The Infinite Zenith

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Sakura Quest: Review and Impressions After Three

“I felt the need to be more open and expressive of my feelings, not just about the hills and the countryside, but about the daily life.” –Donald Hall

Faced with the challenges of finding full-time employment as her graduation draws near, Yoshino Koharu finds herself offered with an unusual position: to become the Queen of Manoyama, a small town in rural Japan far removed from Tokyo, to promote tourism to the area. While this offer turns out to have been made on the basis of mistaken identity, Yoshino learns that Manoyama was the town where one of her fondest memories of being crowned were made: she nonetheless is displeased with prospects of staying for a year, attempting the impossible task of selling a thousand boxes of manjū on the condition that she be released from her contract on success. Despite failing, she draws upon her resources and know-how to try and bolster sales with the friendly Shiori Shinomiya, Ririko Oribe (Shiori’s friend with a profund knowledge of the occult), ammeter actor Maki Midorikawa and the web developer Sanae Kōzuki, becoming closer to them in the process. Later, during a televised competition to promote Manoyama, Yoshino realises that, following her attempts to learn more about the town and its residents, she genuinely wants to make a difference, and to Ushimatsu Kadota, head of Manoyama’s Tourism Board, she agrees to stay the year and help out on the condition of being able to work with Shiori, Sanae, Maki and Ririko. I am all smiles when watching Sakura Quest, and there is little doubt in my mind that this is going to be one of the strongest anime on my table for this season: wielding both sincerity and comedy, Sakura Quest is a reminder that P.A. Works is at their finest when they work with original anime set in the real world to showcase the trials and tribulations of people. Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari and Shirobako were each excellent works, firmly about challenges and adversity in life, as well as making the most of what one is dealt to ultimately craft a highly compelling story whose characters audiences can empathise with.

Hanasaku Iroha dealt with Ohana learning about the worth of hard work and dealing with her feelings for her friend, Kō, Tari Tari follows a group of friends seeking to create an opus magnum before their halcyon days in high school draw to a close, and Shirobako sees Aoi Miyamori settle into her job as a production assistant at an anime studio, being later promoted to production manager as she discovers her own talents in the position. Each of these anime were highly engaging, and in Sakura Quest, P.A. Works’ talent for depicting real-world stories continues. Yoshino’s predicament in trying to help Ushimatsu drive tourism to Manoyama parallels the struggles that towns in Japan’s inaka, or rural Japan, face: their populations aging, and with youth like Yoshino being drawn to the city for its greater opportunity, populations in the inaka are declining along with economic prospects. However, in some places, settlements and towns in the inaka are making a resurgence, brought on by the people’s desires to escape the manic pace of the city or as a result of increased promotional efforts. This social issue is captured in Sakura Quest, and despite a healthy dose of comedy present, Sakura Quest is very open about the challenges that inaka communities, such as the fictional Manoyama, face in their futures. Consequently, Sakura Quest‘s upcoming depiction of Yoshino’s journeys with her newfound friends in Manoyama will certainly be one that is as much about her own personal discovery as it is about how a group of friends can indeed make a difference in a a part of Japan that seems stubbornly set in its ways even in the face of decline.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I will mention this again later: Sakura Quest has twenty five episodes in the works, meaning that I will be returning at some intervals to discuss how the anime is progressing. I also open with the remark that I’m up to speed with Sakura Quest, and that of the numerous discussions I’ve seen so far, none have delved into the societal elements of Japan that drive the narrative of Sakura Quest. Population aging and decline is a very real issue facing the countryside, and programs incentivising citizens to move to or stay in the countryside definitely exist.

  • Yoshino Koharu is Sakura Quest‘s Aoi Miyamori, the reluctant hero who finds herself thrown into situations she’s initially uncomfortable with handling. Yoshino is voiced by Ayaka Nanase, a relatively new voice actor for whom this is her first leading role. After arriving in Manoyama, Yoshino is greeted by the tourism board, who immediately note that she’s not the person they’re expecting. In a bit of dark irony, the individual they were expecting had died some years back, and consequently, they’re ready to see if Yoshino might be a fit.

  • The interior of the Manoyama Tourism Board’s office will undoubtly be a location that audiences can expect to see more of in the upcoming episodes, being their base of operations. Its depiction in high detail here complete with one of the employees playing Go on their laptop, is a reminder of the level of quality that P.A. Works places into its anime. In general, their anime strike a balance between highly intricate and organisation in its environments that create a detailed, yet clean setting.

  • Shiori is a Manoyama native roughly around Yoshino’s age. Being friendly and kind, she’s a member of the tourism board with a genuine interest in bolstering tourism around the Manoyama area and is extremely knowledgeable about the region. Shiori is voiced by Reina Ueda, whom I’ve seen previously as Kuromukuro‘s Sophie Noelle and Shizune Takatsuki of Infinite Stratos². I finished Kuromukuro in December, some three months after it finished airing, and the reason why I never did write a review for it was because I had mixed feelings about it after the conclusion.

  • After Yoshino accepts her position, she has dinner with some of the more senior members of the Tourism Board. While food and drink is partaken, I take advantage of the moment to steal a cursory glance at my archive for this month: I’ve got a fair number of gaming posts out as a result of having pushed through Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered. I’ve still yet to actually write about Titanfall 2: the past while’s been busy in real life, and yesterday, I returned to the CYSF as a judge. After a light pastry and apple juice, I stepped out into the fair to begin my adjudication of the student’s projects.

  • The last science fair I participated in was eleven years ago; it was a rainy day, and I’d struggled to get my trifold to the exhibition venue. My project, outlining the implications of genetics research, went reasonably well, earning me a bronze medal and a small cash prize: looking back, it was a fun experience. Presently, it was an equally fun and meaningful experience to approach the science fair from the judge’s perspective, encouraging young minds to explore science. Back in Sakura Quest, Yoshino meets Maki for the first time, who irritates her to no end with her abuse of the word “normal” (普通, futsū).

  • If time permits, I may go back and continue to judge science fairs as a volunteer. For the present, I return my attention to Sakura Quest and share with the reader a cruel laugh at Yoshino’s expense: she learns that her contract is to be a year rather than a day, choosing to flee for her life rather than honour it. However, Manoyama’s remoteness makes escape next to impossible – the train station is closed. It brings to mind the gulag of the Kolyma region; these were sufficiently isolated and located in frigid lands such that escaping was pointless, as escapees would simply freeze to death.

  • P.A. Works might be known for a variety of things, but for me, I know them best for their exceptional “funny faces”: Shirobako featured Aoi wearing a variety of hilarious expressions, and one of my goals this season for Sakura Quest will be to capture as many funny faces as I can in the reviews that I do for this series. So far, it’s been pretty disciplined, but I’m hoping that we see Yoshino with some Aoi Miyamori-level facial expressions soon. Here, Yoshino flees after a “Chupacabra” appears. Refusing to use a special sword to dramatically take it out, Yoshino winds up injuring Ushimatsu instead.

  • A thousand boxes of manjū are delivered in error, and Ushimatsu decides that Yoshino is free to go if she can sell of all thousand boxes within a week before their “best before” date. This is a Sisyphean task: Manoyama’s entire population is around fifty thousand, and Ushimatsu pegs it a test of Yoshino’s resolve. Her initial efforts are unsuccessful, and she decides to figure out a means of marketing their presence to the locals, recruiting the local web developer and blogger Sanae to help.

  • Demonstrating her knack for creative solutions, Yoshino suggests that they try to capitalise on the chupacabra sightings in the area to create a sense of intrigue around the manjū; they speak with Ririko here to learn more. Sakura Quest spells the chapacabra as “chupakaura”, the katakana form for the cryptid. Life in the inaka is said to be remarkably quiet, and outside of work, there is not too much to do. Surprisingly, life in suburban Canada without a vehicle is rather similar – folks suggest picking up a good hobby, and armed with a powerful internet connection and a sense of adventure, I would imagine that, besides a significantly longer commute, my life in the inaka would probably not be too different than it is now: I would spend weekends exploring the countryside via hikes on days with pleasant weather and game or write if the conditions is unfavourable.

  • Yoshino’s resourcefulness drew me into Sakura Quest, and it is quite clear that despite her numerous rejection from jobs in Tokyo, she has a unique skillset as a result of her studies in Tokyo. Simply because companies might not count her as being a qualified candidate does not mean that Yoshino lacks skills, and it is reasonable to imagine that her experiences in Manoyama change her in appreciable ways, either setting her up to stay in the countryside or equipping her with marketable skills in order to gain an offer.

  • With sales of the manjū doing quite poorly even after a few days, Yoshino further resolves to create a short movie to capture the novelty around them, hoping to motivate sales. Even this proves unsuccessful, but the exercise accomplishes several important functions, such as bringing Yoshino, Ririko, Sanae and Maki closer to one another. It is often through failure that critical learnings are attained, and the value of these learnings can become much more valuable than the success itself. It is around the events of the second episode where Sakura Quest truly begins shining, providing viewers with an iron-clad incentive to continue enjoying this anime.

  • Although dejected, Yoshino tries a manjū, learns that it is exceptionally good, and suddenly realises that her time with the others has been an enjoyable one. They decide to stick together long enough for Yoshino to check out the sakura blossoms in the area one week from this point: fate itself continues to draw Yoshino back to Manoyama, and despite her reluctance, Yoshino slowly will come to appreciate the different features and pacing of the inaka. While I speak as though there is source material, Sakura Quest is an original anime; my speculations (and confident delivery of such) is motivated by my familiarity with outcomes in such narratives. Knowing what happens, however, is not where the fun lies – the real enjoyment comes from watching how a narrative’s events progress.

  • It typically takes me some time to become acclimitised to all of the characters and their names, but in the case of Sakura Quest, I’ve become familiarised with all of the major characters at the third episode mark; there’s no need for me to look at an external reference in order to determine how to spell their names or identify who they are. This is a solid start to Sakura Quest in the exposition component, introducing enough characters to get things started without overwhleming the viewers.

  • Shiori and Yoshino meet Maki’s brother, who is trying to convince her to return home. On top of being easy to remember, the characters of Sakura Quest are (perhaps with the exception of the cold townspeople) immediately likeable – this presentation seems to suggest that the anime will be about the tourism board trying to rally the town behind them to Make Manoyama Great Again℠. While long associated with the presidential campaign of 2016, the phrase “Make America Great Again℠” originates with Ronald Regan’s campaign in 1980.

  • Despite being the Queen of Manoyama, Yoshino realises that she has very limited background on Manoyama and its people. Here, she’s preparing for a televised interview about Manoyama, and promptly botches it despite support from Shiori. Ever-supportive and cheerful, Shiori and Yoshino get along remarkably well: Shiori is the first to begin supporting and encouraging, Yoshino, who finds her own feet with the conclusion of the third episode’s events.

