The Infinite Zenith

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The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions At The Halfway Point

“No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” –Gandalf the White, The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King

With Gama Gama’s closure fast approaching, Kukuru is desperate to find any means necessary to save the aquarium, even attempting to run a story on social media about the visions that visitors sometimes see, but this is ultimately unsuccessful – Kukuru’s grandfather feels that banking on a phenomenon whose properties are completely unknown won’t be beneficial. Kai watches Kukuru with increasing worry – he’d been there for her since their childhood, and feels worried that he won’t be able to help her out. One evening, Kukuru decides to have Kai help her draw the phenomenon out, and finds himself in the middle of his childhood: it turns out he had provided some comfort to Kukuru after her parents has passed away. However, even with this memory, Gama Gama’s fate is sealed. As a typhoon approaches, Kukuru barricades herself in and adamantly refuses to let anyone help her. Worried about Kukuru, Fūka braves the storm and ends up doing what she can for Kukuru even as the storm knocks out power and blows in windows at Gama Gama. When the emergency generators run out of fuel and the pipes begin bursting, Kukuru wonders why everything she holds dear is being taken from her. Fortunately, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan are available to help, and they are able to prevent any harm from coming to the animals. Morning approaches, and Kukuru realises that Gama Gama is too old to continue running. On the last day of August, Gama Gama hosts a farewell event for its visitors, who leave behind their favourite memories. One of the visitors includes a manager for Tingaara, a new aquarium: impressed with Kukuru’s experience, he’s interested in bringing her and several of Gama Gama’s staff on board. After celebrating forty-eight years in business, Gama Gama closes down, and Fūka prepares to return home. Before parting ways with Kukuru’s grandparents, the pair learn that Kukuru originally had a twin sister who died prior to birth. At the airport, Fūka comes to realise that Kukuru had given her so much, and she decides to skip her scheduled flight to ensure she and Kukuru part ways with a smile. After boarding her next flight, Fūka declines the offer for the movie, feeling that she’s found another path in life to walk. Here at The Aquatope on White Sand‘s halfway point, Gama Gama has finally shut down, leaving Kukuru and Fūka at the end of one journey. However, as Fūka empathetically states, endings are not necessarily sad things: she hopes that Kukuru will seize whatever lies ahead for her and find her happiness anew.

Kukuru’s last moments with Gama Gama are a bittersweet one, and with this transition, The Aquatope on White Sand speaks to viewers about the importance of being able to find another way when things don’t work out as one had hoped. Reality is harsh; it is therefore imperative that one become accustomed to setbacks and failures – no failure is ever truly final unless one were to give up entirely, and while it can seem like the world has come to a halt when one’s desires end without being realised, there are always alternative opportunities that lie unexplored. When I was an undergraduate student, I had held ambitions of becoming a medical doctor. At the time, I was not confident with my programming skills, and felt that my penchant for spot patterns and understand processes would make me suited in medicine. I thus took the MCAT, altered my remaining course load to satisfy medical school prerequisites and applied – this was met with no success, and I never made it to even the interview stage for any of the schools I had applied to. However, my supervisor saw another route and suggested that I apply for graduate school instead, where I could build out my software development skills and also contribute to the lab I’d already had familiarity with. After working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain and realising that I was indeed capable of learning new systems quickly, solving problems under pressure and managing a small team, the career path of being a software developer no longer seemed so intimidating; indeed, I am now a software developer owing to my accepting and embracing an alternate route. The Aquatope on White Sand is similarly creating opportunities for Fūka and Kukuru alike: Kukuru is initially hesitant about working for Tingaara, but after seeing Fūka pick herself up, determines that she must also find a way to smile again. Fūka decides to pursue a new path and declines an offer to star in a film. While Gama Gama is done, the world hasn’t ended, and that means the opportunity to forge a new way forward still remains – the only question here is whether or not one has the courage and tenacity to take that difficult first step forwards. Both Kukuru and Fūka have dreams they can follow, and with half of The Aquatope on White Sand in the books, it is clear that endings are not always thus; resilience in the face of adversity is precisely what lets people move forward, so it is encouraging to see Fūka and Kukuru make decisions for one another’s sakes that will see them embrace whatever their respective futures hold.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • At the halfway point to The Aquatope on White Sand, I’ll open with Kai biking over to Gama Gama. Kai has known Kukuru since childhood, and had been there the day Kukuru had learned of her parents’ deaths. Since then, Kai has done his best to support Kukuru; although this isn’t always shown on screen, the fact that Kai is willing to help out at Gama Gama in his spare time, and his hesitation whenever Maho mentions that he should date Fūka instead of being around Kukuru, suggests that for Kukuru, Kai is willing to go the extra mile.

  • All of P.A. Works’ workplace/coming-of-age anime feature a reliable, stoic male character. This trend started in Hanasaku Iroha with junior chef Tōru Miyagishi, and then in Tari Tari, Taichi Tanaka fills that role. Kakeru Okikura ends up in this position in Glasslip, and he’s the equivalent of Nagi no Asukara‘s Tsumugu Kihara. It is not lost on me that P.A. Works tends to reuse archetypes in their series; I understand that some viewers hold this against an anime, but I’ve also found that having familiar characters in different context allow works to show how environments can impact people.

  • With the end of summer rapidly approaching, Kukuru becomes increasingly desperate to keep Gama Gama open, asking Tsukimi’s mother to give a horoscope reading of Gama Gama’s future. Tsukimi’s mother gives a reading that Kukuru should be patient and not force things. In general, horoscopes are too vague to be effective (they’re ambiguous enough so that they can be interpreted a certain way, meaning that to some people, they look like they’re always right), so I never set much store by them, although purely for fun, I sometimes partake just to see how well reality aligns with fantasy: I admit that I am not adverse to reading horoscopes about what awaits me as far as relationships go.

  • The closing deadline means that Kukuru begins distancing herself from even Fūka. I have heard unnecessary hostility being directed at Kukuru as a result of her choices, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly: people tend to judge anime characters from their own perspective (“if it were me, I would’ve done this differently”) rather than empathise with them, and this creates a highly patronising tone that does little beyond demonstrate how little viewers actually care about the characters. For me, I understand Kukuru’s situation, having been in situations where it did feel like all I had was myself. How I extricated myself from those scenarios were learnings, and I therefore have no trouble with Kukuru stumbling as she learns.

  • The reason why fictional characters make mistakes at all is precisely because it provides a lesson that impacts how they approach things in the future. Thus, when Kukuru goes against suggestion and posts about the visions to social media in the hope of drawing in additional visitors, her coworkers immediately feel that this is a mistake; the phenomenon isn’t easily reproduced, and visitors are likely to leave disappointed because it’s not guaranteed they’d be able to see it. Kukuru’s last-ditch efforts to understand this phenomenon was predestined to failure: as The World in Colours indicated, forcing magic won’t work, because the power behind magic is intention.

  • Quite simply, Kukuru isn’t sincere in her motives behind using the magic, so the magic won’t willingly manifest itself for her. This sort of thing applied to The World in Colours, where Hitomi’s magic becomes increasingly effective because she begins to put intent behind her spells following her experiences with Kohaku, and Harry Potter‘s spells work on a similar principle (visualising the desired outcome and having an intent to have a specific effect makes a spell more powerful). In the end, Kukuru’s grandfather gets in touch with customers and informs them that they’d been a little hasty about the social media postings: no such event is set to take place.

