The Infinite Zenith

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Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! Review and Reflections At The Halfway Point

“Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more, and don’t get so worked up about things.” —Kenneth Branagh

Mayu and Shiho initially find it difficult to act in their assigned characters for the television drama “The Dreaming Duo”, where Mitsuki and Yoko are share dreams and come to realise their love for the same guy. However, with inspiration, Mayu begins to act more fluidly for Yoko’s role, inspiring Shiho to do the same as Mitsuki. While the two agree on their relationship being a strictly professional one, the distance between the two lessens as the two work on their drama, which finishes shooting on a high note. Later, Junko arranges for a Sendai tour with WUG to inspire local fans. A scheduling conflict prevents Minami from attending, and during a performance that evening, Nanami steps in to substitute for Minami. While she falls on stage, her actions earn her endearment from the audience. After WUG announces their plans to release a new album, Ayumi gets lost at the inn and comes across WUG’s zoo costumes. Mayu accidentally spills tomato juice on one and assumes it’s Yoshino inside, deciding that it’s best to visit the hot springs and wash it off before staining occurs. Ayumi manages to escape, but is inspired by Mayu’s words about idols and their duty to bring smiles to their audiences. The next morning, she tells Mayu of her intentions to become an idol and Mayu wishes her luck. This is where things stand at the halfway point in New Chapter!, a series that has managed to retain its charm owing to its sincere narrative and honest characters.

The past three episodes predominantly deal with Mayu; she’s the most experienced of WUG members and, despite being one of the more soft-spoken members, has numerous insights into what expectations are in entertainment. This sort of maturity and professionalism initially caused her to butt heads with the other WUG members during the first season of Wake Up, Girls!, but time has allowed even the taciturn Mayu to open up. By New Chapter!, Mayu is sharing how she feels about her schedule and is expressive about concerns she may have with her duties, in turn allowing the others to support her in their own way. Similarly, having recovered her sense of purpose as an idol, Mayu sees their duty as putting smiles on the faces of their audiences, and that the WUG’s presence can be projected by each and every member. Capable of reassuring others in WUG, Mayu’s definitely been a source of inspiration to those around her, and also outside of the group; Ayumi is star-struck whenever she meets Mayu in person, and a part of this is that Mayu is remarkably kind, humble and approachable. Having found her joy in being an idol once again because of her time in WUG, Mayu is able to put her heartfelt feelings into her performances that, together with the others in WUG, have allowed the group to retain a loyal following, and from an external perspective, these same aspects within the anime have allowed Wake Up, Girls! to similarly retain a loyal following in reality.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For the record, if The Dreaming Duo were real, I would likely watch it. In this drama, the normally-quiet Mayu plays the spirited, energetic Yoko, who is on the basketball team, and Shiho, who usually is more forward with her opinions, is Mitsuki, a reserved student fond of the arts. The roles are opposite of their characters, and while they initially have difficulty adjusting, the directors notice the improvement once both begin empathising with their respective characters.

  • The dynamic between Mayu and Shiho is similar to that of Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman: Shiho outright tells Mayu that their working together will not be a sign that their relationship has mended, to which Mayu accepts. I was reading an article about how Savage and Hyneman do not get along with one another outside of work hours, but nonetheless are successful in working together as professionals. Like Savage and Hyneman, Shiho and Mayu respect one another’s work ethic, follow similar processes in getting things done, and value getting the job done well over their own egos.

  • Mayu’s busy schedule means that she misses preparing for breakfast on at least one occasion, but here, her teammates step up to the plate and help her out. The dynamics amongst WUG are give-and-take, and in between her work on the set, Mayu also participates in the other activities that WUG typically engage in.

  • I’m not sure what I’m looking at here; one of the stills shows WUG recoiling from shock and horror after touching something unknown for a television programme. This sort of show is a bit less common on this side of the planet: when I was in Japan, a great number of their channels were running game and talk shows. Japanese shows tend to be a bit flashier and text heavy, giving a much more excited sense compared to similar  shows in North America, which by comparison feel a bit more austere.