  • While idealists have grand visions in their minds about bringing about change, the largest impediment to change is the fact that for the most part, people are unaccustomed to change and prefer the status quo. This is why disruptive forces, such as new technologies, often do not take off until on particular approach to the technology catches on for its convenience and ease of use. The smartphone is a fantastic example of this: the IBM Simon Personal Communicator was the first-ever smartphone, being able to make calls and receive emails. Introduced in 1992 and retailing for 1099 USD, the device had a touch screen. However, these devices remained uncommon and largely used by businesses until 2007, when Apple introduced the iPhone. The concept of a device that could do mobile computing in conjunction with acting as a phone was nothing new by that point, but Apple succeeded in creating a smooth, enjoyable user experience that subsequently changed the face of electronic communications forever.

  • It would be quite unrealistic (and unfair) to expect Yoshino to streamline a concept or process in order to revitalise Manoyama’s economy, but to see what she makes of her situation is what will make Sakura Quest fun to watch. When a costume mishap leads to #TeamManoyama nearly missing their allocated time slot in a competition, Yoshino steps in and orders for them to combine the two costumes, then proceeds to deliver a heartfelt speech that, while not scoring any points with the judges, conveys her own conviction in helping Make Manoyama Great Again℠.

  • While on hanami with the others, Yoshino comes to realise that she’s found four fantastic friends in Manoyama. She comes to a conclusion, making a request to Ushimatsu to work with them, and her decision thus sparks the remainder of the story that will be presented in the upcoming weeks. I’ve always been fond of origin stories, and seeing how things begin – Sakura Quest is no exception, and I look forwards to seeing how things proceed in this twenty-five episode anime. The opening and ending songs, Morning Glory and Freesia, respectively, are set to release in May 17. Overall, the visuals and direction in Sakura Quest have been solid, but the soundtrack’s been a bit lower-key so far.

  • After lifting weights, I spent most of the day playing through Battlefield 1 and went for a walk to acquire the Earth Day challenge on Apple Activities. It was an overcast evening that I stepped out to for dinner; besides a special fried rice with garlic shrimps, we also had Thailand-style chicken, sweet and sour pork, a stir fry and fried fish balls. With the “after three” post for Sakura Quest in the books, I will be looking at Saekano♭ after three episodes in the near future. In addition, with Washio Sumi Chapter‘s second act available now, another post for that will be rolling off the runway in the very near future. This is about it for the anime I’ve got lined up to write about in the foreseeable future – Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 Premium are the other two posts that are on the list of things I aim to finish before April is out.

Immensely relatable right out of the gates, Sakura Quest seems an anime that audiences in my age bracket will relate with quickly: the uncertainties associated with making that transition between school and work is a frightening one, and sometimes, opportunities can arise from the most unlikely of circumstances. This is precisely what happens to Yoshino, whose career in the tourism industry begins with a mistake arising from illegible handwriting. This opening reflects on how reality itself can play out in the most unusual of ways, and for those persistent enough to stick things out, the journey can prove to be a rewarding one. With this remark, I have an inkling that I may have with reasonable accuracy, described Sakura Quest‘s main thematic element already, but like all of its predecessors, it is this journey whose worth makes the anime worth following. Sakura Quest is slated to run for twenty five episodes – such a number corresponds with an adequate time frame to really capture Yoshino’s experiences, and consequently, it would not be mistaken to surmise that Sakura Quest could be as captivating and entertaining to watch as its predecessors set in the real world.

Nyanko Days: The Pinnacle of Human Achievement

“Sometimes science is a lot more art, than science. A lot of people don’t get that.” –Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

Anatomically modern humans have been around for around two hundred thousand years, and human civilisation itself extensively making use of agriculture and other implements only dates back around twelve thousand years. In a comparatively short period, the advancement of technology in our civilisation has progressed at a dazzling speed: throughout our history, there have been several inventions of particular note: the compass, printing press, wheel, incandescent lamps, the telephone, internal combustion engine, powered flight and penicillin stand in history as several of the most influential, far-reaching inventions. Coupled with the scientific process and notions of a production line, substantial advances in the past century has allowed humanity to split the atom and land on the moon. We’ve managed to construct a means of nearly-instantaneously communicating with one another in the internet, and with the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices now, wearable technology and augmented reality stand poised to shape the way we interact with one another and the world as we move into the twenty-first century. However, there is a magnum opus that stands to eclipse all of humanity’s achievements: known as Nyanko Days, this anime depicts the combination of the human genome with that of the Felis catus. Every discovery, advancement and discovery has lead to this single moment, demonstrating our species’ mastery of fiction and the nature of our progress as a form of intelligent life.

Nyanko Days depicts the life of one Yūko Konagai with her “Nyanko”, the fusion of H. sapiens and F. catus genes, results in a novel organism that shares traits both their original species. The anime goes into exceptional detail surrounding the science behind Nyanko, being more similar to a biology textbook than a work of fiction. Anatomically, Nyanko resemble miniature humans, with the distinct addition of F. catus-like ears and a tail; similar to those of F. catus, Nyanko can subtly convey their emotions through the position of their tails. In addition, they are proficient with bipedal locomotion, although as the need arises, they can also move about as quadrupeds. Their dietary requirements are more consistent with those of F. catus than H. sapiens, preferring items high in protein and may find H. sapiens sustenance unpalatable. Most notable is their exceptional intelligence and ability to interact with humans: besides being able to understand human emotions in laughing and crying, Nyanko can also speak Japanese with a very high fluency, and even interact with human implements, such as television remotes, although for some tools, such as a mechanical pencil, their understanding remains rudimentary. The conceptualisation of a novel species with intellect, memory and reasoning capacities similar to that of a human is perhaps a testament to how advanced our society has become in the past hundred years alone: although we have yet to find a clean energy source, resolve the NP-Complete problem or develop faster-than-light travel, our superior understanding of biology and fiction has allowed us to speculate about intelligence and sentience in species beyond ourselves. This is truly a momentous accomplishment for our species, setting the stage for grander, more influential discoveries – for this reason, Nyanko Days is a series that will forever act as a record of this world-changing innovation, a true masterpiece that reflects on the growth and progress of humanity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The shy protagonist of Nyanko Days, Yuko Konagai is a high school girl who’s got a particular fondness for cats. She resembles Kantai Collection‘s Fubuki and Locodol‘s Nanako Usami in physical appearance, and while quiet at school, she takes on a much lighter demeanour when in the company of her three cats.

  • From left to right, z-ordering independent, we have Shii, Rō and Maa. Shii is modelled after a Singapura cat with a relaxed personality, while Rō is the most serious, being a Russian Blue. Maa is a Munchkin and is fond of messing around. Their days consist of hanging around while Yūko is at school, while Yūko yearns to be with her cats more often.

  • While playing a game on her phone, Yūko finds herself losing when Maa shows up and starts nibbling on her fingers. Pets who’ve bonded with their owners are very affectionate and will enjoy being petted, although as Yūko finds out, Maa can often show up at inopportune moments. In spite of this, she’s very understanding of her cats’ behaviours.

  • Small animals in bowls have always been appealing for folks viewing them, and here, Maa enters a bowl, rocking around for the heck of it. Of the cats, she’s the most child-like, finding joy in most everything and acting with little thought for the consequences later. Maa is voiced by Ibuki Kido; she plays minor characters in OreGairu and OreImo, but otherwise, I’m quite unfamiliar with her voice roles.

  • After Maa creates a mess, Rō steps in to clean up; she’s voiced by Mikako Komatsu, whom I know best for her roles as Sora no Method‘s Shione Togawa and Amifumi Inko of Aldnoah.Zero. Mikako will also be voicing Sanae Kouzuki in the upcoming Sakura Days, a P.A. Works anime I’m interested in following for its Shirobako-like premise. To round things out, Shii is voiced by Erii Yamazaki: like Ibuki, I’ve not seen any of the works she plays a role in.

  • Despite only lasting two minutes in length each, the artwork in Nyanko Days is of a high standard: here, Yūko takes a walk with her cats around town and reach a scenic viewpoint that shows the cityscape below. The atmosphere around a pleasant summer day is captured in this moment: it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to go on afternoon walks owing to my work schedule, where things have begun picking up as of late.

  • A chance meeting with Azumi Shiratori and the subsequent discovery that she’s also a cat person allows a friendship to develop between the two. A girl with a wealthy family, Azumi is admired by many at her school; after meeting Yūko, she spends more time with her as the two get to know one another and share their thoughts on raising cats.

  • At an upscale café that her family owns, Azumi and Yūko share a conversation over some rather expensive pancakes. Naomi Ōzora provides Azumi’s voice: the other of her roles that I know of is as Gabriel Dropout‘s Satanachia McDowell Kurumizawa, a rather amusing character whose precise place in the sun is quite worthy of a separate discussion.

  • Elsa is Azumi’s Turkish Angora: proud, haughty but also yearning for friendship, she wonders what Yuūko is like. Elsa spends her days alone at Azumi’s residence while the latter is at school. Initially, I mistook Elsa’s breed for the same breed as Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s cat, which is a Persian Cat: the breed is not of note, since the scriptwriters merely needed a white cat to match Ian Fleming’s novelisations, standing out to provide visual focus for a character who was initially without a known face.

  • On a quiet day, Shii, Maa and Rō try to amuse themselves, first by trying their hand at drawing, then subsequently decide to read books. Rō is quite into reading and has remarked on several occasions that she wouldn’t mind going to school and learning: the cats’ intellect are on par with those of a human in Nyanko Days, although their dexterity is not quite as well-developed, as seen in their attempts to draw.

  • Things quickly devolve when boredom hits a new high: Rō and Maa have different interests as far as television programming goes. While the latter prefers shows tailored for cats, Rō is looking to watch the news. A fight breaks out: rather than hard to watch, it actually ends up adorable – compare and contrast Jerome Iginla’s fight with Deryk Engelland’s during a showdown between the Calgary Flames and L.A. Kings just a few days ago. Fired up by the fight, Iginla would go on to get a Gordie Howe hat trick against the Flames, depriving them of a shot at clinching a playoff spot. That game was amusing but had too many fights for my liking: yesterday’s game against the San José Sharks was rather more appropriate, and with a 5-2 win, we’ve clinched a place in the playoffs.

  • Back in Nyanko Days, when Yūko arrives home, a tearful Shii describes the events that had unfolded earlier, and her lack of success in getting them to reconcile. However, Yūko has other means of rectifying the situation, in the form of a new toy, that let the two make up quickly.