  • Although Kukuru is asked to stand down, she still clings to the belief that the visions at Gama Gama might be instrumental in keeping their doors open. She therefore asks Kai to help her out, and while initially, nothing happens, Kai soon finds himself returned to the time where he’d comforted Kukuru after her parents had passed away. The visions appear to only appear for individuals under duress, and as I’d previously noted, shows what the individual most deeply desires. Fūka had wanted to find her own way, the veterinarian wished for safe delivery of her child, the elderly man wanted to speak with his brother once more, a boy longed to reunite with his dog, and Kukuru’s deepest desire is to be with her family again.

  • For Kai, then, it looks like what he wanted most was for Kukuru to be happy, and this memory shows how he’d been there for her that one day; this is likely how the two became friends, and how Kukuru ended up taking such a profound interest in marine biology. It is clear that Kukuru’s love for the aquarium, and for aquatic life, stems from the fact that she feels that this connects her to her family. Kukuru isn’t fighting to keep Gama Gama open for financial reasons or for her pride, but because the place has personal significance for her.

  • Being aware of this highly personal, emotional piece is essential to understanding why Kukuru makes the decisions that she does; courses on economics and psychology won’t be of use here. Her actions may appear irrational, but to Kukuru (in this moment), she believes that what she’s doing will have a positive outcome for Gama Gama even through they’re ultimately futile. For this reason, it is important yo watching Kukuru struggle in her goals because knowing the level of effort she’s put into things will only make Gama Gama’s fate all the more sobering.

  • I’d not given voice to this previously: while watching The Aquatope on White Sand, I originally did not feel that the series possessed the same sense of melancholy and longing that The World in Colours had. However, seeing what’s on the horizon for Gama Gama despite everyone’s efforts has a melancholy to it. As a typhoon rolls in one morning, Kukuru’s barricaded herself in Gama Gama, intent on keeping the place open on her own merits. However, just because Kukuru’s actions might appear irrational does not diminish them, and one cannot help but feel bad for her in this moment.

  • Kukuru’s internal feelings are mirrored in the weather – at least one individual had previously wondered if Okinawa was subject to convenient typhoons such as this, and after some quick reading, it turns out that The Aquatope on White Sand is well within reason to include a typhoon in the story. On average, three to four typhoons hit Okinawa in a given year, mostly between August and September. A tropical system is referred to as a typhoon when its wind speeds exceed 118 km/h (same as a Category 1 hurricane), and the average storm moves at around 16-24 km/h, although fast-movers can hit speeds of 60 km/h. With these numbers in mind, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Nanjō was grazed by a typhoon’s arms.

  • Speaking to Fūka’s concern for Kukuru, she decides to grab some lunch and take it over to Gama Gama for her. However, Kukuru initially refuses to open up, and her facial expression speaks volumes about how annoyed she is, but eventually, she relents, and comes to face with a rather scary-looking Fūka, whose hair is strewn about by the hurricane-force winds. Perhaps as a consequence of my dislike of certain horror movies, I found the scene to be a bit intimidating to watch: I’ve never been fond of onryō, and where given the choice, I wouldn’t watch J-horror movies.

  • Kukuru’s efforts to act tough backfire when her stomach betrays her hunger, and Fūka is all too happy to pass along the food she’d brought. While Kukuru refuses Fūka’s help, Fūka is determined to stay, having promised to help Kukuru see things through to the end. The two thus busy themselves preparing the deserted Gama Gama aquarium for the storm, sticking tape on the windows, securing all of the wildlife and moving the barricades to more vulnerable areas with the hopes of mitigating damage.

  • Watching these preparations brings to mind the sort of thing I read about in books, and watched in National Geographic‘s “Cyclone!”, an hour-long special on hurricanes and tornados. As a child, I was fascinated with extreme weather, and the science behind predicting it, as well as how to lessen its impact on civilisation. The conclusion these specials drew were that storms are a natural part of the world, and that as humans, our survival was contingent on preparing for the worst and being aware of what nature is capable of. In recent times, shifts in global weather patterns have made extreme weather more widespread and frequent: the very thing the books I read some twenty years ago are coming to pass.

  • I’m not too sure if things will only worsen from here on out, but if the wildfires and tropical storms are anything to go by, we’re in for a rough ride. For now, I’ll focus on lessen my personal impact on the world by conserving, recycling and reusing stuff wherever possible, although for the long term, it’ll need to be a collective effort if we’re to turn the tides. This is something that Kukuru has difficulty grasping – she attempts to send Fūka off once the work is done, but Fūka is resolved to remain by Kukuru’s side until the end, even after the power is knocked out.

  • While the storm rages on, Gama Gama Aquarium becomes a visual metaphor for the last of Kukuru’s illusions falling apart around her – while she’d done her utmost until now, the overwhelming power of the storm, standing in for the harshness of reality, gradually seeps its way in, shattering windows and bursting pipes in the building. It is here, at the climax of the storm, that Kukuru understands the gravity of her situation – the emergency generators mirror the last legs Gama Gama is on, and once these deplete their stores of diesel, the power goes back out again. It is here that Kukuru loses all hope and asks why the heavens would take everything from her.

  • In the end, Kukuru alone couldn’t save Gama Gama – even with Fūka’s help, this was a difficult task. However, as the storm winds down, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan show up to help. Thanks to the work Kukuru and Fūka have completed, the others are able to quickly stablise everything else at Gama Gama. The power is restored shortly after, and seeing everyone in the light serves to remind both Kukuru and the viewer that no, Kukuru hasn’t lost everything even with Gama Gama’s closure; there are many people in her corner, and while she’d been laser-focused on her dreams, she’s forgotten about the blessings that she does have in her life.

  • Walking through Gama Gama, Kukuru is made aware of just how old the aquarium’s infrastructure really is – I’ve got an engineer in the family, and in our conversations, while yes, it’s usually the case that companies will attempt to rehabilitate a structure, there are situations where rehabilitation is more expensive than demolition and reconstruction. Gama Gama appears to have fallen into the second category, and despite Kukuru’s original plan to raise three million Yen for parts, it is likely the case that the building itself is crumbling and requires repairs exceeding the cost it would take to build a new aquarium in its place.

  • Earlier, Fūka had received an offer to star in a film, and one of her former coworkers had informed her of this. This offer led Fūka to realise that after her original failures in Tokyo, she’d latched onto Kukuru’s dream because she wanted to be useful to someone. While Fūka had told herself that this was for Kukuru, it was really for her. Amidst the cold, blue light of the morning after the storm, there is a sense of melancholy in the air: washed out and faded colours in anime have always been indicative of a subdued feeling.

  • Kukuru bawling her eyes out was the surest sign that she’s accepted the fact that Gama Gama is simply not salvageable. Nowhere else does The Aquatope on White Sand compel viewers to empathise with Kukuru more so than this moment; I’ve been around the block long enough to see defeat as total and crushing as this, having seen two start-ups fail during my time. However, failure is not the end, and people like Kukuru are also resilient. As such, one of the important things that The Aquatope on White Sand will need to address is how Kukuru is able to take that next, difficult step forwards; while it is easy to regain one’s confidence once there’s momentum, the greatest challenge always lies in picking oneself back up after a tumble.

