The Infinite Zenith

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Mitsuboshi Colours: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“I did think this through. You can’t be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man if there’s no neighborhood. Okay, that didn’t make sense but you know what I’m trying to say.” –Spider-Man, Avengers: Infinity War

In Tokyo’s Ueno district, Yui, Saki and Kotoha, three grade-schoolers who count themselves the “Colours” and are devoted to defending the peace in their neighbourhood. Their everyday adventures occasionally cause them to run afoul of the local police officer, Saitō, but overall, the girls’ adventures are harmless fun: the Colours look after a panda-coloured cat, play hide-and-seek, help Saki’s mother sell bananas, visit the zoo and museum, attempt to collect tickets from local shoppers and even organise a Halloween event to gather candy. Mitsuboshi Colours is uncommon among the anime I’ve watched, in that it is reminiscent of some of the children’s shows I used to watch; these shows didn’t always have a specific Aesop to tell, and instead, simply portrays a series of events that characters experience. These events might be unremarkable, but there is always humour about them, as each of Yui, Saki and Kotoha find themselves in situations that are unexpected, contrary to expectations. In spite of this, the Colours always manage to take things in stride, and always make new discoveries around a familiar neighbourhood. In this way, while the Colours may not always keep the peace, through the world from Yui, Saki and Kotoha’s eyes, viewers are able to see things from a new perspective, one that is filled with curiosity and naïveté: unaffected by the harsh realities of adulthood, or the challenges that accompany adolesence, the Colours are aptly named, as their world is remarkably colourful.

The main draw about Mitsuboshi Colours, then, is the fact that the anime is able to so aptly portray the idea of childhood innoence and the fact that children possess a very unique world-view. Whereas adults are guided by prior experience, logic and reason, children are inquisitive and willing to explore. Consequently, when it comes to decision-making, Yui, Kotoha and Saki have a tendency to pick choices that seem foolish or irrational to adults, invariably creating situations that one cannot help but smile at. Indeed, children often pick up on things that adults miss, and Mitsuboshi Colours never fails to capitalise on this to drive the show’s humour. However, it is here that Mitsuboshi Colours strikes a fine balance: humour can occasionally get out of hand, and someone’s feelings inevitably get hurt. This is not the case in Mitsuboshi Colours, and it became easy to get behind Yui, Saki and Kotoha’s schemes. At worst, they are an inconvenience for others (such as when they attempt to find out why certain stretches of the shōtengai shopping district are closed and end up tracking paint everywhere, or bothering shops by asking if they sell eyeballs after imagining this is the solution to a puzzle), but at their best, the misadventures can also be uplifting: the Colours brighten up visitors to a local park when they play a zombie game, and later, while selling strawberries to people partaking in hanami so they can earn some cash for cakes, they end up brightening up a job-seeker’s day (even though it costs him his last five hundred yen). Altogether, this is the joy in Mitsuboshi Colours: the Colours are doubtlessly mischievous, but they’re also aware of those around them. While they might be rambunctious enough to push a few buttons, they know which lines not to cross. The end result of this is that Mitsuboshi Colours creates an energetic, yet gental, source of comedy through the misadventures Yui, Saki and Kotoha have.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For me, the magic moment in Mitsuboshi Colours was when Yui, Kotoha and Saki pick up an RPG-7 replica and prepare to use it against the local police officer, Saitō. Saitō is initially unable to tell the difference, since the replica is well-made, and there’s a hilarious stand-off that lasts until it becomes clear the RPG is a toy. Moments like these are the norm in Mitsuboshi Colours, and drives all of the comedy – a fair bit of the conflict comes from Saitō overreacting to the girls, who in turn are motivated to antagonise him further, leading to hilarious misunderstandings.

  • From left to right, we have Kotoha, Yui and Saki (who’s affectionately known as Sat-chan). Kotoha is taciturn and has a sadistic streak a kilometre wide, but also enjoys video games and is rarely seen without her Nintendo DS. Yui is the group’s leader, but she’s also shy and the most pragmatic of everyone. Saki is carefree and energetic; most of the Colours’ adventures come at her suggestion. Together, these three form the Colours. The Colours have parallels with GochiUsa‘s Chimame Corps: Kotoha is basically a more sadistic, games-loving version of Chino, Saki is Maya with a fixation on crap and Yui is a bolder Megu.

  • As soon as I got these vibes out of Mitsuboshi Colours, the anime became an order of magnitude more compelling; Mitsuboshi Colours suddenly becomes Chimame Corps’ Fantastic Adventures, and everything suddenly felt more adorable as a result. Each of Yui, Saki and Kotoha’s traits are a bit more exaggerated than Megu, Maya and Chino’s, but since there’s no real equivalent of Cocoa and the others here, it makes sense to liven up each of Yui, Saki and Kotoha, who are playing a ramped up version of hide-and-seek here.

  • Mitsuboshi Colours is set in a shōtengai somewhere in Ueno, which is located near the heart of Tokyo. I imagine that some of the locations in Mitsuboshi Colours were probably modified to fit the story better: a quick glance at Ueno finds that there isn’t exactly a large park capable of housing the Colours’ clubhouse. However, there is a shopping district in the area, an elevated freeway running through, and Ueno Station itself.

  • Moreover, Yui, Kotoha and Saki are often seen chilling near Shinobazu Pond: as children, they wouldn’t be able to go too far, but anything within walking distance is fair game. Mitsuboshi Colours does a reasonable job of bringing this area to life, showing that there is an eclectic collection of shops in the area – I’m certain that one could find an exotic meat shop in Ueno, along with a shop that specialises in replica weapons (real firearms are illegal in Japan, and folks are only able to apply for special shotgun and airgun licenses under some conditions).

  • One day, Saki visits home and finds her mother struggling to move her last box of bananas. The girls offer to help out and each manage to sell their quota in their own way, with Yui’s approach being a reminder of how Megu might’ve gone about doing things. While it takes some effort to clear all the bananas, the girls manage to succeed – Saki’s mother gives them three chupacabra costumes as thanks, and the girls immediately use them to mess around in the neighbourhood.

  • As Mitsuboshi Colours continued, Nonoka joins the cast: she’s a high school girl who occasionally encounters the Colours, and holds aspirations to inherit the family business so that she can continue to sell bread. Whereas most anime has high school girls act as children might (GochiUsaK-On! and Kiniro Mosaic immediately come to mind), Mitsuboshi Colours presents Nonoka as being more similar to Non Non Biyori‘s Honoka: slightly more mature than the children in some areas, although still childish in others.

  • This change in perspective makes Mitsuboshi Colours fun – although rather more knowledgable than Yui, Saki and Kotoha about the world, she’s still young enough to have flights of fancy. Conversely, Nonoka’s older sister, Momoka, intends to turn the family business into an onigiri shop, and her cooking happens to outstrip Nonoka’s. While she’s shown as having trouble with men, Momoka is quite friendly towards the Colours, especially when they enjoy her onigiri more than Nonoka’s bread.

  • On the day of a parade, Yui participates along with her classmates before joining everyone in the summer festival. Yui, Saki and Kotoha each attend different schools, but Mitsuboshi Colours portrays them as spending a lot of time together, similarly to how GochiUsa had Chiya and Cocoa attend the regular high school, and Rize and Sharo attend a more elite school. In spite of spending less time together in the classroom, the four have numerous adventures and experiences together that make them friends; Mitsuboshi Colours similarly shows that Yui, Kotoha and Saki are close despite going to different primary schools.

  • There is quite a bit of non sequitur humour in Mitsuboshi Colours – these stem from the puns that Yui attempts to make, as well as Saki’s more juvenile sense of humour. However, it wouldn’t be appropriate to say that the humour in Mitsuboshi Colours is subtle: comedy here works as a result of expectations being subverted, as well as the timing of delivery. These are universals in humour: when a work uses timing and contexts to drive its humour, one can appreciate the joke and laugh at the expected spots even without the same cultural background. This is something Steven Chow particularly excels at; his comedy films might be Chinese in origin, but have found an audience around the world nonetheless.

  • Upon reading Kawaisō na Zō (“The Pitiful Elephants”), Yui, Saki and Kotoha worry about the wellbeing of the animals at their local zoo and swing by the check things out. The original book was written to familiarise children with themes of sadness and the desolation of warfare. Upon arriving at the zoo, the Colours’ worries double after noticing that primary school children get free admissions, leading to the question of how the zoo would afford food for the animals at all. These sorts of questions are an extension of the curiosity that children display, and at their age, I used to wonder about such things.

  • Depending on who owns the zoo, zoos receive a combination of public funds from taxpayers, private and institutional donations and proceeds from admissions. I’ve not been to the local zoo for two years; back then, we visited because there were pandas, and the price of admissions had gone up dramatically (the surest sign that the zoo’s expenditures were outpacing the revenue and donations it had received), but overall, the animals were still in great shape. Similarly, when exploring the zoo, Yui, Kotoha and Saki slowly realise that in the present day, their zoo appears to be in decent shape, too.

  • Their worries assuaged, Yui, Kotoha and Saki continue spending the day exploring the zoo. A child’s curiosity is boundless, and each of Yui, Kotoha and Saki exhibit the sort of thinking that accompanies inquisitive primary school-aged children do. When I look back to my time as a child, I was similarly curious about the world. However, I’d frequently get in trouble for asking questions about things that weren’t relevant, or exploring out-of-bounds places. My instructors caught on shortly after and realised there was a way to encourage this sort of curiosity without causing extra work.

  • This is how I became introduced to the wonderful world of books, tomes of knowledge housing answers to the questions I sought. From why the night sky was black, to what evolutionary purpose the stripes on a zebra served, I read books like no tomorrow. It’s a story I’m fond of telling because as a child, my favourite thing to do was read, and this is something I feel more children would benefit from (balanced with a healthy combination of playing outside, as the Colours do). These days, I’ve heard that screen time has gone way up amongst children, creating anxiety and other problems.

  • While Kotoha’s always got her face inside her DS, the other girls are very much attuned to the world. In an anime like Mitsuboshi Colours, there’s always enough going on so even someone like Kotoha is focused on the real world. Here, they speak with Daigoro “Oyaji” Kujiraoka, the boisterous owner of a local toy shop who sports unique novelty eyewear in every appearance. Daigoro gets along fine with the Colours and is seen providing puzzles and activities for them. His actions are actually quite helpful to the neighbourhood, allowing the girls to occupy their time with something that’s age-appropriate and keeping them out of trouble as able.

  • Daigoro’s activities don’t occupy the girls’ entire time, but the time it does occupy helps keep them happy and away from trouble. After spotting some statues, the girls decide to go around the shopping district and photograph themselves so that everyone is immortalised. This moment also showcases some of the background art style within Mitsuboshi Colours: I’ve noticed that in some anime, backgrounds have a painting-like quality to it. I imagine that this is a stylistic choice; some anime have previously employed this style, and while it does feel a little crude, it also allows for details to be put in without taking focus off the characters, who are fluidly animated.

  • Like the Chimame Corps, each of Kotoha, Yui and Saki are adorable in their own right: I’ve no favourites among the Colours, and this is reflected in the fact that for this post, all of the screenshots have Kotoha, Yui and Saki present in some way, mirroring the fact that the anime is as amusing as it is only because everyone is present. Here, the Colours have managed to get a shopkeeper to lie down for a picture, and I’m particularly fond of how smug Kotoha looks. Saki’s laugh is also adorable – while mischievous, the Colours aren’t destructive in any way.

  • Kotoha is usually pretty detached about things, being more engrossed in her games, but whenever Yui becomes irate at Kotoha, she’ll call Kotoha’s gaming skills into question. Looking back, I was rather similar to Kotoha when it came to skill with games: I never could make it past the first level of things like Super Mario BrosJungle BookDonkey Kong and the like for SNES, and I didn’t fare any better with the GameBoy, having only gotten through a few missions in games like Super Mario Land and Volley Fire.

  • Of the adventures the Colours have, my personal favourite was the Halloween special: Saki and Kotoha create a special zombie-themed event rather than go trick-or-treating, and the park’s visitors end up participating out of curiosity. When the whole park is “infected”, leaving Yui to save everyone, the visitors are pleased at how everything turns out, and in the aftermath, Yui, Kotoha and Saki receive candy from everyone for having livened everyone’s days up. Heartwarming and cheerful, moments like these show the Colours at their best.

  • When the Colours begin wishing they had an extra member of sorts, they decide to swing by the local museum in the hopes of recruiting an exhibit to fight by their side. Naturally, nothing comes out of this, but the girls do spend a pleasant day at the museum, where they check out a range of exhibits. If I had to guess, I’d say this was the Ueno National Museum of Nature and Science owing to the venue’s sizeable paleontology exhibits. The Colours do live in a nice area since they’re so close to everything, to the point where they can just swing by and visit. When I was a primary student, visits to zoos and museums were exciting field trips.

  • When the Colours become interested in gathering tickets for a prize draw, they go around hassling the customers of a shopping mall to give them their shopping tickets in exchange for tissue packs. The day’s antics are ultimately harmless, and the girls end up securing the number of tickets needed to play in the draw, only to win a packet of tissues instead. This exercise provides two lessons for viewers: it acts as a reminder that sometimes, taking shortcuts to accomplish something can fail, and second, attempting to re-sell something typically results in a net loss for the seller because things are typically marked up, so the original dealer and everyone involved in the process makes a profit.

  • I’m actually quite fond of Momoka: as a university student, she’s caring and dependable, even more so than Nonoka. Her hime-cut and stern facial features brings to mind the likes of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto, although Momoka is voiced by Hisako Tōjō (Hinako Note‘s Chiaki Hagino). Yui is voiced by Yūki Takada (Aoba Suzukaze of New Game! and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid‘s Elma), Marika Kouno (Hinako Note’s Yua Nakajima and Silence Suzuka from Uma Musume Pretty Derby) voices Saki and Natsumi Hioka (Super Cub’s Shii Eniwa) plays Kotoha.

  • When New Year’s arrives, the girls get New Year’s money from their parents, and immediately set about trying to acquire some firearms with which to blast Saitō with. They end up swinging by an airgun shop with an impressive collection of replica firearms: among the weapons seen include a POF P416, M4 carbine, MP5-K, MP7, Ingram Mac-10 with suppressor, Karabiner K98, UMP, Remington Model 700, MG-42, AT-4, SVD with a modern polymer body, and even a Barrett M82 50-caliber rifle. These are a handful of the weapons I do recognise off the top of my head, a consequence of spending far too much time in shooters, and several of the M4s are modified to have optics.

