The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Anime review

We Are Wake Up, Girls!- Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! First Episode Impressions

“In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.” –Carl Sagan

Since WUG’s successful performance at the Idol Festival, where they displaced I-1 Club in a competition to become the national champions, difficult times forces even I-1 Club to close one of their venues. Without any performances, WUG’s exposure to the world is limited, and the girls have returned to their old duties of being local idols for various media outlets. To break them from this rut, Junko announces that WUG is to produce an album within the next six months and later secures a performance for them at Song Stage. When they gear up, they learn their old uniforms have decayed in condition: Yoshino fashions scrunchies for each and every member to remind them of their origins. At the performance venue, Mayu and the others run into the current I-1 unit, whose centre regards them with hostility. While Airi nearly causes a delay in their live performance by rushing back to retrieve her scrunchie, WUG nonetheless performs well and later, the others reassure Airi that superstition prior to performances is a natural thing, gently reminding her to be more mindful of professionalism at the same time. On the way back home, Junko announces to an exhausted Kōhei that she is planning a national tour for WUG. Meanwhile, a group of students produce fan-inspired versions of WUG’s performances, drawing the girls’ and Kōhei’s attention. It’s been a while since I’ve written about Wake Up, Girls!, with the last time being for the second movie Beyond The Bottom. A series that has held a special place in my heart, Wake Up, Girls! makes a triumphant return to the anime form, with this second season being produced by Millepensee, which collaborated with Ordet on the movies.

Ordet themselves worked with Tatsunoko Production on the first season, and while this first season was characterised by deficiencies in the animation, Wake Up, Girls! and its narrative proved quite enjoyable, inspiring to follow. The new animation style that Millepensee brings to the table is a balance between the old and new: the characters look and sound as they did during the movies and first anime season, but with more fluid animation, it feels as though they’ve been given new life. It is most welcoming to see Mayu, Minami, Yoshino, Nanami, Airi, Miyu and Kaya return in this new form: their first performance is a smooth one, with camera effects and movements that far surpass what was seen in earlier incarnations of Wake Up, Girls!. The improved animation, coupled with new directions of Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! (New Chapter! from here on out for brevity), means that the second season is off to a fine start – Wake Up, Girls! has always added a healthy amount of realism into its story, and in spite of their successes, WUG has a ways to go in order to sustain their success in a market saturated with idols. By presenting plausible set-backs and challenges, it was remarkably satisfying to see how WUG overcame their tribulations, and New Chapter! appears to be continuing along this path, which corresponds with more surprises in this upcoming season.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • A quick memory test for myself: from left to right, we have Yoshino, Minami, Airi, Mayu, Nanami, Miyu and Kaya. One of the biggest challenges I face when writing for Wake Up, Girls! is recalling who’s who: Minami and Nanami share very similar romanised names, as do Mayu and Miyu. Their character designs have also been quite similar, but with Millepensee stepping up to the plate for animation in New Chapter!, the characters look a bit more distinct from one another without losing their basic designs seen in the anime and first season.

  • As the opening episode discussion, I’ve opted to go with the usual twenty screenshots, striking a balance between details and ease of writing on my end. Here, Junko reads about the declining I-1 Club in a newspaper article before addressing WUG. WUG’s president, Junko handles dealing with partners and associates, and despite her brash personality, she always manages to find ways of helping WUG get started with their goals. Kōhei is WUG’s manager and has the group’s interests at heart, having brought all seven idols together during the prequel movie.

  • WUG is based in Sendai of Miyagi Prefecture. With a population of just south of 1.1 million, Sendai is only a shade smaller than Calgary, which has a population of 1.2 million. Nonetheless, Sendai depicted as a “small” town in Wake Up, Girls!, compared to the likes of Tokyo. The area was damaged during the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, and I vaguely recall that the anime project was originally intended to recruit voice talent in the Sendai area and promote the region as a part of a recovery project.

  • Itsuka Atsugi, Otome Morishima and Ayumi Hayashi are three new characters in New Chapter! – their family names mirror those of their voice actors (Nanami Atsugi, Yūka Morishima and Yūka Morishima, respectively). Junior high students who’ve been inspired greatly by WUG, they’ve taken to doing their own performances and uploading them to YouTube. At the episode’s opening, Minami and the others dub over the performance while watching it, and Kōhei remarks that the appearance of fan videos are a sign that WUG’s having some tangible impact on its viewers in inspiring them.

  • After practise, Junko announces that she’s managed to get WUG a performance slot in the Song Stage programme, marking the group’s first live performance since the events of Beyond the Bottom. The girls are naturally excited and their first query is whether or not their old uniforms are in any shape to be utilised for their performance. However, their age (three-and-a-half years in real time) means that they’re frayed and otherwise don’t fit all that well, as Kaya quickly finds out.

  • When Miyu inquires further, Kaya suppresses all further discussion. The oldest member of WUG, Kaya, reminds me of Glasslip‘s Yanagi Takayama in appearance and even shares Yanagi’s hobby of jogging. As a result of her age, she’s looked to as the de facto second-in-command after Yoshino, and originally did not take her role in WUG too seriously, but her time with the group has led her to be much more devoted and passionate. By the events of New Chapter!, even Airi has improved to the point where she can keep up with Mayu and Yoshino.

  • Junko authorises new uniforms for the girls, to their excitement. In this first episode of New Chapter!, song producer Tasuku does not make an appearance. It is with his trying approach of management that leads WUG to improve dramatically, and while presenting an oft-indifferent air to the girls’ fates, he grows to respect their tenacity greatly, expressing disappointment whenever they fail and is genuinely happy when WUG’s performances are successful. Since the events of Beyond the Bottom, Junko’s gotten in touch with some old friends to help with writing and scoring music, so presumably, Tasuku will make fewer appearances this season.

  • The page quote for our return to Wake Up, Girls! comes from Carl Segan, renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. While Segan’s dealing with humanity and the need for our species to advance in order to survive catastrophes that could end our civilisation, the quote finds equal applicability in Wake Up, Girls!, where WUG must find ways of surviving and making themselves known before fading into irrecoverable obscurity, and that this process is something that the girls themselves must undertake, as they can reasonably expect no assistance from the outside.

  • Things fast-forwards to the day of departure, where Miyu is very nearly late for their train. The shinkansen line allows folks in Sendai to arrive in Tokyo in around two-and-a-half hours: the road distance is around 360 kilometers and would require a four hour journey by motor vehicle. The relative efficiency of the shinkansen means that one of the challenges I had while following Wake Up, Girls! was ascertaining whether WUG was in Tokyo, where most of their major performances are, or back home in Sendai.

  • Owing to the separation in airing, Wake Up, Girls! is probably the longest running anime I’ve followed outside of OVA series like Gundam Unicorn (four years) and Gundam: The Origin (three years by the time the finale releases): I began watching Wake Up, Girls! back in 2014, and only had the chance to write about the 2015 movies this year. Interest in this series has been generally low, and while folks consider it to be somewhat unrealistic and unenjoyable (hence the lack of discussion), I found the series to be a heartfelt one.

  • After finishing Wake Up, Girls!, I returned to the more idyllic approach that Locodol presented while working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain – Locodol never places Nanako and Yukari into difficult positions as Wake Up, Girls! does to WUG, rather similar to how working on the university project that was the Giant Walkthrough Brain felt a little more comfortable than working in industry at the time. Back in New Chapter!, Yoshino hands out scrunchies that she’s made from their old uniforms, allowing everyone to keep a small piece of their origins: the group’s marching band uniforms were first seen during the regional competition back during the first season of Wake Up, Girls!.

  • While not quite as apparent while animated, the static nature of screenshots mean that the differences in art style are much more noticeable. While folks have criticised Wake Up, Girls! original run for poor animation quality, the art aesthetic was quite distinct and contributed to the rough-around-the-edges-but-genuine nature of Wake Up, Girls!. The new art style is an improvement from its predecessor overall, and it’s much easier to differentiate between the characters now, but it will also take some getting used to.

  • Mayu and the others run into I-1 Club’s team on stage, whose centre meets them with a cold reception. While Wake Up, Girls! formally has no antagonist beyond the characters’ own doubts and internal challenges, the presence of I-1 does much to remind viewers that the business of being an idol is no doubt an unfriendly, competitive one. Despite being a veritable giant, they too are suffering, as their viewership declines forces their Sendai facility to be closed.

  • Airi risks delaying WUG’s live performance when she forgets her scrunchie back in the green room, but with the encouragement of her teammates, she retrieves it just in time to begin the show, where they perform the group’s now-signature “Seven Girls War”. Used as the first season’s opening theme, they’ve delivered fantastic performances of it throughout the anime’s run: in their first performance in New Chapter!, WUG is outfitted with new uniforms that appear much lighter and conducive of movement than their previous ones.

  • Some viewers are unaccustomed to the new character designs and miss the old ones; as I’ve remarked earlier, some time will probably be needed to get used to things. With this being said, one of the design elements that endured from the days of Tatsunoko Production and Ordet’s interpretation are the strangely-shaped smiles. On the whole, however, Millepensee has largely improved on the girls’ expressiveness in New Chapter! and their facial features seem much more natural, rather than forced.

  • Millepensee makes use of CG to animated WUG’s dance sequences – they’ve evidently made an effort to replicate the visual features of the conventional scenes and make a seamless transition, but the differences are still noticeable. I believe Tatsunoko Production and Ordet stuck with traditional animation during their dance sequences, and while video artefacts are visible in Millepensee’s, their execution allows for much more dynamic ranges of motion, synchronisation and camera movements to be present compared to their predecessors.

  • The end result is that the dances are actually quite fun to watch, really capturing the distance that WUG has come since their earliest performance on a December’s night in a park where the audience numbers could be counted on one’s fingers. While “Seven Girls War” is a fun song by all counts, one of the things that I look forwards to seeing in New Chapter! will be whether or not any new songs are introduced into the series.

  • Strictly speaking, while I personally enjoy Wake Up, Girls! and have positive things to say about the series, I understand that this anime is not for everyone for its execution. Further to this, IdolM@ster and Love Live! are much larger and better-known than Wake Up, Girls!, so it is perhaps not too much of a surprise that there is limited discussions of Wake Up, Girls! out there. For WUG, they are faced with rising out from obscurity in-show, and in the real world, Wake Up, Girls! deals with similar challenges: I’ve heard that Wake Up, Girls! initially did not perform particularly well in Japan, but once WUG began finding their feet, reception to the anime warmed.

  • Following their performance, Mayu and the others reassure a worried Airi about her decision to retrieve her scrunchie earlier at the risk of jeopardising the entire group’s performance. The team has had conflicts in the past with Airi, when Takusu forced the team to choose between dismissing Airi or becoming disbanded as a whole to test their resolve. Since then, WUG’s unity has remained unshakable, and the team will do what is necessary to ensure that everyone’s on the same page. When Mayu mentions superstitions for performers, I’m reminded of the rituals that players in the NHL and other professional athletes have prior to a game.

  • En route back to Sendai, Junko forcibly wakes up Kōhei and informs him of her plans to take WUG on a national tour to elevate their presence. My plans presently for New Chapter! will be to write about it after every three episodes. This brings my first talk in New Chapter! to an end, and in the very near future, I will be aiming to watch In A Corner of This World and write about it, along with Girls’ Last Tour.

One of the elements that I’ve noticed about Wake Up, Girls! is its relative obscurity in the English-speaking community – it’s a bit of an irony that Wake Up, Girls! is about overcoming obscurity in their world when in the real world, there’s been very little talk about the series in other blogs and discussion venues. While expectations for Wake Up, Girls! has always been low, and reception mixed at best, I found in Wake Up, Girls! an earnest series about a group of youth pursing their dreams and dealing with setbacks to the best of their abilities. This is why even three-and-a-half years following Wake Up, Girls! original run, I am quite keen to continue with the journey that Mayu and the others embark on in pursuit of their dreams. I will be writing about New Chapter! periodically this season, returning after every three episodes to consider what New Chapter! has covered, as well as where the series is headed. In addition, with the addition of three new characters in the form of students who are also fans of WUG, one of the possibilities include seeing whether or not they will interact directly with WUG at any point in New Chapter!‘s upcoming episodes.

