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Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below: A Review and Full Recommendation on Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 Film At the Ten Year Anniversary

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” –Haruki Murakami

Ever since her father passed away, Asuna Watase spends her free time looking after the house while her mother works, and listening to music emanating from a mysterious radio that once belonged to her father with her cat, Mimi. One day, she encounters a boy named Shun after running into a Quetzalcoatl, a beast from the ancient world. After tending to Shun’s wounds, Asuna befriends him, but he falls to his death from the cliff ledge. The next day, Asuna is surprised that their new substitute instructor, Ryūji Morisaki, gives a lesson on the legend of Agartha, a world inhabited by the dead, and ends up speaking to him to learn more. Upon returning to her secret spot, Asuna is surprised to find another boy, Shin, there. It turns out he’s here to recover the Clavis fragment Shun had dropped, but the pair are cornered by Archangel, a paramilitary group searching for Agartha. Shin and Asuna manage to escape underground, with Archangel in pursuit. It turns out that Ryūji is leading the operation, and after a confrontation, Ryūji secures Asuna’s Clavis, giving him access to Agartha: Ryūji had been longing to resurrect his deceased wife. Upon arriving in Agartha, Ryūji and Asuna set off for the Gate of Life and Death, while Shin returns to the village and learns that his assignment had been unsuccessful, since Asuna possessed a Clavis fragment of her own. When Asuna is captured by the Izoku, monsters that fear the light, she encounters a little girl named Manna. Shin rescues them, but after Ryūji locates the two, Asuna persuades Ryūji to allow Shin to accompany them. In the village, the elder reluctantly allows Asuna and Ryūji to stay the night as repayment for having saved Manna, but warns that outsiders have always been an ill-omen in Agartha. The next morning, Asuna and Ryūji continue with their journey, while Mimi stays behind and passes away peacefully. After Manna offers Mimi’s corpse to a Quetzalcoatl, Shin notices the village’s soldiers riding out to intercept Asuna and Ryūji. He sets off after them with the aim of saving Asuna, but is promptly defeated in combat. The commander notes he’s betrayed Agartha and leave him to die, while Asuna and Ryūji arrive at the Gate of Life and Death. Unable to carry on, Asuna sets off and makes her way back to the surface, leaving Ryūji to climb to the bottom of the pit alone. As night falls, Asuna is tailed by a horde of Izoku, and laments having accepted this journey because she’d been feeling abandoned. Before the Izoku can kill her, Shin arrives and save her. They grieve Shun’s loss together and return to the Gate of Life at Death. Here, they encounter the Quetzalcoatl who’d accepted Mimi’s corpse, and learn it too is dying. Before it dies, it sings a song and offers to carry the pair down to the Gate of Life and Death. Upon crossing the barrier, they find Ryūji preparing to make his wish of bringing his wife back. However, the cost of resurrecting those from the dead is immense, and Ryūji loses his right eye, while Asuna is sacrificed to act as a vessel for his wife’s soul. Shin manages to destroy the Clavis and stop the process, saving Asuna but leaving Ryūji inconsolable. However, Shin notes that all living things come to an end and implores Ryūji to continue living for his wife’s sake. The pair accompany Asuna back to the portal leading to the surface and bid her farewell: Ryūji’s decided to remain behind in Agartha. Later, Asuna glances at the cliff where she first met Shin and Shun, before heading off to school with a smile on her face. This is Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, literally “Children Who Chase Stars”, and from here on out, Children Who Chase Lost Voices for brevity), Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 film that remains his longest work and treads on territory that is is explored nowhere else amongst his repertoire.

At its core, Children Who Chase Lost Voices represents a bold new direction for Makoto Shinkai: although distance and separation still figures in the film’s central themes, as it had in his previous works, Children Who Chase Lost Voices deals predominantly in death and moving on. The film opens with Asuna, whose days are peaceful but lonely. When she encounters Shun one day, only for their time together to be cut short after Shun dies, she finds herself longing for a world where she could be together with those important to her again. That Ryūji appears as a substitute instructor shortly after is no coincidence, and more so than Asuna, Ryūji is seeking out what appears to be impossible, in locating a way to Agartha, the underworld, and its supposed means of bringing the dead back to life. This meeting sends Asuna on a journey into the fantastical realm that had hitherto been the stuff of legends, and through this adventure, Asuna comes to terms with her own desires. Meeting Shun had temporarily stemmed her feelings of loneliness, a consequence of living lengthy days without her father, who passed away when she’d been younger, and her mother, who works long days at a local clinic as a nurse, so it was natural that Asuna had desired more concrete relationships with people. Travelling through Agartha, and speaking to the underworld’s inhabitants, helps Asuna to accept that death and departure is a natural part of life, not to be lamented or feared, but accepted. Indeed, when Asuna leaves Mimi behind, she shows that she is able to let go of attachments in life. Conversely, Ryūji is unable to achieve the same, and his single-minded determination to reach Agartha and resurrect his deceased wife is a tale of tragedy. While he is knowledgeable and measured, he is also obsessed, and this obsession binds him to what should be obvious: that wishes contradicting the natural order will exact a heavy toll. He alone is able to reach the Gate of Life and Death to issue his wish, but the process leaves him disfigured and very nearly costs Asuna her life. Because Asuna is able to do what Ryūji could not, Children Who Chase Lost Voices indicates that our impressions of life and death are shaped early on, and while children may not be fully aware of the ramifications surrounding things like loss, they are also more open-minded and are more perceptive than adults believe. As such, when children ask about things like death, it is important to answer difficult questions truthfully and to the best of one’s knowledge, while at the same time, allowing children to also draw their own conclusions.

Beyond exploring a new theme in a novel setting, Children Who Chase Lost Voices also acted as a trailblazer for Shinkai; in his older works, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and Five Centimetres Per Second, the female leads were ethereal and delicate. Sayuri and Akari wound up being abstractions rather than full-fledged characters in order to facilitate Hiroki and Takaki’s growth. Conversely, Asuna has a much larger role in Children Who Chase Lost Voices compared to her predecessors; although she’s accompanying Ryūji, Asuna is shown as being very energetic and cheerful, even taking the initiative to do what she feels is right in a given moment. When they first arrive, Asuna heads off and finds sweet potatoes for herself and Ryūji. Later, she tries to rescue Manna when the Izoku begin appearing, and she is the first to accept that saying “goodbye” is a part of life, when she parts ways with Mimi. This is significant, marking a return to female characters with strength and agency. Asuna isn’t swept away by her circumstances, but instead, takes charge in making her own decisions, and for this reason, is able to find the answers she’d sought by visiting Agartha. This is in complete contrast with Sayuri, who falls into a coma and serves as Hiroki’s reason to fly up to the tower, or Akari, whose feelings for Takaki remain unanswered when she and her parents end up moving. Giving Asuna agency changes how Children Who Chase Lost Voices feels compared to its predecessors, and indeed, Shinkai would apply these lessons into the future: The Garden of Words‘ Yukari, Your Name‘s Mitsuha and Weathering With You‘s Hina each demonstrate the same autonomy and seize on a chance to change their situation, and even though circumstance steers them towards trouble, everyone winds up finding their own path anew. This creates more variety in Shinkai’s films, and indeed, having a female lead capable of making her own decisions and judgement would leave Shinkai’s works stronger than before. They’re no longer about separation and distance, but instead, depict the incredible lengths people go to make the most of things. While Children Who Chase Lost Voices might be among Shinkai’s lesser known works, especially when it stands in the shadows of The Garden of Words, Your Name and Weathering With You, this film remains highly significant and opened Shinkai up for more uplifting, optimistic stories about how people can take charge even when a situation appears to prohibit any sort of agency.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Today marks the ten year anniversary to when Children Who Chase Lost Voices released to BD: back then, I was an undergraduate student, and I remember that term particularly well. After a brutal semester the year before, I came into the new year filled with resolve. Children Who Chase Lost Voices would’ve come late in the semester, just a few weeks before exams were set to begin, and I still remember writing about it at my old site, as well as sharing a handful of screenshots showcasing the incredible landscapes in what was then Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie.

  • Whereas most of Shinkai’s works are set in an urban area, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is completely rural; the movie opens with a day in Asuna Watase’s life, and although her days are quite lonely, she definitely has her game together, looking after the housework while her mother is at work. Par the course for a Shinkai movie, the visuals in this film are stunning, and ten years later, the artwork hasn’t aged a day. There’s a sense of coziness in the Watase residence as Asuna collects the laundry by evening; I’ve always had a fondness for this aesthetic, and there’s a certain romance about sleeping with an open window.

  • My area only allows for this about three months of the year, although when it does get that nice, it is downright pleasant. It’s now been ten days since I took possession of my new home, and during the past weekend, I spent both afternoons cleaning out every square inch of the place. It’ll be a while yet before we can move in, since there’s the matter of buying the furniture; it’s been remarkably fun to browse through catalogues and see what’s available. After the move, one thing I am looking forwards to will be spending more time honing my craft in cooking: I can cook well enough to get by, but it will be exciting to try out recipes I see in anime and films (the pan-fried fish and Japanese rolled omelettes Asuna is enjoying here look quite good, for instance).

  • Having tried out some outrageous recipes on occasion (my favourite being a double burger topped with caramelised onions, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, bacon and a fried egg), I am getting old enough to feel that an afternoon doing housework or spent making something tasty is much more relaxing than trying to unlock weapons and attachments in hacker-filled multiplayer servers. A decade earlier, I had the reflexes to keep up with gamers, but nowadays, single player games are the only games I’ll seriously consider; they allow me to play at my own pace, and I can put the brakes on at any time to go anything else, whether it’s housework or go get some exercise.

  • Asuna’s days of solitude come to a quick end when she encounters a beast on the bridge leading to her hideout. Fortunately, a young man, Shun, shows up and saves her. Although Shun has no intention of harming this beast, it turns out that said beast is in pain, so Shun shifts gears and decides to put it out of its misery. In the aftermath, Shun and Asuna become fast friends, with Shun being especially interested in the radio that Asuna is rocking. It turns out that, since Asuna’s radio uses a special crystal, it picks up broadcasts from another world, one that Shun is familiar with.

  • Being able to appreciate the music means that a connection forms between Asuna and Shun. The events of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, in a bit of irony, mirror that year: I met the person I’d come to fall in love with in Japanese class, and things began in a similarly unexpected manner, when I showed up in Japanese class wearing a full suit after giving a presentation at the university’s undergraduate symposium. We subsequently paired up on a project, and while rehearsing for the presentation, some of my classmates from health science wondered if I’d met someone special because they’d spotted us on break, and watching this movie together on my iPad.

  • At the time, I replied ‘no’ to my health science classmates; we’d been a great team and did well enough on the project, but we were merely classmates in Japanese at the time. Thus, we parted ways after term ended. However, as fate would have it, after the year ended, and I began studying for the MCAT, that this individual came back to my life – she’d started several summer courses, and I was wrapped up in studying for an exam far tougher than any I’d previously faced, so we supported one another through those busy times, getting to know one another better in the process. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Asuna’s time with Shun ends up being even shorter; he came up to the surface to seek out something, but falls off the cliff edge and dies in the process.

  • The encounter with Shun might’ve been short, but the ‘blessing’ he provides for Asuna causes her heart to flutter. Timing is irrelevant in a romance, and people can indeed fall in love very quickly. At the opposite end of the spectrum, falling in love can sometimes occur only after a lengthy period of rediscovery and patience. Naturally, there’s no right or wrong approach; here, Asuna’s mother has returned home from her shift and is curious to know why Asuna appears to be preparing two servings of lunch. Asuna’s conversation with her mother suggests that despite spending little time together, the two remain quite close.

  • Because she’s unaware of Shun’s death, Asuna ends up waiting for him, to no avail. Mirroring Asuna’s uncertainty, it is raining quite hard; from The Place Promised In Our Early Days onwards, Shinkai begins making extensive use of lighting and weather to convey a certain atmosphere and aesthetic. This is most apparent in Five Centimetres per Second, where snowfall comes to denote longing and separation. By The Garden of Words, however, Shinkai suggests that there is a romance surrounding light rain; it is only on rainy days where Takao meets Yukari at Shunjuku Koen. Being set before The Garden of Words, the rainfall in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is used in a more conventional manner.

  • I remember seeing this scene in an early trailer for the film in late 2010, and altogether, the trailer had been remarkably captivating. Back then, Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer had just become available, and I was still a complete novice to anime movies. Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer had actually been the exception to the rule in that, while the anime movie had premièred in Japan in September, the home release became available just three months later, in December. Children Who Chase Lost Voices followed a much more conventional pattern: the film was premièred in May 2011 and hit the shelves a mere six months later.

  • The length between a theatrical première and home release has steadily increased over the past decade, going from an average of six months to eight months. More popular movies, such as Shinkai’s more recent movies, Violet Evergarden, Girls und Panzer: Das FinaleHai-Furi and SaeKano: Fine, had waits exceeding eleven months. Beyond being a bit of an annoyance, and something I’m fond of vociferously griping about, the gap actually has no bearing on my excitement about a given film; I’ve found that being able to watch a film at my own pace is really all that matters.

  • As it turns out, Asuna’s father had died when she’d been young. Back then, she hadn’t quite been able to grasp the enormity of such an event, beyond the fact that her father wasn’t going to return. Shinkai chooses to set things during the winter, both to provide a vivid contrast to the warm weather of the present, as well as to show the extent of despair and sorrow in the moment. When Asuna’s mother explains that Shun had died, denial immediately sets in; Asuna’s certain that Shun is fine even though there’d been reports of a corpse found earlier.

  • With Asuna’s original instructor preparing to head off on maternity leave, her class receives a substitute teacher in the form of Ryūji Morisaki, who provides a lesson about the world of the dead in Japanese folklore. Folklore and literature becomes an integral part of each of Shinkai’s subsequent works: after Children Who Chase Lost VoicesThe Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You each incorporate elements of classical Japanese mythology into details of his own creation. This creates a much more intricate, immersive world, and suggests that for Shinkai, his belief is that while things are always advancing, there are some traditions and values that shouldn’t be forgotten, either.

  • The topic of an underworld from which the dead can be revived intrigues Asuna, who begins to believe there might be a way to see Shun again. She heads over to the library in pursuit of more knowledge, and although today, the consensus is that the planet’s interior is solid, composed of a rocky mantle and metallic core rather than being hollow, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a story; fiction represents a space to explore what could happen if our wishes were realised, and more often than not, it turns out that having the power to do things like returning the dead to the world of the living often exacts a terrible cost.

  • After classes end, Ryūji speaks with Asuna’s instructor and learns that Asuna is a focused, well-behaved student. Meanwhile, Asuna’s classmate suggests that Ryūji’s wife had died long ago when Asuna remarks that she has a few questions for Ryūji surrounding the day’s lessons. Although the conversation is incomplete to viewers, it solidifies the idea that Asuna’s life is a lonely one; Children Who Chase Lost Voices is an excellent example of a film where things are slowly laid out for viewers to follow, providing enough depth to be compelling, but at the same time, does not demand that the viewer have a solid background in Japanese folklore and beliefs.

  • The precedence that Children Who Chase Lost Voices set carry forwards into Shinkai’s later works – Ryūji has been chasing the myth of Agartha since his wife had died. Delving through countless scrolls, tomes and commonplace books, he learnt that there were patterns throughout history to suggest Agartha was indeed real – originally, ancient beings known as Quetzalcoatl guided humanity, but humanity eventually reached a point where it could fend for itself, so the remaining Quetzalcoatl retreated underground and a few humans accompanied them.

  • Ryūji deduces that Asuna had been the one who encountered Shun, and believes that Asuna’s interest in Agartha similarly stems from a desire to bring someone back from the dead. The visual clutter in Ryūji’s apartment shows the extent of his interest in the underworld; the interior is filled with books, maps and charts. Of note is a confidential report whose contents are rendered entirely in English. After his radio lights up, Ryūji sends Asuna home and asks her to not take any detours, but on her way back, Mimi appears, and Asuna heads off in pursuit. She spots a glint from her hideout and rushes up here, where she encounters a young man no older than herself.

  • As it turns out, this is Shin, Shun’s younger brother. Their encounter is interrupted when an AH-1 Cobra shows up. The extent of Ryūji’s obsession with Agartha is such that he leads a paramilitary outfit known as Archangel to search for its entrance, and the fact that they possess a Cobra speaks to the extent of their resources – one could suppose that Archangel has investors who are curious about the wealth that Agartha possesses. When I first watched Children Who Chase Lost Voices, I initially thought that this was an AH-64 Apache, but the Cobra lacks the Apache’s distinct T700 turboshaft engines and single-barrel M230 30mm chain gun. Instead, one can spot the AH-1’s chin-mounted M197 20mm electric cannon.

  • Members of Archangel corner Asuna and Shin at the cliff’s edge: two soldiers accompanying Ryūji are armed with the Uzi. Even now, I can’t readily identify the sidearm that Ryūji himself is carrying, but I remain impressed with the acrobatics Shin is capable of: surprising the soldiers, he carries Asuna and leaps down into the forests below in an attempt to shake Archangel and return to Agartha’s entrance. However, his actions also lead Archangel straight to said entrance: the AH-1 Cobra follows in pursuit and quickly determines where the pair ended up.

  • The Clavis allows Agartha’s residents to carry out feats of superhuman strength and agility; with its magical properties, Shin moves a massive boulder to block off the entrance, before squaring off against a Quetzalcoatl he refers to as the Gatekeeper. This Quetzalcoatl was originally a guardian meant to keep outsiders from entering Agartha, but the Gatekeeper’s age means its senses are no longer as acute as they once were – it attacks Shin, forcing Shin to defend himself. However, using the Cobra’s 20 mm rounds, Archangel destroys the boulder with ease and enter the cave. Ryūji’s two soldiers then execute the Gatekeeper, and Ryūji identifies himself for Shin and Asuna’s benefit.

  • While Shin had been intending to fight Ryūji and his soldiers, once Ryūji explains that he’s here to seek out the Gate of Life and Death to resurrect his wife, Shin relents and lets Ryūji and Asuna be – outsiders had previously came to Agartha to plunder its treasures, but Ryūji’s wish is something for Agartha’s gods to pass judgement on. Moreover, Shin’s original assignment had simply been to retrieve Shun’s Clavis fragment. After Shin leaves, Ryūji gives Asuna the choice to turn back or accompany him. Having come this far, Asuna makes the choice to follow Ryūji, yearning to bring Shun back to life and see what lies beyond.

  • Ryūji leads Asuna onwards into the barrier separating the surface from Agartha: the Interstitial Sea. According to the legends, Agartha lies beneath this sea, which is composed of a fluid called aquavita, which is curious because aquavitae is the name for distilled spirits in reality. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, this fluid possesses properties that allow for liquid breathing, and once Asuna adjusts to the unusual sensation, she and Ryūji follow a path that leads deep into the planet. The sheer scale of the constructs underground far surpass anything that modern humans have the capacity to construct, suggesting that ancient humans and the Quetzalcoatl would’ve worked together to make their underground realm.

  • Asuna reawakens and is surprised that Mimi had accompanied them through the Interstitial Sea to Agartha. They find a Quetzalcoatl guarding the front entrance into Agartha, and Ryūji prepares to shoot it, but Mimi manages to convince the Quetzalcoatl that they’re visitors. As Ryūji and Asuna gaze upon Agartha’s landscape, the music crescendos majestically. The incidental music in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is composed by Atsushi Shirakawa (better known as Tenmon), who had previously worked with Shinkai on all of his films. Children Who Chase Lost Voices marks the last time Tenmon scores the music to Shinkai’s films, and to match the scope and scale of this film, the music has a much richer sound.

  • Although Agartha is doubtlessly wonderous, the choice to have the entrance set in the open plains also serves to emphasise how vast and empty the underworld is. This disconnect creates a sense of melancholy: while Asuna and Ryūji might’ve arrived in Agartha, this land might not hold the answers to the questions they possess. In the skies above, the Shakuna Vimana passes by. These vessels originate from Hindu texts, and as Ryūji notes, they’re the chariot of the Gods. The fact that Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below draws from so much mythology would suggest that the world’s myths, at least in this universe, have a common origin in Agartha.

  • While Shinkai’s previous films had been gorgeously animated, and his latest films surpass all expectations when it comes to visual detail, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is unique because it marks the first film set in a completely different world. This allows Shinkai and his animators to really explore landscapes and scenery from a fantastical world. In this regard, I do wish that Shinkai and his team would take a chance on settings beyond Tokyo: The Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You feature Tokyo as its main setting, and as intricate as Tokyo appears, it would be interesting to see how Shinkai and his team’s advancing craft might portray other parts of the world, or other worlds.

  • After reaching some stone ruins, Ryūji sets down and consults his notes to determine their next destination, while Asuna ends up going exploring and finds Agarthan potatoes that end up being surprisingly tasty; it turns out that Asuna was able to find some salt in the stone ruins. Surprised with Asuna’s high spirits, Ryūji asks about how she’s feeling, and she replies that she’d been feeling amped since their arrival because there’s something she’s seeking out. Viewers can conclude that a part of Asuna still yearns to reunite with Shun, and the excitement she’s feeling comes from this possibility.