  • Shiho is momentarily recalled to I-1 Club when Moka sustains an injury, but as it turns out, the injury was relatively minor, allowing her to return to her usual duties. As the two embrace their roles further, they begin gaining a feel for the characters and occasionally offer suggestions to the directors to create a more natural scene. While the directors are initially appalled, the scriptwriter approves of the changes.

  • When the principal photography is complete for The Dreaming Duo, Mayu has a chance to speak with one of the project’s managers, who admits that the decision to cast Mayu and Shiho were originally motivated by a want to draw in more viewers using well-known names, but they ended up getting more than expected through both girls’ dedication towards their roles.

  • Ayumi, Itsuka and Otome find themselves tiring out on a walk for their physical education class and begin losing resolve upon hearing the distance remaining in the walk, but when Ayumi learns of WUG’s plans to do a bus tour of Sendai, Ayumi immediately gains a second wind. Of the three, it seems that Ayumi is the most interested in WUG, and she runs into Mayu herself while playing an extra in The Dreaming Duo.

  • Minami is tied up with a food show and is absent from the proceedings for most of the WUG Sendai tour. Kouhei does his best to keep the show running, and the day begins smoothly. On board the bus, Ayumi and her friends encounter some high school students from Tokyo who’ve become fans of Minami, and they quickly hit it off with one another. The remainder of the folks on this tour are male fans of WUG, and I will note here that, while their antics are a riot, I usually do not feature the vociferous WUG fans from the family restaurant because there’s not much I have to comment about them.

  • The first event on the WUG Sendai tour is a SCAVENGER HUNT type event, where participants must find each of the girls, dressed up as an animal, and collect a stamp from them. Each of the girls end up encountering difficulties in striking a balance between being out in the open and being well-hidden enough so the event is fun for the participants. As an aside, Wake Up, Girls! Zoo! was a spin-off that I ended up watching a ways back. Light-hearted and fun, each episode was a riot, and I also greatly enjoyed the theme song, as well.

  • Ayumi grows weak-kneed when coming face-to-face with Mayu herself. Her tendency to be star-struck has hilarious consequences within New Chapter!. Today’s post marks a three-streak, one of the longest I’ve had this year; in spite of a weekend packed with activities, I somehow managed to get a post out each day. Of course, this pattern won’t be the norm: posts take at least two to three hours to write, and this is why I won’t be writing about Far Cry 4 as of yet, even though I finished the game just yesterday.

  • Today’s events included going out for dim sum and then taking a short walk under the warmer weather: things have warmed up a little over the past week. The last time I had dim sum at this particular restaurant was back in February, and while dim sum appears unassuming, it is quite substantial – we ordered the usual suspects today (炸蝦角, 蝦餃, 燒賣, 鳳爪, 叉燒包 and 腸粉), plus a sticky fried rice. I’m especially fond of 炸蝦角 (jyutping “zaa3 haa1 gok3”), a deep-fried shrimp that goes great with mayonnaise. Dim sum is, in the words of Adam Richman, a Hong Kong institution, and that one can get Dim Sum in Calgary rivalling the quality of Hong Kong Dim Sum is downright amazing.

  • I’ve seen this technique used before in the Hai-Furi OVAs, and of late, constraints in New Chapter!‘s animation budget have become quite apparent. There are photograph-like scenes such as this, re-use of footage seen earlier and numerous stills while the characters are engaged in conversation. In spite of obvious shortfalls in animation, New Chapter! more than delivers the spirit and fun; from a certain point of view, the choppy animation can be seen as a bit of a visual metaphor for the rough-around-the-edges-but-sincere nature of WUG.

  • WUG performs First Rate Smile, a song that Tasuka wrote for them as their debut piece. Upbeat and energetic, the song is later given to I-1 Club to perform, as WUG is tasked with an even tougher song (Seven Girls’ War, the opening song). For the longest time, First Rate Smile could only be heard in the I-1 Club incarnation, although with the Wake Up, Best! album that released in March 2015, a full year after the first season aired, audiences finally had a chance to listen to the WUG version of First Rate Smile.

  • Upon seeing the disappointment in the audience at Minami’s absence, WUG decide to ask Nanami to perform in lieu of Minami on account of her sharing a similar stature, but Nanami stumbles and reveals to the audience that she’s not Minami. Far from drawing the audience’s ire, this action results in the audience cheering for Nanami, as well. Soon after, the real McCoy arrives, with Junko having exhorted transportation crew to get them to the hotel ASAP.

