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Yama no Susume Season 2: A Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“If the mountain defeats you, will you risk a more dangerous road?” –Saruman, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

After Aoi is moved by a sunset during a sleepover, Hinata decides to surprise her with a trip to Mount Mitsutōge, from which there is a spectacular view of Mount Fuji. On the day of their trip, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona do their best to keep Aoi surprised; she learns of the truth anyways and is happy that her friends have gone to such lengths to make her happy. En route to Mitsutōge’s summit, Aoi manages to clear a cliffside path with support, and enjoys the view of Mount Fuji from the top of the mountain. Following their descent, the girls relax in an onsen, with Aoi partaking despite her embarrassment. Later, when Hinata accidentally mangles something Aoi is knitting, Aoi refuses to speak to her. With help from Kokona, Hinata makes amends with Aoi. Aoi later wants to ascend Mount Fuji to see the sunrise from its summit, and her mother initially refuses, but relents after seeing Aoi’s determination. Despite this, Aoi worries about whether or not she’ll make it, and decides to proceed with encouragement from her friends. During the ascent itself, Aoi grows tired from the increasing altitude, and eventually develops a headache shortly before reaching the Eighth Station from pushing herself. Kaede remains behind to look after her, while Hinata and Kokona continue their climb. They are met with a beautiful sunrise and explore Mount Fuji’s caldera, while Kaede accompanies a dejected Aoi back down the mountain. This is the sum of what happens in Yama no Susume‘s second season’s first half – airing in the summer of 2014, amidst the development of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, Yama no Susume‘s second season continues with Aoi’s journey to mountain climbing.

With the first season setting up the premise and introducing all of the characters, Yama no Susume‘s second season (admittedly, an unwieldy title, which will heretofore be referred to as Yama no Susume 2) proceeds into showcasing the natural progression of Aoi’s friendship with Hinata, Kaede and Kokona as they get to know one another better. This results in a group hike up Mitsutōge, and eventually, an attempt to scale Mount Fuji itself. This is a gargantuan undertaking representing the culmination of everyone’s friendship – to defeat the tallest mountain in all of Japan would be a momental feat. Unsurprisingly, Aoi finds herself ill prepared, both physically, and mentally, for the task at hand: even with support from her friends, exhaustion and altitude sickness precludes her making it to the top, showing that in spite of how far she’s come, Aoi is not quite ready to make the climb just yet. There’s still a bit more learning left, and while Aoi does fall into a melancholy for her failure, this sets the stage for her to grow further as a character. Yama no Susume 2‘s deliberate portrayal of Aoi being defeated by the mountain shows that in life, there are things that one cannot quite conquer even with help; it is sometimes the case that one’s own limitations are the cause, and it ultimately falls on the individual to further themselves, rising to the occasion and finding different solutions, that allow them to overcome their setbacks. It’s a change of pace from series where friendship is a decisive factor in helping an individual out, and Yama no Susume 2 represents a refreshing approach towards advancing character growth.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve actually jumped ahead to the actual hike to Mount Mitsutōge: thirty screenshots is not enough to showcase every moment in Yama no Susume 2, and quite honestly, this is a series where one could have realistically done episodic talks for each episode despite being a short. Unlike the first season, Yama no Susume 2‘s episodes run for half the length of a conventional episode, rather than three minutes, allowing each episode to cover more turf than available in the first season.

  • On their way up Mount Mitsutōge, Kaede encounters clear mountain streams and drinks out of them, offering Aoi to do the same. The mountain is indeed known for its pure, clean water, and it is possible to drink from the water flowing out of the mountain, although whether or not I would do this is debatable: even the cleanest-looking water may host invisible pathogens, and the risk simply isn’t worth it.

  • Here, Aoi slowly makes her way along a narrow cliffside path. Despite her fears, she manages to make it, and the group advances up the mountain. The trails in Mount Mitsutōge are depicted as being well-marked and maintained: this stands in stark contrast with the Windtower, which has poorly marked trails, and when I hiked here last June, I had to press myself along a narrow cliffside path that was 12 inches wide, dropping off 20 meters. I feel that I’d gone off the trail, and this was quite terrifying to know that any screw ups would have seen my endgame. Compared to that, Mount Mitsutōge feels absolutely safe.

  • The hike to Mount Mitsutōge’s summit and back takes around seven hours, spanning some twenty kilometers and sees an elevation gain of around 1328 meters. This is more than any hike I’ve done: hiking the Big Beehive two summers ago was only around four hours, covers 10.3 kilometres and has an elevation gain of 647 meters. When the girls reach the summit, they enjoy a spectacular view from up here before making the descent back down.

  • Even with the trekking poles Kaede’s provided, Aoi’s knees begin giving way. While I normally would crack a joke (perhaps in poor taste) at Aoi’s predicament, the numbers on the Mitsutōge hike are double that of what I’ve hiked previously, and I vividly remember being slightly weak-kneed after completing the Big Beehive, even though I’m considered moderately fit. Hence, I won’t judge Aoi, and would in fact say that Kaede, Hinata and Kokona’s endurance and fitness probably outstrips my own.

  • As evidence of this, when the girls reach the onsen at the foot of the mountain, they’re still in good enough condition to sprint for it, leaving Aoi in the dust. Aoi’s rather sensitive about others seeing her body and therefore is embarrassed about going into the onsen. I admit that back during my trip to Japan two years previously, I was a little unsure about being naked, but the prospect of doing something I’d only seen in shows up until now outweighed my embarrassment. The onsen I bathed in was at the Hotel Heritage in Saitama, a ways outside of Tokyo, and there was a bit of a walk through the brisk spring air from the hotel to the onsen itself.

  • I thus stripped down, even though there was a female staff cleaning the change room, and headed for the men’s bath. I honestly was not expecting the bath to be empty, and after thoroughly scrubbing myself down as I’d seen in countless shows, I stepped into the bath and melted with a look of bliss on my face. Aoi’s expression here mirrors exactly how an onsen feels, and I can honestly say that none of the mineral hot springs in any Canadian National Park comes close to matching an onsen in terms of comfort.

  • While Aoi might have become friends with Kokona and Kaede, she’s still uncomfortable with being around people sans clothes. A clever touch in this moment is that Aoi’s placed herself behind a stone in the bath itself. Yama no Susume‘s portrayal of the water in the bath is par the course for what anime are wont to doing: whereas the water in a real onsen is clear, there is a bit more opacity here for obvious reasons.

  • I must admit that I deeply enjoy Aoi’s different facial expressions in response to various situations; they add a tremendous amount of depth to her as a character, and shows that she has a full emotional range. Here, she reacts to the realisation that she’d just boldly stood up to deliver a retort, and subsequently shrinks away into the water with embarrassment. The spotches of F3D9C5 in the image are motion blur of her arms waving around.

  • While Kokona and Hinata enjoy some refreshments post-onsen, Aoi dozes off and wakes up after vividly seeing a warning about bears. I loved this moment, since it came completely out of the blue, and it paints Aoi as being rather endearing. The ride back home is rather uneventful, but Aoi is charged up about the hike – this is the first time everyone’s done a hike together.

  • Yama no Susume 2 is animated by 8-bit, who had previously done Yama no Susume. Here, the girls hang out at Kannon-ji Temple, which dates back to 810 AD. Despite its age, it’s actually pretty modern in its approaches, and it does have a distinct feature in the white elephant statue on its ground. The girls spend an afternoon here with crepes, and it is clear that between the two seasons, the quality of the animation and artwork have improved slightly.

  • After Hinata accidentally pulls down Aoi’s skirt and exposes the latters’ pantsu, Aoi grows mad and refuses to speak to Hinata, but she decides to visit to apologise. Aoi’s no longer angry with Hinata over the pantsu, which is apparently a common incident between the two. Instead, Hinata’s curiosity leads her into a “out of the frying pan and into the fire” situation – she accidentally wrecks something Aoi is working on.

  • When speaking with Kokona, Hinata learns that Aoi had been working on knitting a hat of sorts for her. This explains why Aoi is particularly angry with Hinata, and it takes Hinata learning the fundamentals of knitting herself to convince Aoi that she’s genuinely sorry for what’d happened. When meeting up with Aoi next, Hinata manages to make up with Aoi. While this is a small moment in the grand scheme of things, showing the dynamic between Aoi and Hinata as one with ups and downs does much to increase the relatability of the characters.

  • Yama no Susume 2 is a series that manages to me smiling through its entire run, and in the aftermath of Hinata and Aoi’s disagreement, it’s Aoi’s turn to accidentally pantsu Hinata. She dismisses the incident in very nearly the same way that Hinata had, and again, seeing Aoi do something like this seems out of character for her – Aoi had always come across as more shy and doubtful of herself, but her tehepero expression here shows a side of her that shows there’s more to Aoi than just being fond of indoors activities and being shy.

  • The girls set their sights on the king of all Japanese mountains: Mount Fuji is on their table next, and with a height of 3776.24 metres, it is the toughest hike the girls have planned so far. Inspired by a memory Hinata’s father shares, Hinata decides to try and ascend Mount Fuji’s by night so that they could reach the summit in time to see the sunrise. It’s a momentous undertaking, and Aoi worries she might not make it, but Hinata and Kokona reassure her that they’ll be there for her.

  • After Aoi convinces her mother to allow her this journey, the girls take some downtime, where Aoi searches for a swimsuit following Hinata’s challenge to find one that’s “sexy”. She digs through some of the more wilder and impractical designs, but inclement weather pushes back their ability to hang out in the Azuma river, they decide to hang out at Hinata’s place instead. Later, the girls prepare for their climb to Mount Fuji, buying an assortment of snacks and drinks to keep everyone energised and hydrated per Kaede’s suggestion.

  • During my trip to Japan two years earlier, the fifth station was one of the destinations that I ended up visiting. It’s the highest point that one can drive up to, and offers a variety of dining and shopping options. While we did not go any higher, lacking the gear to do so, this is the starting point for Aoi and the others on their trek up the mountain. Presently, while I’m not trekking up a mountain, visiting the F8 Facebook Developer Conference proved to be a similarly intense experience.

  • On the evening of my arrival, I linked up with a coworker and we visited a Japanese place in San José for dinner, where I ordered a ramune and curry katsu that, while simpler than Hinata’s Volcano Curry in presentation, was still delicious. The next morning was spent planning out our itinerary for F8 in Palo Alto, and after a stroll around the Stanford Dish pathway under beautiful skies, we returned to Palo Alto’s downtown for lunch before taking the train back to San José’s McEnery Convention Center to pick up our badges and finalise registration for F8. Dinner came a little later, at a quaint establishment that makes a solid barbequed shrimp po’boy.

  • Facebook really can throw parties: live music, arcade machines, and food ranging from potato martinis and dim sum to hot dogs were provided. On the second day, after attending the morning keynote and the afternoon sessions, we attended the closing reception and made our way north to Santa Rosa. Attending F8 and visiting Silicon Valley was a powerful reminder that the world is vast, and that as a developer, I should always be mindful of the fact that there is always something new to learn and master. Back in Yama no Susume 2, Aoi and Kokona are seen carrying climbing stick souvenirs, which one can get stamped at each station they visit. For Yama no Susume 2, they act as a bit of a visual metaphor for progress, tangibly marking how Aoi and her friends have gone.

  • With each passing step, Aoi and her friends are treated to increasingly stunning views of the landscapes below, but the air is also thinning. Altitude sickness is a concern while ascending Mount Fuji: symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches and fatigue – most people begin feeling the effects after 2500 metres. While Aoi does fine earlier on, she begins experiencing fatigue, and by the eighth station, is unable to continue.