  • In this case, The Aquatope on White Sand reminds viewers that Kukuru does have a way forward: on the day of Gama Gama’s closing event, a manager from Tingaara gives Kukuru a surprise offer to work at the new aquarium once it’s opened, citing her previous record and experience as making her suited for the position. While Kukuru is still holding onto her memories of Gama Gama and wishes that every day could be this lively, from a more practical perspective, pursuing new opportunity with Tingaara means that Kukuru could continue to pursue her dreams of bringing the joys of marine life to visitors the same way Gama Gama had done for her.

  • All this would take is a small change in perspective. Here at the closing party, final farewells are said, and Karin announces to the others that she’s taken an interest in working at an aquarium as well, having been inspired by Kukuru’s commendable drive and devotion. With endings, come new beginnings, and during this party, even Kūya expresses emotion at the fact that Gama Gama is closing and can be seen tearing up. However, both Kūya and Umi-yan possess considerable experience, and were promptly offered positions with the new aquarium, as well. It was reassuring to see everyone land on their feet: P.A. Works has always made it clear that while one part of the journey might be over, hard work and effort do not go unrewarded.

  • Those who demonstrate commitment and loyalty will always find that this is met with repayment in equal measure somewhere down the line. This message is a rewarding one, and I’ve long believed that society should be driven by those with merit (where I define merit as a combination of dedication, perseverance, empathy and adaptivity). As Kukuru’s grandfather puts it in his final speech to the staff, kindness is something that no one can do without, and caring for life tends to bolster one’s empathy. In the end, he reads a poem from a fictional author that speaks volumes about the vastness of the ocean ultimately gives one peace.

  • After the party, Kukuru and Fūka share a moment together to discuss their dreams and how much things had changed since Fūka met Kukuru. Under the gentle moonlight (a waning crescent, true to the lunar phase recorded on August 31 in reality), the pair share their feelings. Fūka notices that Kukuru hasn’t properly smiled since the typhoon and worries that Kukuru won’t be happy after she leaves, while Kukuru implores Fūka to pursue her goals, feeling that seeing Fūka work hard will inspire her to do the same. I get where Kukuru is coming from; being around high-energy, driven people also helps me to do the same whenever I hit a slump, although I will note that for my part, my drive comes from within.

  • There is a tangible melancholy at Gama Gama the next morning: Fūka is busy packing her bags and preparing to Iwate, while Gama Gama’s staff prepare the marine life for transit to different institutions across Okinawa. Seeing the empty aquarium makes it quite visceral that this chapter has concluded, but before Kukuru leaves, the forces at play give her one more vision, a chance to feel reassurance from her sister. It turns out that Kukuru did indeed have a twin sister two died before birth, and right before Fūka leaves, Kukuru’s grandmother feels that the time has come to let her know of this truth.

  • One imagines that, while Kukuru takes this in stride and feels that her sister’s energy might’ve been what kept her going during some of the tougher times at Gama Gama, a part of Kukuru would also be seized with an immediate and powerful sense of longing. Kukuru had long wished for a sister to be with, someone who could be there for her. The reason why she and Fūka get along so well is because Fūka is able to act as an older sister figure for her, although Fūka feels that she’d clung to Kukuru, feeling that if she was able to help Kukuru reach her dreams, she might find her own happiness, as well.

  • Airports are always places of great joy and great sorrow: watching aircraft arrive and the feeling that family and friends are returning typically is a happy matter, similarly to how it can feel lonely to watch the people important to oneself depart for another destination. Fūka’s departure in The Aquatope on White Sand fits squarely into the latter and therefore creates a feeling of melancholy. As is typical of anime, The Aquatope on White Sand leaves a great deal to the last, last second: Fūka only realises that Kukuru would probably be in tears by the time she’d finished boarding and rushes off to make sure she’s alright, even though this means she’d miss her current flight.

  • This is something that one would not do in reality. I know first hand that rearranging bookings is a pain, as I discovered when I was in Amsterdam, and the Brussels bombings caused all of my flights to be delayed, leading me to miss a connecting flight out of Charles de Gaulle to Rennes. Fortunately, the realm of fiction offers tolerances for these things, and the emotional impact of watching Fūka embrace Kukuru, as sisters might, was visceral. It is clear that Fūka knows where her heart lies now, and she’s willing to give up one dream to pursue another. After their emotions settle, Fūka explains that being with Kukuru had helped her to spot this.

  • In the end, Kukuru decides that she will take up the offer to work at Tingaara and see what lies ahead for her future, promising that the next time she and Fūka meet, it will be with a smile on her face. Kukuru’s remarks about living isn’t something to take for granted struck a resonant chord here: death is something that awaits everyone, but not everyone can live on their own terms, so it’s up to oneself to really take initiative and do something meaningful for themselves and others. I have remarked previously that, from my perspective, living well and doing things that have value for others is the best way to live and find meaning. My beliefs are completely at odds with those who believe that living life to the fullest means having fun, but these are merely my core values, and I hold that living fully can have many meanings.

  • Thus, as Fūka and Kukuru part ways for the present, confident that they will meet again, I’ll wrap up this halfway point discussion on The Aquatope on White Sand by saying that with fifty percent of this series done, I have been very happy with what has been presented thus far. The series’ meanings and messages are clear, and it is evident that one doesn’t need any a priori understanding of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus to fully appreciate the themes. I realise that even in a post of this length, I’m only scratching the surface for what’s happening in The Aquatope on White Sand. This is a series that works well with the episodic review format, but this would demand a time commitment from me that I simply lack. Having said this, the Halo: Infinite open beta is live, and having preloaded earlier today, it’s time to wrap this post up and see whether or not my aging rig can run this game with playable framerates. I’ll return tomorrow to write about Hanasaku Iroha a full decade after the finale aired, and there, I’ll also provide readers an explanation on why my blogging has been a bit spotty since my last post about AI bots in video games.

Speculation about what is to come in The Aquatope on White Sand has been raging nonstop ever since it became apparent that Kukuru was locked in an impossible struggle against the clock, and the general consensus is that The Aquatope on White Sand will take a similar approach to what Nagi no Asukara did some eight years earlier – the series continued five years after the first Ofunehiki, and dealt with the challenges that the characters face after being separated from one another in a chronological sense while at the same time, striving to pursue their original goals. The Aquatope on White Sand is structured in a very similar way, and the second half will likely explore how the characters pursue old goals while working within new environments under different rules. One element that The Aquatope on White Sand still needs to deal with is the presence of the supernatural visions at Gama Gama, and what role the kijimuna will play in things. These aspects had become more common as The Aquatope on White Sand progressed, but the general rule is that, if something is introduced, then it necessarily needs to play a role of significance in the future. Having the additional twelve episodes here in The Aquatope on White Sand means that there is sufficient space to deal with this in a satisfactory fashion: spending half an episode on elements surrounding local folklore and exploring how entities like the kijimuna impact people within the context of Kukuru and her desires would elegantly tie the two elements together. This could go either way for The Aquatope on White Sand. On one hand, Glasslip is an example of how P.A. Works had completely failed to properly incorporate magic into the story, but on the flipside, P.A. Works have proven themselves to be very competent with supernatural elements in The World in Colours. Given how The Aquatope on White Sand has progressed up until now, I would suggest that optimism is warranted, and that the supernatural piece will probably be woven into the story with the same sort of finesse that Nagi no Asukara had demonstrated. Assuming this to be the case, we have what looks to be a captivating journey ahead in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half, and I am rather excited to see how this one embodies the learnings of its predecessors to create a current and moving tale of rediscovering one’s path anew.