The Kingdom of Cherry Blossoms: Sakura Quest Finale Review and Whole-Series Recommendation

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” —John Ruskin

Ushimatsu manages to find Mayor Naumann and takes him to Manoyama just in time for the Mizuchi Festival’s play, which presents an alternative version of the legend of the Dragon where the town learns to cherish acceptance of outsiders and their ideas. An unqualified success, Yoshino and the others celebrate in its aftermath, reflecting on both their time together over the past year and their future actions. The next day, Ushimatsu announces that Kingdom of Chupakabura is being dismantled, and Yoshino steps down as Queen; Manoyama has found the drive to continue improving with the times and will no longer need a tourist gimmick to draw in visitors. Yoshino departs in pursuit of her own dreams, remarking that she will always consider Manyoama a second home, and sets off to help rejuvenate another town. Sanae has taken up a position as a local IT consultant, renting space from Akiyama, while Shiori continues working with the Tourism Board. Maki continues with her theatre troupe with the aim of continuing the exploration of Manoyama culture, and Ririko follows her dreams of travelling the world. In Sakura Quest‘s finale, the culmination of a year’s efforts is presented – this is the ending that Yoshino and the audience deserves, marking a solid conclusion to one of the most well-presented anime of this year. Through its journey, Sakura Quest has covered a considerable amount of territory with its narrative, exploring topics such as the decline in older ways as technology becomes more ubiquitous, socio-economic issues facing rural regions of Japan and the aspects of culture that are worth preserving over time. However, in spite of the breadth of topics covered, Sakura Quest consistently ties in each of these elements with the central narrative, focused on Yoshino and the changes she undergoes as a consequence of her time in Manoyama in her journey to Make Manoyama Great Again™. By all counts, Yoshino and her friends have succeeded.

A part of P.A. Works’ repertoire of career-focussed anime, Sakura Quest stands apart from Hanasaku Iroha for dealing with more mature characters, and compared to Shirobako, is less focused on the technical elements, preferring to capitalise on the rural town of Manoyama to dial the pace back and emphasise things that might otherwise be missed in an urban setting. In setting Yoshino’s journey in a small town, pacing becomes much more relaxed, forcing Yoshino and the audiences to appreciate the smaller details. This new perspective has a profound impact on her, and the greatest joy of Sakura Quest is watching Yoshino working towards improving Manoyama, eventually becoming invested in the town’s citizens and futures when learning more about their backgrounds and beliefs. Through Yoshino, Sakura Quest shows that behind each person is a story, and understanding their stories is what is necessary to drive change in a region. While Yoshino technically does not succeed in revitalising Manoyama from an economic perspective, her actions nonetheless have significant consequences in Manoyama: she is able to revive the citizen’s love for their town, and this is a major accomplishment. At a smaller scale, Yoshino’s heartfelt commitment also inspires her friends to pursue their own futures with greater zeal. The extent of her actions’ outcomes is most visible in the finale, when half the town appears to see her off as she sets off on her next journey. Besides the importance of perspective, the other major theme in Sakura Quest is that errors and misunderstandings can set in motion journeys that, while seemingly unrelated to one’s aspirations, eventually end up contributing towards helping one find their way in the world. Yoshino’s experiences in Manoyama allow her to develop a unique skillset and in turn, also allows her to realise what she wants from a career.

The sum of developments and Sakura Quest‘s presentation of where things lead Yoshino, as well as Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko mean that, when all is said and done, my verdict on Sakura Quest becomes a strong recommendation, especially for recent graduates and people early in their careers. I count Sakura Quest as a masterpiece, a ten of ten; this is not a score to be made lightly, and to rationalise my score, it becomes important to note what my definition of a masterpiece is. In contrast to most standards, which score anime based on a rubric akin to one used on assessing undergraduate work, my definition of a masterpiece is much more loosely-applied – I consider a work a masterpiece if it is able to either significantly alter or augment my world views. In general, such works are able to move me, either leading me to see the world from a different perspective, or else help me reaffirm that my own world view is one with merit. Such works present their characters in a manner that allow me to empathise with them. Whether or not a work does this successfully is dependent on the presentation of thematic elements throughout the entire narrative; I count the contribution of individual events against the bigger picture in order to decide whether or not a particular message was successfully delivered. In the case of Sakura Quest, the journey that Yoshino experiences in Manoyama and the eventual outcomes it has for her are inspiring and rewarding to watch. After twenty-five episodes, I feel as though I am right there alongside the characters, and so, to see the extent of how much of a mark Yoshino’s made on Manoyama, was particularly moving. While not an anime intended to elicit tears from its audience, I found myself with some of the proverbial sand in my eyes in Yoshino’s final moments in Manoyama, so tangible were the emotions surrounding the end of her contract.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While Ushimatsu’s antics end up getting him hauled into a police station for questioning, he does manage to meet up with Mayor Naumann, who is greatly enthusiastic about all things Japan and immediately hits it off with Ushimatsu. One of Sakura Quest‘s many strengths is the combination of comedy and drama in the appropriate amounts – I almost always view anime that succeed in finding this balance in a favourable manner (Angel Beats and CLANNAD immediately come to mind).

  • Before we continue any further into this post, I will note that for Sakura Quest, I have a total of forty screenshots as opposed to thirty. I’ve noted that Sakura Quest covers a large breadth with respect to topics, and at the finale, there’s so much to consider that even the usual thirty images is insufficient to cover everything. Because there’s forty screenshots for a single episode, I think this makes the Sakura Quest finale talk the largest I’ve ever done for one episode. Here, Doku has finished repairing the LED grid in the shopping district, and visitors are impressed as the lights turn on, illuminating the area in a gentle glow as the sun drops below the horizon.

  • Yoshino is pleasantly surprised to see that her family has stopped in Manoyama to visit her, keeping their promise to visit her in Manoyama. Seeing the minor details such as these fulfilled in Sakura Quest was especially rewarding, and is also a sign of solid writing. The narrative device is called a Chekov’s Gun, but in Sakura Quest, it’s quite unlike Brave Witches in that the Chekov’s Gun is not actually a gun. Nonetheless, one of the aspects that make Sakura Quest stand out is that minor details, such as Doku’s exoskeletons or choices of words found in conversations eventually appear again in later points within the anime.

  • From a distance, the plastic golden dragon isn’t particularly too out of place. A part of the Mizuchi Festival is the carrying of a mikoshi, a portable shrine for transporting a deity during festivals. Later, when Naumann arrives in town, he asks if he can help carry the mikoshi and the folks carrying it accept. Naumann’s enthusiasm for Japanese culture might seem a little excessive, but I remark that while in Japan, I was feeling the same way he is shown to act, although I dialed back my excitement: there’s so much to take in, which is why this feeling is understandable.

  • By the finale, Chitose is fully supportive of Ririko’s involvement with helping Make Manoyama Great Again™, and even accepts Ushimatsu’s antics without too much opposition. Here, she suggests hito o nomu (人を飲む) to Ririko as a means of calming her nerves during the performance. The translation of the practise yields “domination [over one’s fears]”, and it’s done by writing 人 (hito) three times on one’s palm before mimicking swallowing. The practise is roughly similar to the Western approach of imaging one’s audiences as pumpkins, potatoes, etc., and I tend to imagine speaking in an empty room.

  • I’ve got a disproportionately small number of moments from the Mizuchi Festival itself primarily because, while Yoshino and the others have worked towards this moment, their efforts here are backed by the whole of Manoyama and so, would have ended up successful. There was no doubt in my mind that things would work out for the festival, especially after all of the effort that Yoshino and Manoyama’s citizens have put into making the festival a success.

  • Ushimatsu’s efforts to take Naumann back to Manoyama end up in failure when he runs out of gas, forcing Takamizawa to come and pick them up. Normally, a red light will signal that one is low on fuel, coming on when one is down to their last twenty or so kilometers, providing a margin of safety so one can refuel. In the case of Sakura Quest, we accept that in the excitement of the moment, Ushimatsu has forgotten to refuel and ignores his gas light. However, quick thinking averts disaster, and a make-up artist is even sent to help prepare Ushimatsu as they head back to Manoyama.

  • As the play begins, Erika and Maki’s brother share a conversation. Throughout Sakura Quest, it’s quite obvious that Erika has a bit of a crush on him; when he shares his plans for the future with her, Erika resolves to work harder and realise her own dreams, as well. Like ShirobakoSakura Quest is unhindered by love stories amongst the main characters, and while love stories do begin amongst other characters, each of Yoshino, Sanae, Shiori, Maki and Ririko remain committed to their jobs without any distractions (and attendant drama) that love stories can bring to the table. The choice to leave the main characters free of distraction allows the anime to focus purely on Manoyama.

  • En route back to the forest, the start of a romance between the police officer and one of the festival staff begins lighting: he knows the area quite well and his confidence impresses her. One of Takamizawa’s friends, he was shafted earlier during the singles tour; it’s a pleasant touch for things to turn around, and in a manner of speaking, it is because of Yoshino’s actions that he’s able to meet someone, reflecting on how far-reaching Yoshino’s determination and optimism have been for Manoyama.

  • With Ushimatsu ready, the play can finally begin in earnest. From a visual perspective, Sakura Quest is not quite as vivid as Tari Tari or Glasslip, but it is of a superior standard to Shirobako and equivalent Kuromukuro with respect to artwork and animation quality. While the visuals alone do not make an anime, it certainly helps in the case of Sakura Quest, adding an increased sense of realism in the environment in and around Manoyama.

  • The incidental music in Sakura Quest is varied and diverse; it’s certainly made the soundtrack one worth listening to, although the song I’m looking forwards to most from Sakura Quest is Ririko’s performance of the Dragon Song. It’s performed with a grace and sincerity that makes it the strongest vocal song in the series, capturing the culture of Manoyama and its history in a very powerful manner. It would be such a nice bonus if the soundtrack includes both the vocal and instrumental versions of the song.

  • Ririko’s performance marks the end of the Shrine Float’s journey, set atop the calm surface of Sakura Pond. The combination of lantern lights and the float itself create an ethereal, magical scene that serves as the culmination of the tourism board and citizen’s efforts to revive the Mizhchi Festival. By all definitions, Ushimatsu has definitely found his redemption ever since his actions caused the festival to be scrapped fifty years ago, and the success of this event marks the beginning of a new tradition for Manoyama.

  • During Ririko’s performace, the other staff are enjoying things, but Yoshino sports a more contemplative look on her face. While no words are provided here, it’s clear that Yoshino is not looking forwards to saying goodbye to a town and its people that she has grown close with during her period here. While Yoshino may have not ignited the economic or tourist components of Manoyama, her overall success comes in winning the town’s hearts and minds through her unorthodox, yet thoughtful methodologies towards addressing issues the townspeople face.

  • Through hearts and minds, Yoshino’s accomplishment in Sakura Quest may not yield immediate results in an executive summary or financial report, but it accomplishes something more significant: she’s inspired Manoyama’s citizens to love their town and express this love to other visitors. This love can potentially correspond to greater efforts to preserve, maintain and promote Manoyama’s culture, having a greater long term impact than initially apparent, and ultimately, I would contend that Yoshino’s outcomes, while smaller than her initial goals, nonetheless have a tangible impact on the town.

  • In short, it’s definitely a win for Yoshino, and Ushimatsu understands the significance of what Yoshino has done for Manoyama. In the finale, the festival ends with the float reaching its destination, and the remainder of the proceedings occur smoothly, brining the episode’s first half and the festival to a successful close.

