starts her journey dedicated to finishing the mission at any cost, using any means necessary, whereas her superiors believe in following orders and remaining as a cohesive unit. Seeing Chisato allows her to see how there are alternative ways of getting things done, and moreover, that finishing a mission doesn’t always doing something by-the-book, in the most efficient manner possible. Character dynamics are more important in Lycoris Recoil than the political piece, and the anime wastes no time in establishing this.

  • The presence of Café LycoReco and its utility as a gathering place for everyone provides a reliable meeting spot for characters to bounce off one another, swiftly lightening up more serious moments and providing the backdrop for humour one might expect in GochiUsa. As a result of this, I was hard-pressed to see Lycoris Recoil as a Tom Clancy-esque story; a café and a lead character similar to Cocoa Hoto meant that it felt more appropriate to see Lycoris Recoil as a slice-of-life with action-thriller elements, rather than an action-thriller with a café in it.

  • The positive reaction to Lycoris Recoil was such that Crunchyroll determined this series was 2022’s best show. However, while I am in agreement with the strength of Takina and Chisato’s friendship as being the main draw behind Lycoris Recoil (in this post, I will not be speaking about equipment, weapons and tactics because one could switch things out entirely, and the anime’s themes would remain unchanged), it is a audacious claim to suppose that Lycoris Recoil is without peer. This is because 2022 saw the airing of several excellent series, with Spy × Family being what comes to mind as being the top of the class for telling a consistent story on top of world-building and character growth. This is ultimately why I’ve chosen to look at Lycoris Recoil from the “Terrible Anime Challenge” perspective: in terrible anime challenges, I watch a series to see if my impressions of a series is consistent with existing reception.

  • In this case, although the premise world-building is outlandish, enough for me to not be fully convinced by the setting or count this as worthy of being 2022’s best anime, Lycoris Recoil lives up to expectations as being an excellent tale of character development in a setting that otherwise would not, at first glance, appear suited for such a tale. For this reason, I found the anime enjoyable. At first glance, the dynamic between Chisato and Takina is similar to how GochiUsa had presented growth in Chino as a result of Cocoa’s arrival; while Chino had been taciturn and reserved previously, after Cocoa joins Rabbit House, Chino slowly becomes more adventurous and open-minded despite expressing frequent annoyance at Cocoa’s antics

  • Lycoris Recoil has the same occurring with Takina and Chisato: although Chisato’s mannerisms do initially rub Takina the wrong way, over time, Takina comes to see the reason behind why Chisato is always striving to make the most of every moment. Despite the dramatically differing settings, both GochiUsa and Lycoris Recoil actually end up with a similar message and intention, and this is the main reason why it’s so difficult to see the latter as a serious portrayal of sub rosa operators and their implications on society. To accentuate this, both protagonists and antagonists in Lycoris Recoil are portrayed with funny faces and dramatic overreactions. In a series where the intention had been to convey an idea about a more serious topic, the characters would be more stoic and reserved (such as Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins).

  • In an anime where Chisatao spends a bulk of an episode trying to help Takina find more appropriate undergarments, only to succumb to curiosity and see what Takina was going on about before getting busted, it’s evident that Lycoris Recoil is meant to be easygoing, first and foremost. This is what motivates my title: Lycoris Recoil is more about personal growth than it is about making a political statement owing to its design choices and aesthetic, and the choice to utilise a more serious topic against a backdrop more consistent with slice-of-life shows how, politics or not, individual development and decision-making is ultimately what matters most.

  • This is why I strongly disagree with Anime Feminist’s Caitlin Moore’s suggestion that Lycoris Recoil‘s weakness is a “tonal dissonance and continued lack of clarity as to its moral or political positions on the subject matter of state violence”. I understand that Moore’s statement was made four episodes into Lycoris Recoil, which means that at the time of writing, Moore would not have had the entire picture in mind when making this remark. However, the aesthetic of Lycoris Recoil meant that this is ultimately irrelevant: if the anime had intended to discuss the implications of an off-the-books wet team, it would not have spent so much time portraying Chisato and Takina at LycoReco.

  • The so-called “tonal dissonance” that Moore brings up comes about because Chisato’s cheerful mannerisms and optimism appear to stand in stark contrast with what being a Lycoris entail. On closer inspection, this actually is not an issue in any way: Lycoris Recoil establishes that Chisato lives life on her own terms because of what had happened in her past, and after disobeying orders during an assignment, Takina is reassigned. While Takina had desired to return to active duty, being with Chisato leads Takina to reevaluate what matters most for her, and over time, Takina comes to realise there are other priorities in her life.

  • For this reason, the messages throughout Lycoris Recoil are not inconsistent in any way, and in fact, the existence of the Lycoris, as well as how seriously they’re portrayed as taking their assignments, is meant to provide a juxtaposition with Chisato’s world views. Lycoris Recoil is poking fun at how seriously some organisations take themselves when they know full well that their duty entails contradiction and actions that can be seen as immoral. As such, while I concede that Moore’s reception applies only to the series after four episodes, I do not find that such remarks should be treated as valid criticisms of Lycoris Recoil as a whole.

  • Following a string of attacks on Lycoris operators, Takina decides to live with Chisato. In any other series, the mood would be grim, but speaking to this series’ commitment to the positive, Chisato relishes at the possibility of living with a friend. Her safehouse is shown here – it’s a comfortable and well appointed space located beneath an empty unit that Chisato enters to throw off any tails she may have picked up. A glance around shows that while Chisato keeps most of her place clean, she can be a bit of a slob, too, and this is something Takina means to fix.

  • Assigning a schedule initially fails, and Chisato ends up deciding it’d be more fun to use scissors-stone-cloth to see who does what. Owing to her style, Chisato dominates Takina, resulting in the latter being assigned every task. Takina’s look of horror is hilarious, as is Chisato’s smug little smile. Later down the line, Mika and Mizuki will inform Takina that there is a way to beat Chisato in scissors-stone-cloth because Chisato has a certain tell that she does. Moments like these serve to humanise the characters; it’s a common enough approach that anime use, and by showing viewers what everyone’s like in happier times, tragedies and drama only hit harder.

  • As memory serves, Cocoa sported a similar outfit during GochiUsa‘s first season – Chisato mentions at one point that Lycoris are only “on duty” when wearing their uniforms, but when they’re out of uniform, they’re technically not permitted to act. One evening, Chisato decides to head out, and amidst the chaos, Mika and Mizuki learn that Kurumi had been the one who compromised the Lycoris’ AI system, Radiata. After Kurumi came under fire from hostiles, she had sought the Lycoris’ protection and in the present, is more than happy to help Lycoris bring the perpetrators to justice. Widely thought of as being completely secure, Radiata is Lycoris Recoil‘s equivalent to The Division‘s SHD Network.

  • The usage of computers and AI in Lycoris Recoil is current with the times, with both Kurumi and her rival, Robota, using a combination of desktops, tablets, internet connections and AI to achieve their goals remotely. While such tools are doubtlessly powerful, they are also vulnerable – Lycoris Recoil joins a long list of fictional works, including Tom Clancy and Skyfall, in suggesting that the world’s dependence on computer networks has become society’s Achilles Heel. I say this with some degree of irony because I’m in the technology-related field of mobile development, and any sort of disruption to the complex network of systems that keep things running mean that, should anything fail, I’d be in trouble.

  • Despite Karumi’s actions, the others are quick to forgive her: after Takina saves Chisato from an ambush, upon reviewing the footage, Karumi learns that their foe is a shadow named Majima, and she promises to keep working with Chisato and the others until he’s brought to justice. In the meantime, after Chisato receives a checkup, Takina tries to play Chisato in another match of scissors-stone-cloth. Using the tricks she’s previously learnt, Takina manages to beat Chisato and earns the right to live with her for a bit longer, resulting in an adorable dance.