  • One of the things that don’t seem to make sense from a biological perspective about how cats are depicted in Nyanko Days are the thin necks relative to head size. This is something in chibi-type artwork that, while conferring a degree of cuteness, also is strictly unfavourable: our necks are designed to withstand the motions of our head, and there is no way to fit a cervical vertebrae, esophagus and trachea in a neck of a small diameter. Hence, the cats in Nyanko Days must be engineered using means that exceeds all previous technology, as well as possibly, some future technologies.

  • Arashi Iketani is another one of Yūko’s classmates, who constantly competes with Azumi in all areas but finds herself outclassed. During a marathon for physical education, she initially takes the lead but is stopped cold in her tracks when she comes across a cat. She reminds me a bit of Sharo Kirima from GochiUsa in appearance.

  • The biology of the cats in Nyanko Days notwithstanding, I do have a legitimate criticism of the anime – it is remarkably short, and the entire season’s runtime is close to twenty-four minutes. While I am aware that there is only so much one could do with this premise, and that there are only two volumes of the manga out at present, Nyanko Days could be used to present an interesting story akin to that seen in GochiUsa: in fact, one thing that I would like to see is a version of GochiUsa where all of the characters are rendered as anthropomorphic rabbits.

  • In fact, the blissful world of GochiUsa leads to the question: could all of the anime’s events be the result of rabbits imagining themselves to be humans? With this being said, if such an incarnation of GochiUsa were ever to be made, it must never see the light of day: even with our level of sophistication, humanity as a whole is not quite ready for something like that yet. We thus return to Nyanko Days, where Yūko brings her cats to a summer festival, where she will meet up with Azumi.

  • Maa is excited when she sees goldfish in the legendary goldfish-scooping challenge, but the others let her know that the goldfish are not for eating. Fired up, Maa decides to compete with Elsa to see who can catch the most, but before they know it, Yūko, Azumi and the others have left, leaving them alone.

  • I’ve explored the evolutionary origins of our reaction to things we consider cute, whether it be babies or small animals in earlier posts and remarked that a general aversion to cuteness would be detrimental to evolutionary fitness. With that being said, different people find different things adorable, and for some, Nyanko Days probably won’t do anything. This is perfectly alright, but for the folks who did enjoy Nyanko Days, I have a challenge: how long can you stare at this image of Elsa crying before your heart melts away entirely, leaving you with nothing but feelings of bliss?

  • Despite their predicament, Maa manages to find a solution: they are united Yūko and the others on a short order. In the aftermath of their misadventures, Maa and Elsa become friends, with Elsa off-handedly remarking that she’s okay with hanging out. This brings Nyanko Days to an end.

  • With this post finished, I resume my usual programming soon: there’s a handful of things on the horizon that will be written about, but for the present, I am trying to push further into Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remaster. This is an endeavour compounded by the fact that Battlefield 1 is hosting the DICE 25ᵗʰ Anniversary Battlefest event, with its double XP event that will help me push my scout class closer to level ten, when I can unlock the Kolibri and mess with people.

Owing to its exceptional content, and the implications that the creation of Nyanko entail, I would give Nyanko Days a strong recommendation for all scientists as inspiration for their research. With its detailed depiction of Nyanko, above-par artwork, average soundtrack and unremarkable human characters… so the jig is up; I can’t lie well enough to continue. For those who have not noticed, today is April Fool’s Day, and in the spirit of good fun, I decided to create a post that would be in the spirit of April Fool’s Day. I offer my apologies if I misled or confused anyone with this post’s contents. With this being said, most of the contents in the figure captions are true: I haven’t made up anything about the voice actors, or the events in the anime. Similarly, the Flames did indeed clinch a playoff spot yesterday. Overall, Nyanko Days‘ concept of anthropomorphising cats and their adventures with Yūko form the bulk of the anime, with episodes running for around two minutes each. It’s a fun short series, but its length also runs against things: episodes are hilarious while they run, but they end too suddenly, leaving little time to develop the characters further. With this being said, Nyanko Days stands as one of the most adorable things I’ve seen in a while. It’s probably not enough to warrant a strong recommendation, but I personally enjoyed this anime, for providing two minutes of heart-melting Nyanko antics in most of its episodes every week. Hopefully, the unusual content of this post should have alerted you to the possibility that this was not a serious review; if you’re interested in checking out something light-hearted and frivilous, Nyanko Days will deliver, otherwise, you won’t stand to lose too much if you choose not to watch this anime. Regular programming resumes with this post’s conclusion, so have a good one!

Reflections on the Ah! My Goddess: The Movie- An introspection into my ten years of anime at the 800th post milestone

“Even if the whole universe comes between us, even if you lost every single memory, I’ll still find you and we’ll start again and again.” -Keiichi Morisato

With this special feature on Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, this blog passes the eight hundred post milestone. It’s a nontrivial marker, coming as a consequence of nearly five-and-a-half years of writing about anime, games and other things. That I’m still here after all this time is a consequence of having a fantastic group of readers who’ve been kind enough to provide discussions and feedback, motivating me to continue writing despite the other things that occur in the real world. After looking through the post count and the timing, I decided that reviewing Ah! My Goddess: The Movie would be appropriate for this eight hundredth post, given that it’s been ten years since I developed an interest in anime, and that Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was the work that precipitated this interest. The story, recounted in brief elsewhere on this blog and only in a fragmented manner, is as follows: some of my friends during my secondary school days decided that I should join them for lunch hours at the school’s anime club. After managing to evade and decline for several weeks, I finally caved and attended a meeting. They were screening Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and while I was disinterested initially, by the time the movie finished, I was moved. That evening, I began hunting for the movie’s soundtrack, found the soundtracks for Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 anime, and decided to give that a whirl. While I never did finish, the episodes I did watch of Ah! My Goddess were modestly enjoyable, so when another friend wished for me to watch Gundam 00, I yielded and began watching the anime. In Gundam 00, I found something to look forwards to weekly, and while my interest in anime waned briefly during my first year of university, it returned in full force after I picked up Five Centimeters per Second. This brought my interests in anime back to life, leading me to watch Sora no Woto, and from there, my interests in anime are rather easier to follow, having been thoroughly chronicled here at this blog. Thus, for the remainder of this post, I turn my eyes towards looking at the movie that started it all.

Three years after her arrival on Earth, Belldandy and Keiichi Morisato begin their new term; recruiting for the different clubs is well under way, and the Motor Club, hopeful of gaining new members, showcase their vehicles. However, Toraichi Tamiya and Otaki Aoyama’s actions frighten off most prospective members, including the stern-looking Morgan. Later that evening, amidst the Motor Club’s celebrations, Belldandy encounters her old mentor, Celestin. Unbeknownst to her, Celestin had broken out of the lunar prison, and seeks to meet her. She collapses after Celestin kisses her, reawakening the next morning with no recollection of Keiichi. Meanwhile, Heaven’s supercomputer, Yggdrasil, has been compromised by a powerful virus: Peorth and her assistants are working around the clock to contain it, but in the meantime, much of their infrastructure is crippled. Skuld’s efforts to restore her memories are unsuccessful, and Keiichi agrees to make the most of things. He breaks news of her situation to the Motor Club; the members are disheartened, as there is an upcoming race. Morgan arrives and agrees – the trial’s results are solid, and watching the pair race leads Belldandy to recall some of her past memories with Keiichi. The next day, Belldandy comes across some old photographs of her and Keiichi: she decides to participate in the race in spite of her amnesia. Later, Belldandy overhears a conversation between Urd and Keiichi, revealing that Celestin was responsible. It turns out that he had rebelled against the Gods, destroyed the Gate of Judgement, and intends to continue his machinations to destroy the current world and create a new one, free of all suffering. Feeling she’s brought only suffering to Keiichi, Belldandy accepts a dangerous procedure that will eliminate the virus but also clear her memories. In order to deliver this program, Heaven directly links with Belldandy, allowing the virus to override Yggdrasil’s core functions, exposing the tree itself and a leviathan that attacks the trunks. Out of options, Peorth authorises a direct strike using Gungnir; refusing to allow Keiichi to die in the strike, Keiichi and Belldandy move to block the attack after they convince Celestin to assist. Transported to the Gate of Judgement in the aftermath, Belldandy and Keiichi pass Heaven’s test. Belldandy returns to Earth, and with both Urd and Skuld’s help, they restore Yggdrasil with their song and eliminate the virus. With the damage to Heaven records, Belldandy offers Keiichi a new wish, and Keiichi uses it to reignite their love for one another.

An off-shoot of the Ah! My Goddess series, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie adapts none of the elements from its source manga, and instead, focuses on the nature of love. This particular theme has been explored extensively in the 2005 TV series, whereas the prior OVAs’ short runtimes meant that the comedic situations and situations that Keiichi and Belldandy find themselves in dominated any sort of overarching theme. With this in mind, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie presents a much more tangible idea, in that the time Keiichi and Belldandy have spent together is precious, creating feelings that can survive even the most ardent tests that fate and the heavens have set against them. Despite losing her memories and subsequently made to stand before the Gate of Judgement, it turns out that (unsurprisingly) the love Keiichi and Belldandy have is genuine. While Morgan has seen loss before the Gate of Judgement and consequently despises the heavens for marking clearly what constitutes a relationship of value, she later learns that there can be love in the world, making it worth protecting. That love is very much a reality thus forms the main message for Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and the movie’s climax, featuring Belldandy, Urd and Skuld wielding their feelings to run a system restore on Yggdrasil, serves to emphasise this point further. Although this theme is an immensely familiar one by this point in time, it was my first exposure to such a portrayal (and anime in general), and in the movie, I found an exceptionally moving story.

Screenshot and Commentary

  • Being a combination movie discussion and serving as a bit of a milestone for this blog, I’m classifying this post both as a general discussion post (for the milestone) and as an anime reflections post (for the fact I’ll be running through Ah! My Goddess: The Movie). The occasion also means that I will be running with forty screenshots in this Ah! My Goddess: The Movie post. The movie was released in 2000 and runs for 100 minutes, making it perfect to be watched over the course of several lunch breaks, each lasting some forty minutes.

  • One of the initial limitations about the movie is that it is not particularly friendly for first-timers, who won’t know how Keiichi and Belldandy first met. Prior to 2000, it would have been necessary to either have some background with the manga or the OVAs, which show Keiichi making a phone call, only to connect to Belldandy, who arrives to grant any one wish of his. Certain it’s deception from his seniors, he decides to test things and asks her to stay with him. Here, it’s spring, a new semester, and the Motor Club is recruiting new members; Keiichi initially joined owing to his interests in mechanical engineering. He himself is capable as a mechanic and highly skilled as a racer, demonstrating a new vehicle here in the film’s opening.

