The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Anime reflection

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

“Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose.” –G.K. Neilson

The days in Neo Venezia begin to develop a distinct chill as winter arrives. While out practising one day, Ai, Azusa and Anya encounter Akira wandering the streets of Neo Venezia alone and decide to tail her, but they are quickly spotted, and Akira invites them to the Undine Museum, meeting Himeya Company’s legendary Asuka, who now curates the museum. As it turns out, Himeya’s last remaining gondola from its founding is undergoing maintenance, and moreover, Aika appears to be refusing to inherit it for her use. Growing concerned that Aika might be losing her confidence, Azusa confronts her with the hopes of getting her to take up the gondola, but is unsuccessful. She later learns from Akira that in her youth, Aika had grown resentful of the pressures that had come with being an heir to the Himeya Company and felt that she had to find her own path. Akira ended up chasing an irate Aika through the canals of Neo Venezia, before Aika settled down, and subsequently took her on a lengthy gondola ride. The reason she’d done this was because she had made a promise to Aika’s mother, who is the current head of Himeya Company. In the morning, Aika reveals that she’d wanted to become an Undine after meeting Alicia, and Akira promises to mentor her, stating that Undines without talent can still make it by putting in the effort. In the present, Azusa, Anya and Ai approach Akari for help, and together, they schedule a gondola ride with Aika as their guide. They stop by the workshop where the Himeya gondola is being repaired, and Akira continues with the story of how Aika came to become a Prima. By the time of her exam, Aika’s become more confident, but feels that she wants to differentiate herself from Akira and make her own place in the sun. To this end, Aika had requested a tougher exam from Akira worthy of Himeya’s heir. After hearing Aika out, Akira agrees and stipulates they will resume the exam at the stroke of midnight. When Aika arrives, she learns that the exam is to see if Aika has the determination and grit of an Undine who is worthy despite lacking talent: the aim is to retrieve a rose from Akira without leaving her gondola, before dawn. Although it seems that Akira has an overwhelming advantage, Aika puts all of her learnings and experiences to use, capitalising on shortcuts and unexpected routes to close the gap between herself and Akira. As dawn approaches, Aika manages to take the rose, and becomes a Prima Undine. In the aftermath, Aika and Akira both cry their eyes out; Akira feels a sense of overwhelming relief at having brought Himeya’s wayward heir back. Aika reveals that she wasn’t a fan of the old gondola because it represented the past, and having undergone so many restorations, none of the old parts remain, so she felt more comfortable in retiring it. Together with all of her peers and friends, Aika prepares to retire Himeya’s last remaining original gondola and, as Christmas draws closer, she focuses on introducing a new item to the Rose Garden, Himeya’s Café, ahead of the coldest days of the year to create new tradition for future customers to enjoy. With this, ARIA the Benedizione, the last of the Blue Curtain Call series, draws to a close, and with it, after nearly two decades of history, ARIA draws to a warm and decisive conclusion.

Through its focus on Aika, Benedizione reiterates to viewers that success is not determined by talent alone. When Akira joined Himeya and passed her exam, Aika’s mother had complimented her on possessing uncommon talent, and moreover, had worked hard to put that talent to use. Akira’s response is telling: she doesn’t believe herself to be intrinsically talented, certainly not like Alicia or Alice, and that everything she’s accomplished and gained was a consequence of putting in the hours, learning and accepting challenges. This put Akira in a unique position to be Aika’s mentor. When the prospect of becoming an Undine hit Aika, Aika suddenly realised that, growing up the daughter of Himeya Company’s owner meant that whatever achievements she made feel unearned. Akira is able to persuade Aika to just work hard and focus on making her own way without worrying about the family legacy, and over time, imbibes Aika with the same sort of resolve that she carried. As such, when Akira pits Aika against an unconventional test, although the success parameters seem impossible, Akira had set this task to her precisely because she was confident that Aika would simply apply honest effort and, in conjunction with her skills, find a way to achieve what she’d set out to do. This is precisely what happens, and Benedizione thus reminds viewers that “talent” and “luck” are ultimately just secondary. Having a natural grasp of something won’t be enough to overcome certain barriers because some problems require persistence and resolve to solve. Falling back on hard work simply means accepting that effort must be directed towards exhausting all possibilities and learning something until one is confident with all of that discipline’s aspects. This is why Akira chooses to subject Aika to an exam of endurance and frustration: while Aika has plainly become skilled as an Undine, she had sold the idea that while unremarkable otherwise, her hard work is her best attribute. However, Aika must prove this to Akira, and this is why the assignment becomes a game of endurance, of Aika coming frustratingly close on numerous occasions, failing, and finding the raw drive to pick herself up and try again. I relate to this aspect in Benedizione especially strongly because as a developer, I am untalented. I do not have an eye for elegant algorithms or clever solutions. However, what I do have is a desire to develop clean, maintainable systems, and the patience to see this through. I work hard at making code readable and well-structured, and in this way, I find that, while I am nowhere as talented as Google or Apple’s brightest engineers, I can still hold my own. This is something I learnt to accept over time, and in Benedizione, it is plain that both Akira and Aika also embrace this ethos, reminding viewers that with rare exceptions (such as athletics and the performing arts), hard work can take individuals very far.

While it was known that Aika would pass her Prima exam, Benedizione makes a special effort to show how significant this milestone was for Aika, who has now fully committed to the path she’s chosen: she will accept the role of taking over Himeya, on the condition that she be allowed to apply her own learnings and newer methods into running the company to strike a balance between old and new. In Aika’s case, the fac that she’s reconciled the challenge of maintaining a respect for traditions and origins, and capitalising on innovation, shows that unlike the reluctant Undine Double who started her journey a sullen and moody trainee, the Aika of the present has gained enough experience to value the things that Himeya Company has made effective over the years, and at the same time, she’s remained true to her own beliefs by suggesting that there’s always room to try new things out and in this way, leave her legacy on Himeya Company in a manner different to her mother’s. Much as how she had once requested a unique exam to become a Prima, Aika’s mindset is that she wants to do things in her own way and achieve excellence on her own terms, versus pursuing approval based on existing standards. Aika’s journey to becoming an Undine, and the path she took to earn her Prima title is therefore an excellent send-off for viewers: until now, Aika’s exam had never been shown, but now that we’ve had a chance to explore things, it becomes clear that Aika’s reconciling the past, present and future becomes a fitting way to wrap up ARIA as a whole. The animated adaptation had begun almost twenty years earlier and told of Akari’s story. Over the years, Akari would graduate from a Single to Prima along with her friends, and each of Aria Company, Himeya Company and Orange Planet would acquire new trainees. However, at each stage of the journey, the dynamics and challenges are shared. Much as how Akari, Alice and Aika were juniors learning under their mentors, by the end of Origination, Akari, Alice and Aika are all full-fledged Undine, now looking after their own students in Ai, Anya and Azusa. Everyone brings their own learnings, a combination of time-tested tradition and new approaches brought on by their own experiences, towards passing on knowledge, and in this way, much as how an Undine’s skills subtly shift over time to reflect on this combination, ARIA itself has also subtly changed over the years: it remains faithful to Kozue Amano’s original vision, and each iteration sees a familiar cast reprising their roles (save Athena, where Rina Satō takes over from Tomoko Kawakami) but with different studios producing the anime, ARIA itself has been modernised, providing viewers with contemporary, vivid and detailed visuals while at the same time, conveying the same aesthetic and learnings that the 2005 series had sought to convey. Benedizione thus celebrates the integration of old and new in its run, reminding viewers of this through Aika: each of Hal Film Maker, TYO Animations, and JC Staff have left their own indelible and lasting mark on an iconic series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When ARIA last graced this blog a year ago, I had just finished Crepuscolo and found myself greatly looking forward to Benedizione. At the time, I had just begun the house hunt, and if memory serves, I had just finished touring a unit that hadn’t been quite to my liking. A week after I published my thoughts on Crepuscolo, I would end up doing a walk-through of the unit that would become my current home. Time passes relentlessly, and here in the present, I’m writing about Benedizione on a powerful new desktop, at a desk with a gorgeous view of the night lights below.

  • It is worth reiterating that both Benedizione and Crepuscolo, being produced by J.C. Works, has similar character designs as Amanchu!. These traits are most noticeable in the shape of the characters’ eyes and the pronounced eyelashes, and while subtle, they are still quite different from the art style seen in Avvenire, and the earlier seasons. Because I’d dropped into ARIA through Avvenire, I do not have any issue with the character designs from Avvenire. In fact, all of the different art styles in ARIA are secondary to the experiences the characters themselves undergo, and this is what makes all of the ARIA adaptations meaningful in their own right.

  • “Benedizione” is Italian for “blessing”, in keeping with tradition; this film’s focus is all about how fortunes become good as a result of persistence and grit, but also through fateful encounters. Whereas Crepuscolo had focused on Athena, Alice and Anya, Benedizione is all about Akira, Aika and Azusa. Alicia, Akari and Ai’s stories had already been covered in full by the events of Origination, where Akari had passed her Undine exam to become a Prima, and this in turn allowed Alicia to retire and pursue a career as a member of the Gondola Association. Since Aika’s story has never been explored in depth, was logical that the last of Akari’s generation of Undines would be given some shine time.

  • Azusa, Ai and Anya are this generation’s Aika, Akari and Alice, respectively: their adventures on Aqua and Neo Venezia are every bit as memorable as those their predecessors experienced, but since 2015’s Avvenire, I have noticed that the emphasis on the supernatural aspects of Aqua have been set aside as ARIA sets its focus on personal growth, reminiscence and using lessons from the past to drive the future. Here, Azusa, Ai and Anya are out practising in the tranquil canals of Neo Venezia, and they spot Akira out and about. Curiosity soon overtakes the three, and they decide to tail her.

  • Anime always have a tendency to portray characters as being completely unlearned in fieldcraft, setting the stage for comedy when they inevitably get burned. Akira catches on very quickly, and as it turns out, nothing funny is happening: she’d been out rowing during the morning to regroup from something bothering her, and had been making her way to Neo Venezia’s Undine Museum. As a point of curiosity, the Undine museum isn’t actually based off any museums in Venice: instead, it is modelled after the Kitaichi Venezia Museum in Otaru, Hokkaido. The museum’s architectural style is inconsistent with the buildings in Venice, so I decided to use a little computer vision to help things out.

  • The meat buns that President Aria are so fond of end up being enjoyed throughout Benedizione, acting as the perfect accompaniment for brisk days that signal the arrival of winter. Yesterday, with the arrival of September, I stepped out to enjoy a fantastic sushi and fried chicken feast for dinner. I ended up ordering a combo featuring salmon, tuna, red snapper, smoked salmon, octopus, prawn, tamago and scallop, plus the Signature Roll (smoked salmon and shrimp tempura with tobiko) and the Dynamite Rolls I’ve become fond of. Since this was dinner, I decided to add a karaage donburi and the house fried chicken to my order. Dinner was absolutely delicious and proved very hearty, proving to be a pleasant way of spending a quiet evening to the first of September.

  • At the museum, Ai, Azusa and Anya run into Asuka, an elderly lady who had once been a legendary Undine. As it turns out, Akira had a reason for visiting the Undine museum: she’d been here to check in on the last of Himeya Company’s remaining gondolas that have been in operation since its founding. As the story goes, the heir of Himeya Company will inherit this gondola as a part of the tradition, and for her own reasons, Aika has refused to accept this gondola despite its illustrious history. This revelation unsettles Azusa, who feels that Aika has always been confident, headstrong and capable of inheriting Himeya Company.

  • Akari takes some customers on a tour of Neo Venezia, and they pass by a workshop that builds and maintains gondolas. The customers had been wishing they could’ve been treated to a tour from Akira and wonder why she’d been unavailable for the day. Akari finds it unusual, since Akira would ordinarily have no qualms about using another gondola. The scenery of Neo Venezia in JC Staff’s adaptation is unparalleled, looking far sharper than anything in Avvenire – even details like water reflections are rendered in full, really bringing Neo Venezia to life.

  • It is mentioned that the last remaining gondola has undergone so much restoration that none of the original parts actually remain. This is a callback to the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment which poses the question of whether or not a ship that’s had all of its components replaced is still the same ship as the original. Philosophers have debated this question for centuries and pose complex answers because attempts to walk through it may break down. For instance, one might argue that because the history, memories and reputation associated with the ship remains, it is functionally the same ship even if all the parts are swapped out. However, if I were to take the entire contents of a hard drive from one of my computers, including the OS, and copied that over to a different computer, while that computer technically could be used just like my previous machine, it is, strictly speaking, a different machine despite handling identically.

  • I could be here all day trying to work out something to the Ship of Theseus, and such a question is above my pay grade – I specialise in solving problems in the realm of software, so I’ll return the talk back to Benedizione. Azusa, like her seniors, is very forward, and she decides to confront Aika directly about why she’s refusing to inherit the Himeya Company’s heirloom gondola and become a top-tier Undine as Akira had done. While Aika simply indicates the gondola is cursed, it becomes clear that something’s keeping her from simply rising above all adversity and staring down the challenge with her typical spunk. Knowing ARIA, it was not inconceivable that there is some supernatural piece, and in this moment, viewers become as curious as Azusa to know of what’s really going on.

  • ARIA‘s Neo Venezia never ceases to amaze, and like Crepuscolo, Benedizione makes certain to remind viewers that Aqua is a planet of tranquility and wonder. Here, floating islands and airships can be seen: they’re the only sign that Neo Venezia is not actually Venice, and in-universe, it was explained that an array of technologies make these sights possible. Because Aqua is Mars after terraforming was done, I’d been fond of joking that ARIA is the result of the Doom Slayer’s efforts in DOOM: the use of something like Argent Energy could be enough to introduce such changes. However, after the events of DOOM Eternal, it is clear that this is no longer the case, since in the Doom Slayer uses the BFG 10000 to blast a hole on Mars, one which reaches the planet’s core. For the present, I’ll contend myself with enjoying the beautiful scenery seen in ARIA.

  • When Azusa recounts the previous night’s conversation to Akira, her timing is such that Anya and Ai show up. Spotting them, Akira decides that it’s time to recount a story to the three. ARIA is very fond of employing flashbacks as a storytelling device, and Benedizione is no exception; much of the film shares moments that hadn’t been shown in earlier ARIA works. They’re used to suggest that one’s memories become important, as drawing on lessons from the past help to inform one’s decisions in the present. To accentuate this, Benedizione uses recursive flashbacks, having Akira reminisce within her memories.

  • If improperly done, recursive flashbacks could create confusion, but here in Benedizione, it works perfectly because flashbacks are already an integral part of the story, and it’s clear when one has transitioned into one. Through Akira’s recollections, viewers learn that as a middle school student, Aika had been very standoffish and hostile. Uncertain of how to best guide her, Aika’s mother would task Himeya Company’s most promising Undine with helping Aika out. Aika had always wanted to be an Undine, but after becoming a middle school student, began to feel distant from her dreams.

  • What makes the familiar dynamic between Akira and Aika so endearing, then, is seeing how awkward things had been initially. Although ARIA‘s first season had presented the two as respecting one another, despite the pair occasionally trading barbs, Benedizione shows that in the very beginning, there’d been a considerable distance between the two. Aika herself cannot understand why Akira is so determined to close this distance. Moments like these show that early in the game, the pair hadn’t been close at all, and in fact, Aika even regards Akira as a nuisance.

  • I would imagine that for Akira, Aika becomes a fun challenge, just another problem with a solution that has yet to be found. Since Akira is shown as having a indefatigable spirit, this flashback shows how for Aika and Akira, it would become a matter of whose will was stronger, and because ARIA shows that Aika and Akira strongly respect one another despite occasionally butting heads, it is clear that Akira’s resolve was greater. This is unsurprising, since I imagine that despite her misgivings, Aika had wanted to become a worthy Undine.

  • The turning point in the pair’s relationship occurs one evening, when Akira spots Aika walking off in a huff after spotting her. Deciding to adopt a hands-off approach, Akira lets Aika be this evening rather than going after her. She ends up picking up a paddle and practises her rowing under the quiet of the night, but becomes wrapped up in her thoughts: as it turns out, Aika’s attitude stems from feeling like she wasn’t ever going to be a worthy successor to Himeya Company because she’d earned none of it on her own merits.

  • This mindset is a familiar one and is formally referred to as Imposter Syndrome, which manifests when one believes that their accomplishments are undeserved. I myself am guilty of this: during my undergraduate years, I’d felt that every passing grade I earned in a computer science course, or the projects I’d completed during summer research, was the consequence of being lucky. I’ve never revealed this to my peers, family or friends: this is why I intended to pursue a career in medicine, because unlike computer science, I had felt a shade more comfortable with biology. Having a wonderful graduate supervisor eventually convinced me that I did have a modicum of skill as a developer, looking back, his asking me to lead the development of the Giant Walkthrough Brain may have been an exercise to remind me of this.

  • This project allowed me to both learn Unity and help look after my peers’ work, and once I embraced the fact that there was always something new to discover, and that it was okay not to know something, I began feeling more at home with software development. Of course, there are moments now where I view my successes as the consequence of luck (i.e. the right information was available when I needed it), but I similarly recognise that the combination of experience and support yielded those results. Back in Benedizione, it was endearing to see Aika melt for a moment after Akira finds her and gives her a blanket after she’d nodded off.

  • For Aika, her challenge was that, because she came from a distinguished pedigree, she felt especially driven to stand out and make her own way despite having no notable talents (at least, not in her eyes). This created a sense of pressure in her to excel, and while years of training alongside Akira, as well as experiencing life-changing events with Akari and Alice have helped Aika to accept herself, some things still linger. This comes across as a shock to Azusa, who’d always seen Aika as being a solidly-dependable and capable individual, paralleling how Aika would come to see Akira as a model Undine.

  • Unsatisfied with how little progress she’s made, Azusa decides to talk to Akari, who’s known Aika since their days as Doubles. They thus swing by Aria Company with some questions for her, and arrive right before she returns from her work. Akari remarks that Aika’s always been the sort of person who would put on a brave face when things got tough, even if she was inwardly unsure of herself, and in this moment, it is shown that the tough front Aika’s adopted regarding the Himeya Company gondola is a result of her being uncertain about Himeya’s future, despite having become a Prima herself.