Mitsuboshi Colours: Whole-series Review and Reflection

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions After Nine

“Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.” –Anais Nin

When Kukuru’s grandfather suggests that the staff take some down time, Kukuru reluctantly joins Fūka, Kai, Tsukimi, Karin and Kūya on the beaches of Okinawa, where they frolic in the warm tropical weather before sitting down for a barbeque. To Kukuru’s displeasure, Kai’s younger sister shows up, although this does little to dampen the group’s spirits as they enjoy their meal. After Tsukimi breaks out the sweets, Kukuru remarks that it must be nice to have a sibling, someone to go halvesies with and share in experiences together. With thoughts of work lingering on her mind, Kukuru heads back to Gama Gama, overhearing her grandfather and Umi-yan discussing the aquarium’s closure. Although she’s visibly disheartened by this news, Fūka reassures her, and later during the evening, Karin explains why Kūya is bad with women – during high school, he’d rejected a kokuhaku from someone in the popular clique, and they got even by bullying him extensively. Unable to cope, Kūya dropped out of high school and was directionless until meeting Kukuru’s grandfather, who offered him a job at Gama Gama. Later, Kukuru and Fūka are excited to learn from Karin that Umi-yan’s plans for a travelling aquarium are a go at the local hospital; on the condition that no crabs are featured, they are permitted to host an event. Unbeknownst to the group, a single crab snuck into the exhibit, and while Fūka grows worried after losing the crab, the event proceeds smoothly, at least until the head nurse runs into the escaped crab. A young patient, Airi, pulls the crab off the head nurse and rediscovers her joy of aquatic life: she’d distanced herself from the aquarium after becoming hospitalised, and refused to meet Umi-yan until now. As the clock counts down before Gama Gama closes, an aspiring aquarium keeper, Chiyu Haebaru, heads here, hoping to learn from Kukuru’s grandfather. However, she accomplishes little except irritate the living daylights out of Kukuru, and determines that Gama Gama has nothing to offer her. Kukuru is visibly upset by how blasé Chiyu is, and decides to check out the new aquarium being built in Okinawa, while Fūka receives a call from one of her former colleagues. We’re now three-eighths of the way into The Aquatope on White Sand‘s run: the series’ direction is still unclear, as, like its predecessors, The Aquatope on White Sand has chosen to focus primarily on giving the characters a chance to shine in their own right.

P.A. Works has never been a studio to shy away from portraying adversity on screen: in Hanasaku Iroha, Ohana receives a slap to the face shortly after starting her time at Kissui Inn, Yoshino ends up injuring Ushimatsu after attempting to renege on her contract in Sakura Quest, and Shirobako sees Aoi in tears as their latest project appears in jeopardy of being cancelled. Challenges appear, pushing characters to their absolute limits to test their resolve and determination, and in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s predecessors, the protagonists had always risen to the occasion. Here in The Aquatope on White Sand, Kukuru finds herself under mounting pressure to do something substantial for Gama Gama as the deadline draws nearer: she’s unable to relax, and constantly on the edge. Chiyu thus brings out the worst in Kukuru – as someone looking to develop a career as an aquarium keeper, Chiyu is focused, motivated and determined. However, despite the stories she’d heard about Gama Gama, she finds reality disappointing. Chiyu’s animosity for Kukuru is matched by Kukuru’s perception of her as a foe whose existence accelerates Gama Gama’s demise. Where these opposing forces collide, conflict is inevitable. Conversely, this same conflict is what drives growth: Aoi ends up standing up for MusAni after determining the copyright claim has a hole in it, Yoshino embraces her role in helping Manoyama host events that keep the town alive, and Ohana comes to make peace with Minko, before coming to terms with her grandmother’s strict manner and credos on running a good inn. Similarly, conflict in The Aquatope on White Sand is present for a reason. What Kukuru faces now seems insurmountable, but making amends with Chiyu will be an integral part to her own development, preparing her for whatever lies ahead with respect to Gama Gama Aquarium. With under a week left before August draws to a close in The Aquatope on White Sand, time is relentlessly ticking away, and short of a miracle, Gama Gama appears consigned to shutting its doors as they enter September.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While the clock is ticking away, Kukuru’s grandfather suggests that she and the remainder of the staff get some rest: Kukuru initially complains, but in the end, relents, and the entire group hit Okinawa’s beaches together under beautiful skies of azure. Kukuru initially believes that time away from Gama Gama is equivalent to allowing Gama Gama to inch closer to being shut down, and I once shared similar sentiments. However, as I would find over the course of time, it is important to take strategic breaks in order to clear one’s mind and regroup.

  • Fūka is surprised that Kukuru, Tsukimi and Karen didn’t bother bringing swimsuits to the beach – she’s rocking a frilled white bikini, a pleasant fashion statement for the white sands of Okinawa, and grows embarrassed until she spots other beach-goers in their swimsuits, as well. I imagine that the explanation Fūka is offered is to indicate that locals are so accustomed to the beaches that they’re not terribly concerned about needing a swimsuit to enjoy the warm waters.

  • In August, the ocean temperatures in Okinawa is an average of 28.7ºC, making it slightly cooler than Cancún’s temperatures of 29.3ºC – when it’s this warm, one could walk into the ocean without ever feeling cool, and when immersed, it’s like being surrounded by pure bliss. My visit to Cancún was now five years ago: this was for an artificial life conference, and on mornings prior to the conference’s start times, I ended up walking along Cancún’s extensive beaches. The hotel I chose to lodge at wasn’t located along the waterfront, but the nearest beach was only a few minutes’ walk away.

  • I’d love to be able to visit a tropical destination in the future, and Okinawa is a tempting one. Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, Gama Gama’s staff set about for a fun-filled day, while Kukuru focuses on trying not to think about work in any capacity. This is easier said than done, however, since they are by the ocean’s edge. After Fūka grabs a snorkel and swims alongside the fishes; she notes that it does feel quite different than an aquarium, being a magical experience. When Fūka and Kukuru share their experiences, the latter’s mind immediately wanders towards how aquariums are magical in this regard.

  • Kukuru and Tsukimi are disappointed that Kai’s younger sister, Maho, has shown up. Maho is voiced by Saya Hirose, and despite being only a primary student, she’s quite mature for her age. Kukuru’s immediate reaction to Maho suggests some longstanding rivalry and a mutual dislike for one another – the two immediately have a go at one another upon meeting. Maho is very similar to Maho Kazami of Please Teacher! and Ah! My Goddess‘ Skuld, fulfilling the role of the adorable but also mischievous younger sister.