  • Altitude sickness can impact anyone, and personal fitness levels do not always correlate to the severity of one’s symptoms. As evening sets in, Kaede gives Kokona and Hinata the option to continue pushing forwards towards the summit while she will look after Aoi. It’s one of the more tense moments in Yama no Susume 2, and while I was hoping Aoi would recover in time for a storybook finish, she ends up requiring a bit of rest time.

  • Avoiding mountain sickness usually requires acclimitisation, spending time in a higher elevation area to give the body a chance to produce more erythrocytes to pull oxygen out of the air. Aoi is suffering from acute mountain sickness, and carrying some medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin, can help alleviate the symptoms of headache and nausea. There more more sophisticated treatments, but for Aoi, these don’t appear necessary. Aoi’s mountain sickness is a bit of a warning that inadequate preparation can be one of the biggest enemies of mountain climbing.

  • There is therefore a sense of melancholy as one watches Kokona and Hinata continue the climb on their own. With two of their number now down at station eight, Hinata resolves to finish off the climb and do so for Aoi. Audiences tangibly feel Hinata and Kokona’s doubts: on one hand, they are worried about Aoi, but they also know now that there is no turning back. Their journey up is a difficult one, even with a brief pit stop for curry rice, but seeing the dozens of other climbers making the same trek, and the beauty of the night sky spurs the two on.

  • With the sky beginning to glow, Hinata and Kokona make one final push. Their efforts are rewarded – they see the sun break over the horizon, flooding the land in a gentle light and washing the sky with hues of red, orange and gold. It’s a sight for the ages, and for Kokona and Hinata, it is the experience they had put in their efforts towards realising. Down at the eighth station, Aoi watches the same sunset from a lower elevation, and tears fill her eyes.

  • Improvements in Yama no Susume 2‘s artwork and animation mean that every moment is more visceral, and speaking frankly, the visual elements of Yama no Susume 2 far exceeded my expectations for a series whose episodes only span thirteen minutes each. This is a series where episodic reviews could have been possible, as there is so much to talk about and consider for each episode. From the mountain climbing itself, to everyday events, Yama no Susume is very much a series with strong messages about persistence, adaptability and having faith in one’s friends.

  • Kaede is not bothered by missing out on the sights: for her, the mountains will always be there to await their challenge. By comparison, Aoi becomes very melancholy, both at having failed and for feeling like she’d kept Kaede from a wonderful experience. However, Kaede treasures Aoi’s well-being more than an experience: having friends who genuinely care for one is critical in moments such as these, and in time, Aoi will come to count on her friends again.

  • Under full daylight, Kokona and Hinata celebrate a successful ascent. The top of Mount Fuji is about as barren as the surface of Mars, and while the two take a moment to explore, their stay up here is a shorter one: it is exceptionally windy up here, and while the view down is phenomenal, the summit itself is somewhat less scenic.

  • After making the four-hour descent back to the fifth station, Kokona expresses a desire to climb Mount Fuji again someday while on horseback, before turning to find Kaede and Aoi. This is the basis for the page quote: for Aoi, the mountain has literally and metaphorically defeated her, and she does risk taking a more dangerous road, of losing interest in mountain climbing. Yama no Susume 2 shows that slice-of-life needn’t always be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows: life has its share of adversity, and what matters most is overcoming this adversity.

  • I leave readers with a dejected, downtrodden Aoi calling home to report that she’d not successfully made the ascent to Mount Fuji’s summit. Moving ahead, Aoi’s recovery and return to the mountains will be the focus of Yama no Susume 2, and I am definitely looking forwards to seeing the second half. Readers can expect more Yama no Susume posts from me in the near future: even now, I’m a little surprised that I did not give this series the attention that it has merited, and so, will be remedying this fact on short order.

One aspect of Yama no Susume that continues to stand out is Aoi: despite possessing the characteristics typical to a protagonist of a slice-of-life series (Aoi is quite, reserved and doubtful of her abilities in some areas), she’s also considerably more expressive than characters in a similar role. Aoi can be upset by the things her friends do, grow embarrassed under some conditions, and can be a bit mischievous in her own right. The fifth episode, dealing with Hinata attempting to make things up to Aoi, shows Aoi as exhibiting a wider range of behaviours: she stubbornly refuses to talk to Hinata after Hinata wrecks her knitting project, and later brushes off an accident with an unexpectedly insensitive manner after she trips and pulls down Hinata’s skirt. This was the magic moment in Yama no Susume 2: Aoi’s developing interest in mountain climbing, as well as dejection in failing to best Mount Fuji, underlies the complexity and multi-faceted nature of her character, making her more relatable and plausible as a character. With distinct flaws, audiences are therefore more inclined to root for Aoi as she picks herself back up and rediscovers the joy of the outdoors once again. This is the appeal in Yama no Susume; while the first season was a pleasantly gentle ride, season two definitely shows that there is much to be gained by watching the characters interact more freely with one another in a wider context. I am looking forwards to seeing where Yama no Susume 2 heads, and remark that it was indeed episode five in this second season that convinced me to thoroughly go through the series.

Yama no Susume: Review and Reflection

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” –Sir Edmund Hillary

Aoi Yukimura is a high school girl who would prefer knitting to the outdoors, but after reuniting with Hinata Kuraue, she is compelled to go hiking; Hina won’t take no for an answer and reminds Hinata that they’d once seen a sunrise together after climbing a mountain. Starting Aoi with a simpler walk to Mount Tenran, Hinata encourages her to enjoy the walk up the path. Later, Aoi and Hinata have a cook-off, and Aoi encounters Kaede Saitō, a backpacker who is trying to buy a sleeping bag. The two become friends, and Aoi asks Kaede for suggestions when Hinata proposes they climb another mountain. Kaede recommends Mount Takao, and Aoi returns this to Hinata. They purchase a new backpack for Aoi, and on the day of the hike, Aoi fails to pace herself. After recovering her breath, the two continue on their trek to the summit, where Aoi gives Hinata a souvenir that she’d bought earlier. On the descent, they encounter Kokona Aoba and help her mend her shoes. Two becomes four – Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona decide to visit the Hanno River beach together. As the day draws to a close, the girls look forwards to the adventures they will share together. Later, to help Aoi with her acrophobia, the girls take her to a climbing center.

Yama no Susume (Encouragement of Climb, literally “Recommending Climbing”) originally aired in 2013 as a short form anime – each episode runs for three minutes each, and the total episode count results in the first season being more similar to an OVA in content and presentation. Every journey must begin from somewhere, and Yama no Susume opens with Aoi becoming familiar with hiking. The progression is a gentle one: Yama no Susume eases Aoi into hikes by starting her off with a walk in the park, and then progresses her to a beginner’s mountain. By gradually acclimatising to hiking and the outdoors, Aoi is able to have more fun without becoming discouraged. She also meets new friends in the process: Kaede is highly experienced with the outdoors and brings technical know-how to the table, while Kokona is knowledgable about the outdoors. The first season of Yama no Susume is a season of beginnings, warming Aoi to the wonders of hiking in a gentle manner and showing that with the right encouragement, anyone can get started with hiking. Moreover, hikes are as varied as people: while there are mountaineering trails that demand exceptional experience and dedicated gear, there are also hikes that novices can readily enjoy and complete. These introductory elements set the stage for what is to come: Yama no Susume‘s first season is remarkably short, and viewers are invariably left with a want to see what adventures await Aoi and Hinata now that Aoi’s gotten her first few experiences with hiking up mountains.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I admit that I am nearly six years late to the party: when Yama no Susume came out back in 2013, I was in the throes of my undergraduate thesis defense, and therefore, was too busy to watch anything besides Girls und Panzer. With the benefit of hindsight, something like Yama no Susume would have been a good countermeasure against the stresses of a thesis defense; the anime is very inviting and warm. Hinata and Aoi have known one another for quite some time, and the former’s memories of climbing a mountain to watch the sunrise with a sea of clouds below encourages her to take up hiking again.

  • The first season has thirteen episodes, each lasting about three minutes each. It is therefore possible to finish the first season in one sitting, and writing about Yama no Susume weekly would have likely presented me with considerable challenges – while each episode coves a bit of ground, there is no getting around that three minutes worth of footage per episode does not permit a large number of screenshots.

  • After Hinata brings Aoi over and has her set up a tent to familiarise herself with outdoors gear, Hinata proposes that they take a hike on Mount Tenran, a 195 metre high hill that is advertised as being accessible for all individuals. Aoi worries about safety and brings an excessive amount of gear, only to watch in befuddlement as a little girl waltzes by with naught more than a backpack. With a bit of nudging from Hinata, Aoi begins the ascent and finds it to be much better than expected.

  • Hinata’s loud and energetic personality brings to mind a combination of traits between Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari Akiyama and Norie Okazaki from Tamayura. She’s voiced by Kana Asumi, who incidentally portrayed Tamayura‘s Kaori Hanawa, Mio Kitahara of Ano Natsu de Matteru, and Non Non Biyori‘s very own Komari Koshigaya. I suppose that small, loud characters are a thing, and Asumi excels in her roles, bringing to life the characters I’ve seen her play.

  • From the summit of Mount Tenran, Aoi marvels at the scenery, before bringing out a boxed lunch for the two to share. Yuka Iguchi voices Aoi: other roles I know her for include Aiko Andō from True Tears, Norie Okazaki of Tamayura (which is a riot considering that Aoi and Norie are distinctly different in personality), Anzu Shiina from Flying Witch, Mako Reizei of Girls und Panzer, and A Place Further Than The Universe‘s Hinata Miyake. The sheer diversity of roles speaks to Iguchi’s skill: from the lethargic Mako to the boisterous Hinata, Iguchi presents Aoi as being similar to Miho Nishizumi in temperment, but with a stubborn streak a klick wide.

  • Yama no Susume is set in and around Hannō, a city in the Saitama prefecture. With a population of around 80000, Hannō lies right on the western edge of Tokyo, and despite its small size, the city’s economy is driven by electronics and pharmaceuticals (something the provincial government back home could do well to follow suit with). The Wareiwa Bridge can be seen in the distance, crossing the Inou River, and here, Aoi and Hinata share ice pops in the days following their first hike.

  • Hinata challenges Aoi to a showdown in cooking only with camping implements, and when she doesn’t take the challenge seriously, Aoi proceeds to lay down a physical beating – she prepares a seafood paella with prawns and muscles that is far more intricate than the ready-to-eat meal that Hinata brings to the table. Despite being adorable and peaceable for the most part, Aoi can be quite stubborn and quick to anger, which makes her a much more relatable character.

  • Yama no Susume‘s first season is only really the tip of the iceberg with respect to introducing the characters and premise. In spite of the inordinately short episodes, however, Yama no Susume‘s first season manages to fit so much into such a short space to create a compelling series that does more with less.

  • While looking at hiking supplies, Aoi runs into Kaede, who is looking for a suitable sleeping bag for the outdoors. Kaede is a senior at the school Aoi attends, and is also experienced as an outdoorsman. Aoi manages to convince her to pick the sleeping bag best suited for her usage, even if it is a little pricier, and Aoi leaves, having made a new friend in the process. Folks who’ve seen my older talks on Yuru Camp△ will have already seen earlier discussions about sleeping bags and their compositions, as well as what temperatures different sleeping bags are rated for.