  • One thing I’ve noticed about anime like Lycoris Recoil is that, whenever cute girls and guns are involved, discussions tend to become very serious – people tend to analyse every word the characters speak, review their every action and offer a biting critique of what they should’ve done instead and delve deeply into the characters’ choice of equipment in an effort to see if they can correctly deduce the outcome of a given event. This approach has applicability in some series; if a work is committed to realism and the aim of said work is to offer a message about a political or social issue, then using real-world knowledge is helpful.

  • Conversely, if a work is more light-hearted or makes use of supernatural abilities (e.g. Chisato can dodge bullets through intuition), then real-world knowledge becomes less helpful. In the case of Lycoris Recoil, knowing that Chisato rocks a modified Detonics CombatMaster, or that Takina’s preferred sidearm is the Smith & Wesson M&P outfitted with an Ospray 9 suppressor, won’t help viewers to predict what happens. The reason why knowing the weapons in Lycoris Recoil won’t aid one in figuring the story out is because the guns themselves perform only as well as the operator, and since ballistics isn’t an issue here, small differences in how a CombatMaster handles against something like Majima’s Makarov is irrelevant.

  • Things begin shifting when viewers learn that Chisato’s been living on borrowed time: it turns out as a child, she was afflicted with a heart condition of unknown nature, and the Alan Institute had provided her with an artificial heart in exchange for her becoming involved in wet work, courtesy of Shinji Yoshimatsu. Chisato’s refusal to kill her opponents means she’s not effective as an assassin. In retaliation, during a routine checkup, one of Shinji’s goons sabotages her heart, limiting her time to two months. Questions of talents are brought up in Lycoris Recoil, and while Shinji believes that people have an obligation to society to utilise whatever skills they’ve got, Chisato believes she should be free to choose the path she desires.

  • In doing so, Chisato answers the question of whether or not collectivism or individualism is the better choice, and by extension, whether or not a government-run shop should have the power to utilise lethal force in the name of maintaining social order. Since Chisato picks her own path over the path Shinji had prescribed for her, Lycoris Recoil is also suggesting that the Lycoris’ methods and existence is not wholly ethical, either. Although the events of Lycoris Recoil do eventually see Takina reinstated, her experiences with Chisato eventually lead her to question if this is what she’d desired.

  • Towards the end of Lycoris Recoil, things escalate wildly when Majima carries out his grand plot to draw out Chisato into a one-on-one with her to see who’s the superior combatant, as well as expose the Lycoris to the world. In these moments, Takina, Chisato and the remainder of the DA’s convictions are put to the test as Majima appears to be one step ahead of everyone, and Chisato must decide whether or not she can continue to uphold Shinji’s expectations for her even if it means failure to do so will result in her own death. While this is quite dramatic and a far cry from the emotional tenour of Lycoris Recoil‘s earlier episodes, as well as making the story a ways busier, the fact that Lycoris Recoil firmly establishes Chisato and Takina’s characters means that there is grounding: all of the action and conflict is present for a reason.

  • In the end, Chisato remains steadfast in her refusal to kill, and while Takina is desperate to save her, even if it means shooting Shinji in front of Chisato, Chisato eventually gets her to stand down: thanks to Majima’s machinations, the other Lycoris team is in mortal danger as another outfit, the all-male LillyBell, have been dispatched to neutralise Sakura and her team. I’m a little curious to know the reasoning behind this name – in reality, special forces have names that are synonyms with efficiency and professionalism, and LillyBell lacks the same intensity and focus that real-world special forces, such as SAS, Navy SEALS and Delta Force, convey. A name like Shadow Company or Spectre Team would’ve sufficed.

  • I realise that in this post, there are a host of topics I’ve not been able to cover – there’s a lot going on in Lycoris Recoil, and I remark here that just because something was not mentioned does not mean it is trivial or of lesser significance. I have noticed that during its run, some folks were able to review Lycoris Recoil in an episodic fashion, and this is one of those cases where it really would’ve been beneficial to look at each individual episode and see what it brings to the table. In my case, because I’m writing about the series after all episodes have aired, I’ve chosen to focus more on the big picture, with the obvious caveat that not every detail can be covered.

  • I’ve not introduced Sakura or Fuki in this post until now – while both are important players in that they’re full-fledged Lycoris operators, and Fuki has a bit of history with Takina, my aims here were to determine whether or not this series met expectations the community have set. The community had largely indicated that Chisato and Takina makes the story worth following, and after viewing this anime for myself, this is a sentiment I agree with. With this in mind, Lycoris Recoil has not done enough to displace Spy × Family simply on the virtue that the world the former is set in a world that isn’t quite as plausible or consistently written.

  • Further to this, one could make the case that Lycoris, Kusonoki and Shinji are the true villains of Lycoris Recoil, and Majima’s presence never gave off an aura of menace to the same extent as well-written antagonists would, whereas in Spy × Family, the story actually suggests that the real enemy in society is bias and misunderstanding, things that can be overcome with diplomacy and patience. The gap in character motivations and goals is why I hold that suggestions of Lycoris Recoil being the top anime of the year is a lofty one. However, I do not deny that Lycoris Recoil was fun: the fight scenes between Chisato and Majima never felt life-or-death, and instead, resembled a sparring match between old friends, even though Majiima was shooting to kill.

  • In the end, Majima is defeated, and Lycoris manages to regain control of the situation. Chisato is saved after Mika kills Shinji and recovers his artificial heart, but she escapes to another part of Japan. Takina is sent to recover her, and the pair get into an adorable scuffle before Chisato explains the rationale for her choices. A tearful reunion results, and Chisato expresses her desire to go to Hawaii in the aftermath, with the aim of starting fresh and seeing the world. With this, Lycoris Recoil comes to a close. Fans of the series, however, were pleasantly surprised to learn that a second season is set to air in the future.

  • Lycoris Recoil had ended on a positive note and didn’t necessarily need a second season, but at the same time, the series also turned out to be unexpectedly popular and from a financial standpoint, it is logical to capitalise on the series’ popularity and keep things going to pull in a profit. At present, I’ve got no idea what a second season of Lycoris Recoil could entail, but a prequel story or side story detailing Mika, Shinji, Kusonoki, Sakira or Fuki could be enjoyable, allowing for more insight to be provided on this universe without denying Takina and Chisato their chance at enjoying a more ordinary life. With this, I hope to have conveyed, in a reasonable fashion, my thoughts on one of 2022’s hottest anime. I certainly won’t claim to have covered all of the details, but from a big-picture standpoint, Lycoris Recoil does more well than it butchers – this was sufficient for me to have a good experience with the series.

The presence of slice-of-life elements in an anime that deals with politics and thriller elements should make it clear that Lycoris Recoil was always intended to present a more optimistic view of things, even in a world where guns, arms-trades and terrorism are routine problems. It is unrealistic to expect anything else from an anime predominantly set at a cheerful and well-respected café – Chisato’s own actions and beliefs indicate that it is counterproductive to become too involved in politics and the nitty-gritty behind why others continuously scheme and plot. This particular mindset is especially important in a world where it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. After Majima’s plan to bring down the Enkobou tower fails, Lycoris utilise their information control to pass things off as a publicity stunt, and while the implications are that the world won’t know the truth, Chisato and Takina are portrayed as caring little. In fact, Chisato has empathically stated that the politics in the world don’t concern her because all she wants to do is help the people she wishes to help, and make things better for the people around her. While some people hold that expressing their beliefs vocally and frequently make them appear more connected and concerned with the world, the reality is that idle talk is ineffectual. On the other hand, Chisato is concerned with the here and the now: she lives in accordance to her own values, and this manifests as helping run a café, as well as conducting her assignments with the absolute minimum of casualties. This is why Lycoris Recoil ends up being more about the unusual-looking parfaits Takina makes during a budget-saving crisis, than it is about politics, and why this anime, in being remarkably frank about where it stands on things, is respectable. The slice-of-life aspects allow Lycoris Recoil to constantly keep things between Chisato and Takina at the forefront of the story, and through Chisato, Takina also ends up loosening up a little. Regardless of the context or setting, it’s always nice to see two individuals of opposite dispositions helping to complement one another, and this is where Lycoris Recoil excels most: through Chisato, Lycoris Recoil suggests that individuals demonstrate moral fibre not in what they claim to believe in, but rather, in how they act.