  • Back in a temple, Shin is debriefed by the elders; his original assignment had been to retrieve the Clavis that Shun had brought to the surface with him, and although he’d been successful here, the fact that is that Asuna and Ryūji have entered their world with another Clavis fragment in hand is worrying, suggesting that outsiders may yet interfere with things in Agartha and bring more troubles with them. To this end, the elders set Shin with recovering the Clavis fragment that Ryūji and Asuna possess. It turns out that Shun always been the preferred sibling for his powers, but possessed a desire to see the surface, which is what led him to Asuna. While Shin lacks the same power, he attempts to carry out his duties as best as he can.

  • While Shin had been set the goal of recovering the Clavis in Ryūji and Asuna’s possession by any means necessary, and remarks to another girl in the village, Seri, that if required, he’d consider lethal force, the reality is that Shin is torn between doing his duties, and doing what’s right. Their conversation supposes that exposure to the surface accelerates any illnesses one may have, and that both Shun and Shin are orphans who were raised by the village. His loyalty to them is a result of wishing to pay back the village’s kindness, although these loyalties do begin shifting.

  • Meanwhile, Ryūji and Asuna have taken refuge underneath a boulder to escape a rainfall. When Asuna makes an offhand comment about how Ryūji has come to be a father figure, Ryūji later dreams about the events that led them to Agartha. It turns out that his wife had died before he returned from his tour of duty during a war, and despite his efforts otherwise, Ryūji never moved on from his loss. The exact war is not known: while it would appear that Ryūji is fighting in the European Theatre during World War Two, he’s armed with an M4 Carbine with a Close Quarter Barrel Receiver. The M4 entered service in 1994, which complicates identifying which war Ryūji would’ve fought in, although since this is a dream, the smaller details would be secondary to the idea that Ryūji greatly misses his late wife.

  • When Asuna falls asleep, she ends up being taken by the Izoku, enigmatic monsters who can only travel through solid surfaces in the shadows while there is light (but when it is dark, they can roam freely). These beings are a part of the natural order in Agartha, although for the purposes of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, they exist to act as a reminder that life in Agartha has its own challenges. When Asuna comes to in the stone ruins, she finds another girl, Manna, here. The pair attempt to escape, but to no avail; the area is sealed off, and the nearest exit is too high to reach.

  • Fortunately, Shin arrives at the last possible second to save both Asuna and Manna. They manage to escape the ruins, but with the Izoku closing rapidly, Shin orders Asuna to jump into the river below; the Izoku have an aversion to water and will not traverse where water flows. The determined and plucky traits seen in Asuna bring to mind the likes of female leads from Studio Ghibli’s movies, marking a welcome new direction for Shinkai’s movies. Until now, I’d found that in his earlier films, the female leads were more passive, and lacked agency.

  • Conversely, in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Asuna is driven and takes the initiative to make her own decisions. These traits carry over to The Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You; a part of why these films are so successful is because female leads are impacting the story to a greater extent. Here, Asuna attempts to prevent Shin from being swept away in the river’s fierce currents, but Shin ends up taking an Izoku’s claw to the back and is swept off. Asuna leaps off after them in an attempt to rescue the pair, but the currents end up overcoming her, too.

  • The currents end up washing everyone downstream, where Ryūji finds them. Ryūji is relieved that Asuna is okay, but when Shin comes to and confronts Ryūji for the Clavis, he gets pistol-whipped. Disappointed with how Ryūji treats Shin, Asuna declares that they’ll bring Shin with them. Ryūji does not object, and upon arrival, their presence is almost immediately noted. The presence of outsiders prompt the local armed forces to appear; Agartha’s residents are deeply mistrustful of people from the surface, and here, a little more information is also provided regarding Manna: she’s mute as a result of having witnessed her mother’s death.

  • The commanding soldier initially turns Ryūji and Asuna back; the outsiders are treated as an ill omen in Agartha, and despite Asuna’s requests to get Shin looked at, the soldiers stand firm. Ryūji has no quarrel with the people of Agartha and makes to comply, but the village’s master, who also happens to be Manna’s grandfather, requests that the group be allowed to rest for one evening as recompense for having saved his granddaughter. The soldiers leave, and the elderly man bring them back to his home, where Shin is looked over and allowed to rest. As it turns out, Manna’s mother was from Agartha, and her father was from the surface; this is why the soldiers refer to Manna as “defiled”.

  • Speaking with the village’s master provides vital exposition that fills in remaining gaps about Agartha, and he explains that the antipathy for outsiders stems from a history where outsiders had arrived in Agartha to pillage and burn. Amongst historical figures who have done this include Julius Caeser, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin; it is implied that it was through the wealth of treasure and knowledge from Agartha that they were able to amass the resources to rule the world, but their expeditions also caused a great deal of harm and suffering to Agartha’s people. To prevent outsiders from returning, Agartha’s remaining residents sealed the gates that were once opened.

  • The fact that people from the surface brought death and destruction with them, enough to annihilate Agartha’s once-great civilisation, explains why there is so much hostility towards outsiders, and why ruins litter Agartha. With their birthrate declining, Agartha’s once-mighty people are now scattered in a vast, empty land. The village Master is surprised that Mimi (technically a Yadoriko rather than a cat), is so friendly with Asuna. These beings are said to accompany humans while they live, and then return to the Quetzalcoatl in death. This revelation does seem to reinforce the idea that Asuna’s father had a connection with Agartha. Here, Asuna is surprised to be offered a bath, and the sharp-eyed viewer will have noted that Asuna’s not really had the comforts of home since arriving in Agartha.

  • Being able to immerse herself in warm water and rest would seem like an unbelievable luxury after the trek she’d been on. Floral baths aren’t unique to Agartha, nor are the flowers present just for show. It turns out that taking a floral bath has some health benefits, and depending on the flowers used, different effects can be enjoyed, from improving circulation and skin hydration. Such a setup does look remarkably comfortable, although I’ve always been more of a shower person owing to the fact that a quick shower conserves water. After finishing up, Asuna gets dressed in an Agarthan-style outfit, and runs into Ryūji, who says the clothes don’t suit her, causing Asuna to pout.

  • Agartha’s cuisine appears to have an East Asian influence: Asuna had been seen peeling a daikon earlier, and they use chopsticks. Dinner proves delicious, and Asuna spends it savouring every bite. Over their meal, Ryūji asks the Master about his desire to resurrect the dead; he reasons that while this act is verboten in Agartha, that it is prohibited must imply there is a way to do so. The Master’s attempts to turn Ryūji from his desires to no avail, and is unable to convince Ryūji that life and death are a part of the natural world. I imagine that Ryūji does end up getting some answers, but this is not shown: the Master asks Asuna to look after Shin, who’s awake now and becomes worked up after Asuna mentions Shun.

  • The Master rightly notes that people who come to Agartha do so because of a great loss, and that a great many misunderstandings could have been avoided if said people had someone to talk to. This is true of Ryūji, and certainly true of Asuna. Through Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai aims to show how “adventure” is really just another way to say that after sustaining a loss, people wander. Without guidance and support, people can become lost in their own thoughts and venture down a path they might come to regret. As such, it becomes important to be compassionate and empathetic towards those who do suffer loss in their lives, while at the same time, giving them the space they need to recover.

  • The next morning, Ryūji and Asuna prepare to head off by boat, but to Asuna’s surprise, Mimi stays behind. This is shocking because Mimi had remained faithfully by Asuna’s side all this time, and as such, the unexpected change in behaviour is a result of Mimi preparing for death. For Asuna, being able to say goodbye to Mimi and part ways is a turning point in her character; she’s able to make peace with the fact that she won’t be with Mimi forever, and this sets the precedence for letting go of Shun, as well. Ryūji and Asuna travel under a gorgeous sunrise, and this moment captures the peaceful atmosphere within Agartha, as well as the fact that it is a world in decline: a massive ruin can be seen in this distance.

  • Mimi passes away, and after the Master reassures Manna it’ll be okay, the Master takes Manna out to a vast field, where Mimi’s remains are offered to a Quetzalcoatl. The one that arrives is an ancient one; one of its arms are blown off, although it accepts the offering and consumes Mimi. The Master notes that this is how Mimi returns to the world, and given the way things work in Agartha, one can suppose that here, the secret to immortality is simple enough: life is still finite, but what lingers after death, is what confers immortality.

  • The vastness of the field where Manna returns Mimi to the world is a visual metaphor for life and death itself; Shinkai indicates that the openness of such a space allows one to see great distances, and in this way, being out here corresponds to one accepting that what lies beyond life is not something to be feared. While Manna cries for the loss of Mimi’s life, Shin speaks with the Master and wonders if Asuna is able to accept life and death as two halves of a whole. The idea that death is not something to be tampered with is a theme that has long permeated fiction, and authors generally agree that those who attempt to raise new life from the dead or cheat death itself will face inevitable punishment.

  • The stakes increase when the village soldiers set off at full tilt for the same destination that Ryūji and Asuna are headed towards. The Master feels that their intention is to stop Ryūji and Asuna from reaching the Gate of Life and Death at all costs, even if it means killing them: Shin has spotted that the soldiers are carrying firearms, a sign that they mean business. When Ryūji spots them, he opens fire with his Uzi, but Shin uses his own dagger to knock the submachine gun from Ryūji’s hands before he can land any shots.

  • Noting that he’s acting to save Ryūji and Asuna, freeing himself from the debt he’d owed them, Shun now faces off against the soldiers in combat. Going from the single-shot weapons the soldiers are carrying, they would be easily bested by anyone carrying repeating firearms; repeaters first appeared in 1630 with the development of the Kalthoff repeater, and by the 1800s, revolvers and lever-action rifles had become commonplace. Since reloading presumably takes a while, the soldiers switch over to their swords and duel Shin one-to-one. Shin’s prowess impresses the commander, but he is ultimately beaten back.

  • The opening Shin creates allows Ryūji and Asuna to reach Finis Terra, a massive pit housing the Gate of Life and Death at its bottom. When Asuna glances over the ledge, the pit’s depth is such that the bottom cannot even be seen. This location likely was what inspired Your Name‘s scenery, when Taki and Mitsuha were finally able to meet one another during evening. However, Finis Terra (literally “end of the land”) possesses none of the warmth: it is raining here, and the skies are rapidly darkening as the sun sets. Tenmon uses an unearthly choir to convey the otherworldly feeling at this spot, which is easily the most unsettling place in the whole of Agartha.

  • As Asuna attempts to climb down what is a vertical cliff shear, a current rushes upwards and threatens to dislodge her; the effort proves too much, and Asuna decides to turn around and return to the village at Ryūji’s suggestion. The moment had been quite unnerving, and viewers get the sense that whatever lies at the bottom of the cliff does not want any surface-dwellers present. Even ten years later, this part of Children Who Chase Lost Voices remains quite tense, speaking to the incredible effort that went into the aesthetics for this film. While many things in my world have changed in the past decade, that anime films can still elicit the same response speaks to their staying power.

  • The extent of the changes to my world became clear earlier today, when I participated in a virtual panel to discuss career paths for alumni of my major. Joining me were my old program head, programme coordinator and two other panelists. While answering questions the students posed, I was sent down memory lane, recalling iconic health science moments, such as joining the lab that ended up being the basis for my graduate work, the various research symposiums I attended (and their free pizza), and the exams I studied for with my classmates. I was surprised to learn that there had been a question directed at me specifically, inquiring how I ended up as a mobile developer despite having started in health science.

  • The answer I gave was simple enough: while health sciences is about medical science and health policy, the inquiry and analytical skills students cultivate are versatile enough to be utilised in other disciplines, and health science has always encouraged the multidisciplinary approach towards problem solving. Coupled with the fact that I already had basic understanding of programming and software development, the transition wasn’t as abrupt as one might imagine. It did come as a bit of a surprise to me that the other panelists had a similar career progression, but as the department head stated, it’s okay not to know of one’s destination early in the game.

  • For Asuna, she set out for Agartha with a similar lack of destination in mind, and only vaguely knew that she wanted to speak with Shun once more. However, when the final leg of her journey becomes too much, she isn’t able to continue and turns back around. While this decision nearly costs Asuna her life, it also shows that Asuna is able to spot when things aren’t working. This is something that, during the panel, I mentioned as being an important thing to know – forcing ahead with something, as Ryūji does, can prove to be detrimental. However, Asuna’s journey is not meaningless, and her time in Agartha does prove instrumental in shaping her thoughts on life and death. Similarly, it is the case that one’s experiences, both good and bad, shape one’s current self, so if and when I’m asked, I do not regret taking a more crooked, uncertain path to the present, either.

  • Unfortunately for Asuna, the creek she’s traversing runs dry, and this allows the Izoku to finally capture her. In desperation, Asuna trains the sidearm Ryūji had given her, but unaccustomed to its recoil, she misses her shot. The aurora borealis here are especially visible: the night skies in Agartha are aglow with the ghostly dance of the northern lights. In reality, aurora result from the interaction of solar wind with oxygen and nitrogen atoms (which cause electrons to jump orbitals and release photons when they return to their ground state). Under ground, one would suppose that, since the skies of Agartha are blocked off by Earth’s crust, solar wind would never interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms down here. However, since the sun is visible down here, one must suppose that there are other forces at work, too.

  • I’m not here to break down the series for its faithfulness to reality because it is a meaningless exercise: just when Asuna is about to succumb to the Izoku’s grip, Shin shows up and kills the Izoku attacking her. The sun rises shortly after, forcing the remaining Izoku to retreat. With the morning here, both Shin and Asuna do feel as though there is new hope, now that the sun has risen. While the Izoku are a terrifying foe, Shin is able to kill one with a knife, leaving me to wonder if firearms would’ve been useful against them. The Izuko only show up in certain areas after night has fallen, and since the villages are safe, one must imagine that Agartha’s inhabitants have simply adjusted to their presence and placed their settlements away from the Izoku’s turf, rather than wage a campaign of extermination as contemporary humans are wont to doing.

  • After Shin and Asuna share their memories of Shun, they allow one another the time to cry themselves out. Asuna had been holding back her feelings, but here, she finally lets her emotions out. While society has reservations about tears, crying is an effective means of flushing out sorrow and grief: the process releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, which are hormones that create a feeling of calm. In the aftermath, both Shin and Asuna determine that they need to get Ryūji back – while he’s kept calm by his single-minded focus, this stubbornness has left him blind to the costs of resurrecting the dead.

  • After finally reaching the bottom of Finis Terra, Ryūji locates the Gate of Life and Death and ventures inside. The Shakuna Vimana feels the presence of a Clavis crystal and makes its way over to hear whatever wish Ryūji has in mind. Thanks to numerous warnings, both from the village Master, and common knowledge about the costs of raising the dead back into the world of the living, viewers will immediately gain a sense of unease at what Ryūji is trying to accomplish. What follows is then simple enough; Shin and Asuna must get back down and reach the Gate of Life and Death to stop Ryūji.

  • The same Quetzalcoatl that had accepted Mimi’s corpse has come here to Finis Terra to pass on, as well. Spotting Asuna and Shin, it offers them a ride down to the bottom, allowing the pair to bypass the treacherous descent that Ryūji would’ve had to had made. Coupled with Shin’s Clavis, the pair float down safely after the Quetzalcoatl vanishes from this world. I would imagine that the gap between Ryūji’s enormously difficult descent and the comparatively straightforward one Asuna takes is meant to be a metaphor for how sometimes, the things that are meant to be present much less resistance compared to the things we were not meant to have.

  • Once inside the portal, Shin and Asuna spot a faint glow coming from Ryūji: he’s managed to contact the gods’ vessel, which transforms into a monstrous, multi-eyed being. After regarding Ryūji, it prepares to grant his wish. However, recalling someone from death is not an easy feat, and the gods must first use a vessel in order to carry out the process. Asuna is immediately seized, and she slowly begins taking on the appearance of Ryūji’s late wife. Even Asuna’s sacrifice isn’t enough: the energy involved draws out Ryūji’s life force, and he becomes scarred in the process.

  • It is here that Shin chooses to act; to Ryūji, Asuna was expendable, and to grant Ryūji’s wish, Asuna would have to give up her life in order to allow Ryūji’s wife to come back. The question of sacrificing the young for the old is a very difficult topic, one that I’m certainly not qualified to discuss, but in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai suggests that this isn’t up for debate: the outcomes of this film indicates that Shinkai hedges his bets on youth and giving them a shot at the future. To this end, Shin attempts to shatter the Clavis and stop the process, but Ryūji overpowers him, allowing the process to reach completion.

  • Ryūji thus reunites with Lisa, and Asuna’s spirit is sent onwards, although Lisa appears to retain Asuna’s memories: she feels Shin to be familiar. Asuna’s spirit ends up meeting both Mimi and Shun; having found the strength to do so, Asuna manages to properly bid Shun farewell, and in this moment, Shin also shatters the Clavis. In her remaining moments, Lisa apologises for having lacked the strength to protect Ryūji and prepares to depart once more, leaving Ryūji to suffer the loss of death anew. By toying with forces beyond human comprehension, Ryūji ends up losing Lisa twice – this time would’ve hit even harder because Ryūji had, until now, been working towards this one moment, so to see everything taken away again would’ve been particularly devastating.

  • Although Ryūji desires death to escape the pain of loss and asks Shin to kill him here nad now, Shin implores Ryūji to live on instead. Asuna soon comes to, and unlike Ryūji, who’d come to Agartha with a very clear goal in mind and was unwilling to listen to those who tried to turn him away from his path, Asuna’s lack of preconceptions and singular objective in Agartha means that she was able to venture into this realm and gain something invaluable: knowledge and wisdom. Having now had the chance to properly say goodbye to Shun and Mimi, Asuna is finally ready to take a step forward and leave the deceased to rest.

  • The three prepare to make their way back to Agartha’s gateway: Ryūji elects to stay behind and learn from the Agarthans in order to find peace and come to terms with his wife’s death. Here, they make use of a ramp that leads back to Agartha’s surface – it is not lost on me that, had Ryūji been more patient and bothered to research this detail, his descent would’ve been less difficult, but then again, had Ryūji appreciated something like this, he might have never made the journey to Agartha at all. As Children Who Chase Lost Voices draws to a close, Anri Kumaki’s Hello, Goodbye and Hello begins to play. This song brought a solitary tear to my eye when I first watched this movie, being both upbeat and melancholy at the same time.

  • Some time later, Asuna returns to her old life on the surface, and having fully accepted that death is a natural part of life, is able to move on – she smiles before heading out the door for school, bringing the film to a close. While the themes in Children Who Chase Lost Voices are easily discerned, the me of ten years ago struggled to write about this film. I still had considerable difficulty with this post a decade later, but looking back, I would contend that, having ten more years of life experience and knowledge of Shinkai’s latest works together, is what allowed me to better convey how I feel about what is one of Makoto Shinkai’s lesser-known films. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is completely overshadowed by Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You, but relative to its successors, is no less enjoyable and compelling, being an indispensable Makoto Shinkai experience. With this ten-year anniversary post in the books, I’ll return to wrap the month up with a talk on The Aquatope on White Sand after twenty-one, and remark that the MG Kyrios I ordered arrived today. I am looking forwards to building it once I confirm the status of the vacation time I’d requested a few weeks earlier.

Altogether, Children Who Chase Lost Voices represents Makoto Shinkai’s boldest, most daring film to date. New themes and new character traits come together in a fantastical story portraying a setting none of his works have ever portrayed. Whereas Shinkai focuses on Tokyo in his films, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is set in rural Japan and the legendary world of Agartha, a place of rolling hills, ancient ruins, endless plains and a treacherous crater housing the Gate of Life and Death. Each setting is rendered in stunning detail, whether it be the interior of Asuna’s house and classroom, to the village and landscapes of Agartha. The end result of this level of detail is that Agartha is brought to life, becoming as convincing as any real-world location Shinkai traditionally sets his stories in. Bringing out the best in Agartha makes it clear to viewers that this world is as real as the one we’re familiar with, and consequently, the learnings that Asuna picks up here are certainly applicable in the real world, as well. In an interview, Shinkai states that he wanted to create a more optimistic messages about parting ways, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a film that completely succeeds in this regard. It is unsurprising that after its release, the film was universally acclaimed; in fact, some people even began comparing Shinkai to the works of Hayato Miyazaki (although Shinkai himself dislikes this comparison, feeling it to be an overestimation of his own abilities). While Children Who Chase Lost Voices is overshadowed by its successors’ success, as well as the fact that in 2019, Sentai Filmworks lost the license to the film, the film remains a worthwhile watch owing to its trailblazing elements that would become commonplace in his newer films, as well as for its wonderful depiction of Agartha and a moving story that shows how, distance or not, people can persevere, overcome and learn. This film might no longer be as accessible as it was a few years earlier, but its contributions are nontrivial, and as such, fans of Makoto Shinkai’s works will greatly enjoy this journey to Agartha, one journey that should not be forgotten.