  • In the post-festival celebrations, the mood is definitely in high spirits as the staff relax after having revived the Mizuchi Festival in full, bringing back one of Manoyama’s old traditions and helping the town’s citizens learn of their city’s cultural history and institutions. As to my own hometown’s culture, I know that my city is named after a hamlet in Mull Isle, Scotland, and that despite being the West’s oil capital, the city’s earliest economic drivers were through agriculture and ranching, as evidenced by the Calgary Stampede.

  • One of the best moments of the post-festival celebrations was seeing Naumann and Ushimatsu partying together with beers in hand – they’ve evidently taken a liking to one another. Between Naumann’s open mind and Ushimatsu’s determination to show Naumann Manoyama’s best, the two strike up a fast friendship, and this direction will likely help Ushimatsu in twinning Manoyama to the city that Sandal is from. My home town, Calgary, is twinned with Quebec City, Jaipur (India), Naucalpan (Mexico), Daqing (China), Daejeon (South Korea) and Phoenix (United States): sister cities are intended to promote business and tourism ties between participants. The program came from the end of the Second World War to promote peace.

  • Seeking some peace from the party inside, the Queen and her four Ministers step out into the spring night, where the Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom. Ririko is smashed from drinking, and while normally unwilling to drink, she decides the time has come to give it a whirl, becoming tipsy in the process, providing a hitherto unseen facial expression that is actually quite endearing.

  • One of the things that made Sakura Quest a joy to watch was the changes that Yoshino’s arrival wrought in the characters. Aside from Shiori, whose love for Manoyama and kindness remains quite unchanged since Yoshino appeared, every other Minister has changed. Maki’s become more resolute and rediscovers her love for acting, while Sanae develops the confidence to pursue her own career. Ririko’s change is the most profound; she becomes much more open-minded and now longs to see the world for herself. That she is open to partaking in some alcohol is an indicator of this change.

  • After reminiscing about their experiences and adventures during the past year under the Cherry Blossoms a year previously, Maki, Shiori, Ririko (who’s managed to defeat the effects of alcohol remarkably quickly), Yoshino and Sanae consider their futures. So much has happened in the past year, and now that the time has nearly come to part ways, the group spends one final evening enjoying hanami in the same manner they did when Yoshino came to the conclusion that she would look forwards to working with Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko. The third episode was aired back in late April prior to my travels to Japan, and even in the short span of five months, much has happened.

  • One of the more noteworthy aspects of the summer following my return from Japan was the liberal application of the complementary park pass, and with this past weekend marking the entry into autumn, there was another opportunity to make use of free admissions yesterday. Our day began with a drive under overcast skies to Banff; by the time we arrived, the weather had cleared out to reveal blue skies and cool autumn air. We spent the morning exploring the area around Bow Falls and the Banff Springs Hotel, before returning to the city centre for our usual lunch (Angus burgers).

  • Yoshino wakes up the next morning to find everyone still huddled together, fast asleep. With our walk concluded, we had dinner at Banff’s Old Spaghetti Factory later that evening, where I ordered their Seafood Linguine Marinara with prawns, scallops and mushrooms. We’ve seen this restaurant at the top of the Cascade Plaza Mall but never actually had dinner there before until now: the Old Spaghetti Factory feels a bit like a spaghetti version of Café HK, featuring tasty and inexpensive dinners and speedy service: their meals are all-inclusive, adding sourdough bread, a choice of soup or salad, ice cream and an after-dinner hot beverage, giving them a fantastic value. Following dinner, I purchased a new summer coat for next year before we made our way back home under darkening skies.

  • The morning following their party, Yoshino returns to the Kingdom of Chupakabura’s main building and finds Ushimatsu there, who remarks that in light of everything Yoshino has done, the Kingdom of Chupakabura has fulfilled its purpose and will be dismantled. It’s a curious turn of events that brings the kingdom’s first queen to Manoyama, and one of the more minor themes in Sakura Quest is that fate can be rather interesting a beast – Yoshino ends up changing the town she first visited as a child while occupying the same role as Queen.

  • In her final speech to Manoyama’s residents, Yoshino reflects upon her time here and how it’s changed her perspectives on the world, especially pertaining to ordinary places. This realisation, that every place has their own specialities and unique offerings, is what contributes to her decision to follow a career path in rural revitalisation and promotion. Looking back at my home country, we have a national organisation that handles addressing economic issues and job creation, organisational flexibility and education to ensure the continued prosperity of rural communities. I can attest to the charm that smaller towns have: one of my favourite examples is Claresholm, a small town 125 kilometers south of Calgary. They have a wonderful museum that houses ranching and railway items dating back to Alberta’s founding.

  • It’s a emotional moment for Yoshino to see the support and gratitude of the people whose lives she’s had a hand in altering, and she begins tearing up when they applaude her. Amongst the crowd is Chitose, who is openly receptive of Yoshino now, and generally speaking, Manoyama’s residents have definitely become more open to outsiders thanks to Yoshino’s actions. It’s the case that all it takes is one bad instance to diminish one’s opinions of an individual, group or idea, and certainly true that a considerable effort is required to restore a positive image following such an event. Yoshino’s time in Manoyama can be said to be a journey of what such an effort might entail, and in the end, it was a journey that proved very meaningful for both Manoyama and Yoshino.

  • To commemorate their time together, Yoshino and the others plant a tree on the banks of Sakura Pond, dated for May 2018. I’ve heard that some folks consider Sakura Quest as being weaker for its depiction of the extent of the tourism board’s actions and their perceived impact on Manoyama as being limited to the short term. However, from the macro perspective, the outcomes of Yoshino’s actions do not lie in economic value (e.g. improved revenue or tourism numbers): her accomplishments touch the hearts and minds of Manoyama’s citizens, inspiring them to love Manoyama.

  • Ultimately, what makes Manoyama Great isn’t its economic resources or attractions, it’s the people, and Sakura Quest has Yoshino acting on hearts and minds precisely because it yields a more enjoyable story (an anime with endless spreadsheets, financial jargon and board meetings is unlikely to draw a considerable viewership outside of folks engaged in commerce). I am very satisfied with the direction that Sakura Quest took during its run, and I note that in my books, a narrative whose events follow one another logically is much more enjoyable to watch than one that emphasises realism above everything else: a story should only be as realistic as it needs to be in order to effectively convey a particular theme or set of ideas.

  • Farewells are always filled to the brim with emotion, and here, as the tourism board sees Yoshino off, it’s clear as to just how close Yoshino’s become with the others. Sanae and Shiori will greatly miss her, while Ririko and Maki are very grateful to have met her. Another common remark I’ve seen about Sakura Quest is that the first half is weaker from a narrative standpoint, being more formulaic in nature. While a valid criticism, I find that the first half was intended to establish each of the main characters, their backgrounds and personalities, as well as giving them a reasonable problem where they can address it in a short period of time to reinforce their strengths and skills.

  • This exposition then allows Sakura Quest to really seize a direction and run with it in its second half: viewers are now familiar with what skills everyone brings to the table, allowing the anime to really begin forging new grounds. Tom Clancy was particularly fond of doing this in his novels — up to half a chapter or more can be dedicated towards exposition, explaining the origins of a particular character. While some might consider it tedium, I really enjoy reading these because it reinforces that a particular individual in a story is a person with their own background, experiences and competencies. With these aspects established, a character’s actions can then become either more well-rationalised or more contrary to their expected actions, strengthening the weight of their actions and choices. The same holds true for Sakura Quest, which is why I feel that the anime’s first half is essential towards making the second half more enjoyable.

  • One of the unintended effects of Sakura Quest I certainly was not expecting was that the anime did end up making me tear up slightly. Here, Yoshino is overjoyed that the entire town has shown up to see her off, including Ushimatsu, who’s made a large sign and shouts out that she’s welcome to come back at any time. This marks the end of Yoshino’s story in Manoyama, and the remainder of this post deals with Sakura Quest‘s epilogue. I’ve never been particularly efficient in handling epilogues, which is actually the main reason why this finale discussion of Sakura Quest is a third larger than normal.

  • Sandal narrates the final moments of Sakura Quest; the epilogue lasts a total of around a minute, detailing the events following Yoshino’s departure. However, there were no shortages of impressions I had entering the last minute of the finale, and so, with a screenshot every six seconds, it’s probably one of the highest screenshot-densities I’ve ever had for any anime, including the shorts I did for Makoto Shinkai’s Cross Road and Someone’s Gaze.

  • Blue skies of almost a surreal quality and warm tropical waters suggest that Yoshino’s journey has taken her to the more remote reaches of southern Japan, possibly a region near the Okinawa Islands. With its tropical climate, the islands are a popular tourist destination; one surmises that she’s gone to a nearby island to help invigorate tourist and economic interest. As an aside, my branch of martial arts originates from Okinawa, specifically, from Naha; our style is characterised by the chambering of our inactive fist close to the armpit for quick strikes.

  • After a harrowing plane ride on a propeller-powered plane, Yoshino finally arrives, utterly exhausted by the rough ride. Closer inspection of this moment finds Yoshino with bags under her eyes, and one might suppose that she’s not accustomed to flights. That Yoshino is on a propeller driven aircraft suggests that she’s on a shorter domestic flight: such aircraft deliver a better efficiency against jet aircraft at lower speeds, accounting for why such planes are still in use despite the wide prevalence of jet engines.

  • However, back on the ground, Yoshino promptly regains her cheerful manner and heads off to meet off with representatives here to pick her up. While Yoshino might resemble Shirobako‘s Aoi Miyamori in manner and appearance, ultimately, Shironako and Sakura Quest end up being quite distinct from one another: the former emphasises technical aspects and realism, being detail-driven, while Sakura Quest is much more optimistic, diverse and character-driven.

  • Shiori continues with her career at Manoyama’s tourism board, continuing on with the programmes that Yoshino initialised. Here, she greets two female visitors and offers them suggestions on local attractions. Through the course of Sakura Quest, Shiori remains unchanged, counting as a static character; while static characters are reviled, Sakura Quest introduces Shiori as the catalyst who helps Yoshino understand Manoyama after her arrival. She’s the first to welcome and befriend Yoshino, and her knowledge of Manoyama is what motivates Yoshino to learn more about the area herself. It is therefore unsurprising to see her doing what she loves after Yoshino leaves.

  • Continuing on with her theatre troupe, Maki chooses to forge her own path, combining her love for acting with a newfound interest in Manoyama culture with the goal of making it accessible to outsiders. She meets up with Moe here, much to the surprise of her fellow actors; while somewhat uncomfortable with Moe after leaving acting, Maki’s much more relaxed now, following her career with renewed zeal as a result of Yoshino’s example.

  • Akiyama rents his space to Sanae, who’s decided to work as an IT consultant in the area. Thanks to Yoshino being able to understand what he’d gone through, and after he sees the sincere, genuine efforts from Sanae’s group, Akiyama comes around. Sanae’s time with Yoshino led her to understand what she wants with her career, and rather than a conventional nine-to-five job, Sanae desires a job where she can have a more personal touch with her clientele, being a far cry from her original reasons for coming to Manoyama.

  • Having whiled away her days in her room online, seeing Yoshino’s openminded nature inspires Ririko to step out and travel the world, with the aim of meeting up with Spanish tourists she’d befriended earlier. This is the request Ririko has after successfully performing the Dragon Song; she’s opened up and is much more adventurous than before.

  • Yoshino herself has settled in quite nicely to her new position, developing a bit of a tan under the warm tropical sun as she works with another town to revitalise it. This marks the end to the journey I began five months ago on a quiet Sunday morning. With the whole of Sakura Quest under my belt, I find that this is an anime that is definitely worth watching. I relate to it particularly strongly, hence my overwhelmingly favourable reception of it, but for most folks, Sakura Quest won’t be quite as moving, but it is definitely worthwhile if they enjoyed P.A. Works’ Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha.