  • The unusual dynamics between Belldandy and Keiichi drive the romance-comedy aspect of Ah! My Goddess, but these elements tend to be present in the manga and TV series – overall, the movie comes across as being more of a romance-drama, having a much greater focus on what love means to both Belldandy and Keiichi. The two share a moment under the cherry blossoms here, after a misunderstanding causes Belldandy to take off.

  • Celestin is Belldandy’s former mentor, and after a short introduction, incapacitates Belldandy. Bearing the appearance of ancient deities from Chinese folklore, his actions come from well-intentions, but his “means justify the end” outlook paints him as the films main antagonist. Only seen in the movie, Celestin does not return in the 2005 series, which is a re-telling of the entire story and places a much greater emphasis on comedy than drama.

  • When they return home that evening, mysterious crystals have formed on Holy Bell, Belldandy’s resident angel. The dynamic between Heaven and Earth is portrayed as one powerful computer system that manages reality; the system would suggest that all of existence is a simulation (akin to but rather more being than the one seen in The Matrix), and Heaven’s entities are caretakers to the system. With this in mind, I arrived on Ah! My Goddess much too late (2007-2008) to see much discussion on it, and so, any speculation on how their world actually works is likely to be lost to time.

  • When Celestin kissed Belldandy, he copies a virus into her that impacts her memories, completely eliminating her memories of Keiichi. The anomolies are noticed in heaven, where Yggdrasil’s technicians notice a virus moving through their systems. Fictional computer viruses are always portrayed as something that can be traced, moving through a system and methodically targeting systems, leaving a clear signature behind. Real-world viruses are rather more dull, with most writing themselves onto regions of a hard drive and duplicate themselves before executing their functions: doubtlessly, this is very difficult to visualise, hence the stylistic choices movies take.

  • Peorth stands before the highest members of Heaven’s leadership to report on the situation. The Peorth seen in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is serious, dedicated and focused on her duties, standing in stark contrast with her depiction in the other works – she is rather more flirtatious (thank goodness for spell-checking, I believe this is only the second time I’ve had to use this term) and does her utmost to win Keiichi over from Belldandy initially as revenge, only to do so for real when she realises that she harbours feelings for Keiichi, as well.

  • In the morning, Skuld exhausts her memory-enhancing devices that were intended to help her remember Keiichi; the most effective device only allows her to recall that she’d forgotten to give Keiichi her business cards (remark: that Goddesses have business cards is an interesting one). In the face of adversity, Keiichi and Urd settle on that it is probably best to try and live as normally as possible, a method that is often suggested by experts in order to survive challenging times.

  • A færie of sorts, Morgan was the one who had freed Celestin from his imprisonment on the lunar surface at the movie’s beginning with the goal of assisting him. With her hime-cut and narrow eyes, she possesses the characteristics of the stern ojou-sama archetype while in human form, and is seen communicating with Celestin while he is in a more mobile form.

  • The Motor Club grows disheartened to learn that Belldandy has become amnesiac, made especially difficult by the fact that they have an upcoming race. When I first watched the movie, I wondered if the race itself would be seen in-movie, but this turned out not to be the case, being a secondary element to the machinations that Celestin is planning. Morgan steps up and offers to race in Belldandy’s place.

  • The two seem to perform quite well, triggering some memories for Belldandy. This moment suggests that, however sophisticated the algorithm that Celestin used, some of her memories endure. This moment also begins to showcase the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra’s exceptional performance with the film’s soundtrack: the song playing as Keiichi and Morgan fly across the track is titled “Kizuna Motomete” (“Searching for a connection”) is a majestic piece with horns, strings and woodwinds that captures the rush of speed on a racetrack in a highly elegant manner. The entire soundtrack is an amazing listen that really brings out the emotional tenour of each moment in the film.

  • The different tracks convey different feelings, ranging from longing and hopefulness, to doubt and confusion in the film’s darker moments, masterfully using specific instruments to create a very unique sound that evokes a very particular feeling in every scene of the movie. It is the first anime soundtrack I’ve listened to, and stands even against the likes of Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer with respect to quality.

  • Despite lacking her memories of Keiichi, Belldandy nonetheless strives to fulfill her directive in the knowledge that her original goal was to help Keiichi find happiness, and here, prepares a fantastic evening meal for him. Back in high school, for my art class, one of the works I made for an art class was a playing card, the Queen of Spades, featuring Belldandy. It was here that I realised that Kōsuke Fujishima renders ears in a very distinct manner, with concentric rings visible in place of the structures of the Auricle.

  • Later, she finds a photo album detailing the time they’ve spent together. Realising the depth of their relationship, Belldandy resolves to restart anew and learn more about Keiichi. While Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is an older film, the artwork remains of a superb quality and can stand against modern titles with respect to detail and smoothness. However, the character designs in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie clearly are from an older age: the 2005 incarnation of Ah! My Goddess features a Belldandy and Keiichi with larger eyes.

  • My last lecture was eleven months ago, but I still recall the days when I attended classes in large lecture halls. While some of the newer lecture halls have spacious desks, other, older facilities were remarkably cramped: I did not field a laptop at all throughout my undergraduate, and even though I had access to MacBook Pro laptops during graduate school, I continued to take notes by hand, since material proved easier to recall if I had handwritten it. Keiichi is shown to study German, and here, is hauled out of lecture by Morgan. Ah! My Goddess is one of the anime I’m familiar with to feature university-level characters, compared to almost everything else I’ve got, which is set during the high school range.

  • Despite having no memories of Keiichi, Belldandy recovers more of her memories when she agrees to a challenge that Morgan presents: in a mock race, Keiichi and Belldandy handily best Morgan and her partner, Megumi (Keiichi’s younger sister). Unlike the song played during Keiichi and Morgan’s first run, the competition has a much more urgent sense to it. While most of the songs in the soundtrack are orchestral, there are a few songs that make use of electronic and synthesiser elements, giving them an other-worldly vibe.

  • Bothered by her memories, and the realisation that Celestin was responsible for her memory loss, Belldandy is drawn by a moving light crystal and follows it to a coastal installation, where Celestin reveals himself and tells her the story of why he’s returned. Unwilling to accept Heaven’s mandate, he sought to destroy the Gate of Judgement (showing Morgan and her lover crossing it, only to be separated forever). His actions also led to the destruction of other entities, causing Heaven to issue an arrest warrant for him.

  • When Heaven sends out beings to arrest Celestin, Belldandy slaughters them. She is taken in, and in the aftermath of the incident, is deemed too valuable an asset to lose. Hence, Heaven suppresses her memories of the incident and allows her to continue as a Goddess, while Celestin is tried and imprisoned on the lunar surface for all time. Had SATO explored the moon, however, they would be unlikely to locate Celestin’s prison: the film’s opening shows Morgan as passing through a portal to reach him.

  • One of the best-known anime review sites out there notes that there’s a “scene in which Urd kisses Belldandy might startle Westerners…unaccustomed to that”, but she’s actually transferring a special potion to Belldandy via mouth-to-mouth. Upon seeing that for the first time, I assumed that Urd was taking the potion for herself, so trying was their situation, but it seems to make little sense on closer inspection, hence the newer conclusion. The same site gives this movie a perfect rating, counting it as a masterpiece

  • Urd and Skuld arrive on station, but Belldandy, still under Celestin’s influence, begins to engage Urd in a direct confrontation. Urd is plainly holding back, aware that Belldandy is not fully in control of her powers. In the aftermath, Skuld lashes out at Celestin, releasing a large amount of water. Keiichi manages to protect Belldandy from this torrent but is knocked unconscious, later reawakening back home.

  • Back in high school, this scene did not particularly make much sense, but it appears to be a visual representation of the present Belldandy accepting the past Belldandy’s mistakes, reassuring her past-self that things are going to be alright. The rationale for “past and present self” is based on visual elements within this moment that should become apparent merely by staring at this screenshot. This scene is accompanied by a synthesiser-like instrument that brings to mind the instrumentals from Miyazaki’s Totoro, giving it a very surreal, yet comforting feeling, and coming to an acceptance about herself, Belldandy manages to prevent her powers from running amok.

  • While Belldandy’s character remains largely unchanged in Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 incarnation, Urd, Skuld and Peorth are markedly different with respect to their personalities. One of the biggest strengths in the movie that is lacking in the TV series are the implications of higher-order beings interacting within a world of mortals: comedy reigns supreme in the 2005 television series, with the antagonists motivated by weaker elements than Celestin, who shows that there can be dissent amongst the Gods with respect to how Heaven runs. Consequently, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie ends up having a very well-defined narrative compared to the looser feel that Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 series (and its second season) conveys

  • Belldandy’s jealousy is an aspect of her character that has been exploited on numerous occasions in the TV series, and is never too far from the forefront of discussion in the movie – subtly hinted at when she inadvertently causes glass bottles to shatter during the Motor Club’s party earlier in the movie as a result of seeing Sora and Megumi clinging to Keiichi. Celestin exploits this, and here, Morgan forces a kiss unto Keiichi that Belldandy witnesses. She takes off, her feelings tumultuous as she struggles to comprehend what she saw.

  • Keiichi and Belldandy share a moment together after Belldandy decides to accept a dangerous procedure that might wipe her memories entirely. Keiichi resolves that, whether or not Belldandy’s memories are restored, they can start again as many times as they need. This lends itself to the page quote, a rarity in that it was taken directly from the movie rather than being a generic quote or a mutated one. Throughout these moments, the song “Hoping For Happiness” can be heard playing in the background. A truly wistful song, the single element that stands out is a flute that materialises when Belldandy walks into the temple hall; the short motif captures Belldandy’s gentle yet determined spirits.

  • I listened to the whole of Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s soundtrack during the summer of 2007, having only previously heard individual songs. I subsequently loaded up the tunes onto my iPod and took the album, amongst others, with me during my vacation in Yellowstone National Park. The hills in the backdrop here bring to mind the hills of Yellowstone’s western end, which has gentler slopes than the eastern end. At this point in the film, it’s the deep breath before the plunge. Progressing at a steady rate up until now, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s pacing quickens as the movie enters its final stage.

  • The delivery of a “Vaccine”, really the execution of an anti-virus program, serves to only exacerbate the situation further by offering a direct connection between Belldandy and Yggdrasil’s mainframe systems. As it turns out, anti-virus programs are becoming increasingly ineffective in the face of new techniques of introducing viruses and malware into a system: while the programs themselves can remain effective, it is social engineering employed by criminals that allow these programs to enter and compromise a system. Like how Belldandy’s memories of Celestin allow him to damage Yggdrasil, most viruses out there arise as a consequence of inadequate caution.