  • Although Anya and Ai wonder how to best approach the problem, Akari comes up with something that appeals to Azusa, Anya and Ai. Having grown accustomed to Akari being a Single throughout most of ARIA, it did feel a little unusual to see Akari be the reliable senior that Alicia had been for her, and this speaks volumes to Akari’s growth. With a gentle and kind nature, Akari was my favourite of the characters in ARIA, being the sort of person I would probably spend the future with, but as far as I can tell, I’m most similar to Aika in terms of personality.

  • The next day, Azusa and the others put their plan into action: they’ve even managed to recruit Asuka for help, and she’s agreed to book a Twilight tour with her. Although Aika is surprised to see everyone, she takes everyone out onto Neo Venezia’s canals, but becomes suspicious of what Azusa and the others have planned for them. Her doubts appear assuaged by Ai’s suggestion this is to simply learn. Everyone becomes distracted when President Aria spots a pork bun vendor and grows excited. When Asuka buys some for everyone, Anya suddenly is seized with the impulse to poke President Aria. This elicits a laugh from Aika, and Asuka reminisces on how for a time, Aika had been all scowls.

  • Even as a Single, Akira was very confident in her abilities, citing that hard work is what creates talent, and Asuka explains that this is why Akira was assigned to mentor Aika. While to an external observer, both Akira and Aika are superbly skilled as Undine, what makes them standout is precisely the willingness to work hard. Hard work is a given, and while articles out there speak vocally to how hard work alone isn’t enough, it is a prerequisite. Many articles suggest that success is found by playing to one’s strengths, recognising one’s weaknesses and learning to support and be supported by others, and ARIA mirrors this by showing how the characters succeed because of their friendships. It was precisely because of this mindset that Aika’s mother believed that Akira would be perfect for mentoring Aika.

  • Aika likely already had similar beliefs, and someone like Akira, who’d been confident in her ability, would be perfect in bringing this side of Aika out into the open. It is true that our mentors have a nontrivial impact on how we do things. For instance, my middle school computer instructor’s love for all things Apple actually made me more biased towards Mac OS, whereas in secondary school, I had an inspiring biology instructor who inspired my current learning style. In university, my supervisor had a mindset similar to that of Richard Feynman, being a big believer of the idea that there is always value in conveying complex concepts simply. Coupled with his willingness to explore new approaches, I was inspired by how our lab was always ready to experiment with new technologies, and this was how I learnt the basics of game engines and VR development.

  • In the present day, my approach for doing things is an amalgamation of how my instructors and mentors taught me. Aika is the same: while she’s warm and friendly, she’s also surprisingly strict at times. The reminiscence leads Aika to acknowledge that this side of Akira is what led to her growth, giving her the encouragement she needed to push herself despite her lack of talent. Upon hearing Aika say this, Ai and the others wonder if they’ll ever stack up to the likes of Aika, Akari and Alice, and to this, Aika replies that when she, Akari and Alice were singles, they themselves had wondered if they’d ever hold a candle to Akira, Alicia and Athena.

  • This too is a familiar feeling: when I gained admittance to graduate school, I wondered if the work I did would compared to that of my predecessors, the graduate students who had mentored me. In the end, I would come to draw inspiration from their projects and build something I would be proud of. Aika doesn’t offer an answer on how she overcame this, suggesting it’s something she still occasionally thinks about, and when Azusa tries to press Aika about the gondola, Aika falls silent. However, Asuka fills the void and provides an answer; Himeya’s gondola will become an exhibit at the museum, and moreover, since Aika’s plainly become Azusa’s role model, she’s also come far as an Undine.

  • While Ai and Anya had tried to say that their day was purely motivated by training, this was strictly untrue, and the tour ends at the gondola workshop, where the Himeya gondola has finished undergoing restoration and is now awaiting Aika’s decision. As it turns out, Asuza, Asuka and Akari had also invited Akira to things, to Aika’s surprise. Moments like these speak to ARIA‘s not-so-subtle suggestion that, when faced with problems, it is preferable to bring everyone together had have everyone’s thoughts on things, versus attempting to tough things out on one’s own.

  • Gathering all of the characters reinforces ARIA‘s themes, and this is something that the series has been fond of doing: Crepuscolo and Avvenire had done the same. Bringing the group together allows for Benedizione to enter its endgame: bits and pieces of Aika’s story had been told, and by this point in Benedizione, I’d been most curious to see the remainder of how Aika would come to be the Undine she is in the present. Anime are often direct in their outcomes, but for me, the value has always been in the journey.

  • After Akira had given her a blanket, Aika had run off into the night in embarrassment, only for Akira to show up on a gondola. Aika’s thoughts are finally revealed to the viewer, and Akira decides to take her on a night ride through Neo Venezia’s canals. With a gentle Spanish guitar accompanying the moment, Aika’s internal conflict is barely perceptible: the musical accompaniment in ARIA had always created a sense of relaxation and yearning. While this may initially appear to create dissonance, the music actually serves to maintain a consistently tranquil aesthetic throughout ARIA.

  • In the end, Akira ends up rowing for Aika through the whole night, and this moment is what wins her over: while Akira might not have any innate talent, that she’s gone to these lengths to convince Aika impresses her. During the ride, Aika had finally opened up to Akira and explains her original wish for becoming an Undine: as a child, she had a chance encounter with an Undine and, seeing the magic in the career, decided to follow in these footsteps with the aim of meeting this Undine again. However, having seen what the world of Undines was like, Aika felt that someone like her shouldn’t be in the occupation.

  • Akira ends up reassuring Aika that effort can make up for a lack of talent, and, upon spotting how Aika’s likely cold, she decides to take her to the nearest place of warmth despite her own reservations. This is none other than Aria Company, where Alicia works. To Aika’s great surprise, it was Alicia who had been the Undine she’d met as a child, and she’s quite embarrassed to be here. There is nothing wrong with Aria Company: Alicia immediately fixes Aika up with a blanket, and President Aria prepares a cocoa for her. The moment comes as a bit of a shock to Aika: she hadn’t expected to meet the person who’d inspired her again, and in her excitement, Aika is reduced to a squeaky mess.

  • In the aftermath, Aika positively gushes about meeting Alicia, although with this particular achievement now in the books, Aika does feel as though she needs to be more motivated and become an Undine on her own terms. The iconic chibi visuals of ARIA make a return in Benedizione, and having now been familiar with ARIA for some six years, I’ve found them an endearing part of the show. Akira reflects on how she’s so intent on shaping Aika into a proper Undine: she sees Aika in herself, and believes that there is value seeing someone as unremarkable and ordinary make their way in the world.

  • Akari, Alice and Aika’s chibi faces never fail to put a smile on my face and warm my heart. Aika is surprised that the pair are here, and as the evening progresses, as more of Aika’s story is told, more people show up. Once the initial shock of Akari and Alice’s appearance wears off, Benedizione resumes its flashback; under Akira’s tutelage, and through her shared experiences with Akari and Alice, Aika begins changing, developing a greater confidence in her abilities, as well as her own distinct identity as an Undine: she presently runs a branch of Himeya, and although she wonders if she’ll be able to grow it more successfully, she has moments where she remains doubtful of herself.

  • Aika’s bold and brash manner is best seen during her Prima exam. When Akira begins reminiscing about her old exam, Aika suddenly realises that she doesn’t want to pass some standardised exam that all Undine go through, and instead, demands a challenge worthy of Akira and herself. Although any other invigilator would’ve probably asked Aika to kindly continue, Akira understands how Aika feels and consents to doing a custom segment of the exam: Aika clearly has the skill, knowledge and experience to pass, but there are other areas where she could truly be tested.

  • The modified exam is thus set for the stroke of midnight, and Aika’s goal is to remove a rose from Akira’s hair, in a setup that mirrors the night Akira had spent chasing Aika around. The rules are simple enough: Aika has about six to seven hours to complete her assignment and must do so on a gondola. The reason why Akira sets up the exam in this manner is because this was a matter of persistence and determination. In order for Aika to succeed, she must not only fall on her own knowledge of Neo Venezia’s canals and the skill to navigate them, but also show uncommon grit. Since Akira basically chased Aika around for a whole night before giving her a ride for the remainder, Akira reasons that if Aika can now do the same, then she’s demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that she’s committed to being an Undine.

  • Seeing this exam suddenly brings to mind my own graduate defense. I had been talking to my mentor as peers, as we normally did, in the moments leading right to the exam, but the instant things began, an intensity filled the air – I was the student, and he was the examiner. However, like the exam that Aika would receive, there had also been a feeling of trust, and faith throughout. Akira and my supervisor never pulled any punches, and similar to Aika, I was swinging with all my might, answering every question about my project to the best of my ability.

  • Although students tend to view exams as a battle with a foe, advice from one of the doctorate students in my lab contributed to how I approached it: he suggested that I approach the graduate defense like a friendly conversation, where questions were asked to get to know my work and its implications better. In Benedizione, it’s clear that, despite the difficulty of the task that Akira sets Aika, the pair are having fun despite themselves. Akira has the upper hand throughout most of the exam, but Aika comes close several times, using her familiarity of Neo Venezia’s canals to pull off unorthodox manoeuvres that bring her ever-closer to her goal.

  • Light slowly begins creeping into the sky, and it seems that Aika’s running out of time. However, she’s not out of the fight yet, and decides to try and corral Akira to a spot where she would have the advantage. Akira soon arrives and wonders if the task she set was too tricky, but when she spots the flowers growing on a wall, she is immediately reminded of her own Prima exam and wonders if Aika had known of its significance. She pauses, and this gives Aika all the time she needs to finish the fight. Right after she plucks the rose from Akira’s ear, the sun breaks over the horizon and fills the screen with light.

  • For the briefest of moments, I had the feeling that I was watching Hikari and Matoin Amanchu!. Although the Amanchu!-like designs in Crepuscolo had thrown me off, by the time of Benedizione, I’ve grown accustomed to the new character designs and admit that the Amanchu!-style characters here in ARIA do work in the series’ favour, giving everyone a modernised look that is consistent with Amano’s designs in Amanchu!. Although this moment is supposed to be of triumph, and joy, I suddenly found myself tearing up: I had finished my graduate thesis and MCAT exhausted, too tired to feel a sense of accomplishment at what had just happened.

  • However, Benedizione captures in full just what it feels like to be successful in one’s goals. As the land becomes filled with light, Akira’s surprise turns to joy, and she opens by commenting on how, from here on out, what happens is purely up to Aika. She’s passed the exam in full, having shown a level of determination and resolve that is worthy of the Prima Undine of Himeya title. However, with this accomplishment, and the accompanying freedom to be a full Undine, comes the attendant responsibilities. The Aika of this time is a far cry from her old self, and she promises to commit to her goals of becoming a great Undine and preparing herself to one day run Himeya in full.

  • This scene was especially poignant, and in completing her exam, Aika shows Akira that she’s come to find her place as an Undine on her own terms. To Akira, this means that she has now fulfilled her promise to Aika’s mother in full. The spot where Akira had become a Prima now takes on a newfound significance, in becoming the same spot where she saw her own student go from being a sullen Double to a full-fledged Undine with her own distinct strengths. Fateful encounters are a big deal in anime, and while I find that people often take these for granted in reality, anime has a wonderful tendency of reminding people to be mindful and appreciative of the meetings they’ve had in their lives.

  • The final stage of passing a Prima exam is the removal of the remaining glove, to signify a fully-qualified Undine. The moment is a bittersweet one, much as it’d been for Alice and Athena, and Akari and Alicia. I imagine that for my supervisor, watching me finish and turning my sights towards the future must’ve been a similar moment: shortly after I finished my defense and learned that I was to pass with minor revisions (where said revisions were a few grammatical fixes and improving a definition of what an Agent is), he also asked me if I would consider pursuing a PhD and expand out the VR/AR projects I’d started.

  • In the years subsequent, my supervisor became the department head, and new undergraduate students and graduate students have come in to achieve great things of their own. People may feel that their forerunners are giants in the field, but the reality is that every generation brings something new to the table. On the topic of new generation stuff, a few days earlier, I caught wind of something I didn’t think would happen in the time that it did. It turns out that my neighbourhood computer hardware store received a shipment of MSI RTX 3060 Ti LHR GPUs, and what’s more, were running a flash sale at 620 CAD (470 USD) per card. Since the RTX 3060 Ti’s MSRP is 400 USD (about 526 CAD with current exchange rates), and the MSI GPU is an after-market card with a custom cooler and RGB lighting, I felt that the price was right for me to make the purchase. I have previously stated I was going to wait for the RTX 4060, but it’s coming in somewhere 2023, and both availability and prices are unknown.

  • Conversely, an RTX 3060 Ti going for close to MSRP is known in the moment, and the card is no slouch, even if the 4060 hypothetically trades with the 3080. I thus bought the card, which is a work of art with its steel backplate and RGB lighting, and installed it yesterday: although I’d been anticipating a tough installation, after I put the power cables into my machine back in March, it turns out I had all of the right pins in place, so it was a simple matter of pulling out my GTX 1060 and putting the larger 3060 Ti into the PCI slot. I’ve since tested the game on DOOM Eternal and was blown away by how I was getting a smooth 80 FPS with ray-tracing enabled on ultra settings, and in spite of this, the GPU usage was barely breaking 40 percent. Back in Benedizione, a stylised version of the kanji 姫 (Hepburn hime, literally “princess”) can be seen in Himeya’s logo while Akira and Aika share a heartfelt post-exam conversation. After looking around, I learnt that in Chinese, it’s an archaic way of saying “woman”, but it’s also a surname.

  • Both Akira and Aika subsequently cry their eyes out at the prospect of no longer being mentor and student, before regaining their composure, and as chibis, Akira resembles Mato. As memory serves, in Origination, Alicia had put off Akari’s Prima exam for the same reason; she’d come to greatly enjoy Akari’s company and wanted to spend more time with her. However, Alicia eventually takes the plunge and encourages Akari to take the exam. After Akari becomes a Prima, she takes over operations at Aria Company, while Alicia becomes a member of the Gondola Association. Despite their jobs taking them separate ways, Akari and Alicia can always meet, and similarly, even after Aika became a Prima, she’s still able to hang out with Akira with some frequency. Knowing this allows everyone to seize their futures without becoming distant.

  • With this, Aika’s journey towards becoming a Prima Undine of Himeya Company is now finished, and having now seen the whole of Aika’s story, it makes her path even more meaningful. ARIANatural and Origination had largely focused on Akari’s experiences as an Undine; some episodes were given towards the other characters to enrich Neo Venezia, but ultimately, the main story had been about how Akari’s open mind allows her to make the most of everything on Aqua and show that she has the characteristics of becoming an excellent Undine. However, this had left Alice and Aika’s stories untold: Crepuscolo and Benedizione rectify this to close off ARIA‘s story.

  • By this point in the evening, Athena and Alicia have both joined the others. The two end up hearing the last segments of Aika’s story, and with the whole crew assembled, the evening’s main event can continue. While both Crepuscolo and Benedizione don’t have anything quite as grand as the magical events of Natural or Origination, the emphasis on the characters and their stories proves to be the real magic here. The lack of supernatural in the later ARIA instalments was probably by design: the mystery surrounding Aqua and Neo Venezia ultimately is a matter of perspective, and the characters’ own encounters and experiences forms the excitement in their memories.

  • The time has finally come to retire the Himeya Company gondola. Earlier, Akari had explained to Ai that traditionally, retired gondolas are burned at a bonfire in a large ceremony. However, what was noticeable was how Akira chooses to handle the retirement of Himeya Company’s most iconic gondola: rather than setting it on fire as tradition stipulates, she places candles on it, and intends to donate it to the Undine Museum instead once the retirement ceremony is over.

  • Al ends up joining the others, stating that he would’ve liked to have been here for something that means a great deal to Aika. It was great to see characters from ARIA making a return in Crepuscolo and Benedizione: Al and Akatsuki were largely absent from Avvenire despite playing a role in ARIA, and while their presence is not as substantial here in the movies, it was pleasant seeing them nonetheless. In Benedizione, however, Akatsuki only makes two appearances, sneezing once when Akari mentions his name. His thoughts immediately stray to her after sneezing, and I found it touching that this was the case.

  • In the end, Aika commits to her decision of not inheriting the gondola. This had been something that would’ve doubtlessly lingered on both Azusa and the viewer’s mind throughout Benedizione: Aika’s choice is a reflection of who she is, and in choosing not to inherit the gondola, she indicates beyond any doubt that she absolutely intends on forging her on path ahead. However, the manner in which the retirement ceremony is conducted also speaks volumes to the fact that Aika is determined to allow both tradition and innovation to co-exist. Rather than burning Himeya’s last original gondola to retire it, the choice to donate it means future Undine can still look upon a gondola with a great deal of history behind it.

  • I believe that with BenedizioneARIA draws to a complete conclusion. When I wrote about Crepuscolo, I had been under the impression that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would have three parts, and as such, imagined that after Benedizione, there would be one final act to focus on Akari. However, as it turns out, Benedizione was in fact the last act, and Avvenire‘s three episodes was the first instalment. While I am a shade disappointed that there won’t be more ARIA or a dedicated film for Akari, this makes sense, since Akari’s story had already been covered in full during the three seasons: as a part of her open mind, Akari is one of the few people in Neo Venezia to have been personally guided by the Cait Sith himself.

  • Thanks to the Cait Sith, Akari has seen each of the Endless Waterway Hall, the Carnival Casanova, the Mirage Coffee Shop, the Galactic Train, the Lady of San Michele Island, the Stone of Misfortune and even the Cait Sith. This showed Akari’s attunement to, and appreciation of, the world around her. Having three full seasons to chronicle this meant that Akari’s own growth is already well-established, culminating with her Prima exam at the end of Origination. As such, it follows that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would be a sequel, set to show Ai, Azusa and Anya’s own development as they strive towards the goal of becoming Prima Undine themselves.

  • After the candles are lit and placed on the gondola, along with some roses, everyone thanks the gondola for having provided service for as long as it did. Seeing how Aika conducted herself, both as a prospective Prima and here, as a Prima, helped Akira to improve as an Undine, as well: there are cases where the student can influence and impress a mentor. Having been in both positions, I can attest to this fact, and I’ve always been of the mind that someone younger may yet surprise me in positive ways. I was ultimately glad that Himeya’s gondola was not torched, as it still remains a tangible piece of Himeya Company’s history.