Sakura Quest is a masterpiece for being able to show the steps in Yoshino’s journey and utilise all of its moments to reinforce the anime’s themes, bringing all of the elements together in conjunction with solid animation, artwork and music to make this P.A. Works’ strongest offering since Tari Tari and Shirobako. Striking a fine balance between the dramatic and comedic, Sakura Quest constantly reminds audiences that the characters are human, with their own distinctions, flaws and strengths. In presenting a central group, and town, with memorable characters, audiences come to care about what happens next to the cast, and eventually, what happens to Manoyama. Ultimately, this is what led me to look forwards to Sakura Quest each and every week since the halfway point. While a greatly moving work, Sakura Quest is not without its flaws: the two that come to mind are Yoshino’s similarities with Shirobako‘s Aoi Miyamori in appearance and manner, and the choice of music for the second half’s opening theme. However, as the end result is most favourable, I am very happy to count Sakura Quest as being a ten out of ten; it’s been one hell of a journey to watch this anime and write about it. Finally, as to whether or not we could see any continuation, trends from P.A. Works have shown that continuations are very unlikely – an OVA or movie released a few years down the line is not out of the question (as Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha did previously), but for the present, it’s probably safe to say that Sakura Quest has reached a fine conclusion that is definitely satisfactory even in the absence of any additional material.

Sounds of the Skies: Beyond the Dream- Sora no Woto OVA 2 Review and Reflection, or, Existentialism is not the centrepiece in the execution of Sora no Woto

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” –Colin Powell

Kanata begins to wonder what her dreams are after Mishio poses the question and finds herself without a suitable answer. Klaus arrives with a letter intended for Rio, and Kanata sets off looking for her. As the Fire Maiden festival is upon Seize again, the town is packed with festivities. Kanata runs into Yumina and later, speaks with Naomi, who provides Kanata with some help in finding Rio. It turns out Rio had set off to find some peace and consider the alternative version of the Legend of the Fire Maidens, as well as the fact that there remains conflict within their world even as the amount of habitable land is diminished from desertification. Later that evening, Rio takes Kanata up on a reconstructed hot air balloon, stating that her goal is to reintroduce heavier-than-air-flight and build an airplane. Kanata is moved and resolves to be at Rio’s side in pursuit of her dreams, helping out in any way that she can. On the day of the festival, Kanata is made to play the role of the Fire Maiden, setting off with Nöel, Kureha, Rio and Filicia. Compared to the first of the OVAs, the second Sora no Woto OVA is more contemplative in nature, following Kanata as she strives to determine her own dreams following her own experiences in Seize with the Clocktower Maidens. A simple question prompts Kanata to consider her own future, and in the end, Kanata’s decision shows that her goals are supporting those around her. Evident in her role as a bugler, the path that Kanata chooses is consistent with her beliefs and actions in Sora no Woto. It’s a fitting conclusion to Sora no Woto, and during its runtime, the second of the Sora no Woto OVAs serves one additional purpose in extending the anime’s themes – far more than existentialism, Sora no Woto‘s second OVA deals with the realisation of a dream.

Because I came upon Sora no Woto a ways after its original run, I was spared the five-month wait separating the finale from the second OVA, which serves to provide closure for the anime. The OVA builds upon the ideas of existentialism that were raised in the seventh episode – Filicia, Kanata and the others are aware of meaning in their lives even in a world that hope has appeared to long forsaken by the seventh episode’s conclusion. By the time of the events here, Kanata has chosen to walk the same path with Rio, who has a concrete goal and outline for reaching said goal. The themes in the OVA deal predominantly with working towards one’s objectives with the intent of bettering the world and realising their dreams. In contrast with merely finding meaning, a very abstract and oftentimes, idle activity, the OVA illustrates that a dream only has value if it is actualised. This is depicted through Rio re-constructing a functional hot-air balloon, creating lighter-than-air flight and setting the stage for her goals of heavier-than-air, powered flight. The process is one that involves effort, commitment and sacrifice, and while it can be uncomfortable to make an honest attempt to realise one’s dreams, the payoffs for having the courage to take these steps are enormous. Sora no Woto illustrates how these first steps are taken towards making dreams become a reality, and ultimately, it is in this OVA, released six months after the finale, that completes exploration of themes that the seventh episode began developing, making it an essential and enjoyable addition to Sora no Woto.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As with my previous Sora no Woto post about the first OVA, I’ve taken the time to ensure that none of the screenshots have been duplicated with an earlier post that I wrote back in 2012. This post features thirty screenshots, and compared to the post from five-and-a-half years ago, I think that the differences in writing between the present and five years ago is apparent: since then, I’ve written two thesis papers and published four papers. I’m no longer involved in any academic writing, and this blog is the only place where I write with any frequency now.

  • Here, Nöel handles the hot air balloon’s burner unit. Typically, they burn propane, heating up the air within the balloon to lower its density, which in turn allows the balloon to rise. The earliest balloons are of a Chinese origin – these paper lanterns (天燈) were heated by a flame source that work on similar principals and were used for military signalling. The first manned balloon flight was in 1783, with Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier demonstrating successfully balloon flight, and until the Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903 that sustained heavier-than-air flight was first achieved.

  • The second OVA provides plenty of reasons to re-watch, and noticeably absent from reviews of this OVA are some of the spectacular scenery stills that are present. Here, the fields of flowers set under a calm morning sky creates a highly tranquil picture of the area around Seize. It was seeing landscapes such as these in the first episode of Sora no Woto that led me to pick the anime up. As to how I came across Sora no Woto, the story is simple enough to deduce: after I finished K-On!, I was looking for similar anime and saw a recommendation for Sora no Woto.

  • The premise was quite intriguing, and so, I decided to give the series a spin. Upon watching the first five minutes of Sora no Woto, I immediately knew I was watching something of an uncommonly high quality, and found myself immediately drawn in by Kanata performed back during the second episode of Sora no Woto. I do not believe I’ve shared the story of how I came to find this masterpiece of an anime until now. Back in the second OVA, Kanata’s skill with a trumpet has become apparent, and she’s now able to perform the morning call with unerring skill, rivalling Rio with respect to the quality of sound and precision of her notes.

  • Mishio asks Kanata what her dreams are here, and Kanata is unable to answer. Knowing what one’s goals in life are are not always so straightforwards, and one of the things characterising Millenials, myself included, are being uncertain of what one’s future might entail. I myself did not set my sights on iOS development and systems architecting until two years ago; since then, I’ve been striving to make good on these goals. It is this phenomenon that leads folks of my generation to take a bit more time in exploring their career options, or colloquially, “find themselves” – my seniors have long held that disciplined skill building and refining value is the priority for folks around my age, and while I subscribe strongly to this branch of thought, this is a view not everyone shares.

  • I hold that life’s priorities at my age involve developing one’s skillset and saving money for the future. While folks contend that travel is necessary to broaden one’s horizons, travel without a well-defined purpose does very little to build one’s value in the long run, boiling down to procrastination from doing what is necessary in life. Back in the calm of a spring morning, the girls get a haircut before washing up. While it’s best to wash one’s hair after a haircut, this may or may not always be practical, leaving one with a bit of an itch.

  • There’s not one way to live life correctly, and there will be plenty of time to travel later on in life, so for the present, while I remark that I’m ready for a discussion on priorities in life at any time, I will return discussion fully to Sora no Woto for the present. My assertion that it’s a spring morning is drawn from the presence of flowers in full bloom, as well as the slightly reduced saturation in the skies compared against the dark blues of the hottest of summer days: the air still has a cooler feel to it, while vegetation suggests a season for growth.

  • Klaus hands Kanata a letter intended for delivery to Rio. It is this letter that sparks off the rising action in the OVA, and one of the great strengths in Sora no Woto, as well as slice-of-life anime in general, is that seemingly mundane or trivial occurrences can serve as the prompt for an adventure. The characters thus create memories from enjoyment of the more subtle aspects of life, and this is one of the reasons I’m so fond of the genre; it’s not necessary to spend a great deal of money or journey very far all of the time in order to make treasured memories.

  • In my original talk on the second OVA, I had a very similar frame, although the corresponding figure caption did very little to explain what the context of the image was. My blog was written with a much looser style to it back then, reflecting on how it was really more of a secondary resource. Once I began utilising WordPress more frequently, it became abundantly clear that WordPress is the superior platform, and so, discussions have become longer on average: more posts now have thirty screenshots, against the twenty that was the standard a few years earlier.

  • When I first watched Sora no Woto, I had just finished my entry-level driving exam and was still uncomfortable with driving. I’ve been driving actively for around six years now, and I can say that I did not drive like Kanata at any point of my driving career ever since I got my GDL. It was a different story when I started out: I took my learner’s license exam after my first year of undergrad, but because it was later into the summer, I only took the first exam the next summer. I did not fare so well on parallel parking or right turns on green, but otherwise, passed. By my advanced exam, I nailed the exam and very nearly got a perfect score.

  • Kanata’s lack of skill is presented as comedy in Sora no Woto, but poor drivers are the bane of my existence in reality. One of the biggest grievances I have with other drivers include driving below the posted speed limits, unsafe lane changes and my personal favourite, tailgating. It always surprises me that folks who are evidently incapable of following rules somehow manage to get their operating licenses, but I suppose that there is only one effective countermeasure I can employ to stay safe: drive defensively and maintain situational awareness so I can avoid trouble.

  • Yumina is treated to a terrifying drive when the jeep Kanata’s operating goes down a staircase, but she promptly recovers after they reach the church and Kanata sees everyone’s ema. These shinto plaques are used for writing wishes upon, and their presence in Sora no Woto suggest that Shintoism has endured even after the great war that regressed humanity to World-War Two era technology. The exceptional blending of cultural elements in Sora no Woto proved to be one of its strongest assets, creating a richly detailed world that few anime have since matched.

  • Kanata’s reaction to Seiya’s ema is one of embarrassment and flattery: he wishes to marry her someday, perhaps attesting to the change in perspectives he’s had owing to Kanata’s actions and influences throughout Sora no Woto. Of course, as Seiya is still a child, his wishes could be counted as being precocious; children often express familial feelings as love out of naïveté, although it’s no less valid an indication that his thoughts of Kanata have definitely changed since their initial encounters.

  • Kanata’s quest to find Rio takes her to Naomi’s shop, where she runs into glassmaker Maria. The glass dolphin that Kanata longs to buy slowly drops from the narrative in Sora no Woto as the story progresses, although it’s through a conversation where it’s implied that the oceans are devoid of life. Subtle remarks made in the passing further enhanced the world-building aspects of Sora no Woto, and one of the biggest pastimes that Sora no Woto fans undertook was creating speculation charts. In a project I undertook some years ago, I went ahead and introduced new charts into the community to ensure folks who were curious would be able to read the charts more easily.

  • I used the old charts, created by anonymous members of various imageboards, as templates and distilled out all objective elements. For the second OVA, I opted to eliminate any interpretations of the anime from my chart. The original asserted that Sora no Woto was an exercise in existentialism, and that each of Kanata, Kureha, Rio, Filicia and Nöel are meant to represent standalone war stories despite their archetypes. However, I find that the characters are intended to illustrate the sort of impact that optimism and open-mindedness have on a group, as Kanata has done. Through her naïve world-view, Kanata introduces a sense of hope that drives each of the characters to change.

  • Consequently, Sora no Woto is not a collection of war stories as Battlefield 1 portrays it, but rather, it’s a narrative about the positive impact one individual can have if they are in the right place at the right time. The interpretations of Sora no Woto are incredibly varied, differing between individuals, so my main aim in remaking the final chart was to remove any personal opinions and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Back in the final OVA, Naomi points Kanata in the direction, leading her to some ruins. The choice of colour makes this site a particularly memoriable one, with the verdant grasses and browns of ancient stone monuments being offset by the blues of the sky and purples of flowers.