  • I’m quite fond of Hirose’s portrayal of Maho, whose soft voice sounds very soothing. While Maho and Kukuru slug it out, I will recall a memory of three years earlier – on this day, I flew out to Winnipeg to continue on with a Xamarin project that I’d been brought on board to prepare for submission to the App Store and Play Store after their mobile developer unexpectedly left. I had spent much of August in Denver, scoping out the project to get a feel for how things were organised, and looking back, this was the easy part of the assignment: by the time my second week in Denver was up, I had a rough idea of where everything was, and moreover, had resolved a few tickets.

  • I thus enjoyed my evening meal under the setting sun before returning to the Hotel Fort Garry for a good night’s sleep. As stressful as the Winnipeg assignment had been, a good meal helped me to stay focused, especially when the backend team was lagging behind and consistently failed to deliver the endpoints I needed to continue on with my work. This assignment taught me the importance of being able to relax during downtime so when it came time to work, I was ready to hustle. Kukuru struggles with this, and here, after sharing some cold sweets with Fūka, begins to wonder what it’d be like to have a sibling.

  • As an older sibling myself, I sometimes wish I had someone above me to show me the ropes. Of course, when the younger sibling demonstrates exemplary wisdom and shows me how it’s done, I’m not too proud to decline help. Here, Fūka reassures Kukuru after Kukuru had overheard a conversation between her grandfather and Umi-yan about Gama Gama’s future. While understandably worried, Fūka manages to help Kukuru regroup, fulfilling the role of an older sibling and helping Kukuru to put things in perspective.

  • As evening sets in, Kūya shares a story with Kai that Karin simultaneously recounts to Kukuru and the others: as it turns out, Kūya had once been a high-achieving and promising student, but after turning down a girl from a popular clique, was bullied relentlessly. He ended up dropping out of high school and ultimately, found a position at Gama Gama Aquarium thanks to Kukuru’s grandfather. While he may not show it, Kūya is definitely grateful to Kukuru’s grandfather, and this moment serves to both indicate that Gama Gama means something to many people, as well as the fact that everyone’s got their own stories to tell.

  • When Karin announces that he’d managed to get approval for Gama Gama’s travelling aquarium, Kukuru is ecstatic; she begins to eat lunch with renewed enthusiasm. This is a fine chance to bring their show to other people and give them a taste of what Gama Gama offers. It turns out that the idea of a travelling aquarium originally came from Umi-yan, and like Kukuru, he’s quite happy that there’ll be an opportunity to show some of Gama Gama’s exhibits at the local hospital.

  • I spent an hour digging around near Nanjo to see if I could find the real world equivalent of Nanjo General Clinic. The closest spot is Okinawa Medical Hospital; it’s located a mere 270 metres from the shore, but the hospital’s design is completely different than what The Aquatope on White Sand portrays. I conclude that the location is probably the one and the same, but creative liberties were taken to create a location unique for the anime.

  • It turns out that the head nurse has kabourophobia (fear of crabs); the very word sends a shiver down her spine, and she prohibits Kukuru from bringing any into the hospital. While kabourophobia is uncommon, it does have a basis in reality, and moreover, fears are not always rationally rooted. For instance, there are some folks who are deathly afraid of garlic, onions, shallots, spring onions and the like. The term for this is alliumphobia, and while to me, there’s no good reason to fear something like green onions, individuals who do have alliumphobia fear it anyways, without any explanation for why this occurs.

  • Naturally, because The Aquatope on White Sand introduces kabourophobia into the episode, it must be utilised later: while preparing the exhibit, Fūka comes across a black crab that was accidentally brought to the hospital. Unfortunately for her, the crab escapes: Fūka has no luck finding it, and quietly lets Kukuru know when the latter returns. Given this setup, what would happen next was inevitable. For now, Fūka and Kukuru focus on getting the setup finished so the patients can have a chance to experience the aquarium.

  • As it turns out, Umi-yan had promised Airi, a little girl who visited one summer, that he’d bring Garra Rufa (Red Garra, more informally, “Doctor Fish”). With an omnivorous diet, the Red Garra prefer oxygen-rich, fast flowing water and have become famous for grazing on dead skin cells. The practise is not particularly sanitary, nor is it effective for dealing with certain skin conditions, but as an aquarium exhibit, this works just fine. Unfortunately for Airi, she became hospitalised and was unable to visit. Since then, she’s tried to distance herself from Umi-yan, unhappy that their promise was never fulfilled.

  • Other children from the hospital are immediately enthralled with the aquarium, impressed with the variety of marine life and their distinct traits. In The Aquatope on White Sand, children are portrayed as being particularly fond of sea animals and possess a curiosity to learn more. However, in spite of its topic, The Aquatope on White Sand never forces viewers to go pick up Sam Ridgeway’s The Handbook of Marine Animals to get: like Koisuru Asteroid, the science is simply used to drive the characters and their goals, keeping the story accessible to viewers.

  • As a child, I was always fond of learning, and one thing I remember particularly vividly was that, after field trips to the local science museums or local exhibits, I would always make it a point to visit the library and pick up books on the topic. In today’s age, a quick trip to academic journals and the online version of Encyclopædia Britannica is all that’s needed to satisfy my curiosity. One of my long-standing weaknesses is that everything related to the sciences, natural and applied, interest me, so I’ve developed knowledge of reasonable breadth by reading.

  • Without fail, the head nurse ends up being the one to find the escaped crab. She lets out a blood-curdling scream of abject terror, but Airi is able to pull the crab off the head nurse, sparing her of further agony. Airi regards the crab with curiosity, and subsequently reconciles with Umi-yan. Admittedly, while crustaceans are a fascinating form of marine life, I see them also as a delicious food source. With this in mind, not all crab species are edible: smaller crabs lack an appreciable amount of meat and are not a worthwhile food source.

  • Encouraged, Airi sticks her hand in the tank and smiles as the Red Garra do their magic. Seemingly disconnected stories are the norm for P.A. Works’ longer anime: they’re to establish the small changes that occur from chance meetings and give viewers a strong sense of who the characters are. Once things become better established, P.A. Works changes gears and gives the characters a concrete objective to focus on. Having been with P.A. Works since Hanasaku Iroha back in 2011, I can say with confidence that I have a good idea of their style.

  • It suddenly hits me that, prior to Hanasaku Iroha, P.A. Works would’ve only had True Tears and Angel Beats! under their belt. The latter was a masterpiece, and the former, I’ll forgive because it was their first work. However, some folks continue to hold True Tears against P.A. Works even to this day. I find this incredibly immature, since P.A. Works has since gone on to produce many solid of series (and only a small number of failures). As the day draws to a close, Karin reflects on Kukuru’s words about wanting to not go quietly into the night: the event had been successful by all accounts, but small victories alone won’t change Gama Gama’s situation overnight.

  • When Chiyu Haebaru shows up from another aquarium for training, Kukuru regards her with immediate hostility, viewing her as an enemy and a competitor whose existence endangers Gama Gama. This is apparent in how much vitriol she cuts the fishes up, and while Chiyu’s aquatic knowledge is impressive, Kukuru cannot bring herself to open up. This forms the bulk of the conflict for the ninth episode, since Chiyu is aspiring for a career as an aquarium keeper; in this role, she’d look after the various animals and ensure exhibits are properly maintained and safe.