  • As winter sets in, I believe that this marks the first time in the Blue Curtain Call trilogy where we’ve seen Neo Venezia with overcast skies. In spite of the gloomier weather, things are as peaceful and serene as they’ve always been. Akira prepares to head out on her day’s work, greeting Aika’s mother along the way. Aika’s mother had given Aika the choice of deciding whether or not she would one day take up her current post, and Akira had helped Aika to understand her decision. In the present, I imagine that Aika’s mother would be very proud to see Aika embracing both her family’s past and pursue innovation in her own manner.

  • Meanwhile, at Himeya Company’s branch, Aika’s firing up her staff with a new menu item, and Azusa, pleased to see Aika back to her old self, makes a tongue-in-cheek remark that causes Aika to reprimand her. It would seem that Azusa’s similarly inherited Aika’s tendency to make witty retorts. While this is likely the last viewers will see of Azusa, Anya and Ai, knowing how ARIA unfolds means their own futures are never in doubt: they each have good personalities about them, are willing to work hard, but also stop and smell the roses when appropriate, and each of Ai, Azusa and Anya have excellent mentors with them.

  • Benedizione closes with snapshots into the other characters day as a gentle snowfall arrives over Neo Venezia. At Orange Planet, Anya passes Alice a thermos full of honey tea so she’ll stay hydrated and warm during her work, commenting on how similar Alice is to Athena in the process. It’s a touching moment, and Alice replies that she’s still not worthy of being Anya’s senior just yet, much as how Athena lamented that she hadn’t been ready to mentor someone like Alice.

  • Meanwhile, at Aria Company, Ai, Akari and President Aria prepare for another day of work. Akari’s monologue, that things will continue on after the current generations have passed on, but how their feelings linger, act as a send-off for both Benedizione and ARIA as a whole. ARIA‘s original successes stemmed from the fact that the world-building had been solid, and the stories surrounding each of the characters were both seamlessly woven into Neo Venezia and Aqua, but at the same time, were immediately relatable. Together with its emphasis on an appreciation of the ordinary, ARIA became the forerunner for the anime today that strive be relaxing experiences.

  • Overall, ARIA the Benedizione and ARIA the Crepuscolo together earn an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or a perfect ten of ten): for longtime fans of the series, it is a suitable sendoff that gives Alice and Aika some shine time on top of bringing back all of the memories behind the characters and the considerable growth they’ve experienced throughout the series. While ARIA had been very forward with its messages and themes, the series never once comes across as being too overt with things: masterful use of the setting to tell a story means that the life lessons ARIA sought to convey are done so in a tactful manner.

  • One year ago, I finished Crepuscolo and had been staring down one life event that looked like it would change my life dramatically. Like the feelings each of Alicia, Athena and Akira faced when Akari, Alice and Aika were preparing to become Prima Undine, the prospect of moving felt quite intimidating. However, a year later, Benedizione is in the books, and I’ve now spent a half-year at the new place. While some parts of my life are quite different, others remain comfortingly familiar, allowing me to take stock and appreciate the parts that are different without overwhelming me.

  • These elements are what ARIA speaks most strongly to, and by Benedizione‘s conclusion, it is reasonable to suggest that, while change is inevitable, so is everyone’s ability to adapt and appreciate what life may bring to them. Benedizione concludes with the end-card, “Towards tomorrow, with the one you love”. It’s a fitting close to the series, and there’s a sort of finality about such a statement: so long as one is with those they care about, there isn’t any challenge that can’t be overcome. I imagine that this is the last time I’ll be writing about ARIA (unless I decide to return and revisit each of ARIANatural and Origination in the future); with this in mind, I hope that readers have enjoyed accompanying me on this journey through one of the most iconic iyashikei around.

When ARIA first began airing, I was learning about one-variable linear equations and trying to make sense of Lord of the Flies as a middle school student. I did not become familiar with anime until secondary school, and it wasn’t until I finished university that I began watching ARIA. After checking out ARIA The Avvenire as my graduate programme drew to a close, I would return and watch each of ARIA, ARIA The Natural and ARIA The Origination. In this series, I found an infinitely peaceful world that was superbly explored and developed, and moreover, I found a series whose characters were exceptionally written. Everyone’s experiences fit seamlessly into the unique world of Neo Venezia that Amano had built out, but the lessons that each of Akari, Aika and Alice found remained highly relevant. With a touch of supernatural, speaking to the idea that the world is vast, and some things remain unknowable despite our best efforts to study them, ARIA became a cornerstone series in the iyashikei genre. Having developed a reputation as an iyashikei connoisseur, I determined that it was worth checking out, and while the visuals in the original three seasons are dated, it became clear that ARIA lives up to the praise the series has garnered. What makes ARIA distinct is the fact that it is set in such a unique world, but in spite of this, thought and care had been placed to ensuring that this is a world whose mechanics are logical and consistent. With viewers confident that the world Amano had built withstands scrutiny, this allows ARIA to focus on its characters, and this combination gave ARIA its charm. The series had ended on a high note in Origination, with Akari earning Prima status and taking on Ai as her apprentice, but subsequently, returned to grace viewers with expansions to Anya, Alice, Athena, Azusa, Aika and Akira’s stories, as well. Having finished ARIA in full by the time Crepuscolo and Benedizione released, I was therefore able to see this series off on a very high note. The story within Benedizione, with its highly relatable and relevant themes, in conjunction with the fact that Benedizione is a swan song for ARIA, made the final film an emotional powerhouse. Benedizione thus becomes an essential experience for all fans of ARIA, one which offers a definitive close to the series by showing that each of Akari, Aika and Alice are going to be fine, and that the new Singles, Ai, Azusa and Anya, are in excellent hands as they strive to pursue a future as Undines, together on the idyllic planet of Aqua.

Revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie, Remarks On Duality and Accepting One’s Inner Darkness Through Introspection At The Quinquennial

“To become better, you have to admit your ignorance, at least to yourself.” –William A. Pasmore

On this day in 2017, Kantai Collection: The Movie finally became available to overseas viewers after a nine month long wait. While I had been enthusiastic to watch the film, upon finishing my experience, I found that the film had been technically excellent: the animation is superb, and the music was, in my own words, worthy of a feature film such as Letters From Iwo Jima or Isoroku Yamamoto. However, I had been left a shade disappointed with respect to the story, which appeared to leave aspects of Kantai Collection unanswered. As such, with Kantai Collection: The Movie approaching its five year anniversary and Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s release set for November 2022, I felt it was appropriate to give Kantai Collection: The Movie a revisit with a fresh set of eyes. Almost immediately, I found that the me of five years earlier had not been watching the film with both eyes open. Kantai Collection: The Movie makes a meaningful contribution to the franchise through its story, and this aspect is ultimately something that sets it apart from Azur Lane. Throughout Kantai Collection: The Movie, the Kan-musume face a new challenge in the form of an enigmatic voice emanating from Ironbottom Sound, which coincides with Kisaragi’s surprise return, seemingly from the dead. As the film progresses, Kaga reveals that Kan-musume and Abyssals share a close relationship; when one is sunk in combat, they are reborn in the other form, and are cursed to existing in an unending cycle of violence and struggle. While the Kan-musume reason that if they can survive while whittling down the Abyssal’s number, they can end the conflict, this approach actually implies the Kan-musume can only achieve their goal by extermination. In this way, the Kan-musume would become no better than their foe, resorting to force to achieve their aims. This is where Fubuki comes in: while she’s regarded as special in Kantai Collection, no evidence has ever been given of this. In Kantai Collection: The Movie, Fubuki’s single largest contribution is her climactic confrontation with her Abyssal self. Although her Abyssal self attempts to persuade Fubuki that in a world born of suffering, the only recourse is to inflict equivalent suffering unto others, Fubuki rejects this mode of thinking, but also acknowledges that while a changing world can be frightening, the endless cycle of violence can be broken if one accepts that existence is the sum of both joy and sorrow, tranquility and anger, and hope and despair. In short, Fubuki accepts something the other Kan-musume do not: one must accept, and embrace their inner darkness, in order to become whole. This is the acknowledgement that as an individual, one has both positive and negative traits, but rather than attempting to reject one’s negative traits, life is a matter of taking ownership of them and recognising how to manage and work with them. This willingness to understand her own dark side is what makes Fubuki special: she sees her Abyssal self as another part of her, not to be feared or shunned, but to be accepted. In this way, Kantai Collection: The Movie gives Kantai Collection new purpose: winning this war, and breaking the loop, entails giving the other Kan-musume the strength to do the same.

Kantai Collection thus becomes a story of overcoming internal strife through acceptance, and self-empowerment through introspection, which provides the series with a significant amount of depth, far beyond endlessly grinding maps and collecting ships for kicks. While Kantai Collection‘s television series had been an inconsistent amalgamation of comedy and drama, introspection and adventure, Kantai Collection: The Movie dramatically improved on its predecessor’s consistency and messaging. The largest indicator of this is through the film’s incidental music. In the television series, Kantai Collection‘s soundtrack had been an eclectic mix of whimsical slice-of-life pieces, grand combat accompaniments and emotional flourishes, mirroring the series’ portrayal of a wide range of moments in Fubuki and the other Kan-musume‘s lives. Conversely, here in Kantai Collection: The Movie, the entire soundtrack conveys a sense of melancholy and longing. In turn, the whole of the film is an emotional, moving experience, speaking to the isolation that Kisaragi feels after returning, the unsettling feelings associated with the mystery surrounding Ironbottom Sound, and Fubuki’s own journey in coming to terms with who she is. In fact, melancholy permeates the whole of Kantai Collection: The Movie: there is a sense of sadness surrounding what the Kan-musume and Abyssals do, and this aspect of the film speaks to the horrors and desolation that was the Pacific War. The Kan-musume and Abyssals are halves of a whole, of the spirit that went into every destroyer, battleship, aircraft carrier and frigate that was ever commissioned. From the engineers, to the pilots, command craft and crew, each vessel was a home away from home, a friend that looked after its crew in exchange for being cared for, and so, when a ship was sunk in battle, these feelings manifested in the form of a grudge, decrying the unfairness of this world and at how easily so much effort and respect could be undone. Kantai Collection: The Movie forces viewers to be made aware of this fact, and in conjunction with Fubuki’s special nature, the film suggests that it is possible to move on from these injustices by first forgiving oneself and accepting one’s own inner darkness as the starting point. Five years after Kantai Collection: The Movie‘s home release and my subsequent review of the film, it becomes clear that the movie is remarkably mature, and back then, I lacked the maturity and wisdom to pick these messages up.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My revisit of Kantai Collection: The Movie comes as a result of Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s imminent release, and this me to rewatch the film. This time around, I’m rolling the Director’s Cut, which features three more minutes of footage depicting the sprites assisting the Kan-musume. Right out of the gates, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia when starting the film, which opens with a night battle that sees the Kan-musume succeed over their adversaries, the Abyssals. The scene is set to Natsumi Kameoka’s compositions, which added considerable audio depth to the film and series as a whole.

  • I found Azur Lane‘s music to be of a comparable quality, and generally speaking, both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane are distinct in their own way. One aspect about Kantai Collection I did prefer over Azur Lane is the attention paid to detail in the Kan-musume: their loadouts and gear are more consistent and thoughtfully designed compared to their counterparts in Azur Lane. However, Azur Lane‘s charm is that ships from a larger range of navies are shown, and the resulting factions opens the floor to a different kind of story, whereas here in Kantai Collection, the conflict is strictly Kan-musume versus Abyssals.

  • On the weekend after Kantai Collection: The Movie was released five years earlier, I went to the local mall and drove out to the town over to take a stroll in their historical Ranche Park. I recall revisiting the park again a few months later; during this time, my first start-up was showing signs of failure, and I wanted to take a step back. As I sat on the hillside overlooking the park, I promised myself that I would return to this park in the future, under better circumstances. Over the past few years, between a busy schedule and the global health crisis, plans to revisit this park were put on hold.

  • However, with the vacation time I’ve had available to me this year, I was able to capitalise on an opportunity to return. After four years since I’d set foot at the historic Ranche Park, I thus returned, under tremendously sunny skies, to the viewpoint overlooking the town where I gazed across the valley as I had done four years earlier; the park has remained unchanged since I was here last, and a feeling of nostalgia washed over me. I allowed myself to live in the moment, in the realisation that I’d fulfilled a promise to better myself and revisit the park again. A week later, I would head over to the mall again. As I had done five years earlier, I enjoyed New York Fries’ Premium Chili-Cheese-and-Bacon Dog and Poutine Combo before heading off to pick up a foam pillow.

  • Upon revisiting the things I’d done five years earlier, under completely different circumstances, it dawned on me that with this additional life experience, rewatching Kantai Collection: The Movie again might’ve been a worthwhile endeavour because I would return with a fresh set of eyes. Since finishing the movie in 2017, I set down Kantai Collection and never returned to it. As such, all of my remarks surrounding the series in my later posts on Uma Musume Pretty Derby and Azur Lane were based on opinions that stem back from this time.

  • While some of my thoughts and impressions haven’t changed (I still feel that there’s a mystique surrounding the southern Pacific Islands that Kantai Collection: The Movie captures perfectly), my appreciation of the film’s main themes and intentions have increased. This is because back in 2017, I hadn’t quite been watching the film with an effort of trying to understand what the creators were trying to say. As it was, while Kantai Collection: The Movie was superb from an audio and visual perspective, I felt disappointed because the film hadn’t appeared to answer the questions I sought about the series or show its contributions to the franchise.

  • As it turns out, had I made a more sincere attempt in understanding things, I would’ve found Kantai Collection: The Movie to act as a conclusive presentation of how Kantai Collection works. Granted, there are some abstract moments in the theme, but these weren’t intended to willingly obscure or obfuscate the film’s main themes. In the present day, I make an attempt to see what a film wants to say with its narrative, and if a work has a cohesive message that is relevant, I am satisfied. Some folks believe that works of fiction must necessarily do more than this to succeed, but for me, the starting point of enjoying any work is the presence of a clear theme.

  • Throughout Kantai Collection, Fubuki had been presented as being special, but the television series never quite explored what this was. From the television series alone, one might gain the impression that Fubuki was special because, as a seemingly-generic individual with no distinct identifying traits in her personality, she could adapt and grow into whatever role was asked of her. However, Kantai Collection: The Movie suggests that Fubuki’s personality makes her uniquely suited for facing the problem that Kan-musume and Abyssals face.

  • This is because, once every character’s endless cycle between Kan-musume and Abyssal state is known, the Kan-musume determine that they can win the war by eliminating the Abyssals at a much greater rate than they themselves are sunk. On this logic, if no new Abyssals are created, then only Kan-musume will remain, and peace is attained in this fashion. However, given Kan-musume and Abyssals exist as a result of the unanswered feelings from the original World War Two naval vessels, the Kan-musume‘s plan would be akin to completely dismissing and suppressing the negative emotions within oneself.

  • This is, of course, a very unhealthy way of life, and in the context of Kantai Collection, the Kan-musume would be waging a war of extermination against the Abyssals. The Abyssals, being born from feelings of regret, hatred and pain, seek to destroy the Kan-musume, but the Kan-musume are supposed to represent optimism, hope and compassion. As such, while the idea of fighting the Abyssals to extinction works from a functional perspective, it would actually contradict the values that the Kan-musume themselves embody – annihilating one’s foes outright, rather than accepting their existence and reaching a mutual co-existence, usually will not lead to the solution one desires.

  • This is the sort of thing that period discussions surrounding Kantai Collection: The Movie were generally missing – a quick Google search for reviews of this movie will actually find my review, along with several others, topping the results. All of these reviews, mine included, conclude the series is best suited for fans of the series and is beautifully animated, but the story was confusing. Similarly, folks at AnimeSuki weren’t convinced that the film’s narrative could stand of its own accord and concluded the film had no emotional weight because the film focused purely on Fubuki. Some forum members suggest that Fubuki’s role as being special was naught more than a convenient plot device, and that the film should’ve had everyone fight Kisaragi or similar in order to have any depth.

  • However, to fight Kisaragi would be to promote destruction over understanding, and as I’d noted earlier, this would stand against the thing that the Kan-musume are supposed to represent. Since AnimeSuki nowadays appears adverse to perspectives that are not their own, I imagine I’d probably incur a ban for suggesting that these interpretations of the film are incomplete, and that the version of the film their members preferred to see would only reinforce the message that one’s foes should be destroyed. This mindset is precisely why the world is so divided: thanks in no small part to polarising media and social media, the world has increasingly trended towards an “us versus them” mindset, as opposed to acknowledging that problems can (and should) be solved by accepting the fact that other sides will exist, and that a solution in the middle, more often than not, can be reached.

  • At Tango-Victor-Tango, the forum-goers similarly characterised this movie as being poorly explained and hollow. Prima facie, my original review agreed with these perspectives. However, these perspectives, mine included, fail to take into account all of the design choices within Kantai Collection: The Movieboth the melancholy tenour that permeates the film, and the lingering sense of mystery come together to act as an analogy for the inner conflict between one’s best and worst self. I concede that it takes reading between the lines to draw this conclusion, but when everything in Kantai Collection: The Movie is summed up, it looks like the film had strove to convey how a real-world challenge that people face can drive the mechanisms behind those of a fictional world, enough to provide a plausible explanation for how players can collect ships and why they must fight the Abyssals.

  • As it stands, Kantai Collection had begun life as a game, and the game’s goals had proven to be quite simple. Attempting to fit a story around everything demands uncommon creativity from the writers, doubly so because Kantai Collection had been designed around the moé aesthetic. Azur Lane, when it came out five years later, found itself succumbing to the same problems that affected Kantai Collection, but when it released a spin-off, Slow Ahead, the problems vanished. This is because the mood in Slow Ahead matched the general vibe from the game more closely than the original series had. Had Kantai Collection originally aired as a light-hearted slice-of-life akin to Slow Ahead, it may have been considerably more accessible and effective in introducing the characters.