  • Giving the Colours even replicas of these would be a bad idea, and at any rate, 1500 Yen isn’t enough to purchase one anyways (an airsoft MP7 goes for around 350 CAD, for instance). In the end, the shopkeeper declines to sell the Colours any airguns, citing the law as prohibiting such a transaction even if they did have the funds, and the girls end up visiting Daigoro, where they buy a set of handheld transceivers, informally known as walkie-talkies, such that they can communicate their plans more readily. While lacking the same range as mobile phones, their advantage is that they can communicate reliably at closer ranges, making them great tools in a range of situations where it may be impractical to use mobile phones.

  • As winter begins setting in, Yui, Kotoha and Saki decide to make a time capsule with an empty biscuit tin after they finish them off. This ends up being an endearing idea, and while finding mementos is easy enough, determining a good spot to hide their capsule proves much trickier. They initially try to bury it underneath a large tree, but upon encountering Nonoka, the Colours learn that the can would probably rust before the decade is up. In the end, the girls figure that Daigoro might be able keep the time capsule safe.

  • In ten years’ time, the Colours will be high school students, possibly the same age as Nonoka, and things will be quite different, but for now, life in Ueno continues on as it has for the past age, with Kotoha, Saki and Yui running around, making the most of their childhood and solving whatever cases come their way.

  • As spring returns to Ueno, the Colours decide it’s time to take another shot at playing hide-and-seek. This time, they dub it hyper-hide-and-seek, for they’re using the walkie-talkies to make things more exciting: whereas Kotoha and Saki totally ditched Yui last time, this time around, Kotoha hides somewhere more reasonable. However, Saki decides to be sneaky and hides in her cabachubra costume. Yui and Kotoha manage to work this out, and Kotoha totally trashes Saki as a result.

  • By the time the cherry trees are in full blossom, the Colours end up helping Saki’s mother sell off extra strawberries from her shop in order to earn a bit of cash for some sweet cakes. Amongst the crowds of people partaking in hanami, the girls manage to sell of the strawberries rather quickly – there is truth in this, since freshly-picked strawberries are delicious. When I was in Japan several years back, we stopped by a roadside strawberry stand by Enakyoo Bridge in Gifu, and the vendors had assured us that their strawberries could be eaten as is, since said strawberries had been grown without the use of any pesticides. Small experiences like this really made the trip memorable.

  • With Yui, Kotoha and Saki down to their last basket to sell, they convince a young man who’d come from a difficult job interview to buy the strawberries. While it seems like they might’ve screwed him over in the moment, a positive mind might suppose that the unexpectedness in the moment might give him the encouragement he needs to keep trying. In this way, Mitsuboshi Colours tends towards the idea that the energy children bring to the table should be encouraged in an environment that is supportive and safe of adventure and exploration.

  • There’s no better way to wrap things up than to have the endlessly energetic and fun-seeking Colours sleep, having hauled a futon all the way out into the park for their afternoon nap (to Saitō’s shock). Overall, it’s easy to recommend Mitsuboshi Colours, as the series represents a reminder of how carefree childhood really is: it’s an A- in my books, and with this post in the books, I’ve now knocked out three slice-of-life series sitting on my backlog (having beaten both Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits earlier). This leaves me with enough time to determine what posts will be written next: I have an Oculus Quest-driven location hunt in mind on top of the special talk for Hanasaku Iroha, and both are going to be larger, so the extra time will be an asset.

Altogether, Mitsuboshi Colours is a solid series, and in a curious turn of events, the original manga was created by Katsuwo, who also wrote Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu. Both series portray children and youth in a plausible manner, placing them in situations that evokes a sense of pathos and pulls on the heart strings, while at the same time, presenting the characters as people worth rooting for. The end result is that every episode of Mitsuboshi Colours is worth watching, similarly to how Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu was similarly compelling. However, whereas Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu was focused on Bocchi’s efforts to make friends, Mitsuboshi Colours is more about how the size and variety in Ueno district gives Yui, Kotoha and Saki no shortage of places to explore, and no shortage of ideas to pursue. The local park contains the trees to be destroyed for creating hay fever, but those same trees become a potential landmark when the girls decide to put a time capsule together to remember their friendship. When their panda-coloured cat decides to go for a stroll, the girls follow him, thinking his destination to be cool beyond words. Their tour leads them back to their clubhouse. In this way, Mitsuboshi Colours suggests to viewers that even in a familiar setting, there’s enough going on so that every day is different, and consequently, there is something new to look forwards to all the time, even when the scenery and sights appear to, on first glance, be unchanging. While people are constantly looking to change things up, there is also a certain comfort in familiar sights; I’ve long held that one isn’t really ready for adventure until they’ve come to fully appreciate everything their home as to offer, and as Mitsuboshi Colours indicates, more often than not, home can be full of pleasant, unexpected surprises just waiting to be discovered.

ARIA the Crepuscolo: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past. It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.” –George Foreman

Anya becomes worried when she notices that Alice and Athena have both a little off of late, and relays her worries to Ai and Azusa, who suggest that they do a surprise party for the pair. After speaking with Akari, and on President Aria’s suggestion, the three decide to time things for the Festa del Redentore, a July festival that gives thanks to the end of the 1576 Plague and has since included fireworks. However, Aika denies this request, since Himeya Company plans on doing a fair on the day of Festa del Redentore. In spite of these initial setbacks, Akari remains optimistic that they’ll be able to put something together. Anya later runs into Aletta, a Sylph-in-training, who gives her a brief ride over Neo-Venezia and encourages her about finding beauty in the present. Anya later has a chance to speak with Alice in the baths, learning that Alice had been down since Athena had set such an incredibly high standard as a senior that she feels like she hasn’t done anything similar for Anya. Alice recounts a story from back when she was still a pair: during Christmas, Alice had grown disheartened that Befana (Neo-Venezia’s equivalent of Santa Claus) doesn’t exist and found it difficult to get into the holiday spirit. One night, Athena had arranged a surprise party for Alice with help from Akari and Aika, and when Alice had arrived, Athena noted that the Christmas spirit for adults lies not with the existence of mythical figures, but rather, being able to look back on how wonderful the world had previously been, and using one’s own experience to help the new youth realise their dreams. On the day of Festa del Redentore, everyone is engrossed with their duties, but after the workday draws to a close, Akari and Aika meet up with Anya, Azusa and Ai. As it turns out, even Alicia and Akira were in on the plans to cheer up Alice and Athena: they’ve arranged for Alice and Athena to meet just prior to Athena’s concert and sing together. In the empty auditorium, Athena admits to Alice that during the latter’s exam to become a Prima, a part of her had wished that Alice might fail such that they could spend more time together, and moreover, Alice’s poor singing had come from her own doubts. Athena suggests to Alice that she sing in a way that she enjoys, and that moreover, it’s okay to make mistakes, allowing Alice to finally find her voice and pass her exam in full. In the present, Athena and Alice sing together before the evening show, and then board gondolas for the Yakatabune Cruise. While Alice and Athena are graceful for their past memories, Alice and Anya feels that being able to look back is what makes something so memorable, but the present will also come to become a precious memory, and the future will doubtlessly be full of new experiences, too. Thus, ARIA the Crepuscolo draws to a close. This first instalment was announced last year just ahead of ARIA‘s fifteenth anniversary, following an original story set somewhere after Avvenire. Crepuscolo is dedicated to Orange Planet’s Athena and Alice. Eri Kawai, who provided Athena’s singing voice, passed away in 2008 from liver cancer, and Tomoko Kawakami, who voiced Athena, passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011. This meant that Athena was largely absent from Avvenire. However, Rina Satō has since taken up this mantle and does a wonderful job as Athena. The themes within Crepuscolo mirror the respect for the older voices: ARIA remembers both Kawai and Kawakami’s contributions to Athena’s character, and at the same time, keep things moving forwards to honour their work.

I first watched ARIA through the Avvenire OVAs in 2016, and I subsequently picked up the three original seasons, which ran between 2005 and 2008. ARIA is an impressive series for its world-building and cathartic tone, for being able to convey the majesty of once-in-a-lifetime moments and the merits of the everyday. However, ARIA also proved a desperately tricky series to write for; ARIA is a series that covers a plethora of themes through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences together, and it is appropriate to say that there isn’t just one central theme or idea in ARIA. Being a self-contained experience, Crepuscolo does not continue on in the same vein as its predecessors: it speaks broadly about the doubts and concerns that arise during what is colloquially referred to as the passing of the torch. Alice presently worries about being a good enough mentor to Anya, but also recalls a time when Athena didn’t feel ready to guide Alice, either. However, bit-by-bit, Athena grew into the role and began understanding Alice a little better, such as being able to help create a visceral representation of how as adults, the Christmas spirit could be appreciated from a different perspective (rather than deriving enjoyment from recieving magic, adults get to experience the joys of making others happy). Over time, Alice and Athena would come to deeply treasure their time together. However, owing to Alice’s innate talents as an Undine, she rises through the ranks and can bypass the Single rank, which cut short the time Alice and Athena spent together. While things might’ve been short, Athena imparts the bit of advice that has since shaped who Alice is now, and in the present, Alice is able to sing as well as she’d like, although athena wondered if Alice had been unhappy with her. Introducing new juniors into ARIA really helped to depict succession and the passing down of knowledge to new generations, and here in Crepuscolo, the doubts that Alice face in mentoring Anya are the same as what Athena had experienced. It is the case that people can find it difficult to be honest about how they feel, as well as how newer generations can feel it exceedingly difficult to follow in their forerunners’ footsteps, but as a senior, one can always find their own approach towards things; friendship and magical circumstances can help one open up, and all it takes is a little nudge from the important people in one’s corner to set them down this path. Experience is what allows Athena to now help Alice find her way again, and in doing so, Crepuscolo indicates that Anya’s got much to look forward to, as well.

Anya and Alice both reflect on how being able to look back on past memories enhances the sense of nostalgia and wistfulness, rather like how the night looks darker when the sun is rising. This is why flashbacks are featured so prominently in Crepuscolo: they deliberately break up the story’s flow and directs the viewer’s attention away from the present. By forcibly altering the focus, viewers are inclined to pay more attention to events in the flashback to determine how they impact the present. This allows viewers to therefore see two critical moments in Crepuscolo that were of significance to Alice and Athena. Alice believes that Athena’s greatest moments come from imparting wisdom to her and helping her to appreciate what being an adult means, while for Athena, the lessons she taught to Alice have done much to make Alice the Undine she is today. While these are dramatically different moments, they had a nontrivial impact on how Alice and Athena view one another. In spite of doing much to shape the present, however, these things are also past, something to reflect on and appreciate, but not become bound to: with morning approaching, and the dawn of a new day, Crepuscolo also visually indicates that things don’t end here, with plenty more in the future that will be worth experiencing and discovering. This is openly stated during the Yakatabune Cruise; having come forward with their honest feelings, Alice and Athena are able to be truthful about how they feel about things and walk the future without anything concealed. Akari herself mentions something similar during the morning cruise, saying that she wonders what sorts of new discoveries and growth her future self will have made. While Crepuscolo might have spent half the film in flashbacks, Akari’s remarks thus remind the viewer that there is more to self-discovery than understanding moments from long ago, and that is to seize the moment, making the most of what lies ahead. Overall, the past, present and future figure prominently in Crepuscolo. All of the characters have matured (most notably, Akari, Aiko and Alice), but the traits that make everyone unique are still present: altogether, while Crepuscolo might be set a ways after Avvenire, the film feels timeless. ARIA has always excelled in conveying a sense of timelessness, and by weaving these elements together in a world quite different from our own, it does feel as though time has stood still: Neo-Venezia looks like it hasn’t aged a day, but it certainly is more vivid and detailed than I remember.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been five years since I last wrote about ARIA: after Avvenire finished, I took an interest in the series and watched all three seasons in the space of a few weeks. On the whole, ARIA excels in encouraging viewers to appreciate the mundane and extraordinary alike, to keep an open mind and always be mindful of one’s surroundings. In conjunction with the gentle guitar motifs, the peaceful world and fantastical setting that combines the great beauty of Venice with exotic future technology, ARIA creates a highly immersive and compelling world that is simultaneously similar to and unlike our own.

  • It is here that Kozue Amano is able to really present her ideas: Aqua is a terraformed Mars, and Neo-Venezia is a faithful reproduction of Italy’s Venice. In order to ensure that Aqua remains livable for humans, Amano introduces specialised space stations and exotic generators that help the planet to retain its atmosphere and retain an Earth-like gravity. When I watched Avvenire five years earlier, I joked that use of DOOM‘s Argent Energy would certainly have provided the power supply needed to fuel such functions. Said theory never took hold, and I’m rather surprised that a search for similar puts another blog ahead of mine, even though said blog has written exactly nothing about DOOM. In a curious turn of events, I beat DOOM Eternal last weekend, so I’ll be aiming to get a post on that done very soon.

  • Returning to ARIA, “Crepuscolo” is Italian for “twilight”, referring to this film’s focus on endings; this latest instalment of ARIA places emphasis on Alice and Athena, whom I felt were both shafted by Avvenire. This is a remark I can only make now that I’ve seen the whole of ARIA. I imagine that some readers will be wondering why I’ve not written about the original ARIA in my usual manner, and the reason for this is two-fold. First, I blitzed through this series at a breakneck speed, and at the time, I’d also been keeping up with episodic reviews of Brave Witches, so I was a little too swamped to write for ARIA. The second season is that ARIA is a pleasantly deep series, and there are many themes that Amano covers through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences.

  • At Crepuscolo‘s opening, Pair Anya is able to meet up with Athena, who is a legendary singer and was a former Prima of Orange Planet, Neo-Venezia’s largest Undine company. At present, she’s retired from her duties as an Undine (a Gondola operator and tour guide) to focus on opera singing, but still shows up from time to time. Since Athena had mentored Alice, Anya figures Athena’s the best person to speak to, since she noticed that Alice has been a little down of late. During their meeting, it’s clear that Athena still retains all of her old traits; she adds a little too much condensed milk to her beverage out of absent-mindedness.

  • At Aria Company, Alicia’s similarly retired and had since become a manager of the Gondola Association, leaving Akari to be Aria Company’s sole Prima. At this point in time, Ai’s become a Single, and here, she accompanies Akari while they give two guests a tour of Neo-Venezia’s beautiful canals. With JC Staff at the helm, Crepuscolo is beautiful: Aqua and Neo-Venezia are even more detailed than they were before, really coming to life. One noticeable change was that all of the characters have been given minor changes so they more closely resemble the characters of Amanchu!, another manga from Amano that JIC had adapted.