  • Because of this goal, Chiyu is very serious about what she does, and out of the gates, she disparages the way things are run at Gama Gama to one of her colleagues. Whereas she had shown up with the wish of learning from a legend (Kukuru’s grandfather), she is surprised that one of Okinawa’s most iconic aquariums is become so run-down and aged. Her disappointment is understandable; while discussions elsewhere have been quick to vilify her, I found that Chiyu’s actions create a situation where she and Kuruku need to reach some sort of reconciliation.

  • This is why the conflict is introduced at all; the fact that Kukuru’s found a foe in Chiyu (and Chiyu’s mutual dislike of Kukuru) means that this is one more thing that Kukuru must learn to deal with in a professional and courteous manner, befitting of a fully-qualified aquarium director. At this point, Kukuru lacks that particular skill, and she goes ballistic when Chiyu slings a few insults her way. A physical fight very nearly breaks out, but fortunately, Fūka’s on hand to diffuse things. The stress and anger Kukuru experiences here creates some of The Aquatope on White Sand‘s best funny-faces, something that was quite absent from The World in Colours.

  • Kukuru’s experiences here bring to mind my own experiences with the Xamarin project I’d mentioned earlier: at the time, I was quite convinced that the hostility I was met with came from my approaches to mobile development being incompatible with HIPA-compliant practises. In retrospect, my conflicts with the Winnipeg team also came from my lack of familiarity with their DevOps procedures, and the fact that delivering an acceptable mobile workflow for onboarding caused them quite a bit of extra work. On my last evening in Winnipeg, after a back and fourth meeting with the Denver and Winnipeg teams, we met halfway, and I left the office for dinner at the Beachcomber: I ended up having a char-grilled Steelhead trout filet topped with salsa on a bed of rice pilaf.

  • While I left Winnipeg a little stressed, I was confident the project would soon wrap up. Unfortunately for me, the Winnipeg team continued to drop the ball with their backend development, constantly changing the JSON responses coming back from each endpoint in an attempt to make it look like the mobile app was failing. The me of now would’ve dealt with this by recording the responses while things were working so I’d have a video demo of my work, and then speaking to management about what I’d need (e.g. communications about endpoint changes) to do my best work. I am speaking from having three more years of experience since then, and looking back, I was no more mature than Kukuru as a developer. Here, Kukuru confides in Fūka, stating that it’d be wonderful to have an older sister like her. As it turns out, Kukuru is aware of her parents having another child, but she’s too worried to ask.

  • The next day, Chiyu is able to get some time to watch the legendary aquarium director, Kukuru’s grandfather, in action. However, Chiyu is completely dissatisfied that he spends more time tending to the customers than the aquarium itself, and feels that the afternoon was a complete waste of time. This is something that Chiyu has missed., but the contrast is readily apparent to viewers; Kukuru’s grandfather wishes to cultivate a sense of home for his visitors, and Gama Gama isn’t merely an institution for marine life, but also a place where people can go to relax.

  • Had Chiyu been aware of this from the start, there’d be no story to speak of. To really drive the stakes up, Chiyu gives voice to all of her displeasure, leaving Kukuru shaking with indignation. This was quite unprofessional on Chiyu’s part: I’ve certainly never felt the need to put down high school students while assessing their work at science fairs, for instance, although I do understand that leaving on such a rough note sets the stage for what is to happen next. A quick glance at the calendar shows that we’re down to a week for things, which means there’s precious little time for fights like these.

  • A week can indeed go by in the blink of an eye, although for Kukuru, time’s standing still – she vents her frustrations after Kai offers to act as a shoulder to lean on (in a manner of speaking). It speaks volumes to their friendship that Kai jokes to Kukuru about wanting hazard pay when she head-butts him. Much as how Fūka has proven to be quite distinct from Hitomi, Kukuru is different than Kohaku: P.A. Works’ characters are often quite similar in appearance and superficial traits, but ultimately, these small differences are enough to alter the look-and-feel of a given work. For instance, Ohana, Minko and Nako from Hanasaku Iroha return as Tari Tari‘s Konatsu, Wakana and Sawa, respectively, but different contexts and personalities mean that the character dynamics are drastically dissimilar.

  • When Fūka speaks to two of the boys who’ve come to see the aquarium as a cool hangout spot, they mention that they’ve been here often enough so that they’ve memorised every exhibit. However, Kukuru had heard from one boy that he’d once had a vision of his dog here. The supernatural aspects of The Aquatope on White Sand have been completely set aside for the time being, but the fact they’re occurring for so many people means that there’s a significance to them.

  • As evening sets in, Kukuru decides to head on over to the new aquarium under construction for a look, while Fūka receives a call from an old coworker, ending the episode on a cliffhanger of sorts. The Okinawan skyline here brings to mind the scenery that was seen in The World in Colours, which reminds me of the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand feels like it’s meant to take the magical piece from The World in Colours and add a Hanasaku Iroha component, as well. With this post in the books, I will note that I’ve never been anticipating an episode of The Aquatope on White Sand more, since things cut off very abruptly.

Racing against the clock had always been something P.A. Works had incorporated into their works, whether it was Hitomi doing her utmost to spend time with Kohaku and her friends before returning to the future, the merciless deadlines of anime production, the constraints imposed by the “Queen of Manoyama” contract, the Kissui’s Inn closing, or the drive to put on a performance before their school closes. Each of The World in Colours, Shirobako, Sakura Quest, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari have the central characters fighting a countdown to do the most they can before one chapter draws to a close, and in each case, the series have all structured its pacing smartly, keeping the pressure on to create a sense of urgency while at the same time, giving everyone enough space to achieve their goals before time’s up. Here in The Aquatope on White Sand, a glance at calendars in-show suggest that we’re now down to a week before Gama Gama is set to shutter up for good, but we’re still three episodes away from the series’ halfway point. Pulling a miracle out of nowhere now would be disingenuous, and so, one cannot help but wonder if The Aquatope on White Sand is going to be going in a different direction: previously, P.A. Works’ anime have all hit their stride after their halfway points, with the first half being to establish everything and build the world up, before giving the characters a well-defined goal to pursue. It therefore stands to reason that Gama Gama will likely close as expected, and we might even see the aftermath of things (similarly to how Nagi no Asukara utilise a time skip to portray a story over a longer time frame). Regardless of where The Aquatope on White Sand ends up going, it is clear that this series has a large supernatural piece, as well – frequent mention of the visions visitors see at Gama Gama indicate that this will play a large role in things. As such, as The Aquatope on White Sand moves ahead, it will be important to have the supernatural occupy a more prominent role and affect the story more substantially than it currently has so far, as tying the workplace piece with the supernatural does seem to be where The Aquatope on White Sand is headed.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and An Unexpected Road to Friendship

“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” –Thomas J. Watson

When Bocchi graduates from primary school and enters middle school, her best friend, Kai, determines that they shan’t be friends again until the shy and withdrawn Bocchi can befriend everyone in her new class. This seems an insurmountable mountain to climb for Bocchi, who cannot even speak to strangers without getting the dry heaves. On her first day of class at middle school, she manages to strike up a conversation with Nako, who comes to care for Bocchi. Over time, Bocchi ends up befriending the vice representative, Aru, and the foreign student, Sotoka. While Bocchi finds herself unable to convince Kako to hang out with her, she gradually becomes more familiar with her classmates, and so, enters her second year of middle school with a bit more confidence. This is Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu (alternatively, Hitori Bocchi no ○○ Seikatsu, or The Life of Being Alone), a Manga Time Kirara adaptation that aired during the spring 2019 season. While I did have plans to watch Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, procrastination caused me to sit on this for months, and then years. Fortunately, with a bit of open time now that my schedule’s settled down, I’ve decided it was time to give Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu a go, and for my time, I was met with an anime that is adorable, telling a whimsical and honest story about how friendship comes about. The premise and setup in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu appears trite at first glance. Bocchi brings to mind Azumanga Daioh‘s Osaka, while Nako is not dissimilar to Yuyushiki‘s Yui. Likewise, Sotoka is Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen. Familiar character archetypes in a purely school setting sets the stage for familiar antics and experiences. However, this is only what the premise conveys; in practise, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a fantastic job of having the characters bounce off one another with their eccentricities, and in the end, contrary to the initial impressions the anime might suggest, the final result is a very rewarding one.