  • I’ve been a longtime defender of Fubuki and Yoshika-like characters in military-moé series, and the reason why this is the case is simple – providing a common archetype, the tabula rosa, allows for a naïve character to become shaped by their experiences and develop their potential. Without any other identifying traits, such characters become worth rooting for because they have nothing more than their effort and grit to go on. Because every world has different attributes, the same archetypes end up completely different as a result of their journeys.

  • The last segments of Kantai Collection: The Movie is the most significant part of the film, and also the least discussed. It is here that what makes Fubuki unique is explored: she alone doesn’t carry lingering feelings of resentment and hatred against her other half, or her fate, as the other Kan-musume do, and so, she is able to sail Ironbottom Sound without suffering the damaging effects from the area’s unusual waters. The phenomenon might be see as the combined grudges of the ships sunk here manifesting in physical form, compelling Kan-musume to give in to their negative feelings, and the damage to their gear is a visual metaphor for how being surrounded by negativity can chip at one’s well-being and confidence.

  • Whereas I missed this previously, Kantai Collection: The Movie makes it clear that Fubuki and her Abyssal self are two sides of the same coin. During the catastrophes of the Pacific War, the spirits imbibed by each vessel, the sum of the sailors, officers and engineers that ran each ship, eventually split in two from the torment and injustice of defeat. The positive feelings would become the Kan-musume, and the negative feelings became the Abyssals. Since then, these two sides have been at odds with one another, seeking to extinguish the other. However, the reality is that light cannot exist without darkness.

  • It is similarly unrealistic to eliminate negative feelings in oneself; when people say to “embrace their darkness”, they are referring to having enough emotional maturity to acknowledge that there are things that make one insecure, weak, et cetera. However, rather than trying to evade it, one becomes empowered by facing them head on. For instance, I’m impatient and quick to anger, quick to deal out judgement. I manage this by turning my impatience into an exercise of patience, of willing myself to take a step back and come back to something later. If later, my feelings of negativity go away, then it becomes clear that whatever had been bothering me was of no consequence. Conversely, if the feelings persist, I turn that restlessness and channel it towards something positive.

  • In confronting her Abyssal self, Fubuki demonstrates a sort of maturity that the other Kan-musume have not. She believes that having hope for the future is what allows one to put their best foot forward, and unsurprisingly, Fubuki’s Abyssal self cannot see why this is. Negative emotions can be all-consuming, and it takes strength to manage them. An exercise folks suggest is to write out the things that bothers one, and see if they can’t find any instances where those negative emotions led one to do something positive: this is supposed to help one understand that negativity is not dominating, and that there is nothing wrong with being human.

  • Because there’d been so little discussion of Kantai Collection: The Movie, one talk that did bring up the symbolism and imagery within the film still stands out to me. While I recognise the effort made towards interpreting these elements, their conclusion only merits partial credit. I can’t quite remember where I read this, but it was suggested that, when Fubuki finally faces her Abyssal self mano-a-mano, the red Spider Lilies that bloom were meant to represent reincarnation. However, the scene in Kantai Collection: The Movie unfolds as follows: Fubuki approaches her other half, and crumbles away from the effort. However, her Abyssal self also crumbles. In spite of this, Fubuki persists and manages to limp to her other half, embracing her tearfully and reassuring her that no one is going to be forgotten, that in spite of what’s happened, people will still be there for them.

  • According to hanakotoba, red Spider Lilies represent a final farewell, and bloom when people part ways permanently. While their usage in funerals led to their being associated with death, originally, red Spider Lilies simply refer to a parting of ways. What’s happened here is something similar to what I’ve experienced. In Chinese culture, killing black moths that enter one’s home is verboten because it is believed these moths house the spirits of the deceased. When a black moth entered my home, my parents told me to leave it be, and I later asked for clarification. From my grasp of Cantonese, I gathered they housed spirits, but missed the specific detail that these spirits may belong to one’s ancestors.

  • If I were to explain this to someone else, I would’ve probably butchered the story and concluded that moths are cursed. It is not surprising, then, that meanings can be lost over time, and similarly, anime are fond of using red Spider Lilies to symbolise death, when in reality, they were used by farmers to keep vermin away before being used at funerals for their distinct appearance: the red Spider Lily, Lycoris radiata, is poisonous. Kantai Collection: The Movie chooses to utilise the red Spider Lily correctly, rendering a field of them blooming as Fubuki bids her Abyssal form farewell before preparing to merge with her.

  • I don’t consider this a rebirth because what happens here is ultimately the restoration of two halves back into its original form. Reincarnation is best described as the process by which an individual’s soul is transplanted to another physical body. While one might then make the case that Fubuki is reborn in a metaphoric sense, the reality is that Fubuki herself prior to this merger still believed in accepting her other half. There is no significant change to her personality, and she’s not imbibing a lesson or experience that leaves her in a different place. On the other hand, a final farewell is an appropriate descriptor because by accepting her Abyssal self, Fubuki becomes whole again with an entity that had, until now, been an independent being with her own agency.

  • This entire scene is set to the track “Hope” (希望, Hepburn kibо̄), the single most moving and touching song on the Kantai Collection: The Movie soundtrack. Whenever I hear this song, my mind immediately whisks me back to the Ranche Park, and in this song, every emotion from Kantai Collection: The Movie is captured in a single, succinct track lasting a minute and forty-five seconds. In this track, the use of piano, string and woodwind simultaneously creates a feeling of wistfulness and empathy, of longing for a better future.

  • Far more than the red Spider Lilies, the true significance of the flower field scene in Kantai Collection: The Movie actually occurs when Fubuki finally embraces her Abyssal self. This is a very literal form of embracing one’s dark side, and shows how there’s nothing to fear. In doing this, Fubuki demonstrates that she’s overcome what troubles the other ship girls, and this acceptance liberates Abyssal Fubuki from her torment; her Abyssal self had existed in loneliness, so being accepted by someone, least of all the person who matters most to her, would show Fubuki’s Abyssal self that there is indeed hope, and that it is time to let go. With the farewell over, the entire scene dissolves.

  • Without Abyssal Fubuki’s grudge driving the opposing forces, Abyssal forces begin to disappear, and the film hits its dénouement. In the aftermath, Kisaragi and Mutsuki share a tearful moment before parting ways. Although Kisaragi’s return is a large part of the story, it ultimately became secondary to Fubuki’s journey, but, despite lacking more detail, I saw it as a show of how Abyssal or not, Kisaragi’s choices is what makes her a Kan-musume. While the film saw her slowly consumed by Abyssal traits owing to her lingering feelings of regret, in her heart, she still wants to return to the others. Seeing this is a cathartic release following the film’s build-up, and with the Abyssal presence neutralised, the Abyssal Kisaragi vanishes.

  • This exercise, in revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie, represented a chance for me to reflect on how I’ve changed as a blogger. While the film still remains unable to convince me to play the browser game, I now see the movie as a sincere effort to give more weight to the world that Fubuki and the Kan-musume inhabit. In this function, Kantai Collection: The Movie is successful. Looking back, going back and revisiting a work after some time has passed, especially a work one has already written about, is a fantastic exercise for bloggers. Doing this allows one to reflect on how their thoughts and opinions change over time, and how life experiences may shape their experiences of something, potentially helping one to be a more consistent and confident writer.

  • In this way, I’ve come to remind myself that opinions certainly aren’t immutable, and works that I’ve disagreed with previously do have more merit to them than I’d initially thought. Kantai Collection: The Movie is one such example, and it was quite instructive to go back and revisit the film: while my original review was still somewhat positive, I have noticed that of late, I’ve been increasingly unfair towards Kantai Collection in my other posts. Returning to watch the movie anew, with a fresh set of eyes, has helped me greatly in remembering what Kantai Collection had been going for by the time its movie was released.

  • Having revisited Kantai Collection: The Movie, it becomes clear that Fubuki’s story is over. Itsuka Ano Umi de is going to focus on Shigure, and all of the promotional materials have suggested that this second season of Kantai Collection is going to be more serious than its predecessor. Set for release in November, I’m currently still working out how I’d like to write about this one, since Itsuka Ano Umi de airs during the same season as Yama no Susume: Next Summit. While it’s great to be seeing more Kantai Collection after all this time, I admit that, like the wistfulness conveyed here in Kantai Collection: The Movie, there is a bit of melancholy surrounding Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s release: five years have passed since the film’s release, and a nontrivial number of this series’ fans likely would’ve already moved on.

  • While Kantai Collection: The Movie had been all-business, Mutsuki does get a happy ending: Kisaragi returns to her in full, appearing to be fully cured of her previous affliction. If I had to guess, assuming that Itsuka Ano Umi de is set after Kantai Collection: The Movie, it is possible that the story could focus on Shigure coming to terms with her own inner darkness. The original IJN Shigure’s story is a tragic one: originally dubbed “invincible”, the Shigure was sunk after being hit by a torpedo from the submarine, USS Blackfin, at Gulf of Siam in January 1945. As such, with my curiosity in this sequel piqued, I am interested to see what directions Kantai Collection will take next. In the meantime, we are on the doorsteps of September: this is going to be the last post for the month, and since I am hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase, I am presently working on making this showcase one worthy of the community.

Revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie thus becomes an important exercise for myself and this blog, because it shows how important it is to look inward and understand oneself, as well as accept how one’s life experiences can shift their opinions over time. In reflecting on these changes, one becomes more informed of their own values, and comes out a stronger individual as a result. I’ve never believed in clinging onto old opinions as absolute, and acknowledge that over time, things do change. In 2017, I was of the mind that Cocoapods was little more than bloatware that made it difficult to modify and update an iOS app. However, had I stuck with this belief, I would be a lesser developer for it. My experiences would subsequently show me that I was wrong, and I’ve never been too proud to own up to the fact I made a mistake. After taking the plunge and accepting Cocoapods, I became a better iOS developer, integrating new libraries into my project more elegantly and recognising that there are other excellent developers out there whose existing efforts can both inform me of how to improve myself, and save me time on a project. Similarly, with Kantai Collection: The Movie, I now see a series that strove to remind viewers that beyond the game’s mechanics, a very inspiring tale was told to give the characters’ experiences more weight and moreover, this tale holds applicability even now. Kantai Collection: The Movie has therefore aged very gracefully, presenting messages that remain relevant to this day. As such, I am not so proud that I won’t redact my earlier commentary about this series: Kantai Collection, through its movie, did say something meaningful, and despite over six years having elapsed since the film’s original screening in Japan, Itsuka Ano Umi de still remains relevant, as this second season may potentially expand upon the film’s themes and show the sort of change that Fubuki had laid down the groundwork for. Itsuka Ano Umi de will consist of eight episodes and begin airing in November, and while Kantai Collection may not be as popular as it had been back in 2017, the series still has life in it yet, with Itsuka Ano Umi de possessing the potential of reminding viewers why a six year wait for Kantai Collection‘s second season was completely worthwhile.

Umayon: An Anime Short Review and Reflection

“I’ve often said there is nothing better for the inside of the man, than the outside of the horse.” –Ronald Reagan

When Tracen Academy’s Horse Girls are not training for races, they’re found participating in make-up exams, shooting promotional videos for their school, put on Shakespearean plays, challenge one another to eating competitions and even act as Super Sentai to protect their neighbourhood from nefarious elements – Umayon is a series of shorts featuring Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s most iconic Horse Girls as they navigate through life in an adorable and amusing manner. With each episode being a mere three minutes long, Umayon provides an insight into the world of Horse Girls and suggests that outside of the emotional intensity and focus that goes into each race, the Horse Girls themselves also exude a spirit of fun and can work as hard as they play. Umayon thus joins the ranks of Azur Lane: Slow Ahead and World Witches: Take Off in providing gentle, light-hearted humour, allowing characters to be invovled in outrageous moments that further accentuate everyone’s traits. Such series are, by definition, intended for fans of the series: they require prior understanding of the world and its characters, so for folks looking to get into Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Umayon is not the optimal route for doing so. Conversely, for viewers who found enjoyment in the original series, Umayon represents a hilarious series that pokes fun at some of the elements in the TV series and also gives the writers a chance to parody other series using elements that are unique to Horse Girls. While oftentimes considered as being frivilous, animated shorts like Umayon are superbly enjoyable because they give writers a chance to explore things that would otherwise not work in a standard series – having BNW go hunting for Rhinoceros Beetles amidst a training camp, surprise one another during the traditional test of courage or, most impressive of all, rig a race with strange parameters that allows Gold Ship to trivially win, would never fly in the original Uma Musume Pretty Derby. However, such antics work well as a series of shorts, offering a gentle parody of some of Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s more outrageous elements.

Compared to most fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, I am a relative newcomer, having picked up and watched the series only last August. As it turns out, horse racing is a popular sport in Japan, and over twenty thousand races are hosted throughout the country on an annual basis. Here in my hometown, horse racing is a newer event: there are a few equestrian tracks around the city, but the first major one is located north of the city and only opened in 2021. Conversely, rodeo is immensely popular here; Calgary hosts the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s largest rodeo events and possessing history dating back to 1886. Unlike horse racing, rodeo events are rowdier and built around activities that ranchers would have cultivated as a part of their work. Despite the dramatic differences between racing and rodeo, however, both events share some commonalities. Aside from obvious similarities, such as how horses are a key part of both, and that gambling drives much of the interest, the crowds for horse racing and rodeo exude a similar energy, even if the manner in which said energy is conveyed is different. Having lived in Calgary since time immemorial, seeing the spirits around the city and Stampede events being reflected in Uma Musume Pretty Derby is a show of the series’ commitment to convey the atmospherics surrounding horse-driven events. The crowds in Uma Musume Pretty Derby rival those of the Calgary Stampede’s rodeo in both exuberance and vigour. Small details like these are sufficient in creating a convincing, compelling world for Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and while the regular anime excels in conveying the tenour in and around races, being able to see the Horse Girls off the field in a series of shorts greatly enhances one’s appreciation for the characters.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It goes without saying that Umayon is a series purely for fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby: the shorts demand requisite knowledge of how Horse Girls race, and there are small jokes here and there that are dependent on knowing other aspects of the show. With this background, the jokes connect; the first episode deals with Special Week, El Condor Pasa and Grass Wonder square off in the classroom as they are made to do a re-test after botching their exams.

  • Here, the joke is that on an exam, speed is irrelevant, and score is what counts; while Special Week is first to finish, she fares the worst of everyone. Good humour is subjective, but having read about how comedy works, from folks who’ve nontrivial experience in the field, I’ve seen commonalities. All good comedy is derived off subversion of expectations; there isn’t anything about this approach that demands a specific cultural or social background, and this is why the best comedians are able to succeed anywhere in the world.

  • For instance, Steven Chow’s films are almost universally funny simply because he’s able to create incongruity in actions and their consequences, while Bill Watterson uses time and space (in a medium like newspaper comics, no less) to allow viewers time to process the mismatch between a scenario and its context. Neither Chow or Watterson’s works depend heavily on complex self-referential humour or demand familiarity with a culture to appreciate; the bulk of the comedy is almost always universal, and then subtle references to meta-humour or jokes requiring cultural knowledge are more subtle, enhancing a moment.

  • How well a work utilises this two-tiered approach is what determines how well it fares outside of its intended audience. If a work is able to appeal to a general audience, and then possesses nuances that enhance the experience for those who’ve got a background in it, it is likely to receive wider acclaim. A work that appeals to a general audience, but lacking in depth will be considered average, while works that appeal to niche audiences will similarly be poorly received unless one was familiar with its topic. Girls und Panzer and Yuru Camp△ are examples of works that is general enough to attract viewers, but then explores their chosen topics with enough depth to impress people with a deeper knowledge of the topic.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby tends towards being more accessible, but small hints of the characters’ real-world namesakes and lovable characters, coupled with a fully-fledged exploration of the universe means that the series is able to be very successful. We recall that I did not start watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby until last August, but upon finishing the first season, I found myself impressed, and this is even though I’m not any experience in watching horse racing as a sport, or in playing the mobile game itself. This speaks to how well-presented Uma Musume Pretty Derby is.

  • This post on Umayon marks the first time I’ve written about Uma Musume Pretty Derby while the Calgary Stampede was running; although horse racing and the rodeo are drastically different, watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby and seeing the Tokyo Racecourse’s grandstand reminded me of home. While Tokyo Racecourse has an impressive capacity of 223000, here in Calgary, the GMC Stadium’s grandstand has a total seating capacity of 17000, compared to Tokyo Racecourse’s 13750. Moreover, our grandstand has a fully enclosed suite in its upper levels for private functions and events, speaking to differences in their functionality.

  • Umayon actually dedicates two full episodes to the Horse Girls’ food misadventures. Here, Special Week squares off against Oguri Cap and Taiki Shuttle in an eating contest, with the goal of demolishing a massive bowl of ramen in the least amount of time possible. In the end, Special Week and Oguri Cap draw for first, while Taiki Shuttle brings up the rear. The commentators speak to things like strategy, bringing to mind the likes of Adam Richman in Man v. Food. While I’ve never done a food challenge before, my general approach for eating larger foods is to always crack down on the vegetables first, as they tend to cool the quickest. Then I move onto the meats and wrap up with starches.

  • This past weekend saw me enjoy lunches that were quite different than my usual routine: yesterday, I picked up a fish and chips lunch (pollock and potato wedges, which was especially tasty) from the local grocery store’s ready-to-eat value meals section as a quick meal prior to a dental appointment that had unexpectedly been moved up three hours. The dental office had managed to reach me at the last second on Friday, and I was more than willing to take an appointment three hours earlier than my original slot. The weather on Saturday had been standout, and after my appointment concluded, I took a walk around the downtown core under a brilliant afternoon sun, passing by my old office building and a pleasantly busy Steven Avenue Mall before heading back to pick up a few things and return home.

  • Today, I spent the morning doing a slower leg-and-core day at the gym before stepping out to relax at the bookstore and then enjoy a grilled chicken and spring roll vermicelli (topped with a shrimp roll) from the Vietnamese restaurant across from my place. I was especially impressed with how flavourful the grilled chicken was, and the spring rolls themselves were packed with meats. Vermicelli has become a favourite of mine because of how well the flavours mingle, and how varied the textures are; overall, I’m pleased to know that I’m within walking distance of a fantastic Vietnamese and Japanese restaurant.