Tamayura OVA: Review and Reflections on Beginnings of a Journey

“Appreciate everything, even the ordinary…especially the ordinary.” –Pema Chodron

Fū Sawatari heads over to the local camera shop to retrieve her camera with her friend, Kaori Hanawa, a Rollei 35S that had belonged to her late father. Here, she meets Norie Okazaki and Maon Sakurada. The four immediately become friends and visit a local Okonomiyaki shop, before returning to Tamayura Café, where Fū receives a letter from professional photographer, Riho Shihomi; inspired by Fū’s photos, Riho had found a newfound love for photography and sent Fū an unusual train ticket lacking a destination. It turns out Riho is hosting a photography exhibit and is keen to have Fū visit; on the day of the exhibition, Fū is nervous but overjoyed to finally meet Riho in person. Later, Fū begins to wonder about the photo she’d taken of her father, and her little brother’s drawings only gives her a rough idea of where the photo might’ve been. When she asks Kaori, Norie and Maon, Kaori’s older sister, Sayomi, overhears their conversation and offers to help them track the place down. Although Sayomi’s lacklustre navigation skills send the girls on a wild journey, and the destination winds up being quite unlike the spot that Fū had visited, Fū nonetheless has a wonderful time, seeing it as another precious memory. Riho visits Tamayura Café and speaks to Fū about how photography had become an integral part of her life. On their walk, Fū helps two friends take a photograph. Sayomi determines that she might’ve located the spot Fū was seeking and suggests they go on another trip. After a harrowing drive, the girls make it. While Fū sprains her ankle, she fortuitously runs into Hinomaru, who helps carry her; from this vantage point, Fū realises this is where her father had taken them years earlier. Tamayura begins in four OVAs that were aired during the autumn of 2010: produced by Hal Film Maker, they mark the first instalments to the Tamayura story, which follows Fū and her life in Takehara after her father’s passing. Although an air of wistfulness lingers throughout Tamayura, Fū does her best to find joy in her life, taking after her father in photography and striving to capture happiness as her father once did with her new friends.

The Tamayura OVAs introduce the two most important symbols within the series. Fū’s Rollei is a physical piece of her past, of the joy and memory she shared with her father. By continuing to take photographs with it, Fū simultaneously pays respects to her father while at the same time, indicates that she’s also pursuing a new path. This camera therefore comes to mirror the contradiction within life – in order to move ahead, Fū continues to honour what is important to her, and similarly, in order to be respectful of the past, Fū must be mindful of her future. This camera serves Fū faithfully throughout Tamayura, much as it had for her father, and in making new memories with her friends and this camera, Fū keeps the memories of her father alive. The other symbol is the oft-mentioned “ticket with no destination”, which Riho had given to Fū after their initial correspondence. Riho indicates that it represents how the lack of a destination means that Fū can go anywhere and become anything. Rather than setting her mind on a tangible, but rigidly-defined goal, Riho wishes for Fū to explore with complete freedom. Fū thus carries this ticket around to remind her of the fact that her path forwards has no exact set of steps, and a destination will present itself in due course, so at the present, she can (and should) live in the moment. By establishing these two elements, Tamayura states to viewers that Fū’s way will be full of new discoveries and an appreciation of the old: rather than being bound by grief and sorrow, Tamayura gives Fū a peaceful and serene environment in which to pick herself back up and rediscover the highlights in life anew. The energy present in the OVAs fully captures this, and while Tamayura is contemplative and introspective, things are also very lively, offering plenty of moment to smile about.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Readers who’ve been with me since 2013 will have read my Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ posts, and when I watched Tamayura ~Hitotose~, this blog was more of a secondary resource that I didn’t make extensive use of. After realising that I’d not fully watched the Tamayura OVAs, I hastened to rectify that, and in the process, I learnt that this year will also mark the ten year anniversary to ~Hitotose~‘s airing. As such, I think the time is appropriate for me to revisit the whole of Tamayura, starting with the OVAs, which open with Fū wandering around town and imagining all of the awesome photos she’ll take once her camera’s repaired.

  • Fū and her longtime friend, Kaori, swing by the local photography store: it’s known as Hinomaru Photo Studio in real life and was originally built in 1945, after which it was designated as a building of historical and cultural significance. In a clever callout, the shop’s owner in Tamayura is named Hinomaru, after the shop, and for his skills, he’s affectionately known as Maestro. Because Fū’s camera is so old, she often takes it in for repairs, and seeing this in Tamayura‘s opening means that by the events of Graduation Photo, there is additional significance in Fū’s camera finally breaking down.

  • Shy and somewhat scatter-brained, Fū has trouble speaking with new people. The two ladies here are regulars at Hinomaru, and it suddenly strikes me that they’ll return in ~Hitotose~ after the lady in the red shirt suffers a catastrophic heartbreak. Tamayura is a series that covers a broad spectrum of emotions in a mature and relatable fashion, but it is also prone to flights of fancy; this combination brings to mind the likes of ARIA, which was revolutionary for being able to create excitement in the ordinary and similarly hinted at the presence of a benevolent supernatural force.

  • By the time of ~Hitotose~, Fū was already friends with Norie and Maon: they befriend Fū during the events of the OVA after walking by Hinomaru and take an interest in her photos. This meeting happened purely by chance, but it speaks to the power of how photography can bring people together. From here on out, besides Kaori, Fū also has Norie and Maon in her corner, setting the stage for their later adventures.

  • Tamayura is the anime that instilled in me a desire to eat okonomiyaki, and when I attended a local festival several years back, I would have a chance to try a smaller version of it. However, it wasn’t until my travels in Japan where I had authentic okonomiyaki: I was waiting for my flight from Kansai International Airport to Hong Kong from Osaka, and there’d been enough time to sit down for a proper lunch. I opted for okonomiyaki and was blown away by the flavours. This place is called Boteju-Yatai, if memory serves, and aside from okonomiyaki, they also serve a range of noodles.

  • It turns out that Hoboro’s is based on Horikawa: if I ever decide to visit Takehara, I am going to definitely swing by: locals indicate that their okonomiyaki is varied, and there’s even an English-language menu. Fū’s very quickly made friends with Norie and Maon: Norie has a love for all confectionaries and aspires to be a pâtisserie chef, while Maon doesn’t have any concrete goals as of yet. Similarly, while Kaori loves making creative potpourri, she hasn’t given much thought to her career as of yet.

  • Fū’s predisposition for capturing that special shot means that she puts herself in some dangerous positions throughout Tamayura: with her friends helping her, Fū is able to avoid disaster on many occasions, and such instances are always meant to be comedic. Here, Fū leans off a railing while trying to get a photo of her friends at Saihoji Temple: this was a commonly-visited spot throughout Tamayura, whose faithful reproduction of Takehara turns it into part cathartic anime, part travel show.

  • Over a decade ago, I was a part of my secondary school’s yearbook team, and early in the year, I attended a special workshop for making a yearbook successful: one of the sessions was about photography, and the staff running the session indicated that capturing dynamic shots would make for the best memories. I ended up becoming a part of the layout team, where my responsibilities had been to take photos from the photography team and then determine the best way to design a page such that everything was presented in an organised fashion. As a result, I never ended up needing to go out and fetch images for myself.

  • Upon meeting Fū’s younger brother for the first time, Norie is infatuated. In the Tamayura OVA, I found that all of the characters’ traits were exaggerated compared to how they were presented later on: this is probably a consequence the OVAs trying to define everyone’s personalities and give them a unique role, whereas in the television series, there would be more time to develop everyone out further. Thus, Norie is even more rambunctious, and Maon whistles more in response to things. Similarly, Fū is far more absent-minded about her surroundings while in pursuit of that perfect shot.

  • To her friends, Fū is affectionately known as Potte, a bit of onomatopoeia resulting from the noise Fū makes while nervously walking. This helps viewers separate out the different social circles that Fū is a part of. I refer to Fū as such rather than Potte simply because it’s a matter of consistency: I generally prefer to name characters by their original name rather than their nicknames. Here, Fū melts after becoming excited about meeting her role model, Riho, for the first time.

  • I’d long known that Riho’s a mentor of sorts for Fū, having heard the conversations within Tamayura, but it turns out the OVAs explore how this had come about. Even then, the full story is not shown to viewers; all that is shown is that Fū had sent some photos to Riho, and received the iconic train ticket with no destination in return. I imagine that for Fū, the simplicity in her photographs present a sort of sincerity about them that captures moments in ways that professionals do not consider as being important.

  • Tamayura is suggesting that Fū’s inexperience with professional techniques create images that convey a sense of rawness here that professionals might not consider for their work, and seeing Fū’s photos is actually what led Riho to continue working in photography despite it being a tough time for her. The exhibition is a success, and Fū also learns that her long-time role model is not to dissimilar to herself. From here on out, the two develop a deep friendship; Riho’s presence gives viewers the peace of mind that besides her friends, Fū also has someone to walk her through the more technical pieces of photography so she may hone her craft.

  • Having now seen ~Hitotose~,  ~More Aggressive~ and Graduation Photo, it is clear that the artwork, animation and character designs have subtly evolved over time, improving with every iteration. Environments are more detailed, the characters begin to look more life-like, and the beauty surrounding Fū’s everyday life becomes more apparent. However, here in the OVA, the spirit of Takehara is captured in full, and it becomes clear that subsequent works took the aesthetic the OVA established, and then expanded on it, exploring more of Takehara and its surroundings.

  • One detail that blew me out of the water in the Tamayura OVAs was the fact that the opening song is Maaya Sakamoto’s cover of Yumi Arai’s timeless hit from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara (Embraced in Tenderness). When the OVA began playing, I immediately found the song to be warm and comforting, but couldn’t put my finger on why I’d sounded so familiar. As it turns out, I’ve been listening to piano covers of Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara while working. I still need to watch Kiki’s Delivery Service: Miyazaki films are always a joy to watch.

  • The music in the Tamayura OVA are familiar: the same background pieces were used in the television series and for Graduation Photo, creating a sense of nostalgia and sense of comfort. Earlier this year, a complete soundtrack was released, featuring every vocal piece and instrumental track used in Tamayura. The vocal pieces all have a gentle and soft tone about them, making them superbly relaxing to listen to. In the end, Fū wraps up by taking a photo of Riho. Earlier, Fū had brought a gift of sorts for Riho, but in her excitement, left it on the train. One of the train station staff pick it up and returns it to Fū; presumably, Fū will be able to gift this to Riho at a later date.

  • Café Tamayura is one of my favourite places in Tamayura: it is home for Fū, and here, the girls experience a few menu item. From their reactions, this is something that will be available to customers. Revisiting Tamayura has led me to see that the use of fuzzy eyes to denote happiness is not new: Tamayura and K-On! have been doing this a decade earlier, although it was only really with Yuru Camp△ that I began noticing this trait.

  • Kaori’s sister, Sayomi, makes an appearance: she’s fond of adventure, and now that I think about it, she fulfils the same role as GochiUsa‘s Mocha. While ordinarily, the idea of adventure would be an enticing one, Sayomi’s sense of direction is questionable. Kaori thus dreads it whenever Sayomi shows up with an itch fore adventure, since it entails everyone getting lost for what seems like an inordinate amount of time.

  • What makes things about Sayomi’s adventures worthwhile is that, while everyone is lost, they still nonetheless have a good time. This is one of the recurring lessons that arise from Sayomi’s adventures with Fū and her friends: although the path to the destination is bumpy and crooked, the memories created are well worth it. The fact that Sayomi loves exploring obscure, local destinations was also inspiring to me. When my undergraduate degree ended, I was feeling a little left behind by the fact that I’d not travelled that summer. After watching ~More Aggressive~, I was reminded of the fact that there’s actually quite a bit of my home town I’d yet to explore.

  • This way of thinking impacted how I spent my days during the world health crisis: with the mountains trickier to access, and international travel off the table, I ended up taking long and pleasant walks in the parks and neighbourhoods nearby, and in doing so, discovered things that I would’ve missed otherwise. For Fū and her friends, after two hours of being lost, they decide to set down and have lunch in a quieter spot. Earlier today, I went out for a walk downtown (my first time returning in over a year), then spent the afternoon touring a condo unit of interest: at this point in time, I figured that it’d be nice to go and see what’s available on the market.

  • The evening concluded with a dinner from one of our favourite Cantonese joints in the city; besides the longtime favourite of sweet-and-sour pork, Chinese broccoli with stir-fry beef and seafood and fried tofu cooked in a clay pot (一品窩), we also mixed things up by ordering fried oysters with mushrooms. Food is definitely one of the things I remember best about a given day, so I make it a point to write about things where appropriate. Anime like Tamayura similarly feature mealtimes to accentuate that moments like these are an integral part of memorable moments; while Kaori and the others are doubtlessly exasperated by Sayomi’s inability to navigate, sharing a good meal with one another helps to lift the spirits and give everyone energy to finish their tour.

  • After one more hour, the group finally arrives at the location Sayomi had been thinking of. While this isn’t the same spot that Fū remembers, there is a sort of nostalgia around this spot, even though it’s likely everyone’s first time here. Tamayura‘s OVAs thus speak to the idea that there are many hidden treasures around one’s own home, and that time spent exploring the places one knows well can always yield unexpected surprises even if one’s been there before.

  • Tamayura suggests that getting lost and not finding what one was expecting is also a part of the adventure, a part of the process that timeless memories are created, and moreover, with the right mindset, all of this can happen right in one’s own backyard. This isn’t to say that travel isn’t important, but in the event where travel isn’t viable, one can nonetheless have a good time with a bit of open-mindedness. Unlike the people in my generation, I do not view travel as a large priority in my life; my priorities are to advance my career and build up my assets.

  • For me, if I don’t take any vacation time in a given year to go abroad, that’s completely fine, as I’m happy to spend a long weekend in the mountains or driving the freeway under an open prairie sky. This way of thinking comes from how my parents do things: they found that doing something simple like a walk by the river downtown could be very joyful, and Tamayura certainly seems to suggest this to viewers. Fū and her friends have remarkable adventures all around town, exploring places that possess a hidden beauty to them.

  • When Riho decides to visit Fū in person, the two end up taking some private time together to share their thoughts. The streets of Takehara’s warehouse district have a beautiful, watercolour-like feel to them, and for the longest time, I’ve wondered what it would be like to run a gentle café here. It suddenly hits me that I’ve not written anything about Momoneko-sama, a fluffy, pink cat that roams Takehara. Despite Fū’s best efforts to photograph him, he always manages to escape before she can press the button, leaving behind a blurry mess.

  • Fortunately for Fū, when two students ask her to take their photo, they stay still and allow for Fū to get an excellent picture. Fū is seen using their digital camera here: by 2010, digital cameras were commonplace, and smartphones hadn’t quite displaced them. Compared to a film camera, digital cameras are more forgiving when it comes to mistakes, so by having Fū run with the S35, Tamayura speaks to the idea that a film photograph is a permanent record of a given memory, for better or worse.

  • The next weekend, Sayomi follows through on her promise to find the spot from Fū’s photograph: Kaori had been dreading this moment, especially since Sayomi has offered to drive everyone to this destination. Her driving rivals Azumanga Daioh‘s Yukari Tanizaki in terms of aggression and recklessness: Kaori, Fū, Norie and Maon are left in terror as Sayomi speeds along the narrow mountain switchbacks in her Mazda 5: having now rocked a Mazda 5 for about a decade, I recognise the vehicle’s design from anywhere, and I can say with confidence that it is actually possible to drive like this with the Mazda 5.

  • Once Sayomi’s harrowing ride comes to an end, Fū and the others take a moment to catch their breath before taking in the sights from Asahiyama Park, located high above Takehara. This is one of Takehara’s power spots, places in Japan of spiritual significance, and while Fū doesn’t initially believe this was where her photo was taken, she ends up spraining her ankle, and just in time, Maestro appears to give her a hand. Fū suddenly realises that her younger brother’s drawing portrayed his getting a pigg-back ride while up here, and so, this is precisely where Fū had gone.

  • With Tamayura‘s OVAs definitively in the books, I am going to return and write about ~Hitotose~ once I’ve had a chance to watch all of the episodes anew: the last time I did so would’ve been a decade earlier, and I confess that I’ve pretty much forgotten everything about this series; the anime had aired during the autumn of 2011, a time when I’d just finished a full summer of undergraduate research and was reinvigorated, ready to stare down another year of university. This term was quite eventful: although I stumbled yet again in the third and final data structures course, I maintained a satisfactory GPA that term, giving me the confidence to finish my degree strong.

  • On the topic of ten year anniversaries, September 2011 also marked the conclusion of Hanasaku Iroha; this would’ve been P.A. Works’ first major production since 2010’s Angel Beats!, and the elements of Hanasaku Iroha would go on to shape the sort of anime P.A. Works later produced. I’ve recently begun a rewatch, and I am impressed at the level of quality in the story, animation and direction in this series. Finally, I am a boss fight away from beating DOOM Eternal, and my copy of ARIA The Crepuscolo has arrived: I will be looking to finish and write about both during the September long weekend.

  • This is the iconic photo that Fū had taken: there is a sense of nostalgia and familiarity about it that impresses those who gaze upon it, and the eponymous Tamayura can be seen: it refers to small specks of light that appear in photos, and is said to manifest in photos portraying happiness. One of Fū’s objectives is to see if she can reproduce the phenomenon with consistency, and since the mechanism behind their appearance is unexplained, they simply become a metaphor for Fū pursuing new experiences and making new memories with those who are in her life.

In the space of four episodes, Tamayura‘s OVAs succinctly summarises the magic in this tale of self-discovery, acceptance and embracing the future after a loss. At this point in Tamayura, Fū is back in Takehara, a peaceful town of around twenty-six thousand in Hiroshima, known for its old warehouse district: she’s completely engrossed in photography, and while a sense of longing is never really too far away, it becomes clear that she’s in good company. Kaori is always there to support Fū, and similarly, having Norie and Maon around means there’s never a dull moment. Between the inspiration from Riho, and the adventures that Sayomi hauls Fū and her friends on, Fū’s life in Takehara is simultaneously tranquil and eventful. By keeping busy with her photography hobby and sharing experiences with her friends that transform into lifelong memories, Fū is able to, bit by bit, move forwards and embrace her future, one that would eventually see her start a photography club and even mentor juniors, before walking the stage during graduation and setting her sights for the next milestone in her life. However, every journey has a beginning, and it is here in quiet Takehara that Fū’s story begins: things continue in ~Hitotose~ (2011) and ~More Aggressive~ (2013), before wrapping up with Graduation Photo (2016). I had followed Tamayura from the very beginning, and we are now nearing the ten-year anniversary to when ~Hitotose~ aired: this is a series that provided an exceptionally cathartic experience for me, one that walked me through some difficult times in university and would ultimately give me the push I needed to transition away from academia into industry. However, in my haste to start ~Hitotose~, I skipped over the OVAs in the process; while Tamayura is written in such a way so viewers are always reminded of what’s important, and I therefore had no trouble with following ~Hitotose~‘s direction, I did feel that the time had come to wrap things up properly and finish the series’ very beginning, which sets the tone for the remainder of the series: from 2011 to 2016, Tamayura would accompany me along my journey through university. The time is appropriate to return and revisit one of the most iconic healing anime of all time now, and now that I’ve wrapped up Tamayura‘s OVAs, I’m quite ready to see how my thoughts of Tamayura have changed in the ten years since I first watched things.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash, A Review and Reflection on the First Act, Messages of Regression in Society

“Did you ever consider that I wanted both sides to lose? Bullets change governments far surer than votes.” –Simeon Weisz, Lord of War

Twelve years after Amuro Ray and Char Aznable confronted one another before disappearing in the event later known as the Axis Shock, the Federation began tightening its policies and deporting more people, dubbed Illegals, into space. Meanwhile, Hathaway Noa, Bright Noa’s son, has become an anti-government terrorist known only as Mafty Navue Erin. Striking at high-ranking Federation politicians and officials with the hope of breaking nepotism and weakening the government into a position where they can forcibly create a policy advancing human migration into space to save the planet, Hathaway and Mafty participate in strikes against the government using mobile suits, and although their actions do not have the same indiscriminate madness of traditional terrorists, nonetheless cause civilian casualties. On a flight from the moon to Hong Kong, Hathaway manages to secure a seat with Federation politicians and thwarts a terrorist attack from a group claiming to be Mafty, impressing Federation captain Kenneth Sleg. Their flight is diverted to Davao, a city in the Philippines, and here, Hathaway encounters the enigmatic Gigi Andalucia again. She arranges for Hathaway to lodge with her and is surprised that Gigi has deduced his identity as Mafty. Hoping to evade the Federation, Hathaway arranges for a diversionary strike against Davao, hoping to take out several key politicians and escape during the chaos. However, when the attack begins, Hathaway feels compelled to save Gigi, which in turns delays his extraction and return to a nearby Mafty base. Swift response from the Federation’s new model Gundam, the Penelope, further complicates things. Hathaway’s involvement and Gigi’s remarks lead Sleg to suspect that Hathaway might be involved with Mafty despite his outward appearances. Hathaway does end up returning to a Mafty base and retrieves the Ξ Gundam, fending off the Federation forces and their pilot, Lane Aim in order to cover their evacuation. He decides to set his sights on Oenbelli next and intends lend a hand to the anti-Federation forces here. Thus begins Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash, a film trilogy that explores the sequel to what Yoshiyuki Tomino’s original story for Char’s Counterattack entailed. Titled Beltorchika’s Children, this original version had Hathaway accidentally killing Quess, and consumed with guilt, Hathaway would eventually join the terrorist group, Mafty, after seeing the excesses of the Federation. The trilogy was announced after Gundam Narrative broadcast, and originally set to release in July 2020, the first part ultimately released in Japan on June 11, after being delayed eleven months by the ongoing global health crisis.