  • The ruins create an immediate sense of loneliness and peacefulness. It is here that Kanata finds Rio and shares with her a conversation about what Rio’s dreams entail – their exchange drives much of the themes in the OVA, and is befitting of the episode’s title. Rio shows Kanata a map of the world, revealing to audiences that the events of Sora no Woto occurred in Japan. This would have been a shocking revelation to audiences, and some folks remain unable to accept this as plausible even to this day.

  • I originally supposed that massive damages to the surface led to large-scale population migrations, and that the architectural choices leading surviving humans to rebuild modern-day Seize is a consequence of the cultures of said populations, so I had no difficulty in being receptive towards this information. Whereas I had another perspective of Nöel suppressing Shuko with a pan in the first of the Sora no Woto OVA discussions, here, I feature one of Rio looking back at Kanata (in my original discussion for Sora no Woto‘s second OVA, the camera was placed behind Kanata). This moment reveals a bit of the farmland in the valley below.

  • The state of the world was only alluded to in Sora no Woto proper, but when Rio travels to the more remote reaches of the world, she sees a sight that would truly be sobering: desert as far as the eye can see, consuming all former traces of the civilisation that once ruled the world. While the formation of deserts is a natural process arising from shifts in climate and solar intensity, desertification refers to the formation of arid lands as a result of soil loss, usually from a human cause. In Sora no Woto, the loss of arable land to desert is a direct consequence of the war with “Them”.

  • Even though the world is slowly dying, there is nonetheless a sort of melancholy beauty in this OVA when the desert landscapes are depicted: here, the sands of the desert give way to open ocean. Far from leading Rio to despair, her knowledge inspires her to take action and explore the world to see if there are lands where human populations may continue to survive.

  • I’m actually not certain why discussions of Sora no Woto stop at existentialism, as opposed to accounting for the efforts required in realising one’s goals as a result of the motivation arising from finding meaning in life. A conversation with a friend left me with the answer that some people (especially in online communities) have an aversion to effort and failure. Consequently, it becomes uncomfortable to consider what action is necessary towards achieving any goals they might have, and such individuals tend to avoid deviating from the status quo for fear of this effort or failure, preferring to remain in their comfort zones of merely talking about things. I hold that failure is just another milestone towards learning something new, so from my perspective, actions always hold more value than idle talk.

  • Early the next morning, the Clocktower Maidens prepare to launch their hot-air balloon at the ruins. The site is modelled after Alarcón’s Torre de Armas o del Campo in Spain, located some eighty clicks from Cuenca: it’s a tower dating back to the medieval age, and the tower is the first thing visitors will see when entering Alarcón. This area has a population of 159 and dates back to the Roman period, although its recorded history begins with Arabic occupation, which is when the castle was built.

  • With Nöel handling the controls, Filicia calls her to release the ballast keeping the balloon in place. At 1080p, stars are visible in this pre-dawn moment: Sora no Woto is one of the few anime I have seen that is rendered at native 1080p, and on the iPad Air 2, remains of an exceptional quality. Of course, technology has marched on since 2010, and at present, 4K is becoming the new standard for high resolution, although anime has yet to enter this domain.

  • Kureha watches as the hot-air balloon takes off under the gradually-lightening sky. I remark that today is the autumnal equinox, a time of year when lengthening days marks the gradually dissipation of summer and the return of winter. Autumn is now upon us, and with an excellent (if hot and smokey) summer behind us, the weather has definitely taken on a much chillier character as of late. We’ve also gotten some much needed rains in the area, allowing crews to combat the wildfires in the province with greater efficacy. At the time of writing, Waterton National Park has reopened to the public, and officials are counting the fires as being under control.

  • While I’ve done my best to ensure that no screenshots are duplicated, there are exceptions: this brilliant moment of Rio and Kanata sharing their dreams with one another in the hot-air balloon is one of them is one of them, being set when the morning sun breaks over the horizon, flooding the land in a dazzling light. This is the culimination of the episode, where Kanata chooses her dream as following Rio pursue hers. It is always inspiring to have a senior who motivates one to follow a certain path, and during my course as a university student, one of the graduate students continued being a source of help and inspiration as I learned more about Objective-C and Xcode.

  • It was a bit of a surprise to learn that I would get to play on the flip-side some years later, and while I was only able to help mentor undergraduate summer students for one year, at least one of the students from that summer returned to the lab to continue with their project. A wider-angle view shows Shuko decorating the balloon; it’s a far cry from when Rio first proposes to eat the northern white-faced owl after they realise he’s responsible for the ghostly ruckus. For the average viewer, this is a satisfactory explanation, but closer inspection of the different frames in Sora no Woto and the presence of a drama CD reveal that the ghost was real.

  • The second OVA is set a year after Kanata’s arrived in Seize: viewers are treated to another festival, although by now, it’s definitely old hat. There’s only really one other review out there, besides my old one, that does the second OVA justice, and this review can be found at Random Curiosity. Their writers tend to focus on different things than I do, and consequently, is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading their content. It’s definitely much more approachable than mine, and their formatting also makes it easier to write posts at a greater rate.

  • I am naturally referring to the fact that coming up with the figure captions takes the greatest amount of time when setting up a post: if I were to use the Random Curiosity format, the time it takes to write a blog post and publish it would be cut down by a factor of four. Back in Sora no Woto, while Kanata is initially embarrassed to be chosen as the new Fire Maiden, her mortification is quickly forgotten when she asks the others what they’d written on their ema as wishes.

  • Nöel becomes bashful when Kureha and Kanata learn her aspiration is to become a “cute wife”, completely unexpected of her taciturn nature. It’s a rather nice touch that amidst their experiences, each of the Clocktower Fortress’ soldiers nonetheless long for a normal life free of conflict, with Rio and Kanata taking the initiative to determine if there are places left in the world worth finding.

  • With this final figure caption, my revisitation of the second Sora no Woto OVA comes to an end. Folks have long expressed a wish for a second season, but with the Anime no Chikara project closed now, any continuation is going to be unlikely. While the folks running Anime no Chikara mention that the exact nature of their learnings from the project are secret, the fact that lessons learned went into the development of Puella Magi Madoka Magica suggest that innocent characters being made to endure difficult trials and the resulting loss of innocence, interwoven with themes of hope and coupled with incredibly detailed world-building that make anime worth watching.

Sora no Woto‘s messages are strengthened through the second OVA: it is true that each of Kanata, Filicia, Rio, Kureha and Nöel find meaning in their world as they share time with one another, especially through Kanata’s positive influence, but in illustrating that there must be a plan to realise a dream, Sora no Woto reminds its audiences that it is not enough to merely be content with an idea. There must also be an execution stage where a dream is made reality. This is where the worth and meaningfulness of life lies, and in fact, the episode’s very title, “Beyond the Dream”, reinforces this notion. These ideas and concepts are explored in a fantastic manner: the Sora no Woto OVA is a thrill to watch from a visual perspective, with vivid colours and lighting being used to capture the optimistic, hopeful sense that the episode aims to convey. In addition, there’s a variation of Servant de Feu that is not included anywhere on the soundtrack to emphasise that the OVA is distinct. As a consequence of its themes, narrative and execution, Sora no Woto remains the cornerstone work in the Anime no Chikara project, and even seven years after it finished in whole, very few anime have come close to matching Sora no Woto with respect to world-building and strength of execution; Puella Magi Madoka Magica appears to have been designed from the outcomes of Sora no Woto, and at last, it appears that the connection between these two anime have been solved, with the latter inspiring elements in the former.

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflection at the Penultimate Episode

“Whether it’s from the biggest, most powerful city, or from the dinkiest little podunk town, there is a certain attachment and connection, and yes, pride about where you came from.” –Cheech Marin

Yoshino and the other ministers manage to locate the Hanging Drum hidden away in the derelict school, while Maki decides to try her hand at an audition. After learning she was unsuccessful, she returns to Manoyama, where Yoshino has planned out a formal closing ceremony for the school. Maki coordinates the play, which is well-received, and it is announced that the school is to be repurposed as a multi-use installation. Later, Erika runs away from home, fearing her destiny is a slow death in Manoyama. Maki and the others look after her, although the situation deteriorates when her younger brother runs off in search of the Golden Dragon after overhearing its power to grant wishes. He is found, and Erika decides to stay in Manoyama for his sake. The Golden Dragon is eventually recovered, but it turns out to be a toy. When the Belem Bakery proposes to open a branch in Manoyama, Yoshino’s team has difficulty finding a spot, later learning that one of the citizens had been burned in the past and is reluctant to assist. This leads to a change of heart amongst one of the Board of Merchant’s members, who agrees to rent his shop to Belem Bakery. Preparations for the Mizuchi festival continue in earnest, and even when Yoshino learns that Manoyama is to be merged with Tomikura, she nonetheless wishes to continue with the festival, feeling that having a distinct culture might be sufficient to raise a compelling argument against the incorporation. A TV company takes interest in the festival and proposes to broadcast it widely on the condition that they are allowed to replace Ririko in the play, but Ushimatsu refuses. Even in light of the ending of her contract, Yoshino continues to do her best, learning that Sandal’s parents met in Manoyama, and later, is given a surprise birthday party. On the day of the festival, Ushimatsu takes off in search of Mayor Naumann, who is visiting the area, with the proposal of twinning Manoyama with his city, which is also Sandal’s birthplace.

From the relentless advance of technology and social norms leaving small towns behind, to the pursuit of dreams and understanding circumstances behind why people make the decisions that they do, Sakura Quest has continued to maintain its exceptionally captivating narrative right up until the penultimate episode. There is a great deal going on in Sakura Quest, and all of this is handled remarkably well; the anime strikes a fine balance between depicting the smaller details and integrating the resulting themes into the overarching narrative, with the effect of giving the characters a sincere, authentic sense. In particular, Yoshino’s term ending has forced her to consider what she might be doing once the term ends, and her remarks, in saying that she now desires a career that is fulfilling, show just how far she’s come since the mistake that took her to Manoyama. A year’s worth of experiences has made Yoshino a problem solver, quick to identify the intricacies in a system and devise solutions that are acceptable to involved parties. Creative and mindful of traditions, Yoshino’s time in Manoyama confer upon her with a highly unique skillset, and a newfound perspective on what a career is. Millennials, such as myself value a sense of fulfilment and purpose in their occupations above all else; in accepting a position she was quite unprepared to work in, Yoshino has learned for herself what she desires from a job. She has come to understand that she desires a career where she is constantly being challenged, one defined by the unexpected and where things are never normal. Such a career, Yoshino, reasons, might or might not be in Tokyo, and in making this realisation, Yoshino concludes that she is okay with working in a small town as well as in a metropolis. From an external perspective, Yoshino’s experiences over a year have made her much more mature, introspective and aware of her surroundings. She’s more decisive and confident now compared to her self from Sakura Quest‘s inception. These are vital attributes, and the Yoshino who’s got a year’s worth of experiences in Manoyama is much better equipped to convey her ability to contribute to whatever occupation she seeks in the future. Yoshino’s growth lies at the core of Sakura Quest, and seeing these subtle differences over time is a major contributor to what makes Sakura Quest worth watching.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The nineteenth episode of Sakura Quest has the best funny faces from Yoshino yet, after the group hears Ririko’s ghost story about how the school is allegedly haunted by a Santa-suit wearing spectre. However, owing to Sakura Quest‘s down-to-earth delivery so far, audiences are well aware that there won’t be any ghosts in the story, so even when a shadowy figure appears, it is hardly any surprise that the “ghost” really is Maki’s father. A little bit of logistics before we continue: I will be featuring thirty screenshots for this discussion, as per usual.

  • Once Maki’s father puts the lights on, he speaks with Yoshino and company about the derelict school’s state, helping them locate the second of the three treasures. The hanging drum has been stored in a shed at the school for quite some time, and when found, it is in a deplorable state owing to age, exposure to elements and a lack of maintenance. The question of taking it in for repairs is raised, since this is to be a pricey process. Yoshino learns the school is scheduled for demolition, and attempts to work out a solution to preserve it in the meantime.