  • Back in Umayon, Mejiro McQueen visits a casual noodle shop with Ines Fujin, Fine Motion, and King Halo. While Mejiro McQueen and King Halo are unfamiliar with more casual establishments, Ines Fujin walks everyone through the etiquette of ordering and eating at these places. King Halo mistakenly orders a mega-sized version of the ramen and struggles to finish it, resulting in much comedy, and in the end, although King Halo is barely able to walk after a titanic meal, she and Mejiro McQueen are thankful to have accompanied Ines Fujin on such an outing. Of course, Ines Fujin is already planning out their next trip.

  • The vignettes in Umayon are completely unrelated, and there’s no overarching story, but this flexibility allows the series of shorts to go on whatever direction the writers choose. I vividly recall watching Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket overcome their own internal struggles to face one another again on the racetrack, but here, the three end up getting caught up in a hunt for beetles. It’s a hilarious change of pace, made more amusing after Winning Ticket kicks a tree to dislodge the beetles, only to end up breaking open a hornet’s nest. The three only escape by jumping into the ocean.

  • In another episode, several of the Horse Girls are presented as being super sentai, and while they attempt to throw down with their sworn enemies, Silence Suzuka ends up being disillusioned after spotting how unfair their unit fights. While the Horse Girls are generally true to their personalities from Uma Musume Pretty DerbyUmayon capitalises on its comedic setup to mix things up; Silence Suzuka was stoic and reserved in Uma Musume Pretty Derby as Special Week’s role model, but  here in Umayon, she’s much more expressive.

  • One thing I’ve always wondered is how race horses get their names, and while it is usually the case horses are named based on their lineage, so long as owners pick names that fall within certain criteria (they cannot be named after people without express permissions from said individuals or their families, be anything offensive, be named after racetracks or named after winning horses, to name a few), owners can actually be creative in their naming. During the Stampede’s rodeo event, I saw horses with names as creative as those from Japan (Special Delivery, Borderline Untimely and Born Fearless were some of the horses in events like Bareback and Saddle Bronc).

  • I would therefore imagine that in Japan, horse names can use both fully Western names (like Grass Wonder, Gold Ship and Special Week), or combination of Japanese and English naming (Mejiro McQueen and Silence Suzuka). Here, Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka go at it again; this aspect of Umayon is true to the rivalry seen in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and it is easy to see the pair spar over something as trivial as a test of courage. Matikanefukukitaru, another horse girl who has a fondness for all things supernatural, tries to spur the two on, and while the pair enter the test intent on proving the other wrong, scares from Haru Urara, Manhattan Café and Gold Ship send them packing.

  • What’s truly scary is the fact that the real Matikanefukukitaru never accompanied them into the forest. While being scared by their friends would’ve been somewhat terrifying, the thought that they’d actually encountered a ghost causes the pair to faint. Although one might be inclined to believe Matikanefukukitaru was lying, others confirm that she never went into the forest with Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka. It suddenly hits me that I’ve never written about Matikanefukukitaru as a central character in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and for this, I’m thankful: at thirty-one characters, her name would be a pain in the lower backside to type out.

  • The idea of eliciting a confession on a coastal cliff brings to mind the likes of Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?‘s Phantom Thief Lapin, and this means that both Phantom Thief Lapin and Umayon must be parodying a trope from detective anime or live-action dramas. I’m not especially familiar with this genre, so I have no idea which shows popularised this setup and, on this token, I would be quite open to hearing from readers which series may have been the origin for this setup.

  • The finale to Umayon‘s first half was especially fun to watch: with the past eleven episodes focused on various slice-of-life aspects surrounding Horse Girls, it was a fun return-to-form for a series that is known for its racing. This time around, we have Gold Ship and Tokai Teio providing the commentary, while Tamamo Cross, Super Creek and Hishi Amazon running the race itself. Competitions in Umayon appear to be constrained to three individuals at a time, but each and every time, this has worked to the shorts’ favour, allowing characters to really bounce off one another.

  • Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen Hishi Amazon, Super Creek or Tamamo Cross in the spotlight in earlier iterations of Uma Musume Pretty Derby: this is a reminder of how many characters there are in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and theoretically, there isn’t an upper limit of how many seasons production studios could make with Uma Musume Pretty Derby so long as the stories were all compelling and engaging: Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, for instance, gave Mejiro McQueen just as much focus as it did Tokai Teio, and this helped viewers to see more of Team Spica’s Horse Girls where in the previous season, Special Week was the star of the show.

  • The race course Gold Ship’s designed is diabolical and non-regulation in every aspect. It is only in a slice-of-life parody that this concept would work, and suddenly, I find myself wishing that Girls Und Panzer: Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu! would receive a similar adaptation. I’ve always had a fondness for slice-of-life focused presentations of anime that have a significant world-building piece; since these anime focus so much on the activities, they leave less time to show what life in such a world could be like. Here, Tamamo Cross has switched into a kindergarten uniform, while Super Creek’s donned a housewife’s garb. Poor HIshi Amazon is embarrassed and enraged to be wearing a magical girl costume and is seized with a desire to beat up Gold Ship.

  • As it turns out, Gold Ship orchestrated the entire race so she could win it. I do not believe I’ve ever seen Gold Ship win before in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and while Umayon isn’t likely to be official, it was still fun to see Gold Ship go through all this extraneous effort to score a win where typically, old-fashioned training would be needed. With this post in the books, I’m one step closer to wrapping up all of the animated Uma Musume Pretty Derby content: unless I’m mistaken, Umayon‘s second half is all that I have left. I admit that I am a little surprised to have found myself Uma Musume Pretty Derby to the extent that I did, and that Uma Musume Pretty Derby may have contributed to an increased enjoyment of my first-ever rodeo this year.

Earlier this year, Uma Musume Pretty Derby fans were pleasantly surprised to learn that a third season will be released somewhere in the future and deal with new Horse Girls, such as T.M. Opera O, Admire Vega, Narita Top Road. However, rather than being released in a traditional format, this third season will be streamed. Moreover, Umayuru was also announced and has a known release date: it will begin airing in Autumn 2022. The fact that Uma Musume Pretty Derby has enjoyed sufficient success as to receive a third season and new series of shorts speaks to the series’ successes – sales of the anime have been uncommonly strong and have even edged out highly successful series, while the mobile game is widely played and quite accessible. Unlike Kantai Collection, which was dependent on Flash Player and required players register through an unwieldly lottery system, Japanese users can simply log into the App Store or Play Store, download the game and find themselves, quite literally, off to the races. With a compelling world, lovable characters and an accessible presentation of horse racing, it is easy to see how Uma Musume Pretty Derby has found success where other series based on games had not; it is rare for anime based on games to be successful because game mechanics do not necessarily translate elegantly into a story. However, Uma Musume Pretty Derby succeeds because it is able to bring out the emotional tenour surrounding each Horse Girls as they strive to be the best racer possible. From Special Week’s desire to become the best and win for her mothers, to Tokai Teio’s admirable efforts in overcoming numerous injuries so she can race alongside Mejiro McQueen, Uma Musume Pretty Derby has, insofar, given viewers plenty to root for and enjoy. A third season will, regardless of its format, be no different, and this would be quite exciting. Until then, viewers do have Umayuru to look forward to, and having seen Umayon, more daily tomfoolery from the Horse Girls is always welcome.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island, A Review and Reflection and Remarks on Human Faces Amidst Warfare

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” –G.K. Chesterton

Following the battle at Jaburo, the Federation prepare to capture Odessa, a Zeon stronghold. After arriving in Belfast, Amuro and White Base resupply before receiving unexpected orders to eliminate Zeon forces stationed at Alegranza, a remote island, after Federation forces sent there were wiped out. When Amuro arrives with Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi, they are shocked to learn that there are children on the island, and moreover, rather than Zeon forces, Amuro encounters a lone Zaku that overcomes him in combat. After coming to, Amuro meets the Zaku’s pilot, a man named Cucuruz Doan, and sets off in search of the Gundam, which he’d lost during the encounter. Although he is unable to find the Gundam, Amuro finds that the islanders, many of them children, live a life of moral simplicity, working with one another to maintain the island’s infrastructure and their very means of survival. Meanwhile, after an overwhelming performance at Casablanca, Zeon’s Southern Cross team is assigned to assist with an operation – Zeon General M’Quve begins negotiations with the Federation’s General Gopp as a ruse for his plan to decimate critical Federation cities using a hidden MIRV. As it turns out, Zeon had placed a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile there as an ace-in-the-hole, but find themselves unable to utilise it because of communications jamming. Thus, the Southern Cross are assigned to investigate Alegranza and determine if there’s a saboteur there. As Amuro’s gone missing, Bright Noa quietly orders a search team sent out to search for Amuro even as the Federation begin preparing for their attack on Gibraltar, delaying their launch to give his team a chance to find Amuro. Amuro himself comes to understand Cucuruz and impresses him when he is able to help fix a broken water main. While searching for his Gundam, Amuro learns that Marco, one of the oldest boys on the island, also wants to help Cucuruz fight. Surprised that Amuro made it to Cucuruz’s workspace, Marco and Amuro briefly engage in fisticuffs. Cucuruz sends both back, forbidding them from going further. It turns out that Cucuruz had once been a formidable pilot, but deserted Zeon after being ordered to fire upon children during a battle. When another storm hits Alegranza, Amuro repairs power to the generator, giving the children light for the first time in a while. He also reactivates the lighthouse, impressing Marco. The power confirms to White Base’s search party that the island is inhabited, but it also eliminates any doubt in the Southern Cross’ mind that Cucuruz is on the island. They begin their operation to launch the ballistic missile; Danan, Selma and Egba engage Cucuruz with their custom Zakus, while Wald and Sanho infiltrate Cucuruz’s silo and manually prepare the missile for launch. While they are successful, Amuro manages to retrieve his Gundam with help from Marco. He eliminates both Wald and Sanho before stepping in to fight Egba, who’d disarmed Cucuruz. Recalling how Cucuruz had defeated him, Amuro uses island’s geography to surprise Egba before finishing him off. In the aftermath, the missile launches, but its payload detonates harmlessly in the atmosphere – Cucuruz had been successful in sabotaging the missiles. M’Quve laughs off their failure to destroy key Federation cities, and Amuro reunites with Fraw Bow, as well as the others on White Base. He realises that so long as Cucuruz keeps the Zaku, trouble will continue to find him, and offers to discard the Zaku. Cucuruz consents, and the two group part ways on amicable terms, with the islanders hope that they can preserve peace in their home the same way Amuro and Cucuruz do.

Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the latest Gundam instalment, returning to the Universal Century’s One Year War and Amuro’s journey in fighting for what he believes is right. However, at this point in his career, Amuro is still very much a novice pilot unfamiliar with the horrors and demands of warfare; he only pilots the Gundam reluctantly, and Bright Noa expresses as much, stating that he’s only as strict as he is with Amuro in order to remind him of the importance of doing his duty to protect those around him. When Amuro is defeated and meets Cucuruz, Cucuruz’s words to Amuro are simple: he fights to protect those on his island as a means of atoning for the sins he committed on the battlefield. By having Amuro meet someone whose actions are motivated by nothing more than a desire to defend life, Amuro comes to realise that Cucuruz wasn’t so much fighting to kill those who were on the other side, as much as he was trying to keep the islanders safe from whatever conflicts the outside world might bring with them. The reason why Cucuruz spared Amuro was because he recognised the machine that, even at this point in the war, developed a fearsome reputation for mangling Zeon forces despite its pilot’s inexperience. Meeting Amuro and hearing him out allows Cucuruz to similarly realise that warfare only results in bloodshed. While Gundam series are best known for their mobile suit combat scenes, exploring the human stories for both Federation and Zeon characters alike is meaningful because it shows how wasteful warfare is, and how where given the choice, rational individuals would very much prefer to live their lives peacefully, free of armed conflict. In every Gundam series, conflicts are motivated by a combination of ideology, greed and a lust for destruction perpetrated by those who are in power and have every reason to cling onto this power. Through their perverse desire, corrupt politicians and military leaders manipulate soldiers into dying, often needlessly; when soldiers are freed from their obligations and given a chance to see their opponents’ faces, to talk things out, they often find that they are more alike than different. This is precisely what happens in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and although it represents only one detour in Amuro’s journey, understanding Cururuz helps Amuro to become a more resolute pilot. While he still values human life and only reluctantly pulls the trigger, Amuro understands that there are circumstances that demand he act decisively. These learnings allow Amuro to help stop the Southern Cross from escaping and potentially giving his allies further trouble, and ultimately would impact how he fights his counterpart and arch-rival, Char Aznable, as the One Year War rages on.

Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a fantastic addition to the Universal Century for showing one step in Amuro’s growth. In addition to this, it also brings to light a side of Gundam that is rarely seen – even somewhere as grim as the Universal Century, there can be humour, as well. Bright Noa arranges for a series of phoney delays to give White Base the justification they need to stick around and look for Amuro while Mirai suppresses her laughter. When Sleggar Law attempts to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, he words things in such a way as to earn himself a slap to the face. Upon arriving on Alegranza, Kai and Hayato manage to escape their damaged Guncannons, and for their troubles, are rammed by a rampaging goat. The presence of children do much to to lighten the mood in Cucuruz Doan’s Island: a war might be raging, but the combatants and civilians alike are still human, able to experience both sorrow and joy. Seeing the characters smile and laugh gives additional weight to Amuro’s fight. Amuro is defending the children’s smiles the same way Cucuruz was defending Alegranza’s residents. Humour is a fantastic element to employ because it humanises the characters and gives weight to their goals. Jun Maeda is no stranger to this approach, and although people attribute his stories’ emotional impact to over-written scenarios, the reality is that Maeda gives characters a chance to see what individuals are like before tragedy strikes. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the approach taken is unlikely to satisfy individuals who believe that grim, dark tones equate to realism, and that tragedy corresponds to maturity. However, to suppose that only suffering can create meaningful context for growth would be to eliminate an entire aspect of one’s being. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Amuro’s growth is precisely driven by the fact that viewers have a chance to see what peace brings to people, and why it’s worth defending. By giving viewers a chance to laugh at Kai’s antics, or the daily lives of the children on Alegranza, a juxtaposition is created between the atrocities both the Earth Federation and Zeon governments are willing to commit in order to achieve their supremacy, and the everyday lives of both Earth Federation and Zeon citizens would rather live.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ll open this post with the combat between Cucuruz and an unnamed Federation pilot running a GM. The RGM-79 GM is the earliest mass production Federation model, being a cut-down RX-78 II with superior acceleration and the ability to equip various weapons – its design and role would later inspire Gundam SEED‘s GAT-01 Strike Dagger, which was similarly a cut-down Strike Gundam designed for mass production. Although the GM is made cannon fodder in Gundam and slaughtered en mass by named pilots, the design paradigms follow closely how real-life prototypes enter mass production. In Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the film opens with a group of GMs attempting to fend off Cucuruz’s Zaku. Before delving further into this discussion, I note that Cucuruz Doan’s Island premièred on June 2 in Japanese theatres, but the BDs became available shortly after for overseas viewers to check out. Unlike other publishers, Sunrise understands that a short release delay is the best way to maintain interest in a series and drive sales. Other studios (especially CoMix Wave and Showgate) could take a leaf from Sunrise’s book – rather than waiting eleven months to release BDs, strive to release them within a few weeks of the theatrical opening date.

  • Although the original Zaku is technically inferior to a GM in terms of durability and firepower (a single shot from the beam spray gun would be enough to neutralise the Zaku), Cururuz is an uncommonly talented pilot, and despite lacking any ranged weapons, makes use of his heat hawk to completely destroy the GM team, as well as their landing craft. The loss of forces that stumble upon Alegranza is what prompts the events of Cucuruz Doan’s Island: Federation forces become convinced that Zeon remnant forces occupy the otherwise uninhabited island and therefore, may pose a threat to their operation.

  • At this point in his career, Bright Noa is a junior lieutenant, although after an attack on White Base kills much of the original crew, Bright becomes the de facto captain of the ship. Bright would subsequently go on to bring the White Base to Luna II while evading Zeon forces, before crash-landing on Earth and attempting to reach allied territory. The elements of the original Mobile Suit Gundam eventually make their way over to Gundam SEED, with the Archangel, Murrue Ramius and Kira Yamato replacing White Base, Bright Noa and Amuro Ray, respectively.

  • Bright presents himself as a strict leader who does his utmost to rally those around him, and believes in discipline. This is how he’s able to maintain order and a command hierarchy amongst the civilians that have boarded White Base; besides Amuro, Fraw Bow, Kai Shinden and Hayato Kobayashi also join White Base’s crew. In The Origin, Kai Shinden and his friends are portrayed as minor delinquents who get into hot water with authority figures owing to their curiosity and disregard for rules, but when the events at Side Seven force them into combat, Amuro and his friends, however reluctantly, do become an integral part of the Federation effort to repel the Zeon forces.

  • Mirai Yashima was previously seen as a helmsman of sorts in Gundam Origin and becomes White Base’s helmsman, as well – she offers advice to Bright where appropriate and is seen guiding him whenever he doubts his own leadership; being astute and driven to improve, Bright often reflects on the way he does things. Here, he wonders if he’s being too strict on Amuro and the others. From an external point of view, Bright is doing precisely the right thing. I recall a similar conversation in Tom Clancy’s Locked On, where John Clark reminds Jack Ryan Jr. that chains of command exist so soldiers act cohesively under stress, but he understands how can be difficult for civilians to get used to this fact.

  • Bright’s orders are simple enough: his higher-ups order him to send out a reconnaissance team to investigate Alegranza, and to this end, the Gundam, plus two Guncannons, are sent out. The island appears uninhabited, until children suddenly appear and begin throwing rocks at Kai’s Guncannon. The presence of children on Alegranza foreshadow what Cucuruz Doan’s Island deals with, and meanwhile, Amuro himself wonders at what awaits them on an island that’s a little too quiet. The designs of the cockpits in Cucuruz Doan’s Island and The Origin speak volumes to how quickly mobile suits advance. Here in UC 0079, cockpits use flat-panel monitors and analogue controls, but by the events of UC 0093, cockpits are immensely sophisticated and provide a full 360° panorama.