  • These changes bring the designs of ARIA‘s characters to be more consistent with Amanchu!‘s to mirror this fact, although things are subtle, so the differences are never too dramatic. With this being said, the characters do look a ways more mature, speaking to the amount of time that has passed since ARIA‘s beginning. Even with this newfound maturity, everyone still bears their most iconic traits, which was a pleasant reminder that while people do grow up and grow old, the heart of their personalities often remain consistent.

  • Alice’s peers notice that she’s been a little odd, and here, Alice is so distracted that she decides to eat her omuice sans ketchup. Because of Alice’s reputation as a rowing prodigy, others are intimidated by her and so, are hesitant to approach her. However, Alice’s true nature is that she’s a bit shy and not comfortable around new people; she takes time to open up to those around her. These traits are reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and now that I think about it, Alice might’ve been the inspiration for Chino: save the fact that Chino uses elastics as her hair-ties, Alice and Chino are quite similar both in terms of appearance and personality.

  • Back at Aria Company, Akari shares a meal with Anya, Azusa and Ai. One detail I liked was the fact that President Aria is seen happily polishing off his rack of lamb before wilting when Ai reminds him to eat his veggies and hands him a plate of salad. President Aria’s antics are awesome, and in the original ARIA series, he’s gone on some wild adventures of his own while Alicia and Akari were out servicing customers and training for Akari’s eventual promotion to Prima: if I’m not mistaken, President Aria even has a super-hero alter-ego, where he goes around Neo-Venezia fighting crime and keeping the peace. In this way, I am strongly reminded of Peanuts‘ Snoopy, who was a similarly amusing and intelligent character.

  • Over three seasons, there are fifty-two episodes of ARIA (excluding other OVAs like Avvenire), and some of the more incredible moments pertain to the cats, including one time where Akari finds herself whisked to the past after crossing a covered bridge when spotting some cats, and another time where curiosity leads Akari and Aika to the Kingdom of the Cats. The blending of the commonplace and supernatural had always been one of the great strengths in ARIA, and I believe that in Avvenire, Akari reminisces about a rumoured road tile that brings misfortune on those who tread upon it. When she tries the same, she’s thrown into the sky and encounters the Cait Sith, a benevolent cat spirit who seems to show up whenever Akari is in need.

  • Akatsuki appears mid-lunch, and going from Ai, Azusa and Anya’s reactions, they’re none too fond of him because of his brash, hot-headed character. In ARIA, Akatsuki was the first customer Akari had served, and while he’s quick to call Akari “pigtails”, Akatsuki spends a great deal of time with Akari every time he visits. The other characters dislike Akatsuki, but Akari treats him a little better, taking the time to speak with him whenever he visits: he began ARIA in pursuit of Alicia’s heart, although having made it a point to meet Akari on all of his visits, Alicia suspects that Akatsuki is probably in love with Akari.

  • When Anya, Ai and Azusa consider what they can do to bring Athena and Alice together, they realise that they can time something for Festa del Redentore. The real Festa del Redentore is an Italian festival dating back to the 16th century, featuring plenty of fireworks. Many Italian festivals and events are imported into ARIA, and then subsequently adapted to fit in with the future world’s customs: ARIA‘s Festa del Redentore similarly features fireworks, as well as a boat ride over to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The original was also built in the 16 century and can be seen from every point along the Riva degli Schiavoni.

  • Aika is Himeya Company’s heiress, and throughout ARIA, had long struggled with her familial connections to the company. Despite her a no-nonsense personality and tough exterior, Aika is sensitive and kind, as well. She constantly strives to prove that she’s a worthy contributor to the family company, but after meeting Akari, begins to appreciate the smaller moments in life, as well, although she retrains a very competitive and driven manner.

  • The iconic chibi art style makes a return in Crepuscolo – they were very prominent in ARIA, and every character takes on distinct features when flustered, embarrassed or surprised. These aspects carried over to Amanchu!, and while I had found them a little distracting early on, over time, the shifts in character art would become very endearing to me, speaking volumes about what was happening in a given moment in ways that dialogue alone could not fully convey.

  • The extensive use of flashbacks in Crepuscolo is not a particularly novel thing for ARIAAvvenire had done something similar, and flashbacks also figure in the original ARIA seasons. Their presence is meant to show that important memories have as much weight as the present, and that neither are inherently more valuable than the other. Such a remark would, of course, prompt the uptight Aika to shout, “embarrassing remarks are prohibited!” Here, Athena and Alice meet for the first time, and although Athena is a skilled Prima, Alice initially worries about Athena, who is so clumsy that she ends up spilling most everything. Over time, things between the two change as Athena and Alice get to know one another.

  • It turns out that Aria Company is located down the Riva del Sette Martiri along Saint Mark’s Canal. Neo-Venezia is the location hunter’s ultimate dream, being a 1:1 reproduction of Venice, and as such, the only thing one would need to do for the complete and comprehensive ARIA experience would simply be to book a trip to Venice. Famous landmarks like Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica feature prominently in ARIA, so there’s no missing them. After Ai, Azusa and Anya depart, they decide to find places in Neo-Venezia where it might be good to bring Athena and Alice together.

  • Here, Azusa passes by Ponte di Rialto, oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, while considering a possible spot. The original bridge was constructed in 1181 and was a pontoon bridge, but as the nearby Rialto Market expanded, the bridge was rebuilt with wood. This bridge burned down in 1310, then collapsed twice (once in 1444, as Azuisa mentions, and then in 1524). By 1551, it was proposed that the bridge was to be rebuilt using stone, and in 1588, construction began, finishing three years later. Although the design was criticised after its completion, Ponte di Rialto is an iconic Venice landmark today.

  • Guided by President Aria, Ai gets a tour of Neo-Venezia’s premiere eating spots and learns that President Aria himself had conquered numerous food challenges, including one for ramen and pizza. Cats in Neo-Venezia are treated great respect, being the mascot of their respective Gondola companies. All of the cats are endearing in their own right, and President Aria’s a special breed with full sentience. Alicia and Akari indulge him, leading him to become pudgy, but he’s kind-hearted and helps out where he can, as well.

  • While struggling to find a suitable spot, Ai runs into Alicia and explains that she’s searching for memories for Athena and Alice’s sake. Such an idea is inherently peaceful and is an integral part of ARIA: entire episodes have previously been spent on trying to find locations of interest, track things down or get something done, and while this meant that ARIA is a very slow series, this proved to be the series main joy. Humour in ARIA is very gentle, a world apart from the laughs that something like Azumanga Daioh provides.

  • Animation has certainly come a long way from 2005: Crepuscolo is comparable to P.A. Works and Kyoto Animation’s best. Of note are the water effects: so much of ARIA is set on the canals of Neo-Venezia, and while the original series did feature some reflections, highly-detailed, real-time reflections and ripples on the water come together to really create a sense of tranquility. Here, Akira takes a group of friends along Neo-Venezia’s Grand Canal, where she notices Azusa and Anya together.

  • While wondering what to do about the fact that Alice seems so down, Anya runs into Aletta, a Slyph (mail carriers) in training. In the original ARIA, Woody was a Slyph who often dropped by with messages for the main characters: back in 2002, phone calls, faxes and emails were the most widespread form of communication. In the nineteen years since Amano had penned ARIA‘s manga, the world has changed beyond recognition when it comes to communications. Instant messaging represents the easiest form of rapid communication, and video calls are now commonplace. This change gives letters and messengers a more romantic feel, hailing back to a simpler time.

  • Over the buildings of Neo-Venezia, Aletta explains that what makes her position so enjoyable is that, even though she’s a trainee and therefore limited to a certain altitude, the view nonetheless remains impressive, and she’s confident that once she becomes fully qualified, she’ll still enjoy the scenery over Neo-Venezia as she does now. This helps Anya to understand that while it’s important to think about the future, she should also be mindful of her present, as well.

  • In a brief flashback, while Aletta waves up at the sky, Anya takes an interest in a passing gondola. Simple moments like these don’t consume too much time, but even these can speak volumes about the characters and everyday observations. In this case, it’s the idea that while the future is uncertain, there are some things that occur during our childhood that can do much to inspire who we are as people today. While flying through the skies with Aletta, Anya realises that the scenery holds a piece of her past, too.

  • Right on cue, Woody appears and greets the pair before flying off for his duties. Throughout Crepuscolo, a gentle piece of incidental music can be heard playing in the background. The soundtrack in ARIA has always been of a fine standard, and I greatly enjoy music from the original series for how relaxing it is (just listening to the music alone reminds me of a gentle summer’s day with blue skies). However, for Crepuscolo, I believe only the film’s opening and ending songs are available.

  • Because I don’t often write about ARIA, I’ll present a stunning view of Neo-Venezia by sunset – from the location, this appears to be the Orange Planet’s base of operations (two large gates leading onto the canals can be seen to the left). In reality, Orange Planet is located at the site of Basilica St. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in real life, but the canal feels a little wider than the one in reality. Like other anime, ARIA is quite faithful to real-world locations, but some liberties have been taken to accommodate the story.

  • Back at Orange Planet’s headquarters, Alice has returned to her room with Maa and finds Anya admiring an autumn leaf that she’d picked up while meeting Aletta. Alice invites Anya to dinner, but Anya declines, leading Alice to wonder if Anya’s doing alright. Coincidently, when Anya bounces the question back at Alice, Alice wilts. The conversation suggests that Anya and Alice are both bad at being forwards with how they feel about things. Being honest with oneself, and being open about one’s feelings is always a challenge; even now, this is something that I struggle with.

  • Of course, there is time yet to improve this aspect about myself, and I try to be expressive about the things that don’t work for me. Given what anime has presented, I think it is reasonable to suppose that people who are the least likely to come forward with their feelings are usually the most considerate people; they’d rather take one for the team if it means those around them are happy, but sometimes, this can lead to miscommunications. In the baths, Alice admits to Anya that she’s worried about not being a good mentor for Anya, especially considering everything that Athena had previously done for her.

  • The story thus flashes back to when Alice, Akari and Aika were still trainees; it’s Christmas, and while Akari and Aika are in the holiday spirit, Alice seems a little detached from everything. Venice is beautiful during the Christmas season, and besides the Christmas markets, the area is quite foggy during the winter, so it feels like the buildings are floating in the skies. During winters, Venice can be quite chilly because of the humid air, so bringing a coat is suggested. I imagine that Neo-Venezia inherits Venice’s climate, as well; the real Venice has a humid subtropical climate with cooler winters and hot, humid summers.

  • Akari transforms into a chibi form while admiring a Befana doll – it appears that in ARIA, elements of Halloween are combined with Christmas, with the witch, Befana, replacing Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of the Christmas season and deliverer of gifts. I’ve always loved these chibi expressions, as they represent the character’s true selves in a visual format. Akari’s flat, angular lines signify that she’s completely lost in the moment, while Aika’s eyes become shiny and her mouth take on a cat-like shape, perhaps indicative of someone who’s trying hard to remain cool and composed. Alice’s chibi form signifies lack of amusement in the situation.

  • It was around here that I really began noticing how Amanchu!-like everyone looked – while it has been five years since I’d watched ARIA, seeing the characters in the present day meant some of the visual changes weren’t immediately apparent. However, comparing each of Akari, Aika and Alice in the present, versus their past selves, shows that everyone’s matured. It’s a subtle and pleasant touch. Here, Hime can be seen clinging to Aika: she’s the president of Himeya, and President Aria has a bit of a crush on her. During the original ARIA, President Aria would do things like sucking in his gut to impress Hime, but things always would backfire.

  • The dynamics among the cats bring to mind how the bunnies in GochiUsa act, and now that I think about it, ARIA might be seen as a more contemplative, quieter forerunner to GochiUsa, which shares in common with ARIA lovable characters, strong animal motifs, and a wonderfully designed world that is simultaneously similar to and different than our own. Upon returning to her room, Alice collapses on her bed, completely defeated that Christmas isn’t getting her excited. Athena ends up hearing Alice out, and does her best to cheer Alice up, but when nothing works, Athena takes a more dramatic route.

  • One evening, Alice spots something out the corner of her eye, and although she knows it’s Athena, curiosity takes a hold. Alice stumbles into a darkened courtyard after following Athena’s singing, and finds herself face-to-face with Athena, who’s decked out as Befana. It turns out that, with help from Aika and Akari, Athena had prepared a Christmas party of sorts for Alice and even granted her wish, of becoming the princess to the kingdom of bubbles. Alice had been saddened to learn that Befana was merely a myth for children and didn’t exist; her reaction is what most children go through upon learning Santa Claus is a story.

  • However, the transition from being a child to adulthood means helping the next generation of children to have fun and make their own discoveries. To this end, Athena puts a little something together for Alice and notes that it was very rewarding to have done something for those around her. This is the spirit of Christmas, and an integral part of growing up; becoming more mature means understanding others well and being able to address the challenges they face in an effectual, instructive manner.

  • After this particular evening, Alice appreciates that Christmas isn’t about the existence of Befana, but rather, being able to realise the dreams of others. The entire scene is quite magical: Athena, Akari and Aika have prepared non-burst bubbles with candles to create an otherworldly feeling. The cat waiters serving Alice and Athena are Aika and Akari – while ARIA has a very noticeable supernatural piece to it, the series is very measured about when to incorporate such elements. Here, the magic comes purely from the effort Athena directs towards helping Alice to rediscover her joy for the winter holidays.

  • Back in the present, Alice’s recounting this story to Anya shows what sort of senior Athena had been, giving Anya an idea of what Alice wishes to do as a senior. The natural progression in ARIA means that the series presents both perspectives very well. I’m sure a great many people have experienced this: as a junior, they’d see their seniors as role models, people to learn from and even lean on, and as the senior, they’d treat their juniors as they wish their seniors would’ve treated them. As a TA, for instance, I always strove to be clear in my instruction to students, and assess their work fairly. When I was a second year student, an excellent TA had prevented me from failing data structures, so by the time I became a TA, I worked hard to ensure no-one in my sections were left behind.

  • I also ended up going out for lunch with the product owner from Denver, where I had a breakfast burger (British bangers and a fried egg with onion), although if memory serves, that had been a bit of a stressful day, being my last in Winnipeg. Now that I think about it, without Alicia around, Aria Company does feel like it’s a bit of a lonelier place, but so long as Akari and Ai are present, things are a little livelier. Here, Akatsuki shares another conversation with Akari, hoping he’d be able to join her for a spot of tea, but with things being busy, Akari declines. I’ve noticed that present-day Akari speaks in a more confident and measured manner: Erino Hazuki has always given Akari’s voice a hesitant, soft inflection, so hearing the changes in Akari’s voice is another reminder that the characters are maturing.