Bofuri 2: Review and Reflection After Three

“The beast’s hide is too thick to be pierced from the outside. I must cut through it from the inside!” –Drax The Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

With Christmas Break over, the Maple Tree guild work towards clearing the fourth world. Maple herself is out with a cold, so she ends up resting. After she recovers, she returns to New World Online (NWO) and solos the boss while helping Frederica’s party; while she’d previously ended up fighting another named elite, Maple ends up with yet another powerful skill. She later meets up with Yui and May and help them defeat a named elite gaining access to the sixth level. This horror-themed space overwhelms Sally, who’s too frightened to even set foot in the world, and Maple decides to accompany Sally when the latter expresses a want for some loot from a haunted house landmark. Although they end up failing, Maple will later return and solo the haunted house. While Sally explores other levels, Maple hangs out with Mii; after they defeat foes giving Mii some trouble, the pair hang out at a café, where Mii wishes she could be herself in-game. Later, the developers start another in-game event, and despite the challenge specifically surrounding the instance Maple and Sally are given, the pair manage to clear three floors within the tower despite initially struggling with foes that were custom-made to give Maple a tough time. This is where Itai no wa Iya nano de Bōgyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu‘s second season (Bofuri 2 from here on out for brevity) lands after three episodes. After doing a special pre-airing prior to Christmas, Bofuri is set to continue on in the same manner as its predecessor, following the RPG novice Kaede Honjō (Maple), and her best friend, Risa Shiromine (Sally) as they explore NWO and its unusual mechanics. Along the way, thanks to Maple’s near-total absence of knowledge surrounding gaming, and her propensity to go with what works, she ends up having a wonderful time in the game, frustrating the developers, who appear to be at their wits’ end when it comes to handling Maple and her now-infamous guild.

After the first season had ended, I concluded that Bofuri had been an excellent example of an unusual optimisation solution in some multi-agent systems: in the typical RPG, players pick from a wide range of statistics to build characters suited for their class and play-style. Because Maple had lacked any gaming knowledge, she maximises her defensive capabilities and instead, draws upon a very unusual set of skills to advance her experience, and in the process, she ends up having a fantastic time. The lessons seen in Bofuri (and doubtlessly, Bofuri 2) is a simple one: having a varied skill set and an open mind leads to a good experience. This particular theme is general enough such that it could apply to all walks of life, and mirrors the easygoing tone in Bofuri; NWO isn’t a death-game like Sword Art Online, the competition between the different guilds are friendly, and Maple has a tendency to befriend those she meets. In the absence of high stakes and interpersonal drama, Bofuri isn’t going to tell any inspirational stories, nor is it likely to change my worldviews on a given subject. However, the series is relaxing and fun: a part of the enjoyment stems purely from seeing what outrageous solutions Maple applies towards a given problem, and watching the developers squirm as they realise nothing they propose is working. Not every series needs to compel viewers to think, and Bofuri is an excellent example of how important it is to simply focus on having fun every so often: Maple herself isn’t worried about the in-game meta or about playing the game a certain way, and as a result, she is able to have extraordinary experiences. While this means I won’t be discussing the series’ themes and their implications as I am wont to doing, as a bit of a gamer myself, I do relate to the idea of purely having fun in a game without concern for playing something “the way it’s meant to be played”.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As it turns out, the Japan-themed world in NWO was only one step of the journey, and by the time Maple has a chance to play through things following Christmas, her friends have already cleared it and are exploring higher level spaces. One thing I’ve never understood about Japanese games is why open levels are referred to as “floors”: in older RPGs where the setting is a dungeon or large building, floors make sense, but when it comes to wide open spaces, the nomenclature is misleading. Calling them “worlds” or “levels” is more appropriate a descriptor.

  • All of the RPG games I play are completely open-world, being set in large maps subdivided into large biomes, and there’s no need to clear a boss fight in order to enter new biomes. In World of Warcraft, regions do have a level requirement to dissuade low-level players from rushing ahead, and Skyrim is completely open for players to explore, as enemy difficultly scales with the player level. Japanese games are built on different philosophies than Western games, and while elements from the former have strongly influenced the latter, cultural differences result in dramatically different experiences.

  • For me, both games have their merits (I’ve found things like Valkyria Chronicles and Street Fighter just as engaging as Sim City and Battlefield), but on the whole, I generally prefer games that don’t demand a large time investment in them. The idea of spending hours upon hours levelling up and picking up usable gear isn’t something that appeals to me, and so, when games take a fair approach towards things (anything worth earning should take some effort, but not demand more effort than work), I find myself more inclined to enjoy things.

  • From what I’ve seen of NWO throughout Bofuri, the game’s biggest draw seems to be a dynamic skill system that allows players to pick up any skill and use them in conjunction with one another. Maple uses them in unorthodox ways to trivially solve most of the challenges she encounters, and I am reminded of the classic game, Magicka, a satirical game that allows players to combine magic in different ways to solve puzzles. Most RPGs don’t allow players to combine skills in an unusual manner (for instance, a World of Warcraft mage can’t use spells to bring the dead back to life, and shamans can’t use powerful frost spells to control crowds) with the aim of preserving balance.

  • Maple’s first adventure after returning to NWO from a cold is to solo the boss in the Japanese level, and then she joins her friends in the subsequent world to mop the next boss. Her overwhelming power leads the others to wonder if there’s anything left to do, and I am left to feel that Maple is similar in Donnie Yen’s portrayal of Ip Man in Ip Man – Yen’s Ip Man always finds a way of winning the most important fights and tends to draw in fights of lesser significance. While an indestructible protagonist is generally counted as being dull to watch because there’s no struggle and payoff, stories can still make such characters work.

  • This happens when the protagonist is made to learn that power isn’t going to be the answer. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is a fine example of this – although Yuna is exceptionally powerful, she finds that jumping into the middle of a problem and solving it with her fists or magic won’t cut it all the time, and in doing so, she slowly learns to listen to the world’s inhabitants. Here in Bofuri, it appears that Maple’s state in the game is such that she’s able to purely focus on having fun, but I do find myself wondering if the story is set to go further than this.

  • Bofuri‘s ability to vividly render every region is impressive: Silver Link has spared no expense in making sure every world is vividly rendered and packed with detail. The animation and artwork in Bofuri is of an excellent standard, and this shouldn’t be too surprising – Silver Link has an impressive repertoire, ranging from Non Non Biyori and Brave Witches to Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow and Kokoro Connect, and most of their shows have been well-presented.

  • The sixth world, a horror-themed space, might hint at what’s upcoming in Bofuri 2 – although Sally is a remarkable player who built her character around agility and has a reputation similar to Maple’s, her fear of all things horror means that she’s left conflicted as to whether or not she wants to play on. On one hand, Sally doesn’t do well with ghost stories, but on the other hand, she’s tempted by some excellent gear that’s said to drop in this region.

  • Using game spaces to help characters grow as individuals wouldn’t be a bad idea, and having spent the whole of the first season showing how Maple’s able to visit all sorts of spaces without worrying about being defeated, it would be nice if Maple could spend more time with her friends and help them with various in-game objectives, in time, coming to learn more about their real-world traits and potentially using the game to help them overcome an individual shortcoming. In the present, Maple agrees to accompany Sally into a haunted house where some interesting gear is set to drop.