  • As December sets in, there’s a definite chill in the air as Yoshino takes Ushimatsu across Sakura Pond overlooking the Chupacabra Kingdom’s main building. While Shirobako‘s title was a bit more obscure in nature, referring to the white boxes used for ferrying master tapes around, Sakura Quest‘s title is a bit easier to work out, referring to the Quest around the Sakura Pond area. The water effects are beautifully rendered in this moment, comparable to water effects of a Makoto Shinkai film.

  • It turns out that Ririko’s been practising her performances of the Dragon Song, and she looks to Maki for some assistance, who provides Ririko with some suggestions. I remark here that quite a bit happens, and consequently, even with thirty images, it is not possible to capture all of the moments, including the disagreement that Maki has when visiting home, and her later unsuccessful audition. In spite of these failures and tribulations, Maki continues to push on; her father notes that he misses her old spirit back when Maki had her sights on a career in acting.

  • As an elementary and middle school students, we’ve never had curry days: in Canada, Pizza Days are the most common, and it was here that I learned that I was okay with pineapple on pizza. Yoshino’s first plan, to host a lunch event at there derelict school, is a total failure: no one else shows up, leaving them to eat lunch together. While this could have been a melancholy event, especially since Maki returns from a failed audition, the atmosphere is unexpectedly chipper as the girls decide to host another event once they realise Manoyama’s citizens probably do not know the school had ever been shut down. To this end, they begin organising a proper closing ceremony for the school.

  • For me, one of the greatest joys about watching Sakura Quest was that each week, there had been something to look forwards to, and for the twenty-something minutes that Sakura Quest ran, I was able to completely immerse myself in a different world quite different than my reality. I’ve come to enjoy the sorts of adventures that Yoshino and the others find themselves on in their quest to Make Manoyama Great Again™, and next week will mark the last episode of a fantastic series.

  • Maki’s father is quite enthusiastic about the idea of converting the school into a mixed used facility, after Yoshio draws inspiration from Sandal arriving in the art room to make use of the facilities. While he has very little screentime relative to the other characters, Sandal is a solid character who generally provides comic relief to make a situation less tense, but on some occasion, interacts with the characters that helps them determine a solution.

  • By December, a bit of snow has fallen in the Manoyama region, enough for the ladies to have a snowball fight. Manoyama is based off Nanto City in Toyama Prefecture, which means that my earlier prediction proved correct. Details around the city are replicated with exceptional precision. The real-world Nanto City has on average 10.6 snow days in January, 9.8 snow days in February and 4.8 snow days in December: these happen to be the wettest months in the area, as well. With a population of around 50000, comparable areas in Canada include North Bay, Ontario and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, while the nearest city of this size is Airdre, Alberta.

  • Maki is at her happiest whenever she’s acting, contrary to her claims otherwise, and during the Christmas play for the school’s closing ceremony, she immerses herself fully within her role; the Christmas play was written to dispel rumours about the school’s being haunted by a bloody Santa, and it’s an incredible performance that audiences in-show, as well as in reality, are treated to.

  • At the play’s conclusion, Maki showcases a mural at the school that Yoshino and Shirori find while exploring the facilities. Alumni are impressed with the play and efforts; they fully back plans to convert the school into a mixed-use facility. The event is a successful one by all definitions, and plays a substantial role in staving off plans for the school’s demolition. Later, Maki’s father signs off a cheque that will cover the costs of repairing the Hanging Drum, after seeing Maki and her friends’ commitment towards a better Manoyama. Maki herself is inspired by this experience and decides to return to acting in her own way, by creating her own acting troupe.

  • While it’s something I’ve not mentioned until now, Sakura Quest‘s soundtrack, titled “Sakura Quest BEST”, is set to release on the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival on October 4. It retails for 4200 Yen (46.21 CAD at the time of writing), and will feature a total of four disks. The tracklist has not been released yet, but the sheer size of the album is a reminder of the diversity of music seen in Sakura Quest itself. The background music varies from providing a gentle ambiance to strongly accentuating the atmosphere of a scene, and as such, I look forwards to listening to the music.

  • An irate Erika runs away from home, but before she can hitchhike her way out of Manoyama, she’s picked up by Shiori. A minor character working at the local café, Erika is voiced by Tomoyo Kurosawa, who has played as Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Itsuki Inubozaki and Hibike! Euphonium‘s Kumiko Oumae. However, the aural characteristics of Erika’s voice bring to mind Kotori Koiwai (Renge of Non Non Biyori), and so, I was quite surprised to learn that Kotori was not playing Erika. After they give their word to Erika that she can stay with them, Maki and the others tend to Erika and inform her mother of their situation.

  • The shopping district has, similar to this blog, been ailing for quite some time with respect to business, perhaps a sign that I’m a bit out of touch with the times. Yoshino constantly wonders if there’s a way to preserve tradition while introducing innovation, and here, speaks with the owners of a local bookstore. I’m very fond of privately-owned bookstores in small towns, even if their selection is more limited compared to a large retailer such as Chapters Indigo.

  • Ushimatsu speaks with the craftsman handling the construction of the Shrine Float here as the Mizuchi festival draws nearer. The page quote for this discussion comes from the sense of spirit that people have for their home towns, and while Manoyama may not be Yoshino’s hometown, she’s come to love it as if it were her hometown, all the while coming to appreciate her own hometown more.

  • Under the cold of a winter’s night, Takamizawa and his friends locate their clues that point to the location of the Golden Dragon, the last of the Three Treasures required to re-introduce the Mizuchi Festival. Developments in Sakura Quest mean that the anime has not devolved into a treasure hunt as some have predicted; a handful of individuals have claimed that they are “not satisfied with the way the show is going”, “[betting that] the ending is going to be really disappointing” on the virtue that Manoyama will not be saved with the time remaining. It’s quite evident that these individuals are not aware of what the themes of Sakura Quest are – the anime has done a tremendous job of depicting the process involved, and while Yoshino often is faced with reality, she’s doing her best to set in motion events that will help the town from an external interest perspective.

  • Erika develops a toothache from a loose tooth, and lacking any painkillers, Yoshino and Shiori set out to purchase children’s medication. Questions have been raised as to why Yoshino does not split an adult painkiller in half, but the answer does not require a degree in medicine to reach – some pills should not be split because they are structured to work on a timed release. Splitting the pill could result in an overdose, which would be detrimental. Other pills have a hard coat to improve swallowing, and altering them could impact they way the active ingredients are delivered. Splitting an adult pill could make Erika very sick, and so, their choice was correct. While some purport that reopening the pharmacy was “unrealistic”, this perspective only comes about from a lack of understanding of the themes in Sakura Quest. Small stores are more flexible than larger ones, and so, are able to accommodate citizens much more quickly than supermarkets should the need arise.

  • Upon overhearing talk that the Golden Dragon can grant wishes, Anji runs into the winter night in search of the Golden Dragon. His disappearance sparks a search, but before anything happens, Sandal finds him and brings him to the police station, where he is reunited with his family. It turns out he longs for Erika to come home, hence his desire to make a wish. Later, Takamizawa and his friends find the Golden Dragon, but it turns out to be a plastic toy. While it would appear that the actual article has been lost to time, Yoshino later agrees to use it in the festival.

  • Taking inspiration from Warabiya, Shiori and the others prepare LED lanterns that gives the shopping district a warmer, more inviting feel by nightfall. While seemingly a small action, Yoshino’s influence and choices have definitely made Manoyama’s citizens more aware and appreciative of their town. Thus, when I’m met with the response that Sakura Quest is in need of “new settings, plot progression events, interesting new characters, etc. [where] the experiences would add up to a nice exciting finish”, I counter that Sakura Quest exceeds expectations precisely because it is grounded in realism. There is a limit to what Yoshino can credibly accomplish with the Tourism Board, but even the small accomplishments, such as introducing lanterns into the shopping district, are enormously satisfying to behold.

  • While subtle, one of the details I’m always fond of seeing in Sakura Quest are the discussions of future plans around mealtimes, and in Sakura Quest, one of the challenges Yoshino originally faced was figuring out a cuisine unique to Manoyama. In Calgary, Alberta Beef, pancakes and Ginger Beef are counted as regional specialties, although for folks like myself, a taste of home is never too far away. There are plenty of Hong Kong style establishments in Calgary, and tonight, I enjoyed the evening special (deep-fried pork chop and mango sauce on a bed of spaghetti) at a local restaurant.

  • One of my favourite aspects of Sakura Quest that I predicted would occur was the gradual warming up of Chitose to Yoshino; while staunchly opposed to the Tourism Board’s activities in the beginning, she’s come to accept Yoshino in both helping the town out, as well as for befriending her granddaughter, despite Yoshino being an outsider. It speaks volumes as to the sort of impact Yoshino has had since joining the Tourism Board, and here, Chitose makes to speak with a fellow by the name of Akiyama, hoping to convince him to rent his property to a well-known bakery.

  • Takamizawa and the others decide to open a café of sorts in the old school, and Sandal here assists with the refurbishing of the interior. The effects of a fresh coat of paint are already apparent in this image: the classroom has taken on a much warmer, inviting feeling than the classroom seen at the beginning of this post when Yoshino and the others were hunting for the Hanging Drum in the dark hallways.

  • Chitose calls a meeting to discuss a possible dissolution of the Board of Merchants, as their businesses no longer seem viable in light of being unable to secure a location for Belem to open. Where Chitose reveals that Akiyama had once opened his space to an outsider to rent, but the shop owner deserted, leaving Akiyama to pay the difference. Since then, he’s been unwilling to open his space. Yoshino decides not to force Akiyama into making a difficult decision, but this changes the perspective of another shop owner, who decides he will accept the smells associated with a bakery.

  • During her time in Manoyama, Yoshino has become a capable listener who makes decisions based on all perspectives. While Manoyama’s citizens have traditionally placed a degree of mistrust on outsiders, Yoshino is the first to demonstrate a genuine love for the town. She thus acts as the catalyst for change and finds herself successful precisely because she considers all pertinent arguments before devising a solution.

  • While they still refer to one another by their nicknames, it’s clear that Chitose and Ushimatsu have reached a point where they now (reluctantly) accept the other: Chitose gives the go-ahead here to continue with the Mizuchi Festival at full steam. I’ve been taking a look at opinions of Sakura Quest elsewhere, and for the most part, reception to this anime has been very warm: the folks at Random Curiosity are rooting for Yoshino and the others, while at AnimeSuki, viewers largely feel Sakura Quest could be one of the most solid slice-of-life anime of the year. In other words, expectations entering the finale are quite high, but I’m confident that whatever direction P.A. Works chooses to take with Sakura Quest, it will be a satisfying ending.

  • While it might be a plastic toy dragon, Yoshino nonetheless accepts it as a stand-in for the real deal. One wonders what happened to the real Golden Dragon, but a bit of logic would likely lead one to the conclusion that it’s embedded in the mud at the bottom of Sakura Pond ever since Ushimatsu tipped the Shrine Float over, and recovery would require a considerable amount of effort. Here’s a bit of trivia: apparently, there’s a manga incarnation of Sakura Quest that is serialised in Manga Time Kirara.

  • When Ushimatsu returns to Manoyama later, he bears bad news: the area is to be incorporated into another region. The merger or splitting of a municipality usually is done by consensus and was originally designed so that regions could increase usage of facilities without creating new ones, such as schools, as well as ease burdens on areas that are in debt. While sobering news, Yoshino remains optimistic and believes that a successful Mizuchi Festival could at the very least, further awareness of Manoyama’s unique culture. Because the merger is still quite some time away, Shiori and the others resolve to worry about the present and focus on putting on the Mizuchi Festival.