  • Belldandy comes to recall Celestin more fully in a flashback; he resurrects a dead bird and takes her under his wing, eventually raising a capable goddess who graduates with top honours but is also a little naïve about the nature of reality. This moment here brings to mind the dynamics between children and adults: the problems that children face, from their perspective, are world-breakers, but having been around for a considerably longer time, adults can quickly locate solutions. It’s similar to how children would approach me with broken crafts during my time as a TA for children, and I would fix said craft, restoring their cheerfulness in the process.

  • Celestin presumably has root access into Yggdrasil (technical jargon referring to the ability to completely modify and access all parts of an operating system, including critical system files), allowing him to summon a physical manifestation of the World Tree, along with a vast being that begins hacking at the tree (likely deleting data that runs the universe and allowing Celestin to rewrite the world in his image). Belldandy’s initial efforts to stop them are futile: Morgan uses Force lightning to slow her down before taking off.

  • Transforming into their combat attire, Skuld and Urd attempt to stop the being from dealing any more damage to the system. Despite summoning an exceptionally powerful blast of lightning, the being is protected by an energy shield that repels all attack. Morgan subsequently engages in battle with Urd to buy Celestin more time to complete is machinations.

  • Possessing Keiichi’s body, Celestin explains to Belldandy the rationale for his plans. I’ve typically found that misguided idealists often make the most intriguing villians, since their cause and initial reasoning for executing a particular plan is prompted by a desire to do what they feel is correct. However, their methods wind up being inappropriate, either causing unnecessary death or destruction. Such villains are not above seeing the error of their ways, either accepting the protagonists’ perspectives or else gracefully yielding when bested (Gundam Unicorn‘s Full Frontal and Raʾs al-Ġūl of Batman Begins come to mind).

  • Belldandy’s facial design in the movie allows her to properly be depicted with a serious expression as she counters Celestin, explaining that happiness and sorrow can only exist in the other’s presence. She arms herself and prepares to stop Celestin, donning a combat suit of her own. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen Ah! My Goddess, and I think that last I checked, there were some OVAs bundled with home releases back in 2011.

  • Higher up in the branches, Skuld drops a pair of explosives resembling the Model 24 Stielhandgranate. Essentially a cluster of grenades taped together to yield a larger explosion, they could deal damage to armour of the WWI era and are equipped by Battlefield 1‘s assault class for anti-armour combat. However effective they might have been historically against armour, the modernised versions Skuld uses deals no damage against the leviathan hacking away at Yggdrasil.

  • It stands to reason that this behemoth of an entity is a program tailored by Celestin to destroy Yggdrasil. Since I no real remarks about this entity, except maybe to re-dub it “Walrus Face”, I will take a look at the inconsistencies between Ah! My Goddess and Oh! My Goddess. In Japanese, ああっ女神さまっ is romanised as “Aa! Megami-sama“, so phonetically, “Ah!” makes sense, but the authors meant for it to convey a similar meaning as “Oh my God”, hence, Oh! My Goddess is technically correct. However, I’ve typed it out as Ah! My Goddess for the past ten years, and all sources seem to give the title as “Ah!”, as well, so this is what I will stick with.

  • In response to their desperate situation, Heaven authorises the use of Gungnir, which manifests in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie as an energy sphere whose effects on organics are unknown as Belldandy moves to stop the sphere from impacting Celestin. Realising her devotion to Keiichi, Celestin concedes and helps her stop the weapon. Like almost everything else in Ah! My Goddess, Gungnir is inspired by Odin’s spear of Norse mythology, being so well-crafted that it could strike any target with perfect accuracy.

  • There should be no doubt as to Keiichi and Belldandy make it through the Gate of Judgement. The song that plays, “Testimony Between Us”, when they pass through together, is a triumphant song brimming with optimism and faith.

  • Their faith stands against the Gods’ exams – Belldandy and Keiichi find themselves staring at a verdant alpine forest that would not look too out of place in either the Canadian Rockies or parts of Yellowstone National Park. Realising that the system is not rigged to pull people apart, Morgan resolves to stay behind and pass on the two’s story. Their love for one another reaffirmed, Belldandy finds a renewed spirit in her to set things right: she and Keiichi return back to Earth.

  • While the damage done is immense, Belldandy is confident that by putting their true feelings into song, they can yet save Yggdrasil. Together with Urd and Skuld, Belldandy reverts her gear back into her default Goddess state, and they begin singing Coro Di Dea, a song written in Latin that, despite its sort length, brought a single tear to my eye, followed by several more individual tears. It’s the first time I cried when watching an anime, so moving was the song – this is the magic moment, that turning point that triggered my interest in anime.

  • Coro Di Dea is probably the equivalent of a combination of a powerful virus quarentine and Windows’ System Restore tool; the latter allows users to restore their operating system back to a functional state without altering the file, but is ill-advised for removing viruses, which can hide themselves in temporary files. The Goddess’ song prompts Peorth and the others to begin singing, as well, rapidly repairing Yggdrasil. With the crisis over, some of the other Goddesses remark that they’d love to take a break, but Peorth orders them back to work to ensure the system is stable.

  • Dawn settles over the world; with the restore and all that has happened to Yggdrasil over the past several days, Belldandy notes that all records have been removed of past wishes, leaving Keiichi free to make his wish to be with Belldandy forever once more. Skuld and Urd share a humorous exchange in the film’s final moments. The question then becomes: what is my verdict for this movie? With its standalone and cohesive narrative, fantastic artwork and top-tier soundtrack, it’s easy to give this movie a strong recommendation to existing anime fans. New viewers might not find this an appropriate gateway into anime, but will nonetheless enjoy the film.

  • Quantitatively, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie earns an A+, a 10 of 10 – clear and precise in its message, and delivering a song that can make someone as stoic as myself to shed several tears, this here’s a fantastic film that left a very profound impact on me. So ends Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and with it, my first-ever proper Ah! My Goddess discussion here, along with the 800th post. Regular discussion resumes with the upcoming posts, where I will be taking a look at Gabriel Dropout and Titanfall 2, alongside my thoughts of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare at the halfway point.

Because Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was my first-ever anime, there existed almost no baselines for which to compare it against at the time. However, the artwork, narrative, character dynamics and world-building that I did see in the movie came together to create a standalone story that was well-worth watching. I thoroughly enjoyed Ah! My Goddess: The Movie following watching it ten years ago, and even now, the movie remains reasonably enjoyable on its merits. This movie set in motion my interests in anime, and by the time Gundam 00 had begun airing, anime-watching became one of my hobbies. While seemingly a frivolous one, watching anime and discussing it with friends motivated me to start a website to write about my thoughts. The practise of writing bolstered my writing skills: prior to anime, my written English was of a low standard, leading one of my high school instructors to wonder if English was a second language for me (for the record, it is: Cantonese Chinese is my first language). By the time I was through Gundam 00, writing to clearly express an idea became second nature for me, and in my final year of high school, the same English instructor had wondered what precipitated such a profound change in my writing. My enjoyment of anime and the attendant enjoyment of writing would carry over to university; I was more fond of writing papers than my peers. Maintaining my website and writing in university created a sort of positive feedback loop, and eventually resulted in the creation of this blog, as well as affording me the practise to write a graduate thesis paper. It’s surprising as to how much of an impact a single anime movie had, and ultimately, the learnings from having watched (and reflected upon) Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is that an open mind can create paths that are unexpected, but also highly fulfilling. This is certainly not a bad legacy for a movie that’s now seventeen years old, to say the least.

Urara Meirocho: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Take ahold of this moment. The Force is strong.” —Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

En route to their first Urara examination, Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono study different forms of divination. Over time, Koume begins to specialise in pendulum divination, while Kon becomes more proficient in kokkuri (equivalent to Ouija) following her being possessed by a fox spirit. Nono, on the other hand, channels her powers through her doll, Matsuko. Their days in Labyrinth City vary between training, studying for their exams, and exploring the different areas of the sections of the town they are permitted to travel through: some of their misadventures include being caught out in the rain and learning that misfortune can sometimes be a matter of perspective, are dressed up as brides during the Wedding Kimono Festival, listen to Koume’s story about having met a witch during her childhood, and perform a spring séance that gives Kon and Chiya some unusual visions. Their journey culminates in passing the qualifiers for the ninth-rank Urara exam, which sees prospective Urara enter a subterranean labyrinth in search of arrows to recover. This exam begins nominally, with everyone except calling on their own specialisations to navigate the maze on the way to their key. While they find the key, Chiya is captured by an unknown entity, only escaping when she unlocks Kurou, a being that manifests as a black spirit and helps Chiya with divination. She is able to reunite with her friends and helps them exit the labyrinth, in the process passing their examination and successfully move on to rank nine. With its solid world-building and depiction of Urara, Urara Meirocho turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining watch that manages to contribute yet another entertaining slice-of-life anime, featuring familiar characters in a well-explored new setting.

It should not come as a surprise that the main theme in Urara Meirocho involves the significance of teamwork; in particular, Urara Meirocho takes the time to have each of Kon, Koume and Nono build up their strengths, while at the same time, presenting Chiya as somewhat of an anomaly whose very existence is a bit of a mystery. Despite seemingly lacking any outward talent, Chiya’s unusual and unknown background confers upon her an exceptionally powerful means of divination. However, it is not Chiya’s abilities alone that carry the day: each and every member of Natsume-ya contribute to their success in the examination, illustrating that it is a team effort that allows them to be successful even in spite of the notion that Urara are often competing against one another in their quest to improve. Along the way, their adventures together have made their friendship an unshakable one, conveying the strength of everyone’s faith and trust in one another. Beyond cooperation and strength in a diverse range of talents, there is a secondary theme in Urara Meirocho; while divination is used to determine elements of the future, the actual occurrence of events and the interpretation of their meaning is ultimately given to be dependent on how one looks at it. Things that count as misfortune can also be seen as good fortune: as Kon discovers, being rained in gives her a chance to bond with her friends, and subsequently, the experiences the girls have are positive because they aim to make the most of their hand.

Aside from its depiction of Chiya and company’s journey towards improving as Urara, Urara Meirocho excels with its world-building, taking care to explain (often for the viewers’ benefit) the mechanics behind how the different divination modes function and the laws surrounding Labyrinth Town to ensure that audiences can keep up. There’s sufficient detail to give the sense that this is a living, breathing world where things are well-thought out as to remain compelling, but not so much that audiences are overwhelmed. As such, even though I do not possess anything resembling familiarity with fortune-telling and the different mythological elements of Urara Meirocho, I nonetheless am provided with enough information to keep up with what’s occurring. This is a core element in my enjoyment of the anime: unlike RDG: Red Data Girl, where I found myself getting lost amongst the different factions and their vague objectives, Urara Meirocho ensures its viewers are up to speed on the details. This leaves audiences free to enjoy the adventures and humour that arise in Urara Meirocho, as well as wonder what mysteries are in play surrounding Chiya’s background and the aspects of Labyrinth Town that elude even the higher-level Urara. The world-building contributes substantially to making Urara Meirocho an accessible and enjoyable anime, placing it alongside Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? in terms of creating a noteworthy world for its characters to explore.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If one can accept bad luck as being a matter of perspective, they might find that many of their misfortunes cease to be: getting trapped together during a rainstorm offers the girls a chance to become closer to one another. A curious note is that black cats, although considered to be an omen of misfortune in North America owing to their association with witches, the British and Japanese count black cats as a sign of good luck. There’s actually quite a bit to discuss in Urara Meirocho, so this whole-season post will feature thirty, rather than twenty images.