  • If I had to guess, once players acquire a skill in NWO, the skill’s performance probably scales as one levels up. This would allow Maple to continuously use her old skills in higher levels without worrying about them becoming obsolete. The Division and The Division 2 had a similar mechanic in play, allowing seeker mines, explosive drones and remote turrets to do more base damage as one levelled up, so that they would remain useful as one hit the endgame. By using her Machine God ability, Maple carries Sally through the haunted house, both literally and figuratively.

  • Maple’s firepower actually does tangible damage to whatever ghosts are in this world, and as such, it stands to reason that, had Sally simply stood her ground and fought back, she’d be able to hold her own. However, since her fear of ghosts and spirits surpasses her confidence in NWO, she ends up being ineffectual during the exploration. I recall a similar scene in Metro: Last Light, where during the mission to save Pavel, Artyom has a frightening vision where hands of the damned protruded from the walls while he follows the Dark One. Back then, I only had a GTX 660, but I was still able to run the game at high settings and maintain 60 FPS with the 1080p resolution.

  • When Sally gets separated from Maple, her ensuring reaction is adorable. This was a somewhat unexpected side to her character, and although I vaguely remember Sally being uncomfortable with ghost stories and the like, seeing moments like these really accentuate her dislikes. Admittedly, it was also quite amusing to see the otherwise cool-and-collected Sally reacting in such a manner. In the end, she does manage to link up with Maple, who uses her latest ability to give Sally a chance to regroup, and when some other adventurers enter the house, they draw the spirits off the pair, allowing Sally and Maple to escape.

  • Sally’s original quest of gaining some new items ends up unsuccessful, but for their troubles, she and Maple both gain access to a new skill. While I’ve never had an experience quite like Sally’s in a game before, I have had times where I entered a mission thinking I had what it took to complete it, only to get stomped. This most often happens in games like The Division – after I completed my six-piece Classified Striker’s set, I foolishly thought I was capable of handling Incursions solo and found myself hopelessly outmatched; this activity had been scaled for four players with good gear. Similarly, in The Division 2, I’d imagined that the Hunter’s Fury would be an asset when I tried to solo the raids, but during the airport level, I couldn’t even make it off the tarmac into the terminal.

  • As a predominantly solo player, I definitely wouldn’t make it very far in NWO unless I managed to make a Maple-like build. Back in Bofuri, after logging out, Sally is surprised to find her home empty; her parents are working late, and she’s still a little jittery following the excitement of having just escaped a haunted house. The real world is rarely shown in Bofuri, but I am fond of its portrayal, since it does remind viewers that this series isn’t an isekai, strictly speaking, and as a result, the stakes are much lower. A few months ago, I would’ve been a little envious of Sally’s home setup, but post move, I’ve put together a setup of my own that has suited my needs.

  • Luckily for Sally, Maple’s on hand to talk her through things. Moments like these speak to what’s really important in gaming, and while Bofuri doesn’t have the same high stakes as the typical isekai or something like Sword Art Online would, the change of pacing makes this a relaxing series to follow. Understanding this about Bofuri means managing my expectations accordingly: I’m not here looking for a world-class, life-changing tale, but instead, it’s sufficient to see characters learn and grow alongside one another in a world where the only aim is to have a good time, something that many streamers and gamers in the present seem to have forgotten.

  • In the end, Maple ends up soloing the haunted house and secures all of the stuff that Sally had been looking for. In the time that has passed between Bofuri and Bofuri 2, I’ve managed to finish The Division 2 fully – seeing the excitement in Bofuri 2 about loot brings back memories of when I’d spent my downtime after work running through Washington D.C. doing various things for exotics. In The Division, I ended up joining random groups in order to complete legendary missions, but with the presence of exotic crates in The Division 2, I was able to amass a reasonably extensive collection of exotics without needing to play the toughest content.

  • My old Hunter’s Fury gear set, paired with the Chatterbox and Ninja Bike kneepads, allow me to trivially beat missions in PvE – the fact I get health and armour back on each kill, coupled with the fact that every kill also returns a third of my ammunition, and the Chatterbox’s ability to increase its firing rate when near enemies, renders this the perfect setup for PvE. On the other hand, against individually strong opponents, the Hunter’s Fury loadout I have now is quite ineffective. My approach towards The Division 2 was partly inspired by Bofuri, and since I have no intention of playing PvP or the game’s tougher content, things work out well enough for me.

  • The main reason why I’ve not returned to The Division 2 since finishing the Faye Lau manhunt had been because for most of 2021 and 2022, the game went on a bit of a hiatus as no new content was added. Ubisoft had launched a roadmap indicating that new content would be added, along with a new free-to-play title, but having felt I’d gotten my money’s worth from The Division 2, I ended up moving on. Back in Bofuri, after receiving a request from Mii, Maple joins her and uses her newfound defensive buffs to give Mii a chance to use her powerful, but slow-to-deploy AoE skill. This particular spell brings to mind Megumin’s ex~PLOSION~!, which similarly was damaging but was stymied by a high magic requirement and long charge time.

  • On the topic of Megumin, it turns out that next season, Konosuba: An Explosion on This Wonderful World is going to be released. This spinoff will deal with Megumin and show her life prior to meeting Kazuma, and I’m rather looking forwards to seeing how things turn out. During the start of the global health crisis back in early 2020, I found myself with an abundance of time at home, so I spent most of it powering through anime I hadn’t had time to watch. Konosuba was one of them, and in this series, I found comedy of a consistently good quality. Besides KonosubaKuma Kuma Kuma Bear is also going to get a second season.

  • While I don’t typically watch or write about isekai anime, there are a few series that do catch my interest from time to time – I prefer to watch the more relaxed and comical series over the serious ones. Back in Bofuri, Mii and Maple swing by an in-game café following their adventure, and the conversation switches over to something on Mii’s mind; she’s been wanting to be herself, but obligations to her guild means she must maintain a more serious persona. Hanging out with Maple allows her to relax and show her true self, and I am hoping that at some point, seeing Maple doing what she does best will also help Mii to relax around others.

  • When conversation turns to hanging out with folks one otherwise normally wouldn’t, I am reminded of how slice-of-life anime are able utilise their casts and have different characters interact with one another, in turn creating new experiences that may differ in tone and outcomes compared to what is seen with the lead characters. GochiUsa had done an especially good job with this: while Cocoa and Chino carry most of the show in earlier seasons, later on, episodes give the other characters a chance to shine. Episodes of Bofuri around other characters in the Maple Tree guild, or even the other guilds, could act as a fun way of showcasing more of NWO.

  • Bofuri is wasting no time on pushing ahead – by the game’s seventh major event, Maple and her friends are fully ready to take things on. This time around, rather than a large-scale event involving multiple guilds, small groups must take on instanced areas. The idea of an “instance” originates from World of Warcraft, where small groups were given their private copy of a dungeon to take on. The term itself comes from Object-Oriented Programming, where an instance of an object is a occurrence of an object that can be acted upon. The easiest way to describe this is with physical entities: supposing that Person is a class describing people, then Maple would be an instance of the Person class. The term stuck, and since then, private dungeons have been referred to as instances.

  • Maple and Sally end up taking on their instance together, but unbeknownst to them, the developers have altered theirs so the pair end up with far tougher foes than necessary. As Maple and Sally destroy their opponents, the developers watch in horror; nothing they have seem to work. However, their conversations also suggest that these foes were designed to be challenging, but not unbeatable. The problem NWO’s developers have stem from a fundamental design problem in their game: caps to skill power and statistics, coupled with limiting what combination of skills can be equipped and earned, would’ve eliminated most of their headaches.

  • Game balance is eschewed in Bofuri precisely to accommodate Maple’s outrageous adventures, and as such, the developers find themselves on the backfoot. Battlefield 2042 had suffered from this – originally, the class system was abolished, and this reduced the incentive for teamwork. The reintroduction of classes is intended to ensure that players are locked to a specific role, increasing the need to work as a team. Here, Maple equips her Wooly skill: this one is one of my favourites because Maple’s response to using it is always adorable. While outwardly envelopes Maple in wool, she is able to utilise it in a creative way.