  • In Yama no Susume, Aoi and Hinata frequent an outdoors good store that is decidedly smaller than the large retail stores such as Canadian Tire. It brings to mind the specialty shops of Banff and at some locations at home, which sell higher quality gear for a correspondingly higher price: Nadeshiko and the others visit a Caribou store in Yuru Camp△ to look at equipment for their own camping trips, and I recall that my Google-fu was initially insufficient to locate this particular store, which was actually modelled on a store in a town some ways away.

  • Kaede is voiced by Yōko Hisaka: she’s K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, Infinite Stratos‘ Houki Shinonono, New Game!‘s Kō Yagami, Pitohui in Sword Art Online Alternative and Domestic na Kanojo‘s Hina Tachibana, to name a few. Knowledgeable, mature and friendly, Kaede acts as a source of technical advice for Aoi and the others, indirectly providing audiences with various tidbits on hiking the same way Yuru Camp△ occasionally would present viewers with camping tips.

  • Aoi is the sort of individual who takes an inordinate amount of time in making a decision and often second-guesses herself. However, with new friends in her corner, she’s able to work through the process more smoothly: when Mount Tanigawa might be too much of a challenge for Aoi, Kaede helps her pick a more suitable mountain in Mount Takao. Aoi’s seen with an earlier MacBook Pro model here – in 2013, I was loaning a laptop from my lab, but carelessly left it on campus during the Great Flood. The waters never did reach campus, but campus was closed, costing me a week in progress.

  • I retrieved my laptop and ended up working from home until early July, but this machine was in no way capable of running the in-house game engine, so progress was slow. I doubt even my current generation laptop could pull it off: it barely runs The Giant Walkthrough Brain on ultra settings at 30 FPS. Back in Yama no Susume, Aoi ends up choosing Mount Takao – a ways more difficult than Mount Tenran, Mount Takao is still quite manageable, with most climbers able to ascend within ninety minutes depending on the route they take. Because this hike is a bit more involved, Hinata suggests that Aoi get a backpack

  • Aoi initially has trouble picking out a proper backpack for her hike, and it takes some time for her to choose one that fits her specifications. My main criteria for picking a bag is that it has to have decent storage capacity, enough compartments to separate out my consumables from smaller items, and durability. The tare weight is also something I consider: something that is too heavy while empty would make it more of a pain to carry when fully loaded.

  • On the day of their hike at Mount Takao, Aoi is fired up and excited about climbing the path up the mountain, which is lined with shrines. This is something unique to Japan – in the Rocky Mountains, our trails are more rugged, and while affording stunning views, don’t have the same facilities.

  • Aoi exhausts herself when, on the spur of the moment, she attempts to power through the hike to hit the destination more quickly. This is how not to hike – pacing oneself is essential, especially when one is doing a new hike where they are unfamiliar with the route. Having some experience with fitness training, this is how I approach hikes, and last year, when I did the Windtower, it was experience that allowed me to complete the hike without incident. The Windtower leads hikers into a rugged alpine clearing affording a beautiful view of the Spray Lakes below, but it’s also characterised by a very poorly-marked trail that, in some places, is adjacent to a 15-metre drop.

  • While high intensity, Windtower is also a shorter hike: the longest hike I did was Lake Louise’s Big Beehive hike two years ago. Tallying some six hours, I carried my own provisions up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, and we pushed further towards the Big Beehive, stopping at the top for lunch. I can attest to the fact that food simply tastes better mid-hike: in the middle of their hike, Aoi and Hinata enjoy some dango.

  • Being located a mere hour away from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao offers a stunning view of the cityscape below, and one aspect of Yama no Susume that impressed me was that, for its exceedingly short runtime, the art and animation are of a high quality, faithfully capturing the locations that Aoi and Hinata visit.

  • En route up the mountain, Aoi picks up a souvenir with the intent of giving it to Hinata as thanks, but becomes too embarrassed to do so. She later summons up the courage to do so, and I note that for the hikes I’ve done, I’ve never seen any trail-side shops selling stuff before. The closest I’ve seen is the Lake Agnes Teahouse, which serves tea adjacent to a lake among the mountains: their supplies are carried up by staff, and occasionally flown up by helicopter, as well.

  • While I’ve not shown it here, Mount Fuji is visible from Mount Takao. Throughout Yama no Susume, Mount Fuji is something Aoi has shown interest in for its majesty, and like Yuru Camp△, is the object of admiration from those who behold it. Mount Fuji therefore acts as somewhat of an end goal for Aoi and Hinata: they resolve to climb it together one day, and so, it would appear that conquering the greatest of Japan’s mountains is where Yama no Susume is headed.

  • On the way back down the mountain, Hinata and Aoi encounter a middle school aged girl fretting about her shoes. With her skills in making clothes, and eye for creative solutions, Aoi cobbles together a short term solution for the girl, whose name is Kokona. A friendship blossoms here, and they accompany one another down Mount Takao. Kokona is voiced by Yui Ogura, whose roles I’m not too familiar with.

  • If I had to guess, Aoi and Hinata take the Omotesando trail ascending Mount Takao, which has all of the temples and plenty of resting spots. This route takes an average of an hour and fifty minutes to complete. On the way back down, stepping stones over a stream are visible: they descending via the Biwa Waterfall trail, and descent takes about an hour. While helping Kokona, Aoi slips and falls on the rocks.

  • The Biwa waterfall trail is heavily wooded, and on conjunction with the stream, offers a cool, shaded alternative to the other trails. Initially, when I watched Yama no Susume, I finished the entire series within the space of three days, and wondered if I could write about it. If memory serves, I actually watched Yama no Susume back in July of last year – having heard about the third season and the series’ relatively short episodes, I decided to push through, thinking that it would be relatively straightforward to watch through both the first and second seasons, just in time to finish the third before the year’s end.

  • The page quote comes from the encouragement aspect of Yama no Susume: by conquering a mountain, Aoi is slowly conquering her own fears. It turns out that her acrophobia stems from an accident where she’d fallen from a jungle gym and sustained a broken leg in the process. Hinata’s “won’t take no for an answer” personality is what pushes Aoi into hiking, and as a result, she’s now met two new friends, as well as discovering that there’s a world beyond her own fears.

  • While I finished Yama no Susume‘s first season on short order, August turned into dumpster fire when I was flown out to Denver to bring an iOS app written in Xamarin back from the brink: flying between Calgary and Denver every other week wrecked havoc with my schedule, and I ended up only writing about Harukana Receive owing to the time constraints. When autumn came, I was occupied with The World in Colour and Anima Yell!, while this winter, a combination of a new job, Ace Combat 7 and Endro! kept me busy. However, with the current spring season looking quiet, I see an opportunity to finally catch up with Yama no Susume. My immediate impression is to wonder why I didn’t watch this one sooner.

  • Towards the end of Yama no Susume‘s first season, Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona enjoy a day at the Hanno River, where they cook French Toast and tomato risotto. It marks the first time everyone’s really hung out together since Aoi met them; thanks to Hinata’s particular enthusiasm in pushing Aoi to hike more, Aoi’s brought people together.

  • Yama no Susume thus sets the stage for more hiking and mountain climbing – we’ve not seen everyone hike or climb together just yet, and Kaede alludes to this: under starry skies, they anticipate spending more time together on the trails and peaks of Japan. It’s a fitting close to the first season, which formally ended in the spring of 2013 alongside Girls und Panzer. Two months later, an OVA was released, detailing Aoi’s adventures at an indoor climbing wall, where she slowly overcomes her fears thanks to her friends’ support.

  • I’ve never gone indoor climbing before; it’s a pastime that seems very popular amongst my peers, and in retrospect, it might’ve been a good activity to balance out my weight lifting. I’ve been lifting weights casually for around nine years now, and are a late-novice lifter now: I’m pushing past being able to bench press 120% of my body weight, and my next goal is to see if I can’t bench 130% of my body weight. My squat is a little weaker, being a mere 120% of my body weight. On the topic of fitness, while I’m not exactly the paragon of fitness, I consider myself in acceptable condition, and earlier this month, I ran a poll on Twitter to see what the lifestyle choices of my readers were.

  • It turns out most of my readers have a well-formed fitness routine, and I figured that I’d share mine, as well as some of my experiences with fitness and how this fits in with the unique hobby of anime blogging. Thanks to the poll’s results, I know to get past the basics and go straight to more of the mental components of health and wellness. Back in Yama no Susume, Aoi falls off one of the walls after getting stuck on a more advanced course, but her friends’ support allows her to overcome a fear of falling. Speaking with Kaede, who similarly had a fear of heights, Aoi resolves to keep pushing forwards.

  • It just wouldn’t be an OVA if there wasn’t some fanservice for viewers, and even something like Yama no Susume is no exception. The OVA wraps up the first season on a high note, and while it was over much too quickly, a second season aired a year later, running with a total of twenty-four episodes, plus two specials. Because this spring season has seen few shows that catch my interest, now is a good of a time as any to continue through Yama no Susume, which has certainly encouraged me to watch it. I also plan on writing about Seishun Buta Yarō in a Terrible Anime Challenge, my first of the year, once we get into May.

Yama no Susume lives up to its name; it is a very encouraging and approachable anime about the process that one takes towards climbing a mountain. While Yama no Susume is very literal about mountain climbing and hiking in that this is precisely what it deals with, from a metaphorical perspective, encouraging climbing is to encourage exploring new directions in life and overcoming them. Yama no Susume posits to viewers that every journey has a beginning, and that it is completely acceptable that beginnings do so in a slow, gradual manner. Despite totalling around forty minutes of runtime, Yama no Susume is very effective in its messages. The series has been compared to Yuru Camp△, which had a similar outdoors premise, but upon further inspection, Yama no Susume and Yuru Camp△ only really share the outdoors and a strong technical component about outdoor know-how as their commonalities – Yuru Camp△ is about the joys of being with others, while Yama no Susume shows how journeys start and progress. With things plainly in motion for Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona now, I am intending to return and write about Yama no Susume‘s second and third seasons, plus Omoide no Present. The manga is still running, and while waiting for Yuru Camp△ to continue with its second season, I have found a superb peer to experience in Yama no Susume.

Domestic na Kanojo: A Review and Reflection

“一听惊惊今次整定煲要掟” –許冠傑, 追求三部曲

Natsuo Fujii is a high school student and aspiring writer with feelings for Hina Tachibana. He attends a mixer with the intent of burying his feelings and ends up banging Rui Tachibana when she asks him to sneak out of the mixer with her. Later, Natsuo’s father reveals that he wishes to remarry, and that his partner happens to be the mother to Rui and Hina. Natsuo subsequently struggles to deal with his lingering feelings for Hina, joins the literature club and later, reaffirms his desire to be with Hina. When their relationship is discovered, Hina agrees to quietly transfer to another school for a fresh start; Natsuo is devastated and pours his heart into writing a novel which subsequently wins a literature prize. With Hina absent, Rui admits to Natsuo that she’s fallen in love with him, and that she’s now free to pursue her own feelings towards Natsuo. This is the short of what goes down in Domestic na Kanojo, a series that turned out rather unexpected: I had entered with no expectations and ended up being compelled to see what would happen with Natsuo each week as his social circle and circumstances entangled him in situations that tested his resolve. In Domestic na Kanojo, I found a series whose setup was improbable to the point of absurdity, and in spite of this, managed to stick the landing in its finale, resulting in a series that truthfully, exceeded my expectations going in. The odds of something akin to Domestic na Kanojo‘s setup occuring in real life is much smaller than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field, but the premise aside, themes of relationships, resolve and growth were developed to a surprisingly satisfying extent.