  • Kon is generally a hard worker and no stranger to exam revision, while Nono is limited only by her confidence. Conversely, Koume and Chiya do not possess the same drive to study: here, they learn to divine one’s fortunes based on the placement of moles on their bodies. These moles have nothing to do with Avagadro’s Number (6.022140857×10²³) or the family Talpidae, but rather, refer to nevus, lesions on the skin. I know nothing about how moles affect one’s fortunes, but I do know that moles are an umbrella term to any darker points on one’s skin: the most common form result from increased melanin concentrations and are largely benign.

  • When asked to expose herself, Kon’s entire body turns a shade of pink out of embarrassment. If and when I’m asked, Kon’s easily my favourite character of Urara Meirocho: I’ve always taken a liking to the serious, proper characters who try their best to make their way in a world dominated by their friends’ whack antics. These characters might be subject to humiliation, and Kon’s situation brings to mind Mio Akiyama of K-On!, who mooned an entire audience during a performance following an accident on stage and subsequently, her popularity skyrocketed.

  • Aside from studying Urara fundamentals, the girls also partake in town festivities. Here, they are dressed up as brides to appease the town’s resident gods. For a day, they enjoy themselves, but things quickly turn south when Chiya imbibes some alcohol, gets hammered and subsequently creates a ruckus when she releases a pheromone that attracts animals to her position, as well as resulting in general chaos.

  • Escaping the town, Chiya finds herself in the meadows and encounters a strange fox-like entity before fainting. Coming to, her friends wonder if Chiya is gifted with the Sight, the power to see the Gods themselves. A law unifying all Urara is that their powers are not to be used to divine what the Gods look like; it’s a gesture of respect to wield their powers with an honest intent, since the Gods grant Urara the ability to foresee the future.

  • I’ve often mentioned that I steer clear of alcohol owing to the adverse effects it has on me. Elsewhere, it is noted that Chiya is the last to experience something supernatural despite being implied to be possessing a sort of power that even the other lack, but from a storytelling perspective, this is nothing out of the ordinary: when one reaches a milestone is less significant than what they do with their ability and skill once they have mastery of it. This holds true in reality and therefore also applies to the things seen in Urara Meirocho.

  • After wondering about Nina’s suitor and where her heart lies, the girls decide to attempt divining who’s on her mind. Koume takes the lead, using a pendulum as a sort of dowsing tool and later learns that Saku is likely this suitor. In order to dissuade individuals such as myself from pulling the “dowsing is a pseudo-science” card, Koume uses of a pendulum, a weighted apparatus that cannot be made to defy gravity easily by sleight-of-hand. She creates a persona for the pendulum: it manifests as a young girl but later, is given “upgrades”.

  • Unlike the wizards and witches of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, incantations are not wielded for anything beyond opening the floor for divination in Urara Meirocho. Nono struggles with them until she realises that incantations, beyond their basic forms, are subject to variation. She decides to sing them, which has an immensely powerful effect on those within earshot.

  • When questioned about the origins of her Witches’ hat and broom, Koume explains that in her childhood, she was friends with a Witch called Marie Quispilquette, and after learning Marie was capable of performing magic, aspired to be a Witch herself. However, Marie left suddenly when a plague befell the nearby town to avoid persecution, leaving Koume with these items. Witch hunts were very much a part of history, stemming from vestiges of human culture where a combination of calamity and groupthink triggers a hysteria. Presently, even with the scientific method, members of an educated society may partake in witch hunts (albeit directed at different perceived threats) in response to difficult times.

  • Koume is likely unaware of how to actually operate a broom: since brooms in Urara Meirocho are inanimate until a user wields it, it stands to reason that these brooms are most similar to the ones of Flying Witch rather than Harry Potter, where brooms are bewitched using charms in order to fly. With this being said, Harry Potter mentions family-class brooms that can seat multiple individuals, so I imagine that Marie’s broom would be of this class, serving a similar function as would a sedan for us Muggles.

  • Koume seems to have associated Kon as being maid-like in appearance, even providing a swimsuit that has a design of a maid outfit for their outing to a nearby river. Similar to how Koume takes to dowsing, and Nono begins to adopt singing out her incantations, Kon decides to try kokkuri and becomes possessed by a fox spirit. Despite the spirit’s lofty mannerisms, it is tamed by Chiya, and later on, Kon reveals that she can now summon the fox spirit at will to assist her in divination.

  • I haven’t gone swimming in quite some time: the last time I donned a swimsuit was in Cancún last July, when I strolled along the white sand beaches by morning. While I waded into the warm waters of the Yucatán, I did not actually go more than five meters away from the shores into deeper water, since I did not bring a towel with me. Here, Chiya joyfully pushes the others into the river. On this trip, they are accompanied by Nina, Saku and her leftenants (whose names I never bothered to learn).

  • During the course of their day, Kon attempts to perform a “spring séance” where two Urara combine their powers to perform divination. They begin seeing visions of mysterious entities, and Kon wonders if she’s committed the taboo of divining about the Gods. There have been remarks out there that the original kanji of the manga is written similarly to Taoist “spiritual” practises to mirror that notion of “becoming one” to attain enlightenment. Urara Meirocho might be hinting at Kon’s own thoughts, which betray her: her feelings for her friends are strong.

  • With that being said, whether or not this is intended to insinuate that Kon and Chiya are headed in that direction is completely irrelevant, and this is reflected by a general lack of interest in what the kanji‘s original meanings are – what matters is how Kon feels in the aftermath of their actions. In general, my discussions do not place an emphasis on minor details surrounding words and their meanings; I’ve never been a fan of deconstruction, which asserts that meaning is lost because of the sum of a work is dependent on quantifiers that are arbitrary. This approach is an ineffective one, because the constituents of system lose their meaning when studied independently of other constituents in a system.

  • A system’s worth is governed by its value as a whole, rather than its parts, so I prefer looking at things from the systems level. Back in Urara Meirocho, after spending the evening worried about whether or not she’d lose her divining powers, she passes this fear to Chiya, who resolves to remain with her under any circumstance. When Nono and Koume catch wind of this, they help her perform a kokkurthat reveals Kon has not lost her power. Chiya’s feral tendencies kick in, and she begins licking Kon like a dog would. It is with the sum of her friends’ help that Kon overcomes this particular hurdle, a recurring theme in Urara Meirocho.

  • Chiya runs into Tokie, a level-two Urara who saves her from a swindler. After a walk around town, Tokie uses a crystal ball to learn about Chiya, but it shatters when she tries to determine the identity of Chiya’s mother. Because of the one rule about divining, it stands to reason that Chiya’s mother has a very high rank or else is a God herself: thinking back to Anakin Skywalker and his conception, Chiya might very well be the one to bring balance to the Force have a supernatural origin. Some of Tokie’s feats, however, are diminished when she reveals that she is Kon’s mother: her descriptions and knowledge of Chiya come from a priori knowledge.

  • Nina faints when Tokie reveals that calamity will befall Nono later in the evening unless Team Natsume works together to avert this. Ironically, knowing about a disaster beforehand can trigger behavioural changes in the affected individuals, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply, a false prediction induces actions in the affected that lead them to act in ways that can enable the prediction’s terms, leading them to conclude the prophecy was true. The Greek myth of Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s MacBeth are classic examples.

  • In order to prevent disaster, Nono and the others wander into the forests by nightfall, in search of a herb not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s Athelas (better known as Kingsfoil), which was a potent healing agent that could even counteract the effects of a wound inflicted by a Morgul-blade, or the life-draining powers from Black Breath. Frantic, the girls eventually opt to stick with one another and begin holding out in the manner they’re most familiar with.

  • As it turns out, this entire “calamity” was an exercise to determine if Team Natsume is eligible for the Urara exam, and Nina was in on the fact the whole time. The actual exam is a treasure hunt: punch through obstacles in a labyrinth even the top Urara do not fully understand and retrieve an arrow. Success is determined by the strength of teamwork, and Nina will be amongst one of the instructors “invigilating” (present a credible obstruction to the examinees). In describing and outlining the exam’s criteria, as well as reacting to the mishaps that befall the students, Tokie derives an uncommonly strong sense of pleasure from the thought of the Urara hopefuls suffering.

  • Chiya feels left out when the others mention what tools they will be bringing into the exam with them. In spite of this, everyone manages to reach the arrow (after Kon is taken in by several fake arrows). When they make to leave the chamber, Chiya is absorbed by an unknown entity that claims her mother is a TR8R before attempting to asphyxiate her. It is here that Chiya’s mother’s name is revealed to be Yami.

  • Being sourced from a Manga Time Kirara work, there was never any doubt that Chiya would make it out of her situation alive: it was the unexpectedness of this turn of events that allowed the tenth episode to have a compelling cliffhanger that motivated me to watch Urara Meirocho‘s eleventh episode as soon as it appeared. Before anything too serious can happen, Kurou appears and lends its powers to help Chiya escape. Chiya subsequently uses this newfound power to locate her friends, who’ve fallen prey to various traps in the labyrinth.

  • While I am fond of things like cheesecake and fudge, if given the choice, I will prefer meat and potatoes every time. Consequently, I am not as likely to fall victim to Koume’s fate: she’s stuck in a small opening, with her flab keeping her from being extricated. Strictly speaking, it’s actually a combination of a good diet and exercise that allows one to remain in shape; this is why I’m fond of lifting weights, and also why I do martial arts in conjunction with hiking where the weather permits. So, I’m curious to know this of my readers: how do you keep in shape?

  • I’m sure the manga will delve into much more details than the anime can with respect to the relationship that Chiya shares with Kurou; Urara Meirocho only depicts Kurou’s powers as being exceptionally precise, allowing Chiya and her friends to navigate out of the labyrinth without much difficulty. As the clock counts down, Team Natsume double-times their way back to the exit, resolutely trying to finish their exam within the time limits stipulated.