Resembling Gundam Narrative in its aesthetic and atmospherics, a sense of melancholy permeates Hathaway’s Flash. This is because this film series conveys a sense of tragedy; it is no secret that Hathaway is Mafty, and the captain Kenneth Sleg seems aware of the fact that Hathaway isn’t what he outwardly presents to be. Mafty’s reputation precedes the whole of the series; because it is implied that Hathaway is involved in a variety of plots to assassinate key Federation officials with the goal of weakening the government and forcing humanity, it is clear that for Hathaway and Mafty, there will be no negotiations or discussions. However, despite his outward confidence and stoic manner, Hathaway is still haunted by his inability to save Quess during the events of Char’s Counterattack; to this day, enigmatic women seem to hold sway over Hathaway’s heart, and despite his efforts to brush off Gigi Andalucia’s flirtations, finds himself inexplicably drawn to her in spite of himself. This unusual combination of pursuing a path of destruction in a misguided aim of bettering the world and lingering doubts sets the table for tragedy. Hathaway’s conviction in his own cause is shown as wavering several times throughout the course of Hathaway’s Flash; when his allies begin attacking Davao to create a diversion for his escape, Hathaway ends up trying to protect Gigi instead and results in Mafty pilot Gahman Nobil being captured by the Federation. Upon boarding the Ξ Gundam for the first time, he silently curses his fate at having met Gigi, whose mysterious presence made his heart flutter despite himself. Where ambition and longing collide, Hathaway’s path forwards seems predestined to failure. This is a recurring theme in Gundam, and Martha Vist Carbine had, in fact, mentioned this during the events of Gundam Unicorn; women are be instruments of both great change and great catastrophe during troubled times, creating possibility in the hearts of strong men and consuming weaker men, driving them towards acts of destruction. Hathaway appears to be trending towards the latter, and while he is shown to be a capable, competent leader capable of motivating those around him and inspiring countless more, the unusual dynamics he has with Gigi could prove to his downfall.

Hathaway’s Flash also foreshadows Hathaway’s tragedy through how the film has introduced the eponymous lead machine – traditionally, Gundams are mobile suits associated with justice, possibility and responsibility. Their pilots possess a strong sense of morality, determined to do what they believe is right, respecting the power that they wield and using their machines to affect positive change. However, when a Gundam pilot is made to fight another Gundam, the symbolism shifts: a Gundam in the hands of an enemy thus signifies that the foe’s conviction is no less than that of the pilot’s, and that they see themselves as the hero, designated to carry humanity forwards with their vision. Clashes between Gundams thus become a metaphor for two unyielding forces coming to a head, and the pilot with the stronger conviction triumphs to parallel how certain ways of thinking are more resilient. Kira Yamato fought Rau le Creuset and his Providence in the Freedom, defeating him and showing that nihilism was ultimately doomed to fail against those who resolved to make the most of what they had. Setsuna F. Seiei draws Ribbons Almark despite the Reborns’ superior firepower and ultimately defeats Ribbons with his Exia, reminding viewers that people are meant to choose their own futures rather than blindly follow others. However, in Hathaway’s Flash, the Gundams themselves fight one another immediately, spend most of their time shrouded in darkness, and moreover, are bulky, cumbersome units loaded with weapons. These machines are clearly made for destruction, lacking the sleek and elegant design of earlier Gundams. In this way, Hathaway’s Flash means to shows that with the passage of time, the concept of Gundam itself has become corrupted. The Federation uses Gundams to forcibly crush opposition, while those who stand up to the government have appropriated its power for themselves and aim to cause destruction in equal measure. Where Penelope and Ξ fight, Hathaway’s Flash suggests that the gradual perversion of an idea breeds only destruction, suffering and loss. Twelve years after Char’s Counterattack, both the Federation and their opponents have lost sight of what they stand for, and where two violently opposing forces fight without any idea of what their end goal is, the inevitable result is tragedy.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Universal Century – the last time was with Gundam Narrative, which released in 2018 in Japan and became available overseas in June 2019. Hathaway’s Flash opens on board a special chartered flight to Hong Kong. Hathaway’s Flash‘s principal actors are introduced in the opening: besides Hathaway himself, Gigi and Kenneth Sleg are also present. Their conversation foreshadows the instability of this world, which is placed in sharp contrast with the various amenities of commercial space travel: small details in the flight show that despite the political turmoil in the Universal Century, technology has advanced steadily.

  • In a moment reminiscent of Dark Knight, masked intruders board the flight and immediately demand the passenger manifest. They claim to be a part of Mafty, a name that refers to both the terror organisation and its enigmatic leader, who fancies themselves to be the next coming of Char Aznable and acts with the aim of forcing space migration. However, unlike Char’s impassioned madness and grand scheme of dropping Axis on Earth to force said migration, Mafty instead takes a different route: assassinating the political cabal composing the Federation’s leadership and using these deaths as a bargaining chip for their ends. While the passengers are immediately frightened by their arrival, Gigi seems unusually calm in the situation.

  • The terrorists show they mean business by executing one of the ministers on board, but Hathaway ends up creating an opening, allowing him and Kenneth to eliminate the terrorists. Kenneth is impressed with Hathaway’s combat training – according to the documents, after Char’s Counterattack, Hathaway briefly entered military service and subsequently took a post-secondary degree in plant science, working with Amada Mansun with the aim of eventually becoming a botanical and agricultural inspector. Seeing this progression in his career provides key answers for why Hathaway joins Mafty: pursuit of the sciences opens one’s eyes to reality and strips away idealism. In secondary school, for example, I wondered why a cancer cure was not already possible, but after taking medical science courses, it became clear that owing to cancer’s nature, eliminating it is a desperately tricky proposition, since the very act of breathing could technically cause cancer (free oxygen radicals from respiration can damage DNA, resulting in uncontrolled cell growth).

  • It is therefore the case that the tragedies Hathaway experienced during the Second Neo Zeon War, coupled with his education and background, would lead him to see the Federation as irredeemably corrupt, a system that could not be fixed with diplomacy or discussion. Whatever his beliefs might be, Hathaway has a helluva poker face: here, he plays the part of the reluctant hero who happened to be in the right place at the right time and speaks with high ranking Federation officials, even though viewers know that Hathaway would have no qualms orchestrating an operation to kill them later on.

  • While Hathaway’s fieldcraft is stellar, Gigi seemingly sees right through him and concludes that he must be Mafty himself. Hathaway betrays nothing to her, but internally, he is shocked that the conclusion could come so easily to her. There certainly is an allure about Gigi, and her piercing blue eyes give the impression that she’s able to see right through deception. Because this is mentioned often enough in Hathaway’s Flash, it would be reasonable to say that Gigi might be a nascent Newtype, evolved humans with increased mental awareness.

  • After Gigi leaves, Hathaway is left to deal with his conflicting thoughts about her. Members of the military have a few questions for Hathaway surrounding the incident, and then subsequently arrange for his accommodations in Davao until he can be on his way. The Federation’s treatment of Hathaway here is important, as it shows the difference between how the elite live, and how ordinary people live: the elites have access to unimaginable luxury and bottomless wallets, all covered by the taxpayers. Their facilities are well-appointed and clean, with mirror-smooth reflective surfaces to denote how clean they are.

  • Given her interactions towards Hathaway, and with the possibility that she’s a Newtype, I would suppose that Gigi is genuinely interested in Hathaway and his role as Mafty. She certainly does seem to enjoy getting very close to him despite his cold manner towards her advances, and expresses curiosity about Mafty’s methods and intentions. Her character description shows that she’s connected to some immensely powerful individuals, and moreover, doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. This creates simultaneous discomfort and allure for the folks around her, and Kenneth certainly has taken a liking to her.

  • For Gigi, her frustration is the fact that Hathaway seems so disinterested in her: it seems that Gigi is used to using her charms regularly to sway those around her and isn’t accustomed to failing. Hathaway regards her bluntly, and in fact, I see a bit of myself in Hathaway where this is concerned: Hathaway’s actions stem from Quess’ death years earlier, and I imagine that he deliberately distances himself from people who might cause him heartbreak.

  • Hathaway’s Flash spends a great deal of time on its principal and supporting cast, marking the first time I’ve seen the characters spend so much time in a civilian setting: other Gundam series focus almost entirely on the Gundams themselves and the conflicts surrounding them, so to see something like Hathaway and Gigi at odds with their accommodation arrangements was a breath of fresh air. The visuals in Hathaway’s Flash are similarly impressive, and the view of Davao outside of the window looks absolutely stunning here.

  • The classic anime staple of “walking in on someone who’s changing” even makes an appearance in Hathaway’s Flash: hoping to make use of the private pool that her suite provides, Gigi’s given no thought to the implications staying with someone else and swiftly changes into her swimsuit while Hathaway decides to step out for a walk. The nature of Gundam characters means that unlike the average romance comedy or slice of life, one can never be too certain if Hathaway had been on the money about Gigi trying to elicit a reaction from Hathaway or if she’d been genuinely careless.

  • Gundam‘s always been a series where fanservice consists of variants of timeless mobile suits and cameos, so to have Hathway’s Flash portray such a moment was not done to amuse viewers; instead, it’s to show how ordinary things that are a big deal in other genres don’t bother Hathaway at all. In the aftermath, perhaps irate that Hathaway doesn’t see her that way, Gigi disappears back into her room and irately tells him to knock himself out with his walk. Hathaway does seem to lack tact in this area: he remarks that they’re no couple, and I imagine Gigi is more annoyed than embarrassed.

  • Hathaway arranges to meet other members of Mafty in town in a clandestine fashion, asking them to relay back to the team that he’ll need a diversion in order to escape. The two who meet him are young and certainly don’t have the grizzled look of a resistance fighter: Mafty’s ideals appear to appeal to a wide range of people from all walks of life, and truth be told, the young man and woman that Hathaway speaks with feel more like his colleagues at university rather than fellow Mafty associates. A large number of viewers from Southeast Asia, specifically from Indonesia and the Philippines, were pleased that Hathaway’s Flash featured their parts of the world in such detail.

  • Because Gundam is predominantly set in space and the Sides, there is hardly a chance to see how Earth is. Previous works suggested that the world is wreathed in pollution and is on the verge of an ecological disaster – Char’s Counterattack and Mobile Suit Gundam did indeed present the world as being a grim place to live, with yellow-grey skies and a film of haze covering everywhere, but as of Unicorn, the world doesn’t seem all that bad in some places: the world still has blue skies. Here, Hathaway discusses his plans with Mihesssia Hence and field agent Kenji Mitsuda, fellow Mafty members.

  • However, it is clear that the Federation’s use of force is unwarranted – by UC 105, the Federation has set up an organisation to deport individuals vocal about the government into space, even implementing a special task force to periodically root out dissidents. My thoughts on expression of dissent has always been moderation: in any democratic system, using appropriate channels to offer reasonable arguments and using one’s ability to vote is the appropriate measure (as opposed to violence). Gundam does away with the idea of nations so things like foreign interference are abstracted away – in reality, governments routinely interfere with other nations in the name of democracy for their own gain, and introducing this into Gundam would add complexity that may take away from Tomino’s primary aims.

  • With his arrangements made, Hathaway returns to his suite and dines alone (presumably to avoid Federation surveillance), at least until Gigi and Kenneth show up. Despite Gigi’s attempts to make Hathaway jealous, he betrays nothing, and turns down an invitation to go dancing at the hotel’s club. Before leaving with Gigi, Kenneth sits down and shares a brief conversation with Hathaway. The Universal Century is fond of featuring mysterious women that, as Kenneth suggests, have the power to reign back powerful men. From Lalah and Quess, to Rita and Mineva, their roles indicate in a war, perhaps the hearts of men, and their resolve, matter more than the weapons they wield. Thinking back to Rita and Gundam Narrative from two years earlier means recalling that at this point two years earlier, I’d just picked up a new Magic Trackpad to replace a failed Magic Mouse.

  • Hathaway has dozed off, but his plan comes to life when pilot Gahman Nobil deploys to carry out the diversion: he capitalises on the fact that so many Federation big shots are present and shoots out the hotel where they’re staying before preparing to engage the Federation mobile suits that have taken off to deal with him. The fact that Mafty has access to mobile suits holds two implications: that they have enough support to garner the resources needed to acquire such equipment, and that there exists a manufacturer willing to sell to terrorists.

  • The report of nearby explosions awaken Hathaway, who realises he’s behind schedule and needs to hightail it to the extraction point: knowing that the Federation politicians are here means that the hotels will be a target, and while he’d asked his pilots to be mindful of which floor he’s staying on, the power of a mobile suit’s primary armament means that collateral damage is inevitable. That Mafty uses these approaches indicates the organisation, despite their conviction in their ideals, are still relatively untrained and lack the resources or know-how for more precise methods that nation states have access to.

  • A more sophisticated organisation would go with a combination of active measures and wet teams to strike at critical events without harming bystanders: while Mafty might allege to be acting in the planet’s interests and have gained approval from those dissatisfied with the Federation’s policies, their open approach only fuels the Federation’s determination to defeat them. J.K. Rowling briefly mentioned this in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Voldemort’s rise to power is one shrouded in shadow, and while he hasn’t openly overthrown the Ministry of Magic, the uncertain possibility of him being in control means people can’t be sure who to trust. Had Voldemort openly seized power, enough people would’ve resisted and destroyed his forces before he could achieve anything notable.

  • Politics is a game of deception and manipulation rather than force, which is something that Gigi understands as being Mafty’s weakness: for every successful assassination and operation, those who oppose Mafty gain the justification to ramp up military spending and the erosion of liberties. Terror groups invariably fail for this reason: even if their aims are commendable, their methods will only cause governments to tighten their grip. For the purposes of my posts, the terrorist group Hathaway leads will be referred to as Mafty, and I will refer to Hathaway by his original name rather than his pseudonym.

  • In the elevator, Hathaway encounters two other guests: a man and a woman who appear quite close, leading Gigi to get close and question Hathaway about their earlier conversation. Hathaway’s body language suggest he’s uncomfortable with what Gigi is doing, and cues in the scene suggest that, contrary to his cold reception towards Gigi, he is enamoured. Meanwhile, Gigi feels that her intuition is on the money: while Gahman circles outside and prepares to fire on the hotel in an example of danger close, Gigi deduces that Hathaway is the sort of person who is willing to take great risks for his cause.

  • One of my favourite things to do in any given Gundam post is discussing the mobile suits and their traits. Mafty has access to the Me02R-F02 Messer, which is derived off Zeon’s Geara Doga and the Sazabi. Manufactured by Anaheim Electronics, the Messer is a heavily armoured mobile suit that nonetheless sports high mobility and is able to equip a variety of armaments, making it suited for Mafty’s operations. While Gahman is fighting the Federation forces, he deliberately turns his back on the ground, reasoning the Federation pilots wouldn’t risk hitting the populated area below.

  • However, the Federation pilots continue firing, surprising Gahman and showing viewers how little human life matters to the Federation. On the ground, Hathaway decides to stay with Gigi rather than make his exfil, surprising Emerelda Zubin, the Mafty operative who’s supposed to help with his exfil. With a bold and decisive personality, Emerelda is a skilled pilot in her own right, but off the battlefield, treats her allies as her own siblings. She is shocked that Hathaway has been sidetracked; one would’ve expected him to compartmentalise his emotions and focus on the mission given his background and mindset, but Gigi appears to have created an exception to this rule.

  • Mobile suit combat in Hathaway’s Flash is limited, reminiscent of those early episodes of Gundam: The Origin that portrayed the young Casval Rem Deikun’s transformation into Char Aznable. However, what is shown in Hathaway’s Flash is, as one of my friends puts it, a kaiju battle, featuring slow, lumbering motions and an emphasis on destruction in their surroundings as these mobile suits duke it out on the ground. From a symbolic standpoint, this shows the disconnect between the combatants inside their mobile suits and bystanders on the ground: so focused are the pilots on their fight that they  have no time to consider how much collateral damage is being caused, mirroring how militaries and terrorists alike never stop to consider what side-effects their actions have, so long as they win.

  • Details like plasma rounds melting stanchions on the ground and buildings crumbling as mobile suits land on them accentuate the size and mass of these weapons. The Universal Century has always excelled in showing the sheer mass and size of mobile suits; Gundam Unicorn had done a particularly fine job during the first fight between Marida Cruz’s Kshatriya and a Federation Stark Jegan. The weight of every swing, and the momentum that needs to be bled off prior to each turn conveyed the idea that mobile suits are heavy, sturdy machines. The bulky Messer, and its Federation counterpart, the FD-03 Gustav Karl (named after the M2 recoilless rifle) are both cumbersome looking machines designed for survivability and mobility.

  • Gigi becomes overwhelmed by the battle around her, prompting Hathaway to hold her close. In the end, despite Gahman’s best efforts, he is shot down and taken as a prisoner of war. Meanwhile, Kenneth has arrived on the scene to sort things out, and Gigi runs off into his arms, prompting Hathaway to flashback to a moment twelve years earlier. The fistfight between Char and Amuro here is about as personal as it gets, and really demonstrated how divergent the pair’s thinking is: whereas Amuro embodies hope for a better future, Char became a symbol of despair.

  • Being young and impressionable, Quess took an immediate liking to Char’s ideas after observing their fistfight and subsequently defected to Neo Zeon as a pilot. Char’s interest in Quess was purely for her combat potential as a Newtype. Quess’ defection left a hole in Hathaway’s heart, and in Tomino’s novel, is the leading reason behind his guilt and desire to build the world that Quess had yearned for. In Hathaway’s Flash, whether it’s a continuation from Char’s Counterattack or Beltorchika’s Children is left ambiguous, but what is clear is that, even now, he hasn’t healed from Quess’ death twelve years earlier; the flashback to Char’s Counterattack is a sign that Hathaway sees Gigi as similar to Quess.

  • Assuming this to hold true, it means that in spite of himself, Hathaway is falling for Gigi. These are merely my thoughts, of course, and while I am fond of writing about Gundam series, I am aware that the Gundam universe is very extensive: because there is so much going on, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to learn that I’ve gotten my facts incorrect, or unintentionally make a massive subjective leap in my assessment somewhere. With this in mind, one of my best friends, whom I’ve known for over twenty-five years, is my go-to resource for all things Gundam: his knowledge on the mobile suits for every universe is encyclopaedic, and his insights are unparalleled when it comes to what every Gundam series is going for.

  • As such, when I write about Gundam, I often bounce ideas off him, and some of the insights here are credited to him. It is superbly enjoyable to be able to speak with folks who really know their Gundam, and in the process, I learn a few things, as well. Of course, said friend is most interested in the political and mechanical aspects of Gundam: for things like character dynamics, outside of the motivation that drives the different pilots, our discussion is more limited. Things like Gigi being cool with sharing her coffee directly with Hathaway, in what’s referred to as an indirect kiss, is something that we wouldn’t normally cover, and in general, I don’t mind hearing from viewers what they made of things, so long as discussion remains civilised.

  • The next day, Kenneth takes both Hathaway and Gigi to the nearby Federation base where he is stationed. Before breakfast, Gigi kits herself in clothes from the base’s store. Hathaway only notes that “it ain’t bad, given what you had to work with”, prompting her to remark he’s difficult. Hathaway does have the slightest bit of tsundere in him, and I don’t really blame him: I similarly have never been good with complimenting people for their appearances, and usually, when I offer my praise, it’s in response to what people have accomplished. This is fine for professional settings, but is disadvantageous for things like relationships.

  • Kenneth’s clearly taken a liking to Gigi, reminding Hathaway of how Char and his charisma was able to charm Quess twelve years earlier. He wonders if she’d like to stick around and act as a Goddess of Safety for them, noting that soldiers tend to be quite superstitious. Unsurprisingly, the navy is almost always the most superstitions: the beliefs that seafarers have had stem from centuries of braving the unpredictable open ocean, and even now, some superstitions persist. However, from the superstitions I’ve read about, women at sea were once counted as bad luck, so the ghost of a woman clad in white seen on the high seas would be especially terrifying. Gigi’s presence resembles the yuki-onna, a yokai who led travellers astray in snowstorms with her great beauty.

  • Assuming that this analogy holds true in Hathaway’s Flash, Hathaway’s fate is sealed, and Hathaway himself conjectures that he will be sacrificed in some way. For now, however, Hathaway remains in charge. After the Federation interviews him about what’d happened on the flight to Hong Kong, they let Hathaway go, feeling confident that Mafty will lose public favour over time if their actions continue to result in the loss of life. While the Federation may have become quite corrupt and unyielding, there is truth in the statement: regardless of how noble a cause is, the moment its proponents see fit to disrupt society, destroy property and take lives, their very own supporters have invalidated it.

  • After the interview concludes, Hathaway signs the discharge papers and learns from Kenneth that had he been a soldier, Kenneth would’ve had no qualms asking Hathaway to be the Penelope’s pilot. Hathaway himself publicly considers the events of the Second Neo Zeon War a fluke, downplaying his skills as a pilot. When Kenneth asks about Gigi, Hathaway mentions that it’s better to leave without seeing her again. For me, this removed any doubts about the fact that Gigi is interesting to him, enough to distract him from his original goals.