  • Writing for Bofuri is admittedly a bit of a challenge: since the anime’s objective is simply present a fun experience, there isn’t much to do in the way of speculation, either. As such, Bofuri is one of those series where it’s easiest to kick back and watch things as they unfold. With this in mind, while I’m writing about both Bofuri and Mō Ippon! in the same manner, the latter does provide more opportunity for the sort of discussion I’m partial to; I’m not sure how many readers here follow my references to games, for instance.

  • Back in Bofuri, upon fighting their first foe, Maple and Sally initially have a tough time damaging its exterior. Once they spot that the monster’s mouth might be a weak spot, Maple decides to cut it up from within. This is the inspiration for the page quote, sourced from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, during the opening fight against a multi-dimensional monster known as the Abilisk. When Drax determines that the only way to deal damage to it is from the inside, both Gamora and Peter Quill are perplexed, since skin is supposedly the same thickness from the outside as it is from within. However, there is merit in Drax’s argument – the fleshy interior is probably not as tough as the exterior, so more damage can be done.

  • In this way, Maple and Sally conquer the first floor without too much trouble and move onto the second, where they fight a foe that takes the form of a large book and utilises Maple’s own skills against them, while at the same, preventing Maple from using any skills it’s taken. This enemy is actually pretty cleverly designed and brings to mind the likes of Aaron Keener, who had access to the same plethora of skills as the player’s Agent. Against Keener, I found the best way to handle him was to continuously push the offensive – staying behind cover isn’t too effective, and I found that it was by getting up close and personal that let me do effective damange.

  • The visual quality in the second floor’s fight is degraded somewhat, as the character models become more blocky in terms of appearance. The darkness in the room somewhat masks this, but it was still noticeable. Silver Link generally has a solid history of producing visually consistent works, but there have been cases where things have seen slippage (such as 2016’s Brave Witches). However, if their record is anything to go by, Bofuri 2 shouldn’t see any delays to its schedule: it is possible that some shortcuts were taken to ensure that episodes aired in a timely fashion.

  • The fight against the second floor’s boss ends with Sally using her speed to overcome it, and the two advance to the third floor, which is controlled by an elemental golem. Initially, the environment resembles World of Warcraft‘s Molten Core, but after Sally begins using cold spells against it, the golem switches over to cold-based attacks. Maple ends up using her Atrocity form and consumes the golem, defeating it instantly and giving the developers more headaches. At this point in time, it almost feels like Maple and Sally would be better served as play-testers brought on before a game ever hit alpha stage: their unconventional play-styles would expose problem areas of a game that can then be fixed.

  • Having said this, with the way Maple plays, one might be inclined to consider fool-proofing certain things, and this approach towards development does have its detriments. One longstanding axiom in software development is that users will always find ways of breaking something no matter how well-guarded something will be. For NWO’s developers, it may not be a meaningful exercise to keep up with Maple, so here in Bofuri 2, I am curious to see how they react as the story continues. Viewers will likely have an excellent ride ahead, and I look forwards to seeing what the second season will present. In the meantime, it’s time to call it an evening: I’ve returned from my first dinner out with the extended family to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and after an exquisite menu, which included a whole steamed fish and fresh lobster, I’m inclined to do as Maple does and enjoy some time in a game.

The ability to play a game in any manner of one’s choosing is a topic of debate amongst those who partake in video games. On one hand, game mechanics may lead to certain tactics being more effective than others, and in PvP environments, this can result in heated exchanges regarding whether or not said tactics are fair. For instance, the practise of camping in a first person shooter is regarded as dishonourable because it gives the camper an advantage over their foes. By staying in one spot and remaining hidden, one can defeat unsuspecting foes with ease. There is, however, one legitimate use of camping: if one has just exited a firefight and needs to regenerate their health, it is perfectly acceptable to hide behind cover or somewhere safe while awaiting recovery. If one is ambushed in the process, there’s nothing unethical about defending oneself. In PvE games, play-styles are irrelevant, and one can choose to have fun in any manner of their choosing. The whole point of gaming is to have a good time, and this is why for me, single-player experiences are my preference. I can do something in my own manner of choosing, in an environment where my mistakes won’t harm any teammates or allies. Similarly, when I play PvP experiences now, I enter a match without any expectations: the goal isn’t to help my team win or maintain a positive KDR, but rather, to have a blast, and I’ve found that when approaching games with this mindset, I tend to do better and have a better time of things along the way. Bofuri celebrates this approach towards gaming. With all of the streamers out there trying to engage their audiences by using meta loadouts and strategies exclusively, as well as viewers who try to emulate them, the spirit of video games is somewhat diminished, so Bofuri acts as an amusing counterargument for this in suggesting that even using the so-called “off meta” methods and equipment can still be viable so long as one has an open mind, and above all else, a willingness to have fun in the process.

Revisiting Vividred Operation A Decade Later: Reflections on the Intersection Between Friendship, Iron Man Suits and Magical Girls

“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” –Elbert Hubbard

Seven years after professor Kenjirō Isshiki contributed to the development of the Manifestation Engine, a system that harnesses Incarnate Energy as a means of generating nearly an unlimited supply of clean energy, his granddaughter, Akane end up being caught up in a plot by an alien entity, the Alone, to destroy the Manifestation Engine. Having foreseen their arrival, Kenjirō had devised the Palette Suits and Vivid System, specialised suits of armour that give humanity a fighting chance against the Alone. Joining Akane is her best friend Aoi, Wakaba, a kendo practioner and the prodigy Himawari. As the girls continue fighting the Alone, they learn that their classmate, Rei, is responsible for the Alone’s appearance, and moreover, had been given arrows to greatly empower the Alone that appear. She had lost her old world when Incarnate Energy destroyed it, and since then, had been serving a being that takes the form of a crow. Over time, Akane’s attempts to befriend her eventually lead Rei to rebel against the crow. When the crow seizes Rei’s arrows and manifests as a gargantuan form, combined efforts from Akane, Aoi, Wakaba, Himawari and Rei results in the crow’s complete destruction. In the aftermath, the entity above the crow appears and deems that humanity is worthy of wielding Incarnate Energy. For her contributions, the entity agrees to resurrect Rei’s world, and she parts ways with the others, promising to meet again one day. When it was announced, Vividred Operation drew only passing interest from anime fans: the anime had Kazuhiro Takamura, Strike Witches‘ character designer, on the team, and its premise was quickly dismissed as being likely reliant on egregious posterior angles over any meaningful storytelling. Indeed, when Vividred Operation finished airing, the anime did not seem especially memorable. Vividred Operation‘s message is not particularly novel, being about how friendship and trust is enough to overcome all obstacles, and how people can overcome challenges together whereas if they’d attempted something on their own, they’d fail. Vividred Operation is none too subtle about these themes, explicitly spelling them in each episode. Further to this, while the Manifestation Engine and Vivid System are integral parts of the show, their usage seems to break internal consistency and operate at the story’s whims, introducing plot holes.