Whereas I originally anticipated Domestic na Kanojo to be incoherent in its themes, Natsuo’s enduring resolve to be with Hina throughout the series proved to give a constant reminder of what the series was about. Meandering into realms of infidelity, unrequited love and the dangers of entanglement in situations beyond one’s understanding, all of these elements are relevant to the turbulent, but single-minded nature of love: Natsuo’s determination to court Hina is admirable to an extent, and despite moments that pull him away, Natsuo remains committed to Hina, regardless of the consequences. This persistence corresponds with Natsuo becoming emotionally invested with Hina, and after such a build-up, sets the stage for his tribulations once the school discovers his relationship with Hina. In the manga, all of this build-up sets the stage for Natsuo exploring different relationships and finding them unsatisfactory; in the anime, it is also shown that Natsuo channels his frustrations and pain into a new novel that is written from the heart. From a manner of speaking, Domestic na Kanojo suggests that the most powerful works are written from raw emotion, as readers may empathise with the author’s honesty about how they feel. For Natsuo, it also represents catharsis, and creates an opportunity to start his career on a solid footing. The events of Domestic na Kanojo lead up to this and provides a host of experiences that drive how Natsuo himself chooses to handle things, and overall, while Domestic na Kanojo is rough around the edges, the rawness seen in Natsuo’s work is reflected in the anime itself.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Twenty screenshots is not adequate a space to showcase all of the most risqué or relevant moments in Domestic na Kanojo, which was admittedly quite restrained in its portrayal of skin considering its genre, but for the sake of brevity, is the size I’ve opted to go with. The first episode opened with Natsuo plowing Rui purely for the experience, and this seemingly emotionless action creates a bit of lingering tension throughout the series. This seemingly one-off decision sets in motion events that cannot be undone, and admittedly, was the reason why I started watching Domestic na Kanojo to begin with.

  • The odds of something happening in real life the same way it happened in Domestic na Kanojo is probably much smaller than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field: at 3720 to 1, this means that there is to be one successful attempt per 3720 attempts, or 0.0269 percent (to three significant figures). Assuming the asteroid field odds, it means given 3720 students of Natsuo’s age, demographic and location, there would be one case where the student’s father remarries a woman with precisely two children, one of which coincidentally happens to be his instructor, and whose younger sister is the person he had a one-night stand with. Assuming these odds, things out there would be a mess: this isn’t the case, so we can conclude the probability of something like this going down in real life is considerably smaller.

  • While not daydreaming about Hina’s style, Natsuo sets about trying to help Rui socialise more with others, hangs out with his friends or otherwise, can be seen writing his novels. An aspiring novelist, Natsuo is remarkably sensitive and thoughtful, ever mindful of what those around him are feeling. While he might be entangled into various situations, his feelings for Hina never waver, and in a series that could easily devolve into one where Natsuo’s feelings are ambiguous, Domestic na Kanojo portrays Natsuo as being singularly focused on pursuing Hina.

  • Of course, there are some situations that Natsuo himself is not prepared for, and he usually abstains when unsure of his feelings in that moment. Hina is 23 at the beginning of Domestic na Kanojo, while Natsuo is 17 – it strikes me that I’m now a ways older than Hina herself and consider her perspectives on “adult” matters to be remarkably immature. This stems from the benefit of hindsight, and thinking back, I do not feel too much more mature at 23 than I did at 17. With this in mind, when I sat through the Otafest volunteer orientation a few days ago and found myself amongst students, I definitely did feel an age gap there.

  • Rumours abound that Hina is seeing someone: Natsuo takes this particularly hard and decides to tail Hina, learning that she’s dating a man named Shū Hagiwara, her former instructor and a biology researcher at a university. Rui accompanies him, although their fieldcraft is terrible and would almost certainly lead to their being burned had Hina even the slightest trace of counter surveillance know-how. Here, they run into Fumiya Kurimoto, Natsuo’s best friend: Fumiya helps Natsuo adopt a new appearance for high school and is always there to support him. He works at a local café run by Masaki Kobayashi.

  • Learning the truth from Shū does little to help Natsuo, and in the heat of the moment, an irate Rui douses him with ice water. Shū does not deny what what he does is wrong, and attempts to placate Natsuo: such moments show that despite his relative naïveté, Natsuo’s black-and-white view on things helps simplify complex situations such that they are appropriately framed for the narrative. Highly intricate, complex stories with unexpected plot twists can grow tiresome, and while some may find these enjoyable, I personally prefer keeping to simpler stories.

  • As Domestic na Kanojo continues, new characters are introduced into the story. Momo Kashiwabara makes an appearance: she’s someone who gets around, but despite this, is a capable student. As it turns out, Momo grapples with loneliness and isolation, seeking companionship in relationships that invariably crumble because of her partner’s lack of understanding. These misunderstandings, coupled with a well-developed figure that draws male gaze, causes Momo to be held in disdain by her female classmates. Rui befriends her in spite of her classmates’ warnings and the two get along cordially.

  • Holding feelings for Natsuo, who views her differently than other boys would, Momo attempts to get closer to him. However, when Natsuo learns of her past suicide attempts and her family situation, he realises that a sexual relationship with Momo wouldn’t help her. He instead opts to cook for her, and decides to support her in a different manner. It’s a rather well-chosen solution that illustrates Natsuo’s character, and also shows audiences that Domestic na Kanojo has no intention of dealing in ambiguity.

  • I admit that I was a bit surprised to learn that Maaya Uchida (Gochumon wa Usagi desu ka?‘s Sharo Kirima and Rei from Vividred Operation) voices Rui, with Yōkō Hisaka (Mio Akiyama of K-On!) providing Hina’s voice. From what I gather, the anime adaptation of Domestic na Kanojo only deals in the earlier events: three years’ worth of content is found in the manga, following everyone’s stories after high school. Immediately, CLANNAD comes to mind, having taken the same approach by portraying Tomoya and Nagisa’s life after high school, but I cannot say that I found Domestic na Kanojo anywhere nearly as compelling as CLANNAD.

  • When Natsuo first meets Miu Ashihara, the literature club’s only member, he sees Reiji Kiriya close to her and assumes they are kissing. However, this turns out to be a misunderstanding, and Reiji, sensing Natuso’s spirits, compels him to join the literature club. Momo and Rui end up joining, as well: this gives Natsuo something else to focus on, as he concentrates on writing short stories to hone his craft as an author.

  • Natsuo’s determination to court Hina comes across as foolish, but his stubborn refusal to stand down is integral for the story: in the absence of this determination, Domestic na Kanojo would quickly decay and unravel, resulting in a series that would be quite devoid of drama. The reduction or even absence of common sense in fiction is something that I am willing to tolerate because it drives the story: characters who act rationally might do so in such a way as to resolve a situation more quickly, shortening the story.

  • I’m pretty sure that all of my readers would unfollow me, or even report me, if I were to go the whole nine yards and show Hina engaged in onanism, even if Domestic na Kanojo doesn’t go the whole nine yards with its portrayal. I am reminded of a similar scene in Yosuga no Sora, where Haruka is horrified to see Sora doing so while calling out his name. Domestic na Kanojo deals with the awkwardness that follows: Hina is almost certain that Natsuo spotted her in the fact.

  • Admittedly, I entered Domestic na Kanojo wondering if it could be a contender for “most interesting anime” when compared with the likes of something like Yosuga no Sora: the verdict I have is that while Domestic na Kanojo goes in an interesting direction, it is not anywhere near as interesting as Yosuga no Sora – I don’t mind admitting that after watching Yosuga no Sora, I’ve been wanting to see another anime that is as raw and visceral, but so far, I’ve not found anything quite like it.

  • During the summer festival, Hina showcases her lack of maturity by wrecking her phone, and then pouting when Natsuo attempts to talk to her and manages to bring Masaki to the table. After seeing Rui kissing Natsuo, Hina announces that she is moving away with the aim of acclimatising to everyday tasks, and it takes a bit of effort for Natsuo to learn of the reason behind it. During this time, Natsuo frequently visits Hina, even when he breaks his leg in an accident. Rui does her best to support him, but later learns that he’s been spending a bit of time with Hina. Distraught that she’s been lied to, Rui runs off, and Natsuo manages to find her.

  • The page quote comes from one of Sam Hui’s songs: “追求三部曲” (jyutping zeoi1 kau4 saam1 bou6 kuk1, “Pursuit Trilogy”) is a comedic song about romance that just goes wrong, with the end result that the suitor is unceremoniously dumped. The Cantonese expression “煲” (jyutping deng3 bou1) is slang for breaking up; while literally meaning “to throw the pots and pans”, I imagine it was picked because of the commotion surrounding break-up, which can be as noisy as throwing kitchenware around. Machine translators cannot pick up this subtlety.

  • Domestic na Kanojo‘s interpretation of Okinawa is nowhere near as intricate or personal as Non Non Biyori Vacation‘s presentation: Okinawa forms the backdrop for a school trip here, during which Natsuo gives Hina an inexpensive engagement ring as a placeholder for when he’s able to have a relationship with her without the associated stigma. However, during their last night, the two succumb to their temptation and their relationship subsequently becomes known amongst the high school’s staff: someone photographed the pair in the aftermath.

  • In order to avoid exposing Natsuo, Hina agrees to quietly transfer schools. The decision is not one that is taken lightly, and Hina does so with utmost secrecy, leaving her address and contact information unknown. This is done to keep Natsuo from the consequences, and in the aftermath, he is unable to accept what’s happened, falling into a depression. Fumiya later slaps sense into Natsuo, who attempts to move on by putting his experiences to paper as a story.

  • Readers have likely become accustomed to me writing about slice-of-life, military-moé and other series with a strong life lesson component, rather than shows with a stronger dramatic element. It’s fun to occasionally step out of my comfort zone to watch and write about shows where my familiarity is lower. It is not lost on me that I have a lot of “theoretical” understanding about romance despite next to no field experience, and as such, my thoughts are not likely be considered as having weight. For those in a relationship, how idealistic, improbable or downright foolish are my thoughts?

  • In the end, Natsuo submits his finished manuscript and meets with his friends, having somewhat made peace with what’s happened. This story later wins an award, and Natsuo is introduced to one of Reiji’s colleagues: things for his career have turned around as a result of the emotional rollercoaster he experienced with Hina, and Natsuo constructively channels this into writing. It was a welcome turn-around in that, whereas some series have the protagonist wallow, Natsuo ends up taking this curse and turning it into a blessing. While his feelings for Hina don’t waver, he ends up recovering.

  • Domestic na Kanojo managed to be the anime that took off, had an engine shutdown mid-flight and then managed a safe landing nonetheless. For exceeding my expectations, I feel that the series has earned a B grade (3.0 of 4): while rough around the edges and implausible by all counts, it is also honest in its portrayal, with the characters learning something through their experiences. With this post done, and the remainder of April looking quite busy, the only posts I can really assure readers of this month will be for Kimi no Suizō o Tabetai (I want to eat your pancreas) and my initial impressions of Valkyria Chronicles 4, after I’ve made it a quarter of the way into the campaign.