  • Progress for the Mizuchi Festival is underway, and the Shrine Float here reaches completion. However, when the TV crew from earlier return and request that an idol be inserted into the Dragon Song play in place of Ririko in exchange for an extended broadcast, Ushimatsu puts his foot down, saying that the Mizuchi Festival is by the people, for the people. His commitment to integrity is his way of atoning for shutting down the festival fifty years previously, reflecting on his desire to follow through with the hard work that everyone’s put in without compromising the locals’ efforts.

  • While cleaning up the Shrine where the Shrine Float’s route concludes, Doku finds a stone engraved with a commemorative message. It turns out that Sandal’s ancestors engineered Sakura Pond, and that this is where they’d met. Sandal’s connection to a distant city later inspires Ushimatsu to try and get Manoyama twinned, and he sets off abruptly to meet with the mayor of said city right as the festival begins to raise this proposal. While Chitose fears he will interfere with the festival again, Yoshino and the others have faith in his decision, knowing he’s working to Make Manoyama Great Again™ in his own fashion.

  • Preparations for the festival leave Yoshino so busy she’s very nearly forgotten her birthday, but Maki and the others have not. Maki asks Yoshino to inspect a prop, closing her inside before preparing the birthday surprise. It’s a rather warming moment, and as a gift of sorts, everyone’s sporting the same happi coats. Yoshino had earlier remarked that it’d be nice if everyone could have the coats, but understanding that they have budgetary constraints, she was okay with not providing happi coats for everyone.

  • With this post now over, I’m greatly looking forwards to seeing how Sakura Quest ends. It’s been five months since the anime began airing: I still recall watching the first few episodes on a quiet Sunday morning after playing my first few matches of Battlefield 1‘s They Shall Not Pass expansion, and it seems that these past few months have passed by in the blink of an eye. While I initially found it a fun anime, Sakura Quest eventually became an immensely immersive, entertaining and instructive anime that augmented my world views. It’s a little early in the game to be saying so, but if the finale succeeds in bringing the messages together, I would count Sakura Quest amongst the few anime I’ve seen to score a perfect ten, a veritable masterpiece. This verdict, I will decide upon once the finale has concluded.

The question that is worthy of speculation, thus, is what path Yoshino will take once the finale is reached and the time comes to make a decision. Yoshino herself states that she might be willing to move back home and make opportunity there, and folks with familiarity in narratives such as these will often predict that Yoshino will stay in Manoyama, having grown attached to the town, its people and attractions. Another reasonably likely outcome is that she does leave, but manages to find a position elsewhere as a result of her accumulated experiences. With due respect, both outcomes are equally likely – regardless of what direction Yoshino chooses, she now has the skill and experience, plus understanding of her own aspirations, to find success in whichever path she follows. While I’ve decided to focus on Yoshino for the post prior to the finale, the closing stages of Sakura Quest deal with a variety of issues, from Maki’s conflicting desires to act, to the Board of Merchants’ struggles to keep the shopping district relevant in an age where modern supermarkets defeat their purpose, or Erika’s refusal to stay somewhere with no prospects (mirroring the real-world phenomenon of youth leaving their homes in the countryside to seek opportunities in urban areas). There is considerable depth in Sakura Quest, and all of these elements come together to create P.A. Works’ strongest presentation since Shirobako: I’ve come to care for each of Yoshino, Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko, plus Manoyama’s citizens, who each have their own stories and goals. In short, they are fantastically written, as human as you and I, and each week since April, it’s been an absolute blast to immerse myself in Yoshino’s world. This is a series that I will miss considerably once it concludes, but for the present, there remains the finale that will be airing come Wednesday; I look forwards to seeing where one chapter of Yoshino’s story concludes and what her future entails.

Koe No Katachi (A Silent Voice): Movie Review and Full Recommendation

“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” —Tennessee Williams

As an elementary student, Shōya Ishida and his classmates relentlessly bullied Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who had transferred into his class. When she transferred out of their school shortly after, his friends made him a scapegoat, leading to his isolation throughout middle school and high school. By this point, Shōya has learned sign language and seeks to make amends, seeking to return her notebook that he’d retained, but when it falls into the river and Shōya jumps in to retrieve it, he is suspended from school following Shōko’s sister, Yuzuru’s posting it online. His heart set on rectifying his past transgressions, Shōya helps Shōko reconnect with Sahara and brings everyone back together for a day at the amusement park, but Miki later reveals Shōya’s past, prompting him to come forwards with how he’d felt about the whole situation. Shōko grows distressed, feeling she is personally responsible for what had happened to Shōya and attempts to commit suicide by jumping off her apartment’s balcony, but Shōya saves her, falling from the balcony and lapsing into a coma. During this time, Shōya and Shōko’s mothers reconcile, and when Shōya reawakens, he finds Shōko, explaining to her that the consequences of his actions during elementary are his responsibility to bear. When their school’s cultural festival begins, Shōya attends with his friends, feeling he’s finally found redemption and solace. At least, this is the simple summary of Koe no Katachi‘s film adaptation of the manga of the same name. Released in September 2016 with a runtime of 130 minutes, this film’s home release came out ahead of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name back during May, and having watched it, this is a movie with an exceptionally strong story, following the ins and outs surrounding Shōya’s path to absolution from his transgressions.

Being at the heart of Koe no Katachi, Shōya’s redemption is the single theme in the movie: Koe no Katachi is meant to illustrate that past mistakes are not so easily forgiven or forgotten, but through Shōya, also demonstrate that individuals are not static entities. Clearly remorseful of his cruelty to Shōko, Shōya persists in setting things right even as circumstances continue to transpire against him, setting him back. This stands in stark contrast with his persistence in bullying Shōko during his childhood; as a child, Shōya is evidently a highly unpleasant individual, but his own suffering drives him in a different direction, bringing about a profound change. These changes are presented through his actions, rather than his appearance, and his determination to right wrongs with Shōko is particularly encouraging to watch, showing how even the most hideous of actions can be forgiven with sufficient persistence towards what is right. By the film’s end, he manages to overcome a long-standing challenge in addressing other people, and the changes in his character are noted by some of his peers, who can once again count him as a friend. Shōya’s change is further accentuated by his juxtaposition with Naoka Ueno; in their childhood, they bullied Shōko together primarily because Naoka held feelings for Shōya, longing to earn his attention. While Shōya’s definitely seen the error of his ways and have changed, enduring and doing his utmost to make amends even as his classmates and adults attempt to tear him down, Naoka continues to resent Shōko, going to the lengths of insulting her, refusing to understand her situation and even beating her down physically following Shōya’s hospitalisation. If Shōya is meant to epitomise understanding and change, then Naoka represents a stubborn refusal to improve: she’s intended to evoke hostility in audiences to further emphasise just how far Shōya has come. The sum of his actions in the present and understanding of his actions as a child culminate to form an individual who’s plainly a better person, allowing Koe no Katachi to craft a direct and brilliant tale of redemption.

Following Koe no Katachi‘s release, Makoto Shinkai himself remarked that this film is “fantastic piece of work” and a “polished and grand production” that possessed finess surpassing his own films. While perhaps speaking to Shinkai’s humility and ever-present drive to improve, his remarks also mirror the element that allows Koe no Katachi to be such an effective film: Koe no Katachi is polished precisely because it focused on a single element in Shōya’s redemption. This allows the film to explore in an in-depth fashion the intricate emotions that arise when an individual sets out on such a journey. All of the characters in Koe no Katachi feel authentic, reacting to situations with the same fluidity and naturalness as humans to create a world whose characters come to life. From the tears that are shed to smiles shared, emotions in Koe no Katachi are finely crafted to showcase the spectrum of feelings that Shōya, Shōko, their parents and their classmates come about as a consequence of Shōya’s choices. Shinkai, when speaking of this polish, is referring to this strength of execution in Koe no Katachi: the movie’s greatest strength is being able to follow Shōya in such detail and granularity to really present emotions as we know them. Consequently, if Your Name‘s strength was the scale of the narrative, then Koe no Katachi is equally as impressive for being able to bring so many elements from its story to life owing to its concentration on a single, yet powerful idea.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I have a bit of a confession to make: one of the reasons why this review was so long in the making was primarily because I had a bit of a writer’s block in trying to come up with things to discuss for the figure captions, despite there being a paltry thirty – thirty screenshots is the standard for movie reviews, but the unique nature of Koe no Katachi meant it was quite difficult to decide what I would say for the moments that are included in this discussion. It makes sense, though, to introduce Shōko, in the foreground, and Shōya. Their given names are remarkably similar, meant to emphasise their connection in the context of Koe no Katachi.

  • In Koe no Katachi‘s opening flashback, Shōya relentlessly bullies Shōko. His character’s design and appearance, coupled with the actions, immediately paint him as a troublemaker, someone unfavourable and unlikeable. He’s sitting beside Naoka Ueno, a classmate with a minor crush on him and so, participates in the bullying. Despite looking like Hibike Euphonium‘s Reina Kōsaka  and even K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, Naoka is definitely not a sympathetic character and in fact, can be seen as the catalyst for Shōya’s actions, egging him on. The bullying reaches a climax when Shōya forcibly removes Shōko’s hearing aids, causing her to bleed from the ears.

  • The incident eventually leads Shōko to transfer away, and Shōya is made scapegoat for the incident. A despicable character by all counts, Shōya’s character as a child brings to mind my bullies of old, who would pull similar tricks. The bullying would dissipate with time, as I became more social from a growing command of English: I suspect that my weak English skills, in making it difficult to communicate with others, resulting in misunderstandings not unlike Shōya’s frustration at being unable to communicate with Shōko properly. This realisation comes out of the blue, and I think that I can forgive my old bullies now, having determined what the likely cause was.

  • After her hearing aids are damaged, Shōya’s mother steps up to compensate Shōko’s mother. The two are polar opposites despite their similar backgrounds; Shōya’s mother is loving and caring, supporting Shōya even when the world turns him away, while Shōko’s mother is cold and bitter, a result of her marriage failing when her husband’s family influenced him into leaving.

  • Raw emotions are at the forefront of all things in Koe no Katachi: the movie is open and honest in how the characters feel about one another, as well as themselves. In this manner, Koe no Katachi, who presented Shōya in a very unfavourable light, sets itself up to show audiences just how much he’s changed and persuades viewers to give him a chance. His subsequent actions stand in stark contrast with his appearance, and in time, audiences will come to empathise with Shōya, rooting for him as he tries to right things with Shōko.

  • In the present, resolute on setting things right, Shōya attempts to befriend Shōko and make an honest attempt to understand her, even learning sign language in the process. One of the unique aspects about Koe no Katachi from a visual perspective is that the movie makes extensive use of depth-of-field and chromatic aberration effects in an image’s peripheries to give the sense that it is being captured from an older camera. The visuals bestow upon Koe no Katachi a very distinct feeling that is overt in some places, and subtle in others, mirroring Shōya’s perspective on the world.

  • After saving Tomohiro Nagatsuka’s bike from would-be thieves, Shōya finds in Tomohiro an admiring companion willing to come to his aid despite knowing very little about him; in a manner of speaking, Tomohiro is similar to Shrek‘s Donkey in that both respect the protagonist for having done them a good deed and following them around after. In my books, the definition of friendship is a relationship between two individuals built around unconditional trust and support: friends are there for the people they care for in tough times and share in their happiness during good times.

  • Initially masqurading as Shōko’s boyfriend, Yuzuru is revealed to be Shōko’s younger sister, fiercely protective of her sister and doing her utmost to will Shōko to keep living in her own manner, even despite a lack of care from their mother. With a deep-seated hatred of those who bullied Shōko, Yuzuru and Shōya initially do not get along well despite Shōya’s efforts, but over time, she comes to accept Shōya. Watching all of the relationships change over time in Koe no Katachi was remarkably rewarding; the changes are a sign that in some cases, even the most rockiest of starts and wretched of people can reconcile and cooperate once they understand one another.