  • The sum of Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono’s divination skills, coupled with the strength of their friendship, is what inspires the page quote, sourced from Rogue One. Like Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), whose faith in the Force allows him to perform incredible feats despite being blind, the girls are able to use their experiences in order to complete difficult tasks in spite of facing the unknown, seizing the moment when the opportunity arrives and making the most of things.

  • While I’ve praised almost all of the aspects of Urara Meirocho to a high extent, one element that has gone unmentioned is the soundtrack. Released back on March 8 and retailing for 2700 Yen (32.44 CAD at the time of writing), the music in the soundtrack is quite ordinary in nature, blending in seamlessly with the events of the anime. There are some tracks that convey a more appropriate sense than others, which sound more conventional (these songs are typically used whenever comedy dominates a moment).

  • To celebrate their successful examination, Saku and Nina bring Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono to a top-tier hot springs whose design is somewhat reminiscent of Taipei’s Grand Hotel: the main building was completed in 1973 and remains one of the largest traditional Chinese buildings around. Prior to entering the hot springs, Chiya and the others try out one another’s outfits when Nono wonders what wearing a corset is like; Chiya and Kon find themselves unaccustomed to the other’s clothes, while Koume grows jealous when Nono turns out to wear her Witch’s outfit nicely.

  • What begins as a relaxing soak in a hot springs mutates into a talent show when Saku and Nina get wasted on alcohol that brings to the forefront comedy that is befitting of Urara Meirocho. In the aftermath, Saku and Nina lie down, while Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono find that their rank nine emblems, plus all of their divining implements, have gone missing. However, even without these tools, the girls work together to deduce location, eventually making use of swarm intelligence to determine where all of their gear has gone. While it would be amusing to try and fit this occurrence to an ant colony optimisation problem, it does not seem appropriate, since the ants converge on a point behind the waterfall quickly.

  • As it turns out, Nina’s moved their gear behind the waterfall to purify it and protect the Urara as they move up: they will be transferring to an institute for ninth-rank Urara to futher their studies, moving out of the Natsume teahouse in doing so. Far from a tearful separation, the girls are excited to continue, leaving Nina in tears.

  • Chiya notes that, while she’s now faced with more mysteries than before, the prospect of improving and learning more is a powerful motivation. She and Kon overlook Labyrinth town here – I’ve been impressed with the details in the town’s depiction throughout Urara Meirocho, and seeing the town alit by nightfall is a fantastic opportunity to provide such a screenshot. The artwork in this anime is fabulous and contributes solidly to the atmospherics.

  • Claims that “the story wasn’t helped by its format” is lunacy; Urara Meirocho strove to portray Chiya’s journey to becoming a higher-ranked Urara with her friends, and succeed in this, Urara Meirocho does. The journey to the top ultimately means that there is a vast opportunity for a continuation, and any sort of sequel to Urara Meirocho would mean being able to see Chiya and the others attend a Urara academy. Taken together, I would probably give Urara Meirocho an A-, 8.5 on a ten-point scale, and note that like other anime derived from Manga Time Kirara works, Urara Meirocho represents an immensely entertaining series that excels at bringing a smile to its viewers. It’s certainly not an anime to scrutinise, being best enjoyed for the journey that it depicts.

The sum of its world-building and character dynamics, coupled with an interesting art style means that Urara Meirocho ends up as a pleasant surprise for the Winter 2017 season, being best-suited for fans of the slice-of-life genre. However, like GochiUsa, Urara Meirocho is set in a location that is not yet another Japanese suburban area during high school: the location, paired with an honest and effective means of exploring this new world gives the setting in Urara Meirocho credence. For fans of the genre, Urara Meirocho earns a recommendation, easily being quite entertaining and refreshing. However, as some of the jokes can come across as jarring (especially Captain Saku and her uncommonly impure thoughts): Urara Meirocho might not be suitable for fans of other genres. Consequently, for folks unaccustomed or unfamiliar with moé slice-of-life anime, this anime earns neither recommendation or rejection, as the enjoyment factor varies from person to person. The final aspect that is worth considering is whether or not Urara Meirocho will receive a continuation: with the manga on-going, it is likely that we could see a future season, provided that there is enough source material and that sales are good. An OVA in-between seasons is also a possibility, but for the present, in the absence of additional information, it’s reasonable to conclude that Urara Meirocho comes to a solid conclusion.

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

 “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

Yune is a small Japanese girl who accompanies traveler Oscar Claudel to Paris France, living and working at the Enseignes du Roy. The shop’s current owner, and Oscar’s grandson, Claude Claudel, reluctantly accepts her presence, learning more about Japanese customs and concurrently caring for Yune. Despite the dramatic differences of culture and beliefs between the two, Yune and Claude come to understand one another, sharing more about their backgrounds and interests with one another in a Paris of the late nineteenth century, where the West begins to take an increasing interest Japanese culture. Their everyday lives are joined by Alice and Camille Blanche, who are upper-class members of society; the younger of the two, Alice takes an immediate liking to Yune and attempts to impress her at every turn, while Camille reflects on her own feelings for Claude and regrets that class differences keep them apart. The collection of stories about Yune and Claude’s everyday lives in Paris form the basis for the loosely-structured narrative in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth (Crossroads in a Foreign Labyrinth), providing glimpses into the lives of a Parisian family in the late 1800s and a Japanese girl’s immersion in a culture completely unlike her own, finding interest in the French way of things. Recommended for me from a friend, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ends up being a reasonably interesting anime that seeks to capture the more mundane, everyday comings-and-goings in a shopping district of Paris. Beautifully animated and with a gentle soundtrack, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth also brings to mind my own travels through Paris a year ago en route to my first-ever conference: when a terrorist attack on Brussels disrupted transportation across France, my own flight from Paris to Rennes was cancelled. After rearranging my flight bookings to ensure I could return home at the conference’s end, I hopped on a shuttle bus from the Charles de Gaulle International Airport through the streets of Paris to Gare Saint-Lazare, managing to purchase tickets and boarding the train to Laval with only four minutes to spare.

Despite having spent such a short time in Paris and having not explored any of the major attractions (the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Louvre come to mind), travelling through the streets of Paris led me to wonder: what would life in a major European city be like? Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth answers this query, albeit from a new perspective — the Paris depicted is that of the late nineteenth century. Owing to the peaceful period that is depicted when Yune visits, it is safe to assume that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is set well after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, likely in the 1890s. During this time, Yune grows accustomed to Parisian culture and even tries to eat cheese, a major element in French cuisine, despite her own unfamiliarity with it. All the while, she surprises Claude and the others with her actions: distinctly Japanese, they would seem out of place in France. These interactions are amusing and heartwarming, presenting one facet of the culture shock that both Yune and Claude experience when they meet. It’s a world away from the multiculturalism that is a very strong part of the Canadian identity: cultures and values coexisting is how I’ve always known the world, and from my perspective, it is unusual to be in a homogeneous culture. Spending most of its time depicting the journeys that Yune and Claude share in reconciling their different backgrounds and learning more about one another, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth combines the humorous with the dramatic to illustrate the ups and downs of life. This creates a very abrupt but also natural-feeling atmosphere, showing that events in life occupy the whole spectrum of tragic and serendipitous events: the adventures (and misadventures) that both Claude and Yune experience end up changing them subtly, and while Claude’s stubborn, blunt nature remains very much unchanged throughout Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the dramatically different perspectives Yune brings with her have a nontrivial impact on his own outlooks and actions. Hence, while Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth might deal with a series of seemingly disjoint stories about Yune’s life in Paris, the thematic elements points towards the notion that awareness of different cultures and values invariably affect one’s own perspectives.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a full series-type discussion on a long-finished anime in this format. Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth originally aired during the summer of 2011, running from July to September. During this time, I had just finished Sora no Woto, returned from my trip to the Eastern Seaboard and began was watching Shinryaku! Ika Musume!. This is Yune, a Japanese girl whose surname is never given, and who accompanies Oscar back to Paris to help out around their shop.

  • Practical, blunt and easy to exasperate, Claude comes across as being quite unfriendly and cold towards Yune, in contrast with Oscar, who is rather more open-minded. The owner of Enseignes du Roy (lit. “The King’s Signs”), a sign-making shop, Oscar is often travelling about seeking the companionship of a lady friend, leaving Claude to the day-to-day runnings of the shop.

  • Voiced by Nao Tōyama early in her career (the roles that I best know for her, as Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujō and Kongō of Kantai Collection, come later), Yune is considerate of her hosts’ thoughts. Taking quickly to aspects of French cuisine, she finds cheese to be somewhat disagreeable, but does her best to hide this and even works towards growing accustomed to its taste. I find that North American take on cheese is a bit more casual than that of the French, where there are at least four hundred varieties of cheese, and where consumption can reach fifteen kilograms per capita per annum.

  • A sign-smith by trade, Claude spends long hours in front of an anvil, hammering out metal into signs for his clients. While set in Paris, France, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is an anime and as such, it is up to the viewer’s imagination to suppose that Yune and the others are speaking French rather than Japanese. While French is one of two official languages in Canada and the education system had mandate that French be taught in schools, I never did pick up the language owing to how minimal the exposure to the language was. Now that I’ve travelled to Laval, France (having already visited Laval, Canada back in 2008), I find French to be an interesting language that I should have, in retrospect, made a more honest attempt at learning.

  • The dynamics between Claude and Yune fluctuate between hot and cold quite frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: the cold moments has me a touch irritated that Claude is not more aware of his surroundings, but he’s also considerate and caring, taking the time to introduce Yune to different elements of Paris, such as when he brings her to a Paris market to purchase some ingredients for the evening’s dinner. The Paris of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is lovingly depicted and looks beautiful, with the buildings being faithfully reproduced to be consistent with period French architecture.

  • While unmentioned in the anime, Yune is thirteen in age, although her physical stature suggests that she is only ten. Much as how Claude can be quite set in his ways, Yune is also quite stubborn: her interactions with Claude force the two to meet one another halfway on multiple occasions, setting in place growth for each character. However, rather than anything dramatic, these changes are much more subtle.

  • Yune’s Japanese background might differ dramatically from that of Claude’s, but Claude nonetheless grows to appreciate Yune – when she writes out kanji for her name, they act as inspiration for Claude to finish a sign. Here, the two take a walk around the streets of Paris by evening, as crepuscular rays punch through openings in the clouds to create a truly magical moment. In general, the atmosphere in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth never strays too far from neutral: moments can become a little tender or a little stressful, but do not otherwise evoke particularly strong emotions in audiences.

  • A member of the upper class, Alice Blanche grows enamoured with Yune after meeting her for the first time and promptly sets about trying to invite her to tea. Similar to Alice Cartelet of Kiniro Mosaic, she is fascinated with all things Japan, although the Alice of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is rather less versed with Japanese implements than her counterpart in Kiniro Mosaic. While Alice attempts to sway Yune into living with her, Yune’s sense of loyalty means that she declines each offer.