Overall, Domestic na Kanojo was not something I had expected to write about, but for a series whose setup is implausible, the portrayal of internal and external conflict, where relationships are concerned, were genuine despite being unrefined. By making use of these implausible situations, Domestic na Kanojo explores directions and elements of romance that would otherwise be unexplored: it is, in a manner of speaking, similar to MythBusters in that conditions are very finely manipulated to determine if a particular myth can occur. Rather similar to how Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman create outrageous scenarios to see if certain things can happen as claimed, Domestic na Kanojo does the same with relationships, lining up the circumstances to create situations that allow romance and desire to be explored in ways that more natural setups cannot replicate. Fiction is a realm where such occurrences are possible; with exaggerated circumstances and characters present, the series ends up being unexpectedly rewarding to watch. Having said this, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this to all audiences, especially those looking for a more natural relationship. This series does require some suspension of disbelief to enjoy, and the characters’ actions can seem illogical, even foolish, at times. However, while Domestic na Kanojo may have its flaws, I remain reasonably satisfied with how things did turn out, and would not really consider watching it to be a poor use of time. I’m not certain on whether a continuation is possible, but the manga continues to detail what happens to Natsuo, Rui and Hina later on; folks interested in seeing what happens next will likely find that to be satisfactory.

Endro!- Final Review and Reflections

“No resurrections this time.” –Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

Yūsha, Fai, Seira and Mei travel to a tropical island during summer break, where their misadventures allow them to complete their summer assignments. When term resumes, Princess Rona Pricipa O’Lapanesta arrives, eager to meet the new hero, and while she’s surprised to learn the new hero is a girl, she nonetheless becomes enamoured with Yūsha after Yūsha helps save Mao from an irate monster. Mao later becomes sick, so Yūsha and her friends go to help look after her. Rona later longs to learn more about Yūsha’s friends, and accompanies Fai on a trip. She also asks Mao to help draw out heroics from Yūsha, but learn that Yūsha’s more concerned with her friends. Later, Mei receives an invitation to attend the Cartado Festival in Tarka Village. Participating in a hunt for Cartado, Mei only manages to find an extraordinarily large Cartado, but ends up winning the competition. While on a quest in the mountains, the girls are caught up in a snowstorm, and Seira manages to wake everyone up when a Cartado-eating monster puts everyone in a deep sleep. Mao decides to invite Yūsha and the others over for dinner, but her awful cooking ends up being too much for everyone. Even Chibi-chan regurgitates dinner, which includes Mao’s old golem, Meigo. Fearful that Meigo may reveal her identity as the Dæmon Lord, Mao opts to keep an eye on her, but afer Rona uses a Cartado to unlock everyone’s memories and suggests taking Meigo back with her, Mao finally snaps, reveals herself as the Dæmon Lord and kidnaps Rona. The girls manage to track down Mao, but Meigo informs Yūsha that she is close to ending the Dæmon Lord’s power. The girls are conflicted between ending the cycle and being made to kill off Mao, who they’ve come to regard as a friend. In the end, Yūsha refuses to compromise her principles and destroys her sword by having Chibi-chan consume it, while Meigo throws Mao into Chibi-chan’s mouth. It turns out that there’s a pocket dimension inside Chibi-chan, and entry into this space removes an aspect about a character. When Mao is regurgitated, she no longer possesses her Dæmon Lord powers, and everyone is able to continue on their days together in peace. As class begins the next day, Yūsha expresses a desire to be a hero. Thus ends Endro!, this season’s unexpected surprise that proved to be consistently entertaining and warm.

While seemingly an easy-going anime about a group of adventurers, Endro! does have a theme that is appropriate and relevant towards the show: underneath the warmth and joy the show projects through Yūsha and her friends’ misadventures, as well as everyday life, Endro! frequently reminds its viewers that for a given problem, there’s always another solution. This much was presented with Yūsha’s first adventure in a dungeon; they might have gotten lost thanks to Mao’s intervention, but by adapting to the situation, manage to locate the Hero Sword and finish their assignment. Fai and Rona similarly win a melon-eating contest when Rona adapts to the situation and helps an engorged Fai eat one melon, propelling them to victory. When Mei participates in the Cartado hunt, her finding a large Cartado ends up allowing her to win the competition, against her expectations. In the final battle, Yūsha refuses to fight, and instead, casts her weapon away – Chibi again comes to play a significant role in helping liberate their world from an ancient curse, having earlier played a role in defeating a lesser evil. Admittedly, Endro! is very optimistic with its messages; finding alternative answers to problems and making the most of things is not a trivial task, although the presence of cheer and joy in a world under the constant threat of annihilation is intended to show that every cloud has a silver lining. When Endro!‘s conclusion is reached, it is a decisive one, leaving viewers with no doubt that, by simply pushing for other solutions than the ones presented, Yūsha is able to end an age-old curse plaguing Naral Island, paving the way of a peaceful future. It’s a fine ending to a series that was very entertaining and endearing to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote about Endro!, I had finished three episodes and found myself modestly impressed with how relaxing the show was. With the rest of the episodes in the books now, this series proved to be a very pleasant surprise, and admittedly, just being able to watch things at my own pace enhanced the experience: Endro! is not the sort of show that demands watching on a timely basis and I ended up watching episodes based on when I had time.

  • The forth episode is set on the beaches of a tropical island, and after some standard shenanigans, the girls run into Mackerel-people, whose homeland was conquered by an evil god. During their fight, the girls are outmatched, but Yūsha’s status as a hero allows her to destroy the god’s physical form. Reduced to a small but still potent spirit, the god escapes, only to be consumed by Chibi.

  • I realise that for March, I’ve not actually written all that much about anime, either; we are now on the last day of the month, and this weekend also was the last one that one of my friends was back in town. We went to get sushi (I ended up ordering less sushi and had tempura udon, a piping hot takoyaki and even tried salmon sashimi) before playing Carcassonne for the first time. Despite this being my first ever game, I managed to win, having finished a massive city that scored me forty-two points. Yesterday, I started building the MG Dynames that I ordered at the beginning of the month, and finished earlier today. It’s a solid model with a new frame that gives the kit tremendous posability and stability.

  • Princess Rona is of royalty and able to summon considerable amounts of resources to execute her goals: upon learning that Yūsha is the current generation hero, she puts a carnival for Yūsha, and later, comes to love Yūsha deeply for her heroic spirit. Having read about the exploits of past heroes, Rona has encyclopaedic knowledic of the past heroes: the number of similarities she draws between the heroes and their companies of old suggest at the similarities that people inevitably share.

  • When Mao falls ill, Yūsha and the others go to look after her. In the process, the learn that Mao’s place is a bit of a mess, and help her clean up, before cooking her dinner. The dynamic between Mao and her students is blurred, and Endro! wastes no time in setting up the recurring joke where Seira’s ability for housework is so poor that the others prohibit her from helping out.

  • Rona’s introduction into Endro! livened things up considerably, and I’m rather fond of her character’s place in the series. She’s voiced by Momo Asakura, who also has performed as Charlotte‘s Ayumi Otosaka, Koharu Shirahane of Kuromukuro and High School Fleet‘s Mikan Irako. I was originally intending to write about Charlotte but after procrastinating, lost the resolve to do so, while for Kuromukuro, I never found a strong theme in the series that motivated me to write about it.

  • Introducing Rona into Endro! meant being able to explore character dynamics that are typically left to second seasons: when Rona desires to know Yūsha’s friends better, she accompanies them on their usual activities. Seira and Mei are a bit duller, but Fai’s wilderness excursions creates an opportunity to learn more about Fai; up until now, all viewers know of Fai is that she excels at close-quarters combat and loves food.

  • As it turns out, Fai is from the wilderness and as such, has unparalleled survival skills: her navigational abilities in the forest are exceptional, as is her resourcefulness in making use of natural implements for survival. Endro!‘s wild run means that it has a bit of everything in it, and this ends up giving viewers a much deeper insight into Fai’s character well beyond food. Until this point, both Seira and Mei have been characterised; Seria is booksmart and is nearsighted, while Mei simply loves Cartado and will not hesitate to gush about its applications and history.

  • While Rona may not like melons, she takes one for the team to help Fai win an eating contest. While she may have appetite that is nearly insatiable, this episode shows that even Fai has her limits. The soundtrack for Endro! is quite nice, capturing both the fantasy setting motifs as well as everyday life for Yūsha and her friends. I have not found a tracklist or release date for the soundtrack and surmise that any music will probably be released with the Blu-Rays.

  • When Rona wishes to see Yūsha do heroic things, Mao helps her setup a ploy that entails creating a “fake” Dæmon Lord for Yūsha to fight after Rona “convinces” her to do so. Unbeknownst to her, Mao is actually the Dæmon Lord, and after realising that screwing with Yūsha and her friends could result in a time loop manifesting again, Mao decides to live life peacefully as a teacher. On her first day as a student, Rona’s words to Mao frightens the latter, who wonders if Rona’s secretly figured out her background.

  • Yūsha is frequently counted as being quite unheroic in manner and appearance: her resemblance to Yuru Camp△‘s Nadeshiko Kagamihara is probably deliberate, and the manga, serialised in Comic Fire, began its run in August 2018. That Endro! has characters resembling other Manga Time Kirara characters, in conjunction to its timing, suggests that author Izumi Minami may have drawn on familiar characters to see how a mish-mash of them in a different setting might fare. The answer is simple enough: Endro! works and is very enjoyable.

  • When Mei learns from Tarka that she’s been invited to a Tarka Cartado Festival, she’s enthralled: it’s the equivalent to being invited to Apple’s WWDC or Facebook’s F8 conference, and therefore difficult to get in. Yūsha, Seira and Fai immediately take a liking to the Tarka, and he allows them to join in, as well. When the girls arrive in the Tarka’s world, they find Cartado literally growing on trees; the Tarka guiding them says it’s alright for the girls to grab a few, and it takes Fai’s full efforts to restrain an ecstatic Mei from going wild.

  • Endro! is highly disciplined with its fanservice moments; the girls changing into Tarka clothing is one of them, and Seira is made the subject of another joke when her flat features means that she fits into her initial outfit without any issue. Mei’s similarities to GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu stem entirely from the fact that she’s voiced by Inori Minase, and for me, every one of Mei’s lines reminded me of Chino. The similarities end briefly whenever Mei is excited by Cartado, but this is no less endearing.

  • The aim of the Cartado hunt is to find wild Cartado of high rarity; the girls’ search prove quite fruitless, and when they locate a legendary rare (which I imagine would be equivalent to the exotics from The Division), it slips through their fingers. While Mei had been intent on finding one, she feels that just by being at the Cartado Festival, she’s experienced something marvelous and chooses to make the most of it.

  • Mei looks thoroughly unimpressed with the large Cartado that they find here, as it’s a mere common, but Seira, Fai and Yūsha are impressed, having never seen one that large before. This is enough to win the competition, and the Tarka running the show shares this remark. The Tarka burn the Cartado at the end of the festival, leaving Mei torn: she is sad to see Cartado go up in smoke, but also accepts that Cartado has a very clear tradition that must be respected.

  • The tenth episode was focused purely on Seira going into everyone’s dreams to save them from being lost on their own fantasies and freezing to death amidst a snowstorm. Her stubborn will turns out to be an asset: she knows that she’s unlikely to maintain a clean room or have a full figure and is able to overcome the spell that a Cartado-eating monster placed on everyone, whereas everyone else succumbed to their fantasies.

  • After the girls defeat a griffon in a field, they feel as though they’ve improved. Despite the progress they’ve made, they still appear quite weak compared to full-fledged adventurers. This moment captures the sort of scenery that is typical to Endro!: the art and animation are nothing remarkable, but it’s also very clean and smooth. The girls bring news of this quest back to Mao and ask for a more difficult challenge, but Mao declines.