  • At the time of writing, WUG’s real-world equivalent have released numerous albums for the music of Wake Up, Girls!, and performed at several venues where they became a sleeper hit: their real world performers seem to embrace adversity, and as one article on ANN succintly puts it, the group turns disaster into dreams. Born of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, the project was initially to help with rebuilding Sendai. It was on the verge of failure and turned to recruiting voice talent in the Sendai area. The experiences and tribulations that the production team saw fed into Wake Up, Girls!, and in retrospective, it would seem that the reason why Wake Up, Girls! is so authentic and genuine is because it is inspired by real events.

  • New Chapter! is no Murder on the Orient Express, a recent film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic – Miyu finds Mayu after she accidentally spills tomato juice on Yoshino’s polar bear costume, a consequence of Ayumi hiding inside it after getting lost, and the girls must promptly remove it before the stain becomes a permanent feature. The reason why tomato juice is so difficult to remove is because of the pigment lycopene, a long-chain non-polar hydrocarbon. These molecules are hydrophobic and will cling to other similar non-polar molecules, such as those making up plastic containers or the fibres in clothing.

  • The guide to removing tomato juice stains are numerous, and the precise method will depend on how old the stain is. In the case of a fresh stain, the combination of water and detergent will be sufficient. After Mayu takes Ayumi to the baths, her fear of getting discovered leads her to hide. By a stroke of luck, the other WUG members arrive, and in the chaos, Ayumi manages to escape, leaving Mayu to wonder what really happened, but before she gets clear, Ayumi overhears Mayu speaking to the others about what being an idol means.

  • Future assignments will leave the girls with less time spent performing together, leading Miyu to feel depressed, but when Mayu reminds everyone that they’re WUG regardless of where they are, spirits lift considerably. One of the things about being an idol, then is also being able to help one’s teammates and oneself smile: if the point of the business is to give a bit of happiness to viewers, then those doing so must first learn to find their own happiness. Mayu is able to appreciate this, and her presence in WUG is a reassuring one.

  • The next morning, WUG participate in signing autographs for their fans. The tour ends up being a successful one, and it seems that Mayu is quite unaware that Ayumi was responsible for the previous evening’s escapade. Seizing the moment, Ayumi declares that she wishes to be an idol – from our perspective, we roughly know what idols in Wake Up, Girls! must experience. I’ve heard that Ayumi and her friends will form their own group, “Run, Girls, Run!”: their presence in New Chapter! seem to be about the positive impacts that idols can have as role models.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before, but ever since Wake Up, Girls! first season, Mayu’s been my favourite character. While still relatively off the beaten path, discussions about Wake Up, Girls! that I’ve seen have been quite positive. Time is moving at breakneck speed: we’re very nearly halfway through November now, and we’re rolling into December very soon. This anime season has passed by quickly, and I’ve found the other shows I’m watching to be enjoyable. With this post out the gates, I will be turning my attention towards Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter now – I’m curious to see both whether or not I can make an episodic review work, as well as what Hero Chapter entails.

With the next major goal being the production of a full WUG album, I’m looking forwards to seeing what directions New Chapter! will be taking. By this point in time, WUG has become accustomed to truths within the industry, but their cumulative experiences allow them to appropriately address whatever challenges come their way. The togetherness that is central to WUG’s strengths during performances have become somewhat of a crutch for WUG, and having foreseen this, Junko and Youhei have arranged for the girls to perform and work independently to increase their self-reliance. At the halfway point, this appears to be effective: the girls have definitely become much more resilient and adaptive. Mayu similarly reminds everyone that WUG will be WUG as long as everyone believes in one another, regardless of whether their working alone or performing together. While where all of these lessons and learnings will end up remains open for speculation, one thing is likely to be true: WUG will definitely find a way to overcome adversity that will invariably come their way as the series moves into its final episodes, and it will be enjoyable to watch how WUG goes about solving problems in with their own unique approaches.

Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! Review and Reflections After Three

“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” —Arnold Schwarzenegger

To encourage that the girls spend more time together and better learn about one another even as they take on different jobs individually or in teams, Junko arranges for the girls to live with one another in a rental home. Minami and Kaya are assigned to a talk show where they must describe the various dishes presented to them, and while Minami struggles to be more imaginative with her description of the food items, Kaya begins worrying about her weight. She begins jogging and avoiding meals, leading Minami to wonder if Kaya’s come to dislike her, and one evening, Mayu and the others decide to tag along. They learn of Kaya’s situation and come together to support her, encouraging Kaya to eat regularly and be open with her problems. Later, Nanami and Miyu make an appearance on a comedy show, but lack the wit to deliver humour. Yoshino is assigned to a modelling job but is described as lacking the aura of a model, and Airi comes across as being too mechanical in her news show. Despite their difficulties, everyone manages to make the most of their assignments when they learn that Kaya’s taken up blogging to write about her worries. Inspired, Miyu hosts her own web show, and the girls realise they can play to their strengths. Minami begins describing her food in song, and Airi applies her own brand of comedy towards delivering her news segment. Yoshino accepts a photo-shoot assignment and presents the best side of her character, as well. With things looking up for the others, Mayu is offered a role in a television drama with Shiho Iwasaki of I-1 Club.

Despite having had at least two years of experience as idols, New Chapter! presents WUG as still being relatively inexperienced as entertainers. These challenges arise from the group as having come to depend on one another during their performances – until now, everyone’s largely worked together as a cohesive unit and are at their best when they can perform as one. However, they had been somewhat idle in between major performances, as depicted in Shadow of Youth and Beyond the Bottom. Junko’s assignments thus provide the girls a chance to interact with one another at a much more personal level, as well as to take on individual assignments that drive them towards improving their ability as idols. In spite of their inexperience initially getting the better of them, the girls’ resourcefulness allow them to acclimatise and use their strong points to assist their performances. The willingness to introspect and look inwards is a reminder of how far each member of WUG has come, and are willing to go in order to improve: by the end of New Chapter!‘s third episode, most of the team has settled into their positions and have worked out the rhythm that works best for them. Similarly, in Kaya’s case, she is reminded that the team is there to help her, and she can rely on them to support her. The increased cohesion in WUG after three episodes illustrates that New Chapter! is continuing on a good pace, and while the destination might not be clear this season, what is apparent is that the journey in New Chapter! is likely to be a meaningful one to follow.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • WUG is back in full swing this season, and while it might be a bit quieter, I will continue with my plans to write about New Chapter! after every three episodes. Having said this, I don’t have any background in the entertainment industry and won’t be able to offer any unique insights as to what WUG experience; posts on New Chapter! will likely remain in the smaller format of twenty screenshots.

  • The girls quickly settle in to their new accommodations, with Nanami managing to convince her parents to allow her to live with these arrangements. One of the things about New Chapterthat I will need to look at more closely is just how much time has elapsed since the girls joined WUG; the anime first aired in 2014’s winter season, and it’s presently autumn of 2017, suggesting a gap of roughly three-and-a-half years, but calendars in-show mean that it’s likely closer to two years. So, even Nanami, who was thirteen when Wake Up, Girls! started, would be fifteen now.

  • Junko proves to be incredibly well-connected, helping the girls get positions that will bolster their experience as performers, and I can attest to the importance of having people who have exceptional marketing skills and connections. Being able to sell and generate excitement for an idea is essential: having the best product in the world is of limited use if the market is not aware of them. Going through Wake Up, Girls! now, I realise that my perspectives on the world has changed considerably since the days when I began watching this anime.

  • After Mayu butchers the cutting of potatoes whilst cooking, the others step in to help out. The dynamics of New Chapter! show WUG as having a very close-knit, supportive dynamic. With their interpersonal challenges largely resolved, one of the questions that remains for New Chapter! will be what new conflicts or challenges await the group. Because Wake Up, Girls! began as an anime, there is no source manga or novel to compare it against, which makes the plot progression a bit more exciting owing to the unknown.