  • On the day of Festa del Redentore, Aika is flooded with work, but fortunately, the Undines from other companies also show up to help out, and even President Aria has appeared to help direct guests to their tables. Akari and Ai are out taking passengers on gondola tours, so they’re unavailable to help out, but Anya is around to lend a hand. Orange Company and its large number of Undines means she’s able to get away on occasion to help out during festivals.

  • ARIA‘s presentation of different company sizes is a faithful and truthful representation of what is commonly referred to as the “bus factor” – for a given company, the bus factor is a measure of risk based on how well skill and information is distributed amongst a team. Specifically, it is a measure of how many people can become unavailable before productivity stops outright. Aria Company has a bus factor of 1 (if Akari were unavailable, Ai is not qualified to take customers on her own, and Aria Company’s operations grind to a halt), while Orange Planet has a bus factor of 20 (there are 20 Primas, so all 20 must be unavailable before business is halted). When I started working with my first startup, our bus factor was 1.5, and with my last position, our bus factor was 1 since I was the only mobile developer on the team (and similarly, our main product was an iOS app).

  • To reduce the bus factor on a team, cross-training is important: even if other developers can’t fully develop new features into the app or architect it out, having enough knowledge to debug smaller bugs and manage releases can save headache down the line. Generally speaking, a larger bus factor is desirable because it means more people can become unavailable before productivity sustains a decrease, and in more practical terms, it means that on a team with a higher bus factor, I can go on vacation for a week and not feel guilty about letting work accumulate dangerously. With the day’s work over, Akari joins Aika, Azusa, Ai and Anya as they prepare their surprise for Alice and Athena.

  • While Aika might be a Prima now and deeply respects her mentor, Akira, for allowing her to develop into a full-fledged Undine under Akira’s watchful tutelage, this hasn’t stopped Aika from calling Akira a dæmon instructor. Ironically, Akira happens to overhear Aika, causing the latter to jump in shock: Akira’s still got a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense personality. A major part of the fun in Crepuscolo was watching old dynamics amongst the characters make a return. There’s a sense of nostalgia surrounding ARIA, and I imagine that this fifteenth anniversary project will be a pleasant trip down memory lane for longtime viewers.

  • For me, I watched ARIA to completion five years earlier: I remember starting in August and slowly made my way through the series until by October, I’d finished. Back then, I was still working with my first startup, and I spent lunch hours watching episodes. During my marathon, one episode particularly stood out to me: during ARIA The Natural, Akari encounters a lady in black who asks for a ride to the cemetery at Isola di San Michele. Akari had heard about a ghost story surrounding such a lady in black, and finds out for herself that this lady is in fact a spectre. She is saved at the last second by the Cait Sith and finds herself back at Aria Company, although it is suggested that Akari’s experiences were no dream.

  • With all of the principal characters involved planning out the surprise for Athena and Alice, Akira and Alicia indicate they’ve found something that will work, and begin recalling a time when Athena had seemed quite down about something: when Athena had been assigned to mentor the brilliant but young Alice, she’d been worried about disappointing Alice; other Singles at Orange Planet had found it difficult to befriend someone like Alice, so Athena ended up deciding to take things slowly with Alice.

  • Over time, Alice would come to treasure her time with Athena, but because of Alice’s own skill, she advanced through the ranks quickly, and Athena despaired that their precious time was going to be cut short. Athena thus found herself wishing that time would pass more slowly, and chastises herself because a part of her wished Alice might fail, so that the two might be able to spend more time together. Athena recalls that Alice’s weakness had been in her singing: Primas also sing for their customers, and like GochiUsa‘s Chino, Alice’s voice isn’t particularly loud.

  • In the end, Athena suggests that Alice sing in the manner that makes her happy, and that with confidence, her love of singing would also reach her customers: Athena is famous in Neo-Venezia for her angelic voice and natural talent for singing, but despite this natural talent, Athena is also able to properly explain how she makes her singing work for her. This is the mark of a genius: although society has long counted someone as a genius if they possess uncommon talent in a field, as well as a ceaseless drive to explore, I’ve found that genius also entails being able to approach complex problems with elegant approaches.

  • In Athena’s case, she’s able to put into words what makes singing work for her and convey this to Alice. Being able to capture the feelings in one’s heart is a highly challenging task, and Violet Evergarden had similarly suggested that honestly articulating one’s feelings is a skill that must be cultivated over time. Athena is able to do just this, and I am reminded of Steven Hawking and Richard Feynman, both of which had a knack for finding creative ways of communicating incredibly abstract and tricky concepts in a way that even laypeople would understand. My old graduate supervisor similarly believed in this: the Giant Walkthrough Brain and my graduate thesis resulted from this, striving to present neuroscience and cellular biology in an accessible way to people.

  • With Athena’s words, Alice is able to reach her full potential and sings well enough for herself, allowing her to pass her exam and do what became a landmark accomplishment in ARIA: go from a Pair straight to a Prima. The composition of this scene evokes a sense of nostalgia, in recalling a pivotal moment in Alice’s career as an Undine, and for me, there was a lingering feeling of familiarity that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

  • As it turns out, the big surprise plan that everyone was helping with was to bring Alice and Athena together; Athena and Alice had been worried about not being able to meet one another, so the group writes a letter to bring Alice to the concert hall where Athena is performing. In the moments before the concert begins, the pair share a conversation together, reflect on the journey Alice took to become a Prima and everything she’d learned from Athena in the process. As the others indicate, it was difficult for both Alice and Athena to be honest with one another about how they feel.

  • However, in the end, with everything out in the open, Athena is able to express her happiness at having mentored someone like Alice, while Alice is immensely grateful to have learnt under Athena. The idea of cycles and the student becoming the teacher is especially apparent in CrepuscoloAvvenire had depicted the events following Origination and showed that Ai had joined the Aria Company, while Azusa becomes Aika’s student, and Anya began under Alice. However, Avvenire had only really scratched the surface, and having now seen the whole of ARIA, I found that Avvenire was only really an essay in the craft.

  • As such, the new series of ARIA movies have the possibility of really showing the relationship between the current generation of Prima Undines and their students, all the while giving an opportunity to expand upon moments from the original ARIA series. Crepuscolo has already shown what is possible in the movie format, so I’m hoping that Akira, Aika and Azusa will get some shine time in the upcoming movie, and then assuming this to be the case, Alicia, Akari and Ai will have their stories told in the third, and final movie.

  • With their hearts at peace, Athena and Alice are able to sing together. The vocal pieces in ARIA are beautiful: originally, Choro Club collaborated with Takeshi Senoo to compose the series’ incidental pieces and Eri Kawai’s most iconic songs. The “lyrics” were composed of tones not from any known language, to create a sense of timelessness, and according to director Jun’ichi Satō, the opening and ending songs were originally intended to be written in this way. However, Kawai decided that the lyrics should be Japanese in the end to better convey the feelings consistent with ARIA‘s aesthetic.

  • There is a sadness about Athena’s character in the knowledge that both Kawakami and Kawai have passed away: this sadness seemed to permeate Crepuscolo as Alice feels like she’s treading on eggshells where Athena is concerned, perhaps mirroring the difficult decision to recast Rina Satō as Athena. Assuming this to hold true, the remarks that Athena has for Alice, and Alice’s subsequent singing with Athena parallel Crepuscolo‘s desire to let viewers know that what happened before were to be treasured forever, but what happened in the past notwithstanding, there’s a future ahead of everyone that is worth seizing, and should be seized, free of the burdens from the past.

  • In this way, Crepuscolo‘s message is a very encouraging one; the film may have begun in a melancholy and introspective fashion, but remembering the times of old and what joy it’d brought means that the film is also optimistic. As the performance’s audience begin filing into the concert hall, they are pleased to see Athena and Alice singing already; in particular, Alice’s coworkers are happy. They’d been quite worried about Alice earlier, but seeing her on stage with Athena indicates beyond any doubt that Alice had found her answers and is no longer down.

  • Al, Akatsuki and Woody were noticeably absent from the events of Avvenire. Having seen Woody and Akatsuki, it’d be nice if in Benedizione, Al and Aika are able to spend more time together: during the events of Natural, it was shown that Aika had fallen in love with Al, who works as a Genome (an occupation entailing the maintenance of the equipment that regulates the artificial gravity on Aqua to be about 1G). This story was particularly touching, and it was fun to see the normally collected Aika become flustered in Al’s presence.

  • There are a large number of opera houses in Venice, but based on the building façade, as well as ARIA‘s tendency to use the most iconic locations of Venice, I am going to guess that Athena is performing at La Fenice, which is one of Venice’s (and even Italy’s) most renowned performing venue. The current theatre, seen in Crepuscolo, was actually built in 2001, the same year ARIA‘s manga began running. It was destroyed by a fire in 1996, a consequence of arson from electricians who’d been servicing the building’s wiring. The original theatre was opened in 1792, but was also destroyed by fire in 1836. Fortunately, swift construction efforts meant that La Fenice reopened a year later, in 1837. The building has so far rebounded thrice after fires, and therefore, lives up to its name, which is “The Phoenix” in English.

  • In flashbacks, moments from ARIA the Origination‘s ninth episode are brought to life in full, given the HD remaster treatment and completely refreshed. Because Crepuscolo brought back so many memories, both for me and for the characters, I began developing this feeling that I’d seen everything before. I therefore hopped on over back to Origination, and sure enough, the very same moments in Crepuscolo were shown in Origination, albeit with a massive visual update.

  • Athena and Alice’s smiles speak volumes about the catharsis both experience after being open with one another. While the concert Athena performs at isn’t shown, the fact that we got to hear familiar, iconic performances in Crepuscolo was very heartwarming. The combined nostalgia and warmth that Crepuscolo conveys, coupled with the fact that Benedizione isn’t going to be out until May or June 2022, there’s probably enough time to go back and re-watch the whole of ARIA, front-to-back (even with my schedule and tendency to procrastinate).

  • With the concert over, the group of friends take a Yakatabune Cruise together into the dawn. Crepuscolo had covered a very wide array of themes, from the importance of honesty and an appreciation of the learnings the past holds, to the idea that growing up can mean taking one’s childhood memories and applying that to make others happy even when one knows the truth behind some things one might’ve believed as a child. However, the strength of the symbolism here, of sailing from the dark of night into the dawn, coupled with Alice and Akari’s remarks, really drove home that Crepuscolo was about living in the present and valuing the past in equal measure.

  • The strength of this message meant that I exited Crepuscolo feeling completely refreshed: like ARIA, I am a bit of a sentimental, nostalgic person, and as the anime suggests, I do view the past with a rose-tinted lens. However, this isn’t because I want to go back to those days per se, but rather, because the sum of my experiences now allow me to appreciate the importance of what had happened previously even more strongly. For instance, while my work with the Winnipeg team was not enjoyable to me in that moment, I also learnt a great deal and became a stronger iOS developer for it: today, were I to go back, there’d be a few things that I’d do differently, and I’m confident that I’m now better prepared to handle conflicts and work towards a completed deliverable.

  • Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo was a very welcome trip down memory lane, and I was very moved in watching it. It’s a strong recommendation for all fans of ARIA, and folks wondering if this film is worthwhile do have enough time to go back and check out ARIA in full before the next film releases. Themes of the past, present and future within Crepuscolo reminds me of how these days, my thoughts are turning towards what my first home will look like; I’ve been saving for a very long time for this, and since this is a major milestone, I wish to make certain I’m satisfied with everything before signing on the dotted line. Being able to watch Crepuscolo was a reminder that some things are inevitable, but with the right mindset, I will be prepared to handle what comes up, rather like how Alice is now a bit better equipped to be a good mentor for Anya.

As it turns out, JC Staff handled the production of ARIA the Crepuscolo; JC Staff had previously been involved with adapting another one of Kozue Amano’s works, Amanchu!. In typical JC Staff fashion, backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and lighting is masterfully used to convey emotion and totally immerse viewers in another world. Within moments of spotting Anya, it becomes clear that JC Staff have also brought on board the character designers from Amanchu!. Throughout Crepuscolo, visual traits from Amanchu’s characters can be spotted amongst everyone, including sharper facial features, eyelashes and brighter eyes. While not quite what I remember from the original ARIA series, the choice to subtly shift the characters’ appearances closer to their Amanchu! equivalents really accentuates the fact that Amano had created both Amanchu! and ARIA. Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo is a welcome addition to ARIA, possessing all of the aesthetics that had been present in the originals, bringing back familiar characters and presenting hitherto unseen stories, while simultaneously giving the ARIA universe a fresh coat of paint and giving fans of the series a new story to enjoy. The first of the movies for the ARIA fifteenth anniversary project shows that in the town of Neo-Venezia, there’s always something new to explore, whether it is learning more about those around one, or some obscure treasure that has gone unnoticed. The next of the ARIA films will be titled ARIA the Benedizione and is scheduled to première in Japan on December 3, 2021. The wait this time was absolutely within the realm of what is reasonable, being only five and a half months. I am rather looking forwards to seeing what happens in Benedizione, and because Crepuscolo‘s focus was on Athena, Alice and Anya, one could reasonably surmise that Benedizione will follow Himeya’s Akira, Aika and Azusa. The basis for this is that, since ARIA originally had Akari and Alice occupy the spotlight, it follows that the last of the movies will be about the smallest Undine Company, but one that has nonetheless built out a legendary reputation over the years and therefore, would act as a proper conclusion for this set of movies.

Action Heroine Cheer Fruits: Whole Series Review and Reflection

“You never get away from that thing in your hometown that it has over you. You don’t outgrow where you come from.” –Brian Fallon

After a Kamidaio show is cancelled, high school student Mikan Kise attempts to put on her own tokusatsu show for her younger sister, Yuzuka. She recruits help from classmate Ann Akagi, and their initial show, while a simpler one, draws Misaki Shirogane’s attention. It turns out that Misaki is working to save their local performance venue from being closed, and after seeing the work that they’d put together, Mikan and Ann are recruited into the local herione programme. They are soon joined by costume designer Mana Midorikawa and stage technician Genki Aoyama, as well as Ann’s rival, Kanon Shimura. While their early performance is a success, it turns out they do not have copyrights to continue performing Kamidaio. Misaki sees this as a chance to create an original heroine group, and at Mikan’s suggestion, the girls name themselves the Cheer Fruits, after their home town’s principal export. The group practise in earnest for an increasing number of people and draw the interest of special effects and construction specialist, Hatsuri Momoi, as well as convincing former idol and singer Yūki Aoyama. As they strive to work harder and increase interest in their town, the group makes new discoveries about one another and overcome the problems they’d previously faced to revitalise interest in their town, even piquing interest from professional performer Mako Kamisu (who plays Kamidaio), and in their largest performance yet, Misaki manages to overcome her own doubts to help her friends in putting on a successful presentation, staving off the performance venue’s closure. Action Heroine Cheer Fruits aired during the summer of 2017, concurrently with Sakura Quest, and as such, ended up being relegated to my backlog. However, I recently determined it would be appropriate to begin clearing out my backlog, and having left Action Heroine Cheer Fruits alone for over four years, I decided to begin my journey here.