  • Hathaway heads to the local ferry terminal and drops off his luggage for someone from Mafty to pick up. To the Federation, who are monitoring transportation into and out of Davao, it would appear as though Hathaway had arrived, purchased his ticket and then left the island. Hathaway’s fieldcraft isn’t half bad, but unlike The Campus’ most experience operators, Hathaway isn’t able to compartmentalise his mission, which has threatened things on a few occasions in this film alone.

  • While at the ferry terminal, a Mafty broadcast overwrites the previous programs being shown. Mysterious broadcasts have long been a headache for television companies: poorly-secured signals can be defeated by setting up a transmitter near the original broadcast point or a headend and impersonating the signal by reading out uplink parameters. Today, signals are more difficult to hijack because they also carry a sort of key to ensure that the recipient only receives what was intended. As such, it stands to reason that Mafty’s also got a few electrical engineers and signals communications people on their payroll.

  • After leaving the terminal, Hathaway arrives on a lonely beach a ways away and sits down. It’s a gorgeous looking day, and again, the superb visuals are apparent in Hathaway’s Flash. I’ve found that of late, many productions are beginning to approach Studio Ghibli and Makoto Shinkai’s films in terms of quality; with artwork and animation becoming increasingly consistent in their quality, anime films are likely to be immersive if they can get their story and characters right. As Hathaway settles into thought, a small sailboat soon pulls up and its operator asks Hathaway to board.

  • Hathaway thus links up with Emerelda and sets off for the next leg of his journey, while Kenji takes his place to ensure that his original travel plans are seemingly fulfilled. While riding the boat to Mafty’s Pacific base. Here, Hathaway feels much more in his element, dealing with a group of dedicated (if misguided) band of individuals who are confident that they are working the world to make the world a better place. While I’d come into Hathaway’s Flash knowing that Mafty boils down to a terror group, seeing the people within the organisation humanises them somewhat, and I became intrigued to see what their goals were.

  • Gigi outlines her accommodations to Kenneth, who is disappointed that she’s planning on leaving so soon. At this point in time, Gigi’s given up none of her secrets, save the fact that she’s very well connected and has an intuition that can seemingly foretell the future. However, Kenneth isn’t so sure, and suspects that something is off about Hathaway. Hathaway had suspected that even if she hadn’t said anything, Gigi might give away Hathaway’s identity inadvertently. Since Kenneth had stated he would capture Mafty himself, this sets the stage for the conflict in Hathaway’s Flash, which is a battle of the minds as much as it is a conflict between Gundams.

  • Upon arriving at the hidden Mafty base, concealed in the ruins of Side 2, Hathaway is brief on their latest operation: to retrieve a container from space containing supplies and a high value asset. This operation is risky, entailing the use of a rocket to get Hathaway up into the container so he can secure the asset, while in midair, to ensure that prowling Federation forces don’t get to the supply drop first: ever since the attack at Davao, the Federation’s been on high alert, and Kenneth’s been itching to have a go at Mafty with Lane Aim and their latest toy, the Penelope Gundam.

  • Mihesssia reminds me a great deal of Iroduku: The World in Colours‘ Kurumi Kawai. Seeing the people behind Mafty makes it clear that while they are terrorists, they are people nonetheless – reading about Mafty and coming at them from a purely abstract concept, it was easy to count them as faceless terrorists disrupting the peace, and I came into Hathaway’s Flash expecting the story to be about wiping Mafty from the face of the solar system. However, because Hathaway’s Flash takes the pains of humanising Mafty’s members (Mihesssia wouldn’t look out of place in a slice-of-life anime), viewers suddenly gain the sense that every death will be strongly felt.

  • At the Federation command centre, officers monitor the developing situation and notice irregularities, prompting them to send Lane and the Penelope out. At this point, Kenneth has made it very clear that he intends to beat Mafty himself – besides his charisma, Kenneth is a former mobile suit pilot and therefore, well aware of the tactics needed to meet them in combat. His prowess throws off Mafty’s members, who are surprised at how the change in command has made their operations all the more difficult. My friend had suggested a disinterest in Hathaway’s Flash, in part because the film adaptation changed things like character appearance, and having seen the first movie, as well as the original artwork, I get where he’s coming from.

  • It appears that Bright Noa had let Banagher off the hook fairly easily when he’d spoken to him about the Unicorn’s key; Kenneth is nowhere nearly as patient as Bright was, and after Gahman refuses to speak during an interrogation, Kenneth knocks him out and has him act as a hostage on their operation, accompanying Lane into battle. Despite Lane’s natural talent, which resulted in his being assigned to the Penelope, Lane has little combat experience and tends to let the moment get the better of him.

  • Emerelda is nervous about the operation, but there isn’t a moment to lose: kicking off their operation is a rocket launch: Mafty’s engineers have mounted a Galcezon to a rocket propulsion system and two solid-fuel boosters, which provides them the power needed to rendezvous with the cargo container in orbit. This scene speaks to how far animation has come: the launch itself surpasses the details seen Makoto Shinkai’s presentation of a rocket launch at Tanegashima Space Center in Five Centimetres per Second, a film dating back to 2007. Both the smoke and exhaust from Hathaway’s Flash are an order of magnitude more impressive in this scene, really capturing the scale and energy of Mafty’s operations. I remark here that a cursory Google search for Five Centimetres per Second continues to return results for the misconception that the film was about loneliness when in fact, it was about how our lives can feel as though we don’t have control over where we end up, similarly to the fluttering of cherry blossoms.

  • Folks who have read the novel One More Side or A Sky Longing for Memories artbook will find that the whole of the internet is mistaken about things. However, this isn’t a talk about Five Centimetres per Second, and back in Hathaway’s Flash, the emotional tenour during launch is quite tangible: the worry and doubt that Mafty’s members express, especially Emerelda, express, indicates that a fair portion of their number are playing things by ear and not always trained for the tasks they undertake, nor do they always take the optimal approach for sorting out their problems. However, what Mafty’s members do have is camaraderie: their words to one another prior to a mission does much to help everyone keep focused.

  • The act of aligning her Messer to match the container’s velocity is taxing on Emerelda, but after some effort, she is able to make the contact, allowing Hathaway to enter and take control of the prize: the Ξ Gundam. Manufactured by Anaheim Electronics, the Ξ Gundam was derived off the Zeta Project and built in conjunction with the Penelope: both mobile suits are massive, upwards of thirty-two percent larger than the RX-0 Unicorn, but despite their impressive silhouette, both mobile suits are highly manoeuvrable and capable of sustained flight thanks to their Minovsky Flight systems.

  • Upon spotting the Ξ Gundam for the first time, his immediate remark is that it’s a knockoff inferior to his Penelope. However, the Ξ Gundam quickly proves that there’s a reason its designation is higher; being a newer design, the Ξ Gundam sports an integrated flight system, lowering the suit’s mass (compared to the Penelope, which requires additional gear). While the Federation is better equipped with respect to having trained, skilled staff for operations, Lane is similarly inexperienced as a pilot; against someone like Hathaway, he is unable to keep up and utilise the Penelope’s powers fully.

  • Because the Ξ Gundam (read “Xi” and pronounced ksi) and Penelope are both descendants of the Zeta project, they resemble heavily armed air-superiority units rather than conventional mobile suits. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere, gravity and physical constraints the environment poses means that any lengthy battles here would feel more like a dogfight between two pilots, as opposed to the high-speed sword-play that is seen in the vacuum of space. Gravity is why the Universal Century deploys Base Jabbers, thermonuclear flight platforms that offer mobile suits limited flight in an atmosphere. Early Base Jabbers are cumbersome, but by Unicorn, they’ve become more versatile.

  • Gundam 00 got around this limitation by starting the AEU and Union with transformable mobile suits as their mainstay, allowing them to operate in an atmosphere for extended periods of time, and the GN Drive’s unusual properties eliminate the need to worry about gravity. One of the joys about Gundam is watching how the different universes address common problems, and newer series like 00 and SEED have both impressed from this standpoint. Back in Hathaway’s Flash, use of Minovsky Particles to assist flight is reminiscent of how GN particles were used for flight, although it’s clear that the technology is a work in progress, on account of how bulky both the Penelope and Ξ Gundam are.

  • The Penelope and Ξ Gundam are similar in their armaments; both Gundams carry mega beam cannons, a beam rifle, beam sabres and a novel weapon referred as Funnel missiles. These missiles use a psycommu to guide them, and when fired in bursts, can quickly overwhelm enemy mobile suits in spite of their low yield. During the course of battle, Hathaway also swats a few Gustav Karls out of the air before he realises that Gahman is inside the Penelope, as well.

  • By UC 105, the meaning of Gundam has clearly eroded from the earlier days. Bright had stated to Banagher that every Gundam pilot had been a worthy individual chosen by their machines to make a difference before Banagher participated in the Garuda transfer to retrieve Mineva from the Vist Foundation’s hands. Pilots like Amuro Ray and Kamille Bidan have shaped history with a combination of their skill and resolve to do what’s right, regardless of whether or not they’d wanted the responsibility.

  • Banagher was quite reluctant to take on this role, but as he began understanding the sorts of things that Mineva and Daguza were speaking off, he would accept that it would be necessary to get into the cockpit and do what he could, eventually becoming a legend in his own right by stopping Gryps II from obliterating Industrial Seven. By comparison, Lane pilots the Penelope simply because in test flights, he is the most promising, and Hathaway himself simply bought the Ξ Gundam from Anaheim Electronics, who had been all too willing for his business. We’ve not seen Captain Noa yet, but I imagine he’d be disappointed to see what Gundams had become by UC 105.

  • The fact that two Gundams are fighting one another further speaks to the immorality present in the Universal Century: Anaheim Electronics evidently has no qualms about building Gundam-type machines and selling them to opposite sides of the war. In one corner, we have a corrupt and decadent government with a bloated military, and in the other is a terror organisation. On paper, neither faction have the moral right to possess what the Gundam represents: the very fact that this is precisely the case speaks to the despair that Tomino aimed to convey through Hathaway’s Flash. Anaheim’s decision is not as sophisticated as Lord of War‘s Simeon Weisz: while Weisz had been playing politics through arms dealing, Anaheim Electronics simply wants to maximise their quarterly earnings.

  • It does feel like that Hathaway is a poor judge of character: he goads Lane and wonders if the latter is such a poor pilot that he will only sortie with a hostage in tow, only to retract his statements when Lane allows Gahman to walk. However, Lane was not doing this out of honour: Hathaway had pressed the right buttons, and Lane’s pride as a Gundam pilot is bent quickly when Hathaway suggests he lacks the integrity to fight like a man. With Gahman back with Hathaway, both pilots prepare to have a proper throw-down with nothing held back.

  • Lane thus finds himself eating crow when Hathaway begins fighting him in earnest: between his own inexperience and the fact that the Ξ Gundam has slight edge in performance in the atmosphere, he is unable to deal any damage to the Ξ Gundam, and Hathaway manages to dodge his shots. I’m not sure if the two Gundams would be more evenly matched in space, but given the extensive presence of mobile suits and equipment built for atmospheric operation in Hathaway’s Flash, I cannot help but feel that between this and the main machine’s lineage, Hathaway’s Flash will largely be set on Earth, which is a bit of a departure from the space environments that Gundam series tends to make full use of.

  • Hiroyuki Sawano returns to score Hathaway’s Flash‘s soundtrack. I was introduced to his music through Gundam Unicorn and found the soundtrack to be absolutely brilliant. Sawano, like Kenji Kawai (Gundam 00Ip ManHigurashiMaquia and Dark Water), has a very distinct sound: his compositions make extensive use of percussion and string to convey a sense of scale, but outside of Gundam Unicorn, his signature style can be easily spotted. Hathaway’s Flash, while possessing a generally enjoyable set of background songs, lacks the same iconic motifs as the Unicorn Gundam that made Gundam Unicorn‘s soundtrack so iconic.

  • In the end, Lane is shot down after he takes a shot at the Ξ Gundam, sees a massive explosion and assumes he’s won the dogfight. He is left open and unprepared for Hathaway’s counterattack; when multiple missiles impact the Penelope, Lane is knocked into the ocean. Hathaway spares him and proceeds to the next step of their operation, and by the time Lane comes to, Hathaway and Mafty are long gone.

  • Lane is unable to believe that he lost this engagement, and after exiting the Penelope, he looks around, desperate for any sign that he’d successfully shot down Hathaway and the Ξ Gundam. I imagine this will be a turning point in Lane’s career as a pilot, and what happens next will likely be a part of the second film, whose release date remains unknown. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Hathaway’s Flash will be available on Netflix, making it highly accessible for everyone who wishes to check it out. This is an excellent decision, since it maximises the films reach, and selling a license to streaming services also provides a boost in return (versus not doing so at all).

  • The approach is one I’d wish ACTAS would take for Girls und Panzer: delays on Das Finale‘s third act are unbelievable. I have a hard time believing the argument that the long gaps between theatrical screenings and home release stem from a want of maximising profits from the die-hard fans, who are willing to watch the movie several times. I have yet to see any evidence suggesting that the Girls und Panzer model, with location and timed exclusives to said die-hard fans, brings in the majority of their revenue. A Netflix release, on the other hand, would benefit Girls und Panzer greatly. Back at base, Hathaway is given a hero’s welcome after successfully completing his assignment: while some of their supplies were lost, they were able to retrieve most of things, and the Ξ Gundam is now secured.

  • If I had to guess, this is Kelia Dace, Hathaway’s girlfriend who greatly admires him: the two seem close, and moreover, Hathaway seems much more comfortable around her than someone like Gigi. With this post very nearly in the books, I remark that writing something like this on short notice was a bit of an exhausting process, and with the spring season wrapping up, there’s going to be a busy few weeks ahead as I get Super CubYakunara Mug Cup Mo86 EIGHTY SIX and Higehiro sorted out. Gundam SEED‘s second half is also on my horizon – I finished Gundam SEED on Thursday and wrapped up Hathaway’s Flash on Friday, but I figured I’d get the latter written about first while thoughts of the film are still fresh in my head.

  • Overall, I enjoyed Hathaway’s Flash for its introduction into the latest animated adaptation of one of Tomino’s novels. The fact that this is a three-part film means that there will be sufficient space to explore everything that needs to be explored; while my friend did express concern that three parts means that the story might become bloated as did happen with Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit, which added new elements which were never in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original novel, The Hobbit‘s movies averaged two hours and thirty eight minutes each, while Hathaway’s Flash‘s first part is an hour and thirty five minutes. I imagine that the decision to have three parts for Hathaway’s Flash was precisely so mobile suit combat could be shown in greater detail; assuming this to be the case for the second and third films, I wouldn’t have any objections to things.

Tomino has stated that Hathaway’s Flash is especially relevant today: Hathaway presents himself as a charismatic leader with a clear idea of what his objectives are, but at heart, is perhaps no more mature than he had been when he’d first met Quess. The world seen in Hathaway’s Flash has evidently learned nothing after the Axis Shock event, or from producing the monsters in the Unicorn, Banshee and Phenex. There are parallels in reality; society today is in many ways, taking steps backwards as the lessons of the past are forgotten. People insist on deleting figures from history for their past deplorable actions rather than using them as an example of how not to act. Emotions and social standing matter more than evidence and truth. This sets the world on a perilous precipice – as people increasingly refuse to listen to facts and lose their history, they become prone to making the same mistakes, potentially creating tragedies and atrocities even worse than those of their predecessors. Much as how the real world is losing perspective by backing things like cancel culture and Twitter politics “experts” who have more followers than common sense, Hathaway’s Flash is showing that both Mafty and the Federation are sowing the seeds for more suffering and chaos as a result of having lost the lessons from Char’s Counterattack and Gundam Unicorn that should have never been forgetting. As a consequence, Hathaway’s Flash has gotten off to a fine start – the first film focuses on the more human aspects of Hathaway, his connection with Mafty and how Gigi has begun sowing seeds of doubt in his heart. The human side of Gundam has always been enjoyable: humanising Hathaway and helping viewers to become familiar with who he has become since Char’s Counterattack, means that his hubris and ruin will be all the more poignant or cathartic, depending on one’s perspectives. This in turn creates a sense of anticipation for what Hathaway’s Flash will present to viewers next in its two remaining films. The first part had been worth the wait, and while uncharacteristic of a Gundam film in that mobile suit combat is quite limited, the preamble sets the stage for what follows; I’m rather looking forwards to seeing what happens next, and one cannot fault me if I say that I am also looking forwards most to seeing Ξ and the Penelope fight again.

Shirobako: The Movie- An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“At Musashino Animation, where there’s one Aoi Miyamori and sixteen departments, there’s only enough time for Aoi Miyamori to make it to a department. She can’t be in two departments at once. This FEBruary, it’s time to AOI down your Miyamoris…in Shirobako: THE MOVIE.” –Unreleased Shirobako trailer

Four years after their successful delivery of The Third Girls Aerial Squad, Musashino Animation (MusAni from here on out for brevity) had fallen upon tough times after their latest project, Time Hippopotamus, was cancelled, and instead, are working on smaller projects to keep the lights on. Aoi Miyamori does her best as production manager, while her former colleagues have left MusAni for other companies. After meeting up with her friends one evening for drinks, Aoi wishes to one day work together with everyone again, feeling unhappy that while everyone’s moved on in their careers, their original dream appears to be more distant than ever. She later learns that line producer and current president Shun Watanabe has accepted a a new film project, Aerial Amphibious Assault Ship SIVA (SIVA for brevity), which was advertised to première in February 2020, but ran into production problems and was shelved. With only ten months left before the première date, the time-frames are tight, but Aoi accepts, knowing that it would be a project that could get MusaAni back on their feet. She later runs into former production assistants Tarō Takanashi and Daisuke Hiraoka while out running an errand, and when stopping at former president Masato Marukawa’s curry shop, is overwhelmed by emotion, recalling that Masato’s curry tastes exactly as it did when they’d worked together. While walking home, Aoi decides she’s going to do her absolute best with this movie project. She meets with producer Kōtarō Katsuragi, who had submitted SIVA to a production studio called GPU. However, as they’ve made no progress, Kōtarō’s decided to hedge his bets on MusAni. He introduces Aoi to Kaede Miyai, a producer from Western Entertainment: they’ve agreed to collaborate with MusaAni to complete work on SIVA. Reinvigorated, Aoi sets about gathering the old crew, some of which have similarly fallen on hard times, but all of which are more than willing to lend a hand to Aoi. She manages to persuade director Seiichi Kinoshita to snap out of his depression and return to produce something he’s proud of. Others, such as key animators Yumi Iguchi and Rinko Ogasawara, are happy to help out despite their own workloads. Even animation supervisor Ryōsuke Endō returns, optimistic that he can work on something to turn his life around. With the old team back together, SIVA begins taking shape. When Shizuka Sakaki auditions for a role in SIVA, encouraged by her supervisor, she manages to land a leading role. One day, Aoi runs into former senior key animator Shigeru Sugie, who asks Aoi and her friends to help with an animation class. While the children are unruly, the five manage to turn things around and excite the children, who greatly enjoy the class. The five recall their own love for animation and resolve to double their efforts in SIVA. As production draws to a close, a few impediments present themselves. Director Masashi Yamada is falsely accused of being involved in a scandal, but is able to clear this up. Meanwhile, GPU’s president threatens legal action against MusAni for having taken up the project in violation of their exclusivity contract, but together with Kaede, Aoi finds that GPU had actually breached their original contract by failing to deliver, forcing GPU to relinquish their rights to SIVA. With only a few weeks left before the première, director Seiichi finds the ending to be lacking in impact, but this time, commits to fixing things with the staff. SIVA releases to critical acclaim, and Aoi later briefs her team on The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s third season.

During its original run, Shirobako covered various aspects of anime production, from the conceptualisation to storyboarding, asset creation, voice acting and editing, all the while striking a balance between bringing a creator’s vision to life and creating a story that could stand of its own merits. Shirobako: The Movie, on the other hand, deals in the notion of copyright and licensing, as well as the importance of getting all of the right contracts signed and notorised, as well as ensuring that one is cleared to begin work on a project. Time Hippopotamus had been an instance of MusAni being a ways into production when the plug got pulled. Because the license belonged to this company, it was impossible to continue production without the proper permissions, and the end result was that MusAni had done little more than burn precious resources on a project that it could not recover from financially. Similarly, the final major obstacle in the film deals with the transfer of rights to production from another studio to MusAni: the director of GPU had not explicitly authorised Kōtarō to find another studio who had the capacity to produce a movie. Intellectual property and its handling becomes a central piece of Shirobako: The Movie: because rights to works of fiction can be very lucrative if a given works is popular, there are provisions in place to ensure that these intellectual properties are respected. However, these same systems can also be shackles, threatening entire projects. When the original studio was not able to deliver their results, Kōtarō seeks out Aoi for help, creating a very sticky situation where things could’ve ended quite poorly for MusAni. It was only carelessness from GPU’s part, that a critical document had not been read in full, and with a bit of fortune on Aoi’s end, she’s able to prove that the exclusivity agreement was null and void precisely because the original contract required that deliverables be handed over in a timely fashion. With no deliverable to show, the contract is not binding. MusAni thus dodges a bullet here, although this element in Shirobako: The Movie was meant to show that navigating copyright and licensing laws can be a tricky field as well. In this way, Shirobako: The Movie covers new territory during its run, while simultaneously revisiting familiar aspects of anime production. This time around, the returning staff are at the top of their game, determined to produce a film of excellent standards.