At first glance, were it not for the crotch shots that Strike Witches had developed a reputation for, one might be inclined to regard Vividred Operation as little more than a Super Sentai/Magical Girl hybrid anime better suited for children’s programming. However, Vividred Operation ends up being more than the sum of its parts; beneath a seemingly simplistic story is a world that receives a considerable amount of development, and where the characters’ goals, beliefs and desires all speak to a multitude of topics beyond just friendship. After Akane and the others take down the crow, Kenjirō mentions how all of his research had been built on the assumption that a system operates in a vacuum, but when different systems interact, the resultant emergent behaviours are completely unexpected. Friendship is used as a catalyst for showing how complex the behaviours of multiple interacting components can be, and in this way, Vividred Operation speaks to the idea that even the most brilliant individuals cannot foresee all ends. Kenjirō had not anticipated that even his Vivid System was able to handle the threat that the crow presented, but because Akane and her friends end up using the system with a shared goal, they are able to accomplish things that would have been impossible for an individual. Similarly, after Akane makes a genuine effort to connect to Rei, Rei begins realising that there was nothing to be gained by remaining distant from the world around her. The crow had not foreseen this, and even after consuming enough arrows to become a being of great destructive power, it remains a single entity. Rei and Akane’s combined desire to save their universe and those around them, coming from two separate individuals, is enough to prevail. While friendship is an obvious theme, Vividred Operation ends up being able to utilise its unique premise and setting to tell another, more nuanced story that makes the sum of Akane, Aoi, Wakaba, Himawari and Rei’s journey worthwhile in spite of the gaffes within the anime. As a result, Vividred Operation becomes an excellent example of how an anime can remain enjoyable despite possessing numerous, visible shortcomings: not every work needs to be airtight or have a life-changing message, and sometimes, it is sufficient for a work to entertain viewers with a serviceable story, a vivid palette of colours (pun intended) and top-tier sound.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Vividred Operation aired on Saturday mornings over on this side of the world, and in the January of a decade earlier, I had just started the second term. Because it’d been thesis year, I ended up taking a step back from volunteering as a teaching assistant at the local Chinese academy so I could have Saturdays to focus on my coursework: my thesis work had been built on Mac OS X, and I had a Windows PC at home, so I spent every moment I could spare at the lab while I was on campus, and this left me weekends to tend to my other courses.

  • My fall term had been an easier one: I was enrolled in iOS programming, genomics, and science fiction literature: the former was built around a team project, while the latter two were courses that had a focus on papers. Because only science fiction literature had exams, I had enough time to make considerable headway in my undergraduate thesis project and maintain a decent showing in my other courses. This made my fall term one of the most relaxed I’d had since starting university, and I spent most of my time at the lab, experimenting with different ideas as I worked towards building a functional multi-scale model of renal behaviour.

  • My interest in the renal system was based on a summer project I’d worked on two summers prior, when I picked up a project to model fluid flow in convoluted vessels using ray-tracing. This eventually led me to investigate protein channel behaviours, and eventually, I decided that it’d be fun to take these ideas and show how the in-house game engine could allow for a (mostly) seamless transition between an agent-based visualisation of fluid flow and a macroscopic representation of renal health. Looking back, this project had been quite simple, but my project did show how use of game engines was feasible for showing physiological processes at different scales, while at the same time, maintaining visual consistency between the scales.

  • Having spent the fall term building most of the project out, by January, I had a functional model that showcased renal physiology at three different scales. At this point in time, my main priority was fine-tuning the model, adding components to make it more user-friendly, writing out the thesis paper itself, and preparing for various presentations that made up the thesis course. The bulk of the harder work had been completed already, and I am glad to have taken advantage of my schedule in the fall term to have done so.

  • During the winter term, I also had three courses, but this time around, I had statistics, databases and software engineering. These courses were significantly more involved than the courses from my previous term; all of them had midterms and finals, and on top of this, databases and software engineering had a large project component, too. While my home faculty had tried to balance things out by making the thesis course a 2 FCE (it took up two slots in any given term), having three other busy courses would’ve made it a bit tricky had I not made the progress I did in my fall term.

  • As memory serves, I ended up working out a strategy to stay on top of things for that term. While I was on campus, I would work on tuning my renal model, and where I had extra time, I could work on my assignments for statistics and databases. Software engineering was a bit more involved, so I would do some revisions and start assignments on campus, but otherwise, I redirected my work to Saturdays, when I had the whole day to myself. Sundays, I spent chipping away at the non-technical aspects of my thesis course (namely, the papers and presentations).

  • On Saturdays, I always made room for Vividred Operation, watching it right before lunch. Back then, besides Vividred OperationBoku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXTTamako Market, and Yama no Susume were also airing. I ended up watching the first two and ended up skipping Yama no Susume somehow, but I do remember that Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT and Tamako Market were enjoyable series in their own right. Once I’d settled into a schedule, my winter term became more manageable, and I slowly pushed ahead to the finish line.

  • When Vividred Operation began airing, I had written about the first four episodes in an episodic fashion, but over time, this practise became too time-consuming, and I stopped as term became busier. After the first midterms occurred, I ditched the episodic reviews and eventually returned to write about the finale, stating Vividred Operation to be a fun series in spite of its overt shortcomings. In doing this, I bypassed all of the events that took place after Himawari joins Akane’s crew, and Akane’s persistence in getting to know Rei better.

  • Originally, my largest gripes about Vividred Operation was in how the Palette Suits operated. Akane, Aoi and Wakaba are new to the Vivid System, but they have no trouble activating and using it. The transformation sequences show everyone as expertly operating the Vivid System and, aside from a small hiccough when Aoi and Akane attempt to dock for the first time, Wakaba and Himawari both dock smoothly enough. The only exception was that Himawari, being a major fan of Kenjirō’s work, would’ve studied how his constructs operate and therefore knew about its capabilities ahead of time.

  • Similarly, when Kenjirō explains the docking mechanism needs two minds to be in sync, Aoi and Akane, being longtime friends, would have managed after some of their own challenges were sorted out. Wakaba and Himawari have only known Akane briefly, but they manage to use the system without any issues. These aspects were done to accelerate the story and ensure that Wakaba and Himawari could become full-fledged users of the Palette Suits, coming at the expense of consistency. However, if one were to assume that Kenjirō had simply designed the Vivid System with good UX practises, and the transformation sequences are merely cosmetic, then things fall into place more readily.

  • Moving past the internal consistency piece (which I now find satisfactory), revisiting Vividred Operation and all of the events that take place leading up to the finale was a reminder that this series has a bit more to it than meets the eye. Rei’s presence within Vividred Operation, her motivation for acting and the changes that she undergo means that technically, she’s the protagonist of the series. Although she starts out in opposition to the Manifestation Engine and assists the Alone as a deal with the crow in order to bring her world back, seeing Akane’s kindness eventually leads her to come around.

  • Akane, Aoi, Wakaba and Himawari are more static than Rei is: once their friendship is established, while a few moments may trouble them, overall, everyone gets along very well and are able to fight effectively against the Alone. On the other hand, Rei struggles with her interactions: on one hand, she desires nothing more than to bring back her family and home by fulfilling her end of the bargain, but her interactions with Akane and the others create a bit of attachment, too. She longs to reciprocate Akane’s friendship, but is forbidden from doing so.

  • I have received flak previously for writing about anime like Strike Witches and Kantai Collection: some readers believe that these anime glorify immoral behaviours and thoughts, and suppose that the mere act of watching them is enough to corrupt minds. The correlation between media consumption and one’s actions in reality is poorly-characterised, and I hold that any well-adjusted individual will have the requisite cognition to watch a variety of shows without trouble. This is analogous to the controversial claims that video games directly promote violent behaviours. I find that individuals who impose their own brand of morality upon others to be much less agreeable than those who are content to watch (and write about) whatever they enjoy.

  • Although this blog is frequented by open-minded and fair individuals for the most part, I do have the occasional reader who believes that it is their duty to steer me clear of the so-called immoral anime. There is a time and place for these discussions, and while I welcome conversation on the morality of actions the characters take, questioning the morality of certain anime genres is outside the scope of discussion: I will entertain these comments only if things remain respectful, but for the most part, if a commenter’s intentions are to lecture me on what shows I should and shouldn’t watch, they’re unlikely to be seeking a meaningful dialogue.

  • Vividred Operation follows very closely in Strike Witches traditions and isn’t something for everyone – the “monster of the week” approach and camera’s focus on the characters’ posteriors does not make for cultured entertainment, and the sixth episode of Vividred Operation was in keeping with how Strike Witches was presented: every season features one episode that is irreverent, completely unrelated to the story. In these episodes, a thinly-veiled excuse for having the characters running around in swimsuits is presented, and hilarity results as a series of misunderstandings escalate.