  • When The Origin concluded back in July 2018, I was a little disappointed that the series hadn’t given viewers a cameo appearance of the RX-78 II, which had been shown to be in development as being the answer for Zeon’s Zaku mobile suits. The Origin did give viewers a glimpse of Bright Noa and White Base as they set off on their first assignment to retrieve the RX-78 II, and overall, when I finished The Origin, I was immensely satisfied. The Origin began back when I was in graduate school, and originally, I’d figured that it would finish similarly by the time I was graduating; the third episode aired a month before my defense, and the fourth episode was scheduled close to my convocation.

  • However, the producers determined that more episodes were needed to adequately present the story. Two new episodes were added to the line-up, greatly expanding things and also giving The Origin a chance to showcase the large-scale battles between Zeon and the Federation. Here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, viewers get their first look at the completed RX-78 II, a revolutionary mobile suit that uses mega-particles to drive its weapons system, giving it exceptional firepower. Amuro is prevented from using his beam rifle at close quarters, which is capable of destroying any mobile suit of its time with a single shot, and when facing off against Cururuz’s Zaku, he is forced to switch over to his beam sabres.

  • Pushed against the cliff, Amuro attempts to attack, only for the ground to give way. He tumbles into the ocean and is knocked unconscious, but later reawakens in a small hut and is surprised to learn that the door isn’t locked. The islanders look at him with hostility – it turns out that the children on the island were orphaned by the One Year War and dislike soldiers for failing to protect the people. Cururuz does nothing to stop Amuro from leaving, knowing the island’s harsh conditions will soon result in Amuro returning to them.

  • Since he’d had a rough idea of where the Gundam had fallen, Amuro attempts to trek across the five kilometre wide island on his own. He ends up at a massive crater in the island and is forced to turn back as both night and exhaustion sets in. Early on, it was clear that Amuro would not find the Gundam this quickly: had he simply located it, he likely would’ve left and rejoined White Base as they prepared for the operation at Odessa. This wouldn’t allow Amuro to see the One Year War from a different perspective, which is the crux of Cucuruz Doan’s Island‘s story.

  • Knowing that Amuro would be struggling in the island’s desolate landscape, Cururuz sends Cara out to look for him, and she is shocked to learn that Amuro had made it all the way to the crater. He gratefully accepts the water she’s brought, along with her invitation to dinner. In his position, Amuro quickly realises that he must make his way back to White Base, without the Gundam, things will become trickier. His heart never strays from locating his machine, but for now, Amuro also spots that he’s probably going to be here for a while.

  • The children on the island initially do not take kindly to Amuro’s presence. As an outsider and a soldier, Amuro is seen as being a threat and unaccustomed to the way Cururuz does things. However, Amuro appears to show no objection to Cururuz’s suggestion that he’ll need to earn his keep on the island, much as the others do. While the island life would deviate from what Amuro is used to, spending time in the armed forces, under Bright’s eye slowly begins imparting a shift in him, too; Amuro becomes acclimatised to doing what he’s told and living a spartan life.

  • I would imagine that landing on the island and doing what he can to survive reinforces what Bright had been trying to show Amuro; although Bright had been vehemently opposed to Amuro piloting the Gundam early on, he quickly spots that Amuro has a natural affinity for the machine and is the only one capable of using it to keep the Zeon forces off their back. Thus, when Amuro refuses to pilot the Gundam and evade his responsibility in Mobile Suit Gundam, Bright motivates him in one of Gundam‘s most iconic moments with the now-legendary Bright Slap.

  • That Cururuz Doan’s Island brings this moment back (in flashback) with modernised visuals would represent a welcoming call-back to the original series. The moment is referenced in numerous other series – Amuro’s “not even my own father hit me” is as well recognised as the Bright Slap itself, and as a curious bit of trivia, Amuro’s voice actor, Tōru Furuya, similarly was struck by author Yoshiyuki Tomino after Tomino became displeased with the recording sessions’ progress. Tomino then told Furuya that all of the shock and indignation he’d felt there was how Amuro would be feeling, which in turn became Furuya’s now-famous delivery of those lines in Mobile Suit Gundam.

  • Upon learning that Amuro might’ve been shot down, Bright struggles to do what he believes is right (delaying departure and rescuing Amuro), and following orders from the top. Bright is in an unenviable position; although there is a war to fight, the Gundam has become a significant asset in their arsenal and, together with White Base’s cutting edge equipment, has been the reason why a novice crew has been able to give Zeon forces so much trouble. As Bright contemplates following orders, Fraw Bow loses composure and breaks out in tears at the though of losing Amuro.

  • Meanwhile, M’Quve and Gopp enter negotiations about Gibraltar: M’Quve wishes for the Federation to hold off on their operation and indicates they have an ace-in-the-hole in event of the Federation’s refusal to comply. Gopp appears unconcerned with M’Quve’s threats, but M’Quve is confident in his ability to make good on his promises should the invasion proceed. At this point in time, the Antarctic Treaty prevents both Zeon and Federation forces from resorting to weapons of mass destruction, but M’Quve indicates that Zeon isn’t particularly respectful of their terms. Although prima facie giving Zeon a massive advantage, Zeon actually had limited resources to wage war long-term, and this would buy enough time for the Federation to rebuild their forces, including the development of their own mobile suits.

  • M’Quve’s plan is contingent on something stored on Alegranza, and whatever this is is important enough to warrant withdrawing the elite Southern Cross team. With their high mobility Zakus (which would inspire the high mobility Tieren in Gundam 00), the Southern Cross are able to turn the entire tide of a battle on their own. At Casablanca, they rescue a detachment of Zeon forces that were slowly being overrun by Federation forces: high mobility Zakus are equipped with thrusters on their legs that allow them to hover and move with a far greater speed than standard Zakus.

  • Each of the Southern Cross’ Zakus utilise a loadout suited to the pilot’s preferences, and here, one of the members fires an anti-materiel rifle against a Federation GM, blowing its head unit apart with a single well-placed shot. The team’s members only nominally get along with one another, but in the battlefield, their coordination and teamwork are sufficient to overwhelm the comparatively disorganised Federation GMs. GMs have the unfortunate distinction of being easily destroyed, and in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, their simplistic design belie the fact that they’re still sophisticated machines meant to act as the Federation’s answer for the Zaku.

  • The disparity in machines appears to be the fact that, while Zakus are technically inferior to GMs, Zeon possesses better pilots – The Origin shows that Zeon’s mobile suit program has existed for longer than the Federations, giving them additional time to train pilots. While the Federation’s Gundam and the GM derivatives are excellent machines, their pilots are significantly less familiar with them, nullifying any technical advantage the GMs possess. Mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island might not be as frequent as one might expect, but this is in keeping with the film’s themes, and moreover, what combat sequences that are shown are wonderfully animated, really showing the weight and scale of each engagement between individual pilots.

  • The lack of mobile suit combat in Cucuruz Doan’s Island was a point of contention for Anime News Network, who suggested that the Southern Cross are “shallow filler” and the film as a whole was “[lacking] of variety in the action”. As previously noted, the emphasis on the human side of things in Cucuruz Doan’s Island means that more time is spent on Amuro interacting with Cucuruz and the islanders. The Southern Cross are therefore less of a foe than Amuro’s own doubts; while he was knocked out, Amuro dreams uneasily of his own mother rejecting his decision to take up arms, and Amuro himself is torn between using force to defend those important to him.

  • As such, it is plain that Anime News Network’s expectations of Gundam clearly differ than my own, and I’ll remark that folks looking for intense mobile suit combat set in the Universal Century won’t be disappointed by works like Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt. Back in Cururuz Doan’s Island, Cururuz is seen working on the schematics to what appears to be an MIRV, but there is never any doubt in the viewers’ minds that he’s no sleeper operative; in a flashback, Cururuz refuses to fire on civilians, and this is what led him to desert. When Amuro sets off to try and find his Gundam, Cururuz lends him his hat and canteen – he knows that Amuro can’t stay on the island forever.

  • Back on White Base, the children have barricaded themselves in the bathroom and refuse to come out until the crew promise to rescue Amuro. Although there is little Bright can openly do about things, he clandestinely authorises a search and rescue mission. Sleggar Law, an ace pilot, decides to help out, and after managing to convince the children to come back out, organises the search team. Sleggar forms the basis for Gundam SEED‘s Mu La Flaga: both are amicable and exceptionally skilled pilots, but also have a tendency to flirt with the ladies. When Sleggar explains his plan to Sayla here, he earns himself admonishment to the face.

  • In the end, Sleggar is able to convince Sayla to operate the Core Booster, although Kai and Hayato are exasperated that Sleggar used such a means to accomplish his goal. Moments like these quickly indicated to me that Cucuruz Doan’s Island was going to incorporate humour together with the more serious moments, and while this seems out of place in Gundam, it is effective because it reminds viewers that behind every machine is a human being. Later Gundam series are all-business; there are some moments that may elicit a chuckle here and there, but on the whole, comedy is not something Gundam is known for. Thus, in an episode about the human aspects of warfare, it is appropriate to give the viewers a few more laughs.

  • Amuro reaches the end of the island, and upon finding the spot where there are mobile suit footprints, he realises that his Gundam must’ve fallen into the ocean. He turns back, defeated, and soon, finds that the islanders have encountered a new problem: despite a massive rainfall, they’re out of fresh water. Cucuruz and Marco are heading off to fix things, and without anything else to do, Amuro decides to accompany them. This decision turns out to be a good one; Cucuruz quickly identifies that while their water supply is fine, the line itself has broken.

  • Cucuruz is too broad to fit through the opening in the cave, and Marco hesitates upon seeing how tricky the walls are. Conversely, Amuro volunteers to go and does his task admirably; after reaching the break, he seals it and repairs the line, allowing water to return to the islanders. Marco ends up growing resentful of Amuro, feeling that his thunder was stolen, while Amuro’s stock among the islanders improve. Between his prior experiences on White Base, and his own skill with mechanical systems, Amuro is well-equipped to deal with some of the islanders’ problems.

  • It turns out that Cucuruz’s main work on the island is devoted towards altering a launch system belonging to Zeon. Through his work, Cucuruz is able to jam any external communications to the weapons, preventing Zeon forces from remotely firing the ballistic missile. This control room notably has what appears to be a .30 calibre machine gun port, allowing the launch controls to be defended in case of an attack, but the flipside is that such a system could also be used by unauthorised forces to fend off anyone trying to stop a launch; it shows Zeon’s faith in their own soldiers’ loyalty.

  • The Southern Cross’ Egba Atler is their current leader. A hot-blooded and brash pilot dead-set on proving that he’s a superior leader to Cucuruz, he becomes violent when Danan Rashica expresses interest in their latest assignment. Danan seems to be star-struck at the prospect of meeting Cucuruz, a consequence of hearing about the latter’s legendary exploits when he’d been a pilot, but all Egba sees is a traitor who discarded his duty. For Egba, nothing would give him greater satisfaction than squaring off against their former leader to settle who’s the more suitable pilot once and for all. To save their teammate from a physical beating, Danan’s teammates restrain Egba and buy him enough time to escape.

  • Pilot Selma Livens, on the other hand, had similarly respected Cucuruz, but is more reserved about things. In combat, she’s confident and capable, but she feels that Egba is not as effective as Cucuruz had been. Egba resembles both Dozle Zabi and the Black Tri-Stars in temperament. While Anime News Network’s reviewer found the Zeon pilots to be “filler”, I disagree with this sentiment on the grounds that the Southern Cross are simply a team of pilots who were sent in to advance M’Quve’s plans as a part of a larger political game. The choice to pick the Southern Cross rather than a generic outfit is deliberate; a special forces team would create additional tension in a way that unnamed soldiers would not.

  • Generally speaking, I don’t place much stock in Anime News Network and their movie reviews. Given what I’ve seen there for film reviews, it appears that criticisms are doled out for criticisms’ sake, rather than as a result of any legitimate shortcomings in a given movie. In a review, the negatives end up being only touched upon, as though all reviews are subject to a quota of criticism in order for Anime News Network to appear informed and relevant. This was most apparent with their reviews for Non Non Biyori Vacation and Violet Evergarden: The Movie: both film’s successes are callously brushed off in a few sentences, and no additional justification (or evidence) for the remarks were given.

  • I’ve long found that criticisms in a vacuum are meaningless; if one is to criticise, then one must also either offer suggestions for improvement, or acknowledge the reasons behind why a given work may have turned out the way it did. For me, I only will make remarks on improvements if a limitation particularly noticeable, and the Southern Cross don’t come across as such. Back in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Sayla and Sleggar prepare to launch. The search and rescue mission is something Bright has approved of – he was originally shocked to learn that the operation at Alegranza was called off after Gibraltar became a larger priority and struggled to make the call. In the end, Bright places his faith in Amuro and the Gundam.

  • To this end, Bright stages a scenario where White Base is still attempting to prepare for take-off: with just about every part of the ship seemingly seeing delays or problems, Bright gives the impression to Federation command that they’ll need a little more time before they can go anywhere. This charade buys White Base enough time to recover Amuro from Alegranza: Salya, Sleggar, Hayato and Kai have all taken off for the island with the goal of bringing Amuro back, and this time, Fraw Bow and the children accompany them, as well.

  • Mirai’s suppressed laughter speaks volumes to the light-hearted nature of their ruse, and reinforces the fact that outside of Zeon and Federation atrocities, the soldiers are ultimately human. Bright’s decision here also speaks more loudly about what’s in his heart: while he voices doubt about pushing Amuro too hard or even treating him harshly, choosing to delay departure, against orders, shows that Bright places great stock in Amuro and the Gundam. This is something that will later impact how Bright operates; in Gundam Unicorn, Bright’s been around the block long enough to know that any worthy Gundam pilot can achieve whatever they set their mind to and as such, places his faith in their ability and resolve. This is what motivates his speech to Banagher shortly before the Garuda transfer, and there, Banagher would prove that Bright’s intuition is on the money, a result of years of working with Gundam pilots.

  • When a massive storm slams into Alegranza, Amuro decides to look around and see if he can get the power up and running: while life on Alegranza is relatively cozy, the residents don’t have access to power. Some of the children are deathly afraid of the dark, and when the storm appears, they become inconsolable. With a deft hand for repairs, Amuro ends up not only restoring power to the cottage, but also fixes the lighthouse. Marco and the others are overjoyed with this; the residents have long discussed fixing the lighthouse but lacked the knowhow to do so.

  • With the lights back on, the children are much happier, and Marco admits he’s happy to have Amuro around. The two reconcile here, but when Cururuz arrives, he states that Amuro’s actions were a mistake – he deliberately kept the lighthouse and electrical power offline to avoid drawing any attention to the island. The addition of power would broadcast to the world that the island was inhabited and worth looking at. Shortly after, both Amuro’s allies and the Southern Cross spot the lighthouse, removing any doubt in their mind that Cucuruz must be there.

  • Kai and the others’ original plan had been to land on the island and quickly retrieve Amuro, along with his Gundam. However, the mission suddenly becomes considerably more dangerous when they spot the Zeon forces approaching the island. In previous Gundam, mass production units have been presented as a bit of a joke: unnamed pilots are typically slaughtered whole-sale, and often presented as standing still when under fire. I appreciate that this is done to illustrate a disparity in power, similarly to how in Hollywood films, exotic machines and monsters can make short work of F-22s and M1A2s, which are, in reality, impressive machines.

  • However, seeing Zakus in The Origin was a reminder that even the mass production machines can be formidable. I would’ve liked to have seen more battles between basic Zakus and GMs, but here in Cururuz Doan’s Island, the final battle feels tense even with only a squad of machines; having spent the whole film seeing the children in Cara and Cucuruz’s care, it always felt that Cururuz would have his hands full in trying to keep the battle away from the other islanders. I imagine that for the Southern Cross, they’ve got no information about the islanders and are here purely to neutralise Cururuz and get the launch mechanism working again.

  • When Sayla and Sleggar arrive, an iconic Mobile Suit Gundam theme begins playing. It’s titled “Fear of Battle”, and here in Cucuruz Doan’s Island, the song has been modernised while at the same time, retaining the aesthetic of the original, which had been composed with a disco-opera tone, blending the grandeur of space opera music similar to John William’s Star Wars with 1970s disco elements. The modernised version has a slightly heavier tenour and a richer sound, but beyond this, is immediately recognisable. Overall, the music in Cucuruz Doan’s Island is of an excellent quality – Takayuki Hattori repraises his role from The Origin as composer.

  • Unfortunately for Kai and Hayato, Sayla and Sleggar’s arrival do little for them: the Core Booster’s taken damage and Sayla is forced to make a crash landing, dislodging Sleggar’s GM and causing its head to pop off. Sleggar is thus unable to contribute in a meaningful way to the combat after shooting down the aircraft carrying the Zakus, and while this puts the Guncannons in a difficult position, this moment also creates comedy reminiscent of what is seen in a 1970s anime. Both Hayato and Kai manage to escape their machines’ destruction, and before the Southern Cross finish them off, Cururuz finally arrives.

  • One of the joys about writing Gundam posts is that there’s almost never a shortage of screenshots to draw from, and correspondingly, no shortage of things to talk about. For this post, I started with a screenshot collection totalling 258 images, and had to cut it down to a more manageable sixty. While I could, in theory, find enough content to discuss regarding the mobile suits themselves, this would result in exceedingly long posts that I’m certain readers would have no interest in reading (and writing extremely long posts takes an inordinate amount of time, as well).

  • Wald disembarks his Zaku and enters the control room, where he finds Cucuruz’s handiwork. He quickly overrides the changes Curucuz had made and re-arms the ballistic missile, which begins counting down for a launch. Confident he’s done his duty, he prepares to his Zaku. Meanwhile, Marco and Amuro have managed to sneak into the hangar; Amuro is unaccustomed to swimming the underwater passage and ends up swallowing water. Marco revives him, and the pair manage to reach the Gundam. They are noticed by Yun, who sets off to investigate.