The goal Kai sets for Bocchi is one that appears unbeatable; befriending every last person in class is something that most folks typically won’t consider, since it implies forming a larger social circle than is typical of people of that age group, and indeed, even the folks considered popular usually do not make aquaintances of everyone in their class. Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu chooses to show how this Herculean task has humble beginnings: Bocchi starts out by talking to Nako, and while Nako may appear to be harsh, she’s actually considerate, taking the time to look after Bocchi and patiently walks Bocchi through her troubles. Bocchi herself is friendly, despite being shy, and as Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu progresses, it is clear that Bocchi could succeed in her task; she’s pursuing interpersonal connections to those around her for the sake of getting to know others better, and this falls under the realm of likeability. It is generally stated that popularity is built around likeability and social status. The former refers to how well one gets along with others, and how well others trusts one. Someone who builds relationships around this aspect will be inclined to listen to others. Social status, on the other hand, refers to envy (or admiration) for others. While building relationships around status gives the impression of success, it also entails being controlling, dismissive and unkind: I recall the cliques in high school, during which the popular students were centred around a handful of likeable individuals for clout. While the people at the centre of these cliques were respectable and reasonably kind to those around them, the followers were considerably less so; people who build relationships around status tend to find it difficult to maintain meaningful connections to others, but fortunately, in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Bocchi is not doing anything for status: she genuinely wishes for solid connections to those around her, and while the anime has her definitively friends with Nako, Aru and Sotoka, by the season’s end, she’s beginning to get along with more people in her class, as well: Bocchi’s definitely acting in a likeable manner, and those whom she befriends will likely stick around.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Bocchi’s journey begins, she starts out with zero friends and only the vaguest idea of how to communicate with people: Bocchi figures it’s a good idea to employ some unorthodox strategies, but these all end up backfiring. Without any outs, Bocchi is forced to introduce herself to others, and while Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that she’s vomiting out of stress, the reactions of those around her suggest that Bocchi is dry heaving rather than vomiting; no shirts are ruined, and no custodians are called in to clean up the associated mess.

  • It is the case that stress and anxiety can induce dry heaves, so this aspect of Bocchi’s character is not particularly unrealistic or implausible, even if Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does exaggerate its characters’ traits. After summoning the courage to speak with Nako, Bocchi ends up befriending Aru, as well. One of the most pleasant side effects of Bocchi’s attempts to get to know everyone better means that those around Bocchi also end up becoming friends; Nako and Aru most certainly do not get along, but initially set aside their differences for Bocchi’s sake. Over time, the pair get a long better, although Nako remains fond of pressing Aru’s buttons late into the series (all in good fun, of course).

  • While Aru is occasionally busy with club activities, Nako has more time on her hands, and one weekend, decides to swing by Bocchi’s place. Bocchi’s idiosyncrasies are a little unusual, as evidenced when she wears a full bear costume while hosting Nako. Nako seems to take everything in stride, and while some of Bocchi’s antics are exasperating, Nako also comes to appreciate that at heart, Bocchi is kind and capable: she just needs a little push to be on her way: she’s voiced by Chisaki Morishita, whose roles in other anime are ones I’m not familiar with. Conversely, Minami Tanaka plays Nako, and I know her from Wake Up, Girls (Minami Katayama), Hanayamata (Hana N. Fountainstand) and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (Himeno Toyokawa).

  • Sotoka is the classic foreign student with a very curious understanding of Japanese culture: like Karen from Kiniro Mosaic, Sotoka makes certain assumptions, leading her to view Bocchi as a ninjutsu expert of sorts. This misunderstanding lingers throughout much of Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, but initially, the unusual dynamic between Bocchi and Sotoka also means that Bocchi also has the chance to hang out with one more person: Sotoka is fond of learning ninjutsu, and while Bocchi is no ninja, she does pass along some curious skills to Sotoka, including origami.

  • One cannot help but feel bad for Aru (Akari Kitō, Kaho Hinata from Blend S and Harukana Receive‘s Ai Tanahara): despite her attempts to maintain a confident and successful air about her, she’s also said to be “unfortunate”, which really gets on her nerves (to the point where she flies at Nako whenever Nako pokes fun at her). While 残念 (Hepburn zannen) corresponds to “unlucky”, Aru’s circumstance is probably better described as a “loser”: she somehow manages to kit herself out in a grade schooler’s uniform and resorts to increasingly desperate measures to conceal this. While it works on a few people, Nako sees right through things, forcing Aru to go home and change.

  • The characters’ names are all puns on their leading trait. Bocchi’s full name, Hitori Bocchi, means “alone”, Sunao Nako is a play on the phrase “honest child”, Honshō Aru is “true nature” and Rakita Sotoka is a pun on “outsider”. Some folks had a tough time working out why everyone’s names were puns and how this related to Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s main themes; this is, fortunately, a simple enough exercise. Everyone is named after their defining characteristics, and their name thus gives insight as to their circumstances. The variety of situations, when placed together, creates a rather colourful set of experiences for everyone, showing how friendships can form among the most disparate of individuals.

  • If and when I’m asked, Aru is my favourite character: her cheerful personality and efforts to overcome adversity, especially in light of her poor luck, is admirable. It suddenly strikes me that the misfortune that Aru experiences is relatively minor (usually, losing bets or similar); when it comes down to the wire, Aru is helpful and supportive of those around her. The traits surrounding each character’s namesake are not debilitating in any way, and a major part of the charm in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is the fact that none of the characters suffer unnecessarily.

  • I’ve never been fond of series where a given character is made the in-show punching bag, and Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu mitigates this by having the characters be supportive of one another. Here, Bocchi recoils at a karaoke session. What happens next shows the extent of Kai’s desire to see Bocchi reach her goal: the pair meet at the same karaoke bar, but Kai adamantly refuses to even acknowledge Bocchi, causing Bocchi no small amount of distress. It turns out this was just as hard on Kai as it was for Bocchi, and fortunately, Bocchi’s small circle of friends do end up supporting her.

  • In this way, it is clear that Bocchi’s journey forward is about how well she can overcome whatever setbacks she may face; with everyone in her corner, Bocchi’s journey is no longer one she must undertake herself. This moment, of Sotoka carrying Bocchi, demonstrates the sort of artwork present in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu – from a technical standpoint, the anime is middle-of-the-road, offering smooth animation and consistent artwork. Where the anime stands out is how the voice actresses play their part to bring their characters to life.