  • In the case of Vividred Operation, Kenjirō had arranged for the school summer trip to push Akane and her friends to bond through a series of “team building exercises”, but when Rei shows up, Kenjirō knocks her out with a stun dart: he hopes to use Rei as another instrument in testing Akane and company. Rei eventually reawakens and defeats the traps that Kenjirō had set up, inadvertently helping Wakaba, Himawari, Aoi and Akane to escape, and the four eventually destroy the automaton Kenjirō had set up, including one that resembles Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Acguy.

  • In the end, Akane and the others learn that their mishaps on the island was not the Alone, but rather, Kenjirō’s machinations. Up until this point, Vividred Operation had been very easygoing, and for me, this allowed the series to warm viewers up to the characters and their background. Once this was done, Vividred Operation stepped things up – the second half, while still light-hearted, is a ways more serious as Rei’s motivations are presented, and the Alone’s backgrounds are explored along with why Kenjirō refuses to patent his work despite his exceptional talents.

  • Rei keeps a small parakeet, Piisuke, around – it’s her only companion, and Rei’s treatment of animals offers insight into her true character. Although Rei is kind by nature, her losses and a desire to avoid repeating the pain of loss is why she’s so distant and aloof. However, despite her efforts to minimise forming any connections to those around her, Akane’s persistence eventually leads her to try and break the ice. At this point in time, Akane and Rei are quite unaware of the others’ role, so there was always the question of what would happen once the truth got out.

  • When I first watched Vividred Operation, I had no way of knowing that Ayane Sakura, Maaya Uchida and Rie Murakawa would go on to take on large roles in GochiUsa a year later. Prior to Vividred Operation, Sakura, Murakawa and Uchida had played secondary characters in a range of anime, but here, it marked one of their earliest roles as leads. As Vividred Operation‘s central characters, everyone does a fair job of things: Murakawa and Uchida play their roles as Aoi and Rei, respectively, well, and Sakura gives Akane a Cocoa-like vibe. In fact, the choice of casting means that Akane is basically an amalgamation of Strike Witches‘ Yoshika Miyafuji and Cocoa Hoto.

  • Rei’s Parakeet reminded me of Iron Man 2‘s Ivan Vanko, who was quite attached to his pet cockatiel. This comparison eventually led me to feel that the Palette Suits themselves are more or less a magical girl version of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suits in Iron Man and subsequent films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Palette Suits are able to store weapons in different dimensions and do not fully protect the users: while built for offense and mobility, their defensive capabilities are quite low – during their latest engagement with a dynamo-shaped Alone, Akane is shot down and seriously injured when a fragment of it survives.

  • While Akane recovers, Wakaba, Himawari and Aoi must figure out how to stop the Alone before it matures fully. A bold plan is hatched – since the others can’t dock without Akane, the idea is for Aoi to distract the Alone and draw its fire. Since the Alone must drop its barrier to use its beam attacks, timing would allow Himawari to use her shields to keep the barrier open, and Wakaba would then fly into the centre and drop off an SGE bomb. In Vividred Operation, the SGE bombs are equivalent to Neon Genesis Evanganlion‘s N² warheads, being a nuclear weapon in all but name.

  • Although things do not go quite as planned when Rei powers up the Alone with one of her arrows, Aoi is able to close the distance with a boost from Akane’s boomerang and push the SGE warhead further into the Alone, setting off the detonator and destroying it. The Alone are portrayed as being immune to conventional weaponry, but it turns out that the Alone simply have a powerful energy barrier that renders them impervious to all conventional weapons. I wonder if something like a CR-03 Series-8 Super MAC would do any damage to an Alone: the Vivid System’s weapons appear to be able to bypass the Alone’s barriers and directly impact their surface by an unknown means.

  • While Wakaba and Himawari go on a date of sorts, and then Wakaba later makes things up to Himawari after failing to listen to Himawari’s desire to tour a factory complex, I’ll comment on the Manifestation Engine and its ability to harness Incarnate Energy. The precise mechanism is not given, but because it’s been stated that use of Incarnate Energy is capable of destroying entire worlds, it is possible that Incarnate Energy is drawn from false vacuum decay, and the Manifestation Engine creates limited vacuum decay in order to harness the resulting energy. Assuming this to be the case, Incarnate Energy would be quite risky to use.

  • Based on what Vividred Operation portrays, it’s clear that once the Incarnate Energy is captured, it is then transmitted wirelessly to capture points that convert it into usable power. The Palette Suits use this power from the Incarnate Engine, and one imagines that they can channel a large amount of power into a very focused point, giving Akane and the others enough to deal damage to the Alone. Of course, being work of fiction, the precise mechanism isn’t important, and all that matters is that there’s a consistent means of giving the characters a tool they can use to stare down the Alone.

  • The possibilities of clean energy are limitless – it is doubtful that something like false vacuum decay should be utilised, but something like fusion would be of great value. With nearly unlimited power, humanity’s energy needs could be satisfied without more polluting sources, and allow for incredible feats to be accomplished. For instance, water desalination, carbon capture and emissions-free vehicles would be possible at scale. As the technology becomes miniturised, we’d also have a viable power source for exploring the solar system. While long held to be a difficult endeavour, fusion is looking more plausible: in 2022, an exciting development arising from the US National Ignition Facility has generated renewed excitement for fusion.

  • In December, the US National Ignition Facility announced they had conducted an experiment where they were able to get more energy out of a reaction than it took to start the reaction. Meanwhile, Chinese researchers at the Heifei-based Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak have sustained plasma containment for an unprecedented seventeen minutes. Containing the superheated plasma is a critical part of the fusion process, and the combined breakthroughs from both Chinese and American researchers increasingly show that fusion is an achievable process. In Vividred Operation, use of the Manifestation Engine does indeed create a world where the world’s energy requirements are met, ushering a new era that offers hope until the Alone appear and begin threatening the world’s power supply.

  • The implications of unlimited clean energy are only tangentially covered in Vividred Operation, and as a result, discussions a decade earlier skated over these aspects in favour of things that had a more tangible presence within the anime – the friendship aspect was at the forefront of all discussion, and as time wore on, Akane’s efforts to connect with Rei begin to show some progress. While Rei had maintained an aloof and taciturn manner, a part of her had also longed to be true to herself, and this manifests as acts of kindness to animals. While the crow had expressly forbidden Rei from interacting with people, Rei occasionally allows her old self to come through, such as when she saves a young boy from a falling I-beam.

  • Rei’s actions throughout Vividred Operation simply suggested that her desire, first and foremost, had simply been to be with the people she cared most about, and the crow had been exploiting this to drive Rei’s assignment. The crow’s rationale is simple enough: if Rei isn’t connected to Akane’s world in any way, she’ll have fewer qualms about seeing its destruction. The conflict between Rei’s own disposition and her desires drives the events of Vividred Operation, and in having Rei’s wish for friendship win out, Vividred Operation would ultimately suggest that benevolence and kindness allows for one to reach new heights and gain back things they thought impossible.

  • One unusual point of discussion during Vividred Operation‘s airing that hasn’t gained any amount of momentum was from one commenter at Random Curiosity, who made the assertion that Kenjirō had written the source code for the Vivid System in Ruby. Inspection of some of the source code in Kenjirō’s terminal windows finds that there are some function definitions that are Ruby-like, but beyond this, whether Kenjirō had used Ruby, Python, C# or Swift is ultimately irrelevant. Said commenter had noted that Ruby would be an unbelievable choice – I imagine this particular individual was a novice programmer who believed Ruby was not suited for anything more than web apps, whereas in reality, Ruby is quite powerful (in fact, the Cocoapods dependency manager is written in Ruby). Assuming that Kenjirō did in fact write the Vivid System in Ruby or a Ruby-like analogue, the language was chosen simply because it is 1) Japanese in origin and 2) was intended to be an easy-to-use language.