  • The turning tide in Yuzuru and Shōya’s interactions follows after she captures an image of him jumping into the river to retrieve Shōko’s journal, which leads to his suspension from school. In spite of this action, Yuzuru is surprised that he is not even mad about the turn of events. He reveals that he does not feel himself to have suffered in full for his past actions against Shōko, and learning of his sincerity, Yuzuru begins to regard Shōya with reduced hostility. One of the pastimes that Shōko has is feeding birds, and Shōya, longing to befriend Shōko, takes this activity up as well; he occasionally buys bread and visits Shōko.

  • Yuzuru plays with Maria, daughter of Shōya’s older sister and a Brazilian fellow. The cast of Koe no Katachi‘s manga is quite large, and the plot is more intricate, with a movie being at its core, but the animated film of Koe no Katachi is much more concise, dropping the film narrative entirely and focusing on Shōya’s changing relationship with Shōko. Despite these omissions, the film is a powerhouse whose main strength is being able to so thoroughly explore a youth’s journey towards reconciliation and redemption. Such stories typically are more epic in nature, but in Koe no Katachi, the journey is set in the realm of reality – the dæmons that Shōya face are ultimately his own.

  • With all of the efforts that Shōya has made towards befriending Shōko, Shōko attempts kokuhaku, but because of her speech impendiment, Shōya believes she is talking about the moon (suki vs tsuki). People who are deaf can acquire spoken language to varying extents depending on their education and when their deafness occurred. Voiced by Saori Hayami (Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita, and Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa), Shōko speaks in broken Japanese, struggling with pronunciations; her command linguistics are consistent with being born deaf, yet another indication of the sort of effort that went into creating Koe no Katachi.

  • In her teens, Naoka’s resemblance to Reina is reinforced ever more strongly. As Koe no Katachi was helmed by Kyoto Animation, the film’s characters derive traits from Hibike Euphonium. However, Naoka, despite her similarities in appearance, is quite unlike Reina: the former is a stern, hard-working trumpeter who expresses concern for her friends in her own manner, while Naoka is a self-centred and conceited individual, refusing to understand Shōko. Of all of the people that Shōya reconnects with, she is the only person to continue bullying Shōko even after all this time, wondering why Shōko never fights back against her bullies.

  • When Shōya and the others visit an amusement park, he realises that it is a joy to be doing things that friends are normally able to do before things start going south once Naoka meets up with Shōko. I remark here that I’ve been referring to every character by their given name, even though in the film, everyone refers to one another by their family names. As much of a disconnect as there is in writing my reviews, I am following North American conventions for naming people in a casual setting and as my reviews are more casual in nature, I will use given names even though I’d gone through the film hearing everyone’s family names instead.

  • Naoka’s actions cause Shōya to begin ignoring her; throughout Koe no Katachi, blue x’s are used to illustrate the fact that Shōya cannot look others in the eye and ignores them. Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of these x’s are artistically done, as the pulsate and move around slightly to give them a hand-drawn feel. Popping out from the scenes, they do much to convey to audiences how Shōya feels about those around him, giving viewers a very clear sense of who Shōya is able to make eye contact with throughout the film. It is later revealed that Naoka continues to physically and verbally abuse Shōko.

  • When Miki Kawai exposes Shōya’s past to the others, it creates a rift amongst the friends that Shōya had gained while trying to help Shōko. The class representative back when they were elementary students, Miki is solely driven by her own aspirations and does not hesitate to throw people under the bus for her own gain, believing in her superiority over others. She as feelings for Satoshi Mashiba, a fellow classmate who is generally kind to Shōya but grows disapproving upon learning of Shōya’s action in the past, having been bullied himself.

  • Shōya eventually confronts the others about their actions and how no one present is really guilt-free for what happened to Shōko during their elementary school days, acknowledging that he too shoulders the burdens of his past actions. His words hit the others hard, although Koe no Katachi shows that words alone don’t really mean much against actions. By this point in the movie, the changes beginning to manifest in Shōya are becoming apparent, although Naoka herself remains quite unchanged from her past self. Immensely unlikable and unpleasant despite her appearance, Naoka is intended to represent individuals who remain trapped in the past, and while it is true that people can change over time, there are others who persistently cling to their memories.

  • As Koe no Katachi progresses, Shōya spends an increasing amount of time with Shōko, travelling to the countryside and exploring together. He is able to help Shōko experience a quantum of happiness during this time, although his actions also drive Shōko to become, ironically, unhappy – she blames herself for everything that’s happened to Shōya and his friends.

  • Because of his actions previously, Shōko’s mother despises Shōya, but consents to allow him to stay when he helps Shōko bake a cake on her birthday. One of the joys about Kyoto Animation’s strongest works has always been how they can make audiences to empathise with cold and unfriendly characters – by presenting their changes over time in response to the different events around them, it shows the characters as being willing to learn, giving them a human sense. Of course, not every Kyoto Animation anime does this: characters remain quite flat in things like Lucky Star and K-On!, but other of their works, such as CLANNAD and Hibike! Euphonium, excel at creating characters audiences come to care for.

  • Koe no Katachi‘s rising action comes full throttle at a summer festival; while deeply enjoying the moment and the fact she’s able to spend time with her family after everything that’s occurred, it is here that Shōko is overwhelmed by her guilt. Under the pretense of returning home to retrieve something while a fireworks display is in progress, it is here that Shōko decides to commit suicide, drawing parallels with Shōya, who considered suicide but ultimately backed down. Unlike Shōya, Shōko had every intention of following through.

  • It is only through Shōya’s timely intervention that Shōko is saved, and in this moment, Shōko realises that people do care for her, promising to do better for Shōya’s sake. However, the cost of this effort in saving Shōko is that Shōya himself falls into the river: unlike Bruce Wayne, who managed to save Raʾs al-Ġūl (masquerading as Henry Ducard), Shōya’s in a bit more of a difficult position and only just manages to pull Shōko up from the balcony.

  • The fall Shōya sustains causes him to lapse into a coma. Naoka later reveals that Kazuki Shimada and Keisuke Hirose, Shōya’s former best friends, were the ones who pulled him from the river, despite their presently less-than-cordial relationship. I remark here that Koe no Katachi is a film whose review could have easily been the same size as that of my Your Name review, as there is so much to discuss regarding the rationale behind each character’s actions, and whether or not some actions can be justified.

  • In the aftermath of Shōya’s admission to a hospital for his injuries, Shōko’s mother and Yuzuru express their apologies at what’s happened out of guilt despite reassurances from Shōya’s mother that things will be alright. The part of the movie that does not sit well with me, attesting again to excellence in the movie’s execution, is the fist fight that breaks out between Shōko’s mother and Naoka. Even at this point in time, Naoka continues to be, for the lack of a better phrase, an irredeemable piece of shit. In the manga, she later takes on a modelling job with Miyoko Sahara, a tall girl. Nothing befalls Naoka in either the film or the manga, and while this leaves loose ends, it’s also a part of reality: the number of instances where assholes can get away with atrocious behaviour is mind-boggling.

  • When Shōya finally reawakens, the first person he encounters is Shōko. Openly apologising to her for his actions in their childhood, Shōya reminds Shōko that he bears responsibility for his own suffering, and that Shōko had nothing to do with his isolation after she transferred out. He also expresses that he understands her situation, hence his longing to be with her, helping Shōko to live normally. In finally doing what he had set out to do, this moment between Shōya and Shōko marks the film’s climax.

  • Shōya returns to school in time for the cultural festival. Koe no Katachi and Your Name, two powerhouse films from summer 2016, have been compared against one another to a nontrivial extent on the ‘net owing to both films’ superb execution, moving story and exceptional artwork. From a purely box office gross perspective, Your Name comes out on top, but when one delves into the narrative, there are enough differences for me to say that both films have their own merits, and from my own subjective perspective, both films are worth watching for their own strengths.

  • If and when I’m asked, I would say that Koe no Katachi and Your Name share the relationship between Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Interstellar. While this initially comes across as being a very unusual comparison, the reasoning for this is mainly because, like Koe no Katachi and Your Name, both of Dunkirk and Interstellar have unique points that make them enjoyable. In particular, like DunkirkKoe no Katachi is focused on a very specific idea (the former deals with three unique perspectives during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, while the latter is entirely about Shōya’s journey of redemption). Both movies excel in their use of emotions and cues in the environment to convey how the characters are feeling to audiences, from the visceral fear and uncertainty in Dunkirk to the regret and determination of Koe no Katachi.

  • Shōko finally lets loose an insult directed at Naoka, doing so with a smile on her face, before they part ways. With the comparison done for Dunkirk and Koe no Katachi, the parallels between Interstellar and Your Name are easier to draw: for one, I’ve already remarked on the similarities of one of the thematic elements in both films earlier. Both films are set on a large scale, covering a variety of topics during their narrative, and are unparalleled in terms of their visual fidelity: Your Name is immediately recognisable for its distinct rendition of Comet Tiamat, as well as Makoto Shinkai’s masterful artwork. Similarly, the super-massive black hole, Gargantia, in Interstellar remains one of the film’s most iconic components. Much like how Your Name attempts to strike a balance between the science and the body-switching phenomenon, Interstellar was written within terms outlined by Kip Thorne: the realm of physical laws must not be departed from.

  • Ultimately, I cannot say that I enjoyed Interstellar or Dunkirk over the other, so in that vein, I did not enjoy Koe no Katachi over Your Name and vice versa: both films are exceptional to watch and highly entertaining with powerful merits backing each. My end recommendation is to watch both. Of course, these are merely my own thoughts: many folks enjoyed Your Name for its riveting performance and vivid colours, while others still find Koe no Katachi to be more touching for its strong focus on characterisation.

  • The dénouement in Koe no Katachi is bright and cheerful: Shōya finally comes to feel that he has found redemption, and the x’s peel away from the people surrounding him en masse, bringing the film to a close. The manga continues in illustrating the dramatic changes: his and Shōko’s mother become friends, accepting Shōya and expressing her thanks that he and Shōko have become friends.

  • After high school, Shōya has become more sociable, and when they visit their elementary reunion, is shown hand-in-hand with Shōko, implying that he’s come to understand how she feels about him. The events of the manga are more protracted and intricate, but in film form, Koe no Katachi has done a fantastic job of capturing the theme of redemption with its visuals. Taken together with the manga, Koe no Katachi shows just how dramatic this change can be: Shōya’s rough start with Shōko transition into an awkward friendship from which love blossoms.

  • As it turns out, while it was quite tough to get the Koe no Katachi review rolling, once I actually started, things began to become a little easier as I warmed up. It helps that I’ve seen Dunkirk, which provided a bit of inspiration for diving into the themes and execution when I began considering Christopher Nolan’s two most recent feature-length films. I finished Koe no Katachi early in July, and a bit more than a month after I drafted out the review, this post is finally finished. As a bit of amusement for readers: compare and contrast my description of Naoka in the figure captions against those of the actual paragraphs. Thanks for reading!

Koe no Katachi is something that merits a strong recommendation for anime fans and folks unfamiliar with anime alike. The powerful story, in covering a full spectrum of emotions, is well worthwhile simply because it shows that people can and will change, and that this effort is met with reward. In conjunction with Kyoto Animation’s typical mastery of visual and aural elements, the film is a remarkable experience for the senses. Granted, as an adaptation of the manga, liberties were taken with the narrative (the film omits Shōya’s attempts to make a film, and also the aftermath of Shōya’s redemption, when he becomes more sociable and counts Shōko as a dear friend), but Koe no Katachi nonetheless manages to smoothly craft a succinct film from the manga. With director Naoko Yamada at the film’s helm, Koe no Katachi showcases the sort of mastery that can be borne out of a film whose narrative is concise but well-executed: movies need not always feature dramatic moments, complex narratives and obscure symbols to provoke discussion amongst viewers. Even the simplest of things in life, the seemingly unassuming journey of a high school student, can be immensely intricate and merit exploration; at this, Koe no Katachi simply excels, weaving superior artwork, sound and narrative together into an entity that keeps its audiences engaged for the film’s entire duration.