At its heart, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is a combination of the Super Sentai genre and town revitalisation; like 2014’s Futsū no Joshikōsei ga Locodol Yattemita and Sakura Quest, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits‘ main focus is about driving interest towards Japan’s smaller towns. Rural flight is very much a challenge in Japan, as youth migrate to larger cities in search of opportunity, leading countryside talent pools to become depleted. This creates a positive feedback loop in that, the more youth leave, the harder it becomes to convince residents to remain. Locodol had Nanako and Yukari take up the role of idols to present Nagarekawa’s specialties to the rest of the world, and to this end, they participated in a range of activities, from concerts, to TV spots. Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, on the other hand, began with Mikan’s promise to her younger sister. However, from this act of keeping her sister happy, Mikan inadvertently sets in motion the events that help to raise Hinano to prominence. Watching Action Heroine Cheer Fruits was a thrill because the act of putting one’s heart and soul into raising awareness for their town’s specialties, fruits, also helps each of Mikan, Ann, Kanon, Misaki, Roko, Mana, Genki, Yūki and Hatsuri to overcome their own internal struggles. Mikan begins quite shy, but becomes more confident with what she does as she spends more time on the Cheer Fruits project. Misaki realises that she’s with a group of friends who won’t abandon her, and Yūki begins to rediscover the joys of performing anew after having suffered a major setback as an idol. In this way, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits speaks to the idea that possessing the open-mindedness to try something new and contribute to the community results in dividends that manifest as personal growth; the girls give back to their town and gain something wonderful for their troubles.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right out of the gates, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits establishes that Mikan is the sort of individual who cares very much for those around her despite her soft-spoken nature: Yuzuka’s tears prompt Mikan to promise an alternate showing after the pair learn that a Kamidaio showing was cancelled. To Mikan’s surprise, a girl her age is also as disheartened as Yuzuka is. In the moment, Mikan is doing her best to help Yuzuka, but it is only afterwards that Mikan realises the scope of her promise.

  • Things begin slowly early in the game; since Ann is known for her love of the tokusatsu genre, Mikan asks her to help out. It takes a while for Mikan to learn the basics, but Ann’s skill as a gymnast and passion means Mikan cannot help but do her best. Their initial show starts off with cool reception, but as Ann and Mikan do their best, the audience (Yuzuka and her friends) become increasingly impressed with the choreography. The presentation ends in a wooden tower collapsing, and this catches Misaki’s attention.

  • Unlike Locodol, Mikan, Ann, Misaki, Mana and Genki do not initially have the full backing of their home town. Mana’s family agree to lend them the ceremonial hall from their shrine to practise and host performances. Misaki intends to have Hinano join the ranks of the national local Heroines program with the goal of drawing positive press and saving a local performance venue from demolition; the project had been her grandfather’s brainchild, but the lack of success was a stain on his legacy. Out of the gates, Misaki is able to recruit Mana, a customer designer, and technician Genki, to help out.

  • Ann is voiced by Miku Itō (Locodol‘s Nanako Usami and Miku Nakano from The Quintessential Quintuplets): with an energetic and spirited personality, Ann feels a great deal like Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari Akiyama. However, while sporting confidence and optimism, there are things that can even get Ann down. In these moments, Itō delivers Ann’s lines in a manner that are very reminiscent of Nanako during equivalent moments in Locodol. Seeing familiar voice actresses in Action Heroine Cheer Fruits was a a comforting experience, and it also speaks to the fact that I’ve been around the block for some time.

  • When noise complaints begin appearing, the girls move their performance to Roko’s home: Roko is Misaki’s best friend and has been with Misaki through many trials, but seeing the setbacks Misaki’s faced leads her to hesitate; unlike Misaki, Roko’s a little more confident and succeeds when she puts in the effort, so she worries about making Misaki feel poorly. In the end, Roko ends up deciding to join; the idea of being a part of a local group to support the town and help Misaki out. Roko’s home is set at a train station, and is definitely one of the more unique living spaces I’ve seen in any anime.

  • When Kanon confronts Ann about their past gymnastics rivalry, the irreverent and easygoing Ann ends up leaving Kanon in the dust, prompting Kanon to join the heroine group for the singular purpose of getting even with Ann later on. Kanon’s hostility, however, is employed as a comedic device, and as she spends more time with the group, who take on the name Cheer Fruits after Mikan suggests capitalising on their town’s specialties as a part of its theme, Kanon begins to genuinely become invested in doing her best for Hinano, as well.

  • While Action Heroine Cheer Fruits might be about cute girls taking the initiative to drive energy and excitement about their home town, it’s not all smooth sailing: everyone faces their own internal challenges, as well, and a large part of the enjoyment in Action Heroine Cheer Fruits comes precisely from watching how individuals face adversity by opening up to the others. When Genki’s twin, Yūki, is approached to perform the vocal pieces (the girls determine they’d be able to engage audiences more with singing), Yūki initially hesitates after recalling her previous experiences.

  • With support from Genki and the rest of the Cheer Fruits, Yūki manages to get past her fears, and in time, becomes a dedicated member of the Cheer Fruits, as well. The idea of mutual support, specifically, that the group helps individuals find their footing, and each individual brings something new to the group, was one of my favourite aspects about Action Heroine Cheer Fruits; positive messages in fiction are always welcome, and when done well, makes for an uplifting and inspiring series to check out.

  • In the end, having Yūki on board allows the Cheer Fruits to up their game considerably; as their team size grows, the possibility of doing increasingly elaborate performances improves, as well. However, for the Cheer Fruits, eyes are on expanding their game further so that they can rise in the rankings and really generate excitement for Hinano; there’s a list of towns participating in the heroine program, and Misaki is watching things closely, realising that some of the better known heroine groups utilise special effects.

  • As it so happens, Hatsuri happens to be the heir to a local construction firm and her family is close with Misaki’s family. Hatsuri herself is versed with explosives and construction equipment, on top of possessing strong acting talent. She seems perfect for the Cheer Fruits, but on her trial run, her over-the-top presentation discourages Misaki and Roko. On a second attempt, Hatsuri presents a scaled-back audition that impresses everyone; while Hatsuri had definitely the skills, the Cheer Fruits’ concern had been that Hatsuri might go overboard. WIth this issue addressed, Hatsuri becomes a regular member of the Cheer Fruits.

  • Watching Hatsuri join the Cheer Fruits was particularly amusing, and a great many tears were shed in the process. Anime such as these always tend towards the fluffy-and-cute side of things, and I imagine that this is a deliberate choice to help viewers empathise with the characters’ struggles, such that their successes are more rewarding. When done in moderation, this really helps to bring viewers closer to the characters; watching the Cheer Fruits improve with each presentation was the payoff, and admittedly, with the choreography, special effects and cohesion, the Cheer Fruits do not resemble an amateur group in any way.

  • When Mikan struggles to write a new script for their latest performance, she decides that the Cheer Fruits should go on a summer camp to unwind. Mikan had intended to use this as a chance to see her friends act naturally and draw inspiration from this for her script, but along the way, a thunderstorm delays their train ride. Seeing the children’s worry, Mikan decides to put on a Cheer Fruits show for them, spurring Ann and the others to do the same. In a matter of moments, a train car of crying children suddenly become joyous as they sing and dance alongside the Cheer Fruits. It is only later that Mikan becomes embarrassed; she’s the sort of person who lives in the moment and acts to do what’s best.

  • These traits mean that Mikan is my favourite of the Cheer Fruits characters, if and when I’m asked; while shy and modest, Mikan cares for those around her and can be surprisingly bold if the situation demands it. Here, she reacts to the others commenting on her bust, which gave her unwanted attention. Consequently, Mikan is the sort of individual who doesn’t actively seek the spotlight. Conversations like these are tastefully done to help viewers gain insight into why characters sport the traits they are seen with; most anime tend to utilise such moments purely for comedy, but Action Heroine Cheer Fruits presents the other side of the coin.

  • Mikan very quickly overheats when the others point out her best traits; Mikan might not have a commanding presence or a bold personality, but she has an appeal about her. This comes after Mikan considers writing out her character so the spotlight can remain on the others; while Mikan might not be aware of things, her friends see things differently, and Mikan’s support in a given show is invaluable for the others.

  • By the end of camp, Mikan is able to see her friends together, and the festivities surrounding things mean that she’s able to rewrite her script to create an all-new scenario that everyone finds enjoyable. The artwork in Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is middle-of-the-road (but nonetheless remains serviceable), but where the anime shines is the animation; this is most apparent during the performances, during which Ann and Kanon perform feats of acrobatics that wow their audience.

  • At the next performance, Mikan emcees the proceedings with gusto, setting aside her shy nature and really gets into her role. While Action Heroine Cheer Fruits began with Mikan, she is by no means the central character; this anime spends time on all characters in an even fashion, giving everyone a chance to shine and develop in their own way. As the Cheer Fruits develop their craft further, Genki decides to try has hand at directing, and immediately sets about pushing her friends further. Meanwhile, Misaki plans out how to best incorporate a fireworks show with their presentation, since it is set the same evening as their latest show.

  • While this initially creates setbacks for the Cheer Fruits, and Genki’s methods prove very demanding (such as asking Mikan and Hatsuri to train in a manner Mikan finds embarrassing). A cursory look around finds that period discussion on Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is surprisingly limited, and what discussion there was paints the series in a positive fashion; people generally enjoyed Action Heroine Cheer Fruits and count it as a fun, gentle series that was overshadowed by other anime during the summer 2017 season.

  • Admittedly, I am rather surprised by this: anime like Action Heroine Cheer Fruits would ordinarily be picked apart by internet critics, down to the last pixel for things like realism, decision-making and whatnot. The quiet surrounding Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is therefore something of a rarity, but this is not unwelcome; for me, anime that draw few criticisms would be indicative of the idea that enough things were done sufficiently well such that people could sit back and enjoy things.

  • Misaki’s failure during a tennis match some years earlier is shown in flashback on several occasions: it turns out that after Misaki’s grandfather had finished his project of giving Hinano a concert venue during his term as mayor, critics were quick to challenge the decision, and he would die on her birthday, leaving Misaki to believe herself cursed. Not wishing to burden anyone, she shied away from many things, fearing she’d bring ruin to whatever she touches. This story occupies most of Action Heroine Cheer Fruits‘ final episodes, and indeed, Roko’s belief in Misaki is strong enough so that the two do spar over it.

  • During the performance on the evening of the fireworks, Misaki improvises a new role in order to keep their audience entertained when a rainstorm causes a delay in the fireworks. Hatsuri has long admired Misaki, and while Misaki respects Hatsuri for what she brings to the table, one has to wonder how much of this is improvised. The Cheer Fruits do demonstrate that they possess at least the same ability to improvise, the same way Justin Roiland does whenever voicing the Interdimensional Cable segments of Rick and Morty. This fifth season has been hilarious, even though there’s been no Interdimensional Cable, although I have heard the final two episodes will air in the first week of September.

  • In the end, the Cheer Fruits manage to pull things off, and right as they roll back the stage for their finale, the first of the fireworks begin to show up. Creativity and adaptivity is one of the Cheer Fruits’ strongest point; every show we’ve seen them perform has been solid, more sophisticated and engaging than the last. Unsurprisingly, the Cheer Fruits break into the top ten on the national list, and this prompts Mako Kamisu to show up in town.

  • As it turns out, Mako is a big fan of the Cheer Fruits, and she shares with them a story that she’d gotten her start mimicking the popular show of their day, as well, which led to copyright issues that eventually resulted in her getting creative. During Mako’s visit, Ann is completely star-struck, and spends much of the episode sounding like Nanako Usami. This stands in stark contrast with her usual personality and shows another side to the typically-confident and happy-go-lucky Ann. However, after Mako’s visit, the Cheer Fruits begin to worry about details in their show, and ultimately, are completely uncoordinated.

  • Despite a disastrous showing, the Cheer Fruits “only” drop to rank twenty five; the group has lost much of their confidence, but Mana takes advantage of this to show the others that Hinano’s citizens have set up a rank metre near the train station. No matter what happens to the Cheer Fruits, they’ll always have the town’s support. This is a reminder to Misaki and the others that the original goal that the Cheer Fruits had was to put Hinano on the map and save their local performance venue from being demolished.

  • It turns out that Mana also had another reason for bringing everyone out; she’d created new uniforms for everyone to wear during their next presentation, although out of excitement, she also went ahead and made additional merchandise without Misaki’s permission. This is a point of contention for Misaki, who tends to grow stony-faced whenever she learns that Mana’s gone ahead and done this; of everyone, Mana is very entrepreneurial and will try to devise ways of making coin to support her family’s shrine.

  • There is something remarkably pleasant about Roko’s train-car room; I’ve long had a fondness for apartment living, ever since I visited a family friend a province over decades earlier. Compared to single-family homes, apartments offer the advantages of being more compact and cost-effective, plus there’s less general maintenance. For someone whose time is stretched thin as it is, these are major factors in my preference. Back in Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, the group prepare for their performance at the local venue, resolute on making things as memorable as possible to prevent its demolition.

  • Of course, it wouldn’t be anime without one final spanner in the works: as the date of the performance arrives, Misaki visits her aunt and learns that the demolition is likely to go ahead regardless of how well the Cheer Fruits do. This sends her into a depression, and while Mikan had written the script with Misaki’s role in mind, she and the other Cheer Fruits are able to accommodate the sudden, unexpected turn of events. Efforts to reach Misaki are completely unsuccessful, but the show must go on: the group are inspired by Misaki’s aunt and promise to do their best anyways.

  • In the end, once the Cheer Fruits do manage to contact Misaki, they begin improvising to communicate to Misaki just how much she’s missed. To the audience, the Cheer Fruits are merely acting out their play, but the genius of this is that everyone’s real feelings are coming through here to Misaki. From the audience’s perspective, then, each of Mikan, Ann, Mana, Hatsuri and Yūki are conveying their emotions far more strongly than they’d ever done. Realising that the Cheer Fruits aren’t going to leave her, Misaki snaps out of her stupour and heads on over. Even though she crashes her bike, she recalls words of strength from her friends upon opening a charm the others had given her.