While it’s been four years since the events of the original Shirobako in Shirobako: The Movie, for us viewers overseas, closer to six years have passed. Watching Shirobako: The Movie was therefore a trip down memory lane, bringing back recollections of the things that the original TV series had excelled in during its run. The film returns with messages of perseverance, teamwork and doing something properly: Aoi is determined to see SIVA to the end, and demonstrates her talents for management by connecting with old staff, as well as motivating everyone to do their best, as well. With the entire former team together again, their familiarity with one another and skill-set allows them to work on the SIVA project in earnest, at a much more efficient pace than they had previously. Aoi’s own experience also allows her to find a solution to the matter of copyright, as well as helping director Masashi to escape a nasty bit of accusations designed to bring his reputation down. Despite falling into a depression when MusAni lost most of its staff, Aoi remains committed to doing her best in every situation, stepping out of her comfort zone to see things through to the end. Similarly, when director Seiichi expresses discontent with SIVA‘s ending despite having kept quiet about it earlier, Aoi is able to demonstrate to him that the team cares as much as he does. Despite only a few days remaining to launch, MusAni thus buckles down and remakes the ending, producing something that Seiichi is confident the audience will enjoy. Of the characters in Shirobako, Aoi embodies the core tenants of success, striving to make her dreams possible even when it looks as though all hope is lost. The end result of her actions is a successful launch, and the ending to Shirobako: The Movie was as satisfying as it gets, with MusAni being given the responsibility of producing The Third Girls Aerial Squad, a successful series that demonstrates the world’s faith in MusAni. During its run, it was encouraging to see that notions of hard work, effort and persistence to the end is what brings about hope, and a better shot at pursuing one’s ambitions, even when one’s path forward isn’t clear.

I need a goddamned Aoi Miyamori!

From a narrative perspective, Shirobako: The Movie treads on familiar ground to indicate to viewers that themes don’t necessarily change with the passage of time, and that things like effort, responsibility and integrity are universal. This is how the movie is able to present a compelling story despite running through the same learnings that Aoi had made in the original Shirobako. While the story is an experience viewers won’t find surprising, what sets Shirobako: The Movie apart from its predecessor is the actual artistic merit and animation quality. Shirobako: The Movie possesses slightly improved backgrounds and artwork compared to Shirobako‘s TV series, but where it truly shines is the animation and variety of styles during its run; of note is the sequence where Aoi regains her motivation, and in her mind, performs a musical that sees her revisit Andes Chucky, Exodus and The Third Girls Aerial Squad, along a host of other series, including Jiggly Jiggly Heaven. Shirobako: The Movie seamlessly transitions between these moments, demonstrating a technical prowess that brings to life Aoi’s rich imagination. Similarly, when Aoi and her friends teach children animation, disinterest and apathy soon turns to genuine excitement as Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori bring their own skills to enchant their students, who are thrilled to have brought their own work to life. In the aftermath of this event, Ema is reminded that she took up key animation because she had a love for drawing and shakes off discouragement to ensure she’s able to perform. One of the joys about Shirobako had always been seeing how P.A. Works brought to life the anime that MusAni and Aoi work on: by Shirobako: The Movie, their craft has allowed them to create genuine interest in these fictional works. SIVA looks like a fantastic movie, and MusaAni’s efforts to set the climax right really shines through in the end. Switching between different styles creates a visually varied film that serves as a welcome addition to Shirobako and bringing to life MusAni’s works, creating a stronger connection between viewers and the projects Aoi contributes to, in turn strengthening the series’ themes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • With this review on Shirobako: The Movie, I do believe I’ve broken into uncharted waters with the internet’s first full-scale review on the film, which released last year on February 29 and opens with a delightful skit summarising the events that had taken place in Shirobako. The film runs for a total of 120 minutes and was an absolute blast to watch the entire way, so I’ll open with my final verdict and score – for doing something that only the best works do, for engaging for the full duration and for bringing back everything that made the TV series so enjoyable, and then scaling this up for the silver screen, Shirobako: The Movie takes a well-deserved A+ (4.0 of 4.0, 10 of 10) and is something I have no qualms recommending to people.

  • The film proper opens with Aoi sleeping in the office, exhausted after a long day’s worth of work. How disheveled Aoi is speaks volumes about her commitment to her work, but at the same time, it also appears that Aoi is working for the sake of working now; she lacks the same enthusiasm and spirit that she’d demonstrated in leading the MusAni team during Shirobako‘s second half. Similarly, the office appears to be in a dishevelled state, although the place is also cloaked in darkness on account of the lateness of the hour. Visual cues suggest that MusAni of 2019 (when the movie is set) is a very different place than the one we remember from 2015.

  • Aoi initially hesitates to check out the release of MusAni’s latest episode for The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s second season, and once the footage starts rolling, it appears to be for good reason. This anime appears to have fallen very far from the tree, resembling World Witches Take Off! more than a combination of Sky Girls, Strike Witches and Warlords of Sigrdrifa, which is what the original anime reminded me of. The skeleton staff at MusAni watching this episode’s airing was similarly disappointing in size, standing in contrast with how in the old day, the entire office would show up for these airings.

  • One aspect of Shirobako I don’t think I spoke too much about was the growing friendship between Ema and Ai. Four years after the events of Shirobako, the two are roommates now, and Ai’s able to speak more cohesively – I remember that she was unable to complete even individual words, but with Ema, she’s able to be quite articulate. Here, she worries about Ema not eating properly; the latter is so engrossed with her work that she forgot to eat her lunch earlier.

  • Further hinting at how Aoi feels, a glance at her apartment shows it to be quite messy and dishevelled inside. She becomes uncomfortable with mention of hanging out with her family, and it was about here that I began seeing a bit of Aoi in myself. It struck me that Aoi’s career is not going quite as well as she would’ve liked. However, for those closest to her, she puts on a brave face and does her best to smile. This is something that I completely get – I’ve been where Aoi is, and I understand what it feels like to live in a world where every day is uncertain.

  • Because Aoi dearly loves the work she does at MusAni, she struggles to face her friends on their outing at a local pub the group has become fond of, worried that she’s fallen the furthest behind in her career goals of everyone. Before entering, she forces her face into a smile. While it is disheartening to see Aoi like this, I also take heart knowing that Aoi’s still resolute in her dream – the disappointment and frustration she sees in her day-to-day work shows that she cares very much about doing a good job, and this is something to be commended. In a completely unrelated aside, Aoi is voiced by Juri Kimura, whom I know best as GochiUsa‘s Rin Mate, a pushy but kind-hearted editor not unlike Aoi.

  • Admittedly, this particular outing brought to mind the time I attended a raclette party shortly before I accepted a job offer for my previous company – while I’d initially been hesitant to share that I was with a failing start-up, hearing my friends’ stories led me to open up a little, and they assured me that while they had struggles of their own, that evening was purely to unwind and swap bad stories. I thus ate and laughed with everyone, my worries forgotten that cold November evening. I’ve since gone through that cycle a second time, and while it has been rough, the silver lining is that I’ve accrued more iOS experience over the past two years. I am therefore very grateful to have worked for my previous post because of the learnings I got out of it; during my time here, I learnt to build my own UIs, and at present, I am able to build pixel-perfect UIs from mockups designers hand me, as well as put together UIs of my own when no designs are available.

  • Upon spotting Shizuka, the pub’s owners switch the channel to a programme where Shizuka is seen speaking with a young voice actress. While Shizuka is not an iconic voice actress and works on live-action programmes, she’s not lost sight of her goals and believes that expanding her repertoire would be valuable. Prior to entering my last role, I’d been more of a mid-end developer, building out data models and business layers in an app, but as Shizuka found, taking on new roles has been very helpful: at present, I’m completely at home with RESTful APIs, JSON serialisation and CocoaPods, amongst others. My experiences, within the context of Shirobako, suggest that Shizuka will do fine and reach her dreams as long as she’s willing to learn and be open to new experiences, which she’s clearly willing to do.

  • As the evening draws to a close, a sickly version of the Seven Lucky Gods passes by, visually denoting that the five friends’ dream appear as distant as it’s ever been. While returning home by train, Aoi and Ema share a conversation: Aoi mentions that MusAni has been quiet for some time, suggesting that the workload and the corresponding revenue has been reduced. In light of this, she notes that it was better that Ema ended up becoming a freelance keyframe animator like Misato Segawa. Leaving one company for another is always tricky, especially when one loves what they do, but Ema appears to have landed on her feet, and indicates that she’d be happy to work with MusAni again should the opportunity present itself.

  • When Aoi arrives at work the next morning for their team meeting, the interior of MusAni’s office is thrown into sharp relief: the scuffled wallpaper, accumulation of boxes and generally beat-up quality of the surroundings is a far cry from the offices I remember back when Aoi first started. It was here, beyond any doubt, that MusAni was in dire straights: the smaller staff count and an office that has clearly seen better days leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind where MusAni is now. Aoi’s reservation and poor spirits earlier are mirrored in her surroundings now; the movie had done a solid job of slowly building viewers up with what had happened so it doesn’t come as a shock.

  • On this rainy day, Shun brings Aoi out for a private conversation; the grim weather accentuates MusAni’s current state. Like other works I’ve greatly enjoyed, Shirobako: The Movie makes use of weather and visual metaphors to tell stories in ways that dialogue and body language cannot. I often rely on weather and lighting to help me with identifying what the significance of different scenes are because writers utilise weather to create a very specific mood, and generally speaking, weather is chosen to line up with how the characters are feeling. Consequently, when the weather is contrary to expectations, I pay even closer attention to understand what the intentions are. The choice of weather in Shirobako: The Movie reminded me a great deal of Les Stroud’s Baffin Island episode in Survivorman: during his fourth day in the arctic tundra, difficult conditions created a sort of darkness that made it seem especially melancholy, and his remarks here capture perfectly what a lack of hope looks like.

  • I couldn’t help but smile upon seeing Yutaka Honda running his own cake shop. Formerly a production manager like Aoi, he eventually left to pursue his dreams after Exodus was completed, but periodically returned to drop off sweets and encourage the team. Yutaka represents someone who ends up finding his own path and pursuing it in earnest; as a pastry chef, he is a happy and energetic individual: by the events of the movie, he’s regained his former weight as a result of trying every new creation to ensure its taste is satisfactory. After placing their orders, Shun and Aoi sit down to discuss MusAni’s future, and Shun opens with the question that people would dread hearing: has Aoi considered quitting MusAni in light of their current situation? This conversation confirms all of the visual signs that had been presented earlier, as Aoi affirms that MusAni is in a difficult spot.

  • As luck would have it, Stroud would turn his situation around when a Narwal forced Arctic Char close to his camp, allowing him to capture four fish and secure a sizeable supply of food for the remainder of his episode. Survivorman has shown how situations can turn around in a heartbeat, and while skill and preparation are essential, sometimes, a little luck can help. In Shirobako: The Movie, the turning point is when Shun reveals that MusAni has the opportunity to produce a movie. Suddenly, the grey skies and rain give way to a warm sunlight that illuminates the shop’s interior. Aoi doesn’t react to the offer on-screen, but the shift in weather speaks volumes about how Aoi feels: she’s seen wearing a look of utmost determination in the next scenes, which flash briefly over to what Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa are working as a bit of foreshadowing. It becomes clear that this film project is what MusAni needs, even if the deadline is a tricky one.

  • The next day, Aoi runs into Tarō while fuelling up the company car, which has become quite ragged and beaten-up over the past four years. It turns out he’s looking for a ride and while some time has passed, Tarō retains all of his energy and enthusiasm. Along the way, Tarō spots Daisuke and has Aoi drive him, as well. While I remember Daisuke for being quite confrontational and getting on poorly with Tarō, in the past four years, the two have developed a bit of an interesting friendship, and Daisuke feels a lot more relaxed now than he did four years earlier. It turns out the two are on their way to pitching ideas, and they thank Aoi for the ride before heading off.

  • Before Daisuke leaves, he provides some words of encouragement to Aoi, encouraging her to fight for her dreams in a world where things only come to those who prove they want it more. In Shirobako: The Movie, the famous “Miyamori Faces”, as I called them back in the day, don’t really make a comeback: during Shirobako‘s original run, Aoi was seen with a range of hilarious facial expressions resulting from shock, frustration and overwork. I imagine that these stopped being a part of the show because Aoi’s matured since then, and the things that would terrify her back then are now merely another problem to deal with.

  • Hearing Daisuke offer words of support for MusAni, however, does prompt Aoi to think back to that day when it was announced that they’d be halting all work on Time Hippopotamus. It turned out that because the company who’d contracted MusAni to produce Time Hippopotamus was undergoing restructuring, and as a result, the new company president determined that the Time Hippopotamus series wasn’t likely to justify the cost of producing it. Because this company held the rights to the characters and concept, it was impossible to finish the project and have a different company air the product.

  • While making a delivery to Masato’s curry shop, Aoi decides to have some curry, as well; the familiar taste brings tears to her eyes, as she remembers all of the times the MusAni team had spent together, hashing out projects and enjoying the curry Masato had made. Olfactory memory is something I’ve made mention of in previous posts, with tastes and smells being able to evoke very strong memories in our mind. For Masato, the flavour his curry had was also deeply engraved in his mind, associated with the times he’d spent with MusAni: after he resigned and opened his curry shop, he tried everything he could to create a new flavour, one that wouldn’t remind him of these memories. That Aoi feels it still tastes as it once did now suggests that Masato has found his way and accepted what’s happened, acknowledging that there were good memories alongside the bad.

  • Because Masato had been president of MusAni at the time, he felt that the responsibility was his to bear and resigned: MusAni had accepted the contract and diverted all of their resources into production before anything was even signed. As a result, MusAni had begun work before even receiving payment, and so, when the project was cancelled, the resources that were spent could not be so easily recouped. This is why work never begins on something until a written contract can be produced and signed. With this being said, I do occasionally spend some free time conceptualising on projects so if they are to go ahead, I can hit the ground running. While getting some air, Aoi runs into Seiichi, who attempts to stoically take the blow, but was impacted by the news as everyone else had.

  • While Time Hippopotamus proved to be MusAni’s breaking point and sent the company in a downward spiral, Aoi also felt that for that project, everyone had been at the top of their game, finishing episodes three months ahead of their scheduled deadline. In spite of what happened, the team at MusAni had demonstrated they were capable of moving heaven and earth to accomplish their goals, and while circumstances been against them that day, Aoi promises to right the ship and turn things around. Promise of working on SIVA has her pumped up and ready to go, and Masato’s words encourage her: he reminds Aoi that her motivation for making anime, to reach the hearts and minds of those who watch it, will doubtlessly inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

  • Thus, as Aoi heads home for the night, she begins singing a song to lift her spirits and encourage herself. In her mind’s eye, Mimuji and Roro join her, along with characters from Andes Chucky, Exodus, The Third Girls Aerial Squadron and Jiggly Jiggly Heaven soon join her, putting on a performance worthy of any musical. It was here that Shirobako: The Movie really proved itself as being worthy of a movie: the challenge that all anime movies based on a TV series face is scaling things up for the silver screen experience. At the heart of Shirobako: The Movie is the fact that this is a movie about making a movie, but to really make the experience unique, Shirobako: The Movie has gone the extra mile to produce a musical number that really speaks to Aoi’s optimism.

  • The actual musical presentation was impressive because it combined different art styles together and seamlessly brought them to life. Aoi’s song, beginning as a minimal set of lyrics, eventually develops into a full-fledged musical number, mirroring how life is often a game of momentum. When things don’t swing in one’s favour, finding the motivation and courage to get started can be tricky, but with a bit of momentum, the impossible suddenly appears possible. With SIVA now a reality for MusAni, Aoi promises to do her best, taking a meeting with Western Entertainment’s Kōtarō Katsuragi, a producer who had worked extensively with MusAni in the past.

  • It turns out that Kōtarō had been working on SIVA, but after another production studio, GPU, absolutely failed to deliver even after two years, GPU’s president had decided to leave Kōtarō to deal with the mess, suggesting that they might be able to work faster if Kōtarō could convince his higher-ups to send them a little more money. Kōtarō attributes his passion for the project to Aoi, and expresses his hope that MusAni will be able to pull things off. To this end, Kōtarō leaves the competent Kaede Miyai with Aoi. Kōtarō and Shun send Aoi and Kaede on their way so they can iron out remaining details to the arrangements.

  • While the odds are stacked against Aoi and MusAni right from the start (MusAni is short on staff and only has ten months to complete a movie that would normally take two years), it appears that Western Entertainment is quite ready to foot the bill. Kaede notes that Aoi basically has free reign in picking her staff, leaving Aoi free to choose a crew she’s comfortable working with. Since Kaede was brought in to sort out the problems the previous production assistant had left behind, and the project is finally moving forwards, it stands to reason that Kaede is competent in her work. To get to know one another better, Aoi accepts a dinner invitation from Kaede, and the two promptly get smashed at what appears to be half the pubs around town.

  • Aoi and Kaede immediately bond over shared work experiences and grievances – with the alcohol talking, both complain vociferously about various aspects of their jobs and industries. I’m impressed with how Aoi manages to keep up with Kaede throughout the evening and still manages to sleep it off for the next morning. This is a feat I can’t pull off; after one drink, I’m struggling to stay awake, and two is enough to give me the emperor of all headaches. For this reason, I don’t really drink, especially not to drown my sorrows. The problem for me is that my sorrows have learnt to swim, and alcohol simply leaves me feeling worse later down the line. Conversely, I have no qualms about a small glass of champagne during celebrations.

  • SIVA admittedly feels like Space Battleship Yamato in concept, with a Phantom Thief Lapin twist to it and a name that simultaneously reminds me of both the SHIVA-class nuclear missiles from Halo, as well as Skyfall‘s very own Raoul Silva. I’d been watching this with a friend, and he’d remarked that the choice of name for a space-faring vessel is deliberate: vessels of special significance are often given cool names: USS Enterprise from Star TrekBattlestar GalacticaStar Wars‘ Millennium Falcon, the Endurance from Interstellar and Halo 4‘s UNSC Infinity come to mind. This makes sense; I highly doubt that something like “UNSC Miporin” would strike a sense of awe into viewers.

  • The aspect of Aoi’s character that I liked most is how pushy she can be without overstepping: when she attempts to recruit Seiichi back to MusAni, Seiichi is reluctant, fearing yet another failure. In the four years since, he appears to be inactive, and it takes some pressuring to get him to accept his old position as a director. Aoi ends up chasing him out the front door, and he collides with Yutaka, after which Aoi notes that she’s inspired by Masato’s words. Seiichi eventually relents, promising to pick up his work again on the condition that Aoi persuades screenwriter Shimeji Maitake to also join the project.

  • It turns out that asking Shimeji to come on board took no effort: like Aoi and the others, he hadn’t been happy with how everyone’s efforts with Time Hippopotamus were so callously discarded, and sees this as a chance to both redeem himself, as well as MusAni’s reputation. With Shimeji on board, Seiichi is happy to report for duty. However, his old tendencies soon begin manifesting, and there are points where he is confined to a caged room in order to force him to focus on storyboarding. Old habits die hard, and there are several points where Seiichi attempts to escape, just like in the days of old.

  • Aoi finds Yumi at an art gallery, and while she’s up to her eyeballs in work with her current company, she’s more than happy to lend Aoi a hand; after the Time Hippopotamus failure, she ended up leaving MusAni to pursue other opportunities, but it is clear that she and many of the staff only left for practical reasons. That Aoi is able to gather everyone up with little resistance speaks to their respect for her and the company – while poor working relationships are a common reason in why people move between jobs, that so many of MusAni’s former staff still have fond memories of working here continue to suggest that the Time Hippopotamus incident was a one-off, but catastrophic enough as to put the company on the verge of collapse. That Aoi’s helped to keep things alive after all this time is a reminder of her own skill as a production manager.

  • During the events of Shirobako, Rinko had always stood out from the other characters for her distinct preference for Gothic Lolita fashion; it turns out she adopted this style because it reminded her of a character she was inspired by. When Aoi encounters her on a run, Rinko is embarrassed and asks for a moment to change into her usual outfit before speaking with her. Like Yumi, Rinko has no qualms about lending her skills and time towards MusAni’s project. One of the biggest challenges about watching Shirobako was the fact that the series had such a large cast: beyond Aoi and her friends, there are forty characters at MusAni alone.

  • Shirobako: The Movie, on the other hand, only has a handful of central characters, although even then, there are enough people such that the film continues on in the style of its predecessor and names the characters, along with their roles, for the viewers’ benefit. I certainly found this useful, and it helps that some of the characters have uniquely identify traits that make them much easier to remember. Seiichi, Kōtarō, Erika, Tarō and Ryōsuke are some of the easiest characters to remember for their distinct personalities, for instance. With the old MusAni team starting to take shape again, work can finally begin on SIVA itself.