  • Kako is probably the toughest challenge for Bocchi: unlike Bocchi, who wishes to further herself by building up new connections, Kako is the polar opposite and believes that the best way ahead is to be independent, relying on no one. This is why Kako refuses to be friends with Bocchi: it’s got nothing to do with any shortcomings on Bocchi’s part, but rather, the personal code that Kako has set for herself. While this is unusual (no-one is an island, after all), it means that Kako is the perfect foil for Bocchi.

  • Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does an excellent job of showing how being likeable (exhibiting politeness, empathy and a willingness to listen) is more important in maintaining good interpersonal relationships than status alone. In popularity, likeability and status are the two leading factors; the latter entails traits that make one appear more respectable or impressive, requiring one keep up appearances all the time. While Aru is prone to doing precisely this, I like her character precisely because she shows her true self around Bocchi and the others.

  • However, Aru’s desire to be seen as doing alright often means she will go out of her way to help others. Altogether, being more honest about herself and doing good will likely result in Aru learning to accept herself while, at the same time, continuing to do right by those around her. When Bocchi messes up during a home economics class, Aru steps in to help Bocchi: this action is seen by others as a sign of how well-adjusted Aru is, but she’s primarily helping out because she wants Bocchi to be happy, as well. The sum of these actions help two of Bocchi’s teammates, Peko and Ito, become friends with her later on.

  • While Kako might refuse to count herself as a friend to Bocchi and her crew, this doesn’t stop her from agreeing to team up with Bocchi on a class trip. It’s clear that of the two facets of popularity, Bocchi (and Nako) are spurred on by likeability: they do the things that make them more approachable to others. Looking back, I always approached friendship from the likeability side, and I’ve always preferred maintaining a small group of close friends, with whom I could confide in about various matters, as opposed to having a much larger social circle.

  • When I entered university out of high school, I ended up following a very similar route that Bocchi took: I made friends with exactly one of my classmates during orientation, and as term wore on, and there was a chance to work with different people, our social circles grew. One of the topics we took, Christopher Boorse’s Health as a Theoretical Concept, galvinised the entire class into working together, and after my first year ended, while I couldn’t say I was friends with every one of my classmates, I could say that I became acquainted with everyone to the point where we could talk about both coursework and other matters. I’m not sure this satisfies Kai’s expectations for Bocchi, but being on good terms with my entire graduating class (around ninety students) was a fun experience.

  • Back in high school, assuming my memories are still accurate, while I wasn’t in popular clique or anything, I found that I got along fine with most people (save those with a profound interest in activism), and maintained friendships with a comparatively smaller group of people that I still am in contact with today. Ironically, I actually do have a few friends now that I’d met because I’d unintentionally antagonised them, although we made amends on short order and ended up with amusing stories to tell. I imagine that this will naturally happen with Nako and Aru, although since it is relatively early in the game, Aru instinctively jumps into Nako every time the latter mentions the word “unfortunate”, resulting in some visual humour.

  • As a general rule, I don’t like making enemies of people because antagonising others always requires twice as much effort. Conversely, being nice to people comes quite naturally and entails almost no effort beyond approaching someone and making their day brighter. Here, Sotoka, Aru, Bocchi and Nako make acquaintances of Mayo, who hails from a wealthy family; her parents are always working, and she’s somewhat lonely, but after encountering Bocchi, Mayo becomes curious about Bocchi and suggests that Bocchi take up a job of making paper cranes. Thanks to Sotoka’s skill, they manage to make a bunch.

  • In the end, Mayo joins Bocchi’s group of friends, sharing a day with them. She later writes to her parents, saying that she’s made new friends, but also would appreciate it if her parents could make some time for her. With this, Bocchi is one step closer to her goal of befriending every single person in her class: towards the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, the rate at which Bocchi befriends others increases: she manages to convince Sotoka that they’ve been friends the whole time, as well. This isn’t too surprising, since she’s gotten over the initial hurdle, and now, has a group of people in her corner to support her goals. Along the way, Bocchi has also brought others together.

  • As Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu sees Bocchi enter her second year, she acquires a smartphone, allowing her to better keep in touch with her friends. While smartphones are superior to feature phones in terms of functionality, feature phones (flip phones) remain relatively common in Japan owing to their durability and ability to hold a charge. In anime, smartphones are slowly displacing feature phones: everyone in Yuru Camp△, for instance, rock iPhones. In having Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu transition over to smartphones, then, the anime is suggesting that technology might be integral in helping Bocchi on her quest.

  • The finale has Bocchi successfully pin a corsage on a graduating third year student, and finding an uncommonly cheerful Kako who’s afflicted with a fever. Despite her stoic mannerisms, Kako is grateful that Bocchi goes to the lengths that she does to ensure everyone’s alright. If memory serves, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s manga began in 2013 and finished running this year – any continuation of the series in anime form would probably have Bocchi befriend Kako towards the end and reunite with Kai a changed person, better equipped with navigate the complex social networks of the world.

  • Where the anime ends remains satisfactory: overall, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu earns a B+ grade in my books (3.3 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten-point system, eight points). Despite being a seemingly unassuming anime set in a mundane setting, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a wonderful job of showing how chance meetings can precipitate something much bigger. The anime thus exceeds my expectations for this Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is not terrible by any stretch, although my propensity towards procrastination are, and I imagine that I’ll only get worse from here on out as I become busier.

Ultimately, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that the first step of the journey is always the hardest. It takes several episodes for Bocchi to open up to Nako, but once she does, she’s able to slowly get to know Aru better, as well. Similarly, Bocchi and Sotoka realise that they’re as close as friends are, and openly acknowledge one another as such. As Bocchi becomes more connected to the first group of friends she’s had outside of Kai, she is able to reach out to and interact with others in her class. While Kako is a special case (and reluctantly joins Bocchi’s group anyways), Bocchi manages to even strike up conversations with Mayo, a girl from a rich family, along with Peko and Ito, who were in Bocchi’s home economics group. The initial chat with Nako thus sets in motion a series of fortunate events for Bocchi, and while she still has a long way to go before she can speak in front of a crowd with confidence, at the very least, Bocchi is starting to mature and appreciate that her classmates are generally friendly and warm people who enjoy her company as much as she enjoys theirs. Things do speed up towards Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s final few episodes; the series suggests to viewers that having now taken her first steps, Bocchi’s future is a bit more exciting and bright than she’d imagined it to be. Leaving this anime, one can therefore be confident that whatever happens next, Bocchi has good company in her corner: her own increasing comfort around others, coupled with support from Nako, Aru, Sotoka, Mayo, Peko and Ito, will be a valuable asset in helping her to overcome her own limits and fulfil a promise to Kai, who, despite her cold reception towards Bocchi, very much gives the indicator that she wishes for Bocchi’s success, as well. It’s certainly an optimistic message, and consequently, I am happy to say that I had a great time with Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu: this is another one of those cases where, my tendencies to procrastinate notwithstanding, I should make an effort to check out the series in my backlog where possible, as there are many solid anime dating back many years that are quite worthwhile to watch.