  • Yun ends up following Amuro and Marco into the hangar, where he finds a curtain covering a mobile suit cage. Upon pulling the curtain back, Yun is horrified to find himself face-to-face with the White Devil. Amuro swiftly activates the Gundam’s beam sabre and burns a hole in Yun’s Zaku, killing him instantly. At this point in time, the Gundam’s already developed a fearsome reputation amongst Zeon’s pilots. It is here that Marco realises that Amuro is similar to Cucuruz – he’d developed a respect for Amuro after the latter had repaired the island’s power supply, but to see Amuro willfully use a mobile suit and deal lethal damage shows Marco the sort of resolve Amuro must have.

  • For Amuro, operating a mobile suit is a morally tricky duty because it entails taking lives during the line of duty. During a flashback, Amuro recalls his mother’s shock that he would pick up a weapon and pull the trigger. However, the flipside of this is, if Amuro lets an opponent live, they might return and kill others important to oneself. Thus, when Amuro spots Wald trying to reach his Zaku, he decides to trample him with the Gundam. This kill mirrors how in war, difficult decisions must be made, and also shows how Amuro is prepared to take a life if it means saving other lives, although he retains enough of his humanity to feel remorse for what he must do.

  • Back on the surface, Cucuruz decimates the Southern Cross. Danan is positively honoured to die at the legendary Cucuruz Doan’s hands, while Selma wonders why things had to turn out this way when Cucuruz smashes her Zaku. While Federation GMs use beam sabres as their melee weapon, early Zakus are armed with heat hawks: these hand-axes have a super-heated blade that utilises thermal energy transferred from the Zaku’s main reactor, and generate enough energy to both cut through armour and resist a beam sabre, although its small size means it’s a weapon that takes skill to wield effectively.

  • Soon, only Egba remains: he’s a cut above even the other Southern Cross pilots, and is intent on taking Cucuruz down himself. His Zaku is equipped with a heat sabre, a blade composed of a shape memory polymer that allows the sabre’s blade to be stored while not in use. Heat sabres work on the same principle as a heat hawk, with the polymer conducting heat from the Zaku’s reactor to augment its cutting ability. For their efficacy, superheating the polymer would cause it to degrade rapidly, meaning that heat sabres ultimately have a limited lifespan and are thus discarded after use.

  • While Egba is focused on fighting Cucuruz, Kai and his team encounter Cara and the children, who are chasing after the island’s one goat. Cucuruz Doan’s Island had hints of humour interspersed throughout its run, but it is here that Kai and Hayato’s misfortunes are made light of – the goat lifts them into the air and the moment is frozen in stills for posterity. Gundam employing humour to this extent is uncommon (Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 were, for the most part, deadly serious), but the presence of children creates the opportunity for creating lighthearted moments that act as a break in tensions.

  • However, even with the bit of comedy offered by a goat and White Base’s more hapless crew, Egba’s determination to finish off Cucuruz is real; he hammers into Cucuruz’s Zaku, and while Cucuruz is able to hold his own, Egba ends up disarming Cucuruz. Cucuruz refuses to give up, but a hail of 60 mm rounds suddenly distract Egba. With Cucuruz disarmed and nearly beaten, Egba turns his attention towards the Gundam, confident that he can beat it.

  • The moment had felt grim when Cucuruz had fallen, but with the Gundam’s arrival, the mood tangibly shifts. Fraw Bow is overjoyed to see the Gundam arrive, and the heroic incidental music speaks to the fact that this is Amuro’s time to shine. Use of music is a classic storytelling element, and longtime viewers can often guess at what will happen next based purely on what themes play. Of course, in shows where the hero’s theme plays, the outcome of a battle will almost feel preordained; in Gundam Unicorn, for instance, whenever the Unicorn motif is heard, Banagher is certain to do some damage.

  • For this fight, Amuro has access to only the Gundam’s beam sabres, having discarded his beam rifle earlier whilst fighting Cucuruz. The Gundam’s beam rifle was a first for mobile suits. Up until this point, mobile suits had carried kinetic weapons. Zeon’s Zakus carried machine guns that were powerful enough to puncture the hulls of Federation ships and shred their fighters, but against the Gundam’s armour, these weapons proved ineffectual. Conversely, the Gundam’s beam rifle fired rounds as powerful as those of a battleship’s main gun, allowing it to destroy mobile suits trivially.

  • Without the beam rifle, Amuro is pressed into close quarters combat, and while Egba is a powerful foe, Amuro holds his own, counting on the Gundam’s superior technology. However, after landing on a ledge, Amuro quickly spots that he’s in the same scenario he was in when he first fought Cucuruz – the perilous cliff edge overlooking the ocean had been his downfall earlier, and now, Amuro realises he can use the terrain to his advantage. This is significant because it would show Amuro learning to think tactically and utilise every element available in a fight, rather than purely depending on the Gundam’s power.

  • To this end, Amuro utilises the Gundam’s vulcans to force Egba off-balance, creating an opening in which to strike him down with. Vulcans in Gundam are typically 60 mm, and fire at very high rates. However, in Gundam, rounds appear to deal much less damage than their calibres suggest: 60 mm rounds are considered to be only really useful for soft targets and point defense against missiles. Similarly, Zakus fire 100 mm rounds that do negligible damage to the Gundam’s armour. However, in reality, even 30 mm rounds have anti-armour capabilites, and 100 mm rounds are approaching the size of the shells used in tank guns. This likely speaks to the necessity of using beam rifles and beam sabres, given the defensive capabilities that mobile suits possess with respect to their armour.

  • The advent of beam weapons lead to a paradigm shift in mobile suit design: less emphasis is placed on armour, and newer designs will favour speed. Although cutting-edge mobile suits like the RX-93 ν Gundam and RX-0 Unicorn possess an I-field, capable of deflecting beams, even these have limitations. As such, for newer mobile suits, firepower is life, and speed is life insurance. Of course, in 0079, mobile suits are still a nascent technology, and so, Amuro has the advantage where weapons are concerned. While successful in defeating Egba, Amuro is unable to prevent the ballistic missile from launching. In the heat of battle to protect the islanders, the ballistic missile and its MIRV payload is forgotten.

  • For M’Quve, the Southern Cross appear to have succeeded in their efforts to reactivate the ballistic missile on Alegranza. In this moment of triumph, he watches the missile launch, while the horrified Federation Navy hastily launch cruise missiles in a bid to intercept the ballistic missile. Ballistic missile interception during the boost phase is desperately tricky – while the missile is vulnerable during this time owing to its fuel stores, it is rapidly accelerating, limiting the intercept window. Unsurprisingly, the missiles the Federation send out cannot reach their mark, and the ICBM manages to disperse its nuclear warheads.

  • To everyone’s surprise, the warheads suddenly detonate shortly after they enter the mid-course phase. Gopp is relieved; although M’Quve called his bluff, Cucuruz’s intervention single-handedly saves tens of millions of lives, and with Zeon’s bargaining chip gone, the Federation is able to push forwards with their assault on Gibraltar ahead of their plans to capture Odessa. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro’s visiting of Alegranza was plagued with production issues, and while it aired in Japan, never was shown in English releases. The story, while seemingly a detour, contributes greatly to Amuro’s growth and also shows some of the behind-the-scenes of how the Federation’s counteroffensive against Zeon begins.

  • For Cucuruz, although he was beaten in mobile suit combat, he was successful in preventing unimaginable casualties. The fact that Zeon was willing to resort to such means speaks both to their disregard for life and perception of the Federation’s people as being little more than obstacles; The Origin had shown the Zabi family as being quite divided on how they wanted to handle the war. Degwin had been hoping for a quick war and negotiations until the “Zeon is Exhausted” speech spurs him to keep fighting, while both Gihren and Kycilia had more militaristic ambitions. On the other hand, Dozle is a loyal soldier who genuinely fights for his people’s survival. Cucuruz is relieved to have survived, and that his actions have prevented the war from escalating.

  • The dynamic between Fraw Bow and Amuro is probably one of the more subtle but relatable aspects of Mobile Suit Gundam: early in their journey, she sticks with him, but as Amuro begins developing feelings for the other women that come into his life, and Fraw Bow begins seeing Amuro’s best friend, Hayato, instead. This is a natural progression in life, and both friendships and crushes do not endure forever. For now, however, the two are still relatively close – Fraw Bow tearfully embraces Amuro after he defeats Egba, relieved he’s alright. In the aftermath, the White Base crew part ways with Cucuruz and the islanders after Amuro chucks Cucuruz’s Zaku into the ocean, feeling that the only way to really be free of the fight is to live a peaceful life on the island without any weapons.

  • With this excursion over, the children on board White Base bid farewell to the islanders on Alegranza, and White Base itself prepares to head on over to Gibraltar for the next step of its operation. Cucuruz Doan’s Island ends up being a meaningful, self-contained story that helps viewers to see one set of events that would come to shape how he fights as a pilot, and for this reason, Curucuz Doan’s Island can be seen as a necessary stop rather than a detour. Seeing the growth and evolution of Gundam pilots is something that always captivated me: from watching Setsuna F. Seiei become more mindful and attuned to those around him, Kira Yamato become increasingly willing to fight once he realises he can do so without unnecessarily taking life, or Banagher realising that he has a responsibility to see something through, Gundam series have typically done a fine job of showing how people can rise to the occassion.

  • As such, when it comes to the autumn’s Witch of Mercury, my expectations remain consistent with what they’ve been for every other Gundam work I’ve seen previously. To be an enjoyable series, Witch of Mercury must deliver on three fronts. Firstly, the protagonists must mature in a meaningful way to mirror the interplay between responsibility and capability (as a pilot experiences things, they become more suited for using their power to defend what is dear to them). Second, I do not wish for unnecessary drama at the interpersonal level, since Gundam has always been about individual response (and eventually, rising up) to challenges at scale. Finally, combat choreography must be of a high calibre, at least as smooth and visually fluid as Gundam 00Gundam 00 is now more than a decade old, but it set the bar for what’s possible with Gundam, and therefore, is the yardstick I gauge other Gundam fights against. In the Universal Century, mobile suits are heavier, but the fights are still well-choreographed.

  • Cucuruz looks on as White Base departs from Alegranza; his encounter with Amuro leaves him a changed man, as well, and without the burden of a Zaku to maintain, as well as a Zeon silo to sabotage, a great weight is lifted from his chest, allowing him to fully devote himself to a peaceful life on Alegranza without worrying that Zeon or the Federation will show up again. It is here that I will note that Cucuruz’s name sounds quite similar to that of Kukuru Misakino from The Aquatope on White Sand – the two are prima facie about as different as night and day, but on closer inspection, both Cucuruz and Kukuru care very much about the things around them.

  • A look at the blog’s archive finds that mid-June does seem to be the month when I write about Gundam films: in 2019, it was Gundam Narrative, and then last year, I had the chance to watch Hathaway’s Flash. This year, the streak continues with Cucuruz Doan’s Island, and I finish this discussion just in time to celebrate Father’s Day with the family; my parents were treated to a Korean fried chicken dinner from a nearby joint. We ended up going for chicken three ways (crispy, garlic-soy and Gang-Jeong style) with a side of fries; Korean fried chicken is a bit pricier than our go-to Southern fried chicken, but the cost is reflected in the fact that the chicken is fried to crispy perfection while remaining tender and juicy.

  • Cucuruz Doan’s Island concludes with Cucuruz fulfilling a promise of properly celebrating a young boy’s birthday, complete with a cake. It’s a fitting close to the film and shows that Cucuruz is determined to preserving the peace on his island. Even without a Zaku, Cucuruz can still do this by looking after the island’s children with Cara. Altogether, Cucuruz Doan’s Island is a superb and insightful addition to the Universal Century timeline, and I would count this film an A (4.0 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten point scale, 9.0 of ten): this movie is a chance to see the RX-78 II remastered, something I’d wanted to see since The Origin ended, and on top of this, tells a meaningful story. While yes, it would’ve been nice to see more mobile suit combat, I appreciate that this isn’t the story’s primary objective, and what combat we did get was still of a superb quality.

Altogether, Alegranza Cucuruz Doan’s Island represents a remarkable show of how the original Mobile Suit Gundam was set in a universe that could tell a compelling story, and how with a fresh coat of paint, the classic story of the One Year War and the first Gundam could reach new audiences: Mobile Suit Gundam introduced elements that are now iconic in the Gundam franchise, but it has not aged particularly well. Inconsistencies in animation resulted in some segments of the story being removed, and Cucuruz Doan’s Island is one of them. However, seeing Cucuruz Doan’s Island brought into the present, while at the same time, remaining respectful of Mobile Suit Gundam‘s original aesthetic, sets one exciting precedence for what could be possible. A fully remastered portrayal of White Base and Amuro’s exploits during the One Year War would not only introduce new fans to where the story began, but for existing fans, it would be a phenomenal experience that breathes new life into memorable scenes. Such a project would be fraught with challenges: for one, some die-hard fans would be unwilling to accept any remaster that isn’t completely faithful to the original. Similarly to how Halo: Anniversary was criticised for altering the aesthetic in some missions, reducing the suspense the level designs conveyed, there is always a possibility that a remaster may make changes that could disappoint some. On the other hand, when a remaster is respectful of the original while modernising the visuals, it can be successful. Halo 2 Anniversary is one such experience, being a direct upgrade to its predecessor without dramatically changing the aesthetic that was present in the original. A Mobile Suit Gundam remaster that is done similarly to how Halo 2 Anniversary was done would be a welcome experience, and I’d certianly watch it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, Cucuruz Doan’s Island has been a superb experience, one that places a greater emphasis on the human sides of warfare and at the same time, portraying mobile suit battles as being a very intense and personal experience in ways that are possible now thanks to significant advances in animation methods and technology. Cucuruz Doan’s Island becomes an essential experience for Universal Century fans, updating all of the visuals in the Universal Century to modern standards and presenting excellent insight into Amuro’s character through a detour that would ultimately contribute to how he fights his battles, giving him the resolve and strength needed to stand toe-to-toe with Zeon’s legendary Red Comet.

This Art Club Has a Problem!: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” –Henry Ward Beecher

Mizuki Usami is a member of her middle school’s art club, and although she’s devoted to her craft, she struggles to handle her fellow club member, Subaru Uchimaki: although a talented artist in his own right, Subaru is more interested in producing anime drawings rather than conventional art. In spite of this, Mizuki holds feelings for Subaru and struggles to express herself; she manages to convince Subaru to stay in the art club. Later, Colette joins the art club after Subaru helps her in searching for a locket, and instructor Yumeko Tachibana takes up the role as the art club’s advisor. The art club’s everyday life is characterised by chaos and heartwarming moments: from Colette creating a bit of a ruckus after doodling on one of the model heads, to a fellow classmate botching a kokuhaku with Subaru and Mizuki encouraging Subaru in entering a contest after a classmate disparages his work, life in the art club settles into a familiar and comfortable pattern. Maria Imari transfers into their school shortly after, and quickly bonds with Subaru over their common interests, to Mizuki’s displeasure. Despite her chūnibyō tendencies, Maria gets along with everyone, including Colette, who sees her as a master of sorts, and even Mizuki finds that Maria is probably no threat to the status quo, since Subaru appears interested only in fictional characters. The three share more adventures together and even go on a treasure hunt the previous art club left behind, only to find it was an adult magazine. This magazine would later cause the art club some trouble. Later, the art club’s president encounters Moeka, a little girl who’s arrived to find her grandfather: Yukio Koyama, the art club’s former advisor. Outside of their club activities, the art club’s members still must deal with exams: Mizuki and the president are decent students, but it turns out that Subaru and Colette have failed, pushing Mizuki to suggest a home study session. With her help, both pass and are ready to take on the school’s culture festival. With help from Yumeko, the art club prepare a tin can exhibit; despite suffering from setbacks, the art club manages to produce a work in time for the festival. On a rainy day, one of Mizuki’s friends, Kaori, arranges for Subaru to accompany Mizuki home. Later, Mizuki overhears Subaru asking Maria about how to make his feelings for someone whose traits resembles Mizuki’s. Certain it must be her, Mizuki attempts to do a kokuhaku, only to discover Subaru’s referring to an anime character who shares her surname. Although relieved that the status quo at the art club seems to be maintained, she promises to do her best in the future, too. With this, I’ve crossed the finish line for This Art Club Has a Problem! (Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru), an anime I was given a recommendation to watch.

Standing in contrast with the usual gamut of slice-of-life anime I typically watch and write about, This Art Club Has a Problem! represents a departure in that this anime is purely comedy-driven. There isn’t an overarching theme, a goal that unifies the episodes or a lesson to be learnt; instead, each episode consists of several, loosely-related vignettes that showcase Mizuki’s everyday life as a member of the art club, and some of the misadventures she goes on as a result of her involvement with some zany, but authentic individuals. Some of these misadventures are particularly well-written: when Colette doodles on a model head and hides it in a box to evade trouble, Yumeko stumbles upon it and faints, leading Subaru to try and revive her while Mizuki fetches help. However, the club president misinterprets the situation, reports it to Mizuki, who goes wild at the thought of Subaru doing mouth-to-mouth with Yumeko, resulting in catharsis. In another moment, after a treasure hunt finds an adult magazine on school grounds, this seemingly-irrelevant object creates trouble for the art club as Subaru and Mizuki try to smuggle it off campus for disposal. Ironically, Maria and Colette were on the search for a grimoire, and Yumeko coincidentally mispronounces the grimoire’s name as being the same title as the adult magazine. When two differing objectives converge, Subaru ends up taking the hit for things, releasing the tension from the moment. In both cases, a comedy of errors is used to create a build-up in tension, culminating in a dawning of comprehension that drives much of the humour. This is where This Art Club Has a Problem! excels, although smaller moments from character dynamics, especially Mizuki’s tsundere traits and the resulting misunderstandings, also allow This Art Club Has a Problem! to elicit laughs during quieter moments. This Art Club Has a Problem! demonstrates how universal elements of comedy (namely, dramatic irony, timing and subversion of expectations) can be successfully utilised in anime without becoming stale. In previous years, it was asserted that works driven by meta-humour were better received critically because self-referential humour was intelligent and demanded that viewers think to get the joke. This is untrue: if one needed possess a modicum of background to understand obscure cultural references or self-awareness, a work has failed in delivering comedy. This sort of thing is something that Steven Chow understood: his movies are universally regarded as excellent examples of comedy because they employ methods that are universally appreciated, making use of timing and subversion of expectations to create absurdity. To enjoy a Steven Chow film, one needn’t have a profound knowledge of Chinese culture. Similarly, here in This Art Club Has a Problem!, the anime is able to convey humour effectively because it utilises means that are universally understood.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Known as Konobi! in short, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a series that was recommended to me not too long ago. Unfortunately for me, I’ve long forgotten who made this recommendation, but on the flipside, I did get around to watching and writing about this show. The main reason why I took up this recommendation was because I’d already had one anime about an art club in the books, Sketchbook, and I was curious to see how This Art Club Has a Problem! proceeds. Right out of the gates, viewers are introduced to Mizuki Usami, who shares a family name with Locodol‘s Nanako Usami and resembles Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s Special Week.