  • Thus, the finale ends up being a heartful performance for Misaki’s sake, capturing the Cheer Fruits’ feelings in full that allows everyone to really get into their performance. Action Heroine Cheer Fruits ultimately ends up taking a different approach than did Locodol: there’s not much travel, and the series’ events are set almost entirely inside Hinano. Both series have their charm, and for me, the amount of commitment both Locodol and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits portrays their series’ respective protagonists as having towards their home town is commendable.

  • I relate to this element particularly well: while the remainder of Canada gives Calgary bad press owing to our dependence on a fossil fuel economy, and the fact that our local economy has tanked owing to its reliance on oil and gas, I prefer living in Calgary over the traffic jams of Toronto, and the eye-popping cost of living in Vancouver. Calgary is close to the mountains, has enough amenities and culture to keep things enjoyable, and we’re also the sunniest city in the whole of Canada. Consequently, I’ve long felt that Calgary has what it takes to succeed, and my hope is that the city begins to appreciate the economic value that technology brings to the table. I’ve previously helped with initiatives to drive up tech in the city, and while my contributions aren’t anywhere as visible as the Cheer Fruits’, every bit counts.

  • The Cheer Fruits’ success allow them to continue performing, and plans to demolish the performance venue are pushed back to allow the girls a chance to do their best. Altogether, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is a solid anime, an A grade (4.0 of 4.0, or for folks who prefer the ten point system, 9.0 of 10). Sincere, inspiring and moving, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits might not have been as large as Sakura Quest, but it succeeds on its own terms, providing viewers with a heartfelt and enjoyable self-contained story, one that I certainly I’d watched earlier.

Optimistic, bright and cheery, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is a series that I quickly fell in love with; while the concept is nothing new (Locodol had done something similar, as did Tari Tari), but the characters themselves each contributed to the series’ charm. Everyone brings something unique to the table, and with the technical details in good hands, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is really able to focus on how everyone grows as a result of their common goals to promote Hinano, its fruits and specialties to the wider world. This journey is far from smooth: shows initially draw few viewers, are stymied by copyright claims, and when the Cheer Fruits begin coming to their own, pressure causes the group to perform poorly. However, these setbacks are temporary, and the girls always find a way to encourage one another to try again. Mikan’s writing takes a hit, and she ends up capitalising on a summer camp to rediscover what makes the Cheer Fruits special. Hatsuri learns to dial things back rather than going all-out. Roko becomes less reliant on Misaki, and Misaki overcomes her fears of failing those around her. These are relevant and heart-warming messages that speak to the importance of being active and involved, as well as having faith in those around oneself. Altogether, Action Heroine Cheer Fruits presents a very concise, entertaining and self-contained experience that shows yet again, how the moé genre is more than just cute girls doing cute things; seeing the drive amongst each of Mikan, Ann, Kanon, Misaki, Roko, Mana, Genki, Yūki and Hatsuri to put on an excellent show, impress those around them and drive interest to Hinano is inspiring, giving viewers plenty of reason to cheer for this dedicated and skilled crew as they strive to make a positive difference in their home town.

Magia Record Season Two: Review and Reflections After Three

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” –Oscar Wilde

Madoka, Homura and Sayaka face off against Patricia, a Witch occupying a labyrinth of endless blue skies and a yearning for the classroom. However, their combined strength is insufficient to beat it, and they retreat to fight another day. While Homura feels as though she’s a burden to the others, Sayaka is disheartened by the fact that the fate of all Magical Girls is to become a Witch, after witnessing Mami’s transformation. Madoka manages to convince Sayaka that she’s needed and the three beat Patricia. Homura begins to feel that she might have a chance of saving Madoka. Back in Kamihama, Yachiyo manages to learn from a Magius member that their headquarters is at the Hotel Faint Hope. Nemu assigns newly-minted Magius member Kuroe with hunting down an Uwasa and reveals that the Uwasa are artificially created. Frustrated at the lack of information, Yachiyo asks Mitama about the Magius and learn that a black feather is needed to enter Hotel Faint Hope. She encounters Kuroe and Mifuyu; while Kuroe flees, Yachiyo engages Mifuyu and nearly kills her while in her Doppel form, but holds back the last blow. She leaves Mifuyu and takes off after Kuroe, encountering the Eternal Sakura, where Iroha’s Doppel form is found. Both Kuroe and Yachiyo are engulfed and enter a fantasy world Iroha’s Doppel has created, and despite Yachiyo’s mistrust of Kuroe, the pair manage to defeat the Doppel and frees Iroha, who tearfully embraces Yachiyo. Meanwhile, Madoka prepares to head over to Kamihama and rescue Mami. We thus return to Magia Record‘s second season: the first season had ended with almost the whole of Mikazuki Villa joining the Wings of Magius, and Iroha had seemingly fallen to darkness. This occurred over a year and a half ago, so getting back into things proved to require a bit of reading, but overall, the second season reignites intrigue in the story by bringing Madoka and Homura back and establishing that whatever the Wings of Magius have planned out, it will backfire.

Madoka Magica had long suggested that all wishes have a price, and moreover, if something appears too good to be true, there will inevitably be a drawback. The Wings of Magius have been selling the idea that they can circumvent the risk of a Magical Girl becoming a Witch though a hitherto undisclosed means. This method manifests as having the Magical Girls become Doppels instead, and by becoming Doppels, their Soul Gems clear up. However, the method itself has its risks, with the risk of becoming addicted to the additional firepower potentially leading one to remain stuck in Doppel form being the least of a wielder’s concerns. On paper, the idea of using Uwasa to create barriers and allow the Doppels to manifest appear to have overcome the Incubator’s designs: Soul Gems are being purified, and Magical Girls can revert to their original states after exiting their Doppel forms. This is the out that many Magical Girls seek: previously, after learning that their fates were consigned to suffering, Magical Girls would succumb to despair and become full-fledged Witches themselves. Unfortunately, the secretive and shadowy nature of the Wings of Magius leads one to wonder if they’ve hidden something. Indeed, the cult-like atmosphere surrounding the Wings of Magius creates a feeling of unease, and while their words outwardly sound appealing, Yachiyo has things right: she adamantly refuses to join and believes that there must be another way. As it stands, the unknowns continue to linger around the Wings of Magius, and one cannot help but be curious as to what precisely will unfold once the Magius’ plans are out in the open.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Sayaka and Mami had made an appearance in Magia Record‘s first season, this time around, Homura and Madoka herself also make an appearance, with Chiwa Saitō and Aoi Yūki reprising their respective roles. Besides Homura, I know Saitō as Gundam 00‘s Louise Halevy, Francesca Lucchini of Strike Witches and ARIA‘s Aika S. Granzchesta, while previous works I’ve seen Yūki in include Sora no Woto (Nöel Kannagi, Oregairu (Komachi Hikigaya) and Kanojo, Okarishimasu (Mami Nanami). It was brilliant to see everyone back, and Magia Record brings viewers back to a familiar fight, where the original Madoka Magica had Homura cutting her teeth in a fight against Patricia, a classroom-themed Witch.

  • In every timeline, the revelation that Magical Girls become Witches drive everyone over the edge and casts doubt in their fight, whereas prior to this knowledge, Magical Girls fight with a sense of duty and devotion, viewing themselves as heroes destined for great things. The idea that Magical Girls inevitably become Witches presents a very cynical world view, intended to act as a parallel for the Big Freeze hypothesis (if the universe has an open topology and the dark energy is a positive cosmological constant, it will continue expanding indefinitely and eventually, all matter will reach a state of equilibrium). Madoka Magica aimed to show that regardless of what the universe’s outcome is, there is still good worth fighting for.

  • However, the combination of vivid imagery and reference to one of the hypotheses on the universe’s ultimate fate led some fans to pull in everything they picked up from their undergraduate courses, shoehorning them into discussions even where the topic proved unrelated. I’ve found that many individuals bring up an -ism and define it only to show “the anime does this” without elaborating on how the sum of everything contributes to how well the series is able to present its themes. Literary analysis is more than regurgitating definitions, and it is rare that works of fiction focus on a single element; instead, authors often draw from a pool of principles and allow them to play out in fiction to indicate what they make of a set of concepts.

  • As such, in order to be useful, discussions bringing up philosophy, religion and psychology must consider them in the context of the characters, their interactions and decisions. It is not often that contemporary discussions were able to successfully do so: an article from Reel Rundown, for instance, is useless because it only fits observations from Madoka Magica into an -ism. While the author of that article might demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of the -isms, there is absolutely no effort to synthesise the findings, nor evaluate how well everything fits together: how does Gen Urobuchi’s perspective of certain philosophies impact where the story goes, and how well do the different concepts interact in Madoka Magica (e.g. do different -isms conflict, create positive feedback loops, etc.)?

  • For instance, in the aforementioned article, the author argues that Madoka is a tabla rasa because she starts out without any defined traits of her own. However, this is as far as it gets. The “so what?” aspect is noticeably absent. This assertion only shows that the author knows what the blank slate is, but never specifies how this is relevant to Madoka Magica (e.g. “it allows Madoka to assess information as it becomes available and draw upon her own convictions to make a decision without bias resulting from prior knowledge”). In order for this sort of thing to offer value to a reader, one must go a step further. I find that -isms are only useful when they are used to answer the “so what” aspect in an anime.

  • One candidate for an answer I’d look for is that Madoka’s own decisions signify that, if Madoka Magica is about being mindful of one’s wishes, then the naïveté Madoka brings to the table is important because she is able to be unbiased, and therefore, this is what influences her final wish to wipe all Witches out. This final step, in connecting the dots, is what a lot of the period discussions is missing – it may sound impressive, but offers no insight into what the individual got out of something. One could cover this aspect of Madoka’s character without explicitly mentioning the concept of tabla rasa directly, and in fact, I prefer to explain what I made of things in layman’s terms purely because it’s more accessible this way.

  • The first episode to Magia Record‘s second season brought back a large number of memories, as I recalled that the reason I was able to enjoy Madoka Magica to the extent that I did was that I watched the series for myself three years after the bulk of the discussions took place, after all of the internet was ablaze with spoilers and conversation. Without this impediment, I was able to see things for myself and draw my own conclusions. To this day, I hold that possessing formal education in some of the topics Madoka Magica is not a requirement, and is at best, a “nice to have”.

  • Magia Record, on the other hand, never saw discussions quite to the same level of intensity; the anime is based off a mobile game, and shortly after airing, people became more interested in what mechanics would be portrayed, as well as where the story might head. Because Madoka Magica introduced the idea of infinite timelines, it was possible to fit Homura’s attempts onto at least one of these timelines. The Homura here seems to be a cross between the novice Homura who utilised her time magic to help Madoka and Sayaka score their first kill, and the cynical, worn Homura who’d lived a lifetimes’ worth of attempts to save Madoka.

  • Sayaka had always been my favourite of the Magical Girls in Madoka Magica because I related to her particularly well: her original wish was to heal Kyōsuke’s hand and listen to him play again. However, when his mobility is restored, he begins developing feelings for Sayaka and Madoka’s friend, Hitomi. While contemporary discussions painted Hitomi as the villain, I completely disagree with that assessment: Sayaka’s decisions were her own, and her fate was meant to outline how even with supernatural intervention, matters of the heart are not so easily resolved.

  • When Madoka manages to bring Sayaka out of her slump, Sayaka is able to lead her team to victory: I was particularly amused by Sayaka grabbing Madoka and Homura like ragdolls and using her speed in conjunction with Homura’s time magic and Madoka’s magic arrows top overwhelm Patricia. Magia Record allows players to approach their foes with some level of creativity, and while the game is still going strong in Japan, the English-language servers shut down back in September to general disappointment. This does demonstrate the dangers of investing so much time into always-online games, and I am aware that games like The Division 2 are subject to the same risks.

  • While at her worst, Sayaka can be seen as the tragic heroine whose desire to do good backfired, at her best, Sayaka is bold, courageous and kind, doing everything she can in order to do right by those around her. As Magia Record suggests, Sayaka is the sort of person who likes to be depended on, and while she eventually succumbs to despair in Madoka Magia, when the right people are in her corner, Sayaka can also lift up those around her. Here, after Madoka reminds Sayaka that she’s still needed, Sayaka picks herself up and spurs on the other two to fight as a team.

  • The rumours surrounding Kamihama are such that news of there being something to save Magical Girls, and the fact Mami was last seen in Kamihama, motivates Madoka to check it out for herself. This setup could mean that Madoka and Iroha will meet for the first time, and contribute to the effort to thwart whatever plans the Magius have. While we’ve seen allies fall to the Magius, and the fact that the Magius’ goals seem noble enough, the fact that the game has players fighting Magius-aligned Witches indicate that something is off.

  • This is nowhere more apparent than with Yachiyo, who continues to pursue leads on her own even as Mikazuki Villa empties out. Yachiyo is a powerful Magical Girl, but her biggest weakness is a fear that people important to her will leave her. This is why Yachiyo is so reserved around others, and prefers working alone. However, when she met Iroha, her world changed completely, and Magia Record has her seeking out Iroha because they’d made a promise to one another. For Iroha, Yachiyo has no qualms about cutting straight to the chase, and interrogating Magius’ lower ranking members gives her a lead.

  • Shortly after Magia Record ended, I made a parody featuring the audio from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, featuring Hux’s speech overlaid on top of Touka’s speech. While I found the juxtaposition amusing, it is evident that the rest of the community found my sense of humour difficult to follow, as evidenced by the low engagement with my video. I’m not too bothered, though – said video only took five minutes to make.

  • Returning to the Coordinator Headquarters (unrelated to Gundam SEED‘s Coordinators, and unfortunately, not known as the Sanctum Sanctorium), Yachiyo questions Mitama for information surrounding the Doppels: Mitama is strictly neutral at the present, refusing to give Yachiyo more information than is necessary, but I imagine that a time will come when Mitama might be forced to pick a side. It’s a shame that Momoko and the others have succumbed to the Magius’ ideology: I was rather fond of the group of Witches that had formed during Magia Record‘s first season.

  • Whereas Yachiyo once considered Mifuyu a friend, ideological differences drive a wedge between the two, and it does feel like Yachiyo is made to bear the consequences of watching a friend be taken in by a cult. While a little bit of logic will reveal that the cult’s beliefs are flawed, inconsistent and contradictory, they do have a particular talent for obfuscating reality and making it seem as though they could deliver one the world on a silver platter. Magius’ promise of being able to save Magical Girls from their fates is a tempting one, but since the Madoka Magica universe has empathetically stated that all promises come with consequences, one cannot help but feel that whatever Magius is doing will only cause harm.