  • While many things have changed, one thing in Wake Up, Girls! that has remained quite unchanged is Minami’s enthusiasm for food. One might consider her to be the female equivalent of Man v. Food‘s Adam Richman, although she initially lacks Richman’s talents for describing food. I’ve been a great fan of the show Man v. Food, and at present, Richman’s stopped his eating challenges, citing depression and health risks as the reason for his departure. Since then, he’s lost sixty pounds and have done food shows in other formats. While Minami’s thoroughly enjoying the program, Kaya finds it a little more difficult – although her outburst elevates ratings, the food she eats contributes to weight gain.

  • As a result, Kaya takes to jogging by night and avoids meals with her friends. While it’s not quite at the level of a eating disorder, Kaya’s predicament is nonetheless one that she finds difficult to handle on her own. One evening, the others decide to accompany her on a “visit to the convenience store” and learn the truth when they find Kaya with some beef jerky, as she’s succumbed to hunger.

  • The second episode thus acts as a reminder to viewers that, in the time that the girls have spent together and performed together, they have come to be supportive of one another and only offer constructive criticisms. Kaya makes a speedy recovery: within the space of a half-episode, her issues have been swiftly resolved.

  • Things begin picking up for the girls: Nanami and Miyu are tasked with appearing on a show called “Iwashi Palace”, while Yoshino is assigned to the “Fanfan” photoshoot. Kouhei’s also managed to find a news segment type show for Airi. Each position will test the girls’ resolve in unique ways, motivating the page quote: one of the weaknesses about my generation, the Millenials, is a seemingly-lessened ability to withstand and face adversity. When I asked members of the older generation what resilience is, they simply responded that it’s not giving up when things get tough and continuing to put in an effort with the aim of bettering a situation.

  • By my admission, I’ve never really been good as a public speaker until around post-secondary: the necessity of doing presentations for undergraduate coursework in my health sciences degree forced me to learn my own methods for delivering talks. However, it was not until I worked in my supervisor’s lab where I really began developing a signature style. Inspired by his highly visual slides and concise delivery, I gave highly distinct presentations during the final year of my undergraduate program, and that particular approach was refined as I entered graduate school.

  • Presently, I am able to give short speeches and talks on-the-fly, with zero preparation time if needed; my usual style is to open up with a comparatively light and fluffy introduction, possibly with a joke or similar, before delving into the material. When practising for both conference presentations and my thesis, I would write a set of notes and then follow those notes, improvising as I went. This approach is inspired by how Jay Ingram gives talks, a consequence of having worked with him on the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. Back in New Chapter!, Nanami and Miyu find their time on Iwashi palace off to a rocky start.

  • Itsuka, Otome and Ayumi initially find it difficult to promote WUG at their middle school: female students find WUG to be somewhat uninspired, while male students are more interested in virtual idols, likely a parody of Miku Hatsume, an extremely famous personification of the Vocaloid software. Curiously enough, the software was originally intended for professional use, but the visualisation caught on in the anime community, leading to widespread popularity.

  • On a note completely unrelated to Wake Up, Girls!, time seems to be making fools of us once again: October is very nearly at an end, and with it comes the arrival of Halloween. This year, Halloween lands on a Tuesday, one day after my own Battlefield 1 One Year Anniversary; as per tradition, I will spend Halloween handing out candy, gaming and watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s an old classic, and despite technical limitations being apparent in its animation, this holiday special is as timeless as A Charlie Brown Christmas. This year, I will be embarking on my journey through Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus: I caved and purchased it on release day.

  • After an unsuccessful photoshoot with Funfun, Yoshino considers throwing in the towel and prepares to decline a second job, but when Junko mentions that Yoshino is to be replaced with a member of I-1 Club, Yoshino reconsiders immediately, feeling honoured that the company handling the photo shoot considered her as a first choice and will only defer to an 1-1 Club member as a backup, as well as the fact that turning down the offer might be to give I-1 Club more exposure over WUG.

  • In Wake Up, Girls!, I find the anime to be surprisingly disciplined with its fanservice moments. The only other moment that comes to mind comes from the first season’s second episode, when the girls are contracted to work in a sleazy locale. Junko is on station to pull them out trouble, and later, she continues doing her bit in keeping an eye on jobs to ensure that WUG do not find themselves in similarly compromising situations.