  • With a love for the arts and a fiery personality, Mizuki is voiced by Ari Ozawa, whom I know best as Kurumi Ebisuzawa of Gakkō Gurashi, Himena Tokikawa of Yakunara Mug Cup MoYU-NO‘s Yuno and Nozomi Moritomo of The Rolling Girls. Her first act in This Art Club Has a Problem! is punching out one of Subaru Uchimaki’s works in frustration, and the first episode is appropriately-named: “these people have problems”. However, these problems are not derogatory, and it is the case that this particular art club has its share of issues.

  • Half of Mizuki’s problems come from Subaru’s enjoyment for drawing manga characters, and whenever she’s asked to model for him, Subaru invariably renders her as something else: in fact, the only detail he bothers to keep true-to-life are Mizuki’s pantsu, to her great embarrassment. However, whenever accidents befall the art club, Mizuki puts her own embarassment aside for the club’s sake. Early on, after destroying Mizuki’s competition piece by mistake, Subaru and the club president do what they can to distract her. When Mizuki learns the truth, she forces Subaru to submit one of his works as a replacement, and this ends up winning second place, to everyone’s surprise.

  • Colette is introduced into This Art Club Has a Problem! shortly after. She has a similar role to Sketchbook‘s Kate, a foreign student, but unlike Kate, who’s Canadian and relatively new to Japan, Colette’s lived in Japan for several years and has no misunderstandings about Japanese culture. In manner and personality, Colette is a cross between Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen and Hitori Bocchi‘s Sonoka. Character archetypes are often counted as dull or boring, but they serve an important purpose, giving viewers familiar characters so they can focus on how everyone bounces off one another in different contexts.

  • Mizuki’s friends swing by the art club one day to visit: her feelings for Subaru are a badly-kept secret, and they often intervene to bring the two closer together. From left to right, we’ve got Sayaka (a member of the news club), Kaori (who resembles Rifle is Beautiful‘s Hikari and The Quintessential Quintuplets’s Yotsuba) and Ryōko (a tall girl with glasses and similar vibes as K-On!‘s Nodoka). Here, Kaori challenges everyone to a drawing contest to see who can do the best job, with the loser having to buy everyone else drinks. Kaori ends up getting defeated, creating a scenario where Mizuki shares an indirect kiss with Subaru by means of a drink can.

  • Yumeko is introduced as the art club’s new advisor: she’s a cross between Locodol‘s Saori, GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori of Girls und Panzer and Dropout Idol Fruit Tart‘s Hoho, being clumsy and inexperienced, but also kind-hearted and willing to go the extra mile for her students. On her first day, she ends up observing the students, and typically leaves everyone to their own devices: Mizuki is responsible and can be counted upon to work on her art for competitions, while Subaru also produces a good amount of competition-worthy pieces despite being present only to draw manga characters.

  • Although This Art Club Has a Problem! begins in a slower manner, what kicked things up a notch was a comedy of errors that resulted from Colette defacing one of the model heads. When she conceals this in a box to avoid Mizuki’s wrath, she inadvertently knocks out Yumeko, who thought it was a real head. Spotting this prompts Mizuki and Subaru to seek out another instructor for help: while Mizuki finds another faculty member, Subaru grapples with the idea of resuscitating Yumeko via mouth-to-mouth. The club president misunderstands this and hastens to tell Mizuki. The build-up and timing of everything is worthy of Bill Watterson, and from here on out, I became more appreciative of the jokes in This Art Club Has a Problem!.

  • Aside from more intricate jokes that depend on timing and context, This Art Club Has a Problem! also falls upon more conventional jokes: after a bad draw leaves the art club to clean up the school pool, Mizuki and the others take on the task. However, true to the art club’s approach, they end up bringing some paints and make art of Subaru’s choosing. While everyone else has already changed, Yumeko struggles to fit into her swimsuit. Yumeko provides all of the t n’ a in This Art Club Has a Problem!: the opening sequence even has her posing suggestively, and throughout the show, Yumeko’s figure gives her no shortage of trouble.

  • Beyond this, This Art Club Has a Problem! is very disciplined, capitalising on its time to create jokes based around the art club’s misadventures, which result from carelessness for the most part. Here, it turns out the president’s picked up the kind of paint that’s water insoluble: there’s now no way to remove the mermaid everyone’s drawn in the pool. The president is on the hook for this, and chooses to evade responsibility by putting on the same mask Colette had worn earlier. Non sequitur humour is common in This Art Club Has a Problem!, similarly to how Sketchbook and Non Non Biyori operated.

  • Compared to Sketchbook, which had a very large cast and a busy art club, This Art Club Has a Problem! rolls things back: Colette is only a nominal member of the art club, and the president prefers to sleep rather than participate, leaving only Mizuki and Subaru to do related activities. When Maria Imari transfers into their school, a part of me had hoped that she would join the art club, too; she takes an interest in Subaru after learning they both share the same hobbies, and immediately get along, causing Mizuki no shortage of trouble.

  • Her chūnibyō tendencies notwithstanding, Maria is actually quite social and quite astute when it comes to people: she quickly spots that Mizuki’s got a crush on Subaru, and is able to elicit a response when she takes his arm. Originally, this outing had been just for Mizuki: she’d been wanting to get a new bag charm since her old one fell apart, and had been hoping to spend some time alone with Subaru. Mizuki is constantly torn between getting closer to Subaru and trying to conceal her feelings for him to others. At the bookstore, Maria’s antics cause the clerk to inwardly wish this rowdy bunch of students would hit the bricks.

  • On their way back home, Subaru, Mizuki and Maria encounter a tearful child: it turns out his balloon’s caught in a tree, and, unable to reach it, Subaru suggests piggy-backing to increase their reach. Mizuki initially hesitates, but when Maria offers to do so, Mizuki comes around. Mizuki’s been dreaming of such a moment and wishes Subaru would compliment on how light she is, but when he states the opposite, she presses her thighs together against his face in displeasure. In the end, this is unsyccessful: Mizuki is a few inches short, and it takes a jump from Maria to retrieve the balloon from the tree. She returns it to the boy, but loses herself in another soliquay that causes the boy to very nearly lose the balloon again.

  • Although This Art Club Has a Problem! has the characters refer to one another by their family names, I refer to everyone by their given names for simplicity’s sake, and here, I will jokingly remark that Subaru’s name, when rendered in colloquial Cantonese, is “掃把佬” (jyutping sou3 baa2 lou2, literally “broom guy”). In This Art Club Has a Problem!, Subaru’s name is rendered purely in hiragana, and as such, there is no hanzi equivalent to draw a pronunciation from. Here, Subaru and Mizuki are faced with a competitor who apparently knows art theory but lacks the practical skills to back it up.

  • Subaru isn’t particularly bothered, but Mizuki is left indigniant and declares that Subaru will kick his ass. To this end, Mizuki ends up helping Subaru in the competition and even models for him. The competitor remains unnamed, speaking to his insignificance in the context of This Art Club Has a Problem!, and I further see this character as a satire of folks who act high and mighty even though their knowledge of a topic is theoretical. This happens quite often in anime discussions, where some folks take it upon themselves to endlessly (and incorrectly) analyse minutiae in anime without understanding the topic, or the context behind why a particular detail was presented.

  • Fans who care excessively about the theory and whether or not an anime’s portrayal of real-world details is plausible tend to both miss out on the main messages a work strives to convey, and alienate themselves from other parts of the community. This is mirrored in This Art Club Has a Problem!, where the competitor gets wiped and Subaru wins first place. To add insult to injury, it turns out the competitor’s submission didn’t even make it to the stage where it could be featured, and he is promptly forgotten.

  • While in search of another model head, Subaru and Mizuki venture into the unused room next door, but because said room has a faulty sliding door, the pair become trapped in the room. Mizuki’s imagination goes into overdrive, and despite Subaru’s efforts to try and get them out, they are initially unsuccessful. When he attempts using a pocket light to catch the attention of a patrolling instructor, Subaru only succeeds in scaring the living daylights out of Yumeko, who promptly faints. However, when Subaru and Mizuki find some old photographs of the art club’s previous members, they spot another door that leads back to their clubroom. With this, they are able to escape the room.

  • When exams draw close, Mizuki begins studying in earnest, but quickly becomes distracted after hearing Maria and Subaru laughing in the now-open storeroom: they’re leafing through manga volumes the previous art club’s members have left behind. She orders the pair to be more respectful, but the resulting silence similarly bothers her. Despite being a straight-laced student, Mizuki is still prone to childishness from time to time, and worried that Maria will take Subaru from her, Mizuki decides to call a break. This coincides with their finding of a treasure map that was clandestinely left in the manga.

  • Maria’s knowledge of manga is extensive, but she’s unfamiliar with art. Since the treasure map was meant to be for art students, it takes Mizuki’s help to actually locate the prize, which is located on school grounds. Upon reaching the final spot on the map, expectations are high as Maria, Mizuki and Subaru dig for the treasure. To their great disappointment, they find an adult magazine inside the treasure box. Too embarrassed for words, Mizuki closes the box and promise to never speak of this moment again. However, in keeping with This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s approach for humour, the adult magazine promptly returns in the next episode.

  • This time, said adult magazine lies at the heart of a multi-directional misunderstanding between Subaru, the club president, Yumeko, Maria, Colette and Mizuki: the comedy of errors leading up to the final release was masterful, with every little event adding to the moment where Yumeko would ultimately take Subaru to the woodshed for possessing the magazine. Originally, the president had planned to dispose of it, but was reluctant to allow Subaru to do so when he’d offered to take it off-campus. I suppose now is a good time as any to remark that Nao Tōyama voices Maria: Tōyama has a leading role in a large number of the shows I watch (Yuru Camp△‘s Rin and Karen of Kiniro Mosaic immediately come to mind).

  • Later, the competitor attempts to start a rematch with Subaru, and this time, the challenge will be to see who can do a better rendering of Mizuki. Incensed by Subaru’s propensity to modify her, Mizuki roots for the competitor, causing his heart to flutter, and the pressure eventually leads him to fail, leaving Subaru to win by default. Mizuki is, aside from her tsundere traits, an ordinary character in every respect, and her frustrations would likely parallel those of how an ordinary individual might deal with the antics within a fictional world.

  • While the president is cutting class, he encounters Moeka, a four-year-old girl who had previously run into Mizuki and Subaru. It turns out Moeka has a fondness for visual arts and often wanders off on her own to visit her grandfather, who happens to be the art club’s former advisor. It is lucky that Moeka’s misadventures don’t result in much trouble, although her mother does eventually become frustrated enough at Moeka’s treks as to purchase a walking rope to keep Moeka in arm’s reach at all times. After her grandfather scolds her for running off again, he admires the work she’s created and hopes that one day, she can also join an art club.

  • Whereas Mizuki had totally pwned her exams (even going on a treasure hunt isn’t enough to throw her off her game), Subaru and Colette end up getting sucked into an anime and neglect their studies, causing them to fail their exams. Yumeko can actually be quite strict when the moment calls for it, and she prohibits the pair from club activities until they pass their make-up exams. To help them out, Mizuki suggests that they hit the books at her place. The study session does end up being fruitful: Subaru pushes himself to the limits to ensure he passes, and even Colette is putting her nose to the grindstone.

  • An ordinary study session such as this is par the course for what would happen in reality, but since This Art Club Has a Problem! is a comedy, something was bound to happen. Subaru becomes exhausted and asks to crash on Mizuki’s bed, and she consents. However, when Colette disappears, Mizuki is outraged to find her sleeping beside Subaru. In the end, both Subaru and Colette pass their exams: in this case, simply getting distracted was what caused both to initially fail, suggesting that both are reasonably competent students otherwise. In anime with a school setting, I’ve found that series with a particular focus will have characters that tend to perform well enough so that the story can focus on their activities.

  • When Kaori grows suspicious that Maria is trying to take Subaru away from Mizuki, she performs some fieldcraft that is so atrocious that John Clark and Domingo Chavez would roll their eyes. She tries to tail Maria, ends up being burnt and makes no attempt to hold a conversation with Maria. However, she does learn that Maria is genuine, and after listening to Maria speak, concludes that Mizuki’s going to be fine. Kaori is voiced by Sora Tokui, a voice actress I know best as GochiUsa‘s Maya. Hints of Maya are heard in Kaori’s voice: of Mizuki’s friends, she’s the most energetic

  • This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s episodes portray a self-contained story, and while aspects from previous episodes make their way into later episodes, events are given enough separation so that each episode can comfortably fit each story without running over. When their school’s culture festival arrives, Yumeko is filled with a desire to do something for the art club and suggests they do tin-can art to improve their visibility. Everyone’s initially reluctant, since the art club’s focus is more about competition, and since everyone’s also involved with their class’ projects, but seeing how spirited Yumeko is encourages everyone to participate.

  • The process towards building their sculpture, one of Mizuki’s design since it ends up representing the art club, is a difficult one: all of the cans collected must be washed and processed, which tires out the president. Although they begin amassing a decent number of cans, miscommunication results in most of their prepared cans being discarded. The instructor responsible profusely apologises, and with time running out, it seems that the art club won’t make the deadline. However, Subaru reasons that since the theme is using cans from their school, things should be okay as long as the drinks were enjoyed by students. To this end, the art club arranges for a drink rally, and with Maria in their corner, the event is a success.

  • The music in This Art Club Has a Problem! was actually something I found immensely enjoyable. Much as how Sketchbook made extensive use of piano to create a warm, nostalgic tone, This Art Club Has a Problem! also utilises piano to create a sense of melancholy, speaking to Mizuki’s yearning for Subaru to realise she has feelings for him. The incidental music in This Art Club Has a Problem! is varied, with light-hearted pieces complementing the more wistful songs, and this comes together to bring This Art Club Has a Problem! to life.

  • I ended up finishing This Art Club Has a Problem! last Saturday: having now settled into my new routine, I watch anime during lunch break, and on days where I work from home (but don’t lift weights), I can actually get an episode in before my day starts. This has allowed me to move through series at a much higher rate than before, and in this way, I wrapped up This Art Club Has a Problem! very quickly. I am glad to have finished this series: the reason This Art Club Has a Problem! slipped past my radar was because it aired during the summer of 2016, which had been when New Game! was airing.

  • At this point, I’d just finished my thesis defense and had returned home from my Cancún conference to begin my first job at a start-up. I had precious little time for anime, but going through This Art Club Has a Problem!, the art and animation have aged gracefully. Together with its emphasis on humour, and a cast that ends up being very lovable, endearing, I’ve no issues in giving this series a B grade (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 on a 10-point scale). Watching the characters bounce off one another and still succeed in their aims shows how despite shortcomings people might have, when their positive traits are allowed to shine, they can accomplish great things nonetheless. For Mizuki and the art club, it means finishing their sculpture on time to display it at their school’s cultural festival.

  • The finale feels more like a dénouement: on a rainy day, Mizuki becomes annoyed when Kaori takes her umbrella, but it turns out this had been a play to get Mizuki closer to him. Although this brings the pair close to a kokuhaku, a misunderstanding defuses things. In a bit of irony, a massive rainfall begun yesterday afternoon and lasted through most of today, bringing 75 mm of rain to the area. While a local state of emergency was declared, meteorologists are suggesting we should be spared of the flooding that ravaged the area nine years earlier. The rain came right as my parents dropped by with a surprise yesterday; they had managed to pick up roast goose from the restaurant downstairs, along with salted egg prawns, a delicious cabbage dish and sweet and sour pork. Goose is normally sold in limited quantities, and it’s a far leaner meat than duck. Today, the rain was joined by 90 km/h wind gusts, although the storm’s supposed lighten up by tomorrow. With This Art Club Has a Problem! in the books, I’ll be looking at Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island this coming weekend.

In a manner of speaking, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a modernised presentation of 2007’s Sketchbook: like Sketchbook, This Art Club Has a Problem! sees limited character development. Sora spends her day finding new things to draw and deals with the antics surrounding her art club, much as how Mizuki struggles to make her way in a club that only appears tangentially interested in art. However, while there’s no overarching story, no singular objective that the respective art clubs in Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! strive to achieve, humour underlies both series to showcase how colourful the world of young artists can be: in trying to capture the world on physical media, artists are attuned to things that others might miss, and as a result, are able to experience moments that are spectacular as they pursue their creations. This was particularly prominent in Sketchbook, which had been a relaxing and soothing series. This Art Club Has a Problem!, on the other hand, emphasises the humour resulting from Mizuki’s constant struggle in trying to deal with her feelings for Subaru. While this makes This Art Club Has a Problem! more rambunctious, the experience resulting from working towards an artistic piece is no less significant: Mizuki and Subaru work together to submit a piece for a competition to prove a classmate wrong about Subaru’s work, and the art club ends up building a tin can sculpture together for the culture festival, which allows them to elevate the art club’s prominance and do more around their school, as well. Both Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! emphasise different aspects of being in an art club: Sketchbook is more introspective and thoughtful, while This Art Club Has a Problem! is more boisterous and in a seemingly contradictory fashion, more melancholy, as well. Romance was not a significant part of Sketchbook, but in This Art Club Has a Problem!, Mizuki’s pursuit of Subaru’s heart is subtly hinted at through things like lighting and incidental music. The emphasis on the rowdiness is a world apart from the laid-back tone of Sketchbook, speaking to a shift in aesthetics in the nine-year gap between Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem!, showing both how even something as quiet as an art club can have excitement, as well as providing an answer for what Sketchbook would’ve looked like had it been produced more recently.