  • While I was writing this talk on Endro!, the Calgary Flames prevailed over the San Jose Sharks 5-3, with goals from Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Mark Jankowski, Sean Monahan and Dalton Prout. Johnny Gaudreau netted two assists, and goaltender Mike Smith had a relatively easy evening, making 12 saves. Three of our goals came within two minutes of the first period, and with this win, the Calgary Flames have won the Division title for the first time in thirteen years, and have also clinched the conference title, as well. This is superbly exciting – we will be starting the playoffs with home ice advantage.

  • Unlike Bender’s cooking in Futurama, which looks as awful as it tastes, Mao’s cooking looks quite nice but manages to put everyone, even Fai, on the floor. Lethal cooking is a commonly employed humour device in fiction: anime typically employs the effect a poorly-cooked meal has on individuals, although I hold that employing visual humour to indicate the cooking’s lack of edibility, is also effective; in Futurama, Bender drops a tray of “drinks” that melt a hole in the floor, showing that stuff like that has no place in a stomach.

  • Even Chibi-chan regurgitates its stomach’s contents: because Chibi-chan is a higher-dimensional being, its stomach is a pocket universe with unusual properties. This is employed as comedy early on, but will later serve a more important purpose in creating Endro!‘s ending. Like a game of Where’s Waldo, I invite readers to find all of the characters amongst the mess, which is probably one of the more detailed moments in Endro! that leads me to wonder if Studio Gukomi expended a sizeable chunk of their budget in creating such a scene.

  • Meigo is a name of Yūsha’s invention, a portemateau of Maid and Golem; Mao’s golem was created to serve her and proved to be an exceptionally effective servant, but somehow ended up in Chibi-chan’s pocket universe. After returning to this world, Mao decides to look after Meigo primarily out of fear that she may accidentally be exposed as the Dæmon Lord, but also finds Meigo’s autonomy a little unusual.

  • In the end, when Rona appears to try and restore Meigo’s memories, she successfully brings back the memories that Yūsha, Seira, Fai and Mei lost after their botched spell. Meigo’s memories are also restored, but she chooses to keep them close and keep Mao safe. Rona suggests taking Meigo back with her, but Mao draws the line here, transforming into the Dæmon Lord and taking Rona back to her castle. The girls are shocked at this revelation and find themselves at a loss for what their next move is.

  • The female knight instructor with a clear-and-present crush on Mao appears, giving the girls a Cartado to find Mao. As they make their way to Mao’s castle, Mao is shown chilling in her usual manner: it turns out that her child-like avatar is her native form, and that she takes on the appearance of a male dæmon purely for theatricality’s reason. Even in this form, Endro! never comes across as being dark, grim or intimidating.

  • Upon arrival, Meigo informs the girls of the story: after nine hundred and ninety eight resurrections, the opportunity to take out Mao for good is at hand, and that even with their lack of experience, Mao’s been weakened with the constant resurrections. This information leaves Yūsha at a crossroad: she’s become fond of Mao as their instructor and cannot bring herself to fight a friend even if the world hangs in the balance.

  • The girls decide to return to the school and figure out why’d they chosen this path to begin with. This is easily the most serious moment in Endro!, but even then, audiences are left with no doubts as what will happen next. Meanwhile, Mao is frustrated at the turn of events and decides to go back to the school to meet her destiny, having grown tired of being alone: as a teacher, she was able to experience the joys of imparting knowledge and the company of others. Feeling that this is preferable to becoming a fully-powered Dæmon Lord, she asks Yūsha to finish it.

  • Making tough choices and being put on the spot, however, is not how Endro! rolls, and when Yūsha decides to take a third option, it stuns everyone. After it is explained to her that deliberately casting aside the hero means allowing Mao to resurrect fully again, Yūsha recoils in horror. However, this is not the end: Meigo chucks Mao into Chibi-chan’s waiting maw. Moments later, she is promptly spat out.

  • As it turns out, Chibi-chan is actually a three-dimensional representation of abstract, high-dimension dragons; when Yūsha used the time spell, it drew the spirits’ attention. Meigo entered the space inside Chibi-chan and lost her golem attributes. Realising this, she acted with the knowledge that having Chibi-chan “eat” Mao would also clean her of her Dæmon Lord powers. The end result is hilarious, and also creates a conclusion befitting of Endro!. The page quote is drawn from Avengers: Infinity War, referring to Loki’s fate after Thanos kills him, but is applicable here in Endro!, as well: with Mao’s Dæmon Lord powers gone, there’s no chance that a Dæmon Lord could appear again.

  • In the end, Endro! merits an A grade simply because it was consistently entertaining each and every week. Not all anime need to have world-changing themes or high-tier artwork to be worth watching, and while Endro! initially looked to be something that I imagined I would enjoy somewhat, it ended up exceeding expectations. Endro! ended up being the only anime I had any inclination to write about this season owing to how busy it’s been.

  • Having wrapped up this post on Endro!, I enter the spring season with my eyes on Strike Witches 501 Butai Hasshinshimasu (Strike Witches, 501st Unit Launching!). This series will consist of shorter episodes spanning some 15 minutes each, and I will be writing about it in some capacity. I’m not too sure what other shows in the upcoming season I will be watching just yet and will have a better idea of what my schedule will look like a few weeks into April.

Aside from a positive theme, Endro!‘s greatest strength lies within its setting and how the characters interact with this setting. Whereas a number of series in a fantasy setting tend to feature characters from another life, Endro! treats its world as a self-contained entity whose inhabitants reside there without having any connections to previous lives in alternate universes. As a fantasy world, Naral Island plays host to monsters, settings and phenomenon that accommodate wild adventures, but because Yūsha and the others are fully immersed in their world, they are free to experience (and square off against) its various aspects in a natural way. While Endro! may have chosen to take a slice-of-life approach, anime of different genres can do well to follow Endro!‘s example and return to their roots, forgoing past lives in favour of creating individuals who were born and raised entirely in a fantastical setting. This results in experiences and adventures that are much more authentic and genuine, strengthening the messages a series can convey. With Endro! now over, and the threat of the Dæmon Lord removed permanently, Endro! comes to a decisive conclusion: I find it difficult to suppose that there could be a continuation because of how well loose ends are wrapped up, but if there ever were to be a continuation, I would not have any qualms in following Endro! again. This is a series for folks who enjoy series such as those from Manga Time Kirara; Endro! applies the setup here and utilises the fantasy setting to create unique, but adorable sequences that are a breath of fresh air.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Angel Beats!, On accepting and making the most of the hand life has dealt

“It was more than mere chance that brought Merry and Pippin to Fangorn. A great power has been sleeping here for many long years. The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.” –Gandalf, The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

Yuzuru Otonashi awakens to find himself in a strange world without recollections of his self, and encounters a girl aiming a bolt-action rifle at the student council president. After attempting to talk to the student council president and being impaled, Yuzuru comes to in the infirmary. He decides to join the Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS, Afterlife Battlefront) and learn more about the world he’s in. As he bonds with SSS members Yuri Nakamura and Hideki Hinata, he discovers that the afterlife is a world for individuals who’d died in the real world and were given a second chance to experience an ordinary high school life. Fearing disappearance, the SSS constantly strive to undermine student council president Kanade Tachibana. Along the way, Yuzuru begins to piece together his own past as he participates in the SSS’ operations, realising that he was once a medical student candidate who died on his way to the admissions exam in a train accident. Between the various antics of the SSS and helping his fellow students out, Yuzuru comes to realise that individuals disappear when they’ve found fulfilment, and that Kanade is acting with the aim of helping the others out but because of her poor communication skills, became misunderstood. Yuzuru eventually helps the others make peace with their pasts and “graduate”, falling in love with Kanade, who reveals that his final act in donating his organs helped save her life. Immensely grateful she found the individual who’d given her live, Kanade is also able to move on. Running during the spring 2010 anime season, Angel Beats! is counted as being a remarkably moving and well-written anime despite its short length, striking a masterful balance between comedy and tragedy that, in conjunction with a memorable cast and solid world-building, created a captivating, compelling story that drew viewers in.

At its core, Angel Beats! is about acceptance of one’s reality and making peace with the past, specifically, how the right people can help one see things from another perspective and how a new angle can help one come to terms with their past. Each of the characters in the afterlife had suffered a past grievance while they were alive, or else held onto emotions that were sufficiently important that they did not dispel in death. Yuri’s siblings were killed during a break-in, Masami Iwasawa died with the anger of being unable to sing, Hideki regrets his failure as a baseball player, and Ayato struggled to find his own way in life, having been forced to become a potter after his brother died. Yuzuru was dissatisfied with dying before he could make a new future for himself in a situation outside of his control. Their misfortunes make them resentful of life, and initially, the SSS is motivated by a desire to take revenge on a god that would allow them to suffer in this manner. However, when Yuzuru appears, his new perspective on things slowly leads the SSS to realise that Kanade is not an agent of whatever gods there might be, and that in their time with one another, they’ve come to accomplish those things in the afterlife that they’d yearned to accomplish in life. Friendship, and the perspective it brought, helps each of Yuzuru, Yuri, Hideki and Ayato face their pasts, come to terms with it and realise that while things had been bad, they’d also come to appreciate the second chance they were given. With the SSS, Yuri has become a dependable, reliable leader that she had regretted failing when she let her siblings down. Ayato finds new purpose in life when he meets Yuzuru, and Hideki develops a close friendship with Yuzuru that must’ve been absent from his life following that failed baseball game. Yuzuru himself learns that he once wanted to go to medical school to help others, and while his actions in the afterlife are not medical school, he has, in a manner of speaking, been given an opportunity to help others now. The friendship and camaraderie in the SSS allows Yuzuru to open up and begin exploring his environment; he begins to wonder why the SSS is so intent on fighting Kanade.

Because of his intrinsic kindness and concern for those around him, Yuzuru is a major catalyst in setting the SSS along a path of reconciliation with Kanade. Despite befriending the SSS’ members quickly, Yuzuru is quick to question on the worth of their various operations, and sense of empathy leads him to believe that Kanade is an individual, rather than an agent of the system. After seeing Kanade’s quiet look of sadness when one of their operations deprives her of her favourite meal, he begins seeing her as more of a human, and makes active efforts to speak with her. While the SSS are bewildered with this behaviour, they also begin agreeing Yuzuru’s speculation that disappearing simply means accepting one’s past. By helping Yui make peace with her past and her subsequent disappearance, the SSS slowly begin to realise that Yuzuru has a point, and each member considers their own fulfilment in the afterlife. Yuzuru brought to the SSS a new set of eyes and new ideas; under Yuri’s leadership, their goals had simply been to wreck havoc and avoid disappearing. The SSS had become set in these ways and would have remained in limbo for eternity, but with Yuzuru’s arrival, things begin changing. Sometimes, it takes disruption to shake a system from the status quo, and the right individual in the right place can have a profound affect on things. With his natural desire to help others, Yuzuru’s actions create a profound change amongst the SSS; he manages to convince the members that life is about moving on rather than dwelling on the past, and as the other members begin accepting their pasts, he, Yuri and Kanade also form a close friendship. During their graduation ceremony, Yuri accepts Kanade as a friend and wonders why they’d not been able to support one another sooner. By contributing to helping the whole of the SSS graduate, Yuzuru’s arrival is meant to show that individuals with a strong sense of empathy and willingness to help others, as well as a steadfast commitment to their convictions, can bring about positive change in a system that has otherwise been entrenched in its ways.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As the first entry in “Masterpiece Anime Showcase” series, I will establish the format posts of this style will take: they will be much larger than conventional posts, featuring a lengthier discussion and more screenshots. Even with this expanded format, it is difficult to concisely fit everything into such a space, and I’ve found that the screenshots I do end up picking will not fully convey everything there is about a series. “Masterpiece Anime Showcase” posts differ from Terrible Anime Challenge posts in that they deal with the series where, expectations going in notwithstanding, the end result was sufficient to change my world-views to some extent. Posts of this series will also feature more reminiscence.