  • Yachiyo’s fight with Mifuyu has both manifesting their Doppels in combat: if memory serves, Doppels greatly bolster a Magical Girl’s capabilities. In the games, the Doppel is similar to Street Fighter‘s revenge bar in that, upon sustaining enough damage, players can tap into their anger and unleash a powerful attack capable of massive damage. In the anime, Doppels are hinted as being dangerous to wield, and when Yachiyo brings her Doppel to the party, she very nearly loses control, only restraining herself before any serious harm comes to Mifuyu.

  • After letting Mifuyu go, Yachiyo continues following Kuroe until she encounters the Eternal Sakura, where Iroha is located. Kuroe was an anime-original character who assisted Iroha early on, but now, she’s become a member of the Wings of Magius, and answers to Nemu. Upon finding Iroha, Kuroe and Yachiyo are both engulfed by Iroha’s Doppel, whereupon they both awaken in a dream-world Iroha’s Doppel has created.

  • One aspect about Magia Record that is not well-discussed is the soundtrack: while Yuki Kajiura create a legendary collection of incidental music for Madoka MagicaMagia Record is composed by Takumi Ozawa. Consequently, the tone and style is completely different: Kajiura’s soundtrack is an immensely encompassing composition, speaking to the horrors of battle, the powers Magical Girls possess and lighter moments everyone spends off the battlefield. By comparison, Ozawa’s songs have a slightly more contemplative and mysterious tone about them, relating to how Magia Record is slower to surrender its secrets.

  • However, when it comes to combat music, Ozawa manages to recreate the style that Kajiura had established: Ozawa’s songs are able to retain the Madoka Magica feel, utilising familiar motifs, while at the same time, give a hint of Ozawa’s own interpretation of the universe and its aural aesthetic. As such, Magia Record does feel like a modernised Madoka Magica. However, while the anime may be using newer animation techniques, some things don’t change. Surreal imagery has always been an integral part of the Madoka Magica universe, and when Kuroe takes Yachiyo to the hospital, she finds a small city in the room that Iroha’s younger sister, Ui, is assigned to.

  • The surest sign that this world is not real was the fact that Iroha’s replaced Ui with a stuffed bear. There was a melancholy in watching this, and like Yachiyo, viewers can swiftly put two and two together to realise that Iroha’s dream world is deliberately made to suppress her pain – the first season, after all, had Iroha come to Kamihama with the sole purpose of locating Ui. Such a strong purpose is not so easily lost, and one can surmise that the Iroha of this dream world is not the Iroha from season one.

  • The small doorway behind Ui’s bed is adorable, and also speaks to the surrealism within Magia Record – it leads to a strange field, yet another mystery within an enigma. Yachiyo declines Kuroe’s help, intending to find Iroha herself. Despite Kuroe’s affiliation with the Wings of Magius, I suspect that Kuroe’s friendship with Iroha may win out yet. It is still a bit early in Magia Record to determine if this is the case or not, but in a series that has previously been full of surprises, I’ve learnt it’s easier not get too invested in speculations on what might happen next, especially where the series could pull the rug out from under readers.

  • In Iroha’s Doppel, old faces like Sana, Tsuruno and Felicia make a return – one of the joys about Magia Record‘s first season was that it brought a group of disparate Magical Girls together and allowed them a modicum of happiness. The mugs that everyone went shopping for act as a symbol of their friendship, a sign that even in a world as turbulent as this, it was possible to nonetheless share moments of peace together. Iroha greatly valued this, explaining why her Doppel would craft such an environment. Friendship is indeed something that is to be treasured, and I’ve come to accept that I’m the sort of person who doesn’t have a large number of friends, instead, I have a small group of people I trust implicitly. Being apart from everyone, and then meeting them again has led me to appreciate our time together doubly – earlier today, I had the chance to hang out with a mate from my health science days. I’m glad to hear he’s been well, and that we’re holding out (even thriving) in these uncertain times.

  • Our evening began with katsu at a local joint, where we both ordered their assorted katsu special (hire cut, cheese and ebi). The dinner combo also came with a side of yam fries and a drink. This proved to be a fantastic way to try out a little of everything on the menu. The hire (tenderloin) proved flavourful, and I’m a big fan of prawns; both katsu were delicious as expected. Most surprising of all was the cheese katsu: consisting of mozzarella cheese wrapped in a thin layer of pork loin, I had imagined this one to be quite rich and heavy, but the cheese was very light despite being so flavourful. After dinner ended, we agreed to a walk around the riverside park to burn off dinner. We exchanged work stories, thoughts on the government’s handling of current issues and the MCU’s latest works. Our discussions wandered towards what one can do with three weeks of vacation time. I had intended on staying at a ryōkan in the future, but on suggestion from my friend, a local road trip or visit to Winnipeg doesn’t sound bad, either. We were close to the area where the office for my first job was, and out of curiosity, I suggested we wandered over to see how the old building was doing.

  • To my utter surprise, the building was demolished, and in fact, the rubble is still being cleared. My friend joked that in my absence, the company had literally been run into the ground. I laughed; while the situation had been a little more complex, this was not an unfair assessment. Three years earlier to this day, I’d be in Denver right now after a day’s worth of work on chasing bugs in a Xamarin app. While I learnt a great deal from this project, it was utterly exhausting, and the time spent on it meant effort was directed away from my old startup, which contributed to its demise. On the topic of software development, I finished off a six-hour course on React development earlier today so that I’m better versed for some of the work I’ll be looking at. This course comes with a LinkedIn Learning certificate, which is cool, but this certificate really means “I’ve familiarised myself with the basics and are ready to begin my journey” – I’m quite excited to give things a whirl despite knowing that I’m a novice in React, and the course also demonstrated how versatile JavaScript is: with Express and MongoDB, one could easily spin up a server and the endpoints to communicate with things.

  • I see some interesting possibilities in this, since learning a little NodeJS would allow me to really build iOS apps entirely on my own. For now, I’ll focus on what I need for work: React is the priority, and while I won’t be as insightful or efficient as I am with Swift, knowing the basics behind a ReactJS application will hopefully give me the confidence to contribute meaningfully to this project. Back in Magia Record, Yachiyo is baffled by the mysteries within Iroha’s Doppel and ends up deducing that the Doppel is suppressing the more painful moments in Iroha’s life, rather similarly to how precisely how half her home was vacant. Without any more answers, Yachiyo destroys the doll, setting off the Doppel’s insecurities. Kuroe had returned to the others while Yachiyo was searching in a different region, and this action destroys the illusion: the Doppel becomes hostile as the dream world begins falling apart.

  • One would therefore suppose that punching through a delusion is to hit directly at the source of the problem; while initially, it’s just Yachiyo defending against Iroha’s Doppel, Kuroe soon shows up with the assist. The environment inside Iroha’s Doppel lacks the same sense of hostility as do many of the Witches’ labyrinths, and one can suppose that this is because it’s set in an open field, rather than a location without solid ground. Assuming this to be the case, it would suggest that Iroha’s despair means that she subconsciously desires a world where she can spend time with those dear to her.

  • During the fight, Kuroe chucks her batons at Iroha’s Doppel in an attempt to help out with the fighting. These weapons are misidentified as sceptres by some (they’re too short to be sceptres), and the way Kuroe wields them suggests that they’re actually Stielhandgranate rather than batons. Once enough damage is done, the dream world begins collapsing, and both Kuroe and Yachiyo return to the real world.

  • With Iroha liberated from her dream, she reunites with Yachiyo, and the two promise to never leave one another’s sides again. For Yachiyo, this is a major moment, since it shows her that those who leave her have a chance of returning – it did feel like Iroha and Madoka are characters that have a serious but kind individual doting over them (Yachiyo and Homura, respectively). These parallels would suggest that Homura’s endless efforts in saving Madoka might not be in vain, although for now, the joy surrounding Yachiyo and Iroha’s reunion is short lived, since the Magius pose a nontrivial threat to existence.

  • This post comes out just ahead of the fourth episode’s airing: I’m hearing that this season will be eight episodes in length, and that there’s going to be a third season, as well. Because of the unexpected airing pattern, I’ll aim to return after this season’s finale airs to offer my thoughts on where thing are, and then subsequently determine where to go from there. For the present, however, I will enjoy the fact that Yachiyo and Iroha are reunited; with whatever is coming up, I imagine that Yachiyo could use every bit of support she can get to thwart whatever the Magius have cooked up.

The Madoka Magica series has a reputation for allegedly demanding a formal background in religion, philosophy and classical literature amongst viewers: some individuals suppose that one needs a minimum familiarity with Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Locke to even begin appreciating what the series is doing, along with several courses in the nature of religion, its role as a response to existential questions, and the relationship of religion to contemporary thought and culture. During my time as an undergraduate student, I never took any courses dealing with such materials, and it would be expected that someone like myself would be completely unable to comprehend the messages in Madoka Magica. I ended up watching Madoka Magica after the final year of my undergraduate program ended, and when the series ended, the core message was really just “be mindful of what you wish for”, a moral that children are constantly reminded of, because every wish, when improperly thought out, can create unforeseen problems. While an enjoyable series, Madoka Magica certainly didn’t place unreasonable expectations on viewers. Magia Record is similar in this regard: the series similarly is forwards about its themes, and instead, creates suspense by slowly teasing at what’s coming. At least, this is what the first season was doing; here in the second season, it does appear that the curtain is slowly rolling back, and viewers will have a chance to see what Magius has planned out. Whatever lies ahead, I imagine that Yachiyo’s desire to stop Magius will turn out to be well-founded: she has, after all, considerable experience as a Magical Girl, and her conviction is strong. Having saved Iroha and demonstrating she does care for those around her, Yachiyo now has an ally in her corner, and it will be interesting to see how Yachiyo, Iroha, Homura and Madoka get along when their paths inevitably collide as they struggle to accomplish their goals in a universe where desires often morph into calamity.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“告訴他在擂臺上以命相搏是中國歷來的陋習, 可我們有另一種傳統叫「以武會友」!”
“He wants to kick your butt.”

–Huo Yuanjia and what the official translates things as, Fearless

Special Week is a horse girl who moves from her sleepy home town in Hokkaido to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, where she dreams of making it big at Tracen Academy and fulfil her promise to her mother to take the title of being the greatest horse girl in. On her first day in Tokyo, she becomes sidetracked and ends up watching a race featuring Silence Suzuka, a skillful horse girl known for her speed on the track, and finesse as an idol. In a turn of events that can only be chalked up to fate, Special Week and Silence Suzuka end up being roommates, and what’s more, both end up joining Team Spica. While Special Week strives to improve herself, she must also deal with her own doubts when Silence Suzuka suffers from an injury. In spite of this weighing heavily on Special Week’s mind, she continues to train and makes a new promise with Silence Suzuka: to one day race together. Special Week thus experiences the thrill of victory, and the bitterness of a loss, pushing herself further to defeat even Broye, a French horse girl of exceptional skill, in the Japan Cup. However, it is at the second Winter Dream Race where Team Spica’s horse girls finally have a chance to race one another, and while everyone is running to win, the horse girls also have fun with their race. Based on the mobile game for iOS and Android, P.A. Works’ Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s anime adaptation brings a very unique world to life to capture the spirit of the game, as well as immerse viewers in a universe where race horses from past eras are reborn as horse girls; despite the seemingly-outlandish premise, Uma Musume Pretty Derby ends up working out, being sufficiently detailed to make their world feel plausible and authentic.

When news of P.A. Works’ Uma Musume Pretty Derby reached my ears, the series had not been particularly appealing: I come from a city best known for The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™, but horse racing had never been within my realm of interests, and I ended up skipping over the series. However, at the behest of one of my readers, I decided to give Uma Musume Pretty Derby a whirl: the series is prima facie The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™ meets Kandagawa Jet Girls, Azur Lane and Kantai Collection, and recalling my general enjoyment of anthropomorphic anime, I figured that I hadn’t really been fair to Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Moreover, with P.A. Works helming this series, I knew that the visual quality would be typical of the studio’s usual standards. Thus, I began watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and by the time the first episode came to a close, I knew that this series exceeded my expectations going in. The series deals with typical messages of sportsmanship, perseverance and working hard to make promises happen, but more notably, there is no hint at all that Uma Musume Pretty Derby was from a game. The writing and world-building within the anime is seamless, and whatever mechanics drive the game are so finely woven into the story that the world feels life-like. Not very many anime can do this; Kantai Collection and Azur Lane, for instance, utilised elements pulled straight from their respective games, and even Kandagawa Jet Girls utilised the in-race commentary to help viewers keep up. On the other hand, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is able to succinctly introduce viewers into the world of horse girls without falling on game mechanics to define anything. This is ultimately Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s greatest strength, helping to create a compelling world where the elements are so naturally incorporated that one can focus on rooting for Special Week and Team Spica as they race to fulfil their aspirations.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Special Week is modelled on the Thoroughbred of the same name, with a record of 10-4-2, including the Japan Cup in 1999. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s version of Special Week hails from Hokkaido, resembles Kandagawa Jet Girls‘ Rin Namiki in appearance and is voiced by Azumi Waki (Maika from Blend SKuma Kuma Kuma Bear‘s Fina and The Aquatope on White Sand‘s very own Tsukimi Teruya). Upon arriving in Tokyo, Special Week is overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, forgetting about her appointment at Tracen Academy and instead, winds up watching a race featuring the legendary Silence Suzuka.

  • The trainer feeling up Special Week’s thighs is about as much fanservice as Uma Musume Pretty Derby gets into; the remainder of the series is entirely focused on Special Week, her desire to become Japan’s top Horse Girl, and the friendship she strikes up at Tracen. Initially, Special Week is very shy and clumsy, although she compensates by studying hard in her courses. However, Uma Musume Pretty Derby isn’t a run-of-the-mill series about high school, and so, much of the series’ focus happens on the race track, as well as the training leading up to races.

  • Special Week’s only desire is to run on the same team as Silence Suzuka, and when she finds herself kidnapped by Team Spica, she initially tries to turn them down. However, she changes her mind almost immediately after learning Silence Suzuka (Marika Kōno, Hinako Note‘s Yua Nakajima and Sachi Tsubakimori of Slow Start), is set to join Team Spica, named after Alpha Virginis, a blue giant star that is one of the brightest stars in the sky and forms a part of the Summer Triangle along with Arcturus and Regulus.

  • From left to right, Team Spica initially is composed of Special Week, Silence Suzuka, Gold Ship, Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka. There are many names in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, far too many to memorise, but fortunately, P.A. Works is nice enough to take a leaf from Shirobako and name all of the characters with tags for out benefit. With time, folks will at least remember Team Spica’s largest players, and several of the horse girls from Team Rigil, as well.