  • When Shizuka learns that Aoi and MusAni are producing SIVA, she decides to audition for a role in the movie, and here, speaks with her friend and mentor, Mari Tateo, a veteran voice actress who is in the same company as Shizuka. With Mari’s encouragement, Shizuka decides to at least give things a shot and attempt to land a secondary role in SIVA. However, when the directors are interested to have her voice a central character, they find themselves impressed with Shizuka’s range and decide to cast her in the larger role. For Shizuka, the wait is a bit of an excruciating one, since she long desires to do the things that she sets her sights on.

  • On Aoi’s request, Misato heads off to try and get Ryōsuke on board – the directors and staff have decided that his exceptional ability to design ships would be valuable for SIVA. Misato finds Ryōsuke at an arcade and delivers a verbal beatdown, wondering what he’s done with his life since he left MusAni. Things escalate into an argument, and Misato is ultimately unsuccessful in convincing him to return. The two are technically rivals, striving to improve their own craft as to keep up with the other, and while Misato’s continued to work as a freelance key animator, it appears that Ryōsuke’s been unable to pick himself up after the Time Hippopotamus incident. That he retains his passion and energy, however, suggests that he’s willing to do what it takes to right himself.

  • While Misato was unsuccessful, a conversation with 3D director Yuichiro Shimoyanagi causes Ryōsuke to pause and reconsider – despite the two working in different fields, and Ryōsuke’s distaste for CG, the pair get along very well. Yuichiro is able to convince Ryōsuke to consider returning to his old post at MusAni: realising that there’s a chance to pull himself out of a slump, Ryōsuke ends up accepting. The two visit an aquarium, where Yuichiro is watching how aquatic life moves in water to gain a better sense of how to capture their movements in an animated fashion.

  • Ryōsuke’s wife, Mayumi, unconditionally supports him, and even after he quits his job with MusAni, she takes on a cashier job at the local supermarket to help make ends meet, believing in Ryōsuke’s potential and that he will return to his old self. As such, when he brings news of his return to MusAni to her, she decides that a celebration is in order – while rough around the edges, Ryōsuke demonstrates that the love the two share are mutual. He passes her his freshly-opened beer after she chips her nail opening hers. People like Mayumi, who are totally supportive of their partner’s dreams, must be rare, and it shows that the two’s feelings are genuine, since Mayumi has been willing to endure the bad along with celebrating the good.

  • One aspect about Shirobako: The Movie that has not been discussed is the soundtrack, which is composed by Shirō Hamaguchi, best known for his work on the Girls und Panzer and Ah! My Goddess soundtracks. Influence from the former is immediately noticeable in Hamaguchi’s music for Shirobako, which has the same spirited marches as Girls und Panzer does, and therefore, is well-suited for the energy that Shirobako strives to convey. While Hamaguchi excels with creating marches, his incidental music for more contemplative or calm moments are just as enjoyable as the more energetic pieces. On the topic of Girls und Panzer, it is not lost on me that Das Finale‘s third installment had released two days earlier. The gap between the second part’s première was eight months and twelve days, and the first part required a much more reasonable three months and sixteen day wait.

  • Assuming we use an average to estimate six months and four days, it means that part three will be available to overseas viewers in late September or early October. My original estimates put the theatrical screening of Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s third part in December 2020 and using the three month gap between the first part’s première and home release, the BD was supposed to come out this month. While the ongoing global health crisis might’ve pushed production back, one hopes that they take a route that sees the BDs available as soon as possible; readers have my word that I will be covering Das Finale to completion, whatever it takes. Back in Shirobako: The Movie, Shigeru makes an appearance. An animator of legendary skill, he continues to assist MusAni even now, and also runs workshops on the side to pass knowledge on to the community. He invites Aoi and her friends to help out with a class he’s running for children.

  • With the whole team back in play, Shirobako: The Movie returns to the style and pacing the TV series presented as MusAni works towards producing an entire movie. The usual impediments show up, with Shimeji struggling to best determine how to bring everything together in SIVA‘s conclusion. Rather than let the problem manifest, Seiichi suggests that a late meeting could still prove valuable, and Aoi sets up a meeting, bringing everyone in to help out. Although the meeting isn’t particularly fruitful, Shimeji will come to work out something for SIVA with help from Midori, whose words help him determine how to best handle SIVA‘s conclusion as the two throw a baseball around and catch some fresh air. The point of this scene was really to give a glimpse into MusAni’s process and show while that the road to SIVA isn’t a smooth one, the combined efforts from the team will allow them to find success, and that sometimes, taking a step back is what one needs.

  • Things quickly escalate when director Masashi is accused of being involved in a scandal. MusAni’s team is shocked: having worked with him for years and knowing the sort of person he is, they suspect that something is off. In the immediate aftermath, Aoi remarks that if Masashi is unable to do a live-streaming event, then he might be able to use this time and help the SIVA project out. MusAni is understandably nervous, since in this day and age, such accusations can have devastating consequences on one’s career regardless of whether or not said accusations had any basis in truth. This is one of the worst excesses of social media, and I’ve long held that while people must be held accountable for their decisions, the court of public opinion should have absolutely no say in the matter whatsoever: the public, by and large, are uninformed and lack the qualifications needed to make fair and accurate assessments that should be left to professionals in a court of law.

  • Despite improving in the four years since Shirobako‘s original run, Ema’s key frames end up feeling too stiff; despite capturing the artistic style of the originals, they lack fluidity. Ema begins to question her abilities again. I understand that setbacks are very much a part of life, and have been guilty of this mode of thinking myself: there are days where I wonder if I’m even a passable iOS developer who could code a path out of a paper bag. The key here is to focus on the task at hand and not let the setbacks get the better of one. Besides to Aoi, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ema’s character because she illustrates the doubt that exists in all of us, and in spite of this, finds the courage to continue anyways. That she worries about the trade-offs between quality and speed even now shows she remains passionate and willing to improve.

  • When Masashi shows up at MusAni’s office one day, it turns out he’s come to seek help from the team, claiming that the scandal he was involved in was a setup. Within a few moments, the truth is out: during a celebration with another company he’s working with, Masashi had his photo taken, but this photo was later altered to remove any context. On Tsubaki and Sara’s suggestion, Masashi releases an official statement to his website surrounding the event, explaining what really happened, and when his website times out, it suggests that people are at least reading things. This bit of drama passes shortly after, allowing Masashi to focus on SIVA: Aoi manages to get in touch with Tarō and Daisuke to help with production.

  • Assertive, confident but also kind, Erika Yano played a major role in Shirobako, mentoring Aoi wherever she could. She left MusAni to look after her father, and by Shirobako: The Movie, it appears that her father’s health has stablised, allowing Erika to return full time. Despite the time that’s passed, she’s clearly lost none of her edge: with four months left to launch, she returns to MusAni and her first act is to set Seiichi straight when he experiences a writer’s block. Erika’s unique way of dealing with Seiichi pays off, and his storyboards are finished with time to spare, allowing the team to push on ahead. Erika notes that they need one more unit director, and heads off to speak with Hiroshi Iketani, who does decent work, but more often than not, attempts to shirk his duties.

  • The day that Aoi and her friends are to help at an animation workshop arrives, and while their students, young children, initially prove to be quite a handful, even hostile, towards the idea that animation could be fun, things turn around with Misa’s help: she quickly realises that Aoi’s introduction to animation is a little too dry, and with children, a more hands-on approach is what’s needed. She’s able to motivate the children by challenging them to out-do one another in making something cool, and soon has enough frames to make something. Two young girls take an interest in Misa’s scanning of the frames and decide to help out despite being disinterested in things earlier.

  • Boredom soon turns to excitement when the children’s drawings are brought to life. With Shizuka’s voice acting skills, the children finally feel connected to their creation, and break out into song, another musical that adds a great deal of life to their experience. The complete turnaround here acts as a visceral indicator of how things can change in a heartbeat so as long as one has the skill and passion for what they do, being a scaled-down reminder for Aoi and her friends as to what can await individuals who make an honest effort to do their best. The engagement level in this class shows that the event was a complete success, and in the aftermath, Shigeru has some words of wisdom for Aoi and her friends.

  • At the heart of all artwork is conveying joy, and being able to work with children is a constant reminder of this. Each of Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa gain something from the experience, and in particular, Ema is able to find her footing again. Their conversation is set under a warm sunset, with red and orange hues giving the scene a very welcoming feel. Prevously, I’d felt that Shirobako‘s background artwork felt a little flat and uninspired, especially when compared to what was shown in Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, which looked on par with anything from KyoAni or Makoto Shinkai in quality. Looking back, I believe the background art is deliberately simplified in Shirobako, since the emphasis is on the characters and their work, but for Shirobako: The Movie, P.A. Works has gone the extra mile in creating rich, vivid backgrounds. The film looks amazing in this regard, and this is one of the things that Shirobako: The Movie does to scale the series up for the silver screen.

  • Shigeru’s words to the girls bring to mind my own reasons for volunteering as a science fair judge, during which I get to assess what youth are doing these days for science. Earlier this month, I did virtual judging for both a prestigious private academy and the city-wide science fair. Projects were largely impressive, and with the former, I had a chance to speak with students in a Google Hangouts call to gauge their understanding of their work. Seeing brilliant, young minds with a passion for science is always uplifting, and I am always pleasantly surprised with what youth are capable of with the right encouragement. This is uplifting and reminds me to also continue with my own work with the same level of vigour. For Aoi, Midori, Misa, Shizuka and especially Ema, they are motivated to put in that final effort to make SIVA a success.

  • With time passing in the blink of an eye, the whole of MusAni’s staff begin seeing the finish line and express joy that things have come together smoothly. When the last recording session is over, however, Kōtarō receives a message that threatens to send the entire project the way of Time Hippopotamus again. He decides not to share this with everyone for now and deals with it himself, speaking with GPU’s president. When the president reveals that GPU technically owns the rights to Silva, Kōtarō blows at least three fuses. He makes such a commotion that he is escorted off GPU premises and prohibited from returning.

  • Once he’s had a chance to cool down, Kōtarō acknowledges that what GPU is claiming is true. Shun notes that this is a delicate situation and that acting rashly will only reflect poorly on MusAni, as well as resulting in legal trouble. Kōtarō says that he has people working on things to see what can be done. Copyright can be a nasty process when not handled properly, preventing intellectual property from being utilised when abused or creating trouble for those whose aims are fair use. The existence of copyright laws, however, is necessary, as it protects those who create, and one of the challenges in this area is ensuring that copyright laws succeed in protecting creators, while at the same time, not being abused to punish people arbitrarily.

  • For Aoi, this news is probably the lowest point for her in the whole of Shirobako: The Movie: as snow begins falling under a grey sky, she collapses in the middle of the crosswalk, utterly defeated. In this moment, even more so than when Aoi had began tearing up at Masato’s curry shop, I really felt the feelings that were being conveyed to viewers: a chill stole through me, and I found myself wondering if Aoi needed a hug here to regroup. While cheerful and optimistic for the most part, a series of setbacks had left Aoi vulnerable to her circumstances. However, the night is always darkest before the dawn, and while the SIVA project appears to be in jeopardy, the fact is that Kōtarō’s company does have a legal team with which to look over things.

  • Aoi looks a bit like Miho here, again bringing to mind the Girls und Panzer connection that Shirobako has. In the darkest of moments, Mimuji and Roro appear to lift Aoi’s spirits, asking her why she’s a producer at all. Aoi answers that beyond the technical elements, it’s about delivering a finished product. The rationale is that as long as Aoi fulfils her duties completely, she can look back without regrets.  She subsequently returns to the office and runs into Yuka, who has a special assignment for her. Since Kōtarō isn’t allowed to return to GPU, Yuka sends Aoi. It turns out that the legal team at Western Entertainment did find something, and Aoi is briefed on this. She meets up with Kaede, who is here to support Western Entertainment on Kōtarō’s behalf.

  • Shirobako: The Movie excels in its over-the-top portrayals of what certain actions feels like, and while Kaede and Aoi are simply walking through the front doors of GPU’s offices, it does feel like they’re squaring off against an entire army, ninjutsu-style. The two don kimono and set off with fire in their hearts, determined to sort things out with GPU. While the president of GPU is uncooperative and cites the contract as being absolute, Aoi and Kaede have identified a clause that forces GPU to relinquish their rights to the project owing to the fact their other studio completely failed to deliver anything as agreed upon.

  • This was a bold moment, even for Aoi: I imagine that the Aoi of four years earlier would’ve been willing to go to such lengths for her work, and while perhaps a little dramatic, her undressing to reveal a tattoo (likely a temporary one) of a SIVA character serves to indicate the lengths Aoi will go to ensure that her projects are finished to a satisfactory extent, whatever it takes. It typifies Shirobako‘s ability for conveying the gravity of a situation through theatrics, and Shirobako: The Movie follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. Thanks to the clause within the original document, and in conjunction with the fact that GPU’s president never signed the contract, there is enough here now for Western Entertainment and MusAni to take GPU to court. I imagine that GPU’s president subsequently stands down, lest he face a costly legal battle that he is likely to lose.

  • With the dubbing now complete, SIVA appears ready for release. Some of the staff head back to the MusAni offices to celebrate, or otherwise begin making their way home. Having been so enraptured by the work, everyone’s ignored the catered lunch that was provided, and Seiichi remarks that the meal was a bit of a special one, consisting of grilled eel on rice. Eel is a Hamamatsu specialty, and as seen in Yuru Camp△, can be quite pricey. In the aftermath of the first screening, a melancholy sets in: while the team had doubtlessly achieved an impressive feat, picking up and finishing a movie in ten months where it normally takes two years, even sorting out a copyright claim issue, things don’t quite feel as exciting they when MusAni conquered their deadlines in the TV series: something still feels like it’s missing.

  • After Aoi learns that Seiichi was feeling unhappy about the abruptness of SIVA‘s ending, she pressures him into following his heart so he has no regrets. When she brings up the matter with the other staff on the project, they agree about how SIVA‘s ending feels rushed, and moreover, consent to change it. The end result is a film that Seiichi is proud of, and this brings Shirobako: The Movie to a close, with Aoi and her friends preparing to experience SIVA anew in the theatre. The payoff in Shirobako: The Movie is immense, and Aoi has certainly earned her ending, which came about as a consequence of hard work and perseverance. However, not everyone thinks this way: an old nemesis from Anime News Network asserted that “realism that this series had when depicting the grueling workflow of anime production gets thrown out the window in favor of pursuing a fairy tale ending” on the grounds that “it’s [not] satisfying for the characters to achieve their goals so easily”.

  • This is a disingenuous argument, to say the least: Anime News Network’s reviewer evidently missed the fact that Shirobako: The Movie is set four years after the original series, and in this four years, the characters have only had time to hone their craft further. Aoi is more than capable of running the show now than she was in Shirobako, and those who gather to work on SIVA, were already skilled in their areas. Coupled with the fact that everyone has an idea of how their teammates work, they’re able to work more efficiently together, as they had during Time Hippopotamus‘ production. Moreover, assets left over from Time Hippopotamus were reused, further cutting down production time. From a logical standpoint, there is nothing remotely “fairy tale” about the ending: the sum of hard work and skill is what allows MusAni to make its deadline. It is a recurring trend that Anime News Network’s writers struggle with understanding narrative choices in anime, especially where hard work and the corresponding payoffs are concerned: while this may seem like a novel concept for Anime News Network, the reality is that hardworking, skilled and competent people have pulled off what appears to be miracles before. The Mars rover Perseverance is one example of such a feat.

  • To suggest the happy ending was undeserved would be akin to saying that Frodo should have failed in his quest at Mount Doom, and that forces should not have resulted in Gollum plummeting into the lava below. Had this happened, J.R.R. Tolkien would’ve undermined the themes he’d striven to convey in The Lord of The Rings. Tolkien later stated that Ilúvatar himself intervened, causing Gollum to trip: Frodo had exceeded all expectations and took the Ring thus far. After such a journey, Frodo was completely spent, so another power took over to finish things. Frodo had certainly deserved all of the honour because he’d completely given himself to the task, and to deprive him now would simply be unfair. Similarly, in Shirobako: The Movie, foisting a “realistic” ending on viewers would undermine the film’s themes entirely and absolutely defeat the purpose of having a film: in both The Lord of The Rings and Shirobako: The Movie, the individual characters took things as far as they could together and overcome numerous obstacles, which made the ending satisfying.

  • To put things in perspective, four years ago, I struggled to get push notifications working, put a working credit card checkout system together using the Stripe SDK and hadn’t any idea how Autolayout worked. Four years is a lot of time to improve, and at present, I’m quite comfortable with putting an entire iOS app together: push notifications, checkout and autolayout are old friends now. This is why I not only accept, but expect, MusAni to succeed in their endeavours. We are dealing with professionals with both drive and pride, so it only makes sense for them to come together and work hard for their success. Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa and Shizuka have certainly earned their chance to enjoy SIVA with their signature doughnuts in hand.

  • Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa close the film a lot happier than they did entering, and I was all smiles throughout this entire movie. It speaks volumes to how well emotions are conveyed: when Aoi began tearing up in frustration or smiling in success, I felt those emotions as clear as day. Any movie that can hit those notes right and keep me engaged to this level has definitely done a good job. This is why I have no qualms giving Shirobako: The Movie an A+ and counting it a masterpiece: the movie has taken everything from the TV series and scaled it up successfully for the film, with the end result being something that Shirobako fans will definitely enjoy, and something that folks who’ve never seen before will still find entertaining. With this in mind, I do not recommend this film to the latter: having that additional context and background will greatly augment one’s experience of Shirobako: The Movie.

  • To visually indicate Aoi’s mindset at the film’s end, when she steps out into the night this time around, the Seven Lucky Gods‘ pirate ship soar into the skies, signifying that Aoi’s lifted herself out of her slump and is ready to take on new challenges. When it comes to anime movies, my primary expectation going in is to see if the film is able to scale up the things that the series did well and apply it to the silver screen: I cut slack for anime movies of a TV series because they already have an established premise and setting, so for things like K-On! The MovieGirls und Panzer: Der Film and High School Fleet: The Movie, I enter knowing that aspects of the TV series will be revisited, and this never impacts my assessment of a work.

  • Shirobako: The Movie has a somewhat open ending: in the aftermath of their success, Aoi prepares to lead her team on The Third Girls’ Aerial Squad‘s third season, suggesting that success from SIVA had allowed MusAni to retain some staff and take on larger projects again. No one knows how the future will turn out for Aoi and MusAni, but the accumulated experience means that Aoi is better prepared to deal with the future. If Shirobako ends here, it will have been a very decisive and satisfying conclusion to the series. However, the ending doesn’t shut out the possibility of Shirobako getting another continuation; in the event of such a continuation, I’d be more than happy to give that a go.

P.A. Works is not known for doing sequels, so to have them revisit and continue Shirobako was a bit of a surprise. The finished product is as much of a film version of the TV series as it is a chance for P.A. Works to strut their stuff; the highlights in this movie are in the technical elements, allowing P.A. works to really bring thoughts and emotions to life through animation. If Shirobako: The Movie had been intended to bring some of that joy to us viewers, the film has definitely succeeded in this area. Altogether, Shirobako: The Movie was a superbly enjoyable watch from both a story and technical piece, making use of sight and sound to really immerse viewers in this movie about creating a movie. The messages of effort and persistence in the pursuit of one’s dreams remain as relevant now as they did six years earlier, and seeing this aspect of Shirobako: The Movie was a reminder of my own career choice: the reason why I’m in iOS is simply because I believe that whatever skills I possess should be put to use in a way to benefit people, and since apps are ubiquitous, it means that I can lend my skill set towards making someone’s day a little easier, helping them to get what they came for with a given app. When Shirobako ran in 2014 and 2015, I’d not yet decided on my career choice. By now, having had almost five full years of iOS Development in Swift and CocoaTouch under my belt, returning to see where Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa are now, and their remarks about their own career advancement, allowed me to appreciate Shirobako from a new perspective. The questions that they each face in their careers, namely, what they enjoy about it and why they each wish to continue, is a question I find that viewers with careers will find particularly worthwhile to consider. Shirobako shows that Aoi enjoys her line of work because producing anime and delivering a high-quality products to thousands of viewers, and being able to bring the pictures in someone’s mind’s eye to life is immensely rewarding. Shirobako provides a rock-solid reason for why Aoi is able to put on a smile every morning and go to work, and it does much to keep her taking the next step forwards even when that next step isn’t clear. Exiting Shirobako: The Movie, the future of MusAni is uncertain, but with a new project to take on, one hopes that hard work here could help the company to build its reputation back up and allow Aoi to continue pursuing her dream of one day bringing anime to life together with her best friends.