  • The unusual setup in Angel Beats! works entirely in its favour, and after the first episode, where Yuzuru meets the SSS, I found myself immediately hooked. I still remember the days when I first picked Angel Beats! up: it was during the cold of the winter semester, and I was slowly pushing my way through a biochemistry, cell and molecular biology and fundamentals of bioinformatics course. Here, Yuzuru is formally introduced to the SSS – shorthand for Shinda Sekai Sensen, the SSS exist to wage war against the God for injustices they’d suffered in their lives.

  • Most of the SSS’ activities involve fighting one Tenshi (Angel), as the SSS’ leader, Yuri, believes her to be an emissary of God or similar. In their fight, they also hope to stave off disappearing, not understanding where vanished individuals go. Operation Tornado is one such activity: while various members of the SSS keep Tenshi busy with various firearms, the band Girls Dead Monster (Girl DeMo) perform a lively concert that distract the students. The acquisition of meal tickets is the end result, and it’s certainly a lively operation. The visuals of Angel Beats! are phenomenal, and the meal tickets resemble little more than glowing orbs of light, creating a surreal atmosphere.

  • While I have reviewed Angel Beats! previously, it was in a much shorter format at my old site. In this post, I will not be focusing on the various firearms the SSS use: their choice seems to be motivated largely by aesthetics rather than performance, and at any rate Tenshi’s own Guard Skills allow her to nullify the effects of firearms. During most confrontations, Tenshi prefers using her abilities in a defensive manner and never attacks unless actively provoked, hinting at her nature.

  • Yuri Nakamura is the leader of the SSS, coordinating operations and occasionally stepping onto the field herself, where she displays exceptional combat prowess with both melee weapons and firearms. Calculating, forward thinking but also sensitive and protective of those around her, Yuri is a natural leader whose charisma and care inspire others to fight for her. However, she is also prone to moments of immaturity, and in Angel Beats!, the colourful character dynamics do much in contributing to the viewer’s concern for the characters.

  • During an operation to visit the Guild and resupply on munitions, much of the SSS are wiped out by various anti-Tenshi traps that were engaged after her presence was detected in the tunnels. Yuzuru’s tenacity allows him to reach the Guild, and along the way, Yuri reveals that in life, she was the eldest sister amongst siblings who were killed during a break-and-enter. Regretting her inability to keep her siblings safe, she longs to rebel against God for having allowed such a cruel turn of events to occur.

  • Yuzuru’s first descent into the Guild with Yuri shows that despite his unfamiliarity with the world, he quickly comes to care about those around him, as well. While some characters immediately have a bone to pick with Yuzuru, such as Noda and Fujimaki, Yuzuru gets along with most of the SSS’ members, and in time, comes to befriend Hideki. Here, he fights Tenshi alongside Yuri, armed with a Glock 17 – this polymer-framed, short recoiled semi-automatic pistol is of German origin that has become quite popular for its light weight. The police services of my home city use the Glock 17 as their sidearm of choice.

  • Despite lacking any augmentation, Yuri is capable of going toe-to-toe with Tenshi, whose powers are conferred by a software known as the Angel Player system. Combat with superhuman entities, firearms, coordinated operations and a desire to rebel against God coexist in Angel Beats! with everyday life at school, concerts and time spent with friends. This setup is quite unusual by all standards, but it exemplifies P.A. Works’ ability to weave in multi-faceted narratives: Tari TariSakura Quest and The World in Colours later would go on to use a similar setup to great effect. Being able to weave in multiple hobbies and eccentricities keeps the worlds in anime fresh, and even though the later anime are more constrained within the laws of reality, remain very entertaining precisely because of this approach.

  • Masami is the first of the SSS to disappear: a talented musician, Masami is the lead singer of Girls DeMo and resembles Girls und Panzer‘s Maho Nishizumi to a limited extent. Known for her spirited, high-energy songs, Yuri wonders if a ballad might be appropriate for their operations, and later, while breaking from practise, Masami encounters Yuzuru. She explains to him that she came from a dysfunctional family and found music as an escape, but during an altercation, she was struck in the head and was no longer able to play music. After telling this story to Yuzuru and performing her final song, she appears to have found solace and disappears.

  • The balcony overlooking the school grounds is a quiet location: the photorealism of this moment belies the fact that Angel Beats! is nearly a decade old. Between the reflections on the granite floor, reflection of sunlight along the railing or the shadows from clouds covering the forest in the distance, this location vividly remains in my memory as an example of how well-rendered Angel Beats! is. I vaguely remember similar weather conditions at the train station the day I was leaving Shanghai after visiting the Expo 2010: I visited Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou in 2010 with an iPod filled with Lia’s music, including “My Soul, Your Beats”. As our tour group travelled along the highways cutting across the plains of the Yangtze River delta, these songs played in the background. Besides checking out the Canadian Pavilion, I also purchased limited edition commemorative medallions from the event. Other highlights of this trip to China included visiting the Forbidden City, walking the Great Wall of China, a delicious dinner at a Hangzhou hotel while a thunderstorm raged outside, and various boat rides on the West Lake, Grand Canal of Suzhou and the Yangtze River in Pudong by night.

  • After coming home from that vacation, I returned to summer research at my old lab and forgot about Angel Beats!, but was compelled to check it out two years later. The music of the series is solid and was a motivating factor in leading me to give the anime a go. Here, the SSS capitalise on a distraction Girls DeMo has created via their concert to search Tenshi’s room. They find nothing out of the ordinary, but Yuri’s enlisted Takeyama’s help, and he quickly breaks into Tenshi’s computer, learning that she’s using software to create superhuman abilities. Yuri wonders why God’s emissary would need to develop her own powers, one of the earlier signs that Yuri’s impression of the world may not be entirely correct.

  • When she is introduced, Yui is presented as an energetic and somewhat irritating girl who loves Masami’s performance. Despite Yui’s ditzy nature, she is a capable singer in her own right. Yui immediately grates on Hideki, who does not hesitate to kick her ass whenever she crosses a line. In spite of this rocky start, and their continued clashes throughout Angel Beats!, both Yui and Hideki mature as the series progresses.

  • Hideki’s story is that he was involved in a traffic accident that claimed his life, and his biggest regret is that his failure to catch a loose baseball cost his team a major game. During an operation involving baseball, Hideki wonders if he should make a catch, as finding fulfillment in the afterlife may lead to his disappearance. Before he can make his decision, Yui collides with him, and an irate Hideki wrestles with Yui subsequently.

  • Tenshi’s real name is Kanade Tachibana, and she’s shown as a quiet student who goes about her business unless otherwise interfered with. In order to test the limits of their world, Yuri proposes messing with Kanade’s examination results, and she is subsequently made to stand down as the Student Council President. Kanade is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, whom readers will best know as The Garden of Word‘s very own Yukari Yukino, Manaka Mukaido of Nagi no Asukara (which, incidentally, is also slated to be featured in Masterpiece Anime Showcase) and Shirase Kobuchizawa from A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • After Kanade’s complete lack of resistance to the SSS’ latest iteration of Operation Tornado, Yuzuru wonders if Kanade is really just an ordinary student unrelated to whatever gods Yuri imagine to be an integral part of the afterlife. He tries the mapo duofu (麻婆豆腐) a Sichuan dish legendary for its spiciness and whose name takes after its pockmarked appearance. Yuzuru is overwhelmed with its flavour the same way Adam Richman was stopped by some of the spicy challenges, but after the heat wears off, he finds the taste to be pleasant. In his mind’s eye, he sees a solitary Kanade eating this dish on her own and begins to feel that their operations have taken away this simple happiness from her after her removal from the student council.

  • The SSS’ members walk through one of the bridges connecting the school grounds to the surrounding areas. While often unmentioned on account of being overshadowed by the emotional aspects of Angel Beats!, the architecture of the high school’s facilities in the afterlife are stunning: unlike conventional high schools, this facility is a mixture of older classrooms, a spacious gym and an ultra-modern canteen/gathering space. The vastness of the complex facilitates the diversity of events that the SSS experience, and its size is likely deliberate, mirroring the scope of the SSS’ members’ backgrounds and their interests.

  • After Kanade is removed from the student council, Yuri decides to determine if there’s another agent that might be acting on behalf of God or equivalent. She asks the SSS’ members to be deliberately disruptive in class. Slaying Mahjong and generally being pains in the lower backside (per the approach Yui takes, when she asks to go to the bathroom every half-minute) seems to have little effect, but when Kanade and Yuzuru go to have a morning meal together, Ayato appears and orders the two locked up.

  • It turns out that Ayato has hypnotic powers that he abuses to harm the non-SSS students, and when the SSS confronts him, he utilises his powers to subjugate the non-SSS students. The end result is that the SSS are brought to their knees. After escaping their imprisonment, Yuzuru confronts Ayato, who is about to hypnotise Yuri, and learns of Ayato’s past: Ayato was born into a family of potters and was not as skilled as his brother, but when his brother died, Ayato was made to continue despite his ineptitude. With his main regret being unable to follow his own path, Yururu listens to his story and in the process of being the first to properly acknowledge him, earns his respect.

  • While aloof and arrogant, to the point of using his powers on any SSS member who displeases him, Ayato will stand down whenever Yuzuru forces him to. Angel Beats! succeeded in humanising its characters by giving them detailed stories, as well as a chance to bounce off the established cast, and audiences invariably will find Ayato’s dynamics with Hideki to be a riot. While the characters largely refer to one another by surname in Angel Beats!, I’ve taken to referring to all characters by their given names simply because that’s consistent with the approach I’ve taken for all of my other posts.

  • Spending more time in the afterlife and trying to make sense of everything, in conjunction with his own past allows Yuzuru to do what none of the other SSS could. His own story is one of tragedy: after his younger sister perishes from illness, he resolved to become a medical doctor with the aim of saving others from disease and injury. After the effort it took him to reach this point, the train he was riding en route to his examination was caught in a tunnel, and despite his best efforts to coordinate with the survivors, Yuzuru ended up dying moments before rescuers could reach him. His final act was to sign his organ donor card with the aim of saving at least one more life before his death.

  • Whereas Angel Beats! had been engaging up until now, after learning of Yuzuru’s own story and aspirations of becoming a medical doctor, which once paralleled my own ambitions, I immediately saw Angel Beats! in a new light: this was an anime that could capture genuine feelings and motivations to create life-like characters, and the lessons learnt were very relevant. That same summer, I was set to take the MCAT, and as such, drew a very personal connection with Angel Beats!. Here, Yuzuru and Kanade share a conversation in the school gardens: amidst the weather of a beautiful day, Yuzuru convinces Kanade to join him and the others for a cookout.

  • Seeing Kanade with the others reinforces that beyond her Guard Skills, she’s really just an ordinary girl who happens to be quite reserved and studious. However, another Kanade appears shortly after and attacks the original. By playing with the Angel Player system, the SSS have inadvertently introduced irregularities into the system. Here, I remark that because I am approaching Angel Beats! from a reminiscence perspective, there are some minute details I am unlikely to cover: this will apply to the other Masterpiece Anime Showcase titles I write for: it’s been many years since I’ve last watched these series, so I’m not likely to remember every nook and cranny there is to each show.