  • While perhaps not P.A. Works’ most jaw-dropping anime, Uma Musume Pretty Derby nonetheless looks solid in terms of artwork and some of the best animation can be seen during races and victory concerts. Because this series is about horse racing, P.A. Works cuts straight to the chase, and Special Week debuts in a race that sees her take first place; despite her inexperience, Special Week is able to hold her own and win, impressing spectators with a solid first-ever showing.

  • In terms of singing and dancing, Special Week begins her journey completely unprepared to perform, and blanks out during her victory concert. These concerts allow Uma Musume Pretty Derby to combine the thrill of racing with the spectacle of an idol anime – this trend is not new, and since The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya days, anime have combined musical showmanship with their main story as a means of driving up revenue. Voice actresses also sing, and adding in music to a series means being able to use an anime to promote album sales, too. P.A. Works also takes advantage of this to showcase their fabulous animation talents.

  • With time, Special Week begins fitting in with the other members of Team Spica, even going for special training with Tokai Teio to better her singing. It turns out Special Week is motivated by a desire to excel for her both her mothers – her biological mother, who died shortly after Special Week’s birth, and her adoptive mother, who’d looked after her. To express her gratitude, Special Week promises to be “the best in Japan”, a lofty goal without a clear-cut set of criteria. The trainer helps Special Week to mold this into something more tangible, and a combination of training and her natural intuition leads her to victory in her earlier races.

  • Done purely as visual comedy, Special Week becomes engorged after eating too much during a post-race celebration. Special Week, like Akagi of Kantai Collection and Girls und Panzer‘s Hana Isuzu, eats considerably more than her peers. Folks familiar with the original Special Week mention that this is a parallel of the real horse suffering a catastrophic loss at Kyoto Daishōten after gaining weight. Animated media is typically fond of using this approach for indicating when someone’s eaten too much; while unrealistic (food is not converted into adipose tissue immediately upon consumption), it’s a quick and simple way of indicating fullness.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby would be dull if Special Week were to be the next Ip Man, so she also sees her share of losses; her first loss to Seiun Sky comes as she becomes distracted by her skirt not fitting correctly, and in the aftermath, although she promises Silence Suzuka that she’ll train harder, she cries into an open stump on Tracen’s campus grounds. The fact that such a stump exists for the horse girls shows that the campus is well designed, and gives horse girls a place to vent their frustrations before redoubling their efforts.

  • While Uma Musume Pretty Derby doesn’t do anything particularly novel with its themes, the main joy in this series comes from watching Special Week open up to the others; setbacks and failures help her to lean on her teammates more. In particular, despite her exceptional talents, Silence Suzuka takes a liking to Special Week – the two are roommates, and therefore able to converse with one another, sharing stories and encouragement during the evenings. The two become friends over time, rather similarly to Akagi and Fubuki in Kantai Collection, and this slowly helps Special Week to grow as a racer.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby originally ran in 2018’s spring season for a total of thirteen episodes, and a quick glance at the blog’s archives show that I’d been fairly busy: Comic GirlsAmanchu! Advance, and The Division had been keeping me busy, along with several anime films of the day. The archives also indicate that was when I hit a million views for the first time, as well, and looking back, I’ve covered a nontrivial range of anime here. Uma Musume Pretty Derby initially felt like one of those shows I’d have nothing to say about, but I ended up eating my words: attention to detail in world-building and the focus on racing allowed this anime to remain consistently engaging.

  • When Uma Musume Pretty Derby was airing, viewers similarly reported a solid anime whose focus on the act of racing, the training leading up to a race and the aftermath was the series’ biggest strong suit. For many, the series proved to exceed expectations: anime about mobile games occasionally count on familiarity with game mechanics to drive some of the world-building, and folks who come into the series with no prior experience may become lost at the concepts thrown their way. Uma Musume Pretty Derby does no such thing, allowing the anime to stand on its own accord.

  • One detail I particularly liked in Uma Musume Pretty Derby was the fact that Special Week’s ears wiggle, rise and fall depending on her mood. By this point in time, Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen joins the ranks of Team Spica. While the other horse girls may not get anywhere as much screen time as Special Week and Silence Suzuka, but the anime makes certain to show that the other horse girls are capable in their own right, winning races to the best of their ability.

  • A longstanding part of anime I’ve always enjoyed is watching characters bounce off one another or have fun when away from their arena. Details like Daiwa Scarlet’s constant rivalry with Vodka, or the fact that Gold Ship’s teasing of Mejiro McQueen always ends with the former poking her eye do much to give the horse girls character. Series like Kantai Collection and Azur Lane similarly give their characters eccentricities based on their namesakes’ history and real-world traits, and it takes no small amount of writing to work everything into a game.

  • While Japanese games may not possess the same level of technical awe that Western triple-A titles have (Uma Musume Pretty Derby and Azur Lane can run off a mobile phone’s hardware and command a sizeable player-base despite lacking real time ray-tracing, for instance), they offset this by taking characterisation to a whole new level. A major part of these games is getting invested with the characters and their stories, representing a pleasant change of pace from Western titles, where the spectacle and skill-ceiling is where the fun lies.

  • Food is a secondary aspect in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, but in the typical P.A. Works fashion, it is still beautifully rendered. Watching the horse girls let loose at parties is always fun, especially whenever Special Week puts away an insane amount of food at various events.

  • Sportsmanship is easily the best aspect in Uma Musume Pretty Derby: the horse girls are competitive and driven, but handle winning and losing very gracefully. Here, Silence Suzuka and El Condor Pasa exchange words before a big race, challenging the other to bring out their best for a good match. El Condor Pasa is bold, flashy and confident, possessing the skill to back her words, but in this race, Silence Suzuka suffers an injury that knocks her out of the game, leaving El Condor Pasa to win. In the aftermath, El Condor Pasa is devastated, and it was ultimately Special Week who tends to Silence Suzuka until medics arrive.

  • Special Week thus focuses a great deal of her time towards Silence Suzuka’s recovery, visiting her every day and doing her utmost to encourage her. Encouraged by Special Week’s dedication, Silence Suzuka makes considerable strides in her physical recovery. Over time, Silence Suzuka’s fractures heal, and she’s able to walk around without a cast, and she returns to the track with the goal of racing again. The trainer comments that he’d not doubted Silence Suzuka’s ability to heal, but instead, worries about her state of mind.

  • While Silence Suzuka is well enough to train again, the support Special Week had given Silence Suzuka came at a massive cost: Special Week begins to forget that she has her own races to win, and her training suffers as a result. This culminates in Special Week practically throwing a race, and in the aftermath, Grass Wonder confronts Special Week, asking if the latter’s heart had been in this race at all. Team Spica begins suffering as a whole, and this prompts the trainer to mix things up a little.

  • At a training camp, the trainer encourages the horse girls to think of another as rivals rather than friends. After dividing them into teams, he asks them to hold nothing back, as they will be competing in a triathlon of sorts against one another (with a fancy dessert buffet being the victor’s prize). The exercise doesn’t produce any winners; the horse girls are unable to decelerate on a turn during the last part of their race and end up running right into the ocean. Team Spica ends up overcoming their reservations about putting their all against one another, seeing how pushing themselves will also pull their teammates up with them. They share a laugh together and exit the exercise with newfound resolve.

  • Seeing Team Spica celebrate the end of their training camp with all-you-can-eat desserts reminds me of a time when I used to be able to go to Sunday brunches in the mountains. Back in those days, brunches consisted of being able to eat a scrumptious breakfast of made-to-order omelettes, Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon alongside beef stew, prime rib off the carving station and King Crab before wrapping up with unlimited cheesecake. At these buffets, I always favoured the main course type items, but looking back, the cheesecake, chocolate cakes and fondues were tasty, as well. The ongoing health crisis meant that such an experience isn’t possible for the time being, but during yesterday’s dinner (Southern Fried Chicken and gravy with fries), the idea of returning to the mountains was floated as a part of the conversation, and while things aren’t fully back up yet, it suddenly seems like a nice idea to plan out what such a trip might look like.

  • Ahead of her races, Special Week is granted leaves and heads home for Hokkaido, but the moment she gets back, she’s tied to a post to keep her from stretching her legs, resulting in a hilarious and adorable, if somewhat mean-spirited moment. The intention behind this is clear; Special Week had over-trained previously and found herself underperforming during actual races. Her expression here is priceless, although shortly after, dinner is served, and Special Week’s adoptive mother shares with her photographs of their past, before gifting her a special set of horseshoes.

  • Upon her return, Special Week shares with Silence Suzuka her thoughts; she’s striving to be the best to fulfil a promise to both her biological and adoptive mother, as thanks for all they’ve done for her, but since Silence Suzuka recovered, Special Week realises that she’s now longing to test her own mettle against Silence Suzuka and see just how far she’s come thanks to the time they’d spent together. However, before this promise can be fulfilled, Special Week must prepare for the Japan Cup, one of the most prestigious a horse girl can race in.

  • This race is no joke, and France’s Broye expresses an interest in participating, especially after hearing about both Silence Suzuka and Special Week. Broye is a powerhouse in terms of raw speed and endurance; during the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Broye had edged out El Condor Pasa to claim the victory. Although El Condor Pasa had been excited to challenge such a powerful opponent, the results of the race also devastated her, and she wishes for Special Week to do better and avenge the Japanese horse girls. On the day of the race, El Condor Pasa passes a French phrase along to Special Week and lets her know it means “let’s do our best”.

  • The actual phrase is “don’t get full of yourself”, which only serves to fire up Broye and increase tensions during the race. This moment brought to mind Fearless, during the fight in Shanghai between Huo Yuanjia and Hercules O’Brien. When the official asks Yuanjia to sign a death waiver, he declines, saying that fighting to the death is an outdated tradition in Chinese martial arts, and that Chinese martial arts is also about friendship through challenging one’s opponents. The official disregards Yuanjia entirely and informs O’Brien that Yuanjia intends to “kick his butt”. While Yuanjia handily wins the bout, he also saves O’Brien from being impaled on nails that had come loose during their match, earning his respect.

  • I imagine that the same holds true in Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Special Week; while her words may be trash talk, her tone of delivery suggests that she didn’t know what was going on, and she wanted a good match. Impressed with Special Week’s victory, Broye thanks her for the match and promises that they will meet again with her as the victor. With this achievement under her belt, the name Special Week is one that is known throughout Japan, and while Special Week’s original goal of becoming the best was vague, meeting Silence Suzuka and Team Spica allows her to make her dreams become more tangible.

  • While Special Week’s become a fearsome competitor on the track, there are some small moments that still show her more clumsy side: as she steps onto the stage to thank her viewers and give a small victory speech, feedback from the microphone surprises her, causing her to stutter in shock. In mannerisms, Special Week is not so different than Locodol‘s Nanako Usami – now that I think about it, Nanako and Special Week share some similarities in terms of appearance, too.

  • Despite the rough start, Special Week’s victory concert goes very well, and her teammates are happy to cheer her on. Overall, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is a very optimistic and cheerful anime, and looking back, my own reservations for skipping this series were unjustified. With this in mind, I did mix up Uma Musume Pretty Derby with A Centaur’s Life, which had aired a year before Uma Musume Pretty Derby did. At this point in time, I’m not sure if A Centaur’s Life is something I would write about, but perhaps there is merit in at least checking the series out.

  • In the end, Special Week and Silence Suzuka get their wish when the trainer managers to get everyone on Team Spica slotted into a race against one another. This is what Special Week and Silence Suzuka had been working towards, and it’s a satisfactory close to Uma Musume Pretty Derby to watch this final promise be fulfilled, bringing the series to a close. During this finale, the trainer notices a new horse girl, standing where Special Week had a year earlier, and upon fondling her thighs, similarly gets kicked, suggesting that this new horse girl will walk a similar path as Special Week, continuing the cycle. Altogether, Uma Musume Pretty Derby scores an A- in my books for being an engaging series that paints horse-racing in a more interesting light with its colourful cast of characters.

  • Earlier this year, Uma Musume Pretty Derby received a second season, and this one focuses on Tokai Teio, as well as Team Spica’s other members. P.A. Works has a fierce reputation for not doing second seasons, and Uma Musume Pretty Derby is handled by the up-and-coming Studio Kai, which I know best for their work on Super Cub. I’ll check it out as I’m able: I’ve recently decided that it’s time to make a dent in my backlog of slice-of-life anime, including Action Heroine Cheer Fruits, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and Mitsuboshi Colours, as well as wrap up Okusama ga Seito Kaichō. I do have plans to write about each of these series in the near future, and on top of that, this past weekend saw Far Cry 5 available for free play, so I’ll have some thoughts to share on that, as well.

Overall, I found Uma Musume Pretty Derby to be unexpectedly enjoyable: horse-racing in and of itself is unremarkable, and it’s a sport where spectators seem more concerned with the gambling aspect rather than the sport itself. This reputation means that I’m typically not a fan of horse-racing, but par the course for anime, Uma Musume Pretty Derby manages to remove this negativity outright and in its place, create a world where horse-racing is more entertainment than gambling – winning horse girls get to perform in a victory concert, an event that demands solid singing and dancing from those who participate. Similarly, while horse girls are deadly-focused on the track, off the field, they express a sincere enjoyment of racing and view the challenge posed by top horse girls as a means of pushing themselves further. Losses are only ever temporary setbacks, and sportsmanship off the track means that Special Week has no trouble fitting in with the likes of Silence Suzuka, El Condor Pasa and Grass Wonder; while everyone dreams of winning and making it big, friendship and personal improvement is no less important to everyone. It typifies anime to make topics like horse-racing worthwhile, and the character dynamics are balanced out with the races so that Special Week and the others’ efforts are something viewers can cheer for. The outcome of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, then, is the wish that real-world horse racing could be this compelling, and a newfound interest in checking the iOS game out – the anime is a solid standalone experience, but the fact is that it did succeed in piquing my interest for the game. I would go ahead and add this to my library of titles to experience and write about, were it not for the fact Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s mobile incarnation is only available for the Japanese app store. While I can probably figure out the game for myself, my Apple ID is unequivocally bound to the Canadian App Store – I don’t have it in me to go through the process of switching things up for one mobile game, since my Apple ID is used for my personal Apple Developer license (including the associated provisioning profiles, development and distribution certificates). With this in mind, that the Uma Musume Pretty Derby mobile game has come the closest to convincing me to spin up a Japanese Apple ID is a testament to the anime’s successes, and for the present, one hopes that we might see an English-language release bound for the Canadian App Store one of these days.