Her Blue Sky: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

Shinnosuke Kanamuro and Akane Aioi are members of a high school band; Shinnosuke is an aspiring musician and inspires Akane’s younger sister, Aoi, to become a bassist. When Akane and Aoi’s parents die in a vehicular accident, Akane is left to look after Aoi, turning down Shinnosuke’s offer to accompany him to Tokyo. Thirteen years later, Aoi has become a high school student, and Akane works at the municipal office alongside former drummer Masamichi Nakamura. As Akane and Masamichi work on a music festival to bolster the town’s tourism, Aoi encounters what she initially mistakes to be Shinnosuke’s spirit. When Aoi and Akane head to the train station to welcome enka singer Dankichi Nitobe, Aoi is shocked to see Shinnosuke present. She deduces that the younger Shinnosuke (dubbed Shinno) must’ve returned for a reason, and working with Masamichi’s son, Masatsugu, the pair learn that Shinno had been in love with Akane, and resolve to try and help the two fulfil a decade-long dream of getting them back together. Aoi’s intentions had been to leave town so as not to hold Akane back as soon as she graduated, and feels that doing this would allow Akane to live the future she’d once dreamt of. When two musicians performing in Dankichi’s band fall ill, however, Aoi learns that the older Shinnosuke is unfriendly and distant after she is asked to perform in their place. Moreover, things further become complicated when Chika Ōtaki decides to help out with the festival, hoping to get to know the performers better. As Aoi practises for the upcoming festival performance and contemplates her future, she struggles to put into words about why she’s chosen the path that she did. As it turns out, Aoi had long felt that she had been holding Akane back from her ambitions, and moreover, has begun to fall in love with Shinno. Aoi also learns that Akane had never once felt restricted in looking after her, and begins to wonder if she really should leave town after all. Amidst the preparations for the festival, Akane heads off to search for Dankichi’s pendant, but is caught in a landslide. Shinnosuke ends up heading to the temple where Shinno is and meets his younger self for the first time; when the older Shinnosuke is reluctant to act, his younger self manages to break free of the curse leaving him tied to the temple, and he takes Aoi with him. It turns out that Akane was unharmed, and he rescues her from the caved-in tunnel. Aoi decides to leave Akane with Shinnosuke and Shinno to share a conversation, and when Akane implies that her feelings for Shinnosuke remained after all this time, Shinno vanishes. Walking home, Aoi notices that perhaps, the sky was a little too blue. The music festival is a great success, and some time in the future, Aoi graduates from high school, while Akane and Shinnosuke get married. This is Her Blue Sky (空の青さを知る人よ, Hepburn Sora no Aosa o Shiru Hito yo, literally “To Those Who Know of the Blueness of the Sky”), a film that was announced in March 2019 and released in October later that year. With Mari Okada’s writing and Tatsuyuki Nagai directing, Her Blue Sky follows in the footsteps of AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, presenting a heartfelt coming-of-age story about pursuit of the future, regrets and their resolution.

At its core, Her Blue Sky speaks to the idea of appreciation and counting one’s blessings, and the idea that while dreams can change, people come to nonetheless find value and enjoyment in what they do; consequently, dreams are never really lost even as their form becomes different. In Aoi’s case, her single objective had been motivated by a desire to let Akane live her own life; after their parents’ death, Akane had taken care of Aoi every step of the way, and the neighbours began talking. For Aoi, she aimed to return Akane’s kindness by becoming self-sufficient and making it on her own, leaving Akane to direct her efforts at whatever future she desired. However, upon finding that Akane had made the decision to look after Aoi as best as she could, Aoi realises that she’s been so set on the future that she’d been oblivious to the fact that Akane had found new happiness. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinnosuke had reached the aspirations he had started out with and became a musician, but this came at a cost to his other dream of being with Akane. This desire manifests as a spirit; like AnoHana, Shinno is spirited, encouraging and uplifting, but also laments his older self’s lethargy and lack of drive. When he returns to town, his past memories prompt him to regard old friends with distance, but over time, as the older Shinnosuke learns of how some things didn’t really change since the day Akane turned him down, he begins to open up a little, as well; he plays a song for Akane and later shares a conversation with her about how he feels. Her Blue Sky shows that some dreams are never really forgotten, and that there may be a chance to recapture them if one were willing to reach out and take a chance. Bearing Okada’s signature style, Her Blue Sky is a poignant and turbulent film, pulling no punches in its portrayal of raw emotions that speaks to viewers about taking a hold of the moment, as well as how no matter how final some decisions may be, fate may be kind enough to offer second chances and give people a chance to follow their dreams, now that they’ve been given some time to consider their decision.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Her Blue Sky‘s lead creative team (Tatsuyuki Nagai, Mari Okada and Masayoshi Tanaka) is referred to as the Super Peace Busters and previously did both AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, both of which I’d watched and written about. Altogether, I found that Her Blue Sky was very similar to AnoHana in terms of themes, and followed the method used in Anthem of the Heart in terms of plot structure. While this renders Her Blue Sky somewhat predictable, the Super Peace Buster’s 2019 film is enjoyable in its own right, being a film whose journey matters rather more than the destination. In all cases, one of my favourite aspects about each film is that it takes some time to warm up to the characters, making the journey all the more rewarding.

  • Entering Her Blue Sky, I had no idea what to expect: I saw a fifteen-second preview indicating that such a movie was in production back in March 2019, but beyond this, had not otherwise read on any details surrounding the film. Discussions and hype had been next to non-existent, so without even a synopsis to go on, I watched Her Blue Sky completely in the absence of any a priori knowledge, and as a result, my experience was superbly enjoyable. In an earlier time, a band’s members spend their halcyon days together making music, setting the stage for the film’s events.

  • Her Blue Sky is produced by Cloverworks (SaeKano: The Movie and Aobuta: The Movie): it should be unsurprising that visually, the movie is a visual treat to behold. Compared to AnoHana, background artwork remains of a high standard, but it was the character designs I especially liked; they’re a cross between the designs seen in AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart. It’s been around seven years since I watched AnoHana, and five years since Anthem of the Heart: in spite of the time that’s passed, I still distinctly remember both series as having their own strong points that made them enjoyable.

  • In the beginning, Her Blue Sky indicates that music and community would form the bulk of the premise surrounding the film. Given that it’s Okada helming the writing, I imagined that past and present would also be a core element in the film. Finally, because of the track record AnoHana and Anthem of The Heart leave, I imagined that it was possible that some sort of supernatural element would be around, as well.

  • The existence of a supernatural piece in Her Blue Sky was soon affirmed when Shinno reappears. The film’s opening moments may come across as a little unrelated, but what’s happening here is a juxtaposition between the current Shinnosuke packing his guitar away, and the spirit form of Shinnosuke appearing at about the same time. In Japanese folklore, these living spirits are known as ikiryō, and their appearance indicates that there is some sort of unfinished busniess that needs to be attended to. Such spirits can be benevolent or malevolent, and Okada’s use of ghosts in her writings paint spirits as people who have past regrets they wish to sort out. By reappearing, they guide the living to a path that helps the individual to overcome their regrets. In doing so, they also have a tangible beneficial impact on the living.

  • Shinno’s reappearance shocks Aoi, who had been in the middle of practise. Aoi is the opposite of Akane: whereas the latter is personable, cheerful and capable, Aoi is sullen and moody. From what is seen of Aoi while she’s at school, she badmouths the other students in the music clubs, tends to keep to herself and doesn’t really appear to have much direction. In appearance, she’s resembles Anthem of the Heart‘s Jun. While Aoi concentrates on her own world, Akane is helping organise a special promotional event with the hope of increasing tourism to their area.

  • Like AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, Saitama: this city of 63 358 is located some 55 kilometres northeast of Saitama city, in a valley surrounded by mountains, and the Chichibu Park Bridge, with its distinct cable-stayed span, is an iconic part of both AnoHana and Her Blue Sky. The city’s economy is primarily based on silk farming and limestone mining, but has shifted towards tourism in recent years, taking advantage of the area’s beautiful scenic attractions to draw visitors in. Within Her Blue Sky, this exact sort of project is occurring, and the municipal staff decide to hire Dankichi Nitobe, a famous enka singer. to sing praises for their city.

  • Accompanying Dankichi is Shinnosuke, and this initial revelation creates bemusement amongst the characters, as well as the viewer. As soon as it is established that the younger Shinno is a ikiryōHer Blue Sky‘s themes fall into place very quickly: ghosts and spirits, being of a different plane, are typically presented as having uncommon wisdom and knowledge with which to guide the livnig. It becomes apparent that Shinnosuke had left behind something important on his pursuit of the future, specifically, pertaining to matters of the heart. Right out of the gates, there is a marked contrast between the younger Shinno and the current-day Shinnosuke.

  • While Aoi is initially irritated by Shinno, there is a kindness and energy about his character that makes him immensely likeable. Flashbacks reveal that he had encouraged Aoi to take up the bass and promised that they’d one day perform together. Conversely, Shinnosuke appears distant, detached and irritable. The gap between their personalities is not unjustified: youth are often optimistic and engaged, filled with hope about making it big in the world. It is with some apprehension that I remark I understand how Shinnosuke feels. Reality is cruel, unfeeling, and the path to one’s goals is often littered with broken promises and shattered dreams, which can render one cynical and unhappy.

  • While browsing through old yearbooks, Aoi finds entries from Akane, who’d poetically written about how the proverbial frog-in-a-well and suggested that while ignorant of the outside world, the flip-side was that this frog’s entire world could still be one of beauty, since its limited reach would force the frog to appreciate what others take for granted (and therefore, miss). The story of the frog-in-the-well has its origins as either a Sanskrit or Chinese saying: the Sanskrit phrase kupamanduka (कूपमण्डूक) is very similar to the Chinese phrase 井底之蛙 (jyutping zeng2 dai2 zi1 waa1) in meaning, referring to someone who is complicit in their knowledge. By taking this phrase and presenting a different perspective on things, Her Blue Sky challenges the viewer to consider how things can often be a matter of perspective, and this holds especially true for Aoi, whose motivations are driven by her existing understanding of things.

  • When the bassist and drummer for Dankichi over-indulge and succumb to food poisoning, the music festival appears to be jeopardised. Conveniently, Aoi and Masamichi are on hand to assist: having continued her dream of becoming a bassist since she had been a child, she’s become proficient with the bass guitar, and similarly, while Masamichi no longer performs or practises, his skill as a drummer remain reasonably intact. Dankichi decides to have the pair audition, and if their performance is satisfactory, then he would be happy to have them as substitutes.

  • It turns out there was never any doubt: sullen attitude aside, Aoi is a capable bassist, and Dankichi is convinced that she’ll get the job done for the music festival. Like Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Aoi is able to sing and play at the same time, although it goes without saying that her style is considerably different: if memory serves, Mio became a bassist because she prefers being away from the spotlight,

  • It turns out that Shinno can be seen by most everyone, so he hides when Akane shows up. Shinno’s spirit manifests as a corporeal entity whose only constraint is that he cannot leave the temple walls: whenever he tries to exit, an invisible force prevents him from exiting. Such a phenomenon must be vexing to experience: for much of the movie, Shinno is confined to this building, and while he has no need to eat, he does enjoy the food that Aoi (and Akane) brings him. A recurring theme in the film is Shinno’s wish to try mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri from Akane, but the latter insists on making kelp-filled onigiri for Aoi, symbolising what Akane’s priorities were at the time.

  • Shinnosuke’s remarks to both Aoi and Masamichi conveys a sense of elitism and unprofessionalism: this was done to really accentuate how different Shinno and Shinnosuke are. Shinnosuke is acting in such a manner deliberately to keep the distance between a former friend and his love interest’s sister, and I’ve noted that people will often be overly critical of others to cover their own insecurities in a workplace setting. Someone who is genuinely knowledgable and comfortable with the extent of their knowledge will be critical in a constructive manner, offering solutions in conjunction with pointing out a shortcoming – the simple act of proposing a solution (or even a suggestion of how to begin tackling a problem) is all that makes the difference in whether or not someone is being professional.

  • Because Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, its portrayal of the area is faithful to that of the original. With anime, it never fails to impress me as to how faithfully real-world locations are rendered. Here, Masamichi shares a conversation with Aoi and her classmate, Chika, concerning practise. Shinnosuke is disinterested, and Aoi leaves to practise on her own, while Chika manages to run into Shinnosuke and strikes up a conversation with him.

  • The next day at school, Aoi confronts Chika about her previous encounter with Shinnosuke – Chika had long expressed a desire to date a musician, and Shinnosuke is presented as getting along with the ladies, having gone to a nightclub earlier. I imagine that Shinnosuke is simply detached from his world as a result of his experience (primarily, when Akane turned down his offer to accompany him to Tokyo) and does what he does to dull the pain. However, being impulsive and brash, Aoi assumes that Chika managed to hit a home run with Shinnosuke and refuses to speak with her after that.

  • Masamichi had long had feelings for Akane, but never acted on them out of respect to her and Shinnosuke. Aoi never really felt that there was anyone for Akane other than Shinnosuke, but incensed that Shinnosuke supposedly got it on with a high school student, she decides to help Masamichi. Masatsugu, on the other hand, is more-level headed about things. Despite only being a mere ten years of age, he is mature and observant, preferring to advise and watch.

  • Chika is insistent that nothing of the sort has happened; while Shinnosuke might be an unscrupulous fellow, it is unlikely that he would do the sorts of things that Aoi imagine has happened. Viewers can take Chika’s words as truthful – she notes that Shinnosuke isn’t exactly what she had in mind about musicians, and there’s a hint of disappointment here that clearly indicates that Aoi is overthinking things. Further compounding the issue, Aoi herself has begun falling in love with Shinno and his boundless optimism for the future.

  • After a disastrous attempt at the hotel when a drunken Shinnosuke attempts to sweet-talk Akane, the two do not have a proper conversation again. The two meet again while Akane is breaking from event planning, and finds Shinnosuke playing his guitar. Without the effects of alcohol impairing his judgement, he properly articulates how he feels to Akane, implicitly expressing a longing for his old dream of being with her. Akane tactfully indicates that after all this time, things might not have changed, and asks him to sing for her his debut song, “Her Blue Sky”, which gives the film its title. The old Shinno begins appearing in Shinnosuke – he livens up his singing considerably, leading Akane to laugh and recall their old times together.

  • Upon seeing Akane cry after Shinnosuke heads off, Aoi begins to understand what Shinnosuke meant to her. However, one rainy day, while looking for ointment for an itch, she stumbles upon an old notebook Akane had been using to draft out things to keep Aoi happy. Realising that Akane had been doing what she did of her own choosing, and that Akane’s dreams were never really given up (just postponed), Aoi feels compelled to be truthful with how she feels about things, as well.

  • Earlier, Masatsugu had spoken with Shinno, expressing that he’d fallen in love with Aoi and intends to become someone who can support her. Masatsugu is very perceptive, and correctly deduced that Aoi had fallen in love with Shinno: once she realises the extent of what Akane’s feelings and dreams had been, she confesses her feelings for Shinno, as well. Kokuhaku and feelings in Her Blue Sky are raw, rough around the edges – AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart was similarly done to accentuate the idea that love is a messy business, never as elegant or neatly-structured as færietales would have us believe.

  • The rainy, moody weather of the day before had served to provide a backdrop for Aoi coming to terms with her feelings. The next day, it is beautiful and sunny, conveying a newfound sense of hope. Aoi apologises to Chika for having lashed out at her: overall, throughout Her Blue Sky, I never did get the impression that Chika was an unsavoury character. While perhaps a bit more carefree than others, she’s genuinely kind and gets along with Aoi. I imagine that until now, Aoi never really had a friend, and Chika had only begun speaking to her because she imagined Aoi was secretly dating and had been curious to find out.

  • Preparations for the festival are now in full-swing, but Dankichi laments that he’d lost his pendant, which is a sort of good-luck charm he uses in performances. Dankichi’s unusual demands and requirements probably speak to the eccentricities of creatives – they might possess approaches and methods that seem a little befuddling for others, but once they hit their stride, are capable of creating magic. This is why working with artists always requires understanding and patience: inspiration can come from anywhere, and giving artists the appropriate (and reasonable) amount of freedom allows for a product quality to result. After looking through Dankichi’s phone, the staff work out the location he’d likely dropped it.

  • Akane sets off for the pendant’s last known location to search for it: a remote mountain tunnel in a park nearby. However, in typical Okada fashion, unexpected calamity strikes when a small earthquake sets off a landslide, trapping Akane inside the tunnel. Undeterred, Akane continues looking for the pendant. Aoi cannot help but feel that Akane might be in danger, and with the staff only promising to assess the situation before sending out someone to look, Aoi decides to take matters into her own hands and seeks out Shinno. An unexpected setback right as things are on the right track seems to be Okada’s signature style, raising the tension ahead of the story’s climax.

  • Shinnosuke and Shinno finally meet for the first time, and predictably, Shinno is disappointed his older self has become so pessimistic and apathetic, while Shinnosuke feels his younger self is ignorant and naïve. Shinno decides that, if Shinnosuke will not help to search for Akane, he’ll do it himself. Spurred on by Aoi, Shinno manages to break free of the force holding him at the temple and takes to the skies with Aoi in two. Shinno’s being bound to the temple was a metaphor for his own being held back by old feelings: for now, with his eyes on the present, with someone who cares for him, he is able to take ahold of the moment.

  • Shinno and Aoi soaring above Chichibu acts as the film’s climax – in the skies above, Aoi comes to understand what she’d wanted to do for Akane and knows that helping her to find her happiness with Shinnosuke is going to be her way of saying thanks. On the ground below, Shinnosuke finally is pushed to chase his dreams in a very literal sense: chasing after his younger self represents a very tangible objective for Shinnosuke to catch. This final scene is rich in symbolism: in the deep blue skies above Chichibu, Aoi finally appreciates how beautiful her home is.

  • Akane is unperturbed to meet with Shinno: they briefly share a heart-to-heart conversation before Shinno extracts her from the collapsed tunnel. As Akane and Aoi embrace, Shinnosuke struggles to find the words for the scene, while Shinno smiles. With Akane confirmed to be safe, they inform the others and prepare to head back. Aoi decides to give Akane some private time with Shinnosuke: during the ride, Shinnosuke expresses to Akane that as a musician now, he’d only really reached half of his dreams, and still yearns to be with her.

  • When Akane says she’d like to make mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri, Shinno vanishes. The onigiri had come to symbolise where Akane’s heart was – after all this time, she’d been intent on looking out for Aoi, but now that she is aware of how much Aoi’s grown, she finally feels ready to pursue her own future. Making the sort of onigiri that Shinnosuke likes comes to represent how she’s now able to return his feelings in full, confident that Aoi will find her own path as well. Satisfied his regrets have been addressed, Shinno disappears, leaving Shinnosuke, Akane and Aoi to pursue their futures.

  • The sun thus sets over Chichibu as the day draws to a close, and this moment is only one of many that showcase the beautiful landscape artwork in Her Blue Sky. On an unrelated note, as yesterday was New Year’s Day, we did our annual 打邊爐 (jyutping daa2 bin1 lou4) – it’s a tradition I’m fond of, featuring fish balls, squid balls, beef, lamb, fish, prawns, fresh oysters, cuttlefish, lettuce and cabbage, rounded off with yi mien to absorb all of the flavours from the resulting broth. Hot pots originate from Mongolia and are common across Asia, being best for cold evenings. With this being said, the contents of a Cantonese-style hot pot are always delicious: yesterday night, a Chinook resulted in temperatures remaining a balmy 2ºC even after sunset, but this didn’t stop things from being delicious.

  • Her Blue Sky scores an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.5 of 10) in my books – it was an immensely satisfying and meaningful tale of appreciation and of what it means to properly pursue a dream. I understand that the home release for Her Blue Sky came out back in June 2020, but it was only now that I managed to find some time to sit down and watch this properly. Having managed to avoid all spoilers and discussions for the film, I ended up with the best possible experience of Her Blue Sky. With this review in the books, I start 2021 strong with a positive post, and before the winter season kicks off, I’ll aim to finish off my thoughts on Warlords of Sigrdrifa – my reason for kicking off 2021 with a talk on Her Blue Sky rather than Warlords of Sigrdrifa will soon become apparent. At present, I’m still working out the most optimal posting pattern for the anime I intend to follow this upcoming season.

Her Blue Sky thus ends up being a fine film to kick off a New Year with: with messages of second chances, and appreciation of what one has, Her Blue Sky suggests that life is a series of trade-offs and compromises. A mind in the proverbial well may be ignorant of the world, but is assured a view of the blue sky that busier minds may take for granted and consequently, miss. This film seeks to suggest that stepping back and taking stock of a situation allows one to better understand where things are headed, although in the heat of an emotionally-charged moment, people often forget this, leading to regret and longing. However, by employing a little help from the supernatural, Her Blue Sky provides Akane, Shinnosuke and Aoi with their happy endings; altogether, Her Blue Sky is a superb and moving film. In conjunction with Cloverworks’ technically excellence, Her Blue Sky is an experience for viewers, capturing hearts and minds with a compelling story and impressive visuals. Returning viewers to the town of Chichibu, Saitama, Her Blue Sky brings back memories of AnoHana, and like AnoHana, incorporates supernatural elements to convey a specific idea. While Mari Okada often receives flak for creating what is felt to be excessively melodramatic situations, I’ve long found that her works are always solid thematically: Okada’s use of emotion is always strong, and the tears are never really that far off as a result of how scenarios in her stories are presented. Consequently, I found in Her Blue Sky a particularly moving story for beginning the year with, encouraging viewers to grasp their dreams more firmly the first time around, or for folks (like myself) who miss an opportunity the first time around, realise that sometimes, second chances are offered, and more often than not, are offered with the same sincerity as they were initially.