  • This is a sight that audiences are unlikely to have speculated about seeing early on into Angel Beats!’ run: the members of the SSS have gathered to see if Kanade is doing okay after her fight with a red-eyed clone. The gradually changing dynamics of Angel Beats! illustrate that the right person in the right place at the right time can set in motion events that have far reaching consequences – this is what motivates the page quote, which is sourced from Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Merry and Pippin might initially look to be Hobbits who’d gotten entangled in something of great complexity, but their actions ultimately play a major role during the War of the Ring: Merry helps Éowyn slay the Witch King of Angmar, while Pippin prevents the death of Faramir.

  • Kanade is taken deep into the Guild shortly after by other clones, and the SSS decide to rescue her, knowing that they need the original Kanade to limit the clones’ ability to replicate. Since the facility has been abandoned, all of the traps have been disabled, and like the first incursion in, the entire group, save Yuzuru and Yuri, make it. Incursions into the Guild are a source of humour: death in Angel Beats!‘ afterlife is only temporary, and watching characters melodramatically react to deaths is especially hilarious knowing everyone is going to return, alive and well, much later.

  • After Kanade is recovered from the ruins of the Guild, Yuzuru recalls the remainder of his memories in a dream. Once she makes a full recovery, she and Ayato return to their old positions in the student council. While the remainder of the SSS assume that they’ve returned to their old status quo, Yuzuru realises that the afterlife exists in order for people to be given a second chance and find fulfilment where they had previously been denied.

  • With Kanade in his corner now, Yuzuru decides to help Yui find her fulfilment first. Kanade’s mannerisms and demeanour strongly resemble  GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and attest to Kana Hanazawa’s skill as a voice actress: her delivery of Kanade’s voice with a quiet, polite quality is quite far removed from the mature, but hesitant manner of The Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino, or the spirited and easily-embarrassed Shirase of A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • Yui’s boundless energy turns out to have been a consequence of her original life: she was paralysed and thus, unable to move. Hence, in the afterlife, she bounces off the ceilings. Yui had also developed a longing to do the various things she’s seen on TV, Yui has Yuzuru help Yui do a German suplex, score a goal in soccer against five other players and hitting a home run. She manages to accomplish both the suplex and soccer goal, but is unsuccessful with the homerun. In spite of this, she is quite satisfied, and reveals one other wish – to become married.

  • While Yuzuru is unable to fulfil her request, Hideki steps in and decides to take up Yui’s proposal, arguing that no matter what separated them, they would be happy together even in spite of her paralysis. Fully happy that she’d found fulfilment again, and no longer bearing past regret, Yui disappears. While Hideki’s kokuhaku seemingly comes out of the blue, this turn of events is not too unexpected – Angel Beats! has shown Hideki as being the first to react to Yui’s antics, and she seems to make him her victim more frequently than anyone else. Despite the dramatic contrasts in their personalities, the two do get along fine, and hearing Yui’s story allows Hideki to understand her.

  • Having demonstrated that his hypothesis is true, Yuzuru prepares to pass this information to Yuri, but mysterious Shadows begin appearing and attacking the SSS. These shadows seemingly transform people into the non-player characters, and when Takamatsu (the healthy fellow who is often seen without his shirt) is taken, Yuri decides that the phenomenon must be dealt with swiftly. However, she also invites Yuzuru to present his discoveries to the SSS.

  • The other members of the SSS are initially hostile towards Yuzuru’s explanation, that the world was meant to be for making peace with their pasts and disappearing was a desirable goal. When Hideki and Ayato share their experiences as well, the other members begin to see Yuzuru’s perspective. There are a great many members in the SSS, as seen in this screenshot, and given the nature of Angel Beats!, it would stand to reason that every character here has their own stories to tell. The next morning, members of the SSS and the Guild decide that Yuzuru’s way of thinking is commendable, and realising that they’ve come to find the life they’d sought in the afterlife, peacefully pass on. Several members of Girl DeMo personally thank Yuzuru for having brought the change into their lives and helping them gain both closure and understanding.

  • Yuri decides that in order to combat the shadows manifesting in their world, she must strike at their source. In the hours before her operation, she prepares a KRISS Vector personal defense weapon. With its futuristic appearance, the Vector is often featured in video games and film: the weapon has a high firing rate and a rail for mounting optics: Yuri appears to use a reflex sight of some sort. I’ve utilised this weapon in The Division and Far Cry 4: it’s an entertaining weapon, but beyond its cool design, is outperformed by other weapons in their respective games.

  • When she runs out of ammunition for the Vector, Yuri picks up an M4A1 carbine modified with the Close Quarters Battle Receiver. Classified as the Mk 18 Mod 0, the M4A1 Yuri carries is set up with an EOTech holographic sight, foregrip and beta-C drum magazine. This assault rifle is intended to provide operators with a weapon rivalling a PDW for compactness while at the same time, firing intermediate rounds. However, the combined toll of exhaustion from fighting the shadows, coupled with her own dejection, leads her to wonder if this endeavour is worth it. She dozes off and dreams of life as an ordinary student, but before she can succumb, Yuzuru and the others arrive. They eliminate the rest of the shadows, and Yuri pushes on ahead, eventually learning that school computers are powering the Angel software.

  • A mysterious male student questions Yuri on her intentions and, like the Matrix’s Architect, the individual here explains that love has introduced an imbalance in the system, and the shadows are a result of this systematic anomaly. He eventually offers Yuri the option of becoming the new God of this world, but Yuri rejects this, feeling that in light of all of her experiences, becoming God would stand contrary to her own beliefs. Like Neo, who rejects the Architect’s terms,  Yuri destroys the computers, and the individual vanishes. She later slips into a dream and is reunited briefly with her siblings, who tell her that they’d never hated her for what happened and ask her to move on.

  • When Yuri comes to, she’s in the infirmary. The others inform her that the SSS have taken Yuzuru’s remarks to heart, and after understanding that this world gave them a chance to find their second chance and overcome the regrets they’d carried with them into the afterlife, have parted ways. Hideki, Ayato, Kanade and Yuzuru are the only remaining members now, and the others wonder what Yuri experienced earlier. I admit that Yuri is probably my favourite of the SSS’ members, and her hot-bloodedness adds to her appeal.

  • We’re now entering the twenty-fifth day of the deep-freeze over my province: it’s a far cry from the warm and inviting weather of Angel Beats!, and after a brief warm-up, the temperatures have plummeted back to a low of -30ºC. Last night, I stepped out to dinner with a long-time friend from university: over a flavourful and fresh Vietnamese short rib and spring roll vermicelli, we caught up on all sorts of things since we last hung out in December. It’s not lost on me that we’re into the end of February now: the flow of time is relentless, and on the horizon are the Captain Marvel and the long-awaited Avengers: Endgame movies.

  • It is certainly true that, were it not for their initial misunderstanding, Yuri and Kanade would’ve been friends. The two regret not sorting out their differences and coming to terms with one another sooner, but it is better late than never. The graduation ceremony of Angel Beats! is one of the most poignant moments in any anime I’ve seen – the joy of watching this cast come so far brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it, and the graduation represents the culmination of everyone’s learnings.

  • Graduation from the afterlife means having come to accept that, with the second chance given to them, each of Yuzuru, Hideki, Yuri, Ayato and Kanade have come to use the afterlife to find fulfilment. Regardless of how unfair the real world had been to each, the very existence of a world that gave them this opportunity to experience the things they were deprived of seems to indicate that on the whole, the universe is at least benevolent enough to recognise where individuals were wronged and give them a chance to approach it from a different perspective. In the end, the system can be seen as being more fair than initially expected, and Yuzuru’s arrival was precisely the catalyst that helped the SSS realise this.

  • P.A. Works’ phenomenal attention to detail is most apparent in the graduation ceremony, where the reflections of lighting and items are visible in the highly polished wooden floor of the gymnasium. It has been quite some time since I’ve attended any sort of graduation, with the last being my own some two years previously. Even though I’ve been out of school for some time, my memories of being a student remain fresh in my mind, and I remember that, after finishing Angel Beats!, I would go on to finish the winter semester of my third year in a satisfactory manner.

  • Kanade’s own reason for staying in the afterlife was so she could properly thank the person who’d given her life: when her heart failed, it turns out that Yuzuru ended up donating his heart to her. This forms the basis for Angel Beats!‘ title: it refers to the heartbeat of an angel, here, referring to Kanade. After all they’d been through, Yuzuru has fallen in love with Kanade, and the two share an embrace before Kanade disappears, having fulfilled her own desire to give thanks to Yuzuru for his selfless actions.

  • LiSA’s Ichiban no Takaramono is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard for an anime bar none, and I typically avoid listening to it, or the Yui version, because the song brings tears to my eyes. The original version speaks of falling in love and parting ways, and even though I’d not experienced that myself when I first heard it, the songs were very moving. These days, having gone through just this, the songs remain a powerful reminder of what good music can accomplish. With this, my reflection of Angel Beats! comes to an end. It’s been nearly seven years since I first watched Angel Beats!, and even now, the anime remains a veritable masterpiece in my books, bringing to memories so many things that happened in the spring some seven years previously. I intend to continue with the Masterpiece Anime Showcase this year: upcoming titles I will be writing about include Nagi no Asukara and Your Lie in April.

When I first watched Angel Beats!, I was closing up my third year of university and preparing for an MCAT. My original interest in Angel Beats! was motivated by an interest in seeing the series that had utilised Lia’s “My Heart, Your Beats”, which one of my friends had recommended to me two summer previously. I’d taken the music with me on a trip to the Shanghai-Suzhou-Hangzhou area during the Shanghai 2010 Expo, and subsequently, decided to give Angel Beats! a go. Upon watching it, found myself thoroughly impressed with the considerable depths the characters were presented in. In particular, seemingly antagonistic characters were humanised and came to cooperate with the protagonists, humanising the characters and improving how one relates to them. The large cast of unique, noteworthy characters creates an environment where a variety of scenarios can be explored: from the development of firearms, to performing live music, or even antics associated with exam season, the sheer number of people and their backgrounds in Angel Beats! allows the series to build a multi-faceted world that covers a great deal. This approach was used in Tari Tari, Sakura Quest and The World in Colours to great effect in P.A. Works’ subsequent productions. The joys of such diversity creates a very compelling group of individuals whose time together is marked by discovery and comedy: they become much more relatable for this. The strong characters of Angel Beats! also create the anime’s singular flaw: thirteen episodes is far too short of a time to adequately explore everyone’s stories. TK, to Shiina and Matsushita are just a handful of characters who could’ve had exceptional stories, but these remain untold. Beyond its short length, the characters, in conjunction with a phenomenal and emotional soundtrack, clean and crisp artwork and solid animation, result in an anime that is exceptional. Yuzuru’s journey in the afterlife and the revelation that was was a medical student hopeful also provided me with a source of motivation: I myself was gearing up for the MCAT, and the examination seemed overwhelming. Seeing Yuzuru’s commitment to doing what was right gave me the resolve to push through the summer and study for the exam; Angel Beats! ended up helping me approach the MCAT with a new perspective, and for having a tangible impact on how I approached things, I have no trouble in counting it a masterpiece. Even in the absence of such an impact on other viewers, Angel Beats! remains a standout anime in its execution, and it is something that all individuals interested in anime would find enjoyable.