  • Inspired by Kaya’s blog and Miyu’s web show, each of the characters will figure out how to play to their strengths. Yoshino’s photoshoot is off to a shaky start when she trips, but the photographers here are more supportive, encouraging her to simply be herself during the photoshoot. Yoshino takes this to heart, and the results show in the photographs resulting, with one particular moment standing out above the rest that captures her enjoyment of the moment.

  • While initially presenting her dialogue with a stiff approach, Airi eventually loosens up and delivers her segments with a style she’s more comfortable with. While viewers consider it rough around the edges, they also find it more enjoyable for its uniqueness, leading Ayumi’s classmates to comment on WUG in a positive light. Despite being the most plain and unextraordinary of the WUG, she’s also the most hard-working, understanding the hurdles she must overcome owing to her lack of prior experience, and by the events of New Chapter!, she fits right in with the group, keeping up with even the more challenging performances WUG participate in.

  • A part of making an enjoyable food programme is to make a spectacle of the food. The other two fellows seem to have a bit of a stale routine when compared to the likes of Adam Richman, who presents himself in a manner befitting of the food challenge’s theme and otherwise finding unusual metaphors for describing particularly enjoyable foods. Varying between the stylised and direct, Richman’s strength is being able to consistently make his shows interesting. Manami finds her own approach: an enka performer, she’s also got some talent in singing and later turns this to her advantage, impressing the food show’s hosts.

  • Things are advancing fairly rapidly in Wake Up, Girls!, with the girls settling into their new routines and accommodations. While Junko mentioned setting up a national tour of sorts for WUG back during the first episode, that’s not materialised as of yet. With upcoming events, one would image that it is probably something that will come to be a bit later in New Chapter!.

  • While it’s impossible to speak for other Wake Up, Girls! viewers, I’m feeling that Mayu has been somewhat shafted with respect to screen time, but at the end of the third episode, it looks like that this is about to change on very short order: Mayu is to perform in a drama with none other than Shiho, the I-1 centre who replaced Mayu and was herself replaced by Moka Suzuki. Shiho would be reassigned to the idol group NEXT STORM, vowing to bring the group to prominence to prove her own worth as an idol. Mayu regards her cordially, suggesting that she has no hard feelings towards Shiho, and it will be interesting to see how the two work together in their upcoming assignments.

  • With this after three post now at an end, we’re very nearly at the end of October, as well. There is only one more post coming out this month, dealing with Battlefield 1 (mentioned earlier). Looking ahead into November, I’m going to continue writing about Wake Up, Girls!, and in addition, be dividing my time between Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus as well as Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Hero Chapter, which I have plans to review episodically. Folks interested in hearing my thoughts on Washio Sumi Chapter can do so here. For now, it’s time to sign off and turn my attention towards making my way through The New Colossus, which I’ve heard numerous good things about – if this game is half as good as people make it out to be, it will have been well worth the price of admissions, which I hope will go towards the development of solid single-player titles in a market oversaturated with multiplayer games.

It is likely that I am one of the few viewers out there, both in the English-speaking community and amongst the entire pool of people who watch Wake Up, Girls! that view this anime in a favourable manner. I will continue to say that, while the anime is a little rough around the edges in terms of animation, and that New Chapter!‘s artwork will still take some getting used to, the strength of the underlying messages and journey that each member of WUG undertakes makes the anime one that I find to be worth enjoying. Ever since I began watching Wake Up, Girls!, I’ve taken a gander at other anime dealing with idols. While well-regarded by viewers, giants such as Love Live! and Idolm@ster simply don’t work for me owing to the size of their franchises – the large number episodes is not feasible for me to catch up with, and a large number of characters in conjunction with relatively limited time they are around makes it difficult for me to empathise with anyone, especially where emphasis is placed on music rather than personal growth. Conversely, the more intimate, smaller-scale setting of something like Wake Up, Girls! and Locodol proved to be enjoyable, and at the end of the day, I place a much smaller importance on the idols themselves and their music. Instead, I value character development and enjoy watching maturing responses to challenges as a result of their experiences to a much greater extent. Thus, while I’m unlikely to delve into the idol genre, Wake Up, Girls! (and Locodol) remain exceptions because of their focus on the characters’ path in rising above their problems.

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.