  • Some individuals regard Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth as the spiritual successor to ARIA, but I contend that there are more differences than similarities between the two anime such that the definition is not satisfied: themes and elements are different as night and day between the two anime, with the only commonality being that the anime are both slice-of-life. Other than that, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth utilises a difference in culture to drive Yune’s everyday life, while in ARIA, the inner mysteries of Neo Venezia are interwoven with Akari, Alice and Aika’s journeys to become Prima Undine.

  • Most of the scenes in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth are rendered with great detail, but there are moments where the artwork takes on a more deformed, stylised format, usually to signify irony or humour. Here, Yune pouts in the classic anime style when she overhears Claude describing to Alice her single-mindedness. She’s holding a pot of sukiyaki, a Japanese dish of thinly-sliced beef boiled in a special broth that is quite warming.

  • While of a generally cheerful disposition, Yune can sometimes grow disheartened on some occasions when either recalling her past or Claude’s restrictive mindset on things. Claude comes across as being overbearing and strict; his conversations with Oscar suggest that he has Yune’s interests at heart when he speaks, but the manner of his delivery is blunt.

  • On closer inspection, Yune’s reaction to cheese stems from the fact that cheese is not a part of the traditional Japanese diet – it was introduced during the Meiji Restoration but only became more widespread during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the joys in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was the fact that minor details are portrayed well to convey the location, and it is welcome whenever an anime or manga authentically illustrates locales overseas.

  • Claude’s conversations with Alice frequently degenerate into squabbling; Claude despises her attitude and lack of concern for her actions, while Alice finds his stubbornness an impediment to her goals. In spite of this, he reluctantly allows Yune to spend time with Alice; each and every time Alice comes through the storefront, some sort of disagreement will ensue.

  • After Yune attempts to look for a boy who’d stolen from Enseignes du Roy, Claude reprimands her. She later falls ill, leading Claude to remark that this boy, a vagrant, might have given her an illness, and looks after her. He turns to the Blanches to obtain a Japanese recipe for a congee-like dish to help Yune, and later runs into the boy, who sought to give Yune a flower.

  • One element in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth that is very much under-appreciated is the soundtrack. Consisting of gentle songs that capture life around Enseignes du Roy, as well as vocal pieces, the song that stood out most for me was A.m.u.’s “Tomorrow’s Smile”. This single song seems to convey the entire spectrum of emotions that Yune encounters while in Paris, and serves as the ending song for episode eight.

  • Alice is voiced by Aoi Yūki: I am most familiar with her roles as Sora no Woto‘s Noël Kannagi and Komachi Hikigaya of Oregairu. With the number of voice actors I’m now familiar with, one wonders if I have a favourite actor/actress from films originating from this side of the world. Surprisingly, I do have an answer for this: Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee are my favourite actors, having a distinct style that I can pick out from any movie they’re in.

  • When they were children, Camille and Claude were close friends who had spent much time with one another. Camille had fallen in love with Claude and had resolved that the two should spend time together even if she is married to someone else, understanding their socio-economic differences preclude their being together. Over time, a distance grows between the two, and they regard one another cooly by the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth.

  • It was a bit surprising to learn that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was produced by Satelight, the same folks who produced The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. Unlike the latter, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth has consistently high animation quality, and the visuals, both for the characters and cityscapes, are of an excellent standard. I get the sense that Satelight was trying to find their feet when working on The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan – earlier episodes were very light on details, but as the series wore on, backgrounds became more detailed, and animations more fluid.

  • I admit that I am not terribly fond of Claude’s personality, but in a bit of irony, I see a bit of my own bluntness and stubbornness in Claude. One of the shortcomings in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was that his manner changes very little overall through the anime’s run: while shifting over the course of an episode, he almost always reverts back to his old self come a new episode. Granted, personality traits take time in order to alter, and so, it is likely that a longer series would have been necessary to properly depict how Yune and Claude’s time together changes the two.

  • Prior to Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric incandescent light in 1879, gas lamps were the primary means of illuminating a city. By the 1860s, Paris had some 56000 fixtures, earning it the moniker “City of Light”. These gas lamps slowly began to be displaced by electric lights, which were much safer and more inexpensive; presently, gas lamps are nonetheless retained in some areas, such as Boston, for the sake of aesthetics.

  • The French countryside is beautiful, as I found out first-hand when I took the train from Paris to Laval. Evidently an inconvenience, taking the train from Paris also ended up being an adventure that gave me a slightly closer look at Paris and rural France. Here, Claude has traveled into the country to meet with a client, and the pastoral feelings conveyed in this image brings to mind the peaceful ambiance seen in the regions of Gallia in Strike Witches unaffected by the Neuroi; this stands in sharp contrast with the state of things during the First World War (examples of this are vividly brought to life in maps such as St. Quenin Scar of Battlefield 1).

  • From what I’ve heard, there’s a manga spin-off following Alice’s adventures with Yune, titled Ikoku Meiro no Alice-chan (Alice-chan’s Foreign Labyrinth). Aside from Alice’s squabbles with Claude, one element seen frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is the dramatic differences in cultural values that Yune brings to the table. Her actions can be quite subtle: she politely and subtly declines Alice in favour of Claude, rather than outright rejecting invitations. Japanese culture is very much driven by face, so in order to avoid embarrassing others, it is the norm to indirectly decline. A “maybe” in Japanese would correspond to a “no”, standing in contrast with other cultures, such as the Dutch, who are very direct.

  • So, after leaving the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, I spent around 40 minutes on a shuttle bus en route to the Saint-Lazare train station. On the way, my colleage and I received an email from my supervisor, who had received news of the attack in Brussels and was wondering if there was anything he could do to help. I was able to access wireless internet and replied to my supervisor, saying we were okay, then turned to my colleague and joked that, short of sending air support, help would be unlikely. We had grown a little pensive after learning of the difficulties in rearranging our transportation both to Laval and back home, but we managed to make things work.

  • The conference subsequently went off without a hitch, and I delivered my first ever presentation overseas. While in France, there was little time to properly sit down for a French-style meal, so one of my plans for the future will be to visit France for sightseeing: with this being said, I did have a chance to sight-see in Laval, taking a walk around the old town on the morning of the conference’s opening. I’m surprised that a year has elapsed so quickly, and it was a little more than a year ago that I skipped all of my classes, setting out to Amsterdam for the flight into Paris. Back in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, Yune enjoys a sandwich while on a picnic with Claude and Oscar.

  • During this picnic, Yune reveals a bit more about her past and her sister, Shione. Someone she greatly admired and had been very close to, Shione had eyes of vivid blue rather than the brown colours more predominant in people of an Asian ancestry. While our modern knowledge of genetics means that we’re aware of the genes affecting eye pigmentation (HERC2 and OCA2), as well as their hereditary patterns, the work of Gregor Johann Mendel and his beans were still revolutionary at the time of their publication in 1866; his discovery’s value was not realised until nearly three decades later. Hence, the locals dæmonised Shione, who pretended to be blind to escape scrutiny on Yune’s suggestion.

  • Over time, Shione’s vision decayed to the point where she became blind, and Yune has blamed herself for this turn of events, supposing that her wish was responsible for this. Oscar reassures Yune that far from being the cause of Shione’s suffering, Yune’s words and gestures would have given her sister strength. The notion of visual prosthesis has been in consideration since the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, but substantial advances in medical science means that technologies like these can now be fitted to aid blind individuals. Although the technology is still primitive, there will come a day where it can be used to restore sight in the blind.

  • The finale presents Claude’s story as one also filled with challenges: his father was a masterful sign-craftsman but had never really seen his son in a favourable light. Claude constantly strove to improve with the aim of someday earning his father’s praise, but one day, his father fell from scaffolding in an accident and perished. Since then, Claude has never spoken much about his father, until Yune arrives, causing him to open up in a way that was hitherto unseen. Despite perhaps despising his father, Claude seems to be quite strict in his own right, although moments show that he does care for those around him.

  • Thus, when Yune makes to find a cat upon hearing its bell and winds up on the roof of the Galerie, the district housing the Enseignes du Roy. It’s a perilous spot, and after searching the area for her, Claude finally manages to find her. He carefully makes his way to Yune and manages to catch her before she falls off a ledge. It is unsurprising that the tensest moment of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is found in the finale, and similarly, the outcome was quite straightforwards: there are no unnecessary or surprise deaths.

  • While the rooftops might be a dangerous place to be, Yune and Claude also gain a beautiful view of the Paris cityscape. It is a fitting way to conclude Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, and now that I’ve seen Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, I conclude that this is a modestly relaxing anime that offers a perspective into Paris of the late 19th century. Ultimately, it was quite enjoyable to watch this at work: I admit that my procrastination tendencies show up in full force here, since I finished Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth back in January, watching one episode a day while on lunch break at work.

  • Despite mentioning briefly that I would write about Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth early in February, I became sidetracked by the Wake Up, Girls! posts. I weighed my options about reviewing this anime, and considered shelving it, but then I looked at the calendar and realised that today marks a year since I presented my research at the Laval Virtual Conference. The paper is dated to one year ago today in the ACM Digital Library, and it costs 15 dollars to purchase. I won’t be sharing the paper, but I could probably provide an overview of that paper if one were to ask nicely. Jokes aside, that’s pretty much it for this post, and up next on the horizon will be a whole-series talk on Urara Meirocho.

In Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the interplay between Claude and Yune’s respective French and Japanese backgrounds confers change in both individuals for the better; diversity and respect are core tenants of multiculturalism, and it is through understanding that cooperation and trust are built. This is the reason why multiculturalism are desirable, unifying shared human values and bringing the best of all cultures together; acceptance and understanding is what it means to be Canadian, where enjoying Cantonese cuisine while watching the Calgary Flames defeat the Pittsburg Penguins to match the franchise record of ten consecutive victories in a shootout is a part of life rather than anything noteworthy. Although small in stature, similar to Yune herself, the theme of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth nonetheless has a large presence within the anime: Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is enjoyable for this reason, even if the juxtaposition of happiness and sadness can come across as jarring, and where Claude’s personality comes across as being irritating at times. Ultimately, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth earns a recommendation — the total sum of the anime’s message, sincerity in Yune’s character, authentic depiction of a late-nineteenth century Paris and a cathartic, beautifully-presented soundtrack makes the anime a worthwhile one, capturing the atmosphere surrounding the city. Paris might have been a stepping-stone on the way to my destination in Laval, but the short few hours I spent in Paris, coupled with Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth means that I am interested in visiting Paris again to sight-see somewhere in the future.