  • At any rate, the choice of programming language behind the Vivid System is irrelevant and doesn’t impact Vividred Operation‘s story in any way. When Himawari works out a means of tracking where Rei and her arrows are, during one engagement, Akane and the others move in to intercept after defeating an Alone. The subsequent revelation that Rei and Akane are at opposite ends of the conflict shakes everyone to their core. Far more than the fact that Rei is seemingly working for the Alone, Akane’s biggest concern was that Rei’s trust in her was completely shattered – the implications of this moment had been that more than the conflict between humanity and the Alone, Akane had come to care about Rei as a person, and earning her trust meant a great deal to her. Rei is subsequently kept at a detention facility in the same manner that MI6 had held Raoul Silva following his capture in Skyfall.

  • After visiting Rei’s apartment, Akane and her friends discover a spartan quarters that has very little in the way of personal effects. Seeing this galvinises Akane, Aoi, Wakaba and Himawari into saving Rei – the minimally furnished apartment was a reminder that Rei had been completely on her own. After mulling it over, everyone decides that military protocol or not, and irrespective of whether or not Rei was a conduit for the Alone, it’s time to save her. The defense forces, on the other hand, have no qualms about executing Rei after learning she’s likely the reason why the Alone are attacking. In their eyes, the collective good matters more than one individual, and sacrificing one person for the sake of many justifies the means.

  • Although it’s easy enough to say one should sacrifice a small number for “the greater good”, when one is placed in the hot seat and asked to make a decision with material implications, even the same individuals who are convicted in their correctness in a debate will likely hesitate. Over the years, I’ve come to hold that matters of morality are not simple matters of black and white, and this is why I do not enjoy participating in online discussions about what one would do in a hypothetical situation because, no matter how tough-talking one is, when the time comes for action, multiple factors always come into play. As such, when looking at Akane’s actions, one cannot begrudge her for wanting the chance to save Rei.

  • Akane’s act of saving Rei and standing up to the crow shows Rei that in spite of her original intentions, Akane still sees her as a friend. This moment clarifies things between Rei and Akane, as well as frustrating the crow to no end – dramatically differing values and aims is why extraterrestrial life forms are portrayed as finding humans irrational, and fiction is fond of using these values to drive home the point that things like empathy and compassion are an important part of humanity.

  • Unable to understand why Rei is making the decision that she does, the crow ends up consuming Rei and seizing her remaining arrows by force. Now imbibed with five Alone’s worth of power, the crow grows to a gargantuan size and declares that it’s now got even more power than the entities it was originally speaking on behalf of. No longer needing to serve anyone, the crow decides it’s time to go to town on the Manifestation Engine. Here, even Kenjirō begins to feel that even the Palette Suits won’t be enough to stop this monstrosity.

  • However, in typical Super Sentai fashion, Himawari, Wakaba, Aoi and Akane believe that as long as they try something, they’ve got a chance. The four take off after the crow, and using their combined teamwork, manage to deal enough damage to the crow using all three forms of the Vivid avatars. In this post, I’ve not covered Vivid Blue, Vivid Green and Vivid Yellow – these avatars manifest when Akane “docks” with one of her friends, combining their cognitive and physical powers into a single entity that is capable of taking down even the powered-up Alone with a single stroke. Because the crow has consumed the equivalent of five arrows’ worth of energy, using a Vivid avatar once allows Akane and her friends to slowly wear it down.

  • Throughout Vividred Operation, the process of docking is shown in great detail, and on this return visit, I’ve elected not to spend any screenshots on things. However, the anime had not, until the finale, shown what happens when the characters undock from one another. By switching between all of the different Vivid avatars, Akane and her friends clear a path into the crow’s interior, finding a pocket dimension here where Rei is being held. The crow had originally intended to have Rei watched as it ravaged Earth, but instead, Rei is treated to the sight of her friends moving heaven and earth to reach her.

  • While Rei herself doesn’t have a Palette Suit or access to the Vivid System, she is able to dock with Akane, and the pair end up manifesting as Vivid Red. Throughout some points in Vividred Operation, whether it be the transformation sequences or common scenes, papilla mammaria are visible, and over the years, I’ve become increasingly blasé about using such screenshots in my posts because, at the end of the day, anatomy is anatomy – I worked extensively with 3D models of the body for my undergraduate and graduate projects because our lab specialised in 3D visualisation of the body, so such things don’t bother me.

  • After combining into Vivid Red, Akane and Rei prepare one final, devastating punch against the crow, destroying it outright. In the moments after, the entity only known as “Them” appear and judge that, owing to how they handled Rei and the crow, humanity has demonstrated a worthiness for possessing the Manifestation Engine. Further to this, seeing Rei’s change of heart makes her worthy of having a home to return to: in the end, Rei had decided that her world was not more valuable than Akane’s, and having spotted this, the entity determines that Rei has earned her happy ending, as well.

  • Overall, Vividred Operation proved to be an entertaining series despite its shortcomings, and I had a great time watching the series. I do remember that, after the finale aired in March, I found myself wondering when Strike Witches would continue – the movie had just become available, and I’d heard news that after this movie, more Strike Witches was in the works, contingent on the completion of Vividred Operation. A continuation of the series would ultimately be realised in 2015, when Operation Victory Arrow came out, and since then, fans of Strike Witches would receive Brave Witches, a third season of Strike Witches and Luminous Witches, in addition to a chibi spin-off.

  • On the other hand, Vividred Operation concluded on a very decisive note – there hadn’t been any plans to expand the story or continue it. A video game titled Vividred Operation: Hyper Intimate Power was released for the PlayStation 3, but beyond this, Vividred Operation itself has not continued. Instead, the anime’s legacy lies in the release of increasingly well-written, mature instalments of Strike Witches and laying down the groundwork for several voice actresses’ increasing presence in the industry. On these grounds, while Vividred Operation might not be a ground-breaking or world-changing experience, that it has a non-trivial impact on later anime and remains an enjoyable series meant it was worthwhile for me.

Perhaps as a result of its self-contained story and a distinct similarity to Strike Witches, Vividred Operation was quickly forgotten amongst the community after its airing. Despite possessing superb animation, voice acting and unexpectedly detailed world building, Vividred Operation had otherwise flowed in a very conventional manner. Akane, Aoi, Wakaba and Himawari defeat the crow, befriend the once-distant Rei, and in turn, Rei gets her world back. However, Vividred Operation did leave behind a considerable legacy. The anime proved that even with a different setup, the Strike Witches concept was still viable, and this allowed Strike Witches to continue. A movie and OVA series proved successful, allowing the franchise to mature and ultimately, tell more compelling stories. Brave Witches, Road to Berlin and Luminous Witches would expand the Strike Witches universe further in world-building and show how over time, a compelling story could be told even as the emphasis on posterior and crotch angles lessened. Vividred Operation also marks a turning point for voice actresses Ayane Sakura, Maaya Uchida and Rie Murakawa: prior to Vividred Operation, these three voice actresses had played secondary roles in anime. Vividred Operation put them in lead roles, and subsequently, each of Sakura, Uchida and Murakawa would become well-established in the industry as skillful voice actresses, working together in additional series. While the anime itself isn’t going to be for everyone (in fact, it’s quite difficult to recommend Vividred Operation to viewers, save those who are fans of Strike Witches or similar series), the series represents marking a turning point for anime of the 2010s. In the present, Vividred Operation has aged gracefully, being a series that remains as enjoyable now as it had been when I’d first finished with it ten years earlier. Back then, I’d been entering the second and final term of my undergraduate thesis, and vividly remember following Vividred Operation on a weekly basis as I inched closer and closer to the defense date: Vividred Operation might not be particularly innovative or memorable, but having something fun to look forward to each week helped me to stay focused, and this is why even a decade later, I still recall this series with clarity.